The Burdens We Bear

by Kristi

Summary:  In season 3 of Angel there is an episode called Birthday. In it Skip shows Cordelia what would happen to Angel if he had been given the visions instead of her. That’s the inspiration for this story. Cordy is not here. She never ran into Angel in LA. She never started working for him. She’s off trying to start her acting career.

Disclaimer: Don’t own them. Joss and Mutant Enemy get that right. I just take them out and play with them.


Chapter One

November 1999

            Doyle put his hand on Angel’s shoulder and leaned forward to whisper something to him. “The good fight yeah? Never know ‘til you’ve been tested- I get that now.”

            A silver blue light swirled near Angel’s ear and then dissipated. Doyle hauled back and caught Angel in the jaw with a hard right. Angel fell down into the cargo hold.  Doyle jumped to the platform the light beacon swung on. He grabbed onto the cable and strained to pull it apart. The light was already beginning to burn him. He finally pulled the cable apart just before he burned to ashes.. The light flashed and then faded to nothing.  Doyle’s ashes rained from the sky, showering the people he died saving.

 Summer 2002

            Wes walked into the lobby of the Hyperion Hotel and tossed his battle axe onto the curved reception desk. Gunn walked in behind him and flopped down onto the strange round couch. The hotel was eerily quiet. Neither Gunn nor Wes tried to fill it up with noise. At one time the Hyperion was a grand hotel populated with minor movie stars and other Hollywood high society. Now it’s a shell for an investigation business that specializes in things that go bump in the night.

            “You gonna go tell him, Man?” Gunn asked.

            “I don’t know. Most days I doubt he even knows who we are. It probably won’t do any good to tell him.” Wes said with a glance up the stairs.

            “I get that. What the hell were the Powers thinking giving someone like him visions?” Gunn said.

            “I don’t think the Powers chose him. From what he told me in the days he was lucid, Doyle passed the visions on to him. He didn’t have a choice. There was no one else to pass them onto.”

            “Lucid days, now those were nice.  We gotta do something though ‘cause I ain’t going on no more wild goose chases to save people he killed two hundred years ago.” Gunn said.

            “Yes. It’s become increasingly difficult for him to separate visions from memories.  Half the time I think he believes the visions are memories, and vice versa obviously. I’ll do some more checking into it. By the way, it’s your turn to feed him.” Wes said as he sat down at his desk and took out his journal. Wes kept a detailed account of every job, every demon they encounter. It was the watcher in him, the part he couldn’t erase.

            “Crap. Are you sure?”

            “Quite. I’m the one that got attacked this morning, remember.” Wes said, tilting his head to the side and indicating a bandage on his neck.

            Gunn got up grumbling. He walked in the kitchen and took a plastic container of blood from the fridge. He put it in the microwave. He, Wes and Angel had met almost three years ago.  Angel had been lucid in those days and the visions were still new. Gunn had tried to stake Angel.  Eventually he had come to realize Angel was one of the good guys, contrary to what it would seem like.  He could make a real difference here. It was the difference between saving the world and saving his neighborhood. He’d chosen to save the world. There were times now he wished he’d chosen the neighborhood.

He didn’t mean that of course. It would have been easier to live in oblivion, not knowing that sometimes the world was in danger and that there were heroes who saved it. It was far too late for that. They’d pulled the Wizard’s curtain back and he knew Oz was really just a little man with a megaphone. There was no going back once you knew that.

            The microwave beeped and Gunn jumped down from his seat on the counter. He took the container of now warm blood out.  He walked back into the lobby and fished the tranq gun out from under the reception desk.  Wes glanced up at him as he did.

            “If I wanted to donate blood, I’d go to the hospital.” Gunn said and indicated the bandage on Wes’ neck.

            “Scream if you need to and remember no sudden moves. If you’re lucky, he won’t notice your there.” Wes said without looking up from his book.

            Gunn walked up the stairs. He held the tranq gun in one hand, the container of blood in the other. He stopped in front of the heavy steel door that looked out of place in the hotel. He put the blood and the tranq gun down on the floor. He slid back the heavy iron bar across the door and took a key out of his pocket, unlocking  the door. He picked up the blood and tranq gun and cracked the door open just wide enough to slip inside, closing the door behind him.

Angel was huddled in a corner talking to himself.  The room was small. All the furniture had been removed except for a bare mattress in one corner.  The windows were bricked up. Sheets, drapes and anything else Angel could hurt himself with were removed long ago, with one exception, a pair of wrist and ankle manacles hung empty, bolted to the wall. The room smelled like old blood and death.  Gunn held his breath. He bent at the knees and quietly sat the container of blood on the floor in the center of the room, never taking his eyes off the vampire in the corner. He backed away slowly. Angel smelled the blood. He jerked his head toward Gunn and then his gaze fell on the container on the floor. He scuttled over to the blood on all fours and picked it up. He tilted his head back, pouring the blood down his throat. It dripped from the corners of his mouth and down his chin. Gunn slipped out of the room, closing and locking the door.

He needed a shower now. Watching Angel eat always disgusted him. He could hardly remember the circumspect, civilized being Angel used to be.

            “I’m going to bed, Wes. Vampire’s fed.” He shouted down into the lobby. He couldn’t refer to the vampire in the room as Angel. There was nothing of Angel left, the vampire locked in that room was only a shell.

            Wes stayed up late looking through books. He had looked dozens of times before, and he knew it wasn’t likely he’d find anything this time, but he had to look. There was no cure for Angel. He needed the visions. They were his direct connection to the powers that be. Wes wasn’t even sure how the visions got passed. The only help Angel was able to give him was that Doyle had touched him and whispered something to him before jumping to his death. Angel had insisted on keeping the visions. They were from the Powers. He was meant to have them and he swore he could handle them. He was strong enough.  Only he hadn’t been.

            Over the years Wes has had people come and look at Angel, people who claimed to be able to restore a measure of sanity to any person. They took one look at Angel and shook their heads. He was a lost cause. The last witch had suggested to Wes that he stake him.

            “It would be the kindest course of action.” The witch had said.

            Wes had thrown her, literally, out of the hotel. Angel had to be worth saving. There were prophecies about him.  He was an important piece of the puzzle when it came down to the End of Days.  One didn’t just go and kill someone with that kind of future.

Wes grumbled and slammed shut the book. He rubbed his eyes. He was tired and he just wanted to go to bed, so he could get up and start it all over again. Besides he needed to be alert when he woke up in the morning.

It was his turn to feed the vampire.

Chapter Two

Author’s Note: Since Angel got the visions instead of Cordelia, and given his condition in this story, Buffy hasn’t seen Angel since The Yoko Factor in season 4.

             Wes ducked into the alley and peered into the darkened depths.  The alley smelled like rotten garbage. It’s deserted. He was certain the vampire came down here but there is no sign of anyone. He crept silently down the alley and paused at the T intersection of it. There was a tiny blond girl near the dumpster. She had her back turned to him and was bent over picking something up off the ground.

            “Are you alright, Miss?” he asked.

            The girl turned. She recognized that British accent.  “Wes?”

            “Buffy, good Heaven’s, I didn’t recognize you.” Wes said. He viewed her with a critical eye. She was much thinner then she was the last time he saw her. She looked older, tired. Her hair was longer and her hazel eyes were much older then her years.

            Buffy raised an eyebrow and looked Wes up and down. “I’m not the one who’s changed here Ex-Watcher Mine.” Wes was wearing a pair of rugged khaki’s, a white shirt and a black canvas duster. He had at least three day’s beard growth. His hair was rumpled and then there was the missing arm.

            “Yes, well I haven’t seen you since Sunnydale.” Wes said.

            “Yes, back when you had two arms.” Buffy slapped her hand over her mouth. “Sorry that was, uhm, inconsiderate.”

            “No, quite alright, I lost it in a battle with a Kunjai demon a couple of years ago. You didn’t happen to see a vampire come this way, did you?” Wes asked looking around the alley.

            “Yup, that pile of dust that is undistinguishable from all the other piles of dust, well that was him.” Buffy said

            “So what brings you to LA? Apocalypse?” Wes asked.

            Buffy shook her head. “Nope, just up visiting Dad. Of course he had to leave for an important business trip to Rome ten minutes after I got here.”

            “It’s good to know you’ve taken up patrols in LA then. Gunn and I can use the help.” Wes said.

            Buffy wrinkled her nose. “I wasn’t really patrolling. I went for a mocha chino.” She held aloft a paper cup of the frothy drink. “What do you mean you and Gunn? Who’s Gunn? I thought you worked with Angel.” Buffy looked at Wes with narrowed eyes.

            “We do work with Angel.” Wes said, deliberately avoiding the situation.

            “Then why the need for back up? Is Angel hurt? Or are things extra Hell mouthy, without the Hell mouth part, here?” Buffy asked.

            “No, it’s rather a long story.” Wes said. He shifted uncomfortably and glanced around the alley again.

            “Ok, get with the telling, Wes. You’re scaring me.”

            “Angel is-well he is-“Wes stopped unsure how to proceed. One had to be careful when giving a slayer bad news.

            Buffy closed her eyes and waited for Wes to finish. He’s not dead, he’s not dead, he’s not dead, she chanted in her head. He can’t be dead. I would know if he was dead. I think I would know if he was dead.

“Angel is rather ill.” Wes finally spit out.

            “Rather ill? Explain, Wes. You’re English rather ill could mean a cold or dying.” Buffy said impatiently, the mocha chino in her hand instantly forgotten.

            “It’s a long story. Perhaps you’d walk with me.” Wes indicated the alley leading to the street.

            “He’s not-you know.” Buffy said. She couldn’t bring herself to say dead out loud.

            “Dead? No.” Wes said.

            They walked toward the street and turned back toward the Hyperion at the sidewalk. Cars streaked by them. People passed them. Los Angeles never really slept.

            “I believe you met Doyle, Angel’s friend and associate.” Wes said.

            Buffy nodded. “Yeah, he’s the man with the visions. It was a long time ago. He was English?”

