Angel dashed outside, finding Buffy surrounded by cultists. Buffy swiftly became a blur of motion, dodging and ducking while she delivered her own blows. She sent a kick right to the chest of one cultist, which, judging by the crack, the way he collapsed to the ground, and the blood that spurted from his mouth, must have crushed several internal organs. Buffy grabbed another and flung him at two of his buddies, sending them all sprawling to the ground. Angel snapped his neck before he had a chance to get back up.
Even outnumbered six-to-one and unarmed, Buffy and Angel still had the advantage in strength, speed, and endurance. It had taken them mere seconds to disable or kill one third of their attackers. Then Buffy seized a knife from one of the fallen and tore into the rest.
Angel knew from experience that strength alone did not make one invincible. The existence of humans who fought vampires without superpowers and lived to tell about it proved this. A clever enough man could outwit his enemies by various means. But these cultists had not been clever. And numbers alone did not guarantee victory. If they did, Spike "Hey-let's-fight-that-large-and-angry-mob-for-fun" would have been dust ages ago. No human could hope to match a vampire – or for that matter a slayer – in close combat without much better weapons, a good plan, or a ton of luck.
When the last cultist fell, Buffy dropped her knife and embraced Angel.
"Are you okay?" he asked, one hand on the back of her head.
"I'm fine," she replied.
"Let's get you inside the house." He broke the embrace.
Buffy looked at him oddly.
"So the Rus practiced cremation in order to –"
"DING-DONG!" Jenny was rudely interrupted. Giles groaned and pried himself off the couch.
"Who the bloody hell is it –" Giles opened the door to find Buffy and Angel standing there. They looked like they had just been in a fight, and not with each other. Buffy's hair was a mess, and both of them had blood on their clothes. Hopefully not theirs.
"Uh, hi," Angel said.
"Our place is cursed," Buffy deadpanned. "Can we crash here?"
Giles was, for once, speechless.
When Buffy saw the wine glasses – and Ms. Calendar's outfit – she felt rather embarrassed. As weird as it was to think of Giles in a relationship, she knew how he and Ms. Calendar felt about each other. In fact, she had done quite a bit of work to get them together.
"So, your apartment is cursed?" Giles asked, pulling over a chair for Angel.
"Every time we go inside, we fight," Buffy explained. "And the minute we go outside, all those feelings go away."
"And it's a new development." Angel sat down in the proffered chair. "It's not the first time we've had our disagreements, but we've had three fights in the last two days."
"And our last fight sent me right into an ambush," Buffy added.
"I see." Giles sat back down next to Ms. Calendar.
"Could someone have cursed our apartment somehow?" Angel asked. "A spell?"
Giles shook his head. "Homes are sacred ground. They're immune to harmful magic. Just as vampires and certain other creatures cannot enter a home without an invitation, magic must be invited in. Has anyone else been inside your home?"
"Just you two, Willow, Xander, Cordelia, and Oz for the housewarming party," Buffy replied.
"Darla got in without an invitation," Angel said. Buffy and Giles looked at him with shock. Ms. Calendar was confused.
"Darla was in your apartment?" Giles spoke deliberately. "When did this happen?"
"Shortly before I killed her. Just after Buffy found out I was a vampire."
The reminder that Angel had been the one to kill Darla calmed Buffy.
"Vampire homes are not sacred ground," Angel continued.
"But that was before I moved in," Buffy pointed out. "It's my home now – we even changed the address in my school records. And this all started after I moved in."
"But I'm still living there," Angel retorted. "Maybe having a demon on the premises changes things."
"It shouldn't." Giles was looking glum, the way he normally did when he couldn't come up with an answer to a problem.
A thought came to Buffy's head. "What if someone – a human – broke into the apartment while we were out and cast a spell?"
"Still an intruder." Giles sighed. "If they tried, the spell wouldn't work. Or it would backfire."
"Unless," Jenny raised a finger, "they didn't cast a spell per se. They could have left a cursed object behind, something that causes strife."
"So we find the cursed object and destroy it," Angel concluded.
"That may not be so easy," Jenny frowned. "It's probably small. It could be hidden in an out-of-the-way place."
"Could there be a spell to find it?"
"I imagine so…" Giles started for his books. Buffy raised a hand to stop him.
"Shouldn't we call the gang together? Research party?"
"Yes, I suppose that would be a good idea." Giles didn't stop moving.
