Chapter Five

resolutions

"Mmmmmm," the vampire sniffed the air in front of him as though savouring a scent. "smells like...teen spirit," it said menacingly.

Buffy raised her eyebrow. "Kudos for the pop reference," she said.

She had been searching the warehouse district again and, having found what she had been looking for, was heading home for the night. Until she had come up against a group of vampires.

"Thank you. My host body was a fan. I actually took him at a concert, which is kind of ironic, don't you think ?"

"Oh, I really do think," Buffy countered.

"What do you say we fight to the death?" the vampire offered.

"Is there any other way?"

The two protagonists circled each other until the other vampires that were present turned it into an unfair advantage. To an untrained eye that is. However, Buffy was more than able to dispatch three with crippling kicks to their knee caps and groins, followed by plunges of her stake. She was by now in the midst of the group, fighting attacks from behind and to the side.

"Not long now," she spoke out loud and, in the frenzy of sweat and dust, she started to laugh. Soon, however, it was over. The last demon was scattered over a prone Buffy. She lay there for a while. A look of disappointment briefly written on her face. She then got up off the ground, brushing herself down. Picking out a handful of death dust, that had deposited itself in the top pocket of her blouse, she held out her hand to let the night breeze filter it through her fingers. "Vampire dust...sheer nirvana," she laughed out loud. "Oh, come on. That was funny," she shouted to an unseen audience. "At least witty," she offered.

Giving in, she walked away from the scene and was confronted by the vision of Jenny. Buffy stood hands on hips. "I knew someone would be there." The ghost stood silent. "Are you satisfied? Happy?" Buffy said. "The grass over there is covered an inch thick with dust." There was still no response. Buffy's confidence melted away. "Speak to me, dammit," she said with a last attempt at control. "Talk to me. Please. I came home. I..." Determination then came back, "You'll not stop me," she added. "I will do it."

Jenny disappeared. Buffy let out a sigh as though she had been holding her breath the whole time. She brushed her hand over her face; fatigue evident. "I have to do it". She stood there looking at the space Jenny had occupied.

-/-/-/-/-/-/-

After-school hours found the gang gathered round the table in the school library. Giles paced as usual. Buffy sat slouched in a chair waiting for instructions from her watcher. The others seemed lost in their own worlds. Xander bickered with Cordelia and vice verse, although this had the appearance of an act now as it was obvious that a sense of joint attraction had set in. Willow was being more obvious with Oz; playfully holding his hands as if the shy reserved teenager had never existed. Giles was agitated.

"No...I fail to see how we can come off well...or...alive even from this plan." Giles stammered, flustered that he could not come up with alternative option to the one Buffy had suggested. She had put forward the proposal that they simple raided the known lair of the gang of demons that had been raiding en-masse various places around Sunnydale. She had found the lair the night before. "It is a no-win situation."

"Giles, it's always been a no-win. There is, has and always will be too many vampires for me to fight. This only-one-slayer thing is a farce. Each of us makes do until we die or as per normal are killed. Then a replacement comes along and picks up where the other left off. We are doomed from the start but continue anyway in the knowledge that to take handful of demons down with us is better than none at all."

"You'll have to forgive Buffy" Xander added, "they showed Spartacus on cable last week.."

"There must be another way," Giles persisted.

"There are two other ways: kill a few vamps each night, which is a waste of time as the others will be able to replace them at a rate faster than I can kill, or I go it alone and raid their den".

"Neither of those are satisfactory," Giles stated firmly.

Cordelia sighed loudly. "How did I ever become mixed up with you losers? All I ever wanted was be head cheerleader and marry Jason Priestly."

"Oh, Cordy." Buffy said affectionately. "I think you are probably the bravest of us all."

"Yea right, for brave see also stupid."

"No, never stupid. Vain and sometimes self-centred perhaps, but never stupid."

Xander was proud that his girlfriend had practically agreed to join Buffy on their latest trip into danger and had by doing so committed the others. "So the Magnificent Seven...six ride." He declared.

"Good analogy but one small problem" Oz noted quietly.

"Yea, right. They were all men," Cordelia commented.

"Two small problems." Oz looked over at her. "The second being that only three survive. If I can come as Steve McQueen, I'm basically OK with it though."

