Buffy rose from the sofa and walked toward the door. "Gang I really hate to break up this little research party but going to head out for a quick sweep." She told the group sitting around Giles' apartment. "Xander could you make sure that Will and Tara get home in one piece?"
Xander dropped his sixth slice of pizza on a napkin next to the book that he had been reading and looked over at the slayer. "Sure thing, Buffster."
From his armchair her watcher shut the book of prophecies in his lap and addressed her. "Be careful Buffy and let me know if you run into anything."
She opened the door and nodded, "Will do Giles. See you tomorrow."
"Good night Buffy." They told her as they watched her leave.
Buffy walked briskly away from Giles' and across town to Shady Rest her first stop on her whirlwind tour of Sunnydale's famous cemeteries. The most unlively places to be in Sunnydale at night, she thought to herself. Was unlively even a word was her next thought and she pondered that for a moment as she rhythmically tapped her stake against her thigh. If it wasn't it should be in Sunnydale. Shaking her head she tried to clear these rather strange thoughts that were in her mind. Her concentration was really shot lately. Since her return from LA a month prior she had not been sleeping well and when she did, dreams of things that could not happen plagued her. Such as the dream where she saw herself kissing Angel while sunlight streamed all around them. On more than one morning she had been awoken by the sound of her own sobbing.
It made it impossible to get on with that new life that she had bragged to Angel about. She had told him that she was at the start of something but that was falling apart right before her eyes. She had been on a couple of dates with Riley after the visit and she could clearly see that any hope that she had of building something with him toppling like a pyramid of playing cards in a wind storm. Five minutes in a room with Angel and her broken heart once again refused to acknowledge anyone but her true soul mate.
A cool wind blew around her as she walked shoulders hunched along the well-worn path through the gravestones. She couldn't keep doing this to herself. Carefully blanking her mind to stop the thoughts that were swirling through her head she focused on the sounds of the night. Buffy stretched out her senses and tried to use her slayer abilities to find her prey in the dark December night.
"Bingo." She thought as she found what she was looking for. Ahead of her and to the right she heard the unmistakable sounds of a newbie clawing his way from his grave. Stalking forward she allowed the night to swallow her as she prepared to end this creature's reign of terror before it even began.
The newbie finally pulled himself from the ground and looked down at the earth that had held him prisoner. Fresh from the grave he did not yet have the ability to read his supernatural senses; the demon completely missed the fact that a much stronger predator was approaching.
Buffy tapped the vampire on the shoulder. He spun around swiftly, eyes shining golden and in full game face. "Hi." She said in a bubbly voice.
The creature smiled evilly at her. "I didn't know that this would be so easy. I thought that I would have to go in search of food. I didn't know that it would walk up to me a volunteer to be eaten."
Giggling, Buffy punched the vamp in the face with a vicious right hook that sent him stumbling backwards several feet. "Sorry to tell you this but you've already had your last meal."
Snarling the vampire lunged at the slayer. "We'll see about that." He ground out as he grabbed her. The pair began to grapple as Buffy fought to free her arm so that she could bring her arm up into striking position. They pushed and shoved at each other. The vamp was trying to go for her neck and the slayer kept aiming for the monster's heart. Finally Buffy got the upper hand and slammed Mr. Pointy through the demon's heart. He exploded to dust in front of her.
It was at that moment that she felt the twin pricks against her skin. Electricity exploded through her system. She felt her body begin to shut down, darkness began to suck her under. The slayer had finally met her end. Buffy Summers died with one name on her lips. Angel.
A few feet from where the girl collapsed the commando who had fired the taser stood staring at her lifeless body. He had seen the demon and moved in to immobilize it so that it could be taken to the lab as a specimen. The moment he had taken his shot the vampire had turned to dust and the probes had hit the girl had who destroyed it. The weapon set to incapacitate an undead creature was much too strong for a human body to withstand so she had taken the jolt and crumpled unmoving to the ground.
Riley Finn walked forward and fell to his knees next to the still form. Moonlight limed her delicate features giving the impression that she was just sleeping but as he touched the pulse point at the base of her neck he knew she was gone. He had killed the girl that he was beginning to have feelings for. He had killed Buffy Summers
Why was she out here at night? How did she know about vampires and demons that littered Sunnydale's streets at night? Those were questions that would never be answered at this point.
