Almost Home

by Jill

Disclaimer: I SO do not own them, so please don't sue.
Rating: PG-13 (I guess)
Category: Angst, Drama, Romance
Copyright: January 2002
Distribution: my site, Land of Denial, Ducks Fanficboard, if you have any of my stories, just take it, anybody else please tell me where it
goes

Spoilers: the whole B/A thing, AND I'm using a spoiler I've heard that Buffy tells Tara about her and Spike, and of course the whole 'Buffy
came back wrong'-thingy. This is my idea what could happen. Oh, and one very important thing. The meeting between Angel and Buffy after Flooded never happened.

Summary: After Buffy goes and tells Tara about her affair with Spike, the wicca finds out something deeply shocking
Timeline: some weeks into the future
Feedback: uhm, sure!!!
Dedication: This goes to Sara-Lee for the wonderful poem she sent me today. Thanks, honey!

IMPORTANT NOTE: For the sake of this story, the meeting between Buffy and Angel after Flooded never happened. Angel was told that Buffy is back. But they didn't have any contact. Why? You'll find out as soon as you read the story. And the way the BtVS-canon has ignored the character of "Angel" (of course it was vica-versa with AtS, but that's not the point here) I think none of them would have thought anything by Buffy not calling Angel or mentioning him. They think she's over him after all.

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: I haven't seen "Birthday". So for this story it never happened.


The blond woman stopped on the sidewalk, looking at the iron gates.
Reaching into her pocket she produced a crumpled piece of paper, and
trying to see in the light of the streetlamp she narrowed her eyes.

Yes, the address was correct. That was the hotel she'd been looking for.

She shifted the backpack on her shoulder, then taking a deep breath, she
walked through the gate towards the double doors. There was light inside,
and looking through the glass, the woman could see people walking around.
An African-American who was frowning at a stake in his hand. He was big,
not just tall, but big all over. But he had a friendly face and she
relaxed instantly.

She didn't know any of the people inside the hotel, and as she was shy
in nature, she didn't feel too good about coming here, but she had to talk
to someone, and at home, where she came from, there was nobody.

Tears welled up in her eyes, her thoughts wandering to her lover, the woman
she'd left. There had been times when she would have gone to her. Not
anymore though.

A woman stood behind a counter, rubbing her temples, her eyes closed,
her short dark-hair showing highlights. Another woman, her hair long,
joined her, carrying something in her arms that looked like a baby.

A baby?

Nobody had ever mentioned a baby when talking about the group in L.A.,
but then the group in L.A. wasn't mentioned that often, anyway. Or maybe
she hadn't listened. Well, it didn't really matter. She'd come here for
a reason and the baby wasn't one of them.

Another man came into the lobby, he was older than the other people in
the room, with dark hair, glasses on his nose, bookish looking. That had
to be the former watcher. She remembered his name. Wesley.

And finally she saw him. Dressed all in black, tall, his complexion even
paler than Spike's, or maybe it was just the contrast between his dark hair
and his white skin, she didn't know. His eyes were dark, warm, and friendly.
He walked over to the girl holding the child, spoke to them, then walked to
the African-American, and they laughed.

Taking another deep breath she finally pushed the doors open and entered
the building. Inside she stopped, seeing all faces turning, looking at her
quizzically.

Then the woman behind the counter, the one with the short hair, smiled.
"Hello. Welcome to Angel Investigations. I'm Cordelia. Can we help you?"

A bit taken aback by that kind of welcome, she had to swallow before she
was able to form a word of her own. "H-hello," she said softly, hating the
tremble in her voice.

"Hello. Is there anything we can do for you?"

Soft brown eyes looked at her, and she felt herself drawn to them. The
trembling she'd felt just before ceased instantly. "Are you A-angel?"

"Yes," he confirmed. "I'm Angel. Were you looking for me?"

"Y-yes," she nodded, walked down the stepps, smiling shyly at the others
who were watching her with interest. "My n-ame is T-tara. I'm a ... was a
friend of W-Willow's."

"Willow's?," the woman with the short hair quirked a brow. "As in Willow
Rosenberg? The witch?"

Something close to anger flickered through Tara's eyes, but she managed to
suppress the emotion quickly. "Yes," she confirmed. "We ... uh ... were
f-friends."

"Were?" The man, Tara thought was called Wesley, tilted his head. "Oh, I'm
sorry," he apologized instantly. "I'm Wesley. Wesley Wyndon-Price."

"Hi," she gave him a quick smile, then looked back at Angel. "I n-need to
talk to you. It's i-important." She closed her eyes for a moment, hating
the stammer in her voice, but she felt so nervous about the things she had
to say, she couldn't help it.

"Of course," Wesley made an inviting gesture towards his office, but the
young woman shook her head.

"No. I need to talk to A-angel. Alone."

"Maybe we should check her for weapons first."

"Cordy!" Angel's voice was sharp, and he gave a curt shake of his head.

"Gee, sorry for caring," the brunette huffed, turned away, started to write
at the computer.

"Sorry for that," the vampire apologized.

"I'm sure Cordelia didn't mean any harm." Fred spoke up for the first time.
She smiled at the baby in her arms, then looked at the blond woman. "She
just wanted to make sure that you weren't some assassin those lawyers
sent."

"Assassin?" Tara almost choked on the word, her face turning pale.

Sighing inwardly, Angel shook his head. "It's nothing. Ah. Wes, could
we..."

"Oh. Of course. By all means, take my office," the former watcher hurried
to reply. "You'll be undisturbed."

"Thanks." The vampire gave him a grateful nod, then gestured Tara to follow
him.

*

As soon as they were both seated, Angel in Wesley's chair, Tara opposite
to him, the vampire propped his elbows on the desk, entwined his fingers
and rested his chin atop of them. "Alright. Here we are. Tell me what's
so important."

Tara bit her lower lip, feeling suddenly uncertain. She'd been so sure
after her conversation with Buffy. And now, all of a sudden, she wasn't
sure anymore. What if Angel didn't even care? He hadn't seen Buffy for a
long time. But no, Willow had told her about his reaction to Buffy's death.
He still cared. But knowing he did, made it almost worse when she thought
about what she was going to say.

She saw his expectant gaze resting on her, and summoning all her resolve,
she said, "It's about Buffy."

Ice-edged panic sliced nastily up his spine. He suppressed it instantly.
"Buffy?"

He hadn't allowed himself to think about her for a long time. Of course
her name, her face, had entered his mind from time to time but he'd
managed to push it into a back corner of it. There was no use in thinking
about her. They were living separate lives now. Wishing for the impossible
only made things harder. And reaching rock bottom last year was all he
could take for a while.

Or so he'd thought.

Then Buffy had died and Angel had understood the meaning of the word
despair. The moment Willow told him she was gone, he had been sure he'd
die, too. But surprisingly he hadn't. He was still there, was still trying
to save souls, was even laughing.Then Buffy was suddenly back, but they
hadn't seen each other, hadn't even talked, and somehow Angel had managed
to convince himself it was for the best.

He didn't need it. Not now, not when with Connor, a son he hadn't
expected to ever have, a new purpose, a new meaning had entered his life.
He was happy, he told himself. And he was, wasn't he? They were having
fun, he and his little family. He didn't need Buffy now, didn't even want
her. Buffy was heartbreak, pain, loss. He didn't want it. Not anymore. He
wanted to be happy. Human. Normal.

Buffy didn't fit into this. 

But try as he might, just her name brought back so many memories. He
didn't want them, but they came nevertheless.

He expected her to say the worst, Tara could see it in his eyes, and God,
she didn't bring good news. But she'd come so far, she wouldn't back
down now. "Yes, Buffy. Sh-she ... came to me two days ago. She n-needed
to talk. And W-willow isn't ... a lot happened in Sunnydale."

"Is she alright?"

The words were out before Angel could stop them. He hadn't wanted to say
them, he didn't want to make her life his business again. But, he realised
instantly, she was. It would never change. He could try to pretend, but
it would never work.

"No, I'm afraid she's not." She saw the concern in his eyes, and hurried
to add, "She is ... physically."

He relaxed instantly. But then frowned, "Physically?"

She nodded. "There are things ...," she paused, not quite sure how to go
on, then said, "As I s-said, two days ago she came to me. Sh-she needed
to talk. I-"

Talk? Buffy had needed a friend to talk? Willow was her friend, wasn't
she? Why hadn't she tried to talk to Willow? "You said you were Willow's
friend," he interrupted her, his eyes intent.

"I am ... I was ... We were lovers. I helped them ... the group. I'm a
witch, too," she said with a smile, "But Willow is far ahead of me.
She's ... she always had a thing for dark magic. But ever since she's
brought Buffy back the whole thing is getting out of hand. She promised
not to use it again, but ... I know she's trying, but ...," she shook her
head. "That really doesn't belong here."

He accepted it with a nod, his eyes inviting her to continue. "So she came
to you?"

"Yes. Buffy c-came to me and-," she paused for a moment. "I think she
would have preferred to talk to Willow, but they had ... have ... problems.
So she came to me, I think because there was nobody else."

"What about Xander?" Although he'd never been fond of the boy, Angel knew
Xander's feelings for Buffy had always been genuine. And, so he had to
admit, a big part of their dislike of each other was the fact that they
were both in love with the same woman.

"Xander," the first genuine smile appeared on the blonde's face, "He's
busy. He's getting married."

Angel did a double take, "He's, what?"

Tara grinned, "He's getting married. His girlfriend of a year. Anya. She
was a vengeance demon, but then, so I've been told, one of her sp-spells
went wrong and she became human."

Fate, Angel thought, certainly went mysterious ways. Xander, who'd once
hated everything that wasn't entirely human, execpt Buffy of course, would
soon be married to a former vengeance demon. He wondered if Xander ever
saw the irony of it.

"I see," he said simply.

She became serious again, "B-but getting back to B-buffy. She ... she was
terribly upset. At the beginning her words didn't make sense. I
think ...," she sighed, "It was terrible. In the end, however, I found
out what it was all about. It's some kind of ... uh ... lacking a better
term, I'd call it addiction."

His eyes narrowed. "Addiction? She's taking drugs? Drinking?" He couldn't
get himself to picturing Buffy as a drug addict. The shoe just didn't fit.

"No. No, nothing of that sort," she hurried to reply. "It's not as
obvious. But," she nodded, more to herself, "Addiction is the right
word."

God, this was so hard. From all Willow had told her the relationship
between Buffy and Angel had been more than just a crush. Had been very
special. "She's addicted ... to ... to ... Spike."

He reeled backward as if she'd slapped him, staring at her as if he
hadn't understood. "Spike?" Spike? Addicted to Spike? He tried to form
a thought, but his mind failed.

"Yes," she confirmed. And when he still stared at her, she added.
"She's sexually addicted. It's out of her control. She doesn't know how
to deal with it. She hates it. But she's also enjoying it. She's going
back to him. It's been going on for weeks."

He shook his head, tried to clear his mind, "Are you telling me that ...
Buffy ... and ... Spike..."

Buffy and Spike. Buffy and Spike. Buffy and Spike.

Sexual addiction.

Of course he'd seen it. Had watched it. You didn't get to be over 200
years old without seeing one thing or two. But those things had nothing
to do with Buffy. Buffy was a slayer. She was good. Spike was a vampire.
He was not.

"Yes."

The word exploded in his head, made him flinch visibly. Denial was
equally quick.

"No."

In a swift motion he was out of his chair, pacing the floor. "No," he
repeated. "I don't believe it. Buffy would never do something like that.
It's simply not possible." It couldn't be, mustn't be. Not Buffy. Not with
Spike. Not the blond girl he lo-, NO! He wouldn't go there. He couldn't.
It wasn't like her. But she had died after all. Many things could happen
when a person died. He knew it first hand.

Still, it didn't fit. Buffy wasn't a vampire. Willow would have told
them. But the redhead had said nothing besides that Buffy was back and
well. It made no sense. But the young woman in his, Wesley's, office
had told him. And he had no reason to doubt her words. She seemed honest,
more even, she was genuinely concerned.

Angel forced himself to look at Tara, "What ... happened?"

"That's difficult to explain," she began slowly.

"Try it," he said. "There isn't much I haven't seen or heard."

She smiled, "Yes, I believe there isn't." She leaned back in her chair,
watched him through serious, but friendly eyes. "I think your first
reaction was interesting. You said, it wasn't possible. And in a way
you were right. Buffy would never do such a thing." She paused, carefully
chosing her next words, "At least not the Buffy we know."

His brows furrowed, "The Buffy we know?"

"Yes, that's what I said. The girl who came back ... she isn't the Buffy
you know. I already told you that W-willow is drawn towards dark magic.
We prepared this ritual. And we used it. I was certain it hadn't worked,
when suddenly Buffy was back. W-willow was gone for hours, and then Buffy
was back. She never told any of us wh-what she did that night, so I can
only guess. But I'm sure the ritual *we* used didn't work."

"So how did she get back?," he asked, after sitting down again. In his
head his thoughts were running wild. The images of Buffy with Spike
making him sick. The revelation that Buffy ... twisted his gut into
thousands of knots. His expression, however, was calm and controlled.

"I don't know," Tara admitted. "But Giles was very a-angry when he found
out what Willow had done. I think he knew more than any of us. Or guessed."
She paused for a moment. Then took a deep breath, "Anyways. One night,
before Buffy died, we were together. You know, girls night, with Willow,
Anya, Dawn, Buffy. And I ... I checked auras ... it was just for fun, and
I checked Buffy's."

Before he'd known the Host Angel might have frowned at her, but now he
simply nodded.

She gave him a quick smile. "Alright. And then ... when she came, telling
me about Spike ... I checked it again. It wasn't the same."

He gazed at her for a long moment. "But," he said finally, "isn't that
to be expected? She died after all."

"Maybe," Tara admitted. "I think it could be possible. But ... it's not
in her case. It has nothing to do with it. The aura wasn't just changed.
It's completey different."

"Different?"

"Yes, different. As yours and mine are different," she explained, giving
him a pointed look.

He seemed speechless for a moment. "As yours and ... but we're two
different people."

"Exactly," she replied, smiling slightly. "Two different people. Like ...
the Buffy who was telling me about Spike. And the one who died."

Angel was stunned. Two different people? Two different Buffys?

"Believe me," the blond said, seeing his reaction, "I was a surprised
as you are. Or maybe 'shocked' would be the more fitting expression."

"'Surprised' doesn't exactly decribe my feelings right now either," he
muttered. "I don't understand. And frankly, I have a hard time believing
all this."

"I know. Me too."

"But ...," he ran a hand through his hair, tried to sort through his
confused mind, "who is she, if she isn't ... Buffy."

"But that's just the point. She is Buffy. But not the Buffy we knew."

Angel shook his head, "Not the Buffy we know? You said that before. What
the hell do you mean?"

