Angel watched as the slayer's father drove the dark blue Ford Taurus onto the driveway. He and his wife exited the car and walked to the front door without as much as a glance at their daughter. She had gotten out of the car hesitantly, like a wobbly colt stretching its legs for the first time. He had to fight the urge to rush to her aid. He hardly knew the girl, but the desire to protect and help her was strong.
He had no idea what he was supposed to do now. He had been sent to wait for her in Sunnydale over a year ago. She had never come. Oddly, Angel had memories of her being there despite knowing she had not. The annoying demon named Whistler who had sought Angel out in the first place paid him a second visit recently.
"Get her to the hell mouth."
"How am I supposed to do that?"
"Now, that's not my problem. You were selected to do the job. I don't care how it gets done, just do it."
So he had returned to LA not knowing what had happened to delay the slayer's arrival in Sunnydale. He had been horrified to find out what her parents had done. Asylums were not as bad as they had been in his human days, but they were not posh hotels either.
He watched her as she walked on unsteady legs toward the front door. Her hair was a mess, as if she had not run a comb through it in days. Her skin was paler than he remembered and the black patches around her eyes were positively hideous. Her eyes looked sunken in and skeletal like. Her clothes hung loose as if she had lost far too much weight on a form that did not need to lose weight to begin with.
He watched as she scanned the area around her house. Her eyes focused where he was hiding for a moment before moving on. He wondered if she sensed him, a vampire. Was he causing her distress her first day home in over a year? He stepped back immersing himself further in the shadows of the neighboring yard. He realized if she sensed him that this slight increase in distance would not matter.
His mind gave him a comforting image as he watched the slayer he was supposed to help get more distressed.
"Truth is, I thought you'd be taller, or bigger muscles and all that. You're pretty spry, though."
"What do you want?"
"The same thing you do."
"Okay. What do I want?"
"To kill them. To kill them all."
"Sorry, that's incorrect. But you do get this lovely watch and a year's supply of Turtle Wax. What I want is to be left alone!"
He was not sure where the vivid memory came from. It was not the first one he had conjured up either. None had happened, that much he was certain of. He had spent the last year in Sunnydale alone, fighting the creatures of the hell mouth assuming she would be there. The only thing he could attribute it to was Whistler, or whoever he worked for, playing tricks on him. The girl in his memories was strong and lithe, nothing resembling the girl he had just seen. The girl in his memories was the one he had seen outside Hemry High School that fateful day when he had decided it was time he did something with his existence.
She made it to the house, though she took one last look in his direction before closing the door. He noticed something odd about the whole scene he had just watched unfold. She had no luggage. She had brought nothing home with her but the clothes on her back. What had she been living like for the past year?
Buffy sat in her room staring out the window that now had locks on the outside as well as the inside. She would never get out without her parents knowing again. They thought she wanted to leave, that she wanted to do the things she had done. They did not understand. Doctor Stolmgren did not understand.
Her knees were drawn to her chest, her arms around them holding them tightly yet comfortingly against her. The heels of her bare feet dug into the cushion's edge so they would not become dislodged unexpectedly. The overstuffed armchair was really not designed for her to sit like this and rock but she did not care. Cars drove past, neighbors walked their dogs, children were on the street playing for the last few minutes before it got dark, and the whir of a lawnmower could be heard somewhere nearby. Buffy saw and heard none of these things.
None of it interested her. No one understood her, what drove her, what called her. She glanced at her hands briefly. They were weapons, she was a weapon and she was not being used in the battle. She clutched her head with her hands. Death called her.
"No No No," she chanted under her breath her eyes now focused on her bare toes. She wiggled them and giggled softly. "Which little piggy went to the market?" She shook her head again. "No No No," she muttered once again. She had to be careful or her parents would talk to Doctor Stolmgren and she would not be able to stay here anymore.
She had been fine for days, weeks, though she could not be sure really how long it had been. She had no idea how much time she had spent in that place. She just knew that she was home now and in order to stay here she had to behave. Her parents did not want a bad girl. They wanted a good girl so they could appear to be good parents in a good family. Tears slid down her cheeks, dropping slowly at first onto her bare feet. She could never be those things. Not as long as there were vampires to be slayed. Not as long as Merrick's face floated through her mind as if she was in a hallucinogenic state.
"No No No," she chanted again, clutching her head and shook it severely to get those thoughts out of her head. She had been fine until she came home. She had stood in the doorway and had sense HIM.
A light knock came from the other side of her door. "Come in," she said softly, turning her head slightly to look at her mother. There was no longer a lock on her door so she could no longer lock herself in.
"I brought you a grilled cheese with no crusts and some tomato soup."
"Thanks," Buffy said. She wanted to scream. Her parents thought she was crazy. Maybe she was, there had been no one standing on the street when they got home. It was as if the neighbors did not want to acknowledge Buffy Summers was coming home. Or maybe they just did not want to acknowledge her at all.
"There are fresh towels in your bathroom and your sheets are clean. Is there anything else you need?"
"No," Buffy said, knowing her parents could not give her what she needed. Not without thinking they were the crazy ones. She offered her mother a weak smile.
"Okay, honey. Good night."
"Good night, Mom," Buffy said as her mother shut the door. There was no ‘glad to have you back' or ‘we missed you'. It was not even ten o'clock and her mother was sending her to bed with soup and a sandwich like she was a child.
She stood slowly, her legs not used to being used so much. At the get well place Buffy had remained by herself, in her room for the most part. She did not like the looks the others gave her. Pity. They pitied her because she was truly crazy. What other explanation could there be for believing that vampires were real? And that in the whole world there was only one girl who could stop them?
"It sounds crazy to me," she said softly as she brought the tray of food over to her chair. She sat, bringing her knees to her chest again as she nibbled on the crustless grilled cheese. She glanced at the moon. It was full tonight and lit up the street outside well. The children were gone, the lawnmower was silent, and everyone was in their houses spending time with their families. Everyone's family but Buffy's.
Angel had not been successful getting to the slayer to talk to her. He had gone to her house only to find her bedroom window locked from both sides. He did not know the layout of her house to chance entering through another window, but if it came to that he would.
It was Friday night and the slayer had been back for two weeks now. From what he saw and heard while eavesdropping outside her window she was talking to a few friends on the telephone. This is how he came by the information that she was going to a club and had a strict curfew of eleven o'clock.
As soon as his watch indicated it was seven o'clock he was on the way to her house. He did not know what time she was getting picked up but he had to follow her since he had no idea where the club was. Tonight might be the only chance he was going to get to see her face to face.
On the way to her house he passed an old building that was familiar to him. He had been having the weirdest cases of déjà vu the past couple of weeks. Places he knew he had never been seemed eerily familiar. This hotel was one of them. He was too pressed for time to get out and look. "Weird," he said as he continued onto the slayer's house. He would check it out later when he had time.
He pulled his Impala along the curb three houses away from the slayer's house. He could see her coming or going from here and would be able to follow without being obvious. If she left for the club on foot, he would have to rethink his plan of following her.
He turned the radio on, shaking his head slightly when the Rolling Stones' "Anybody Seen My Baby" was on a classic rock station. When music from less than a year ago was considered classic there was a problem.
He almost missed the car because it pulled up to her house heading towards him and did not pull onto her driveway. The honking of the horn got his attention. He squinted but the glare from the headlights prevented him from seeing who was in the car.
And then he saw her.
Her blonde hair was neatly styled and he could tell she had gotten it cut since being home. She was not as pale either, so apparently had managed to get some sun. She wore a pair of black boots that coordinated well with the black and white sleeveless mini-dress, which looked nice on her despite it looking slightly large on her.
She looked much better than the night he saw her two weeks ago. He had been unable to get a look at her through her windows. The only window that offered him an unobstructed view was one that looked into her bathroom. He drew the line at being a Peeping Tom.
She waved and ran her fingers through her hair, tucking some of it behind her ear. She was wearing dangly earrings, but Angel could not tell what they were from this distance. She slid into the front passenger seat and with a screech of tires the car was on its way down the street, passing Angel in his Impala.
