To See Once More the Light of the Stars
by Philip S.

Summary: Buffy has to kill Angel and send him to Hell, because otherwise Akathler will
swallow the world. But just because she has to do her duty doesn't mean she has to give up on
the man she loves.
Spoilers: Everything up to Becoming, AU after that.

Rating: PG-13
Diclaimer: Buffy and associated characters belong to Joss Whedon and company. I own
nothing but the idea to this story.
Archive: This story will be archived at my site, www.shadow-dancing.com
Title Picture: http://www.shadow-dancing.com/Pics/Starlight.jpg


#

"Close your eyes!" Tears were trailing down Buffy's cheeks, knowing what was to come,
what she had to do. Angel was back, he had returned to her. She could see it in his eyes,
which were no longer empty. She could hear it in his voice, which was no longer cruel and
taunting. He didn't remember what had happened, he was confused, yet still his first concern
had been her injuries, not a thought to himself.

And how she had to ... had to ...

Angel did like she told him, even as the portal grew wider behind him. Buffy could barely see
it anymore because of the tears as she embraced Angel with desperation, kissing him like she
never had before. She felt like she was being torn in two, a large part of her telling the world
to go to hell for asking her to do this. How could she even consider ...?

But she had to. Because she couldn't change who she was.

All too soon the kiss ended. She didn't want it to. She wanted to remain here, with him,
forever. But the portal grew larger, wind was picking up, and she knew that she had to act
now. Before she lost what little determination remained.

"I love you!" She whispered to him.

And then, shutting off every part of her except that which was the Slayer, she reared back and
ran the sword right through his chest.

Angel gasped and his eyes flew open, filled with pain and confusion. Buffy took a step back,
feeling as if she'd just driven the sword into her own flesh. Angel's eyes found her, looked
upon her, asked a single question.

Why? Why did she do this to him?

The portal behind him began to glow and change, rippling as more magic was poured into it.
Glowing tendrils reached out for Angel, embracing him like she had done but moments
earlier. Angel looked down at the sword protruding from his chest, then back up at her.

"Buffy?" He asked. There was no hatred in his question. He looked at her and she knew that
he didn't hate her. Even here, even now, he was completely convinced that she had a reason
for doing this, that she would never hurt him if she'd had another chance.

A sob broke from her throat. Somehow this made it even worse.

One of his hands reached out for her, even as the portal began to collapse in on itself. Buffy
could see him grow more distant, the flames swallowing him, but he never took his eyes off
her. His hand was still reaching for her.

The Slayer had done her duty, Buffy realized. She had condemned the man she loved to hell
in order to save the world. She had done everything she had been asked to, no matter the pain,
no matter the cost to herself, no matter that the world would never even know that she had
saved it.

And now she didn't give a fuck about the world anymore.

Without a moment's hesitation Buffy reached out and grabbed Angel's hand, holding it tight,
even as he was dragged back into the portal. His eyes widened as he realized what was
happening and she felt his fingers go slack, felt him try and let go of her.

Buffy held on.

#

Xander had gotten Giles out of the mansion and into the safety of the sunlight. The Watcher
was in a bad way, but the paramedics were already informed and would hopefully be here
soon. Which left Xander free to go back inside.

Just a few weeks ago he had made a promise to Angel. A promise that he would die. A
promise that Xander would be there to watch. He didn't intend to break that promise.

All the vampires seemed to be gone, no one to keep him out. There was no more sound of
fighting to be heard, which could be a good thing. Or not. Clutching the stake Buffy had given
him earlier Xander carefully made his way back into the large living area where Akathler's
statue stood.

He froze.

There was Angel, a sword right through his chest, a more beautiful sight he couldn't imagine.
But Angel stood right in front of a glowing vortex that came pouring out of Akathler's mouth
and that couldn't be good. Especially since he was holding Buffy's hand and dragged them
both toward it.

"Buffy!" Xander yelled, running closer.

Buffy's look made him stop.

Xander had time enough to realize three things. One was that Angel wasn't the one dragging
Buffy with him. In fact it seemed as if the vampire was doing his best to make her let go of
him, while Buffy held on for dear life.

Second, the Angel that had tortured them all these last few months wouldn't do that. That
Angel would do his merry best to drag the Slayer down into hell with him.

Third, the look in Buffy's eyes made one thing clear. She knew. She had figured out what
Xander hadn't told her, what he had kept from her because he wanted to see Angel dead, no
matter what.

"Buffy!" He whispered, unable to move.

Akathler fell silent, the vortex vanished. Xander was alone in the mansion.

#

Three months later:

The mansion had stood empty for many weeks now. Akathler's statue had been removed by
specialists from the Watchers' Council, making sure that it would never be a threat to anyone
ever again.

They had also tried their best to pick up some kind of trace, anything to clue them in on what
exactly had happened here and where their Slayer had vanished to. Xander had told Giles
everything that had happened and he had, in turn, informed the Council. Leaving out the part
that Buffy had apparently followed Angel into hell of her own free will.

It had all come to nothing, so now the place was abandoned. Willow had come here once,
wanting to see the spot where her best friend had disappeared from. Giles had accompanied
her and they had laid down some flowers, both for Buffy and for Angel. The real Angel, who
had apparently returned. Only too late.

It was night outside when a stark light suddenly lit the interior of he mansion. It hailed from
nowhere and everywhere at once, chasing all the shadows away. The floor shook as the fabric
of time and space ripped apart, a glowing portal opening in mid-air.

