THE POWER OF LOVE – Chapter 8

DISCLAIMER: I don't own any of the characters from BTVS or ANGEL. They're owned by Joss Whedon, MutantEnemy, Kuzui, Sandollar, the WB, Fox, etc.

A/N: Hey, look what I found – in the very last chapter, which makes me wonder what the hell I was thinking. MY ORIGINAL NOTES: "This story begins at the end of Season 4 for BTVS. There is no Dawn, Spike doesn't have a crush on Buffy, and, sadly, Giles doesn't own The Magic Box. For Angel, all of Season 1 applies, except we'll just pretend Wolfram & Hart didn't bring Darla back from the dead, 'cause I don't want to have to get into all that." Why I didn't have this at the very beginning, I have no idea. Sheesh.

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

"Riley, stop! What are you doing?"

Riley's head whipped around, his eyes huge with shock. "Buffy?" His hands loosened their hold on Angel's sweater, and the vampire took the opportunity to slip out of his grasp. Riley paid no attention; all his attention was focused on the figure sitting up in the bed. "Oh, my God. Buffy. You're awake!"

He stumbled toward her, almost falling onto the bed. He gave a little laugh. "Sorry. I'm still a little groggy; I can't seem to wake up. God, Buffy . . . I can't believe it!"

Riley sat next to her and gathered her up in an embrace. "I mean, I do believe it, I kept telling everyone that you'd wake up and you'd be all right, and . . . you are!"

He released her, cupping her face lovingly. "You're here. You're awake and conscious and you're fine, and, and God, I'm really babbling, aren't I? I can't help it, I'm so glad to see you. Thank God. Thank God." Tears of joy moistened his eyes, and he hugged her again.

Angel winced. Buffy's eyes met his over Riley's shoulder, silently asking him to leave. Fighting an irrational surge of jealousy, he nodded. It was unlikely that Buffy would take this moment to tell Riley they were through, not after this highly emotional display, but even so she didn't need him lurking around right now. He took a step toward the door. Just then there came a tap upon it, followed by Giles' diffident voice.

"Angel, it's six o'clock." The door opened and Giles peeked around the edge. "Joyce asked me to make sure you -"

His smile vanished as he caught sight of Riley. "Riley! What, what are you doing here? I mean, uh, I thought you'd still be sleeping. At the house." He cast a quick glance at Angel, who shrugged resignedly.

Riley released Buffy, turning to face Giles. "I was, but I woke up and was worried about Buffy, so I decided to come here. Why didn't someone call and let me know Buffy was awake?"

"Well, er. . . ." Giles cleared his throat, coming further into the room. "Well, it only happened a little while ago and I – we - knew how exhausted you were, so, er - "

"Shh, be quieter, Rupert. We don't want to wake Buffy." Whispering, Joyce crowded past Giles and stopped cold. "Riley!" Her tone of voice exactly matched what Giles's had been. Riley gave her a curious look as she stared in consternation from him to Angel and back again.

"Yes," Giles said, brightly. "He woke up and came to check on Buffy."

"Oh!" Joyce's voice, too, was bright. "Well, that was good of you, Riley, but you really should have rested longer."

"Wakey, wakey, rise and shine, Angel o' mine! It's time for all good little vampires to go back to their coffins." It was Xander's bright and utterly annoying voice, followed a second later by the young man himself.

Angel groaned to himself. Could this situation possibly get any more farcical?

Xander took one look at the occupants of the room and rocked to a standstill. "Ah. Riley. You're, uh, here. And Angel. You're here too. Uh-huh. Well, if anyone needs me I'll be in the lobby where it's safe. Buffy, great to see you're not drooling onto your pillow anymore. Toodles, everyone." With that he vanished.

"All right, what's going on? Why is everyone acting so weird?" Riley got to his feet, looking both puzzled and grim. "First I walk in and find him lying on the bed with my fiancée, touching her with his filthy hands." He shot a furious look at Angel.

Angel glared back. "No one was doing anything except sleeping," he reassured a startled Giles and Joyce. "I fell asleep, that's all."

"That wasn't all." Riley flushed angrily. His hands clenched. "I saw you. You were draped over her like - like - "

"Like he'd been holding me and had fallen asleep," Buffy cut in. "That's all it was, Riley."

"How would you know?" Riley shot back. "You were asleep!"

