Title: The Road Not Taken
Authors: Carrie & Robin (Buffychick & Robin the Crossover Junkie)
Summary: After a dream sends Angel & crew back to Sunnydale they discover a demon that grants each person a glimpse at what their life might have been like had just one moment been altered…and the choice to live that life, or the one they're currently in.
Spoilers: Nothing too much. If you've seen Season 5 of BtVS and Season 2 of AtS, you're golden.
Feedback: Always wanted, always appreciated.
*Author's note: I'd like it to be known that Robin and I announced our idea for this BEFORE Angel: "Birthday" premiered. We've been posting this on the Buffy Cross & Stake for over a week. So, there.*
The Road Not Taken
Angel rolled in his sleep, clutching at the crimson sheets as the dream overtook him. There was a hallway, long and narrow, and he knew without a doubt that he didn't want to go down it. Torches lit the dark granite on either side, cobblestones lined the floor. Behind him was a heavy wooden door that he desperately wanted to hide behind, but knew he couldn't. In front of him was a door of steel, perhaps a hundred feet away, looming. Sluggish feet took a reluctant step towards it.
"Wake yerself up and you won't have to, ye know," a voice came from behind him. He whirled and found himself face to face with smiling Irish eyes.
Angel squinted in the dimly lit hall. "Doyle?"
"In the flesh…well, the apparitiony flesh, but the flesh just the same," he said, eyes twinkling. "It's good to see you, Angel."
"What are you…where are we?" was Angel confused reply.
His former partner's eyes became shaded with seriousness. "You know."
Angel turned and looked back over his shoulder. "I have to go, don't I?"
"You don't need me here to answer that question, mate."
"What if I don't?"
Doyle shrugged. "We both know you're not going to run away from this, so what's the point in asking?"
"Are you coming with me?"
Doyle snorted. "Now, kid, you've never needed me to hold your hand. This is something you need to do on your own. All of you."
"All of us?"
Doyle nodded towards the steel door. "Go and see."
Angel stared at him for a moment, contemplating, before turning and heading down the hallway. He felt like he was wading in water, as slowly as he seemed to be moving, but before he knew it he could feel the cold of the steel and was standing, hand poised to pull the knob. Turning back once more he looked to Doyle, who saluted him.
"Come see me more often," Angel told his friend.
Doyle nodded. "I'll try," was all he said.
Angel clutched the thick iron door handle and moved to pull on it when Doyle cried out, "Angel?!"
"Are you happy? With the way things are now? With the way you are now?"
Angel stared at him curiously. "Why?"
Doyle watched him for a beat, then gave a sad shake of his head. "Think about it. Be sure," he said, and disappeared.
Angel turned back to the door and opened it…and found himself walking into the woods. Up ahead he could see a fire burning…and people. People were standing around it, talking. His people. Cordelia, Gunn, Wesley, Fred…and Buffy, Xander, Giles…and all the rest.
And there was a demon of some sort, clearly dangerous by the spikes protruding from his face, right in the center of their group, just to the left of the fire. Willow was crying. Cordelia looked shocked, and Gunn was pacing nervously.
He approached cautiously, unsure what was going on, when suddenly everyone turned to him. Their eyes bore into his and Angel was suddenly afraid, a cold chill running up his spine.
"We all make choices," the group said in unison.
Angel's eyes opened.
"So…you're here why?" Xander asked again as he and the Scoobies sat around the Magic Box later the next day. The room was more crowded than usual with the presence of Angel and the Los Angeles gang.
"I told you, I had a dream," Angel repeated for what felt like the hundredth time.
"Yeah, I get that Rev. King," Xander shot back, "but what I don't understand is…what part of that dream told you all to pack up and move to Beverly?"
"You really work at getting in all those pop culture references, don't you?" Anya asked him.
Xander grinned at her. "Yeah, it takes practice."
"What I don't understand," Cordelia chimed in, "is why Angel is the one who gets the dream! Hel-lo! Vision Girl, right here! And Doyle, of all people! He gave me the stupid visions, shouldn't he have visited me?" she grumbled, settling back in her chair.
