Without knowing quite how it happened, he found himself back in Sunnydale. "I'll just take off for a while." He'd said. "I need some time." He'd jumped in the car and taken off, no direction in mind. Until he read the sign saying Sunnydale 17 miles he thought he was driving aimlessly. Now he knew better. Sunnydale. The worst and best of his life was lived here. In little over three years in this town, he'd found love, lost it, along with his soul. He'd tried to drive his love insane, tortured and killed her friends and went to hell for a couple of centuries. Literally. And now, after eight years he was back.
"So, what the hell brought me back here, do you suppose?" He asked the air inside his car.
"Probably the same thing that drove you away." Angel swore is several languages and swerved off the road. He jumped out of the car and retreated quickly.
"Mother of God!" He'd recognised the voice immediately. Even after seven years, the Irish voice was easily identified. He watched as Doyle, or rather a figment of Doyle, rose through the roof of the old Mustang and drifted towards him.
"Hey, man. It's me!" Doyle said, as if they'd only been parted for a few minutes. "Doyle. Your lowly connection to the Powers that Be."
"Wrong. Doyle's dead." Angel barked, fearing that this ......thing was trying to get close to kill him.
"Dammit, Angel! It took awhile, but the Powers that be allowed me back. To help you again."
"I don't need you for that. Doyle gave Cordelia the visions." He heard the figment growl.
"Okay, fine then. Here's something that will make you believe. You told me the day I died that you and Buffy had a day together that was taken away from you. You became human. There! No one else would know that, would they?"
"Doyle?" Angel was still a little wary, but he hadn't told anyone else about that day.
"That's what I've been trying to tell you!"
"How....what? Who?" He was stuttering and stopped.
"The Powers that Be, a 'spirit guide' if you will, The Powers that Be."
"Oh." Realising that he was now sounding very stupid, Angel shook himself awake. "So, why are you here?"
"I'm here to guide you. Got a little better connected with the Powers, and now got a direct link. I'm still a messenger, but now I get the messages without the mind numbing, skull crunching headaches. Which is so much better." The figure grinned, and walked the rest of the way through the car. Angel shivered as he watched. Doyle noticed.
"Oh, sorry. Here." Doyle shut his eyes in concentration, and suddenly he was solid once more. "I won't do that whole spirit thing around you." Then he grinned, boyishly. "But it is fun!" Angel grunted and moved back to sit on the bonnet of the car, turning things over in his mind.
"So, why are you back, and why am I back here, of all places. I've put this behind me."
"Maybe, maybe not. But that isn't the real deal here. She's hurting, Angel." They both knew who Doyle was talking about. Five years away from her, and everyday he still thought about her.
"Her husband. He's not the brightest of guys, and he's been....for wont of a better word, brainwashed by a certain faction in Sunnydale. He's just last night tried to kill her while she slept." Angle was silent for a long time.
"Her husband?" He whispered. He knew she'd moved on. But didn't think she'd moved quite that far away. Then he froze in shock. "He tried to kill her?" His voice was like ice.
"Now, Angel." Doyle warned.
"Who is he?" Angel growled low in his throat.
"Riley Finn." Doyle cursed as Angel shoved off the bonnet and thundered around to sit in the car and start it. Doyle hustled to get into the other side.
"Angel..... Angel, this isn't what you think." Doyle was trying to reason with him.
"Her husband has just tried to kill her, and you tell me it isn't what I think? That bastard lay beside her, waiting for her to go to sleep, then ....... How did he try to kill her?"
"He tried smothering her. It doesn't wake the victim up. But ....."
"Right. We'll see how he likes being deprived of breath." They swung around a tight corner, the back of the car swinging out onto the other side of the road. Doyle decided it was time to put the seat belt on.
"Angel, what are you thinking?" Doyle said after a few minutes. He could see the lights of Sunnydale before them.
"What do you think I'm going to do?" He demanded, shooting a vicious look the dead Irish-man's way.
"I don't know." Doyle paused for a minute. "Angel, Riley isn't sleeping with her. They split up a couple of months ago. He snuck in while she was asleep."
"And that's supposed to make me fell better?" Angel snorted. He slowed down slightly when they hit the suburbs of Sunnydale, instinct guiding him towards the area of town Buffy now lived in.
"Which house?" He snapped out. Doyle hesitated. "Which house, dammit?"
"Second on the left." Doyle sighed. Angel pulled in to the driveway and stopped the car, getting out quickly.
"He's not here." Angel said after a second, then swung around to look at Doyle accusingly.
"Ah, no. He's skipped on them. Gone underground."
"Who's inside?" Angel asked, staring at the house before him.
"The ....." Doyle frowned. "I'm being told it's the Scooby Gang?"
"That's what they call themselves. It's Buffy's friends and her ex-watcher." He stepped forward, as if to go in.
"Angel." Doyle stopped him.
"Buffy....She's not.... Well, he came pretty close to succeeding last night."
"How bad is she?" Angel asked very softly. Doyle shook his head and jerked his head in the direction of the house, telling Angel silently he'd have to find out for himself. Angel grunted sourly and walked up the pathway to the front door. Hesitating for a brief second, he lifted his hand and knocked quietly. After a few seconds, the door opened.
"Angel." There was an almost stunned look about the ex-watcher as he looked at the man before him. "What are you doing here?"
"Powerful intervention." Angel said with a wry smile, glancing at Doyle, who managed to look sheepish. "How is she?" He asked the Englishman.
"You know?" That stunned Giles for a second, then he recovered. Angel walked in, gently moving Giles out of the way. He looked around at where Buffy now lived, seeing evidence of her spirit and personality in the hallway. A piece of art from her mother here, a weapon there. He smiled. It looked remarkably like his underground apartment.
"Angel!" He heard Willow gasp, and turned to face the tiny red head. He smiled when he saw her. Here was one person who hadn't changed in the years since he'd last seen her. Then he noticed a bright nimbus of power around her and changed his mind. She'd become a very powerful witch in the last few years.
"Hello, Willow. Oz." Oz was standing beside her, looking a little different. He'd grown a beard and his hair had gone natural. Which looked a little odd on the guitar player.
"What are you doing here?" Xander said from behind him. Angel turned and looked at the man who, as a boy, had annoyed him so much. At 26, he hadn't changed physically all that much, but the ex-demon beside him had changed his outlook on things.
"I have no idea yet. I'm sure I'll be told when they want me to know." Doyle winced at the veiled barb. He looked at Giles. "Have you found out where Riley is yet?" He demanded, his mind once again on his prey.
"You know about Riley?" Anya asked.
"I know all about Riley." Angel said darkly.
"Angel." Willow said softly. "Angel, Riley and Buffy were married three years ago."
"I know. It's okay Willow. Doyle filled me in. I think." Doyle nodded to confirm what he was saying.
"Oh, that's okay then. And we haven't found Riley yet." The red hair moved as she shook her head. "I don't know what got into him. Running after that guy that way. That had to be dangerous. And to leave Buffy here alone."
"Willow." Xander said in warning.
"What I want to know is why he was here at that hour of the morning." Oz said quietly. "They'd separated, right? So why was he here?"
"Maybe they were working out their problems, mortal style." Anya suggested. Angel had listened to this quietly, then realised something.
"You guys don't know!" He looked around at their blank faces. "You really don't have a clue, do you? He tried to kill Buffy himself!"
"What?" They demanded in chorus. "Angel, what are you talking about?" Giles continued. "Riley would never....I mean....."
"He did." Doyle said into the silence. "I have it on good authority that Riley has been .....taken over to the dark side of the force."
"But, Riley?" Willow protested.
"Didn't you ask Buffy what happened?" Angel asked them all. They shook their heads.
"She's been unconscious all day. The attacker...Riley had pretty much taken her over the edge when Willow sensed something was wrong with her protection spell, and cast another to find out what was wrong." Giles looked around at the rest of the Scooby Gang. "We thought that the spell had frightened the attacker, and Riley had chased him away."
"It was Riley." A soft voice said from the doorway. They turned as one to see a pale, shaken Slayer leaning against the doorway behind Doyle. "I didn't know what was happening until Willow cast that second spell. I opened my eyes to see Riley being thrown from on top of me, the pillow still in his hands. Then I lost consciousness." She closed her eyes, remembering. Her blue eyes opened, focusing directly on Angel. "What are you doing here?" She asked, still in that soft voice.
"The Powers sent me. We'll find out why soon." She nodded, taking what he said as the truth. She stood up from the door way, about to walk in when her legs wobbled and collapsed. Doyle reached for her and caught her as she went down, her eyes rolling up in her head. Angel lifted her from Doyle's arms and looked around.
"Where's her room?" He asked. Xander dashed in front of him, leading the way to the back of the house. Angel laid Buffy down on her bed, feeling for her pulse as he did so. He felt it, strong and rhythmic beneath his fingers, and sighed in relief.
"She's okay. Just exhausted, I think." As he spoke, she began to open her eyes, looking wildly around. "Go get Giles." He said to Xander, who for once obeyed without question.
"Buffy." He said quietly, getting her attention. She looked at him gravely.
"He tried to kill me." She said in bewilderment. "I knew we were in a bad way, but he tried to kill me."
"I know. I'll find him for you." His voice hardened. "Buffy, do you know of anyplace that Riley is fond of? That he likes to go to?" He was silent as the Slayer thought.
"He often goes down to the river." She said. "And goes patrolling the cemetery. But that's about it." She frowned in concentration. Then her eyes opened in shock.
"Angel!" She whispered, as if she had just realised who she was talking to. He heard footsteps behind him and knew Giles was there. "How did you get in here?"
"I brought you here when you collapsed." He explained, but she was shaking her head.
"I meant, how did you get in the house?"
"That's what I was about to ask. In the shock, I didn't realise until now that you shouldn't be able to enter this house." Giles said coming round to the other side of the bed. "Willow created a spell that prevented any vampire from entering this premises. So how can you be here? And I didn't invite you in when we were downstairs." Angel cleared his throat.
"Angel?" Buffy asked when he remained silent.
"I'm not a vampire anymore." Angel muttered.
"You're what?" Giles demanded.
"A vampire. Not anymore, any way." Angel was looking distinctly uncomfortable.
"What are you then?" Buffy demanded.
"Look, can we talk about this later? Right now I want to find your would-be killer and give him a few home truths." His jaw flexed with anger.
"Angel. My would be killer is also my husband." Buffy's voice was soft with regret and reminder.
"I know that. Believe me, I know that." His voice had thickened. He stood up and looked at Giles. "Keep an eye on her. I'll be back soon." He turned and strode out of the bedroom, ignoring Buffy as she called his name again. He paused outside the living room.
"Doyle, Willow. You're coming with me." He kept moving, and they followed without a protest. He stood outside his Mustang and waited for Willow to climb in, then banged the seat down and got in himself, slamming the door shut. Doyle glanced at him from the passenger's side, but said nothing. After a couple of minutes of what seemed like mindless driving, Willow moved forward slightly.
"Angel? What are we doing?"
"Trolling. Looking for any sign of Riley." Angel barked shortly.
"Oh. Of course.....Ah, what kind of sign?"
"Spirit trail, scent. Anything. I'm not fussed. Just something to lead me to him."
"Spirit trail? You can see a spirit trail?" Willow asked, amazed.
"Can now. Couldn't a year ago." Willow got the idea that Angel really wasn't in a talkative mood, and was quiet.
"There!" Doyle said, pointing off to the left. Angel looked and saw the signature that had to be Riley trailing down towards the cemetery. He swung the car left and onto the dirt road the signature followed, coming out through a hedge of trees into the older section of the cemetery. He stopped the car underneath a big oak and got out, holding the seat up for Willow to climb out.
"He's here. Hiding." Angel swung his head from side to side, and stopped on the second swing. He followed that direction, heading towards a large crypt. Outside the crypt he paused, the others stopping behind him.
"Doyle, make sure that the Opposites don't take him. Willow, I want you to guard against any thing helping him in there. No possessions, no demons. Just him and me." He waited as they did as he asked them to.
"Done." Willow said, opening her eyes. "When you go in, it will be shielded against any supernatural intervention. Of any sort." She looked carefully at Angel, seeing determination and anger in his dark eyes.
"I'm done too. The Opposites have agreed to stay out of this one. For now, at least." Angel nodded and turned to go inside.
