The Sacrifice of Enrique
by Dana

Disclaimer: I am disclaiming these characters--they're not mine. The human shaped ones, anyhow.

Notes: First in the Master of Tactics series. Angel POV. Thanks to everyone who's feedbacked me on this, it's what been driving me forward. New feedback would, as always, be appreciated. On with the fic;hope you enjoy!

* * *

I admit, I didn't take it well when I first heard, but you've got to
believe me, this isn't just some rash decision. I've thought about it
from top to bottom, and it's plainly the only possible choice.

I know what I want to do. All that's left is to figure out how.

Let me start from the beginning. As all good stories do, this started
off with a phone call, a death, and an epiphany.

Yes, another one.

I had just returned from a long, tiring night out hunting Buffaloos.
You heard that correctly. Not buffalo, not me inventing a twisted
nickname for Buffy, but a type of spider demon named by a tipsy monk
in the mid-fourteen-hundreds. A pack of them had holed up under a
bridge near Sunset, and I couldn't wait to tell Cordelia about how I
had rescued Matthew Perry.

What? I did. He did brush past me two blocks earlier. The spider
demons could have easily gone after him had I not arrived in time.
The point was to tease Cordy.

I was about to do our secret knock. I rap on the door five times
rapidly, wait a beat and then rap twice more. That way she knows it's
me and makes sure all the blinds are closed before I enter. I suppose
I could simply call through the door, but our secret knock gives it
an air of mystery.

I was about to knock when I heard a high-pitched giggle from inside.
Curious. Cordelia normally doesn't giggle before one PM and three
cups of bad coffee.

"I am, honestly. It's just so great!" Another squeal. "Tell her
Wesley thinks so too. Yeah. We'll tell Angel, don't worry about it.
Yeah, I know."

I rapped, I confess, a bit loudly. `Thumped' wouldn't be an
exaggeration. But Cordelia had seemed a bit too hesitant when she
mentioned my name, and I was feeling miffed that she was probably
squealing enough not to get too excited about Matt Perry.

Maybe if it had been Mel Gibson...

"I gotta go, Angel's here," I heard her say. Then there was the sound
of shutters closing and the door opened to reveal a widely grinning
Cordelia.

"What?" I asked suspiciously.

She pulled me inside. "Angel, Angel, Angel. Does the fact that I'm
smiling immediately have to mean something's wrong?"

I pretended to consider it. "The last time you woke this chirpy we
ended up paying damages for your date's wrecked Saab."

"One time, Angel! Sheesh!"

She rolled a chair in front of me. "Sit down, Angel."

I sat down, raising an eyebrow. Her smile faltered and she somehow
squirmed over to the coffeemaker. "Let me make you a cup of coffee,
Angel."

I stood up. "What?" I demanded.

"Nothing, Angel."

"Why do you keep saying my name?"

"I'm not, Ang--dude!"

"Dude?"

"I--will you please sit down?" she pleaded, and I decided to do as
she asked.

"Right," she said anxiously, "okay. Don't freak out."

I resisted my impulse to rise. "What is it, Cordy?"

"Promise me you won't freak out!"

"Cordy, I'm not making any promises." It was an effort to remain
seated, I'm telling you.

"Okay," she fidgeted again. That was when we both caught a look of
Wesley coming down the stairs.

"Wesley!" she cried with relief. "Come here! I was just about to tell
Angel--"

Wesley seemed to choke on his coffee and spill some from the
styrofoam cup he was holding on his shirt. He backpedaled out of the
room in a rush, muttering something like, "gotta go, must research,
chop-chop, good luck now!" in British.

"Coward!" Cordelia yelled after him.

I looked up expectantly, starting to lose patience. "Are you gonna
tell me anything by next week?"

"Remember, you promised not to freak out."

"I made no such--"

"This is about Buffy."

I stood up in a flash, with so much force that the chair rolled
backwards.

"Angel, sit down--"

"Tell me!"

She took a deep breath. "This is a good thing, Angel, remember that.
It's good for her."

A small ball of dread began to gather in my stomach. I walked over to
Wesley's fish tank. I like it; it relaxes me. It's one of those huge
glass containers with a glowing neon blue light, with castles and
bubbles and shell toys for tropical fish, except Wesley's has just
one goldfish swimming in there. His name is Enrique, and he can only
swim left. We don't know why but we love him anyway.

Enrique was spinning in his lefty circles at, like, supersonic speed.
At the moment I was concentrating on not grabbing the damn fish and
choking him to death. I grabbed the light bar instead and started
playing with it, watching the light reflect on the bubbles.

