Mid-May 2002

Buffy opened her eyes and saw nothing but darkness. Images flashed through her mind of what should have been her last moments on earth. Dawn on the tower, Spike and the others below watching as Buffy took her swan dive. Spike had a horrific look on his face as if he could not believe she was doing it. She was supposed to be dead. There were fuzzy memories of a place not Sunnydale, of a time that was not chaotic and heavy on the death but Buffy could not remember much beyond that.

"Happy," she whispered. Her voice sounded gravelly and foreign to her as if she had not used it in a while. She closed her eyes and swallowed hard willing her body to move. What choice did she have? She opened her eyes again becoming more aware of her surroundings. It was dark so she assumed it was night. She smelled the familiar scent of salty air and surmised she was near the ocean. That was the extent of what her senses would allow her to learn.

The ocean she had always loved so well called to her urgently, frantically, pounding at the walls in her mind. She could feel it in her blood, her soul. "Why?" It was an interesting question since she did not seem able to move.

She felt with her hands and realized she was lying on sand. How had she gotten to the beach? She was really confused now. Things were starting to become clearer. She was able to focus on things with her eyes. She was at the dunes. She came here on a field trip with her class when she lived in LA. At least she assumed this was the same place.

She rolled onto her side and got to her knees. She felt a breeze at her back and realized only then that she was wearing a dress. The dress was something she would not have been caught dead in. It was black, which was fine, but it looked like a dress her mom would have worn.

She started to walk, but realized too late that she was not strong enough to as quickly as she would have liked. She fell flat on her face in the sand. She rolled onto her back, staring into the night's sky and started to laugh. It was almost uncontrollable.

The dress, the confusion, the weakness and the disorientation all pointed to the fact she had died. It was unbelievable, but it made her wonder why she was here. Why had she been brought back? Had she not earned the right to be left in peace?

"You'd think five years of fighting apocalypses would earn you the right to call it quits but evidently not," she murmured as she struggled to stand again. "Put one foot in front of the other," she sang to the tone of the old Christmas special she used to watch as a child. She was wobbly, like a newborn calf she had seen at the zoo once. She guessed she was a newborn too in a supernatural sort of way.

She knew there were other things in play here making decisions. The memories of time spent somewhere else were getting hazy as things on the dunes became clearer. Evidently she could not keep her memories.

She was walking steadier now, slowly but at least she would not be mistaken for a drunk. She felt like she was recovering from a night of intense partying. She could deal with that.

The wind blew hair in her face and she struggled to brush it out of the way while continuing to concentrate on walking. She was not able to go beyond basic thoughts and actions. In the distance, she heard escalated voices and the sounds of fighting. Sounds indicating a struggle.

She was in no position to interfere and surely she was entitled to a night of getting adjusted before beginning her slayer duties again. Evidently that was not the case.

She turned in the direction of the voices hoping that the wind was not carrying them in a way as to play tricks on her. Was this why she had been brought back?

Her thoughts distracted her from concentrating on walking, but she was moving better now. It was as if the thought of a crisis revitalized her, awakened something in her. She hated that thought because it meant she was little more than a killer.

The scene before her was baffling. She did not see him anywhere, only a young guy and a woman doing something with some sort of box thing. Had her ears deceived her? How pathetic was she that she would dream up his voice first thing? She thought she had gotten beyond that.

And then she heard it again.

"Connor. Why are you doing this?"

"You murdered my father."

"No. I didn't. I swear."

"He's lying," the woman said.

"I'm not lying. And she knows it."

"You're the prince of lies."

"That's why you wouldn't let them kill me at the drive-in. So you could."

"Killing is too good for you. You don't get to die. You get to live - forever."

It was then that Buffy realized that he was in the box. And it was not a box. It was a coffin. Her hand flew to her mouth stifling the scream that threatened to come out. She began to run for all she was worth.

"Some day you'll learn the truth - and you'll hate yourself. Don't. It's not your fault. I don't blame you."

"Liar!"

"Listen to me. I love you! Never forget that."

The guy and the woman with him went to pick up the lid of the coffin. Buffy wondered if she was going to get there in time.

"Connor?! Connor, never forget that I'm your father and that I love you. Connor? Con..."

Angel's voice was cut off as the lid came down. She watched as the guy looked through the wire-mesh glass window at Angel's face. He and the woman slid two rods into their channels, and the woman begins to weld them into place.

Buffy picked up a rock big enough to do damage and threw it in the direction of the woman. "Bingo," Buffy said as the rock made contact with the woman's arm. She dropped the torch, her arm probably disabled.

"Oh, I'm sorry, am I interrupting?" She had their attention now. Both seemed so engrossed with what they were doing they had not noticed the blonde walking through the dunes alone.

"This is none of your business."

"It doesn't look like what you're doing is very legal."

"He has no rights."

Buffy stepped in front of the coffin, glanced at Angel's face and saw surprise register in his eyes. The surprise quickly changed to hope. "Buffy," he mouthed and she knew it was him soul and all.

