Disclaimer: I don't own any non-orginal people, places or concepts herein, and am making no profit from its publication.
Rating: So far, pretty tame, but I'll rate it T for now. May change to M later. We'll see how much sex and violence I can fit it tastefully.
Spoilers: All of them. Post Chosen, Post Not Fade Away, including intersecting/borrowed plot (very minor) from the non-cannon Angel comics "The Curse" and "Illyria: Spotlight," which are Post and Pre NFA respectivly.
Summary: Post-NFA/Chosen fic. When Buffy and the scoobies pay a visit to LA after the events of NFA, they decide to stay, realising they haven't exactly got anywhere else to be. They try to get on with their lives, but there are forces working in the background that threaten peace on earth, forces of a type that are so familiar they can be hard to recognise. Going to be a long fic.
Pairing(s): Now that would be telling, wouldn't it? Lets just put it this way, neither Angel nor Spike will be bashed in any way. The two of them are my favourite characters, and I'd never be unfair to one of them (without being equally mean to the other, that is).
Notes: I'm trying to keep the start as cliché-free as possible, but I let one or two slip in. Bare with me, they'll be over soon. Also, after debating wheather to put this in Buffy or Angel, I decided on Buffy. It's set in LA, but most of the characters are Buffy characters (Buffy, Spike, Willow, Dawn, Xander, Giles), and I don't think location is the most important factor ("A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet"). That being said, Angel, Illyria and to a lesser extent, Gunn will feature. In short, it's a Buffy cross-over with Angel.
Angel swallowed the blood from his mug as he sat back in his chair, lowering it from his lips and placing it on the table in front of him. Just outside his office, in the lobby of the Hyperion Hotel, he could hear his, what? Co-workers? Associates? Friends? Discussing their present situation. He sighed as he reflected over the past while, since the showdown in the alleyway. Himself, Spike, Illyria and Gunn, alone against an army of darkness. Had he expected to live? No. None of them had. Except, ironically, Wesley. Fate had a twisted sense of humour. Had he expected what had happened? Honestly, he sooner expected Buffy and an army of slayers to show up and kick some demon ass.
But no Buffy. No army of young girls. No superpower Willow. At least, not then. Some days after the battle, the scoobie gang had shown up on his doorstep, wondering what the hell happened. At the moment, they were in the hotel for a prolonged visit; at least until they could solve the mystery of what did happen. Angel still remembered it clearly.
The hordes were a mere ten seconds' sprint away, when there was a huge mystical explosion. It didn't damage any buildings, nor did it leave a hole in the ground. It appeared as a blue ripple in space-time, similar to a stone causing ripples in water. It spread out, its blobular look accompanied by bubbling sound. It caused the forces of darkness to simply vanish, as though going back into a portal.
Then the blue waves cracked like glass and shattered into nothingness. The three of them, Angel, Spike and Gunn, discerned no difference, so to speak, but Illyria insisted something was different. What it was? Well, she could not be more specific. She was completely baffled. It was something she had grown used to while living among mortals, and it was something she hid well, never letting on that she was totally lost. But Angel knew…
That had been ten days ago. Now, Angel sat in his office, waiting for the sun to go down. He was going to get Gunn from hospital. The man had been seriously wounded, but after over a week in recovery, the doctors said he was well enough to leave, provided he wasn't alone, so he had visited Gunn and arranged to meet him today after sunset. Angel decided to check with the gang to see how the research was going.
"Find anything yet?" he asked as he strode into the lobby, not directing the question at any one person. Willow, Giles, Xander and Dawn had set up a mini library in the lobby, moving the circular seater and replacing it with several tables, each of which was strewn with tomes of knowledge. The four of them were currently reading, re-reading, cross-referencing, translating, and all kinds of other stuff involving lots of yawning. After a week of finding nothing, morale was low.
Willow looked up, shaking her head. "Sorry Angel. We're still no closer to finding out what the mojo was." She closed the book she had open. "I mean, I don't even know where to start, and our resources are quite limited."