"Buffy's getting married."

"WHAT!"

Here's the thing. I honestly had no malicious intentions towards
Enrique, he may make me dizzy but deep inside he's got a good heart.
But the light bar slipped from my hand into the fish tank after I
snapped it to two in shock, and you know what happens with water and
electricity.

The next thing I knew the room was smelling of grilled goldfish.

"Enrique!" Cordy ran over and scooped the dead corpse tenderly in the
palm of her hand. "You murdered him!"

Nice to know who she was really loyal to in times of emergency. I
mean, I was standing there, black-faced, frizzy-haired and all, in
the midst of an emotional crisis, and she was cradling a fish dish.

Not that I was about to voice my accusations. I had other things on
my mind.

Fortunately, in one of those rare thoughtful insights of hers, she
dropped the stiff and gently pushed me onto the couch. I probably
would have crumpled to the floor if she hadn't done that in time.
Amazing how she thought of it.

I stared straight ahead. Understand, I hadn't even known that Buffy
had a boyfriend.

"Buffy's getting married," she repeated slowly.

"Right now?" I asked blankly.

"No! In a couple of months. She's only engaged."

That's hardly a relief.

I blinked a few times. Had to organize my thoughts. First there was
the stupefying shock, which was starting to wear off. Then there was
the violent jealousy that hit me at the same time as my injured pride
and, eventually, devastating sorrow that I don't wish on my worst
enemies.

Apart from Acathla, perhaps, just for fun. We two still have a score
to settle.

Finally, what remained were fierce possessiveness and chauvinistic
alpha-male type emotions. Buffy was mine. Mine. Not some pimpled
scumbag creep who was marching in on my territory's. He could never
give her what she needs.

She's mine.

The small part of my brain which was still thinking rationally was,
however, aware that neither Buffy not the woman sitting in front of
me would appreciate these thoughts, so I wasn't about to comment
aloud.

"She's mine," I growled.

Right. That happens sometimes.

Cordy rolled her eyes. "Oh, look, it's Angel the caveman."

"How dare he steal my woman?"

"I'm not even gonna go into how ridiculous that was. I'm writing it
off as temporary insanity and not letting Buffy know you said it."

"The nerve, to walk over to her and even consider asking--"

"Actually, she proposed to him."

My outrage went flying out the window, replaced by horror instead.

"Impossible."

The half-smile she directed at me was part ironic, part
sympathetic. "I'm sorry to say, Angel, but there is life after you."

That shut me up. I just sat there stupidly, digesting all this
incomprehensible information.

Buffy asked another man to spend the rest of his life with her. She
would vow love and obedience to a strange man until she died. And he
agreed.

Why would she do that? I desperately wanted to believe that he was
using her somehow, but I knew that my Buffy wasn't so insecure as to
fall for that for long.

It's just...

Okay, machismo affront aside, I totally get why a guy would propose
to Buffy. As far as I'm concerned, the entire male population of the
world should be proposing to Buffy on a daily basis, because she's so
amazing.

But for her to pop the question?

I know, I know. Caveman. Women are liberal and independent and are
equally entitled to take initiative in the game of courting.

But Buffy was never like that. She was very self-conscious when it
came to men. I was always the one to take our relationship to the
next level. She'd be comfortable with me when she was sure where we
stood, and trusted me to know when to take the next step. I think
that was why it was so easy for Parker to take advantage of her.

Hang on while I wait for the momentary rage to fade.

Better.

If Buffy proposed, it meant... It meant...

What did it mean? Did she feel more comfortable with him than with
me? Was she afraid he was going to leave her and wanted to seal the
deal?

What was the problem with this guy anyway? Didn't he have enough
sense to latch on to this girl and never let go?

Wait. I'm the idiot who let her go. I had, I believe, justifiable
reasons.

Did he?

Suspicion began to harbor in my mind. Something was definitely wrong
with this guy. Maybe he was secretly gay. Or a demon. He could be
involved with the mob.

Possibly, Buffy was engaged to a member of the homosexual demon
Mafia.

"Something smells fishy," I declared aloud.

"That would be the dead fish."

"I mean about Buffy," I clarify, glaring at Cordy.

"Oh, great," she mutters into her hands.

"Don't you think it's strange she's marrying a guy still in the
closet?"

"Buffy's in the closet?"

"The guy!"

"You've never even met him!" she exclaims.

"Why else would she propose?" I point out triumphantly.

"Are you saying that Buffy proposed to the guy because she knew he
was gay?"

That didn't make much sense.

"I...don't really know what I'm saying."

"Obviously."