Grabbing the radio from his pocket he started to call for help. Forrest grabbed his wrist. "What are you doing man?"
"I have to call an ambulance. I've got to report this to the authorities." Riley told his fellow Initiative member.
"No, you don't. We have to get out of here. We have to return to base. This cannot be linked to us in anyway. It would destroy the mission."
Riley once again looked at the face of the girl lying on the ground. "We just can't leave her here like this. "
Forrest shook his head. "We can and we will. Finn we are returning to base." Forrest keyed his radio. "All squads return to base immediately." He said into the walkie-talkie. He listened as the groups returned affirmatives that they would indeed follow orders. Satisfied that everyone would be in lockdown before word of this got out, he reached over and yanked the probes for the dead girl's skin. Riley flinched at the sight. Grabbing Riley by the arm Forrest tried to yank him to his feet. "Let's go." He ordered. Still reeling from what had happened Riley wordlessly rose and stumbled behind the other commando only glancing back once at the lifeless form on the ground.
"Cordelia, I need that address now." Angel yelled as he shrugged into his duster. The brunette was sitting at her desk clicking away at her keyboard. She punched in the information she had and pulled up the address for the club that she had seen in her vision. Hitting print she grabbed the piece of paper from the printer and held it up to Angel. He grabbed the sheet from her not even breaking stride as he crossed to the exit.
"You're welcome." Cordelia called out to the vampire's retreating back sarcastically. Angel paused for a moment and Cordy believed that he was going to turn back to her and say something. Instead he fell to his knees with an unearthly wail.
Wesley came rushing out of Angel's office at the sound. He found his boss kneeling on the ground his head in his hands. The sounds of sobbing echoed through room. "Cordelia, what happened?"
The seer looked at her co-worker. Her mouth opened as if she were going to speak only to snap shut again then she turned away from Wesley to the man rocking back and forth on the ground.
"Cordelia?" Wesley said again.
"I have to call Sunnydale." The brunette said without preamble and practically ran into Angel's office.
Wesley stayed rooted to his spot observing the large dark man crying unrelentingly before him. It was hard for him to make out the mumbled words that Angel was saying amongst the sobs, but when he did he felt his own face go pale. The vampire kept repeating, "Please God no. Please God not her." And Wesley knew that only one person would garner this kind of response from the normally stoic Angel. Something had happened to Buffy.
In Angel's office, Cordelia's hands were shaking violently as she tried to dial the phone. She hoped and prayed that she was wrong. The sound of the phone ringing through the receiver was almost completely drowned out by the sounds Angel was making in the other room. This caused a cold feeling to settle into the pit of her stomach, God what if she wasn't wrong. After three rings Cordelia heard a proper English voice on the other end of the line. "Hello."
"Giles, can I speak with Buffy?"
The watcher was rather shocked to hear Cordelia's voice on the other end of the line. He was also rather worried. "Cordelia, she is on patrol. Has something happened to Angel?"
Cordelia hesitated a moment. "Yes, you need to find Buffy right now and get her to a phone."
Giles was taken aback by the girl's sharp tone. "I'll go and search her out then I will have her call you. Is that all right?"
"Just go find her Giles please."
Giles hung up the phone and looked at the gang assembled around his living room. They had all begun to watch him closely when he had mentioned Cordelia and Angel. "We need to go in search of Buffy. Something has happened to Angel."
Wordlessly the gang put down their books and left Giles' place. Starting their search in Sunnydale Memorial Gardens they made their way as a group through each cemetery until they finally came to Shady Rest. They tripped through the gravestones searching for any indication that Buffy had been there.
The night was eerily still as moved deeper into the shadowed cemetery. Ahead Giles spotted something. He cautiously approaching the form and what he found nearly brought him to his knees. Xander quietly took out his phone and dialed 911, his eyes never leaving the sight in front of him. Willow had dissolved into tears and was clutching Tara who shushed her and tried to be strong for her lover even as tears ran down her own checks. Anya wrapped her arms around Xander's waist trying to figure out the emotions that were flowing through her. This was her first experience as a human with the death of someone she was relatively close to.