"I mean ... I think Willow never brought our Buffy back. The dead Buffy.
What happened was that she pulled one out of another dimension."

"What?" Angel was out of his chair in a flash. He turned away, his
movements jerky. After a moment he sat down, stood again, his palms on
the surface of the desk, Tara could hear him breathe heavily. Regarding
the fact that a vampire didn't need to breathe at all, she could only
guess how disturbed his was.

She saw him shut his eyes, his fingers clench into fists. "So ...
Buffy ... is dead?"

God, no. He couldn't do it again. He couldn't lose her. He'd lost her
once. Not again. Please, God, not again.

"Yes," she confirmed, her eyes cast to the ground.

He turned away swiftly, his body rigid.

She continued tentatively, "She is dead. And hopefully in heaven. The
Buffy we brought back ... she died, too. But we might have ... intercepted
her on her way. Or rather Willow has."

She was silent then, just watching him. His shoulders were awfully tense,
and she knew he was struggling for control. After what seemed an eternity,
but were only minutes in reality, she said quietly, "I don't know a lot
about you and she. They don't talk about it a lot. But from what I've
heard she must have been very special to you."

She saw a shudder go through his whole being. He turned slowly, and when
he finally looked at her she had a hard time not to gasp at the pain she
saw in his handsome features. "Yes," he managed. "She was ... special."

At that moment she realised, 'special' didn't come even close. "I'm
sorry."

"It's not your fault," he replied, finally able to unclench his fists.
Slowly the pain made room for a blessed numbness.

"No," she agreed. "Still I was the one who told you."

"Don't be sorry. I'm glad you came. I ... I don't know what I would've
done if Buffy ... if I'd heard about her and Spike and thought ..." He
took a deep breath, shook his head, "Thank you for telling me."

He lowered his head, stared at the desk. She could almost touch his
grief and hated herself for doing what she was about to do. But her
conscience wouldn't let her do anything else. She hesitated for a
moment, then forced herself to go on. "That's ... not all, I'm afraid."

His head came up abruptly, and for a moment she saw moisture in his eyes,
but it was instantly gone. "Wh-what do you mean?," he asked, clearing
his throat.

"I came because I ... that is, Buffy, this Buffy, needs your help."

He wanted to shout 'no'. He wanted to deny this was happening. He felt
so raw inside, he couldn't think straight. He didn't want to be part of
this, didn't want to feel more pain. He couldn't even begin to imagine
what it would be like. To see Buffy, and yet, not to see her. He didn't
want it, but he also knew he wouldn't deny his help. This might not be
the Buffy he knew and loved, but he couldn't turn his back on this.
On her.

Struggling for composure, he took a deep breath, "Go on."

A relieved smile appeared on Tara's face. "Because I ... uh ... didn't
believe my own eyes at first, I asked some questions. About her l-life.
Why she felt so lost and stuff." She saw him listen intently, and went on,
"It turned out that in her world, her dimension, or whatever, you died."

His eyes widened, "What?"

"There was an Armaggeddon. The Hellmouth opened. You offered to give
your life, and although she begged you not to, you did."

A vivid memory shot into his mind. Of a giant snake coming right through
the floor of the library. Of a fight. He remembered having been
unconscious. But he hadn't died. Obviously in the other dimension he had.

Tara saw the expression in his eyes, and nodded, "It seems you know what
she's talking about."

"I do." He did. He would never forget the panic and concern in her eyes
when he'd opened his. And the joy when she realised he was alive.

"From what I understand, this seems to have been the breaking point.
It a-also seems that everything else that happened in our world happened
in her world as well. Riley was her boyfriend. She lived, she fought,
but after losing you, she lost ... yes ... in a way she lost herself."

He saw the look in her eyes and clearing his throat, he made himself ask,
"What is it you want me to do?"

Her eyes were very serious, full of compassion, and also a little sad,
"Nothing," she replied honestly, "This isn't about me, or even about you.
It's a-about a very confused woman who hurts and has lost her way. What
you have to do? I think you already know."

"Yes," he said gravely. "Yes, I do."

 Part 2

The vampire smirked at her. In another time, in another life, another
Buffy would have given him a smart-ass remark, beaten him up a while, to
kill him in the end. But this Buffy didn't even as much as blink, didn't
say a word, simply drove the stake home, didn't watch, didn't care when
the vampire turned to ashes.

It had been a long time since anything had mattered to her.

For a while she had let herself believe things might change, might be
different. When Riley had stepped into her life

He'd been so steady, so down to earth, so normal. And she had found that
attractive. She'd been able to care for him. But after a while it had
changed. Today she knew why. Denial only worked for a certain time.
Maybe, if they could have spent all their time in bed, lost in pure
physical pleasure, maybe it would have worked out.

Because the sex had been good. It had been frequent. When she slept with
him she could delude herself into fantasies, could pretend he'd bring her
flowers, and that their love could be wild and uncontrolled, something
special, earth-shattering, something that made her burn and shake.

But of course it wasn't that way. And she'd known the truth all along.
At first he'd loved the excitement that was her, was drawn to her because
of the danger, had been attracted to it. But deep inside he would always
be the Iowa-farm-boy who wanted a nice normal wife who'd be looking up
to him. She didn't blame him for it. That's who he was, he couldn't change
it.

But neither could she.

In the end her job had been the problem, what equally meant *she*'d been
the problem. Because being the Slayer wasn't just a job, it made you the
person you were.

And she was so tired of it.

So tired of being the Slayer, the responsible one, so tired of giving up
her youth, her innocence, for a lost cause. That's what it was in the end.

A lifetime ago she had believed this battle would end some day.

She didn't believe it anymore.

She didn't *believe* anymore. Couldn't. Because the moment you believed
you could lose. And she'd lost enough already. Enough to last for a
lifetime. She could deal with almost everything. But not with loss. Not
again with loss.

Sometimes she thought her lack of belief was the centre of her problem.
Because losing it had meant losing a part of herself.

She sighed, brushing off the vampire dust from her slacks, ignoring the
feeling of disgust when she touched herself. Also another lifetime ago,
she would have turned around now, found his smiling face, and kissed him,
sinking into him, letting herself fall, knowing he would catch her, no
matter what.

Quickly she blinked tears away. She hadn't allowed herself to think about
him for long. Had tucked him away, deep down inside, where nobody could
touch him, but herself. And she had denied herself to do it, not able to
deal with the pain it caused. Not able to deal with the disapproval of her
friends when she mentioned him.

What, she was still thinking about him? Could she be more pitiful? It was
more than a year, more than two even, almost three.

She couldn't stand it. Couldn't deal with it. As a result she'd stopped
saying his name, had tried to avoid anything that might give them a hint
she was still harbouring feelings for a vampire that was long dust and
forgotten.

Forgotten.

By them. But not by her. She would never forget. His smile, his eyes,
his voice, everything was inside of her, close to her heart.

She glanced at her watch. It was too late. Dawn was waiting for her.

Too late.

Much too late.

Walking through the alley she heard a noise, then she felt him. She
didn't have to turn to know he was there. The shiver - a mixture of
anticipation and disgust - went through her body whenever he was near.
If she'd not given up herself long ago she would walk on, not caring that
he was standing in the shadows, watching her. As it was, she stopped,
turned around.

She closed her eyes and moaned when he pushed her up against the wall,
his cool hands finding her zipper. She felt his cool breath, and
pretended he was someone else.

*

Angel threw more clothes into the bag standing on his bed, and tried
to ignore Cordelia's presence. The brunette was standing in the doorway
of his room, arms crossed in front of her chest, and the vampire could
almost feel her disapproval.

He didn't want to deal with her right now, but knew it was inevitable.
He felt too raw. The news Tara had given him were too fresh, the idea of
Buffy being really dead ... It was all too much.

"What if I have a vision?," she asked now, leaning her shoulder against
the door.

"Then Wes and Gunn will take care of it," he said calmly. "They've taken
care of it before."

"But the visions aren't their business, they're yours."

Suppressing a sigh, Angel turned towards his drawer, searching for more
shirts. "I know that. But this is important."

"I don't like it."

"Believe it or not, Cordy, but I already realised that," he said, a hint
of annoyance in his voice. He didn't want to fight with her, but her
attitude was getting on his nerves. All he wanted was to hide, and
pretend Tara had never been there, but it wasn't an option. To deal with
Cordy on top of that was testing the boundaries of his self-control.

"And of course you don't even care. It's because of her. Say Buffy's
name and Angel leaves all that's important, to stand by her side," she
said acidly.

"It's not ...," his hands in the drawer stilled, a new wave of pain
rolling over him. "It is not Buffy," he managed finally, tried to control
his voice. "I mean ... it is Buffy, but not this Buffy."

"You already explained that-"

"Then why the hell can't you leave it." He whirled around, his eyes dark
with new pain, but angry at the same time. "We are here to help people.
Buffy ... the other ...," his voice cracked, and he had to clear his
throat, "... She needs our help. You heard Tara. She's getting help.
Mine."

Her annoyance turned into compassion in an instant. Stepping into the
room, she walked to him, put a hand on his arm, "Angel, I'm sorry. I know
this is hard for you-"

"You have no idea." He shrugged her hand off, put two more shirts into
his back, then opened another drawer in search for socks.

She took a deep breath, "I understand why you feel you have to help," she
said slowly, tentatively reaching out for him, but not daring to touch,
"But whoever the girl is, she still looks like Buffy. Obviously nobody in
Sunnydale even realised she was different until Tara checked her aura.
That means you're going to deal with a Buffy-look-alike." She sighed
deeply, "Besides, we still don't know if this Tara-person is for real."

"She is," Angel replied, not looking at her. "I remember Willow
mentioning her. Besides, I saw her. I forgot about it, but I saw her.
With Buffy. At Joyce's funeral." Why the hell couldn't she leave him
alone? He'd made his decision. He was going to Sunnydale. He was grateful
for her friendship, for her compassion, but he couldn't deal with her
anger.

He heard her step back. "What about Connor?"

"What about him?," he asked.

"Well, who's going to protect him? Hello, Wolfram & Hart, Holtz, half of
the evil population of this continent after him, does it ring a bell?"

"I'm going to protect him," he told her, throwing several pairs of socks
into his bag, then closing the zipper.

"You?," her brows rose, "And how, all mighty Angel, are you going to do
it? I thought you were going to Sunnydale."

"I am. So is Connor." Why on earth was he having this conversation, Angel
wondered not for the first time?

"So is Connor?" She stared at him incredulously. "You are going to take
him with you?"

"Yes. He's my son, Cordelia. Of course I'm going to take him with me.
Besides, as you already pointed out, he needs protection. And I'm the
strongest around. So he comes with me." He sighed, walked to his
nightstand to get the book he was currently reading. Not that he actually
thought he would have time for it, but he liked to pack a good book. You
never knew when it might come in handy.

"And, pray, who's going to take care of him while you're on your
Buffy-saving-mission?"

Her voice had a biting quality now, and Angel wanted to turn and strangle
her. He closed his eyes for a moment, counted backward from ten, then did
it again. "Tara will look after him," he said simply, putting the book on
top of his bag.

"What?," she exclaimed. "She is practically a stranger. You're going to
let a stranger look after him? Well, that really shows your preferences,
doesn't it. While you barely let us touch him, you're trusting a girl you
barely know, and all because your precious Buffy needs you."

"Cordy," he warned, his voice low. He was really getting fed up with her
attitude. "Tara is a witch, she can look after him. In case she can use
magic to protect him."

*

"So, uh ... you're a witch, huh?"

Tara smiled at the young woman sitting opposite to her, the baby sleeping
in her arms. "Yeah. Sort of," she replied.

"That sounds interesting. I've seen witches before. And wizards. And
vampires of course." Fred smiled, too. She liked the quiet blond. She had
warm, friendly eyes, and a nice smile. "Angel saved my life. And he
brought me back."

"Back?" Tara's brow's rose.

"I was sucked into another dimension," she explained, smiling at the
sleeping child.

The blond witch was instantly alert, "Another dimension?"

"Uh-huh," Fred nodded. "Cordelia was sucked into the dimension, too. And
so Angel and the others went after her. While they were there, they found
me. And when they went back they took me with them."

"How was the other dimension called?," Tara wanted to know. Another
dimension? That might be interesting at a certain point. She had heard
that Angel had been to a demon's dimension, but so far she didn't know
that he'd also been in another non-demon dimension.

"Pylea," Fred replied. "People weren't people there. They were cows."

Cows? Tara raised a brow. "You were glad to leave?"

"Oh yes," the other woman said without hesitation. "It wasn't nice there.
But it's not easy to be back. Five years are a long time."

"You were gone for five years?"

"Hmmm," Fred shifted Connor in her arms. "Maybe I should explain now
about Connor?," she offered. "You are going to care for him after all."

Making a mental note to ask Angel about Pylea on their way to Sunnydale,
Tara gave Fred a smile, and listened to the girl's words.

*

"I'll be back as soon as possible," Angel looked at Cordelia, reached for
his bag.

"Sure," she shrugged, "Ask me if I care. All I see is that you're letting
us down, again. For some Buffy from another dimension."

"Cordy," Angel warned again, feeling the anger inside of him.

"I'm not surprised, anyway," she went on, ignored his warning, "You did
it before, so it's not really-"

"Cordelia, that is enough." Wesley's sharp voice interrupted her. Glaring
at her for a moment, the watcher turned his head, looked at Angel. When
his eyes fell on the bag, he asked, "Ready?"

"Yeah," the vampire replied, "I have my cell phone. If there's an
emergency you can reach me at any time."

"Sure," Cordelia scoffed. "Because you're going to leave Buffy for
something as simple as an Armageddon."

Before Angel could react, Wesley turned towards the brunette, "There is
no Armageddon anywhere in sight," he said calmly. "Besides, we can handle
L.A. for a while. Angel won't be gone forever. And he's taking Connor
with him. So this resurrected vampire hunter and the lawyers will be off
our back for the time being."

"So you're supporting him in this?," Cordy glared at the former watcher
accusingly. "You're his boss. You should keep him away from her. Far,
far away." She felt tears well up in her eyes, and angrily blinked them
away. Damn. She wouldn't cry. Not in front of them. They were stupid,
just stupid. Didn't they see where this all led to?

Clearing his throat, Angel took his bag. "I'll be in touch. If you don't
call me I'm going to call once a day."

"Yes, that's a good idea," Wesley agreed. "And we will keep you updated
on any problems that might occur."

The two men looked at each other. "Thanks for ...," Angel trailed off.

"No need," the former watcher smiled at him. "Be careful."

"I am," the vampire promised. "I will be." He stopped, his eyes falling
on Cordelia. "I'm sorry," he said softly.