"Yeah, plus the whole 'no effect' factor isn't helping," said Dawn. "Most of these books have their spells arranged by what their effects are. So far all we have to go on is Illyria's oh-so-vague description. Wow. A spell that changes something! Rare!" Angel wondered when she had learned to be so sarcastic. He had no doubt it was from Xander she picked up the skill. He still was amazed that Dawn, who he could remember always being there, wasn't there. Or hadn't been there, to be more precise. When Wesley had smashed the memory window, all the memories of life without Dawn had come rushing back. After several hours of thinking he had managed to work out what was real and what wasn't.
He had to admit, since he'd remembered, his feeling towards Dawn had diminished. Once Buffy's kid sister, he now saw her as an impostor. Of course, he'd never, EVER, tell anyone he felt like that. If Dawn found out…well she was a human now, and the last thing he wanted to do was hurt a young girls feelings.
Angel cast a look at Giles at Illyria's mention. He hadn't forgotten what Giles had done. In Fred's time of need, he ignored Angel pleas for help. There was nothing Willow could have done, being on a different plane at the time, and Angel knew it now, but it was the sheer lack of empathy that got to him. He and Giles hadn't discussed the matter, and it appeared that Giles hadn't told Willow, or presumably anyone else, so Angel decided to drop the matter for the time being. Giles shifted uneasily under Angels stare, but said nothing.
"Speaking of Illyria-" Angel began, before being cut off by Dawn.
"She's out with Buffy. Said she wanted to see her slaying." This statement was followed by a long silence, which Angel broke by muttering about the sun setting and going to see Gunn. Buffy's name still got his gut in a twist. Seeing her again had been wonderful, but he was tortured having her sleeping in the same building as him. She was so close, yet he could hardly bring himself to see her. He tried to minimise the contact he had with her. It made it easier. Shaking his head privately to himself, he stalked out of the hotel, making for the street.
Gunn was standing next to his bed in the ward, his home since the alley battle, and had just finished buttoning up his shirt when he saw Angel striding towards him with a smile on his face; a rare sight indeed. Gunn was just glad Angel hadn't come a moment sooner, when he was wearing nothing but a hospital gown. That would have lost him points on the manliness scale. Angel stopped just in front of Gunn and looked him up and down.
"Gunn. It's good to see you standing. You had me worried for a while." Gunn smiled and grabbed Angel's hand in a secret handshake involving finger clicking and fist-meeting, which Angel knew well, as he demonstrated by flawlessly doing his own half in perfect tandem to Gunns'.
"You too fang boy. I wasn't too sure you'd be up for that fight!" he joked. Angel chuckled at Gunn's mannerism. "But seriously…I didn't even expect to make it into that alley, let alone out. It really put things in perspective. If I had died there, that would have been it. But now…"
Angel looked at Gunn earnestly. "Are you thinking of retiring? Because god knows, you've earned it. I'll understand if you-" The look on Gunns face made Angel break off his sentence. Gunn was almost laughing at Angel. "-Don't want to retire," Angel finished conversationally.
"Hell no! I'm gonna keep on doing the good fight. Jus'…not the one I used to do." Angel looked at him with a slightly lost look, half knowing what he was about to say, half ignorant. "When I was working as a lawyer, consulting with "sources" and seeing things on paper, I realised there are so many bad people out there walking free, destroying lives, all because they can work the system. They have people to get them off the hook, but in doing so ruin the people who don't."
"And you're going to fight them in court," Angel concluded. Gunn nodded in the affirmative. "That's a good call." Gunn smiled, happy with Angel's approval, and started moving towards the exit, beckoning Angel to follow.
"Damn straight Angel my man. But if you need some back up-"
"-I'll be sure to call." Yeah, but….
"Cool. Your car in the parking lot?" Gunn asked, already headed that way, needing no answer. Abruptly, he stopped, almost causing Angel to bump into him. "Is it the viper?" Angel nodded, hands in pockets. "Can I drive?" He asked, resuming his stride, leaving Angel standing in the corridor, looking like his favourite toy was about to be smashed.
"So, this is what you do?" Two figures strode side by side.
Buffy nodded without much thought. "Yep. Trudge the lonely streets at night. Seek out evil. Pretty much the plan." Illyria looked back from Buffy to the street in front of her. They were in a part of midtown LA, the streets relatively deserted. The occasional car drove past them, usually at over the speed limit. Traffic lights changed colours in the distance at several locations.