Xander looked at the faces of his friends. "Well you try and come up with a film where no one dies. I mean, someone dies in Love Story for crying out loud... OK, I know, Xander be quiet."

Cordelia gave her partner a kiss on the cheek. "Don't worry, Xander. It's in your bungling nature that our affection for you festers."

"Can I bring us back to reality here?" Giles interjected. "The six of us will have to face very unfavourable odds."

"Would it make them better if we chose the next full moon to attack?" Oz offered.

"Hey wait a minute," Xander butted in. "I love you, guy but I don't somehow think that you love me so much as to skip a meal."

Willow gave him a sharp look.

"Xander has a point," Giles added "we cannot risk releasing a werewolf that we cannot control."

"Werewolves can be led by someone who it regards as its mate." Oz persisted. "It will protect her above all else and I think that a den full of demons would be considered enough of a threat to get it worked up."

Willow jumped up. "Yes and I could make Oz think I was in real danger by acting terrified around the vampires, which would be really easy since I basically am when one is around and...I...I am the mate...right?" Willow looked at Oz.

Oz took her hand and kissed it in confirmation. Even Cordelia smiled at the gesture. Giles looked embarrassed and sad at the same time. Buffy knew he was thinking of Jenny and she felt his loneliness keenly.

"The next full moon is tomorrow evening," said the only adult in the room, "and I am not going to agree to this plan until I have had a chance to study my books on werewolf lore. In the mean time I suggest you all practice on the cross bow. We will want to avoid hand to hand combat as we, Buffy excepting, are not that well versed in it."

"Oh goody," Cordelia said with mock enthusiasm, "cross-bow practice. How... medieval."

"I'll stay with Giles and read up," Buffy offered. Giles looked over his glasses in surprise. "What? I do read you know."

The others left Buffy and Giles alone. They all had an air of excitement not really appropriate to the occasion.

-/-/-/-/-/-/-

Quite a while later, so much so that Buffy had long since regretted her offer to help, Giles stood up suddenly.

"Oh... oh dear," he said mysteriously.

"What's up?" Buffy said with a worried expression. "What have you found? What's wrong?"

Giles eventually noticed that Buffy was still there. "Oh nothing wrong... or nothing dangerous. Don't worry."

"Too late, Giles I've worried." She looked at the book Giles had put down. "Does that say something?"

"Uh...yes...no. I mean..."

Buffy put on a sour expression, picked up the book and read the passage in front of her to herself. "Oh," she said, almost mimicking Giles. She smiled gently. "Oh, Willow. My beautiful Willow." A tear slowly fell. She looked up at Giles.

"I didn't know," he said quietly, his voice breaking.

"You're not going to cry are you, Rupert?" Buffy said with true affection for her watcher.

"I wont if you don't," he responded. "I understand what a parent must feel like when he realises his child has grown up."

-/-/-/-/-/-/-

Some time later, Willow lay with her head rested on Oz's chest. His arms wrapped round her.

"Wow, that was a diary moment," she said. "a double-pager," she added mischievously.

"I didn't mean for this to happen like this, you know?" Oz said quietly.

"Like what exactly?"

"You know, suggesting and committing you to be protected by me and then revealing that there was only one way that the bond could be achieved."

Willow lifted her head from his chest and flashed one of her smiles that had originally hooked Oz all those months ago. "Don't feel so guilty, silly." Oz looked puzzled. "Did you think I wouldn't do some research before dating a werewolf?"

"Do you mean you knew all along this would be required?"

"Of course I did. I nearly fell of my chair when you suggested to the others that a werewolf can only be controlled by its mate."

Oz looked at his lover with an increased sense of pride and not a little fear. Both forgotten, however, by that smile again.

" -Breathe gently on love

do not disrupt the

Feather-thin covers that protects

The young lovers"

(Tracy Watt )

Chapter six

the inner light

"Voices dropped in yearning

memories trapped in time.

The night is my companion

and solitude my guide.

Would I spend forever here

and not be satisfied.

Into this night I wander.

Its morning that I dread

another day of knowing of

the path I fear to tread.

Oh into the sea of waking dreams

I follow without pride

nothing stands between us here

and I wont be denied.

and I would be the one

to hold you down

kiss you so hard

I'll take your breath away

and after, I'd wipe away the tears

just close your eyes...