"I'll bring him back alive. I just can't guarantee that he won't be unharmed." He stepped inside, tensing as the light dimmed. Moving quickly, he stepped away from the door, and moved to the other side of the room. He could feel Riley here, feel the menace. He'd been spotted, but that was what he'd hoped for. He heard Riley before he saw him. He ducked quickly, and something flew over his head to connect with the stone wall behind him. He saw a flash of blue, then nothing. He moved quickly, going to the left of where the tazer cable had come from. He heard a scuffle, and headed slightly to the side of the noise. Reaching out, he found Riley and grabbed his arms.
"Willow, I need light in here!" He cried out. Almost immediately, a little globe of light illuminated the crypt, and Riley with it. The human snarled at him, bringing his hands up underneath Angels arms and forcing him to let go. Angel backed up, curious to see what Riley would do. His answer wasn't long in coming. Riley let loose with a series of kicks and punches that seemed very familiar. And then Angel knew why. Riley had been training with Buffy. Had picked up her moves. This would have been an advantage, but Angel had trained with Buffy, too. Had taught her some of those moves. After a few rounds of defense and retreat, Angel grew bored.
"Finished yet, human?" He growled. Then started his own offensive. He ducked under one punch, landing his own in the fragile belly of the human, then swept out with his foot to tip him off balance. Jumping back, he kicked out with his other foot, knocking Riley to the ground. Riley jumped up in a signature Buffy move, flipping straight onto his feet from his hands.
"I haven't even started yet." Riley said. He started to chant in a harsh voice, moving his hands in time to the chant. Angel frowned, then realised that he was calling upon a demon.
"That's not going to work, Riley." Angel warned him. Riley ignored him, continuing to chant. Angel leaned against a coffin, shaking his head in amazement. Never mind the fact that the summoning wouldn't work, but hadn't the human realised that while he was summoning, Angel could have knocked the stuffing out of him? Riley finished his chant dramatically, flinging his hands outwards, then stared in shock when nothing happened.
"You didn't think I'd come in here unprepared, did you?" Angel stood up and kicked with all his strength, sending the human flying through the air to crash against one of the stone walls. "I'm over 250 years old, Finn. I haven't been stuck in a black hole what entire time. I've learnt a few tricks since then." Angel reached down and pulled up the stunned human by his throat, holding him above his head. "And I've killed a few people in my time." He squeezed a little, and Riley gagged, going blue. "What's one more?" He whispered in a harsh voice. "How does it feel, human? Do you like the thought that I can kill you now, without a thought? How does it feel to know that you have breathed your last breath? Buffy went through this herself. How does it feel to know what she went through? I can kill you now, Finn. It would be so easy. Just a little squeeze, and it would be all over." Angel paused, then let go of him, walking away. "I'm not finished with you yet." Riley heard him say as he blacked out.
"We found him." Willow said, though not happily. The others looked up as Angel brought the still unconscious Riley in, hung over a shoulder. He neck was beginning to bruise, but his lips had returned to normal colour.
"What happened?" Giles asked, looking from Angel to Willow and back again.
"I taught him a lesson." Angel said shortly, dumping Riley onto the floor in front of him.
"Hey!" Xander said when Riley thumped onto the floor. "You don't need to treat him like that! He's not a demon, he's a human being."
"Who called a demon on me." Angel snarled.
"What?" Giles and Xander asked at the same time.
"It's true, Giles. I'd put a banning spell around the crypt where Riley was, and he tried to call up a demon when he and Angel were fighting. I felt the demon responding, and had to increase my wards. It was a very powerful demon, too." The Scooby Gang looked down at the unconscious body on the floor as if they didn't recognise him. Which, Angel thought, they don't.
"Shit." Someone muttered under their breath.
"I need to tell Buffy." Angel said, and turned to go to her room. Giles followed, but at a distance. Buffy was resting quietly, her eyes closed. But Angel could tell she wasn't asleep.
"Buffy." He said her name softly, trying not to startle her.
"I can hear you." Buffy said. She turned her head towards him, opening her blue eyes as she did. "Did you find him?"
"I found him. He's in the living room at the moment." Buffy nodded, her eyes darkening with emotion. "What did he...?"
"He didn't say anything about you, Buffy. But he...." Angel really didn't want to tell her.
"What?" Buffy asked, sitting up a bit higher on her pillows.
"He called a demon on Angel, Buffy." Giles said from the doorway. "We're not sure what kind, but it was powerful, from what Willow tells us." Buffy looked confusedly at Angel, who was mark free.
"But...if he called a demon, why are you here already, and why don't you look even remotely like you've been in a fight?"
"Because I had Willow protect me from demon summoning. He called a demon, but the demon couldn't come to him."
"That's okay then. He didn't mean..."
"Buffy, whether or not the demon came, he called it. He intended to kill Angel with it." Giles spoke harshly. Buffy nodded, her eyes clouding with pain.
"I know. I just don't want to admit that I was so wrong about him. How could this have happened?" She looked from Angel to Giles and back again.
"Normally, a little bit at a time. It's normally something really silly, like holding back some information, or not telling the whole truth. Then something bigger. Before he knew it, he was summoning demons and killing his wife." He waited while the Slayer digested this. After a few minutes he spoke again.
"Buffy, he's here now. Do you want to see him?" He was gentle. It was killing him, but he was trying to be understanding to the pain she was in at the moment.
"I....I don't know. Will you be there?" She asked, looking at Giles, then at Angel. The men both realised that she needed their support to go through with this. The Slayer was strong, but she'd been through a lot. She needed someone to fall back on. As always, the ex-watcher and now ex-vampire were the two she chose. They both nodded. "I'll talk to him, then." She went to get up, but Angel stopped her.
"We've got to wait until he wakes up, Buffy." He was looking a little sheepish.
"Why? What happened?" She demanded, seeing Angel's face.
"I got a little carried away."
"How carried away?" Buffy asked him firmly.
"I just wanted him to know what it was like to run out of air." He looked up. "He's not been hurt so that he can't recover. I just cut off his air supply till he blacked out."
"Oh." Buffy didn't look very happy about this.
"Buffy, I think you need to get some more rest." Giles suggested. Buffy didn't argue, which told the others in the room just how upset she was by all of this.
Dawn arrived, bringing with it blue sky and the cheerful sound of birds. Angel watched them, shaking his head at their happy tune. He heard footsteps outside the door and turned around.
"Willow told me to tell you that Riley's awake." Anya said, darting her head around the corner of the door, then darting back out again. Buffy flung the bedclothes back and eased her way out of bed, holding on to the end of the bed to help her stand.
"Why is it taking me so long to recover?" She demanded from Giles.
"Buffy, before he suffocated you, Riley had given you some sort of drug to stop your from struggling. With your blood and powers, the drug had an alternative affect. It's reduced your powers until it wares off. Like when you were 18. You're feeling like a normal person after coming that close to suffocation."
"Oh. One more thing to think about." Buffy walked down the corridor, the two men following behind her. The living room was quiet, everyone watching the trussed up ex-commando struggle to free himself. He froze when he saw Buffy, then snarled with hatred. Buffy turned her eyes away from his for a moment, strengthening from the twin touches on her back. Her watcher and vampire were still there, supporting her. She looked back at her husband.
"Take the gag out, please." She said quietly. Angel walked forward and stood behind Riley, untying the gag and pulling it roughly from his mouth.
"Bitch! You were supposed to die!" He immediately spat at his wife. Angel saw the wince of pain, and clamped his hand over Riley's mouth, shutting it tightly.
"You will only speak when she asks' you to, got that human?" He growled low in his throat. He waited until Riley nodded, then released the jaw carefully.
"What happened, Riley?" Buffy asked, coming closer.
"You're what happened. You and you're superior group. Going about, saving the world. Looking down on all the others, as if they are rats that you let live." He sneered at the others. "Such bumbling idiots! Always stopping the trouble at the last minute. If any of you had thought to ask me, I may have given you a quicker answer." He looked back at Buffy, pain and anger in his eyes. "And then you. You agree to marry me, tell me that you love me, want a life with me. But when we're asleep, the subconscious is awake, did you know that?" He paused, gathering himself. "Do you know what it's like to sleep beside someone who professes when awake that she loves only you, but cries in her sleep and calls out another name?" The others shifted uncomfortably, and Angel and Buffy found themselves staring at each other for a long minute. "That's right, wife." Riley spat, seeing where she was looking. "Two and a half years you cried for him. How do you think I'm going to feel?"
"And that gives you the right to try and kill her?" Giles demanded, incensed.
"She's mine! I married her! I own her!" Angel, who had had enough, clamped his hand over Riley's mouth again, grabbing for the gag. Tying it securely, he watched as Buffy reached over and sat down on a chair, her hands shaking. Riley continued to rant through the gag. Angel hesitated, then shrugged and punched him in the jaw, knocking him out.
"What did you do that for?" Xander asked him.
"He annoyed me." Angel looked back at Buffy, who was sitting with her eyes closed, her head resting against the back of the chair. The knowledge that she'd called for him for the last three years did nothing to comfort him. In fact, it made him sadder. It would have been easier to leave if she'd actually gotten over him completely, but from what Riley had said, she hadn't. After a few minutes, Buffy opened her eyes again, looking straight at Angel.
"What did you mean when you said you weren't a vampire anymore?" She asked him directly. The others looked stunned, but Angel just frowned.
"Buffy, do we have to get into this right now?"
"Angel, please! I need to think about something else. Just tell me what you meant. Distract me!" She pleaded with her eyes. Angel muttered, but sat down next to her.
"Two years ago-."
"Before we start, where did your friend go?" Giles asked, looking around.
"Oh, Doyle had to go and report. He'll be back eventually."
"Report? Never mind. Start talking." Buffy watched him with world weary eyes, begging him to tell her a fairy tale. For once, he could comply.
"Two years ago I came across a Mohra demon. Like the one I killed when you first visited LA. Mohra demons are players for the Opposites. Usually. This one wasn't. He never told me why, but Cordelia was given a vision that told us to trust him. Any way, Mohra demons have restorative powers. They once made me human for a day."
"What?!" This came from all directions.
"Ah, never mind. You guys won't remember. As I was saying. This other Mohra, the good one, his name was Derrick."
"Derrick?" Willow spluttered.
"Yes, Derrick. Can I continue? Derrick was a player for the Powers that Be. He came to me one day and offered me a solution to my problem. Being that I was a vampire and couldn't use the daylight hours as I needed. He could restore my soul ownership of my body, banishing the demon. But leaving me with it's power and immortality. So now I can walk in the sun, I can eat food - though I don't actually need to, and I can still fight the Opposite."
"So the curse..." Willow asked for them.
"Is obsolete. It doesn't exist any more." He looked at Buffy again, who was staring at him, mouth open wide in shock. Giles, sensing they needed to be alone, motioned with his head, and the others filed out quietly.
"So you've been free for two years." Buffy said quietly.
"Yes. It was strange at first. Being able to stand in the sun. Eating food that I could taste." He grinned suddenly. "I got to eat chocolate and peanut butter again! That is one of my favourite foods."
"Chocolate and peanut butter? Again? What are you talking about?" Buffy asked in a puzzled tone.
"Ah...never mind. You wouldn't remember."
"You've said that twice now. What are you talking about?" Angel sighed, but thought that she needed to be told.
"The first Mohra demon that attacked me, when you were in LA?" She nodded. "Well, the first time it attacked, it's blood mixed with mine, and I became human. You and I were together for a day and night, before it attacked again, and I was injured trying to fight it. It told us that we would die, soon and that the world was going to end. I had the Oracles turn back the clock, so that I could kill the demon before my blood mixed with his. I was the only one who could remember the day - no one else does."
"What do you mean we were together? I was only with you for about ten minutes, at the most."
"That was the second time round. First time, we were together for a day and night. That's when you introduced me to chocolate and peanut butter."
"I introduced you to....oh!" Buffy's eyes widened as she realised what he was getting at. "A whole day and night?" She whispered.
"Twenty four hours, in fact. Look, it doesn't matter now. It's not even in the past. And we need to deal with your husband, here." He watched as Buffy winced away from the thought of her husband.
"Angel, I'm sorry-."
"Shht! We'll deal with that later. Right now we need to find out why Riley tried to kill you."
"But, he said..."
"You think that's the whole reason? Buffy, he's not sane any more, but someone still put the thought in his mind. We need to find out who, and why..... There are two ways we can do that." Angel sounded reluctant.
"Which two ways?"