I furrowed my brow in confusion. Somehow I had lost track of my trail
of thought. Thoughts. I knew that somewhere in my mind a sensible
theory was hiding.

"Angel," Cordy sighed. "Did it occur to you that maybe Buffy proposed
to the guy simply because she loves him?"

No.

"I...I..." I trailed off helplessly.

She sat down on the couch next to me.

"Come here," she murmured, and gently tilted my head to rest on her
shoulder, which wasn't very comfortable so I let it fall to her lap,
facedown. Her fingers stroked my hair rhythmically. She spoke in a
soothing voice.

"I know how you feel." Xander and Anya got married a while back. I
remember we held a similar ritual. "It'll be okay, it really will.
Oh, god, Angel..."

I realized she was laughing weakly. Great timing, Cordy. "What?" I
asked, not having to pretend to be offended.

"I have soot all over my fingers," she chortled.

Involuntarily, I snorted, and her laughter grew stronger. I felt her
shake above me. "It's all over my clothes now, too! Really, you
couldn't find some other way to kill him?"

"Poor Enrique," I agreed, lifting myself to lean back beside her. She
doubled up. If we can joke about this, I thought, it can't be that
bad. Right?

We laughed together, myself to keep from crying, I think. When it
died down Cordy looked me up and down and said, "You look tired. And
dirty. Is that spider demon slime?"

"Buffaloo," I nodded, and once we hear the word we're on the floor
again, laughing hysterically. That must have been one seriously drunk
monk.

Cordy must have caught me laughing a bit too long and too hard,
because she said again, "you're tired, Angel. Go to sleep. You can
think about it when you wake up."

I nodded off right there on the couch, and when I woke up I heard a
whispered conversation between Wesley and Cordy.

"How did he take it?"

"He went through a couple of stages. First he freaked out and
committed fishicide."

"Enrique?"

"I'm sorry."

"No!"

"It's true. Then he went into shock. His inner Neanderthal surfaced
for a brief appearance, followed by denial and some bizzare, off the
wall accusations. I think he's finally reached acceptance, though,"
she concluded.

"Poor guy."

"Yeah."

"So small, yet even when he swam left, he did it with passion--"

"Wesley!"

"Joking," he whispered defensively.

"You better be. You didn't see him, Wes, he was devastated."

"I can imagine."

"You only have to imagine! How could you run off and just leave me in
there, you chicken--" she started making sounds.

"Cordelia," I said aloud, "don't cluck when I'm trying to sleep."

"Angel!" she rushed over to me with a cup of coffee. Two in a day;
Buffy should get married more often.

Or not.

Wesley walked over too. "Back among the living, I see."

"Technically, no."

"By the way, you're invited to my late goldfish's funeral tonight.
It'll be in the top floor toilets. I expect you'll act properly
ashamed." I crack a faint grin.

"Sorry," I apologize sheepishly.

"Seriously, Angel..." he hesitates. "You have my condolences."

"Way to make me feel better, Wes, all this talking about funerals."

"You're making jokes, at least. I assume that means you've gone back
to yourself?"

And that's where the epiphany came in.

Flashback with me to the late seventeen-hundreds: I'm Liam, a selfish
bastard if I ever knew one, couldn't care less about anyone but
myself.

Actually, I `couldna care less abay anywoon boot meself.'

But at least I knew what was right, and what I wanted, and I went
after it, and I got it. I could woo a woman.

I realized suddenly that I had never wooed Buffy.

If there was anything Buffy deserved, it was a guy like Liam wooing
her.

I mean, without dishonorable intentions.

And then I realized that I really was an idiot for letting her get
away. Or for pushing her away. Buffy and I belong together. I've
always known that. But somewhere along the way I had turned into a
self-sacrificing, so-called noble idiot. I didn't realize that the
term `meant-to-be' actually means Meant to Be Together, and not
Regrettably Attracted to One Another But Doomed to Go Their Separate
Ways. Here I was, feeling sorry for myself and brooding that fate was
out to get me when it was throwing opportunities at us left and
right.

And I blew them all.

I realize I've got a lot to atone for. Believe me, if sins were a
grain of sand I'd be right there on top of Mt. Everest.

But if I believe Faith stands a chance of redeeming herself, I've
gotta believe the same about me.

I have a chance to become human. More than a chance; a prophecy. It's
gonna happen soon. It'll probably happen whether I'm with Buffy or
not.

And there I'll stand: Redeemed. Alive.

Alone.

I've wasted opportunities before; I'm not gonna waste them again.

Yes, it's immoral. But I know with absolute certainty that no matter
how happy she thinks she is with this guy, she'll be happier with me,
and I'll be happier with her, and that's all there is to it.