As he pulled up to the house next to the slayer's to turn around he noticed her mother standing on the driveway watching the car drive away. She did not look pleased and he wondered why. From what he had observed and overheard the past couple of weeks she had obeyed their rules. He hoped it was just concern and nothing else or he was going to have a harder time than he thought convincing the slayer of what she was.
Teenagers were not looking for a car tailing them so he followed them with ease to the club. He found a parking space away from the other cars. The Impala was not in the greatest shape but it had taken him a long time to get the windows blacked out just enough to block the sun yet still enabling him to see out.
He paid the five dollar cover charge to enter the all-ages club. Those of legal drinking age did not get their hand stamped because they let him pass through without marking him in any way. He squinted as he walked through the doors that led to the actual club taking in the scene before him. It was mostly young people from high school to college to just out of college age. He felt old at that moment not even counting his years spent as a vampire.
He looked for the slayer and thought for a fleeting moment he spotted her, but it turned out to be another blonde. He knew she could not have gotten far, though so he walked further into the club.
She wore a brown dress that showed off plenty of skin, her hair was glorious in the colored lights of the dance floor. She was dancing with Xander. Angel disliked the guy and hated he could spend time with her when Angel could not. He hated, too, that she had gone to them first, her friends not him, after coming home from her summer at her dad's. She was all over Xander, pressing against him suggestively, flirting, and Angel felt his unbeating heart break as he stood there watching. She knew he was there, knew he was watching and that hurt more than anything.
He looked forward to her coming back since he watched her father pack her bags into the trunk of his car and take her away from him for the summer. He missed her and she repaid him for it by flirting with Harris. Was he a fool for thinking she would spend the summer wishing she was back in Sunnydale with him?
He shook his head to clear it of the hurtful images. Harris. He mulled it over in his head, but he could not come up with anyone he knew by that name. It was clear he did not like the guy, though. Oddly, he was getting used to the strange images of events that had not really happened.
He spotted her at a table. She was with another girl and a guy. From the way the guy was fawning over the other girl he imagined the slayer was by herself even if she was here with the other couple. Being the odd man out was never fun.
He stopped at the bar and ordered a drink, keeping his eyes on her table to ensure another guy was not with them. A waitress came to take their drink order and it was still just the three of them when he had his beer in hand. He was not much of a drinker, but beer seemed to be what most of the guys in the club were drinking.
Now that he was able to really look at her, she still looked pale. She had gotten sun but it was not enough to make up for over a year of no sun. She had dark circles under her eyes that she had tried to hide with makeup. He wondered how bad they looked without the makeup. He had caught little more than glimpses of her through her windows and had only seen her once before outside her high school that he had no idea what to compare her present appearance to.
Somehow he knew that she had the ability to be beautiful enough to take his breath away. She did that day outside Hemry High School and it had changed his life forever. She could not know that, though. His job was pretty clear, get her to Sunnydale.
He took a sip of the beer and walked toward her table.
"Did you see that sweater Heather was wearing at school today?"
"Yes," the slayer said as she took a sip of her drink through a straw.
"Talk about so last year. It was probably even two years ago old."
"I know," the slayer said.
"There's a guy walking towards our table."
She glanced in his direction, smiled slightly and turned away. "I don't know him," she said with a shrug.
Angel approached the table, pretending he had not picked up on the last bits of their conversation. "Hi," he said, offering her a smile.
"Hi," the slayer's friend said. "I'm Amber. This is Buffy. And this is Jack."
"Buffy," he murmured. He had not known her name until now, but the odd name did not surprise him.
"I'm Angel. Do you mind if I join you?"
"Not at all," Amber said. "Are you from LA? Because you need to get out more if you are."
"Excuse me?" Had he heard her right?
"Well, he looks like he hasn't been out in the sun for weeks. What's the point in living in California if you don't go outside?"
"Amber," Buffy murmured, shooting a glance at her friend.
"What? It's true."
"Just ignore her, she hasn't taken her medication tonight," Jake said, placing an arm around Amber. "Let's go dance."
"How are you?" he asked Buffy. He caught the way she had drawn away at the mention of medication. Was she still taking medication now that she was home? He decided ignoring her friends was probably the better course of action for now.
"I'm fine." She sounded short, impatient, as if she did not want to be bothered with him.
"You look it." He took a sip of his beer and closed his eyes, realizing how stupid he probably sounded. He normally did not care how he sounded to anyone. He did not stick around long enough to get close to the humans he did cross paths with. His was a lonely lot, a vampire with a soul.
Xander: How can I say this clearly? I don't like you. At the end of the day, I pretty much think you're a vampire. But Buffy's got this big old yen for you. She thinks you're a real person. And right now I need you to prove her right.
Angel: You're in love with her.
Xander: Aren't you?
"Yes," he whispered and knew that it was true. He loved her, this girl he had until tonight never spoken to.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"Yeah, sorry, long day."
"Tell me about it."
"I haven't seen you here before."
"I've been out of town," she said, her eyes darting away from his gaze.
"Is it good to be back?"
She looked at him then, her hazel eyes intense. He saw her pain there, her fear. Did she really believe she was crazy? "I don't know yet," she whispered.
"You'll be back to normal in no time." She winced at his words and he regretted them instantly. He was not so sure things would ever return to normal for her. There was a reason he was supposed to get her to Sunnydale. Something had happened and Angel did not believe it was good.
Buffy's gaze found her friends on the dance floor and stayed there for a moment before she returned her attention back to him. "What makes you think I'm not normal?"
"I just meant, you know adjusting to being back."
"Well," she said, tucking some hair behind her ear and smiling at him. The beer he had just taken a sip of went down wrong when he saw that and it was directed at him. She had the most glorious smile. "Things sure are looking up."
He glanced at the table for a moment. She was flirting with him. It had been hundreds of years since a woman had flirted with him, and he was not sure at all how to respond. "I know who you are," he said simply. He could not risk her thinking that he was a potential boyfriend or something. He was here to get her to Sunnydale, nothing else.
Angel: I just wanted to see if you were okay. And your mother.
Buffy: We're both good. You?
Angel: If I can go a little while without getting shot or stabbed I'll be alright. Look, this can't...
Buffy: ...ever be anything. I know. For one thing, you're, like two hundred and twenty-four years older than I am.
Angel: I just gotta... I gotta walk away from this.
"You what? Excuse me?"
"I know who you are. Or, I guess, what you are."
"I'm not anything," she said, taking a sip of her drink through the straw. "I'm just a girl."
He leaned forward, arms on the table and held her gaze for a moment. She looked so defiant just then, not unsure of herself at all. "No, you're not. You know as well as I do that are you are far more than just a girl."
Buffy made fists with her hands and counted to ten in her head, her eyes closed tightly as she did these things. These were exercises she had learned at the hospital to help the thoughts and hallucinations to stop. She opened her eyes but he was still sitting across the table from her, a smug grin on his face. It was a kind face, innocent. Angelic. He had dark eyes that she could get lost in. She would be tempted to if he was not talking nonsense. She had the overwhelming feeling that he was not to be trusted, that he was not her friend at all no matter what he said.
She shook her head and looked away. She had to look away because he seemed so sincere, so trustworthy and she was tempted to believe him. Amber and Jack were dancing. Buffy loved to dance but she had no one to dance with. She had hoped this guy came to the table to ask her to dance not talk to her about things that were better left unspoken.
The thing was she did not want to believe she was crazy. But that would mean that she had been in the hospital for nothing. She had taken too many pills and changed her way of thinking to go back to it now.
"Merrick," she whispered.
"What?" Angel asked.
She shook her head. "Nothing," she whispered and looked away once again. She could not look at the hopeful look in his eyes. Her parents were getting along, they were happy because she was no longer loony. She could not go back there no matter how tempting it was. And it was tempting. For some reason she had the urge to hunt at that very moment, something she had not experienced in a long time.
