She stood across the street, in the deep evening shadow, watching. The door to the building she had been watching for the last two hours opened, letting out a young couple. She recognised the woman, but the man was new. Her breath stopped when the door opened a second time, and then she heard him.
"Cordelia!" The woman turned round, then walked back to the doorway. From this distance, what the two said couldn't be heard. She stepped out of the shadow, peering, in the hope of catching a glimpse of him. She couldn't. The woman finished talking and turned back, walking down the stairs and away.
"It's now or never." The girl muttered to herself and walked across the road towards the building. She paused outside the door, then opened it, and with a deep breath, walked inside. The office was in darkness. She expected this. She peered inside, and then cleared her throat. He was sitting at his desk, facing away from the door, reading. He jerked slightly at the noise, and spun round.
"Hi." She said very quietly.
"Hi. How can I help you?" He asked, coming round from behind the desk. "Are you lost? You need some help?"
"Um.. My name is Vanessa. Most people can me Van."
"Well, then, Van. What can I do to help you?" He sat back against the desk, leaning on his long legs. She looked at him properly for the first time and caught her breath again. He was stunning. Taller than she'd imagined. And paler. But that made sense, too.
"I need you....to .....come...." She was having difficulty speaking, after so long wanting to meet him.
"Just take it easy. Here, have a seat." He gestured to the chair before him. "Did you want something to drink? Some juice, maybe?" The girl shook her head, walking softly to the chair in front of him. She sat down, holding her bag in front of her, and tucked a strand of black hair behind her ear with one hand. Her body language reminded him of someone, but he couldn't place who it was.
"Now, what is the problem." He squatted down, to get on the same level as she was.
"My....grandfather sent me to get you. You are Angel, aren't you?" She breathed in quickly, suddenly realising this man might not be who she thought he was.
"Yes, I'm Angel. Who is your grandfather?" He was a little puzzled, but let her continue.
"I have a ticket here for you to fly back with me. It's a night flight, so you can come. He said you needed to come as soon as possible." She looked up at him with pleading black eyes, full of tears.
"Vanessa, I'll come if I can, but I need to know who your grandfather is." He said it gently, seeing that she was on the verge of tears.
"Oh, his name is Rupert Giles. He said-."
"Giles?" Angel stood up in shock. He hadn't heard that name in over five years, if not longer. "Giles is your grandfather?" The girl nodded. "How can that be? He didn't have any children when I left Sunnydale."
"He married my grandmother, Joyce, about four years ago." Vanessa watched as Angel's face went from pale to white, then flushed.
"You're Buffy's." He whispered, almost undone.
"Buffy's my mother, yes." She looked at him doubtfully. "Do you need to sit down?" She asked, getting up. She stopped when he put his hand on her face, very gently. She looked up at him, trustingly. He slowly brushed her hair back from her face, studying it minutely. He started running his hands over her face and shoulders, measuring her.
"Ahh.....Mr Angel?" She asked, hesitantly.
"Who.....who is your father?" He almost didn't want to know. He stepped back, realising that he was crowding the young girl.
"Mum always told me that he was the one man she ever really loved." She watched as the face before her crumbled with pain. It was almost immediately shuttered over.
"And how old are you?" He asked quietly, moving back to lean against the desk.
"I'm twelve and a quater." She said. "Can you come home with me? Granddad said he really needed you."
"Of course I'll come home...back to Sunnydale with you." Angel stood up and went around to use the phone on the other side of the desk. He punched in a few numbers, and waited briefly.
"Cordelia, it's me. I need you back here, asap." He put the phone down and looked up at Buffy's daughter. "Did Giles...your grandfather give you anything for me?" He asked.
"No, but he told me to tell you it had to do with my Mum and you." Angel frowned at this, but nodded his thanks.
"Right, well. Until Cordelia and Marcus get back, we'll go down stairs so that I can pack. What time is this flight to Sunnydale?" He went towards the lift, knowing the girl would follow him.
Packing didn't take long, and within minutes, Cordelia and Marcus had returned. "What's up, Angel?" Marcus asked, trotting down the stairs, with Cordelia in tow.
"I've got to go back to Sunnydale for a while. I don't know how long." He put the bag he'd just zipped up on the floor in front of the couch, and sat down next to Vanessa, who was curled up watching the TV in front of her.
"Who's this?" Cordelia asked, dropping her bag on the ground.
"This is Vanessa. Her grandfather sent her to get me." He could see she was depressed and clasped her hand. He felt it gripped tightly by the small hand under his, and left his hand there, as comfort.