Paramedics arrived and pronounced Buffy dead on the scene. They had taken her body to Sunnydale General for examination into cause of death. The Scoobies had returned to Giles apartment in silence. They still could not believe what had happened. Giles was left with the task of calling her mother. She was furious and bitter over the phone. She seemed to blame him for what had happened to her little girl and he did not fault her that sentiment. He did feel responsible. He was her watcher. He directed her, was supposed to guide her and now she was gone. Making the call to Joyce had been difficult but the making the next call would be probably the hardest thing that he had ever done in his life. With a heavy heart he dialed the number for Angel Investigations.
Cordelia sat at her desk alternately staring at the phone and staring at Angel. He was no longer sobbing and rocking he was just sitting. He was sitting against the wall staring blindly forward. She didn't know which was worse the vocal display of grief or this unnatural stillness.
Her nerves on edge Cordelia shrieked when the phone finally rang. Taking a deep less than calming breath she picked up the handset. "Hello."
"Cordelia." The watcher said in a weary voice.
Beginning to feel very frightened, Cordy flicked her gaze to Wesley who was watching her intently then to Angel who had yet to move. "I thought that you were going to have Buffy call me?" Her tone sounded sharp to her own ears.
On the other end she heard a deep sigh. "How did you know?" Giles asked.
"How did you know that something had happened to Buffy? We found her in the cemetery." Okay, they had found Buffy so why couldn't she talk with her? Was she in the hospital? Was she badly hurt? "We've yet to determine what killed her but we will know something soon and we will make sure whatever it was pays." A hint of Ripper shone through in the hardness that entered his voice.
Cordy's gaze shot to Angel. "She's dead?" Angel flinched at her quiet question showing that he was not completely lost to the world yet.
"Yes Cordelia, Buffy is dead."
Swallowing her tears, Cordelia spoke to Giles. "We'll be in Sunnydale as soon as possible. We'll help you find what did this." If not for Buffy's sake then for Angel's the seer thought to herself.
It was just a few hours after nightfall when Wesley parked Angel's Plymouth in front of Giles' apartment complex. The vampire sat in the back still in his state of catatonia. Exiting the car Wesley waited for Cordelia to come around and help him with Angel. It took them a few minutes of coaxing to get him to leave the car but they finally succeeded. And Angel ambled forward toward Giles' door under his own power. Once inside he allowed Cordelia to direct him to the sofa and he sat his gaze still fixed and blank.
Giles stared at the vampire. He had never seen anyone in such a state. "How long has he been like this?"
Cordelia sighed and looked at her boss. "Since right after I called you the first time. Before that he had been sobbing and begging that it not be true." The ex-cheerleader shuddered when she thought of the unearthly sound that Angel had made when he had first sunk to the ground sobbing. That would have been the moment that Buffy had died.
Wesley put a comforting hand on Cordelia's shoulder. "Have you any idea what kind of creature did this?" The rogue demon hunter asked Giles.
"No, we have yet to be told the cause of death."
The front door of Giles apartment opened and Spike strolled in. He looked at his grandsire who sat on the sofa in a complete state of shock and denial. "I may be able to help you with that, mates." The Cockney vampire said as he shut the door and leaned back against it.
"What do you know Spike?"
"Rumor on the demon grapevine is that the little slayer got in the way of the commando boys that were out and about hassling the local vampire population. Apparently she was out minding her own business carrying out her sacred duty when one of the trigger happy soldier boys got her with one of their little ray guns."
Willow shook her head in denial. "Humans wouldn't have left her out there like that they would have called for help."
"Maybe not, Will." Xander said his voice sounding tired. "This Initiative is a military unit. They wouldn't want to admit to their superiors that they were taking out civilians along with the demons they hunt. If that is what happened, the commandos would retreat to base and regroup leaving Buffy as just one more body to be found in Sunnydale."
When Xander fell silent the gang's attention was captured by a low rumbling growl. They turned almost as one to Angel who was no longer staring blankly at the wall but was instead snarling his eyes flashing golden with fury. "Spike, do you know the way into the Initiative's headquarters?"