"Not real," she murmured under her breath. Vampires, demons, slayers, and watchers. None of them were real. They were figments of her active imagination stemming from stress and depression. Her parents were fighting constantly and her grades were slipping drastically because of it. She was afraid she would lose her friends and that she would not be able to afford the clothes and things she was used to.
"I'm just a girl, Angel, nothing more. You have me confused with someone else."
He leaned closer, his hands palms down on the table. "Come with me."
"What?" she asked. "I don't go home with strange men."
"I didn't ask you to go home with me. I told you to come with me."
"You told me? I don't think so. I don't even know you."
"You don't?" he asked, as if he expected a different answer from her. He did kind of look at her as if he knew her. Maybe she had seen him at this club before, but she doubted it. He would not recognize the Buffy of tonight from a year ago. She looked like a different person paler, thinner, and not bubbly like she was before. And there was something else about him, something that made the hair on the back of her neck stand.
She shook her head, dismissing the thoughts that were entering her mind. The instinct to fight him was strong, almost controlling her but she would not let it. She could not let it. "I'm not going there," she said adamantly, her eyes never leaving his. She had to be strong about this now or she suspected he would never leave her alone. If she got sent to the hospital again there was a good chance they would never let her go.
"Not going where?"
"You know where."
"If you're someone my doctor or parents sent to test me you can tell them I passed with flying colors."
"No one sent me."
"Then go away. I can't deal with this now. My life is back to normal. It won't work I'm not going to be sucked into it again."
"If you think you can get sucked in again you must believe it's real."
"It's not real. It's not. Now please leave me alone," she said and stood from the table. She walked to the dance floor and joined Amber knowing her friend would not mind.
"Where's the hottie?"
"I don't know," Buffy said. She glanced back at the table and sure enough, tall, dark and broody was still there. He took a sip from his beer casually as if he had all night. Buffy suspected somehow he did. Now that she was not so close to him the urge to slay him was not as strong as it had been. It was all a figment. She had been reminded of things that was all.
"He's sure looking at you."
"It must be my new lipstick," Buffy said with a smile, getting into the song. She pushed thoughts of vampires and the fact she sensed tall, broody man was one away. If her mother was behind this she was going to give her a piece of her mind later.
At the end of each song, Buffy glanced at the table to see if he was gone. He was there watching her with those dark brown eyes that roved over her familiarly and way too possessively considering they had just met.
She never lacked for a dance partner when the DJ slowed things up. She just wished he would leave so she could sit down. She really did not feel like dancing with dozens of strange guys tonight. Oh sure one or two asked for more than one dance but she was not ready for a boyfriend. Tyler had all but shunned her when she returned to school but she was going to get him back.
It was the most embarrassing thing. She had him all but wrapped around her finger before she went into the hospital. And now he was with that skank Carmen and had not said one word to Buffy since she had been back at Hemry the past couple of weeks.
She imagined it was her own fault he had moved on. She had not written to him the entire time she was gone. She had not known what to say to him for one. And she was not entirely sure she could trust him either. When her parents admitted her she severed all contacts with her friends. It was better that way.
Most of them seemed to have forgotten about her burning down the gym. It had not been as hard as she thought to get right back to where she had been before the whole mess. She was in with the popular crowd and sought after by guys. But she had really liked Tyler, which made it harder to see him with Carmen. She pretended to be his friend, but secretly she hoped the two would break up at any moment.
The DJ put on a country and western song, line dancing was something she had never been good at. She was a Top 40 girl, but since broody guy was still at their table she put herself in line for the dance.
"What's his deal?" Amber asked Buffy.
"I have no clue."
"He doesn't look like he's going anywhere."
"I suppose I could try again to tell him to leave."
"Well, if you think you'll be safe."
Buffy scoffed slightly. She was strong, stronger than the guys she saw working out in the weight room. She had kept that to herself. Doctor Stolmgren had been adamant that it was like vampires and Merrick, not real. Buffy eventually played along with him but she knew that she was strong for a girl her size. "I'll be safe with him," she said, her attention no longer focused on the dance. She did the steps in a lackluster fashion, anxious now to get it done with.
She was not having a good time knowing he was skulking around. This was her first night out with her friends she did not need him hovering around. Either he wanted to dance with her and act like every other guy who hit on her or he could hit the road.
"You're still here." The feeling was there again, that instinct of survival and knowing that he threatened hers somehow. He had done nothing, though.
"I'm not going anywhere."
"You must lead a pretty dull life if the only thing you have to do on a Friday night is hang out here and watch me dance."
"I guess that depends on how entertaining watching you dance is."
"Okay. You really need to rethink your approach."
"I'm not approaching you. All I'm trying to do is to get you to come with me."
"I can't tell you that. Not here."
"And if I come with you, you'll leave me alone?"
"If you want me to."
"Oh, I'll want you to. Wait," she said quickly, realizing she was agreeing to something she knew she should not. "I can't go with you. I can't. Why are you doing this to me?"
"I'm trying to help you."
"You are not. Trying to get me to believe in what I worked so hard to realize is not real is hurting me not helping me."
"How do you know what I'm going to do?"
"Because I feel it. When you're around I know and I sense you and have to fight the urge to drive a stake through your heart." He smirked then. "You think that's funny? I have the urge to kill you and you find that funny. I think you're the one who needs to be admitted."
"I'm just glad the urge is still there."
"You're glad I want to kill you?"
"It's not me you want to kill or you would have by now."
"No, I wouldn't have because I refuse to do it. I'm not that girl, Angel."
"You are that girl, Buffy. You're not this girl. You're acting a part, running away from who and what you are."
"I am not running from anything. I'm trying to save my life, Angel. I'm seventeen years old."
"Is that all?"
"Yes. I have to finish school."
"There are more important things than school."
"No, see, there aren't."
"Buffy, you can run from it, you can pretend you aren't who we both know you are but it'll only get worse."
"Worse than burning down the high school gym?"
"Sorry, but I can't picture that." She turned to go back to the dance floor. Obviously there was no getting through to this guy so the best thing to do was just leave and let him figure out that she was not doing it. She was hanging onto her sanity by a thread as it was she would not let him push her over the edge into the dark abyss that was a life in the psych ward on meds.
"It's in you, you can't run away from it."
"I'm not running," she replied flippantly and joined Amber and Jack once again, immersing herself in the music and the pulse of the people around her.
Buffy sat in her chair, her arms wrapped around her knees. It was a pose she used often. She had gotten home by her midnight curfew which seemed like hours ago now. Her parents would worry if they knew she had not slept. It was one of the things she had done a lot of before she was sent away to get better. She would have to be sure and slide into bed around dawn. Until then she stared out the window. Was she well now? Or had she been then?
She imbedded her fingers into her upper arms, drawing crescent shaped droplets of blood as she rocked on the chair. She felt the pain and tried to ignore that the nail marks would be gone by the time her mother came to check on her in the morning. "Not real," she murmured as she thought on her fast healing abilities. "This is real," she whispered.
She did not know anymore and it scared her. Doctor Stolmgren had been happy with her progress. He had told her at discharge that she was one of his most trying yet rewarding patients. He believed he had pulled her from a darkness that was a never-ending abyss for Buffy. She had wanted to believe that was the case, too.
She stood from the chair and walked to her bathroom. She took one of her pills and clutched the porcelain sink. The pills were supposed to keep her well. They apparently were not working, though, if she had been home for less than a month and was beginning to doubt what was real already.
She turned to the window and pushed the curtains aside. She felt him. His name was Angel, but if what she suspected was true he was far from actually being one. She had a hard time understanding why he would want to encourage her to go back to that way of thinking. She was not going to even think the word that she associated with him. She could not afford to.
She rested her forehead against the window pain. "Please work soon," she whispered to the pill she had just taken. In the hospital she had been on twenty or so different meds over the course of the year. Doctor Stolmgren carefully monitored her reaction to each and worked out a regiment perfectly tailored to her problems. Now she was down to two.
