TITLE: Soul Optional

AUTHOR: Kelso

E-MAIL: kelso28@excite.com

SPOILERS: pretty much anything through the end of season 2 of "Buffy"

RATING: PG

SUMMARY: Season 2. Angel still loses his soul at the end of "Surprise," but this time he realizes he loves Buffy anyway.

WEBSITE: see author profile for link

DISTRIBUTION: anywhere

DISCLAIMER: "Buffy" characters belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc.

NOTES: This story might possibly be turned into a series. Depends on whether I have the time and inclination to go on.
After I wrote it, I remembered a challenge that was set at the same time so I looked it up and revised the fic to include the required elements. The challenge is listed at the end. Story picks up from the end of "Surprise."

*****

Soul Optional

One moment, Angel was sleeping peacefully in bed beside Buffy. In the next moment, he abruptly woke up, waves of agony rolling over him. He wasn't sure why but somehow he knew he had to get as far away from Buffy as he could. He staggered up, pulled on some clothes, dragged himself from his apartment and collapsed.

When he became conscious of his surroundings again, he found himself on his hands and knees in the alley outside his apartment building. Slowly the pain receded and he became aware of a woman's voice nearby.

"Hey, you okay?" she was asking.

He shook his head to clear it. Whoever the woman was, he didn't know her and didn't care to. She was just distracting him from his odd situation. Without bothering to answer her, he got to his feet and went back inside to his apartment.

Buffy was still sleeping soundly. Careful not to disturb her, Angel settled down on the edge of the bed and reassessed matters. He still felt strange. He couldn't quite put his finger on the sensation, though. It wasn't pain. No, he had experienced pain in that alley, and he definitely didn't now. In fact, it wasn't any form of discomfort. It was a pleasant sensation that felt only vaguely familiar, as if he hadn't experienced it in a very long time.

Angel thought back. He hadn't felt this good in--oh, it must have been a century or so. Possibly longer.

He stayed up and thought about the situation for a while longer before he gave up and settled down beside Buffy to sleep some more. He'd figure things out in the morning. Maybe by then he'd feel like usual and the entire matter would have become a moot point.

*****

In the morning, however, Angel still felt incredibly good. Finally, he identified the reason. That omnipresent burden of guilt he had carted around for decades was gone. He didn't regret a thing he had ever done, with the exceptions of some minor incidents involving Buffy. Whatever had happened to him, it had resulted in definite improvement.

His thoughts shifted to the events of the previous night. The last time he had felt anything near that level of sensation had been when his soul was stuffed back into him, in 1898. This time, though, he had felt like something was being ripped away from him. Could it have been the soul again? The more he thought about it, the more certain he became.

He turned to study Buffy. Without the soul weighing down his baser instincts, he could be a real vampire again. Not a tame one in love with a Slayer. He could rip open her throat and drain her dry. Only, he thought, he didn't want to.

"Dammit," he said wonderingly. "I still love her." Then he realized that in the back of his mind he was already making grand plans for their future. He knew she'd love Europe, for instance, and he certainly wouldn't say no to a return trip himself. This was the first time he had seriously engaged in such thoughts. Before, he'd usually been too busy feeling depressed and guilty to think beyond the next week or so. On the few occasions when he had allowed his mind to wander to visions of months or years down the road, he'd quickly reminded himself that he didn't deserve to have Buffy in his life for even a moment. He felt very differently about that matter now, though. He had her, and he wasn't letting her go for her own good or any crap along those lines.

As if attuned to his thoughts, Buffy began to stir and soon she opened her eyes. She smiled upon seeing his face. "Angel. Hi."

He smiled back at her; then, unable to restrain himself any longer, he blurted the good news. "I have something very important to tell you. I don't know exactly how it happened, but I believe my soul is gone now. I feel so much better without it. You need to hear the great plans I've been making for us. I--"

"Wait!" Buffy's lethargy vanished in a flash as she bolted upright and held up a hand. "Stop. I must have heard you wrong. *Way* wrong. You couldn't have just said your soul is gone."

"Well, I'm not 100% positive, but it seems pretty likely."

"You lost your soul?" she repeated. "How is that even possible? I mean, it's not like it's a pen or a set of keys. It's a *soul*. You couldn't have just dropped it in the street or something."

Angel shrugged. "I don't know exactly what happened. I just think that it's gone. Last night I woke up in horrible pain and I stumbled out into the alley. Then the pain stopped and I realized I felt good. Better than I have in a very long time. The guilt is gone. I feel free again."

Buffy appeared less than pleased to hear this information. Instead, she stared at him like he was an ugly bug under a microscope, which was not quite the reaction he had expected.

