The Need That Remains
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Angel glanced up from the map of Los Angeles when he heard the door chime. A second later, there was static on the speakerphone, and Angel could make out the words, 'Angel, client, and now.' Carefully folding the map, he made his way through Cordelia's office, busying himself with straightening his shirt. For over a year, Cordy had been drilling the importance of looking 'professional' during business hours into his head. He was currently trying to rebuild the clientele that had been lost when the agency blew up several weeks before, but so far, it had proven to be almost impossible.
People just were not inclined to give you business when there was the impending threat of being blown up during their consultations.
So, the wardrobe was his way of pacifying Cordelia, who was convinced they were all going to starve. It didn't matter that the money spent on the wardrobe could have paid numerous bills, when she saw him wearing an "Armani", she was appeased.
Lifting his suit jacket from the back of a chair in Cordelia's office, he opened the door and stepped into the foyer, where a bubbly teenage receptionist sat twirling her hair. As part of 'rebuilding' the image of the agency, Cordelia had signed them up for an 'after-school' partnership with the high school. The young girl, Daisy, would get class credits for 'working' and Angel got a free bubblegum popping waif who still hadn't learned to message on the speaker phone.
Of course, that also opened up Cordelia's afternoons. And she was making the most of it, pounding the pavement to various acting auditions, as soon as Daisy came in.
Angel closed the door behind him and glanced around the small foyer. When he saw no one, he glanced at Daisy. "I thought I heard someone out here."
"You did," Daisy replied, the ever present wad of gum in her mouth causing her to sound congested. "She's in the bathroom. Like I told you on the speakerphone."
"Oh." Angel picked up a stack of magazines that were lying on the floor beside her desk and began putting them back into the magazine rack that was hanging on the wall. "Have there been any calls?"
"Just that dude Wesley. He said to tell you that all's well in-something. I don't remember." Shrugging, she blew a large bubble, her eyes crossing as she watched it form, then pop. "It didn't sound important though."
"Do you think maybe from now on you can write down the messages? Just in case?"
Her reply was a shrug and Angel closed his eyes, turning his attention back to tidying up the small waiting area. He was really hoping that whoever the client was had some big assignment. He hated not having anything to do. At first, he had devoted himself to decorating the new building and trying to replace some of the things that had been forever lost in the explosion. Of course, he had continued to patrol and try to find people who looked needy, but more and more, he found that he was the one in need.
With nothing to do to keep his mind occupied, he discovered himself going back to Sunnydale in his head, replaying things he should forget - and most of all, forgetting things he should remember. Sometimes, he found himself walking to his car after he had convinced himself that he could go to Buffy and make her happy. He would effectively forget all the reasons why they couldn't, and concentrate on the one reason why they could.
Because he loved her.
Pulling at the confining tie around his neck, he loosened it slightly, and turned to tell Daisy that she was finished for the day.
That was when the bathroom door opened.
The tiny bathroom in the corner of Angel Investigations had stifled her from the second she stepped into it, but Buffy needed a few seconds to compose herself. And try to cover the bruises on her face. Failing at that, she concentrated completely on the task at hand; composing herself enough to tell Angel why she was there, get his help, then walk away.
She just had to hold her head together long enough to walk away in the end and then it would be all over.
It had been a Höllentier, a hell beast, that had escaped the Hellmouth and created a small breach in the balances. That breach had drained her slowly, making her weaker, making all of Sunnydale fatigued and susceptible to sickness. All the plagues, the viruses, the rashes and boils that could possibly happen, were striking down the weakest people: the elderly and the children. Willow and Tara had been working overtime, trying to bind the entire town and weave spells of protection, but Giles finally put a stop to it, telling them not to wear themselves out.
Through research and Buffy's encounter with the Höllentier, which had left her in a mangled pulp, they had pieced together what was happening. Together, the gang had gone back to the Hellmouth, and the heat and smell that radiated from it confirmed their fears. The Hellmouth was slowly opening.
And of course, that brought back oh so many pleasant memories for Buffy. She had smelled the same smell, felt the same heat, and saw the same white light when Angelus had opened Acathla.
This is what had brought Buffy to Los Angeles.
And all the searing pain that it entailed.
Realizing that her pressed powder wasn't going to make her look much better than her current state of sickly pale and blue, she pushed her hair over her shoulder, took a deep breath, and stepped out of the bathroom.
He was right in front of her and she stumbled when she realized how close he was-- when she realized he smelled the same, looked the same, caused the same little tugging in the pit of her stomach. Angel reached out and grabbed her, setting her upright, and she smiled politely. "Thanks."
Angel frowned when she looked up at him. The inside of her eye was red, and not from crying. Judging from the deep blue mark that ran the length of her cheek and tapered into the hairline of her temple, it was from a blow she had taken. Ignoring the looks that Daisy, who was still hanging around, was giving them, Angel gripped her elbow and led her through Cordelia's office and into his own. Once they were inside, he closed the door and led her to the leather couch in the corner of the room. Kneeling in front of her, he tilted her face, then frowned when she pulled away.
"Buffy, what happened?"
Scooting a few inches away from him, away from his soft fingers, she attempted to look indifferent. "You know the drill. Demons. This time, it was a big one."
"So I gathered." Angel stood, moving toward the water dispenser behind the door. Grabbing a cup, he filled it, ignoring the shaking in his hands. He would have been prepared for the Devil himself coming out of the bathroom. He would have been prepared for just about anything, but not this. Seeing her again was hard enough, but seeing her in pain-
Buffy accepted the cup when he strolled back across the room and handed it to her. She let her eyes wash over him, realizing that the only time she had ever seen him dressed so nicely had been at the Prom, and that was definitely not something she wanted to backtrack to. "You look - well," she finally said.
"Better than you," he told her. When she raised her eyebrows at him, he realized how his statement must have sounded and shook his head. "I didn't mean - I mean, you look beautiful, you always look beautiful - I just meant -"
"Angel, I know what you meant. I look like crap. I feel like it too. No big." Buffy chuckled, then winced slightly, and rubbed her ribs. "I'm sure you also gathered that this isn't a social call."
"No, I didn't think so." He stared at her hand, the one on her side, wanting desperately to feel for himself how badly she was hurt. In all the time that he had known her, he couldn't remember her ever looking quite so - beaten. Or so detached.
"A few weeks ago, people around town starting developing illnesses and no one could figure out why. The Center for Disease Control came in and there were a couple of easily contracted things, but there was also two cases of Ebola and a string of skin eating rashes that they still can't figure out." Taking a deep breath, Buffy groaned slightly, and then continued. "All of us started to get really fatigued, myself included. One night, I was patrolling and ran-"
"What were doing patrolling if you were ill?" Angel interrupted. He had seated himself in the armchair next to her and was watching her intently.
"I wasn't that ill and someone had to do it. With people dropping like flies, let's just say that the vampire population was enjoying not having to chase anyone." She frowned, recalling the way that people would just lie down and wait for an ambulance, or walking death, whichever came first. "Needless to say, on one of my particularly off days, I ran into something called a Höllentier demon. He was on the south lawn of the old high school and he seemed to know I was coming. He was just sitting there, waiting for me. Höllentier demons like to talk apparently, because he let me know what he was, where he'd come from, and how he would be revered in Hell as the demon responsible for ending civilization of the 'otherworld'." Pausing, she gave Angel a few seconds to absorb everything she had said. When he stared at her blankly, she added. "Otherworld meaning the earth. Our world. This planet. All of it."
"Yes, I get that. What I'm curious about is how a Höllentier got itself out of hell." Standing up, he pulled a book that was simply entitled 'Hell' from one of the top shelves of the bookcases that lined the walls. Flipping several pages, he read aloud, "Höllentier demons are hunters that guard the barriers between the worlds. Surviving on the flesh of banished demons, Höllentiers are notably too scared to venture into other realms, and most would not survive a dimensional hop from one plane to another."
"Like I said, he was very large, and he didn't seem like the type who would mind a connector flight."
Angel's brows knitted, and he glanced at her. "Buffy, they don't exactly fly."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "How blond do you think I am? I'm not sitting over here thinking that Delta services other dimensions, you know. I'm saying that he was big, burly, smart, and strong. You think my face looks bad ... you should see the rest of me." As soon as she said the words, her face blushed, and she looked down. "Or - not."
Angel pretended that his collar hadn't just gotten a lot tighter, and studied the book, not seeing much of anything on the pages. "So, there's a breach in the Hellmouth?"
Regaining her composure, Buffy nodded. "You're quick on the uptake, Angel. It took Giles two days to get it. You missed your calling as a Watcher, but you do seem to have their dressing style down to a science."
Suddenly self-conscious, Angel loosened his tie even more, then pulled it completely off. "I'm running a business here, Buffy. I have to look the part."
"And business sure is booming," Buffy said sarcastically. The silence lingered in the air for several seconds, and she finally cut to the chase. "Look, if you know that there is a breach in the Hellmouth, then you probably also know that I need your blood to close it."
"What?" Angel had turned away, about to re-file the book, but he turned when she spoke, book still in hand.
"Your blood. It closes the Hellmouth."
"Wrong." Angel shook his head, not really believing his ears. What was she saying? That she wanted to stab him again? "My blood opened and closed Acathla. There's a major difference there."
"I don't think so," Buffy stated simply.
"What did Giles say?" Angel asked, his fingers gripping the book so tightly that he could feel the spine giving. He could not, under any circumstances, survive Hell again.
"Giles doesn't have the books to research it. The Council isn't helping either. This might work, Angel. We were thinking that maybe Wesley could-"
"Wait," Angel leaned against his desk, running a hand over his face. "Let me make sure I'm getting this right. You came here, expecting me to go back to Sunnydale with you so you could stab me through the stomach, and possibly send me into Hell again, because you think it -might- work?"
"No," Buffy mumbled, annoyed at how convoluted he was making it sound. "I was thinking that you could like, cut your hand and hold it over the Hellmouth. Or something."
"Because that makes so much sense," Angel replied, rolling his eyes. "It won't work. I'm not some mystical cure-all, Buffy. To close that breach, you're going to have to put the demon back into place."
"The Höllentier?" Buffy asked, fearing his reply.
"Yes," he replied patiently, despite his growing exasperation at her 'plan'.
"Does it have to be alive?"
"No, Buffy, you're supposed to drop a dead demon back into the dimension," he slammed the book down on his desk and sighed. "Of course it has to be alive. To close a breach, the world has to be restored exactly to the way it was before the breach occurred. Oh, but maybe I can go bleed on the corpse and bring it back to life."
"Well, how the hell was I supposed to know that? Giles didn't tell me!" Buffy cried, her temper flaring. "Don't talk down to me like that, Angel. Don't stand there and act like I'm some kind of burden whom you'd rather not deal with. I came to you because my town is in an uproar, people are dying, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, you could make it better. Forgive me for bothering you." Grabbing her purse, she turned on her heel and made her way toward the door. "It's too bad you can't see yourself in the mirror, you could use a good laugh."
Angel caught her and spun her around, causing her to cry out in pain. Gripping her upper arms, he glared down at her. "Let's get something clear, Buffy. I'll help you in any way that I can, but you aren't going to behave like a- a-"
"What?" Buffy growled. "Like a brat? Yeah, you like calling me that, don't you?" Shoving his arms away from her, she straightened the top of the dress she was wearing. "Do you know what it took for me to come and ask for your help? Do you know how much of my fucking pride I had to swallow? No, I'm sure you don't, since you've never done it."
"You'd be wise not to go there, Buffy," Angel told her through clenched teeth. "When you want something from someone, you generally get better results by holding a civil tongue."
"Aren't you just a font of unneeded advice? Have you thought of setting up a one nine-hundred number for your services? I'm sure there are people out there who would gullible enough to let you talk down to them." Her blood had begun to pump so rapidly, so angrily, that her ears were ringing. "You know what, I've changed my mind. I'll figure something else out. I don't want your help ... I don't need your help ... and I would rather -- "
Before she could finish, the phone began to ring. Angel ignored it, keeping his gaze pinned on the Slayer, but she had stopped talking. Daisy knocked on the door, "Angel?"
"What?" Angel shouted.
Daisy poked her head in. "I'm sorry, I was getting my stuff to leave, but I got to interrupt this really loud, really entertaining argument, but Cordelia is on the phone and says it's an emergency."
"Fine," he replied, waving her away.
When she shut the door, he yanked the telephone up. "What is it, Cordelia."
"Angel? I just botched an audition because of you!" the girl replied through her sobs. "I just had a vision that is going to put me into therapy for the rest of my life. And don't think that you'll get out of paying for it for as long as I need it. It's partially your fault that Doyle-"
"Cordelia, could you get to the point?" He watched as Buffy eyed his office, then turned away.
"Well, Mr. Cranky-Butt, you just made it my pleasure to tell you that you're gonna have to go to Sunnydale, pick up Buffy, take her to the abandoned lighthouse on the outermost Channel Island, and find something called a Holy Cow demon. And then I saw her throwing it into the Hellmouth in Sunnydale. And Sunnydale, by the way, looked like 'Night Of The Walking Dead' revisited and wasn't a pretty sight." Taking a deep breath, she choked back a small sob. "Don't you even want to know what was so traumatizing?"
"Enlighten me?" he muttered, completely distracted by jotting down what she had just told him. How was he supposed to sail to an island?
"I saw-I saw- Buffy - in the buff," she choked.
He smiled despite himself, and added, "That's not very nice."
"What's not very nice is the fact that you were very torn and very tempted, Angel. Which, for the life of me, I don't understand. She had no curves, no boobs, and just --- eeuuww." With a short pause for emphasis, she finally added. "Don't lose your soul."
Angel turned to look at Buffy again, his eyes locking on her hateful green ones. "I can't see that being a problem, Delia."
"I hope you're right."
Buffy shook her head for the fiftieth time in a thirty-minute span. Angel had hung up the phone and proceeded to tell her some crazy, far-fetched idea about sailing away. "Angel, no."
"Buffy, this is serious. You have to listen to me-"
"You expect me to hop on a boat with you, sail out into the middle of the ocean, and forget what's going on in Sunnydale because Cordelia had a dream!?" Buffy paced across the floor again, wringing her hands. "And I'm the one who gets treated like a dumb blond."
"Listen to me, Buffy. Cordelia has visions, messages from the Powers That Be. There's a reason that we're being sent out there to find this demon. I'm going to assume that it's the only one that can effectively close that breach." Angel watched her pace, trying to quell the urge to force her to sit down.
"What about your whole speech earlier about how only the demon that came out can close it?" Buffy stopped walking, but tapped her foot and crossed her arms. "Explain that, oh wise one."
"I can't explain it."
Buffy gasped. "You mean there's something you don't know?"
"God, fine!" Throwing her hands into the air, Buffy yanked her purse off Angel's desk. "I'm going home to get my things together. You can pick me up there."
"No," Angel told her.
"We can get whatever you need here."
"Angel, I'm gonna have to get clothing, toiletries, towels, my hair dryer-"
"It's a deserted island, Buffy. I'm thinking that by deserted, they don't mean covered in power lines with handy outlets jutting up out of the sand."
"Whatever. Oh, and how do you propose to stay out of the sun?" she asked him.
"I've got a friend with a houseboat who owes me a favor. Soon as the sun sets, you and I are gonna pay him a visit and set sail. It's got bedrooms, a kitchen that we'll stock with what we need, running water and I can cover the windows." He moved to his desk and opened a drawer, pulling out a credit card, which he held out to her. "You go ahead and get everything that you think we'll need. Get some clothes, some heavy chains, and be back here at dusk."
"I'll get my own things," she told him with a shake of her head.
"Buffy, just take it and get enough stuff to last a few days. We don't know how long we'll be there."
Taking the credit card, she eyed the name on it, running her thumb over the protruding letters. "Angel O'Quinlan. It just dawned on me that I never knew your last name. Is this it?"
Nodding, he handed her a cellphone. "Liam Gareth O'Quinlan"
"But, Angel is what-"
"It's a long story. How about we save it for another day?" He led her toward the door; anxious to get away from her so he could begin to mentally prepare himself. "Hurry back, okay?"
"All right," she replied, tucking the phone into her purse. She had to admit that she was more than a little bewildered and hurt that he had never told her that Angel wasn't even his name. "Do you need anything in particular?"
"No, thanks." Glancing over at Daisy, who had propped her bare feet on her desk and was busy polishing her toenails, he shrugged. "I've got some packing to do. And didn't I tell you that you could go, Daisy?"
"I got to get my hours in to get an A."
Buffy called Giles from the super market as she pushed the buggy up and down the aisles, loading it with enough junk food to sustain her for a few days. His reaction was almost a complete word for word rendition of her own reaction.
"Buffy, you can't go sailing off into the ocean just because Cordelia had some sort of dream! Do you know what happened today? I'll tell you! Fish happened, Buffy. Flying fish that pelted people so hard that they were knocked unconscious."
"What kind of fish?" Buffy asked, staring at the various fresh fish that lay iced in the display window.
"What kind of fish?" Giles exclaimed. "I'm not a marine biologist, Buffy. I would guess perhaps they were average trout."
"Trout? From the ocean?"
"I said perhaps!"
"Well, look on the bright side, Giles. At least it wasn't swordfish and no heads were severed." Adding a package of sushi to her loot, she made her way toward the produce section.
"I'm certainly glad that you can find something to joke about it all of this, Buffy. The Hellmouth is on the verge of erupting, Willow and Tara have taken to chanting in a language that I can't even identify, and Xander is so afraid of a syphilis outbreak that he hasn't come out of his basement since you've been gone." With an exaggerated sigh, he added, "And you are about to go for a joy ride with an ex-demon, who if I recall correctly, loses his soul if you give him any happiness."
Buffy dropped several peaches into a bag and moved toward the oranges. "I can assure you that Angel is just as excited about this trip as you are, Giles. Besides, the message came from the Powers That Be. I'm thinking that isn't something that we get to ignore."
"I don't know how much longer we can keep this up, Buffy. The Hellmouth is tenuous, at best. This could be catastrophic."
"Then I'm thinking it's wise to get to this island, kidnap this demon, and drop it into the Hellmouth before we get sucked in." Buffy tied off her bags and headed toward the cash registers, convinced that she had enough to live off of for a week.
"Angel's blood won't work, you're sure?" Giles asked her, for the second time during their talk.
"He said that Acathla and a breach are two separate things," she replied, parking her buggy and watching as the young male clerk began to ring up her items. "Angel said that you have to restore the Hellmo- uhm --, "she smiled at the clerk, who was obviously eavesdropping. "restore the Helman's recipe back to the original ingredients in order for it to retain the power to stay together and not crumble."
There was dead silence on the other line and she raised her eyebrow, handing the young man the credit card. "Giles?"
"Yes, I heard you."
"Did you understand?"
"Yes, I understood you completely, which is testimony to the fact that the world as we know it is on the verge of ending."
Buffy made it back to Angel Investigations just as the sun was setting. The trunk of the cab she had taken was loaded down with food, blood for Angel, and other necessities. She had purposely shopped for bargain clothes, settling on a few pairs of shorts, a couple of halters, and a pair of canvas tennis shoes. Of course, she had added a couple pairs of jeans at the last minute, just in case it got chilly. Which rarely happened in California, even in October. Coupled with the jacket she had tied around her waist, she was good to go. She had used her own credit card for the clothing, only using his for the food, because even though she had swallowed much of her pride by coming to Los Angeles for his help, she had not swallowed all of it.
And she didn't need anyone to pay her way.
She paid for the fare in cash and stepped out of the cab, waiting for the driver to open the trunk. As she put her wallet back into her purse, Angel opened the front door and stepped out, carrying two duffel bags. She watched as he walked toward her, his duster billowing behind him and the confident air he always possessed clinging to his stoic features. Seeing him wearing his patented 'bad boy' clothing caused her breath to catch in her throat and her heart to pound against her chest.
Dropping the bags next to her, Angel moved to the trunk of the cab and mumbled something to the driver about waiting while he pulled the car around. Buffy watched him as he unlocked the large doors underneath the stairs that led to his front door. His black convertible was backed into the small garage, and she stepped aside as he eased it forward, stopping when his trunk was parallel to the cab's. Buffy almost expected him to say something to her as he loaded the many bags into his own trunk, but instead he said nothing, and merely handed the cabbie a few dollars when they were finished.
"Ready?" he finally asked, slamming the lid down.
"As ready as I'll ever be," she replied with a shrug.
"Did you get everything you needed?" He unlocked her car door and opened it, ushering her inside.
"Yeah," she nodded, refusing to be moved by his manners. Or to make small talk and pretend she was excited about the prospect of being holed up in some small boat with him. She hated boats, hated the water, and couldn't do much to repel the Titanic thoughts that were filtering through her head.
Angel shut the door and made his way to the driver's side. "I packed a few extras. I've got a couple of blankets in my duffel and a few shirts in case you get cold."
