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Hope you enjoy this second part - and if you do/or don't please let me know!
Determined to change the topic Buffy had started chatting casually about the Slayer operation she now loosely headed. "I'm the puppet." She moaned. Oddly Xander seemed to be in charge. She wouldn't tell him where their headquarters were. Not in Rome. But it was cold, and she seemed delighted to be able to come back to Los Angeles visit her boyfriend and get a tan at the same time.
"Not possible with me I'm afraid."
"No." There was wistfulness in her voice as she shot him a sidelong glance. "There's a lot of not possible with you."
Adding touching to the list hadn't exactly done much for Angel's current status. His skin ached to be so close to Buffy and not even able to slip his hand around hers, or bury his head in her hair while they hugged was incredibly frustrating. He couldn't have felt more dead if he was six feet under. "There's always midnight picnics." He prompted happy to continue the easy conversation at least.
"And no end of bickering." She replied brightly. He chuckled. "Don't get me wrong, my Angel and me, or I, I can never remember which is right there."
"Angel and I," she continued, "we've had some epic fights. Until he got his mojo going the 'lets try and protect Buffy and get beaten up instead' fights broke records. Both for length and volume."
"We always seem to be breaking records in that area."
"Absolutely. Not as many swords post humanity though."
He quirked an eyebrow at her. "You miss swords."
"It's silly I know. Most of those sword incidents were life and death. But the other ones. The hand to hand we used to do. Mage's have to hang back, survey the scene. It's like fighting with Willow."
"You – like this - are my best fighting partner by far." Angel agreed.
"Me too. Just don't tell Giles. On the other hand feel free to tell Spike." Throwing her hands up in the air in frustration Buffy turned around a kicked a gravestone. "What is this? Where are the vampires? A tiny demon? Anything I can kill?"
"I've got an idea."
"Does it involve killing bad guys?"
Angel shrugged obliquely. "Maybe after. If you're good."
"Please tell me you're joking."
"I rang Wesley, he thought it was a great idea."
"Seriously, Angel, you are not selling this to me."
"Oh, baby baby how was I supposed to know…" a blue skinned Cr'Kan warbled tunelessly from the stage at their left. "…that something wasn't right, yeah." Lorne was already winding his way through the crowds towards them in a typically vibrant yellow suit. Much like the Hyperion the inside of Caritas was decorated in a style that seemed halfway familiar to Angel and he couldn't help but compare it's slightly different style and design. A sprawling neon bar with a couple of attractive barman served up cocktails to a large crowd of thirsty punters. The décor was red crushed velvet and bronze, a halfway house between nightclub and bar.
"There are so many people here." Angel was noticing that too. Way more than when he'd frequented the place. "And I use people in the loosest sense of the word."
"It'll be fine, sweetness." Lorne was in Host mode, all green charm behind his pointy red horns. "With a face like that, how could your voice not be gorgeous?"
Buffy didn't look convinced. Lorne brushed her shoulder gently as he pointed to the song books. "Here for your post rescue thank you freebie? What took you so long! Just pick a number and then we'll talk. And remember, Xena, there's a no violence rule here. It applies to everyone including impatient Slayers, got it?"
For a moment Lorne cocked his head at Angel and then he seemed to brush it away. "Now – I didn't expect you. Not from around here are you? Well. Sing and we'll see what I can do but no promises. Dimension travel always messes with readings for a while." Lorne was gone quickly as he'd arrived, waving at the barman and yelling for seabreeze as he took aside an extremely small hairy bundle with ears poking out the top and a fag sticking out halfway through the midst of mousy brown locks.
"Together or separately?"
"Drunk or sober?"
It was a pertinent question. "Drunk." Buffy replied resolutely. "Drinking never ends well for me, and yet a swirly haze of liquor is the only way I'm going anywhere near that stage."
Angel nodded in agreement and started slipping through the crowds to the bar. "What would you like?"
"Something strong." She yelled after him, before turning back to flick through the catalogue with a grim look on her face.
It was strange. People recognised Angel here, but perhaps because of his dark long sleeved shirt and slacks that kept any tattoos (or in his case the lack of) almost invisible it was a different kind of fear he felt. Demons and vamps still skirted around him, not keen to piss him off, but the humans did too. It was unsettling. Human but magical Angel was not a popular puppy.
Apart from with the barman apparently, who called Angel quickly to the front of the thrumming crowd pressed against the bar in the rush to drown fear and sorrows before heading on stage. The barman was as tall as Lorne, but very lean and almost vampirically pale. He smelt human, but with a touch of other about him and as he held out his arm to shake hands Angel noticed the pointed ridges that ran in three strips down the back of both hands. The half breed demon's eyes narrowed slightly as he noticed Angel's cool palm and his eyes flickered to the tattoo free skin visible at the v of Angel's shirt before he stepped back a little. "Have you talked to Lorne yet?"