(Possession - Sara McLachlan)

Buffy walked to the end of the path leading from her front door. She looked back at her house. She had never liked it, in all honesty. It represented a foot hold, a man-trap holding her to Sunnydale. Her mother being the lure. Without her mother she would leave at the drop of a hat. It was almost enough to make her consider hating her.

"Almost but not quite," she said quietly.

She looked at her new weapon; a five foot long, thick curtain pole. Both ends had been sharpened to points. She had covered the staff with a blanket to avoid any unwanted stares.

-/-/-/-/-/-/-

The van pulled up a few hundred yards into the warehouse district. Giles took the keys out of the ignition and sellotaped them under the glove compartment for easy access, should they need to leave in a hurry and in case he lost them outside. He got out of the van and was followed by Willow from the other door. From inside the van growls and violent scratches could be heard from the werewolf/Oz. Willow looked up at the night sky; the full moon was out in all its glory. They had waited three days for this night, the third night of the full moon.

"The others haven't got here yet, I see. They are coming, right?" Willow suddenly felt nervous at being this close to the supposed vampire den. Despite her growing confidence at her Wicca abilities and with Oz as a protector, she needed Buffy there to bolster her courage.

"Hi guys," Xander said from nearby. "Where's Oz?" His answer came from the van; the wolf slammed itself against the inside panels trying to get out. This was a new voice and a potential threat to its mate. Xander jumped a foot in the air and what looked like two feet to the side. An impressive feat, Willow thought. "Sorry I'm late," he said, regaining some composure.

"I don't know why you walked. You could have travelled with Giles, Oz and me in the van. Giles drove," Willow added. Her driving was only marginally better than Buffy's.

"What, the Mad Dog and the Englishman? No thank you. I took my chances with the vampires and Cordelia." Cordelia joined them. Willow gave him a dangerous look and Giles turned in his direction. "Hey, I'm sorry guys but there it goes. What's in the bag?" he asked quickly to deflect criticism.

Willow had a large carrier bag with her.

"Flash bombs. I made them with various ingredients and a binding spell that causes the powder to stick to the undead. I've only got five, however. The mix requires a cup of blood from a virgin of good standing. That's a direct quote, by the way, not my words."

"Wow, five bombs. You did well then" Xander observed.

At that moment Buffy conveniently turned up. She walked over to them and took the blanket off her staff. "Hi, are we all ready to party?"

"That's quite a weapon, Buffy. You could almost be Xena's sidekick, Gabrielle. Well, perhaps Gabrielle with attitude anyway." Xander complimented. "What with Sabrina and the Wolfman here, if I'd known it was to be a fancy dress affair, I would have come as Spiderman. Hey, Cordy, that leather top would have made a good Xena."

Willow walked round to the rear of the van. "You know, Xander, you're awfully brave with those wolf jokes." She opened the door and Oz leapt out, covering six feet and wheeling round to survey his surroundings.

The others reacted suitably. To his credit, Xander put himself between Oz and Cordelia. Giles fought fear with curiosity. Buffy stood her ground. Willow walked up to the wolf and laid her hands on its fur, placating the beast. Taking hold of a scruff of its fur she gently led it closer to the others. "It's important you do not show any threatening stance towards me," she said in a calm non threatened voice.

"Damn, and there I was going to threaten you as well. No kidding, Willow you don't say," Xander said with some nervous tension adding heat to his voice.

The wolf growled and took a step forwards. Willow had to grab hold of his fur and showed a little panic. "Damn it, Xander," she said in an extremely friendly manner with a wide smile on her face to convince Oz that he was no threat. "Now what you all need to do is hold out your hands in supplication and kneel before me" she instructed.

"You're kidding," Cordelia said with an equally friendly tone to her voice that belied the fact that she was very pissed off. Willow gave her one of her looks that brooked obedience.

Consequently, they all knelt one by one in front of Willow. She in turn laid her hand on each of their heads affectionately.

"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" Xander accused.

"You have no idea how much."

Buffy was last. Unlike the others, however, the wolf approached her hesitantly and sniffed and nuzzled its face in hers. Buffy and Willow looked at each other in surprise. Willow was also curious.

"Don't look at me like that, Willow. I've never touched him, I swear"

The ritual over, and Oz placated, the gang wordlessly walked deeper into the district. The brightness of the moon underplayed by the high walls of the warehouses.