"Thanks," she managed to smile at him, then looked out the window. This was going to be the hardest thing she had ever done- she just knew it. The pit of her stomach had been in knots since she had agreed to go on the trip, and now, with him sitting next to her, the familiar smell of his leather duster filling the car with nostalgia, she realized how unprepared she truly was. All at once she wanted to laugh, to cry, to throw her arms around him, and to tempt fate by pressing her lips to his.
Angel glanced at her, noting the way her hair still looked softer than anything he had ever touched. It would be so easy to reach out, pull her next to him, and drape his arm around her, holding her. It would be wonderful to touch her hair, touch her body, touch all of her. He clenched the wheel tighter, telling himself that he had done too much good to throw it away in her arms, in the happiness of it all, and concentrated on navigating through the traffic.
Driving toward Malibu, the traffic began to thin, and he was grateful that there weren't many turns or stops. He could keep his eyes ahead, his mind on the task at hand, and not worry about all the things he should be saying to her. He wanted to ask her where Riley was and how he had handled their impromptu vacation. He wanted to ask about college, about the way she was favoring her right side, anything to hear her voice. But hearing her voice made him hear her whispering she loved him, and he decided that an uncomfortable silence was better than an uncomfortable exchange of forced words.
And she apparently felt the same way, because she hadn't bothered to speak to him either.
As they neared the ocean, Buffy took a deep breath, inhaling the warm salty air that filtered through the vents on Angel's car. It wasn't warm enough to run the air, but the vents were open, and Angel had cracked his window. For at least fifteen minutes of the drive, she had started to ask him questions. Small, mundane things about the guy they were getting the boat from, whether or not he knew how to navigate the ocean, and whether or not he was okay with the entire idea of being alone, on a boat, in the middle of nowhere. But knowing Angel, he would have found a way to turn her inquiries around on her, and she wasn't about to talk about herself, or about the way her life had become.
The slowing of the car pulled her from her thoughts and she was shocked to see that they had completely exited the highway and the ocean was right outside her window. The moon hung above it, almost full, and she sighed wistfully. If she and Angel had been taking this trip three years ago, she would have been happier than anyone in the world. But now, it was just uncomfortable and --- sad.
Angel pulled the car into a small empty parking lot and pulled the keys out of the ignition. Turning to look at Buffy, he said, "I called from my place. He should be coming along any minute."
"So, who is this guy?" she finally asked, figuring that since he brought it up, it was a safe topic.
"He's a producer for some television show. A few weeks months ago, his wife and daughter were kidnapped by a couple of Vergaund demons, and I went it and got them out." Angel paused when a large SUV pulled into the space beside them. "Needless to say, he pretty much offered to sell me his soul in thanks."
"Maybe you should have taken it," Buffy mumbled.
"What was that?" Angel asked, his hand on the door handle.
"Nothing." Buffy shook her head and opened her car door, stepping out quickly. Mentally willing herself to give Angel a break and to paste a smile on her face, she came around the back of his car and watched as he greeted the man and woman.
"Chuck, Claudia, I'd like you to meet Buffy." Angel gestured toward her, then put an arm around her shoulders. He was relieved when she didn't stiffen or attempt to push him away. Instead, he felt her arm go around his waist and closed his eyes briefly. It was all too much - too much.
Chuck raised his eyebrow and eyed her appreciatively. "So this is the big secret about why you wanted the boat." He held his hand out toward Buffy, and smiled at her when she clasped it. "You'll find everything you'll be needing and then some on the boat, honey."
"Thank you," Buffy replied, and shook Claudia's hand when she offered. She was eternally grateful that it was dark enough to hide her bruises and purposely kept her eyes mostly downcast. "We really appreciate it."
Claudia shook her head. "It's the least we can do." Looking back up at Angel, her eyes clouded over. "We owe Angel everything."
Suddenly there was a shriek, and a little girl who looked about five, sat up in the back of the SUV, looked outside, and shrieked again. "Angel!"
Claudia quickly made her way around the car to let her daughter out, as Chuck explained the little girl's disheveled appearance. "We were driving back from Anaheim when you called us. Chrissy had conked out in the backseat."
Angel leaned down in time to catch the chubby little girl, who quickly shimmied up his body, wrapped her legs around him, and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Hey, Angel."
"Hey, Chrissy, how are you?" Angel returned the kiss, and leaned against his car, patting her on the back.
"I went to Disneyland!" Chrissy exclaimed, pointing to the cock-eyed and dented mouse ears on her head.
"Did you have fun?" Angel asked her, pushing her curly brown hair over her shoulder.
"Yep. And I got my picture taken with everyone!" She giggled, then glanced over at Buffy. "Angel's my boyfriend, you know."
"That's what he said too." Buffy told her, unable to keep from laughing when the little girl gave Angel another kiss on the cheek and then demanded to be put down.
"She's gonna be a heartbreaker." Chuck said, handing Angel a set of keys. "The bar was just stocked this past weekend, and the generators were just charged. You're looking at around seven days worth of power and water if you're frugal. I've got three fuel tanks, all are completely full, but you may want to stop at the filling pond on the first Channel to get a refill on the way back inland. You can put anything you need on my tab, Angel. I'm not sure exactly where you're heading, but she's all yours for as long as you need her."
"Nah," Chuck shook his head. "Don't thank me. And don't think we're even. I'll be doing these small favors for you for the rest of my life."
Angel simply nodded, understanding completely what it felt like to think you'd lost it all, then get it back. Unfortunately, he himself had lost it again, but he did know what that reprieve felt like. "We'll take care of her."
"I'm sure you will." Chuck shook Angel's hand again and patted him on the arm. "Talk to you soon."
Buffy watched as Claudia stepped forward and hugged Angel, then shouted for Chrissy, who was pulling her shoes and socks off, apparently thinking she was going into the ocean. Chrissy began to cry, pitching a small tantrum, but Angel scooped her up, blew on her belly, and carried her to the SUV, where he sat her in the back seat. As she watched him, Buffy felt the briefest bit of sadness. Angel really had made a whole new life for himself. He had rich friends, rich clothes, a nice house and business, and most of all, the brooding vampire that she had fallen in love with --- was smiling a whole lot more than he ever had with her.
It made her wonder if she hadn't been the main reason for his sadness all along. Away from the Hellmouth, he had become someone completely different. Someone who was currently laughing and tickling Chrissy while he fastened her seat belt. She had never really heard him laugh, now that she thought about it. She hadn't known his real name, she had never seen him in a business suit, and as she watched him wave good-bye to his friends, she began to wonder if she had ever really known the man at all.
When he turned back to face her, she watched his smile fade and he moved to the trunk of the car, quickly opening it and grabbing several bags. She stepped up beside him and lifted out the remaining few, and watched him slam the trunk. Following along behind him, she made her way down a set of wooden stairs, trying not to groan with every step she took. She probably had at least three broken ribs, not to mention the deep scrapes down her back and side. They entered a large metal shed and Buffy paused in the darkness, waiting for Angel to flip a light switch. When he did, her eyes bulged and she gasped.
The Claudia Christine was not a houseboat. She was a yacht. Quite easily sixty-feet long, she was a pristine white with red and blue lifesavers hanging from the sides. Sleek in design, the boat was overwhelmingly beautiful and clean and Buffy was shocked. "When you said houseboat, I was thinking -- floating - apartment. Not a floating mansion."
Angel laughed and stepped off the dock and into the back area of the boat. He sat his bags down, then reached for hers. "I told you he's a television producer. He's got quite a few boats like this, I'd imagine."
Buffy took the hand he offered and stepped over the side, wincing when Angel caught her around the waist to settle her on her feet.
Frowning, he watched her massage her side. "I'm guessing that you have a broken rib?"
"A couple, but I'm fine." Buffy lifted a few of the bags and made her way down the stairs, into the living area. She fumbled along the walls, and finally managed to find a light switch. When she flipped it on, she gasped again. The interior was as beautiful as the outside of the boat. The thick carpet was solid white and the leather sectional that was built into the wall looked as of it had never been sat on. The woodworking around the top of the walls, where there were shelves and cabinets, was a dark glossy cherry color and someone had put fresh roses on the table. A large screened television took up one entire wall and there were videos lining the bookcase beside it.
The room was divided by a dark cherry bar, which separated the living area from the kitchen. She heard Angel on the steps behind her and made her way to the bar, setting down the bags. While he went back to get the rest of their things, she began to put away the groceries she had purchased, but quickly discovered that they wouldn't have needed much of anything. The refrigerator was full of soda, wine, beer, and the makings for sandwiches, hotdogs, and almost anything else she could have wanted. An inspection of the freezer turned up ice cream, frozen meats, and microwave dinners. She quickly loaded all of their things inside, and shut the door.
Angel hadn't come back down yet, so she threw away the empty bags and made her way down a narrow hallway. She stopped at the first door and slid it open, gazing into what must have been Chrissy's room. There were dolls, toys, a television, and a little pink bed. She figured that Chrissy had to be the luckiest kid alive to be doted on the way she was. Sliding open the door directly across from Chrissy's, she found a small restroom that was decorated in mauve and blue. There was no tub or shower, just a toilet, a sink, and a mirror. Her heart sank when she realized that there was just one more door. Opening the one directly in front of her, at the end of the hallway, she discovered the master bedroom. It was complete with a king size bed, an open bathroom that showed a jacuzzi tub in one corner, and had a glass shower stall right out in the open. No doors at all for privacy. Everything was white except for the dark green comforter and green accents around the room. And just like the rest of the boat, it was breathtaking.
"It'll be okay." Angel said suddenly, from behind her.
Buffy jumped a little and turned, looking up at him. "Wh-what?"
"Having one bedroom will be fine. While you're asleep during the night, I'll be up top and you can be up there when I'm down here during the day. Besides, we should be in and out of here in no time." He moved past her, dropping his duffels and her bags on the bed. "I like the lack of windows down here. This is pretty nice, huh?"
"It's beautiful," Buffy agreed.
"Want to help me map out our path?" Angel nodded back toward the other room, eager to get away from the bedroom. He had been stunned to find a three foot bed in the second bedroom, and he knew Buffy had to have felt the same way.
"Sure." Buffy switched the light off and followed him back through the boat. In the hallway, he had to turn sideways because of his broad shoulders, and a small flash of him hovering over her, bracing himself on his palms filtered through her head. Her hands splayed on his shoulders, his eyes baring into hers, her body opening up to his touch. She walked into his back and blushed when he turned to glance at her. She saw a small basket full of rolled up maps sitting on the table and quickly grabbed them, watching as Angel looked through them.
Finally settling on one, he unrolled it and braced it open with a couple of knick knacks. "We're here," he finally said, pointing out Malibu. Scanning the Pacific Ocean, he laid his finger on a cluster of small islands. "And we want to go here."
"That looks like a really long trip," Buffy commented absently, still struggling with the image of him making love to her.
"It's a straight shot, basically. No side roads or detours. I'm guessing about five hours, possibly six." Angel took a pen and piece of paper from the tray on the table and jotted down some numbers and coordinates. "We'll be there by morning."
Buffy followed him up to the deck, then further up into what he called the 'captain's room'. She leaned against the control panel, watching as he started the boat and began backing out of the dock. He flipped several switches, turning on the various lights and blinkers that would alert other ships of their whereabouts, and then punched in a few numbers on a keyboard. "This is the auto-pilot navigator."
"How do you know so much about sailing?" Buffy asked.
"I was leafing through the owner's manual when you were putting the groceries away." He told her, pointing at the book that rested on the control panel next to her.
Buffy lifted it and flipped through it, then her gaze rested on the price tag on the last page. "Angel, this is a two million dollar boat."
"Yes, it is," he glanced at the compass that was attached to the front window and decided that they were on course, then let go of the wheel. "So, what do you say we don't wreck it?"
"Don't even talk like that!" Buffy chided. "You'll jinx us." She was suddenly chilled to the core, thinking of the worst possible scenario - sinking the boat and dog paddling next to Angel - knowing that when she sun rose, he would die.
"Hey?" Angel reached out and brushed his hand over her arm. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." She nodded at him, then glanced out at the expanse of darkness in front of them. "So, you've got it on autopilot, right?" he nodded at her. "What happens if our path just happens to coincide with the path of a big huge cruise ship and we hit?"
"That's why one of us will be staying up here all the time," he sat back in the thick captain's chair and nodded at the one beside him. "You wanna sit down?"
"Okay." Buffy slipped into the chair. With the ocean air blowing on her, she was suddenly grateful that she had bought jeans earlier that day. The thin material of the dress she wore did little to stop the chill bumps that were prickling her legs.
Angel stood up and pulled his duster off, holding it out to her. "You're cold."
Buffy was instantly slammed back in time. Angel was at the Bronze, stopping to tell her of some impending disaster when she had first moved to Sunnydale. Before she ever knew he was a vampire. He had given her his jacket.
//"You can take it."//
//"No, I mean you look cold."//
//"It's a little big on me."//
And just like that night at the Bronze, Buffy let him drape it around her shoulders. She pulled it around her, then smiled gratefully. "It's-"
"It's a little big on you." Angel replied, one corner of his mouth tugging back slightly.
Buffy wasn't sure if it was the smell of his duster, the walk down memory lane, or the familiar smirk on his mouth - but something put a lump in her throat so big that she had to get away. "I'm kinda hungry," she told him. "I think I'll go fix myself a sandwich. You want something?"
"I ate before we left," he replied. "You go ahead."
As he watched her climb down the ladder and vanish below deck, he tilted his head back and stared up at the sky. It was going to be a very long, very emotionally draining, and very uncomfortable trip -- despite the many luxuries that the boat afforded them. A shooting star blazed across the sky, directly in front of the boat. With a small frown, Angel closed his eyes and made a wish.
For the one thing he knew he couldn't have.
Buffy ate her sandwich alone, thumbing through another manual about the boat's generators, cooking capabilities, and amenities. After she realized exactly what kind of features the boat possessed, she wasn't very shocked at the price. She was however, miserable as soon as she finished her last bite, and hoped that Chuck and Claudia had motion sickness pills handy. Washing out her plate and putting it back in the cupboard, she moved down the hallway into the bathroom and was thrilled to find some Dramamine. She took two, then added another for good measure, and splashed her face with cool water. Once she was convinced that she wasn't going to lie down and die, she changed out of the simple dress she was wearing, opting for jeans and her jacket, then went, barefoot, back up to where Angel was sitting.
Because of her lack of shoes, she was able to sneak up on him and look at him for a few minutes. He was tilting his chair back and was gazing up at the stars. His profile was still as sharp as it had always been and he still had a few small pockmarks on his jawline. His fingers were clasped behind his head, causing his hair to stick out over them, and she grinned, struck as always by how chiseled, yet boyish, he was able to look. Clearing her throat, she made her way up the ladder and held out one of the two beer bottles in her hand. "I remembered that you didn't mind beer so much," she told him, tapping the label. "And it's a good beer too."
Angel took the bottle, watching as she sipped her own. "So, you're a beer connoisseur now?"
"Let's just say the only beer I will drink is bottled and not kegged." Buffy told him, sitting down in the chair next to his. His jacket was still there, and she didn't move it; she doubted she could have if she tried. "I had a bad experience with kegged beer. But I like that it's foamy."
"Hangover?" Angel leaned back in his chair, getting comfortable again. In her presence, every muscle of his body seemed to tense and he didn't know what to do or say. But, if she were offering a conversation, who was he to turn it down?
"I wish. This warlock guy cursed a whole bunch of kegs of beer and turned everyone who drank it into Cro-Magnon types." She drew one of her feet up into her seat, bracing her elbow on her knee as another wave of nausea hit her. "But on a plus side, that experience got me a really good grade on my History paper. My professor said my grasp of the Paleolithic era was 'uncanny'."
Angel smiled as he listened to her talk. She sounded so much more mature, more rounded than she had when he had been in Sunnydale. When he had lived at the mansion, she used to regale him with tales of school, her hatred of all things history and math related, and he could have listened to her for hours on end. He loved the way she could sound like a little girl one minute and a worldly woman the next. Now the little girl seemed to be gone completely. "I can't imagine you being Cro-Mag," he told her.
"Oh, I had it all going on. The swagger, the Clan of the Cave Bear hair. Not to mention the odd drawings I doodled on my wall of animals, which were all anatomically correct. Our resident advisor almost killed me."
Angel choked on his beer. "Anatomically correct?"
"What can I say? Cro-Magnon people apparently have an affinity for the abstract." Buffy shrugged a little. "I had to spend an entire weekend painting though. And let me just tell you that I have happily checked painter off of my career options when I flunk out of school."
"I heard that you were doing great in school. Giles actually said that you were maintaining a three point --," Angel realized his slip up and stopped abruptly. Buffy cocked her head at him and he blinked several times. "I call Giles about once a week to check on things back ho- uhm, in Sunnydale."
"Oh," was the only reply she could muster. He called Giles, not her. But at the same time that it annoyed her, a part of her was touched that he did that. And that he almost called Sunnydale his home. She rubbed her forehead, trying to dull the small ache that was building there. When Angel had told her about this trip, she knew it would be hard, but nothing could have prepared her for the myriad of emotions she would feel. And fight.
Angel studied her for several seconds, watching the wind lift the ends of her hair. He couldn't tell if she was irritated that he called Giles, or irritated that he knew how she was doing in school. Struggling to keep the only real conversation they'd had going, he said, "So, how do you like living in the dorms there? Your room was really nice."
"Thanks." Buffy ran her thumb over the peeling label on her bottle, remembering Angel's brief visit to her dorm after his fight with Riley. Biting her lower lip, she glanced his way. "I liked it, but this year the gang and I went in together and got off campus housing. We still got a student discount, but I like that much better."
"The gang?" Angel felt himself clutching his bottle a little too tightly as he thought of her living with Riley Finn. With his perfect teeth, his perfect hair, his fatigues folded neatly in one corner of their bedroom, Buffy's clothes in the floor, them in the bed. Together. His felt his jaw pop from how tightly he was clenching it and relaxed. "The -whole- gang?" Emphasis on whole.
Buffy heard something in his voice and cleared her throat. "You know, me, Willow, Tara, Xander and Anya."
"Tara?" Angel asked, trying to find a nice segue into Riley.
"Oh, that's right, you don't know. Willow and Tara met at a Wicca group and fell in love. They're so cute together it's sickening." Buffy smiled a little, thinking of the way Tara went out to the market every morning just so she could give Willow a red rose with her breakfast.
"Tara's a woman?" Angel raised his eyebrow. "Willow is-"
"Yep. And she's happier than she's ever been. And it's really great that Tara has Wicca in common with Will because she fit into the group so well." Feeling her face cloud a little, she looked out over the water. "Willow's happy."
"Are you?" Angel asked suddenly, knowing that he was probably overstepping whatever imaginary line he was sure they were both aware of.
Buffy didn't turn to face him. The question hung in the air for several minutes, and then she sipped her beer. She could feel his eyes on her, the same penetrating eyes that could strip away her walls, leaving her emotions bare to his touch. Clearing her throat, she spoke softly. "I can either be happy or I can be the Slayer. I can't be both."
"Why not?" Angel swallowed hard, and again, he wondered who the woman beside him was. This wasn't Buffy. Not his Buffy. Not the same Buffy who wanted a date to the Prom, the same woman who fought tooth and nail for five minutes alone with him, just to have that normal happiness she wanted so much.
"You know what? We're talking about me too much. What have you been up to?" Shifting in her seat, Buffy finished the beer in her bottle. "Gotten any bad beer in Los Angeles?"
"Nope," he shook his head, glancing out over the water. He would let her change the subject all she wanted, but he'd bring it around to her again. He had to know what she was thinking, who she had become. And why. "The worst thing I got was a mickey full of the drug Ecstasy and Angelus came out to play."
Buffy gasped in shock. "Okay, I'll take Cro-Mag anyday. What happened?"
"I was hired to protect this actress from a stalker and she found out I was a vampire. I guess she thought if she drugged me, I would turn her. Instead, I turned on her." He finished his beer and tossed the bottle into the small trash bag under the control panel. "But as soon as the drug was out of my system, I was fine."
"Did you kill her?" Buffy asked, biting her lower lip. The mere mention of Angelus caused her palms to go sweaty and her heart to skip a few beats. He had undoubtedly been her strongest weakness and the ever present threat of him had never been clearer.
Angel met her gaze, although he was ashamed that she would have to ask him something like that. "Almost. I didn't kill anyone. I almost got myself killed because I went after Wesley and Cordy, who, let me just tell you, doesn't play around. But they were able to knock me out and chain me up before I could-" he paused. "You know."
"Yeah." Buffy felt her stomach begin to recoil and pressed her palm over her mouth. She knew all to well what Angelus was capable of and she would give everything she owned to get him out of Angel forever. If she had only been able to -- Bringing the cool bottle to her forehead, she closed her eyes, trying to will away the urge to vomit.