Two figures stepped out from it, looking at their new surroundings. They were both dressed in
skins and rags, along with some remains of very old street clothes. The man carried a large
sword strapped to his back, an equally large battle axe held at the ready in his right hand.

The woman at his side looked around suspiciously, clutching a sword of her own. Her long
blonde hair was tied back in an intricate braid, which trailed down nearly to her feet. The light
around them faded as the portal closed, yet she had no trouble seeing in the dark, seeing the
familiar surroundings.

"You think we made it?" She asked him.

Angel closed his eyes, inhaling the scent. Then his lips broke into a smile.

"We did it, my love. We are home."

Buffy broke into a smile of her own, her fangs flashing in the moonlight as she did.


###


Part 2


###

Buffy slowly walked out into the garden of the mansion. She had been here just once before,
but the place had burned itself into her memory beyond any hope of forgetting. The most
terrible day of her entire life had taken place here and she had seen it in her dreams almost
every night since then.

No, not dreams. Nightmares.

The garden looked little different from what she remembered. The plants had grown a bit, but
not as much as she had expected. A small part of her mind wondered about that. Most of her
attention was captured by the skies, though.

"Angel!" She whispered, looking up.

Walking out of the mansion he stood by her side and looked up as well. The dark firmament
was filled with stars from horizon to horizon, not a cloud in sight. The half moon hung in the
sky and smiled down on them.

"I never thought we'd see the stars again." Buffy said, a tear rolling down her cheek. "I ... I
almost forgot what they look like."

"I never doubted we would make it." Angel said, squeezing her hand.

For a long time they just stood there, hand in hand, looking at a sky neither of them had seen
for a long, long time. Something else was new, too, Buffy realized. The silence. The air
around them was not filled with screams. The only things she heard were the faint sounds of
the forest, the barest noise of a car passing in the distance.

The air didn't smell of brimstone and blood. It smelled of flowers and evergreen, another
sensation she had almost forgotten. She inhaled deeply, filling herself with the beautiful scent
of home.

Finally she shook herself loose from the beautiful sight, looking around again.

"It looks like someone kept this place in shape." She told Angel. "Do you think ..."

She didn't need to speak it out loud. All through their ordeal she had kept up hope that, even
after all this time, she would be able to see her friends again, her mother. That hope had
dimmed as time had passed, but she had never given up on it.

Now, though, when they were finally here, he could see her faltering.

"We should first find out how long we were gone." He said, putting a calming hand on her
shoulder. "And find some clothing to blend in a little better."

She looked down at the things they were wearing and broke into a smile again.

"We do look like rejects from ... from ... you know, that movie with ... god, my memory is
like a sieve. Cogan the Barbarian or something like that."

"I've never been good with pop culture references, you know that."

"No kidding."

#

They found some leftover clothing in the bedroom Angel had used during the time he had
lived here. Or rather the time Angelus had. Dust had gathered in the corners, but it was far
from the dusty tomb they had expected after all this time. The black duster Angel slipped on
was still good as new. He remembered buying it shortly after coming to Sunnydale the first
time and it didn't look much different.

Buffy slipped on one of his large shirts. All his pants were much too large for her, so she
settled with tying off the shirt and hiding the rest of her more unusual clothing with another
coat of his.

Neither of them took off their weapons.

Going out into the open was more difficult than either of them had imagined. They had both
fallen into a habit, developed out of the bare need to survive. You didn't go out into the open
if you wanted to keep on living. You hid, you lurked, you never announced your presence if it
could be avoided.

Only those rules didn't apply anymore.

"It looks just like I remember." Buffy said, looking around. The city hadn't changed. She had
spent a lot of time wondering what would happen back home, had tried to imagine how it
would look once they managed to get back.

She had expected some change at the least. After all this time ...

"Buffy, look!" Angel had let go of her hand and walked toward a metal box standing on the
sidewalk. She needed a long moment to remember what it was. A newspaper box. There were
still newspapers. And if they had a newspaper ...

Angel broke open the box and took out a paper, looking at the date printed on the first page. A
frown played over his features.

"Angel? What is it? How much time ...?"

He handed the paper to her, the frown still firmly in place. Buffy took it and stared at the date.
And stared. And stared.

"This ... this isn't possible." She whispered, clutching the paper so hard that it began to tear at
the edges.

"We were in another dimension, Buffy." Angel told her, looking around. "Time doesn't
necessarily pass at the same speed here as it did there."

"But ... but three months?" She looked up at him. "We were gone just three months? All this
time ... everything we went through and ... and we are back just a few weeks after we left?"

He took the paper from her hands. "Aren't you glad?" He asked. "It means they're probably
still here, Buffy. They're all still here."

"But ...," she began, then looked down, "I know. I should be glad. But it makes everything we
went through ... it makes it all look so ..."

"Pointless?"

Buffy looked up, seeing the familiar pain in Angel's eyes. He still blamed himself. After all
this time he still blamed himself for consigning the two of them to Hell. He just refused to
accept that, if anyone was to blame, it was she. She had shoved a sword into his chest, she had
damned him to Hell despite being totally without blame for everything that had happened.

They had had that argument a thousand times over. She didn't intend to bring it up again.

"I just ... I think I resigned myself to the fact that ... I don't know. I hoped to see them again
but I expected them to be old by now. To have forgotten about me, maybe. I ... I had this
fantasy about walking in on Willow while she playing with her grandchildren or something."

