Touching Reality

by *Stars*

Disclaimer: Unfortunately it belongs to Joss. Trust me, if the characters belonged to me, I would have treated them better!
Rating: Anything up to and possibly including NC-17
Summary: AU - B/A; After recovering from a coma, Angel discovers that the voice he’d been hearing while unconscious wasn’t just a figment of his imagination.
A/N: My great thanks to Isis a/k/a flyergirl for the idea, without her, this fic would never have come to life! Thank you sweetie!!
A/N 2: My heartfelt appreciation to my beta, stakeaclaim, without whom, this would be nothing more than a giant pile of run on sentences and misspellings! Thanks doll!!!
A/N3: I have absolutely *NO* medical knowledge, so anything contained herein is from my imagination only. I have done some basic internet research but not enough to be completely accurate. I understand this and accept this and expect the reader to do the same!


CHAPTER 1

He wasn’t sure how or when it had happened, but suddenly it was dark, and very, very quiet. He was trapped in a cavernous pit of blackness that had engulfed his being in an instant and there was no one to save him, no one to comfort him. He was trapped in solitude. If death had been his destiny at this very point in time, then karma was dealing him his fated hand. Torture in one of Dante’s circles couldn’t be a worse way to spend eternity than in the dark aloneness he could not presently escape.

Just as Angel O’Connor was about to give up hope that anyone would ever find him, wherever he was, there was a voice. And then another. Two soft voices, he could hear them, though not clearly. They were too far off in the distance, but they were there all the same. Maybe, if he was lucky, one of them would hear his screams for help. Maybe, someone would rescue him.

“I’m sorry Mrs. O’Connor, I’ll just be a moment. I need to take your husband’s vitals and then I’ll leave you two alone.”

The waif of a young woman who sat tearfully in the bedside chair was startled out of her thoughts by the nurse who was speaking to her, “Huh? What?” She returned as she swiped at the tears that rolled down both cheeks.

Olivia had been through this scenario more than her fair share of times as Head Nurse on the Intensive Care Unit at Sunnydale General; a spouse is suddenly taken away, even though they are physically lying there in front of them. It wasn’t an easy thing to deal with, and she was certain that if the situation was reversed and she was the one sitting where the beautiful young blonde was, she would be doing the same thing. Her beloved Rupert meant the world to her, and if he ever succumbed to the same fate as this young man, well…crying would probably be the least of what she’d do.

“I need to take your husband’s vitals, and then I’ll be out of your way,” Olivia offered again gently as she eased around the end of the bed to the opposite side.

“Oh….uhh…he….this….Angel….isn’t my husband,” the young woman returned hesitantly.

“Boyfriend? Brother? Friend?” Olivia questioned with raised eyebrows.

“No…..no…..not exactly.”

Now becoming suspicious of the young woman Olivia questioned further, this time in a more serious tone, “Excuse me, but would you mind telling me who you are and what exactly you’re doing in here then?”

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have….I just….” the young woman started, but soon the tears overtook her and she could do nothing but sob into her hands.

Though Olivia was still highly suspicious of her patient’s visitor, she was less skeptical that she was there to cause any harm. The vibes that she was getting were just not of a malicious nature, so she walked back around the bed and stooped down in front of the young woman, “Its okay dear. I have a duty to protect my patients so I just need for you to tell me who you are and why you are visiting this man.”

Looking up into deep brown eyes, the young woman sniffed back another bout of crying, wiped at her eyes that were now rimmed in black from the mascara that she’d sworn was waterproof and answered, “My name is Buffy Summers. My mom is down the hall in room 314. I sort of knew Angel from high school. I was just walking down the hall to get a drink while my mom was sleeping and saw him lying here. I just sat down and….I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to cause any trouble. I’ll leave.”

Buffy started to get up from the typically uncomfortable hospital chair, but the nurse put a reassuring hand on her arm and nodded for her to sit back down.

“It’s okay dear. I’m sure Mr. O’Connor could use some company.” Olivia gently suggested. “He hasn’t had a visitor that I’m aware of since he’s been here,” With that, Olivia stood up and returned to the task she’d come in here to do.

Buffy started to ask the nurse a question, then thought better of it. She wasn’t anything to do with Angel anyway. She really had no right to know.

“Go ahead, ask.”

Giving an embarrassed smile for being caught mid-thought; she found the courage and posed her question. ”What….what’s wrong? With him…exactly?”

Olivia recorded the stats she’d just taken and glanced through Angel’s chart. Once finished, she focused her attention back on the young visitor, “Since you are familiar with the floor via your mum, I’m sure you know the rules.”

Buffy was all too familiar with the complicated rules that the Hospital imposed, not only on its patients, but on their family and its own staff. She wasn’t going to be told a thing. She should have known better than to ask in the first place.

“But…rules were made to be broken now, weren’t they?” Olivia continued with a reassuring smile, then moved back to where Buffy sat, “Mr. O’Connor was brought in because of an allergic reaction he had to some food he ate; or more accurately to the peanut oil his food was cooked in. And due to the length of time from ingestion to treatment, the best case scenario was the coma he is currently in.”

Buffy gasped. She had no idea that a simple food allergy could cause someone to end up in a coma. The tears that had momentarily dried during her bit of conversation with Angel’s nurse, began to flow once more. She understood that she was already in a highly emotional state because of her mom’s condition, but sitting there looking at Angel’s comatose body was almost more than she could take. The once vibrant upperclassman who’d never paid her much attention except to pass back a test paper in their shared third period psychology class was now lying before her as if he were already dead.

“I…I…need to go back and check on my mom,” Buffy choked out in a rush of words.

“Come back anytime dear. The interaction helps, trust me,” Olivia returned in an understanding tone. She’d suspected that the young woman had believed Mr. O’Connor to simply be asleep and was saddened that she had to be the one to break the news.

Buffy rushed out the door and back down the hallway to her mother’s room. Mindful that her circumstances could be much worse, at least her mom could still tell her she loved her; still critique her outfits. Angel on the other hand….

“Hang in there dear, she’ll be back,” Olivia whispered in Angel’s ear before walking out of the room to continue her rounds.

Suddenly the voices were gone, the quiet returned and once again Angel was left in the deafening silence. He’d tried so hard to hear what it was the voices were saying, but had obviously failed. Maybe they’d heard his cries for help. Maybe they were trying to lead him out of the pitch black that he was wondering around so aimlessly in. He had failed, yet again. Just another mark in his book of failures, a list that seemed to grow by the second.

With the realization that possibly his only chance for escape just passed him by, Angel drifted off into the foggy haze that had taken over his body just before he had blacked out and woken to the nothingness that currently surrounded him. His head seemed to be dancing to a beat that was so furious he felt sure it wouldn’t make sense to anyone. The rhythms were ridiculous and so he fell yet again, taking his subconscious with him.

~~~~~~~~~~

When Buffy returned to her mother’s room she found Joyce awake and fussing with the wig that her daughters had so painstakingly picked out for her.

“Gift shop or cafeteria?” Joyce asked without taking her eyes off her image in the mirror she held in front of her.

“Neither.”

With the sadness that oozed out of her daughter’s voice, Joyce Summers immediately laid the mirror down on her bedside table and focused her attention on her eldest, “Oh baby, what’s wrong? You know I’m going to be fine. You heard the doctor.”

Buffy almost laughed at her mom’s reaction and in the same breath almost cried, because this time she’d been selfish and her tears had been for someone else. How cruel and childlike to be so self absorbed when your own mother was on death’s doorstep, no matter how much she wanted to tell you different.

“Buffy?”

“You look beautiful mom, not a fake hair out of place.”

Joyce sighed heavily, she knew this tactic. It was an unconscious plea for ‘mom don’t ask,’ but as much as she knew she shouldn’t, she also knew that it was her duty, her god given right to pry into her daughter’s life.

“Yeah, I’m the next Mrs. California! So what’s up? You going to talk or do I have to play the Mom Card on you?”

“It’s nothing….really.”

Joyce reached over to the small table decorated with ‘Get Well’ cards from all of her friends and family and picked the one she knew her two beloved children had given her. She then handed it to Buffy.

“What?”

“It’s the Mom Card. I’m playing it. Besides, the mascara that’s smeared all of your face says that there *is* something wrong.”

Buffy took the card and looked it over for the billionth time. She knew the words by heart now and she knew too that she’d feel better once she told her mom why she’d been crying. Besides it was fruitless to resist. Her mom would get it out of her one way or another; she might as well give in now.

“Do you remember Angel O’Connor? He was a few years older than me in high school,” Buffy asked.

Joyce paused, her long term memory wasn’t what it used to be due to the tumor, but she was sure she remembered that name. Searching all the recesses of long filed away bits of information, Joyce pulled out an image of a stunning young man, quite the athlete and the love of her daughter’s young high school life. She smiled.

“Yeah, that’s the one,” Buffy confirmed when she saw the smile ease the corners of her mom’s lips.

“Did you run into him here? Is his father ill? He would stop in at the gallery sometimes, but he hasn’t been in for quite some time. I should send him a card. Could you pick up a card for me?”

Buffy had to fight back the tears. Another part of the past that had been ripped away from her mother’s memory, “No mommy, Angel’s dad passed away when he was a senior remember?”

“Oh yes dear, I’m sorry. I think I confused him with someone else,” Joyce covered for her misspeak. She hadn’t a clue that Angel’s father had passed away and she was certain her daughter knew that. The wretched tumor had taken so much of her past away from her; she almost considered death a welcome relief from the pain of not being able to remember.

“Probably, you *have* seen an awful lot of people in and out of the gallery over the years.”

“I’m sure you’re right. Anyway, go on with your story about Angel.”

Buffy took a deep cleansing breath, hoping it would help get her though the story without breaking down yet again today. And so, when she finally felt confident she could relay to her mom what had happened to her this afternoon she began. Leaving no detailed forgotten, Buffy told her mom everything, knowing full well she’d probably have to relay the story over and over again as her mother’s short term memory was less retainable than her long term.

Joyce comforted her daughter for as long as her ailing body would allow, and when she finally gave in to the exhaustion she bid Buffy a good night and sent her off to return home and check in with her sibling. Though Dawn was in college and living on her own, Joyce made it a point that she was still the baby, and still needed her big sister’s love and guidance, whether she would admit to it or not. As the always dutiful daughter, Buffy assured her mom that she would do just as she was instructed, and she would.

With a gentle kiss goodnight, Buffy gathered her things and turned off the lights to Room 314, leaving her mom in the dark, only a few shards of moonlight peeked through the heavy curtains, drawn as tightly as they would go. Saying her evening goodbyes to the night shift nurses, Buffy paused at the last door at the end of the hallway. Angel lay there in bed as motionless as he had when she’d been in his room earlier. She still couldn’t get over what had happened to him.

Silently, she moved into the room and inched her way next to his bedside. Doing what she never had the confidence to do as a teenager; Buffy took hold of his cool hand and held it tight within her own.

“Be tough, Angel. Fight. Don’t give up. Please don’t give up,” Buffy pleaded.

Angel’s hand twitched as Buffy held it, surprising her so that she almost let out a yelp.

The voice, it was back. Angel practically danced a jig at the thought. There was still hope; still a chance that someone was looking for him. Oh god, let the voice be looking for him.

In the same gesture she’d done with her mom, Buffy leaned down and gently kissed Angel’s brow, “Good night, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Gently she released his hand and left the room.

Angel tried to scream louder, the voice it was…closer this time, but still out of his reach. And now….now it was gone, again. For a brief moment he thought he’d touched reality, but as the voice drifted away from him, so did his grasp on hope.


CHAPTER 2

The exhaustion that had overtaken Buffy’s body while at the Hospital was relieved slightly on her drive home. She had certainly missed the clear California nights that she had enjoyed so much as a young girl. The cool breeze mussed her long blonde hair as it flowed in through her partially open car window. And the soothing sound of the piano that danced out from the CD player both played to calm her nerves and relieve the giant knots of tension that had twisted their way up and down her body over the course of the day. Then there was that beautiful Harvest Moon that shone brightly in the night sky, standing guard over the world below. She was almost caused to smile. This was pure California, and she had sorely missed it.

After arriving home, Buffy made her promised phone call to her baby sister. Over an hour and more than one ‘stay out of trouble’ later, Buffy said her good byes, put the phone back in its place and marched up the stairs to her old room to change clothes and climbed into bed. It was the same bed that as a child her mother had tucked her into every night. The same bed that now felt so tiny and small compared to the monstrous king she had left behind in her New York apartment.

With a sad sigh, Buffy pulled the heavy comforter up over her body and fell into a deep sleep

~~~~~~~~~~

As the morning sun peeked in through the open window and the sheer curtains flowed out from the light breeze that passed through them, Buffy yawned and stretched her body, now refreshed from a good night’s sleep. A nice hot shower and a clean set of clothes, and she would be ready for the short drive back across town to visit her mom….and maybe she’d stop in and sit with Angel for awhile as well.