She glared at him for a moment, then her gaze softened, "I'm sorry, too,"
she said gruffly. "It's just ..." Hating the emotion in her voice, she
took a deep breath. "That means I'm going to find myself on the floor
again in the aftermath of visions, huh?," she tried to joke.

Angel gave her a warm, grateful smile, squeezed her arm. "Thanks," he
said. "I can't ignore this. It's important."

"I know," she replied, sniffling slightly. "And I understand it. It's
just that Buffy ... She's never been ..." She grumbled something, then
shook her head. "Go already. We're good. It's not as if we're totally
helpless, you know."

Angel looked at her for a long moment, then grinned. Then he turned and
walked down the stairs.

 Part 3

"How did you do it?"

Tara looked up, blinked, "Sorry, what?"

Angel smiled slightly, not taking his eyes from the road, "I asked, how you
did it? How did you find out Buffy wasn't the Buffy we knew?"

"As I told you," she replied promptly. "I checked her aura."

"Yes, I know that. But why did you do it? Was there a reason you doubted
her?"

"Oh," she laughed a little bit. "That. Uhm ... I don't know. I ... I think
m-maybe ... She just seemed wrong. Like the last time, you know, when Faith
stole her body. There was something. The way she talked. I can't really
explain."

"You act on feelings," he mused, nodding to himself. "We all do that. Some
of us less, others more." He sighed, "I tend to act on them most of the
time." 

She grinned, "Nothing wrong with feelings."

He chuckled and they were silent for a long time. Then it was Angel who
again broke the silence. "How did it happen? Did she tell you? Why she got
hooked up with Spike, I mean."

"No," she shook her head. "I think she's too confused right now to think
straight. It more or less happened. I should have guessed it. We all should
have."

"Why?"

She shrugged, "She was different. Not caring for Dawn. Or at least not
really, while before she died, Dawn was the centre of her worries. Sure,
there was the whole Glory-thing, but ... Spike made moves before. Buffy
only rolled her eyes and shrugged them away." She paused, bit her lower lip.
"I think she even initiated it. The whole Spike-thing I mean."

"You think?"

"Yeah," she nodded. "She doesn't avoid him. Even seeks him out. I never
thought anything by it, until ... On the other side, S-spike's cockier than
ever. He always stayed in the shadows before. All of a sudden he's like ..."

"He might not have initiated it, but he sure as hell worked for it to
happen," Angel growled suddenly.

Her head snapped around, "What do you mean?"

The vampire took a deep breath, thinking of times when he, Darla, Dru,
and Spike travelled together. "I've known Spike for a long time, Tara. And
I probably know him better than anyone else." Sure, Dru was with him much
longer, but as her mind was elsewhere most of the time, it didn't really
count. "Spike is ... he was always pathetic. His whole life, or unlife,
for that matter, he tried to be more than he was."

"Kind of rising above his level?," she asked.

"Yes. And I bet he's realised he'll never be able to rise to Buffy's level,
so he does all he can to pull her down on his. He knows he can't do it
physically, so he tries the mental path. You say she's emotionally
vulnerable. That's perfect for him. It's the way his mind works. The way a
vampire's mind works."

"So by pulling her down, he feels as if he's risen up?"

He gave her a quick approving glance. There was a lot more to this girl
than the first impression told you. "Yes," he confirmed. He remembered the
expression in Spike's eyes after killing the Slayer in China. It had made
him cocky, hell, more than that. Hadn't Tara said something about Spike
feeling cocky?

"Slayers are strong, not just in body, but also - after enough training -
in mind, they are meant to be stronger than vampires. Challenging them was
a thrill for Spike, killing them," he paused for a moment, then went on,
"It's like reaching his ultimate goal."

"Did you ever kill a Slayer?," Tara wanted to know.

"No," Angel shook his head. "I fought one or two, but never to the death."
He thought about it for a moment, then amended, "No, it's not entirely true.
I fought one - and she won. Fortunately." When he saw Tara raise a
questioning brow, he explained. "It was Buffy. I lost my soul and ..."

"Oh, I remember that. She sent you to a demon's dimension."

"Yeah," he confirmed, "she did. It was different with Buffy. We had a ...
connection while I still had my soul. Anyways. No, I never killed a Slayer.
Never felt the urge to do so. But then," he chuckled slightly, "I always
thought I was the greatest already."

"You mean you didn't need anyone to make you feel more important."

"Hell, no. I've done a lot of things, things I would never tell anyone,
but I never had a problem with my ego. It was always big enough. Spike on
the other hand ... He was a wanna-be-poet." He had to chuckle again, "God,
he was so pathetic. I didn't understand at first why Dru chose him.
Later ...," he trailed off, glanced at Tara. "Sorry, I didn't want to bore
you. I got off track."

"No," she shook her head, "Not at all. I thought it was fascinating."

One of his brows came up, "You did?"

"Yeah," she smiled. "So you ... assume it's like the ultimate power kick
for him to get close to a Slayer. Maybe it's even more so that he's
sleeping with her now, not just killing her."

"Probably," Angel looked at her thoughtfully, then snorted in disgust,
"Who knows. I'm not going to spend my time trying to understand what's
going on in Spike's head. I'd rather find him and end this mess. With a
neat wooden stake through his heart."

Tara shot him a startled glance.

He smiled, "Why did you come to me?"

"To L.A.?," she asked, and when he nodded, she explained, "As I said,
Willow is ... I can't go to her. We had problems. She was using magic in
a way," she sighed loudly, frowned, "I ... I left her. B-because she
couldn't control it anymore. And Buffy came to me after all. I think
because we aren't close. She's too ashamed to tell her friends."

He nodded. "At least Spike can't hurt her. With the chip and all."

"Oh," Tara straightened in her seat. "But he can," she said, feeling
stupid for forgetting to tell him earlier. "That's another thing she told
me. He can beat her. And because of it, he told her she came back wrong.
That was another reason why I checked her aura."

"Wrong?" The car lost it's track for a moment, but Angel had it under
control again. "Sorry," he apologized.

"It's o-okay," she gave him a shaky smile. She'd already seen herself lying
somewhere in the ditch. Maybe while he was driving the car wasn't the time
to give Angel all the details.

"What do you mean wrong?," he asked, his voice holding a hint of urgency.

"I don't know. That she is from another dimension can't be an explanation.
I mean, she's still human. Still a S-slayer, whatever dimension she comes
from. And her aura was totally human."

He nodded again, his expression thoughtful. Then he reached into his pocket,
pulled out his cell phone, pressed a number. "Yeah ... Wes, hi. It's me. I
need a favour. ... Yes, we're fine. Not yet there. Wes, could you please
check into Slayers for me ... Oh, I know, ... I know you know all about
them, no, what I mean is. How human are they? Can there be a change in
their status? ... Fine. And also, how can someone's status change when he's
resurrected." He rolled his eyes and Tara suppressed a giggle, "I know,
Wes. I know there isn't anything. Maybe Cordy could ... yeah, yeah, I know
she's still angry with me. Anyways. Please ask her to search the net. I
need every information available. ... Yes. Thanks, Wes," he glanced at the
sleeping baby in Tara's arms, "he's fine. We will. Thanks again. Bye."

He sighed, stuffed the phone back into his pocket. "You heard?," he asked.

"Yes. I-I'm not sure he'll find anything."

Angel nodded and sighed, "Me neither. But we'll have to try all sources."
He saw the Sunnydale sign passing by, "One thing. Does Buffy know?"

"You mean about the fact that she's from another dimension? No, I didn't
tell her. Given her current state of mind I was afraid it might send her
over the edge."

"That's good. And I assume you didn't tell anyone about going to L.A.?"

"No," she confirmed. "I didn't. The only person I'm still talking to is
Dawn, and besides, I didn't know how you'd react."

He smiled sadly, "You weren't sure if I would help, huh? To tell the truth,
if I could've chosen, I would've stayed far away. But ... although she's not
really Buffy and ... all. I could never turn my back on her. Not really."

"Yes, I know that. Now," she smiled gently. "But I didn't know you before.
And nobody ever talks about you. I mean, your n-name came up sometimes,
before she d-died. Ever since ...," she shrugged, "Buffy ... this Buffy of
course doesn't mention you, and the others ...," she trailed off, shrugged
again.

"I didn't expect anything else," Angel told her. "Buffy and I ... there's
been a lot between us ... Most of all hurt." He laughed hollowly,
unhappily, "The last thing I ever wanted was to hurt her, and I ended up
hurting her more than anyone."

"No." Without thinking, she reached out, put a hand on his arm. "Don't
think that. It may be true. But you also gave her love. Incredible
feelings. Something very precious." She saw his confused look, and smiled,
"This Buffy ... the one, well, the one who's lost you for good, ... God
this is complicated. Anyways. She ... when she came to me, I mentioned your
name and she ... it kind of poured out of her. I think ... she needed it ...
Because obviously nobody ever wanted to listen."

"I see."

"She didn't give me details, you know." She pulled her hand back, "N-no
details. B-but there was an expression in her eyes ... " An expression,
Tara knew only too well. She'd seen it ... in her own eyes whenever she
was thinking about Willow. And once or twice she's seen it in the
redhead's eyes as well. It had given her hope and-

"Where are we going?"

Angel's question interrupted her thoughts, "Uh ... Buffy's house. If she
isn't there already, she'll be ... soon."

He nodded, took the next turn to the right, then brought the car to a
stop in front of the Summers' house.

For a moment Angel felt almost overwhelmed by memories, all the night
he'd climbed up to meet her at the window. The times he'd been standing
under a tree, just watching, and hoping. God, they'd been so innocent then.
And he remembered the night after they'd blown up the highschool. He'd
never told her, but he'd been standing under her window, one last, precious
night.

He quickly shook his head. It wasn't the time to walk down memory lane.
But God, to think she would never live here again. He would never hear
her smile, never be able to see the sun rise when her eyes lit up.

He felt as if his heart had been ripped from his chest.

God, Buffy.

He staggered on the sidewalk, had to stop, hold onto a tree.

"Are you alright?"

He heard Tara's concerned voice, but couldn't answer. Somehow until now
everything had seemed unreal. But standing in front of her house, his
mind full of images of better times, happier times, he felt as if
something was pulling him underneath, felt like drowning.

He forced unnecessary breath into his lungs, gasped when he felt them
dilate. Tears were burning in his eyes, and before he could stop it, a sob
tore from his throat, the reality mercilessly crushing down on him.

After going through all this before, he hadn't expected it would be like
this. But it was. God, it was so hard, he wanted to scream and shout.
Wanted to blame the Powers for doing this to him twice.

He looked at the bright windows of the house, saw shadows moving behind
them. There was life there. A future. Even happiness. But not for her.
Never for her. She would never come back.

Buffy was dead.

*

"Tara." Dawn stared at the blond witch, standing in front of the door.
"And ... Angel?"

"Hi, Dawn," the vampire greeted her, glad he had his emotions in control
again. He'd needed several minutes to compose himself.

"Is there something wrong?," the teenager asked, her gaze darting back and
forth between the two visitors.

"I'd like to see Buffy," Angel said, giving her a smile.

"Buffy?" Dawn raised a brow, then looked at Tara as if expecting an
explanation from her. But the blond didn't even make eye-contact with her.

"Dawn? Is there someone at the door?"

If Angel's heart had been beating, he knew it would have stopped right now.
To know she was dead was one thing, but to hear her voice sounding through
the house. The exact same voice, yet belonging to another woman.  ... He was
glad one of his hands was at the doorframe, steadying him.

"Yes," Dawn replied, "It's for you. It's Angel."

She had said it before either Tara or Angel had been able to stop her. The
vampire heard something like a muffled cry, then legs appeared on top of the
stairs, and only seconds later Angel could see her face. The exact same face.
The face he remembered. The voice he hear in his dreams.

"Dawn, this really isn't funny."

Exactly the same.

Yet completely different.

His hold on the doorframe tightened, his knuckles went white.

And then she saw him. She stopped in mid-step, her eyes widening in shock.
The next moment her whole body went slack and she fell down the stairs.

 Part 4

She woke slowly, her head heavy, darkness surrounding her. She heard voices,
hushed, concerned, far away. She didn't recognize them, whispers were
always hard to identify.

She moaned slightly and the whispers stopped. Her head hurt like hell, and
she could feel bruises on her shoulder and over her ribs. What the hell had
happened? The vampires hadn't been that bad. She'd killed them quickly,
mechanically. Spike had been there, too. They had ...

"Buffy?"

That voice! Oh God, she was going insane. It couldn't be. She hadn't heard
the voice for an eternity. Not in real life, that is. It was following her
into her dreams. Into her nightmares.

Angel's voice.

But Angel was dead. Had died a long time ago. Right in front of her he'd
crumpled to ashes.

Keeping her eyes tightly shut, she tried to move, but a sharp pain in her
shoulder had her moan again.

"Try not to move. You dislocated your shoulder when you fell. We set it
while you were unconscious, but it's still going to hurt."

His voice again.

Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. She was losing it now. She knew he was dead. Yes,
he'd come back once. But that was different. He hadn't really died then.
Not like vampires usually died anyway.

"Buffy?"

Dawn. The little sister who wasn't real, but who felt real nevertheless.
She sounded concerned, frightened.

"I'm okay," she groaned, tried to lift her other hand.

Dislocated her shoulder? What the hell ... And suddenly it was all coming
back to her. Someone at the door. Her sister yelling it was Angel. Coming
down the stairs. Seeing Angel.

Angel!

"Angel?"

Her eyes flew open.

And there he was. Exactly the way she remembered him. His eyes dark, brown,
and soft, watching her with concern.

Oh God.

She stared at him in shock, not able understand, afraid to believe.

She squeezed her eyes shut. Opened them again. "A-angel?"

"Buffy."

It was his face. His eyes. His voice. But it wasn't possible. How was it
possible?

Her head snapped around finding Tara, Dawn, and Willow, all looking at her.

"Yes, it's Angel," the blond witch confirmed.

Her eyes flying back to the vampire, she stared at him. "How?," she
breathed.

"It's Sunnydale," he replied, smiled in an attempt to make it easier for
her. The expression in her eyes almost broke his heart. She wasn't his
Buffy, his head told him, but his heart was saying something completely
different. She looked exactly the same, her hair blond and glorious, her
eyes hazel the way he remembered them, slightly dazed, slightly confused.

She even felt to him the way she always had. The familiar flutter was in
his gut, the tingling running up and down his spine.

"Angel."

She said his name again. To assure herself it was true.

"Oh God, Angel." Her face crumpled, a sob rose in her throat, broke out,
the first tears fell. She tried to stop it, pressing a hand over her
trembling lips, but it was in vain. "Angel."

She needed to touch him. Feel him.

And was afraid to do it at the same time.

What if all this was just some weird dream? What if he would dissolve
right before her eyes? The way he always did in her dreams. She wouldn't
be able to stand it. Not again.