Angel nodded. "He seems to think he might be able to help. If I sing."
The barman didn't quite manage to hide his grimace quickly enough. "Of course. What's your pleasure then, friend?"
"Straight bourbon, and the strongest cocktail you've got."
"No problem." Watching bartenders is always mesmerising, and the swirls and tricks of the staff throwing bottles around as they poured out spirits and filled orders always reminded Angel of bloodier days. When Spike delighted in showing off to Dru with bottles of drugged blood.
Moments later the half-demon barman had finished and was garnishing Buffy's tall cocktail glass with fruit and sugar. He hadn't even asked what it was, but the bartender was that kind of guy. Come back in two hours ask for the same again and he'd remember you exactly.
When he found Buffy perched on a stool by a high table he asked her who the barman was. Hunting through the crowds with her eyes she picked out the man he meant and she smiled and waved at him. "Oh! That's Lenny. He's Angel's friend." Other people's friends can be tough to hear about when yours are gone, but Buffy was not a dweller of any kind and she tapped against the song book with one fingernail. "So who's your Diva?"
Angel looked alarmed. "Diva? That sounds bad."
"Sounds better than Lennon." Buffy slurped at her cocktail experimentally, and apparently gave it the mental thumbs up as she started downing it way faster than is recommended. "And the whole kum-bah-yah Sunnydale thing."
"Did I ever tell you how glad I was to miss that?"
"Oh, please, you'd have loved it – a little Barry Manilow here, a little retro theme there." She eyed him knowingly. "Maybe not the dancing."
"If Lorne had to read auras via the medium of dance I'd be dead many times over." He glanced at Buffy covertly. "We could sing some Manilow."
"No!" Buffy yelled so emphatically a circle or punters around them fell into silence - before realising who the super powered couple were and studiously ignoring them.
"Frankie?" He teased.
"No." She paused for a moment. "Actually maybe. What song?"
"'A day in the life of a fool?'"
Buffy frowned. "I've never heard of it."
"But it's short."
She waved another drink over. "Next, Angel."
"'New York, New York?'"
Buffy shuddered visibly. "Did I tell you about the talent show? People say competition is good, High School talent shows just prove that people talk too much. And also sing. With very little talent."
"'I did it my way?'"
"Reminds me of Spike." Angel couldn't help it. He slid one hand over hers and everything was grief it rolled over him like waves of solid loss and loneliness. The room was smoky and over the rumble of conversation and the clicking rhythm of a little machine kittens meowed pitifully. Buffy snatched her hand away. "What are you doing, and why are you thinking about Spike laughing a lot?"
"Nothing." Angel muttered petulantly. "What about 'All by myself?'"
Buffy hadn't let it go, but played along waving her empty glass at him as a waiter delivered the next round. "Not drunk enough yet."
She threw her hands up in frustrated. "Anything from this century Angel? You're worse than Giles sometimes - it's been a while, there must be something you heard on the radio." Buffy narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "I bet you like Coldplay."
Angel feigned innocence. "Who?"
In the end, they were more than drunk enough, and Angel half propped Buffy in a chair they dragged on stage with them as they warbled into the microphone; "when I was young I never needed anyone…" and Buffy giggled about making love for fun while Angel tried to remember that the audience would pin the blame for his atrocity on Other Angel.
The thought cheered him immensely as he struggled not to touch not-his-lover's skin and keep her upright at the same time.
Maybe this Lorne wasn't as consummate a professional as his was, because he didn't look very pleased as the pair of them stumbled down to see him before the last chords of the song had even died and the smattering of half-hearted applause had rung out. "Sit down munchkins." He ordered and waved at Lenny for another seabreeze.
"Lorne." Angel leaned on the table so he could catch the Pylean demons eye. "You need to think about trying another drink." Somehow he slumped into a chair and Buffy flopped down beside him, shifting her chair closer to snuggle under his arm, carefully winding herself around Angel so that she didn't touch his skin. "That is all."
"I commend the cocktails. Night baby." Buffy mumbled.
"Hey!" Lorne snapped his fingers at the Slayer. "Eyes open. We have talking to do, and you cookie dough, need to use your evil fighting ears, not your snoozled ones."
Buffy blinked wearily, and sat up a bit more in response. "Listening."
Lorne flicked through his pockets, pulled out a small white rectangle and held it out to Buffy "I'm giving you a card." He hinted, and she took it. "That's a great PR guy. Look, cherry pie, I can't really tell you anything in this situation. There are big players involved – plans. All stuff I am not getting involved in. Too much to do the hokey cokey with and shake out the righteous path, so all I'm saying is. Ring this guy. You're going to need him on retainer."