"Who made you judge and jury?" She folded her arms across her chest as she regarded the couple.

"He killed my father."

She glanced at Angel who could do nothing due to the restraints. "And again, I ask, who made you judge and jury? There is a justice system in place. I find it usually works."

"Not for people like him."

"He looks harmless enough to me," she retorted.

"Go away. This is none of your business."

"Well, you see, it kind of is."

"Who the hell are you?"

"I'm Buffy," she said simply.

"Don't listen to her, Connor," his female companion said.

"Death is too good for him."

"Yeah, I get that you're bitter and angry."

"I'm not letting him out. He deserves to pay for what he did."

"Killing your father?"

"Yes," the guy hissed.

"I'll make a deal with you."

"What?"

"We fight. Whoever wins gets him."

Connor grinned smugly and scoffed. She thought she saw a look of warning in Angel's eyes but she could not be sure. She probably should not have been challenging anyone to a fight at the moment, but did not feel she had much choice. She was not going to be able to talk Angel's way out of the coffin.

"I can't fight a girl."

Buffy smiled widely. She always loved being underestimated. Even those who knew she was the slayer were guilty of it. Up until the moment their unbeating heart met the tip of Mr. Pointy.

"I tell you what. I say it's okay and I won't tell anyone when you get your butt kicked by a girl."

He laughed then. Buffy had seen him fighting Angel in the distance, so she knew that he was good. She felt stronger and hoped it was enough. Angel's life depended on it. She had an advantage in that he had no idea who or what she was. He was under the impression she was just a normal twenty-something female.

Sensing he was not going to make the first move and was still undecided she took the opportunity to start it with a jab straight to his nose. He was unprepared for it so she hit it square on.

"I really didn't want to do this."

"Yeah, well, I can't stand by and watch you torture someone." She blocked a punch he threw in the direction of her jaw. He was fast, faster than a human but he was not vampire.

She had no idea when the last time she had actually sparred was. How long had she been gone anyway? And now that she was back it was if she had never left. She was in pretty peak shape when she dove off that tower. Despite her unsteady start a while ago she felt strong and capable. The longer they fought the stronger she felt, as if fighting was returning life and energy to her body.

He tried to kick her in the kneecap but she managed to block it, taking the force of his kick against her forearm. But that did not slow her down. She had to keep fighting to get Angel out of that box. She would not have fought this hard if it had been her life hanging in the balance.

"What are you?" he asked when she was not even phased by the blows he landed. And he did land some, just as she did in return. Neither would walk out of this battle unscathed. He fought like no human she had ever encountered, but he did not quite have the strength of a vampire either.

"I could ask you the same question because I know you're not human."

"I am human," he said and she realized she had struck a chord with that statement.

"A little too defensive on that one. Are we sure we're human? Or is there some doubt lingering there in your mind? Maybe you've got a little demon in you."

"Shut up," he spat and sloppily threw a punch which she was able to block. She grabbed his fist with her hand and spun him around, his arm wrenched up behind his back.

"Didn't anyone ever teach you to leave your emotions checked at the door when you're going into a fight," she said. She swept a foot under him, knocking him off balance and driving him to his knees on the sand. She heard him let out a small cry of pain as his arm jerked up even further behind his back with the movement.

"Now, I can break your arm pretty easily like this. I'm sure you know that. I could do a lot of damage."

"What are you?"

"I'm the slayer."

"You should want him dead as much as I do."

"But you don't want him dead. What you're doing, or were about to do, is torture. Now, tell your friend here to start opening the box or I'll finish what I started."

"You'd kill me for him? He's a murdering fiend."

"I know, he murdered your father," she said, growing tired of this circular argument. If he had truly done what this guy accused him of doing Angel would have some explaining to do. "Angel?"

"Yes, Buffy?"

"Did you kill his father?"

"No," he said softly.

"You know him?"

Buffy sighed heavily. "Yes."

"I'm his father, Buffy. He was kidnapped from me as a baby only months ago and taken to a hell dimension. He returned as you see him now, a grown boy."

"I'm not a boy."

"He's my son, Buffy."

"Okay, let's pretend that this is possible. Then who does he think you killed?"

"Holtz," he replied as if that explained everything. Buffy searched her memory for a moment, wondering if the name was supposed to mean something to her. It was either escaping her or it meant nothing.

"Holtz?"

"It's a long story, someone from my past. He kidnapped Connor, raised him as his son. He thinks I killed him, but when I left the motel they were staying at he was very much alive." His eyes met Buffy's and she knew he was telling the truth. She had no idea how she did. They had not been particularly close since he left her but she knew. "Now, Justine," he said.

"Who's Justine?"

"Connor's co-conspirator."

Buffy glanced at the woman in question. "What about her?"

"She reeks of Holtz and has the scent of his blood all over her."

