A/N: I'm Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack! I know, I was gone for so long, right? 10 days. Wow.

This story literally just wrote itself. I'm almost finished with it. Only 7 more chapters and I'm done. Yes, it only took me a week and a half to write 18 of 25 chapters. Surprised, mildly impressed? So am I. :D

So, moving on. This story is different from Two Sides and AISHB. Buffy and Angel are totally different in those two stories. They've been through Hell (literally for Angel) and they've come out on top of it. Well, this story is an alternate Season 3...so this Buffy and Angel character reactions include, but are not limited to: stupidity, irresponsibleness, more stupidity, more irresponsibleness, jumping to conclusions, fighting and then not talking about it, lots of Angel broodiness, lots of Buffy tears, lots and lots and lots and lots of DRAMA.

Clear everything up for ya? :D

I'm just warning you guys. We're all used to a more mature Buffy and Angel. I had to take a few steps back with this story, so it was difficult to get in the groove at the beginning, but I go there and then I was hooked. Hence me finishing this story as quickly as I did.

Also, since I am totally going my own way with S3 for the first 18 chapters, I'm incorrporating different little tid bits from later seasons. Most of it is dialogue. I've sort of switched some things around and have some things happening earlier than in canon, so just a head's up there.

Okay...I think that's everything. Knowing me I totally forgot something ridiculously important because right now my only thought is posting this chapter and then checking my Inbox religiously for alerts and reviews. Yes, I really think you guys bribed or brainwashed me somewhere along the line. It's like I live to write for you. :D

Random Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy...(I'm trying something new)

Me: Okay, guys, chop, chop! Angelus, why are you still here?

Angelus: Because I'm about to awaken Acathla and send the world to Hell!

Buffy: Uh, I don't think so.

Angelus: You can't stop me Buff.

Me: Angelus, my dear, sweet, evil boy...I've seen the episode. She totally kicks your ass.

Angelus: (laughs)

Me: I'm serious...

Angelus: Prove it.

Me: (shrugs) You asked for it.


Eye of the Beholder Chapter One

Buffy had fought so hard. So, so hard.

This was it.

She took another step back as Angel…no, he wasn't her Angel. He had his face, his eyes, his body…but not his soul. No, this was not her Angel.

The creature in front of her was a menace. Evil personified. Angelus was everything she fought against. It was her duty to kill him. To end him. To stop him.

But she couldn't.

Because it was Angel.

No. It was Angelus. Angel was gone.

Gone.

The demon in front of her had Angel's face, but not his expression. Angelus was arrogant, smirking as he backed her into a corner. He radiated an aura of danger, of skill, of intelligence. Cold and calculating.

Angelus had Angel's eyes too, but they were not the same. When she looked into his chocolate brown eyes she no longer saw warmth or compassion. Gone was the depth and the honesty and the selflessness. Instead, it had been killed; slain by greed, arrogance, and insanity.

Angelus smirked at her, swishing his sword back and forth in front of her tauntingly. She could see it in his eyes. He was going to kill her, and he was going to enjoy it.

Buffy was weaponless…but even more so she felt helpless. Hopeless.

"Now that's everything, huh?" Angelus said with a dangerous smile. "No weapons…no friends…no hope."

Buffy closed her eyes. She had to focus and accept the facts for what they were. This was not Angel in front of her. It was Angelus. Angel was made to love her. Angelus was made to hate her. Angel was gone. Angelus was here.

This wasn't about her anymore. It was about the world and the people in it, the people who unbeknownst to them put their lives in her hands. She had to save them. She had to save herself. Angel was gone…

Buffy knew what she had to do.

"Take all that away…" Angelus trailed off tauntingly, enjoying how she'd closed her eyes to prepare for the worst. Oh, how he loved messing with her. "…and what's left?"

Angelus thrust the sword straight at Buffy's face, right between her eyes. With lightning fast reflexes, Buffy trapped the blade between her palms, stopping its progress. Her eyes snapped open, boring into his, shining bright in determination.

"Me," Buffy answered grimly, shoving the sword away from her forcefully, causing the hilt to hit Angelus in the face.

Momentarily stunned by Buffy's trick, Angelus stumbled back. Buffy hopped to her feet, not willing to give him any advantage. She kicked him in the chest, causing him to stagger back a few feet, and Buffy quickly retrieved her sword as he tried to regain his balance.

Buffy swung her sword around and thrust it at him, but Angelus had managed to recover from her blitz attack somewhat and was able to parry. They continued on like this for a minute or so, each of them parrying each other's blows, neither of them able to make any offensive progress.

Spinning around, Buffy brought her sword down from above, Angelus only just managing to get his sword up in time to block the blow. However, the sheer force of the hit caused him to drop to one knee. Seeing her chance, Buffy spun and dealt a roundhouse kick that sent Angelus sprawling on the ground.