She sensed him. He was out there somewhere not too far away. Was that normal? She could not sense when anyone else was around, but she could with him. With that sense came the need to hunt him and drive a stake through his heart, to kill him. She shook her head, knowing she was leaving a smeary mark on the window and tears formed in her eyes. It was starting again. She was going to end up in the hospital and she was not sure she would get out this time. "Please work," she pleaded.
Realizing she could not stand in her bathroom all night crying Buffy sighed heavily and walked to the main portion of her bedroom and flipped the bedside lamp off. She was not tired, but her mom was prone to waking up in the middle of the night to check on Buffy. If she came in with the lights off Buffy could say she was going to the bathroom.
The urge to hunt had been curbed for a long time now, months. When she had first been admitted the only thing that stopped her from going out to perform her duty were the steel bars on the windows. The nurses wondered a time or two if the bars would hold under the brute force Buffy put on them time and time again.
The combination of medications Doctor Stolmgren put her on made those urges go away eventually. Once he had gotten them right she stopped feeling the need to slay vampires. When the urges stopped her doctor worked on getting her to realize she had been having hallucinations. Eventually, she believed it was all one big hallucination.
She walked to the window and looked out. She should have screamed at the sight of him. What person stood in the middle of someone's yard at this time of night? But for some reason the sight of Angel standing there was not scary.
She could only open her window a crack thanks to the adjustments her parents made before she came home. They would have no more of her ‘sneaking out and being gone all hours of the night.'
"Hi," she whispered, offering him a smile. She should not encourage him, but she was glad to see him. She did not want to be, but something about him made her feel at ease. She did not feel that way with her parents or her friends.
"You don't seem surprised to see me here."
"Why should I be?"
"You don't really know me."
"You don't really know me either."
He seemed to think on that one. She wished she knew what he was thinking. "I know more than you think."
"Is that right?"
"Some of it I don't understand," he said with a scowl. "But I'm here to help you."
"Who are you that you're here to help me?"
"I don't think you're ready to hear the truth yet."
"I'm not ready to admit the past year or so of my life was wasted."
"Thanks," she whispered.
"Can we talk?"
"I thought we were." He grimaced and she could not help but laugh. "What's so funny?"
"You. You look so pathetic."
"That's very endearing."
"What did that have to do with deer?"
She shook her head, realizing she had obviously misheard him. "Never mind."
"Can you get out back?"
She looked over her shoulder at the alarm clock by her bed. She did not have school tomorrow so her mother would probably let her sleep in, assuming Buffy could sleep. She did have a third prescription bottle in her medicine cabinet, sleeping pills. Buffy did not like taking them, though, because she slept too soundly and had weird dreams. She never remembered the dreams, only the feeling that they were weird.
"I can't leave."
"I wasn't asking you to go anywhere with me, just out back where we can sit and talk without bushes and a window separating us."
"Maybe I like the window separating us."
"I don't know," she said, biting her lower lip. "I should, I shouldn't want you near me."
"Why not?" he asked, walking toward her window. He was getting closer to her and that scared her.
She did not want him close. She did not want him to see she had been crying. She was scared and thought she was on the brink of having a breakdown. She shook her head severely. "No, you're not doing this to me."
"What am I doing?"
"You're making me want to throw those pills away and follow you."
She heard a low growl coming from his direction and looked around for a dog before realizing without a doubt that it was coming from him. "You're on medications?"
"Yes, depression, hallucinations, lack of sleep. You know the drill."
"You aren't crazy."
"You're not me. You don't even know me and I get the feeling you're not a doctor."
"I'm not but I know you're not crazy. Would you just let me talk to you?"
"No because if I do you're going to try and convince me to leave with you."
"Now why would I do that?"
"I don't know."
"You do, too."
She placed a hand on the window's glass, the desire to touch him strong. She sensed somehow that he was the only real thing in her world. Everything else around her was make-believe, fake. "I don't, you can't do this to me."
"I just want the chance to show you."
"Show me what," she whispered. She did not want to hear his answer, it would be her undoing but she had to hear it even if it meant the last year of her life had been wasted.
"I don't," she said, fresh tears falling. She could not tell him to go away and she did not want to walk away. All she had to do was close the window and draw the curtains closed and she would be rid of him. For tonight. He would be back. "Why? Why are you doing this to me?"
"It's your destiny, Buffy."
"That does it," she said drawing her hand away from the window. "Please go."
"No, please go. I can't do this. You can't come in here and tell me that I'm not crazy."
"You're not crazy, Buffy."
"No, I don't believe you. None of it is real."
"None of what?"
"Shut up," she pleaded. "You know what I'm talking about."
"Do I what? Of course I do, I lived it."
"That hell called hallucinations. The things that nightmares are made of, I dreamt they were real."
"That's because they are. You can't hide forever, Buffy."
"You're hiding from your calling. Your turning your back on it and the world is going to go to hell because of it."
"It's the truth."
"There is no truth to it. I'm just a girl, Angel, just a girl."
"Come out back with me."
"No," she whispered. "I can't."
"Sooner or later you'll have to, you won't be able to control the urge to hunt, to kill."
"I am not a killer."
"Don't say it," she quickly interrupted. "I'm just a girl."
"If you say so, Buffy."
"I do say so," she whispered. She was going to the bathroom and taking one of those sleeping pills as soon as he was gone. She would not be able to sleep without a sleeping pill tonight. "Please go. I can't do this anymore tonight."
"Whatever you say, Buffy, but you can't avoid your destiny forever."
She slammed her window shut, careful not to be too loud about it so her parents would not wake up. She rushed to her bathroom where she downed a sleeping pill and a glass of water, staring at her haggard appearance in the mirror.
Earlier that night she had looked like her old self again, or at least close to the old Buffy. Her hair had been perfect, her clothes fit decently, and she felt good. Now she felt like a jumbled, depressed mess again. It was a symptom of the disease, she knew it but she could not help but hate the drastic differences in how she felt.
"I'm just a girl," she whispered as she turned off the light and returned to her bedroom again.
She stopped at the window and looked outside. She felt his presence, knew he was still close, but he was out of sight. "Good riddance," she whispered as she crawled into bed and pulled the comforter over her body. She was tired and hoped the sleeping pill would allow her to sleep tonight.
"There's no place like," Angel hears feminine laughter but is stopped short. "Willow?"
"What's?" The feminine voice said.
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 Angel 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?"
"How about you both bite me."
Angel finds he is 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 has 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.
Buffy had no idea why she had done it. She stepped into a pair of sweatpants and went to her bathroom and brushed her hair, pulling it into a ponytail. She glanced at the basket full of her makeup and contemplated putting some blush and eyeliner on. "This is not a date," she chided herself as she grabbed her toothbrush.
She was acting like it was a date and that bothered her. She was glad to be home, glad to be back into the fold at school, but it grew frustrating having to lie and keep track of the lies. The fact that Angel might be a raving lunatic was not lost on her, but at least she did not have to watch what she said around him.
There was more to it then that, though. Sure, he was a nice looking guy but she needed to talk to him. She had felt him outside and knew that she could not put it off forever. The sooner she gave in and talked to him the sooner he would go about his business and leave Buffy alone. She was not sure it was as simple as that, but it was worth a try. She could not have him hanging around or her parents would find out and ask questions. Buffy did not think her parents, her dad especially, would be too keen on an older guy hanging around.
She opened her bedroom door and listened for a minute. All was quiet. She glanced in the direction of her parents' bedroom. No light came out from under the door so she assumed they were asleep. If she got caught she would just say she was going to get something to drink from the kitchen. She would have to hope that Angel would figure out she got caught and leave.
She opened the backdoor and walked outside. "Angel?" she whispered and started slightly when he walked out of the shadows. She was expecting him so she did not know why she was jumpy. "Hi," she said.
"Hi," he said, his hands clasped together in front of him.
"We have to be quiet."
"That's fine. I'm mostly a quiet guy anyway."
"I get that," she said with a slight smile and closed the distance between them.
"I'm glad you agreed to meet me."
"I realized there is no other way of getting rid of you."
"Come on, that's not fair."
"You've been following me for weeks."