"Buffy?" Angel stood up and took the bottle, tilting her face. "You're pale as a ghost!"
"I- I get sea sick," she fanned her face, trying to stop the hot flash she was having, then stood quickly, clutching her stomach. "I should go lie down."
Nodding at her, Angel went down the ladder, holding his arms up to guide her down safely. "Come on, I'll help you down to bed."
"No, someone should stay up top. Remember?"
"I'll hurry, Buffy. Besides, there's no one around for miles that I can see. It's fine."
Buffy accepted his help, and let him lead her into the bedroom, where he wet a washcloth and handed it to her, helping her lie down on the bed. It felt as though the room were spinning around, and the motion of the boat on the waves was making her feel even worse. Turning onto her side, she covered her head with one of the pillows and tried not to cry.
Angel stared down at her, wondering what to do. "Do you need anything? Some water? Ice? Anything?"
"No. I just need to sleep."
"Okay," he replied, but lingered at her bedside. "Buffy, I'm sorry that I brought up Angelus. You know that there's no way, no way, I'd ever let him come back."
"I know." Was her muffled reply. "Goodnight."
She waited until she heard the door slide closed, then she moved the pillow and wiped the tears off her face. She did know. She knew all too well that there was no way. There was no way to fall into his arms, to kiss his lips, to hold his hand. There was no way to tell him that she loved him or that she missed him or even that she didn't regret loving him. Because if she allowed herself to say those things, to do those things, it would only be a matter of time before they crossed a line.
And this time there would probably be no going back.
She wasn't as strong as she had once been.
Angel would have been terribly bored, sitting alone, on top of the boat, surrounded on all sides by salty water, if his mind hadn't been so occupied. It was like being aboard the boat with a stranger. Just since the last time he had seen her, her hair had gotten longer, her eyes had darkened, and her voice didn't have that lilt to it that it had once had. All of which could have been attributed to the passage of time, sure, but she seemed sullen, withdrawn. When he had seen her for the first time, she had worn her heart on her sleeve, and her face was so readable that he knew what she was thinking before she said it. Now, he didn't know quite what to think.
When he had left her in Sunnydale, he had mentally prepared himself to never see her again. He had initially planned to go back to Ireland, or some other such place, as far away from her as he could. But when he had arrived in Los Angeles, he felt like he would die if he had to go any further. If Sunnydale had Buffy, then he could have Los Angeles, the place where Buffy was born, where he had seen her for the first time. He had known that he was far enough to keep himself at bay, but close enough to return, should she ever need him. And if he needed her. Which he always did.
Glancing at his watch, he was discouraged to find that only three hours of their trip had lapsed. He probably had three more hours to go. And it was only midnight. Reaching into the pocket of his jeans, he pulled out the piece of paper he had written the instructions from Cordelia on. Abandoned lighthouse, outermost Channel Island, find demon, throw in Hellmouth. And then the word 'buff'. Cordelia had seen Buffy nude and he was supposed to be tempted.
Frustrated, he turned on the small radio that sat in the floor near his chair. When a scan of the stations only provided static, he pressed the play button on the CD player. Beautiful music began to play and he sighed with relief. Maybe there would be a distraction after all.
How in the hell did this begin Like some cruel game we can't seem to win It just goes on over and over again
It took the best outta you and me I thought we swore we'd let this love rest in peace Am I wrong Didn't we part as friends
How many lifetimes must we live through Till we're lookin' through the eyes of the truth
He would just have to fight it. They both knew the consequences now, and hell, she didn't even seem to like him anymore. When she looked at him, it was almost as if she were looking through him ... like she didn't see him at all. In a way, he figured that was probably for the best. He didn't need the added guilt of knowing that she wanted him as badly as he still wanted her - when all he could do was deny her, but on the other hand, he was doubting how strong her feelings had been for him at all.
We are joined at the soul With a heart that don't know how to let go What does it mean when it don't mean a thing When we say good-bye But if life is unkind And forever ain't a place we can find We'll know how we've tried And that forever's just a matter of time
But it would have been comforting to some degree to know that she still felt the pain as much as he did.
So much love, so much pain No one to judge, no one to blame It holds on How desperate this need that remains
Was he some schoolgirl crush?
Or had the feelings, the emotion, the magic and the love between them been real?
Time after time we stumble and fall Past the point of no return God knows we've given so much more than our all To this lesson we may never learn
Angel smashed the stop button on the CD player. Maybe he was better off with his own thoughts.
Buffy's legs tangled in the sheet, causing her to groan and flop onto her back. She was hot. Far too hot. Her body was drenched in sweat and her hair was sticking to her face, feeling very much like a thick cobweb. Sitting up, she stretched cautiously, the pain in her side reminding her of the fight she'd had with the demon. Fully awake, and recapturing her hold on her bearings, she felt the gentle sway of water on the sides of the boat and remembered where she was.
On a yacht.
Fumbling to throw the thick comforter off her, she tossed her legs off the side of the bed and stood up. Her mind had obviously played tricks on her because she was expecting to find plush carpet, and instead, she felt such thin carpet that it was almost hard. Wiggling her toes, she started to take a step toward the door when a hand grabbed her ankle.
"It's a good thing you weigh next to nothing," Angel told her, relishing the welcome feel of her soft skin on his chest and the smooth firmness of her ankle.
She had stepped on Angel's sleeping form! "Oh my god!" Sitting back on the bed, she fumbled with one of the lamps on the end table, finally switching it on. "Angel, are you okay?"
"I'm fine." Sitting up, he ran his hands through his hair and looked at her. "How about you? Did you get enough sleep?"
Buffy checked her wristwatch, then tapped it several times. "That can't be right." Bringing it to her ear, she heard the steady ticking of the second hand. "It says three! Is it three a.m.?"
"Try p.m." Standing up, Angel straightened his T-shirt and shorts. "You're awfully sweaty."
"I was all tangled up in the cover."
"Sorry. When I came in, you looked pretty cold so I made sure you were covered up." He shrugged a little, then began folding the blanket he had used in the floor.
"That could explain why my clothes are clinging to me like a second skin," she told him. "So, it was smooth sailing last night, right? We're at the island?"
"Yeah. We're anchored just a ways off shore. I figured that would be safer, considering that we know there is a demon there."
"It might be a long night, Angel. You should rest a while." Standing up, she yawned a little. "I think I should probably go exploring while it's daylight and get a feel for the area."
"I don't think so, Buffy. You don't need to go alone. You're hurt." Angel watched as she lifted her bag and began to sift through her clothing.
Lifting a sweatshirt and a pair of denim shorts out of the bag, she glanced at him. "Did you happen to pack your one million eight hundred and twelve proof sunblock?" He looked perplexed. "I didn't think so. Look, Angel, I'm not too keen on going into an unfamiliar place when it's dark. We're used to the city. This is a deserted island. We'd be fools to just traipse all over it with flashlights in the middle of the night."
Angel sighed a little. "I guess you're right. We are out of our element here. But be careful. And don't go too far away from the shore. I couldn't really see much last night, and I killed the lights before we got here, but it looks pretty dense."
"I found some waterproof bags last night." Buffy made her way into the kitchen, pulling a thick blue bag from under the counter. She handed it to Angel, then pointed at the duffel bag he had brought which was full of weapons. "I'm gonna go change. Why don't you decide what you think I'll need. Who knows, I just may bag this thing today."
Frowning, he accepted the bag and watched her go back into the bedroom. This wasn't something he wanted to do. He would much rather they go together. He put a heavy set of chains, a crossbow, several bolts, and a two stakes into the bag. He also added a bottle of water from the refrigerator and several pieces of the fruit that Buffy had purchased. He was in the process of worrying about how heavy the bag was when Buffy came out again.
She was wearing a light blue bikini top, a pair of white denim shorts, and had pulled her hair into a pony tail. Her gray sweatshirt was tied around her waist. She carried a pair of tennis shoes, which she put into the bag, and then she rummaged through it, taking a mental inventory of what Angel had packed. When she turned to lift the bag onto her back, Angel got a perfect view of several nasty welts and scratches that ran across her skin. He caught the bag and ran his finger over one of the worst ones. "Buffy-"
She stiffened immediately, as soon as he touched her. "It's just a scratch. It's almost healed." Moving away from him, she hefted the bag and turned to face him. "It's three-thirty now. I'll be back by six-thirty."
"Are you going to move the boat in closer?"
Shaking her head, she ran a hand over her hair, smoothing back any loose ends that threatened to escape from her scrunchie. "There's a jet-ski somewhere on this boat. Or, according to the manual, there should be. If I can't find it, I'll just swim."
"You're sure? Buffy, that salt water will hurt your back."
"I'm sore from lying in bed so long. Believe me, I need the exercise." Turning on her heel, she began to climb the stairs.
"Buffy, be careful," he called.
If she heard him, she didn't acknowledge it.
He stepped away from the sunlight that filtered through the open hatch, then cocked his head to one side, listening intently. A few seconds later, he heard a loud splash and then there was silence.
And it was deafening.
The jet-ski was red, white, and blue and was attached to a mechanism that gave Buffy a momentary pause. There were several buttons, a couple of levers, and a round wheel attached to the device, and she had no idea where to start. Glancing out at the island, she decided that it wasn't really far at all. She had swum farther than that just doing laps in the high school pool. And despite the fact that it was October, the weather was uncharacteristically warm, way warmer than usual. It could probably be attributed to the Hellmouth, she thought, as she perched on the edge of the boat and jumped. If the apocalypse was coming, who knew what it would bring?
It took several minutes of breast stroking toward the shore for her to realize that there could be things in the water that were Hellmouthy as well, so she quickened the pace and was relieved when she could stand and wade in. The bag she had brought felt like a ton of bricks by the time she made it ashore, and as Angel had predicted, the water had felt like razors cutting into the scrapes on her back, but she had made it. Pulling the bag from her shoulders, she took a second to squeeze the water out of her ponytail, the looked around.
The sand was clean, very different from the sand in Sunnydale, which was full of cigarette butts and, more often than not, blood or body parts. Wiggling her toes, she noticed something else immediately. For an island that was rich with trees, bushes, and vegetation, there didn't seem to be any animal sounds. She heard no birds, nothing. Save for the waves that were lapping at the shore, the only sounds came from the wind rustling the trees.
At least she hoped it was the wind.
Wiping the sand from her feet, she slipped her shoes on, then shouldered the bag again. The lighthouse, which had definitely seen better days, loomed dead ahead, straight through a tangled copse of trees and vines. Figuring that she'd rather cover that ground during the day, she headed into the trees.
Three minutes of fighting with the limbs and underbrush had her wishing that she had worn jeans. But the fact that she was already sweating profusely had her counting her blessings. Pushing her way through the brambles, and saying quite a few choice words, she finally found herself a few short feet from a ratty looking swinging bridge that she did not want to walk across under any circumstances. Just looking at it caused her to have a vision of falling through the rotted wood, to her very likely death at the base of the rocky ravine.
She was so caught up in looking at the bridge, that she didn't notice the snake that was coiled up right next to her foot. The second she inched forward, it struck, right above her ankle. At first, she thought that it was a briar, then she felt the body glide over her foot, and she screamed. Yanking the bag off her shoulder, she slammed it down on the snake, smashing its back, but it held on. Buffy screamed again, more from fear than the initial pain, and grabbed a stick. She pulled it back, about to strike the snake, when someone caught the stick, leaned down low, and yanked the snake off of her.
Buffy felt herself being lifted, caught a glimpse of a white head, then her vision tunneled, leaving her world black around the edges with just a pinpoint of white light in the middle. Her leg was quickly going numb, and what little bit she could feel, felt like a thousand ants were crawling under her skin. She tried desperately to form words, but every attempt only left her more tired, until finally, she closed her eyes completely, and let it carry her away.
Angel ran his hand through his hair again, staring at the clock on the wall. It was almost a quarter to seven and Buffy was fifteen minutes late. His vampire senses told him that the sun was setting, and he threw open the hatch, daring the glowing orb to burn him. He was surprised to find that it was almost completely dark and very cloudy. Cursing himself for not daring to peek out sooner, he climbed onto the main deck and glanced toward the island. There was not a sign of her on the shore.
Moving up to the controls, he flipped on all the lights and lifted a large white one, shining it out over the water. "Buffy! Buffy?"
He waited for a few seconds, every fiber of his being willing her to reply, and then pulled his duster off. He would just have to dive in. Poised on the edge of the boat, he was about to jump when he saw the Jet-Ski out of the corner of his eye. That would be much better. He lowered it quickly, climbed down the ladder and then he turned the ignition and headed away from the boat.
He rode it all the way onto the shore, then tugged it into the bushes, mindful of the rising tide. When he had it secured in the vegetation, he stood perfectly still, craning his neck toward every small sound he heard. Closing his eyes, he concentrated hard, searching for the sounds of her heartbeat, but there was nothing, only the crash of waves against the shore and his own panicked and unnecessary breathing.
The dilemma he faced was not one he was enjoying. If he shouted for her, he could alert the demon that they were there, and if Buffy was late because she was tracking it, it could blow up in her face. On the other hand, if the demon had somehow defeated her, and she was still alive, and god she had to be, he should shout and let her know he was there and she could reply. When her name ripped from his lungs, shouted with everything he had, he knew that his heart had made up his mind for him, and he was powerless to keep quiet.
"Buffy! Buffy, where are you!?" he cried, cupping his hands around his mouth. Quietly, he added, "please, please answer me."
Yanking the flashlight from his pocket, he scanned the trees, and caught a flash of blue. His heart sank into his stomach and he raced forward, grabbing the blue bag off the ground. He smelled blood immediately and scanned it, running his thumb over a couple of brown spots. "No. No, please."
He clutched the bag to his chest, squeezing it so hard his fingers ached. It couldn't happen this way. He couldn't lose her. There was so much left to say, so much left to tell her. Oh, she didn't even know he loved her. He had not said it when she left that day. Even though he was so tempted, so convinced that he should, he didn't say anything other than 'be careful'. And while he had dozed on the boat, she may have been-
No, he couldn't think of that. He couldn't let that even cross his mind.
Opening the bag, he drew out the crossbow, and then slipped it over his shoulder.
He would find her.
Or he would die trying.
Buffy opened her eyes and blinked several times. The moon hung directly over her head and there were dark clouds on either side, threatening to eclipse it. The makeshift bed she was lying on was actually a stone slab that had been covered with straw and sand, and there was a crude smelling piece of cloth over it. Her ankle, the one that had been bitten by the snake, was elevated with a large rock, and wrapped in wet cloth. She struggled to sit up, but cried out at the pain from her broken ribs and quickly laid back again.
Something rustled beside her and she turned her face slightly, staring straight into the face of an elderly man with long white hair and the blackest face she had ever seen. Jumping, she moved away slightly, then flinched again. "Who are you?"
"Me no mean harm," the man replied with a thick accent and broken English. His gaze lingered over her for several minutes, then he turned back to the task at hand. "Dat sneke, he poison de little girl. Danga make better."
"Danga?" Buffy watched as the man's wrinkled hands began to add various roots and weeds to a bowl and a thin veil of smoke began to undulate.
"Me Danga." The man glanced up at her and gave her a small smile. "You heart beat fast. You no be scare Danga. Danga make better."
"My leg." Buffy tried to wiggle her toes, but the pain was almost unbearable. She sat forward and moved the cloth, then cried out when she saw the blistered flesh of her leg. Almost up to her knee, it looked like it had been skinned and had boils on it. "Oh my god! I need help!"
"Danga help. You no look. Leg bad. Sneke bad. Danga good." Danga moved beside her and pushed her down onto her back, cradling her head on her rolled up sweatshirt. "Dis island be bad wid de snekes. Dey be crawling all over. No place, dis island, for little girl."
"I'm not a little girl." Buffy said, hissing in pain when he moved the cloth and pressed on her ankle. She cried out again, sobbing into the palm of her hand. "That hurts!"
"Little girl cry. Big woman let Danga help." Laying a hand on her stomach, he held her at bay, then reached into the bowl. He brought out a sticky paste and began to smooth it over her leg. "You be little girl or you big woman?"
Buffy began to cry harder. It felt like he was sawing through her flesh with a dull butter knife. "Please, please stop! Please."
"Listen, 'chile," Danga whispered. "Listen to de water, to de clouds, to de night. You no listen to de pain. De pain leave when you give it no mind."
Buffy held her breath and concentrated on the waves crashing somewhere behind her. Almost immediately, the pain disappeared, and then Danga had his hands on her side, rubbing the thick goo against her ribs. "Wha-"
"You listen. De moon, she sing to you."
Buffy whipped her head to one side when she heard a low humming begin. It was the most beautiful melody she had ever heard, rising and falling in time to the waves. It caused her to relax, to go completely motionless, and Danga took the opportunity to pull her forward and smooth his concoction onto her back. It seeped into the wounds, burning slightly, but the sound of the humming kept her attention. Where was it coming from? It sounded like a woman.
Danga lifted her in his arms, cradling her like a baby, and took her to the water's edge, where he kneeled and began to bathe away the paste. Buffy felt lifeless, but alert as the humming continued. Then, without warning, she began to hum along with it, a small smile tilting the corners of her mouth. She was aware of Danga's actions, aware of his soft, but gnarly hands on her skin, but she didn't try to struggle.
Almost as quickly as the humming had started, it tapered off, and Danga took her back to the makeshift bed she had been lying on. Buffy slowly came back to her senses, just in time to see him begin to dry her leg with her sweatshirt, and she sat up to watch. Her leg was almost unblemished. Except for a little swelling and two round bruises, coupled with a large bruise that ran all the way up to her knee, it was fine.
Gasping, Buffy almost leaped from her seat. Realization struck -- there was no pain in her side, and she let her fingers probe her skin, stunned to find that her ribs were firmly in place. "What-how--"
The old man simply shook his head. "You hear de moon sing, yes?"
"I- I don't-"
"You be de one. De one I wait for. De one who --"
Buffy sat still as the old man trailed off. He cocked his head to one side, listening to something that she couldn't hear. Reaching out to touch him, she said, "Danga, what is it?"
"It be coming. De vampyre. De beast call for you."
She heard it then, her name, far away and anguished. It almost seemed to carry on the breeze and wrap around her, the pain in Angel's voice causing her body to chill. "He's not a beast. He is a vampire, but he's not-"
"Danga know dis vampyre. He walk de world like a man. His heart, mind, soul, he is man. Only thing not man is demon. But Danga-" He stopped talking again and looked up at Buffy, brushing his fingertips over the pale blond hair that cascaded over her shoulder. "Now not de time. De time come when little girl heart and vampyre heart no feel pain." He pointed up at the moon, which was beginning to sink behind some clouds. "De moon, she not right in de sky for de ritual. She not fail to get right, we must wait. She sing to you again when de time comes. You no come back to island til she sing. Too much danger for girl when she be hurting here." He laid a finger over her heart. "You will know when de moon sings. Den de time it will be right and Danga can make the vampyre and the man be one."
"I don't understand. You can make them be one what?" Buffy reached out for him, but he waved his hand in front of her face, and that was the last thing she saw.
Angel didn't know how much time had lapsed, but as he raced along the beach, screaming her name, he decided that the sun could rise on him if she wanted to. There would be no need to fight another day or close the Hellmouth if Buffy wasn't there to share the accomplishment with him. The world could go to hell and the Powers That Be could kiss his ass if they were taking Buffy this way. Dropping to his knees, he clutched the bag to his chest, and shook his head.
"Please! God! Somebody! Help me find her," his voice broke and he lowered his head, sobbing quietly. "Don't let this happen. Don't let this be it."
The moon broke through the clouds at last, bathing the island in a serene glow. Angel sniffed and looked out over the water. A movement caught his attention further down the beach, and he stood, staring at whatever it was. He could barely make it out, but it looked like a figure lying at the water's edge, floating a little as the tide began to rise.
Dropping the bag, he began to run, half praying that it wouldn't be her and half praying that it would. When he was close enough, he saw her blond hair, splayed out in the water and her hands floating over her head, like she'd been dragged from the water by something. Pulling her against his chest, he carried her away from the water and put her on the beach. He lowered his head to her chest and was stunned to find a steady heartbeat. Gripping her waist, he began to sob again, half collapsing on her.
Buffy awoke just as suddenly as she had blacked out. She glanced down, saw Angel kneeling beside her, and brought her hand up, threading it through his hair. "Angel?" It took her a few seconds to realize that he was crying, and when she did, she sat up quickly and forced him to look at her. "Angel, what-"
"I thought you were dead. Drowned," he pulled her to his chest, winding his own fingers through her wet hair. "Oh, god, Buffy. You were just lying there and you weren't moving and I knew I had no breath to give you."