            “Irish and yes he was the man with the visions. Shortly after your visit to Angel they ran into a bit of a problem. There was an army in LA set on purging half demons from the world. Angel and Doyle saved an entire group of half demons from this army. Doyle died in the process, but before he did he passed his visions to Angel.” Wes said.

            Buffy nodded. “That sounds reasonable. I mean they were visions from the Powers meant to help Angel anyway, right?”

            “Correct. However, the visions are extremely powerful. When Angel has one it’s almost as if he is the person in the vision. He sees what they see, smells what they smell and feels what they are feeling. I’m afraid hundreds of visions over the past three years have taken their toll. Angel is-mentally unstable.” Wes said, trying to think of a kind way to describe Angel’s condition.

            Buffy looked at him wide eyed. “Angel is what?” Insane vampires were never good. Not that she’d known many, only Drusilla and the one the Council wanted to lock her up with on her eighteenth birthday.

            “He’s-it’s rather difficult to explain. “ Wes said.

            “Then take me to him.” Buffy demanded.

I have these countless hours to fill

The void you left in me

           Buffy and Wes walked in the Hyperion. The lobby was dim. Gunn was slumped on the couch. The only sounds in the place are the electronic beeps and blips from the hand held video game he played. He didn’t even glance up when they walked in.

            “Hey,” Gunn said.

            “Wow, I bet this was really beautiful at one time.” Buffy said in awe. She turned a slow circle, taking in the worn grandness of the old hotel.

            Gunn looked up at the sound of her voice. His eyes raked over her. “Hel-lo.” He drew out, and rose to his feet. He was by her side in an instant. “I’m Charles Gunn, and you would be?”

            “Buffy Summers,” She said.

            “Oh,” Gunn said, his hand dropped to his side. His face fell.

            Buffy quirked an eyebrow at him, “did I say something wrong?” she asked.

            “No, I didn’t realize you were her.” Gunn said.

            “And somehow I’m confused even more.” Buffy said.

            “When you died, Willow called us on the phone. Angel was still lucid enough at that point to realize what had happened. He was uncontrollable for days afterward.” Wes said.

            “Days?” Gunn said with a sharp laugh. “That was the beginning of the end. He rambled incoherently about you for months.”

            Buffy wrinkled her brow. She set the forgotten mocha chino on the desk. “Willow told me she called when I came back.”

            “She did. Angel was- He wasn’t lucid enough to get the message, or perhaps he didn’t believe it. For all we know he thought it was one of his visions.” Wes said.

            Buffy nodded. She set her mouth in a thin line and looked up at Wes. “Can I see him?”

            Wes looked at Gunn. “Has he been fed yet?”

            “Naw, you know that’s the last thing I do before bed, gives me the wiggins and ruins the rest of the night.” Gunn said.

            “It’s best to wait until he’s been fed.” Wes said.

            Buffy looked at both men, shocked. “I’m not waiting one more minute to see him. Give me the damn blood, I’ll go feed him. I can’t believe you two. He’s Angel, how can you-“She stopped and shook her head. “Never mind, where’s the blood?”

            “The kitchen is this way.” Wes said. They walked toward the kitchen. “You should be aware. Angel bit me yesterday morning.”

            “He bit you?” Buffy said in disbelief. “What have you done to him?”

            Wes got a container of blood out of the fridge and put it in the microwave. He watched the container as it made lazy circles in the microwave, unwilling to meet Buffy’s eyes. “We haven’t done anything. I’ve tried to find something to help him. I’ve had countless witches, shaman and mystical counselors here to look at him. No one knows what to for him.” Wes paused a moment. He took a deep breath. “You need to be prepared for what you’re going to see. Angel doesn’t remember his own name most of the time. He sees things, people he killed, demons attacking him. When he bit me he didn’t realize it was me. He didn’t realize it was him. You should know, Buffy, there is nothing of Angel left. The Angel you knew is lost.”

            “Then I’ll find him.” She said.

            “I’m not entirely sure that’s possible.” Wes said.

            “Neither is coming back from the dead, twice.” She said.

            Wes just nodded. She’d find out soon enough and really there was no way to explain what Angel had become to her. It was something she had to see for herself. Wes took the container out of the microwave and handed it to Buffy. They walked out of the kitchen wordlessly. Wes stopped at the reception desk for the tranquilizer gun.

            “What is that?” Buffy asked, even though she knew what it was.

            “He gets, unmanageable sometimes. We have to tranquilize him on occasion.” Wes said.

            “You are not going to shoot him. If he gets unmanageable, I’m not going to need a tranq gun to subdue him.” Buffy said.

            “It’s not you I’m worried about.” Wes said.

            Buffy took the tranq gun from him and patiently unloaded all the darts. “You are not going to shoot him.”  She put the empty gun on the desk. She stood with her arms crossed defiantly over her chest. She dared Wes to cross her on this. She was fairly sure even this new improved Wes didn’t have the balls. She was right.

            Wes merely sighed and beckoned her. They walked up the stairs. Gunn watched them from below. This was going to get very interesting, he thought.

            “You lock him up?” Buffy exclaimed as Wes slide back the iron bar across the steel door.

            “Buffy, you don’t understand. We have no choice. Not only is he a danger to others in this state, he is a danger to himself. We kept him in manacles for a long time. When we saw that he wasn’t getting any better, we decided it was inhumane to have him chained all the time.  This was the only other option we had.”  Wes unlocked and opened the door.

            The smell hit her before anything else. It smelled like a crypt that hadn’t been opened in decades.  Wes flipped a light switch and a dim bare bulb flickered on.  Buffy stepped into the room and she was nearly knocked to her knees by the sight. She had to struggle not to retch. She reached out and grabbed onto Wes’ shoulder for support.

            “Oh, God.” She breathed.

            Angel was curled up in a corner. As soon as she stepped into the room, Angel looked toward them with eyes that didn’t see. He sniffed the air and then drew even further into his corner. He started muttering to himself. Buffy could just barely make out the words. “Not here, not here, not here, not here, not here, just a dream, not here.” She swallowed the tears that choked her.

            “Wes, you can go now.” Buffy said.

            “Buffy, I don’t-“ Wes started.

            “You. Can. Go. Now.” She said.

            She barely heard Wes leave, shutting the door behind him. She dropped to her haunches, balancing herself with the fingertips of one hand on the floor. “Angel,” She whispered very softly. He made no move to show any recognition at his name. He just eyed her warily from his corner, occasionally sniffing at the air. His eyes kept flickering to the blood she held.

            Buffy set the blood on the floor. She backed away from it, but not to far away. He crept toward it slowly. Buffy’s heart broke with every crawling, shuffling movement he made. She remembered all to well the graceful, fluid creature he had been.  He picked the container up and she held her breath. She tried to remain completely still. He gulped the blood messily and she bit back a sob. She remembered an Angel that refused to eat in front of her. Now he looked at her confused, blood dripping from his chin and the corners of his mouth.

            She reached out a hand to him. “Angel,”

            Again there was no recognition in his eyes.

            “Angelus,” She said.

            He crouched in fear and scuttled back over to the corner. He drew himself in as tightly as possible and threw his arms over his head. “Not here, not here, not here, not here, can’t be here, not here.” He said over and over.

            Buffy scooted back against a wall and pulled her knees up to her chest.  She rested her chin on them and watched Angel, tears falling silently down her cheeks. She remembered when she was little. They had a cat that had gotten hit by a car. Her dad had taken it to the vet and had it’s broken leg bandaged. When he’d brought it home, he wouldn’t let her touch it. He’d said that when animals are in pain you can’t go to them, you have to set back and let them come to you.

            She had been waiting her whole life for Angel to come to her, a little while longer wasn’t going to make a difference.

Chapter Three

             Wes and Gunn sat in the lobby of the hotel. They waited for the phone to ring, bringing them another case, or Angel had a vision. Gunn flipped channels on the TV idly. Wes did paperwork. A night in was rare.

            “She’s been up there a long time. Think she’s okay?” Gunn asked Wes.

            “Why don’t you go on up there and see Gunn. If I wanted to get my head bitten off I’d look for a Walkash demon, much less painful.” Wes said as he flipped through his books.

            “You don’t think he-hurt her?” Gunn asked casting a glance up at the room the vampire was kept in.

            “I was speaking of getting my head bit off by a certain Slayer, not the vampire.” Wes said.

            “She’s awfully tiny. You’re sure about this slayer thing?” Gunn asked.

            “Quite. I was her watcher for a time being. She would take us both down with out breaking a sweat.” Wes said.

            “Maybe you, English, but I ain’t getting my ass handed to me by a girl.” Gunn smirked.

            “Then please feel free to go upstairs and interrupt.” Wes said.

*

            Buffy took a deep breath and yawned a little. She opened her eyes, not realizing she’d drifted off. She was surprised to see that Angel had moved a little closer to her. He was sniffing the air. He leaned against the wall and pulled his knees up to his chest.

            “No, no. She’s not here, not here. She’s gone, gone, angel in the sky. My fault wasn’t there to catch her. Promised to catch her when she fell, didn’t though, my fault. She’s gone, not here, not here, Buffy, Buffy, so sorry, didn’t catch you, sorry, sorry, sorry Buffy.” Angel rocks back and forth, tears streaking down his cheeks.

            “Angel, I’m here. I’m right here.” Buffy crawled across the floor to him. She tentatively reached a hand out to touch his arm. He didn’t shy away from it.

            He shook his head. “Gotta tell Wes, vision. Gotta tell Wes.”

            Buffy jumped when Angel started screaming for Wes. She heard the locks in the door being undone quickly. Wes threw the door open and a square of bright light fell into the room.

            “Vision?” Wes asked. He walked closer to Angel and crouched down.

            “Buffy, Buffy here, Buffy alive, don’t know how. Help her, gotta help her. Didn’t catch her when she fell. Gotta help her.” Angel rambled.

            Wes smiled faintly and turned his attention to Buffy. “He thinks you’re a vision.”