Not wasting time, Buffy kicked Angelus while he was down, sending him flying through the open doors back inside the mansion. She followed him and was right there waiting when he finally stopped rolling on the floor. Buffy swung and brought her sword down over her head, but with not even a second to spare Angelus blocked the blow and rolled to his feet away from her, trying to once again gain his footing.

Buffy lunged at him, trying to see a break in his defenses, but there were none. This only made her fight harder.

Her fiery determination paid off when she felt her blade slice the flesh of his hand, causing Angleus to drop his sword and cradle his cut hand. Buffy kicked him in the face, causing him to fly back into the not yet awake Acathla.

He fell, landing on his knees before her.

Buffy raised her sword, seeing her chance. This was it. She could do it. It wasn't Angel. Angel was gone. Her Angel was gone. Gone. She had to do this. She had to. For the world. The world came before her. Everyone came before her. This was her job. This was her duty.

She had to kill him. Now.

Buffy was just about to bring her sword down for the fatal blow, when Angelus gasped loudly and then groaned in pain. His eyes glowed bright red for a moment before returning to their usual chocolate brown. Angelus looked up at her, but then quickly collapsed on the floor in front of her, a sob escaping him.

Buffy looked at him warily. Angelus didn't cry…it couldn't be…no, she couldn't dare to hope.

It could be a trick, a cheap, dirty trick that had Angelus's name all over it.

Angelus raised himself back up and looked into her eyes. Buffy felt her resolve falter as she looked at him…the warm chocolate brown eyes that could melt her to the core were filled with tears. They held so much pain and confusion…it couldn't be…

"Buffy?" Angel asked softly. "What's going on?" he asked as a sob escaped him.

Angel was scared, and the feeling unnerved him, which only served to enhance his fear. Angel himself was scared of very few things. His fears were not the normal kind, such as being afraid of heights or spiders or snakes. His fears went much deeper. He feared himself. He feared what he was capable of. He feared for Buffy. Those were his fears.

He felt vulnerable. He was confused, so incredibly confused. What had happened? Angel tried to remember…

Buffy stared at him confused and shocked. What was going on? Buffy didn't dare begin to hope that maybe, just maybe…

She still held her sword in front of her as Angel got to his feet and looked around, confusion splaying all over his features. "Where are we?" he asked. He hated that he had no idea where they were. "I-I don't remember."

Buffy dropped her sword as she finally accepted what she was seeing. Angel, her Angel. He was back. Willow…Willow had done the spell. She'd done it. She'd saved him. She'd saved both of them. Angel was back…her Angel was back.

"Angel?" she whispered, hardly daring to breathe as she waited for everything to go wrong again.

"You're hurt," Angel observed. He immediately reached out to touch her cut arm, and Buffy knew for certain that this was her Angel. He always put her first.

Feeling his gentle touch on her arm, Buffy was overwhelmed. She ignored her cut and threw her arms around him. Slightly stunned, Angel was still for a moment before he quickly regained his bearings and returned the embrace, holding her tightly even if his mind was racing, trying to figure everything out.

"Oh, Buffy," Angel sighed into her hair, squeezing his eyes shut as bits and pieces of blurry images began to filter into his brain. Slowly, he was realizing what had happened. "…God," he whispered painfully as an all too familiar guilt flooded his heart.

"I…I feel like I haven't seen you in months," Angel admitted softly as Buffy held him tighter before relaxing, a deep sigh escaping her. "Everything's so muddled, I…"

However, he paused as Buffy suddenly stiffened in his arms. "Buffy?" he questioned worriedly. "What is it?"

Buffy didn't answer immediately. Instead, she picked up her sword and cut Angel's arm. Angel was so surprised that he didn't even have the thought to hiss in pain. He just stared uncomprehendingly at her.

Buffy was kicking herself. She'd felt so safe with Angel's arms around her, she'd felt as though she were invincible. Then, Whistler's words suddenly sounded in her mind…

"Angel's the key. His blood will open the door to Hell, and only his blood will close it. Acathla opens his big mouth, creates a vortex, and you're too late. One blow will send 'em both back to Hell."

Ignoring Angel's questions, she quickly stabbed Acathla before the vortex could open, her sword piercing the stone like butter. Impatiently, she waited to see if anything would happen. She almost expected the vortex to appear despite her quick thinking, to laugh in her face and tell her it was all in vain. She couldn't have lived with herself if she'd sent Angel to Hell.

"Buffy?" Angel questioned again. "What's going on?"

"Hopefully, nothing," Buffy answered, her gaze moving away from Acathla slowly, ready to take immediate action the moment something went wrong.