"Shh." Buffy slipped her arms around his waist, trying hard to keep her own emotions in check. He was crying! Angel, one of the most stoic people she knew, was sobbing into her hair. "I'm fine. It's okay, Angel."
"What happened to you?" Angel finally pushed her at an arm's length, studying her, checking her for any signs of damage.
"I- I don't - " she trailed off, and then she remembered. Sitting back, she pulled her bare foot from under her and looked at her ankle. Sure enough, the puncture wounds were still there, and the nasty bruise was slightly darker than it had been. "There was a snake-"
Angel looked down and quickly gripped her ankle, trying to see. He remembered the flashlight in his pocket and grabbed it, shining the light on her. "Dear God! Buffy, we have to get you to a hospital."
"No," Buffy replied, shaking her head. "There was also a man. He - he talked funny and - Danga! He name's Danga and he - he's black and he's magic or something. He mixed up some kind of stuff and put it there. On my foot. I'm fine."
"This island is deserted. Buffy, you're seeing things. A snake bite can cause people to s-"
"No!" she cried, jumping to her feet. She turned and pointed over her shoulder at her back. "Look at my back, Angel. All those scratches are gone, aren't they?" When she heard him gasp, she turned again and poked her ribs. "And he did something here too. My ribs are fine."
Angel looked out over the island, taking in the trees and the silence. "Where is he?"
Buffy followed his gaze. "I don't know. One minute he was making the moon sing and the next minute I was asleep."
"Making the moon sing?" Angel raised an eyebrow. "Buffy, you're not making any sense. I really feel like we should go back to the boat and get you-"
Shaking her head, Buffy glanced up at him. What had Danga said? The moon would sing again for the ritual and she'd know when to come back? He had warned her to stay away until then. "We have to get off this island. Danga said to stay away until the moon is right for the ritual."
"I don't know. Angel, I don't know. All I know is that he saved my life. He healed every single ache and pain I had and-" her eyes widened suddenly and she gripped his arm. "He knew you! He said that he knew that you were a man in every sense of the word, but the demon in you was bad and he would- Why can't I remember it all? God dammit!"
Angel gripped her upper arms and forced her to look at him. "Buffy, calm down. Let's go back to the boat and get you something to eat, and then we can figure out what to do from there."
Buffy let him take her hand and lead her back toward the boat, but she had no doubt that her thoughts would stay behind with Danga - wherever he may be.
As soon as they boarded the boat, Buffy left Angel to worry with getting the jet-ski back in place, and she made her way below deck to shower and change. As she made her way into the bedroom, she noticed a set of double doors and moved across the room, pulling them open. A very small room, with just a desk, a few books, and a laptop was hidden inside. Squealing in glee, she flipped the power switch on the laptop, searched the desktop for some kind of connection icon, and then waited patiently for it to connect to the web.
Angel knocked lightly on the bedroom door. "Buffy, are you okay?"
"Come in," she called.
Angel poked his head inside, then stepped into the room when he didn't see her. "Buffy?"
"In here," she mumbled, furiously typing in the user name and password to her web mail. "Can you believe our good luck? I've got to mail Giles and see if your friends have instant messenger on this thing."
"Instant messenger?" Angel watched her scroll down the screen, using the sidebar, and frowned when he saw the name Riley Finn as a sender in her mailbox.
Buffy clicked out of the mailbox quickly and used the compose button instead. Mumbling to herself as she typed, she wrote a quick note to Willow. As soon as it confirmed that it had been sent, she minimized and did a quick search of the hard drive, smiling when she saw the familiar instant messaging device that Willow had taught her to use. She loaded the program quickly, put her own name and password in, and watched it connect.
Within seconds, a window opened and Willow was greeting her.
**WillowRose** Hey Buffy!
**Slayer_The** Willow! That was fast!
**WillowRose** I was already online.
**Slayer_The** Are you at Giles' place?
<**WillowRose**> Yeah, is something wrong?
<**Slayer_The**> I hope not. Give me a second to type it all in.
<**WillowRose**> Okay. I'm not going anywhere.
<**Slayer_The**> So, okay, we get to the island and I go exploring. I'm walking around, checking out the lighthouse and the complete lack of all things living, and this snake bites me. It wasn't a normal snake either. It held on to me, even when I hit it with my bag.
<**WillowRose**> Oh my god! Was it poisonous?
<**Slayer_The**> And then I went to hit it with a stick and this man came out of no where and yanked it off me. Hell yes it was poisonous. It made me go unconscious. Anyway, when I woke up, this man was kneeling beside me and he was mixing this stuff in a bowl. It looked like herbs and roots. Maybe weeds. To make a long story short, he cured me. Of the snake bite, the broken ribs. Everything.
<**WillowRose**> You're kidding.
<**Slayer_The**> But that's not even the oddest part. The oddest part-I AM NOT KIDDING-the oddest part was when I was having like, a trauma because of the pain, and I was crying and he told me to listen to the moon sing and it sang! I heard it. There was this humming and I started to hum with it and the pain vanished!
<**WillowRose**> Buffy, maybe that snake poison affected you in a way that made you hallucinate.
"I told you so," Angel said from behind her.
Buffy ignored him.
<**Slayer_The**> I am not kidding! Or tripping!
<**WillowRose**> I'm getting Giles.
<**Slayer_The**> Tattle tale.
Angel chuckled, and tapped her on the shoulder. "I'm going to go fix you something to eat. Want anything in particular?'
"I want you to be prepared to eat that 'I told you so' in a few minutes," she replied, then glanced up at him. "Surprise me."
The second she said it, she was slammed back in time, recalling when Angel had asked what she wanted for her birthday. He seemed as thrown as she was at the moment, and simply nodded his head.
Buffy watched him go and ran her hands over her face. There was too much going on for her to be taking involuntary walks down memory lane. Too much had happened to even hope -
<**WillowRose**> Buffy, it's Giles. How are you?
<**Slayer_The**> I'm okay. Did you read this conversation?
<**WillowRose**> Yes, it's an interesting read actually. Are you quite certain?
<**Slayer_The**> Quite. Look, Giles, I know that you guys think I'm bi-polar, but this happened.
<**WillowRose**> Did this man tell you his name? What can you tell me about him?
<**Slayer_The**> Yes. He's black and he has really long, unkempt white hair. His name is Danga and he talks with an accent. It's a familiar accent. Like - tell Willow that he talks sort of like Eduard in The Green Mile. And he's magick or something.
<**WillowRose**> Willow says that's Cajun or Creole.
<**Slayer_The**> Cajun! That's it!
<**WillowRose**> There is a Cajun miracle worker living on a deserted island.
<**Slayer_The**> You don't believe me either. :(
<**WillowRose**> No, Buffy, it's not that. I'm just thinking that I would be better equipped to assist you if you had told me that there was a three headed gnome living atop that lighthouse. Of course I believe you and I will do my best to piece this together. Is there anything else I should know?
<**Slayer_The**> He knew that Angel was looking for me. He said something about being able to make the vampire and the man become one. He said that the moon wasn't right in the sky for the ritual, but it would be soon. And he told me to stay off the island.
<**WillowRose**> Yes, you do just that. You stay off the island for tonight. Give me a while, leave this chat mechanism on, and wait for me to get back to you.
<**Slayer_The**> Are you okay, Giles? Is everything okay there?
<**WillowRose**> Let's worry about you for now. Keep an eye on the snake bite, yes?
<**Slayer_The**> Okay, Giles. I will.
<**WillowRose**> It's Willow again, Buffy. Giles has gone into full research mode. He's loading up books. I'm sorry about not believing you.
<**Slayer_The**> Don't worry about it, Will. Please, find out what's going on, okay? And take care of yourself.
<**WillowRose**> Riley mailed you.
<**Slayer_The**> I saw it. I mean, I saw that he did, but I didn't read it.
<**WillowRose**> S'ok, Buff. You did what you had to do.
<**Slayer_The**> I'm glad I have you.
<**WillowRose**> Giles just gave me an "assignment of utmost importance" so I gotta go. Be careful.
<**Slayer_The**> You too. Hey, WILL!
<**Slayer_The**> Are things still really bad in Sunnydale?
<**WillowRose**> Not really. It's gotten really quiet. But that's predicted.
<**Slayer_The**> Predicted about what?
<**WillowRose> Oh, the usual. Armageddon, the apocalypse.
<**Slayer_The> You guys keep each other safe. Promise?
<**Willow Rose> You've my word and my resolve face.
<**Slayer_The> I love you. I love you all.
<**WillowRose> We love you too, Buffy. Bye.
Buffy watched Willow's user name vanish off the buddy list and sighed. She could smell something cooking in the other room that smelled heavenly and she stood, thinking she should go and help. A few feet from the door, however, she realized how filthy she was and shook her head. There was no way she was going to go help out in the kitchen looking as nasty as she did. Gathering a change of clothing, she made her way toward the shower again. The very exposed shower that had no shower curtain, nothing at all to give her privacy. Telling herself that she'd be fast, she stripped out of her clothing and stepped inside, welcoming the hot spray as it beat down on her tense muscles.
Angel had turned on the radio, trying to do anything to keep his mind off of Buffy and the way she had felt in his arms. When he had seen her lying in the water, he had been convinced that she had drowned. Of course, thinking that also made him recall the night she had died at the Master's hand and he had snapped, pouring out his anguish, and his happiness, at finding her alive. She had not hesitated in putting her arms around him, consoling him, but somehow, she had managed to maintain the distance. Staying on her side of that imaginary line, if not with her body, then definitely with her mind.
Grease from the bacon he was frying popped onto his hands and he moved the pan from the burner, putting the bacon on a plate. He quickly added the scrambled eggs and toast and put it on the table. He hadn't known what to cook for her. Considering that his culinary skills were limited, he relied on what he knew that Cordelia liked, and hoped that Buffy felt the same way. He poured milk into a glass, sat it on the table and walked down the short hallway.
Without knocking, he opened the door. The room was foggy with steam, and it took him a second to realize that it was from the shower. Before he could turn to go, Buffy emerged through the fog, walking toward the bed. And she was completely nude. Angel's gaze roamed over her, unable to stop drinking in every slim angle of her body. He drank in the dark curls between her thighs, the way they were trimmed neatly for a bikini. Moving upward, he followed the gentle slope of her belly, the way her ribs protruded slightly, and then upward, to the small swell of her breasts. Only when he'd seen it all did he look up at her face, and when he saw the 'o' shape of her mouth and her wide eyes, he realized what was happening.
"Oh-I'm sorry!" He covered his eyes immediately and backed toward the door. "I- I - You're dinner's on the table."
Buffy watched him stumble out of the room, bumping into the door, apologizing again, and then she slowly reached for her clothing. She had not imagined it. He had looked at her the way he used to, before it all fell apart. And she was not imagining her own reaction to him. It couldn't be happening. This-this whole thing couldn't be happening. She had made a promise to herself that she would never let him affect her this way.
She was fastening the button on her shirt when the door flew open again and he crossed the distance between them. He gripped her upper arms, pulled her against him, and pressed his lips to hers. She couldn't have denied him if she had wanted to, which she didn't. Without thinking, she wrapped her legs around him, pressing against his crotch. She hadn't had time to pull her panties on, and his fingers dug into the skin of her bare backside, causing her to moan out against his mouth.
Angel massaged her, relishing the taut firmness of her skin. Lifting her a little higher, he moved his hand lower and pressed against her core, barely skimming the surface before he slipped his finger inside. She was slick with need and he groaned, moving toward the bed. Buffy broke the kiss and buried her face in his neck, gently sucking on his salty flesh. He laid her on the bed, pulling his finger free only long enough to move it between them, and then he was touching her again.
Buffy cried out when his thumb pressed against her clit. His mouth captured hers, drinking in the sounds of her pleasure, and she arched upward. She wanted him, needed to feel all of him. There was no denying it any longer. "Angel-Angel, don't-"
Angel came to his senses, realizing what he was doing when she spoke his name. He leaped from the bed, daring to glance down at her briefly. Her cheeks were flushed, her legs were open, and the stunned look on her face confirmed that he had indeed gone way to far. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I didn't - mean--" Shaking his head, he rushed out the door.
She lay perfectly still until she heard the main door open and knew he was outside. Hot tears brimmed in her eyes and she let them fall. Softly, she whispered, "Don't stop."
For the longest time, Angel stood at the front of the boat, leaning over the rails. When he developed a cramp in his back, he moved to the captain's chair and sat down, burying his face in his hands. That was the worst thing he could have done because the scent of Buffy's arousal still lingered there, but he didn't move his head. He didn't try to fight his erection. He didn't try to fight the guilt. But he did fight the urge to go below and finish what they had started.
He still wasn't completely sure what had propelled him back through the door of the bedroom. He had been almost to the deck when he had turned on his heel and stormed back into the room, tempting his curse by almost going too far. Never, in all of his life, had he felt a raw need like the one he felt at that moment. He used to thirst for ale when he was mortal, and sometimes the ache of not having it was unbearable, but the need that came from not having Buffy was something else altogether. He couldn't do it anymore. He had slipped to the edge of his will power, and almost didn't climb back up.
When he thought about what could have happened if Angelus had been brought forth again - his entire body shuddered. Tucked away, in one corner of his mind, were all the memories of what Angelus had said, and done, to Buffy. Every slap, every harsh word, everything. And tucked away in his heart was every look on her face, every tear she cried, and every single time she had told him she still loved him. Even after. And she deserved better.
Maybe he should jump into the water, go to the island, and hide until the sun came up. He had tried once before, at Christmas time-
He heard her climb the ladder and felt her beside him, but kept his head down. "Now is not a good time, Buffy."
Kneeling down, Buffy held up the cup of blood she had warmed in the microwave. "You fixed my dinner. I fixed yours."
Sitting up, Angel took the cup and stared into it with disgust. "Buffy-"
"You don't have to say it, Angel. I know."
"Do you?" He glared down at her, wanting so badly to stop needing her. "Do you know that every single day, in Los Angeles, I fight the good fight and I forget what I am? Do you know that I'm able to dress like a man, conduct business like a man, and walk like a man, but when it comes to loving you, I'm not a man at all? You make me realize exactly what I am." He held up the cup and his face changed. "I hate that you make me feel this way. Inadequate. Guilty. Scared. And every bit like the monster I am."
Buffy was stung by his words. She blinked back the tears in her eyes and stood. "I'm really glad that you have this amazing new life and so much purpose and I am sorry that I make you so miserable." She felt a tear roll down her cheek and turned away, determined not to let him see her cry. "And for what it's worth, you make me feel every bit like the freak I am." When he didn't reply, she glanced out over the water. "I'm gonna go back downstairs and wait for Giles to message me again. Enjoy your - blood."
He waited until she was gone before he threw the cup and it's contents off the boat and cursed the day he was born.
<**WillowRose> Redanga Boutin
<**Slayer_The> And that is?
<**WillowRose> Redanga Boutin was a slave in Louisiana over two hundred years ago who practiced voodoo. He was a master in healings and opening gates to visible and invisible worlds. In 1800, Gabriel's Rebellion was attempted in Richmond, Virginia and that led to Slave revolts all over the South, particularly in Louisiana. Redanga Boutin, who was born in Louisiana, began a crusade to end Slavery and the horrors that accompanied it. He was a modern day martyr. And he gained notoriety both through his plight to end Slavery and the fact that he knew voodoo so well.
<**Slayer_The> What does this have to do with mystery man?
<**WillowRose> A few months into the revolts, a strange woman came to the village that Redanga lived in. She began a slow seduction, but all of the town's people, especially the slaves, said she reeked of evil and tried to keep Redanga away from him. He was blinded by love, or maybe a spell, and anyway, he agreed to use his powers to open a gate for her. She claimed that she wanted to free the spirit of a child she had lost. What she actually had Redanga open was a hellmouth, much like our own.
<**Slayer_The> I'm liking this story less and less.
<**WillowRose> The woman, who was also apparently very skilled in magicks, BLACK magicks, not to be confused with voodoo, called forth a demon that escaped the hellmouth, causing a breach. Redanga, in all of his guilt, attempted to stop the breach and restore order, but he was thwarted by a Slayer named Rosephinia. She threw the demon into the hellmouth, and the woman that had charmed Redanga turned on him, giving him an eternal curse: several aspects of the demon. Immortality, strength, and by doing so, she cursed his soul.
<**Slayer_The> You're going someplace with this, aren't you?
<**WillowRose> Your Danga is the key to closing the hellmouth here.
<**WillowRose> Really, Buffy! Must I spell it all out? Are you paying attention at all?
<**Slayer_The> Giles, I haven't had the best of days. Please ...
<**WillowRose> Very well. When the aspects of the demon went into Danga, he basically carried a piece of the escaped demon with him, inside of him. He's almost half demon. All the signs indicate that he would be a perfect offering to the angered demons who are allowing this breach to continue in the other world.
<**Slayer_The> Offering? Are you saying that we're supposed to throw Danga down in there and hope that he's the cure?
<**WillowRose> I'm saying that he is undoubtedly the cure. Buffy, he is the demon that you and Angel are looking for. Or half of him is.
<**Slayer_The> And he's also half man. Giles, that would be like sacrificing Angel.
<**WillowRose> Which you did, Buffy, in almost exactly the same way.
<**Slayer_The> It's murder! I won't do it.
<**WillowRose> Then you are murdering all of us with your refusal, Buffy. At least explain it to him and give him the chance to decide.
<**Slayer_The> How in the HELL am I supposed to explain something like this to a man when I don't even understand it?
<**WillowRose> You just get him here, Buffy. I think that I can do the rest.
<**Slayer_The> He saved my life, Giles. I can't just forget that and you better be looking for another way because I'm against this.
<**WillowRose> Very well, Buffy. I shall exhaust all my resources and hope to find some other means to an ends. In the mean time, you convince him to come to Sunnydale. Yes?
<**WillowRose> Do take care of yourself. I don't think you are in any immediate danger from this Danga, but I do believe that you should be extremely careful in - other areas.
<**Slayer_The> You mean with Angel?
<**WillowRose> Well, yes, now that you mention it.
<**Slayer_The> Don't worry. He hates me.
"No, I don't," Angel said softly, leaning against the doorway of the small room.
Buffy slammed the lid of the laptop down and stood up quickly, brushing past him. "It's really rude to eavesdrop."
"I wasn't eavesdropping," he followed her into the kitchen area. "Eavesdropping means listening in. I wasn't."
Buffy spun to face him. "I'm not going to fight with you, okay? So stop trying to provoke me."
"I don't want to fight with you either. I just wanted you to know I don't hate you." He kept his eyes on her, silently pleading with her to believe him. "I said things to you up there that I didn't mean."
"You meant every single word of it, Angel." She took a deep breath, then moved toward the couch, where she sat down heavily.
"Don't tell me what I mean," he growled. "You don't know."
"Then don't say things you don't mean!" she shouted, crossing her arms over her chest and staring at the floor.
"I thought you didn't want to fight."
After several seconds, she looked up at him again. "Spike was right, you know."
"Spike?" Angel sat down on the far end of the sofa.
"That day in Sunnydale when he told us we'd never be friends - he was right. We never were friends and we will never be friends." She bit her lower lip thoughtfully, letting the reality of what she'd said sink in.
"That's not true, Buffy."
"It is, Angel. I - I have friends. Willow Rosenberg. Xander Harris. Rupert Giles. Are you noticing a theme there?" All the fire had left her voice, all the venom she felt had dissipated, and all she felt again was the aching loneliness that had been her constant companion for months.
"They're all human." Angel said the words slowly, deliberately. Buffy, of all people, was going to pull the vampire card again, after all this time.
"No, Angel. I know their last names. I know their real names." She got to her feet slowly and ran a hand through her hair. "I never knew you at all, did I? Not Liam Gareth O'Quinlan, the real you. I knew who you wanted me to know. And you're not that man anymore."
Angel swallowed hard. "And you're not the girl I knew either."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Buffy snapped. "I am exactly who I always was."
"Are you?" Angel got to his feet as well, towering over her. "The girl I knew wasn't so sour and bitter about everything."
"Is that the best you can do?" She raised an eyebrow, smirking slightly.
"The girl that I knew wouldn't have fallen into bed with some GI Joe reject who paid her a little bit of attention. Was he the only one, Buff? Or did you get started on the notches in your bed post the second I was out of sight."
"How dare you!"
"How dare I? How dare you, Buffy! How fucking dare you!"
"You wanna know how I fucking dared?" Buffy screamed, balling her hands into fists. "I made them you! Both of them! I closed my eyes and I made them YOU! That's how I fucking dared! You self-righteous bastard! I made them you and look at what it's gotten me!" She refused to even try to contain her sobs. Her chest felt like it had exploded, and her heart was pouring out little by little. "Do you know what that's like, Angel? Do you? It's called living a lie and I've been majoring in it!"