Stepping into the steaming shower, Buffy ran through a list of things she needed to take with her today. She had promised her mom that she would bring her favorite pair of slippers to her today and more of her own clean pajamas. There was also the stack of library books that her mom had requested plus the newest Stephanie Plum Novel that she had checked out for herself. At least she would have something to read while her mom dozed off.

Turning into the hot spray Buffy contemplated Angel and the tragic situation that had befallen him. She couldn’t believe that he hadn’t had any visitors since he was admitted. Granted she knew that he didn’t have any family left around here, but he had always been so popular in school, she couldn’t understand why none of his friends had been in to see him. Then again, maybe she could. True friends were hard to come by, she had learned her own lesson about friendship her freshman year with Cordelia Chase. Not exactly the person who would have your back no matter what. Thankfully for her she’d been banished to the ‘nerd’ table at lunch and had easily struck up a conversation with a shy redhead named Willow Rosenberg.

Willow had been her best friend from that day forward. She had certainly spent enough hours listening to Buffy ramble on about how gorgeous Angel was and how in love with him she was. The last half of that year was probably pure hell for her friend! Willow had no doubt earned a badge of honor or something for all she had put up with in the name of friendship.

As Buffy massaged the lavender scented shampoo into her hair she made a mental note to track her best friend down as soon as she got to the Hospital today. She needed to pin down a lunch time for the two of them. She owed Willow more than just hospital cafeteria food for all that her friend had done for her mom while Buffy had been stuck in New York, wrapping up the details at work so she could fly home, but that was the best she could do….for now.

Buffy had always known Willow was destined for great things. And as their class’ valedictorian, Willow didn’t disappoint. While Buffy set her sights on design school, Willow put her high IQ to the test studying medicine. Only a couple more years of residency and her best friend would be known as Dr. Willow Rosenberg. Buffy smiled at the thought. If anyone deserved such accolades it was Will.

Turning off the water, Buffy grabbed her towel and stepped out of the shower. She dried herself off and quickly dressed. Make up and hair seemed to be fruitless ventures, but it was a habit she could not break. Besides, what if Angel happened to wake up while she was in his room? Seeing her o’naturale would likely send him straight back into unconsciousness.

God! What was she thinking?

The poor man was in a coma and all she was worried about was whether she’d look good to him or not. Talk about a person with poor morals and priorities. Maybe it was that jerk of a client Snyder she’d been forced to deal with for the past month. He was obviously starting to rub off on her. Besides, this wasn’t high school anymore. She was an adult now. She needed to act like one.

So in her vow to be more adult like, Buffy finished up the last touches of her make up and gathered her things off the kitchen counter. Not being late for visiting hours would be high on the priority list for an adult she was sure. When she pulled into the closest parking space she could find she glanced down at her watch, 9:59 a.m.

“Well, I am *on* Hospital grounds before visiting hours begin. That has to count for something!”

Sighing heavily, Buffy knew that it might mean something to someone out there, but it would mean nothing to her mother who would be sure and let her know that she was late yet again. Under normal circumstances she’d take offense to her mom’s harsh words, but these weren’t normal circumstances. The tumor had not only taken away parts of her mother’s memory, it had taken away her true personality and replaced it instead with a highly temperamental and desperately emotional version of her mom. It was almost like dealing with Dawn as a teenager again.

Getting used to her mom’s new persona had been difficult at first, but Buffy, along with some help from Willow, who had explained what was going on in layman’s terms, accepted her for who she was and loved her anyway, unconditionally; the same act that she had always done for Buffy. She smiled inwardly as she thought back on all the times she’d screwed up as a kid and her mom had taken her in her arms and told her how much she loved her, no matter what. She could only hope that if she was blessed with motherhood one day that she would possess an ounce of the wisdom and grace that her mother had. It was a high standard to live up to, and she honestly didn’t know if she could do it, especially, if her mom wasn’t there to guide her along the way.

Shaking away the morbid thought, Buffy grabbed her things from the passenger seat and headed towards the Hospital entrance. Since she was already late, Buffy decided to track down her best friend first. If she was going to be scolded for not being on time, she may as well get one of the things on her list ticked off in the process. So, as she’d done on so many other occasions since her mom had been admitted to Sunnydale General, Buffy entered the front doors and took the elevator to the fourth floor.

Pediatrics wouldn’t have been her chosen field of expertise, but then again being a doctor in general wasn’t really her thing. She’d hated hospitals ever since she was a small child and had been forced to visit her sick cousin Cecelia. That memory alone nearly caused her body to stay safely within the confines of the elevator and instead ride it back down to where her mom was.

As the elevator doors opened, Buffy saw her best friend standing at the nurse’s station going over one of her patient’s charts. Gathering all the courage she had, she stepped off and moved towards her friend.

“Hey Will!”

The redhead turned at the sound of her friend’s voice, “Buffy! Hey!” She answered looking down at her watch to see what time it was. Either it was night and her best friend was on her way home, or visiting hours were just starting. She really had no idea which. Losing hours or even days doing your residency was nothing unusual.

“Sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to see if I could take you to lunch today. I know the cafeteria food isn’t all that or anything, but…my treat? We need to catch up it’s been a few days.”

Willow sighed. It was morning and she still had almost nine hours left on her shift.

“Sounds great. Can you meet me down there at,” she checked her watch once more, “around noon?”

“I’ll be there with bells on,” Buffy answered, smiling.