He saw her hesitate and understanding, he slowly reached out, one of his
cool hands cupping her cheek, his thumb wiping the tears from her face,
caressing her skin. "Buffy," he whispered, locking eyes with her.

She never heard the muffled cry coming from her lips. But the next instant
her arms were around his neck, and she felt his coming around her as well.
Sobs rose, wracking her body. "A-angel," she whispered brokenly.

"Shhh," she heard him say. "Shhh. It's okay. I'm here, Buffy. I'm here."

"I s-saw you die," she moaned, "I saw you die."

"I know," he replied. "I know. But I'm here. Shhh. I'm here now."

Forgetting the people around them, not caring for their curious glances,
they simply held each other. And for that short moment it was enough.

*

She smiled hesitantly when she returned to her bedroom, wiping her face,
she'd washed. "Good." There was relief in her voice. "You're still here."

He wanted to smile back, but knowing what he had to tell her, what she had
to know, he couldn't. "Feeling any better?"

"Yeah," she smiled again, tentatively approaching the bed he was sitting on.
She'd cried in his arms for over half an hour, all but ignoring her friends.
When he'd tried to loosen his embrace, she'd clung to him. In the end he'd
just carried her upstairs, held her until she'd quieted down. "I still have
a hard time believing it is true."

There were deep circles underneath her eyes now that her face was bare of
makeup. But what hurt even more were the shadows in them. They'd been tired
and full of pain at her mother's funeral, but not like this ... never like
this.

Never ... hopeless.

He cursed inwardly. It had happened again. He had never seen this Buffy at
her mother's funeral. He didn't know anything about her, he reminded himself
firmly. But God, he had a hard time keeping them both apart. After being
with her almost an hour he had noticed all the little things he was used to.
The way she bit her lower lip, the way she used to run a hand through her
hair. It was short now, but that didn't matter.

There was even the same little mole at the back of her neck ...

Bringing his thoughts to a screeching halt, he took a deep breath, "Buffy,
we ... need to talk."

Her smile was nervous, "Yes ... uh ... I suppose we do." Her hand combing
back her hair, she bit her lower lip, "I mean I saw you die. A-and now
you're back. Just," she gestured at him, "like always. God, I wish Giles
was here. He'd tell us what's going on."

She stopped, suddenly horrified. Reached out she put a hand on his arm,
"Not that ... I'm not glad that you're back. Because I am ...," she smiled
tremulously, "I really am."

He looked at her for a moment, not quite sure what to say, how to approach
the matter. "Buffy ... I ... never died."

Her eyes went huge, disbelieving, then she shook her head, "No. I saw you
die." Instantly her eyes filled again, "I saw you die right in front of me.
Don't tell me you didn't. Because I saw you," she insisted, taking a breath
that was more of a sob. She sat down on the bed beside him. "After that
everything went down."

He made the fault to look into her eyes again. And this time his heart
shattered. There is was again. This utter, and complete hopelessness.

He could only guess what she'd gone through the last years, but it was
enough. Enough to tear him up inside, to make his heart bleed, make his
soul scream. But what hurt even more was that he could see the tiny, little
flicker of hope in them, ever since she'd laid eyes on him, and the
knowledge that he would destroy it - again.

Angel had to get away and he stood swiftly, turning his back to her,
staring at the wall, trying to blank his mind of emotions, failing
miserably. He couldn't remember ever having felt like this before. But it
didn't happen every day that you were forced to deliver a blow like this.
Coming to her he had brought hope, only to take it away again.

"Angel?"

The way she said his name, hesitantly, like a question, tore him apart. He
wanted to smash his fist right through the wall, hoping the physical pain
might kill the emotional one.

Closing his eyes, he tried to summon all his strength, then forced himself
to turn and look at her. "Buffy ...I ...," he had to swallow hard, "The
truth is ... we never met each other before."

"What?" She stared at him in bewilderment. Then - almost instantly - it
changed into concern, "Of course we met each other. What are you talking
about? Did anything happen to you? Don't you remember?"

"No," he shook his head, his hands clenching into fists. "Buffy ...," he
forced his fingers to uncurl, ran his hands through his hair, then over his
face. "You met ... Angel. That's true. But ... not ... me."

"Not ... you?" She tilted her head, confusion evident in her eyes.

"The Angel you know," he replied, "He ... died." Then taking another deep
breath, he added, "In your dimension."

"In my ...," her voice trailed off, confusion slowly giving way to
understanding, finally to sadness. He saw her swallow, saw her fighting
tears, then swiftly, she stood, turned her back on him, her face directed
at the window. "Are you ... telling me that ... I don't belong here?"

"I ...," he didn't know what to say. Didn't belong here? Yes, it was true,
she didn't belong her, in the strictest sense. She didn't belong into this
dimension, but could it be truly wrong when it felt so right to be close
to her, when she felt exactly the same?

God, why on earth was he doing this all the time? Mixing the two of them
up all the time? This Buffy wasn't his Buffy. His Buffy was dead. Lying six
feet under. And what kind of delusional idiot was he anyway. "His" Buffy?
What a joke. She hadn't been his for a long time. Until some hours ago he'd
done his best to pretend she didn't even exist.

"How can you know?", her voice cut into his thoughts.

"Tara ...," he cleared his throat, his voice almost failing him. "She ...
found out while you were talking to her." And after a heartbeat he added,
"You mentioned ... uh ... I was dead."

"Oh." Her voice was very small, like that of a little girl. He could hear
fear, confusion, and again it sounded hopeless. It trembled when she asked,
"And why didn't she tell me?"

"I don't know," he said honestly, "I suppose she didn't feel entitled to.
You two ... you were never close. At least not in this dimension."

"Neither in mine," she replied, visibly trying to collect herself. He saw
her taking deep breaths, saw her spine stiffen. Finally she turned, her
cheeks wet, her eyes hollow, she had plastered a smile on her face that
would haunt him for eternity. "So you survived in this world, huh? And what
about Buffy?," her voice faltered, "I ... m-mean this Buffy."

Again he saw her fighting tears. He wanted to reach out and take her in his
arms, tell her everything was going to be alright, but knew it would be the
worst lie. How could anything be alright when they both were standing there,
their hearts ripped out, their hopes destroyed.

"She died," he said quietly. "Some months ago she ... jumped into a portal."
He saw her eyes widen. "Did you jump, too?"

If possible her eyes became even more hollow. They seemed to stare into
space, lost in a memory. "Yes," she wrapped her arms around herself. "I
jumped. I thought I died. It seemed alright. After I jumped everything was
fine. But then I woke up here. I thought it was home. I never noticed a
difference. Everything here is the same. Even the memories I share with
my ... her friends."

His gaze flickered to her neck, and the missing scar there. "So everything
happened the way it happened here?"

She shrugged, "I guess. Of course you died. I m-mean ... he ...," she
swallowed, "We ... uh ... didn't exactly talk a lot the last weeks. But
Willow looks the way she looked ... well the other Willow ... God." Again
she turned away, her arms trembling around her body. She seemed to think
about something "I thought my life couldn't get worse," she said after a
moment. Her laugh was harsh, raw, "I was wrong. It sucks beyond belief."

He waited a moment after that, then said gently, quietly, "I know about ...
Spike."

"Oh." Again that hopeless little word. "Well," she shrugged, "What can I
say. Girl gotta have fun."

He never knew it was possible to die in pieces, but that moment he felt
himself die a little bit. For her. For the pain that radiated from her,
for the despair that seemed to fill the air around her. It was so sharp,
so deep, he couldn't stand it anymore. Ignoring the warning bells in his
head, he went to her, slowly, gently put his hands on her shoulders.
"Don't," his voice was barely a whisper, but so harsh, so agonized, he
almost didn't recognize it.

He felt her stiffen. "No." She tried to shrug him off, tried to move away,
but he tightened his hands.

"Buffy, don't," he said again.

She drew a ragged breath, "Please." Her voice was only a whisper now.
"I can't."

"Let me help you," he pleaded.

"Help me?," she whirled around, stepped away from him, anger hiding the
pain in her eyes for a moment. "We don't even know each other. You said it
yourself. How do you think you can help me? I don't belong here." Her voice
was shrill in the end, her whole body trembling.

"I don't think so," he said quietly, and knew the same moment it was true.
She might be from another dimension, but to him she was utterly familiar.

"But I know so," she argued, "You died. I mean, he ... Angel died. He died,"
she cried, stifling a sob. "He died."

"I know," he whispered, tentatively walking towards her. "I know," he
repeated, "Buffy died, too. I thought I'd die with her."

"S-so d-did I, I th-thought I'd d-die with him." she sobbed.

"But I'm still here. And so are you. Maybe ...," he took a deep breath,
tried not to think about the consequences of his next words, but seeing
her like this, there was only one thing he could say, "... maybe we can
heal together. Help each other."

There was doubt in her eyes, and fear, "Y-you think?"

"We could try," he told her, reaching out with his hand. "Don't you want to
try?"

"I ... I'm scared," she whispered, her voice trembling. "Angel, I'm so
scared."

"I know," he laughed slightly, "So am I. I'm scared like hell," he said
honestly. "But I also know that we cannot just give up. You once said that
to me ... I mean ... she," he shook his head. "Anyways. She ... you ...
said strong was fighting. That it hurt, but that we have to be strong."

"I know," she whispered, her eyes wide with wonder. "I told you ... him ...
this. On the hill. When you tried to kill yourself."

He smiled, "I remember. Seems a lot of things were the same in your
dimension."

"Angel."

"Let me help," he pleaded again, held out his other hand as well.

He saw her hesitate, saw her struggle. "This hurts. I'm not s-sure I c-can
stand it," she admitted brokenly.

"Yes, I understand," he said gently. "It hurts. I can feel it, too. But I
can help you. Will you let me? Will you ... trust me?"

"Trust you?" She said the two words as if they were an entirely foreign
concept to her.

But then, after a moment that seemed like an eternity to him, she stepped
into the circle of his arms and he closed them around her.

 Part 5

Buffy's eyes were puffy and red from crying, and her smile was hesitant
when she entered the living-room a little later. Her gaze was searching
those of her friends ... and she saw they'd been crying as well.

Crying because they'd lost someone they loved. Someone they thought
they'd gotten back, but hadn't.

They weren't really her friends, she realised. They'd been hers. The
other Buffy's. The one who had been allowed to die.

Xander was there, Angel noticed. And with him another young woman he
thought he'd seen before. That had to be Anya. The ex-demon. Xander's
fiancée.

"I told them," Tara said quietly. Then for Buffy's sake she clarified,
"About the o-other dimension-stuff."

"I can't believe it," Willow cried, wiping tears from her face. "I never
noticed a difference. We were talking and ... you are like her." It
wasn't meant to be, Buffy knew, but the last part sounded like an
accusation to her.

"I'm sorry," she said quietly, because she felt she had to.

"There's nothing to be sorry for." Angel's voice. Not her Angel. But for
now it didn't matter. He felt the same. Sounded like him. He even smelled
the way she remembered. And his hands were cool. Like Angel's. Like- She
inhaled sharply, abruptly and saw Angel looking at her quizzically.

Not ready to deal with the problem that was Spike now, she shrugged, then
tried a smile, was glad when it worked. "It's nothing." Then turning back
to her friends, she bit her lower lip. "Seems the spell to bring me back
didn't work the way it was supposed to."

"No, obviously it didn't," Willow agreed, quickly looking away.

"If you ask me," Anya piped up, her face the only one without streaks of
tears. But then, living for over 1100 years probably did that to you.
"I think you're doing a damn good job as the Slayer. You're just as good
as her." She smiled brightly, and Buffy managed to smile back. She knew
Anya meant well, that she was trying.

"It's even scarier than when the Buffybot was around," Xander said in a
lame attempt to joke. "I mean she looked like Buffy, but you are Buffy ...
in a strange kind of way."

"I can't believe she's really dead," Dawn sobbed, her head on Tara's
shoulder. "There's nobody left now. Mom's gone. Buffy. And Dad doesn't
give a damn what happens to me."

"That's not true. Dad loves you," Buffy said firmly, instantly realising
what she'd done. Effortlessly she'd slipped into the other Buffy's role and
with a pang she suddenly realised that the other Dawn - her Dawn - was
equally alone now.

But Dawn had noticed it, and didn't accept it. Buffy wasn't surprised, she
was her sister after all. "How can you know that?," she spat, anger rising,
"He isn't your dad. You're not Buffy." Then with a little frown, she
amended," Not my sister, anyway."

"No, I'm not," the blond said quietly. "I wish I was, but I'm not."

"How about if we all sit down," Angel proposed, lightly touching Buffy's arm.
"We could talk. I think there's a lot we have to talk about."

"Yes, you're right," Tara agreed. "I put Connor in Dawn's bedroom," she
added quietly. "He's fine."

The vampire gave her a grateful smile, glad he didn't need to think about
his son at the moment. Connor needed him, but for the moment Buffy needed
him more.

"Do you want something?," Willow stood, nodded towards the kitchen.
"Anybody?"

"I think tea would be a good idea," Angel said softly, sitting down beside
the Slayer. He couldn't have left her side. Ever since they'd left the
bedroom she held his hand firmly in hers.

"Okay," the redhead nodded, waited for a moment, then left the room. They
heard her moving around in the kitchen, heard noises, heard cups clattering,
louder than necessary. With an apologetic smile, Tara slipped from the room.

Then - without warning - Dawn blurted, "What's going to happen now? I mean
what's going to happen with me?" Her chin quivered when she said it, her
fingers clenched around the armpits of the chair she was sitting on, the
knuckles white.

"I ... uh ...," helplessly Buffy looked at Angel. How was she supposed to
answer such a question when she had lost control over her own life. When she
didn't even know who she was anymore. She'd been ripped out of her own
world, pulled into another. A world where another Buffy had left her
mark.

Could she live here? Looking like her? Obviously sharing her memories. Or
would every step, every gesture be measured? She glanced to her side, her
eyes falling on Angel, dressed all in black, so utterly familiar. It was
hard to believe he was a stranger, not the man she'd known and loved. Her
heart stuttered when he looked at her, her stomach did flip-flops, the same
way it always had.

Buffy had never felt more confused in her whole life.

She didn't know if she could do this. But how could she not? She couldn't
just go back to her dimension, could she? They thought she was dead, too.
Besides - her eyes flickered to Angel again - did she even want to leave?

*

"Hey."

Willow almost dropped the pot in her hand, the water spilling all over the
kitchen isle. She reached for a towel, her movements jerky.

"H-how are you?," Tara asked softly, not stepping closer, feeling the other
woman's pain as if it was her own.

"I'm fine." The redhead turned, a fake smile plastered on her face. "I'm
good. Why shouldn't I?"