Angel stared at Buffy confused. He glanced back at Acathla. Yes, he knew what it was. What demon didn't? Angel's only question was what it was doing here. A horrifying thought entered Angel's mind…no…he wouldn't…

Angel shuddered and closed his eyes tightly, trying to wish the thought away, but even more so the gut feeling that told him he was right.

What had he done?

Buffy was coiled to spring. At what, she didn't exactly know. She was just waiting for something to happen, anything. Angel was quiet and looking confused and scared, a look that had Buffy sick with worry. Buffy stared at Acathla again, and something in her gut told her that it was done. That it was all over.

It was all over. Done. Finished.

The catharsis that rushed through her was overwhelming and caught Buffy completely off guard. She exhaled a shuddering breath and Angel's eyes were immediately on her, forgetting everything but her as it usually happened when Buffy was involved. Buffy turned towards him, and Angel was already pulling her into his arms.

Buffy threw her arms around Angel's neck before crying into his shoulder. The idea that it was all over seemed unreal. Months of Angelus, months of worry, months of second-guessing…it was all over. Angel was back, and everything would be okay…it had to be.

"Buffy," Angel whispered, kissing her hair and rubbing his hand up and down her back soothingly, even if in the back of his mind he was still trying to sort through everything. "Ssh, it's okay."

Buffy looked up at him, and tenderly caressed his cheek. It was the first time in months that she'd seen him. His soft, brown eyes that she got lost in every time she looked at him, the way he could just look at her and make her heart skip a beat. Her fingers grazed over his lips, and their eyes met.

"Buffy." Angel caressed her name in a whisper.

Entranced by her gaze, Angel tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, before letting his hand settle at the nape of her neck. Gently, he pulled her face up to his, and their lips met softly, just barely brushing against each other.

It was like coming home.

Burning passion ignited in the both of them the moment their lips met, and the kiss quickly escalated, their lips moving in synchronization with a practiced ease. They both allowed themselves to forget about the present time, about the current events. They took comfort in each other. Angel momentarily forgot about the fact that he had been Angelus and tried to end the world by awakening Acathla (at least that was his best guess, and sadly, his best guesses were usually right). Buffy allowed herself to forget that she'd been haunted by a demon with her lover's face. She forgot that she'd only minutes ago committed to kill him to save the world.

They finally pulled away, and Buffy rested her forehead against his, refusing to pull completely away from him.

But as was the case with them, Angel was the first to pull away.

He stared at her for a moment. Cold, harsh reality settled over him as he stared into her green eyes that he loved so much. She was the light to his darkness, she was his best friend, she was his savior.

But he'd been selfish.

He'd had her heart, but it hadn't been enough. He'd wanted her body too.

But he'd resisted, stopping their kisses when he felt his control slipping. How many times had he come so close to getting carried away? Too many.

He'd known that something would happen the moment he turned his back that night in his apartment to let her change. Then, he'd been absolutely sure something would happen when he touched her bare shoulder. She'd looked at him the moment he'd touched her skin. The look in her eyes had nearly caused him to shudder. Then, she'd made the first move. The last thing he'd expected. It had caught him off guard when she'd kissed him.

He'd been lost the moment their lips had touched.

He had been so happy that night. Angel had plenty of experience with woman. He had centuries of experience. He'd had tons of sex in his time. But he'd never made love until that night with Buffy.

Of course, he should have known that he couldn't have happiness. He should have known...he should have known.

This was all his fault. This was what he got for giving into his own desires, for not being strong enough.

The memories were muddled, but slowly they were becoming clear. If he really concentrated they would become a little bit stronger, more real. Angel held in an exasperated sigh. He wanted to remember everything. He hated not knowing for sure. He needed to know. He needed to know what was going on. He needed to know everything.

"What happened?" he asked seriously.

Buffy immediately dropped her gaze and stared at his chest, beginning to fiddle with the collar of his shirt. She couldn't meet his eyes.

Angel didn't take this as a good sign.

It was going to be bad. It was going to be terrible, but he still had to know. He needed to know. He needed the knowledge of all that he had done as Angelus, even though it would hurt him, even though he would hate himself.

"Buffy," Angel implored. "Tell me."

"I love you," Buffy said instead, and Angel felt his heart sink. "Always...no matter what."

"Buffy," Angel entreated softly, begging her to tell him with his eyes.

Buffy looked up at him, feeling his intense gaze, and her heart dropped to her knees. How could she tell him? How? What could she say?

"I need to know," Angel said softly, his eyes filled with pain. "What did I do?"