Mutely Buffy nodded and slipped the card into her jeans as Lorne turned his attention to Angel. "I'm betting this was your song choice, honey bun, nice of you to slaughter a favourite there." He waved Angel's protest away. "Wes seems pretty worried about your little touch sensitivity problem. Don't fuss about it, when the blood works it's way out of your system the effect will wear off. Two days, maybe sooner, if you keep active. Or you drown it out with bourbon, totally your choice. Though I recommend something gin based if that's the way you're leaning" Lenny arrived with Lorne's drink and the host gulped it down joyously. "You met Lenny?" He nodded at the half-demon's retreating back as Angel confirmed that he had. "Great isn't he? Such a fantastic seabreeze. And those are hard to find, he's an empath though. What would you go for? Great drinks on tap or a night off occasionally? Anyway-" He cut off Angel's reply again.
"Your other issue. The pan dimensional one. It shouldn't be that hard. It was plain old magic that got you here. A protective spell and a reversal should cover it. But and this is important Angel. They'll need an anchor for this plane. Don't want to rip a hole in this universe and not be able to close it. Send someone up to Belleview in the morning," Lorne grabbed another business card from his pocket and handed it over. "I gave this guy, Malik, a call already. He's put aside some crystals and ancient bones for the spells. All spell's contain anchors: blood, bones, sand but you need old – last week's chicken leftovers is not going to cut the mustard."
"Thanks, Lorne." Angel finally managed to edge in.
Lorne smiled resignedly, and there was a little twinkle in his eye as he gazed at the pair of them. "You know I'd do anything for that crumpet you've got there, and more than enough for you as well. But Angelcakes, whatever shell you're in you'll always be a conundrum to me - you never seem to quite put two and two together about anything – let alone that she is yours and you hers. On this plane and any other. It doesn't always end well. The universe doesn't work like that. But your soul and this Slayer's are always significant to each other. That's not meaningless. And Angel, life is going to get complicated. You need to be sure of what you're doing and why in the days ahead. None of this running in without thinking about it. Greater good is fine – greater plan is better. Do you hear me?"
"As long as you don't mention Kyerumption, Lorne, the future can't possibly get worse." Lorne snorted at the vampire's reaction and with a few goodbyes hurried off to this next customer. The Cr'Kan that had been singing when they came in had somehow made it back on stage again and was happily butchering Lady GaGa with a new very drunk friend.
"Are we going?" Buffy mumbled, and Angel realised she had snuggled back in under his arm without him really noticing. "'cause my ears are hearing badness, and I'm not really sure where it's coming from. That's über bad right?"
"Sure, my love." More fluidly than any drunk person has a right to be Angel got her up and wrapped his arm around her as he led her out and into the night. Tomorrow he might be going home. He'd wanted a plan, a direction to go in and Lorne seemed to agree. The problem was knowing he needed one wasn't the same as having one and he had no idea where to start.
"Why do you fight?" Buffy yawned, stroking her fingers gently against his sleeve where his wrist curled around her shoulder as he led her down the alley towards home. "Is it for me?"
Angel frowned. "No. I fight because it's the right thing to do. I do it to protect people from things they don't even know about. So they don't have to know about them. Or something. There were some speeches I said. I think that was the gist. And you. A bit. Hey," he laughed, "don't blame me! You're a hottie."
She giggled too. "Well you're a muppet."
"Do not call me a puppet." Angel warned darkly. "Besides what did I do? Apart from save lots of people – and I put up with Spike haunting me for a year. I could be a saint just for that!"
"Somebody's got puppet issues."
"I'll puppet you in a minute."
Buffy quirked an eyebrow at him. "Where did you get that from?"
Angel shrugged. "Gunn, I think."
"The point is – that you're stupid. You're here moping, switching between being all Mr Broody in the dark on your own and getting drunk and not talking about your world. You left it, you left your friends dead." Buffy pulled away from Angel to look at him properly, and whatever slightly drunken wobble there had been vanished in a moment. "I know what that's like Angel. I understand the greater good. And I don't play that game anymore. I heard what Lorne said, and I know you're going to go back and get some master plan in your head about making everything better. I'm asking you not to Angel. I'm asking you to ring up Other Me and talk to her. Please?"
"Buffy…" Angel almost reached for her then changed his mind not wanting to touch her and let her see in. "The other you. She doesn't trust me anymore. She wouldn't help me with Fred. Wouldn't even send Willow. After everything that's happened I think we're doomed."
"Did you talk to her? Buffy personally?" She demanded hotly, eyes flashing angrily. "Because there have been communication issues in the past." Buffy sighed, almost defeated. "Please Angel, promise me."