-/-/-/-/-/-/-

"Well, what do we have here?" An immaculately dressed vampire uttered in a pronounced English accent. He came to the front of the group of demons that blocked Buffy and her companions' way to the lair of the vampires. "This is a bad place to be after dark, children. You never know who you may meet."

"We came looking for you actually." Buffy responded "Searched all the gutters."

"We all live in the gutter, my dear. But some of us look up at the stars."

"Very profound, I assume."

"What do you know about it, Valley Girl," the vampire spat out the last words. "I've sipped tea with Oscar Wilde. I've watched Lillie Langtry perform live on stage."

"And yet," Buffy countered, "with all that culture, you're still a blood sucking ghoul that preys on the living. Sort of destroys one strongly held philosophy, doesn't it? Which is quite sad really. Let's fight," she said finally.

Without waiting for a come back line, Buffy ploughed her way through the vampires. She caught the lead demon under the chin with a violent upward lift of her staff. In a fluid non stop motion she then swung the weapon left, then right staking two vampires on either side of her. With them out the way, she turned to one side and thrust one spike into the recovering first vampire. The friend of Oscar dusted like all the rest. The whole confrontation had taken barely five seconds. Both sides of the fight were equally stunned at the skill and ferocity of the petite blonde in their midst. The remaining two vampires fled inside the warehouse.

"Well let's play follow the leader, folks," said Buffy.

The others, except Giles made to move.

"Giles?" Xander asked after him.

"Giles!" Buffy repeated louder "Are you with us?"

"I was just thinking," he said eventually. "He sipped tea with Oscar Wilde and saw Lillie perform. I would have given a lot to ask him what he talked about."

"Call me shallow, if you like," Buffy uttered, "but can we get back to the 1990s?"

She led the way. Xander was closest behind her. "Shallow," he teased.

"Spiderman?" she countered.

"So I have a thing about walking up walls."

"And tight-fitting costumes, I bet."

Xander looked round for Cordelia.

They entered the warehouse one by one and stood looking at the large interior. It was lit by large industrial light bulbs hung like chandeliers from the high ceiling. From out of the internal rooms the largest congregation of vampires they had ever seen slowly emerged.

"Oh bollocks," Giles uttered.

The others looked at him in shock.

"Way to instil courage, Giles," Xander said.

"Everyone with crossbows line up." Buffy organised the gang in to formation. "Take out as many as you can before we have to resort to hand-to-hand. Make every shot count."

"Now that's a cliché I can warm to," said Xander.

Cordelia was not so enamoured by the humour "Buffy, its been great and I've really enjoyed the last few weeks, but if we get out of this alive, I think I'll go back to hating you. It was safer that way."

Everyone slowly but accurately released all their bolts at the advancing vampires. Like a scene from Zulu, so many fell to the onslaught, but yet still more came. Having run out of her supply of bolts, Willow threw her bombs at the oncoming enemy. She tossed them above their heads and incanted a spell of unbinding that caused them to explode spectacularly. For a few precious moments, allowing the others to rest, the warehouse was drenched in bright light as the flare like intensity of the bombs rained down on the hapless vampires beneath. Depending on how much touched them, the victims either burst into flames and nothingness or screamed with agonising burns. However, the show was soon over and the odds, although reduced, were still heavily stacked against the forces of good.

Buffy charged into the pack, brandishing her staff. Dust filled the air.

"Oz!" Willow shouted out. The werewolf, who had been obediently waiting outside, came charging into the warehouse. Willow charged the vampires and was immediately brought down by two. The wolf ploughed into them and ripped them to pieces before they could open their mouths with shock. The battle became confused after that. Oz and Buffy were unstoppable. The others formed a ring and kept very close to each other, taking on only a couple of vampires at a time. They knew they could not go one on one with a demon and survive.

They did not go unharmed, however. Cordelia received a sharp kick to one of her knees that brought her to the ground. Xander had to put up a defensive fight rather than attack. Giles was blooded in several places and was weakening. Only Willow seemed to be largely unharmed with Oz not allowing anything to get close enough to her.

It took them a while before they realised that they now outnumbered the enemy. They wiped exhaustion from their faces and blood and dust from their clothes. Xander cradled an unconscious, but alive Cordelia in his arms. Willow stood to one side with her werewolf beside her ready to leap at any new threat. The vampires that were still alive ran for one of the internal doors.