"Don't look at me like that, baby," Angel cajoled. "The changes are all for the better. I'm not so depressing and boring now. You have to admit I was kind of a wet blanket before. You're seeing the new and improved me, but I still love you. This doesn't have to change a thing, Buff." Then he reconsidered. "Well, no, I take that back. Things will indeed change. I'm going to be a hell of a lot more fun from now on."

Buffy jumped up. "Oh, God. I have to go."

Angel watched in disappointment as she threw her clothes on. Buffy wasn't sharing in his excitement. Instead she seemed upset, even dismayed. Surely she ought to be happy for him. Under the same circumstances, he knew he'd be thrilled for her. He lay back and watched her run out the door, assuring himself that she would be back. And if she didn't return soon enough, he would just have to go looking for her.

*****

An hour later, Buffy still had not come back. True, she had school, but that minor inconvenience had before never stopped her from doing anything she wanted. And she had run out that morning on such a negative note. Angel decided not to wait any longer. He needed to talk to her and fix things. She'd probably gone straight to Giles with the news about the Judge's assembly, so he was pretty confident he knew where she was. He made his way into and along the sewer system and out through the passage in the high-school library. There, he heard familiar voices.

From his hiding place among the bookshelves, Angel paused to listen to the discussion taking place on the floor below. It was clearly about him, and seated around a rectangular table were the usual suspects: Buffy, Giles, Willow, Xander, and Cordelia. The fact that they had convened in the middle of a school day indicated that they were taking the alteration in his status very seriously indeed. Very badly, as well, judging from the conversation he heard.

"I still say stake first, ask questions later!" Xander shrieked.

"No, we should talk to him before we make any drastic moves," Willow countered.

Giles spoke up. "Buffy? Your opinion?"

"Does it really make a difference?" she said hesitantly. "I mean, what exactly is a soul anyway?"

"It's your conscience. Your moral center," Giles explained. "That which makes you more than an animal."

"Or a blood-sucking creature of the night," Cordelia muttered.

"Without it, you are truly less than whole," Giles concluded.

Angel bristled. Buffy wanted to believe in him. He could tell it. But her friends were working on her, poisoning her mind against him. And to make matters worse, he couldn't stop them in the easiest, most enjoyable way--namely, by killing them. No, Buffy would never forgive him if he harmed one hair on any of her friends' heads. Even, unfortunately, Xander's.

Speaking of Xander, he was complaining again. "So not only do we have to worry about the Judge being assembled, but on top of that there's evil Angel. This definitely isn't my day."

"It's not my *year*," Cordelia retorted. "How I got involved in this mess, I still don't know. It's totally unfair."

"But Angel didn't even try to hurt me this morning," Buffy pointed out, reverting to that topic. "And he volunteered the information about the soul--or lack of it. He seemed excited about it."

"Well, of course he would be," Xander snapped. "His soul was the only thing holding him in check, keeping him from murdering all of us as we slept. Now that it's gone, what's stopping him from going on a killing spree?"

Unable to restrain himself any longer, Angel stepped out from behind his stack. "Buffy is."

Below ensued a mad scramble for weapons. Willow ended up with a vial of holy water, Giles with a cross, Cordelia and Buffy with stakes, and Xander with a crossbow he aimed but forgot to load.

Angel realized the only way for him to prove himself was to face down the opposition and convince them of his true intentions. Bypassing the stairs, he leaped over the railing and landed lightly on his feet near the table. "I come in peace."

"What do we do now?" Willow wondered aloud.

"Yeah, we didn't expect to see you till tonight," Cordelia snapped. "I guess you came through your own private tunnel, though. How inconsiderate!" But despite the bravado in her voice, the stake in her hand was shaking.

Angel turned toward Buffy, who had thus far remained silent. "I'm hurt, Buff. I really am. I thought our relationship had progressed to a level of real trust. Especially after last night. Yet I arrive to this sort of reception." His wave encompassed the roomful of weapons trained upon him. "Very disturbing."

"You act like losing your soul is no big deal," Buffy protested. "But Giles says it *is*. All those evil things you did--those happened when you didn't have your soul. Can you really blame us for being concerned that you'll go back to your old ways?"

"Perhaps the most pertinent question is, what happened to cause the soul to depart?" Giles asked, continuing to brandish his cross. "It isn't exactly an everyday occurrence."

Angel shrugged. "As I told Buffy, I have no idea."

"I do," came a quiet voice from the other end of the library.

Everyone turned to see Jenny Calendar standing near the doorway.

*****

For the next 10 minutes, Jenny explained the situation: how she was a member of the Kalderash clan, that the gypsy curse that had been used on Angel in 1898 had included a little clause, and that Angel had definitely not known about this clause until now.