"One, we can ask him, and see if he'll tell us." Buffy's snort told him what she thought of that idea. "Or two, we can ....convince him to tell us." Angel sounded extremely reluctant to bring this option up. Buffy paused as she let this sink in.
"Angel...I c-can't. He was my hus-."
"I never thought to ask you!" He reassured her. "I'll do it." He smiled, wryly. "After all, I've had lots of practice." Buffy smiled back, her expression equally pain-filled.
"I don't like it, but it's..."
"Necessary." Giles agreed from the doorway. The two on the couch jumped and turned around. Giles was standing just inside the room, his jaw clenched in remembered pain.
"Giles.." Angel started.
"It's over with, Angel. You need to do this. Don't worry about the past."
"That would break an 80 year habit. Which is a little hard to do." Angel tried to lighten the mood.
"Hmm." Giles agreed. They all looked up when Riley moaned, slowly coming around. Angel looked at Buffy.
"I don't want you to watch this." He said to her. She objected.
"No, Buffy. Bad enough that I have to do this, but I don't want you to watch, and see me. He was your husband." Unspoken was the words that she wold never forget, and hold it against him.
"Angel's right, Buffy." Giles said softly, and Buffy heard his struggle with emotions in the thick voice. Buffy hesitated, then nodded her head slowly.
"I'll get the others to take her to my place. I'd send her patrolling, but I don't think that would be wise right now." Buffy stood up slowly, her head spinning with the knowledge she had absorbed in the last few hours.
"I'll let you know when I've got what we need." Angel told her, following her outside the room.
"Angel." She said quietly, stopping him from going back. He turned to her. "Just....don't hurt him too much." She asked softly. He nodded.
"I'll do what I can." Angel told her, then left. A very somber Buffy went outside, to where the others were sitting down.
"We need to be away from here for a few hours. We'll go to Giles'." The Scooby Gang got up to follow.
"Are you sure you want to be here?" Angel asked Giles when he entered the room. The ex-watcher nodded his head.
"For my sake, if not for Buffy's." The Englishman spoke quietly.
"If you're sure. Just remember that I'm not going to enjoy this, no matter how it looks." The other man nodded his understanding. Angel turned to Riley, who was staring at them, a little off balance. Angel walked forward, and crouched down in front of him. He stared at the bound and gagged man for a long, silent moment, until Riley was forced to look at him.
"Now, this is up to you, Finn. We have two choices here." Angel looked at his hands, clasped in between his thighs. "One, you can answer our questions, all of them, right now." Riley shook his head in denial. "Okay then, you've obviously chosen door way number two. First of all, I'm going to take the gag out. What's the fun in this if I can't hear you scream?" Angle reached behind and pulled at the knot, feeling the rag fall from the man's mouth. Riley turned to bite his arm, but Angel pulled back quickly. He tutted at the enraged man.
"Not nice. So very not intelligent to anger me right now." He pulled back and threw a punch with his left hand. "Notice, I start out nice and gently? I even used my left hand!" Riley shook his head, trying to clear away the ringing. "Oh, I forgot! I'm much stronger than a normal human being." He walked away, then turned and came back again, bending low over Riley. "Now, I'm going to ask you one question at a time. You can answer or..." He reached for Riley's hand. "Or you can start to count broken bones. Question one. What demon did you try to call up on me?"
"Get sat on." Riley spat. Angel sighed.
"Now, why did you have to do that?" He wrenched up with one hand, and they all heard the pop as his thumb was broken. Riley screamed in pain.
"Now, I'll ask again. What demon did you try to call up on me?"
Angel leant over the sink in the bathroom, panting and splashing ice cold water over his face. He'd come close to throwing up a few minutes before. He looked up into the mirror and saw his face was whiter than the walls behind him.
"Angel?" Giles called from outside the door.
"Hang on, Giles." Angel reached for a towel and wiped away the moisture on his face, breathing deeply. He could smell Buffy in this towel. He breathed again, letting her scent wash over him. Within moments, he had control of himself again. He opened the door to see an equally pale Giles waiting for him.
"I called Buffy. She and the others are on their way back here. You okay?" Giles asked.
"I'll be fine. Where's Riley?" Angel walked down towards the lounge room.
"I put him in the basement. Locked the door on the way up. Not that I think he's going anywhere for a while." Angel grunted and walked into the front room. Sunlight was pouring in from the open curtains. Giles went to shut them for him, then stopped remembering.
"It takes a little getting used to." Angel agreed, walking into the sunlight to warm up his cold body. The day may have been warm, but he was still cold. The past two hours had brought back too many memories of Angelus for his comfort. "How are you coping?" He asked the English librarian.
"Just." Giles said softly. "The only thing that's helping me right now is the thought that we have him here, secure. He's not a sane man." Giles sat down heavily on the couch. "How the hell are we going to tell Buffy?" He asked the older man.
"I don't know. But we're going to have to find some way. She's not going to let us get away with silence for long." Angel leant against the window sill, staring at his boots. They remained that way for a long time.
When the Scooby Gang came inside the house, they startled the two men out of their trance-like state. Xander and Anya came in first, followed by Willow and Oz, then finally Buffy came alone. Very slowly. Seeing the room was empty of Riley, she looked for Giles to Angel and back again.
"Where is he?" She asked them both.
"Downstairs. We thought it best to put him downstairs for now." Giles answered when Angel remained silent.
"Well?" Xander demanded. "Did we learn anything?"
"Too much." Angel almost whispered. His eyes rose from looking at the floor, and the others flinched at the pain they saw there. "But we got what we needed." He shook his head, and took a deep breath. "You guys want to sit down while I tell you what we got off him?"
"Angel?" Buffy asked, coming towards him.
"Can you just do as I ask, please?" He almost pleaded, holding up his hands to ward her off.
"Hey, you're standing in the sun!" Xander exclaimed.
"Yes, Xander. That's what it means when I tell you I'm not a vampire any more. Can we get on with this?" At the silence that followed that snappish demand, he continued. "Good. We'll start with the small details, and work up. The demon he tried to call on me was a Smu'ond demon. Nasty, from what Giles has told me. Powerful too. Willow did very well to keep him out." He looked at the read-headed wicca. "You're obviously a very powerful witch, Willow." She gushed charmingly. "Now, onto other things. In essence, what he had said before was true. But there was more too it. Originally he was jealous and annoyed at the way you work. I can understand that. But you guys do work. You get the bad guys, you defeat the enemy, then you go and party. Anyway. That was how it started. But then something else happened to him. You were trying to save the world. Again. And he couldn't help. Something about him not being supernaturally touched. Buffy obviously was. Willow, being a witch, is in touch with the supernatural all the time. Anya.... Well, she's an ex-demon. Oz is a werewolf. Giles is a warlock." Giles spluttered.
"Giles, whether you like to admit it or not, you are a very powerful warlock. And Buffy's watcher. That gives you supernatural status. And Xander.....I'm not sure how Xander fit in." Angel frowned.
"If this is the time I think you're talking about, Xander was being possessed by the thing we were trying to kill." Buffy volunteered,
"Ahh. That makes sense. Anyway, Riley couldn't help you, and wanted to. It did start out pretty innocuous. Like I said. So he set out to become a warlock."
"But Darth Sidius corrupted him and he turned to the dark side of the force." Xander said dramatically.
"Ahh.....Quite." Giles agreed.
"Darth Sidius being a demon named Cachek. He is a extremely well connected demon, very high up on the demon ladder. He got Riley, corrupted him, and used him. Has been using him for the last five years." Angel looked at Buffy, hesitating.
"What?" Buffy asked, sensing this was going to hurt her.
"Cachek told Riley to marry you, so that he would have direct access to your Scooby Gang. He's been one step ahead of you for five years." Buffy closed her eyes, feeling the dull thud of her heart dropping in her chest. The room was silent for a long time, each occupant digesting this information.
"What else did you learn?" Buffy asked eventually.
"Nothing that has to do with what we're dealing with here." Angel said quietly, moving for the first time since the others had entered the room.
"What else?" Buffy said again, harder.
"I told you, nothing!" Angel lashed out suddenly. He stopped, pressed his fingers against the bridge of his nose, then looked up at Giles. "I've got to get out of here for a while. I'll be back later." He rushed out before any one could object, leaving a gaping hole in the room.
"What's up his nose?" Anya asked the room at large.
"I think it was the whole, I had to torture Buffy's husband thing." Oz said from beside Willow.
"He coped very well, considering." Giles said from one of the chairs.
"How about you?" Buffy asked her watcher. He'd been tortured by Angelus several years ago. And Angelus had killed Jenny Calendar.
"I'm okay. Seeing him after.....it helped."
"What do you mean?" Willow asked, leaning forward.
"He really didn't cope well with playing Angelus. " Buffy stood up straight, and made as if to go after him.
"Let him go Buffy." Doyle said, appearing in the room.
"Let him go. He needs time to himself right now." Doyle listened as the engine outside roared into life, then screamed down the road. In the past few years, Doyle knew, Angel had found some semblance of release in driving. What tension he couldn't be rid of by fighting, he would drive out. And drive hard.
"So, what do we do now?" Willow asked after a long silence.
"We find this Cachek guy, and slay him." Buffy announced.
"And Riley?" Oz asked her quietly.
"I don't know. We'll deal with him after." Buffy looked at Doyle. "How long will he be away for?"
"He should be back in about half an hour. Don't worry. We're watching him."
"Right, so until he comes back, go into research mode. Giles, do you know what kind of demon Cachek is?" At Giles' nod, Buffy continued. "Good. Get some info on him for us. Guys, help him."
"And what about you, Buffy?" Willow asked.
"Me? I'm going down to have a look at Riley." She turned for the kitchen. Doyle followed, gesturing for the others to stay where they were. Buffy unlocked and opened the door, turning on the light on the jam. The stairs were suddenly lit up, leading down into the basement. Buffy took a deep breath and started down them. Silently, Doyle followed. She stopped on the last step, looking around.
"Where the hell...?" Buffy asked, dashing forward. Doyle looked at the empty chair, the ropes and gag lying beside it. "God damn it!" Buffy picked up the gag, looking around at the basement. Seeing nothing that gave any clues as to how Riley had gotten out, she started swearing. And continued for quite a while. Then she turned on Doyle.
'Okay, Mr Dead-but-still-here. How the hell did Riley get out of here? He was supposedly tortured, tired up and secure!" She stormed back up the stairs, Doyle following behind her.
"Buffy, I don't know how he got out. I'll have to ask the Powers."
"You do that. And while you're there, you can get them to bring Angel back. I want this finished." She slammed the door shut, banging it against Doyle's noise. He yelped, then disappeared.
"Okay, I'll give you three guesses." Buffy snapped, throwing the gag onto the coffee table.
"Ahh, Riley wanted you to have a gift to remember him by?" Xander guessed.
"Riley's gone." Giles said flatly.
"Got it in one, Giles. Gone, vamoose, vanished."
"Disappeared." Anya supplied.
"I believe I covered that with vanished." Buffy told her, then looked back at the Englishman. "Any idea how? He was supposed to be secure!"
"Ahh. I don't know Buffy. He was secure when I left him there." Giles looked sheepish and annoyed at the same time. Buffy looked up and out the window when she heard an engine, and saw the green mustang pulling into the driveway. Angel got out and walked around the bonnet. He walked into the house, slamming the door behind him. Thunder crashed in his face when he came into the room.
"How the hell did he get away?!" He demanded.
"That's what I was about to ask you!" Buffy snapped back, turning on him.
"There was no way he could have untied those knots. Not with the state his hands were in. Someone had to have helped him." He glared at them all.
"Don't look at us!" Xander told him, insulted.
"Don't you dare accuse my friends of letting him go!" She cried at him, storming forward.
"Buffy, I wasn't..." He calmed himself down, seeing how upset Buffy was. It did no good to have them both go off their tree. She swung out at him suddenly, and he dodged quickly. Her fist smashed into the wall behind him, leaving behind a large hole. They all froze in shock.
"I think you're strength's back, Buffy." Angel said quietly. Buffy nodded, a smile playing about on her lips. "Right now, we need to find Cachek. But first, we need to know how to deal with him. What can hurt him. We'll deal with Riley later." He looked at Giles.
"Cachek is a Telsor demon. They're very similar to humans in some ways. From what I can remember, they have a similar life span, just under 100 years. To make up for such a short life, in demon terms, they are extremely powerful and very difficult to harm. I can't remember much more, but I think the Mont Codex has some references in it." He wandered over to the ever-enlarging book collection, picking up books at what looked to be random. "Maybe the Cross Reference Guide?" He pulled out a stack and dumped them on the coffee table, squashing Riley's gag underneath them. The Scooby Gang picked up a book each and started in.