"I have not been following you. You'd have to leave your house on occasion for me to actually be following you."
"I do leave me house."
"Yeah. I go to school and do stuff."
"I haven't seen you do stuff since that night at the club."
"Excuse me that I really don't want to go out if it means someone's going to try to convince me I'm insane."
"You are not insane, Buffy."
"Normal people do not think the things I do or believe in them."
"What things?" he asked. He seemed to really want to know.
"Why are you doing this to me? I mean, why does this keep happening to me? I didn't ask for it."
"You were chosen, it's a gift."
"A gift? Why don't you try out the gig for a while and see what a gift it is?"
"Thanks a lot," she said with a roll of her eyes. She shoved her hands into the pockets of her hooded UCLA sweatshirt and walked toward the corner of the yard furthest from view from the patio area.
"I can help you. If you let me."
"How? By sucking me back into a life that caused me to lose everything I had?"
"It doesn't have to be that way."
"Doesn't it?" He scowled and she could tell he was trying to think of what to say. "I can't go back there, Angel. I can't. I don't think I'd survive it a second time."
"Why do you assume you're crazy?"
"Vampires, demons, watchers and slayers it's all make-believe. It's craziness and I'm so not going back there."
"Have any dreams lately?"
She stared at him wide-eyed, unable to answer him for a moment. "How do you know about my dreams?"
"Because it comes with being the slayer."
"How do you know so much about it? Aren't you," she paused unable to say it out loud. She knew what he was. With every fiber of her being she knew it and had since the first night she sensed him. He obviously was not here to hurt her or he would have by now. So what did he want? "What do you want?"
"To help you."
"Why would you want to help me?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
"Because you're," she frowned. She would not say it. If she said it out loud it would be like admitting that she had been in that hospital for no reason at all. She would not do it. She had been poked, prodded, drugged, confined and analyzed. It had not been for nothing.
"I'm not doing anything," he said, sounding entirely too amused.
"You are. You know what I think you are and you're trying to make me say it."
"Why won't you?"
She did not want him to see her cry so she turned her back to him and walked toward the fence. She felt the tears forming fast and did not want him to see her cry. "Because I can't."
"This would be so much easier if you would just talk to me."
"No, not for me, for you. If you would just admit it we could go from here. Until you admit who you are, what you are you're never going to get better."
"I am better."
He was behind her, his hands on her shoulders so quickly she had no time to react. "Are you really?" he asked softly.
Her eyes fell closed at the contact. His hands were gentle in no way threatening, which was strange. If he was what she thought he should want to kill her not comfort her. She began to cry then, deep shuddering sobs that rocked her body. She had not let herself cry during this whole ordeal. She had not been able to and her parents had offered her little comfort or sympathy. They had been more concerned with their image and how a crazy daughter might effect her father's position at work.
The fact that this guy who was a virtual stranger offered her more comfort than her parents had sent her over the edge. "It's not fair," she whispered.
"No one said it was."
"Why? Why me?"
"The Cliff Notes version? I want a normal life. Like I had before."
"No, Angel, it's not you. You're the one freaky thing in my freaky world that still makes sense to me. I just get messed sometimes. I wish we could be regular kids."
"Yeah. I'll never be a kid."
"Okay, then a regular kid and her cradle robbing, creature-of-the-night boyfriend."
He placed his hands at her shoulders and let his head rest against the top of hers, hoping she would find it comforting. He had the desire to comfort and protect her at all costs. "I don't know. I don't know how it works. Honestly, until recently I'd never given much thought on how it worked. I was just told to help you."
"Why?" she asked, turning in his arms to face him. He embraced her. It was so natural as if he had done it a hundred times before. A part of him believed he had held her before, but another part rebelled at the idea of the images he was seeing being true memories and not just mind tricks of some sort.
"I asked them to turn me back."
"Because more than ever, I know how much I love you."
"Why what?" he asked, shaking off that last image. Some of the images were just that, images. Some sucked him in and he could feel the emotion surrounding the memory. This most recent one was intense.
"Why would a vampire help me?"
He knew how hard it was for her to say that aloud and he was proud of her. She was coming around. "Do you really want to know?" he asked as he ran his hand through her hair. It was so soft and smelled so good. He could stand here holding her forever.
"Uh huh," she said, sniffling. She wiped her nose on the sleeve of her sweatshirt and looked up at him, her eyes reddened and puffy from the tears. He wanted to make her feel better, whatever that took. He lowered his mouth to hers unable to resist. She protested briefly, but he knew what to do and she grew quiet and kissed him back. Her arms wrapped around his neck and he deepened the kiss. He remembered how she tasted, how warm she always felt to the touch as if he had been in this position a hundred times before.
In his mind he saw a bedroom that was not hers, but it was at the same time. It was confusing. They stood near a window, bathed in the moon's rays. That was their first kiss. He had vamped out on her then and drew away from her suddenly, ashamed he had so little control of himself.
Nothing had changed, he still had no control over himself where Buffy was concerned and he drew away from her, ashamed that he had vamped out in front of her over something as simple as a kiss. "I'm sorry," he whispered though he was not sorry in the least.
"I'm not," she whispered her head against his chest. "Why don't you bite or kill me?"
"What?" he asked with a low laugh.
She sighed heavily. "You're a vampire, why don't you feed off me or kill me?"
"I don't feed, I don't kill."
She drew away, both hands against his chest. "Why not?"
His eyes fell closed. She was looking at him with such trust in her eyes. If he blew this he sensed there was not going to be another chance. This was his chance to make things right once and for all. It was all or nothing.
"I was cursed about one hundred years ago. I fed on a girl about your age. She was beautiful, dumb as a post, but a favorite among her clan."
"Romany. Gypsies. The elders conjured the perfect punishment for me. They restored my soul. I've spent the last one hundred years living in seclusion, hiding from myself as well as humanity."
"You," he whispered.
"Things weren't supposed to happen this way. I don't know what happened. I was there, at your school, the day you got your calling."
"It was in the middle of the day. You couldn't have been."
"I was in a car with the windows completely blacked out. I was told to go to Sunnydale and wait for you. You never came."
"Mom was talking about moving there. My parents were having a bad spell there and the word divorce came up at least ten times a day if not more."
"I got put in the hospital and apparently their problems were solved. They couldn't handle having a delinquent for a daughter."
"You're not a delinquent."
"They didn't believe me. I tried to tell them," she said, fresh tears forming in her eyes. He wanted to kiss each and every one of them away. "I tried to explain it but they wouldn't believe me. They sent me to that place. They had me locked away because they wouldn't believe me, Angel."
"It's over now."
"No, it's not. I'll never get it back. All of that time spent locked in a room, having drugs forced fed to me. They got me believing I was nuts. They have me on so much medicine that I don't have dreams anymore."
"Stop taking it."
"I don't want the dreams."
"You have to have them, Buffy. It's part of what makes you who you are. You can't ignore it and you can't close yourself off to who you are anymore. If you do you will go crazy and you'll get violent towards anyone."
"Don't you get it? I just want to be a normal girl."
"But you're not, Buffy, you're not. Something's wrong. I don't know what it is, but something happened. You were supposed to be in Sunnydale, you didn't come and things got skewed somehow. I don't know how or why, but I just know it. You need to admit to yourself what and who you are. I'll help you train, I'll help you patrol, but you have to start performing your duties again." He had not meant to say that, he was not sure if it was true, but it was the only explanation he had for the visions he kept having. He believed he was remembering actual events, but they were not events he had experienced.
"I can't, Angel. My parents."
"You were supposed to be in Sunnydale, Buffy. I don't know if it was with just your mom or not, but you aren't supposed to be here. You can't mess with things like this."
"I'm messing with things?"
"Whose idea was it to put you in the hospital?"
"All of us decided it was the best thing. I didn't want to believe all of those things, Angel. It's craziness."
"Come with me tonight."
"I want to show you who you are."
"You can," he whispered as he tilted her head up so he could look directly into her eyes. "Please come with me."
"My parents will check on me."
"I'll have you back before sunrise."