"It stated that if he ever experienced a moment of perfect happiness, he would lose his soul," she summarized.

"Well, that's idiotic!" Xander erupted. "Why include the clause and not tell the victim about it, plus it's a stupid clause in the first place."

"But at least we have an answer now," Willow pointed out. "Plus we know what to do. We just curse Angel again. Problem solved then, right?"

Before Angel could object, Jenny did so for him. "That isn't so easily done. The curse is lost. Those in my family with the knowledge and the skill to cast it are long dead."

Angel smiled. Everyone else frowned.

"Wait a second," Xander began thinking out loud. "If Angel lost his soul last night, that means he had a moment of perfect happiness. At night. When he was with Buffy. Do I want to know what caused the perfect happiness?"

"I think you can guess," Angel informed him, unable to conceal the pride in his voice.

Xander turned to Buffy. "But he's dead so how could he, you know--perform? Wait! I didn't really mean to ask that. Please don't tell me."

"We need a copy of 'The Idiots' Guide to Vampiric Sex' so Xander can keep up," Angel decided. He couldn't help it; he didn't like Xander and the opportunity to needle him a bit was too good to pass up.

Blushing, Buffy sought to shut down the awkward topic. "Can we change the subject, please? To anything else?"

"Certainly," Angel obliged. "You know, Xander was right about one thing."

"I was?" Xander exclaimed, looking as surprised as everyone else.

"Yes. As you once said, 'Angel' is far too girly a name. 'Angelus' is much more 'me.'"

After a long pause, Cordelia said, "You want to be called Angelus, as in the name usually followed by the phrase 'the Scourge of Europe'?"

He looked right at her. "Do you have a problem with that?"

"Yes, well, at the moment," Giles hastily intervened, "strange as this might seem, Angel, or Angelus, is the least of our concerns. The Judge is a more imminent threat."

"So you just want to forget about the threat posed by Mr. Evil who is right in the library with us?" Xander demanded.

"Not exactly, no," Giles replied. "Angel. Er, Angelus. Will you excuse us for a moment while we talk?"

Angelus nodded and obligingly moved away while the others gathered to converse in low tones, which he made an effort not to hear. He didn't think Buffy would want him to eavesdrop. After several moments, Giles called him back over.

"All right, Angelus," Buffy informed him, "we're going to give you a chance to prove yourself. But if you set even one fang out of line, you're dust."

"Basically, the rules are no killing, stalking, hunting, biting, threatening, or otherwise terrorizing humans or animals," Giles rattled off.

Wow. That was harsh. "No more skinning kittens alive, even?" Angelus asked, practically begging for just one small concession.

Buffy firmly shook her head.

"Oh, all right." Angelus bowed to the inevitable, knowing if he didn't agree, Buffy would refuse to be with him.

"Don't forget the therapy," Willow whispered to Giles.

Courtesy of his superior hearing, Angelus picked up on this comment. "Therapy? You want me to go to therapy?"

Willow raised her hand. "My idea."

Xander added, "Mine involved a stake and a place where the sun don't shine, but Buffy vetoed it. I can't understand why."

"Therapy as administered by Giles," Willow specified. "Seeing that we can't exactly send you to a 'real' therapist."

"Fine. Therapy, too," Angelus agreed, figuring it couldn't be *that* bad.

It seemed he'd said the right thing. Buffy immediately looked happier, and she even sat beside him as they all settled down around the table to research the Judge and potential ways of stopping him.

*****

By mid-afternoon, they'd failed to turn up anything useful, and whatever enthusiasm they had started with had waned. Jenny had left to teach a class, promising to return during her free period. Xander and Cordelia were hidden behind a shelf, hunting for more reference books. Giles was steadily working away without much success. Willow pushed aside yet another useless book and got up to get another one. Buffy glanced at Angelus and noticed a smile playing around his mouth as he watched her friend disappear into the stacks. She'd never seen quite that expression on his face before, and she didn't think she liked it much.

As she watched him, Angelus cocked his head in a listening attitude. Buffy strained to hear, but his senses were better than hers. Whatever he was picking up on, she couldn't catch it. Then she didn't need to wonder, because Willow, Cordelia, and Xander moved out from the stacks and into plain sight.

Cordelia's hair was mussed, Xander had traces of lipstick on his mouth, and tears were shimmering in Willow's eyes. "Oh, no," Buffy murmured, realizing what must have happened but unable to do anything to stop the scene.