Buffy rolled her eyes and turned back to Angel. "We were all there, standing around a fire, talking to some demon? Just one demon?"
Angel nodded. "Doyle…he was there. He told me that I knew I had to open the door, and then later you all told me that 'We all make choices.' Then I woke up…and I just knew that it meant we were supposed to come to Sunnydale, to help you fight this thing."
Cordelia hugged her arms to her chest. "Next time he comes to haunt you, tell him I expect a visit, too, okay? Dennis could use the company, I'm sure."
Angel's eyes ticked to hers and he offered her a small smile.
Buffy exchanged a glance with Giles. "What did the demon look like?" he asked, clearing his throat.
Angel shook his head. "Tough, large. Spikes on his face and claws. Huge claws."
"Great…" Buffy said thoughtfully. "Ok…can you draw us a picture of this thing? We'll research, we'll hunt, we'll kill. Business as usual."
Angel watched her carefully and nodded.
Wesley, walking around the shop taking in the inventory, approached the table. "Mr. Giles, you should be proud of your stock…your shop is certainly well supplied for research."
Giles smiled and went to answer when Anya popped out of her seat. "Thank you!" she said proudly. "We offer the best selection of hard-to-find demon and occult research in the tri-state area!" she recited.
The Watcher's exchanged an amused glance and retrieved a few texts to begin the day's studies.
Gunn, seated at the table, propped his long legs up on a chair and looked around. "So, this is where you all hang? Handy, having all this stuff right at your fingertips."
"Yep," Xander replied. "This is research central. Used to be the library at school, but we stopped going there on account of it getting all blowed up by our dearest Buffy."
Buffy's head snapped up from the drawing Angel was working on. "Hey! Sure, blame the Slayer. Try on account of big, huge, ascending snake-Mayor."
Gunn and Xander grinned at each other.
Cordelia rolled her eyes as she sifted through a jar of semi-precious stones. "Great…now there are two of them," she said, casting an eye to the two boys.
And research ended at pretty much the same place they started, no where. Unable to find anything related to the demon Angel described it was decided that hunting was the next best option.
The group mounted up, weapons all around, and headed out into the streets of Sunnydale.
"I guess we need to stick to wooded areas," Angel suggested. "That's where I came up on you guys…in the woods, around a campfire."
"Can I bring marshmallows?" Fred asked.
The group looked at her oddly and returned to the hunt. Willow gave her a sympathetic smile. "I tried that once too, and got about the same look."
Fred grinned back. "People need to lighten up," she agreed.
The group split up, Angel leading one, Buffy leading the other. "We'll meet at the Bridgeton tomb in a hour if we don't find anything," Buffy directed, and they set off.
About a half-hour into things, Angel's group hit paydirt. The demon was ahead of them, alone. "There he is," Angel murmured to Willow.
She nodded and closed her eyes.
Buffy,she called with her mind. Got him, Eternal Rest Cemetery, by the Ferguson Crypt.
We're on our way, Will,the Slayer responded.
"They're coming," Willow told the group when she opened her eyes.
Gunn stared at her. "You can talk to people inside their heads?"
Willow grinned sheepishly and nodded.
He turned to Cordelia, crouched behind a tree. "That beats your visions by a long shot," he informed her. Cordelia responded by smacking him upside the head.
Angel turned to them. "Ready?" he asked.
The group took a collective breath and nodded.
"It's this way!" Tara cried, running through the Eternal Rest Cemetery as fast as she could, directing Xander, Anya, Spike, Wesley and Buffy to follow her. The Slayer caught up with her easily and passed the blonde witch, heading out as fast. Within minutes she saw the flickering light from the fire and turned in that direction. Running in she found Angel and his group ducked down behind a grove of trees.
"What's going on?" she asked as the others caught up to her. Buffy peered over a bush and watched the demon. He was sitting, calmly eating something indistinguishable. There was a cage to the demon's left.
"He hasn't moved since we spotted him," Angel told her.
"Let's find out what he's doing here, messing with your dreams," she told him. Through hand-signals she told the rest of the group to fan out, surrounding the demon.