Giles sighed. "He's been unable to pinpoint the exact location of the entrance. We've been trying to get the information from him for weeks."
Angel didn't even spare Giles a look. Instead he kept his steady gaze on his grandchilde. "Spike." The dark vampire said softly.
Spike turned to Angel. He was not about to let the bloody ponce push him around. He may have a chip in his head but he could still thrash demons and his broody grandsire still fell into that category. Opening his mouth to tell Angel what he could do with his questions he looked into the older vampire's eyes and he barely stopped himself for retreating several steps. There was a look on Angel's face so cold that it made his alter-ego Angelus look positively harmless.
"Spike, do you know how to get into the Initiative?" Angel asked his tone relaying to Spike that there would be grievous consequences if he were untruthful.
The occupants of the room barely held in their gasps of surprise when the younger vampire bowed his head in a submissive manner. "Yes, Sire, I can lead you to the entrance."
Angel nodded, his eyes still glowing amber, his fangs flashing as he spoke. "You will take me there." It was not a request.
Spike had yet to lift his head. "Yes, Sire."
Angel rose from his seat on the sofa and started toward the door. Cordelia grabbed the back of his duster. "Angel what are you planning on doing? You just can't go after these men. They are human and not demons." The vampire turned on the brunette with a growl. There was no sign of the Angel that she knew in the creature in front of her. Not possessing Spike's ability to stand his ground she stumbled back several steps. Angel left with Spike trailing behind him.
Giles looked at Wesley, the ex-watcher looked as worried as he felt. "I have a feeling that the Initiative has met its end. I just don't know what the fallout is going to be for Angel."
"Should we go after him? Attempt to stop him?" Wesley asked already knowing the answer.
"We will not be able to stop him. And the one responsible for this is doomed."
Spike led Angel across to the center of UC Sunnydale campus. In the middle of the park area was the location of the hidden entrance Spike had escaped through. He bent over and felt around on the ground for a moment until he felt the edge of the doorway. "Here's the door." He told Angel pulling up the turf covered barrier.
Angel kneeled down next to Spike. He assisted in lifting the door then faced the bleach blond vampire. "Leave, Spike." He said with no preamble. Spike's blue eyes widened but with the mood that Angel was in he was not going to argue. He merely gave a mock salute and disappeared into the night.
Pulling the hatch open Angel slipped into the tunnel beneath. He traveled deeper and deeper until he came to a room lined with holding cells. In these cells were a myriad of different types of demons some evil some peaceful all had been captured and put through all sorts of experiments. Many of the caged demons were drugged or half-dead. Some snarled or begged as Angel passed. He paid them little attention, he had a goal in mind and nothing was going to get to stop him.
Professor Walsh addressed the soldier before her. "This was an unfortunate accident, Finn. The fact that this young woman died is horrible but it cannot get in the way of our mission. This is a war and civilians sometime can be casualties. But we cannot be linked with this incident, the Initiative would be shut down if word of this got out, our funding would be pulled immediately."
Riley Finn just regarded his superior. All squads had retreated back to headquarters to inform Professor Walsh of what had happened in the cemetery. She had immediately called a full lock down then demanded a full accounting of the incident as she called it. Incident, he thought with a sad internal chuckle, calling it that made it sound so innocent. But it was not innocent. He had killed someone, someone he knew and worse yet someone he really liked. And now he was being told that he could not even take responsibility for his actions. Riley Finn knew that Buffy Summer's death would weigh on his conscience for the remainder of his life.
Angel had entered the room just in time to hear Buffy referred to as just a casualty of war. The rage that had been coursing through his long dead veins tripled. This woman did not know what her little group of demon hunters had done to the world, what she had done to him. "Your funding is the last thing that you need to be worried about." He announced.
Walsh whipped around to confront the intruder. "How did you get in here? This is a government facility and you are trespassing."
"Who pulled the trigger tonight? Who killed Buffy Summers?" He demanded not even acknowledging that the woman had spoken.
"I do not know what you are talking about. I'm calling in the guards."
"No, you're not. They are safely contained in some of your own little cages. And if you do not tell me which one of those men is responsible for Buffy's death I will kill each one of them until I'm sure I gotten the right one."
