THE TOUCH OF YOUR HAND – CHAPTER FIVE

Disclaimers: I don't own any of the characters, much as I wish I did. They belong to Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy.

A/N: This is the final chapter. I want to thank everyone who took the time and trouble to leave a review; thank you, thank you, thank you!

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Giles was on the phone. "No, Cordelia, I still haven't heard from either one of them. I can't get hold of Buffy and I haven't the faintest idea where Angel might be."

He listened. "Cordelia, the university campus is rather large, you know. I can't just go roaming around it, especially at night, hoping to run into one of them. Look, I've left word for Buffy at her house, her dorm room, and with Xander. Sooner or later she'll get it and then I'll relay the message to her."

Again he listened, casting his eyes upward in exasperation. "Yes, of course if I see Angel I'll tell him, too. That is who your message is for, after all." The doorbell rang. "Cordelia, someone's at the door, I have to go. Goodbye!" Muttering, Giles banged the receiver down, then went to the door.

"Buffy, thank goodness! I've been trying to reach you. It seems Angel is - " he began, only to blink when he saw the others coming up behind her. " - er, right here with you," he finished lamely. Then he noticed that the vampire was leaning on Willow.

"Good lord, what's happened?" He hurried out and took Willow's place, lending Angel his arm for support.

"Thanks," Willow sighed, rotating her shoulders to ease the strain. "No offense, Angel, but you sure are heavy."

"One might even say dead weight." Giles' rather pleased smile faded when no one responded to his quip. He made a resigned face. "Right, let's get you inside."

Angel made it into the house with Giles' assistance. He sank wearily into the armchair and closed his eyes.

"What happened?" Giles asked again.

"Angel ran into Riley's commandos about an hour ago. They zapped him." Buffy supplied tersely. Giles noticed that she was staying as far away from Angel as was possible without going into another room. His eyes flicked over her face, noting the signs of tears. Glancing at Angel, he recognized the strain on his face also, and silently sighed.

"I see. Well, Angel, you seem to be recovering from the effects, thank God. Quite miraculously, in fact, compared to Spike's experience. He said he was completely helpless for at least two hours. I assume your more rapid recovery would be because of your age?"

Angel nodded without saying anything, eyes still shut.

Willow eyed Giles thoughtfully. "You don't seem surprised to hear about all this."

"Yes, well . . . " Giles cleared his throat. "I've had a phone call from Cordelia - several of them, in fact. It seems that after you left, Angel, she had another vision, one that was clearer than the previous one. She now knows what the danger is."

All eyes turned to him, waiting. Giles looked straight at Angel. "The danger wasn't to Buffy, it was to you. The vision was to warn you to stay away from Sunnydale, I now presume because of the Initiative."

There was a moment of complete silence. Then Angel gave a short, bitter laugh. "So instead, I came charging up here and walked right into it. What a farce."

A flash of light illuminated the room. A clap of muted thunder made their ears ring. When the light and the noise died down, a glowing figure stood in the middle of the living room - a woman dressed in the chiton of Ancient Greece, her face and body shadowed with strange, bluish markings. Her dark curls were caught up with ribbons wound about her head, again in the style of Ancient Greece.

"Farcical, indeed," she said.

Staring, Angel lurched to his feet. "Oracle," he greeted her with disbelief. "Why are you here?"

"Why have I appeared to you in this place, you mean?" Her dark eyes roamed over the room disdainfully. "Such poor surroundings would not be my first choice - "

Giles raised a sardonic eyebrow.

" - but I chose expedience over aesthetics." The eyes returned to Angel. "I would speak with you and this one - " She looked at Buffy " - alone."

"And you would be - who ?" Buffy asked.

Angel started to answer, but Giles broke in. "Buffy, this is one of the Oracles. There were several in ancient times but I suspect our visitor is from Delphi, yes?" He looked inquiringly at the woman.

With utmost dignity, she inclined her head. "Originally, yes."

Giles continued. "The Oracles had prophetic powers; they could read the future and would sometimes do so for mortals, given the proper incentive."

"The probable future," corrected the Oracle. She took over. "Enough of the lecture. You and the other girl will leave us now."

Willow opened her mouth to object, but Giles silenced her with a shake of his head. Rebelliously she followed him out. Giles cast one last, concerned look at the mystical figure before closing the door behind him.