            Buffy reached out and grabbed Angel’s hand. She placed it on her chest, over her heart. “Angel, I’m here. I’m not a vision. This is real. I’m right here.” Tears streamed down her face.

            He shook his head. “Can’t be real, can’t be real. Vision Buffy vision. Didn’t hurt her, Wes?” Angel turned to look at Wes. His eyes were filled with fear and pain.

            “No, Angel, you didn’t hurt her. This isn’t a memory or a vision. Buffy’s here, she’s alive.”

            Angel shook his head again. “No, not here, not real. Dreamed this, not real, can’t be real. “He begin to bang his head against the wall. Buffy caught his head.

            “Wes, stop him! He’s going to hurt himself.” She said, trying to keep her voice level so she wouldn’t scare him worse.

            “I can tranquilize him, that’s it. There’s nothing else to do for Angel when he gets like this.” Wes said.

            “No, I don’t want you to do that yet. Angel, listen to me. I’m here, this is real. Focus, you can smell me, feel me.” Buffy said.

            “He smells and feels in the visions too. “ Wes tried to explain.

            “Buffy fell; no wings yet, couldn’t fly. My fault should have caught her. Buffy fell, sorry, sorry.” Angel muttered. He drew up even further into himself, tucking his head down to his knees.

            Buffy sighed. “What do I do now, Wes?” She looked at the English man helplessly.

            “Let him rest. It’s a lot to absorb maybe if it sinks in a little he’ll realize that it’s not a vision.” Wes suggested.

            Buffy nodded and stood up. “What happened? How did he get like this?”

            “Let’s go downstairs. I’ll make some tea.” Wes suggested.

            “No, I’m not leaving him.” Buffy said.

            “Buffy, he won’t even notice you’re gone. He doesn’t even realize you’re here now.” Wes said.

            “On some level he does other wise he wouldn’t be talking about me. Oh! Wait get me on of his shirts.” Buffy said.

            Wes looked at her oddly but complied. He returned shortly with a long sleeved charcoal gray sweater.

            “Wes, turn your back.” Buffy said.

            He did. She stripped off her shirt and slid Angel’s sweater on. She walked over to Angel and put her shirt in his hands. “Hold on to that. Its proof, I’m here. I’m real and I’ll be back in just a little while.” She very lightly kissed him on the forehead.

            She followed Wes out of the room and downstairs. They walked into the kitchen. Wes put the kettle on to boil water.

            “How did he get like this? Doyle was half human and the visions didn’t do this to him.” Buffy said. She sat down at the small table there.  Wes sat in the chair across from her.

            “I don’t think Doyle had the visions for very long to begin with. And Angel is a special case. Even before he got the visions he was tormented by all the things Angelus had done. The curse won’t let him ever forget those things. Quite frankly, I’m surprised he didn’t go insane from those memories alone. Add in the visions, and you can’t blame his mind for caving in.  He gets visions and memories messed up. Night before last he sent us to save a woman he’d killed almost 200 years ago. It’s not the first time it’s happened. A few weeks ago he wanted us to go to Sunnydale, to save Jenny.” Wes said.

            Buffy buried her face in her hands. “How do I fix this?” She said.

            “I don’t think there is a way to fix this, Buffy. I’ve exhausted all my resources. This is the way Angel will be for the rest of his life.” Wes said.

            “No, I don’t accept that.” Buffy said.

            “I’m afraid you’re going to have to. Maybe you can bring him around to more lucid moments, but that’s the best we can hope for.” Wes took the boiling water off the stove and poured it into a tea pot. He arranged things on the tea tray while they waited for it to brew.

            “Does he ever have these ‘lucid’ moments now?” Buffy asked.

            “Not really anymore. He’s semi lucid when he tells us about his visions. He knows that when he has one he has to call me or Gunn. Sometimes when he tells us about the visions it’s jumbled, not always in the correct order, other times he makes sense, in his own way.” Wes said.

            “So he recognizes you. He knows who you are.” Buffy said.

            “In a way, he associates me with the visions. He only remembers me when he has a vision. There’s no recognition when I take blood into him. He doesn’t even remember his own name.” Wes says.

            “He remembers me.” Buffy says very quietly.

            “Yes, he remembers you.”

 Chapter Four

            “Can we move him?” Buffy asked as she walked tiredly up the stairs with Wes.

            “We were afraid to put him in a room with furniture or bed clothes. We were afraid he’d hurt himself.” Wes said.

            “And if I stay with him and watch him, can we move him?” Buffy asked again.

            “Alright, if we can move him without upsetting him. I’ll warn you, he hasn’t been out of that room for months. I’m not sure how he’ll react.” Wes said.

            Buffy nodded.  “I want him to have a real bed and blankets. Is his room still set up, with his things?”

            “We didn’t touch anything. It’s the room next to the one he’s in right now.” Wes said.

            “Good, we won’t have far to move him.” Buffy said.

            Wes unlocked and opened the door.  Buffy stepped inside. Angel was back in the corner of the room. His face was buried in her shirt. Buffy smiled a little.

            “Angel, I’m back.” She said walking slowly toward him.

            He kept his eyes closed, unwilling to open them and find it was a dream or a vision.

            “Angel, we’re gonna move to a better room and I’m gonna stay there with you, okay.” Buffy crouched down next to Angel. She gently encircled his wrist with her hand and tugged him to his feet. He kept his eyes closed, still afraid to open them in case she disappeared. She walked slowly, leading him beside her. They followed Wes into the room that used to be Angel’s.  Everything was covered with dust clothes but his things were still there, his sketches on the wall, his sculptures sitting on shelves. It was definitely Angel’s room. Buffy led Angel to the bed and pulled back one corner of the cloth. She helped him sit down. He finally opened his eyes

            “Not here, not real.” He whispered.

            “I am real, Angel. I’m right here.” She kept holding his hand in hers.

            Wes pulled all the dust clothes off.

            “Open the windows so it can air out in here.” Buffy said.

            “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.  If he has a vision or a nightmare, he could run.” Wes said.

            “He won’t leave me. He’s so afraid right now that if he blinks I’ll disappear. He’s not going to walk out of a room I’m in.” Buffy said.

            Wes considered that and decided it was likely true. He opened the windows in the room a few inches. “Do you need anything else?” Wes asked.

            Buffy shook her head. “I think we’re okay.”

            “Should you need anything yell. Gunn and I are both light sleepers. We each have a tranq gun and will not hesitate to use it should he up and around without you.” Wes said.

            “You won’t need it.” Buffy said.

            Wes nodded and left the room.

            Buffy sat next to Angel and rubbed slow circles on his back. He had yet to reach out to touch her, but he didn’t shy away from her touches. She was at a loss.  She searched her brain for something useful in this situation. There really was nothing. It wasn’t like they made handbooks, How to help the insane person in your life. Then again maybe they did and it was sitting somewhere with her Slayer Handbook.

            “Angel, I know you’re in there somewhere and if you can remember me I know you can remember other things. They’re just buried.  Come on, lie down. You need to rest.” Buffy said.

            She coaxed him onto his side, lying on the bed. He kept his knees drawn up to his chest. He was very careful to never touch her. Buffy cradled his head in her lap. She leaned back against the pillows and ran her fingers through his hair.

            “I remember the first time I met you, Angel. I fell in love right then and there. I so didn’t want to admit it though. You absolutely took my breath away. There’s this thing you do somehow and you make the lights dim everywhere else just by being in the room.  You still do that, you know. “

            She talked to him through out the night, mostly about their lives together in Sunnydale. At some point she got up and closed the drapes. She didn’t want to wake up in a bed with ashes. She snuggled back into the pillows. Angel, half asleep, snuggled back against her. It was the closest he’d come to touching her since she first saw him.

            “I’m going to get you back, Angel, no matter what it takes.” She whispered into the darkness.

But I’ve got this faith to blind me

            Buffy woke up before Angel.  He was laying curled up on the bed whimpering. He flinched in his sleep and murmured things she couldn’t quite catch. He still held her shirt, clutched desperately to his chest. He reminded her of the way he had been when he’d first come back from hell. She smoothed a hand across his temple.  Wes knocked softly on the door.

            “Come in.” Buffy said quietly, not wanting to wake Angel just yet.

            Wes walked in holding a container of blood.  “You got him to sleep.” Wes said. There is a sense of wonderment about his voice.

            “He fell asleep not long after we got him in here last night. He’s been asleep ever since. I think he’s hungry though. He keeps flashing vamp face in his sleep.” Buffy said with a smile.

            “Be careful.” Wes said.

            “Its okay, Wes. I will.” Buffy smiled at him.

            Wes set the blood on the nightstand. “If you need anything let me know.  I’ll let you know before Gunn or I take off anywhere.”

            “Thanks.”

            Wes walked out the bedroom, pulling the door shut behind him. Buffy leaned over Angel and picked up the container of blood. Angel opened his eyes, rousing at the scent of blood, or maybe the scent of Buffy. He sat up and pulled his knees to his chest. He looked warily at Buffy. He glanced down at her shirt, clutched in his hand.

            “Come on, I know you’re hungry, Baby.” Buffy held the blood close to his mouth. He leaned forward and took a cautious sip, his eyes never leaving her. She smiled at him. He took a long drink of the blood.  When he’d finished she set the empty container on the nightstand.

            “Not here,” Angel said.

            “I am, Angel. I’m right here. You can reach out and touch me.” Buffy said. She laid her hand on his cheek, gliding her thumb over his beautiful mouth. He closed his eyes and leaned into her touch. Tears rushed to her eyes.

            “Not here, can’t be here, Buffy fell, didn’t catch her. She’s gone.” Angel said. His voice is quiet but filled with pain and sorrow.

            “I did. I fell, but Willow brought me back. I’m here, Angel. This isn’t a dream or a vision or your mind playing tricks on you. You’re holding my shirt. I’m touching you. I’m here.” Buffy said.

            Angel took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of her.  “Smells like Buffy.” He turned his face into the palm of her hand and took another deep breath. “Smells like Buffy and blood.”

            “I was holding your blood while you ate, remember?” She said.