Buffy sat up, folding her legs under her. Already, with only a few hours' rest, she looked stronger. "Because I know Angel. And let's get something straight, Riley. I am not your fiancée."

Riley's flush subsided. "What?"

"I never said I would marry you. That makes me not your fiancée."

Angel decided now was a good time to leave. "If you'll excuse me, I have to go now; the sun will be up soon."

Riley's arm shot out and grabbed Angel as he passed by, spinning him around. "Hold up." He sounded grim. "Why are you here at all, Angel? You have no right to be here."

That was too much. Metaphorical hackles rising, Angel stared directly into his face. "I love her. That gives me the right."

Riley's eyes flashed, but before he could reply, Joyce said, "Angel is here because I called him and asked him to come."

Riley stared at her incredulously. "What? Why would you do that?"

Joyce hesitated. "Because Buffy asked for him. Yesterday, when she was still in the coma, she said his name."

Still Riley stared. "So because she was having a nightmare about her ex-boyfriend and said his name when she wasn't even conscious, you asked a vampire to come see her in the hospital?"

Giles stepped forward. "It's because she was unconscious at the time that we did it."

" 'We'?" Riley's glance went from Giles back to Joyce. He swayed, giving his head a little shake, obviously still under the influence of whatever sedative he'd been given.

"It was my decision," said Joyce.

"But I agreed with it," Giles said firmly.

"So you sneaked him into her room behind my back when I finally collapsed from exhaustion." Riley stopped suddenly. "No. No, it couldn't be." His now-suspicious gaze again traveled between Joyce and Giles. "Tell me you didn't put something in my coffee to make me sleep."

Giles immediately looked guilty and began to fidget with his glasses. "Well . . . er . . . yes. I'm afraid we did. It was only a sleeping pill, that's all. Well . . . two pills, actually."

Riley's eyes flashed. "So that's why I'm so groggy right now."

"Yes," admitted Giles. "By rights you should have slept until at least ten o'clock, by which time you would have been rested, Angel would have been gone, and - " He made a comprehensive sweeping gesture with his hand - "none of this would have happened. You would never even have known that he was here."

"Yes, he would," came Buffy's voice. "Because I would have told him."

Riley turned to her gratefully. "Thank you. It's good to know that one person at least wasn't planning to lie to me."

Angel saw Buffy flinch and sent her a sympathetic look. Then he glanced at the window, knowing it would confirm what his vampiric senses were screaming at him. The area around the edges of the blinds was no longer dark but a pearly gray. It was almost dawn.

Giles noticed it too. "Angel, you better go now, before the sun comes up."

Angel hesitated, torn between wanting to stay because of Riley's unstable emotional state and knowing that his presence only made matters worse.

"Please, Angel," Buffy said. "It's okay."

Still he hesitated. Buffy, although stronger now, was still weak. Weaker than normal, anyway. "Are you sure you'll be all right?" He glanced at Riley, who glared.

She smiled at him. "I'll be fine. Now go." Her eyes relayed a silent reminder of his promise to return that evening, and he gave her a reassuring nod.

"All right." Nodding to Joyce and Giles, he glanced again at Buffy, ignoring Riley, and walked out of the room.

"What was all that about?" Riley demanded as soon as the door swung shut behind the retreating vampire. "Why wouldn't you be all right? What did he think I was going to do, beat you up or something?"

"Riley," Buffy tried to soothe him. "Angel didn't mean anything; it was just . . . the male in him coming out."

Riley looked at her, then a reluctant smile twitched at his lips. "Somehow that doesn't make me feel better about it. Besides - " He paused.

Buffy's right eyebrow rose. "Yes?"

"Well, I was going to say that he had no business feeling male around you, but then I decided that might not be very smart."

"Good decision," she murmured. Her eyebrow descended to its usual position.

The tension in the room began to dissipate. Joyce breathed an unconscious sigh of relief; Giles visibly relaxed. Someone tapped on the door and he opened it a few inches.

"Willow? What are you doing here at this hour?"

"Giles? I didn't expect to see you here," came Willow's voice. "I just came to see if Angel was still here and, and if he'd had any luck." Her voice faltered. "Did he? Did it work?"

"You know," Giles interrupted hastily, "I could really use a cup of coffee. Why don't we go to the cafeteria together and get one?" With a brittle smile over his shoulder at Buffy, he slid through the barely open door and closed it firmly behind him, but Willow's voice came through anyway.