"You can't be serious."
Angel's lips curved into a cruel smirk. "You have no idea how much blood is on these hands." He replied holding out his hands palms flat in her direction. "And adding more to be sure that I have destroyed the person who killed Buffy is something I'm willing to do with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. The deaths of your men will be the only deaths I have caused for which I will feel absolutely no guilt, because it will be for Buffy."
Riley warily looked the tall dark haired man over trying to determine what if any weapons that he carried. "What was Buffy Summer to you?"
"My soul mate, she was the reason I fought. She was the reason that I continued to exist." Riley's eyes widened at the impassioned statement. "She was also the strongest and most powerful warrior for the Powers That Be. She was the Slayer and in killing her you may have just doomed the world."
Walsh, in her research of demons and the supernatural had read of the Slayer. She had also heard tales and rumors when she had interrogated the demons that were captured for testing. Walsh though had no idea that the Slayer actually existed. She would have really liked the chance to study her. "You are willing to kill tens of men out of vengeance?"
"I used to do it just for the fun so why not to avenge the love of my life." Angel said coolly shifting into game face.
"You're a vampire." Riley squeaked, embarrassed that his voice has risen so high in his surprise.
Angel laughed a cold a wicked sound. "I'm aware of that fact."
Walsh regarded the creature in front of her. "It seems that the death of the slayer would be considered a good thing to you. Yet you claim to love her, this being that should be your worst enemy."
"Well neither of us every really followed the rules. Now you're going to tell me which one of your men pulled the trigger or I start taking them out one by one." Walsh did not respond and Angel turned on his heel and walked away for a moment. He was back so quickly that Riley was unable to get to slip away to the armory. When Angel returned he had Forrest by the throat, the man's feet dangling as he was drugged before Walsh. "I guess I start with him."
Riley looked into the face of his friend who was trying to pry the vampire's hand from his throat a look of sheer panic on his face. Swallowing hard, Riley stepped forward. "Let him go."
Angel smirked. "I don't think so."
"Let him go." Riley repeated. "I'm the one that you want. I killed Buffy. But I swear it was an accident. I would never have hurt her."
Throwing away the man in his clutches Angel lunged at the tall blond that had just admitted to killing his Buffy. His hand began to tighten around the young man's throat. The demon within him was screaming that he take the boy somewhere and torture him for what he had done. Something slow and painful that would make this man suffer as much pain as he felt.
Walsh who had been standing between the two men was knocked to the ground. In awe, she watched from her position on the floor as Angel slammed the Riley against the wall. He was beginning to choke the life out of Finn when a bright light flashed in the room. When the light receded the female Oracle stood in the sterile environment of the Initiative. "Warrior, you must stop this now. This is not your path."
Angel did not even turn but just continued the pressure on Riley's throat. The man was nearly unconscious. "Why should I listen to you? You lied to me." He growled. "I gave up everything so that she would live. I gave back my humanity. I stole from her the memories of the most beautiful day that we would ever share, and for what so that she would live a month." Angel yelled at the Oracle. "If that was all the time that my deal bought her I should have stayed human and remained by her side. We could have had everything that I wanted for her, everything that I wanted for myself." Tears were beginning stream down his face. "I gave back our one chance for a life together. We were so happy during a day that never happened that just remembering has been driving me insane. And now this thing took her away from me and the world forever." Angel slammed Riley against the wall again. "How can you even think to ask me to spare this man?"
"Because you are a warrior for the light an act of vengeance will set you off your true path. There will no longer be any chance for you to gain redemption."
"I no longer have any reason to fight for redemption. I no longer have any reason to fight at all. And why would I want to fight for the Powers after they lied to me; after they manipulated me into sacrificing everything for a broken promise. One month, she was only granted one month of life after I willingly ripped apart all of our dreams come true." Angel threw back his head and laughed. It was a dark and evil sound. "This I must say is an even more fierce punishment than having a cursed soul. Knowing that I denied her everything that we could have had together so that she would live only to have her taken away so soon is the vilest torture I've ever experienced." Angel shot the Oracle a look over her shoulder. "The Powers are definitely more brutal than the Gypsies."