"Is everyone all right?" Giles asked.

"I broke my stick," Buffy responded from near the door where the vampires had exited.

They all examined each others wounds and spoke quietly of school and television and other daylight occupations. Each one of them knowing they were lucky to be alive but not wishing to acknowledge the fact in open conversation. Willow was first to notice that Buffy was not with them. She stood up and looked round the warehouse, cringing at the body parts left by Oz; staking was so much cleaner. "Where did Buffy go?" she asked.

"Perhaps she's gone to be alone to mourn her broken staff," Xander quipped. He was concerned though as he got up and joined Willow in the search.

"Oh no," Willow uttered and ran for the door where Buffy had been standing. She found a steep flight of stairs on the other side. "Buffy!" she yelled down at her friend who was disappearing round a turning in the stairs.

-/-/-/-/-/-/-

Buffy reached the bottom first as she had planned all along to do. Stealing a quick glance over her shoulder to make sure that Willow was not on her heels, she pushed at the heavy iron doors that stood at the end of the corridor.

"Buffy!" Willow yelled from the top of the stairs.

Buffy pushed harder to reveal a gap enough to squeeze through and not too wide so as to take too long to close again.

"Buffy!" Willow was now at the door herself. "Wait, Buffy!"

Buffy looked at her friend. "I'm sorry, Wills," she said as she started to close the door.

"No, Buffy, please don't do this... you don't have to." Willow was crying desperately and pushed to no avail from the other side. "Damn you!" she switched to anger.

"I need to do this, Willow." Buffy pleaded for understanding. "The worse that will happen is that I finally get to rest. I am hoping for more, but... that will suffice if it is all that is on offer." The two friends stole one last look. "Know that I love you dearly... whatever happens."

The door clicked shut and Willow sat down on the floor with her back to it. She waited for the others to find her.

-/-/-/-/-/-/-

Buffy adjusted her eyes to the dim electric wall light that cast shadows over the store room. It was large and smelt damp with an odour of drains. She guessed there was a way to the sewer from here. No vampire would run into a box canyon. Suddenly the light intensified as a large overhead bulb was turned on. She looked up to see it swinging. The shadows of boxes intermingled with a large group of half humans that were approaching. Buffy counted ten. In such circumstances she knew she would not survive. She may have had a chance if she had not lost her Gabrielle Stick. A stake in each hand she stood her ground but inevitably was taken down by the onslaught of all the enemy at once. As she crouched to try and avoid the heavy blows from fists and feet she regretted that she was not able to give a better account of herself.

After what seemed like ages, she lay there on the ground, bruised all over and bleeding from cuts. It took a while before she realised the beating had stopped; her body hurt so much that she first thought she was imagining it as it felt like she was still being hit. She gradually pulled herself into a leaning position agsint sthe closed door in a mirror image of Willow on the other side. It took several seconds to focus her vision. Standing a few feet away she saw a familiar face. "Hello, Bright Eyes," she said with a smile.

"Hello, little... young lady," the vampire replied amiably. A long period of silence ensued until one of the other demons walked up to the leader.

"Do we finish her now?" he asked. "She deserves to die slowly for her acts."

"Oh don't bleat so," the leader admonished. "We'll go feeding tonight. By the end of the week we'll be back to strength." He regarded Buffy as an adult does a child needing to be taught. "You were impressive tonight, Slayer. But you do see the futility, don't you? We'll be back to normal next week and you'll be fighting again until strength betrays you. Why do you bother?"

"Each to our own curse I suppose," she replied. "Perhaps my successor will agree with you and settle down. For me its wasted words surely. I welcome the end, so do your worse."

Bright Eyes laughed. "When did you become so fatalistic? I owe you a life. Honour and all that."

Realisation hit Buffy. "I don't want your favour. I want your embrace and the oblivion it will bring."

He shook his head. "No. Not tonight, slayer."

"Please!" Buffy pleaded. "Please," she repeated quietly.

The vampire looked disappointed. "You've killed the Master and The Judge and Angelus and no one has seen Spike for weeks. That's quite a CV, even for a slayer. Begging doesn't become you," he added chiding Buffy.