The words were hardly out of his mouth before suddenly he remembered it all. He vividly remembered killing Jenny Calander. He recalled the smugness Angelus had felt, the twisted sense of humor in which he had set up a seemingly romantic evening at Giles' apartment. He could remember snapping her neck like a twig. Easy, simple. He remembered the satisfied thrill he'd gotten out of it.

He remembered killing a girl from Buffy's school.

He remembered attacking Willow and Xander.

He'd tortured Giles.

He'd tortured Buffy, too.

God, what had he done? Self-loathing coursed through him, the added weight of the already heavy burden he carried causing his shoulders to slump. Angel closed his eyes, and fought back tears as he saw all the victims faces. There were so many more that Buffy didn't know about. So many more.

Everything with Dru and Spike. There was more that Buffy didn't know about…especially concerning Dru.

"Angel?" Buffy asked softly, causing him to open his eyes to look at her.

The pain in Angel's eyes caused Buffy to flinch. She ached to hold him and comfort him like he did for her, but she didn't know how it'd be received. So she stood there worriedly, nervously waiting for a reaction.

Angel stared at her. He watched the emotions play across her face. Nervousness, worry, and anxiety paled in comparison to the incredible, infinite, undying, unshakable love that shone brightly in her eyes.

Angel suddenly couldn't stand to be in the same room with Buffy. He felt the need to escape. To escape her gaze so he could hide from her. That way she wouldn't realize what a monster he was.

But of course she realized what a monster he was. She'd witnessed it all…and she hadn't even seen him at his worst. Oh, he'd just been getting warmed up.

Angel shuddered at the images and fantasies that flashed through his mind.

How could she be near him? How could she still hold him? How could she still kiss him? How could she still look at him with love shining in her beautiful green eyes? How, after everything he had done? How could she even look at him?

He backed away then, and Buffy looked up at him in surprise. Confusion colored her features, "Angel?"

"Buffy." He almost looked into her eyes, but he stopped himself. He didn't deserve to see the love that he knew was there. He didn't deserve it. He didn't deserve her.

Of course, he'd known this from the start. From the moment he'd first laid eyes on her, he'd known that he'd loved her. It was odd feeling love after going for centuries without it. It had felt foreign. The warmth in his chest, the lightness. The happiness.

Happiness…Angel scowled.

"I have to go," he said quickly, staring at her, but never meeting her gaze.

"What? Why?" Buffy asked as his words sent fear shooting down her spine.

"I can't be here," Angel shook his head. "Not after this…not after what I've done."

"You haven't done anything," Buffy argued. "Stay."

"I haven't done anything?" Angel repeated, finally meeting her gaze and Buffy almost recoiled at the disdain in his eyes. "Look at what I've done!" he yelled as he pointed towards Acathla. "I almost ended the world! I killed Jenny! I killed so many people! I haunted you! I mocked you! I tortured you for months! I shadowed your every step, fantasizing about the many ways I'd kill you! I put Willow in the hospital! I attacked everyone closest to you! How have I not done anything?" he exclaimed angrily, tears in his eyes.

"That wasn't you," Buffy shook her head quickly, refusing to accept what he was saying. "You're not him!"

"No," Angel agreed lowly. "No, I'm not." Angel looked into her eyes then, his gaze hard and steely. "But he's a part of me. He's a part of what makes me who I am."

"Maybe that's true," Buffy conceded the point. "But that doesn't matter to me. I love—"

"Don't say it!" Angel interrupted, cutting her off. "Don't say it," he repeated in a whisper. "I don't deserve all that you have to give."

"But…" Buffy began, however Angel shook his head.

"No," he said sadly. "No. I can't be with you. I won't hurt you ever again. I can't protect you."

"What are you talking about?" Buffy asked confused and hurt, but those emotions were meaningless compared to the pure fear that was gripping her heart in a vice. "You can protect me from anything!" she argued.

"I can't protect you from myself," Angel replied softly, his eyes filled with anguish. "That much I've proven."

"Angel, no," Buffy whispered brokenly. "No...I-I just got you back..."

Angel felt his heart cry out at her words, at her pain. It caused his already guilty conscience to sky rocket into oblivion. "I can't be here...not anymore."

With a willpower that Angel didn't even know he possessed, he turned his back on Buffy and left...escaping.

Buffy watched Angel go. She willed her legs to move, but they wouldn't comply. She willed her voice to work, but her protesting cry died on her lips. She watched as the only man she would ever love slipped into the shadows and disappeared.

She'd saved the world.

She'd saved him.

She'd saved herself.

And yet, she'd still lost.

Are we feeling the angst yet? Muahahahahahhahahahahahahaha...there is SO much more where that came from!

Review? Pretty Please? With a strawberry on top, cause I'm weird like that?

ArthursCamelot

P.S. In case you guys didn't notice, I did twist Whistler's words just a little bit to fit the story. :)