"Of course you will, don't want you burning up into a pile of dust."
She closed her eyes as if trying to force the images out of her mind. He knew he was pushing it but he had to get her out in the field or there would be no convincing her. "Yes, I remember," she said, looking into his eyes once again.
"I'll have you home in plenty of time."
She looked back at her house and shook her head. "I'm nuts to be doing this. They're going to find me gone and send me right back to the hospital."
"I won't let them," he said with a low growl in his throat. The idea of someone harming her again, drugging her was enough to set him into a rage. "No one will touch you again. I promise," he whispered and leaned in to kiss her again.
Her hands pressed against his chest as she rose on her tip toes to make it easier for them. His arms slid along the small of her back, slightly lower so his fingertips touched the top of her bottom. He remembered what she felt like, how she responded to his touch.
"We shouldn't," he whispered as he drew away.
"I know, but it's nice," she murmured her head against his chest again.
"It is," he agreed hesitantly. He was not here to have a romantic relationship with the girl. He was just here to get her to the hell mouth in Sunnydale where she belonged. Emotions would just get him in trouble. "It won't happen again."
"That's real flattering," she said as she drew away from him and walked toward the gate in the fence which would lead them away from her house.
"I didn't mean it like that. It's just, this is a work thing."
"I was sent to change things. To make things right."
"You think I'm just going to leave my parents, friends and LA behind and come to Sunnydale with you?"
She scoffed at him, briefly looking incredulously at him. "Men," she murmured as she brushed past him, out of the yard.
So he had her at a cemetery and now did not know what to do with her. They had stopped at his apartment to pick up supplies. She obviously had none, or he assumed not anyway, so they had to weapon up somehow. On the way to his apartment and to the cemetery he saw the pain and insecurity in her eyes and face and felt for her. He wanted to make it stop, to make it right. He knew that bringing her back home and tucking her into her was not going to do that.
He wanted to be her friend, but was not sure that was possible. Could a vampire and a slayer be friends? He doubted she would ever trust him enough to allow that to happen. She only had his word for it that he had a soul. And once he got her to Sunnydale where she belonged he imagined his task would be done and Whistler would have something else for him to do. It was best not to get close to her.
"You're *not* friends. You'll never be friends. You'll be in love till it kills you both. You'll fight, and you'll shag, and you'll hate each other till it makes you quiver, but you'll never be friends. Love isn't brains, children, it's blood...blood screaming inside you to work its will. *I* may be love's bitch, but at least *I'm* man enough to admit it."
"Okay," he said as he handed her a stake. He had to shake that vision off. There was something so familiar about it, so true. He could hear the speaker's British accent and knew that what the man said was true. "Do you remember what to do?"
"Unfortunately," she murmured. She probably had not intended for him to hear her, but he did.
"I'll be right here, so if you run into trouble I'll step into help, but we've got to get you back to where you were before going to the hospital."
"Looney, you mean."
He placed his hands on either shoulder and met her gaze. She looked so vulnerable and frightened as if she was on the verge of jumping off a cliff with nothing to stop her from free falling to the bottom. He was forcing this on her and he hated it. He hated seeing her look so torn up. "You're not looney, Buff," he whispered.
"I'm just tryin' to protect you. This could get outta control."
"Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?"
"This isn't some fairy tale. When I kiss you, you don't wake up from a deep sleep and live happily ever after."
"No. When you kiss me I wanna die."
He felt that way when he kissed her. Their kiss earlier tonight had awakened something in Angel he had not known existed. Love. It was crazy to think so because he hardly knew this girl but he loved her. This was no schoolboy crush either. This was the sacrifice your life for hers type of love and for some reason he knew he had done it. He had sacrificed everything for her once upon a time.
"I'm not going to say good-bye. If we get through this- I'm just going to go. You understand? There is just too much to-"
"Aren't I? Then explain to me why I'm here? What am I doing with you? Why do I believe you? Why do I want to believe you?"
"Because it's who you are. It's who we are," he said softly.
"Who we are?" She sounded so confused. Of course she would be. She was not getting the visions he was so had no idea what he was talking about.
"Yes," he murmured and bent to kiss her. Her lips were so warm and soft against his. He could easily forget where they were and for what purpose. He wanted her more than anything he had wanted in his life, and that was saying a lot. As Liam he took whatever he wanted regardless of the circumstances or what it would do to his family's reputation. As Angelus he did the same with no regard for anything but relishing in the death and destruction he left in his wake. But he had never wanted anything like he wanted her. His soul ached for her, his body ached for her.
He drew away, unwillingly, but knew they had to focus on the task at hand. He had to get her prepared to do her duties as guardian of the hell mouth. She had to get there, and soon from the way Whistler made it sound.
"You expect me to work after that?"
He smirked slightly, avoiding her gaze so she would not see how pleased he was that his kiss affected her to the point of distraction. This was one of the most active cemeteries in the area as far as vampire risings went. Angel was not sure why, but he had staked out plenty of cemeteries while waiting for her to come around.
They separated, distancing themselves from one another and the kiss and began walking through the cemetery. It should have seemed strange, off putting, but it was very natural to be here with her.
"So, what do you do when you're not stalking me?"
He laughed lightly. "I read a lot and draw."
"Sounds pretty exciting."
"Not much else to do. Don't go out during the day, I'm not a bar fly and I tend to be a bit of a recluse."
"I keep to myself."
"How did you know where to find me? How did you know I'd give in?"
"I was given some help on where to find you by the people who sent me to get you to Sunnydale where you belong. And I didn't know you'd give in. All I could do was hope that your calling and the instincts that come with it would overpower the brainwashing they'd done to you."
"This one looks fresh," she said, gesturing to a grave off to her side.
"Let's sit and wait then," he said. "If he doesn't show we'll come back tomorrow night and I'll scan the obits before coming to get you."
"You can do that?"
"Sure, you look for people who died unexpectedly and the way things are worded can tip you off. Your watcher didn't teach you that?"
"No. I mean, we hadn't gotten to that point I guess."
They stood in silence, both leaning against a headstone waiting to see if a vampire would rise from the fresh grave in front of them. Angel had no idea what to say to her. One hundred years of seclusion did not leave him with knowledge on what girls her age were interested in.
"Have there always been slayers?"
"As far as I know. Vampires were here first, slayers were created to help combat them, stop them from spreading."
"I guess. I don't know."
"Vampires aren't told much about the slayer other than to avoid her. I ran with someone who's killed two of them."
"What?" She sounded genuinely horrified. He had not meant to upset her, had not even thought about it beyond wanting to make conversation with her. "You say that as if it's no big deal."
"Well, it's what vampires do, kill people."
"But you don't."
"Not anymore. I did."
She looked at him then, her eyes piercing. She was searching for something, he had no idea what. If she just asked him he would answer, but he doubted that would suffice. "Do you miss it?"
"I did for a while. I mean, I still craved the blood, but I'd look at a potential victim and couldn't do it. For over one hundred years I handed down my own version of justice to those I thought deserved a death sentence."
"You're so kind and gentle, I can't picture it."
"I'm glad," he whispered. "I'm ashamed of the way I was, the man I was before I became a vampire and the monster I turned into."
"Is helping me some sort of punishment then?"
"I don't think so. I think they were trying to help me."
"I can do a lot of good. I've got strength and speed on top of being difficult to kill and super healing."
"I guess I'm not difficult to kill but I've got the other things going for me. Slayers are disposable, right? Like razors and paper plates and stuff."
The ground of the grave started moving and Angel was glad for the distraction. Slayers were disposable, she was right. He was not sure how long they lived, but he knew they did not live to be grandmothers or anything like that. They were chosen young and died young as far as he knew.
"Looks like it's show time." She straightened up, pulling the stake out of her pocket and holding it at the ready.
She looked like she had done this before and Angel was glad to see that it was coming back to her. He thought it might but was not sure. She was pretty deep into the denial and depending on the medications she was on. Her memories could have been messed with or suppressed while in the hospital and kept that way with meds.