"And you are satisfied with this existence?" Illyria queried. For a second, Buffy mistook the question as one of attack. She was frequently asked was she happy with being the slayer. It got on her nerves, especially as some of the askers knew the answer, and were just trying to get her to admit something. But she sensed that Illyria was not trying to antagonise her.
"I guess it's ok. I've gotten used to it. Plus, my future is brighter now that the other slayers are around. Not everything falls to me. Anymore." Illyria thought on it some more.
"And are they satisfied? Having this responsibility thrust upon them, unable to change it even if they desired change?" Buffy lowered her head. Since casting the spell empowering all potentials, she had had a lot of time to think about the implications. At the time, she hadn't thought twice about it. It was war, soldiers were needed. But after…many of the potentials had quit, refused to slay. A solid majority, in fact. And many new potentials around the world either refused to help, or simply refused to believe.
"No. By and large, no. It's ironic really. I've been the slayer the longest, I have the most reason to dislike it, but it actually doesn't bother me much anymore. No vampire is a match for me, and if something big comes up, I just assemble an army and stab stuff till the threat is gone. Giles and the new council do most of the work these days; it seems I've gained such a reputation that nothing evil wants to be in the same city as me. I'm back in college, in Rome of all places, and when I moved in, the vamps moved out. These days Rome is waaay down the list on places of demonic activity. It's almost as though the world moved on without me, and I hardly noticed." Illyria eyed Buffy with her cold, blue gaze.
"I know the feeling," she commented absently, her attention now focused on screams and loud noises coming from around the corner. Buffy heard the noise too, and broke into a run. Illyria walked faster, keeping a just a short distance behind Buffy. As they rounded the corner, the smell of burning hydrocarbons filled their nostrils. A three-storey building was surrounded by a mob of about forty people, who were throwing rocks, bricks and Molotov cocktails at it.
Buffy approached the crowd and broke through. A blinking neon sign indicted it was a strip club. Grabbing the nearest person by the collar, a tall, large, middle-aged man with short dark hair, she demanded to know what was going on.
"This is place of evil! They-" Buffy rolled her eyes and released him. She didn't have time for scandalised religious nuts. People could be trapped in there. She ran through the front entrance, crashing though the burning doorway. Inside was hazy and filled with smoke. At first she couldn't see anybody. She shouted for anybody alive to reveal themselves. The bar was empty, all the seats too. Nobody on the walkway either. She paced deeper in, nearly being hit by a falling flaming rafter. She saw nobody, and was about to turn around and leave when she was hit over the head with a heavy blunt object. She stumbled forward and swung around, just in time for another wallop, this time across the face, with what she discerned to be a heavy wooden chair.
"You brought the crowd here!" yelled a well-dressed vampire, game face on and fangs bared. "You did this to my establishment!" Buffy stumbled to her feet and held up her hands defensively.
"Wow wow wow, hold on a sec. This is a vampire strip club?" Buffy asked incredulously, motioning all around her. "I guess this is a place of evil." The tuxedoed vampire took another swing at her with the chair, missing her when she ducked. "And I'm guess that bottled red stuff behind the bar isn't Grenadine?" She grabbed the chair from him as he took another swing, and smashed it over him, grabbing a shard of it and quickly staking him. Sensing no more trouble, she left the way she came in, coughing as she exited into the fresh air. She stalked off before the mob could confront her to make sure she was alright. Not seeing her blue accomplice anywhere, she decided to go back to the hotel. It had been an otherwise uneventful night, and it seemed as though the humans could take care of themselves in this town. "No wonder they never sent me here. Sunnydale people really were stupid hicks…couldn't even burn down Willie's" she thought to herself.
Angel and Gunn were in Angel's viper, one of the few things he had been able to salvage from the wreckage of the Wolfram and Hart building, cruising back to the hotel, with Angel firmly in the drivers seat. They had settled into a comfortable silence after leaving the hospital, one which Angel was loathed to break, but the issue on his mind was simply too pressing for him to hold off any longer.
"Gunn…" Angel began, but broke off, finding it difficult to form the correct words.
"Whussup?" Pausing for several long and arduous seconds, Angel spoke with far less then the firm resoluteness he had been aiming for.
"I think it would be best if…I mean I don't want you to feel like…...what I'm trying to say is-" Gunn raised an eyebrow, quite familiar with Angel's uncomfortable disposition when it came to sensitive issues.