"I didn't kill Angelus. He was dead already. I sent an innocent man to Hell." Buffy stated in a tone revealing her feelings of guilt and remorse. "I want oblivion and nothingness. Only that will suffice. Anyway," she added off handily. "it's someone else's turn to save the world."

"You sent Angel to hell did you?" Buffy didn't respond. "That'll cramp his style for sure. I can remember when he was mortal. An irresponsible womaniser. Darla could always pick the best." He saw Buffy's expression change to remorse. Of course, you don't want to hear that. I heard about you two, and the Gypsy curse as well, of course. That was a shame. Really it was. Angelus was always a threat to us; too impetuous and easy to anger. Ending the world is so counter-productive. Angel on the other hand... the original Angel, not your lover, was just a rogue. Your Angel was so... nice."

"Please," Buffy pleaded again "either leave me here to die or do the next decent thing and make it quick."

"I was only reminiscing." he laughed. "Oh all right then, I'll give you what you want. Come here."

"I cant," Buffy said meekly "your comrades-in-arms broke my leg," she added to his questioning look. "When I was down I might add."

"You two," he gestured to two other vampires to his left. "Bring her to me."

They approached and bent down and grabbed Buffy.

"Wait!" She shouted to no avail.

The two demons lifted her under her arms. Buffy let out a scream and slumped in their grip.

"Is she dead already?" Bright Eyes enquired.

"No I'm not," Buffy said regaining consciousness. "I forgot to mention the broken ribs as well. Be gentle now lads."

They almost lovingly assisted Buffy to get to their leader who made no effort to shorten the distance. She stood on her good leg and looked into the eyes of her killer/saviour. He was nearly a foot taller and she had to crane her neck. He took the gesture as an offering of herself to him. He shook his head again in disappointment. "You know, I could just turn you into one of us. What do you think of that prospect? You would have no love for your friends and would most probably be their death warrant."

Buffy was not perturbed by the empty threat. "You won't do that," she replied. "I would be more of a pain than Angelus"

"You're probably right," he said matter of factly and without any further words he took Buffy's neck and commenced to drain her of life. Buffy was briefly shocked at the suddenness and was barely able to utter a quiet thank you.

After only ten seconds of feeding he lowered the limp form of the slayer to the floor. He laid her out, her legs straight and arms at her side.

"Is she dead?" a vampire asked from behind him.

"That's up to her," he replied not turning round. "I said I would give her what she wants. The final choice is hers."

"I hope she isn't personally," the other said. "Immortality is boring without a slayer to stir things."

The leader turned to his colleague. "I agree, but there will be another one to replace her regardless. In the meantime we have work to do to prepare for whichever eventuality. Which is a pity really because I'm not hungry any more."

The remaining vampires left the room by a large manhole and entered the sewers.

-/-/-/-/-/-/-

Buffy awoke to daylight, she thought, or at least brightness not linked to a sealed underground chamber. Looking around she realised she was on a rough untreated road in countryside surroundings, although no features had any substance to them. More concentration allowed her to discern fields of green grass and yellow corn, but they still shimmered lacking a sense of reality. The only solid aspect of her surroundings was the road she lay on. That and the small grass incline either side and a park bench that stood almost surreal-like a few yards away. She slowly tried to stand and was surprised to feel no pain.

Standing up and turning 360 degrees to survey her surroundings, Buffy caught sight of someone approaching her. He was not far away but she was unable to focus on any image clearly. After what seemed an age she put a hand to her mouth in shock followed straight after by joy and too many other emotions to name. Angel, her Angel, stood before her.

"Angel?" she tentatively reached out with her right hand. She gently brushed it down his face, almost afraid that he might not be real.

"Buffy, you look well."

"I've been...busy busy". She smiled weakly. "Angel...I'm sorry," she said.

"Sssh." Angel placed a finger over her lips. "You did what you had to do."

"Yea." She looked to one side. "I always do that. And yet I feel I have to apologise afterwards. She wiped tears away that were now freely coming. She sniffed and brought herself under control. It was then that she noticed the rough track led to a small stone cottage. "Is that your home? It's pretty." She pointed behind Angel.

He looked over his shoulder. "It could be. The design is more your imagination than reality."

"Yea? Pretty cool, huh?"