"This isn't some weird test, right? I mean, you're not going to leave me to fend for myself as soon as he makes his appearance?"
"No," he whispered. "I'm not going anywhere." He suspected she would not need his help. It would not matter how long she had been out of the game, she was not helpless.
"Good, because we don't even know if I can still do this. Maybe it went away, or maybe I forgot."
"You lived a long time without it. You can do it again."
"I guess. But what if I can't? I've seen too much. I know what goes bump in the night. Not being able to fight it... What if I just hide under my bed, all scared and helpless? Or what if I just become pathetic? Hanging out at the old Slayer's home, talking people's ears off about my glory days, showing them Mr. Pointy, the stake I had bronzed."
She was genuinely concerned she would no longer be the slayer. What had caused that? He wished he knew, wished the visions or memories or whatever they were would just show him everything he was supposed to know. If he had all of the information it would be easier to help her. Ease was probably not what Whistler or his bosses had in mind.
The vamp was almost completely out of the grave now. He gave her points for not staking him before he had fully emerged. That would have been too easy and would not have helped prepare her for what she might face. Vampires were not always found in cemeteries rising for the first time. They walked, talked and fed among the humans that Buffy had been chosen to protect.
She was clumsy, uncertain, missed more than a handful of times before actually getting the stake to make contact with the vampire. It took another handful of times for her to get the heart, but she finally did it. The fight took longer than he thought, the vampire got some good licks in but not bad enough that Angel felt the need to step in. And she had not asked him to either.
The vamp dust had cleared and Angel found that he had enjoyed watching her fight. She was rusty but he could see when instinct and the desire to survive kicked in over knowledge. There were times when she blocked the vampire's attempted punch by throwing up her arm. It was so quick that it was clear she did it without thinking.
He had never been up close and personal with a slayer before to appreciate what they did. With a little bit of training, honing of her skills he suspected she would be flawless eventually and a force to be reckoned with. He wondered if he would be around to see it or have moved on by that point.
"Ah. This one of those things you have to finish yourself?"
"Really kinda is."
"You are so gonna lose."
"God, I've missed watching this."
"Buffy?" he asked. She had not moved for quite a while after staking the vamp and he wondered if she was hurt worse than he thought. He noticed as he stepped toward her that her body was shaking, not convulsions but it was still visible. "Are you all right?"
"No," she blurted out her voice thick from tears. She was crying. Was she hurt?
"Where does it hurt?"
He had a sudden moment of complete and utter panic, not sure what to do to help her. "I don't see where you're hurt," he said as he took in her appearance. She looked all right. Her face had some bruises on it, which he imagined would be difficult to explain to her parents. He slid his hand to her face, cupping her cheek and pushing her hair away from her face with his upturned thumb.
"Don't you get it?" She batted his hand away and stepped away from him.
"The past year, all of it, the drugs, the shrinks, the other loonies that looked at me like I was the nuttiest of them all. It was all for nothing. Why?"
She started pounding on his chest with her fists, which he caught and secured with one of his hands. He had not taken the time to realize how tiny she was until now. Both of her hands fit in the grip of one of his. "Buffy, stop it."
"No, I won't stop it. I won't pretend this is okay. Where in the hell were you? Why didn't you come six months ago? A year ago? A month ago? Why now? Why when I was doing okay with my life did you decide to come and screw it up some more?"
He released her hand and stepped away, rubbing his chest where she had stricken him. She sure knew how to punch a guy and he doubted she even realized how hard she had been pounding on him. "I told you. I don't know what happened, something did, though. I waited for you in Sunnydale, no one told me to come here until recently. I had no idea. I just assumed they forgot about me when you didn't show up."
"Now what the hell am I supposed to do? My parents will take one look at me in the morning and know what I've been doing tonight. They are never going to believe me, Angel. They'll send me back there. I can't do it again. I can't go back there. I don't even know if I can go home and face them. They're going to be so disappointed, Angel."
"You can come with me."
"I have an apartment in Sunnydale. It's not big, but we could find something else for the two of us to share."
"You want me to live with you?" She sounded as surprised by his offer as he was. He did not want someone else sharing his space but the offer had been made, he could not renege on it. He had to get her to Sunnydale, whatever the cost.
"Until we find you something of your own."
"Like I could afford that."
"You should have a watcher, too. I'm surprised one hasn't contacted you honestly."
"I don't know that I'd know if one did."
"Just don't think about it, Buffy. Come with me. You said yourself you can't go home looking like this."
"I," she was thinking, he could tell. "My stuff. What about all my stuff?"
"I'll take you home tonight. Pack what you need tomorrow and I'll pick you up tomorrow night."
"But my friends, my parents, my stuff. You want me to leave it all behind for what? To battle vampires and demons? To get sucked back into all that death. What if I don't want to?"
"You have to, Buffy."
"I do not. I could walk away from this cemetery tonight and never do it again."
"Do you really believe that after having that stake in your hand again tonight? After watching that vampire turn to dust? You could hang it up and not slay vampires knowing this one tonight would have been out feeding on a human had you not stopped it?"
"Stop it! Okay, you're right. I'll go with you. I'll go, I can't do this anymore. I can't lie to everybody."
"As long as you're not lying to yourself."
"Just stop with the philosophizing, all right? I said I'll go. But we leave tonight. I can't let my parents see me like this. They'll think I'm fighting again and lock me in my room."
"They can do that?"
"Yes," Buffy whispered. "They put a lock on my door as security, in case I was not as better as the doctors thought I was."
"Dear God," he whispered, unable to wrap his mind around a child's parents doing that.
"So, you take me with you tonight or the deal's off."
"There's too little time before sunrise, we can't go tonight."
"Then take me home with you. We can go by my house and I'll pack some clothes and pray my parents haven't woken up and discovered I'm gone."
"Are you going to leave them a note?"
"I'll mail one. I don't want to waste time and risk them catching me. I can't, Angel, I won't be locked up again."
"You don't have to be ever again." He just hoped she believed in him as much as he believed in her.
Now that Angel's car was stopped in front of his apartment and Buffy was beside him with two suitcases full of her things in the backseat he wished he had taken the time to straighten up a bit before leaving the prior evening. He had no way of knowing he would come home at dawn with the slayer with him.
She had insisted what she packed were necessities. He knew very little about seventeen year old girls to question her, but two suitcases seemed excessive to him. Of course, he had worn the same coat for years before it literally fell apart.
He got out of the car and grabbed one of the suitcases from the backseat, noticing there was a smaller third bag there, too. How much stuff did she need?
"I just need this bag for now," Buffy said, pulling the smaller one out from the backseat.
"Okay," he said putting the suitcase back and closing the driver's side door.
"So you have an apartment here and in Sunnydale?"
"This one's nothing great. I just wasn't sure how long it would take and I needed to be sure I wouldn't wake up one morning to a maid opening the curtains and turning me into a big pile of dust."
"So you were pretty sure I'd agree to come with you?"
"I didn't know, but I had to believe you would. I had no idea where you had been when I got here."
"Would you have come for me sooner had you known?"
"Yes," he said with a low growl. The idea of those doctors laying their hands on her, drugging her and experimenting on her made him crazy.
She seemed to think on that for a moment. He was not sure what he expected as her response but the soft "thanks" was not it. He expected more anger or statements of unfairness.
"You seem awful calm about all of this," he said as he walked to the backdoor which would lead them to his basement apartment.
"What can I do? I refuse to go back there again, and I can't pretend this I'm fine to everyone else. I'd go crazy for real I think."
"I think you would, too. I think the drive is in you and if you don't give into it that's not good."
She smiled slightly as he pushed the door open with the toe of his boot, allowing her to go in first. "Do vampires really needed to be invited in?"
"So you couldn't have come into my house and gotten me without my asking you to."
"Oh," she said and seemed distraught about that for reasons Angel could not understand.
"I've only got the one bed. The sheets are clean, I just washed them yesterday. I'll take the floor."
"No, really, I kind of forced myself here for the night."
"I've slept in worse places. All I need is a blanket."