"Why her?" Willow yelled at Xander, stabbing a finger at Cordelia. "What does she have that I don't? Is she such a great kisser or something?" When Xander remained silent, Willow continued, "You won't tell me? I guess I'll have to find out for myself, then!" She suited action to words, stepping forward and pressing her lips against Cordelia's.

For a moment everyone froze. Then Willow, mouth agape in an "O" of shock, spun around and dashed out of the library. A few stunned seconds later, Xander ran after her. Cordelia followed last of all, wiping off her mouth.

"Oh, dear," murmured Giles. "That was quite unpleasant." He shook his head and buried himself in another book.

Buffy turned back to Angelus, who was openly smirking now. "You enjoyed that scene," she accused him.

"Of course," he said enthusiastically.

She frowned at him and voiced her suspicions. "You knew what Xander and Cordelia were doing, and you let Willow catch them."

He shrugged. "Well, I didn't stop her."

"Incredible. You definitely have changed." Buffy shook her head and rose in preparation to try to track down Willow and calm her down. "You." She glared at Angelus, who had started to get up. "You stay here and keep working. If you come with me, you'd just make matters worse."

She left the library and hurried down the halls, searching for Willow, but met with no success. For all she knew, her friend had left the school and gone home. Finally Buffy gave up the hunt before any of her teachers could spot her wandering around the corridors while she was supposed to be in class. She stepped back inside the library to find Angelus and Giles debating some point in raised voices. "Hey! What are you two arguing about?"

Giles turned to her, rubbing his forehead and sighing. "Angelus has come up with a very foolish idea. He wants to use a vampire army to attack the Judge."

"It's an excellent idea," Angelus insisted. "Just let me turn a few hundred people--a thousand, tops--get them under my control, and we can take him out."

"No, no, a thousand times, no," Buffy shot him down. "There is to be no turning of anyone and no leading armies of vampires. Just a few hours ago you agreed not to do certain things such as killing people. What part of that is hard to understand?" She plopped back down in her chair and continued, "My boyfriend's turned evil, Xander and Willow are both locking lips with Cordelia, and the Judge is active. What else can go wrong today?"

Angelus opened his mouth.

Buffy glared at him. "Don't answer that." She turned away to resume researching when the library doors flew open and a troll-like figure stumped inside and pointed at her. Her day had just descended from bad to worse, again. "Principal Snyder." Buffy gulped audibly.

"Buffy Summers!" Snyder shouted. "Skipping out of classes all day, as your teachers have notified me. It's detention for you, you delinquent, and suspension or expulsion sooner or later, if I have anything to say about it!"

As Angelus tensed beside her, Buffy thought frantically, trying to invent an excuse to get out of this latest mess. Maybe Giles could help out? Then, to her horror, Angelus rose in one smooth motion and punched Snyder squarely in the jaw.

"Angelus!" Giles and Buffy both yelled as Principal Snyder sailed backward and hit the wall, stunned.

Angelus stalked over to confront him. "If you ever threaten Buffy again, I'll kill you."

Snyder looked up--way up, since Angelus towered over him--and then scuttled out the door, yelling, "Security! Help!" all the way.

Buffy groaned and turned on her newly evil boyfriend. "What the hell were you thinking, Angelus? Like I wasn't in enough trouble already." She scowled at him, even more pissed when he had the nerve to look surprised.

"He was threatening you. I couldn't let him get away with that."

"You know what? Just leave, all right? I can't take any more of this." With that, Buffy turned her back on him.

*****

In disgrace, Angelus slunk out of the library and trudged back through the sewers. He was becoming very frustrated. Buffy kept getting angry with him, and over such tiny things, really, especially considering that he'd done them almost all of them for her. Yet somehow, every move he'd made since losing his soul seemed to be wrong. He almost wished he still had the damn thing, just because Buffy obviously preferred him with it.

She didn't trust him anymore. He could no longer deny that fact. Well, Angelus decided, he would just have to do something big--something important and spectacular--to earn back her trust.

And then it occurred to him. He knew what he had to do.

*****

Early that evening, Angelus strolled into the factory where Spike, Drusilla, and the Judge were holed up, waiting to wreak havoc on the population of Sunnydale. He hadn't actually come up with much of a plan other than to go in and hope to take advantage by catching them by surprise. His chances were bettered by Spike's injuries and the fact that the Judge couldn't be up to full operating power yet.

It was almost as if they'd been expecting him. The Judge was wandering around the back of the building, but Dru and Spike were near the entrance and spotted him right away.

"Daddy." Dru's eyes lit up with a manic light. "You've come home."

Confused, Angelus glanced at Spike. He'd fully expected to have to fight his way in and back out, considering that he wasn't exactly on good terms with Spike and Dru.

