Title: Redemption Redux (9/20/06)

Written for Good_Evil's September challenge – this is a good Angel fic. A one-shot. 4000+ words

Redemption Redux

One minute the three remaining warriors were fighting for their lives (so to speak), and the next, their opponents were moving in such slow motion that they were able to pick them off at will. Angel watched as the dragon's sides slowly expanded with the air he was pulling in; the next movement would be to expel that air in a gust of flame and smoke. Without waiting for the exhalation, the vampire ran forward, stabbing upward with the bloody sword and piercing the dragon's heart. He stepped back to watch as, still in ultra slow motion, the huge beast crumpled to the dirt and blood covered concrete, his last breath now a smoky sigh of defeat.

He could hear Spike on his left, congratulating Illyria on her time-shifting abilities and wondering aloud "why the bloody hell you waited so long!"

"The other half-breed wanted to slay the dragon. I had to wait for it to approach. I am finished now. I no longer wish to be here."

With that unexpected remark and a whoosh of stolen air, the blue god in Fred's body was pulled into a portal, taking the remnants of the Senior Partners' army with her. The two vampires spun around, swords at the ready, only to find that they were the only beings left in the alley. They looked at each other – trying to absorb that not only were they survivors of a battle that they'd been sure was lost, but the battle was over; no trace of the demon army remaining to be seen or heard.

Angel walked over to Gunn's lifeless body and pulled a dead demon off.

"Went down fighting, he did," Spike murmured quietly.

"I knew he would." Angel dropped to his knees and closed his friend's vacant eyes. "He was a good man, Charles was. A good man."

"Sunrise comin'," Spike commented when his grandsire remained kneeling beside Gunn's body. "We need to get inside."

Angel nodded and rose to his feet, gesturing at the man lying in a pool of his own blood and that of the demons he'd killed before succumbing to his wound.

"I won't leave him here. I can't."

Neither vampire was undamaged, and both were staggering with exhaustion and blood loss, but without comment Spike took Gunn's lifeless legs in his hands and waited while Angel picked up his shoulders. Moving slowly, more than conscious of the advancing daylight, but too exhausted to run, they began walking in the direction of the Hyperion's front door. Several blocks behind them, the Wolfram and Hart building was collapsing silently, to leave a vacant and dusty lot where once had stood a modern office building.

"I guess that means I'm fired," Angel commented flatly, turning his back on the dust cloud rising over the city.

"Ah, you never worked an honest day in your life, Liam," Spike snarked at him. "You know you're glad to be shed of the bloody place."

They reached the front of the old hotel just as the strong southern California sun's rays were no longer slanting through buildings but beating down overhead onto the sidewalk. With their last bit of strength, they burst through the doors, gently setting Gunn's body down on the tiled floor of the lobby before collapsing themselves and falling into a vampire's restorative deep sleep.

Throughout the day, the two souled vampires slept like the dead men they really were, stirring only when the sun began to sink behind the western edge of the city. Angel stretched, groaning and wondering at the aches and pains that the rest should have gone a long way towards healing. His stomach rumbled and he forced himself to his feet, turning in the direction of the kitchen.

With a matching groan, Spike opened his eyes and asked almost seriously, "Are we dead?"

"Yes, we are," Angel replied, pleased with his ability to be witty in the face of such losses.

"Are you sure?" Spike's voice was suddenly very serious and Angel turned to answer him.

"Of course, I'm sure, you twit. I was there when you crawled out of the dirt, remember?"

"Then Charlie's not dead," Spike growled. "Don't you hear that? Have you got hair gel in your ears?"

"Hear what? I don't hear much of anything; I think that vacuum Illyria created must have damaged my ears."

"The heartbeat. Don't tell me you don't hear it."

"I don't. I told you – something's wrong with my ears. It can't be Gunn, though. We carried him here. There's no way we could have missed it if he's still alive."