"Are you sure? I'm going to be a few minutes in your bathroom anyway, so if you want the bed it's yours."
"I'll be fine," he said, gathering two blankets. He rolled one to make it into a makeshift pillow and the other he set down on the floor where he intended to sleep. He was not sure he would get much sleep done with Buffy so nearby.
"Okay. Good night then," she said as she walked toward his bathroom, closing the door behind her. His last thoughts were wondering what exactly she needed to do in his bathroom.
"Do you snore?"
"I don't know. It's been a long time since anybody's been in a position to let me know."
"Let me say this as clearly as I can. You cannot beat me. I am a part of them. The Wolf, Ram, and Hart. Their strength flows through my veins. My blood is filled with their ancient power."
"Can you pick out the one word there you probably shouldn't have said?"
"You don't really think you're gonna win this, do you? You don't stand a chance. We are legion. We are forever."
"Then I guess forever..."
"...just got a hell of a lot shorter."
"They'll destroy you."
"As long as you're OK, they can't. Go."
"Wesley's dead. I'm feeling grief for him. I can't seem to control it. I wish to do more violence."
"Well, wishes just happen to be horses today."
"Among other things."
Angel looked at those left in the alley. It took him a moment to realize he was really there. It seemed only moments ago he was back in Buffy's bedroom falling asleep on her floor all those years ago. And yet, here he was in the alley about to fight the last fight.
Gunn was on his last leg, he would be of little use. Illyria looked ready to go all night, he hoped that looks were not deceiving in this case. Spike, Spike was Spike. He was ready to die for the cause. Again. So was Angel. It was down to the four of them. Four versus the Senior Partners of Wolfram & Hart and all that they could unleash upon them. Angel held little hope for any of them to survive this.
He could question his actions for all of eternity and then some. He had damned himself to fighting this last battle alone. Had he not taken the job with Wolfram & Hart, Giles would not have been so certain Angel was working on evil's side again. But if he had not taken the job at Wolfram & Hart he would not be here now about to take on an army of demons and their henchmen. It did not seem to matter he had been the bearer of the amulet that saved their collective asses.
Either way, it no longer mattered. Help was not coming, the four - soon to be three - of them were on their own. He would fight until he had no life left in his body. He knew Gunn, Spike and Illyria would do the same. In fact, he banked on it. They would not go out without taking a chunk out of the Senior Partners army from hell.
"I hear you might be in need of some help."
Angel closed his eyes, certain he was hearing things. Was he already dying and hallucinating the only person he had every truly loved in two hundred fifty years? But it was not just him who turned to look behind him. Spike, Illyria and Gunn, clutching his gut as if willing his innards to stay put all looked too. Surely he was not sucking them into his hallucination.
"Well, Slayer, aren't you a sight for sore eyes. About time."
"How?" Angel asked.
She strode up to him, strong, confident, no longer burdened with being the only one in the world. She was beautiful and he wanted nothing more than to take her into his arms, kiss her and tell her just that. But there was no time. "We were in the neighborhood, passing through."
"We?" he asked, and as he did hundreds if not thousands of women stepped into the alley. "There's so many of them."
"No longer the only one."
"I get that now," he said, overwhelmed by the sheer number of them.
"Where do we start, Boss," she asked, her battle axe at the ready. The girls behind her seemed ready to die there in the alleyway for a cause they did not even understand. Buffy he could understand, but the others. He was overwhelmed with emotion, tears threatened to fall but he fought them back. Later, there would be time for that later.
"Well, personally, I kind of want to slay the dragon. Let's go to work." He suddenly felt a lot more confident about the outcome of this battle than he had moments ago. He gave Buffy one last glance before righting his sword and heading in the direction of the incoming dragon.
The casualties were enormous. So many lying dead in the alleyway, their lives ended far too soon. It would take one hell of an effort to clean this up. At least four hundred slayers still stood. Gunn's body had been taken into an alley out of the way so he could be tended to properly. Angel was not sure who had done it, but the gesture was appreciated. The few hundred survivors were battered and bruised, some hanging on by a thread. The smell of death and fresh blood permeated the air. Both scents were a distraction Angel could not afford tonight. The Hyperion was just a short distance away and he knew what he had to do.
"Let's start bringing those that need help to the Hyperion and set up a triage there. We emptied it of first aid supplies but there should at least be clean linens there to use as bandages."
"I'll get first aid supplies," Illyria said.
"Good. You know what we're looking for?"
"Things to stop a human from dying."
"That about sums it up," Angel said, his voice low. The girls were slayers but they were still human and could only take so much damage.
His eyes searched the darkness frantically for the one slayer he had done everything in his power to ensure survived this battle. He would not let her die because of him. She was a short distance away from him, an arm around an injured slayer she helped walk. Hazel eyes met brown and the look of concern on her face was replaced with relief, reflected he was sure on his own.
"I don't know what to say," he said when he met up with her. Someone else had taken the injured slayer off her hands.
"There's nothing to say. You needed me."
"I'll always need you."
"Me, too," she whispered.
He placed a hand against the side of her face gently, his fingers pushing back her hair. "Are you hurt?" he asked.
"No, I'm fine, ready to go another few rounds."
"Bite your tongue," he quipped though not entirely kidding. "I thought you weren't coming. I thought you didn't trust me anymore and that it would just be the four of us."
She laughed and shook her head, cupping his cheek with his hand. "I told you once when you asked me if I was still your girl that I always would be. I told you after Mom died that I needed you forever. I told you when you brought the amulet that I thought about it sometimes. Nothing's changed, Angel. I'd never turn my back on you when you needed me."
He watched as she scanned the aftermath and his heart went out to her. These girls had come to help him at her request. She must have gone against Giles' wishes and come here anyway. It was still not clear to him how she knew.
"Hey, it was about time I was timely for you instead of the other way around."
"A guy's got to feel useful," he said as he placed an arm around her and led her toward the Hyperion.
"Is it what you expected?"
"No," Angel said. "I thought we were going to die."
"Even when you saw us?"
"I thought things were looking up." He wanted to ask her if she remembered. If it had all been some sort of dream. The last thing he remembered was leaving LA bringing a much younger, much less experienced and hardened Buffy to Sunnydale.
"It's just like I pictured it," she whispered.
"This place, the hotel. It's how I knew where to find you. How did I know where to find you?"
"I don't know. Maybe in a dream we shared I showed it to you." He wanted to tell her the truth, but knew if she did not remember it was for a reason. He had not been able to alter the major things. He had not been able to stop them from making love and losing his soul. He still left Sunnydale after the mayor had been defeated. He still had failed to be there for her when she needed him most and he had come home from Pylea grateful to be back safely to find Willow there. He had not been able to stop her from dating Finn or Spike.
He had managed to stay in touch better this time around. He had not shut her out of his life as he had the first time. He had left Sunnydale and closed the book on his life with Buffy the first time. He did not want to do that this time, he wanted to remember and cherish what they had. It was the only chance he had at true love and he did not want to forget.
He realized as he looked at her that he would not want her any other way. He would not know who Buffy was if she had not dealt with the things she had to deal with. They had taken a different road but were in the place they were supposed to be.
"Angel, Buffy, we could use a hand in here," Spike called out from the hotel.
"So, what's on the schedule for tomorrow?" she asked, sliding her hand into his.
"I don't know, I think I'm done fighting for a while."
"Glad to hear it. I kind of hung up the slayer gloves."
"I heard." She blushed slightly and Angel leaned down to kiss her. "What did you have in mind?"
"I don't know. We've got our work cut out for us here. But after that."
"I was thinking we could get coffee or something."
"Yeah, you know, like normal people."
"Coffee sounds good. And Buffy?"
"Yeah," she said, drawing away from him to check on the injured slayers.
"You're welcome," she said and began to take command in the Hyperion's lobby.
Angel closed his eyes before joining her in helping with the wounded. He had lost his connection to The Powers That Be but he could not help but feel that they would be pleased. Their champions, all three of them, were fighting like they were supposed to be. Together.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com