Fortunately, it was still early enough in the evening that Xander, Willow, Cordelia, and Oz were awake and available for research. Willow and Oz arrived shortly – they both lived nearby. Cordelia and Xander arrived fifteen minutes later. Cordelia's hair was noticeably unkempt, which left little to the imagination about what she and Xander had been up to.
"So, I didn't quite catch what's going on," Cordelia . "All I got was 'Buffy's house is cursed, and we need to figure out a way to break the curse.'"
"It's more complicated than that," Giles handed her a book of spells. "We think there's a cursed object inside Buffy's house that's making her and Angel fight. We need a spell to find the object."
"Look for spells that find cursed objects. Got it." Cordelia sat down and began reading.
The problem wasn't just finding spells – there were plenty to detect other spells in effect. The problem was finding one they could actually use. A lot required a practicing witch to cast the spell. Others required components that would be difficult or immoral to obtain, like bamboo from the grove of Din Phu in Vietnam, seven ounces of diamond dust, or the still-beating heart of a virgin. Some Ms. Calendar rejected because they sounded fraudulent.
After three hours, Buffy could barely focus. Reading had never been her strong suit, and it didn't help that the fights with Angel and the cultists had taken a lot out of her. So she set down Polinger's Spells And Charms and scanned the room.
It was the first time the gang had ever met at Giles' house. Angel, Xander, Cordelia, Oz, and Giles were scattered around the living room, with varying levels of focus on what they were doing. Giles was, of course, completely fixated on the pile of open books on his coffee table. Angel, standing, was speed-reading, skimming the books for useful information before returning them to the shelf. Oz sat in a green/red patterned chair, slowly paging through a modern-looking Wicca book. Cordelia and Xander sat at the kitchen counter. Cordelia was taking copious notes, as she often did in class, while Xander was mostly looking at her notes. Willow and Ms. Calendar had moved to the dining room, where they were busy with their laptops – unsurprisingly, Giles did not have a computer in his house.
"Aw, crap," Willow broke the silence. Everyone else immediately looked up from their books and at her, as much in a "what was that noise?" way as a "what is Willow saying?" way.
"What is it?" Buffy asked.
"I thought I had found a database of spells, but it's in Chinese."
"I'm afraid I don't speak Chinese," Giles said glumly.
"I do," Angel got up and walked over. "Willow, could you help me navigate?"
"Sure, just translate what everything says."
They began chatting away as Angel read everything from spell descriptions to menu buttons aloud. The others returned to their reading, but Buffy listened in.
"OK, I think we've got something!" Willow announced cheerfully after an hour.
"You've found a spell we can use? No witch, no virgin's heart?"
Angel scanned the text. "It says nothing about a practiced caster – it's a charm used to counter evil curses. We'll need some supplies – gingko tea and incense."
Giles stood up from the couch and walked over to a cupboard, where he kept his occult supplies. "I should have some incense…"
Cordelia sat up. "I have gingko at my house." She slipped off her stool and ran out the door without a word, keys held in her hand. Buffy heard the sound of her car starting a moment later.
"What else do we need to do?" Buffy asked, walking over.
Angel focused intently on the computer screen. "There's an incantation you'll need to read – in Chinese."
"You'll help me through it?" Buffy placed her hand on Angel's. He looked into her eyes.
"We'll do it together," he half-whispered.
"You'll need to be careful," Giles warned. "I've been looking into these kinds of curses. They play on your emotions. In this case, any disagreement, no matter how small, could turn into another fight. From the moment you step into your home, you cannot disagree with each other on anything. Otherwise, you will surely fail."
Cordelia returned unusually fast. Giles had prepared the tea for them, then poured it into a flask. He then dropped Buffy and Angel off at their apartment.
Buffy turned to Angel. "So, before we go inside, anything we need to work out?"
"Well, I was thinking that the space in front of the bed would be good to do the ritual…" he started.
"I meant about our relationship," Buffy's voice was measured but firm.
"Buffy…" Angel took her hands in his, bending slightly at the waist to bring his head closer to hers.
"We both have our issues. We're not perfect. What I said about maturity the other day is true. You're still a seventeen-year-old girl."
Buffy's eyes widened, then narrowed. "Angel…"
"But what you said is also true. You've done far more good in your short life than I have in mine. And that you were able to grasp that shows exceptional wisdom and insight on your part. It's taken me over two hundred years to get to where I am now. Your wisdom comes naturally."