"Don't cr- "
"Don't tell me what to do!" Pointing her finger at him, she sobbed a little harder. "If I want to cry myself to death I will! I almost have because of you," Her eyes widened when she saw his face fall, and pain fill his eyes. "And don't look at me like that. It stopped working a long time ago. That little girl who used to be so god damn happy with you grew up - and she doesn't buy it anymore."
Angel tossed his arms in the air. "What do you want me to say? What!? Do you want me to tell you that I'm sorry that we've been reduced to this? I am! Do you want me to tell you that I hate the fact that I can't finish what I started in that bedroom. I do! Do you want me to tell you that the thought of you with someone else kills me? It does." Stalking toward her, he gripped her upper arms and shook her. "Now you tell me what I'm supposed to do about it!"
Buffy pushed his hands away from her and wiped her face. "There is nothing you can do. We had a good thing and you ruined it."
"This conversation is counter productive. It's all about blaming me for something that I can't take the blame for. Buffy, I don't know who is really at fault. I don't know if it's Darla for changing me. I don't know if it's the Gypsy people for cursing me or Whistler for sending me to work with you. But I know it's not my fault that we-- " He trailed of, unable to finish.
"So, you're blameless? Is that your mantra?" Her tears had dried and her whole body felt numb, displaced. "Darla made you what you are, boo hoo. The gypsy people cursed you, cry me a river. Whistler pulled your raggedy ass together and gave you a purpose, you poor thing!" Taking a deep breath, she let her gaze travel over him. "I don't know who you think you are, but in my opinion, you should be down on your knees thanking whatever God there is for giving you the ability to change things, instead of wallowing in self pity and trying to point fingers at the culprits in your life. The only culprit is you, Angel. You wronged yourself when you gave up on us, so put the blame where it lies."
"I didn't give up on us!" he shouted. "I wanted to stay! I needed to-"
She interrupted him, shouting even louder than he was. "You! YOU! YOU! You wanted, you needed! Listen to yourself! What about what I wanted? What about what I needed? You decided what was easiest for YOU. I was perfectly content to have you any way that I could."
"You would have been cheating yourself out of-"
"Out of what? Failed relationships? Mediocre sex?" She felt herself start to cry again, but she didn't look away. "Until the day I die, I will be searching for what we had and knowing that I will never be able to get it back. And that is your fault, Angel, for making it unattainable when you don't have to. I would rather hold your hand for an hour, than do everything else with someone I can't love."
Angel's own eyes had welled with tears, and saying nothing, he held out his hand to her. He watched a thousand different emotions flicker across her face, and then, when he was ready to withdraw his offer and back away, she lifted her own hand and gently placed it in his. He glanced down at it, running his thumb over her palm, then brought it to his mouth and kissed it. "I'm sorry."
Buffy let him tug her into his arms and she laid her head on his chest, resting her hands on his hips. After a few seconds, she returned the hug, closing her eyes so she could concentrate on his familiar scent. "I'm sorry too."
"Let's just stop, Buffy. Let's stop." Angel took a few steps back, still holding onto her hand, and sat down on the couch. She made a move to sit beside him, and he shook his head, pulling her into his lap. For a few seconds, they were both stiff, and then she slid her legs onto the sofa and laid her head against his shoulder. Angel leaned his cheek against her hair and pulled her a little closer. "This is how we should have spent your prom night."
"Yelling at each other?" Buffy played with his fingers, the way she used to do, and felt her entire body begin to relax.
He smiled a little. "We could have skipped that part and gone straight to this. Did I tell you how pretty you looked that night?"
"No," She laced their fingers together.
"I should have."
"You should have," Buffy pulled back slightly, glancing up at him. "But you got points just for showing up."
"I know that I don't deserve it, but I'm asking you to for- "
She silenced him with her hand and shook her head. "I forgave you a long time ago."
Angel's face clouded slightly and he looked away. "I don't deserve that."
Buffy turned his face toward hers again. "You know what? Why don't you let me be the judge of that for a change."
"Okay." He nodded at her, figuring that he would have agreed to anything she said at the moment. Her warm palm was on his cheek, feeling so much like a part of him that he wondered how he had survived for so long without her touch.
"You're awfully agreeable now." She trailed her thumb over his mouth, aware of his eyes on her own.
"Yeah, agreeable." He licked his lips, then slid his hand behind her head and brought her mouth to his. Abandoning the force he had used earlier that evening, he gently licked across her lips, then moaned slightly when her tongue met his. It was slow, almost timid, and when he pulled back, he kept his eyes closed. "I never stopped loving you."
"Do you think that makes us fools?"
"No, Angel, I don't." She brushed her lips across his again. "I think that makes us lucky."
"Sure." Buffy laid her head on his shoulder. "I mean, look at what we've gone through. Some people think they find love and never do. We did and even after all this time, we still have it."
Angel pondered her words for a while, holding her in his lap, his head resting against hers. "Yeah, you're right. We're lucky."
A snore was her reply and Angel chuckled.
But didn't bother taking her to the bedroom.
He'd just hang onto her for a while.
The trees were thick, dense with bony limbs that scraped at her already abraded flesh. With bare feet, she tramped over the pine cones and rocks that jutted from the ground, her cries of pain muffled by the howling of dogs and the shouts of men behind her. Her fists pumped, her nostrils flared, and she raced forward, onward through the night, unsure of anything except the hell that was on her heels.
The gorge was up ahead. She knew that instinctively, like she had been here a hundred times before. It was familiar, but unfamiliar. Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that she hadn't eaten in - when - days? Weeks? Sweat trickled over her forehead, seeping into a gash that ran across it, and she cringed, biting her lip to take her mind off the pain from the salt. She fell, her teeth ripping through her lip and clanking together and she rolled. She rolled under a low branch and covered her head.
The fight was gone.
Draining from her just like her blood.
The dogs arrived first, tearing at the tattered leg of her pants, ripping at the flesh of her ankles. She didn't fight, didn't kick. Her senses screamed at her, telling her to make no move, to surrender to the men who were so close now that she could feel the heat from their breath as they shouted at her. Hands gripped her around the throat, sliding her from under the canvas of a weeping willow tree. Forced to her feet, she stared at the people around her.
One of them men drew back his fist and slammed it against her face.
Her head rocked back and she brought her arms up to protect her, but her arms were not her own. They were black, dark ebony and caked with blood and scratches. The man who had hit her spat in her face and smiled, leaning far too close into her personal space.
"You wanna run again, Danga?" His voice was deep, laced with the smell of whiskey and tobacco and he spoke with a southern twang.
She forced the words out of her mouth, stunned at the voice that came from her. "No suh. Danga no more run."
"Your damn right you ain't gonna be running no more," the man said, motioning over his shoulder one of the men who sat astride a horse. She heard the clink of chains, felt someone shove her off her feet, and watched as the man put heavy irons around her ankles.
But they weren't her ankles. They were Danga's ankles, and she was on the inside, seeing what he must have seen. Living what he must have lived. Pulled to her feet again, she allowed the man to chain her arms, tie it to a saddle horn, and then waited, her fear mounting with every passing second.
The man hit her again, once, twice, three times, then leaned into her face, once again making her gag with the stench of him. "Danga, one of these days, you gonna learn a lesson. You wanna run, boy? You RUN!"
With that, he fired a pistol into the air and the horse took off, dragging her with it. Her feet, already swollen and cut, failed her, and she dropped to her knees, then her belly, as the rope began to give with her. She was convinced that her hands would be ripped off at the wrists. Over stumps, through a small patch of stagnant water, and finally, thankfully, through a field of flat grass, the horse ran, and she had no choice but to go along.
It was through a half conscious haze that she heard a soft voice soothing her. Or maybe the horse. It had stopped running and stood eating grass, neighing softly as a woman moved closer and closer. She felt her head being lifted, felt someone cut through the ropes that bound her hands, and opened her eyes.
The woman - the woman was -
And then the world went black.
"Noooo!" Buffy screamed, sitting up in the bed and massaging her wrists to see if they were still intact.
Angel rushed into the room, flinging the door open and turning on the light. He was beside her instantly. "What is it? What happened?"
"My hands!" she sobbed, still rubbing her skin.
Angel took both of her hands into his and turned them over, examining them closely. "There's nothing wrong with your hands."
She stared down at them, flexing her fingers, and relaxed slightly. "I - I had a dream. I dreamed about Danga, I think, when he was a slave and they were trying to catch him."
"What happened?" Angel pushed he hair back, frowning at how sweaty her forehead was and how pale her skin had gotten. "Buffy?"
Sniffling, she leaned against him. "It was so bad. They - they tied him to a horse and made the -" Her voice caught in her throat and she shook her head.
"You don't have to tell me, Buffy. I'm very familiar with what they did to slaves back in those days."
"It was me, Angel. I was inside him, living it. It hurt so much and I couldn't help him."
"Shh," he murmured softly, rubbing her back.
Buffy closed her eyes, trying to remember where she had seen the woman from her dream. That's when she heard it, the low humming sound, the moon. Gasping, she sat up and stared at Angel with wide eyes. "Do you hear it?"
"Hear wh-" He stopped talking when he heard it. At first, he thought it was the radio, but it grew louder of it's own accord, filling the boat with a ghostly melody. "What the-"
"It's the moon. You hear it, don't you?"
"Buffy, the sun's up," he said, though he could definitely make out the unmistakable sound of distant humming. Cocking his head to one side, he narrowed his eyes. The sound seemed to come from all around them, covering them completely.
"It happens tonight. Whatever Danga was talking about - it happens tonight, Angel. We have to go to him the minute the sun goes down."
"We will. It's okay."
Nodding, she leaned back against the pillows. "I'm so tired."
He watched her roll onto her side, curl into a ball, and fall asleep almost instantly. Frowning, he stood, trying to pinpoint where the sound was coming from, but it faded before he could move toward the door. Glancing into the corner, he noticed a blinking light on the laptop and moved across the room, sitting in the chair.
It was a message from Willow.
<**WillowRose> Hey Buffy, are you still online?
<**WillowRose> I'm guessing you must be asleep or something.
<**WillowRose> Giles is gonna keep me busy all night looking for this ritual stuff.
<**WillowRose> Mail me tomorrow as soon as you can. ((HUGS))
WillowRose has signed off.
Angel minimized the message window and looked at the browser. It was still open to Buffy's e-mail account. When he had taken her to bed earlier, she had woken up and gone to the computer, checking her mail and her instant messenger, and then she had crawled into bed without logging out. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that she was still sleeping soundly and scrolled down her messages.
He saw several from Willow, one from Oz, and one from Riley Finn. Swallowing hard, he moved the cursor over the link and paused, watching it form a small hand. It would be wrong to read her mail, but she would never know.
Giving her one more glance, he clicked the link and waiting for the page to load.
I've been home now for three weeks. I've been waiting for that mail you promised me. You know, the one where you keep in touch and tell me how you are? I've heard from Willow, Tara, Giles and even Xander. They told me that Sunnydale is having a crisis, so I've been worrying about you. More than usual, if you can believe it.
I'm not mad at you. I wanted to be and I think I had myself so pumped up to be on the flight home that I convinced myself I was. But my head literally was in the clouds, because the second we landed, it all came back to you. I love you, Buffy. I think I always will, but I can't compete with a memory and I can't be the brooding, skulking vampire that you loved and lost. You were right, when you said it wasn't fair for me to live in his shadow. And I was right when I said that you could never love me like that. I think I knew it all along. Right from our first kiss and from the first time we made love. You never told me you loved me, but I held out hope.
I wanted all or nothing from you, Buffy. And when I asked you to marry me, I meant it. I wanted to give you everything that Angel wanted you to have and couldn't give you himself. But you know what, baby? He has the one thing that I can't give you: your heart. I never thought I'd say this, especially after I know what making love with you is like, but I'd much rather have had your heart than your body. See, that's where Angel messed up. He has you, heart and soul, and he walked away because he couldn't make love to you.
I won't say all the things I would like to say about him, Buffy. You love him and I can't fault you for that. God knows I love you that same way and no matter how much you've hurt me, I always will.
I guess my point is that I want to be your friend. I miss you. I miss you like I've never missed anything before and if he loves you even half as much as I do, then I don't envy him what it must have felt like to be without you for one second, much less months.
Take care of yourself and please mail me sometimes. I'm back into the swing of things here. Helping out around the house, going to community college, working at night. I want to hear about you.
Angel read the mail three times before he returned the browser to its original position. He felt guilty for having invaded her privacy, but relieved at the same time. Buffy had broken up with Riley. She couldn't marry him. Sliding his chair back, he walked around the bed and knelt beside it, staring intently at Buffy's face. She was so beautiful in her slumber. Her lips were parted slightly, pouty and rosy, and her hair was fanned over the pillow. Slowly, he reached up and pushed an errant strand off her cheek, then trailed the pad of his thumb over her soft skin.
A sigh escaped her lips and she turned her cheek further into his palm. He watched her eyelids flutter open and she smiled a little, reaching her hand up and cupping his face. Wordlessly, she scooted over in the bed, giving him room to crawl in beside her, and he did, clothing firmly in place. He expected to feel like half a man, but the second she laid her head on his chest and draped her arm over him, he relaxed. This was what it felt like to be whole. Complete.
"Angel?" Buffy said sleepily.
"I'll never stop needing you."
"Me either, Buffy. Me either."
The need was still there. Only this time, it rested just as peacefully as they did when they drifted off to sleep.
<**Slayer_The> What could this "ritual" be?
<**WillowRose> Giles called Wesley this morning and they talked for like, hours. There's this passage they found in something called the Aberjian Scroll that says that the vampire with the soul, Angel, will meet a ... something we can't translate... and be given a gift that will tide him over until Shanshu.
<**Slayer_The> And Shanshu is what?
<**Slayer_The> Will? You still here?
<**WillowRose> Uhm, Giles says to ask Angel about it. We don't know. Anyway, Wesley says that everything he can find says that this ritual, with the moon alignment and Danga's voodoo roots, could be a good thing for Angel.
<**Slayer_The> We're going into this blind! I'm not going to take Angel to him unless I know for sure what's going to happen! I mean, this man is half demon, right? What if he's going to work some kind of weird magic or something and Angel dies!
<**WillowRose> That won't happen.
<**Slayer_The> You can't guarantee that.
<**WillowRose> Yes, I can. Look, Buffy, I don't want to get your hopes up or something, but according to this Aberjian Scroll thing this is destined. You and Angel were destined to find Danga and bring him here. But not before he gives you guys something.
<**Slayer_The> Vague, much? God, Willow, it's gonna be dark soon and I'm driving myself crazy with this crap! What should I do?
<**WillowRose> Buffy, it's Giles. I've been researching rituals and ReDanga Boutin all day. Did you actually hear a woman's voice humming when you were in his presence?
<**Slayer_The> Yes. I heard humming and earlier today, Angel and I both did.
<**WillowRose> Then you take Angel, you go to that island and you do what Danga says. Do you understand me? This is the only night that the ritual can occur. Are you listening?
<**Slayer_The> Giles, what is happening?
<**WillowRose> Promise me you'll do this, Buffy. I mean it.
<**Slayer_The> I promise, Giles.
<**WillowRose> No matter what happens, you do what Danga says.
<**Slayer_The> You're scaring me!
<**WillowRose> And this time tomorrow, you just might be thanking me.
<**Slayer_The> Or killing you! This is ridiculous!
"Buffy?" Angel laid a hand on her shoulder and glanced at the screen, not really paying attention to what it said. For the past hour, he had felt something electrical inside of him, something that seemed to be doing a fair amount of 'singing' on its own. "It's dark out. I think we should go."
Buffy reluctantly typed in her good-byes, complete with a couple of threats, and closed the lid on the laptop. "They said we should go too."
"You don't look so sure." He studied her closely, watching as she stood and nervously ran her hands through her hair.
Biting her lower lip, she turned to face him. "What if Danga's planning on doing something really, really evil?"
"I don't think really, really evil people would save a Slayer." Angel smiled at her and held out a hand. "Besides, I'm interested in meeting this guy."
She took his hand and nodded. "Giles called Wesley. He said something about an Aboriginal Scroll and this tiding you over until," she paused, deep in thought. "You get something called shoe shines."
"Shanshu?" Angel asked, raising his eyebrows. Wesley knew better than to tell anyone about that! It may never happen! At least not in Buffy's lifetime.
"That's it! What is that?" Buffy watched his face cloud as he stepped away from her, letting go of her hand. "Angel?"
"It's nothing. Really." Walking down the short hallway into the kitchen, Angel placed both palms down on the countertop and exhaled. Usually, forcing himself to breathe had a calming effect, but tonight, it just reminded him what he was.
Buffy stood behind him, her heart thumping in her chest. "You're not telling me something." She strolled around the counter, putting her own palms down and mirroring his image. "Don't you think I remember what your 'something face' looks like?"
Angel met her gaze and held it, saying nothing. There was no way he could tell her about Shanshu because she would immediately ask him why he had not come to her sooner. He tightened his jaw, letting her see for herself that it was a topic that was not open for discussion. After a few minutes, she got the picture and threw her hands in the air. "Fine. Keep it to yourself! I'm not interested in - whatever it is - anyway!"
She snatched her jacket off the couch and made her way toward the door. He followed her, smiling a little at how cute she was when she was angry. She noticed the grin on his face as soon as he climbed the ladder and stepped on the deck next to her. Nostrils flaring slightly, she crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm so glad you think this is amusing."
He started to reply, to tell her that the only amusing thing was her temper, when he noticed a small fire burning on the beach. "Buffy."
"Don't talk to me! If you can't tell me what you're not telling me then don't even tell me anything!"
"Buffy!" He grabbed her arms and spun her around, pointing at the shore. "Looks like he's expecting us."
Sure enough, Buffy could make out the figure standing at the water's edge, his long white hair shining in the light from the full moon, and her heart began to pound in her chest. He was looking straight at them, unmoving, as if he had been there all day. As she watched, he raised both arms over his head and the fire behind him danced up, silhouetting him fully in the darkness.
His voice, so far away, but so clearly carried on the breeze, whispered in the night. "It be time, chile. It be time."
Angel heard it too, because he glanced at Buffy and nodded, then they both watched as the Jet-Ski began to lower on its own.
Buffy's heart was slamming in her chest so hard that she was sure Angel could feel it against his back. Her arms were around his waist and she was leaning against him as he propelled the Jet-Ski forward, then through the shallow water and onto the beach. Danga was still in the same spot as before, but he had turned toward them. Angel held his hand out to Buffy, helping her off the back of the water bike, then he tugged it further up the beach and laid it on its side.
Turning, he regarded the man who stood a few feet away. Danga stepped forward, gathering his long black robe in his hands. Angel could see, even in the dim light, that the man was so old that his face was creased with wrinkles and his skin looked paper thin. He watched as the man laid a gnarly hand on Buffy's cheek, asking her how her snake bite was, and then the man knelt down, looking at her ankle for himself. Buffy glanced over at Angel and shrugged.
Danga stood again, mumbling something, and stepped toward Angel, holding out a hand. "You be de one wit de Angel's face."
Angel nodded and took his hand. "My name-"
"Danga know who you be," Danga told him, tightening his grip. He stepped even closer, his eyes locking on Angel's. "Danga look now. You no move."
Buffy watched the old man stare at Angel and shivered a little. Whatever was passing between the two, it was palpable. She could feel it radiating off of them and rolling into her. Angel never took his eyes off Danga's and as she watched, their joined hands began to shake. Then, to her surprise, she saw tears rolling down both their faces. And Angel fell to his knees, sobbing softly, sill clutching the man's hand. She started to step forward, but the old man held up a hand, stopping her in her tracks.
Danga still stared down into Angel's eyes. "Too much pain. Danga take away de pain in de soul."
Angel shook his head. "I deserve the pain."
"No. De time for de pain be gone. Dat one," He pointed over his shoulder at Buffy. "She be needing no pain. You be needing no pain. You be happy."
"I can't be happy," Angel glanced at Buffy briefly, before lowering his eyes.
"Danga can see into your soul." The old man let go of the vampire's hand and helped him to his feet. "Danga sees it all."
"Then you see that the only thing giving me a soul is my misery. If I get happy-" Angel trailed off, shaking his head. "I can't have contentment. I can't have what you showed me."
"De soul, it be a curse." Danga turned toward the fire, holding out his hands as if to warm them. "It no have to be a curse. It can be a gift. A gift from Danga."
Buffy started to speak up, to ask him to explain, but Angel interrupted her. "No thank you. My soul is all I have! I won't have it toyed with."
Danga smiled at the fire, chuckling softly. "Dat not be all you have." He motioned for Buffy, who took a step forward and took the hand he held out. With his other hand, he gripped Angel's, then joined the two. He laid his hands on top of theirs and closed his eyes. "Such pain. Such love. Danga wait for long time to find the vampyre-man. Only one vampyre know how to be a man. Only you. Other vampyres be de beast, but de vampyre with de soul be man. Danga can give you de sunlight. Danga can give you everyting dat de demon takes away."