            He dipped his head and put his nose on the pulse point of her wrist. “Smells like Buffy’s blood. Didn’t hurt her?” He looks up at her with wild eyes.

            Buffy shook her head and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “No, you didn’t hurt me.  I’m not a memory of someone you hurt, Angel. I’m real.”

            “Buffy crying though must be hurt.” Angel said.

            She shook her head again. “No, I’m not crying because of you. You didn’t hurt me, Angel.”

            He looks at her confused. He continued to take deep breaths of her, sniffing her. “Sure?”

            “I’m sure.” She said.

            “Somebody else hurt?” He asked.

            She shook her head. “No, no one hurt me.”

            “Touch?” He asked.

            She nodded. “Yes, you can touch me.”

            Angel reached out very tentatively and ran his fingers, feather soft, over her cheek.

            “Here,” He said. “Real. Buffy’s real.”

 Chapter Five

            Buffy spent the morning sitting on the bed with Angel, talking to him, touching him. He didn’t say much to her, an occasional one word comment here and there, but he listened and every once in a while he’d reach out and very tentatively touch her. He still hadn’t let go of her shirt.  There was a knock on the door. Angel scurried back and tried to make himself disappear into the bed pillows. Buffy captured his hand.

            “Come in,” She said.

            Gunn pushed the door open. He had cartons of Chinese food in his hands.

            “Thought you might be hungry,” Gunn said.

            She nodded.  “Thanks, I’m starving.” She glanced over at Angel. “Angel, it’s okay. It’s Gunn, remember him? Sometimes you tell him about your visions, just like Wes.”

            Angel furrowed his brow and looked at Gunn. Finally he nodded. “Remember Gunn.”

            “Gunn, want to have a seat and eat with me and Angel?” Buffy asked.

            Gunn glanced at Angel. It was obvious he was uncomfortable around Angel. Finally he shrugged and pulled a chair over near the bed.  He sat tense, wary, a warrior waiting for an attack. By contrast Buffy lay on her stomach on the bed, casually eating Chinese food with chopsticks and chattering a mile a minute. Gunn was surprised. She set him at ease immediately and had him laughing over things like the fear demon she’d squished, or Sweet, the demon that’d made everyone sing.

            “I wanna hear about the whole dying thing. I mean it’s not often you meet someone who’s come back from the dead and isn’t you know, undead.” Gunn says.

            “First time or second time?” Buffy asked digging through her rice with her chopsticks.

            “You’ve died more then once?” Gunn asked.

            Buffy nodded. “First time was much less dramatic. I drowned. Xander gave me CPR, I got better. Second time, that was much more sticky, very long story that I will tell you if you’ll stay here with Angel while I go call Xander and Dawn. I need to make sure everyone is okay and taken care of so I can stay here and take care of him.”

            Gunn looked warily at Angel and then back to Buffy.  “Alright, there’s a phone right through though doors. We never had it disconnected.” Gunn gestures to a pair of French doors separating the bedroom area from the living room area.

            “Thanks.” Buffy turned to Angel and cupped her face with her hand. She made him look at her. “I’ll be right back. Gunn is going to stay here with you. I’ll just be in the next room.”

            Angel nodded very slightly.  He kept his eyes cast down. Buffy got up and walked toward the other room.  She closed the door behind her. The furniture in this room still had all the dust covers on it.  She found the phone easily even in the dark.  She quickly dialed Xander’s number first. He picked up after a couple of rings.

            “Xan, its Buffy.” She said.

            “Buff, what’s up? Still in LA?”

            “Yah, I’m going to be here a little while I think.” She said.

            “Don’t tell me the world needs saving again? We just did that a couple of weeks ago. Isn’t there a time limit on those things, like say you have to go 8 months between apocalypses?” Xander said.

            She grinned. “No, there is no world saveage in the cards for me, at least not immediately. Only an Angel saveage.”

            “Are we talking the kind with wings or the kind with fangs?” Xander asked.

            “Fangy kind and I don’t want to hear it. I need a favor.” Buffy said.

            “I don’t like it, just for the record, but what’s wrong?” Xander asked.

            “The short version, Angel gets visions from the Powers that Be and they have literally driven him insane.” Buffy said.

            “Not liking this, Buffy. An insane Angel sounds an awful lot like an evil Angel to me.” Xander said.

            “No, he’s not. He’s- I can’t even begin to tell you what he’s like.  I can’t leave him alone like this though, Xander.  I need you to go pick up Dawn. She’s at Dad’s house and Dad had to take a trip to Rome. We don’t know when he’ll be back. “

            “Sure, no problem, I’ll swing by there. Want me to just bring Dawnie back here?” Xander asked.

            “Yeah, or if you want stay at Dad’s with Dawn. He’s got a pool and stuff. You could have a little Hellmouth free vacation. Whatever you and Dawnie decide is fine with me, just let me know. Also, could you bring my suitcase by here? I’ll make sure Dawn has it all packed.”

            “Okay,” Xander said.

            Buffy gave him directions to the Hyperion. “Thanks Xander. I really do appreciate it.”

            “No problemo, again I would like to express my extreme dislike of your actions. My compliance in no way affirms your decision to do this.” Xander said.

            “I know, I know. I’m still doing it and I still appreciate your help.” Buffy said.

            She hung up and made the next call to Dawn. She was actually excited about Xander coming to pick her up. Buffy had suspected for a long time that Dawn had a crush on Xander.  She grudgingly agreed to pack Buffy’s suitcase for her.

            “And make sure you put all my clothes in there. I don’t want you borrowing. I didn’t bring a whole lot of them in the first place. I had planned to get some shopping done.” Buffy admonished.

            “Like I’d want to borrow your clothes anyway.” Dawn retorted.

            “I’ll see you in a little while,” Buffy said.

            “Kay, I gotta run if I’m gonna get both our bags packed before Xander gets here.” Dawn said as she hung up the phone.

            Buffy replaced the receiver in the cradle and walked back into the bedroom where Gunn and Angel sat.  Angel noticed the second Buffy walked back into the room. He looked up at her and there was a stir of recognition, a tiny slice of the old Angel reflected in his eyes. She sat down on the bed next to him, her hand automatically going to rest on his knee.

            “I feel better now that that’s taken care of. Xander, a friend of mine, and my little sister are going to be dropping my suitcase by here. I hope that’s okay? “Buffy said. It never actually occurred to her to ask if she could stay there.

            “Yeah, it’s fine. Wes is down there. He can do the meet and greet. Now you were getting ready to tell me a long story.” Gunn said.

            She smiled. “Oh yeah, okay so there was this Hell Goddess who got thrown out of Hell, probably for her bad fashion sense possibly for being psycho but I think that’s a plus in Hell, anyway she needed my little sister’s blood to open a portal back to her world. When the portal opened, things from her world bled into our world, if left open long enough it would turn our world into pretty much Hell. Once the portal opened it would only close once the blood had stopped flowing. I gambled on my blood and Dawn’s blood being the same. I jumped into the portal and I was right. It closed it.”

            “But it killed you.” Gunn said.

            Buffy nodded. She noticed Angel had drawn back into himself. His arms were wrapped around his knees.  She scooted closer to him.

            “So how’d you end up not dead?” Gunn asked.

            “Willow brought me back.” Buffy said.

            “Buffy fell, didn’t catch her. Buffy fell, gone, gone , not here, not real, gone.” Angel started murmuring.

            Buffy’s heart broke. “Oh, God, no Angel, I am here. Remember, Buffy’s real, Buffy’s here.”  She ran her fingers through his hair, leaning in close.

            “Sorry, I’m not used to him actually being lucid enough to notice what’s going on. I shouldn’t have asked you about it with him here.” Gunn said.

            “He handled it badly.” Buffy said.

            “Badly isn’t the word. He lost what little he had left. He kept saying it was his fault, he should have known, he should have been there. He’d been violent before but that night he completely lost it., attacked both Wes and me. We tranqed him and dragged him up here. He spent months in restraints. He would scream your name for hours on end and then it got worse.” Gunn said.

            “Worse?” Buffy glanced at him and then turned her attention back to Angel.

            “There were no more lucid moments.  He’d ramble for hours on end about things that didn’t make sense. He saw the people he killed and he’d spend hours apologizing, crying, begging their forgiveness.  That was when he started sending us to rescue the people he’d killed. The final walls between reality, vision and memory fell. He couldn’t keep any of it straight. When we heard you were alive, Wes tried to tell him. There wasn’t enough of Angel left to comprehend it. He never would use the word dead and your name together.” Gunn said.

            Buffy sighed.  “I should have come earlier. I just, I had no idea. Why didn’t Wes call me?”

            Gunn shrugged. “You’d have to ask him.”

            Buffy nodded. “I’m going to try and get him settled back down, maybe asleep. I’ll be down there later, hopefully by the time Dawn and Xander show up.”

            Gunn stood up and gathered the empty Chinese food cartons.  He shut the door behind him when he left.

            “Not here,” Angel said. He looked at her mournfully, as if he knew she was vision and she would disappear, whether he wanted her to or not.

            “No, I am here, Baby. Willow brought me back, remember.” Buffy said. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and pulled him to her. He laid his head in her lap and held onto her.

            It took three hours for her to get Angel calmed down. When he finally fell asleep she stood up and stretched.  Xander and Dawn would be here shortly. She went ahead and walked downstairs, leaving the door to Angel’s room open so she could hear him if he needed her. Gunn and Wes were in the lobby sharpening weapons. She picked up a broadsword, looking fondly at it. Its edge was sharp but somehow it had an unused feeling to it.

            “Angel’s favorite.” She said and smiled slightly.

            Wes nodded. “I try to keep it in good condition. We don’t use it much though.”

            She nodded and placed it back in the weapons cabinet. “Why didn’t you call me and tell me about him, Wes?”

            Wes kept his attention on the ax edge he was sharpening. At first it appeared he wasn’t going to answer her. “I didn’t know what to say. The last I’d heard you two were going on with your separate lives.  He said you were in love with someone else.”