He shook his head slowly. "I promise to love you. I did that a long time ago and it will be a long time, if ever, before that changes. But I can't promise to do what you say just because you say it Buffy."
Buffy'd turned round and left him in the street after their fight in the alley outside Caritas, and when Angel had finally made it home he'd been through every alley fight they'd ever had and mentally re-written the endings in his favour.
The next night Wesley was buzzing with excitement as Angel made his way down the sweeping staircase to the lobby. Three slayers were busily working there, clearing everything away from the center of the floor and it reminded Angel instantly of every spell they had ever done there. Connor bursting through the portal from Quor'toth. He kept the image of Connor in his mind, not that Connor, but the newer one with better hair and so much happier as he studied and battled normal teenage evil at college.
Buffy appeared from somewhere in the back and studiously ignored him, approaching Wesley instead to ask about the details for the night. She looked extremely displeased when Wesley almost immediately waved him over. Not feeling much inclined to spare her feelings as he might normally Angel quickly crossed the floor. He could feel the tension in the slayers around him ratchet up as he passed. Tough to be a vampire in a house of Slayers, it had been hard enough when it was just Buffy and Faith – he wondered for a moment how Spike had felt at that final Sunnydale show-down surrounded by newly chosen Slayers. Hungry probably.
"Angel." Wesley smiled lightly at Angel and it seemed he had got used to the vampire's presence just in time to say goodbye. "Lorne's contact was invaluable, Caritas was an excellent idea."
"We worked together a lot, in my world." Angel replied modestly, and Buffy rolled her eyes next to him.
"Please, you just love to sing."
Wesley looked faintly bemused but carried on, "It's all surprisingly simple. You need to wear this token which contains the protective spell – should keep you in one piece – then we do a reversal spell. Should have you back in your LA in no time."
"You seem very sure." Angel said doubtfully, taking the small smelly bag of herbs, and what felt like squishy stones. It smelt of viscera and he rolled it around his palm cautiously. "There's no amulet in this is there?"
Wesley laughed. "I think you're safe. Malik seemed very trustworthy, besides Lorne recommended him. Just put it in your pocket."
"He recommended the priest that tried to kill me too."
"Really?" Wesley's face fell. "We can wait – double check?"
Angel glanced at Buffy "No. It's fine."
"We just need to be sure the blood has filtered out of you system then. Hold hands." Wes ordered matter of factly.
It was Buffy who offered her hand first and Angel appreciated the gesture. Carefully he chose a memory she might appreciate, dancing with her at her prom and slipped his palm over hers.
There was nothing but her hand. Small and light and perfect in his. His guts lurched at the painful normality of it.
"Anything?" Wesley inquired.
"Nope." Buffy tugged at his hand, not wanting to let go just yet. Drew him a little closer. "All clear."
"Excellent. Well, if you'll excuse me I'll set the spell up." He was off in an instant, barking orders and reminding Angel of the great leader he had been.
"If Wesley had been born when I was," Angel told Buffy, "he would have made a great Captain."
"Really?" Buffy frowned. "Isn't he kind of chicken for that?"
Angel shook his head. "No. Not at all. My team here is LA were all fantastic. They were here and they did amazing things. All our dead friends saved the world as many times as we did, more probably."
"I know." Buffy replied. "They jump in without power and come out world savers. They save the world when we can't, and help us when we can. We all fight every day to keep this world as safe as possible. There's no doing it alone."
"Your speeches have got shorter."
There wasn't much to be said or done beyond that. Paint and blood was daubed on the floor in a giant pentagram that bought back rushes of unshared memory. Amulets and giant bones three feet long from ancient demons marked out the points and a small Slayer with dyed platinum hair and dark skin moved fluidly between the talismans scattering sand and earth as she chanted tightly under her breath.
Buffy pulled Angel aside once more, hugged him tightly. Brushed a kiss against his chest almost imperceptibly amongst the crowd. She whispered that she loved him just loudly enough for his preternatural hearing to pick up. It hurt to let go, to leave her with the Other Angel who got to see her in sunshine. It hurt that life could have been so different for the sake of his humanity.
Angel was standing at the center of the controlled magical chaos a few moments later wrapped in his duster and clutching a blanket just in case it was sunny.
Fifteen latin couplets and some stinky herbs and he was gone.
The tar was hard and his skull cracked against it heavily as he dropped down against the molten hub of rock that had somehow been thrown into the wreckage of the once glorious hotel. Definitely cursed this place. Dust, ash and mud coated him liberally as he crashed down through the collapsing floor into the former cellar.
"Fuck." He muttered. Groaning he rolled himself off his back and stumbled up onto his feet in one jerky movement. The duster was ripped and his feet were toasty warm from the spell.
A gnarled fist smacked into his face.
And life was one long fight again.