"Willow, I-"

"No." Willow held up a hand. "Don't even try to say it's not my fault," she
said firmly, "because it is. It's my fault. Only mine." She threw the towel
away, the smile slipping from he face, "God, Tara," her lips trembled, "I
messed this up. God, I messed up. Giles was right. He said this was dark
magic, and that I didn't know what I was doing. He was right. I did this
to her ... to us."

"Oh, baby." The blond rushed forward, enveloping the other woman in a
loving embrace, stroking her back, "Shhhh."

The redhead accepted the embrace, letting the warmth surround her, "Oh
Tara," she wailed, "I f-feel s-so awful. I... I did this. How am I ...
ever going to make it right a-again?"

Tara pulled back, eyeing the other woman suspiciously, "You're not thinking
about using magic, are you?"

"No." Willow shook her head emphatically, "No. I've sworn off. I'm trying ...
I really am. What I did ... was wrong. I know that now," she looked at her
former lover, the woman she still loved more than anything, "But I ... have
to do something. I know I cannot make it right, but maybe ... I can ...
help. Do something. I know she isn't the Buffy we knew. But ... she looks
the same ... and ... and I was Buffy's best friend. Maybe I can ... be
friends with this Buffy as well?"

The smile came slowly, but Tara could feel it coming from deep inside,
where it had been so cold for weeks, where she'd felt so lonely. "I love
you, Willow," she said, kissing the other woman gently, softly. "And I
missed you."

Willow's eyes widened, and with a little cry she threw her hands around
Tara's neck. "I love you, too. And I missed you. I missed you so much. Oh,
Tara."

"We'll find a way to help her," the blond said, hardly able to believe
this was happening. "We will find a way."

"We will." Willow's words were muffled against her neck. "We have to."

*

Incredulously Buffy stared at the baby, "You have a son?." Her eyes were
seeking Angel's, finding them. There was love, for the little boy. For the
little miracle.

"Yes, I have," he confirmed, a smile playing around his lips.

The light in Dawn's room was dimmed, Connor sleeping peacefully between
pillows. There had been no reason to come here, but after a cup of tea and
some more talk, Angel had sensed that Buffy needed to get away from the
others. There were many things they had to talk about, but there was time
later. The emotions were still too raw, they all needed time to get used to
the situation.

"But ... how?" Embarrassed, she tried looked away, a flush creeping up her
neck. "I ... I mean, I ... know how," she said finally. "Just ... Angel ...
in my dimension, he said he couldn't have kids."

"That's what I thought. But obviously ...," he nodded at the sleeping baby,
shrugged, "I don't understand it. But I won't question it either. I'm too
happy he's here."

"Who?...," she trailed off, biting her lower lip.

"Darla. His mother is Darla."

"Oh?," puzzled eyes flickered to the baby, then back to him. Then she
nodded, "I see. In my dimension Angel staked her."

"I did, too," he replied, smiling slightly. "But she came back."

"Back?," she gulped. "She never came back in my world. Or at least I don't
think she did. I truly hope she didn't."

"I don't think so either," he said. "She was brought back by evil lawyers
for the sole purpose to make me lose my soul. As you can see, it didn't
work."

"Your soul?," she frowned for a moment, then looked at him in surprise,
"But ... but ... oh ... I see, your soul isn't safe here?"

His head snapped around, his eyes suddenly intense, "Was it safe there?"

"Uh-huh," she nodded. "We found a way to alter the curse. Willow ... the
other ... you know ... she found a way to glue the soul firmly in. It kinda
happened by accident, shortly after ... he tried to kill himself. Willow
more or less stumbled across it."

He had to swallow, tried to absorb the information. "I see." God, was that
his voice? "So ... uh ... your Angel could ..."

"Yeah." The first genuine smile came over her face. "It was wonderful. Then
I got infected by the demon and to keep me from going insane he took me
away. I couldn't hear his thoughts, you know. It was the most wonderful week
in my life."

He had to look away, turned his back to her, emotions flooding him, almost
choking him. This Angel ... the other Angel ... had had a week with her.
With his soul firmly in place. He would have given his life gladly for a
week with her. He had given it after just one day.

"And then he died. It was so ...," she had to blink back fresh tears.
She'd been good suppressing emotions for years. But seeing him, even if he
wasn't the one she'd known, made suppressing impossible. "We had all we
could wish for and then he died. I thought I'd die, right there with him.
But I didn't. And that was the worst. Realising I could at least exist
without him."

"I know," he choked, finding it difficult to speak.

Sensing his distress, Buffy tried to change the subject, "He ...," she
pointed at Connor, "he is human?"

"Yea ...," he had to clear his throat, "Yeah. Fully human. We don't know
why. But he is. The doctor said he was perfectly fine. There's no reason to
worry, aside from the fact that half the evil population on this planet
seems to be interested in him."

She looked at Connor, "Yeah. I'll bet. Poor baby."

"Fortunately he hasn't got the slightest idea." He chuckled, when the child
smacked his lips in his sleep, "There's something to be said about being
totally oblivious."

Buffy laughed, "Yeah. He looks so peaceful. So perfect."

"He does," Angel agreed, stroking the baby's tiny hand with one of his large
fingers. Reflexively Connor's fingers grabbed it and held it tight.

Angel turned his head, looked at Buffy smiling at his son, and felt himself
losing his heart all over again. He tried to stop, but like the first time,
it happened before he could do anything. It seemed that the dimension didn't
matter. This was Buffy, and that was all his heart needed to know.

"I'm so glad you are here," she said now, directing the smile at him. "I
wouldn't know how to … I mean … I …"

"I'm glad," he said gently. "I'm glad you trust me enough to let me help
you. I know there's a lot we have to talk about. And Spike…," his voice
trailed off.

"Yeah," she whispered, sitting down on the bed, entwining her hands in her
lap, her knuckles white.

He put his free hand on her shoulder and when she looked up, he smiled,
"We've got time. We all lose our way now and then." He thought about Darla,
about a time when he had lost his way. "It'll be alright," he promised,
hoping it wasn't a lie.

She swallowed hard, then nodded. She slowly reached out, stroked Connor's
other hand. As he had done it with Angel, his fingers came around one of
hers, holding it.  She smiled, and Angel felt his insides knot.

Taking a deep breath, he turned back to his son. They would all need a lot
of strength to find their way out of this. He could only hope he would be
able to handle it, without breaking in the end..

*

The vampire called Spike, former known as William the Bloody, didn't have
a good night. If he was completely honest with himself, and sometimes,
even that happened, his night was far from good. In fact it was quite the
opposite.

It had started promising. With a good fight and good fuck. But from there
everything had gone down. He'd lost a poker game to a demon who could cheat
even better than he. Later the demon's buddy had beaten him up. Okay, so
that wasn't really bad. At least for a vampire. Afterwards he'd almost felt
alive.

Almost.

What really sucked was the Slayer's attitude. He'd felt it before, but it
became more apparent with each day, and tonight he'd had to be blind not to
feel that she hadn't really participated in their private tango. She'd been
there, yeah, he'd felt it intimately. But at the same time she'd been far
away. He had seen her shutting her eyes, had shouted at her, but she'd
refused to open them again.

If he was a lesser vampire he would have thought she might pretend he was
someone else. Someone who had equally cold body parts, who didn't need to
breathe. Someone who was just a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger,
and had a darker complexion. If he was a lesser vampire, which of course, he
wasn't.

Not at all.

Nuh-uh.

Damn.

He threw his cigarette to the ground, then stomped on in with more force
than necessary. The bitch was using him. And he, like the love-sick fool he
was, craved the bits and pieces she was throwing at him.

Hell, if he wasn't the most pathetic vampire around. What on earth was the
matter with him? What was wrong with him that the women he loved were
treating him like trash? First Drusilla and now Buffy. And why did he let
them?

But no more. It would stop tonight. From this point on he would show her.
She would learn that he wasn't just some toy she could use as soon as she
had an itch. She would see.

He would show her tonight.

Right now.

His steps widened with determination while he reached for a new cigarette,
lit it and inhaled the smoke, feeling eight feet tall all of a sudden.

He would show her. And afterwards he'd forgive her.

Maybe.

If she'd grovel.

For hours.

Yes.

Triumphantly he inhaled again. Was he good or what? Tonight things would
change. He would take care of it.

Part 6

The tap on the door was almost inaudible but Buffy's supernatural Slayer senses
picked it up nevertheless. "Come in," she invited, not bothering to look who was
actually standing there. She'd left Angel with Connor in Dawn's bedroom, needing
to be on her own for a while after what she'd learnt the last two hours. If she
would ever be able to understand it … now  that was an entirely different story.

At least she could understand now why everything seemed so weird around her, why
she'd felt so out of place. This wasn't her home, not her world, not really her
friends, even though they sounded, acted, and felt the same.

But they weren't.

And Angel wasn't her Angel.

Although being near him sent the same shivers down her spine, made her head spin,
her heart skip a beat, and her stomach flutter. Feelings suppressed for so long,
began to spring to live inside of her, and as a result she felt more confused
than ever. Her brain was so muddled right now, she had no idea if she'd ever be
able to think straight again.

"Buffy?"

She straightened on the bed hearing Willow's hesitant voice coming from the
doorway. The Slayer didn't need to look at her to know how bad the witch felt
right now. But somehow she couldn't muster pity with her, feeling too raw,
hurting too much inside to even care. Claiming friendship, Willow had ripped her
not only from where she'd felt safe and something at least remotely resembling
happiness for the first time in years, but also into a different world, a world
that only felt hostile and cold to her.

"Hi, Will," the Slayer replied wearily, running a hand through her hair. Buffy
had a pinpoint spot of pain directly over her left eyebrow that was
threatening to explode into one of the biggest headaches she'd ever had in her
life. Rubbing the spot she stifled a wince.

"Can … can I … uh … come in?"

Buffy felt Willow hesitating in the doorway, and finally turned around. The
witch's cheeks were wet, undoubtedly from crying, her eyes red-rimmed, the
knuckles of her entwined fingers white.

"Sure. What gives?" She didn't want to talk to Willow, but somehow felt she
couldn't admit it openly. This wasn't really her home after all.

"Buffy … I," the redhead closed the door behind her, but didn't come closer. "I
want … you … I'm sorry. So sorry," she finally blurted out. "Giles was right, I
shouldn't have interfered with nature, and used that kind of magick, but … we … I
thought you were in hell, a-and … you know, like Angel, and … I …," her voice
faltered and she bit her lower lip.

What did she want her to say, Buffy wondered. 'It's alright. You made a fault,
but at least you are sorry now. So, no harm done?' What she  wanted to do was get
up and slap her. Hard. Then slap her again. Harder this time. But something
inside of her was too numb to really care. "So you came to kiss me and make it
better?," she said, not bothering that the hurt she felt was audible in her
voice.

Clearly surprised, Willow reeled back as if she'd been slapped. Obviously she
hadn't expected Buffy to react that way. But then she wasn't the Buffy the
redhead knew. There was no reason she should react like the other might have.
After Angel died, and after Buffy had realised how little her friends were
affected by it, how they expected her to move on as if he'd never existed,
something had died inside of her. Something she hadn't been able to revive. Sure,
they'd been compassionate. Willow held her, Giles found the right words, but life
went on, and she was expected to do the same. None of them had been the least
interested that she couldn't. That she was slowly dying inside and that jumping
into Glory's portal was only making it official.

"No," Willow protested after recovering from the words. "I mean … yes, that is, I
know I can't make it better. Or change it, for that matter, but … maybe I could
be … your friend? I mean, I don't exactly know you, but I was the other Buffy's
friend. Her best friend. And maybe … I don't expect to be your best friend, but
maybe a friend?"

"A friend," the Slayer echoed incredulously, looking at her lap. She wanted to be
her friend? The girl who was responsible for the whole mess wanted to be her
friend?

"Yes. If you want." Cautiously the redhead stepped closer, stopping at the end of
the bed. "You know, someone you can talk to." When Buffy still didn't react, she
added, "Tara said it wasn't a good idea to talk to you so soon. That you'd need
more time. But I thought-"

"Maybe you should've listened to her," Buffy interrupted her, looking up, right
in time to see Willow retreat again, struggling not to cry. It was clear that she
hadn't expected this.

"Oh. Well … I … I see. Maybe I should just … leave? Some other time?" When Buffy
didn't react, the redhead opened the door. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

Later Buffy didn't know why she did it, but before the witch could close the
door, she stopped her. "Will?"

"Yeah?"

"I … I … I don't know what to say, but … I can't. At the moment … I just can't."

There was a moment of silence, before the redhead answered, her voice slightly
stronger, "That's okay. Just take your time. I'll be there if you need me." Not
waiting for an answer she left the room.

Buffy still stared at the fingers in her lap, entwined so tightly, it was a
miracle they didn't break. She'd promised Angel to let him help her. But right
now, she felt so lost, she wasn't sure it was possible. Her eyes dry, she let her
head sink on one pillow, hugging the other to her chest, and stared at the
ceiling. For a moment her thoughts drifted to Spike, and she wished he was here,
taking the pain away, even if only for a short time. As repulsed as she was by
the things they did together, at least he could make her feel, although she
wasn't sure what.  And as she wasn't even from this dimension, maybe she was just
dreaming, maybe nothing that happened was real.

And maybe, she thought closing her eyes, drifting off to sleep, she wasn't real
either.

*****

Angel ran a hand through his hair while he descended the stairs of the Summers
house, and he almost turned around when he stepped into the living-room, and saw
Xander sitting on the sofa, a bag of potato chips in his lap, his feet propped on
the table before him. After all that had happened tonight, the last thing Angel
wanted was a confrontation with someone who'd never made a secret of how much he
despised the vampire.

But surprisingly, Xander waved him in when he saw Angel standing in the doorway,
 "Come in, come in," he invited, "Don't be shy."

Angel chuckled wryly, eyeing the bag with disgust, "You actually eat this
stuff?," he asked, sitting down as well. "It smells awful."

Something that almost resembled a grin, appeared on the young man's features,
"It's the garlic in the mixture," he said, "Vampire repellent and tasty, the
combination for the Hellmouth."

"Figures," the vampire muttered under his breath, not really up to any
conversation. All he wanted was to sit somewhere dark, and brood. He wanted to
lick his wounds, until he came to grips with his feelings. But underneath the
attempt to grin, he saw grief and pain in Xander's eyes, saw the lines of strain
on his face. There was nothing left of the teenager he remembered,  and maybe
that caused Angel to stay. "Where are the others?", he asked, leaning back in the
chair.

"Upstairs I guess." Xander frowned slightly, "Well, Tara is upstairs, and Willow.
Anya went home. Dawn is at the back porch. She … needed a little time, I guess. I
offered to listen, but she," he shrugged, "Anyways. Buffy?"