She remembered her best friend's name. There had been time when she hadn't been sure of it,
when her memories had eluded her. At times her entire life on Earth had seemed like nothing
but a dream, an imaginary world she had made up to escape from the reality of Hell. But she
still remembered. Willow. Her mother. Giles. Even Xander, who had betrayed her. A betrayal
that still stung after all these years.

If he had just told her ... if she had known that ... she shook her head. It had been a long time
ago. For her.

Not for them, though.

"Three months." She whispered.

Angel wrapped his arms around her, drawing her into his body. For a moment they rested that
way, trying to work their minds around the fact that almost no time had passed in this world.
Everything they had gone through had passed by this world in a heartbeat.

"You want to go see them?" Angel asked after a long minute of silence.

Buffy nodded, slowly moving out of his arms. For so long the two of them had been an entire
world all to themselves. Everything else was hostile; they could trust no one but each other
and their very survival depended on that trust to be absolute. Looking up into his eyes, Buffy
knew that it was. And that would never change.

"Your mother?" Angel inquired further.

"No!" She shook her head immediately. "I ... I don't think I'm ready for that. She ... the last
thing she did was to throw me out of the house. It's like ... all I can remember is her face
when she said that. How angry she looked. I can't ..."

"It's okay. Giles then?"

Giles. The man whom Angelus had tortured within an inch of his life just before they had
gone to Hell. She knew how guilty he felt about that, how the memories of doing what he did
to the man who was closer to being her father than anyone else tortured him. Even after all
these years.

Suggesting that they go to him first had to be hard for him. But, as usual, he didn't spend a
single thought on his own peace of mind.

"Giles." She nodded. "Let's go see Giles."

If anyone could help them make sense of this, it was Giles.


###


Part 3


###


She had forgotten his address. It wasn't all that surprising, considering how much time had
passed, but it made her sad nonetheless. They had to look it up in the phone book and
consulted one of the few citizens that were out on the streets this time of night on how to get
there. It wasn't all that far.

Seeing the apartment building her Watcher lived in brought back a lot of memories for Buffy.
How Giles had made tea for her time and again, hoping that she'd pick up the taste one day
and abandon that barbarous fondness for coffee. She remembered his smile, seen much too
little, and how he would always clean his glasses. She also remembered the look of pain on
his face the day Jenny had died.

It had been but three months for him.

She couldn't remember the color of his eyes.

The apartment door loomed before them and Buffy found her courage rapidly faltering. How
would he react? It had been so long since she had seen him and she wasn't sure if she
remembered enough of him to know what to say, what to do around him. Did he miss her?
Was he furious because she had chosen to go to Hell with Angel instead of staying here to
keep fulfilling her duty? Was he disappointed?

Staring at the door, Buffy was overcome with a memory. Another door, nothing like this one,
yet standing before it gave her a feeling all too similar. Just like then she didn't know whether
going through that door was better or worse than not doing it.

#

Day 1

Buffy wasn't sure at what point she had lost consciousness, but the first sensation that
penetrated past the darkness surrounding her was the feeling of a cold hand held in her own.
A hand she held on to as if her life depended on it. The memories came flooding back to her
in an instant and her eyes snapped open.

There was no sky above her. Only a dark cave ceiling that seemed to be miles up. The air
seemed suffused with some kind of crimson light and it stank. It stank like a lot of someones
had died here. Several times over.

Further observations of her surroundings became unimportant when Angel groaned beside
her.

"Angel!" She yelled, quickly turning over to look at him.

He was lying on his back, eyes closed, his body convulsing. The sword was still buried in his
flesh. She had done that. She had run him through with that sword. To save the world, sure.
Somehow that made no difference right here and now.

"Angel, can you hear me?" She leaned in close, her lips brushing his face as she swept sweat-
soaked strands of hair out of his face. The sword wound was bleeding and the steel edge did
further damage as Angel convulsed again.

"Angel, please!" She tried to hold him down, even as she examined the wound. Right through
him and out the back. God, why had she done that to him? How could she have done this
him?

Forcibly calming herself she resolved what to do next. The sword had to come out. Angel was
a rapid healer, she knew that, she just had to make sure that he didn't lose too much blood
until the wounds could close. Quickly tearing off the remains of his shirt she ripped it into an
improvised bandage.

Now for the hard part.

"Angel, I'm gonna remove the sword, okay?" She told him, hoping that he could hear her. "It
will hurt, I know, but it has to come out."

He gave no sign that he heard, the pain on his face almost too much to bare. Gathering all that
remained of her resolve she rose and, without waiting for her nerve to go, pulled the sword
from his flesh.

Angel screamed, his pain echoing off the far-away cave wall. Blood sprouted from the
wounds the sword had left, quickly growing into a puddle beneath him. Putting the sword
aside (the Slayer inside her reminding her that she might need it yet, considering where she
probably was) she quickly turned him on his side and pressed the shirt-turned bandage to the
two wounds with all her strength.

"I'm here, Angel!" She whispered, trying to hold him still by pinning him down with her own
body. "I'm here!"

Buffy had no idea how much time had passed when he finally grew calmer, the blood flow
slowing to a trickle and finally stopping. He was drenched in cold sweat, not breathing, and
looked like death warmed over, but the worst seemed to be over. Wrapping up the wounds as
best as she could with the materials at hand, Buffy closed her eyes, not wanting to consider
anything past this moment.