Willow laughed and gave her friend a hug before excusing herself back to her duties.

~~~~~~~~~~

Buffy stepped off the elevator. She was headed towards her mother’s room at the end of the long hallway when she was stopped short with the commotion that was coming from the room she knew Angel to be in. She could hear a man and a woman’s voice, and the tone didn’t sound friendly. So as not to look like a prying spectator Buffy continued on past the room; almost running into the nurse who had been in Angel’s room the day before.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I was….wasn’t paying any attention,” Buffy apologized as she struggled to keep hold of the pile of books in her arms.

Olivia smiled knowingly. She hadn’t been paying much attention either. It was kind of hard to with the shouting match going on in one of her patient’s rooms.

“It’s okay dear, I was a mite distracted myself,” the nurse returned with a nod toward the growing noise.

“What’s going on? I didn’t think Angel had any visitors?” Buffy questioned.

Olivia pulled Buffy to the side, knowing that she was breaking yet more rules by talking with the young girl, but she just couldn’t help herself, “Well, if their story is correct the young man is a Detective with the Sunnydale Police Department and the woman claims to Mr. O’Connor’s wife.”

“Wife?”

It was the only word that had penetrated Buffy’s consciousness. Angel was married.

“Well the Detective says differently. Claims the woman and Mr. O’Connor are divorced. That’s what they’re arguing about, whether the supposed Mrs. O’Connor has any rights where Mr. O’Connor is concerned. Also, I have the distinct impression that Mr. McDonald believes this to be a criminal matter and not simply an accident.”

Buffy’s words were caught in her throat; she couldn’t believe what she’d just heard.

“And if they don’t tone it down I’m going to call the police on the police. Mr. O’Connor requires peace and quiet, besides there are other patients on this floor. I’ve warned them once already,” Olivia said angrily. She’d just about had enough of this ridiculous behavior.

About that time the pair brought their argument out into the hallway for everyone to witness.

“Listen you two bit nobody…he’s my husband, and I *will* get say so over what happens to him!”

“Over my dead body!”

“Oh dear boy,” the woman cooed into the Detective’s face, “I could only be so lucky.”

And with those seething words she was gone.

The Detective stood his ground, his breathing obviously heavy as if he’d just went twelve rounds with a world champion. His fists clenched and unclenched at his side. There was little doubt in anyone’s mind at the current state of the man’s temper. A wild animal stalking around inside a cage couldn’t have looked more deadly at that moment. It wasn’t until the man turned around that his features lightened and the obvious tension in his body eased slightly.

“Buffy? Buffy Summers?”

Standing stone still in their spots, Olivia smiled at the young girl, “Well now, this is interesting.”

“Lindsey?”

Buffy couldn’t believe it. Lindsey McDonald knew who she was. It was as if she was stuck in this time warp, and every guy she’d ever had even a remote crush on in school was here, at the Hospital. How weird was this? It was like she’d stepped into Bizzaro World or something.

“Well darling, what in the world are you doing here?” Lindsey asked, his demeanor doing a 180 from just moments before.

Olivia quietly stepped away as the Detective approached.

“I….I uhh….mom. I mean my mom. She’s here. Last room on the right,” Buffy stuttered through her answer.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Lindsey apologized.

Buffy could feel her cheeks redden at Lindsey’s words. Was she a dork or what?

“Thank you.”

“Bringing her some reading material?” Lindsey asked as he eased a few of the books out of Buffy’s arms.

“You don’t have…”

The protest fell on deaf ears. Lindsey was in dire need of a distraction after his run in with Darla, so instead of feeding his anger further, he put his free hand at the small of Buffy’s back and steered her down the hallway towards her mother’s room.

“My pleasure.”

Buffy had no doubt her body was flushed from head to toe at Lindsey’s gentlemanly actions. As with Angel she had always admired him from afar. He was older than her also, though only two grades ahead of her to Angel’s three. But she knew them to be close; at least they were in high school, so that must be at least partly why Lindsey was here today. Maybe if she played her cards right she could get a little bit of information out of him. She was just dying to know what all the commotion was about earlier.

Pushing the door to her mom’s room the rest of the way open with the toe of her shoe, Buffy gave a grateful smile to Lindsey. An invitation he had no trouble interpreting.

“Hi mom.”

“Buffy Anne Summers! You are late again! Do you think that I…..Oh…umm…hello.”

“Mom…this is Lindsey. Lindsey McDonald. We went to….”

Joyce didn’t give her daughter time to finish. She was up off her bed in an instant; throwing her arms around Lindsey.

“Oh Buffy….you’re getting married!”


Chapter 3

As Buffy stepped off the elevator she glanced down at her watch. She was late. Again. It seemed to be her life story lately. Late for everything, and this time, she really felt bad about it. Not being at her mother’s bedside the second visiting hours rang in was one thing; seeing as her mother wasn’t going anywhere and she was there to visit her every day, all day. But now she was late for the lunch date *she* had begged to have with her best friend.

Rushing down the long corridor at a speed that was as close to a walk and not a run as she could manage, Buffy begged the Powers that Willow would still be there.

Pushing through the heavy Cafeteria doors, Buffy sighed in relief to see her best friend since high school sitting patiently at a table; picking at her food.

“Hey Wills,” Buffy said in a huff of heaving chest. She was most certainly out of shape if a short trot down a hallway had her winded.

Apparently her health conscious doctor friend had the same thought, “Are you okay? Let me take your pulse, you seem a little….”

Buffy shook her friend’s offer off, “Nah. I’m fine. Out of shape, but fine.”

Willow smiled knowingly. As long as they had been friends, she’d never known Buffy to be the exercise type. In fact she thought that the petite blonde had actually written the book on ‘How to Get out of Gym Class’.

“I know this is lame and all, but I really am sorry I’m late. I know you’re on a tight schedule and this is just….bad! Really, really bad,” Buffy apologized.

“No big. But it does cut our gossip time down to practically nothing. I have to get back in about ten minutes.”

Buffy nodded her understanding, “How about dinner at my house? Do they unchain you around here and let you out at all?”

“I have next Tuesday off, would that work?”

“It’s a date!” Buffy returned, “Now that that’s out of the way….You will *never* believe who I ran into today! It’s partially the reason why I’m late.”

“Tom Cruise?”

“Good lord no! Is he like on crack or something? Because to be honest, the whole jumping on couches and stuff is really starting to freak me out!”

Willow opened her mouth to answer, but Buffy wasn’t quite finished. She cut her friend off after sucking in a needed breath and continued.

“Besides that crush was so Junior year. Anyway, you remember Lindsey McDonald? He was a couple grades ahead of us and always hung around with Angel O’Connor.”

“Light brown hair, about five-ten? Had a band or something?” Willow answered.

“Ding, ding, ding,” Buffy returned with a big smile, “That would be the one.”

“He was here? At the Hospital?”

“Yeah,” Buffy confirmed, “Angel’s here. He’s down the hall from my mom. I happened to see him in his room yesterday. Kinda overheard that he accidentally ingested some food he was allergic to, put him in a coma.”

Buffy decided that in case anyone was listening she wouldn’t put in the part where the nurse had actually *told* her, what was wrong with Angel.

“Wow. I didn’t know.”

“Anyway, this morning I come in to visit mom and as I’m getting off the elevator, I can here all this yelling and stuff going on in Angel’s room. Well I guess his ex was here nosing around and Lindsey was in there telling her she couldn’t. Long story short, after he and the ex go their round and she leaves, he sees me in the hallway and recognizes me! God, can you believe that? After all these years Lindsey McDonald recognized *me*!”

“Who’d of thought,” Willow answered unenthusiastically. She couldn’t understand why her best friend would question *anyone* recognizing her. She sort of stood out, whereas Willow herself; tended to blend into the background un-noticed.

“I know. Weird. Okay, so anyway, Lindsey starts talking to me and walks me to mom’s room. Mom wasn’t having one of her good mornings, to say the least, and so for some whacked out reason she thought Lindsey and I were getting married,” Buffy explained in exasperation.

“Buffy, I’ve explained to you….”

“I know Willow….I know. It’s just….frustrating sometimes.”

“So what happened?” Willow pressed ahead.

Buffy gave a grateful smile to her friend. She knew that no matter how badly Willow wanted to chastise her for having so little patience with her mom due to the results of her condition; she wouldn’t. Instead, she would do what all best friends did; she pried for details about a guy.

“Well after I untangled poor Lindsey from my mom’s death hug, I explained who he was and why he was here and then we walked back down the hall to Angel’s room.

“I was gonna try and nonchalantly ask for details about Angel and the whole fiasco this morning, but I guess he needed someone to talk to because he practically cried on my shoulder.”

“Oh…umm….I don’t know what to say,” Willow answered, her face wrinkled up in confusion.

“Me neither, the whole thing sort of caught me off guard. I mean it wasn’t like any of those guys spared a second of their time towards us in high school. They were too ‘mature’ for us,” Buffy said as she reminisced on simpler times.

“I guess.”

Buffy shrugged her shoulders, but sat quietly, still silently thinking over everything that Lindsey had told her; and made her swear not to repeat to anyone.

Looking up at the plain hospital issue clock hanging on the cafeteria wall, Willow sighed in resignation. Her shift started back up in a few minutes. She needed to say goodbye.

“Need to get back?”

“Yeah, sorry. Tuesday though?”

“Definitely! No lateness, I promise!” Buffy smiled, holding her right hand up; mocking the brief time she spent in the girl scouts.

Willow rose from the table, tray in hand, “Just out of curiosity, did Lindsey say if they knew *how* Angel ended up eating something he was allergic to? I mean you would have thought he would’ve known if he was allergic to what he was eating or not. Those types of allergies normally make themselves known in childhood.”

Buffy shrugged her shoulders, “He didn’t say,” she was outright lying to her best friend. She had no doubt the guilt would grab her by the neck and strangle her to near death before this was all said and done but at least she was keeping her promise to Lindsey.

Willow didn’t question her friend’s answer, even though Buffy figured she probably looked as guilty as the cat that just swallowed the canary.

“Thanks for lunch,” Willow teased.

“Uh huh…anytime!” Buffy returned with a smile.

Watching her best friend dump her tray, Buffy contemplated what to do next. She wasn’t really hungry right now and her mom would most likely be asleep for another couple hours. Maybe she’d stop in and sit with Angel a bit. That nice Nurse Giles had commented to her yesterday that the interaction helped, whether it seemed to or not.

Pushing away from the table, Buffy gathered her things and headed out of the Cafeteria.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Settling into the bedside chair, Buffy observed the stillness of Angel’s body. It was almost like looking at another man altogether, and if she wanted to be completely honest with herself, she *was* looking at another man altogether. She knew that just as she had grown and matured over the years, so had he.

Didn’t everyone?

She wondered how closely he fit into the mold she had made of him in her mind as a young teenage girl with a serious case of puppy love. Was he anything like the Prince Charming ideal that she had conjured of him so many years ago? Had he ever been?

Maybe she’d been blind to the reality of who he really was back then. In truth, he could have been one of those arrogant jocks who cared little for other’s feelings and instead did anything necessary to feed their ego to satisfaction.

Buffy shook that thought away. Though Angel O’Connor had never paid much attention to her in school, he certainly had never been a jerk to her or anyone else that she knew of. Smiling over at the man who had filled so many late night fantasies, Buffy couldn’t help but reach out and caress the hand that she had so often daydreamed of touching her.

“Life is so unfair at times,” she sighed aloud, the pad of her thumb rubbing unconsciously across the back of Angel’s hand.

* * * * *

There it was again.

The voice.

It hadn’t deserted him as he had feared. Instead the owner had returned once again. Someone was out there looking for him. The hope that had filled his being minutes before and then lost when the voice drifted off into the mist suddenly reappeared.

Had it been minutes? Maybe hours or even days had passed, there was no way for him to tell. Time was but a distant memory to him now, a measurement he had no way of keeping track of in his dark prison. With his new resolve he screamed out for help, praying all the while the person behind the voice would hear his pleas.

* * * * *

“It seems like only yesterday you were sitting behind me in Mr. Wilkins class, smiling as if you had the entire world in the palm of your hand,” Buffy half-heartedly laughed at the memory, “You probably did.”

She thought she’d feel weird, awkward even, sitting and talking to someone who couldn’t talk back, but instead she felt at ease. There was something comforting about Angel’s presence that lifted the iron curtain she had been putting up around her heart since her mother’s diagnosis. It was a feeling she’d craved for such a long time. A feeling she had always hoped she would find with Riley, but it never came.

It hadn’t been his fault. Riley Finn, big college man, had tried; put in as much time and effort into their relationship that one could possibly put forth. It just hadn’t been in the cards for them. Buffy had known it pretty much from the beginning. Riley just didn’t want to see it.

Buffy had cared a great deal for him, and she knew that he loved her with all of his heart, but it wasn’t in the terms she needed it to be. She couldn’t commit her life to someone who didn’t make her world turn upside down with just a look. There could be no growing old together with someone that didn’t make her heart flutter or her breath hitch with a simple touch.

Riley was comfortable, but not comforting.

“Time flies don’t it? One minute we’re being bored out of minds by a snooze worthy teacher and the next we’re like adults and stuff,” Buffy started to ramble once more. She wasn’t really interested in dwelling on her college love life. She was over that and had moved on.

“Or at least some of us are. I’ve been away from Sunnydale for so long I don’t really know what you’ve been doing with your life, but I’m sure it’s something amazing. You always were successful in anything you did. I can’t imagine now would be any different.”

* * * * *

The voice faded in and out, but it was still there; Angel could hear it. It seemed though, to his great disappointment, that no matter how hard he tried to steer it closer to him, wherever he was, it always stayed just out of his grasp.

His own voice seemed to be failing him in his continued attempts to garner attention, and finally exhaustion forced him to rest. Closing his eyes and resting against the soft surface that was behind him he contented himself to simply listen to the sounds of the voice. They were light and inaudible, but comforting all the same.

A feeling that had escaped him for far too long.

* * * * *

“I live in New York now. Kind of a far cry from this place, that’s for sure. It was the change I needed after college, but its beginning to wear on me. There’s just too much going on at such a fast pace, not really my style. Maybe when mom….”

She didn’t want to finish that statement because, although she held out hope for a full recovery, Willow had point blank told her the grim statistics for someone with her mother’s diagnosis.

With her free hand she swiped at the stray tear that fell at the thought of her mother. It was an involuntary reaction that she hated, but could not stop all the same.

Buffy scooted the chair closer yet to Angel’s bedside, picking up his hand and returning to the soft caresses that comforted her as much as the talking had.

“I wish you could talk to me. Tell me how you managed to get through your father’s illness and death. You were so brave, and I’m just….not.

“If I could get away with it, I’d just go home and crawl into bed and forget the world even existed. This is just too hard to do alone. I don’t know how you…”

Buffy cut her confession off mid sentence when she got that tingly feeling that someone was there. Turning to look towards the door her eyes locked with a blond-headed man whom she vaguely remembered from school.

“Hey Pet. Sorry, didn’t want to interrupt.”

Buffy retracted her hand from Angel’s immediately. She felt as if she had violated some rule and had been caught in the process. Grabbing a Kleenex from Angel’s bedside table, Buffy dabbed at her wet eyes.

“Sorry. I didn’t know…I didn’t think he usually had visitors.”

“Spike’s the name. Guessin’ you’re Buffy Summers.”

“Am I in trouble?”

Spike laughed heartily at the question. She was definitely all that Lindsey had described and more. A doll for sure.

“No Pet, not from me at least. ‘Spose the ‘ol bag might pitch a fit if she catches ya here, but that’d just be her bein’ her,” Spike answered as he approached Angel’s bedside.

“Oh. Okay…I think.”

The bleached blond was in head to toe black leather. He moved around the end of the bed, studying both Buffy and Angel intently.

“Should I leave?”

Spike shook his head to the negative and continued inspecting every inch of Angel’s room. Moving from one side to the next; peeking in the small closet space and private bathroom. He stepped on the lever that raised the trashcan lid and checked out the discarded contents as well. His actions were beginning to unnerve Buffy.

“Maybe I’ll just…” Buffy started as she rose from the chair.

Spike pointed a finger, “Sit. I need to ask you some questions.”

Buffy sat back down immediately.

Half frightened, half intrigued.


Chapter 4

Buffy hesitantly sat back down.

She wasn’t sure whether or not she should trust Spike. He hadn’t exactly been an exemplary student back in school, and if her memory of the guy was correct, Spike had been an acquaintance of Angel’s through Lindsey. He had arrived in Sunnydale as some sort of exchange student from London. He had waltzed into Sunnydale High with a badass demeanor that had most of the girls in the hallways melting in their spots. Buffy however hadn’t been so easily impressed; besides, she had her sights set on someone else.

Thinking back, she considered the most prevalent recollection she had of the bleached blond; there had been an argument between he and Lindsey in the hallway close to her locker during his second week at school. From the way she had understood things, Spike had pretty much invited himself into Lindsey’s band, an act that apparently hadn’t sat well with the lead singer. Through the grapevine Buffy later learned that Lindsey had relented and accepted Spike into the group. He couldn’t knock his guitar talent, Lindsey had decided, regardless of his personal feelings for the guy.

So as she thought about it, Buffy decided that that must have been his “in” into Angel’s life, but that still didn’t account for him being here in Angel’s hospital room now, all these years later, or why he thought he could just order her around either.

She didn’t do being ordered around.

“I’m…I’m not sure I have anything to say,” Buffy finally returned defiantly, crossing her arms over her chest; her face twisted in a determined manner. No one would make her do or say anything she didn’t want to. Not her father, not Riley and certainly not this….guy.

Spike snickered at her bravado.

“What?”

“Pet, if I wanted to….I could make you scream….not…..just…..talk,” Spike returned seductively as he leaned down towards Buffy, face to face; nose tip to nose tip, placing one hand on each arm of the chair she was sitting in. Effectively pinning her in her spot.

Spike grinned when the petite little blonde’s eyes got that deer in the headlight look. He hadn’t intended on putting the fear into her. That, he reserved for less cooperative subjects. Ms. Summers on the other hand, well, he was just playing with her. A very bad habit he’d make sure and tell Faith all about when he got home.

He was being a very bad boy, toying with an innocent thing like Buffy. That was just….wrong. A wicked smile danced across his chiseled features at the thought; backing away he gave space between he and the little doll sitting scared in the chair before him.

“Sorry ducks, didn’t mean to scare ya. Just playin’ is all.”

Leaning back against the far wall of the room, Spike stuffed his hands in his black leather jacket and tried to revert to a more pleasant form. He tended to come across a little too aggressive at times; which was great in the bedroom at home with his little sex maniac girlfriend, but probably not the right approach with Buffy Summers.

She had been the one girl in the whole entire school that all three of them had had a crush on, but not a damn one of them had had the balls to ask her out. Oh there had been plenty of talk between the lot of them, but absolutely no action.

Chickens.

They’d all been bleedin’ chickens.

Scared to bloody hell of a freshman girl who showed no signs of knowing that any of them were even alive, let alone interested in dating one of them. They all had tried to act cool; he and Lindsey had been in a band. Didn’t that *always* score points with the chicks? Then there was the Ponce. He’d been the big jock, even had a class with her and still nothing.

As Spike leaned against the wall staring at Buffy, he had to struggle to maintain his composure. It was like just looking at her sent him rushing back to high school. Being weak in the knees and having your voice go to an unconscionable pitch was a clearer hell than any he could imagine. Shaking off the feelings Spike spoke.

“Know ‘bout this?” He questioned, nodding to Angel and referring to his condition Buffy assumed.

“Why do *you* want to know?” She asked accusingly.

Spike pushed away from the wall and moved to close the door. Grabbing a second, smaller chair, he sat it across from Buffy’s and sat down. Leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees, he took a deep breath. He was taking a leap of faith here, trusting Lindsey at his word and “gut instinct”.

“McDonald hired me. Been doin’ P.I. work for a livin’ for a bit now and he thought he could trust me with this one.”

Buffy scrunched her nose up in confusion. Either this was getting way deep or she was the biggest idiot on the planet. The latter being a true possibility, as her grades had never been more than mediocre.

“Boy Wonder has his suspicions about this bein’ an accident. Thinkin’ more ‘long the lines of attempted murder.”

“But why? Why would anyone want to hurt him?”

“Money would be top on my list, but power, control, revenge, lot’s of reasons doll. Man in his position….lot’s of blokes want a piece of ‘im.”

Rising from her chair, Buffy stood and moved around the room, “So you have more suspects than just his ex-wife? I got the impression from Lindsey earlier that she was the one who he was most suspicious of.”

Leaning back in his chair, Spike took in Buffy’s statement. Obviously McDonald had told her more than he’d let on. They would have to have a talk about that. How could he be expected to do his job when part of their little trio wasn’t being completely honest?