"Asleep," Angel told him. He'd just checked her room and, to his surprise, had
found her sleeping peacefully.

"That's good. I suppose it hit her pretty hard, huh?" Xander's voice sounded
carefully controlled, but being a vampire, or maybe just because he'd been around
for so long, which was, if he thought about it, the same, Angel had no problems
hearing the hollowness beneath.

"Yeah." The vampire sighed and rubbed the back of his neck, "It's a lot to deal
with. I cannot even imagine what she's going through right now." Not really eager
to discuss Buffy's problems tonight, not when he hadn't found a way to deal with
them himself, Angel changed the subject, "I heard you're getting married."

Xander blanched visibly at the comment, almost choked on a chip, "Yeah," he
managed finally.

"I also heard that Anya was a vengeance demon once."

"Uh-huh. She was called Anyanka."

"Did I see her before?," Angel wanted to know, "She looks familiar, somehow."

"Yeah," Xander nodded. "When you came to Sunnydale, you know because of the
Indians, and … yeah, she was there before Buffy blew up the highschool."

Angel remembered having seen Anyanka under completely different circumstances. A
sheep was involved, an unfaithful husband and some serious torture, but the
vampire was sure Xander wouldn't be all too happy to hear those stories about his
bride-to-be. So he said nothing.

Silence settled over the room for a moment, before Xander spoke again. "So you've
got yourself a son?"

A smile crept up Angel's tired features, and pride settled in his dark eyes.
"Yeah. Connor. He's great." For a moment Buffy and all the problems connected to
her were forgotten.

"I heard Darla was his mother. And that she was brought back from the dead,"
Xander chuckled slightly. "Isn't the world a crazy place. You've got a child by
your resurrected sire, and I'm together with a girl who was around when Columbus
discovered this continent. That's the Hellmouth for you."

The vampire chuckled, too, surprised by the young man's unexpected sense of
humor. Or was it maybe sarcasm? Xander had changed a lot it seemed, not just
physically.

Suddenly frowning again, Xander cleared his throat, "Cordy told us you were in
another dimension."

Angel's head came up, his eyes wary, "Yeah. In Pylea. It's a strange place."

"Was it … different?"

"Different from our dimension you mean? It was. Very." The vampire tilted his
head, studying the other man's face. "Is there a reason why you're asking me that
or is it just an attempt to make small talk?"

"You do small talk?" Xander tried another grin, and for a moment Angel was
reminded the old Xander, the sometimes silly teenager, but then the young man
became serious again. "No, there is a reason."

"Buffy," Angel said simply, trying not to think about Buffy dead and gone. He
didn't want to let himself being consummated by anguish. Not now, and certainly
not in front of Xander of all people. The boy might have changed, but Angel
doubted he'd ever be one of his favourite people. Xander's dislike of vampires
was too profound, and somehow Angel couldn't blame him. He wasn't too fond of
them himself.

"Yeah," Xander admitted, and let out a pent up breath. "What's going to happen to
her? I mean … she's here now, right. And she's Buffy, although she's not … and
this is …," he rubbed the back of his neck, shook his head, "pretty confusing.
I'm really glad she's here, don't understand me wrong, but I feel guilty, too,
because she isn't Buffy and again she is." He gave Angel a wary lock, "And I
can't believe I'm discussing this with you."

The vampire's mouth twitched at that, he couldn't help it. "Well, stranger things
have happened."

"They have?," Xander looked at him doubtfully, then sighed. "Maybe."

"I know you feel guilty, Xander. So do I. I was glad when I saw her. Because she
is Buffy. Even though …, "Angel had to close his eyes for a moment. "But maybe
…," he paused, carefully considering his next words, "Maybe we should be glad,"
he said slowly, the pain almost closing up his throat. He didn't want to think
about Buffy. He didn't want to think she was dead. Because somehow she wasn't.
She was upstairs lying in her bed, sleeping. Suddenly feeling edgy, the vampire
got up, walked to a small table, showing a display of photos. Joyce, Buffy, Dawn.
Not able to look at it, he turned away, stared out of the window.

"Glad?" Xander's voice was incredulous, even a bit angry. Then he suddenly
laughed harshly. "Well, maybe for a vampire is death more attractive than life.
But believe me, for Buffy it wasn't."

The pain was sharp, deep, like a slicing sword. Angel whirled around, his eyes
blazing with anger. "Xander, I would give my life if I could have prevented her
death. And especially being what I am, I can assure you eternal life is highly
overrated. I'd skip place with you in an instant. But don't you think that Buffy
might be happy, wherever she is? I believe with all my heart, that her soul went
to heaven. Let's call it that way in lack of a better term. But I'm sure she is
happy, safe. Don't you want that for her?" He suddenly saw Buffy, sitting at a
table with Doyle, drinking whiskey, laughing like crazy with him, and a smile
crept over his features.

Xander narrowed his eyes, "It must be comforting for you being able to think that
way," he said, "But I for one can't. I knew Buffy. Buffy wanted to live. And now
… I'm so angry. And think about Dawn," he gestured in the general direction of
the back porch. "What's going to happen to her? She's got nobody now. Sure, her
father's there, but for all I know he doesn't give a damn shit what's going to
happen with his kids. Well, no surprise there, but Buffy is dead." Angel saw him
stifle a sob, then collect himself, "She," he pointed upstairs, "might be Buffy,
but she isn't the one we know. Is she going to stay? Take the other Buffy's
place? Or will she maybe leave? Return to her own dimension?"

"I can't answer that," Angel replied honestly. "I don't even know if Buffy could
answer it. When Willow pulled her into this world, Buffy didn't come with a map
attached, showing how to bring her back. Until yesterday everyone thought she was
at home. Now we know she isn't. I wish," he rubbed his forehead, "I suppose, we
have to wait and see." But inwardly he wanted to scream. The mere thought of
losing Buffy, even this Buffy, for a third time, was too much to bear.

 "Wait and see, huh?," Xander blinked, and Angel saw he was fighting tears.
"Well, that officially sucks big time."

The vampire looked at the human, who was trying hard not to bawl in front of him.
For once all he could do was agree.

It sucked. Big time.

*****

Cordelia stifled a yawn while she tried to concentrate on the new customer who
was sitting in Wesley's office, shaking like a leaf all over, trying to control
his stammering as he tried to reveal the reason he'd come in the first place. Not
that his story wasn't interesting, because it was. In a really boring sort of
way. At least, as the man had come to them for help, she could entertain the hope
he might be a paying customer for a change.

The brunette crossed her legs, cursing inwardly when the note pad slipped from
her hands and down to floor in the process. Four pairs of eyes turned towards
her, and she gave them a brilliant smile, bent down to pick up the paper, but
Gunn beat her to it and handed it to her with a smile of his own.

"Thanks," she said, not making eye-contact with him, then turned to the customer.
"I'm sorry." She heard Gunn chuckle beside her, and frowned.

Wesley, who was sitting behind his desk, hands folded under his chin, much the
same way Angel usually did, gave her a sharp look, before he directed his gaze
back to Mr. Heller. "Now," his voice was all business, all watcher, and Cordelia
rolled her eyes when she saw Fred was hanging on every word. "You told us that
this," he looked at his own notepad, "green, alligator-like, creature turned up
in your cellar without warning last night. It said you had to move out of your
house before the end of next week and then vanished?"

Mr Heller, a wiry, little man with a balding head, and spectacles that were too
big for his face, nodded emphatically, "Y-yes. He said his name was Gator."

"Truly original," Cordelia muttered under her breath, and received another sharp
glance from Wesley.

"Gator. Hmmm," the former watcher's gaze turned thoughtful. He looked up, "Does
this ring a bell with anybody?"

"No," Fred replied quickly. "I'm sorry."

"Sorry, English, never met a talking reptile."

Wesley frowned for a moment, then taking a deep breath, he gazed at Mr. Heller,
"Well, that's not a problem. Coming to Angel Investigations was a very wise
decision. I'm sure with our resources we'll find this Gator in no time. And I'm
equally sure we can convince him to leave you alone in the future."

Mr Heller fidgeted with his tie, before he looked up, and directly at the former
watcher, "You are not … going to kill him?"

"Kill him?," Wesley smiled, "Why do you want to know."

"Well, I …," the wiry man corrected his tiepin, before he said, "It's the first
time I ever … saw something like that before …," his voice wavered dangerously
for a moment, but then he managed to get it back under control. Clearing his
throat, he stroked over his remaining hair, "Well, I suppose you are more
experienced. Me, I … usually deal with accounts and numbers. This is … very
disturbing for me."

"Yes, I can understand that." Wesley stood and reached out his hand to Mr.
Heller, who took it instantly. "Don't worry, we'll deal with the problem. We will
have to inspect your cellar of course."

"Of course. When can I expect you?"

"How about tomorrow morning?," the former watcher proposed.

"Excellent." Mr Heller seemed relieved at the prospect, and Cordelia was about to
comment that she didn't care about spending her days in cellars, when a vision
hit her like lightning. The notepad and pen fell to the ground and she reached
wildly not to join them. Between blood, pain, and screams in her head she
remembered that Angel wasn't around to catch her this time.

But like a miracle she was caught in two strong arms, and she found herself
leaning into a broad chest. "Easy, honey, easy," a soothing voice drifted to her
ear, and with irritation she realised it belonged to Gunn. Honey? If her head
wasn't hurting like hell this very moment, she'd give him honey. What the hell
did he think he was doing? "Oh God," she moaned when another wave of pain hit
her.

"Come on, Cordy," Gunn said softly, slinging an arm around her waist, pulling her
towards the lobby. "Vision?," he asked leading her to the sofa, gently helping
her to sit.

She slapped his arm away in an impatient gesture and glared at him, almost
feeling as if her head was split in half. "No. I was just trying to get your
attention. Of course it was a vision. And of course Angel is gone to save his
precious Buffy, leaving us to deal with this alone."

"Tell me," Gunn put a hand on her thigh, didn't care when her glare intensified.
"What did you see?"

She took several deep breath, and smiled gratefully at Fred who had rushed after
them, carrying a glass of water and some pills. Gulping them down, Cordy put a
hand on her forehead, trying to remember. "A … house. … No! It was more like … an
old warehouse. But …," she broke off, stared at Gunn, her eyes incredulous, "And
I've been there before. It's … in Sunnydale."

 Part 7

Spike flipped the cigarette butt into a corner of his crypt, swearing loudly, frustration rising high. Nothing was going the way he’d wanted it to. His plan had been foolproof, or so he’d thought, last night. He’d find Buffy, make it perfectly clear to her he wouldn’t play her sex-toy any longer, and maybe, after she’d beg him, he’d kiss her gently and she’d realise how lucky she was to have him. The plan had been excellent, the stroke of a genius even.

But of course, this town being Sunnydale, nothing worked the way he wanted. First he’d been delayed by two vampires with a death wish, taunting him because of his chip. Well, their dusty remains were now floating in the air. When he’d finally arrived at Summers’ house the ex-demon’s loser of a fiancée had told him the Slayer was asleep, not to be disturbed, and that he should get lost. Then he’d slammed the door in Spike’s face.

The vampire had been tempted to rip the idiot apart, but because of his chip and because it wouldn’t bring him any points with the Slayer, he’d suppressed the urge. So, giving up the idea of dismembering Xander Harris, Spike had turned away from the house only to see a familiar car standing in the driveway. He’d missed it before, too occupied with images of the Slayer begging on her knees for a second chance, and maybe doing other, more wicked things. But seeing it then made his blood run cold.

He had seen the damned thing before, on one of his less successful trips out of town, he didn’t really care to remember.

It was, undoubtedly, the Angelmobile. Which meant Angel was in Sunnydale, and if the fact that the car was standing right in front of Buffy’s house was any indication, it meant that his bloody grand-sire was in the house. With her. Maybe even in her bedroom.

Blind rage rising inside of Spike, a haze of red mist swimming in front of his eyes, he clenched his fists, even now, hours after he’d found the evidence of Angel’s presence in front of her house. Spike swore again, pacing his crypt like a caged animal, which given the fact that it was bright sunlight outside, was exactly what he was.

Angel was in Sunnydale.

It was like being punched in the gut, then dismembered and quartered.

Angel.

Spike kicked the wall with a vicious curse on his lips, howling when he heard the bones of his toes crack at the impact, his rage almost reaching the boiling point.

It was Angel’s fault. All Angel’s fault.

Dru.

Buffy.

Angelus.

Limping to his chair, Spike plopped down, combing his hands through his hair, feeling the desperate urge to rip someone’s throat out, sink his fangs into it, and not let go until the bugger was dry.

Damn the chip. Damn it all to hell.

He had to think. There had to be a reason for the Poof’s presence. Maybe someone had called him. But why? And who? Had they found out about he and Buffy? No. He quickly dismissed the thought. Knowing Angelus, the bugger would be here already, ripping him to pieces. His grand-sire was more than just slightly territorial and he wouldn’t take it too kindly to hear about Buffy’s latest sex-toy. But there had to be a reason.

Angel had kept his distance for years now. Spike knew he’d been here after Joyce’s funeral, had smelled him all over the Slayer. But he’d left again and the scent on Buffy was only minor, no sexuality involved. Besides, it had been different then. She hadn’t been Spike’s woman then. Now she was.

Buffy was his. She belonged to him. To Spike. He was fucking her, loving her, and although he knew she didn’t feel the same, it didn’t matter. She’d be his in the end. She was weakening already, and he knew exactly how to use it to his advantage. He didn’t want anybody to interfere.

Spike got up from his chair, started pacing again, tried to ignore the pain from his toes shooting up his leg with each step. He felt too restless to sit, wanted to go out and hunt, but could do neither at the moment. He would go out tonight, but he couldn’t hunt anymore, thanks to Captain Cardboard and his friends.

 Damn. Damn. Damn.

The blond vampire turned, stopped, for a moment confused by the ragged breathing sounding through his crypt. He needed a moment to realise it was his own.

Damn.

Spike closed his eyes, took several deep, unnecessary breaths, trying to calm down. He was getting too worked up, when he needed to be calm and in control. Angry people and vampires made faults. And he mustn’t make any, not with Angel close by, ready to strike the moment he messed up.

Bloody hell.

He didn’t want to think about this, didn’t want to think about the bloody chip, or feeling like a puppet on a string every time Summers was near, and first and foremost he didn’t want to think about his bloody Poof of a grand-sire.

Why, oh why did he have to fall in love with Buffy Summers? A Slayer of all people?

What the hell was the matter with him? First he’d been totally hung up on Dru, letting her walk all over him, treat him like a bug, and now Buffy did  the same. No wonder Angelus had never respected him as an equal.

Angelus.