"What's wrong? Is she still in the coma? Couldn't Angel bring her back? Ow!" Then there was only the sound of footsteps hurrying away, leaving the three left in the hospital room looking at each other in silence. That is, Joyce (after one swift glance at Riley) looked at nothing in particular, and Riley looked at Buffy.

Buffy closed her eyes. Damn. Why did this have to happen now? She wasn't ready for it. She opened her eyes again, straight into Riley's gaze. He looked as if someone had punched him.

"So that's why Angel was here. To reach you when we couldn't. When I couldn't. And he did it. He called you back."

Joyce slipped quietly out of the room. Buffy couldn't look away from the honest eyes that normally revealed only loving warmth, but now held deepening realization and naked, rapidly growing pain. Her heart twisting, she reached out her hand. "Riley - "

"No." He moved away from her touch, sliding off the bed, and stood facing her. "Don't. Not any more. I've been a complete fool, haven't I? All this time I thought you loved me. I thought I'd made you forget him, but - "

Now Buffy interrupted, although as gently as she could. "Riley, I've never told you that I loved you."

Riley stared at her without speaking for a long moment. Finally he looked away. "No, you never did. I should have known from that. You can live a lie but you can't tell one."

Buffy flinched, feeling as if he'd slapped her. Almost immediately Riley said, "I'm sorry. That wasn't fair. I know you didn't purposely deceive me."

In a low voice Buffy said, "I tried to love you; I really did. I like you so much, Riley. You're fun to be with, and sexy, and nice. I honestly thought I loved you. I wanted to love you." Her eyes filled.

"But you couldn't," he said in a flat voice.

"No," she whispered. "Not the way you want me to."

"Not the way you love him," Riley finished. "Angel. It's always been Angel, hasn't it? All this time." He didn't wait for a response, but walked over to the door and opened it.

"Goodbye, Buffy. I hope things work out for you," he said heavily.

"Riley - "

He was gone. Buffy stared at the door until her tears obscured it from sight.

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

Angel watched from the shelter of the parking garage overhang. Several people had exited the main building, but none of them was the one he was currently endangering himself for. He was certain the young man would show up before long, though.

So why am I standing out here, inches away from being fried by the sun, waiting to talk to a man who might hate me now, instead of just being jealous of me? Not a logical thing to do. So why am I doing it?

He knew the answer. It was because he had to let Riley Finn know that Buffy would be in good hands, even if they were his. If Buffy had told him, that is. Just then Riley emerged from the double glass doors. One look at his face told Angel that he knew the truth, and reluctant compassion filled him for the pain the young man was enduring. He knew what it was to feel as if your heart had been ripped from your body. As he'd hoped, Riley's path brought him within hearing distance.

"Riley."

Riley stopped, looking around. Angel stepped out of the shadows, careful to remain beneath the overhang. Riley's face tightened; his hands clenched. "What do you want?"

"I do love her, you know," Angel told him quietly. "I always have and I always will."

Riley moved closer and looked him calmly in the eye, although his hurt and grief and anger were plain to see. And, yes, there was more than a touch of resentment. "I guess you do. But frankly, right now all I want to do is drag you out into this nice bright sunlight and watch you go up in smoke. How can you possibly make her happy? You can't even make love to her."

"I don't know," Angel returned, still quietly but with a sudden edge. "But it didn't work out too well when we were apart, now did it?"

Bitterness spasmed over Riley's features. "Touché." Without another word he turned and walked away, still composed, still suffering.

Damn! Angel looked after him with regret, cursing himself for losing his temper. It didn't matter that he knew Riley Finn was a thoroughly decent young man who loved Buffy probably as much as he did. Let him get within ten feet of the guy, or talk directly to him, and something inside seemed to snap.

"Way to hit a guy when he's down and damn near out," came a voice from beside him. It was Xander, who somehow had come up without Angel hearing him. "Why didn't you beat on your chest and do a victory dance while you were at it? Because, you know, I'm not sure Riley's feeling bad enough yet." He stared at Angel, his brown eyes accusing.

Angel controlled the irritation Xander always evoked. "That isn't what I intended to - " He stopped and started over. "I wasn't trying to make him feel worse. I know he loves Buffy and I thought he would like to know that I wouldn't walk out on her again."