"The death of the Slayer was an unforeseen occurrence. This organization has thrown off the balance. Their interference in the realm governed by the Powers has put the world in danger." The Oracle declared gesturing towards Walsh who still lay on the floor observing the being. "And it is this imbalance that you are needed to restore. The taking back of that day set into motion a chain of events that led us to this moment. It is up to you to change the world's fate."
"How can I do that? How can I change the world's fate when I no longer care?" Angel demanded. "The only reason I wish for the sun to rise at least one more day is so that I can walk into its rays."
"Warrior you must not loose faith. The Powers are not cruel beings. And they do not break promises."
"Buffy is dead. I think that is as about as broken as you can get." Angel snarled.
"Warrior things are not always as they seem. Things can change in ways unimaginable."
Angel looked at the female Oracle. His grip on Riley's throat had loosened and the young man slid to the ground, gasping for breath. "How can this be fixed?"
The female Oracle bowed her head in something akin to shame. "We allowed you to make the wrong choice. It was meant for you to be human, a dark warrior that could go into the light."
"I don't understand."
"Instead of returning to you the curse of vampirism, we were supposed to return to you only its gifts."
"Strength, speed, healing, all of the things you would need to stand by your slayer. Instead we gave you that along with returning the demon and the blood lust." The oracle met the vampire's gaze. "The Power's no longer want a warrior as unstable as you are in your present state. They do not want a warrior who's duality leaves them to wonder which side you will fight for one minute to the next."
Angel snorted. "I guess that means I'm soon going to find myself back in hell." Though at the moment the pain he was feeling made the centuries of torture he endured during his stay in hell seem like a skinned knee.
The Oracle shook her head. "No, Warrior, we are not callous and unfeeling as you seem to think. And above all we do not break a vow. If we did we would no better than the forces we stand against. You must trust in me, in the Powers. Step away from the soldier and allow me to make this right. Warrior, there is another way."
Running his hands over his face, Angel looked at the body crumpled at his feet. The labored rise and fall of his chest as he tried to force breath down his injured throat was proof that the boy was still alive. The demon within him fought against its cage trying to gain enough control to destroy the soldier. And it was so hard to hold it back when his soul was screaming in agony at the loss of its mate. With a deep sigh Angel stepped away from Riley and approached the female Oracle.
She regarded him with a gentle smile on her face. "I was right when I proclaimed that you are not a lower being. You truly are a warrior." Not feeling much like a warrior at the moment Angel did not respond. Instead he stood silently waiting for the Oracle to tell him what would happen next. Seeming to understand what he needed she let him be and began to speak the words given to her by the Powers. The cadence of the old language seemed to echo through the sterile industrial building. Magic built around them, the air fairly crackled with it until the Oracle looked to Angel and whispered, "Close your eyes". Something between a laugh and a sob escaped Angel as memories of the last time someone had asked that of him flashed though his mind.
He felt himself being dragged backwards much like being sucked into the portal that he had opened in the battle for Acathla. The only difference was this time he was spared the blinding pain of a sword being thrust through his gut. Time seemed to speed up while he stayed perfectly still. The very essence of the universe seemed to flow around him. He could feel it swirling then he felt nothing as darkness took over.
Angel bolted upright. He was covered with cold sweat. He was gasping for breath. His every limb shook as the grief and anguish he was feeling moments ago flood from his system. Dear God, he wasn't sure what just happened to him but whatever it had left him feeling broken and bleeding on the inside. Then it started to come back to him, Buffy's death, his raid on the Initiative, the Oracle's promise. Afraid to open his eyes he sat where he was and tried to control the shaking in his body.
Slowly he became aware of someone saying his name, the feel of a warm hand against the center of his chest. His eyes flashed open and he found himself staring into bright hazel eyes. "Buffy?"
She smiled at him, relief washing over her face. "Yeah, were you expecting to wake up and find someone else in your bed?" She joked. Then her brows drew together and she scowled at him. "You weren't were you?"
Something about that question which was so classically Buffy made the fear and the pain vanish from his body in seconds. He reached out and stroked her cheek until scowl disappeared from her face. He could feel the warmth and softness of her skin beneath his fingertips. She was really here with him safe and alive. "No, your face is the one I want to wake up to every morning for the rest of my life." Buffy smiled at him again and kissed him gently before pulling back.