"Somebody in this room has a heart beat," Spike insisted stubbornly. "And if it isn't Charlie, and it isn't me and it isn't you— Bloody hell," he whispered. "It's you. "

One look at his grandchilde's face told Angel that Spike was telling the truth. He put a hand on his chest, snatching it away again when he felt the faint 'thump, thump' of a beating human heart. He strained, trying to go into his demon face, but managed only to curl his lips up to his nose.

"Stop that, you bloody pillock! You look even more constipated than usual." Spike's words were typically disrespectful, but the awe in his voice could not be hidden; nor could the fright in his eyes. In a much quieter tone, he murmured, "Looks like you're a real boy now."

"I'm human?"

Angel spun away from Spike's darkening expression, running clumsily across the room to look into the mirror over the counter. For only the second time in over two hundred years, he saw his human face looking back at him. He flashed back to his one day as a human and the girl with whom he had spent it, and for whom he had given it up again.

"Buffy," he breathed. "Buffy."

"Yeah. No more pesky curse, huh?" The pain in Spike's voice oozed through the cocky tone he was trying to maintain as the full weight of what had happened settled over them both.

"Maybe… maybe you—"

"No, you stupid Mick. Not me. You. That's why I could hear the heartbeat, you bloody git! I'm still a vampire. You got your reward. I got sod all, including any chance I might have had for the girl."

"Spike, I… she…."

"Don't." Spike's tone was flat; only someone who had devoted years to inflicting psychological pain on his victims could have recognized the small tremor as he rose to his feet. "Just don't."

The vampire turned and opened the door, gazing out into the growing gloom.

"You'd better take good care of her, you bloody…. Don't sit around brooding when she wants to go dancin'. She likes to dance, Buffy does."

"Will…." Angel's voice held a lifetime's regret for the way he'd treated Drusilla's only childe, but it trailed off as he realized he had nothing to say. He wasn't going to give up the woman he loved because it would hurt his remaining family.

Without looking back, Spike straightened his back and said softly, "Just don't forget, Grandpa. I'm the one with the power now. If you don't treat her right, I'll rip that new throat out and stuff your entrails down it." Before Angel could respond, he was out the door and gone, nothing remaining but the sound of the doors swinging shut behind him.

Angel waited several days before contacting anyone. He buried Gunn in the hotel's small yard, saying a prayer that he'd not known he remembered as he tamped down the dirt. He was sweating and his arms ached, reminding him of why he'd rejected his humanity the first time.

It's going to be all right this time. Buffy has other slayers to take up her fight. She won't need protection, and we've both earned this. We can be happy and as close to normal as an ex-vampire and an ex-slayer can be.

He surprised himself by first calling, not Buffy, but Giles; filling the watcher in on the events of the past several months and accepting his grudging apology for not trusting him enough to send aid for Fred.

"It's probably just as well," Angel admitted. "Without Illyria, the fight would have gone very differently – neither Spike nor I would have survived. And the demons would have controlled the city."

"Spike?"

The other man sighed. "Yes, Spike. He's been back – I would have thought that supercilious little watcher that you sent to collect Dana would have told you. I know Spike made him promise not to tell Buffy, but I thought he would have told you."

"Apparently not." The watcher's tone indicated a rough conversation was ahead for Andrew. "So, Spike is alive too?"

"Well, not in the sense I am, no. But he popped out of the amulet months ago and has been working here and being a general pain in my ass since then."

"Where is he now?"

"I don't know. He told me to… to take good care of Buffy; and then he left. I haven't seen him since. With a little luck he ran into one of the new slayers and got himself dusted."

"He is assuming that now that you're human, Buffy is going to fall into your arms?" There was no mistaking the bitterness in the old man's voice and Angel was reminded that Giles had never really forgiven him for the death of his Gypsy girlfriend.

"Do you think she won't?" His tone was sharper than he'd intended, anger at the watcher's doubting tone coloring his answer.

Instead of answering directly, Giles merely responded with, "I think it is probably in Buffy's best interest that I be the one to tell her that he's still alive – or undead, at least."