"Yeah, 'cause he so wants to hear that right now," came Xander's dry response. "Angel, Riley's just found out that the woman he loves never really loved him at all, and worse, she never stopped loving her ex-boyfriend - who just happens to be an undead creature of the night like the kind they normally killed together. Do you really think anything you can say is going to make that better?"

"No," Angel admitted, then sighed. "I should have known better. Pretty much the same thing happened the last time we met."

"It did?" To Angel's surprise Xander didn't seem to know about his confrontation the year before with Riley. And Buffy.

"I see one more display of testosterone poisoning and I will personally put you both in the hospital!"

Buffy's words ran through Angel's mind, prompting a wry grin. It was true. One look at Riley Finn and instinct surged to the fore, overpowering any puny little emotions like compassion or understanding that lay in its path. Unfortunately for Angel's peace of mind, however, not all of that instinct could be blamed on the demon residing within. A good portion of it was born and bred in the bone through generations of proud, possessive males. This man had dared to touch his woman (never mind that he himself had walked away from her because he thought she was better off without him) and for that he should pay.

Angel shook his head in disgust. Stop it, Angel. You're not in the eighteenth century anymore. You're not even in the nineteenth century! Besides, you know you're not going to harm Riley Finn. For one thing, Buffy would probably beat you to a pulp if you did. For another, you don't *want* to hurt him. Not really. Well, not very much, at least. And nothing permanent.

"Xander!" A young woman about Buffy's age was almost running toward them across the parking lot.

"Who's that?" Angel asked.

"That's Tara," said Xander, frowning. "Willow's girlfriend." The young woman stopped in front of him, breathing heavily. "What's up, Tara? Is anything wrong?"

Instead of replying, Tara looked at Angel. "Y-you're Angel."

Angel acknowledged his identity. There was something about this young woman - something different - but he couldn't put his finger on it. She wasn't especially pretty, yet her face was one that would stay in your mind; the eyes in particular. Something appealing and shy and vulnerable looked through those eyes.

'N-nice to finally m-meet you," she said, offering him her hand. A bit surprised at the gesture - most folks weren't that anxious to get touchy-feely with a vampire - Angel took it. He intended only a quick shake, but got another surprise: Tara put her other hand on top of his, sandwiching it between her own, staring him in the eyes all the while as though trying to read his mind. Or his soul.

Finally she gave a tiny, almost imperceptible, nod and released him. "Willow was right."

Angel blinked. "She was?" he couldn't resist asking. "About what exactly?"

"That you're a good person trying to make the best of a terrible situation."

Angel couldn't think of a reply to that. While he was trying to come up with one, Xander broke in. "Tara, you didn't answer my question. Is something wrong?"

"Oh, s-sorry." She gave him a deprecating smile. "No. I was just w-wondering where Willow is. There's, uh, s-something I need to talk to her about."

"Oh. Well, last time I saw her she was in the cafeteria with Giles," Xander offered.

"Thanks." The young woman hesitated. "Um, X-xander, why don't you join us there, when y-you're through talking to Angel? We, uh, can f-finish making our plans."

"Plans?" Xander looked blank. Tara sent him an exasperated look.

"Yes," she said firmly. "Our p-plans. You know the ones."

Xander stared at her, and Tara frowned at him, a frown Angel recalled seeing many times on Willow's face when the young man was being particularly obtuse about something. He wondered what Xander had forgotten about this time.

"Oh!" Xander nodded. "Yes. Our plans. For the . . . thing that we're planning . . . together." It was obvious that he still hadn't a clue what she was talking about.

Angel raised an eyebrow, hoping it wasn't anything very important. "I have to go," he told them. "It's past my bedtime." He cast a glance at the sky.

"Yeah, you could get a nasty sunburn if you're not careful," Xander put in.

Tara said, "Y-you'll be back this evening, won't you?" Her tone was anxious, and Angel looked at her curiously as he told her he would.

"G-good!" She smiled broadly. "S-see you then, Angel." She was obviously waiting for Angel to leave, so he pulled his coat over his head and ran like hell for his car.

"Good," Tara sighed. "He's gone. N-now I can tell you."

"Tell me what?" Xander demanded.

Tara shook her head. "N-not here. Let's find W-willow first."

Willow was still in the cafeteria, as was Giles. "How could I be so stupid?" she groaned as Tara and Xander came up to the table.