"Now, do you want to tell me why you woke up in such a panic?" Angel ran his hand through his hair. His thoughts were pinging around inside his head like the ball in a pinball game.
He looked at the beautiful woman beside him, wrapped demurely in his white satin bed sheet wishing he could tell her everything. The look on her face spoke to how deeply concerned she was, still he could not offer any sort of explanation at the moment. Frankly, he had no idea how to explain to her the nightmare that he had just been through.
Finally, after several long minutes of silence she sighed. He could tell she was frustrated but there wasn't anything he could really do about it. "Okay, I'm letting you off the hook for now but later we are going to talk about it. And after that I'm going to tell you how I feel about you and Doyle going after the Morah demon last night on your own. I will also tell you what I'm going to do to you if you pull a stunt like that again."
Angel looked at her in confusion. His mind began to put together all the pieces floating disjointedly through his brain. And with all these pieces in place it added up to the fact that something was wrong here. Or maybe not wrong but definitely different. He wasn't exactly sure what was happening but somehow he knew that he was again living the day he asked the Oracles to change him back and no longer grieving the loss of his soul mate.
HEvery moment of this day had been etched in his memory. He remembered each detail from the tangled bed sheets to the melting carton of ice cream that was now leaking onto his carpet perfectly. He had taken every second out time and again brooding over it, trying to convince himself that he had done the right thing. But now he was suddenly in uncharted territory because he had not been here that morning when Buffy awoke after she had saved him and took out the Morah. Angel had gotten up while she was still sound asleep, gave her a gentle kiss and slunk off to visit the Oracles. By the time she was awakened to find him gone he had probably already made the deal that would take her away from him forever. Now it had all seems to have changed because he was sitting here with Buffy, his body still aching from the beating he took at the hands of the Morah.
Had it all been a dream? Had he been granted a glimpse of what would happen if he made the wrong choice? Or was this the powers way of fixing things, letting him start over from the point where things went so horribly wrong? He did not know for sure which of these options was the right answer but he did know that he had to find out.
Reaching out suddenly, he took both her hand in his. Buffy's eyes widened in surprise but she did not make any attempt to pull away. "Buffy, I have to go see the Oracles."
The comment seemed to startle her, leaving her at a momentary loss for words. Then her eyes narrowed and she asked. "What's going on in that brain of yours, Angel?"
He almost smiled at this, she knew him so well. "I want to ask them for my strength back." She started to protest so he placed a finger gently over her lips to quiet her. "I want to be able to protect you as much as you protect me. Baby, I've seen too much and done too much not to keep up the fight and if there is a way I can do that as your equal then all the better." He could tell she had a thing or two that she wanted to say but she refrained. Which prompted him to lean forward and kiss her, he let all the love and passion he felt for her flow through the connection of their lips.
"What will you do if you they don't agree? What will you ask for then?" Angel pulled her into his arms. She was absolutely terrified.
"If they don't agree, then I'll come back to you and learn to fight as a normal man. I won't leave you again, Buffy. I promise you."
Buffy was silent for a while. Angel held her, stroking her back and hair as she mulled everything over. Finally, she took a deep breath. "Go, talk to the Oracles and see if they will grant your wish or whatever." Buffy lifted her hands to cradle his face between her palms. "But, if that damn noble streak of yours tries to kick in I want you to think of what we have right now and what you will be giving up if you do something stupid."
"Do something stupid?" He asked. She just smirked at him and nodded. Buffy was not expecting it when he lunged at her toppling onto her back. And she was definitely not expecting him to begin tickling her unmercifully. Laughing and trying to get him to stop they rolled and tumbled all over the bed. In minutes, though, the tickling had changed to gentle caresses as they lost themselves in the feel of being together.
Hours later Angel stood in the basement of the post office beseeching entrance into the realm of the Oracles. When he and Doyle had left the office he had been calm his time with Buffy making everything in the world feel right for once but now hearing Doyle recite the incantation behind him and smelling the smoldering herbs he was more nervous than he could ever remember being. And when the white light erupted around him and he was sucked through the gateway of souls his newly beating heart nearly stopped.