            “He thought that?” Buffy asked.

            Wes nodded. “He said he’d seen him both times he’d gone back to Sunnydale.”

            Buffy sighed. “I didn’t love Riley, not ever, not like I love him.” There was no need to ask who him was. Him was who it had always been for Buffy.

            “There’s nothing you could have done anyway, Buffy. There’s nothing anyone can do.” Wes said.

            “So, what, he stays like this for eternity? That’s not fair. Even the powers can’t be that cruel.” Buffy said.

            Wes continues sharpening his ax. “He won’t last an eternity. Somehow, some way he’ll end up staking himself.”

            Buffy looked down at her feet. She couldn’t argue with Wes and she couldn’t blame Angel. If he truly had to spend an eternity like this, she couldn’t blame him for wanting to end it.  She remembered all to well the night Angel stood on a hill and waited for the sun to rise. The powers had saved him then, for what, a life of misery, insanity. They should have let the sun rise.

            The door to the hotel opened. Xander and Dawn walked in carrying a large black suitcase. Buffy hugged Xander and Dawn.

            “Xander, you remember Wes. That’s Gunn. This is my friend Xander and my sister Dawn.” Buffy introduced everyone.

            “Wow, Wes-you’re so-not the dork anymore.” Xander said.

            Wes chuckled. “Hello, Xander. Nice to see you again.”

            “Yeah, that’s totally what I meant.” Xander said.

            Dawn looked around the hotel curiously. “So, where’s Angel?”

            “He’s upstairs, asleep.” Buffy said.

            “Cool, I’m gonna go say hello.” Dawn started to bound up the stairs. Buffy caught her arm.

            “No, it took me three hours to get him to sleep. Besides, he’s not the Angel you remember Dawnie.” Buffy said.

            “So, I want to see him. He used to like me you know. He’ll be happy to see me.” Dawn argued.

            “Dawn, he won’t remember you.” Wes said.

            “Why? Because I’m the key? Didn’t the monk screw up his memories too?” Dawn said.

            “He doesn’t remember anyone, Dawn.” Buffy said.

            “Then why do you get to be here?”

            Buffy sighed. She didn’t want to have this conversation with Dawn.  Wes saved her. “Angel remembers Buffy but most of the time he doesn’t think she’s real. Seeing you might confuse him even more, Dawn.”

            Dawn rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Can we go now, Xander?”

            “We’re headed back to Sunnydale.” Xander said.

            Buffy nodded. “When you talk to Giles let him know that I’m here in LA. You can give him this number if he needs to call me. You might avoid saying the word angel or even implying that I’m here. Giles has enough on his plate with Willow. He doesn’t need the Angel saga too.”

            Once they were gone, Buffy picked up her suitcase and carried it up to Angel’s room. She tucked it neatly just inside the door.  Angel was still sound asleep, curled up around her shirt. She decided to leave him like that. He needed the sleep, from what Wes had told her he didn’t sleep much. He was plagued by visions, memories and nightmares all too often. She walked back downstairs.  When Angel woke up she’d have to bring him down into the courtyard. Never leaving that room couldn’t be good for him. She’d only been up there a few hours and it made her claustrophobic. She slumped on the round couch next to Gunn. She noticed a nasty looking scar on his forearm.

            “Where did you get the scar?” She asked.

            Gunn looked down at his forearm, as if reminding himself which one it was. “That was one of the first ones Angel gave me. It was before we started tranqing him. He had a vision, got violent. It was my turn to try and subdue him. It didn’t work so well. This is what it looks like when you have to rip a vamp’s teeth out of your forearm. Pretty ain’t it?”

            Buffy winced inwardly. Not to be outdone, Wes stepped out from behind the desk. He was unbuttoning his shirt. He shrugged one side of the shirt off his shoulder. There was nice round scar there just under the ridge of his collarbone.  “Quit whining, Gunn. So you had vamp teeth pulled out of your arm. I got shoved into a piece of steel trying to restrain him.” Wes said.

            Gunn snorted and pulled up the edge of his shirt. “He shoved a stake back into me.” There was almost round scar on his abdomen.

            “What were you doing holding a stake to Angel?” Buffy said.

            “Just a threat, wouldn’t really have done it, unless I had to. I thought it’d help restrain him. I got this the same night he shoved Wes into the steel bar. It was the night Willow called to say you were dead. Come on, you spent 3 years with him. I’m sure it wasn’t all fluffy bunnies and flowers. You gotta have some Angel scars.” Gunn said.

            “Most of my Angel scars are the kind you can’t see.” Buffy said, unconsciously her hand drifted to the curve of her neck. “I do have one.” She pulled aside the collar of Angel’s shirt so they could see his mark there. It was an obvious scar, but almost delicate looking, as if it had been placed there lovingly rather then violently.

            Gunn whistled. “Nice. How’d you get his fangs out without ripping the crap out of your throat?” He’d seen plenty of vamp bites in his time. They either drained you or you had a hell of a scar from someone ripping their fangs out.  He’d never seen such a neat, perfect scar.

            “I didn’t. He took them out.” Buffy said.

            “He what?” Gunn quirked an eyebrow at her.

            “He was poisoned, dying. The only thing that would cure him was draining a slayer. So I let him.” Buffy said nonchalantly.

            “You let him drain you? Was he a good guy during all this or was this an evil phase? And are all slayers this stupid or are you an exception. No wonder you died twice.” Gunn said with a note of disgust in his voice.

            “He wasn’t evil. He was sick, dying. I made him drink, to save his life.  He didn’t want to. If you weren’t human, the last part of your statement would get you killed.” Buffy said meeting his glare with one of her own.

            Wes stepped in front of them. “Yes, well, I think we’ll all agree, Buffy wins the best Angel scar award.”

Chapter Six

            “Wes, is it alright with you if I go out in the courtyard and train a little?” Buffy asked. Wes had a fairly impressive training set up in the courtyard.

            “Of course, make yourself at home here, Buffy.” Wes said.

            “Thanks,” She said. Buffy slipped upstairs and changed into a pair of low slung yoga pants and a tank top.  She found it therapeutic to beat on something, even if it was just a punching bag. Angel was still sleeping soundly. Buffy padded down the stairs barefoot and out into the courtyard.  She went to work pounding on a punching bag.  She used her feet and her fists on it. Gunn watched her from a shadowed alcove. He hadn’t known a human could move like that. She moved like a vampire, fast, fluid, graceful. As he watched Buffy workout, a fine sheen of sweat covering her toned body, he wondered why the hell the ones he could fall for always went for dark, broody and insane.

            Buffy’s workout was interrupted by a roar that she knew was Angel’s. She felt it inside and fought the urge to scream herself. She raced into the lobby just as Angel jumped from the second story balcony and landed in a crouch, almost quicker then the human eye can see. Just as quickly Angel, in snarling game face, launched himself at Wes, who was standing in front of the reception desk.  Buffy put on a superhuman burst of speed and just managed to wedge her body between Wes and Angel at the point of impact. It nearly knocked the breath out of her.

            “Angel, stop.” She said just before Angel sunk his teeth into the soft flesh of her throat. Buffy struggled to stay calm. Her body, her blood, screamed at her to run or fight.  She saw Gunn behind Angel raise a tranq gun.  “Gunn, no,” She screamed. If Gunn made him drowsy or dizzy while he was drinking her, he wouldn’t be able to pay attention to her heartbeat, he wouldn’t stop before he killed her.  “Angel, it’s Buffy, Baby, you don’t want to hurt me. Angel, stop. Oh, God, Angel, its Buffy, stop.”  Her voice was tremulous with desire. She remembered this feeling; she had dreams about this feeling. She moaned and arched into his body, causing his fangs to sink in deeper. She tried to focus on what was going on. It wouldn’t do to have a bite orgasm with Wes and Gunn watching.  It would be so easy to surrender, to let it wash over her.  And then as suddenly as it had started it was over. Angel retracted his fangs. Buffy’s knees buckled and he caught her.  He reverted to his human face, staring down at her in horror. Tears filled his eyes.  If it weren’t for the fact that he was holding her, he would have retreated into the darkest corner of the darkest room he could find.  Buffy raised one hand and laid it in the crook of his neck.

            “I’m okay. You stopped in time, just weak.” She said. She could feel the blood still dripping from the wound on her neck, “and still bleeding.”

            Angel dropped to the floor. He cradled her in his arms and whimpered over her. He dipped his head and lapped at the wound he’d made, making apologetic mewling noises as he did. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Gunn advancing toward them with a stake in one hand and a look of murder in his eyes. Wes put out a hand and stopped him.

            “He didn’t mean to hurt her.” Wes said.

            “He’s still hurting her.” Gunn’s voice was filled with rage.

            “No, he’s not. Look at them. He’s closing up the wound.” Wes said.

            “I’m okay, really. He didn’t take too much.” Buffy said. Truthfully she was fighting losing consciousness. She had to stay awake until she was sure Wes and Gunn weren’t going to stake Angel.

Angel finished lapping at the wound. He stood up and laid her gently on the curved desk. He walked around and took the first aid kit from underneath.  With lucid concentration and worry Angel dabbed antibiotic ointment on the puncture wounds and then covered it with a large square bandage.  He picked her back up and cradled her in his arms. He looked straight at Wes.

            “Glass of orange juice, please. Helps build her blood back.” He said.

            “Wh-well, yes, in the kitchen. I’ll go get a glass.” Wes watched Angel carefully as he walked into the kitchen. Angel took Buffy over to the couch and sat down with her. He tucked his nose in the crook of her neck and sniffed at her.

            “Weak, took to much, sorry Buffy.” He murmured.

            She shook her head. “You didn’t mean to, it’s okay.”

            “You’re not scared, don’t smell scared, didn’t taste scared, just tasted like …love?” He said.

            “I knew you’d stop in time. It’s happened before, remember?” She said.

            He nodded. “Didn’t know if it was real or not, have lots of dreams about it.”

            She smiled weakly at him.  “I know me too.”