"B-Buffy?" Angel's voice was weak, but it caused her to start. Looking up, she saw him
staring at her with his dark brown eyes, confused and full of pain. "I ... what happened? I
don't ... where ...?"

"It's okay, Angel!" She said, wrapping her arms around his aching body. "It's okay. I'm here.
We're gonna be okay."

For a moment he didn't resist her embrace, but then she felt him stiffen. A sharp intake of
unnecessary breath was followed by a heart-wrenching sob.

"Oh, God! I ... I did ..."

"Not you, Angel!" She reminded him, her own voice trembling. "It wasn't you! Never you!"

She gathered him into her arms like a sick child as the tears began to trail down his cheeks,
his entire body shaking with sobs. He remembered. He remembered everything Angelus had
done these past few months, every single cruelty, every single taunt. She couldn't even
imagine how painful this had to be for him.

She could only be there for him. As long as it took.

"I'm so sorry." He whispered, over and over. "I'm so sorry."

Hours, maybe even days seemed to pass and Buffy didn't care. She was with her Angel, that
was the only important thing. A part of her knew that, wherever they had ended up, it was
probably not a good place. Probably a place where they would end up dead or worse before
too long, though she banished that kind of defeatist thinking from her mind as soon as it
appeared.

None of it mattered, though. Not right now.

Finally, with no way to tell how much time had passed, Angel let go of her and looked into
her eyes. The wound had almost healed, only an angry red scar remained. Just like the scratch
on her arm, which was barely visible anymore.

The outer wounds had healed. She didn't know about the rest.

"Why did you do it?" Angel asked. For a moment Buffy was frozen with fear. Would he
blame her? Would he hate her for ...?

"Why did you go into the portal with me?"

She looked into his dark eyes and even here, even now, she saw nothing but love and fear for
her safety.

"Because I love you." She said, clutching his hand again, biting back the tears. "The world
might have ... might have forced me to ... but I could never let you go alone. Wherever we are
now, whatever we have to go through, we'll do it together."

She could see that he wanted to protest, wanted to tell her that he wasn't worth it, especially
after all the things that had happened these last few months. She silenced him with a kiss.

"We will!" She emphasized when the kiss ended.

It was too late to argue about it and Angel recognized that. Buffy rose back to her feet and he
took her offered hand, allowing her to pull him back up as well. He winced, the wound a long
way from being totally healed, but seeing the guilt flashing in her eyes made the pain
insignificant.

They both had a lot of guilt to work through, it seemed.

"We will!" He just said, squeezing her hand in turn.

Seeing the barest hint of a smile on her face, Angel took the opportunity to finally study his
surroundings for the first time. He knew where Akathler's portal was supposed to lead. Just a
few short hours ago he had wanted to send the entire world to this place. But maybe the books
and prophecies had been wrong. Maybe they had ended up in another place, not ...

About half a mile ahead of them the towering walls of the cave they were in ended. In their
place there was a door, at least a hundred meters tall, probably more. It looked old, incredibly
old, and there was something written on it, each letter taller than he was.

"Lasciate ogne speranza, vol ch'intrate!" Angel read the words.

"What ... what does that mean?" Buffy asked him, holding his hand tighter.

Angel just stared straight ahead at the door, which was opening slowly even as they watched.

"All hope abandon, ye who enter in!"

#

Taking a deep breath, Buffy knocked on Giles' door.



###


Part 4


###


Rupert Giles looked at the clock on his wall, wondering where the hours had gone. Hadn't he
just got up for a new day, not really knowing why? Spent his day with mindless tasks of
research and filing that served no purpose whatsoever? He hadn't shaved, he realized, and
couldn't quite remember his last shower.

There on the table in front of him was that letter he had received from the Council a few days
ago, telling him in no uncertain terms that they considered the matter of Buffy Summers
closed. She was gone for good, they said, and as she had died once before there would not be
a new Slayer following after her anyway. As Kendra's death had resulted in the calling of
another Slayer, a girl named Faith, they were satisfied with that state of affairs.

Giles had forced himself not to tear the letter to pieces.

The Council also wanted him to keep up his watch on the Hellmouth in Sunnydale. The new
Slayer was not currently to be stationed here, but in case the mystical convergence acted up
they wanted prior warning, so she could be sent to deal with it.

Not his Slayer. Not Buffy. She was gone.

He was only now beginning to accept that. Slowly. His flat was still littered with books and
notes about Akathler, about the demonic dimensions, everything that could possibly offer a
clue as to where Buffy had gone to, how they could get her back. His eyes were hurting from
too much reading and too little sleep over these last three months.

All for naught.

He remembered the day Xander had told them what had happened in the mansion. Giles had
just been released from the hospital; still recovering from the injuries inflicted on him by
Angelus. He remembered being furious with Xander for what he had done, what he had kept
from Buffy. If only he had told her that Willow would try the soul restoration again, if only
Buffy had known, maybe she could have ...

If only. For Giles the English language held no sadder words.

He remembered thinking how typical it was of Buffy to do something so brave and foolish.
She had been forced to sacrifice the man she loved for this uncaring world. Was it really so
surprising that she had followed him?

Xander had said that Angel had been back in those last few seconds. The real Angel, the one
who had aided them more times than he could count, who had saved all their lives several
times over. Not the cruel madman who had tortured him for hours. Not the psychopath that
had killed Jenny. Giles closed his eyes, trying for the hundredth time to separate these two
people who happened to carry the same face. It was hard.

Putting aside the book he had unsuccessfully tried to read this past hour or so, he rose to
stretch his tired bones. Thankfully the Hellmouth had remained quiet all summer. Giles did
not want to call on the Slayer for help. It would not be his Slayer. Not Buffy.

There was a soft knock on his door.

Giles looked at the clock again. Someone knocking on your door in the middle of the night
was never a good thing in Sunnydale. "Just a minute!" He called out, checking that the
crossbow and stake he kept close to the door were within easy reach. It paid to be careful.

When he opened the door Giles forgot all about carefulness.

She stood a short distance away from the door, the light from the lamp not reaching her face.
The black coat she had wrapped around herself merged with the shadows of night and her hair
was tied back, the golden locks barely visible.

He recognized her instantly.

"Buffy?" He whispered, afraid that he had finally gone insane.

"Hi, Giles." She said, taking a small step closer. The light still shied away from her face, but
now he saw without a doubt that it was she. Her voice sounded a bit different. Harder, sadder,
but that was hardly surprising, was it?

She was here. She was back.

Without thinking of any danger he stepped out of the door and closed her into his arms.
British reserve failed him completely, all thoughts of the proper distance a Watcher should
maintain towards his Slayer was forgotten. She was here, she was alive, and nothing else
mattered.

"You're alive." He whispered, finally letting go of her and holding her at arm's length.
"When Xander told us ... I ..." He took off his glasses.

"I'm glad to see you, too, Giles." Buffy said, her lips curving into a smile.

He nodded, taking a step back. He felt just a little embarrassed after this little display of
emotions. Just a little.

"Sorry, I ... why don't you ..." He was about to invite her inside when he saw the shadow
standing a few steps behind her. A familiar silhouette, keeping well back from the light. His
blood ran cold.

Buffy saw the look in his eyes.

"It's Angel, Giles." She told him. "Not Angelus."

"Ah, I ... I see."

Angel slowly walked forward into the light and Giles couldn't help but take a step back.
Angel's hair was a much longer now, falling down to his shoulders. His face was carefully
neutral, his dark eyes revealing nothing.

Giles remembered that same face smirking at him while he was tied to a chair, bleeding from
a dozen and more wounds.

Resisting the urge to simply run inside and slam the door, Giles instead walked back into his
flat, needing the safety of his home despite himself. He expected Buffy to follow him inside.
He would make some tea to calm down his nerves, yes, and then they would talk. Everything
would be all right again, yes it would. He just had to remain calm and ...

Buffy stopped in front of the door and looked at him.

"Buffy, what ...?" He began, then stopped.

The light from inside his flat illuminated her face for the first time. Showed him how much
she had changed. What little baby fat she'd had left the last time he had seen her was gone,
replaced by sharp-edged cheekbones. Her hair was also longer, he realized, tied back in an
intricate braid that trailed down to her feet. Her skin was pale, almost translucent, and the lips
thinner than he remembered.

Despite all those differences it was still her face. A human face.

Except for the eyes.

They were amber. Demon amber.

"I ... I'm afraid I can't come in unless you ..." Her voice trailed off.

"No!" Giles whispered, shaking his head. This couldn't be! Not Buffy! Not his Slayer! She
couldn't be ... it wasn't possible.

She raised her hand and he could see the tips of her fingers flatten against an unseen barrier.
His eyes flashed to Angel, who was looking at Buffy with a deep sadness in his eyes.

"What did you do to her?" Giles barely recognized his own voice. This couldn't be him
speaking, could it? Was that his voice? Did he really sound so raw and angry?

"What was necessary." Angel didn't meet his gaze.

"I would be dead otherwise." Buffy added, putting a comforting hand on Angel's shoulder.
"And I'm not a vampire, Giles."

He looked back and forth between the two of them, too shocked to say anything. Buffy was
back, just when he had begun losing hope, and Angel, the real Angel, was with her. She was
changed, no longer human, yet the Watcher inside him quickly added up the clues and
confirmed her last statement.

She couldn't be a vampire. He had hugged her and she had been warm. He had felt the
heartbeat inside her chest. A vampire didn't have amber eyes while the rest of his face
remained human.

Something very strange was going on here, that much he knew.

Giles looked into the amber eyes of the girl that was like a daughter to him. He had stared
dozens, hundreds of vampires in the eye and always been appalled by the emptiness inside
them, no matter if they still looked human or not. Angelus had had such eyes as well.

Buffy did not. Neither did Angel.

Though it went against every instinct his years as a Watcher had given him, Giles knew, just
knew, that Buffy was telling him the truth. She was still here. Still his Buffy.

Everything else didn't much matter, did it?

"Come in!" He said, his voice deceptively strong and even. "Both of you."


###


Part 5


###


"Tea?" Giles asked as they walked back into his living room.

"Yes, please." Angel said.

"God, I don't remember the last time I drank anything else than ..." Buffy's voice trailed off.
"Yes, tea, great!"

Giles raised an eyebrow, but proceeded into his kitchen, thankful for the few minutes he
would need to boil the water and prepare the tea. The entire situation seemed completely
unreal right now. Maybe he had fallen asleep over a book and was dreaming all this. It
wouldn't surprise him much, truth to be told.

When he returned from the kitchen, though, the dream hadn't ended. Buffy and Angel were
sitting on his couch, comfortably leaning against each other. Setting the tablet down on the
table in front of them, he sat in his chair, never taking his eyes off them.

Buffy immediately pounced on the cookies he had placed beside the tea.

"God, I completely forgot how good these taste." She mumbled through a mouth stuffed with
at least a dozen of them. "I'm dead and in Heaven."

Giles could see her elongated canines as she talked.

Angel poured himself a cup and sipped, an air of delight spreading on his face. Giles watched
the two of them, noticing how close they sat, how comfortable they seemed with each other. It
hadn't been like that before, no matter how infatuated they might have been with each other.
There had always been some small distance between them, composed equally of Buffy's
inexperience and Angel's guilty reserve.

Considering what had happened just three months ago, he could not help but wonder how
they had become so close and comfortable in so short a time. Come to think of it, how had
they both managed to grow their hair that much in just three months?

"I imagine you have quite a few questions." Angel said, setting down the cup.

"That's putting it mildly."

"I ... how much do you know of what happened in the mansion three months ago?"

Giles rubbed his tired eyes.

"Well, I know that Akathler was active for a short time. Xander said ...", Giles saw Buffy's
face darken as he said the name, "... that Angel was being sucked into the portal and ... and
that you were holding on to him. Then you were both gone and the portal closed."

Looking at Angel, Giles added, "he also said that apparently Willow's spell had worked. That
... that you were back to your true self."

"Did he also mention what he neglected to mention to me?" Buffy growled under her breath,
the inhuman sound sending a shiver down Giles' spine.

"Well ..." He began.

"Never mind!" Buffy raised her hand. "I really don't want to talk about Xander right now. I
guess you want to know what happened after we went through that portal."

She looked around the room, taking in the numerous books and notes strewn about.

"Do the books say much about Hell?" She asked.

"Well ... not really, no. Lots of theories and obscure prophecies, but ... no one has ever been to
Hell. At least no one who returned to tell the tale."

"Until today." Buffy said, stuffing another cookie into her mouth.

#

Day 2:

Buffy and Angel took nearly a day to search around the giant cave they had ended up in, but
found nothing but naked rock walls. By whatever way they had gotten here, it seemed they
had but one way out.

The door. Ominous inscription and all.

It still stood invitingly open, so in the end they decided to go through and face whatever might
be waiting for them on the other side. Buffy still had one of her stakes in reserve and Angel
had picked up the sword Buffy had dropped, as she refused to lay another hand on it unless
absolutely necessary.

Behind the door the giant cave narrowed into a tunnel that led steeply down, sharp-edged
rocks slowing their progress and quickly shredding the thin-soled shoes Buffy was wearing.
Angel's sturdier boots held up more or less, but Buffy was soon walking around barefoot.

"I guess this is Hell," Buffy attempted a joke as she painstakingly made her way over another
outcrop of sharp edges, "not a single shopping mall in sight."

Angel didn't laugh. The stench of blood and suffering in the air around them was nearly
overwhelming his senses, the demon inside him growling in hunger. His soul had returned but
a day ago and Angelus refused to go to sleep so quickly. Now that the initial shock of
everything had vanished he was painstakingly aware of the beautiful throat that was within
arm's reach.

He shook his head. He was not a demon. Not anymore.

Buffy winced as her foot was cut open by yet another sharp edge. Walking across these rocks
was almost like threading through broken glass. The smell of her blood hit Angel like a steam
train, but he shook it off.

"Let me!" He said, quickly walking closer and sweeping her up in his arms. Buffy stiffened.

"Not that I don't like this," she said, a confused expression on her face, "but ..."

She didn't have to say it. Angel remembered everything that had happened these last few
months and to expect anything but awkwardness between them right now was hoping for too
much. They loved each other, yes, but a day ago they had done their best to kill each other
and that did matter.

"Your feet are going to be flayed down to the bone by the time we get down there," he
nodded toward the faint light they could see a long distance down the tunnel, "so I think this
is the better alternative, don't you think?"

Buffy nodded, reluctantly, and they continued on their way. Buffy slowly began to relax in
Angel's arms, even as he tried to concentrate on the path he was taking, distracting himself
from the feeling of holding her this close. The light below was slowly getting closer.

"I sort of expected Hell to be different than this." Buffy said, trying to make conversation. "I
mean, not that I'm complaining about the absence of demons and fire and brimstone, you
know, but this ..."

"I fear this is just the beginning, Buffy." Angel interrupted her. "I doubt caves and tunnels are
all there is to this place."

She heard his unspoken words clear as day. She shouldn't have come with him. She should
have stayed safe, let him burn for his sins, and go on with her life.

"Well, whatever else may come, we'll go through it together."

When the sharp-edged rocks ended, giving way to gray sand, Buffy was almost reluctant to
slip out of Angel's arms. The tunnel walls slowly widened and eventually ended, spilling them
out onto a seemingly endless gray desert. The sky above them was equally gray, just the
slightest tinge of crimson in it, and stretched on above a world seemingly without any other
colors in it. A sharp wind was howling over the land, its sound sending shivers down their
backs.

Buffy turned around to look back the way they had come and gasped.

The mouth of the tunnel they had come down through was set in a rocky cliff that towered
high above them, the top of it (if it had one) vanishing into the gray fog. It stretched on to the
left and right of them as well, effectively cutting the world they had entered in half. It seemed
to go on forever.

The face of the cliff wasn't smooth. For a moment Buffy thought her eyes were playing tricks
on her, runaway imagination turning odd rock formations into something else. Angel gasped
as well, though.

There were people in the rock. Thousands of them, looking as if they were trapped beneath a
thin layer of stone and trying to punch through it, hands stretching outward, faces contorted in
frozen looks of agony and despair. The cliff was sprinkled with them as far as she could see,
barely a bare spot anywhere.

All the faces seemed to be looking at her, pleading. And she realized that the howling wind
she heard was not wind at all.

Screams. They were screaming.

"Oh my God!" Buffy heard a voice whisper. A scared little girl's voice. It took her a moment
to recognize it as her own. "Are these ...?"

"They are angels." Angel said.

"What?" Buffy turned around, thankful for the excuse to turn away from the cliff.

"I ... the inscription on the door we went through, it was exactly the same as in Dante's Divine
Comedy."

"A comedy? Who would do a comedy about ...?"

"It's a book, Buffy. Dante Alighieri, a 15th century poet, wrote a book about a man and an
angel that walked through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. They entered Hell through a gate with
the same words on it as we saw on the door."

"And ... and these?" She gestured behind her, not wanting to turn around again.

"According to Dante those angels that didn't rebel against Heaven during Lucifer's war, yet
neither took up arms to fight against the renegades, were banished here, imprisoned forever
just behind Hell's gate."

Buffy wrapped her arms around herself, shivering. The screams howled on, impossible to
ignore, and she imagined that she could feel the cold creep up from the damp gray sand
through the soles of her bare feet.

"So I guess this banishes every last doubt as to where we are, right?" She said softly. "I mean,
I knew and expected ... but I kinda reserved some tiny hope that maybe Akathler sent us
somewhere else. Somewhere ... not Hell."

Angel slowly put his arms around her, every second expecting her to shrink away from him,
to pull back and blame him for dragging her down here with him. As he blamed himself.
Instead she leaned against him, enjoying his closeness even here, even now.

"Maybe this really is Hell." Angel said slowly. "But Buffy, if Dante truly wrote the truth in
his book, then there is a way out of here."

It was a strange turn of events, he thought, him trying to give Buffy new hope. Hadn't it
always been the other way around, even before that night on her seventeenth birthday? Yet he
could feel his words having an impact on her, could see the clouds of despair gathering
around her lift slightly.

"You think there is a way out?" She asked him for confirmation.

"I do. I believe that Hell could never hold someone who is not meant to be here."

He meant her, she realized. Not both of them, just her. She turned around to face him,
carefully keeping his broad chest between herself and the cliff wall.

"Then we'll find it." She said, determination returning to her voice. "We'll find a way out for
the two of us."

Taking his cold hand firmly into her own to silence every possible protest, the Slayer and her
Angel started walking away from the cliff wall and deeper into Hell.


###


Part 6


###


Day 3:

The gray desert eventually ended in a gray beach, with gray water murmuring softly as small
waves lazily flowed over the sand. They had left behind the screaming a while back, how
many hours Buffy didn't know. She was dead tired, that much she did know, hungry, and
thirsty.

Slayer metabolism would keep her on her feet for a week without sleep, though she'd not be
very pretty at the end of it. Food and drink would be more of an issue than that, but it wasn't
really her own thirst that worried her. She could go a few days without food, no problem,
though water was rapidly becoming the first thing on her mind.

No, what really worried her was Angel. He had to be starved, too, especially after
metabolizing a wound like the one she ... she had given him. And she was the only food
source in sight.

The gray ocean in front of them seemed endless.

"So, what does Dante's travel guide to the Inferno say about this?"

"It's been a while since I read the Divine Comedy, but this should be the river Acheron. The
dividing line between the living and the dead."

"Looks more like an ocean to me."

Buffy kneeled down by the water line, acutely aware of how very thirsty she was. She
guessed that they had arrived here about thirty to forty hours ago and she didn't really
remember when she'd had her last drink back on Earth.

The water did not look very healthy, but she didn't really have much of a choice. So the water
might be poisonous. She guessed there was a much better chance of her healing powers
successfully handling any poison she might drink than her surviving without water much
longer.

"Here's to Hell." She quipped and sipped a handful of water.

Angel just watched her, mirroring her earlier thoughts. He could feel the demon inside him
growl with hunger. He had drained a human but a few hours before the fight against Buffy.
He didn't remember the young woman's face, for which he was almost thankful.
Remembering what he did about the last three months, he was sure he had ample stuff for
nightmares.

He was hungry now. Without conscious thought his eyes time and again moved to the pulse
on Buffy's neck.

When the worst of her thirst was sated, Buffy turned around to look at Angel. She knew
exactly what he was thinking and that he would try and kill himself before becoming a danger
to her.

They had to find him something to eat before it came to that.

"What now?" She asked him, hoping for some distraction. "Do we have to swim?"

"I don't think that will be necessary." He pointed at something just visible in the distance.

There was a small pier there, made from gray wood, reaching far into the calm water. Buffy
squinted her eyes, certain that she saw figures moving over there. Moving toward a small boat
that was tied to the pier.

"Our next stop?" She asked Angel.

"The only way to cross the Acheron is to be brought across by Charon, the ferryman."

"Isn't he a guy from Greek mythology? I think we had something like this in history class
once."

"Dante borrowed from a lot of mythologies."

They kept on the chatter as they made their way toward the distant pier, talking about
different mythologies, their own believes as to the afterlife, and how Dante might have been
sued for including a trademarked character in his book, if such a thing as trademarks had
existed for characters from Greek mythology.

Anything to distract them from their bleak surroundings and Angel's growing hunger.

By the time they reached the pier they could see that there were indeed people moving about
on it. People who were well and clearly dead.

"Are these ...?" Buffy began.

"The souls of the dead, I'd wager." He looked at the bowed figures moving past them, no
more real than wraiths. They seemed completely unaware of anything except their own
misery and the path toward the small boat, which swallowed the long line of souls without
sinking further into the water.

There was a robed figure standing near the stem of the boat, a large pedal in hand. He looked
up, revealing the face of a very old man, with eyes like glowing coals that immediately fixed
on Buffy.

"Living soul." He addressed her. "You have no place here. Part from those who have seen
death already."

"I have seen death." Buffy told him, remembering the day the Master drowned her.

"Oh, but you have not seen the Hell of those that will never look upon Heaven. This desert of
gray is but the first and most harmless of Hell's many lands."

"We need to get to the other side, ferryman." Angel approached Charon. "I know that she
does not belong in Hell, but there is no way out for her on this side."

Charon's weathered face gave a rather vague impression of a smile.

"And you are her companion, dead man? Not truly dead, yet not of the living. Your soul is not
meant to be here, either."

Angel seemed shocked by his words. Buffy was not. She had always known that.

"Look, if there is any way out of here on this side, please tell us. Otherwise, please let us
come with you to the other side."

Charon regarded them both for a long while, then nodded.

"Very well. It's been a long time since I have ferried the living. Thread carefully lest you sink
my boat."

Buffy and Angel stepped into the boat of the ferryman, who pushed away from the pier and
set out across the river Acheron.

#

Buffy yawned, giving Giles another unintentional look at her fangs. It sent a shiver down his
spine, but he gave no outward sign of it. She was still Buffy, of that he was sure. Angel was
absently stroking her shoulder where she leaned against him, a gesture he seemed completely
unaware of.

Somehow that, more than anything else, convinced him that Angelus was gone.

"Maybe we should continue the story tomorrow?" Giles asked, seeing how tired Buffy was.
He himself was pretty overwhelmed by the day's events as well.

"S'okay." She mumbled. "I'm not tired."

"Sure you aren't, beloved." Angel smiled at her. "We had a very easy day, after all."

"I thought sarcasm was my trademark." She complained good-naturedly. "You are brooding
guy."

"You can have my guest bedroom." Giles offered. "That is, if you don't have another place to
stay."

They just returned from Hell, he reminded himself. What other place could they possibly
have?

"Are you sure?" Angel asked, a concerned look on his face. "We can ..."

"Of course I'm sure." He interrupted. "Besides, I do want to hear the rest of your story as
soon as possible."

Especially the part of what exactly had happened to Buffy.

"Well, we don't exactly have another place to stay at and ..." Buffy's voice trailed off, her
amber eyes turning to Giles. "Giles, I ... how is my mom?"

Giles closed his eyes, sighing. He had feared that this question would turn up sooner or later.
He didn't know what exactly had gone down between mother and daughter just before Buffy
and Angel had vanished, but a very scared and angry Joyce Summers turning up at his
doorstep but a day later, demanding explanations, enabled him to give an educated guess.

"I told her everything." Giles said, cleaning his glasses. "She ... I'm afraid she didn't take it
very well. To be exact she didn't believe a word of it."

"She saw me dust a vampire right in front of her eyes."

"Well, I ... I fear she managed to convince herself that it didn't happen that way. She ... Buffy,
do you really ..."

"Tell me, Giles!" She demanded, not looking at all tired at the moment.

"Well, she ... she called the police. Apparently she told them some story about you hanging
with some sort of gang and ... they looked for you. Not on murder charges anymore, by the
way. Xander and Willow cleared that one up. I understand the common theory is that you ran
away from home. I tried to explain to her that they wouldn't find you anywhere on Earth, but
... as I said, she didn't believe a word."

Giles didn't add that Joyce had even blamed him, to the point where the police had turned up
at his doorstep with a search warrant. Luckily he had seen something like that coming and
hidden most of the weapons and books beforehand.

"I fear she is in deep denial." He concluded.

"I never should have told her." Buffy said, looking at the floor.

"You didn't have a choice, beloved." Angel told her, embracing her from behind. "She
already saw part of the truth. You had no way to know she would go so deeply into denial."

Buffy nodded, though she didn't look convinced.

"I should visit her." Buffy said. She didn't sound very happy with that prospect.

"After you sleep." Angel said, holding her tightly. "I think this is a topic better suited for the
light of day rather than the dead of night."

"I guess."

Giles rose from the couch. "I'll get some sheets for the guest room. I ... I assume the two of
you will be ..."

Buffy managed half a smile. "We sleep together, Giles, yes. And before you ask, there is no
cause to worry. The happiness clause hasn't been an issue for a long, long time."

Relief spread through Giles. Seeing Buffy and Angel this close, remembering what had
happened the last time ... it hadn't been easy not to say anything. He would press them for
details tomorrow, though, they both looked like they needed a lot of sleep. For now it was
enough to know that Angelus would never be back, whatever the reason.

He laid out the sheets and prepared the guest room, pausing just a moment as the realization
finally hit him.

This was not a dream. Buffy was home. She was really back.

A single tear slid down his cheek.


###