Unless I get too happy. Hopefully, by then it won't be a problem.

I knew what I wanted, and I knew I was gonna go after it. It was an
astonishing discovery.

End epiphany.

"Yes, Wesley, I have gone back to myself," I said. The world was
looking pink.

"Uh, why are you smiling?" Cordy asked, baffled.

"I feel good."

She exchanged a worried look with Wesley. I was hurt that this is
what they thought of me.

"Is it that hard to believe that I'm happy for Buffy and her
forthcoming matrimony?" I complained. Brightly.

"Yes," they said at the same time. Good boys.

Or is it boy and girl? Must remain PC.

"You're right. I feel sorry."

"You don't look it," Cordy said.

"I feel sorry for the guy when I get through with him."

Cordy gaped. It was pretty amusing, Actually. "Are you out of your
mind?"

"I've never felt more sane."

"Please tell me you're not gonna go there and beat him up or
something."

"Not unless it's necessary."

"Angel!"

"Relax, Cordy. I don't think I'll have to."

"Oh, no."

"I only want to make sure Buffy knows what she's doing," I grin. "And
what she's missing."

"You're going to try to seduce her?" Cordy practically shrieked.

"I will use any appropriate means to make her seriously weigh her
decision to marry the creep. Obviously, at my current existential
status, curse-wise, seduction wouldn't be a wise option."

"Wesley, don't just stand there! Say something!"

Wesley threw her an apologetic smile. "I say you should go for it." I
beamed.

"Wesley!" Cordy scowled. It was terrifying. Wesley paled.

"As, as a guy. But as a former Watcher and r-rational human being I
think that it's morally wrong, dangerous, and it could harm you both.
I advise against it."

"Chicken," I muttered.

"Angel, do you even realize what you're saying? It's insane! You lost
any right you had on Buffy or her life when you moved to LA! You
wanted this for her, remember? You gave up your life in Sunnydale so
she could have this. You decided for both of you and now you have to
let her make her own decisions."

"I'm just making it clear what the options are," I said reasonably.

"I can't hear this!"

She was really freaking out. It was touching how much she cared about
us.

"Cordy, yes. Choices were made. They were wrong. I'm gonna fix them."

Her eyes widen. "See, that? That was denial. That was a great big
river in Egypt that you are drowning in!"

"As a vampire drowning doesn't affect me, but I'm not even in the
river."

"On the other hand," Wesley piped up, "little Enrique, may he rest in
peace, might be spinning circles in the desert waters for eternity."

"Shut up, Wesley," we both said.

"Cordy," I attempted to explain, "I don't want to miss this
opportunity."

"Miss this opportunity? She's finally getting married! I would say
this is the absolute and of the opportunity era!" Cordy geared up for
a final attack. "Seriously, Buffy's been through enough. If you hurt
her, I swear I'll use all that Tai Chi you taught me to drown you in
holy water and stick a cross where the sun don't shine."

"Cordelia!" I was shocked.

"Angelus!" she mimicked.

"Fine," I submitted, "I appreciate your concern."

"I'm more concerned about you."

"Yeah," I said, quiet for a moment. "Look, you're not gonna say
anything to Buffy, right?"

"You mean am I going to warn her?"

"Please," I implored.

She sighed. "Against my better judgement, I'll let you make your own
stupid mistakes."

"Great!" I smiled brilliantly, and rose from the couch. "Pack up, my
trustee employees. We're taking a working holiday to Sunnydale."

I left the two of them staring at me behind and set out to
strategize. Leaving the room, I remembered something. "Cordelia!" I
called back as I closed the door. "Matt Perry says hi!"

Faintly, I heard a surprised shriek.

And that was that.

I really think there's no other possible choice. Me and Buffy, apart?
How could I have ever considered it?

I have a plan. It's simple.

I'm gonna win her back.

All right, it's not exactly a plan. More like a declaration of
intentions. A Manifesto, if you will.

Yeah, it'll be hard. She'll probably protest at first, and stick to
her delusion of love. I'll have to deal with obstacles--my
unsupportive staff, the old gang, which I'm sure will object, and all
the traditional issues that kept us apart--sunlight, the curse, that
sort of thing.

Thankfully, my stubbornness is no longer one of those issues.

I guess I'll just have to turn my sexual prowess, endless charm and
astounding intelligence full blast until she runs into my arms.

It'll all work out for the best, I'm positive. Enrique didn't die for
nothing. I'll figure out a plan to make it work.

We'll get a happy ending this time.

I'm sure.