"Willow, you didn't know he was there," Giles said comfortingly but with an air of having just repeated himself for the umpteenth time. He looked up. "Hello."

Tara immediately went over to Willow. She put an arm around her girlfriend's shoulders. "What's wrong?"

Willow groaned again. "Oh, nothing much. I merely informed Riley that Angel had brought Buffy back from the land of the wanting-to-be-dead, that's all."

"Riley w-was here?" asked Tara. "I thought y-you guys knocked him out."

Giles sighed. "It appears that his worry over Buffy prevented the sleeping pill from working the way it should have. He woke up and decided to come back here. Angel was still in with Buffy, and they were sleeping together."

"What?" exclaimed Xander.

Giles quickly corrected himself. "I mean they were asleep in the same bed, not - anything else. Riley walked in on them."

"Oh no," Tara sighed.

"Unfortunately it's oh, yes," returned Giles drily. "Then Joyce and I came in, to warn Angel of the sunrise in case he had fallen asleep. Things were a little tense. But then Angel left and Riley was starting to calm down when Willow - " He broke off.

Willow continued, dejectedly. "When I popped up and announced how grateful I was that Angel had been able to bring Buffy back. And I was hoping Riley would never have to find that out. I've ruined everything." Her forehead hit the table with a thump.

"You've done nothing of the sort," Giles told her firmly, as Tara placed a comforting hand on Willow's hair. "Riley would have found out before long."

Willow looked up. After a moment she said, slowly, "You mean Buffy would have told him anyway?"

"Exactly," Giles nodded. "Buffy wouldn't deceive Riley once she realized the truth."

"That sh-she doesn't love him, and she still l-loves Angel," put in Tara. "No, Buffy's too honest to go on l-living a lie, once she r-recognized it was a lie, anyway."

"You're absolutely right," Giles said, with some surprise. "Although I think she might have postponed it until she was feeling a bit stronger. Willow, all you did was make the inevitable happen sooner than it might have otherwise." Willow didn't look consoled.

"Willow, I n-need to talk to you," Tara blurted out. "And you, Giles. I think I've found out s-something, but I w-want you to double-check it for me."

"Sure." "Of course." The two voices came simultaneously. Xander pulled up a chair and parked himself on it with an expectant air.

Tara sat down at the table and pulled a couple of papers from the canvas bag slung over one shoulder. "L-last n-night I asked a f-friend of mine to translate the curse Willow used to bring Angel's soul back."

"Why?" Xander asked. "It worked. What else do you need to know?"

Tara cleared her throat and looked at them nervously. As always when she was apprehensive, her stammer grew worse. "M-my f-friend is an e-expert on Romany c-culture and the occult, and she s-said she'd never h-heard of a happiness l-loophole in the S-soul Curse like the one Angel h-has. Th-that's why I a-asked her to take a l-look at it and t-translate it for me."

"She knew about the curse itself, though?" asked Giles, interested.

Tara nodded. "She s-said it's a very old curse, that's only been cast a f-few times in the entire history of the R-romany."

Giles looked extremely interested now. "Indeed? I had no idea. Er, please go on, Tara."

"Anyw-way, what Karla - my friend - said made me w-wonder if maybe the curse that was originally used on Angel - I mean Angelus - wasn't the traditional one." Tara was more at ease, the stammer less obvious. "So l-last night I e-mailed her the one that Willow found on M-miss Calendar's diskette."

"And? What did she say?" Willow prompted her.

Tara took a deep breath. "The c-curse I sent her is the traditional Romany Soul Summoning curse."

Giles shot straight up in his chair. Xander looked blank. "What are you saying?" Willow asked, slowly, her eyes huge with disbelief. "Tara, do you mean that the curse I did to bring Angel's soul back - "

"H-had no anti-happiness clause." Tara handed her the papers. "H-here's the original printout of the one that M-miss Calendar had on her disk, and here's my friend's translation. S-see if I'm wrong. If we're wrong."

Giles and Willow bent over the printouts together, starting with the translation. After a minute they looked at each other, then at the others.

"The translation certainly contains no mention of a moment of true happiness," Giles admitted, sounding stunned. "Not even a hint. And the curse itself appears to be quite straightforward. It calls the soul back to the body as punishment for sins committed by the person while still alive, so that the person can endure further retribution. Also, it sets a time limit of - " He looked at the paper as though he didn't trust his memory. "Yes, of one month."