"Whatever you're trying to say, I think I'd react better if you actually said it," Gunn said, looking expectantly at Angel, eyebrows raised. Angel sighed, frustrated at his inability to say what he wanted to, so he decided to just come out and say it, sensitivities be damned.
"I won't be asking for you help. Ever." Damn! I was too short!
"Ok. Why the hell not?" Gunn shot back. Angel glanced at him, then back to the road.
"It's too dangerous." Gunn stared at Angel for several seconds before responding.
"My ass. When are you gonna tell me the real reason?"
"That is the real reason," Angel said resolutely. Gunn folded his arms.
"Ok. Spill. I'm waiting. I think you owe me an explanation as to why you're suddenly cutting me off after all we've been through." Angel took in a deep breath and let out a long, melancholy sigh.
"That's just it Gunn. It's we. Not…you and me we. Me…and my friends we...I lost them. Every one of them." Gunn shook his head.
"Now that's jus' bullshit Angel."
"No, it's not! Doyle, Cordellia, Fred, and Wesley. They're all dead, and it's because of me. You would have died in that alley too. And I've driven Lorne away. He may even be dead for all I know. Gunn, you're my last human friend. You're…" Realisation dawned on Gunn. He nodded his head as he got what Angel was saying. "You're my only friend Gunn. All my other friends are dead."
They rode on in silence, taking the time to mourn their fallen comrades. Gunn looked at Angel, and saw how alone he felt. He believed himself responsible for all their deaths. Gunn felt wholly responsible for Fred's death, but surely that was only a fraction of how bad Angel felt. He wondered how Angel could bare it.
"You regret them dying. You think you failed them?" Angel just stared, eyes unwavering from the road. "Do they?"
"What?" Angel asked, swinging his head around to look intently at Gunn.
"Do they think you failed them?" Angel opened his mouth, trying to form words, but nothing came out. "I don't think they blame you. Doyle died to protect dozens of innocent people. You think he holds you responsible? And Cordy died, going on to a higher plane, where she's doing untold good, where she's supremely happy. Wesley died saving the world. Do you think either of them holds you responsible? Do you think that given the chance, they wouldn't sacrifice themselves again, if it meant doing good?"
"What about Fred? What did she die for?" Angel challenged. It was Gunns turn to bow his head.
"Her death was meaningless. But hers should be on my conscience, not yours. Angel, I guarantee you that every single one of them would happily die for the cause. Including me." Angel stared intently at Gunn, taking solace in his words of compassion, causing him to nearly hit an oncoming car. He swerved out of the and got back on track. "But not in a traffic accident!"
"Sorry," Angel apologised sheepishly. Gunn glared at him for a moment longer, before smiling and slapping Angel on the shoulder, telling him not to worry about it.
Angel and Gunn strode confidently into the Hyperion, where the four scoobies were busily researching. Gunn was surprised at all the changes, and the new faces, but took it all in stride.
"Oh, Angel, you're back!" said Dawn loudly, stating the obvious. "And you brought a friend! Would this be the Charles Gunn I've heard so much about?" Angel smiled and folded his hands in front of his waist.
"Everybody, this is Charles Gunn, one of my asso…one of my friends," Angel corrected himself. Gunn smiled at Angel. It seemed as though the Angel he knew before the whole Wolfram and Hart business was slowly returning. "Gunn, this is Rupert Giles, Xander Harris and Dawn Summers," he said motioning to each of them. Gunn shook their hands, exchanging how do you dos. "And you've already under met Willow."
"Hiya Gunn!" Willow chirped. "Glad we could meet again under better circumstances. No Angelus needing a re-ensoulment this time!"
"For sure," agreed Gunn. Now that's strange, Angel noted. He was sure Giles would be uncomfortable at the mention of his alter ego, but he didn't even seem to register the name. No quickened heartbeat, no scent of anger. "So what're you all up to?" Giles fielded the question.
"We've been searching for an answer to what happened in the alley. No luck so far I'm afraid," he admitted, glancing back to his book.
"Yeah. They don't call. Don't write. The rudest army of darkness I've ever fought," quipped Xander, waving a finger at his tome.
"You didn't fight them," Dawn pointed out dryly. Xander seemed to notice his error and tossed Dawn a somewhat dirty look.