"You can make me human?" Angel's knees weakened. Could this be Shanshu?
"Danga no make you human. Danga sees human in de future for you. Now, Danga can make the man and de vampyre be one. De man will have de strength of the vampyre, de ability, but he no have de dark. De man be stronger. De man will walk in the light." He tightened his grip on their joined hands and looked hard at Angel. "De man will control de soul. Not de demon. De soul no going to leave because of happiness. De man can feel love, and joy, and happiness. Just like Danga."
"I don't understand," Buffy shook her head. "Are you saying that he'll be able to go into sunlight and never lose his soul?"
Danga nodded, brushing a hand across her cheek. "What Danga can give de vampyre is more man than demon. He will walk in de sun. He will love you like man."
"But there's a catch," Angel said. "There has to be."
"De catch be dat you still need blood to live. De catch be dat you will still be vampyre, but de man be stronger. Dat means dat you can not die like man. But you will live like man. De only ting different is dat de heart not beat." Danga brought their hands to his chest. "Danga's heart no beat. But Danga be man."
"How is this possible?" Buffy felt tears welling in her eyes. If this was true, if Angel could do all those things, they could be together.
"All Danga need do is give him more man. A piece of Danga." The old man took a deep breath and looked at Buffy, turning his back on Angel. "Danga know what you be, chile. You be de Slayer. And Danga feel what evil opens across de water. De only way Danga can close de mouth of hell is if Danga have less man, more demon. I give de vampyre a piece of Danga, Danga becomes more demon. Danga closes de hellmouth."
"You'll die," Buffy felt her chin quiver slightly. "Do you get that? You'll die."
"No, Danga live on in de vampyre." The old man looked at Angel again and smiled. "You understand Danga, yes?"
Angel nodded and looked at Buffy, who looked bewildered. "Buffy, if he somehow transfers the part of him that is man into me, he'll become more demon, and he won't feel the kind of pain he'll feel if we put him into the hellmouth like he is. If we don't let more of the demon come out, he'll suffer an eternity in there as a man."
"But, I don't get it. I mean, you'll practically be human, right? How?"
"Yes," Angel said, taking a step toward her. "I think so, but I don't know."
"It's probably dangerous." She wrapped her arms around herself and squeezed, trying to bite back the chill. "This is all too much to digest. I don't really understand much of what he's suggesting we do, but it sounds risky. Your soul-"
Danga stepped toward her and laid a hand on her head. "You will understand."
Buffy gasped as a short jolt of pain shot through her head, then faded. As soon as it faded, she did understand. Danga, as a human, would be enslaved in Hell for an eternity. But if he returned to the Hellmouth as the demon that had come forth all those years ago, he would be welcomed, revered. Another sharp pain stabbed into her skull and she saw Angel walking in the light, his fingers laced through hers. Yet another pain and she dropped to her knees, seeing them both in bed together, both lying in the warm afterglow of making love, and Angel smiling down at her. Again and again, she heard his laugh, saw his smile, and never once saw any glimpse of Angelus.
Angel wanted to step forward, wanted to force the man to stop doing whatever he was doing, but he knew better. Buffy needed to see it. Just as he had seen it when Danga had gripped his hand earlier. The sun, the love, the magic between the two of them. This was what they had waited for.
Buffy was sobbing by the time Danga moved away. She buried her face in her hands and silently cursed fate.
"Don't curse fate," Danga said softly. "Fate be what bring you here. Fate be what finally give Danga peace."
Angel gently lifted Buffy, helping her to her feet. "Do you want to do this?"
Buffy wiped her face and nodded. "I can't put him in the hellmouth like he is. He's a man."
"You put me-" Angel trailed off, not believing that those words had escaped the back of his mind.
"You think I wanted that to happen? You think I didn't want to jump right in there with you?" Buffy cried.
"Stop!" Danga shouted. "If Danga make dis work, de reason be love. No anger, no pain! Only love! If you have doubts, we no can do it!"
Angel nodded. "It's okay."
"Slayer?" Danga raised an eyebrow.
"Good. We begin."
Buffy watched in silence as the old man added a pile of grass and root to the fire. Thick smoke churned off, billowing around her, and she moved to the side, walking around the fire. The smoke followed her and she coughed, waving her hand back and forth in an effort to clean the air. Danga was beside her instantly, pushing her hands to her sides. The command was unspoken, but clear. Don't fight it. Her eyes met Angel's across the fire and he nodded at her, giving her a small smile. She breathed deep, coughed again, and then stared down at the fire.
The wood was sepia, dark brown that glowed around the edges with crimson. She watched the flames dance upward, each one chasing the one before it. Vibrant yellows, reds, and oranges, tangling, whipping against the wind that blew in from the ocean. She had a fleeting thought that marshmallows would be good. Her mind wandered briefly to what Danga was currently doing. She registered that Angel was still across from her, but she couldn't take her eyes away from the fire. The flames undulated, danced, twined around the roots and the limbs and fought to consume everything, even her.
Sweat began to bead down her forehead and back. She could feel it, trickling its way over her temples and down her skin. She opened her mouth, ready to ask questions, ready to scream, ready to sing, but no sound emerged. Her eyelids were heavy, hooded. The smoke burned her eyes, making them sting, but there was no blinking, no control of her own body.
Danga watched both the vampyre and the Slayer stare into the fire. He walked to the man first, waving a hand in front of him, but there was no reaction. He did the same to the Slayer, smiling in satisfaction when she made no movements. Their bodies were frozen, which meant that their minds were focused on the fire. They could have no interruptions. He took a rattle from a worn out bag and shook it at the ocean to alert the Loa that he would be requesting their presence. Satisfied that the rattle had been sufficient, he lifted a hand held drum from the bag and began the dance of Asagwe, the salute to the gods.
The old man felt the tides shift in the ocean, he felt the wind kick up, and the moon broke free. Behind him, the Slayer began to hum and Danga smiled. It was working. He shouted to Damballa, invoking the father of all Loa to hear his pleas. Lifting his coco macaque, his magick stick, he held it above his head then placed it on the sand before him. It stood upright by itself, then moved to the Slayer and carved a circle around her in the sand. She would be safe. Papa Legba was coming to see the vampire.
Danga waved a hand in front of Angel's face and snapped his finger, mumbling softly as he did. Angel blinked several times and shook his head. "Buffy-"
"The girl is safe." Danga replied, scattering powder around the sand. "She no will see what happens here."
Angel kept his eyes on Buffy, watching as she stood motionless across from him, and wondering at the familiar tune she hummed. "What is going to happen here?"
"We be calling de Loa. You know Loa?" Danga continued to shake the colored powder through his hands.
"Loa are divinities who are concerned with the lives of humans. They control the forces of nature, right?"
"Good, good." Danga smiled softly and stared out over the ocean. "We be calling for Papa Legba."
Angel recognized the name of a Haitian VooDoo God immediately. Papa Legba had taught mankind how to use the oracles and interpret them. He acted as an intermediary between the Loa and humans, the god of the crossroads; he opens the road to the spirit world. "Okay."
"You be bleeding on the coco macaque," Danga indicated the stick and watched it float to where Angel stood. He watched the vampire take it in his hands and flinch when the splinters dug into his palms. "Now you kneel down and you ask for Papa."
Angel did as instructed, still clutching the stick in his hands. He closed his eyes and made his request, then waited. A dog scrambled from the woods and trotted across the sand, stopping a few feet away from where Angel was kneeling. It was solid white, the fur around its face pristine and clean. Angel watched it sniff the air and move closer to him, then it whined, cocked its head to one side, and sat down.
"Extend your hand. Seek his blessing," Danga said in a low voice.
Angel held his hand out, let the dog smell him, and moved it to the animal's head. The dog closed its eyes and stepped toward him, then licked him on the face. Behind him, Danga clapped his hands together and laughed. "The Loa are here."
Somewhere in the back of her mind, Buffy was aware of the water rushing backwards from the shore, then coming dangerously close to the fire. A part of her registered the snakes that crawled all over the sand, all around her feet, but she didn't register any emotion. No fear, no trepidation, no worry. Nothing. The moon shined down, bouncing off the ocean and bathing them in light, but the fire was the only thing she could focus on. The night sounds, the waves, the fire crackling, Danga's voice; all of it filtered through the haze that was her mind, but as soon as the thought was there, it was fleeting.
Then something brushed against her leg, something furry, and her mind exploded with memories.
// If you are following me, I'd like to know why. //
// I love you. I don't know if I trust you. //
// I could walk you home. //
// Love makes you do the wacky. //
// I think we're going to. Seize it. I mean, once you get to a certain point, the seizing is sort of inevitable. //
// Shh. Just kiss me. //
// Was it me? Was I bad? //
// Close your eyes. //
// I wish I wished you dead. But I don't. I can't. //
// I know every single thing you did, because you did it to me! //
// No, you have 'something' face. //
// Children? Can you say jumping the gun? I kill my goldfish. //
// Who are you to tell me what's right for me? You think I haven't thought about this? //
// Don't what? Don't love you? I'm sorry. You know what? I didn't know that I got a choice in that. I'm never gonna change. I can't change. I want my life to be with you. //
// Could we not, please? When I think about us, I have this tendency to sort of go catatonic. //
// I know, world in peril and we have to work together. This is my last office romance, I'll tell you that. //
// You're gonna live. You have to live.//
// It is never over! I won't let you die. Drink! //
// I love you. //
// I love you. //
Danga looked at Angel with satisfaction as the vampire crumpled to his knees and buried his face in his hands. Sobs shook his entire body and he sputtered out her name. "Buffy. No, make it stop."
"You be feeling what she be feeling for too long." The old man pulled Angel to his feet and pointed to where Buffy was. "And she be feeling what you be feeling for too long."
Angel's eyes widened when he saw Buffy's tear stained face, still staring at the flames. He started to go toward her, but Danga stopped him. "We are almost done."
Pulling a knife from his pouch, he sprinkled it with the powder and sliced into his hand. He took Angel's hand and slid the blade along his flesh as well, then clapped their hands together, binding them with a string. "Do not let go. No matter what happens, do not let go."
Then screamed as blinding pain ripped through his gut. He was taken back, taken back to a time when he was human, then he bounced forward, seeing himself as a vampire. His life replayed before him, everything he had ever done wrong searing into his soul and making him cry out. Just when he thought he could take no more, just when he thought that the world around him was going to cave in and kill him, there was silence. He felt the string being removed from his wrist, heard Buffy's voice and opened his eyes.
She was kneeling next to him, her eyes wide and red rimmed in her face. "Angel?"
He sat up slowly, scouring the area for the old man or the dog or anything. The fire had died out, leaving behind a ring of black soot and he held his hand out. No heat radiated from it. How much time had gone by? "What happened?" he finally whispered.
"I have absolutely no idea," she told him, glancing out at the water. "It's so cold. Let's go back to the boat."
"Okay." He stood and looked down at his hand. There was a long scar across his palm, but it had completely healed. It was real. Whatever had happened, it was real.
Buffy stood near the water's edge as Angel pulled the jet-ski from the underbrush. Her eyes were still burning, but the only thing she could recall was the fire. That, and the unmistakable memory of what Angel felt inside, living with everything he had been living with. Her throat constricted and tightened and she leaned against a large rock, closing her eyes.
Angel laid the waterbike on its side and went to her, wrapping his arms around her. "Shhh. I know, Buffy. I know."
"Angel, I- I think I know why you left now."
"I think I know why I should have stayed now," he replied, kissing her on top of her head. "Come on. Let's get back to the boat."
"Where do you think he is?" Buffy scanned the shoreline.
"I think he'll make his presence known when he's ready to go back and close -" Angel trailed off, looking at the scar on his hand again. "He'll be back."
"Yeah." Buffy nodded and climbed on the jet-ski, wrapping her arms tightly around Angel's waist.
An uncomfortable silence greeted them when they went below deck. Both sat down on far ends of the sofa, exhausted and confused, and neither spoke. Buffy kept her gaze on the floor and Angel kept studying the mark on his hand. It was shaped like a cross, but Danga had not burned him with a crucifix. He noticed Buffy's bag lying open on the floor and reached into it, pulling out a wooden cross. Holding it in his palm, his eyes widened. "Buffy?"
He glanced at her and saw that she hadn't looked at him. "Buffy, look."
She turned her head and looked at him. For several seconds she didn't get it and then she realized what he was holding. "Oh. My. God. Angel, it's not burning you!"
He smiled and moved it from one hand to the other. Still no smoke. "Maybe you should contact Giles."
"Right." Jumping to her feet, Buffy headed toward the bedroom and the computer. She paused in the kitchen and glanced back at him. He was still sitting on the couch, but he had raised his shirt and was pressing the cross on various parts of his chest and belly. Her smile faded when she realized what else this could mean. The curse could be gone.
And he lived two hundred miles away with a fancy new life and it might not matter. Despite all the very real feelings of his that she had walked away with, she also knew what she had seen in Los Angeles. He had a new life. One that he was proud of. One that made him happy and worthwhile. One that she wasn't a part of.
Angel saw her watching him and stood, leaving the cross on the couch. He walked to where she stood and put his hands on her shoulders. "What is it?"
She glanced up at him and shook her head. "It's nothing."
"That's not a nothing face." He smiled down at her and tilted her chin when she looked away. "Tell me."
"I - I have to go message Giles," she told him, moving down the hall quickly.
He watched her go, frowning when she shut the door. She didn't want him there with her, in the bedroom. His frown deepened when he realized what was probably on her mind. The curse. Or the lack thereof. She probably thought that he would want her to make love to him. And judging from the closed bedroom door, she didn't much like the idea.
So much for things getting easier.
<**WillowRose> Where the hell have you been? I mailed you something.
<**Slayer_The> We did that thing with Danga. How are things there?
<**WillowRose> Weird! It's like all the demons have gone into hiding or something.
<**Slayer_The> What does Giles say?
<**WillowRose> Wesley and Cordy are here. Giles and Wesley said that if this thing with Angel worked, we would know. You know that Orb of Thessulah thing? It hasn't stopped glowing. Giles says that the demons going into hiding is predicted. They know that something's coming.
<**WillowRose> Okay!? Damn woman! Share! What's happening there? What did Danga do?
<**Slayer_The> I'm actually not really sure what he did. It was like I was there, but wasn't really there. You know? I don't remember much of anything. Angel can hold a crucifix though and it doesn't burn him.
<**WillowRose> I'm actually more interested in hearing what happened afterwards. Are you and Angel- you know?
<**Slayer_The> I don't think so, Will.
<**WillowRose> Why not? Buffy, you broke up with Riley because of how you feel about Angel. Tell him that you love him.
<**Slayer_The> I did, Willow. We kinda kissed and stuff, and - stuff, but it's more complicated that that. I mean, a lot of time has gone by and we've both changed.
<**WillowRose> Stuff? X rated or PG-13?
<**Slayer_The> Can you focus here, Will? :) Gutter mind! I just don't know what we have to offer each other anymore. I love him. And he said he loves me, but he loved me when he left me. You know? He loved me and he left me anyway. I'm just scared.
<**WillowRose> Talk to him about it, Buffy. Find out what he wants.
<**Slayer_The> What if I don't like the answer.
<**WillowRose> At least you'll know. And you could maybe ... do some X-rated things to help you decide.
<**Slayer_The> Willow! We don't even know if it worked!
<**WillowRose> Would I lie to you?
<**Slayer_The> No. I hope not.
<**WillowRose> I promise you that this is all prophesied. It's Angel's reward until Shanshu. To keep him motivated.
<**Slayer_The> What the hell is Shanshu?
*WillowRose has signed off
"Damn!" Buffy growled, watching as Willow vanished. She leaned her head on the desk, then sat up again. Willow told her she had mailed her something so she minimized the message window. The same browser window that she had used the day before was open, and her mailbox was still on the screen. She clicked the inbox, but was redirected to log in again. She did so, supplying the password, and waited patiently for it to load.
The first thing she noticed was Riley's mail. It sat at the top of the list of messages, but the flag beside it that marked it as unread was gone. The mail had been read. Biting her bottom lip, she moved her arrow to the back button on the browser and displayed the history. She scanned the small list, then moved it to the forward button. She clicked the small drop down and scanned the history. There, clearly marked with the Yahoo! Mail, was Riley's letter.
And she knew that she had not read it.
She clicked the forward button and read through the mail. By the time she got to the end, she was angrier than she had ever been. Angel had read a very private exchange. Slamming the lid down, she stalked across the room and yanked the door open.
Angel was sitting on the sofa when she stormed into the room. He took one look at her face and stood up. "Buffy, what's wrong?"
"Did you read my email last night?" she asked him, crossing her arms over her chest. She watched his gaze go from her eyes straight to the floor and she knew the answer. "How dare you do that!? That was private!"
"I'm sorry," Angel replied softly. "I don't- I had no right."
"What the hell did you think you were doing?"
"I said I'm sorry." He held up his hands, surrendering. "I can't do more than that."
"Like hell you can't! Tell me why!" Buffy blocked him as he started toward the bedroom.
"I don't know. I just- I saw it and I had to know. I had to know what happened." He rubbed his hand over his face and sighed. "Buffy, it's been a really long night so why don't we both just-"
"Do whatever you want." Buffy snapped, grabbing her jacket off the sofa.
"Where are you going?" Angel followed her. Once they reached the top, he scanned the horizon. The sun would rise soon. "Come back down with me," he told her, reaching for her.
"Get away from me." She shoved his hand away. "You think I want to look at you right now?"
"What did you expect me to do?" he shouted, gripping her upper arms. "You weren't telling me a damn thing about him and I-"
"It's none of your business!"
"You are my business!"
Buffy shoved him, causing him to fall back on the cushion-covered bench that ran the length of deck. "I stopped being your business the second you turned your back on me and walked away! Your business became Cordelia and Wesley and your damn agency. I wasn't even important enough for a 'Hi, how are you doing?' call."
"You're the one who came to LA and told me to stay away!" Angel got to his feet slowly, fighting the urge to blurt out the truth and tell her what actually happened.
"Yeah, well at least I didn't punch you in the face for coming to Sunnydale the way you punched me for coming to Los Angeles!" Buffy felt tears well up in her eyes and she looked away. She would die before she'd cry in front of him again. "I will never forgive you for that! Never!"
"I didn't ask you to. You don't get to rush into my world out of the blue and tell me how to run my life. I think I've got a few years more experience than you when it comes to-"
"Comes to what?" Buffy interrupted, turning blazing eyes back on him. "Being a killer? A psycho? Yeah, you're the president of the Bi-Polar Dead Guy League. Go you!"
"You can't resist the vampire pokes, can you?" He narrowed his eyes at her and shook his head. "I'm not even going to dignify that with a comment."
"Oh, that's so like you, Angel. Don't sully the wonderful reputation you've built by stooping to my level."
"Which level would that be, Buffy? You've got so many low ones, but personally, I think the lowest that you've sunk is when you threw your relationship with Riley in my face."
"I did not!"
Angel raised his eyebrow at her. "Let me see if I can remember exactly what you said to me. Wait! I don't even have to try. It's branded right to my heart. 'I have someone new in my life, that I love. It's not what you and I had. It's very new. And you know what makes it new? I trust him. I know him'." He paused, taking a step closer to her. "I may have hit you that day, Buffy, but you murdered me a million times over with that - that - lie. And even worse, you not only let me believe it, you let him believe it."
"Oh, so I'm just a horrible person, right!?" Buffy shouted, finally losing the battle with her tears. "You're the one who forced me to live a lie! You're the one who went away and got this amazing new life. I got left behind with nothing while you moved on and got everything."
There was a long silence as her words fell around them. Finally, Angel whispered, "I didn't get you."
"You didn't want me," Buffy said. "Because if you had, I would have come running."
Angel didn't know how to reply. What she said was the truth. On the day that the fates erased, she had been ready to drop out of school and come to him in Los Angeles. She had even called UCLA and requested college applications from them. They never arrived, time erased it, but he had gone to the campus and looked around a few days later, thinking how well she would have fit in. He had gotten more than just a few odd looks as he sat on a bench in the dark and quietly cried.
Buffy took his silence as an admission that he didn't want her. It shook her to the core of her being and she couldn't stand to fight another second. "Last night you asked me if I thought we were fools and I told you no. I think I was wrong. I'm a fool, Angel."
"You're not a-"
"I am! I had a guy who loved me completely and without hesitation and I sent that guy away because of you! Because you haunt me and you hurt me and I let you do it." She wiped her face and looked up at him. "I beg you to do it."