His name alone let bile rise in his throat, let him roar in rage. He grabbed the next best piece which happened to be an empty bottle and smashed it against the wall, watching in satisfaction when it burst into pieces, imagining it was Angel’s head and not just glass, evidence of him having gotten drunk, frustrated after another unsatisfying meeting with the Slayer. It was a good thing he couldn’t end up with a cirrhotic liver, because he’d consumed quite a lot of booze lately.

He turned away from the shattered glass, sighed, and was just considering if maybe the telly could be a good distraction, when he heard a noise outside his crypt, and a smile crept up his face.

She’d come to him after all. Who else would seek him out at this time, and he’d known she’d come, he told himself. She couldn’t stay away, was already too addicted to the pleasures he could give to her. He still remembered the last little moan when he’d entered her, the way her lids had closed, the breath had left her lungs when his cock had touched her womb. He was getting hard just thinking about it, and could hardly wait to bury himself inside of her again. But he’d be damned if he’d show her. No way he’d let her know he was pining away for her.

He took another deep breath, and he managed to keep his face carefully neutral, raising a brow when the door opened, ready to give her a cool greeting, determined to pretend it didn’t matter if she came or not, to show her he didn’t care at all.

To show he was the one in control.

*****

Angel stood at the stove when Willow stepped into the kitchen shortly after Xander had taken Dawn to school. Not that it was a surprise to find a vampire in the kitchen. With Spike sticking around all the time that actually happened quite open, but so far the blond had only taken blood from the fridge or sipped at some cocoa. Angel himself had spent time there this morning, cooking breakfast for all, but the image of the vampire cradling a child in his arms, while trying to test the temperature of the bottle, was certainly something new and Willow couldn’t help the awe she felt at the picture.

“Hi, Angel.”

His attention still on the bottle and the baby, Angel smiled, “Hi, Willow. Dawn on her way?”

“Yeah,” she nodded, not quite sure how to act around the vampire. She’d seen the disapproval in his eyes yesterday, and although she knew that Angel wasn’t basically a judgemental person, she would bet all her money, which, admittedly, wasn’t much, that he was already feeling pretty protective of Buffy. It didn’t really surprise her, Angel was the protective type after all, but it was certainly something she had to get  used to again.

Angel had left Buffy more than two years ago, and although she knew that not lack of love had caused the separation, they were living separate lives now, and at least in Buffy’s life other men had been important, Riley being her steady boyfriend for the better part of a year. Having gone through similar changes herself with Oz, Willow knew that distance could change feelings. Oz would always have a piece of her heart, she would always love him. But she was in love with Tara now, and that certainly had changed her perspective. Sure, Buffy had not been in love with Riley the way she was in love with Tara, but still. The commando had been a part of the Slayer’s life for a long time, which Angel hadn’t. Not forgetting the little part where Buffy wasn’t really Buffy.

Realising that she was staring at him, she cleared her throat, ”You … uh … thanks for feeding us all this morning.”

He shrugged, “I didn’t do anything special. In L.A. I’m cooking all the time. Glad you liked it.” He held the bottle to his cheek, and made cooing noises towards his son, who was starting to fuss. “Shhh … your baba will be ready in a moment. Shhh … don’t start to cry … please…”

Willow saw him rocking the baby slightly in his arm and offered, “Do you want me to take him?”

“No,” he shook his head. “We’re just fine. I’m used to do this on my own.” When the bottle had the temperature he wanted, he held it out for the baby and after a short hesitation the child took the nipple and started to suck. Turning around, Angel settled the boy comfortably in his arm, then looked at Willow. “So … did you want to talk to me? Or did you just happen to be in the kitchen by accident?”

There was no accusation in his voice, and the redhead relaxed visibly. “I .. yeah … I wanted to talk to you.”

His responding smile was gentle, yet his eyes were still serious, “You want to talk about Buffy.”

Not really surprised by his insight, he was over 240 years old after all, she smiled back. “Is she still in bed?”

Angel stifled a wince the last possible moment, “Last time I checked, she was still asleep, and I’m glad,” he told her, shifting the baby in his arms, adjusting the bottle so Connor had better access.

He’d only meant to see if she was alright, he assured himself surely, when he’d slipped into her room ten minutes ago to check on her. But instead he’d lost control and touched her in the way he’d been aching to for far too long. He’d pushed her blond strands from her face, tracing the delicate skin of her face. True, he’d managed to hold it to the merest brush of his fingers against her cheek, but only by sheer force of will and it had taken every bit of discipline he had, to remove his hand and to leave the room. 

As if he was nothing more like a good friend. As if he wasn’t hurting to touch her in much more intimate ways.

He straightened, looked at Willow who was watching him curiously, his mind backing off the dangerous thoughts. He hadn’t forgotten the literally hellish price he’d once paid for losing control, for letting himself being swept away by love. He never would risk that again. He simply couldn’t. Mustn’t.

For a moment he felt irrational jealousy thinking about the other Angel in the other dimension who’d been free to love Buffy all the way. But then Connor moved in his arms, and he thought about Buffy sleeping upstairs and the feeling slowly subsided.

He cleared his throat, hoping that nothing of all this was showing in his expression, “She had a pretty rough night.”

The smile slipped from Willow’s face. “I heard,” she admitted, walking over to the isle, then sitting down on one of the high-stools. “I heard you talking in the morning. Not the words, but I heard you murmuring…”

Yes, Angel thought, he and Buffy had been talking last night, but they had kept the conversation on safe ground, only talking about her experiences while she was gone, and her feelings now that she was back, in a strange world, with people who felt like friends, but were complete strangers to her. They’d both been feeling a bit awkward around each other, but for completely different reasons. While she found it difficult to talk to him, a man she knew, and didn’t, he’d mostly done the listening part last night, which had left too much time to look at her and let his thoughts drift to dangerous territory.

“ … I … tried to talk to her last night, but it didn’t go well.” Willow tried to smile, but failed. The way Buffy had made it clear she wasn’t about to forgive her any time soon hurt. Somehow it didn’t matter that this Buffy wasn’t the one she’d known for years. There were too much alike, and Willow kept mixing them up, and her feelings for them.

“What did she say?,” Angel wanted to know, firmly slamming the door shut on his forbidden Buffy-thoughts. And forbidden they were. For one, he, unlike the other Angel, still had a very shaky soul. But even if it weren’t the case, and even if Buffy would be the Buffy he’d known, it was more than ridiculous to think she’d actually fall into his arms the first possible moment. And he hadn’t even let himself think about the whole mess with Spike so far.

The witch shrugged, “At first she … I think she didn’t want to talk to me. Later … she said she couldn’t. And I understand,” she hurried to add, “I mean, I really do. I feel pretty bad about … messing up and all, but … all I want is for her to give me a chance to make it right. To … to help her to adjust.”

“I know,” the vampire shifted his son yet again. The baby had finished his bottle and Angel held him up now, over his shoulder, patting his back for a good burp. Willow couldn’t help but admire the way he handled the baby. It seemed so natural, so – right. She looked up when the vampire spoke again. “She is … confused. And scared. She’s afraid she might not be able to handle the situation. We’re all strangers for her, but at the same time we are familiar. Add the fact that I was dead in her universe,” he slightly shook the head, “It’s weird enough for me to imagine. For her,” he shook his head again, “She must be freaking out.”

“I guess.” The redhead bit her lower lip, then ran a hand through her hair, letting out a weary sigh. “It’s pretty freaky for us, too. To think there’s Buffy … and yet, she isn’t Buffy … and then, again, she is. It’s more than just confusing.” She paused for a moment, before she asked, “Do you … Do you think she’ll ever be able to adjust?”

He had not the slightest idea how to answer her question, and his face must have given away his thoughts, because Willow added, “I … I mean, do you think she would maybe start to actually like living here in this world? That she could? With us helping her, I mean. Buffy, our Buffy, liked to live here.”

Knowing all the things he did now, Angel wasn’t so sure of that anymore. He remembered Giles words, shortly after Buffy had died, how eagerly she’d taken Dawn’s place, and jumped into the portal. The teenager had described her gaze as far away, and the vampire couldn’t stop wondering if she’d maybe welcomed death as an escape route. He felt his gut tighten at the thought, felt guilt stabbing deep. He didn’t want to believe it but couldn’t shake off the feeling that maybe things would’ve been different had he stayed.

Connor’s burp dragged his mind back to reality, and Angel sighed wearily, knowing that Willow expected him to have answers she didn’t. He looked at the witch, who was nervously wiping her hands at her pants, “I hope so, Willow,” he said finally, looking at her seriously. “I truly hope so.”

*****

“Hi, Spike.”

His left eyelid flickered for a moment, the only indication that he felt as if being punched right in his gut, but for once all his years on this earth paid off and he managed to smile, hiding his trembling hands behind his back. “Nibblet. Isn’t this a time to be in school?”

Dawn shrugged, strolling into the crypt, her eyes sweeping around, taking in every detail, before she gave him a derisive snort. “I really don’t think anyone’s gonna even notice it.”

“Big sis will,” he replied, eyeing her curiously. Something wasn’t right, he could feel it, right to his already healing toes, and he didn’t like it at all. “She’s pretty tough on you these days.”

Dawn snorted again, her eyes again darting through the crypt, stopping at the shattered glass on the floor, then flying to his face, “What happened?”

It was his turn to shrug, “Got a little drunk last night.” No way he would ever tell Dawn what really had caused the mess on the floor.

“Oh.” She nodded, her hands fidgeting with the hem of her shirt, a frown appearing on her forehead.

Spike tilted his head, “What’s wrong?”

The frown deepened. “Anything interesting on the telly?”, she asked, and he realised she’d avoided answering his question.

“Don’t know.” After a moment of consideration he walked to her, and, putting a finger under her chin, he forced her to look at him. “What’s wrong?,” he repeated his question.

“Did you know?,” she asked suddenly, accusation entering her blue eyes.

“Know what?,” he asked, not understanding a thing.

A little laugh left her lips, but it wasn’t a happy sound, “Well, that’s a relief. At least I wasn’t the last to know.”

He felt annoyance, but somehow managed to keep his voice soft. Gentle. “To know, what?”

“That Buffy isn’t Buffy.”

 Part 8

She was floating. It was a feeling like no other. A feeling like being not of this earth. Like nothing could harm you. Hurt you. But it wasn’t real. She didn’t belong. But the hurt almost tore her apart.

Buffy moaned in her sleep, her head moving restlessly from one side to the other, her lips slightly parted, her eyes moving underneath the closed lids.  Her hands clutched the white crisp sheet, while shivers ran over her body.

Dawn was smiling at her, the Dawn she knew, her blue eyes sparkling, her dark hair shining in the sunlight. The sun was so bright, Buffy had to squint her eyes to see. She reached out, wanting to touch, needing it, but her hand was only grabbing empty air, her sister vanishing right before her eyes.

Her head moved again on the pillow, left and right, her fingers clutching the sheets a little tighter.

“Dawn.”

Her sister’s name came from her lips, like a plea, but she already knew it was in vain. Dawn wouldn’t come. Her Dawn, that is. There was another Dawn, standing right in the spot where her Dawn had been standing before. But this Dawn wasn’t smiling. There was no sun behind her, only darkness. So dark, Buffy couldn’t see a single thing. Just the girl’s eyes and there was only accusation in them.

“No.” Buffy moaned again, tiny pearls of sweat appearing above her upper lip, her breath coming in little gasps. “No. No” The moans intensified, as did the trembling.

“Mommy.” A tear slipped from her lashes. “Mommy, help.”

But her mother didn’t answer. The darkness around Dawn crept closer, surrounding her little sister, swallowing her dark hair, leaving only her fair skin and the accusing eyes.

Angel. She needed Angel. But Angel was dead. Long gone.

No, no, no. Again her head moved on the pillow. He was here. She knew he was here. She’d been in his arms only yesterday. He’d been holding her, offering his help and support.

But he wasn’t coming now.

There was darkness. Only darkness.

When she looked back at Dawn, the young girl was gone.

“Noooooo.” With a long wail Buffy bolted upright on her bed, then pressing a hand on her mouth she stifled a sob, feeling drained and tired although a quick look at the clock at her nightstand told her she’d slept eight hours straight. She should be rested and ready for action, but instead all she wanted was to crawl under the covers and never come out again. The images that haunted her dreams were still clearly in her head, but she didn’t know what to think of them.

Dawn vanishing right before her eyes.

Buffy felt her body shudder underneath the sheets, felt cold creeping up her spine. With a groan she closed her eyes, ran a weary hand through her tangled hair, then hugged herself, rocking back and forth on her bed, trying to get rid of the cold, the hopelessness that was crawling into every cell of her being.

That was how Angel found her when he stormed into her room, shaken by the agonized wail he’d heard sounding through the house. It hadn’t really been loud, but with his supernatural hearing he hadn’t missed it. He’d pushed the baby into Willow’s arms, ignoring the witch’s yelp of surprise when he’d stormed from the kitchen. Normally he would’ve taken Connor with him, but the sound coming from Buffy’s room had been so desperate he had no idea what he might find there.

Now, seeing her like this, her body drenched in sweat, hugging herself, her eyes closed, his feelings tangled somewhere between relief and dread. Relief, because it could’ve been worse, and dread because seeing her that way, made his heart clench. And the fact that she hadn’t even noticed his not so silent entry only added to it.

Trying to keep his voice calm, his movements deliberately slow, he stepped closer, “Buffy?”

She didn’t look at him, but wrapped her arms even more tightly around herself, and he could see goose bumps on her bare arms.

“Buffy,” he tried again, slowly sitting down at the edge of her bed, “Buffy,” he repeated her name, trying to soothe her with his voice, hoping it might pull her back from wherever her mind had retreated to.

Another shudder went through her body, but still she remained in the same position, and after considering it for a moment, Angel finally reached out for her shoulder, his touch soft, like a caress, repeating her name yet again.

She jumped like a wild animal, away from him, her eyes wide and frightened, her pupils dilated with shock, her breath coming in gasps, she stared at him as if he was a complete stranger for a moment, that seemed like an eternity to him. He’d never seen her like this before and it broke his heart. What had happened to her to cause this, he wondered? It had been bad enough to see her last night, scared and lost, but this was worse than anything he could’ve imagined in his nightmares. He still had them, although he was much better at keeping them in check, had learned not to let them rule his life. As it seemed, Buffy wasn’t as successful with hers.

“Shhh,” he tried to soothe her, reaching out again, then stopped his hand in mid-air when he saw her tense, and she started to hyperventilate. “Buffy, it’s me. Angel.”

“No.” The one word sounded as if ripped from the depths of her soul. She shook her head emphatically, her eyes wild. “N-no. No. Not Angel. A-angel is d-dead. H-he d-died. I-I-I s-saw him d-d-die.”

“Yes.” He forced himself to stay calm, to keep his voice gentle, soothing. “He died. In your dimension. But in this dimension, I’m alive. Remember? We talked, yesterday. See,” he reached out again, tentatively touching her thigh through the sheet, “it’s me.”