"Gotta love that vampiric sense of smell," she mused, tugging on Connor's arm when she felt him try to pry his way out of her grasp. "Did anyone ever mention that Slayer's are inherently stronger than vampires? There's a reason for that. So, I'd stop with the attempts to get away."

"She framed me. I don't know why," Angel paused then and Buffy saw his eyes brighten as if something had just dawned on him.

"What?"

"He framed me. Connor," he called out. Buffy shifted so Connor had no choice but to look at Angel. "Do you understand that? He framed me. He wanted you to think I had killed him. It was his last chance to get revenge for killing his family. He took you away from me, but that wasn't enough. He had to know when he left this world you'd hate me."

"He didn't have to die for me to hate you."

"He was old, Connor. He was going to die soon anyway. He was weakening."

"Get her to unfasten the box. Now."

"Connor, no," the woman said.

"Do it," he hissed. "I'm not going to be a martyr, Justine."

"You have some explaining to do about this having a son business," Buffy said to Angel as Connor and Justine spoke.

"You have some explaining to do about this not being dead business."

"I guess we both have stories to tell," she said casually as Justine walked to the box and began unfastening the pins. Buffy could have done it herself much faster, but she could not risk letting Connor go.

She regarded Angel and then turned her attention to Connor. She wondered briefly what a child they might have had would look like. Would he be tall and dark like this guy? Or would he be fair like Buffy?

"How old would he be?"

"Six months."

"A baby," she said wistfully. "Who?" She was not sure she wanted to know who his mother was.

"Darla."

"Darla? How? I mean, she was dead."

"And so were you."

"Point taken. Okay, so you and Darla made a baby." She should have been hurt she supposed that he left Sunnydale and took up with his long-time lover and companion. But she could not be upset with him for that. She had moved on and he was entitled to do the same. She supposed it was better Darla than someone new. But then again, Darla was evil. Did that mean Angel was too? "And your soul?"

"Still here."

"Like that makes any difference."

"Have you seen him without his soul?" Buffy asked.

"I don't have to. He's a vampire."

"Well, I've seen him without his soul and there's a huge difference."

"I've heard about you," Justine spoke as she removed the last of the pins.

"Huh?" Buffy said.

"You were in love with him."

"Guilty as charged."

"Don't you think that makes you more than a little biased? If not a lot sick?"

"I'm not sick and I'm not biased. Should I tell you how many vampires he's killed? Or how many times he got my friends out of harm's way so that I could concentrate on doing my job." Of course there were the few months he had been without his soul and Buffy and her friends had been the focus of his attention. But Buffy had forgiven him. She had no choice. That was what love was about. "Listen, I'm not here to debate with you. You ambushed him and you got caught. Deal with it."

"He has to pay."

"If he comes up missing, I'll find you. And don't think I won't. If I have to stay here and act as his bodyguard until you stop trying I'll do it." The box was now open. "Undo the chains," Buffy demanded.

"You'd protect him?"

"I am and I will. Hell, I'm not even supposed to be here, but here I am so I guess I'm supposed to." She shrugged, loosening her grip on Connor's arms slightly, though not enough for him to get away.

Once the chains were undone, Buffy released Connor and walked to where Angel stood. He was a free man. Tears formed in her eyes now that she was looking at him. She had no idea what would have happened to him had she not been here. He would not have died, but without blood to feed on he would have withered away to a weakened mess.

He took her into his arms and she hugged him back. It was more than a lover's embrace though she noticed he smelled good.

"I guess The Powers That Be were looking out for me after all."

"I guess so," she said, withdrawing from the embrace. Her hands remained joined with his before she let that bit of contact slip away. "What are we going to do about them?"

"Take them back I guess," Angel said.

"You're more understanding than I'd be if my mother tried to kill me. Well, she did that once, but it wasn't her fault."

"Buffy, it's not his fault either. He was raised on stories of what I was like before my soul. Who could blame him for thinking I deserved to die?"

"He wasn't going to kill you, Angel. He was going to torture you."

"So, we give them a ride back to town and then what?"

He smiled then and it blew her away. She imagined it was supposed to have that affect on her. "You said you were going to be my bodyguard."

"Oh boy," she whispered. Not of the good. She could not guard Angel's body without serious risk to the world.

"You lied?"

"No, of course not."

"That's okay, I understand."

"No, you don't. I can stay if you need me to, but I should tell the others I'm here."

"They don't know?"

"No. I don't think you understand. I just got here, woke up on one of the dunes maybe a couple of hours ago."

"They sent you to help me."

"Looks like."

"I'll take you to Sunnydale tonight."

"Are you sure? I could just call them."

"You saved my life, it's the least I can do."

"Are you going to take us back or not?" Connor said. Buffy spun around to look at him, and saw a glimmer in his eyes that looked like Angel.

"He really is your son."

"Yes," he said softly. "Let's go. My car is," he thought for a moment. Buffy could tell he was getting his bearing straight. "This way."