"Stop it." Angel reached for her, but she sidestepped, turning away. He caught her arm and pulled her back around. "I never meant to hurt you. And hurt is a two way street, Buffy. You dished out quite a bit yourself."
"Yeah, but I never, ever, stopped loving you," Buffy whispered. "You moved on in more ways than one. You moved past me, I never will move past you."
"You think I don't love you?" Angel tightened his grip and shook her. "Is that what you think? If that's what's going on in that head of yours then you are a fool! I've only loved you in my entire life! I didn't move on! I moved in place! My body was in Los Angeles but my heart never stopped being with you."
"Don't lie to me!" Buffy screamed, trying to yank away. "I can't let you do this again. I can't!"
"Do what?" Angel yelled back at her. "Touch you? Tell you I love you? Need you? I didn't just want you all this time! I needed you!"
"Stop, Angel, please?" Buffy felt like her legs were going to buckle anytime. "No one makes me weaker than you do."
Angel closed his eyes, recalling something she had once said to him. He pulled her closer, then leaned his head low to her ear. "Buffy, when you kiss me, I want to die."
She burst into fresh tears then, wrapping her arms around his neck and clinging to him. He kissed her ear, her neck, her cheek, then lowered his mouth to hers. Lips trembled, tears mingled, and neither were aware of the sun rising on the horizon, sleepily drifting upward into the sky.
The kiss was gentle at first, soft and tender, then harder, more demanding. Angel's hands twined in her hair, half daring her to try to pull away, and not easing, even when she melded against him in compliance. Her own hands moved behind his neck, just as they had done a million times before, and she clung to him. He growled, low and deep in the back of his throat and she replied with a soft moan, a half spoken plea against his mouth. "Angel, please-"
He moved away, staring down at her, slowly trailing his thumb over her swollen lips. "Please what?"
The hungry look on her face faded as her eyes widened. It dawned on her, literally, that the sun was banking in the sky, casting Angel's pale skin with orange and yellow shadows. "Oh my god!" she cried. "The sun! Angel, the sun's up!"
Angel tore his gaze away from her flushed face and looked upward. She tugged insistently on his sleeve, trying to pull him toward the stairs, but he caught her hand. "It's okay."
Faltering slightly, she looked down at the comforting hand he laid on her arm. There was no smoke, no blistering flesh. Just his pale, cool skin against her overheated skin. She was aware of nothing, then everything. The ritual had worked. The crucifix had not burned his skin. The sun wasn't harming him. The curse - the curse was gone. It was really gone and the human inside of him was stronger than whatever remained of the demon.
Buffy studied him, watching as he grinned at the plethora of colors that cut across the morning sky. She had never seen him in the sun and she didn't know if she would be content to merely look at him much longer. He was amazing, awash in colors and shadows that she had never before seen him in. Her voice caught in her throat, tears welled in her eyes, and she licked her lips before she moved her hand to his chest, toward the buttons of his shirt.
Angel glanced down at her, watching as she unbuttoned his shirt. He could feel her hands shaking, hear her ragged breathing and taste her hunger on the air. Wordlessly, he turned to face her, sliding his own hands under the hem of her shirt. No words of approval were needed; the approval was coursing between them, desperate and raging. Slipping her shirt over her head, he traced the swell of her breast with his fingertips and sighed. She was everything he had remembered and more. Hooking his fingers into the waistband of her jeans, he unbuttoned them, then watched as she slipped them over her hips. Perfection.
"You lied to me, Buffy," he told her with mock severity.
"Wh-what?" She made a move to cover herself, half wishing she'd worn a bra, but he stopped her.
"You told me once that you didn't look all that great in direct sunlight. You're beautiful."
Blushing, Buffy kept her arms at her side, letting him look his fill of her. Every inch of her body was on fire, aching for his touch, and she was on the verge of taking charge when he finally pulled her against him. Her breasts crushed against his bare chest and she felt her nipples harden, both from the coolness of his skin, and the fact that it was -his- skin. Only Angel. Only Angel could make her burn so steadily and so deeply with his presence.
Cupping her backside, Angel lifted her off her feet, urging her legs around his waist, then he laid her carefully back against the same bench she had shoved him against. The sun was soaring by then, warming away the chill in the morning air. He gazed down at her, trailing a lazy finger over the flush on her chest, then dipped his head and captured her nipple in his mouth. Suckling gently, he skimmed a free hand between her legs and dipped it into her heat. Wet, already so wet.
Buffy's back arched and she clung to him, holding his head at her breast as the hand between her leg drove her mad with need. He brought her to the edge, only to slow and stop, then begin again. His fingers knew exactly where to touch, how to touch, and were long enough to touch every part of her that ached. She felt his mouth leave her breast, then move lower to her belly, and caught his arms. Pulling him up her body, she shook her head. "Now, Angel. Please now."
With a small grin, he pushed his pants down and nestled himself between her thighs. His smile faded when an unwelcome image flitted through his mind. The passion inside of her was reflecting in her eyes, begging him, half pleading with him to take her. For a brief instant, he imagined her gazing up at Riley Finn with those same eyes, calling -his- name with need and completion. He growled and thrust forward, burying himself in her heat. He'd erase every memory she had.
Buffy cried out when he entered her so abruptly and with such force. She stared up at him with confusion, and he paused, his eyes locking on hers, and she whispered, "Angel, I love you."
// I made them you! Both of them! I closed my eyes and I made them YOU! //
Angel blinked several times, reigning in the burgeoning anger that another man had trespassed on what was his. What had always been his. He listened to her breathing, let her words wash over him, then kissed her. "I love you."
"Show me," Buffy breathlessly pleaded. "Show me what it's like to love again."
"Oh, baby," he whispered, brushing her hair off her cheek. What had he done to her when he left her? He pulled back and slowly entered her again, savoring every scorching second until he was buried inside of her. Capturing her mouth in a kiss, he slowly moved his hips, joining her repeatedly in a rhythm as old as time.
It seemed to last for hours, bodies melding into one, hands twining through hair, skimming flesh. Their cries of ecstasy drowned out the sounds of the ocean water lapping at the sides of the boat and the waves rocked them steadily. The euphoria they found in one another dimmed the bright sunlight until all they saw was one another. And when completion came, and they reclined lazily, still nude, on the deck of the yacht, neither noticed that the sun had gotten a little brighter, the wind a litter fiercer - and Danga stood on the shore staring toward the mainland with a knowing look on his face.
Buffy awoke first and groaned. Her skin was red and tight, blistered from sleeping in the sunlight. Her first thought was that her tan would be incredibly uneven, and then her lover stirred beside her and she forgot everything except what had happened between them. The ritual had worked. Angel was more human than demon, but still demon enough to have strength and - she wasn't exactly sure what else. Certainly he had retained his resiliency when it came to making love. No human, at least not the ones she had been intimate with, could even scratch the surface of loving her as completely as Angel.
Her body still tingled, and when she shifted slightly, so that she could see Angel better, the familiar tightening in her womb began anew. It was unnerving how he could manipulate her body just by being in the same area. Especially when he was naked. Grinning deviously, she propped herself on one elbow and let her gaze wander over the expanse of his chest, over the rippling washboard of his stomach, and finally down to his manhood, which stood proudly pointing toward the heavens.
"Someone's only pretending to be asleep," Buffy chastised in a soft voice. When Angel didn't reply, she moved further down and kissed him lightly on the stomach. Glancing upward, she saw his lip twitch slightly, but his eyes remained firmly closed. "Well," she pouted. "I guess I'll just go-"
But the words died on her lips. Angel moved with lightning speed, grabbing her under the arms and rolling them so that he was on top. Buffy laughed out loud, and it felt foreign to her - and right. Still smiling, she arched an eyebrow. "I see you haven't lost your vampire reflexes."
"Or stamina," Angel replied, nipping lightly on her neck. "I'm famished."
"Uh," Buffy pushed slightly on his shoulders, forcing him back. "Famished for food that isn't in liquid form?"
"I suddenly have a craving for peanut butter and chocolate," Angel told her. As soon as he said it, he was flooded with memories of the day they shared. The lost day that time had taken back, but could never erase from his soul. He wasn't completely human, not yet, but close enough. He realized, in an instant, that every possibility had been reopened to him - that the redemption, the reward, was here and now.
Buffy studied his face, growing increasingly alarmed as tears began to fill his eyes. "Angel?" Laying a hand on his cheek she shook her head. "Peanut butter and chocolate **is** sinful, but really nothing to get upset over."
He chuckled and laid his head on her chest, listening to her steady heartbeat drum beneath her skin. "I just feel like I don't deserve this ... that-"
"Oh no you don't!" Buffy declared, pulling herself from beneath him and sitting up to face him. She waited until he, too, sat up and then she took a deep breath, collecting her thoughts. "The whole brooding thing worked really well when you were a creature of the night. It was sexy, it was intense, and it was all gothic, but things are changing. You're half human --- or a quarter human or something, anyway - we've both done things, said things, and who knows who deserves what, but dammit, we're not gonna blow this! This is our chance! Vampires don't become partly human everyday and I'll be damned if you sit around in wallow in whatever it is that you currently can wallow in!"
Angel could only stare at her. A girl, just a young girl, forced to fight evil, forced out of a normal life, and here he was wallowing in sorrow that he *could* have a normal life. He cupped her cheek and smiled. "You're right. It was meant to be." He let his gaze wash over her slim body, reddened from the sun, and frowned. "You're burned."
"God, I know. I'm gonna have to sleep out here again tomorrow to try to even it out."
Angel skimmed his fingers over her breast and said, "A repeat performance? I'm game."
She blushed prettily and stood. "I have to go take a shower and get in touch with Giles."
Angel nodded. "I'll be down in a bit."
He watched her retreating form, smiling at the sway in her narrow hips, and shook his head. He stared at his flesh in the sunlight, pale as the fluffy clouds that floated above his head. It had be so long, too long, since he'd worn the Gem of Ammara and seen this side of the day. The sun cresting high, the breeze off the water rustling his hair, the blank horizon that surrounded the boat on three sides. He looked back toward the island, shaded his eyes, and saw Danga there. Angel, still naked, shielded himself the best he could and waved at the old man. Danga waved back, the lifted his stick and Angel heard the man's whisper carried on the air. "You must chain Danga now. Danga feel de beast inside seeking, searching for the scent of the Slayer."
Angel nodded, quickly shoved his pants on and went below for the chains. He was stunned when he ran back up to the deck to see Danga standing there on board, perfectly dry, looking solemn and peaceful. He looked the same. Just like an old wizened man with gentle hands and skin stretched tight across his chest, which was bare. He looked nothing at all like a demon to be thrown into the Hellmouth. "Danga ... I, the chains can wait until ..."
"No. De chains now please."
Angel walked toward the old man, who held out his hands, staring the vampire in the eye. Danga smiled and said, "You feel de change in you. I feel de change in me. Only man be stronger willed to go on ... de demon is still sleepy. But he will come before de night is gone."
With trembling hands, Angel secured the chains to the man's thin wrists, then sank to his knees to clamp them to his ankles. It was at that precise moment that Buffy, fresh from the shower and wearing shorts and a halter, emerged from the bottom of the boat. "Angel, guess what ..."
She halted when she saw the chains on Danga's wrists, memories flashed through her head recalling the dream she had when she had been in Danga's body, remembering the agony of being pulled along behind the horse. "What the hell are you doing?" She rushed forward, trying to pull the ankle chains from Angel's hands and finally succeeded. "Stop it! He's harmless!"
Angel caught her arms. "He wants this. He asked me to do it, Buffy."
"No!" Buffy held firmly to the chains. "Do you have any idea what it was like for him? Chained and pulled across a field after running so long to find freedom. I do! I won't let you do this."
"Hush, chile," Danga soothed. "De demon be coming and he be strong."
Buffy shook her head adamantly. "*I* am the Slayer and if you get out of hand, I can stop you and *then* we will use the chains if we have to. Only after you completely change."
"Buffy," Angel said. "You know yourself how powerful this demon is. If we *don't* chain him now, before it's too late, he might mangle your face and break your ribs just like the last time."
"I don't care," Buffy replied and stood with the chains in her hands. "I won't do this to him."
"Give me the chains, Buffy."
Angel took a step forward and Buffy took a step back. "He wants to be safe, Buffy. He wants to make sure he doesn't hurt either of us and this is the only way. When, whatever it is that emerges from him comes, we don't know what it will do."
Tears stung her eyes as she looked at Danga, who nodded at her. "I appear to be outvoted."
She shoved the chains into Angel's hands and stalked back down the stairs to the lower compartments. Pressing her palms against her eyes, she tried not to remember the dream that had caused her so much pain. Her head began to throb at the intensity of the memories and she walked slowly to the bed, pulling the cover around her tightly to stop the chills. She couldn't bear the thought of him spending whatever was left of his life the same way he had spent it hundreds of years ago. He had been tricked, innocent. And he was going to sacrifice himself for a mistake he made.
"Buffy?" Angel called from the doorway.
She didn't reply and heard him walk further into the room and then sit beside her on the bed. She could feel his eyes on her as she stared at the wall, but she didn't acknowledge him.
Angel sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "We did the right thing."
"Yeah, you keep telling yourself that."
With a growl, Angel yanked her to face him. "He told me to do it. He knows what the thing inside him is capable of. Buffy, he *knows* what has to be done and by the time we're back in Sunnydale, he won't even be Danga anymore. Not really."
"I'm tired," she replied. "I want to go to sleep."
"I want you to come up there with me as we set course back home. Keep me company."
"Where is Danga?"
"He's chained to the railings on the dock."
"I can't look at him. I can't see him that way."
"He's actually looking forward to the ride. He said so."
"He lied." Buffy pulled out of his arms and laid back down. "Please ... just take me home."
"You know, maybe you should go up there and thank him for what he has given us and for what he's going to for the world before it's too late. Maybe you should forget about your own feelings and think about his."
Buffy cried softly. "I can't watch him die. He saved my life. He gave you yours. And he's losing his.
"But he's not dead yet and he should die knowing that you'll never forget him."
She just shook her head and closed her eyes until she heard Angel stalk out and slam the door behind him. Standing on trembling legs, she walked to the computer and signed on.
<**Slayer_The> Hey, Will
<**WillowRose> Buffy!!! I've been waiting all day for you! What's going on? What happened? Did you and Angel ... you know?
<**Slayer_The> I don't want to talk about it. When Danga transferred the man part of himself to Angel, why didn't he look like a demon right then? He still looks just like a man and he's currently chained to the railing of the boat. I can't see him that way. A demon should have emerged or something because he still looks just like the man who saved my life.
<**WillowRose> Give me a second to consult with Giles.
Buffy waited a good ten minutes, sweaty palmed until Willow's reply came.
<**WillowRose> Giles said that it's the essence of the demon that is inside him. He won't really physically change all that much, but Giles said the chains are a good idea because we don't know what kind of strength the demon will have once it completely wakes up. Danga can fight it off with his voodoo stuff as long as he can remember who he is, but eventually it will overcome his mind and he'll probably try to become aggressive, break loose and stuff. Giles said to keep him alive, make sure he is alive, when you get him here.
<**Slayer_The> You mean, when he gets thrown into the Hellmouth, he'll look like a man?
<**WillowRose> Pretty much.
<**Slayer_The> GILES SAID THAT WE'D BE THROWING A DEMON BACK IN THERE! GOD DAMMIT! I WENT THROUGH THIS ALREADY WITH ANGEL, I WATCHED HIM DIE AND YOU ALL EXPECT ME TO JUST STAND THERE AND WATCH THE SACRIFICIAL LAMB, A VERY, VERY HUMAN LOOKING MAN WHO SAVED MY LIFE GET TOSSED INTO THE MOUTH OF HELL LIKE IT'S NOTHING BUT A TYPICAL DAY AT THE JOB!?
<**WillowRose> Ahh! Caps lock! Stop shouting! I'm getting Giles.
<**Slayer_The> You do just that.
<**WillowRose> Buffy, it's Giles, listen to me. If you don't want to be here for the actual .. er.. sacrificing then you don't have to be.
<**Slayer_The> You even say 'er' when you type! It's wrong to do this, Giles. Very wrong. You haven't seen him. He so thin and harmless. Do you know what he'll go through down there? Hell, Giles, hell.
<**WillowRose> Actually, as I've already told you, he will likely be revered and come to rule the 'other world' that he is sent to.
<**Slayer_The> Likely, but not necessarily?
<**WillowRose> All the data that we've gathered indicates that once a demon returns there from our world, he is believed to be enchanted for having endured our conditions here. And our conditions here are grave, indeed. You must return as soon as possible. The tides have washed up onto the streets of Sunnydale and a shark swam right past the gas station at the edge of town. It hasn't gotten far enough to reach us yet, but it's only a matter of time.
<**Slayer_The> We're on our way. I can feel us moving.
<**WillowRose> Have a care. Feed the old man and give him fluid, make sure he arrives here unharmed and safe.
<**WillowRose> You must be strong. You must allow us to proceed.
<**Slayer_The> Okay. Bye Giles.
*WillowRose has signed off.
Buffy sat silently for a moment, collecting her thoughts, when another message popped up on her screen.
Oh God, Buffy thought. She could sign off right now and avoid this, but he didn't deserve it.
<**Slayer_The> Yeah, Riley. It's me. How are you?
<**Riley_Finn> I've been better. I've been watching the news. What the hell is happening on the hellmouth? They're thinking that some kind of underwater turbulence is going to knock CA off into the ocean.
<**Slayer_The> That's always the rumor. LOL! Actually it's just another apocalypse, no big. I'm on top of it.
<**Riley_Finn> By sitting in front of the computer?
<**Slayer_The> Research. It's not my favorite gig, but hey, it's gotta be done. :)
<**Riley_Finn> I wish I could be there to help you. I miss you.
<**Slayer_The> I miss you, too. But there isn't much that can be done right now. We've got the cure in our hands, though, it's just a matter of getting it to Sunnydale. It'll be okay.
<**Riley_Finn> Not according to the news, Buff. I mean, flying fish, people dropping dead everywhere, and it's moving out of Sunnydale now and into surrounding areas.
<**Slayer_The> Shit. I didn't know that.
<**Riley_Finn> How could you not know that?
<**Slayer_The> I'm not exactly in Sunnydale right now. I'm on a yacht in the middle of the ocean.
<**Riley_Finn> Oh yeah, that seems the logical thing to do. Are you insane?
<**Slayer_The> Don't talk to me like that! I had to sail out to this deserted island to capture the demon that is the cure for closing a breech in the hellmouth and it hasn't been easy, okay?
<**Slayer_The> It's okay. You just don't know how hard this is.
<**Riley_Finn> Who's with you? Because I've been messaging with Willow and I've even talked to Giles. They wouldn't tell me anything about you. I've been going crazy trying to figure it all out. Surely you're not out there alone. I know Xander's not with you.
Buffy ran a hand over her face and tried to decide what to say. She could say it was the Council. She could say it was her old Watcher. She could say a million things.
<**Riley_Finn> Angel, huh?
<**Slayer_The> Yeah. He employs a person who has visions and she said we had to come here to get this thing because I couldn't do it on my own or something. Either way, we got it.
<**Riley_Finn> I see. That's a convenient thing for him to say.
<**Slayer_The> Please don't.
<**Riley_Finn> Don't what? Tell you the truth?
<**Slayer_The> That's not the truth. Everything has happened just like she said it would.
<**Riley_Finn> I don't think you'd know the truth if it was staring you in the face. It's stared you in the face a million times and I was there for it and you ignored it. You ignored what we had to chase a shadow.
<**Slayer_The> You're picking a fight with me and I don't deserve it, Riley. I'm sorry about all the things that happened between us, the good and the bad, but it's not something I'll ever regret.
<**Riley_Finn> You're not really good with platitudes.
<**Slayer_The> What do you want me to say? You said that you wanted us to remain friends and then you just ... attack me for no reason. I'm sorry. I've said it a hundred times and I'll say it a hundred more. The things that happened between us were special. It was. I'm grateful for it everyday.
<**Riley_Finn> Just like you're grateful for what you have with Angel?
<**Slayer_The> What I had with Angel is just what it was. I've told you time and time again that it was just ... what it was. I can't undo the past.
<**Riley_Finn> I can't believe you're out there with him.
<**Slayer_The> I can't either. Do you think I wanted to face all that again?
Jesus, Riley, do you think I'm a masochist. I would have done anything and everything in my power to NOT have been put in this predicament and you will never understand how much I didn't want to do it.
"Is that right?" Angel suddenly asked. He was standing behind her, silently watching her type. She spun around to face him and he added, "What we *had* was just what it was? And you're grateful for what you had with him, but what we had was just ... what, Buffy?"
Buffy started to stand, but he put his hand on her shoulder, holding her harder than he should have. "You make love with me all day today and then come down here to talk to your old lover about it? Comparing notes?"