"Who's her grandfather?" Marcus asked, sitting down opposite them, beside the television.
"His name is Rupert Giles. He was Bu-."
"Giles?" Cordelia demanded, looking as stunned as Angel did. "How did that happen so damned quickly?"
"He married my grandmother!" Vanessa said sulkily. "Joyce Summers."
"It's okay, Vanessa. Cordelia knew Giles when she went to highschool with your mother." Angel reassured the young girl.
"Who's her mother?" Cordelia asked, confused.
"Cordelia, just think for a minute. If Giles married Mrs Summers, and Mrs Summers is Vanessa's grandmother....Who do you think her mother would be?" Marcus asked his wife.
"Well, Mrs Summers only had one child, and that was Buffy so- Oh! You're Buffy's girl! Oh!" She darted a look towards Angel, seeing how he was coping with it. The vampire checked his watch and then looked at the girl in question.
"We'll have to leave soon. You got anything you need to get before we go to the airport?" The girl shook her head. "Okay, then. Cordelia, I'll need you and Marcus to stay here and keep the place open. Don't do anything that looks too dangerous. I'll have my mobile with me, so contact me when you need to. I don't know how long I'll be gone. I don't know what the problem is yet." He stood up, drawing up Vanessa at the same time. Cordelia and Marcus rose too. Angel hesitated, looking at his old friend. Marcus picked up the signal, and looked at the young girl.
"Hey, Van! You wanna go up and help me get a cab?" He put his hand out and grabbed hers lightly, and led her up the stairs.
"You gonna be okay, Angel?" Cordelia asked. In the past ten years, the two had become close friends. Since Cordelia had known him from the very beginning of his Buffy history, she knew or could guess what he was thinking. He nodded, slowly.
"I'll be okay." He breathed in deeply, looking up towards the stairs. "She had a little girl, Cordelia. To a man she told Vanessa she would always love. It hurts, still. I didn't think it would, after all this time. But it does." Cordelia listened to this, then stepped forward and hugged him hard.
"You need to talk to someone, ring me or Marcus, or talk to Willow. She always understood you." He nodded, and breathed in deeply again, then let it out in a rush.
"Right. Well. I'll see you later." He trotted up the stairs after Vanessa and Marcus.
"We've landed, Angel." Vanessa said softly. He opened his clenched eyes and relaxed his death grip on the seat. As far as he was concerned, people were never intended to fly. If God wanted flying people, he would have put wings on them. He looked out the small window beside him and saw the small airport of Sunnydale approaching swiftly. Behind that, he could see some of the taller buildings of the town centre. Night had definitely fallen on California. There was little activity in the airport. He could see one airplane being maneuvered onto the runway, and one small tractor like vehicle waiting near the airport terminal.
"It hasn't changed." He said softly. The plane pulled into the terminal and he heard the engines begin to whine down. He stood up and reached into the overhead compartment, pulling out Vanessa's black bag. He handed it to her and they made their way slowly down the isle, with the other passengers surrounding him. The exited the terminal, and Vanessa pulled on his arm to stop him hailing a cab.
"Wait. I think that's Uncle Xander." She waved, and the tall lanky man approaching smiled back.
"Hey, Van! You made it back!" He opened his arms and the girl ran into them. Angel felt a pang of jealousy at how easily the girl showed this man her affection.
"Angel." Xander said when he put the girl down.
"Xander." Angel said just as gravely.
"Your granddad sent me to pick you guys up and take you straight home. I brought Oz's van. It's this way." Angel picked up his bag and followed the other two.
Giles had moved from his apartment into Joyce Summers house. Xander pulled up infront of the house Angel knew so well and stopped the engine. Vanessa stumbled out quickly and ran towards the front door, which opened to a much greyer, slightly older Watcher. Angel watched as Giles lent forward and clasped his granddaughter to him, hugging her tightly. Xander was out of the car, walking around the short bonnet.
"Angel?" He asked, looking at the man sitting paralised in the car.
"In a second." Xander paused, then went up onto the porch. He watched as Joyce came out to say hello to Xander, her arm automatically going around Giles' waist. Everything that he'd tried to forget in the last ten years came rushing back. He watched through closed eyes as his history passed before him. Flashes of Buffy when he first saw her, before she knew she was a Slayer. Then his first meeting with her, when she knocked him down in the alley. Her sassiness and drive. He saw, in fast forward, their developing relationship. Their one night together. Buffy sending him to hell. His return, and their struggle to remain apart. Then, the hardest thing to remember, when the Slayer's mother told him that the best thing would be for him to leave, to let Buffy live a normal life. It hurt now, remembering that conversation. Almost as much as it did then.