Suddenly the demon stood and stretched and the entire group tensed. He leaned over to the cage and opened the door, reaching in a pulling something out. A cat.
Willow gasped, safely hidden behind a giant rock. "He's going to eat that kitty!" she whispered. Tara patted her hand.
"Now!" Buffy shouted and jumped to her feet, running up and jumping over the fire. She kicked out when she landed, knocking the demon onto his back.
"Owww!" he cried, clutching his chest. "What'd you do that for?"
Buffy glowered down at him, placing her foot on his chest to keep him in place.
The demon easily removed her foot and knocked her to the side, jumping to his feet. He began to run around frantically.
"Harry! Harry, come back!! Haaaarrry!" he shouted before Angel rushed in and tackled him, sending them both to the ground, rolling.
"Got him!" Gunn shouted, battle-ax in hand.
Soon the demon was surrounded and Angel hauled him to his feet.
"Harry!" the demon shouted. "Where's my cat?!" he cried.
The entire grouped exchanged a look.
"Your cat? You mean your meal, you demon-you," Xander said, poking him with a stake.
The demon looked at Xander like he was crazy. "My meal? I'd never eat Harry, he's my pet!"
"Pet?" Fred asked, stepping forward.
"Yeah, pet, you know…my companion? My friend? Sleeps on my feet at night?"
"The cat is your pet," Buffy repeated stupidly.
The demon sighed and rolled his eyes. "Yeah. And now thanks to you guys, he's out in the woods somewhere, lost. He's domesticated. I don't let him out much, especially when I travel."
"You're traveling," Angel repeated, loosening his grip just a bit.
"Yes…I'm on my way to San Francisco to visit my cousin."
"So you can slaughter the whole town? I don't think so!" Xander cried.
"Xander, hush," Anya admonished, stepping forward. "Let him go," she told Angel. "This is a Per'tar demon. He's harmless. He grants wishes…sorta," she informed the group.
"Wishes?" Tara asked.
Anya nodded. "Yeah, sorta. If someone's drawing had been better I could have saved us all this trouble."
Angel looked doubtful but released the demon. Weapons were held at the ready, just in case. The demon shrugged out of the hold and began to dust himself off.
"Jeez! At least one of you has a brain around here. What's with the bravado, storming in on my camping trip?" he asked.
"Camping trip? You're here to camp out?" Willow asked.
The demon held up a bag of marshmallows in answer. Fred grinned.
"My name's Jackter, and yes, I'm a Per'tar demon. I live outside of Boulder, and I'm on my way to see my cousin," he told them contemptuously. "But now it seems I'm going to spend a large part of my night searching for Harry."
"Your cat," Cordelia said.
"What's this with the wishes?" Gunn asked, interested. "And why are you messing with Angel's dreams?" he asked, pointing to the vampire.
Jackter sighed. "I don't know anything about any angel's dreams. You know, if you hadn't said that I wouldn't have to go through with all this," he informed Anya, who shrugged, unconcerned. "Per'tar demons have the gift of Stylushteg. When we're caught unawares, captured, or ambushed, as it would be," he said, giving pointed looks to everyone, "we're required to grant each of the party of raiders a glimpse at what might have been."
The woods were silent for a moment. Then, "Come again?" Spike asked.
"He means that since we all came upon him, and Per'tar demons aren't supposed to ever actually be seen, like leprechauns," Anya chimed in, "he's got to let all of us see something about our lives…what might have been. You know…like what if we'd done something else in our lives, taken a different road, made a different choice. It's part of his curse…and why the Per'tar aren't sociable."
"Sorta like that Sliding Doors movie," Cordelia interjected.
"Sorta like a pain in the ass," Jackter sighed and sat down on the tree stump he'd been occupying before the raid. "So…who's first?"
"Wait…I…go through this again," Gunn asked. "So, if I asked you, "What if I'd had McDonald's rather than Burger King this morning, you'd show me how my life would be different?"
Jackter nodded. "Let's just hope you come up with something a little more entertaining." He looked around again, grudgingly. "So, who's first?"