            “Bad dreams?” He asked.

            “Sometimes a little scary, but usually good dreams.” She said.

            “Didn’t mean to, vision, or memory maybe, of someone hurting you. Thought it was happening. Had to stop it. Didn’t meant o hurt you, didn’t mean to hurt Wes.” He said. His eyes and his words showed lucidity that she hadn’t seen before. He knew what was going on. He knew what he’d done and what he’d seen and he knew that there was a difference between his memories and his visions. It was an improvement, even though anyone who didn’t know what was going would be hard pressed to call it that.

            Wes brought a glass of orange juice. Angel took it from him and held it while Buffy drank it.

            “Whole thing.” He said.

            “Yes, Mom,” she teased. She drained the glass and handed it back to Wes. “Wes, if I sleep, don’t let Gunn hurt him, no tranqing him, no locking him up. Let him stay with me.”

            Angel stood up. “I’m going to stay with her, protect her.”

            Neither Wes nor Gunn mentioned that the only one she’d needed protecting from so far was him.

            Angel took her up the stairs and laid her in his bed, tucking her in snugly.  He rummaged in the nightstand and came up with a dusty book of poetry that hadn’t been read in years. He pulled a chair close and turned off the lights and then he read to her, just like he would have years ago.

            “Angel,” She said sleepily.

            “Yes?” He raised his head to look at her.

            “You remember your name.” She smiled.

            “Yeah, don’t know why didn’t before.” He said. His words were still stilted but nowhere near the way they had been.

            A puzzled look crossed Buffy’s face. “Angel, how do you feel?”

            He took a moment to think about it, “Strong, different, everything in its place. Don’t know why though. Been a long time since it felt like this.”

            Buffy yawned and whispered “my blood” just before drifting off to sleep.

I feel like a pain

Draws me in again

            When Buffy woke up Angel had moved from his chair beside the bed. She glanced around the dark room. After a moment she saw him, curled up in the corner, hands over his head rocking back and forth muttering to himself.

            “Didn’t mean to, didn’t mean it. Sorry, so sorry. Didn’t want to, didn’t want to.  Hurt Buffy, always, Buffy.” He muttered to himself.

            Buffy crept over to him, staying crouched low. “Angel, Baby, it’s me, it’s Buffy.” She laid a hand on his shoulder.

            He cringed and shrunk further back into the corner. “Hurt Buffy, sorry, didn’t mean to, didn’t mean to.”

            Buffy reached up and removed the bandage from her neck. She gently touched the wound there. It was already healing. “No, you didn’t hurt me, Angel. I’m okay. See?” She tried to pry his hand away and place it on her neck. He kept himself wrapped up tightly. She could have forced it, but it probably would have done more damage then good.  She sat down on the floor beside Angel with a sigh. One step forward, two steps back.  She had been so hopeful when she’d drifted off to sleep. She glanced up at the digital clock on the nightstand. She’d been asleep for six hours. In six hours Angel had gone from mostly lucid to huddling in a corner talking to himself again.

            Buffy retrieved the book of poetry Angel had been reading to her from.  She flipped on a couple of the lamps, creating just enough light to read by.  She sat back down on the floor next to him. She coaxed him into laying his head on her lap. She ran her fingers through his hair and read his beloved poems to him. By the time she heard sounds of Wes and Gunn moving around downstairs Angel had calmed down some. He was far from lucid but he wasn’t panicked either. She picked his hand up in hers and pressed a kiss to the claddagh ring he still wore.

            “Angel, I need to go down and talk to Wes and Gunn. Why don’t you come with me?” Buffy said.

            Angel looked up at her, his eyes darting from hers to the door and back again. He ducked his head in a semblance of a nod. She stood up and held her hand out for him. He took it and walked behind her. He walked stoop shouldered, trying to stay drawn inside himself.  Buffy led him downstairs to the hotel lobby.

            “Oh, good morning. I was just about to go get Angel’s blood and bring it up to you two. How are you feeling, Buffy?” Wes asked.

            “I’m fine, slayer healing and all. I wanted to talk to you and Gunn about something.” She said sitting on the couch and pulling Angel down beside her. He pulled her closer, curling around her and burying his nose in the back of her neck, ineffectively hiding from Gunn and Wes.

            “Alright,” Wes settled against the edge of the reception desk. Gunn straddled a chair turned backwards.

            “Last night, after Angel drank from me, he was lucid. He remembered his name. He said he felt strong. He said everything was in its place. He recognized the difference between memories, visions and reality. He read a book of poetry to me while I fell asleep. He was almost himself. And then when I woke up this morning, he was like this again.” Buffy said

            “Did he have a vision?” Wes asked.

            Buffy shrugged. “I don’t know. He didn’t mention it if he had one. He didn’t wake me up yelling for either of you. Isn’t that what he usually does when he has a vision?”

            Wes nodded. “Indeed. He knows, even in his worse moments, that he is to call for Gunn or me when he has a vision so we can take care of it. If a vision remains unresolved he has what Gunn and I refer to as vision hangover. The symptoms vary but generally it’s a bad headache or something of that sort coupled with intense guilt that he’s not helping the person the powers want him to. Once the vision is resolved, the person saved or demon killed, the hangover goes away. He hasn’t been lucid enough to tell us if he still gets vision hangovers but we assume he does. Its obvious from his ramblings he still feels intense guilt if the vision is not resolved.”

            “So there’s not much of a chance he would have a vision without you knowing it?” Buffy said.

            “Not likely.” Gunn said.

            Buffy nodded. “Okay then there’s another reason for his lucidity and his decline. I think it was my blood. Last time in Sunnydale it healed him from almost dead to perfect health in a matter of seconds. He was pretty out of it by the time I got back to him then. I know Oz and Willow both said he mistook them for me at least once. I know this is a different matter, but if it could make that big a difference then, couldn’t it now?” Buffy looked up at Wes asking for him to validate her hopes.

            “I suppose so, but it’s a moot point.” Wes said.

            “Yeah not like you can let him drain you every few hours just to maintain some sort of sanity.” Gunn said.

            Buffy sighed. “He didn’t drain me, but you’re right, I can’t let him take that much twice a day.  I’d be weak and worthless as a slayer, but what if he drank his regular rations and then just took a little of my blood with it?”

            “There’s no way to know if it would do any good.” Wes said.

            “It might and it could have long term effects. Maybe over time the effects would last longer.” Buffy said, digging for any hope.

            “What if he doesn’t want to stop at just a little?” Gunn asked.

            “I can stop him.” Buffy said.

            “Sure as hell didn’t look like it yesterday.” Gunn said.

            Buffy glared at him. Angel was drawing up further around her. She could hear him whispering “sorry, sorry, sorry, didn’t mean to hurt Buffy, didn’t mean to.” She captured his hand in hers. “Its okay, Baby, you didn’t hurt me.” She whispered for his ears only. She turned her attention back to Gunn. “If I want to, I can stop him.”

            “If you want to?” Gunn said accusingly. “What the hell does that mean?”

            “Being bit, by Angel at least, feels good, really good. I could have stopped him sooner yesterday. It might have been messier but I could have.” Buffy said.

            Gunn shook his head and looked at her with disgust written all over his features. “That’s just fucked up. He nearly killed you yesterday and you’re sitting there telling me it felt good.”

            “You know Gunn, I don’t recall asking your opinion of all this. Let me worry about this. He didn’t nearly kill me and he wouldn’t have. He spent two hundred years knowing exactly how much blood he can drink before a girl dies. He could hear my heart. Angel may not be aware of a lot of things, but he’s aware that I’m here and he loves me. He’s not going to kill me.” Buffy said. She took a deep breath and tried to comfort Angel, who was getting increasingly more agitated as she did.

            “I’m going to try this. I can’t sit by and do nothing knowing that there’s something I can do to help him, even if it is temporarily. “Buffy said.

            “I have a suggestion then.” Wes said.

            “Alright,”

            “I’ll cut back on his rations a bit and you wait until he’s eaten before you let him feed on you. He won’t be as hungry then and it will be easier for you to stop him.” Wes said.

            Buffy nodded. “Okay, so let’s give him breakfast.”

 Chapter Seven

            It took a long time to convince Angel to bite Buffy again. In the end she hauled off and punched him until the demon came to the surface. Once it did Buffy grabbed him by the back of his neck and shoved his mouth into her neck. He couldn’t resist he sunk his fangs into her neck. He was careful. It was clear when he pulled away after just a few long pulls that Angel was the one in control not the demon. He licked at the wound until it had stopped bleeding. The change in lucidity was remarkable and almost instantaneous.

            “ Okay? Take too much?” Angel asked.

            She smiled at him. “I’m fine, look at me exhibiting all my fineness.”

            “Drink some juice at least and eat something.” He said.

            She chuckled at his concern. “Okay but really I’m fine. Hardly even dizzy feeling. You didn’t take too much, don’t worry.”

            But he did worry.  There was an odd satisfaction to seeing his mark, raw, fresh and open on her neck again. That worried him and he felt guilty about it.

            “Angel, please, don’t clutter this up with worry and pain.  Just let it be.” She said.

            She insisted she didn’t need her neck bandaged. It had stopped bleeding and it would begin healing in a few hours. She didn’t mention that he would also be opening it again by nightfall. She was going to have to buy a lot more scarves. It wasn’t that the wound bothered her, in fact she took perverse pleasure in having his mark, fresh and angry, adorn her neck, but the general public would look at her with horror and pity.

            Buffy took Angel by the hand and led him to the big wingback chair in his room. He sat down. She crawled up in his lap and curled into him. She rested her head against his shoulder and took a deep breathe. She let it out with an unmistakable sound of contentment.

            “I’ve missed this.” She said.

            He smiled and wrapped his arms tighter around her. “Me too.”