"Oh, here's something." Willow said after almost an hour of searching. "The Telsoric race differs from other humanity challenged-"
"Humanity challenged?" Xander asked.
"It's the Book Of Shrom. She's very into rights for all demons. Anyway, as I was reading. From other humanity challenged races in that they gather strength not from food or other regular sources of power, but from the ground itself. You will never find a Telsoric person on the water, nor in the air. They are earth bound in the most prosaic of ways. That's pretty good news, isn't it?" She looked at the others.
"Not too bad. But it doesn't say how much power, and how to get rid of it. It's not like we can just say to him, hey, Cachek, we've got a favour to ask you. It involves air travel." Buffy looked back at her book, and the others followed. Willow set aside the Book of Shrom, marking the page and picked up another large tombe. After another long stretch of reading, closing and fetching other books, Angel cleared his throat.
"Got something." He scanned the page quickly. "To summarise a very long passage, it basically tells us that the Telsor is vulnerable when near or on water and can be killed by drowning. That's about the only way to kill it, according to this book. It also mentions a bit about it's power. The Telsor is always stronger near a settlement of human's. It's believed to be in association with the disruption of the ground, opening up power channels that a Telsor can link to."
"So that's how we get him." Giles said triumphantly.
"How?" Anya asked.
"We take him to some beach, a long way from any where settled, get him on a boat, and..."
"Good idea, Giles. Just one question. How do we get him to said beach, and how do we convince him to hop on a boat?" Buffy had her hands on her hips, and one foot tapping in annoyance.
"Oh. I hadn't thought of that."
"Well, what do you think we should do, oh mighty Slayer?" Xander asked snappishly.
"How about we ambush him? I'll bait him out into the open, you guys chase him, and we'll guide him towards....Lake Lance, here." She pointed to a map of the Sunnydale area, indicating the large natural lake that existed just outside the town's limits. "If we're smart and careful, we should be able to guide him right here before he realises what we're doing."
"Not a bad idea, Buffy." Oz said quietly.
"How are we going to flush him out, so that he'll follow you?" Willow asked
"I don't know. I don't even know where his hide out is. I was hoping you guys would deal with the little technicalities of it. I just come up with the ideas, remember?"
"I may be able to find out where he is." Angel said slowly. "I'll get back to you." With that, he got up and walked outside.
"Has that guy stopped since he got here?" Xander asked the room at large.
"Ah.. I don't think so."
"He's going to burn out." Willow said worriedly.
"Can't." Doyle said, appearing in the room. The others jumped in shock.
"I really wish you'd use the door like normal people!" Buffy snarled.
"Sorry, Slayer." The spirit apologised.
"Now what did you mean by 'can't'?" Giles asked.
"The Mohra demon that took away the vampire in Angel? Well, it's blood is a rejuvenating kind of thing. Basically, Angel can be on the go ad infinitum."
"Ad infinitum?" Xander questioned.
"Into infinity." Willow told him.
"Oh. So what are you telling us?" Xander asked the Irishman.
"Angel is truly immortal. He can only be purposefully killed. He cannot starve to death. He does not run out of energy. He requires no sleep, no rest. No food. He's what everyone thinks of when they hear the word immortal." A stunned silence followed this declaration.
"Oh." Anya muttered finally.
"Quite." Giles agreed, pushing up his glasses.
"So where's he gone to now?" Oz asked.
"He's gone tracking. Along with the true immortality, the PTB gave him some other gifts along the way."
"PTB?" Giles asked.
"Powers that Be." The others chorused.
"Oh. Of course."
"Any way, one of the gifts is that of....well, Cordelia calls it tracking. He can see spirit trails. Essence that's left behind by someone passing. Angel has learnt to filter what he see's so that he can concentrate on one particular trail."
"So that's what he meant when he said he was tracking!" Willow exclaimed.
"Exactly. He was tracking Riley by his essence."
"Like a bloodhound." Xander supplied.
"Kind of." Doyle said.
"Ahh...I hate to interrupt, but what happened to Buffy?" Oz asked, noticing the hole where Buffy was a minute ago. The others looked around, finally noticing that she'd left the house.
"Angel, you want to hold up for a minute?" Buffy called, trotting up to him. He stopped, and looked back. When she reached him, he continued on, the Slayer falling in beside him.
"How are you going to find him?" Buffy asked him after a few minutes of silent walking. Angel glanced at her, then back to the footpath in front of him.
"I'm tracking him at the moment." He said, quietly.
"I'm tracking him. Or rather, I'm looking at where he has been most often. I figured that if I follow a couple of trails, eventually I'd find the one that led to Cachek."
"Okay, still Huh-ing here." Angel realised that Buffy didn't realise that he had some new abilities along with his non-vampiric immortality.
"Sorry. I can track a person by the.....spirit of themselves that they leave behind. Right now I'm tracking Riley. He came through this part of town frequently. I'll just follow the most used trail." He thought it sounded logical.
"That sounds logical.....I don't think. Do you want to explain that in words of one syllable or less?"
"I can follow him by his otherworld scent." Angel said shortly.
"Oh. Now why didn't you say that in the first place?"
"I did. You just weren't listening. As usual." Her presence was starting to unnerve him.
"What do you mean by that?"
"No, I want to know." Buffy insisted.
"You never listen to anything someone else has to say. Like back there, with Giles. Now he may not have thought out the plan all that well, but he did have an idea. But you just barreled over it, without even hearing him out."
"It wasn't even a good plan. Besides, he was finished." Buffy defended herself, getting a little annoyed.
"Was he? How would you know. You stopped him so quickly, he didn't have time to open his mouth a second time. You do that a lot."
"How would you know? You haven't been around for the last eight years, if you remember correctly." Now she was past annoyed, rapidly heading towards angry.
"Now don't start that, Buffy. I had, we had reasons. One's that we don't need to hash out again. But you need to start listening to your friends, before they leave on you."
"Don't tell me what I need to do, Angelus!" She realised she'd called him Angelus, and a part of her wanted to apologise, but the rest of her carried on, regardless. "You didn't pay any attention to what I needed eight years ago, so why should I pay any attention to what you say I need to do now?"
"My name is Angel." He growled out from behind clenched teeth, quietly angry. It stopped Buffy in her tracks. She looked at him, her mouth open in shock. He stepped forward, his eyes flashing. "My name is Angel. Never again will you call me Angelus. Do you understand?" Buffy nodded wordlessly.
Angel turned and followed the footpath up the street. Buffy hesitated, then followed, much more subdued. She ran the fight over inside her head, looking at it from his point of view. Somehow they had gone from bantering over what he was doing to hashing out old history. In the space of seconds. She guessed things weren't as peachy keen between them as she thought.
"Angel." She said softly, putting a hand on his arm to stop him. Stop he did, but he didn't turn and he didn't look at her. "Angel, I'm sorry. I don't......One day I wish we could actually have a conversation without resorting to arguing." She finally burst out. She saw his jaw twitch, and thought she'd hit the wrong tone. But then his mouth turned up, and he turned towards her, a smile on his face.
"But then what would we have to apologise about?" He asked her, humour lacing his question. He hesitated slightly, then pulled her gently towards him. She came without a protest, walking into his arms like the last eight years dearth had never existed.
"I'm sorry for snapping, Buffy." He muttered into her hair. "But it's a bit of a sore point with me." She could hear his smile.
"I wonder why?" She asked into his shirt front. He chuckled lightly, then let her go. She stepped back, then looked up at him, suddenly serious.
"Angel, what Riley said before, about you....." She stopped, unsure if she should go on.
"It doesn't matter, Buffy." It almost killed him to say it, but he had to, for both their sakes.
"But it does. What he said was true. I didn't realise it until he said it, but he was a.....substitute. At first I wanted Mr Joe Normal. But then he turned out to be Mr Joe Commando. And then I think I wanted him to be you so much, I ignored the signs that something was wrong."
"What happened?" He asked her, leaning against the building wall next to the footpath.
"A couple of months ago, things were pretty tense around here. Nothing unusual. I was out most nights patrolling until almost dawn. Riley and I didn't patrol together any more. We hadn't for almost a year by then. Any way, I got hurt in a slay, and had to go home to change and bandage myself up. Riley and I weren't talking all that much any more, and we were drifting apart. I didn't realise how much until I walked into our house and found him......." Her eyes shut for a moment, in pain. "The things he was doing with her.....From the brief look I got before I slammed the door, they'd been ....doing that sort of stuff for a while now. And I had no idea......I was sickened, and it takes a lot to get me....." She turned away, unable to look at Angel.
"Buffy." He whispered, feeling for her. "I'm sorry you had to see that."
"So am I. But I guess I needed to. It woke me up quickly, I'll tell you that much. Riley came out of the room, pulling on some khaki's. I slammed him into the wall." She smiled painfully at this memory. "He really hadn't come up against Slayer strength before. I'd always held back with him."
"Not with me." She looked up at him, and her smile softened.
"No, not with you. Anyway, I slammed him against the wall. I was a little angry. The ...girl came out, screaming and carrying on. I shoved her out the door and then Riley followed." If you ever come back here, Riley Finn, you will find out exactly why I'm the oldest Slayer to have lived. She'd threatened him in a deadly voice. From the way Riley paled, Buffy had known that he'd believed her.
"I couldn't tell the gang why I'd kicked Riley out. I couldn't take their...pity."
"But you've told me." He said gently. She smiled at him again.
"I know. I've always been able to talk to you about anything. That should have told me something, don't you think?" Buffy stood up straight, her shoulders setting. "Hadn't we better go and find this Cachek's hang-out?"
"Right." He, too, stood up. He understood her need for distance. It was either that or hunt out some vampires for her. He knew that slayage was comfort food for Buffy. He intended to find her something to slay. He glanced around, searching for the scent again. Finding it, he followed, Buffy now stepping equal with him.
It was at the end of the third trail that they finally discovered Cacheks hiding place. Angel stopped suddenly, reaching out to stop Buffy with his arm. She ran into it, then remained still. The dusky light hid the entrance from normal sight, but both Buffy and Angel could see the doorway into a cave system.
"That's it." Angel breathed. Buffy nodded. Her spider-sense was going berserk. "I suggest we get the flock out of here." Buffy breathed back. It took a minute, but then things clicked, and Angel recognised the line from Lethal Weapon.
"Right." With that, the two stepped backwards silently, then turned and rapidly walked back the way they came. They reached Buffy's house close to an hour later. Buffy was tired from walking for most of the day. And hungry, she discovered as she smelled pizza wafting from the loungeroom.
"Pizza!" She cried, dashing inside. Angle followed at a slower pace. The Scooby Gang was seated around the coffee table, several pizza boxes open in front of them. Buffy dived for a piece and seemed to inhale it. Then she caught sight of the coke cans on the floor beside the coffee table, and dived on one of those. The room watched, bemused, as she ate and drank hungrily.
"She's been for a bit of a walk." Angel excused her. "About 15 miles, to be honest." He shrugged, then decided he felt like a piece of the pizza himself. He leant down, ripped off a piece, and sat down on one of the spare chairs. He took a bite, relishing the flavour of cheese, oil and tomato. Almost half way through the piece, he noticed that the room was even quieter than before. He looked up to see them all, including Buffy, staring at him, mouths open wide. He realised that while they knew, consciously, that he wasn't a vampire any longer, it was something else to see him eat real food and enjoy it. He shrugged, grinned, and continued eating.
"So did you find him?" Giles asked, when he had finished. Buffy, still eating, nodded her head.
"We did. He's out by the school. Up the back." Angel supplied for her. "There's a system of caves under the school. The eventually lead into the area that the Master used as his home. That's where he is."
"Well, then, let's go." Xander stood up, ready to go.
"Ahh, Xander, it's dark outside right now." Buffy said around a mouthful.
"Well, do you want to face this Telsor demon in the dark? Without a precise plan?" Buffy asked him.
"Ah...no, no I don't think I do." Xander sat back down again.
"Well then." She looked around at her friends. "Any body got ideas on said plan?" She saw them all look at her in surprise, and shot a look at Angel. He raised one eyebrow, and she flushed. Maybe he did have a point after all.
"Well, I was thinking." Not surprisingly, this came from Will. They all settled in to plot.