He opened his eyes and then opened the door to the car. Stepping out, he rolled his shoulders, trying to relieve some of the tension he seemed to have developed.
Giles looked up and saw the vampire standing at the van, hesitating. He walked forward, down the few stairs and onto the front lawn.
"Angel, thank you for coming." Giles said softly.
"Why did you send for me?" Angel asked hoarsely. He thought he could handle it, but he was finding out that he couldn't. It hurt too much.
"I didn't. Buffy did. She asked me to send Vanessa to get you." Giles said this slowly, understanding that what he was telling the vampire had to hurt him.
"Why?" Angel breathed.
"Because she's dying, Angel." Joyce said, coming up to her husband. "She's dying, and she wants to see you again."
"How?" Angel was horrified. In all this time, he had never imagined Buffy dying. She was indestructible, in his eyes at least.
"She was poisoned. Fighting a Aprig demon. She hasn't got much time left. Vanessa doesn't know yet. Buffy asked us not to tell her until you were here."
"Where is she?" He felt rage and grief roar through his body, but slammed it down, knowing that it couldn't help him at the moment.
"Through here, up in her old room." Giles gestured for Angel to proceed him. Angel obeyed, and left the slower mortals behind in his rush to see Buffy.
She was lying curled up on her bed, pale and sickly. Her hair, still that shining blonde, was wet with sweat. Angel hesitated in the doorway, then stepped forward and crouched down by the bed. He'd been here before, many times. He almost gagged at the smell that was floating in the air. He sniffed slightly, and something twigged in his brain. He couldn't quite grasp it, so he left it there, and looked down at the pale, weak Slayer.
"Buffy?" He whispered, stroking her hair back from her face. "Buffy, it's Angel. Can you wake up?" He picked up one of her hands and pressed it to his cold lips, his eyes closing in pain. "Buffy, please." Her hand twitched in his. He looked up to see her eyes open slightly, pale and glazed.
"Angel." She whispered. He saw her lips curl upwards in small smile, then relax back into the slight frown of pain. She was sweating where she lay, her body trying to fight the poison that was pulsing through her system. "Thank you."
"For what?" He asked, coming a little closer to hear her.
"For being here. I need you to go and get Vanessa for me, please. I have something to tell both of you. Before I....go." By the end of the sentence, the slayer was breathless and pale. Angel wanted to protest, but decided she would just argue. He stood up, smoothing her hair back once more, then stepped outside, where Giles was talking quietly with an obviously upset Vanessa.
"Why?" The girl sobbed, beating on her grandfathers chest. Giles looked as devastated at Angel felt, and he could see that the Watcher was having difficulty dealing with the distraut young girl.
"Van." Angel said softly, coming up behind her. He put a hand on her shoulder and turned her slightly. "Vanessa, your Mother wants to talk to you." The girl shook her head, not wanting to see her mother so sick. Angel sympathised.
"I'll be with you." He held out his hand. "You'll be okay." Vanessa hesitantly held out her hand and grasped the vampires. He led her into Buffy's room, dread making every step seem like a thousand.
"Mum!" The girl cried out, and rushed forward.
"Hey, sweet." Buffy lifted herself up and held on to her daughter as tightly as she could. Angel, standing away from the bed, saw tears well up and spill out of the dimmed blue eyes. She pulled back, almost collapsing onto the pillows behind her. "Sit down, baby." She said, patting the bed beside her. Vanessa sat down slowly, as if afraid to hurt her mother. The Slayer looked up at Angel, her heart in her eyes.
"Angel, I want you to do something for me." She was whispering, hoping that her strength would last.
"Anything, Buffy." He said through a thick, blocked throat.
"Take Vanessa to L.A. with you, when I....." Buffy hesitated, not wanting to vocalise the words in front of her daughter.
"Buffy....Buffy, I'd gladly take Vanessa back to L.A. with me. But....shouldn't she be with her family, here in Sunnydale? Rather than with a stranger?" Angel pulled a chair out from beneath her desk and sat on it, near Buffy and her daughter.
"You're not a stranger!" Vanessa said fiercely. "Mum has told me so much about you that I feel as if I've known you for, like, ever!" Angel smiled at that, then grew serious again.
"That may be, Vanessa, but still. You don't know me, or my friends. You'd have to change schools, leave your grandparents behind. And all your uncle's and aunts. I'm just not sure that's the right thing for a girl your age. You should be with family."
"Angel." Buffy breathed, trying to stop him. He turned and looked at her, ready to say his piece to her, but something in her eyes made him stop.
"Angel, she would be with family. She'd be with...her father."
"You want me to take her to her father in L.A?" He asked, dumbfounded. He'd thought that Vanessa's father, Buffy's one love, was dead.
"God, Angel!" The slayer rolled her eyes, reminiscent of the teenage Slayer she'd been when he'd first met her. "Think for a second. Have a look at her, would you? And her age?" She looked at her daughter, who had caught on and was staring at the vampire with wide, awe-struck eyes.
"Sweet, this is your father." Buffy whispered, running out of strength almost completely. If she had the strength, she would have laughed at the expression Angel was making as her words sunk in. He was staring at Vanessa with hungry, if disbelieving eyes. He opened his mouth and closed it again, doing a very good impression of a fish out of water.
"How?" He asked, completely stunned. "We haven't.......you know." Buffy did smile when she saw his ears pinken slightly. "We haven't since you turned 17!"
"Oh, so you've forgotten that time that I came to L.A? When you were turned human for a day and night?" She was whispering, but enjoying his discomfort.
"I haven't forgotten, but you should have. Forgotten and..." He frowned, trying to figure it out. "The day was swallowed? How can this....." He faded off, looking once again at Vanessa. He reached out almost in slow motion and held his daughters face in his hands, looking deep for signs of himself in the girl before him. He saw his hair, his eyes and a hint of his being inside those black eyes.
"Did you know?" He asked Vanessa quietly. She shook her head.
"No, but Mum spoke so much about you, that a lot of the time I imagined that you were, even though you are a vampire." Which begged the question... He heard Buffy as if from a distance.
"When the Oracles took the day, they forgot to take all that had happened away. They fixed your little demon problem, but forgot about the bigger picture. I found out almost two months later that I was pregnant." She paused for a moment, gathering more strength. Angel protested silently, but she continued anyway. "At first I thought it was a guy called Parker's. I was horrified. Not at the thought of you, sweet" She reassured her daughter. "But at the thought that this guy, who had fooled me on so many other levels, had left me with a baby to care for. Then when she was inside me, and I first felt her move, I got this flash of memory. It was just a picture of you, Angel. Eating peanut butter and chocolate. Through the next few months, more flashes came to me, and by the time Vanessa was born, my memory of that swallowed day was complete." She lay back, panting for breath, but determined to finish. "I want you two to go to L.A and live how you were supposed to. For me."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Angel demanded hoarsely.
"I couldn't. You had your own life in LA." Buffy was tiring, he could see that. But he needed some answers. "Everyone thought that Van was Parkers. I thought it was best left that way. I didn't want you to be distracted."
"And what? I was never to know?" He softened slightly, understanding her train of thought, if not approving of it.
"I'd left it in my will that you would be informed when or if I died. I thought I ....was doing the right thing." She lapsed, without warning, in to a deep sleep.
"Mum?" Vanessa asked, worried. Angel placed a hand on her shoulder.
"She's asleep, Van. It's okay." He watched his daughter reassure herself that her mother was just asleep, then turn to gaze up at him with fear stricken eyes. "Let's leave her be for a while, let her rest." He grabbed her hand and walked out of the room with her.
The lounge room was packed. Buffy's oldest friends had all assembled, wanting to be here for the slayer. Willow was pouring over an old volume of some sort, Giles was doing the same. Oz and Xander were head to head over another book, pointing and muttering to each other. Joyce was sitting down with a coffee in her hand. Angel went to the only vacant chair and sat down. Vanessa looked around, wanting a seat near her newly discovered father, and couldn't see one. Angel solved her dilemma by pulling her onto his lap. He could feel the girl suppressing her tears, and encouraged her silently to let them out. She buried her face in his neck and started crying silently. Joyce looked up and started towards her granddaughter, but stopped at Angel's expression. A mixture of wonder and pain.
"Angel?" She asked him quietly. "Do you want me to take her?" Despite her quiet words, Vanessa heard and cried out wordlessly, clinging to his neck. Angel replicated her response, holding on tighter to his daughter. He felt a thrill go down his spine at the thought that he had such a daughter. That he had a child, full stop.
"No, thank you Joyce. She's fine." Giles had looked up from his book, blinking his eyes to adjust them to colour again.
"What did Buffy have to tell you?" He asked, shutting the book for the moment.
"She wants me to take Van with me back to L.A." He said, stroking the girls glistening black hair.
"What? Why?" Xander demanded, looking up from his book. "What's wrong with Van staying here with her family? Oh, no! Buffy has to go to dead-boy to look after her daughter!"
"Xander!" Willow cried, hitting him across the head. Hard. She hadn't stopped him in time, though. Vanessa had heard, and spun on Angel's lap to glare at the lanky man.
"He is family, Uncle Xand! He's my father!" The stunned silence that filled the room after that announcement almost made this whole situation laughable.
"Van..." He said quietly. She calmed down, albeit reluctantly.
"What?" The room chorused. "I thought Parker-." Willow added. Angel shook his head.
"She used that as an excuse. She didn't want me to know - so that we wouldn't both become distracted."
"How?" Giles was the first to ask the question. Angel settled his daughter more comfortably on his lap.
"You remember when Buffy came to L.A, just after I'd been back to Sunnydale? Well, something happened while she was there that made me human. We were together for a day and night, before we both realised that I couldn't help her or any one else when I was human. So I went to the Oracles and asked for that day to be swallowed, so that I would become a vampire again. The Oracles swallowed the day, and I stopped the demon that made me human, and Buffy went home, none the wiser."
"But she was pregnant with me!" Vanessa put in her two cents worth.
"That's right. The Oracles had eaten time, but hadn't deleted all that had happened that day. So that I could remember how to kill the demon, they had to leave my memory intact. It looks like they left something else intact, too. Something I never let myself hope to have." He smiled softly down at his daughter, then suddenly stopped moving completely.
"That's what it is!" He yelled, standing up suddenly, dislodging Vanessa at the same time. He dashed over to the bookcase, where Giles' impressive book collection lay, and began searching the shelves.
"Angel? What is it?" Willow came up behind him.
"I know the smell in Buffy's room. I've smelt it before. Aha!" He cried in triumph, pulling out a small book slightly covered in dust. He sat down on the chair again, flipping through the pages of the book quickly, explaining as he did so. "The Aprig demons' poison shouldn't be harmful enough to kill a Slayer, right? So why is she up there, slowly dying? Cause it's not the Aprig poison that's doing this. It's something else."
"Something what?" Joyce cried out. Angel didn't answer. He was rapidly reading a page that he had stopped at, nodding his head every once in a while. When he reached the bottom, he looked up, straight at Willow.
"I need you to go to the magic shop right now, and get me these." He grabbed a notebook and pen from beside the phone and wrote down a list of items. He turned to the Slayers mother. "Joyce, I'll need you to take Vanessa away for a while. It should take about two hours. I don't want Van here, this isn't going to be pretty."
"No!" Vanessa objected loudly. "I want to stay here!"
"Van, listen to me." He crouched down slightly, meeting the girl's eyes. "I can save your mother, I know how. But what I have to do is not going to be easy as it is. You being here is just going to make it all the harder for me and for Buffy. I need you to go with your Grandmother while we do this. I promise you that when you come back, your Mother will be fine."
"What about you?" She asked when she noticed he hadn't said anything about how he was going to be.
"In one way or another, I'll be around. Trust me."
"Mum always said never to trust anyone who said that." She was reluctant, but left with her grandmother. Angel watched until Joyce's car was a spot in the distance, his heartbreaking.
"What are you doing?" Giles asked from beside him.
"Curing Buffy. That's all you need to know right now. Excuse me for a moment." Angel walked inside, and went straight for the kitchen phone. Giles stood at the doorway watching as the vampire dialed the phone and spoke to the person on the other side for a few minutes, then hung up slowly. Giles retreated, peering round the corner as Angel climbed up on the table and sat crossed legged on it. He placed his hands palm down on his knees and closed his eyes. Giles frowned, about to ask him what he was doing, but soft chanting stilled his vocal chords. Within moments of the soft chanting a small light had appeared in front of the vampire, bathing him in pure white light. It pulsed briefly, and Angel opened his eyes and smiled, sadly.
"Doyle. How are the fair one's treating you?" The vampire paused, and the light pulsed again, rapidly. "Ah.. Good. I called you because I wanted to make sure that what I think needs doing actually should be done. Can you ask for me?" The light pulsed and disappeared briefly, almost immediately reappearing. It was duller than before, but it pulsed again, and Giles thought he heard the sound of a celtic harp whispering softly and sadly through the room. Angel bowed his head, but nodded.
"Thank you, Doyle. I'll see you soon, then, shall I?" One last time, the light pulsed, then faster than the eye could follow, it dashed away, disappearing as it went out the kitchen window. Giles watched as the vampire put his hands over his face. He saw the big shoulders shudder briefly, collapsing in on themselves. For a moment, Giles hesitated in the doorway, then left the vampire alone.
"I got the stuff you wanted, Angel." Willow said, holding up a bulging paper bag. "Though what half this stuff is for is anyone's guess."
"Thanks. I'll prepare this. I need you to get Buffy and bring her down here. The table will do, I think." He frowned briefly, then nodded.
"But, she's-." Xander started to object. The vampire whirled on him, a roar in his throat.
"Do it!" He snarled, and watched at the human went white as a sheet. The others grabbed him and dragged him up the stairs to get Buffy. Angel dug into the bag and pulled out the items Willow had gotten from the magic shop. He searched quickly for a small mixing dish and a mortar and pestle. He mixed up the various herbs and dried goods, then poured the fine mix into the bowl, pouring Holy water over it. Then he carefully mixed the concoction, making sure none of the holy water touched his skin. By the time the mixture was at the right consistency, the others had managed to bring an objecting Buffy down and settled her on the table. He took a deep breath and walked towards the slayer, bowl in hand. He put to bowl down on the bench near the table and leant over her.
"Buffy, can you look at me for a moment?" He waiting for her wondering eyes to focus on his face. He pushed her hair back from her face, a movement he was not conscious of. "You haven't been poisoned by the Aprig demon. It's what's known as a death-chakra. When you're well, you'll need to hunt for a demon known by the name of Spragha. Giles has some information on him. He's the one who has poisoned you."
"Why.....can't....you....help..?" Buffy rasped out. He closed his eyes in pain, then looked up at the others crowding round the table. His expression told them all to back away.
"Buffy, I love you more than life itself. I always will. You need to be here for your daughter, for your friends. I'll be gone very shortly, but you have to go on." Buffy nodded, thinking he meant he would be going back to L.A. He almost smiled. How wrong could she be. "Remember, I will always love you. And know this is the only cure." He stood up and went back over to retrieve the bowl and wooden spoon, along with a small, sharp knife. He looked up once more at the others gathered round.
"I'll need you all to hold her, please." They complied silently, Giles holding her head, the others her arms and legs. Angel placed the bowl gently down on her stomach and lifted the knife. "This will hurt her, but it is required." He hesitated one more time, looking at the people he had known for almost twenty years. "I was my privilege to know you all." He said quietly. Buffy, finally grasping what he meant to do began to struggle weakly, shaking her head. Before the others could understand he quickly slit his wrist, putting the bleeding vein over the bowl. The vampire blood mixed quickly with the holy water, causing it to steam and bubble. He passed the bowl to Willow and ordered her to pour the mixture down Buffy's throat. Before Willow took the bowl, he grabbed the spoon and stood at the end of the table. Buffy pleaded silently with him. Willow opened her mouth, lifting the bowl to pour the liquid down the Slayers throat. He mouthed three words at her, the three most important words, then thrust the handle of the wooden spoon at his chest.
He was surrounded by light. Not red, as he had always thought. But blues and greens and yellows. A whole rainbow of colours. Underneath his feet, green grass grew. He had been standing in this rainbow field for what seemed like hours, yet at the same time, he felt as if he'd only just got there. He glanced around the for hundredth time, and caught a movement off towards his right. A man emerged from the rainbow mist, walking towards him. He was dressed in jeans and a crisp white shirt. He looked like he belonged in a mens' magazinem modelling designer jeans. Angel caught his breath when he saw that the black hair was gleaming, as though the sun was shining down on them. The man approached quickly, then stopped a few feet away from him.
"Well, Liam, aka Angelus, aka Angel. You've given us quite a lot of trouble this past few years. We're at loggerheads at the moment as to what to do with you." The man sounded like an international executive chewing out the lowly secretary. Angel bowed his head.
"Well. We weighed up your overlong unnatural life. It took us quite a while, too. Now, the first one hundred and fifty years were kind of.....how did Michael put it? Oh yes, that was it, 100% conscious free. Eat now, pay later. In your case, that was true. The last hundred years? Well, that went quite a way to atoning for the previous 150. Now, this last deed of yours-."
"I had to save her. I couldn't let her die, she was the Slayer!" Angel objected. This wasn't any fun. It was bringing back the last image he had of life on earth. Buffy screaming through the bubbling, burning liquid, denying what she was seeing, and the others looking up with horror and denial. To take that to his eternal rest was a torment that no one else could ever think up.
"Now, we didn't say otherwise, did we?" The man muttered to himself quietly. "Right. Well. What we want to know, Angelus, is why you did it. Why didn't you get some other vampire to become the sacrifice?" Angel heard the question and paused. He analysed his reasons, trying to put emotions to words.
"Because there wasn't time." The man shook his head.
"Nope, need another answer."
"She was dying! I didn't have a choice. I couldn't just go out and grab another vampire and drag him in. Besides, -." Angel stopped, unsure of himself.
"Yes? Come, Angelus. Be honest with yourself. Your next answer determines your destination."
"So I'm in purgatory?" The man nodded, looking as though he felt he was talking to a brick wall.
"So, Angelus. Why did you really kill yourself?" Angel was silent for a long time.
"Knowing I had a daughter, that Buffy and I had made a child....It was as if I was truly immortal. Not like a vampire, who just remains un-dead. But....truly immortal. I saw the cure, and saw the chance to give Buffy and Vanessa a life free from my kind of immortality. Buffy needed to move on, away from me. While I was till alive, she couldn't do that. And-"
"And?" The man prompted.
"The thought of seeing Buffy, then Vanessa grow old and die while I remained as I was." He shook his head. "It was too much. I don't think I could handle that."
"Ahh. Good. That is what we wanted to hear. Please wait." The man disappeared suddenly from view. Angel decided he needed to sit down. He closed his eyes as he sat, seeing Buffy as he first saw her. It was that image that he tried to overlay on the last one he had of her. Within what seemed moments, the GQ man was back, this time with three envelopes in his hand.
"Right, well. Thank God and all others that that's over. The council had a heck of a time deciding what to do with you. So we're going to let you decide. As you can see, I have three envelopes here. One representing each of your choices. The way you're going to decided is like a game of chance. Others know it as karma, others as fate. One choice is for you to go straight to Satan's dimension, to suffer eternal damnation. The other choice is for you to join friends and family in heaven. The third choice is for you to go back to Earth and join your love. You will be human. You will have a normal life span. In deference to the problems you had before, when you were briefly human, you will have powers akin to a Slayers'. The Powers That Be stipulated this clause in that choice." The GQ man shrugged.
"What do I do?" Angel asked, getting up.
"Simple. I hold them out like this." GQ fanned them out, like a deck of cards. "And you pick one."
"And the choice, once made?"
"Is irreversible." Angel nodded his understanding. He sent a prayer up to the God he still believed in and grabbed for the left one.
He was standing in front of a door. So close to it, all he could see was white wood. He frowned in confusion, then jumped back when it opened. A woman dressed in black was standing back to the door, leaning around the wall to say her final good-byes.
"You will be alright, Buffy?" He heard her ask. He knew then what his choice had been. He closed his eyes in thanks, then opened them again. The woman turned around and jumped when she saw the tall man so close.
"Oh! You must be another friend of Buffy's. She's in there. Don't stay too long." The woman cautioned. "She's still a little weak. And she's got to go pick up her daughter from Joyce's soon." The woman waved and bustled quickly down the driveway to a 4WD sitting on the front lawn. Angel knocked on the foreign door, never having seen Buffy's house for himself. He breathed in deeply, for the first time noticing that he was breathing as a requirement of living, not as an aesthetic image he had kept up to make people more comfortable with him. He stepped forward, and for the first time in two hundred years, nothing kept him from entering unbidden. He walked into what he suspected was the lounge room and saw Buffy curled up on an oversized chair, her head resting again the side. He stood there, momentarily paralised. Buffy saw him and held her breath for a second. Then sobbed briefly.
"You just had to go and be a hero, didn't you, Angel? Oh, we found your Sprigha demon, alright. Pretty easy when we knew what we were looking for. And we know why you gave me your blood. But it didn't have to be your blood, did it? You could have used another vampire. Could have used any other vampire. All you had to do was kill him as I was drinking. But that didn't suit your need for dramatic's did it? No. You just had to have this huge audience, and be all I'm saving Buffy now! Ooh, look at me!" Angel heard her breath catch on another sob and stepped forward, into the sunlight. She laughed bitterly. "Well, that just proves I'm going nuts! Angel's even walking through sunlight now! Oh God!" She started crying again, using the already soaked tissue to wipe ineffectually at her eyes. Angel could stand it no longer and went to her. He crouched down beside her and used his hands to wipe the tears away. Or at least, he tried. The moment his hand came into contact with her skin, the Slayer let out a yell loud enough to rattle the windows and shot up from the chair. She stood up in her fighting stance, staring at him suspiciously.
"Who the hell are you?" She demanded, backing slowly away, unconsciously seeking sunlight.
"Buffy-." He stepped forward, then stopped when she went to kick him in the leg. "Buffy, it's me. Angel." He watched as her eyes went flinty.
"He's dead. And I mean that in every sense of the word. You are not him. Get out of my house." She snarled at him, coming undone in front of his eyes. He wracked his brain, trying to convince the not-so-stable Slayer that he was who he said he was.
"Buffy, remember the day Vanessa was conceived? I came to you at the ocean, in daylight." He saw her hesitate. "We went back to my place and wasted two hours talking and drinking tea, while I tried to convince us both to wait." He smiled when his brain flashed at him what had happened next. "We broke the table. We ate chocolate and peanut butter. You told me that you felt like a normal girl, then fell asleep in my arms." He stepped forward slowly, talking hold of her fisted hands. "Buffy, the Powers that Be let me come back. I had three choices. I chose this one." Her blue eyes opened wide when she felt his hands on hers, then filled over with tears.
"Angel?" She whispered, tracing his jaw slowly. He nodded in response. "How?"
"I told you. The powers. They decided that I'd atoned enough. They gave me three choices. This is the one that chose me. We won't have the same problem as before, though. The Powers gave me Slayers skills. So that we could help each other." He realised that Buffy hadn't heard a word. She was too busy crying silently. He pulled her to the oversized chair and sat down with Buffy curled up in his lap. He started rocking her, muttering Gaelic into her hair. Minutes passed in silence, then Buffy spoke up.
"I never thought I'd see you again. I thought I'd lost you." She whispered into his chest.
"You'll never loose me again. I won't leave you ever again." She closed her eyes again, and quietly went to sleep. Angel was on the verge of sleep himself when he felt a light pierce his eyelids. He opened it to see the light that was Doyle hovering in front of him.
"Thank you, Doyle. Maybe I won't see you quite so soon as we thought, huh?" The light pulsed with laughter, and disappeared.
Vanessa stood with her father. She thought it was funny to note that he was shaking as much as she was. She grabbed one of his hands, cold from the lazy Autumn wind. He looked down and smiled at her, patting her hand with his free one.
"You ready, mo chriede?" Her father asked, using the Gaelic for darling. She nodded, taking a deep breath.
"Then shall we?" The music started up and Vanessa stepped forward with her father, into the church towards her soon to be husband.
"Dad!" A young boy raced up towards him, yelling all the while. Chasing him was his older sister, still in her wedding dress. Angel caught the boy in the middle of his flight, putting him down with a frown.
"What's the matter, Liam?" He asked his son, suppressing a smile.
"She wants to dance with me!" The boy said, completely disgusted. "In front of everyone and everything!"
"And what's wrong with dancing with me, Liam Summers?" Vanessa demanded, hands on hips.
"You're a girl!" It sounded like being a girl was a fatal disease.
"And you're not. You can't leave until you dance with me, little brother. May as well get it over
and done with nice and early." Liam still didn't look like he was willing to dance with his older sister.
"Tell you what, Liam. I'll dance with your mother, if you dance with your sister. That way, we both get our duties over and done with, and can relax."
"Really?" The boy looked up skeptically. Having not been out with his parents formally before, he had no idea how much Angel looked forward to dancing with his mother.
"Really. Come on, the sooner the better." Angel strode forward, found the mother of the bride and walked onto the dance floor with her. Vanessa followed with an extremely reluctant Liam.
"What was all that about?" Buffy asked, settling into the curves of Angel's body with ease.
"Nothing. But I got Liam to dance with Vanessa, and I also get to dance your first dance with you." He grinned down at her. She smiled up, equally pleased. They stayed silent for a while, moving with the music.
"You know something, Mrs Summers." Angel murmured into her hair.
"What's that, Mr Summers?"
"I love you more now than I did when I died. The third time, that is." He felt her laughter bubble onto his chest, and grinned down at her still blonde hair. She pulled back and looked up at her husband.
"I have to say, I agree with that statement." She pressed her lips lightly to his, grinning all the while.