"I think it's in Buffy's best interest not to tell her at all." Angel's voice was cold and uncompromising. "He didn't go to her when he had the chance, and she's no doubt through with whatever mourning she did for him. I don't see any reason to mention him."

"Perhaps you're right," Giles shocked him by agreeing. "There's no point in opening old wounds – not when she is going to have so much to celebrate." The sarcasm and bitterness were back and Angel reined in his rising temper.

"Exactly."

There was a stiff silence until Angel relented and asked softly, "Can you put aside your resentment of Angelus long enough to tell Buffy what happened here? I'm going to catch the first plane I can to Rome, but it would help if she knew I was coming and… and about the changes."

"I can do that," the watcher agreed quietly. "I think it would be a bit of shock. I strongly suggest, however, that you ring her before you leave and let her know when you will arrive. I don't think she cares for surprises."

Angel agreed and he hung up, Giles' politely insincere congratulations ringing in his ears.

He gave Giles a full day to fill Buffy in on what had happened, praying that the man had stuck to his decision to leave Spike's return out of it, before picking up the phone and dialing the number that he'd kept in his wallet. He was surprised at the subdued tone of her voice as her "Hello?" rang in his ear.

"Buffy? It's me. Did Giles talk to you?"

"Angel? Is it true? You're human now? How did that happen?"

"The usual – prophecy, redemption, blah, blah. The point is, it happened. There is nothing keeping us apart now."

She gave a soft sigh, then with a noticeable effort she brightened her tone. "I guess that's true… Well, except for the whole Atlantic Ocean thing."

"I'm booked on a plane tonight, my time. I should be in Rome tomorrow afternoon."

"That's… that's great, Angel. It's wonderful, really. I didn't mean to sound like I'm not happy about it. It just caught me by surprise, I guess. I just figured that curse was forever, you know?"

"It's alright, Buffy. I know we haven't been as close as we once were. We've both had other people in our lives. I don't expect you to fall into my arms when I step off the plane. I just want to give us a chance to see what might be still there. Will you give me that?"

"Will I gi-? Oh my god. Of course I will! Oh, Angel, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to sound like I didn't want to see you, or like I wasn't… I'm sorry. I really blew this conversation, didn't I?"

"No, Buffy. You didn't blow anything. It was arrogant of me to think…. You know what? We just won't talk about this anymore. I'll be there, we'll go out to dinner just like any other two old friends and we'll see where it goes from there. How's that?"

"That sounds wonderful, Angel. Really it does. I'm thrilled for you. And for me. For us. I'll see you tomorrow. 'K?"

Angel hung up the phone after telling Buffy he loved her and sank back into the chair, wishing he'd thought to take his big leather desk chair with him when he left Wolfram and Hart for the last time.

The reunion was everything he'd hoped it would be. Buffy threw herself into his arms, reveling in the warmth of his embrace. She had no memory, of course, of the day they'd spent together and that night's inevitable lovemaking took her by surprise when she found that he knew where to touch her and what she liked. Any guilt he felt at keeping that information from her was mitigated by her obvious delight in having him around again and he smothered any prodding from his conscience that might have caused him to confess that there was possibly a bit more to his skill than intuition.

They spent weeks enjoying the sights and tastes of Rome; walking hand in hand in the sun, trying a different restaurant every night. Angel was enjoying himself so much it took him several weeks to realize that after her initial excitement, Buffy had drifted into a gentle melancholy. When he mentioned it to Dawn, she gazed at him with eyes that belonged to someone much older than her eighteen years.

"Why doesn't she seem happy?" he asked. "She laughs, she smiles, she dances but there's always that sense of underlying sadness. I'm trying not to take it personally, but—"

"I wouldn't take it personally. She's like that with everybody she dates. It's got nothing to do with you."

Smothering his resentment at Dawn's assumption that he was just like Buffy's other "dates", he nodded and said calmly, "Well, I guess she's had a rough couple of years. I shouldn't expect her to be the bouncy teenager I first met, should I?"