Standing before the toga clad beings Angel waited to be addressed. "Why have you come to us?" The male Oracle asked.
"I have come to ask for my strength back. I wish to remain a warrior and fight at the side of the Slayer."
The female nodded. "What have you brought us?"
Angel pulled the gift he had brought from his pocket and held it out in offering. "Hand carved rosewood music box circa 1898." The box flew from his hand and into the hand of the female Oracle.
"This is lovely." She commented as she opened the top and a tinkling melody filled the Romanesque chamber for a moment. Shutting the lid with a snap, she returned the room to its unearthly silence and her attention to Angel. "What will you do if we do not grant your request?"
Hope started fade within Angel. He had been so sure that they would grant his request. This was supposed to be his second chance if the things he was remembering were true. Yet, he had made a promise. He would leave here with or without his strength and go back to Buffy. Either way he was not going to do anything to jeopardize what they had now and what they could have in the future. Swallowing the lump in his throat, Angel spoke to the female Oracle. "I will return to the side of the Slayer and learn to fight as a normal man."
The male Oracle scoffed. "You do not think that you will be a distraction to the slayer, that in trying to protect you she will in the end sacrifice her own life for yours?"
This was indeed one of his greatest fears. Yet, the dream or whatever it was showed him that Buffy's life was in danger whether he was there or not. And he would much rather be at her side than away from her while deluding himself that she was somehow safer that way. "I do carry that fear. But I fear what will become of us if we are once again separated more. No matter what you decide I will stand at her side." Bowing his head Angel awaited judgment.
If he had been looking he would have seen the smile that curved the female Oracles mouth. "See Brother, this one is not a lower being." Angel's head snapped up as he looked at the creature before him. "You have chosen wisely, Warrior. A great gift was given to you when you received this second chance. In the first reality you traded your life for hers yet she was still lost to you and the world. See you disregarded the demon's warning that together you were strong but apart you were dead. And due to this darkness was able to triumph."
"In this reality though you finally realized your place and chose to stand by your soul mate no matter the cost." The male Oracle made a disgruntled sound which earned him an angry look from the female. "We grant your request and return to you the strength, speed and healing you possessed when the demon was still in residence in your body. Now leave us. The Powers have made good on their promise." Next thing Angel knew he was flying backwards through the gate.
Doyle helped him to his feet. "Well, man what did they say? Are ya still going to be a superhero?" Smiling broadly Angel picked a large rock from the floor and crushed it to powder in his bare hand. "Superhero it is then." The Irishman snarked. After gathering up the supplies they had brought, Doyle slapped Angel on the back. "Let's head back, because if I were a betting man, which I am, I would bet there is a little blond that is a nervous wreck by now."
That thought dampened the exuberance running through Angel. Doyle was right Buffy was probably frantic waiting for him to return. And her imagination and insecurities were probably making it worse by the second. He could only imagine what kind of scenarios were running through that beautiful blond head of hers.
Angel had no doubts that she loved and trusted him but he had hurt her so many times before that he knew she would have concerns about this meeting and what he would do. When he had said he was going to the Oracles she had been absolutely terrified, yet she told him to go since it meant so much to him. She had sent him with her blessing to the beings with the power to take everything away trusting in him not to let that happen. Rushing back to her was the least he could do to repay her faith in him.
Angel had barely gotten the car into the parking spot when he was already out and storming through the office and down to his apartment. Buffy was sitting on the couch twisting her hands into her skirt. She was so distracted that she didn't hear Angel enter until he had scooped her up off the couch and proceeded to twirl her around in circles until they were both dizzy.
"I take it things went well?" Buffy asked as she stood in the circle of Angel's arms.
He smiled and nodded. "They kept a promise they had given me and made everything right."
"Kept a promise?"
"I'll explain everything later but right now I just want to concentrate on you." He told her carrying her into the bedroom. Today he was granted the opportunity to correct the biggest mistake he had ever made. He was also given a taste of what it would feel like to lose Buffy forever. And after all was said and done there was nothing he could do but thank the Powers for promises kept.