"Fought with words and books, is what I meant. I mean, last time an army of thirty thousand nasties attacked, they left ashes. These guys left nothing, except a weird spell that we don't even know what it does yet." Giles sat back in his chair and took off his glasses, rubbing the bridge of his nose. Putting them back on, he stood, pushing his chair out.
"I'm going to turn in. In the morning, I suggest we discontinue this course of action. It's clearly getting us nowhere."
"I second that motion!" said Xander, raising his hand.
"Same here," agreed Dawn. Looking to Giles for approval, they closed their books and got up.
"Will, you gonna finish up or what?" asked Xander expectantly. She looked up and him shook her head.
"I'll go on for a few more pages. You go to bed. I'll be up in a bit." Xander nodded, and followed Giles up the stairs to their rooms, Dawn trailing after him. Angel went into his office to prepare a mug of blood.
Gunn sat down next to Willow and opened a book. 'Group magic' it read on the inside cover. "So I take it the search for an answer is turning up squat?" Gunn asked Willow, who nodded in the affirmative.
"It's pretty elusive. I don't think any of these books has one. I've already surfed the entire web looking for an answer, but…" Gunn looked surprised.
"The entire web?" Willow nodded.
"I used magic. Got it done in a matter of minutes. I would do it to these books, you know, suck the information out of them thus bypassing the whole research process, but the mystical properties of them might kinda, you know, overload me. I keep the magic toned down these days."
"Cause of the whole destroying the world thing. I get that," said Gunn, smiling. Willow furrowed her brow, unsure what to make of his response. It still made her uncomfortable talking about it.
"Yeah, I assume you know the details. You don't seem to bothered by it though. That definitely wasn't the reaction I expected." Gunn shrugged.
"You're not the only person on our team who tried to destroy the world," he remarked, looking over at the approaching Angel.
"Yeah, I guess that's true. Hey Angel, we could set up a support group and have like, AA meetings or something," Willow said, ending with a small giggle.
"Apocalypse Anonymous?" Mused Angel. "Sounds like fun." Willow looked shocked. Did Angel just play along with a joke? She's expected him to just stand there with a broody look on his face. However, the joking ended sooner than she would have wished, as Angel moved onto more serious questions. "Tell me Willow, how exactly is your magic? Last I heard, you were in some kind of…higher plane?" he asked with arms folded, mug of blood resting in the crook of his right arm.
"Well, that's all quite a long story. The long and the short of it is that after the whole end of world phase of my life, I couldn't really be around magic too much, but I couldn't stop, as that might be worse-"
"-Because of your power," Angel finished knowingly.
"Yeah. I didn't use much until I made all the slayers into, well, slayers. That was some really powerful mojo. I was buzzing with energy for days after. For the last year I've been trying to keep my magic under control. It's workin' pretty well if I do say so myself. I can do most kinds of everyday magic without having to worry. I got better and better at controlling it. I thought I had it down. But…" she sighed. "I didn't. I know that now. I went to Tibet to learn how to use strong magic without loosing control, but they showed me that I've only just begun to control my power."
"Really?" Said Gunn. "Cause you look pretty in control to me."
"I'm not," Willow said, her tone for the first time betraying her emotions. There was defiantly fear in her voice. "There are sorcerers out there who are much stronger than me, even though I have more raw power, all because they can control it." Gunn indicated he didn't understand.
"Cyrus Vail," supplied Angel. Willow nodded.
"I've heard of him. Head of an empire. He's one of the world's big guns when it comes to magic. I have more raw power, but he has such mastery over his power that he can do things that I couldn't dream of doing."
"Had," corrected Angel. "He's dead. He's also the one who killed Wesley," he said darkly, a pained look on his face. It passed quickly.
"Oh," Willow whispered. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"
"It's ok Willow." He and Gunn shared a look, one which said more than words ever could. Angel thought of each of his deceased friends in turn. He realised that Gun was right. He wasn't responsible for their deaths. He realised something else. Wishing they hadn't died in the service of good would be an affront to their memories. He was sure none of them would want him to torture himself over what had passed. He made a decision then and there. He was going to move on. He was going to find direction in life and he was going to follow it, no matter where it took him. He had a feeling the battle wasn't over, but he was going to live.
I've…made my peace."