"Ya think?"

"I just want her to be happy, Dawn," he explained softly. "I had hoped that I—but that was arrogant, I guess."

Relenting a little, the tall, graceful teenager said kindly, "She's very happy about you, Angel. I can tell that she's glad you're here – and human. It's just… it reminds her of the vampire who isn't here, you know? She really misses him. It doesn't mean she isn't happy to be with you; she just isn't over Spike yet."

If he'd still been able to, Angel would have snarled. "That's ridiculous! There's nothing to get over. Spike was just a… a toy… a replacement for me because we couldn't be together. Even he has enough sense to know tha—"

He bit off the rest of his sentence, praying that Dawn would not pick up on the present tense he'd used. From a few conversations with Giles, he had found out that they thought Spike was in Cleveland. Although the souled vampire hadn't allowed anyone to see him, Faith thought she'd sensed him at least once when she found herself almost overmatched and could have used the help. The last-second arrival of Robin and another slayer had turned the tide and the naggingly familiar signal had quickly faded away.

Dawn made no response but to roll her eyes at him. "You've got no clue, do you?" she said with a shake of her head. "No clue at all."

Offended by the girl's casual dismissal of his remarks, Angel began to pay more attention to Buffy's demeanor and her behavior when she didn't know he was watching. He found that there was a constant air of sadness about her, a sadness that genuinely lifted when he approached, but that never quite left her eyes. Once he found her stroking the leather cover of a book she'd found in an old-book store and took a glance at it when she set it down. His stomach clenched when he read the title and realized he was looking at a book of Victorian poetry.

He said nothing, admitting that she might have cared more for his errant grandchilde than he'd believed, but trusting in time and his presence to finish the healing process. And it seemed that it was working. Day by day, Buffy became more animated and less moody. She came to him eagerly when they went to bed, thrilling him with her responsiveness and creativity; until the night he realized there was only one person who could have turned the shy little virgin he'd had the first time into this experienced and passionate woman.

He pulled away from her, rolling onto his back and for the first time not holding her close and murmuring of his love. He found that he was not surprised when she was fine with the new behavior, moving away from him and closing her eyes. He could tell she wasn't sleeping and for the first time, he wondered where she went when she shut him out like that. He watched her face for any sign of what she might be thinking, only to see it settle back into the same sad lines it usually wore when he wasn't around.

"You miss him, don't you?" he asked in a flat tone.

She made no attempt to pretend she didn't know whom he was talking about.

"Always," she whispered, forgetting for a second who had asked the question. He could see when it registered; her eyes flew open and she whipped her head in his direction, an apology already on her lips.

"It's alright, Buffy. I miss him too, believe it or not."

Months ago, in one of their more honest exchanges as they walked in the sun, Angel had admitted to her that Spike and the amulet had been returned to Wolfram and Hart and that he had discouraged the other vampire from coming to find her. He endured her righteous anger and they were able to move past her new grief at knowing Spike had been back for almost a year before the final battle with the Senior Partners. She seemed to bounce back quickly from the news, and Angel felt he was doing the right thing by not telling her that Spike was still alive. Now he began to realize just how wrong he might have been when he told Spike that she was better off without either one of them.

"I didn't know, sweetheart. If I'd had any idea that you—I wouldn't have let you suffer like that. I thought – we both thought – that you'd moved on. That you were enjoying your new freedom and that you finally had a shot at that normal life you always wanted."

She'd gazed at him calmly before turning her head away again. "Spike didn't want me to be normal – he wanted me to be his."

"He wanted you to be happy. That's why he—" He broke off, aghast at what he'd almost allowed to slip out.

"Why he what?"

"Nothing. He just wants-wanted you to be happy. You know how he is–was."

"Love's Bitch," she intoned before turning her back on him. "He was always Love's Bitch."

"Exactly."