            Her lips found his of their own accord. She closed her eyes and soaked in the way he felt on her mouth. His lips were cool, the perfect compliment to her own skin which always felt so hot in comparison. He tugged on her bottom lip. Her fingers found the buttons of his shirt of their own accord. She sighed in contentment and pleasure as she spread her hands over his bare chest.  His hands worked their way under her shirt, sliding up her back, pulling her closer. She reveled in the feel of his hands on her bare skin.  In an instant his hands were gone. His breath was coming fast and ragged. She pushed herself off his lap with an audible gulp. There was still the pesky problem of Angel’s soul. It was a brick wall they kept running into and it hurt more every time they hit it.

            “Sorry, it’s been to long. I got carried away.” Buffy said.

            Angel nodded. “Me too, couldn’t help it.”

            Buffy chuckled. “It seems to be a never changing issue in our relationship, not that that’s a bad thing. I mean I ‘d worry if we didn’t want each other but…” she trailed off.

            “Relationship?” Angel croaked.

            “Well, no I mean of course not, you’ve probably got things here and back in Sunnydale-“ Buffy started.

            “You probably have a boyfriend.” Angel said.

            Buffy laughed again. “No, no boyfriend. I’ve learned Buffy and boys plus relationships equal a very unmixy thing.”

            “So you don’t want a relationship?” Angel asked.

            Buffy looked at him. She blinked, obviously confused. “Define with who?”

            “Well, I thought we were talking about a relationship with me and you. Or, maybe not. It’s-things are still muddled up here.” He tapped his temple.

            “No, we were. I mean I think maybe we were. Are we talking friendship relationship or love relationship or deep everlasting soul mate relationship?” Buffy looked at Angel, her eyes meeting his. “Never mind, ignore the question. We only do one kind of relationship. It’s deep everlasting soul mates with us or nothing.”

            Angel smiled at her. “Doesn’t answer my question.”

            “Sorry, it’s taking a little while to process. Angel, all I’ve ever seen in my future is you. All I’ve ever wanted is you. I told you once I couldn’t change, I was never going to change. That’s still true. I haven’t changed. I’ve tried but I can’t. Maybe you and I don’t work perfectly, maybe it’s not all flowers and fluffy puppies, but me without you doesn’t work at all.” Buffy said.

            “So, how do we do this?” Angel said.

            “Do what?”

            “Me, you and the insanity problems I’m having.” Angel said.

            “Well, I think we’ve figured out the insanity problem. It’s not perfect but until I can think of something else, it’s a temporary fix.” Buffy said.

            Angel shook his head. “I can’t just keep taking blood from you, Buffy.”

            “Why not?” She asked.

            “Because it’ll weaken you over time, it’ll make my cravings for human blood worse. It makes the demon harder to control. Besides, I haven’t had a vision. That’s when I really lose my mind. It might not hold up after a vision.” Angel said.

            “No big deal. I’ll make more.” Buffy said.

            “No, I don’t like this.” Angel said.

            “And I don’t like letting you live in the condition you were living in. I can’t live with myself knowing there is something I can do to help.” Buffy protested.

            Angel sighed. This was not an argument either one of them were going to win.  “How long will this last, the lucidity?”

            Buffy shrugged. “Six hours last time. I hope it’ll build on itself and you’ll have longer and longer periods of time. Maybe eventually it will be permanent.”

            “And if it’s not?” Angel asked.

            “Then we deal. I’m not worried about it. When all this started, Wes told me you lost. I told him I’d find you and I will. No matter what I will always find you because if you’re lost then all the parts of me that you hold are lost.” Buffy said.

            Angel pulled her back into his arms. He clung to her, as if she could keep him from slipping back into the oblivion of his mind. He was holding on to her when he fell to his knees, dragging her with him. He clasped his hands to his head and started screaming.

            “Wes!” Buffy screamed. She knelt down next to Angel, trying to cradle him, trying to ease some of his pain.

            “1213 Lincoln, hurry, hurry. Girl- he’s going to get her. Have to stop them-help the girl. She’s dying-1213 Lincoln-1213.” Angel muttered once he had stopped screaming.

            Wes burst through the door.

            “Vision, 1213 Lincoln he says. There’s a girl and I don’t know what else.” Buffy said.

            Wes knelt down next to Buffy and Angel. “Angel, can you hear me? What’s trying to hurt the girl?”

            “Vampires-Elizabeth-help her-dying-help her-1213 Lincoln.” Angel muttered.

            Buffy glanced at Wes. “Stay here with him. Gunn and I will take care of this.”

            “I don’t like letting you two go out alone.” Wes said.

            “And I don’t like him being left alone. I’m the slayer, Wes. Gunn and I have this.” Buffy said.

            “Alright then. Call if you need anything.” Wes said reluctantly.

            Buffy stood up and cast a look at Angel lying in a fetal position on the floor. “Just-don’t tranq him unless he tries to hurt you.”

            Wes nodded. Buffy ran down the stairs. She grabbed a handful of stakes from the weapons cabinet. “Come on, Gunn, vision time. You know where 1213 Lincoln is?”

            Gunn nodded. “Yeah that’s my old neighborhood.”

            “We need to get there fast, help someone named Elizabeth.” Buffy said.

            1213 Lincoln turned out to be an old grocery store. It was abandoned. The windows were boarded over. “Looks like a vamp nest to me.” Gunn said.

            Buffy nodded. She glanced around her. The street was pretty deserted. “So, if they have a girl in there, it’s highly likely they are up and about. I’m not feeling real sneaky or time consume-y. You have a problem with breaking and entering?”

            Gunn looked at her puzzled. “Into a vamp nest, hell no, but sneaky generally goes with breaking and entering, doesn’t it?”

            “Not the way I do it.”  Buffy said walking up to the boarded over windows. She assessed the windows once more. The boards were cheap particle board. It only took one well place sidekick to splinter the window covering. Sunlight poured in and sent vampires on fire scurrying for the shadows. Buffy shattered the other boarded up window and walked in, stake in hand.

            “Rise and shine.” She said looking around. There were six vamps. One girl hung from chains in the center of the room. Buffy smiled. Sunlight washed over the girl.

            Gunn moved to help the girl down. Buffy stalked into the corners where the vamps cowered.

            “Slayer, I didn’t think you came up this way.” One of them hissed.

            Buffy shrugged. “What can I say? I’m an equal opportunity slayer.” She easily blocked a right hook and threw a jab of her own. She knocked one vamp into the sunlight with a well placed back kick. It threw her slightly off balance and she caught another vamp’s fist to the jaw. She fell, catching herself with her hands and pushed back up immediately. A roundhouse kick sent another vamp into the sunlight. She heard him scream but she wasn’t sure if Gunn had gotten him or the sun had.  For a moment, Buffy was a flurry of fists and feet and then there was just dust.

            She stuck her stake in the back of her pants and dusted her hands off. She and Gunn stepped out into the sunlight. The girl, Elizabeth, shivered in the warm rays.

            “Thank you. They’ve-what were they? I was headed home last night and they grabbed me-I-what was wrong with them?” Elizabeth asked. Her eyes were wide and frantic.

            “Just go home. After dark make sure you stick to well populated areas. Don’t go into alleys with anyone you don’t know. Better yet, stay home after dark if you can. Now go.” Buffy said. She shooed the girl down the street.

            Gunn glanced at her and cocked an eyebrow her way.

            Buffy sighed. “Sorry, rude much I know. I’m just anxious to get back and check on Angel. He was doing really good before the vision.”

            Gunn stared at the angry wound on her neck, but he didn’t say anything. If she wanted to be a buffet for a bloodsucker, that was her business. He figured as the slayer she knew what she was getting into.

            Buffy sat on the edge of her seat all the way back to the hotel. She was out of Gunn’s truck before it even stopped. She took the stairs up to Angel’s room two at a time. Wes was sitting in the chair, tranquilizer gun loose in his hand. He nodded when she walked in.

            “I didn’t have to use it. Did you save her?” Wes asked.

            “Yeah, she’s fine, a little shook up but alive.” Buffy said as she edged around the bed to the corner Angel was curled up in.

            “Buffy dead, Buffy dead, Buffy gone, killed Buffy. Didn’t mean to-didn’t want to. Hurt-just meant to take a little, killed Buffy.” Angel muttered and rocked back and forth.

            Buffy knelt next to him. His eyes were open but he wasn’t seeing her. She reached out to touch him and he jerked away, scrambling further into the corner. “Gone-gone-drank her down. Dead now, my fault, dead now. Always, always, always.” Angel whispered. There was an almost sing song quality to his voice that was haunting.

            “Angel, baby. I’m here. I’m not dead. I’m right here.” Buffy whispered.

            Angel shook his head. Tears glistened on his cheeks. “No, not real-can’t be-killed her-gone now-gone-gone. Buffy’s dead, Buffy’s gone-my fault-always.” Angel repeated.

            Buffy sighed. She never heard Wes leave the room. Buffy reached out to touch Angel again and he flinched, drawing as far back into himself as he could.

            “Don’t touch don’t touch don’t touch don’t touch. Not real-can’t touch if not real-Buffy’s gone.” When he said the last he looked up into Buffy’s eyes, seeming to see her for the first time since she’d entered the room. The pain and pleading there was heart wrenching. Buffy bit her lip to keep from collapsing into sobs. She sat back on her haunches, a foot away from him and stared. Her every action seemed to elicit a more violent reaction from him.

            She stood up, new determination in her eyes. She rummaged through drawers until she found a dagger. It just took one sharp swipe across her wrist and blood started flowing freely. She shoved her wrist toward Angel. She hoped in his condition he’d take it and feed from her.

            Angel covered his face with both his hands. He shook his head and muttered no, no, no to himself over and over. When that didn’t make the blood go away he shoved Buffy hard. She wasn’t ready for it and she fell on her back, smacking her head against the floor. Stars swam around her head, the impact, plus the loss of blood, encouraged darkness to encroach her mind.

She blinked a couple of times and shook her head. She sat up slowly and offered her wrist again, less aggressively this time.

            “No! No! No! Won’t do it again! Can’t kill Buffy again! Noooooooooo!” Angel screamed at the top of his lungs.  He started banging his head against the wall, hard.