~~~~~~~~~~

Angel stirred, his consciousness returned to him in brief waves of sound. The cloudy haze that had haunted him earlier was back. It was an annoyance that he could hardly bear now. In his pursuit to be noticed, to be remembered and found, the thick fog-like substance that was weighing on his shoulders and tiring him out in seconds was almost too much to fight against.

If it weren’t for that one voice that he kept hearing far off in the distance he would have given up already and fallen victim to the darkness that coated his reality. It was soft and feminine sounding; belonging to someone familiar he was certain but not familiar enough to place; not yet anyway.

He tried to speak to yell and plead, but his voice was lost to him once again. Repeating what he had been forced to endure earlier, Angel simply lay in the darkness and struggled to hear the voice.

The voice…

~~~~~~~~~~

“She would seem to be the most logical choice….right?” Buffy added.

“Yeah, that bint is number one on the list, but I’d be damned if half of soddin’ Sunnydale ain’t on it as well,” Spike answered truthfully.

Buffy sighed heavily, “Guess I’ve been gone longer than I thought.”

“Right, ‘bout eight years by my count.”

Buffy spun around and looked Spike deep in the eyes. She wasn’t sure if she should be flattered or scared out of her mind that he’d known that.

“Maybe I shudda said by the Ponce’s count. The bloke’s the one been keepin’ track, not me,” Spike hurried to clarify at Buffy’s paranoid look.

Between him sticking his big black boot in his mouth at every turn and Lindsey keeping certain details to himself the odds of getting Buffy on side were rapidly going down the pan. Chances were after he made a right mess a things, she’d be runnin’ for the hills and callin’ for the white coats to take the lot of them.

Buffy slouched back into her chair, the more Spike said the more her head began to spin.

“You actually want me to believe that he knows me? That he…Angel…has been keeping track of the time I’ve been gone from here?”

Spike opened his mouth to say something, anything to try to recover from the latest blunder his thoughtless words had caused, but the little blonde goddess wasn’t finished.

“God! Give me a break!” She said angrily, her hushed tone rising with her blood pressure, “I told Lindsey I’d do what I could to help; you don’t have to lie to me. Try and get me all high school crush in love with him again. Feeling sorry for him and all motherly protective or something. That’s just wrong. And sick. And wrong.”

“I didn’t….you…misunderstood…oh bugger it. I done mounted the horse backwards,” Spike said, waving off Buffy’s words.

“Look, I told Lindsey I would do what I could. I’m not sure why either one of you think that I can find out any useful information for you. It’s not like I have “Dear Buffy” tattooed on my forehead. I’ve only had two close friends my entire life. People ignore me, they don’t *talk* to me.”

Spike did a mental head slap. She truly was clueless.

New approach, “Sometimes blendin’ into the background ‘n bein’ ignored is the best route.”

“Maybe.”

“No maybe’s ‘bout it pet. You just sit yer pretty little self down in this chair as much as ya can and blend. Soon every bloke in town ‘ll be spillin’ their guts without even realizin’ it.”

Buffy wasn’t completely convinced that Spike and Lindsey had all of their faculties about them, but it would give her a good excuse or at least a rational reason to spend more time with Angel.

“Well, I guess I can do this for a little while. At least while mom’s just down the hall. I told Lindsey I’d check on Angel when she took her naps, which are more often than you might think. I could be down here a few times a day. Maybe sit and read?”

“Perfect pet.”

Spike gave a reassuring smile and stuck out his hand to shake. Professionalism won them back every time.

Buffy smiled in return and shook hands with the aggressively handsome, slightly strange and still bad boy, sexy guy you never brought home to your parents. Even when you were an adult.

~~~~~~~~~~

Angel lay silently, waiting; waiting for the voice to talk to him again. She had been quiet for far too long now and the darkness that engulfed his life was beginning to choke down on him once more. She had left him again or so it seemed and that thought alone pained him.

Her presence, however distant, brought peace to his battered soul. If only he could be assured of her constant return he could bear the burden of this punishment he was to endure for eternity.

Straining to hear even a whisper of her sweet song again Angel instead heard others.

Neither belonged to the voice he so desperately needed.

~~~~~~~~~~

“Are you sure they didn’t see you in the hall?”

“What do you take me for? One of your idiot friends?”

The man raised his eyebrows in return. No need to use words when a gesture can speak so loudly. She was the one with the idiot friends not him. The proof was lying in the bed in front of them, seemingly dead to the world; except for that damn beeping machine that was tied to him. A constant reminder to him with every high pitched noise that the bastard was still technically alive.

“Don’t even…” she threatened.

“Like I need to,” he returned hatefully, “You have the stuff?”

She smiled wickedly, “Never leave home without it.”

“How long? I’m ready for this to be over. Out of the way isn’t good enough anymore, he needs to be gone. Permanently.”

“Patience my dear. Don’t be blinded by your hatred; feel it, embrace it, enjoy it. It’s delicious,” she returned.


Chapter 5

After more than two weeks of playing dual roles, Buffy was beginning to tire. By nature she was the ever concerned daughter; sitting with her mom on a daily basis while she watched as the doctors tried everything that current technology would allow to rid her mother’s body of the foreign mass that was disrupting her life. And by request, she was being little miss undercover spy girl while she sat with Angel. She had no reservations about what she was doing on either account, but the stress of maintaining both roles while telling no one about one of them was beginning to wear her down.

On the more personal side, she had nothing positive to report to her younger sister Dawn. Their mother was stable at the moment and her condition had not seemed to worsen yet, though the prognosis for that to remain the constant wasn’t good. The times they had once spent together doing those mother-daughter things were now only a memory. Instead of Buffy being able to sit and reminisce about fonder memories, she was forced to fight with Dawn about coming to the Hospital to visit; all the while she desperately sought to keep her mother as comfortable as possible until the inevitable occurred.

Then there was her time spent with Angel. If she had no other worries other than just sitting there staring at the guy she’d had the biggest crush on in school, her life would be tolerable; but her life was never tolerable, why should now be any different?

“It shouldn’t be,” she sighed to herself as she stood outside Angel’s hospital room door, looking in on his still body.

Her mother’s demeanor had been trying this morning to say the least and regardless of her accepted responsibilities towards Angel, this was a welcome reprieve from the garbled world of her mother. Taking in a calming breath, Buffy moved inside the room and towards “her chair”. She pulled it closer to the edge of Angel’s bedside, sat down then began digging towards the bottom of her large shoulder bag. Searching with her face scrunched up in concentration, Buffy finally reached her prize, pulling out her treasured book of poetry, "Sonnets from the Portuguese". The classic love poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning; they were words from a wife to a husband. The romanticism of it all was what had drawn Buffy to it to begin with.

“Okay, where did I leave off?” Buffy mused out loud.

Flipping through her well worn book, she stopped at the page marked carefully with a red satin ribbon.

“Here we go….errr…umm…” Buffy began, clearing her throat.

“My future will not copy fair my past - I wrote that once; and thinking at my side My ministering life-angel justified.”

Buffy smiled as she read his name within the passage of the poem. She knew it was there, she had read this one a thousand times; as she had each one in the book that her grandmother had given her when she started high school. How ironic it was that her Grams would pick this particular book to gift to her. As a freshman staring across a crowded lunchroom at Angel O’Connor she had deemed it a silent whisper from the fates.

“The word by his appealing look upcast, To the white throne of God, I turned at last,
And there, instead, saw thee, not unallied,” she continued.