Buffy looked stunned at what he had implied. "No! I was talking to Willow and he popped up all of the sudden and I... I haven't responded to any of his emails and I couldn't just..."
"Let him go? You need to decide what the hell you want, Buffy, because if you want me, your little soldier man will be..."
"You don't dictate the terms of our relationship." She jumped to her feet, shoving his hand off her.
Angel stared at her a moment, nostrils flaring, teeth clinched, and said, "What relationship?"
Before Buffy could reply, he had turned on his heel and headed out the door. She put her head in her hands and sat back down. How, in the course of just a few days, had her life taken such a turn of events. She signed off the laptop completely, without a second thought to whether Riley was waiting for her to respond, and sat down on the bed. Her stomach rumbled and she wondered if Danga was as hungry as she was.
To keep her mind occupied, she hastily prepared two sandwiches for the man and poured a glass of juice for him. Going to the top deck, she glanced at where Angel sat, his back to her, facing forward. Her eyes moved to Danga, who was sitting on the plush cushions, quietly studying her. She smiled weakly, noticing that the chains gave him some slack and he'd be able to eat what she had prepared for him.
"Hungry?" she asked. She moved with a Slayer's caution toward him, never taking her eyes from his face. "I have some sandwiches and juice for you."
"Danga like drink. No bread." He returned her smile. "Danga make feast last night. No need today."
Buffy handed him the glass of juice and sat beside him, setting the plate on her other side. "I'm not hungry either."
"De vampyre. He be troubled."
"Yeah. I guess I just have that effect on him. Where Buffy goes so goes trouble."
"You make it right." Danga nodded toward Angel and motioned for her to go to him. "You make it right, chile."
Buffy slid the plate toward him and said, "If you get hungry..."
The old man merely nodded and sipped his juice.
Buffy took a deep breath as she stepped on the ladder that led to the captain's area. She ascended quietly and took the seat next to Angel, pretending to be fascinated by the horizon. It looked dark, stormy in the distant and for a moment she wondered how she would survive her motion sickness if the boat began to rock in the storm. Glancing at Angel, she asked, "There's a storm ahead, right?"
"You see the same thing I see."
Buffy remained silent for several seconds, then said, "Talk to me."
"What do you want me to say?"
"I want you to tell me what you meant by 'what relationship'? I thought, after today that -"
"I thought so, too, Buffy, but I'll be damned if you didn't slam a stake right through the middle of what we shared."
Angel raised his eyebrows and really looked at her for the first time, hard. "How!? If you even have to ask me that then-"
"So I talked to Riley. I don't see what the big deal is. I broke up with him weeks ago and that was the first time I've acknowledged him since he went back to Iowa. He doesn't mean anything to me."
"That's not what you told him."
"I don't want him hurt, Angel. I don't want to be the cause of his pain. He was good to me. He loved me and yeah, for a while that seemed okay, but I can't lie to myself and say it was enough. He didn't deserve that. He deserves a life that I can't give him."
Angel stared ahead for a long time. His grip tightened on the wheel as he readied himself to ask the next question. "Did you sleep with him all the time?"
Buffy gasped. "That's none of your business. I hardly think that me being with two men comes close to all the women you have been with and if *I* can get past that then you should swallow that pride of yours and take me as I am! This is me. I'm not as innocent as the girl you left, but YOU LEFT, and I tried to move on like you told me to. Yes, I slept with him occasionally, but he didn't come close to scratching the surface of what you do to me and if you want to throw away this chance that we've been given, then go ahead."
Angel caught her as she started toward the ladder and pulled her back, closer to him. He looked up at her and crooked his finger, asking her to come lower. She leaned forward, and he whispered in her ear, "What do I do to you?"
A small smile flickered on Buffy's lip. She leaned to whisper back. "What don't you do to me?"
Saying nothing, he pulled her into his lap and kissed her. "I guess I'm jealous. Hard to admit, but there it is."
"You don't have to be, Angel. In all my life I have only ever wanted you."
Smiling, he rubbed his thumb over her nipples, which had both become erect as soon as he pulled her into his lap. "I think you may be right."
"Angel!" she scolded, looking down at Danga, who was staring behind them, watching as the island completely disappeared. "He'll still look like a man, you know? When they put him in the Hellmouth."
She could feel Angel tense under her. "I didn't know that."
"I didn't want to know that, but there it is."
Angel put his hand on her leg and studied her face. "Will you be able to handle that?"
"I don't think so. I... I don't want to be there when it's done."
"You may have to be"
Angel swallowed hard, still getting used to the human like qualities that had returned to him. "I'm strong, Buffy. And your friends are strong, but when we get near the Hellmouth with Danga, anything lingering in there is going to jump out when it smells us."
"Damn." Buffy sighed.
"He accepts it, Buffy. He knows his duty and he wants to do it. He's tired. He's ready."
Changing the subject, Buffy glanced ahead. "How bad will the storm be?"
"I'm hoping it's just a few waves."
"God. I get seasick."
Angel laughed. "Sorry, that's just too funny. You can be spun around in circles by a demon, but you'll get sick on a boat."
"Shut up. We should probably get him downstairs in case it rains."
Angel shook his head. "I'm not gonna risk him demolishing the interior of a two million dollar boat that was loaned to us."
"I guess that's true."
"He told me earlier that he wanted to stay out, rain or shine."
A few beads of rain began to drop and Buffy shuddered. "Looks like he's gonna get his wish."
Before they knew it they were in a torrent of rain, thunder and lightning. Angel ran below, to check the status of Danga, who seemed to be enjoying the light show and ushered him back up to be with Buffy, who was looking pale. The waves were definitely rough. The boat keened sharply and he entered just in time to see Buffy grab the wheel and right the boat easily back onto track.
"Experienced Sailor?" Angel asked.
"No, experienced survivor." She surrendered the wheel to him and took her seat beside him. "How much farther."
"About an hour."
"Are you gonna stop at the last island and get gas?"
Angel checked the gauge. "No, I'm taking us straight to Sunnydale, which is a shorter distance."
A rogue wave crashed against the boat, sending it almost on its side and Buffy's head slammed against the control panel. When Angel finally had control and looked at her, he cringed at the sight of blood all over her face and the panel. "You okay?"
Buffy absently wiped her face and rubbed the blood on her shirt. "I'm going to see if he's okay."
"Angel, he's alone." She burst through the vinyl that had kept the rain off them and slipped down the ladder as gracefully as she could. The boat was lurching and keening, and rain kept her blinded, but somehow she made it to the old man. "Are you okay?"
"De fates. Dey be trying to stop me."
"What do we do?"
Another wave hit them, almost turning the boat over and Buffy grabbed onto Danga, feeling his hand clasp hers firmly. The water was stinging her face, choking her. Danga reached for her other hand and she met his eyes, seeing a bright green light shining from them. Her breath caught in her throat, and her eyes widened in fear as she felt his nails dig into her wrists hard enough to bring blood. His mouth was moving rapidly, like he was chanting and she could feel her flesh opening, under the strain of his nails. She tried to cry out for Angel, but her voice wouldn't carry over the howl of wind and rain.
Then almost as soon as it started, the rain and wind began to slow and soon it dissipated completely. The waves, began to recede and Buffy stared over the side of the boat to see that a mere twenty feet away the rain and waves were still raging a holy war in the ocean, but the water around the boat was completely calm.
Danga still had his hands around hers and Buffy stared up at him. "Danga..."
He turned her wrists upward and looked at the wounds he had caused, then reached into a small pouch around his neck and rubbed a crimson stain across both. "De fates. Dey not be strong as de Slaya."
"You weren't trying to hurt me?"
"No chile. But Danga grow weak now, no more power left so he borrow a little of de Slayer power. Danga will make it safe now and we will go to the mouth that waits for me. Safe."
Angel came rushing across the deck and saw the blood that had run down Buffy's arms. "What did he do to you?"
"He saved me. Again." Buffy smiled at the old man and squeezed his hand. Then she rose and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you."
As she turned to go clean herself up, she felt a sudden weakness and her knees buckled. She felt limp all over. "Oh...wh...what's happening to me?"
"Danga take a little power, only a little. It will pass." Danga told her.
Angel felt a surge of disbelief as he helped Buffy up and held her against him. "You took her power?"
"Danga need stay strong until it be done. He only borrow enough to be done. De bad fates, dey send de storm."
Angel gathered Buffy in his arms. "And you stopped the storm because of what you took from her?"
"I did. No more storm."
"I'll thank you later, when I make sure you did the right thing."
Angel carried Buffy down into the bottom and deposited her on the bed. "Are you okay?"
"Angel you have to go back up and make sure we're on course."
"It's on auto pilot." He looked at her wrists. "The wounds are closing. What did he do to you?"
"His fingernails ... they were like vampire fangs draining my blood. It didn't hurt, it was just like ... nothing. Then everything."
Angel nodded. "We're almost in Sunnydale. You may want to get some dry clothes on. Come back up and help me navigate where to land this thing."
"That sounds so fun."
Willow, who stood on top of the gas station that was buried under a sea of murky water, her palms upward, was shooting a light to signal the yacht in. Cordy had seen another vision... Willow had to help Buffy and Angel home. Before her eyes, she watched the sea part, the raging storm that had kept threatening to knock her off the building ceased completely, but still raged on either side of her, and there were lights in the distance. "Whoa," Willow breathed. Never, ever had she seen anything like the smooth stretch of ocean and the turbulence on either side of the placid stretch that formed in front of her. She certainly didn't have that much power.
Buffy sat beside Angel, rubbing her wrists. "Look!" she said suddenly, pointing at a light in the distance. It flashed toward them, blinking several times in rapid succession. "It's Willow. She says that," she paused, concentrating on the blinking lights. "She says that it's a clear path and the yacht can anchor where she is." Buffy kept concentrating on the lights. "God, we have to ride in another boat to get into town."
"Are you telepathic or something?"
Buffy arched an eyebrow. "Morse code. Riley made us learn it and ..." She trailed off, mentally smacking herself for mentioning Riley's name.
Angel said nothing about her comment. He began to ease the boat slowly alongside the building until Willow was able to come aboard. They heard her clamoring up the ladder and then she shrieked and ran to Buffy, hugging her close. "You're safe! They said it was like a hurricane out there."
"It was intense." Buffy stood. "We've got to move."
She was the first down the ladder and she went to Danga, removing the chain that held him bound to the rail. He was soaked, but he still smiled at her as she secured the chain around her waist and led him over the sunken building and into a small motor boat where Xander was shivering under a heavy raincoat.
Angel, who had secured the yacht, tried to take the chain from Buffy, but she shook her head. The look on her face made him back down and he sat beside her as Xander fired up the engine and led them at least a mile and a half into the city. It felt like a million years before they finally reached dry land. The high school, and the Hell Mouth, more precisely, was about another mile away. Just when Buffy wondered if Danga would be able to make the walk, Xander led them to a large van and ushered them inside it. No one even bothered to ask where he had acquired such a vehicle. They were just glad to be out of the water.
Buffy fumbled with the chains around her waist, recalling the dream. Running. Always running. Angel, as if reading her mind, cleared his throat and asked Willow if everyone was okay. When Buffy didn't offer any interest in their conversation, he moved toward her and took her hand. "Buffy..."
"I know what has to be done. And you know I always do what has to be done."
"We should go straight to the Hellmouth," Xander said. "The gang's already there and Tara is probably getting tired of trying to contain it."
The Hellmouth was anything but contained. Giles, Cordelia, Wesley, and Tara were going fist to cuffs with a flying beast that kept taking swipes at their heads with talons that were as big as their heads. They all took turns ducking while someone else swung assorted weapons at the monster, but the game of duck duck goose was wearing them all down.
It was a resounding sigh of relief when Angel, who had a firm grip on Buffy's weapon bag, threw an axe, sending it flying end over end, with deadly accuracy at the demon's head and it howled and withdrew, falling back into the Hellmouth.
Buffy, still attached to Danga, smiled at him. "Impressive."
Giles and the rest of the gang gathered around them, all asking questions at one time. Buffy, who felt Danga pull against the chain, turned to face him. He was staring at the people around them in fear, cowering in the shadows as if he were afraid to come into the light. She backed up so that she could see him and asked, "What's wrong?"
"Danga want only you here when it is time. No more. No one else."
Buffy's eyes widened and she felt a pain slice through her heart. "No, I can't."
"Danga show you that you can. You gave Danga power. Now you take de power back. Quick, before more demon come out."
Buffy didn't understand until he brought her hand to the pouch around his neck. The same pouch with the crimson moisture in it. "Dis is all dat remain of de man. When you take it, Danga will be no more and de demon will have Danga soul. You be strong for Danga. You fight Danga if you must, but hold your honor and do Danga justice. It be quick."
The gang, who were staring at Buffy and Danga quietly, strained their ears to hear what was being said. They all heard Buffy sob quietly, but Angel just held up his hand and shook his head.
Buffy laid her head against the old man's chest. "You saved my life. You gave me a life with Angel and you expect me to just ... you're going to die. Do you realize that you're going to die?"
"Why does it have to be me?" she whined.
"Because you heard de moon sing first and when she start to sing again, you rip off de necklace and let Danga go."
Taking a deep breath, she nodded. "I'll tell the others to leave."
"The hell you will," Angel suddenly appeared beside her.
Buffy put her hand against his chest and pushed him backward. "He's about to die, Angel! I think he should have some say in how he goes!"
"You're not being alone in here with him. Who knows what he'll do when the change comes."
Narrowing her eyes, she said in a cold voice. "This is *my* town. Just like LA is yours and you don't tell me how to do my job."
Giles stepped forward and said, "Buffy, he's right. Something else may come and-"
"I said not to tell me how to do my job and that goes for you, too. I owe it to him to do what he wants.
"It could be a trick," Willow stated, staring at the scraggly man. "Maybe we should just get it over with."
"My GOD!" Buffy shouted. "He has ears! He can hear! He's a MAN! And he's about to sacrifice himself so all of you can live and if he wants it to just be me who sees it then he's going to get what he wants!"
Buffy heard a humming in the distance and felt the pricks on her wrists begin to tickle. "It's time. All of you, ALL OF YOU, go outside and stay there until it's done."
"Buffy," Angel grabbed her shoulders and shook her hard. "You can't do this on your own. You're seeing him as a man and that's going to be your weakness. You said so yourself on the boat. You said it more than once. You begged me to do it."
Cordy stepped forward then, raising her hand. "In my vision, it was Buffy who threw him in. Just in case that helps."
"That settles it. The moon is singing louder." Buffy slammed her hands over her ears as it sent shock waves through every inch of her. "Get out. It has to be now."
"Buffy--" They all said her name in unison.
"GET OUT!" she screamed, struggling with the key to the chain around her waist. "NOW!"
Reluctantly, the group ambled out of the darkness and with trembling hands, she began to unlock the chains that bound Danga, but he shook his head. "Danga no want hurt you."
She unlocked his hands and feet anyway and rubbed his wrists, all the while tears streaming down her face. The humming sound was so loud now that it was all she could hear. When she looked up at the wizened old face before her, she broke down completely. She felt Danga bring her hand to the pouch on his neck and read his lips as he said, 'Take it'. Leading him as close to the hellmouth as possible, she hugged him tightly against her, her tears wetting his own face. Then, with trembling hands, she yanked the necklace from his neck and he howled in pain.
The sound of it almost crippled her, almost brought her to her knees. She backed away slightly, stumbling over a rock, then covered her mouth to keep from crying out as one of her errant weapons rammed into her back. As Buffy rose to her feet, Danga turned to face her, their eyes locked and held, and she started toward him, confident that she could push him in, but she faltered and he growled, crouching low in an attack mode. She made a move to grab him, but he stepped aside, showing too much agility for a man of such years.
"Please don't make this hard," she said.
Danga paused, cocking his head to one side, looking from her to the hellmouth. Then, just like that, he walked up to her, stared down into her face and said, "Push."
Buffy faltered again, trembling all over, but Danga grabbed her and said, "PUSH! Now!"
She stared at him long enough to remember every line of his face, then shoved him backward with all her might, watching as he disappeared.
"Oh my god," Buffy cried, rushing toward the edge of the mouth, but it was already closing, the stench was abating, and the light had died completely. She knelt next to it, the pouch clutched firmly in her hand, and sobbed.
She heard people rushing in behind her and stood, wiping her face. Tara and Willow both held magickal flames in their hands to illuminate the room. Everyone smiled. "You did it!" Willow said gleefully.
"Don't I always?" She took a step forward and grimaced, feeling her side. The gash felt deeper than she had expected.
Giles saw it and rushed toward her. "You need medical care!"
"I need to get out of here," Buffy said.
"Wow," Cordy interrupted, staring at Angel who was holding a crucifix up to show Wesley that it wouldn't burn him. "This is like shanshu! I mean, Angel, are you really looking forward to becoming human eventually since you're already practically there?"
"Human?" The word rang through Buffy's head over and over. "What are -"
"Oh you know, the prophecy Angel got way back when that told him he'd be human one day. Possibly soon." Cordy clapped her hands gleefully.
Her side forgotten, Buffy turned to glare at Angel. "You never told me."
"I didn't want-" Angel began.
Buffy took several steps away. "You never told me anything. Your name. This shanshu thing. How could you not tell me this?"
"I thought that--"
Buffy shook her head. "Just shut up. I don't want to hear what you thought. I- I have to get out of here."
"Your side," Giles tried to stop her, but she pushed him aside and ran off into the night.
Xander sighed deeply. "And here I thought the flying fish were bad. Now we're having reruns of the Buffy/Angel betrayal hour. Some things never change."
Angel glared at him, then at Cordy who shrank behind Giles, and headed out after Buffy.
"I didn't know I wasn't supposed to tell." Cordy chewed her bottom lip.
Xander shrugged his shoulders. "Like I said, some things never change."
Buffy ran. She ran as fast and as hard as the pain in her side would allow. She dodged two vampires who gazed after her, not wanting to tangle with a Slayer, and she kept going and going until she could go no more. She fell to her knees and realized that she had run into the alley where she had first met Angel. God, it seemed a lifetime ago, but her heart still held it all there. Every single thing they went through was chiseled there.
Angel used to tell her everything. She used to tell him everything. And together they had worked through whatever problems they had. But all that had changed. He had known for what, months, that he'd be human one day and hadn't spoken a word of it to her. She had even mentioned Shanshu on the boat. She leaned back against one of the alley walls and buried her face in her knees.
Angel stood watching her from the mouth of the alley, his heart aching for causing her any more pain. Slowly he approached her and knelt beside her. "Buffy?"
She had been so lost in thought that she jumped when she heard her name. She stared at him, wishing he was not there and thankful at the same time that he was. "Why do you always hurt me? Why?"
"I don't mean to hurt you." Angel tried to take her hand, but she clenched it into a fist and pulled away from him. "Buffy, if I had thought that telling you would have done any good-"
"I'm so tired of you making all the decisions!" Buffy shouted. "I'm not a child any more! I don't need you to keep things from me to protect my oh so fragile heart! I don't need you to make excuses for keeping me in the dark about something so huge! I had a right to know!"
"What was I supposed to do?" Angel's voice was even louder than hers. "Was I supposed to call you up out of the blue and say 'Gee, Buff, I know we haven't spoken since you threw your relationship with Riley in my face, but guess what, I may be human one day so could you please cease going on with your life on the chance that it may happen in the next thirty years'?"
Buffy jumped to her feet. "Sarcasm never looked good on you!"
"And pouting never looked good on you, either." He rose as well as leveled her with an icy glare. "So, what now?"
"I'm going home," Buffy growled, pushing past Angel.
He caught her arm and spun her to face him. "You're not walking out of my life, Buffy!"
She yanked her arm free. "Hey, you're the one who taught me how!"
"Stop this!" Angel grabbed her again and shook her, hard. "Have you lost your mind? We can be together now!"
"Be together how? You have a life in Los Angeles and that isn't going to change."
"We'll make it work!"
Buffy sniffled and leaned her head against his chest. "I can't do this. I don't know what I was thinking, but I can't do this again. Angel, you're the one person in this entire world who can gut me with just a word. You bring me to my knees every time you look at me and that makes me a weak person."
"No, that makes you a person in love. I may bring our your weaknesses, Buffy, but I also bring out your strengths." He stepped back and looked down at her. "I love you. We can have a life together. All you have to do is let me in."
She stared into his eyes, studying the sincerity she saw in his gaze and the longing she felt in his touch. "That's all I have to do? Let you in?"
"I'll take care of the rest." He smiled, that crooked smirk that always made her heart melt and she returned the grin. "And we'll start by getting a doctor to check out your side."
He lowered his head to hers and kissed her, gently, softly. And she threaded her fingers through his hair and held him close.
It wouldn't be easy, she told herself. But the good things seldom were.
And only Angel could fill the need that had remained in her soul since the day he walked out of her life.