            The scream brought Gunn and Wes thundering into the room. Buffy sat with her head resting against the wall, sobs racked her body and the blood from her wrist still flowed freely.  Wes took charge immediately.

            “Gunn, take her downstairs, bandage up the wrist. I’ll handle Angel.” Wes said.

            Gunn swept Buffy up in his arms. She struggled weakly but her life, her consciousness was dripping out onto the floor at an alarming pace.  As they walked down the stairs, Buffy giggled hysterically. She could hear the wet sound as the blood fell to the stairs and the lobby floor in big, fat drops.  Gunn shook his head and watched her carefully. He laid her down on the reception desk. Lately it had been an ideal doctor’s table.

            Buffy turned her head and watched Gunn through glazed eyes. She giggled again. It was a weak, hollow sound. She was losing so much blood so fast. “Ok, sleepy now, buh bye.” She said as she closed her eyes. The last thing she whispered before she passed out was “Gone now-Buffy’s gone-always.”          

Chapter Eight

            Buffy woke up with a massive headache. She felt dizzy and weak.  Her wrist hurt. She glanced down. It was swathed in gauze.  She sat up slowly. She was on the couch in the hotel lobby. Wes was sitting at the desk immersed in books. He looked up when she sat.

            “How do you feel?” He asked.

            Buffy shook her head. “How is he?” Her eyes drifted up the stairs to Angel’s room.

            Wes sighed and rubbed his temple. “I had to tranquilize him, Buffy. I know you didn’t want me too but it was a necessity.”

            Buffy sighed. “Did he attack you?”

            “No, he busted his head open on the wall.  He wasn’t hurting anyone but himself.” Wes said.

            Buffy nodded. She was pale. Her clothes were still splattered with blood. She started to stand up, a wave of dizziness crashed over her. She sat back down abruptly. “Wes, I have to do something. I don’t know why the Powers would allow-“

            “Of course!” Wes said jumping to his feet. “Why didn’t I think about that before? Too close to the situation I suppose.”

            “Wanna clue me in?” Buffy asked.

            “Of course, pardon me.  The Powers that be have conduits, Oracles. Angel contacted them a couple of times before. I don’t even know if I could do it honestly. Only a champion of the Powers is allowed to approach them but-“ Wes started.

            “I’d say the Slayer qualifies as a champion of the Powers. How do I contact them?” Buffy said.

            “There’s a gate underneath the Post Office.” Wes said. “I’ll have to find the proper spell but I know it’s in a book here somewhere.”

            “The gateway to the Powers that Be is underneath the Post Office?” Buffy asked.

            “Yes, well. It makes sense if you think about it.” Wes said flipping through books.

            “Whatever. I’m going up to check on Angel. You find the spell. I want to do this tonight.” Buffy said. She got up slowly and stood still for a moment. She walked up the stairs through sheer willpower, hanging tightly to the stair railing as she went. She held onto the railing until she got to Angel’s door. She transferred her weight to the doorknob of the door, only letting go of the railing when she had a firm grip on the doorknob. She pushed open the door and stagger-stumbled to the bed where Angel was laid out.

            She sat down on the bed heavily.  She upgraded that to lying on the bed when the dizziness didn’t pass. Buffy traced her fingers over Angel’s face. She sighed. His mind might be shattered but he was still the most beautiful thing she had ever seen in this world or in heaven. She supposed that was rude or offensive to whatever power resided over Heaven, or maybe not since it was probably the same power that created the beautiful creature lying next to her on the bed.

            Buffy turned on her side and snuggled against Angel. In his drugged sleep he was complacent but he still seemed to recognize her presence. His arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her close. Buffy let her eyelids slide closed. Wes would come get her when he’d found the spell, besides she couldn’t exactly greet these Oracles if she couldn’t stand on her own two feet.

            Buffy woke to a high pitched keening noise. She clapped her hands over her ears. Angel was curled up in the corner, rocking and making the noise. She’d never heard anything like it. It was almost the sound of a rabbit or other animal in great pain.

            The noise brought Wes to the room. “Good Heavens. What happened?” he asked looking bewildered from Buffy to Angel.

            “I fell asleep next to him. I guess he woke up and I scared him?” Buffy offered. She crouched next to Angel and tried to touch him. He jerked away and started banging his head against the wall. There was a blood stain already there from his earlier episode.

            “Angel, baby, Angel stop. Honey, I need you to stop.” Buffy tried to talk to him in calm comforting tones. He wasn’t even using words now just that keening noise and it was obvious Angel was in the room but there was no one there in his mind.  “Wes, do something!” She said.

            Wes shook his head. “Tranquilizer?” he suggested.

            Buffy bit her bottom lip and tears welled in her eyes but she nodded her head. Wes raised the gun and shot Angel squarely in the arm. He shot him again before Angel finally slumped over on the floor.

            Buffy swallowed her tears and gathered Angel up under his arms. She lifted but she didn’t have the strength, not as weak as she was. A sob caught in her throat. “Wes, help me get him up on the bed.”

            Once they had Angel securely in bed, Buffy sat down pale and shaky on the edge of the bed. She looked up at Wes. “Did you find the spell?”

            Wes nodded. “I did.”

            Buffy stood, staying on her feet by willpower alone. “Let’s go then.”

            “Buffy, you don’t look well. Perhaps we should wait a few hours. You can eat something and take a nap.” Wes suggested.

            Buffy shook her head. “No, Wes. I want to do this now. Every minute Angel has to live the way he is, is one minute too long.”

            “Buffy, I really think-“

            “Wes, I really don’t care.” Buffy said as she started walking to the bedroom door.

            Wes had no choice but to follow her.

            *

            Wes threw a handful of powder at the brazier. It blazed into life. The gateway glowed with a pure white light.

            “You’re in.” Wes said. He handed her a small jade figurine. “Eighth century Chinese, their tribute.”

            “Thanks, Wes.” Buffy smiled and ran into the light.

            She stumbled and caught herself. She glanced around the huge room. There was a hallway that stretched to literal infinity in front of her. Two beings came down this hallway. Their skin was an odd metallic color. They had bluish green swirls painted all over it. They wore deep blue togas.  There was male and a female. The female spoke first.

            “Greetings Lower Being.” She said.

            Buffy arched her eyebrow at the female. “Excuse me, I have a name. It’s Buffy, the vampire slayer and you are?”

            “My name is inconsequential. I am an oracle for the Powers that be.” The female said.

            “What have you brought us?” The male said.

            “Ooo, so you do want the shiny new present I brought you.” Buffy said as she tossed it up in the air. The male snatched it out of the air with a tiny motion of his fingers.

            “Ok, so it’s time to get down to business.” Buffy said. “I want you to fix Angel.”

            The female chuckled. “Angel, the vampire with a soul.”

            “The one and only, warrior for the Powers that Be, champion of light. The visions are driving him insane. They are shattering his mind. Wes says you have the power to make this right so make it right.” Buffy said.

            “It is not our concern.” The female said.

            “Not your concern? How the hell can it not be your concern? You gave him the visions take them back.” Buffy yelled.

            “How dare you speak to us so.” The male said. He flicked his wrist and sent Buffy flying against the marble wall. She hit her head with a loud thunk and fell to the floor. Buffy closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The room swam before her. She struggled to her feet. She swayed for a second before getting her balance back.

            “Okay, rude much? I had this whole thing where I lost a lot of blood today, could we avoid slinging me across the room?” Buffy said.

            “You have no respect for higher beings.” The male’s voice was cold and hard.

            “I have no respect for anyone who would do something like what you’ve done to Angel. It’s killing him.” Buffy said.

            The female shrugged. “When one seer dies, another is sent. You should understand this concept.”

            Buffy stared at the Oracle in disbelief. “He’s-Angel is-he’s immortal. His soul is so good and so pure and-he’s not just a seer. He’s a warrior for the powers that be. He’s got the capacity for so much good. Why did you save him that Christmas morning if you were just going to do this to

him? This can not be his great destiny.”

            “These are the burdens we must bear.” The female oracle said.

            “No! I refuse to accept that you’re just going to let him die.” Buffy said.

            “As you said, he is immortal. The visions will not kill him.” The male said.

            “The visions might not kill him but what about the stake he shoves through his heart because they are driving him insane?” Buffy yelled.

            “Then he is not strong enough to bear the burden, again this is not our concern. When he dies the visions will pass to another.” The female said.

            “No!” Buffy screamed at the top of her lungs. The sound echoed in the cavernous room. She took a deep breath. “If you loose him, you loose a great warrior for your cause. There might be another seer but he’s the only vampire with a soul.”

            “And who would you have take on the visions? Will you pick up that burden for him?” The female asked.

            “Yes,” Buffy said without hesitation.

            “Even if it kills you?” The female said.

            “You really don’t know much about Angel and I if you think something as minor as my death is going to keep me from saving him. I would give my life if it meant he had one more minute on this earth. Give me the visions already.” Buffy said.

            The female looked at the male. He rolled his eyes and turned the other way.  The female turned back to Buffy. “You are needed elsewhere. The Powers have not divided the two of you simply for amusement.”

            Buffy laughed. It came out a gruff, harsh bark. “Well that’s good to know because I was actually beginning to wonder.”

            “You will have your reward in the end mortal.” The female said.

            “Yeah, I know going to Heaven. Been there done that and hey do you think I could get a tee shirt because you know not everyone can make that claim.” Buffy said.

            The female looked her up and down. She cocked her head and smiled. “He has not told you. When you return ask the Watcher about the prophecy and the reward. We will send him another seer. You must return to where you are needed.” The female waved her hand and threw Buffy back through the door. She rolled, coming to a stop inside the cave beneath the post office. She sat up with a groan and rubbed her head.

            “I’m beginning to think stamping Fragile on my forehead might not be such a bad idea.” Buffy said.

            Wes offered his hand and helped Buffy to her feet. She was woozy. He caught her under the arm. She leaned against him. “How did it go?” Wes asked.

            “They are supposed to send him a seer. They’ll take the visions.” Buffy said. It came out a mere whisper, weak and shaky.


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