The warm Italian winter wore on and Angel and Buffy settled into a sort of quiet domesticity, marred only by the fact that she no longer turned to him as eagerly as she had when he first appeared. She treated him with the calm, quiet affection of a sister or a good friend – acquiescing when he wanted sex, but never initiating it. He began to realize that in all the time he'd been with her, while she'd been an enthusiastic participant at first, Buffy had never initiated the lovemaking, always leaving it up to him if they did or didn't. Now, she didn't seem to care if he reached for her or not.

When, after one of their increasingly more rare nights of gentle, tender lovemaking, he found her sobbing quietly in the kitchen, he could no longer deny what was happening between them. His heart aching for what he was about to do, he called Giles the next day and got the information he needed. When Buffy and Dawn returned from an afternoon's shoe shopping, he asked quietly if he could speak to her alone.

Dawn glanced at him curiously, then shrugged and carried her packages off to her room. Their relations had been a bit strained since the conversation about Spike, but they had maintained a distant friendliness for the sake of the girl they both loved.

"What's up?"

Angel pulled her into his arms and kissed her gently before saying, "You know I love you very much, don't you?"

"Uh, yeah? Hence the living together and stuff." She frowned at his solemn face. "Is something wrong?"

"Yes."

"Yes? That's it?"

Instead of replying, he handed her an envelope.

"What's this?"

"A ticket to Cleveland"

"And I want to go there because…?

"There's someone there you need to see."

Buffy frowned at his cryptic explanation and opened the envelope to find only the ticket.

"Um, there's not much information in here. This guy I'm supposed to see, how will I find him?"

"I'm pretty sure, he'll find you. All you need to do is start patrolling with Faith."

"You son of a bitch!" Dawn's arrival took them both by surprise and Buffy whirled on her sister.

"Dawnie!"

Dawn never took her eyes off the uncomfortable-looking man, stalking closer and hissing, "You've been lying all this time, haven't you?"

"Lying about what? Dawn? Angel? What's going on? What could you have been lying to me about that would—"

Angel could see the minute she got it. Her expressive eyes went from shocked to furious to tear-filled and back to furious.

"Where is he?"

"Cleveland. We think."

She looked at him with dismay and disappointment. "How could you—why now?"

He stepped closer again and put his arms around her trembling body.

"Because I love you. And a part of you is always somewhere else. I want you. Make no mistake about that, Buffy. But I want all of you. And I want you to be here because you want me. Not because you think I'm all you've got left. Go to him. Talk. Fight. Yell at each other. Make love, if you have to. Get him out of your system – or call me and tell me… tell me that your cookies are done and that they belong to him."

"What if he doesn't want me anymore? What if he doesn't love me?"

"He loves you. He was so sure you would want me that he didn't even try to fight for you. It didn't occur to either one of us that you wouldn't take a human me over a souled vampire."

"It probably wouldn't have occurred to me either," she admitted quietly.

"So, go. Find him. Tell him… tell him you love him. Find out if this has been a mistake, or if it's what you really want."

Buffy's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Who are you and what have you done with Angel?"

He laughed softly, acknowledging her understandable doubt about his intentions.

"Don't get me wrong, Buffy. I think he's the mistake. I don't think this is going to be good for either one of you. But you aren't happy with me. You're still mourning for a… a man who isn't really gone. You need to see him, know that he's alive and then decide what you really want. Maybe you're just sad because you think he's dead. Because you think he died for you. Once you see him again, you'll realize that's all it was."

"What if that isn't all it is?" she asked softly, moving closer to him and stroking his face. "What if I find out I'm still in love with him?"

He squeezed his eyes shut briefly, then opened them and met hers honestly. "Then I wish you both the very best. You're my best girl, and Spike is my family. If being together is what you both need and want, I won't stand in the way. I just want you to be very sure – for his sake, as well as yours. He deserves the real thing; not someone who's pretending to love him."

"So do you, Angel." She rose on her toes to kiss him gently. "So do you."

The End