~~~~~~~~~~

Angel sighed in relief.

She was back.

That beloved voice had returned once again to keep his lonely soul company while he waited out his life in this Hell. A slight reprieve to the dankness he was callusing himself against with every second that ticked by. The voice brought promise and hope where he knew he should have none. The soft vibrations were the light at the end of his blackened tunnel.

Contemplating all that he had done in his short lifetime, Angel understood he had not always lived up to the moral code set by the Powers higher than he. The punishment he was so obviously enduring was, if truth be told, mild to what he probably deserved. If it truly were an eye for an eye; then he should be blinded.

Searching his surroundings, he sighed in resignation; maybe he had been.

~~~~~~~~~~

“To angels in thy soul!” Buffy looked over at *her* Angel, “You would have thought she was writing these to you.

“Then I, long tried, By natural ills, received the comfort fast,
While budding, at thy sight, my pilgrim's staff Gave out green leaves with morning dews impearled.

“Or maybe it was me in my former life. If you believe in all of that stuff…maybe I’m *that* Elizabeth and I was writing these to you,” Buffy said, the longing for it to be true evident in her tone.

“Or, you could just be the same pathetic little school girl you always were. The one that constantly gawked at my boyfriend like he would *ever* have time for you!” Darla spat from the doorway.

Buffy almost jumped out of her skin at the harsh words flung her direction. She hadn’t been prepared for a confrontation with Angel’s ex-wife. Lindsey had told her that he had all but placed a Restraining Order against Darla, and she wouldn’t be an issue for Buffy.

He *had* said that, she clearly remembered him saying that.

“What? Thought you’d have him all to yourself? Just like you always *dreamed* of?” Darla teased; she knew the younger woman was of no threat to her. It wasn’t like Angel had ever been interested in the little bimbo back in the day and she had no doubt he’d think even less of her now.

How pathetic can one person get anyway?

“I…I…” Buffy stuttered.

“Oh please! Just take all of your crap and get the hell out of my hus…”

“Is there a problem Ms. Summers?” Nurse Giles asked from behind Darla.

“Yes. No. I…I guess I should leave.” Buffy answered; rising from her chair she stuffed her book of poems back into her bag.

“That’s right, she was just leaving.” Darla mocked in her trademark hateful tone.

She had been the number one bitch in high school, and Buffy figured that not much had changed with Darla. Age certainly hadn’t mellowed her in the least. If anything it just made her more bitter and angry.

“Actually, we have strict instructions that you, Ms. Chamberlin, are the one that should be leaving.” Olivia shot back sternly.

“That’s okay, I’ll go, “Buffy said timidly. She really didn’t want to get in the middle of this one; it wasn’t really worth the fight. She was too exhausted for that.

“First of all, I’m his wife. Secondly, that asshole Lindsey McDonald doesn’t have any say so over who can see Angel and who can’t. And third, if you don’t get out of my face and out of my husband’s room, I will have your nursing license revoked and your Mary Poppin’s accented ass shipped right back across the Atlantic!”

Olivia reached into her white coat pocket and pulled out a piece of folded paper. Extending her hand she offered it to Darla.

“What’s this?”

“A Restraining Order,” she answered smugly, “It is signed by Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, District Judge of the Oxfordshire Circuit, Oxfordshire County, England and by Special Judge Maggie Walsh of the 12th Circuit Court, Los Angeles County, State of California.

“You are hereby Ordered to remain at least 1,000 feet away from Mr. Liam A. O’Connor at all times. You are not permitted within the Sunnydale Hospital or anywhere on its grounds for the duration of Mr. O’Connor’s stay here.” Olivia recited from memory and with a smile on her face. She had been anxiously waiting the day when she would be able to shove this piece of paper in that wicked woman’s face.

“You can’t do this! You have no right!” Darla screeched.

“Correct, Ms. Chamberlin, but someone does have the right and they have exercised it. I suggest if you wish to contest the validity of this Order you retain counsel.”

Throwing a hateful glare at Olivia, Darla shoved Buffy out of her way and stormed once again out of Angel’s room.

Buffy was in shock. She stood mouth agape staring after Darla in profound confusion.

“S’all right, dear. You can sit back down and read to him, the Order is only against Ms. Chamberlin; not you.”

Buffy returned to her chair, staring after Nurse Giles’ retreating form. She really didn’t know what to make of everything. Her mind was aflutter with the mounds of information, trying to process the fact that someone out there had actually placed a restraining order on Darla, and it didn’t sound like it was Lindsey either. Yes, he had threatened as much, but Buffy was fairly certain his connections didn’t stretch all the way to England, nor would he have any reason to be in contact with anyone there; not that she knew of anyway.

The longer she sat and thought about everything the more confused she became. Obviously there was a lot about Angel O’Connor she didn’t know, some of which she was beginning to fear she didn’t *want* to know either. If Spike had been right about half of Sunnydale wanting Angel dead, then maybe she should just keep her distance from him. Living out a long dead fantasy wasn’t worth being caught up in something quite so serious.

“Looks like you’ve got a lot on your mind,” Lindsey said. He had been quietly watching Buffy sit deep in thought.

Startled, Buffy looked up. She’d been caught off guard now twice. That wasn’t at all like her, and more importantly it didn’t help to ease her fears about being close to Angel.

“So…either you’re trying to picture big boy here without any clothes on, or something’s happened.”

Buffy started to laugh but the thought of what Lindsey had suggested with the reality of what was going on made the statement much too morbid to find funny. It wasn’t like she hadn’t had that fantasy on more than one occasion, but now…while he was in a hospital bed in a coma? That was just wrong, and she certainly wasn’t wired that way.

“I don’t think I can do this anymore. I’m pretty out of the loop as it is with the goings on in Sunnydale, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there’s a lot more going on here than what I know,” Buffy explained.

Lindsey moved into the room and sat down in the available chair across from Buffy.

“I don’t intend on forcing you into anything darlin’, but I think if you’d see this out it would truly be a blessing for Angel.”

“Did you know that someone has placed a restraining order on Darla?” Buffy questioned directly.

Lindsey’s face showed his obvious shock.

“No.”

“So I guess if I say that it originated from a court in Oxfordshire, England you wouldn’t know that then either?”

Lindsey stood and began to pace, small steps taken in the confined quarters of Angel’s room.

“How did you find out about this? Who told you?”

“Darla came in and was in the middle of ordering me out when one of Angel’s nurses interrupted. She handed Darla a piece of paper and told her she was ordered to stay at least 1,000 feet away from Angel at all times and she wasn’t permitted on hospital grounds while he was admitted here,” Buffy recited the events from earlier.

“And you’re sure the order was from England?”

“You should talk to Nurse Giles. She was the one who had the paper, but yes, I’m sure.”

“Sure about what Pet?” Spike asked as he came into the room at the tail end of the conversation.

“Where have you been?” Lindsey asked through gritted teeth.

“Followin’ up on leads, whadya think I’m doin’ mate?”

“I think you’re slacking on your job. I’m not paying you to loaf.”

Buffy looked from man to man, worried where the obvious tension between the two was going to lead.

“Oh bollocks to that mate. I’ve been working my ass off for ya and this is the thanks I get?”

“Ha! Obviously you haven’t been working too hard or you would have known someone from you mother country has an interest in Angel! Slapped a RO on Darla this morning,” Lindsey spat out.

“What?”

“You heard me! Hitting a little too close to home for ya? Got something you’re tryin’ to hide from me Spike? Because if you’re deliberately trying to fuck this investigation up for what happened over thirteen years ago you better just scrap that plan now,” Lindsey threatened as he advanced on Spike.

The bleached blond held his ground; staring into the hate filled eyes of the detective he’d, until that moment, considered a friend.

“That ship sailed for me a long time ago mate, but maybe you have your own baggage to unload yet,” Spike smirked, “You get burned by Peaches too?”

“Shut the fuck up!” Lindsey ordered, pushing Spike against the far wall.

Buffy shot up out of her chair. Shoving her arm between the two men she calmly told them each what to do.

“I don’t care who did what to who or when. This *is* a Hospital, and my mom is just down the hall sleeping and you will *NOT* wake her up with your petty school yard bullshit. Get over it already!”

Moving away from one another, the two men couldn’t help but smile down at the little firecracker in front of them. During all the years the three of them had been friends, Angel had been a lot of things to them both, but he’d obviously never been wrong about her.

“Sorry mate.”

“Ditto”

Buffy sighed with relief when the two men back away from one another and apologized. She consciously knew that if they wanted to beat each other to a bloody pulp there wasn’t a damn thing she could have done to prevent it, but thankfully they hadn’t and all was quiet again. That was until they heard an alarm going off down the hallway.

“What the hell?” Spike questioned.

“I think it’s a room alarm,” Buffy answered, then suddenly it dawned on her, “Oh my god! Mommy!”

Darting out of the room and down the hall, Buffy was stopped short by Nurse Giles.

“Sorry dear, this is as far as you can go.”

“Mom! That’s…what’s wrong? What’s wrong with my mom?” Buffy cried out, tears streaming down both cheeks.

“We aren’t sure yet. A couple of her monitor’s went off. You just need to stay out here and let us do our job,” Olivia advised in the most delicate way she could.

Lindsey and Spike flanked Buffy in the hall, both knew of her mother’s condition and each understanding probably better than Buffy herself that this situation could end badly.

After several long minutes Nurse Olivia reappeared, “I’m sorry Ms. Summers.”

Without a second thought Lindsey pulled Buffy into his arms and did his best to lead her over to the common area where she could sit down. Spike stayed behind to speak with the nurse.

“No….no….this…this isn’t happening,” Buffy cried into Lindsey’s shoulder.

“Shhh….darlin’. It’s gonna be alright.”

“No! I should have been with her! I could have done something! It’s all my fault.”

Spike kneeled in front of Buffy, “Nurse says she went instantly, aneurism Pet, nothing you could have done. Nothing anyone could’ve done.”

Buffy simply balled herself back into Lindsey’s arms. She *was* to blame. If she hadn’t gotten that screwed up notion that she could somehow help Angel she would have been right there by her mother. She would have known something was off. She could have helped her.

Now what was she going to do?

How could she tell Dawn?

With the walls beginning to close in around her, Buffy struggled to catch her breath.

“I…I have to get out of here.”

And with that she ran down the hallway towards the doors that led to the stairs, leaving Lindsey and Spike to quietly stare after her.


Chapter 6

Two months and four days after her mother's death, Buffy signed the last of the estate papers. Taking stock of the finality of the situation, she sighed in resignation. There was now literally nothing left for her in Sunnydale. Dawn had pulled up stakes the day after the funeral. She had claimed she needed some time to think, and maybe she did, but she'd left Buffy alone to handle everything. As the oldest, Buffy undertook the responsibility, but secretly cried inside that her sister like everyone else in their family had abandoned her.

Resigned to the fact that her life was back in New York, Buffy packed all of her belongings and was ready for the long trip back home. With all of her luggage already on its way to the airport, Buffy elected for a last minute stop at Sunnydale General. She had one last goodbye to say before she left.

Walking slowly down the stark, white hallway, Buffy slowed then paused at Angel's doorway. This was likely the last time she would ever see him. There really wasn't any reason to return to Sunnydale once she left. Her family no longer existed in this town where she'd grown up, and all of her friends had moved away as well. Even Willow, whom she thought would be a life-long resident of the sleepy little town, had unexpectedly moved to Los Angeles when a position at a prestigious private practice suddenly opened up for her.

As a single tear slid down her cheek, Buffy moved inside the room.

"Hey," she mouthed in almost a whisper. Saying goodbye was going to be much harder than she had anticipated.

"I…I just wanted to say goodbye," she started, the words catching in her throat.

The only reprieve she'd had from both her mother's illness and her subsequent death was the time she'd spent with Angel. The comfort that only his presence seemed to give her was now coming to an end and that thought alone tore at her heart. He would never know how much he'd meant to her in her most trying hour, and though she had questioned more than once why she had continued to visit him regularly once her mother passed away, especially with all the freaky things that accompanied him, she could never help herself.

Their souls connected on a level deeper than the physical. She truly believed that. She needed not his touch, only his presence to feel comfort. They were ships that passed in the night and every other cliché that one could spout about two star crossed lovers. She would forever be indebted to a man who had never uttered a word to her. Sometimes in life words were not necessary. Between her and Angel, sometimes was always.

Having verbalized her goodbye, Buffy tearfully pulled her treasured book of poetry from her shoulder bag. There wasn't a word from the book that she hadn't already committed to memory, it was only right to leave it now with *her* angel. She was certain that someone would pick up her slack once she was gone, at the very least Nurse Giles.

Wiping at the tears rolling down her cheek, Buffy moved to the edge of Angel's bed. Gently, as if he were only sleeping, Buffy tucked the small book under his large hand that one of the nurses had draped across his chest. Until someone found it, it would stay close to his heart, just as he would always remain close to hers.

Leaning over his still body, Buffy dared to do what she'd dreamed of since high school, she brushed a chaste kiss over his cool lips; whispered goodbye once more, then hurried out the door. If she stayed a second longer she would need to be admitted to the hospital herself. Her emotions were teetering on the edge as it was and another second of staring down at his handsome face would be the end of her.

Quickly exiting the hospital, Buffy got into her waiting cab, forbidding herself to look back. If she did it would only make things worse and she could no longer afford that in her life. She'd stayed as long as she could and she had done everything within her power to help Angel. It was out of her hands now.