The Oracle turned her attention to the couple who remained. She surveyed them coolly, but not without a hint of compassion. "Vampire and Slayer. Your coming was foreseen many centuries ago, and the way prepared. All was in readiness for you to become formidable warriors for our cause. Until something unexpected happened."

"What?" Angel asked. Then he shook his head. "Never mind, I think I know. We fell in love, and that screwed up the plan."

"Whistler once told me something like that," Buffy said in a barely audible voice.

The Oracle looked at them without her usual arrogance. "Certainly not. The love between Vampire and Slayer was not only foreseen but encouraged, for together you are considerably more powerful than you are alone. No, the error was ours, much as it pains me to admit it.

"We Oracles have the gift of prophecy, it is true, but we are not omniscient. We knew that the Vampire would receive a curse that would restore his soul, but - carelessly - we made no further investigation of that curse, believing it to be merely the means of turning him into a Warrior for Good, and not important in itself. We were wrong and we paid dearly for our error. There was one aspect of the curse we did not foresee, and it nearly ruined everything."

"The happiness clause," Buffy stated flatly.

The Oracle inclined her head. "Yes. It took us by surprise and, may I say, upset us as much as it did you."

Buffy looked straight at the Oracle. "I really doubt that."

"Not for the same reasons, of course," the Oracle acknowledged. "Nonetheless, within the space of an hour one of our most cherished strategies was destroyed and our greatest weapon broken in two."

"If we were so important to you, why didn't you take back the day and stop it from happening?" Angel asked her. "Like you did - " Abruptly he stopped, casting a quick glance at Buffy. "- uh, in the past?"

Buffy gave him a curious look.

"As you were told before, a temporal fold is not something we do lightly. Besides, we can only take back twenty-four hours." The Oracle gave a most human-like sigh. "By the time we discovered the cause of your reversion to evil, it was too late. It wasn't until the Slayer's witch friend cast the curse on you again that we were able to act, and by then it was almost too late."

The Oracle turned to Buffy. "Slayer, you have my utmost respect. Sending your lover to Hell when you knew his soul had been returned took courage such as we have rarely seen. It was that very courage that enabled us to bring him back to you. I - "

She faltered, then admitted in a low voice, "I do not know whether I could have done what you did, were I human."

Buffy had turned white at the Oracle's reminder of that horrible time but she met the penetrating gaze steadily. "I assume all this is leading up to something?"

The Oracle nodded briskly. "It is. It has been decided by the Highest Powers that the time is now favorable to regain the future that was altered when Angel lost his soul."

"How?" asked Angel bleakly. "I'm still cursed."

"When you asked us to take back your humanity - " the Oracle began,

"What?" Buffy interrupted.

" - we did so by taking back the day that turned you human."

"You were human?" asked Buffy in bewilderment.

"And that returned me to my former condition," Angel concluded impatiently. "Nothing has changed. I'm still a vampire and I'm still cursed."

"You are a demon cursed with a soul," the Oracle corrected, "but not with anything else." Angel stared at her, unsure of her meaning.

"What," Buffy demanded forcefully, "are you talking about?"

The Oracle told her. "When you visited the City of Angels recently, you and the Warrior hunted a Mohra demon that broke into his office while you were there."

"No." Buffy shook her head. "I remember that a demon burst into his office through the window, but Angel killed it - "

The Oracle held up a hand. "Slayer, you do not remember this but believe me when I tell you that it happened."

Buffy looked at Angel. He nodded confirmation. Buffy looked more bewildered than ever, but listened. The Oracle continued, "As I said, the two of you hunted a Mohra demon. You split up. Angel found and fought the demon, stabbing it with its own sword. In the process some of the demon's blood entered Angel's body through a wound. Mohra blood is regenerative."

Angel cut in. "It heals by restoring things to their original condition."

Buffy's eyes widened. "And some of it got in you?" He nodded. Buffy gazed at him. "It healed you of the vampire demon by restoring your humanity."

"Yes." Angel walked over to her. "I was human for the first time in over two hundred years."

"Was I still there?" Angel nodded again. Buffy wet her lips. "Did we - ?" Slowly he nodded again, his eyes intent on hers. She whispered, "Was it wonderful?"

Angel's eyes grew wet. "More than wonderful."

Buffy swallowed. "So now comes the big question: Why don't I remember any of this?"