For a moment she stiffened, then, suddenly, she blinked, her gaze flickering to his hand on her thigh in bewilderment. When she looked up again, there was a frown on her forehead, her eyes full of confusion. “Angel?”

Her voice was soft, his name sounding like a question from her lips. “Yes, Buffy. It’s Angel. I’m here.”

The frown deepened while she obviously managed to focus her gaze on his face, and after a moment he saw recognition dawning in her eyes. “Angel.” Her chin started to quiver, and tears welled up in her eyes. “Angel,” she repeated his name, before she covered her trembling lips with one hand. “Oh God.” Her voice was muffled, but he understood. “Oh God, Angel. Dawn. … Dawn just … she was gone. She didn’t want to stay with me. … Oh God,” her face crumpled, “I left them. And now … now they are leaving me. They’re all leaving me. It’s what they always did … all my life …”

She was in his arms before either of them could think. Angel didn’t know if she’d launched herself at him, or if he’d pulled her, maybe it was a combination of both, and somehow it didn’t matter. All that mattered was the trembling body pressed close to his chest, the hot tears falling from her eyes in his shirt, her arms wrapped around his neck, it seemed as if she couldn’t get close enough, as if she wanted to crawl right into him, become a part of him, and God help him, for a short, insane, moment he wanted it, too. He wanted to hold her, and never let go.

But sanity returned, and with sudden clarity Angel realised that it wasn’t a moment for those kinds of thoughts. The situation might be intimate, but it wasn’t sexual. She was clinging to him, because she was hurting, because she felt lost and lonely. She had died trying to save the world, and because of Willow’s flirt with dark magic she’d been pulled out of wherever she’d gone to, and brought to a world that was not her own. To friends that weren’t hers, to a sister who was foreign to her. And into the arms of a vampire who looked exactly like the love she’d lost, and yet wasn’t. And to Spike …

Angel pushed the sudden, burning rage away, knowing that it was not the time for it. He’d have to deal with it, he knew, but later. And deep inside he also knew that he didn’t have any right to react that way. The girl in his arms, the girl who’d been with Spike, wasn’t the Buffy he knew and remembered, the one he’d loved.

But, God help him, lying in his arms, his hands stroking her back, she felt exactly the same.

*****

“Are you alright?”

Dawn narrowed her eyes at the vampire, who’d been frozen for at least a minute, his blue orbs unblinking, his face without motion. He hadn’t moved an inch, even forgot to breathe, and for a moment she wondered if he’d been turned into a statue. She’d found him sleeping once, unmoving like now, but he’d been lying then, while right now he was standing. And frankly, it was freaking her out. The expression ‘walking corpse’ sprang into her mind, and although she knew Spike wasn’t a zombie, the fact he was a vampire was suddenly very apparent.

So far she’d seen him as an ally, a friend even, he’d saved her life more than once, had helped protecting her from Glory. He always had an open ear for her, when it seemed that nobody was understanding her, when nobody had time to listen. Still, she felt a shiver run through her body, at the very obvious reminder of his true nature. She couldn’t stand it for a moment longer. “Spike,” she said more loudly, touching his shoulder, shaking him. “Are you still in there?”

He blinked, and Dawn flinched, surprised by the unexpected movement. She’d thought that she’d be relieved seeing him move, seeing he wasn’t really dead, although she knew he was, but in a very strange way his blinking eyelids were even more disturbing.

“Dawnie?”

She frowned. He didn’t usually call her Dawnie. Only Buffy called her that. Or used to, anyway. Buffy who was dead. But who was also in their house. Lying in her bed.

Talking.

Walking.

Buffy.

Wrong.

It was all wrong.

She’d come to Spike to complain, but right this moment he seemed wrong, too. What the Hell was happening? She wondered. Was the fact that Buffy wasn’t really Buffy turning her whole world upside down? She’d asked what was going to happen to her, but nobody had known an answer. Buffy had insisted that their dad would take care of her. But Dawn’s dad wasn’t Buffy’s dad, so how could she know?

For all Dawn remembered, Hank Summers had never given a shit about his daughters, or had Buffy conveniently forgotten all the missed birthdays and dates? Sure, they’d spent their holidays with their father, but while her big sister had always tended to overlook Hank’s faults, Dawn hadn’t been so blind. She’d seen that he always tried to relieve his conscience by spending money for his daughters, buying them clothes and shoes. But the times he’d hugged her, or taken the time to talk … She tried very hard to remember them now, but failed.

Remembering where she was, she swiftly turned away from Spike, needing distance. She ran a hand through her hair, while her gaze travelled once again to the shattered glass on the floor. An accident, the vampire had said. And she hadn’t thought about it. But now, looking at the pieces again, she felt herself frown. Something just didn’t add up, because all of a sudden it looked very much as if someone had thrown a bottle at the wall. And the only one living down here was the other person in the crypt right now. Which meant that Spike had been lying.

“What did you mean?”

Startled by his words, her mind still dealing with the fact that Spike had been lying to her, her head came around. “Huh?”

“You said Buffy wasn’t Buffy.” Spike’s voice was sharper now, his eyes narrowed and inquiring. “What did you mean by it?”

She’d come here to talk to him, to get rid of the frustration and pain she’d felt since she’d known the truth about Buffy, to find a friend who understood, who’d been nothing but honest, but somehow – all of a sudden – it seemed wrong. There was a feeling in her gut, a feeling she couldn’t name right now, but it made her insides tingle in a way that let the bells in her head ring in alarm. Again her eyes darted to the pieces of glass on the floor, then back to the vampire’s gaze, that didn’t look the way she knew it, but dangerous, like a stranger, she’d never seen before.

She shrugged, feeling uncomfortable in his presence for the first time, “Nothing in particular. Just … Buffy is … she’s different. As if she isn’t … really Buffy.”

He wasn’t buying it. She should have known. Dawn could see it in the way his eyes narrowed even more, the way he tilted his head, his unblinking stare directed at her. An uneasy feeling crept up her spine, sending cold shivers over her skin. Now more than ever, she was aware of the fact that he was a vampire. He was old. Older than anyone she knew. Okay, so Angel was older, but he wasn’t living in Sunnydale anymore, and didn’t really count, having a soul and all. Sure, Angel had been evil, but he wasn’t as a rule.

“That’s not what you were saying when you first came here,” Spike replied, stepping closer. “You said, you wanted to know if I knew. Or if you were the only one who didn’t. And that Buffy wasn’t Buffy.” He frowned suddenly, “So what is it I’m supposed to know?”

She shrugged again, avoiding his inquiring eyes, glad she was safe from him because of his chip. She was suddenly very aware that underneath he was a dangerous being. “Well, I … uh … Don’t you think she’s changed?” It was another first. So far, the fact that he was evil had never bothered her. He was her friend. Period. Now – all of a sudden – it seemed to matter.

“Changed? Changed, how? She’s got all the Slayer vibes.” Spike was more talking to himself now.

“Uh-huh,” Dawn nodded, trying to sound casual. The more she thought about it, the more she regretted coming here in the first place. School suddenly sounded very tempting. “Well,” she edged away from him. “It’s been nice talking to you, Spike. But now I really need to go to school. I’ve got maths, and Mrs. Cunningham is already pissed because I forgot my homework last week. Bye.”

Without looking back she slipped from the crypt, glad the sun prevented him from following her. She could hear him call her name, and again felt the uneasiness entering her gut. Her pace increased and when she reached school she was practically running. She didn’t know why. Spike was her friend. Buffy had told her time and again that Spike was a monster, a vampire, evil at the core, and she hadn’t believed it, hadn’t wanted to hear it.

And although he’d done nothing to her today, with the chip firmly implanted in his head he couldn’t after all, for the first time she couldn’t shake off the feeling that her sister might be right.

*****

Angel smiled when he saw Cordy standing the living-room, a tangle of the respect and admiration he’d had for her lately welling up in him. Just before Tara had come to L.A. it had been mixed with something new, something he hadn’t dared to follow, hadn’t dared to explore. Maybe it had been triggered by Connor’s unexpected arrival, the way Cordy mothered over him, he didn’t know. There had been a softness around her, an air he felt irresistibly drawn to, in a way that went beyond the boundaries of friendship.

But seeing her now, surrounded by Wesley, Gunn, and Fred, smiling up at him, he felt nothing more than friendship, and a deep gratitude that she had accepted it and gave it in return. He tried to find the earlier, deeper feeling, but couldn’t. He wasn’t sure why, but although it had been a nice, human feeling, he was glad it was missing now. Maybe Buffy’s return into his world, or rather his into hers, had made him see, had erased any other romantic interest in his life.

Romantic interest?

Right now, it seemed so absurd, he had to chuckle. All he could think about was Buffy. Confused and lost.

Maybe being near her again had reminded him what really counted.

“I have you know that those …those freaks made me get up at six o’clock in the morning to go to Sunnydale,” Cordelia said as a matter of greeting, waving at the people surrounding her. “I know nobody is really interested in this, but do you even know what that means to a woman’s skin. Lack of sleep can be deadly. And I’m not even mentioning the fact that I had to come back here. To Sunnydale. This is so bad.”

“Hey,” Angel smiled at his friends, his eyes resting on each of them for a moment. “Good to see you.” And it was good, although he wasn’t so sure he was ready to deal with this vision on top of the problems with Buffy. She’d quieted down in his arms after a while, and another while later she’d disentangled herself from him, embarrassment painting a faint pink on her cheeks. She’d managed a smile, then slipped from the room, into the shower, which was when he’d heard the doorbell ring. He’d known his friends had arrived, when he’d heard Cordelia talking to Connor, who was now safely tucked into her arms.

It was a nice picture, Cordy holding his son, but unlike before nothing shifted inside of him, nothing stirred, and Angel realised he was taking a deep, liberating breath, as if a burden had been taken from him. Cordy was his friend. He loved her. But he loved her like a sister, and it felt – right. The confusion he’d felt for the last weeks was finally gone.

“I swear he’s grown.” Fed was craning her neck to get a glimpse of the baby.

“Oh please,” Cordelia rolled her eyes, “It’s not even twenty-four hours since you last saw him.”

“Still, I think …,” Fed moved to the seer’s other side, “Just look at his hands. They’re still tiny, but don’t you think his fingers seem longer somehow?”

There was bewilderment in Willow’s eyes when she leaned towards Angel, “Are they always like this?,” she asked, amazement in her voice.

Angel had to grin, “Yeah. Pretty much all the time.”

“I can’t believe this is Cordelia,” the witch replied, a smile playing around her lips. “Are you sure it’s still the same girl? You’re not playing with magic over there, are you? I mean, maybe you exchanged her soul without knowing.”

“I’ve heard this, Rosenberg,” the brunette’s stern voice sounded through the living room. “And I have you know that people actually do change.” She raised a brow, giving Willow a pointed glance, when Tara stepped into the room, greeting the L.A.-crew with a smile. “As you certainly know best,” Cordelia added.

Angel resisted a comment, his eyes searching Wesley’s gaze, “Do you know more about Cordy’s latest vision?”

Before the ex-watcher was able to reply, the brunette did it herself, “I saw the old warehouse, three blocks behind the Bronze. At least that’s where it was last time I was around. Of course it’s been a while and …,” she looked at Willow.

“Oh,” the redhead nodded, “The Bronze is still there. Completely redecorated though.”

“They redecorated it?” Cordelia was clearly shocked.

“You know,” Gunn spoke for the first time. One broad shoulder was leaning against the doorway, his arms crossed in front of his chest, a grin was tugging at his lips, “people do that kind of stuff all the time.”

“Duh.” The brunette shot him a icy look. “I know that. But redecorating the Bronze. It’s taking away my youth. Not that I’m old, but still … It’s like … burning down the Highschool, I wanted to say, only that … Buffy already did burn it down.” Before anyone could comment it, she shook her head, “Anyways. There was more. Green, scaly…,” she gestured with her free, left hand, “… somethings. I think it’s a safe bet they are demons. With large red eyes,” she shivered visibly, “covered in yellow slime. Why do they always have to be covered in the stuff.”

“To make you see you’re still wearing the wrong shoes and clothes for the job?”

Cordelia narrowed her eyes, “Not everyone can have your fashion sense, Mr. Gunn. Because if that was the case, the world would be lost.”

“Yes, well,” Wesley looked back an for the between his bickering friends. “It seems that whatever it is they’ve planned will be going down tonight.” His eyes found Angel’s and they exchanged a look, when there was a noise from the doorway, and they all turned around.

Buffy was standing there, her eyes still red-rimmed from crying, but after taking a shower she looked refreshed and more like the Buffy Angel remembered from times when he’d still been part of her life. She’d been so quiet, nobody had heard her come down the stairs. She gave the guests a tentative smile, then gazed at the vampire. “So, are you going to explain what’s going on, or do I have to guess?”

*****

The bad of containing human chilled human blood hit the wall with a thud, the red liquid painting it in an irregular pattern.

The vampire swore loudly, his amber eyes glowing in the semi-darkness of the crypt. God, how he wanted to kill. How he longed to sink his teeth into smooth human skin, and taste the coppery, warm juices that were like nothing else on this world. He cursed his entire existence for what had to be the hundredths time today. Maybe he could taste Slayer blood one of these days. He’d bitten her already, but so far she’d always drawn the line at sucking. The last time he tried she’d shoved him away.

Was she afraid he was going to kill her? That he wouldn’t be able to stop?

He’d wondered it himself, but somehow he doubted he’d kill her. He loved her after all. But maybe he’d be able to convince her to give him a taste. Just a nip.

He groaned, feeling himself harden at the mere thought of penetrating her both ways. It was incredibly erotic.

But then he looked at the blood on the wall and his thoughts turned back to Dawn and her strange remarks this morning. How could Buffy not be Buffy? She sure as hell felt like the Slayer. There was no way he could have mistaken the vibes for something else. They were strong, sometimes even painful, hurting his guts, having his sworn enemy close that way. But it was also thrilling, a mixture of pleasure and pain, a combination that went into a vampire’s blood  like drugs. Hell, not like drugs. Much better than that. He would never forget the exhilaration he’d felt the first time he’d had her. It was a feeling like no other.

No, Buffy was the Slayer. There was no doubt in his mind, or in his heart. Yet, he couldn’t forget Dawn’s look when she’d first entered his crypt today. Something wasn’t right. She’d tried to cover it up, but hadn’t been very successful in doing so. Something just didn’t add up. They were hiding something from him.

He whirled away from the wall, striding purposely towards the entrance of his crypt, opening the door, then shied back when the sun caused a burning sensation on his hand.

Slamming the door shut, he changed back into his human features. Maybe he wouldn’t find out right now. But there was always the night. He could wait for some hours. It wasn’t as if he was getting any older.


NEXT