~~~~~~~~~~

The voice had appeared out of nowhere and was gone again in an instant. There was a sense of foreboding that Angel felt with the quick departure of the voice, as if he already knew it would not be back; a dreadful feeling which wasn't setting well with him.

As time ticked by and the voice did not return, Angel's patience began to wear. Being punished was one thing, but having all hope stripped away permanently was not okay. He didn't know how he knew, but he did. The voice was leaving, this time for good.

Garnering his strength, Angel composed himself and set out to find the voice. He would no longer be the weakling, the tortured, the poor wretched soul who laid down and let others walk over him. He had never been that person, and his father would turn over in his grave if he knew his son had acted that way at all.

Taking a deep breath, Angel fought against the darkness that had been holding him back for so long.

And suddenly, there was light.

"Mr. O'Connor? Oh my god! Mr. O' Connor?"

"What?"

"Nurse Giles! Nurse Giles get in here, it's Mr. O'Connor, he's awake!"

~~~~~~~~~~

Spike's head had just hit the pillow when his phone rang. A late night of P.I. work and a subsequent bout of fulfilling the needs of his girlfriend once he'd gotten home had left him exhausted and numb. To say he wasn't pleased to hear Lindsey's voice on the other end of the line ordering him downtown to the café was an understatement. He could go on a few hours of sleep here and there, but going on no sleep whatsoever wasn't an option for him.

His body just didn't function.

Unfortunately his "boss" wasn't inclined to cater to his needs, so he begrudgingly crawled out of bed and dragged his tired body to the shower. Though he certainly didn't need a cold shower after the night he'd just had with Faith, he took one anyway, hoping it would wake him up enough to convey to Lindsey what he'd found out.

Thirty-five minutes later he slid into the booth at the back at the café, the same one he'd shared with Lindsey and Angel while they were still in school. The three musketeers they'd been Spike reminisced, and if it killed him they'd be so again.

"So? Anything new?" Lindsey questioned.

Spike nodded to Tara, another high school classmate of theirs who had kept her after-school job at the café after graduation and made a good career of it. She knew exactly how he took his coffee, so there was no need for him to acknowledge her further.

"Bint stayed in all night," Spike returned. He pulled a piece of paper out of his jacket pocket and slid it across the table to his partner.

"Same number, eight times, for a total of four hours and sixteen minutes."

"Do you know who the number belongs to?"

Spike snickered, "Fordham. Either she's suing everyone in town, or she's boning her attorney."

Lindsey rolled his eyes, both at Spike's comment and the thought that Darla was involved with her legal counsel on more than just a professional basis. It certainly wasn't out of bounds to consider that an option, but Billy Fordham wasn't exactly a well established and highly successful attorney yet. He hadn't been out of law school long enough.

So what could be her underlying motivation with him?

"He has access to copies of all of Angel's personal legal documents," Spike answered as if he had read his partner's mind.

"Son of a bitch!"

Lindsey wanted to get up and pace, that's what he did when he needed to think things through. The situation with their best friend was going from bad to worse. Why hadn't he remembered that the little prick worked for Wolfram & Hart? The law firm that had represented Angel's father and then Angel himself.

"I'm sure Peaches has the originals at home or in a safe place somewhere, but I'd stake my life on that bein' the reason for the bint snugglin' up to that little weasel," Spike said matter-of-factly.

He'd had plenty of time to ponder the reasons behind everything that Darla was doing, and who she was doing it with, while he'd sat parked outside her house until the wee hours of the morning. She was a woman of motive and opportunity. She didn't pick out a pair of shoes without having a motive behind why they were the perfect pair to wear that day.

"They're in a safe in his office on the second floor behind the painting of his grandmother," Lindsey replied offhandedly, still deep in thought.

"How the bloody hell do you know?" Spike demanded, he was now suddenly wide awake.

Lindsey stared at the clock on the wall behind Spike.

"Earth to Texas," Spike said, waving his arms in front of Lindsey.

He was concentrating so hard on getting his friend's attention back on him that he didn't see Tara with the coffee. Thankfully years of waitressing had given her quick reflexes and she spun around in a circle. Not a drop of java left the cup.

"See what you made me do? You got to excuse Texas here, bloke's in outer space half the time."

"N..n..n..n..no problem," Tara returned with a smile, setting the cup down on the table, she left the two men to fight amongst themselves.

"This is serious Spike. Joke time is over."

Spike sneered at Lindsey. Thoughts of climbing over the table and ripping his heart out through his chest was mighty appealing at the moment. He hadn't stayed out all night on a stakeout, watching the doings of the blonde skank for his own amusement.

"Fuck you! I bloody well know this is serious."

"You always *know* things are serious, but you never actually *take* anything serious. Everything is a good time to you Spike. Always has been, always will be," Lindsey shot back.

"Bugger that mate! Don't need this."

Lindsey huffed, "Typical."

"Oh don't you even!" Spike shot back.

Just as Lindsey opened his mouth to insult his friend yet again, his cell phone rang as did Spike's at almost that exact moment. Knowing he'd get better reception outside, Spike got up from the table, without saying a word to his friend, and headed out the door to take his call.

Lindsey shook his head in disbelief at Spike then flipped open his phone, "McDonald."

His mouth fell open in shock as the words he was hearing penetrated his consciousness. Angel had woken from his coma.

"Mr. O'Connor instructed me to contact you. He's asking that you come to the hospital. He needs to see you," the nurse on the other end of the phone said.

"I..uhh…this isn't a joke is it?" Lindsey asked. His cop instincts taking over.

"No sir. I can let you speak to Mr. O'Connor if you would like," the female voice returned calmly.

"Please, I would appreciate that."

"Li…Lindsey?"

"Angel?"

"What…what happened?"'

"I'll be right there. Hang in there, we're on our way. Let me talk to the nurse again."

"Sir?"

"Is he okay? Is he going to be okay?"

"The doctor is on his way in to examine Mr. O'Connor. I'm sure he'll have more information for you when you arrive."

"We'll be there in a few minutes. Take care of him. Don't let anyone in there until I get there, that's an order," Lindsey instructed.

Flipping his phone shut, he scooted out of the booth, threw a few dollars on the table for Spike's coffee and hurried out the door. All thoughts of the previous argument out the window, he grabbed Spike by the arm and pulled him towards his car.

"What the…."

"Angel woke up." Lindsey blurted as he climbed in the car.

"Bloody hell!!!"


Chapter 7

Throwing her jacket over the back of her desk chair she was annoyed to see her answering machine light blinking and the number eight staring back at her. Eight messages? She had eight? No one ever called her at home, certainly not eight times in one day; hell she was lucky to get eight phone calls in a month at home, but never this many in a single day. Something was obviously up. Begrudgingly she hit the ‘play’ button.

“Call me,” the familiar male voice said sternly.

She hit delete and went on to the next message.

“This is important. Call me.”

If all eight messages were from him she wasn’t going to be very happy. She once again hit the delete button and moved on.

“Hi, my name is Amy, you might remember me from when we spoke a couple months back about your current cable package?”

Delete.

“I don’t have cable Amy and we’ve never spoken before. Telemarketers should be exterminated from existence,” she spat at the machine.

Him again, “If you’re fucking ignoring me, this is going to go badly. I need to talk to you now!”

Rolling her eyes she moved on to message number six.

“They are whispering his return….wisp…wisp…wisp…is it true? You told me he was taken care of, but I fear they are ri….” She couldn’t stand to listen to the ramblings of that crazy bitch a second longer. Why the hell she’d involved her was beyond rational thinking, and if she ended up screwing this all up she’d kill her too.

“Call me.”

Delete.

“Fine, you want me to say it? He’s awake. You’re little plan fucking failed!”

It was like a ton of bricks fell on her chest, she couldn’t breath. This wasn’t happening, couldn’t be. She’d done all the research. She’d planned this out more carefully than she had the later stages of their relationship. It was foolproof. So how in the living hell did he come out of his coma? He should have died like a shriveled up little prune, a shell of the man he’d once been. The fitting fucking punishment, in her eyes at least.

~~~~~~~~~~

Lindsey had barely put his car in park when Spike barreled out of it. He followed suit and within seconds of their arrival at Sunnydale General, both were taking steps two at a time as they elected for the stairs as a quicker means to their friend than waiting on the elevator. When they hit the third floor door, they were both breathing heavy, more out of shape than what they thought.

“Think you need to hit the gym more often mate. That desk job’s takin’ its toll.”

“Yeah…..like that was a breeze for you,” Lindsey shot back as both men tried to squeeze through the doorway at the same time.

Spike started to spout off some sarcastic comeback but opted just to breathe instead, moving back so his friend could go through the door first.

Stopping just outside Angel’s closed door, the two men looked uneasily at the other. Though through this whole ordeal, Angel had always looked physically fine, no one had ever been able to tell them for sure that if he did come out of the coma whether or not he would be okay mentally. The amount of time from when he had the initial allergic reaction to receiving medical treatment was undetermined so the amount of brain damage possible was anyone’s guess.

Taking a deep, reassuring breath, Lindsey knocked on the door.

“Well Angel, I think you have some visitors,” Nurse Giles said sweetly and opened the door all the way so that Lindsey and Spike could enter, “He’s still a little groggy from the whole ordeal, but seems to be doing fine. The doctor will be in to speak with all of you shortly.”

And with that, the nurse left; pulling the heavy door shut behind her.

“You gave us a hell of a scare,” Lindsey finally said, walking over to his friend, he gave a reassuring pat on Angel’s shoulder. They were manly men, they didn’t get emotional.

“Got that right, mate. Couldn’t ya have just said something if you were needing some attention? No use trying to kill yourself,” Spike added teasingly.