Spike wheeled his chair a little closer, examining Angelus. "Dru had one of her visions," he explained. "According to her, you shed the soul."

"She isn't wrong," Angelus warily confirmed.

"Well, welcome back," Spike said with decidedly more warmth in his voice. "We can always use another player for our side."

Angelus nodded toward the Judge. "When you have something like him, what more do you really need?" Continuing to chat idly, Angelus was relieved when Dru distracted Spike with some nonsense about the stars. He took advantage and maneuvered his way over to study the Judge at closer range. He only worked as long as he was fully assembled. That meant all Angelus had to do was remove one little piece. "Pretty big fella, aren't you? How much would you say you weigh?" He stepped nearer, and his gaze moved to the Judge's right wrist. It looked weak, like it had once been damaged and over the years had deteriorated. Maybe he could exploit that vulnerability.

The Judge turned to regard him. "You are a vampire, yet I sense humanity in you. Love. You should burn."

Without time to think of a backup plan, Angelus reacted on instinct. He reached down, grabbed the Judge's hand, and wrenched with all of his strength. With a crack, the wrist gave and Angelus ended up with the broken hand in his grasp. Immediately the Judge stopped moving and stood frozen with a look of dull incomprehension on his face.

"Spike, Dru, it's been real, but I have to go." Relieved that Dru had monopolized Spike's attention throughout his brief encounter with the Judge, Angelus nodded to them as he backed away from the big blue lump and toward the door.

"Hey, what happened to the Judge?" he heard Spike exclaim behind him.

*****

As quickly as he could, Angelus returned to the school library. Buffy, Xander, Oz, Willow, Giles, and Jenny turned to stare at him as he strode in, stopped before them, and tossed the broken hand onto the table, beside the remains of Buffy's half-eaten birthday cake. "There you go. Problem solved."

"Is this what I think it is?" Buffy asked.

"If you're thinking random piece of Judge, then yes."

"We should destroy it right away," Giles ordered.

"As good as done." Buffy retrieved an old hammer from the weapons chest and pounded at the hand, to absolutely no effect. "Well, that sucks," she noted. "I thought I could turn it into powder and then flush it for safety's sake."

"'No weapon forged' can destroy him," Angelus reminded everyone. "Try dropping it in a vat of acid."

"An excellent idea," Giles said, doling out the only praise Angelus had heard in some time.

"This means we're safe, right?" Xander looked around for confirmation. "The Judge isn't whole anymore so he can't do any damage."

"Sounds about right," Oz agreed. "Time to celebrate. Cake all around." He began to cut up and dish out pieces to the others.

In an oddly formal manner, Willow accepted Xander's plate and passed it across to him. Angelus noticed that Cordelia was conspicuous by her absence but quickly pushed the thought out of his mind. He really didn't give a damn about what she did.

Jenny finished off a bite of cake and turned to Angelus. "But how did you get the hand?"

"Went to the factory and snapped it off. Oh, by the way, Drusilla had a vision and knows about my little soul lackage. That's what got me in the door safely. She and Spike thought I was going to switch sides and team up with them again."

"You obviously didn't do it. Why?" Willow asked.

"Yeah, I know it wasn't because you like us," Xander said. "You keep looking at *me* like I'm supper."

"Of course I didn't do it for you," Angelus said with disdain. "I did it for Buffy."

He looked at her. She was beaming at him. His grand gesture had convinced her.

"He really does love her, even without his soul," Willow marveled. "It's so sweet."

"Love changed him?" Xander made gagging noises in the background as Buffy and Angelus kissed.

Drawing away from Buffy at his leisure, Angelus glanced at the annoying Xander. Maybe Buffy would make an exception to her no-kill rule and look the other way? Well, he could always hope.

**********

THE CHALLENGE: What if Angelus, instead of killing that woman in the alley when he first took control in "Innocence," went back inside and decided that he loved Buffy, regardless? Re-write at *least* both the end of "Surprise" and all of "Innocence," but if you feel the need to take it farther, I'll be thrilled.

Include the following: -Angelus swearing out loud when he realizes that he loves Buffy, without a soul -Buffy walking in on Giles and Angelus having an argument on how to kill the judge -Angelus knowing that Xander and Cordy are making out before they come out of the stacks -The gang eating Buffy's birthday cake in the library after they kill the judge -Happy Buffy at the end!

And at least three of the following: -A reference to The Beatles -A book entitled "The Idiots' Guide to Vampiric Sex" -Buffy proudly showing off her bite scar to Willow -Angelus hitting Snyder on Buffy's behalf -Willow and Cordelia kissing -Those See's candy lollypops -Giles swearing in another language