"Okay, I think that's it for now. Not much to do until morning. I suggest we all crash here tonight." Buffy looked at her watch, surprise to see it was just after 11. It seemed like they'd been planning for days. The others agreed and Willow went out to get their sleeping bags. Crashing at Buffy's had become such a habit that they had all brought over sleeping bags so that Buffy didn't run out of blankets. They all grabbed their sleeping bags, then realised that Angel didn't have anywhere to crash.
"It's alright. I don't need the sleep any more." He reassured them.
"They already know. I told them a while ago." Doyle said from on top of the television. Being a spirit, he held no weight, and loved to sit and stand in places that were bizarre. "Gotta go and report now, man. I'll see ya tomorrow?" With that, the spirit guide disappeared, leaving behind a shadow of himself for a brief moment.
"Angel, you can crash with me." Buffy offered. Then she smiled, blushing slightly. "It's not as if we haven't crashed out together before. And with this lot, there isn't a spare bed or piece of floor left. My house just ain't that big." The others were quiet, trying not to interfere.
"I'll sit by the window, keep an eye out." He countered. Buffy nodded, and led the way back to her room.
"Night, guys!" She called back to them. They answered back in a haphazard fashion. Buffy opened the door to her room, and walked in, hearing Angel follow her. She glanced at the bed for a moment, then away. He noticed.
"Buffy, if you're uncomfortable with me being-."
"It's not you. It's.....I was almost killed by my husband in that bed two nights ago. I....I'm not too sure I want to sleep in it." She sounded embarrassed. "I know it's stupid, but I'm afraid of it. He....they were.....It was bad enough before, when I'd only found them ...They were lying there....I walked in.." She gestured weakly at the door. "I just stood there for a while....Just stood there while they....Then two nights ago he comes back into this room to try to kill me." She started pulling nervously at her hair. "Comes into the room where he and.....Comes in and tries to kill me. Smother me.....I just can't sleep in here. There's too much......"
"Buffy," he walked forward, reaching out to hold her. "Buffy." He didn't say anything but her name, just offered her silent comfort. She accepted, putting her head down on his shoulder. She shuddered in his arms for a while, breathing deeply. She didn't cry, just let someone else support her for once.
"I missed this." She said after a long silence. She pulled back, pushing her hair away from her face.
"What?" He asked, looking down at her.
"Being able to tell you things, and know that you'd understand." She smiled, sadly. "It's been a long time since I was able to relax and be Miss Not-so-strong." She watched as he frowned slightly. "Never mind." He watched her for a little longer, then looked around the room.
"Well, you don't want to crash in the bed, and somehow I think I can understand why. How about I make up a bed for you on the floor? That way you can get some rest. You may be back to full Slayer strength, but I still think you need some more rest. You did a bit of exercise this afternoon." Buffy nodded. He quickly pulled the bedclothes of the bed, and arranged them for her in front of the bed, away from the door. While he was doing this, she went into the ensuite and got changed. She came out in her pajama's. On the front of the shirt, a picture of a kitten was looking at him. Under the kitten were the words I may be cute, but I have claws. He smiled. It was an apt shirt for Buffy. She curled up in the blankets, looking like a lost little girl.
"Good night, Angel." She said softly, curling up tighter.
"Good night, Buffy." He whispered. He sat down on the window seat, drawing his knees up close to his chest, and staring out into the moon lit street. He didn't need rest any more, but he liked to meditate for at least an hour each day. It gave him peace of mind and a sense of calm. He closed his eyes and started to chant beneath his breath.
Somewhere around three that morning, Angel heard Buffy start to moan and toss around in her sleep. He got up from where he was sitting, moving across to where she slept. She was starting to mutter and cry out, tossing her head from side to side. When she cried out, he hunkered down closer, and reached out, grabbing her shoulder gently to wake her up. She did, sitting bolt upright. She was tense for a second, then relaxed, realising where she was.
"Oh God!" She uttered quietly. Angel pushed her hair back silently. "Angel.... He was here. He had the pillow over my head again. I was trying to get air. I was trying to breathe, but I couldn't. I kept pushing at the pillow, trying to get it away from my face. He was laughing at me. Laughing. Then I saw him, and it was the Master. The Mayor was there, giving him directions. He was shaving with Faiths' knife." She let her head fall on his shoulder. "You know, I don't normally have nightmares. I can face some of the worst demons, some you couldn't even imagine....well, maybe you could. I face them, destroy them and then go home and sleep like a baby. Hell, I kill vampires nightly. But my husband tries to suffocate me, and I have nightmares like a five year old." She growled in frustration.
"Don't blame yourself. It's a natural reaction to a traumatic event. An unusual traumatic event." He qualified. She grunted back at him.
"Talk to me, Angel. Tell me what's been happening over the last few years. Distract me." She almost begged him.
"Well. The last time I saw you was after Faith, right? What happened after that? Oh, had this whole prophecy thing come about. Stole a scroll that told of the great darkness. Cordelia went mad for a while. My building got blown up. Darla came back."
"What?!" Buffy looked at him amazed. "But, you killed her when I was sixteen! I saw her ash!"
"Well, Wolfram and Hart, that lovely law firm in LA, found a ritual to bring her back. To distract me, and cut off my connections to the Powers, this demon came along and killed the Oracles, and tried to get rid of Cordelia. Then they brought back Darla by some sort of ritual. Cordelia said that my face was a picture the first time I saw Darla again. Anyway, she was the bane of my existence for about a year, then I finally got rid of her in the usual way. Along the way, I managed to pick up some pretty little gifts from the Powers."
"Well, that tracking thing, for one. Very handy. I also have a gift for languages. Which means that what Wesley doesn't know I will. They also gave me some more warrior gifts. And about two years ago, they gave me wicca knowledge. I'm no where near as powerful as Willow, but I get by."
"Willow?" Buffy was shocked.
"You don't realise how powerful Willow's become, do you?"
"How do you mean?" Buffy asked, settling back down onto the bedding.
"Since I last met her, her power has increased more than ten fold. In the time I've been alive, I have met only two other witches as powerful. The gypsy that cursed me and a man in China, Gua. At this point, from what Doyle has told me, Willow is the most powerful wicca in America, if not the world."
"That's what Doyle told me." He lay down beside her, propped up on one elbow. She curled up, facing him.
"When?" He frowned, trying to remember.
"I don't know. Probably yesterday. I was a little distracted, so I may not have paid too much attention right then. I have this knack of listening, and then processing what I hear later on....Anyway, to get on with my history."
"After I finally got rid of Darla, again, all was pretty quiet in LA for a couple of weeks. Cordelia went away on holiday, taking Wesley with her to the Florida Quays." He grinned, his teeth flashing in the dark. "I thought they'd come back ready to announce that they were married. Shocked the hell out of me when they did, but to different people. Turned out that they'd met this other couple of friends while they were out there, and things had clicked for all of them. Cordelia ended up with her rich man. But John is the nicest guy. He worships her, but doesn't let her know it. She comes in every morning, complaining about her dictatorial husband, but goes home every night with a smile on her face."
"She's happy?" Buffy asked quietly.
"Oh, she's delirious. She just doesn't realise it. He's very good for her."
"Wesley married Janet. Lovely girl. She's from Indiana. Very quiet. She's brought out his protective side. It's very sickening to watch them." He was smiling warmly in the dark. She put her head on her folded arm, watching him.
"They're your family now." She said quietly. He paused, thinking about it.
"Yes. I .....yes, they are. All of them." He lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling, shrouded in shadow. "I don't know when it happened. I went to LA to get away from relationships. From feeling. It hurt too much. But somehow, Cordelia and Doyle barreled their way in. They didn't seem to care that I was Mr Broody. Then Wesley came along. Then Janet and John. And there's Gunn and his group. Now it seems as though I have this whole clan that I look out for."
"You said it, right then." Buffy said, propping herself up to look down at him.
"You said you had a clan to look out for." She grinned down at him. "You've become a Clan Leader."
"Don't be stupid. Clans were wiped out centuries ago. Before I was even born."
"But you've got one. You are Irish, after all. Okay, so it was a while ago. But that's how you were raised." She put her chin down on his chest. He was frowning, thinking it through. Her eyelids began to get heavy. She turned her head against his chest, and snuggled down, waiting for him to accept that he'd become a Clan Lord. She fell asleep waiting.
"I suppose you're right." He said finally, a long time later. After no response, he looked down to find her asleep, curled up beside him, her head on his chest. He hesitated, then relaxed and put his arm around her, pulling her closer. He lay there, holding her close, and waited for dawn.
Willow popped her head around the door just after day break. Angel looked up and saw her, her eyes widening in amazement. Buffy was just starting to move. Willow grinned, and disappeared before Angel could stop her. He almost groaned. Buffy was still curled up next to him, her arm now around his waist, holding him close. The others would know about it before they got downstairs.
"Buffy, wake up." He spoke softly, so as not to startle her. She groaned, and buried her head deeper into his chest, then froze. He felt her hand moving around gently, then she moved back quickly.
"Oh. I fell asleep on you." She stated the obvious.
"I think I figured that one out." He said, grinning. She was blushing.
"I'm sorry." She apologised, completely flustered.
"I'm not. Trust me, it was a nice way to spend a couple of hours." She flushed even harder, not looking at him. He decided to take it easy on her.
"Go and get dressed. I'll wait out here. Then we'll head downstairs and get this thing over with." Buffy nodded, glad to have a direction. Angel sat down and waited for her. He wanted to talk to her this morning before anything else happened. She came out a few minutes later, looking fresh and competent. Black top and pants, with a flash of colour underneath. Even when she was slaying, she was dressed smartly.
"Buffy, come here for a minute." He patted the space beside him, and after a small hesitation, she came and sat down in the sun next to him. He turned to her, hooking one leg up on the window seat, and grabbed her hands. He looked very serious.
"I want to tell you something. I want to tell you this morning, so that you'll know when we go out there. I first saw you just over ten years ago, before you even knew you were a Slayer. Whistler took me to see you, when you were still just a 'normal' girl. One look, and I was hooked. You are more addictive, more necessary for me than blood ever was." He saw she was getting uncomfortable, but he continued any way. "From the first time I met you, I loved you. I have never stopped." He smiled crookedly. "Not even when I was Angelus. From that time, ten years ago, you have been my motivation, my reason for getting up, for going on. I want you to know that while I now have other people that matter, you are still my centre. I want you to keep that in mind. I know that today is going to be one of the hardest days you have ever gone through, and I wanted you to know that I'll be there to help you." She was shaking her head.
"I don't want any argument. I'm going to be with you for this." She stopped him by placing a hand over his mouth, and smiling gently.
"I knew all this a long time ago, Angel. You've made no secret of how you feel. But this day isn't going to be hard for me. The hardest thing I have ever done, and will ever do was sending you to hell. Trust me, nothing could compare to that pain. Except you dying." She looked into his eyes, hers filling with tears that she refused to shed. "Riley was right, you know. I have never stopped loving you, either." She smiled quickly, painfully. "I can pretend as well as you can, but it's the hardest -." Angel stopped her babbling by leaning forward and kissing her gently. He smoother her hair back, holding her gently, then leant back, looking into her eyes.
"How about we leave the rest of this talk for tonight?" He asked her. He was content with that. He knew that they would be together now. There was no curse, no Riley, no reason for them not to be together. Buffy agreed silently. Angel stood up and offered her his hand. She grabbed it and stood up herself, leading him out of the bedroom.
"-Arm over him, curled up! I told you!" Angel could hear Willow talking excitedly. He looked at Buffy and grinned.
"Looks like they're already in the know." He told her. She nodded, then shrugged.
"Morning, guys." Buffy said, walking into the kitchen. She headed straight for the coffee machine, which was bubbling away happily, it's aroma filling the kitchen. Angel followed. It smelled to nice to refuse. He knew he didn't need to coffee, but he liked to eat and drink for it's own sake. Besides, the hot stimulant would be refreshing.
"So did you guys do it, or not?" Anya asked after a brief silence.
"ANYA!" Xander almost yelled.
"What? We all were thinking it. I don't understand why you people don't ask what you want to know. That never made any sense to me."
"It's not polite." Willow said, blushing slightly. Anya was right, they were all wondering.
"We didn't." Buffy said, quickly drinking her coffee. "And now that we've got that question out of the way, can we concentrate on today?" The others nodded. Even Giles looked a little guilty.
"Do we need to synchronise our watches?" Oz asked dryly.