“Could you possibly say anything any stupider?” Lindsey shot in Spike’s direction.

“Bugger off. It was just a joke, not that you’d know what one of those were. You never did have a sense of humor.”

Angel looked over at both of his friends and smiled. Some things never changed.

Lindsey tossed a dirty look in Spike’s direction before turning his attention back to Angel, “So…how are you feeling?”

“Like I just got run over by a semi,” Angel answered softly.

The reply caused the three of them to laugh together. The last few months seemed to have hit them all pretty hard emotionally. Whether they would voice it or not, both Lindsey and Spike could identify with Angel’s feelings. They’d taken a pretty hard hit when this had happened. Angel had been like a brother to them both over the years and when he went down he’d taken a piece of them with him.

“What’s that?” Lindsey asked, as the small red book Angel was clutching caught his attention.

Handing the book over to his friend, Angel shrugged. All he knew was that it was in his hands when he woke up. He had no idea where or whom it had come from. The pages were worn and it had a distinct perfume scent embedded in its pages, but there was no writing within, nothing to clue him in on who had left it with him.

As Lindsey flipped through the pages of poetry he had a flashback to a day when he’d walked in on Buffy reading to Angel. He smiled momentarily when the scene played over in his mind.

“I think this belongs to your special visitor,” Lindsey said.

“I don’t understand,” Angel returned with a puzzled look.

“Yoooouuuurrrr speeeeeecial viiiiiiisiiiiiitoooooor,” Spike said slowly, dragging out each word as if Angel was not only dense but hard of hearing as well.

Angel glared angrily at his friend. Yes, he’d been unconscious and in a coma for the past few months, but he wasn’t stupid.

Lindsey reached over and smacked Spike on the back of the head.

“Bloody hell! What’d you do that for?”

“He’s not stupid, he just didn’t know who I was referring to,” Lindsey explained, annoyed that Spike would do such a thing to Angel in the first place.

“Oh. Sorry mate.”

Angel rolled his eyes. He was used to Spike’s behavior, didn’t mean he tolerated it any easier than he ever had, but he understood it, “So?” he questioned Lindsey again.

“Buffy Summers”

“Bollocks!”

“What now?” Lindsey asked in exasperation.

“Buffy, that was the ring I got at the diner. She called to say she was leaving.”

Reaching out to Lindsey, Angel pulled the small book away from his friend. Caressing the outside cover with the tips of his long fingers he absorbed everything that that meant to him. She had been the voice. The only thing that had given him hope when he was trapped inside the darkness was, “Buffy Summers.”

He said her name with a smile on his face. He should have known.

~~~~~~~~~~

Buffy sat quietly in the back seat of the yellow taxi as it moved quickly through the crowded New York City streets. She would be home again soon or maybe just back to her apartment, home wasn’t something she’d truly known since childhood. Sighing heavily, Buffy contemplated the coming days. If she was lucky, she would still have a job to go back to, if not, the proceeds from the sale of her mom’s house might cover a couple more weeks of unemployment until she found something else.

The more immediate problem though was packing five suitcases up the three flights of stairs to her apartment. Not something she was particularly looking forward to, but having no other choice and not a single friend within her building she would be left with the task alone. Once again the fate of her life seemed to kick her in the gut. She silently mused that in her past life she must have been a horrible, horrible person, because karma was now paying her back three fold for whatever she’d done.

Maybe this was a sign to her. She was destined for reinvention; a make-over of sorts that would put her life back in line with the world. And maybe, just maybe, if she was lucky, things would start going her way. There was now nothing left of her previous life in Sunnydale; nothing to ever go back to; so forward was the only way she could move now. She pushed all thoughts of Angel to the farthest depths of her mind. That was a fantasy that would never see fruition so there was no need to ponder it any longer.

She set a determined look across her face as the cab pulled to a stop in front of her building. This wasn’t just another day to get through; no, this was the first day of the rest of her life. It was the other side of tomorrow, and she wasn’t going to waste another second of it feeling sorry for herself. There were things to do and she had a very promising life to lead. This was going to be a positive move in the right direction for her and nothing was going to get in her way.

Grabbing her shoulder bag from its resting spot on the seat next to her, Buffy opened her cab door and stepped out onto the hard concrete sidewalk. Taking in a deep breath of the uniquely New York smell, she smiled. It was all really going to work this time. She could finally leave her past behind her and move on to better things.

“Buffy? Buffy is that you?”

Buffy turned on her heel to look up in to the eyes of her old college boyfriend.

“Riley….I…uhh…what are you doing here?”

The tall, sandy blond didn’t answer; instead he pulled his one time girlfriend into a strong embrace. He’d searched for more than three months looking for her. Things had changed in his life and he’d had an epiphany of sorts. After college he’d had more than one failed relationship, finally realizing that breaking up with Buffy had been the worst mistake of his life. A long distance relationship would have been better than the mediocrity he’d been living for the past few years.

After a long moment, Riley finally released his tight embrace on his former lover, “God I’m so glad to finally find you. I’ve been searching for you for almost three months. You’re a hard woman to track down.”

Buffy took a couple of steps back, putting a bit of distance between herself and the man who practically tore her heart out in her junior year of college. He was graduating and taking a job in the Midwest, he wanted to be closer to his family. That was fine, she understood that, but to not even give their relationship a chance to continue on, and the way he’d went about breaking up with her after three solid years of loving him had destroyed her.

Riley didn’t give her time to protest his presence; instead he started grabbing her suitcases from the cab driver and moved towards the building’s front door. He knew he’d screwed up big time and he knew how strong and stubborn Buffy could be. Catching her off guard was the most likely shot. He knew he could convince her he’d changed and that he wanted to get involved again. From everything he’d been able to learn about her in the past few months it didn’t seem as though she’d ever gotten involved in another relationship and as far as he was concerned that fact alone gave him a fighting chance at reestablishing them as a couple, *the* couple they’d once been.

“Riley Finn, you didn’t answer my question!” Buffy demanded loudly, standing arms crossed at curbside.

She’d grown as a woman in more ways than the man standing in front of her could ever imagine. She wasn’t about to be blindsided by some college boy ‘please forgive me’ tactic of reconciliation. She wasn’t about to ‘forgive and forget’ just because he popped back up into her life at a time when she was completely alone. This Buffy Summers was too strong for that, and she wasn’t giving in until he explained.

“We can talk about that inside. Come on, let’s just get all of these suitcases into your apartment and then we’ll talk.”

“We’ll talk now.”

Riley set the large suitcases down and took the few steps to close the distance between himself and Buffy. Caressing her left cheek with the back of his hand he gazed lovingly down into her soft green eyes.

“God Buffy…I’ve missed you.”

A single tear slid down her cheek. God, how she’d missed this.


Chapter 8

Snuggling into her one time boyfriend, Buffy took comfort in his strong embrace. She'd needed this so much when her mother had fallen ill; she had needed it even more the day of the funeral. Instead she had been forced to deal with both events alone. Sometimes late was better than never at all and this was one of those instances. Melting into Riley's arms, Buffy gave no resistance as he quietly led her up the apartment stairs.

Buffy handed over the keys through quiet sobs, needing desperately for someone else to be the strong one for a change. Once inside, she moved to her old comfy couch and sat down, curling her legs up to her chest, she watched in silence as Riley exited the apartment to retrieve her bags. Though she was still unsure of her feelings for the man who had once hurt her so deeply, she just didn't have the strength to turn him away.

Her hurt now went far deeper than anything Riley could have inflicted upon her and so she would take comfort from the only person in her life that would offer it to her. Maybe it was fate that brought him back to her after all of this time, at this exact time no less, when her need far out weighed her pain.

When Riley had returned with her last piece of luggage, he sat down next to her on the couch and pulled her tight. He was obviously out of the loop on something here. He'd missed her more than he could put into words, but he also knew her better than he'd ever known any other woman in his life, and this was not a Buffy who was simply upset at his presence or really, really happy in that sad looking kind of way.

No, this was total wreck Buffy. The same Buffy whom he'd had the displeasure of having to see only once before; witnessing what devastating circumstances could do to his love, he hadn't ever wished to see such a thing again; especially not to her. Obviously though, something in her life had beaten her down once again. This time, the more mature Riley Finn could only thank the Powers that he'd gotten his act together in time to be here for her now.

"Shhh baby. It's okay. Whatever it is, it's okay," Riley soothed.

The tears and pain that she'd been holding back for so long came rushing through the flood gates at a heralding pace. She hadn't allowed herself to cry, really cry, her entire stay in Sunnydale. Sure she'd shed a few tears here and there, but if she'd really allowed herself to let go, she wasn't sure she would ever be able to stop and what good would she have been to her mother or even to….

She wasn't going there, she couldn't go there. Riley was here. Alive and conscious and she *knew* how he felt about her. Regardless of how things had ended between them, she knew in her heart he would have never come back to her if he wasn't fully prepared to go the long haul with her. He loved her. He was stable, or at least he had been all of those years before, and imagining Riley as anything other than that would be a feat in itself. She'd taken the left fork in the road when she left Sunnydale today. There was no looking back now. There was nothing to look back too.

~~~~~~~~~~

In all the commotion of the day's events, Angel somehow fell quiet and drifted off into his' own little world. Easily tuning out his friends, the nurses and doctors who all seemed to be in his room at the same time, he thought back to Buffy as he held tight to the book she had left with him. The short little blonde who had held his attention so steadily in high school, but who had always seemed so out of his reach.

Over the years he'd contemplated more than once his reasoning for never asking her out. Sometimes he'd rationalize that he hadn't wanted to put a rift between him and his friends, knowing that they too along with half of the male population at Sunnydale High wanted her as their girlfriend. Other times he had chalked it up to his delusional ideal of being with Darla; an older more experienced girlfriend.

Darla had certainly given him everything he could have possibly dreamed for as a guy, but unfortunately Darla didn't come cheap, and the consequences of living out your teenage male fantasy was sometimes more than it could have ever been worth.

As if his ex-wife had sonar tuned into his internal musings, Darla came busting through his hospital room door with a disgusted look and her apparently new boy toy in tow.

"Why couldn't you just die like any decent man?" Darla spat at him.

"Darla! This isn't the…" her new companion and legal counsel warned.

"Good to see you too," Angel returned sarcastically.

The vampish blonde pushed her way past all of Angel's visitors, marching right up to the still recovering patient and slapped him hard across the face, "You bastard!"

Had Darla's actions not totally taken everyone in the room by surprise, she would have probably been beaten and bloodied by now. Instead everyone stood slack jawed staring at the bravado that was Angel's ex.

"By the looks of the company that you keep and your…delightful personality today, I'm guessing you've read my Will?" Angel posed it as more of a statement than a question, though leaving it open ended enough for her to respond.

"You fucking prick! I put up with all your shit all this time and you don't even leave me a dime when you die? Hell, this hasn't even been fucking updated since we divorced. You weren't planning on leaving me a thing even when we were married! How dare you?" She shot back angrily.

"You didn't deserve anything Darla. As much as I wanted to believe that what we had was real, I knew better. The only reason you gave me a second look was for the money, for the things you thought I could buy you."

"I gave you my life you asshole! Almost thirteen years of my life was wasted on you! And for what? For you to give your fortune away to some random stranger? Well fuck that and fuck you!" She spat, lunging forward towards Angel.

Acting on instinct, Lindsey and Spike both grabbed Darla and spun her around, shoving her into the hallway.

"Get your hands off of me!"

"You're under arrest," Lindsey advised as he pulled his handcuffs out of their casing at his lower back.