Buffy walked round Angel and approached the structure, which appeared to close the distance between them as though it was approaching her. Without turning round, she voiced her concern. "Is all this my imagination? Are...are you a figment?"

Angel stood directly behind her. He wrapped his arms round her waist. Buffy remembered a dream such as this. Only then they had been on a beach. The Sun high in the sky.

"I feel real," Angel said at last, "I can remember everything I've been through. I think therefore I am," he quoted.

"I think you are thinking, therefore you are thinking what I think you should think... well you get what I mean," Buffy countered.

Angel turned Buffy round to face him. "I am here, by whatever means. You are here. If it is a dream...and it could be my dream, let us play along. It might not be the right thing but..."

"...no apologies," Buffy finished. She smiled. She then backed away. "I can't," she said steeling herself. Daring the tears to shake the resolve she needed. "I left the others before. I can't...I won't do it again. They're really crap at the slayer thing, believe me."

"Don't worry," Angel said.

-/-/-/-/-/-/-

Giles knelt down and gently cradled Buffy in his arms. He was able to stand with ease as she weighed so little. Willow had to strain her neck to see into Buffy's face. To try and detect any life there. Xander and Cordelia joined the group.

"Where's Oz?" Willow asked concerned.

"Don't worry, he's getting dressed outside." Night had turned into dawn and Oz had changed back to human form.

There followed a long pause and Oz eventually joined them. He stood beside Willow and they held each other tightly.

-/-/-/-/-/-/-

They stood again on the rough track. It seemed they had been together so short a time although their aged appearance belied that feeling.

"Time to go," Angel whispered.

"Time to go," Buffy echoed.

Angel's bite on his lover's neck was willingly taken. That and necessary, to fulfil her promise. He lowered Buffy to the ground and lovingly laid her body out straight. Her arms crossed over her chest. It made for a beautiful moment, the Sun framing the scene.

-/-/-/-/-/-/-

Buffy's eyes opened. There were audible sighs of relief all round. Willow cried on Oz's shoulder.

"Hello, Rupert," Buffy said "we must stop meeting like this or people will start talking." Giles hugged her close and laughed behind unashamed tears. "Hey hey!" Buffy cried, "Broken bones and internal bleeding," she half joked as the wounds had returned.

"I'm sorry. It's...it's just I...I mean we all thought you were...you know?"

"Giles," she cut in.

"Yes?"

"Take me home."

"Yes, Buffy. But via the hospital."

"If you insist, but," she added, "could we go to a different one? They're starting to stare at me in the other."

"But, Buff," Xander butted in "They're thinking of naming a ward after you. How does the Buffy Summers Ward sound?"

"Yea," added Oz, "their original choice of the Slayer Ward was turned down as inappropriate."

Buffy smiled. "I've got a confession to make," she said "I think I probably died again. Does that present a problem?"

"If it does we will tackle it," Giles replied.

"It was beautiful, Rupert. Not intoxicating though, so you needn't worry."

"What did you see, Buffy?" Willow asked her friend.

Buffy looked down at her and smiled genuinely. "The Inner Light," she replied cryptically.

They all followed Giles and Buffy back up the stairs.

"The Inner Light?" Xander repeated. "That sounds familiar."

"It's the title of a really cool Star Trek episode," Oz offered whilst looking at Buffy. Her eyes met his. She smiled and nodded slightly to confirm his interpretation.

"Oh yes," Xander uttered standing still whilst the rest of the gang walked ahead. "I remember. That's the one where Picard...oh, hey wait a minute," he called after the others. "Buffy! Are you saying what I think you're saying?"

end.

I kept the right ones out

And let the wrong ones in

Had an angel of mercy to see me

through all my sins

There were times in my life

When I was goin' insane

Tryin' to walk through

The pain

When I lost my grip

And I hit the floor

Yeah, I thought I could leave but

couldn't get out the door

I was so sick and tired

Of livin' a lie

I was wishin' that I

Would die

That one last shot's a Permanent Vacation

And how high can you fly with

broken wings ?

Life's a journey not a destination

And I just can't tell just what

tomorrow brings

It's Amazing

With the blink of an eye you finally

see the light

It's Amazing

When the moment arrives that you know

you'll be all right

It's Amazing

And I'm sayin' a prayer for the desperate

hearts tonight.

( Amazing: Aerosmith )