"One month!" Xander exclaimed. "But - Angel's had it for more than a hundred years!"

"Yes." Giles looked thoughtful. "I imagine that one month is the point at which death can no longer be held off." He glanced at a confused Xander. "Even as curses go, Xander, this one is harsh. I would guess that it was used only for the most heinous of crimes. Basically it calls a guilty soul back into a body which has already died. The natural processes associated with death are slowed when the soul returns, but they're not stopped, merely delayed."

Xander looked sick. "You mean the body would still decay . . . and they'd be there? In the body?" At Giles' nod he looked even greener. "Excuse me while I go puke."

"And Angel, the real Angel with the soul, wasn't alive when the sins were committed," Willow said. She too looked stunned, and slightly sick. "It was the demon who was the bad guy, not the real Angel. I - I never thought about it before. Giles, this curse should never have been used on a vampire. It's completely unfair, because it punishes the wrong person."

"If this translation is accurate," Giles said slowly, "I don't believe it was ever intended to be used on vampires, although one could argue that the demon is being punished by not being allowed to act on its evil nature. However, it would appear that the curse laid on Angel - Angelus - was a, a viciously bastardized version of the traditional curse, one that the Kalderash tribe adapted to accomplish their desire for revenge. But - I have no way of checking that the translation is accurate. The original - "

He perused it. "The original is a mixture of Latin, medieval Rumanian, and what I'm guessing is Romany. I know Latin, but the others - "

Giles shook his head. "Tara, I'm not doubting either your or your friend's honesty, but you must see that we can't take this at face value. There's simply too much at stake. I must know what her credentials are."

Tara nodded. "S-sure. Karla's the h-head of Eastern European Studies at Oxford."

"Karla?" Giles opened his mouth and closed it again. "Oxford? Eastern European Studies? You - surely you aren't referring to Karla Lowesky?" His voice was faint.

"Uh, y-yes," Tara replied, her eyes widening. "D-do you know Karla?"

Giles sat back in his chair. "She's probably the greatest living expert today on Eastern European history and languages, not to mention its occult traditions. Are you telling me that this translation was done by Karla Lowesky?"

Tara nodded. "She's m-my godmother, s-sort of. Unofficially."

"Good lord," Giles said faintly. He set the two papers on the table. "Well then, there's certainly no question in my mind that this translation is accurate. The only question now is what to do with the information."

"We have to tell Buffy." Willow had her Resolve Face on. "And Angel." Then she looked sick again. "Do you realize what this means? What I did to them?" Groaning, she buried her face in her hands.

"They could have been together ever since Angel returned from hell," muttered Giles. He took off his glasses and began polishing them with agitated swipes of his handkerchief.

"Almost three years ago," contributed Xander grimly.

Tara glared at them both and put her arms around Willow. "Willow, you didn't know. No one did. Probably Ms. Calendar didn't even know, and it was her clan that set the curse in the first place."

"Either that," Giles said thoughtfully, "or Jenny was trying to make amends for the injustice the Kalderash visited on Angel by doing away with the happiness clause. Unfortunately, before she could tell anyone - "

He fell abruptly silent, then replaced his glasses. "Well, I don't suppose we'll ever know. Right now I'm concerned about Buffy's health. She's still weak from the coma, and I'm sure she's upset about Riley. News like this might be too much for her to handle at this time. Perhaps we should wait a few days, just until she's stronger."

Willow uncovered her face. "No," she said flatly. "We have to tell her right now. And Angel, as soon as we can."

"Giles," said Xander pointedly, "You know Buffy. She'll find out how long we've known all this. Do you really want to be the one who decided she shouldn't know as soon as we did?"

"Good point," Giles replied at once. "Er, yes. An excellent point, in fact. Very well, I shall go up right now and let her know what we've discovered. Er, what Tara discovered. Good job, Tara, I must say. Thank you."

Tara looked embarrassed. "Y-you're welcome."

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

(To Be Continued in the sequel, "An Unexpected Song.")

I know, I know – I'm evil. *g* Sorry for the abrupt ending. I should be able to start posting the sequel in a day or two. Oh, and I have no idea if there's a college of Eastern European Studies at Oxford; it just sounded impressive. *shrug*