"I don't think so. Just know that I'll be outside Cachek's at 9.30. You guys had better go and get your area's ready. Hopefully we'll have finished this by lunch." They all put their dishes in the dishwasher and left the kitchen. Giles, Angel and Buffy remained.
"You sure you're up to this, Buffy?" Giles asked, always
"I'm fine. You'd better catch up to Xander and Anya. I'll see you there." Giles nodded and left. After a little silence, Buffy turned towards Angel.
"So, what do we do for the next two hours?" He grinned in reply, and she swatted him on the arm.
"Stop that! I didn't mean it that way." She scolded him.
"What? I was going to suggest some breakfast. You know, eggs, bacon. Hash browns. Maybe some pancakes. With syrup." He was almost drooling.
"Breakfast." She said, stumped.
"What did you think I meant?" His grin was markedly evil.
"I thought you meant....breakfast. I was just surprised, that's all. I'm not used to you eating."
"Of course." He didn't sound like he believed her. She changed the topic.
"So, pancakes or bacon and eggs?" It worked.
"Ah....pancakes." He started diving into cupboards around the kitchen, pulling out the ingredients. As he mixed them up, he talked to Buffy. They hadn't had a conversation in years that had nothing to do with what was happening around them, it was nice to be diverted.
"You know, after two hundred odd years on a liquid diet, with the plain Irish food before that, I'm really appreciating the tastes you've got in your diet today." He poured some mixture into the pan he'd set on the hot plate.
"There wasn't any chocolate then. Especially not for a family on the income my father was on. There was no coffee. Certainly no pizza. All these tastes that you take for granted. I relish anything new, try anything that I haven't before." He laughed softly. "Hell, when I got de-vamped, that was almost the entire diet of the American people. I've gotten more knowledge since then. I don't eat for hunger, but I do for pleasure." He flipped over the pancake, the underside now brown and golden. Within seconds, he had taken that one off the pan, and was pouring more mixture into the buttered bottom. Buffy was sitting down on the other side of the bench, watching him work.
"How'd you learn to cook so quickly?" She asked, resting her chin on her hand.
"I always cooked. Cordelia can tell you about the eggs I make. But it's only been the last few months that I've been able to appreciate what I cook." Another pancake was added to the pile. He pinched a small bit of mixture that was bubbling on the pan, popping it into his mouth. He added another drop of butter, and poured the last bit of mixture in. Letting it cook, he turned and cleaned out the container, putting the almost clean dish in the dishwasher to be completely cleaned. He turned back in time to flip the pancake over, then got out two extra plates and some knives and forks. He turned off the heat and put the last pancake on the stack. Putting the pan under some cold water, he stacked the rest of the dishes then cleaned the pan quickly.
"Eat, Buffy. You're going to need it for this morning." Buffy shook her head. He leant over and put one pancake on her plate, smothering it in maple syrup. He put several on his plate, smothering his own, then hacked into it with his knife. Buffy watched for a while, fascinated at his concentration. He paused half way through the stack, his mouth full.
"What?" He mumbled around a mouthful of syrup and dough.
"Nothing. Just watching you eat. I haven't seen you do it very often." He grinned suddenly.
"My turn now. What?" Buffy asked.
"You ate your pancake." He motioned her empty plate. Buffy hadn't even realised she was eating. Or rather, had eaten. She'd been completely mesmerized by Angel's enjoyment.
"Oh. I did, too. I don't remember it. I'm sure it was nice, though." She was quick to assure him. He finished his own food in silence, grinning every now and then. This time, Buffy put the dishes in the washer, and started the cycle.
"I want to get changed out of these." He gestured down at his slacks and shoes. "I have a feeling I'm going to need older clothes today. I've just got to get my stuff out of Maggie."
"Maggie?" Buffy asked.
"Maggie the Mustang. My car, Buffy." He explained.
"Oh, of course. Your mustang. You named your car." She sounded a little bewildered.
"Well, she has a personality. So she needs a name that I can swear at when she doesn't start." He started to sound a little sheepish. He gave up explaining and jogged outside. Reaching into the boot, he dragged out his bag and hauled it back into her house.
"A big bag for a short visit, isn't it?" She asked, eyeing the full tote bag.
"I packed without thinking about it. I have a feeling Doyle influenced my packing." He said loudly, hoping the spirit would hear him.
"Now, I had nothing to do with it, man. The PTB don't just work through me, you know." Doyle objected, appearing before them. Buffy jumped briefly, then scowled at him. He grinned back.
"You just have to do that, don't you?" Buffy demanded.
"What?" Doyle was all innocence.
"Jump in like that and scare the living daylights out of people."
"Hey, can I help it if you're all a little tense lately?" He asked, his hands out to the sides. Angel smiled to himself, and walked up the hallway to the bathroom. He changed quickly and dumped the tote bag in the spare room. He would have put it in Buffy's room, but he didn't want to assume anything. Coming back into the kitchen, he heard Buffy and Doyle still arguing.
"All I said was that I thought a little warning, like a knock, would help!" Buffy defended herself.
"But I'm not walking inside from another room. And besides, it's fun watching you guys jump every time I appear." Doyle was grinning like a cheshire cat. Buffy grunted at him.
"When we've all finished, I do believe we have a bad guy to lure away." Angel reminded them. Buffy looked at her watch, then yelped in alarm.
"Damn. It's almost 9! Doyle, can you find Xander and Giles, tell them we're heading out now. Then find Willow and tell her to start her spell." Doyle nodded, suddenly serious. He vanished with a burst of song. It sounded to Angel like a piece from the William Tell Overture. He shook his head, then grabbed the keys to Maggie and his sunglasses and headed outside. Buffy pulled the door closed behind her, bag in hand. Her weapons bag hadn't changed much. She's bought a new one, sure, but it looked almost exactly the same as the one she'd had in highschool. He opened the boot and she threw the bag in. Getting in the drivers side, he started the car up, after a little bit of encouragement. Letting it warm a bit, he looked over to see Buffy sitting there watching him.
"What?" He asked, gently pressing down the accelerator.
"Mmm." He put the car in reverse and backed out. Driving towards the highschool was much easier than walking. Faster, as well. Within minutes, they had parked in the school car park. He turned the engine off and turned to look at her.
"You sure you're going to be okay doing this alone?" He asked her, a worried frown creasing his forehead.
"Positive. You just be ready to get us out of here when I get back." He nodded and she got out of the car. Taking a deep breath, she walked away from him, towards the back of the school. The cave entrance looked just as unassuming, just as innocent as it had the day before. Another deep breath, and she pushed away some of the branches and stepped cautiously inside. She hesitated, allowing her eyes to adjust to the dark. When she'd got some night vision, she walked slowly forward, her spider sense tingling. She walked around a bend and looked back the way she'd come. The entrance was no longer visible. There was a weakening of the dark, but that was all. She turned back and kept going, feeling her way along. A few meters forward, a spark appeared. She walked slowly forward noticing that the spark got bigger as she moved.
"I'm not here any more Slayer." A voice boomed out of the darkness. Buffy yelped, whirling around. Without knowing it, a stake had appeared in her hand. She'd drawn in from her sleeve on instinct. The booming voice laughed.
"That won't do you any good, Slayer, even if I was still in there with you." Buffy almost winced, the voice was that loud.
"You mind turning the volume down a tad, Cachek? It's a little loud in here." She'd figured out that it was Cachek.
"Sure." Cachek said in a normal tone. "Finn." He said after a moment. Buffy turned to find Riley walked towards her, holding a torch in one hand. The torch was what she'd seen earlier. Buffy drew back to hit him, but before she could deliver the blow, her body froze. It didn't just slow down, it completely stopped moving. She was staring straight ahead, couldn't move her eyes. She realised with a sense of dread that she wasn't breathing any more.
"Where is the other?" Cachek asked Riley.
"He's not here, master." Riley said, staring hard at Buffy. She was starting to get pretty spots in front of her eyes, and knew she'd need to breathe soon.
"Where's lover boy, Buffy?" He asked her. If she could have, she'd have rolled her eyes. How the hell was she supposed to answer when she couldn't even breathe?
"Answer me, damn you!" Riley roared, suddenly angry. He slapped her across the face, but not even that could move her. She would have laughed if she could. A slap, of all things.
"Ah, Riley. She can't move. She can't answer you. I suggest you relax the spell a little." Cachek murmured to him. Buffy almost cheered. She felt the bindings loosen, and drew in a deep breath, almost gasping.
"Now, where's lover boy?" Riley asked again. Buffy looked at him. She could move her eyes now.
"I sent him back to LA. I'm hurt, though. I thought you guys wanted me!" She said, in mock pain.
"What would we want a Slayer for when we could have your other half? He is truly unique." Cachek sounded like someone admiring a piece of artwork.
"Well, he's back in LA. Sorry to spoil all of your plans." She was praying madly that Angel would leave. She knew it was in vain, but she could hope.
"She's lying, master." Riley said, staring at her. She almost swore. Her eyes forever gave her away.
"Then where is he?" Cachek demanded. Buffy felt the power behind the voice for the first time. She almost cringed.
"I'll find out." He leaned forward, drawing out a knife from his belt as he did so. "You have a pretty face, Buffy." He whispered to her. He drew the knife gently down one side of her cheek. It left a white mark, but didn't draw blood. She glared at him. "It would be a shame to scar it up a little." He nicked his finger, then drew it up to his mouth to suck the blood. "Or a lot."
"You a vamp now, Riley?" She asked him, staring at him licking the blood off his finger.
"Blood has power, Buffy. You know that." Riley explained. "I've learnt to harness that power."
"So you're a black mage now, Riley?" Buffy asked. She almost didn't want to hear the answer.
"I wouldn't call it that. I.....merely appreciate the power that pain and death have in this world."
"You're a black mage. You deal in death and destruction. You are no longer human." Buffy smiled at this. "Goody. That means I can kill you now."
"Ooh, I have to say, I'm scared, Slayer." Riley taunted her. "To think I actually married you! My God!"
"Yes?" Cachek said. Buffy let out a surprised laugh. Cachek had a sense of humour.
"Not you!" Riley snarled. Without warning, he was on the ground, writhing in pain. Buffy watched on, amazed.
"Do not forget yourself, servant!" Cachek roared and whispered at the same time. No mean feat, that.
"I am sorry Master. I did forget in my hate for ...." He stopped, a scream torn from his throat. Buffy had no idea what Cachek was doing, but it looked painful. Three days ago, she would have felt some pity, even tried to stop it. But too much had happened, and she knew now that Riley was not who she had thought he was. She had no sympathy. Riley Finn had chosen this path when he started to learn magics.
"Remember who I am always, servant!" Cachek said, letting his hold on Riley go. "Her other is in his car, not far from here. Go, tell him the message." Riley and the cave disappeared, and Buffy gasped. The cave had been an illusion.
"No, Slayer. I jut moved you, quickly. You are now in my true home." Cachek appeared before her and she gaped, stunned. The demon was stunning. She'd been bracing herself for some big ugly with three head, five horns and four arms. This guy looked human. In fact, if you darkened his hair, and changed his eye colour, you could swap Angel and Cachek over without a problem.
"I know. It's a look I cultivate." Shit, he can read minds, was Buffy's first thought.
"No I can't. I can just read what you're thinking by your face. You have yet to learn the secret of hiding your thoughts." Buffy breathed a sigh of relief.
Angel sat in the car for fifteen minutes before he heard the sound of footsteps. He frowned, because they didn't sound like they were hurrying. He looked behind him and saw Riley Finn walking towards him. He snarled in his throat and jumped out of the car.
"You kill me, you'll never find Buffy." Riley said quickly, stopping Angel in his tracks.
"Where is she, human?" Angel snarled at him.
"Not any more. As Buffy said, I have gone to a level far above human. I am more, now." Riley gloated.
"Where is she?" Angel snarled again, stepping closer.
"Ah ah! No closer, thank you. Buffy is with my master. Probably they're getting to know each other right now." His tone of voice told Angel that Riley didn't think they were drinking tea. "You come closer, she will die." Riley spoke softly. The threat froze Angel to the ground.
"What do you want me to do?" He asked Buffy's ex-husband.
"Follow some simple directions. I will guide you." He took a step forward, then paused. "I need your word that you will not harm me. I die, no Buffy."
"Got that, Finn. I promise not to kill you until I find Buffy." Riley looked at him.
"I accept your word, only."
"My word I will not kill you until after I get Buffy."
"Fine. Let's go then." Riley got in the mustang, and Angel followed.
"Head out of town, south." Angel obeyed, rage boiling inside his stomach.
"What does Cachek want with Buffy?" Angel asked finally, hoping to get some information out of the commando.
"It's not Buffy he wants." Riley said, then quickly shut up. It was enough. He continued to drive south, out of Sunnydale.
"Turn right up here." Riley said after a few kilometres. Angel did, noticing that it had a sign for the rubbish tip on the intersection. He almost jumped when he heard a quiet voice inside his ear.
"Angel, it's me, man. What's happening?" He breathed a sigh of relief.
"Why has Cachek got Buffy at the Tip?" He asked out loud. It gave Doyle the information he needed, and didn't sound suspicious to Riley.
"Shut up and drive." Riley snapped.
"I'll tell the others." Doyle whispered in his ear again, and then there was silence.
"Peel off to the left, up there." Riley said again. Angel obeyed silently. He was busy thinking. What would Cachek want with him? Was Buffy okay? How were they going to manage killing Cachek in this place? The approached the edge of the rubbish pile, stacked up against the hill. There was an opening. Great, another cave.
"Stop!" Riley said loudly. Angel slapped on the anchors, stopping quickly. Riley, who hadn't put his seatbelt on was thrown against the dashboard, hitting his head slightly.
"There's a reason car's have seatbelts, you know." Angel told him helpfully.
"Shut up!" Riley snarled. Angel raised his eyebrows.
"My, such rage for one so young!" He smiled at him. Riley whipped his knife from his belt and held it up against Angels throat.
"I said shut up, prick!" He snarled again. Angel felt the knife nick his skin, felt a drop of blood dribble down his neck. He may not be a vampire any more, but after over two hundred years with an affinity with blood, he was still very aware of the substance. He felt, with the slight pain, Riley's rage increase, and he suddenly knew what Riley meant when he said he was a level above human. He was a blood mage. One step below demon. A servant of the Opposites. He was speechless.
"Servant, bring him." Angel looked around, and couldn't find the source of the voice.
"Yes master." The subserviance in his voice almost made Angel laugh. He had a flash of the character Igor in Frankenstein. He did laugh then, under his breath.
"Get out." Riley said, opening his door. For now, Angel chose to obey him, and got out on his side of the car. Riley, knife still in hand, gestured forward.
"Go." Angel walked forwards, towards the cave opening.
"He comes." The all too beautiful face smiled.
"Oh, Goody. Does that mean I can go now?" Buffy asked. Cachek looked at her, and smiled. She didn't feel comforted.
"Ah, no, Slayer. We want you two together." He was Mr Cryptic. Buffy just loved cryptic.
"You know, Cachek, I do actually have a name. Most people know it around here."
"Ahh, I know you're name, Slayer. But a name has power. More power than you can imagine." He turned and looked towards the entrance. The sound of footsteps, then Angel appeared, with Riley following, knife out and at the ready. Buffy noticed that Angel was bleeding.
"Cut yourself shaving again?" She asked him, dismissing the wound.
"Yup. Nothing much. Should heal soon. How you doing?" Angel asked, taking the tone of the confrontation from her.
"Peachy keen." She smiled brilliantly. "What do you think of Cachek here?" She asked, gesturing with her head towards the blonde man. Angel stared at him, then frowned.
"He looks kind of....."
"Human?" Cachek asked.
"That's because he looks like you. Okay, so the blonde hair and blue eyes distract you, but put colour in them, and wham bam, Angel all over again." Buffy flicked her head, sending her hair behind her shoulder.
"What's wrong with your body?" Angel asked, frowning.
"Not much. Just a little frozen, is all."
"Frozen?" He demanded, looking at Cachek.
"I just immobilized her. Didn't want the Slayer running free on me."
"You going to let her go now?" Angel asked, stepping forward.
"Now why would I want to do that?" Cachek asked.
"Because I came here, without protest."
"Did I ever say, or did I ever tell Riley to tell you that we would let Buffy go if you came here?"
"It was implied." Angel said, without a lot of hope.
"Implision is the fools excuse."
"Implision?" Buffy asked, amazed.
"Not the right word?" Cachek asked her. She shook her head. "Forgive me, then. English is not my native tongue."
"What is?" Angel asked.
"You would not know it." Cachek told him.
"Try me." Angel dared him.
"D'roksu ni murot'ick. Iwe qioent los norri. I just said, you are too young. You will not know my language."
"Ne d'roksu. Qioent mis ikil dennsim." Angel smiled, then continued. "Ne rotiindl du sorriwn, nboosir. Borkdo su moporitl ni qwento."
"Noi?" Cachek asked, stunned.
"I have a few talents. Language is one of them. Release her." Buffy collapsed onto the ground, the support suddenly leaving her. She bounced up quickly, then went over to where Angel was standing.
"Stop." Riley said, coming forward. She did so. Not because she was afraid of him, but because Angel had motioned for her to stay where she was.
"What do you want me for?" Angel asked Cachek quietly.
"You have something that I need."
"And that would be?" Angel asked.
"Immortality. True immortality. You have it, I want it." Angel heard Buffy gasp. He turned towards her, still keeping an eye on Cachek.
"I wanted to tell you about that little thing later."
"Immortal? As in....."
"As in un-killable, never dies. Will live forever. Yes, now you see why I am interested in him?" Cachek said, coming forward. "Right now, I am hard to kill, but it's not impossible. As you and your gang found out. I want to be a God."
"There is only one God, Cachek. The others a poor imitations that He suffers to exist." Angel said.
"Whatever." Cachek dismissed this.
"How do you plan to take my immortality away from me, if I can't be killed?" Angel asked, truly curious.
"You will give it to me." Cachek smiled. Angel frowned.
"Does someone want to explain this to the me?" Buffy asked.
"It's simple, Slayer." Cachek chuckled. "That could become a tongue twister if I worked on it. As I said, it's simple. Immortality can only be given away. If Angel chooses, he can pass his immortality on to any person, as he chooses. He needs only say three words, and then touch the person."
"Three words? I suppose they're I love you." Riley scoffed.
"Actually, no. It's Mi nasa coudis. Translated, it means, I give you my life. It's an ancient language, out of date and out of use for over four thousand years now. But I found a text that made reference to it. It was fascinating."
"Cachek, you're worse than Giles." Buffy complained. Cachek frowned, unsure what she meant. Angel knew, and hid a smile.
"And how are you going to get me to say those three words? Torture me? You are going to wait a long time before you even begin to break me. Remember, Cachek, I spent centuries in hell. I somehow think you've got a long wait." Angel said.
"Oh, I'm not going to torture you. As you said, I realised that it would indeed take a lot to break someone of your spirit and ......experience. No, Riley is going to have Buffy for his playmate." Cachek smiled as he said it. Angel felt dread well up in his heart. He could stand any sort of torture, but to see Buffy hurt....He looked at Buffy, fear in his eyes.
"I can take it, Angel. Don't give him what he wants." Buffy pleaded with her eyes. Riley had walked behind her, pulling a lock of her hair away and sniffing it. She went to hit him, and froze. Moving only her head, she stared with fear at Cachek.
"That's not fair, Cachek. Surely I get the freedom of my arms and legs?"
"When you are suitably restrained, I will instruct Riley to release you." Cachek assured her. He put out a hand towards Angel and he froze.
"You people have this affection for freezing, don't you?" Angel complained. He wasn't in the most comfortable of positions. One leg was raised off the ground, about to step forward. One arms was drawn back, ready to strike out at Riley. He felt like a Da Vinci statue. He watched as Riley pulled Buffy towards a chair that was close to him, then pushed her down and tied her to it.
"A chair? What, no hook to pin me on?"
"Buffy." Angel pleaded. She looked at him. "Don't make it worse." Angel felt his upper body come free, and put his arm down. Buffy watched him, still pleading. She didn't see the fist coming towards her. She grunted with the impact. Angel frowned, looking at Rileys hands.
"How did you manage to heal so fast?" He asked the blood mage.
"Magic." Riley answered, waving his hands dramatically. Then he leant down and kissed Buffy, roughly. After that, he punched her again, making her head swing round on her shoulders. Buffy straightened up in the chair, spitting some blood out of her mouth.
"Is that the best you can do, Riley?" She asked him. He snarled, and pulled out his trust knife.
"Another thing you people seem to love. Last time I was tortured, they actually came up with something new and improved. Well, maybe not so new. But it's always more effective than the knife. It's called water torture. You should try it!" Buffy advised them.
"Shut up." Riley slapped her again then knelt close to her, the blade in front of him. He ran the blade gently over her face and neck, then down her right arm. At the elbow, he pulled back slightly and flicked his wrist gently. Blood welled up in the crook. He continued down her arms until he reached her wrists. Flirting with the delecate skin on the inside of the wrist, he pressed down with the blade. The area around the blade went white with pressure. He continued, the moved suddenly. He thrust down with the blade, slicing through the webbing that joined Buffy's thumb tot he rest of her hand. She moaned slightly, paler now. But otherwise said nothing.
"Riley, stop now." Angel warned him in a deep, quiet voice. The blood mage looked up and smiled serenely at him.
"Why would I stop now?" He asked the tall figure. "I'm just starting. Haven't gotten even close to what I intend to do with her." He leant forward and kissed her again, biting her lip and causing it to bleed. He drew back and started on her other arm. This time, as he drew the blade down, he pierced the skin from shoulder to elbow, causing a shallow, but bleeding cut almost a foot long. Buffy moaned again, staring up at Angel. She hadn't let go of his eyes throughout the process. She was still pleading with him not to give in.
"Shall I do to her what you did to me?" Riley asked , looking up again. "Why not." He grabbed her left had and in quick succession broke her thumb and three of her fingers. Buffy went, if possible, paler. She cried out when he broke the second finger, and again on the next two.
"Did that hurt, Petal?" He asked her, all sympathy. Then he grinned, delighted in the pain he could feel. Angel tried to move, but couldn't. He couldn't hold out much longer. It was killing him every second he had to watch this. Buffy was panting, trying to control the pain. She still hadn't broken eye contact with him. He admired her for her conviction. He was beginning to wish he had as much.
"Hurry up, Finn." Cachek ordered, standing near Angel. Riley looked at his master, frowning slightly. He was enjoying this. But he obeyed.
"Just a few more, Petal. Then you can go to sleep." He reached up and grabbed the collar of her top, wrenching it. It came away in his hands, leaving just the bright green undershirt on. It also showed up a lot more flesh. Riley put the knife to his mouth, trying to decide which piece of flesh to cut first. His tongue darted out to flick some of Buffy's blood off the blade without him even realising it.
"You know, Buffy." Angel said almost casually. "I think that Riley is more vampiric than even he realises. It truly is disgusting watching people feed off of blood." Buffy smiled through her pain.
"You bastard!" Riley screamed. He lunged for Angel, knife forward. Cachek reached out with a hand and stopped him.
"You can't hurt him, fool." Cachek reminded him. He sounded like he was getting very annoyed with his servant.
"Fine, then I'll kill the bitch!" He yelled, whirling around. Before anyone could stop him, he thrust his knife under her breast bone, reaching up towards her heart. She screamed in intense pain.
"Stop!" Angel bellowed. "I'll do it, Cachek. Just stop him!" He screamed. Cachek froze Riley and Buffy, and the two looked almost harmless as the sat there.
"Do you meant it?" He asked Angel. Angel nodded.
"But let me free first." He felt the bonds loosen, and shuddered. He stepped towards Buffy, almost involuntary.
"Stop!" Cachek roared. Angel froze.
"Say the words, soon to be mortal!" He was ordered. He was staring at Buffy, who was frozen in place, the knife still inside her belly. He felt tears well up behind his eyes, and turned to Cachek. Cachek was gloating. Angel looked at the demon, and spoke softly.
"Mi nasa coudis." Cachek smiled and reached out his hand. Angel smiled as well, which put Cachek off for a moment. Which was all Angel needed. He reached out with his left hand and touched Buffy on the shoulder.
"No!" Cachek bellowed, stunned. Angel walked forward, intent.
"You are a Telsor demon. You are the closest to invincible while still being mortal." He heard them coming now, and was grateful. "We have a gift for you, Telsor." He waited for a brief moment, then felt the spell rip the air around him. Within moments, a column of water descended from the roof of the cave, enclosing Cachek.
"To keep you here, I bind with Ice. To vanquish you, I bind with water. To defeat you, you breathe." Willow intoned, walking into the large cavern. Angel watched intently, and saw when Cachek took his last breath. He watched, impassive, as Cachek fell against the outer column of ice, resting against it. He knew Cachek was dead when Buffy cried out, behind him. He turned to see her wrench her hands away from the bonds that Xander and Giles were trying to untie. Riley stood there, his knife in his hand. You could see him trying to figure out why he hadn't killed her. Then she stood up.
"We go at it, now, honey." She snarled, then let fly. Angel sat back and watched her go. She didn't need his help any more. Riley held up his own for a while, using the magic and power he'd gained from torturing his wife. It didn't look like there was going to be any outcome from this fight, then Buffy looked at Angel.
"We taught each other a lot, didn't we?" She asked, and he knew she was asking him. He nodded. He had no idea what she was talking about, but he agreed. She turned back to Riley. She stared dodging his kicks and attacks, getting in a few of her own. "He taught me duty. He taught me love. He taught me pleasure and pain. But most importantly, he taught me this." She reached forwards and grabbed his neck in her arm. She whipped her body around, snapping his neck in a signature Angelus move. Riley collapsed to the floor, dead.
The cavern seemed to freeze for a minute. Buffy bowed her head, her heart hurting for the man Riley had been. Angel slowly walked towards her. She looked up at him, her eyes bleak.
"I killed him, Angel." He put his arms around her, nodding his head.
"You had no choice. He'd gone past the line. With his actions, he killed himself." She nodded against his chest, knowing that what he said was true. But it did little to ease the hurt in her own chest.
Xander, Willow Oz and Anya were standing at one end of the cavern, still looking stunned and shocked. Giles stood with Angel and Buffy, talking quietly.
"He was a bloodmage, Giles." Angel said to the ex-watcher. "They are one below demon, a servant of the Opposites. And he almost succeeded in killing Buffy."
"Yes, how is that, when you don't seem to have a scratch on you?" Giles asked, looking at the Slayer. He watched as both their faces became morose.
"Angel gave me a gift." Buffy said softly, sadly.
"What kind of gift?" Giles asked with a frown.
"His immortality." Buffy said, looking at Angel. For so long now, it had been her who would age, him that would watch on, ever the same. Now, the coin had turned. Angel looked peaceful, but she knew him better than that.
"He did what?" Giles asked, stunned.
"He offered up his right to immortality to save the Slayer." Doyle said, walking up to them. For once he had not just appeared, but walked in from the cavern entrance. "He selflessly gave up what was his by right and by hardship to save another."
"It's not like I had a choice, Doyle." Angel objected.
"To you, maybe not. But to others, they would have let her die, and kept the immortality. What you saw as no choice at all, others would have seen differently." He looked around. Xander and the others had come over and had heard the end of the conversation. He continued. "Which is why you have been given a choice. Both of you." They frowned at him.
"A choice?" They asked in chorus.
"You have two options. Angel, the PTB can grant you the power to be immortal. You and Buffy, if you choose this, will be humanity's protectors. If you choose this, there is no going back. That little loop hole that Cachek tried to use will be closed. However, you have another choice. You both become human again. You will fight with Slayer strength. You will grow old, die eventually. But being human, you will have all the joys that humanity can bring. It is your choice." They were gaping at Doyle, stunned.
"Can we ask some questions first?" Angel asked finally. Doyle nodded.
"What will become of the world if we choose humanity?" Buffy asked after a brief hesitation.
"It will continue on the same path as it is on now. Until eventually humanity will destroy itself. Not now, not even in this century. But eventually." Doyle was speaking, but Angel had the sense that it wasn't Doyle answering. There was an ancient feel about his Irish friend right now.
"And if we choose immortality?" Angel asked.
"Then humanity will prosper. It won't be an easy fight. Nor a quick one. But as far as we can tell, you will succeed."
"How long to decide?" Buffy asked. Doyle hesitated.
"You need to decide before we leave this place of darkness. Other than that, you may take your time."
"Can we ask you more questions?" Angel asked the one who was in Doyle.
"Doyle will be able to answer any more questions. We will know when you decide." Then ancient feel to Doyle disappeared, and Doyle shook his head.
"Told ya I had a more direct connection with the Powers." He grinned at them. Buffy nodded abstractly, then looked at Angel.
"We need to talk." They moved off, away from the others.
"What's going to happen with the bodies?" Oz asked, looking from Riley to Cachek.
"Ahh, the PTB are going to take care of that." With that, a bright light erupted from the other side of the cave, and two darkly dressed figures emerged, picking up the two dead bodies and walking back towards the light without glancing up.
"The universe's garbage collectors." Doyle told them.
"Oh." Xander said for all of them.
Angel leant against a comfortable outcropping of rock. Buffy stood before him. They had been silent for a long time.
"Well?" Angel asked, when the silence had stretched far enough.
"I don't know." She looked hesitantly up at him. "What you said this morning...."
"I meant every word. Whatever you decide, I will back you up one hundred percent."
"Don't do that!" Buffy objected. "I need to hear what you think. We have a major decision to make here, and I need you're input!"
"You're right. I'm sorry. It's just that I've had immortality for a while now, but I also remember what it's like to be human. I don't want to influence your decision."
"What's it like?" Buffy asked him quietly.
"Immortality? It's like .......existing outside of reality. Like looking in a window and watching while everyone else around you is inside, living life. But at the same time, it's like being more than real. As if everyone around you is fleeting, but you are the constant. I try not to dwell on that thought too much. Bad for the ego." He smiled at her. She responded, but thoughtfully.
"And human?" She asked him after a while.
"You know all about being human, Buffy. You said it yourself. It's pain and joy. Love and hate. Fear, freedom. Life and death. Humanity is about opposites."
"But if I choose humanity, then what will happen to us? To everyone around us?"
"As Doyle said, humanity will eventually destroy itself in the quest for knowledge. I've watched for a while now, and there is a thirst in us for the unkown. But that could destroy us one day."
"We have a chance to be there when that one last choice is made, to help right it. To help the balance."
"You've decided." Buffy realised. Angel hesitated, then nodded.
"It's what I've been doing for a long time now. Well, twenty or so years, anyway. And as much as I love you, I know that I need to continue what I'm doing. And I'm good at it. Besides, as far as I'm concerned abandoning what I know is right is just as wrong as working for the Opposites themselves."
"You sound like a preacher." He looked at her, then looked away, sheepishly.
"Well, I just..."
"I agree." She said softly. He looked at her again, sharply this time.
"You want to say that again?" He asked her.
"I agree. To turn away from what's right is just as bad as being a demon. Worse. They are born evil, it's what they are. To turn away from right is to align yourself with evil. It's a choice I can't make."
"So, what are you saying?" Angel asked her, standing away from the cavern wall.
"That I can't let this gig go. I couldn't just walk away, let someone else take up the slack." She grinned suddenly. "Besides, I'd be forever worried that they were doing something wrong."
"So, we're doing the forever thing?" He asked again, just to make sure he was clear.
"Looks like." She seemed almost sad. He knew how she felt. For the first time since she'd met him, she knew how he'd felt. Knew that she was going to watch her friends and family grow old and die. He had some comfort for her. He put his hand under her chin and drew her eyes up to meet his.
"It will hurt. I won't pretend it doesn't. But my family died over two hundred years ago, and I have one now. A family is emotion, commitment. There will always be those that we can care for. And we will have each other." She stepped close, and put her arms around him, sad yet happy.
"I love you, too, by the way." She told him softly. He hugged her, and stayed still.
"You have decided." Doyle said, coming towards them. Angel nodded for both of them. Doyle smile, stepped forward and placed his hand on Angel's forehead. He muttered under his breath, then withdrew his hand.
"We are pleased." Doyle intoned, then collapsed on the cavern floor. Angel looked down in concern, but Doyle shook his head, like a dog coming out of the water, then grinned up at him.
"That was intense!" He exclaimed. He shot up, then pounded Angel on the back, grinning all the while.
"What's got you so happy?" Angel asked him, frowning.
"You, Angel man. Because you decided to go the long way home, I get to stay here for that much longer." He grinned.
"Buffy?" Giles asked, coming towards them again. Buffy turned her head and looked at her ex-watcher. "What did you decide?" He asked, stopping a couple of steps away. Buffy smiled painfully.
"As much as I wanted to be a normal girl, I never got the chance. I finally get it, and what do I do?" She asked him. He shrugged. "I turn it down. Go for the long life." She hiccuped under her breath, and Angel realised she was trying to hold back tears.
"Give us a minutes, Giles?" He asked the Englishman, who nodded and stepped away to tell the others.
"Let it out, Buffy." Angel whispered to her. "It's not going to hurt less, but you will be able to watch them, be with them for as long as you can. Take that as comfort. And the knowledge that you'll always be strong enough, young enough to protect them." Buffy nodded, her nose buried in his chest, and let go for the second time in twenty-four hours. She eventually pulled back and looked at him.
"Is that what you do?" She asked him softly, rubbing her nose.
"What? Think about protecting and fighting for them?" She nodded. "Well, as I've only been in the world for the last twenty years, I can't say as I'd really know. But that's what I was going to do with you. And that's what I intend to do with our people." He smiled, and she smiled back. She looked over at Xander and Anya examining what was left of the ice column, squatting down and squabbling. Then she looked at Oz and Willow, holding each other close and looking at the part of the cavern where the garbage collectors had come through. Giles called them over, and spoke to them for a minute. The seemed to freeze for a second, then look at Buffy and Angel, huge smiles spreading over their faces.
"The Slayer Clan." She named them.
"The Slayer Clan." He agreed.
"You were right." Buffy told him, watching Giles' great-great-great grand-daughter, Gilly, practicing in the room below them.
"I know I was. About what?" Angel asked, coming up behind her, wrapping his arms around her.
"About family. It isn't blood. It's emotion. Commitment. And continuity." She leant back against him, watching as Gilly strove to fight off the demon. She tutted when Gilly went down briefly, then sighed as the girl jumped up and kicked the demon in the face, sending it sprawling. She leapt forward and "killed" it with a quick thrust.
"She's doing okay, Buffy." Angel reassured her.
"I know. I was probably as pigheaded and cocky when I was her age."
"Worse." Angel said, grinning. She elbowed him in the ribs. "But prettier." He added.
"That's better." She grumbled, then leant forward. "Gilly, Doyle. Up here, please." The teenager and the spirit looked up and nodded. Doyle appeared almost immediately, and Gilly not far behind, running up the stairs to the loft.
"Yes, Buffy?" Gilly asked.
"Nothing, just thought you'd like some food." She gestured to the table behind them, ladened with fruits and sandwiches. Gilly dove towards them, a squeal in her throat. Real fruit was a luxory these days. And Gilly knew that this was real, sun grown food. No genetic alterations. No enhanced growth. She'd helped plant the latest batch of vegetables herself. Buffy and Angel, the young slayer knew, were very old fashioned that way. But they had very nice food. She looked at the timeless couple and smiled. In this day and age, their open affection was considered un-cool and obscene. She watched as Angel placed a kiss on the older Slayers neck. Then she grinned even further. As far as she was concerned, to some it may be un-cool, but on them it was as old and natural as the hills.
"Stop grinning, missy!" Angel snarled at her, coming towards her.
"Angel!" She squealed, dashing around the other side of the table. "Not fair! I'm eating!"
"Oh, and I suppose a vamp's going to wait until you've finished to attack?"
"Why wouldn't he? Besides, I never eat in places that vamp's hang out!" She poked her tongue out at him and dashed around the other side. He gave chase. She squealed. They'd been playing this game since they knew that she'd been chosen, over five years ago now. Just after Gilly's father, the second Giles, had died in a demon sacrifice. Buffy and Angel hadn't been able to save him, but they'd saved his daughter, and raised her as their own. Which she almost was. Buffy watched as Doyle joined in the game, then Angel backed out, and Gilly went back to eating. Angel walked over to Buffy and put an arm around her shoulders, watching their girl eat with gusto.
"Giles would have been proud to know she is a Slayer now." Buffy said quietly, watching.
"Yes, he would. They both would have." Angel said into her hair.
"I'm glad we're here."
"So am I." He put his chin on top of her head and watched Gilly engage in a burping contest with the solid spirit guide. "Mind you there are times...."
"I know what you mean. Doyle!" Buffy objected to a particularly loud eruption. "Stop encouraging her!"