"The Mohra wasn't dead," he told her. "It regenerated itself. I went after it again, but found out that mortal strength was no match for a demon. Luckily you came along and killed it. Later that night I went to the Oracles and asked them to take back my humanity."

After a stunned moment, Buffy gave a little nod. "Because you knew that if we fought together and you were mortal, I wouldn't be as focused. Part of me would be worrying about you."

Angel blinked, surprised at her understanding. "Uh, yes."

"Also," the Oracle interrupted, "because we looked into the future and foresaw your early death if he remained mortal."

"I see," Buffy said slowly, turning her attention to the strangely-garbed woman. "But the question remains, why don't I remember when Angel obviously does?"

"The only way to undo what had been done was to swallow the period in which it happened. To take back the day," said the Oracle. "But in order to stop you from simply repeating your actions, one of you had to remember what had been done. Since it was Angel who came to us, he was the one."

"What?" Buffy glared at her. "How dare you take away my memory of what happened? Why couldn't both of us have remembered? That would have been double the insurance that the incident wouldn't happen again."

"Would it?" The Oracle regarded her straightly. "Or would it have been double the temptation to repeat it?"

Buffy opened her mouth to hotly refute the statement, but honesty compelled her to close it again. "I - I don't know. I do know that the memory of something beautiful and precious is now lost to me, and I resent that."

"As I would, were I in your position," the Oracle agreed. "Therefore, I offer you the opportunity to share in the Warrior's memories of that time - if he is agreeable, of course."

Buffy looked hopefully at Angel. He made a helpless gesture with his hands. "Of course. But first - Oracle, what did you mean when you said I wasn't cursed with anything except a soul?"

Buffy gasped. Her eyes grew big and she clutched at Angel's arms. "She meant there's no happiness clause now!"

"What?" Angel's head snapped up. "Is that true?"

"It is." For the first time the Oracle gave them a real smile. "When we swallowed the day and restored the curse, we made a small change in it - don't ask how, you wouldn't understand. Just believe me when I say that there is now no obstacle to your happiness."

Angel stood dazed. "It's not possible," he mumbled. "Is it possible?" He looked appealingly at the Oracle, who frowned.

"Are you saying we couldn't do it?" she demanded dangerously.

"No," Angel stammered. "No, I just - "

"Good!" she interrupted and dismissed that subject. "By the way, where is my gift?"

"Gift?" he repeated vaguely. Then his eyes sharpened. He met her gaze. "Gift? You came to me, I seem to recall. Shouldn't you be bringing the gift?"

The Oracle's mouth quirked at one corner. "Impudent being!" She pulled a scroll out of thin air, seemingly, and tossed it to Buffy. "Slayer, have your witch friend work this spell. It will enable you to share your lover's memories of the lost day." There came another flash of light and peal of thunder, and she was gone.

Angel stared at Buffy. She stared back. "Well?" she finally asked.

He licked his lips. "Buffy, maybe we shouldn't rush into anything - " He stopped. "What the hell am I talking about?" He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her up.

"I was wondering that myself," Buffy murmured just before their lips met in a passionate kiss. She wrapped her legs around his waist as he stumbled toward the couch, forgetting that he wasn't yet at full strength. His legs gave way and they tumbled to the floor, knocking over the coffee table and spilling its contents on their way down.

Outside, Giles and Willow had exhausted all conversation after he'd filled her in on the Initiative commandos, and were silently waiting until it was okay to go back in the house. A sudden crash from inside made them both jump. "What was that?" Willow exclaimed fearfully.

Giles stood up. "Wait here," he ordered, moving toward the house. Willow of course did no such thing; she followed right on his heels. Very cautiously, Giles opened the door and took a step inside. He peered around and took another step forward, then another. Suddenly he froze in place, uttering a weird, strangled sound. He opened his mouth then shut it again. Grabbing Willow's arm he dragged her out of the house.

"Giles?" Willow struggled ineffectually against his grip. "Giles, what are you doing? What's wrong? Where are Buffy and Angel?"

Giles finally got his mouth in working order. "Nothing's wrong. Buffy and Angel are . . . just fine, I promise you. And I think we should leave them alone for a while. Several hours, possibly."

He pulled her toward his car. "Come on, I believe Starbucks is still open. I'll buy you a cappuccino."

THE END