Darla stuck her finger out, pointing it just inches from Lindsey's face, "You little weasel. You told him to do this didn't you? This was all your idea, yours and Billie Idol over here! Neither of you ever liked me; you brainwashed Angel into thinking I was just using him! You sons of bitches, I ought to…"

Ford hurriedly wrapped his hand around Darla's face, effectively covering her mouth and preventing any further damage, "I promise we won't be back. If you'll just let us go now."

"I don't know mate, threatening a police officer is a pretty serious crime," Spike put in.

Lindsey waved the pair away. He wasn't in the mood to deal with Darla and her shrieking voice accusing him all the way to the police station of brainwashing Angel. Besides, he and Spike needed to tend to their friend; there was no time to deal with his ex too.

"Awww man! Why'd you let the bint go? I'd 've loved to seen her behind bars. Right where the little wench needs to be," Spike commented.

"Too much trouble. Besides we need to give her enough room to make a mistake so we can arrest her for attempted murder. That little scene was just another nail in her coffin."

"Right with that mate."

As Spike and Lindsey re-entered the room, they noticed that only one nurse remained. One who was acting incredibly friendly to Angel. So friendly in fact she was hugging him and crying.

"They really do care 'round here, don't they?" Spike mused aloud.

Nurse Giles pushed away from Angel at Spike's words. Embarrassed that she'd been caught in such an intimate situation with a patient.

"Lindsey, Spike, I'd like you to meet my Aunt Olivia," Angel introduced the trio.

~~~~~~~~~~

As a light rain pecked at her bedroom window, Buffy lay staring at the ceiling. She had spent most of the previous night crying on Riley's shoulder. After he had joined her on the couch, they had spent almost an hour in silent companionship before Buffy finally broke down and told him everything that had happened to her in the past few months. She cried for her mother and for her sister that just couldn't deal.

Through it all, Riley had listened carefully and comforted her wholly. He had been patient and understanding, doling out condolences and advice in the same old way he always had. As she lay there with bloodshot eyes, staring upwards towards the Heavens she wondered if her mother had had a hand in this. She always did have a soft spot for Riley and Buffy had done her best to keep it that way, refusing to divulge the true reasons for their breakup, instead assuming full responsibility for not becoming Mrs. Riley Finn after her college graduation.

She'd broken down and told Riley about that too. For some reason she felt the urge to come clean with him; her savior that would wash away her sins. And she almost had, completely. Had it not been for a few words uttered by Riley mere moments before she fell into his arms forever, she would have given in to her need.

The scene played over and over again in her mind. If he just hadn't said what he did she'd be lying here in bed with him, not alone…again. It wasn't his fault, he didn't know, but it dug down deep to the recesses of her heart where she had stored away those feelings. She had tried desperately not to look back once she'd boarded that plane. She had vowed again that this was a new start, a fresh beginning for her as her cab pulled up in front of her apartment, so why those feelings came rushing back to her so easily at the mention of only a few words.

She closed her eyes and thought back on the moment one more time.

"God Buffy…I'm so sorry. I should have been here for you. I don't know what I was thinking back then," Riley apologized, "But I'm here now. I'll be here forever baby…..I feel you….like I've never known you before."

That was it. Three little words in the span of about ten seconds of apology that sent her mind reeling back to third period psychology and Angel. He'd uttered those three words to her all those years ago during a class participation exercise where they had been partnered up. Thinking back she couldn't remember why on earth he would have said "I feel you" but he had and it had stuck with her and all those weeks she'd spent reading to him while he was in the hospital had cemented those words into her heart, because she too could feel him. Their souls touched on a plain not of this world, and to just give that up for the first person who showed her a little emotional support was just wrong.

She was stronger than that and she wouldn't just give up all hope of Angel ever recovering. She may have been forced to move back to New York and back to the sucky job she had and all that morbidly depressing stuff that went with it, but she sure the hell wasn't going to give up all of the self-confidence she'd built in herself over the years and the love…did she say love? For the man who would always hold a special place in her heart, for the one man who had caused her next to as much pain as her own father had.

So, Buffy had done the right thing, the strong thing. She thanked Riley profusely for his kindness in her time of need, but explained that though he would always be special to her, there was never going to be a "them" again. Sometimes when you burn a bridge, there just isn't enough lumber to build it back again. She cared for him and wished him the best, but that was as far as it could ever go between them.

Riley was the true gentleman. He kissed Buffy on the forehead and said if she ever changed her mind to give him a call, and if she still just needed a friend, he was there for that too. He had taken a chance and the dice just didn't roll his way this time, but he wasn't angry he was proud. He was proud of the strong woman that she had become, and maybe their break-up was for that very reason, so she could grow, so they both could.

Only after Riley was assured she would be okay and that she would indeed call him if she needed a friend, he departed and left an exhausted Buffy Summers to spend yet another night in her empty apartment, alone.

To Buffy's annoyance, someone was banging on her apartment door at six in the morning. That was way too early for Riley to be showing back up, not that she was expecting him, but you never know about whether guys get the hint or not when you say 'I'm not interested". Grumbling under her breath, Buffy pulled on her robe and stumbled her way around her luggage to her front door.

Glancing through the peephole, Buffy pulled away from the door to rub her swollen eyes. There was just no way.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

"Hey ducks…you in there?"

Flipping all the locks on her door and removing the chain, Buffy pulled the heavy door open.

"Spike?"

~~~~~~~~~~

After Angel had finally persuaded everyone in the Hospital that he was in deed fit enough to continue his recuperation at home with the assistance of his now personal nurse, he signed himself out and with the help of his Aunt Olivia, Spike and Lindsey he was finally back at home. He had to admit the whole being in a coma thing was pretty exhausting, but there were things to take care of. Things that couldn't be put off no matter what the circumstances.

As soon as he was situated in his own bed, Angel sent Spike packing for New York. The news that Buffy had been the one he'd been hearing in his subconscious all those months was like Christmas and his birthday all rolled into one. Then all his balloons were unceremoniously popped when Spike announced he had talked to Buffy and she was leaving to go back to the Big Apple. It was like fate was intentionally screwing with them.

But determined as ever, Angel offered Spike a handsome fee if he would take the next available flight to the East Coast and bring Buffy back to Sunnydale with him. Whatever the means, he wanted her back there. They needed to do the one thing they'd never been afforded the chance to do….talk.

With Spike enthusiastically on his way, Angel feigned exhaustion. He needed some privacy for his next task and he knew he'd have not a spare minute if Lindsey and Olivia weren't more concerned he needed his rest. So as planned, the two made sure he had all the necessities of a well to do bachelor, cell phone, house phone, tv remote and Lindsey even dug out a "magazine" if Angel needed to…enjoy himself….after all this time.

When he was finally alone, Angel took a deep cleansing breath and flipped open his cell phone. He had to end things with her. It just wouldn't be right to string her along, not now, not with Buffy….

"Hello lover."

"Hey…we need to…"

"…talk?"

"Yeah."

"Feeling better?"

"You knew?"

"Who didn't."

"No one mentioned…"

"I couldn't show up. That was the deal remember?"

"But…never mind. I understand," Angel said with a sigh.

"Then I guess you'll understand if I've moved on?"

"You have?" Angel questioned curiously.

"Three months is a long time. Did you expect me to wait?"

"I…no…no I didn't. I understand that too. It's part of the reason I called."

"You're going back to her?"

"I don't know…it's all complicated," he answered honestly.

"Yeah, well….it was fun."

And with that Angel heard nothing but dial tone.


Chapter 9

Buffy stepped back and opened her apartment door further, allowing a silent invitation to the travel weary man who stood in front of her. Spike looked as if he'd been awake for a couple days straight or on a bender and with him either or both were possible.

The blond-headed Englishman dragged his tired body through the door and plopped himself down heavily on her large comfortable looking couch. The second his body hit the piece of furniture he sighed aloud. If the Wanker planned on him chasing down any more beauties like this then he was damn well going to pay for him to fly in style. Coach was no longer going to be an option after this fiasco!

"Sorry luv, I know it's early 'n all, but…"

"Did something happen? Is Angel…." Buffy started to question before she fell silent as the impact of Spike's presence hit her.

"Yeah ducks, that's why I'm here. I wanted to call you, let you know, but no one knew how to reach ya."

The weight of Spike's words fell on Buffy like a ton of bricks. The strong woman who had handled her mother's illness and subsequent death rushed out of her like a tidal wave. Suddenly she fell to her knees, weeping for the man who she'd lost; though never truly having to begin with. Maybe that's what made the news that much more difficult to take. At least before he had been alive. That fleeting hope that one day…maybe. But now, now it was over.

He was gone.

"Errr….Pet? Umm…you 'k?" Spike questioned, brow furrowed at the tiny little blonde's odd reaction.

"Oh Spike…oh god…I just can't… I can't believe…it…that he's…." she cried out, bracing her shaking body on her hands and knees.

"I know Pet. We were all pretty shocked when it happened," Spike returned. Slowly he moved from his very comfortable seat on the couch to the floor next to Buffy. He was starting to get a bit concerned about her well-being. Being really happy about Angel was one thing, but practically collapsing at the news was another altogether, and if anything happened to her while in his presence, Angel would have his head. There was no doubt in his mind of that.

Buffy tearfully looked up to see Spike's concerned blue eyes staring at her. Without thought she lunged at him, throwing herself into his arms. She was devastated by the news and she didn't care about anything at the moment but being close to someone who had been so close to Angel.

"Whoa! Wait a minute pet!" Spike cautioned quickly as he desperately tried to scamper away.

"I don't think you….Angel would kill me!" he continued.

Buffy stopped suddenly, "Angel?"

"Bloody Hell! Who did you think I was talking about?" he demanded as he hauled his tired body up off the floor, walking quickly around the couch so to put some distance between himself and Buffy.

"But…but you said he was dead," she cried back at him.

Spike stood stark still, hands on hips, mouth agape.

"Spike?"

The laughter started slow at first, but quickly worked its way up to maniacal. When there was a misunderstanding there was really a misunderstanding. Crossed….lines, lives, hearts, loves….it didn't matter. Sometimes when you weren't on the same page, you *really* weren't on the same page.

"Pet, 'ol Peaches is alive and kickin' and asking for *you*!"

Suddenly Buffy's world began to fade to black…"Huh?" she managed to utter before she passed out.

~~~~~~~~~~

Sitting across the kitchen table from Angel's aunt, an aunt that Lindsey never knew about was a little odd. Sitting across from Angel's nurse that turned out to be his aunt was just disturbing. In all the years that they'd been friends, Angel had never mentioned having an Uncle Rupert or and Aunt Olivia. Why on earth had he never mentioned them?

What was going on with his friend?

"Angel looks very well. His doctor doesn't seem to think there will be any lasting effects from his coma, but obviously it will be a wait and see situation," Olivia offered to help break the silence that had been hovering between she and the young detective.

"Yeah. That's good news," Lindsey returned taking a sip of his cooling coffee.

"I know…I know you must be wondering why I just popped up out of nowhere," Olivia started.

"Pretty much."

Olivia smiled knowingly, sitting her mug down, she leaned forward on the large wooden table, "Angel's mother, as you may or may not know was born in London. She had one sibling, a brother named Rupert, my husband."

"Never knew much about Mrs. O'Conner. But that still doesn't explain why you suddenly climbed out of the woodwork when Angel gets sick. Almost makes a person wonder if you had something to do with it."

"Understandable. Given the circumstances, I'd ponder the same questions if I were you. But let me assure you that is nowhere near the reality of the situation," Olivia answered.

"Then Nurse Giles, why don't you humor me with the *true* reality of the situation," Lindsey shot back sarcastically. