***Part Six***

"There's no place like," Angel hears feminine laughter but is stopped short. "Willow?"

"What's?" The feminine voice said.

"It's Buffy."

Angel stood in the lobby of the hotel, shaking his head free of the images of the redhead sitting on the couch right over there. With that redhead and the words "It's Buffy" Angel had a sense of dread and foreboding even now. Whatever the redhead had come to tell him was not good. But who was she? And what was wrong with Buffy?

He walked toward the front desk, running his finger along the countertop. A layer of dust was there, his finger dislodging some of it for an inch or two. No one had been here in a long time yet to Angel it seemed like just yesterday.

He turned quickly to face the room behind him, images of a black man, white man with glasses, a green man with horns and two brunette females there and then gone in a blink of an eye.

"What is going on?" he whispered.

The group had pity in their eyes and Angel knew that it was directed at him. The redhead, Willow?, had come bearing bad news and everyone in the room knew it. Whatever the news Angel felt the despondence and knew that the news affected Angel the most.

"Why was I here and not in Sunnydale?"

"Kiss me."

"Bite me."

"How about you both bite me."

Angel found himself smiling at the images in his mind despite his efforts not to. The people were making fun of him, he gets that somehow but yet it feels like there had been a huge weight lifted off his shoulders and he was willing to let them get away with it.

"Friends," he whispered as he turned to walk behind the reservation desk. Were they his friends? "Where's Buffy?" His job was clear, help the slayer but these last few images did not seem to have anything to do with her. In fact, they indicated to him he had somehow strayed from the path he had been on. But why?

He sat at the desk in the inner office, convinced that these images were important. What they were exactly he was not sure. He had no idea who the people were in them but sensed a kinship, a camaraderie with them. Angel had never been prone to visions before now so it was strange. Drusilla was his go-to girl if he wanted something prophetic. And he certainly was not one to surround himself with friends, particularly humans.

He felt comfortable here, at home. He could see himself sitting at the desk, books open to aid him in researching. But yet there was a sense that something was missing or had gone wrong.

"Am I a thing worth saving, huh? Am I a righteous man? The world wants me gone!"

"What about me? I love you so much... And I tried to make you go away... I killed you and it didn't help And I hate it! I hate that it's so hard... and that you can hurt me so much. I know everything that you did, because you did it to me. Oh, God! I wish that I wished you dead. I don't. I can't."

She loved him. Angel sensed somehow that it was the truth even though all evidence seemed to be contrary to that verdict at the moment. So where were these things coming from? Why did they seem real? The girl in the images looked different than this girl but there was no question it was the slayer. This slayer.

He glanced at his watch, realizing more time had passed than he thought. He had hoped to be at the slayer's house around eleven o'clock. Her parents seemed to have a pretty predictable pattern and were usually in their bedroom with the house secured and dark by ten. Tomorrow was a school day for the slayer so he was not sure now that it was after one if he should even bother going to her.

He had given her a week's reprieve after their last visit had ended so abruptly. She was obviously not ready to hear the truth. He visited her every night, though he kept his distance. He learned how far away he had to stand for her not to sense him. At least he suspected last night she had not sensed him it was the first night all week she had not looked out her window within minutes after his arrival.

He had gone night after night hoping that her instincts would take over and she would need to hunt. Apparently, she was stronger willed than he had given her credit for because she was still in denial over what her true destiny was. She was not meant to be a high school student or a cheerleader or someone's girlfriend. Those things were all trivial and inconsequential compared to saving the world.

He let the Impala idle for a minute before shutting off the engine down the block from her house. He was careful never to park in the same spot twice. He wondered if he was going about this all wrong. Did Whistler want him to drag her out of her house caveman style? Once upon a time that would not have been difficult for Angel to do, but not now. He was incapable of violence, found it deplorable, afraid one act would set him on the road to his old ways.

He walked toward Buffy's house, not bothering to worry about the boundaries he had mentally set for himself. Tonight she was going to listen to him whether she liked it or not. He was tired of her denials. He was tired of the blessed images that kept flooding his mind suggesting the slayer was more to him than merely a charge he had been sent to help. He hated it most because he did not feel worthy of being loved by a girl like her. He did not deserve it. He could never make up for the things he did, the people he hurt. Helping her was just a step on the never ending road to redemption.

He did not need a handful of pebbles to toss at her window in order to get her attention, all he needed to do was merely stand just so and she would come to her window. He wondered if the closer he got to her house the stronger her urge to look for him was. He would probably never know and did not need to know the answer to that.

He was rewarded a few minutes later. She looked as if she had been sleeping, or at least making efforts to sleep and he felt bad. He knew she did not sleep well, watched her taking sleeping pills and other drugs each night. It made the demon inside of him roar in protest when he saw her polluting her body unnecessarily. He was sure she believed she was doing the right thing by taking them. He had to convince her otherwise and fast. He suspected the longer it took for him to convince her the harder it would be. Maybe letting her get adjusted had been a mistake. It was hard to know and Whistler was not much help.

"Hi," he whispered. "You're awake."

"No thanks to you."


"Tension is rolling off you."

"Sorry," he said sincerely and then shook his head. Why was he apologizing to this stubborn girl?

"It's all right I couldn't sleep anyway." She smiled then and Angel felt his tension and anger drift away. She had a smile a man might just be willing to die for.

They both stood there for a few minutes not saying anything. Angel was captivated by her smile and a sparkle in his eyes he was not sure he had seen before. He was not sure why she was so quiet, but aside from him standing outside her bedroom and her standing inside her bedroom it was not an uncomfortable silence. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his black leather jacket not sure what to say now that he was here and she seemed willing to talk to him.

"I'll meet you in the backyard."

"What?" he asked, his head bobbing up quickly in surprise to regard her.

"Do I need to say it again?"

"No," he said with a scowl. Was this a trap? "I just wasn't sure I heard you is all."

"I'll be there in a minute. The gate's kinda tricky, so if you can't get it just wait for me. I don't want you waking up Mom and Dad."

"Okay," he said with a shake of his head. He could just jump over the fence but maybe she was not ready to see or know that just yet. Her willing to talk to him without a window separating them was a step in the right direction though.

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