Buffy smiled. She had never thought of herself as wise.
"After we get rid of this curse," she began, "we'll sit down and figure out how to live together. Who buys food, who buys blood, where everything goes…"
"…who's a reliable source of information," Angel finished. That got a giggle out of Buffy.
"I love you, Angel," she said.
"I love you, Buffy," he replied.
"Let's do this."
Once they entered, Buffy was quiet. She meant to say as few words as possible until they had broken the curse. They sat down next to the bed, facing each other. Angel placed the incense in the center, and lit it with a match. Now for the tea.
First, Angel drank.
I hope he doesn't drink it all, Buffy thought. Fortunately, when he handed the flask to her, it was still heavy with liquid. Buffy drank the rest.
"Now, repeat after me." Angel took out a piece of paper and read aloud.
"Pingjing he zhixu."
Buffy tried to form her mouth around the unfamiliar sounds. "Pingjing he zhixu."
"No, you need to stress the first syllable. Pingjing he zhixu."
"Pingjing he zhixu," Buffy repeated.
"Good," Angel smiled. "Now in reverse. Zhixu he pingjing."
"Zhixu he pingjing."
"Pingjing he zhixu."
"Pingjing he zhixu."
"Zhixu he pingjing."
"Zhixu he pingjing."
Suddenly, Buffy became aware of a powerful sensation coming from her dresser. Judging by the way Angel's head snapped in the same direction as hers, he felt it too. Slowly, they got up and walked towards it. Buffy's hand went straight for the third drawer. She pulled it out and dumped her clothes on the floor.
And there, buried in the middle of the pile, was a miniature golden apple. Buffy picked it up, and carried it over the sink. Channeling her anger, she crushed it into dust. She turned on the faucet, and the dust was washed away.
Just like the blood I destroyed.
She turned back to Angel. He smirked.
"I really didn't think that simply crushing a magic anger-causing golden apple was the right idea."
"Good thing it worked," she replied brightly.
"Come here," he opened his arms. She practically leapt into them.
"Can the long discussion wait?" he asked. "I have some other things I want to do first."
Buffy looked into his eyes. They both smiled.
Despite all that had happened, despite the Hellmouth itself trying to tear them apart, Buffy and Angel were together. And happy.
Jenny was afraid.
She feared that Buffy or Rupert would find out that she had planted the Apple of Circe in Angel's apartment. Everything she had done, she did for her family, but it still felt like betrayal.
But even more, she feared what her uncle would do when he learned of her failure.
It wasn't that she had screwed up. There was no spell within her reach to make two people stop loving each other. Indeed, she didn't think that there was one. In fact, she was sure that Enyos would realize this. And now he would have only one path left open to him, if he was to ensure that Angel never knew happiness.
Janna Kalderash collapsed on her bed, sobbing in sheer terror.
A/N: FINALLY! Thanks to everyone for sticking it out so long.
I wish I could say that the next chapter would come soon. Unfortunately, I have other fanfic to write, and I have yet to outline the next episode. Don't worry, it will come.
The Chinese translation is courtesy of Google Translate. It means "serenity and order". If I knew Chinese, I would probably have done something properly with the tonal element. Unfortunately, my only foreign language is Hebrew, which for historical and religious reasons is really unsuited to magical incantations. So I apologize if I butchered it. Which I probably did.
I couldn't find a space to explain the origin of the Apple of Circe in the story, so I'll do it here. Circe is the Greek goddess of strife. Once, there was a party on Mount Olympus held by Zeus. Circe was not invited, because Zeus is an idiot. She crashed the party, and left a golden apple, with the words "for the most beautiful" inscribed on it. Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena each lay claim to it. Zeus, not wanting to anger any of them, decided to delegate the decision to Paris, prince of Troy. Each goddess tried to bribe him. Hera offered him fame and glory, Aphrodite offered him the most beautiful woman in the world, and Athena offered him fortune on the battlefield. Paris, being a guy, went for Aphrodite's offer. Unfortunately, the woman in question was the daughter of Menelaus, king of the Greek city of Mycenea, who did not like the idea of his daughter running off with some Trojan prince one bit. The end result was a little scrap called the Trojan War. Which, I imagined, suited Circe just fine.
So I felt that a golden apple made an appropriate symbol of strife.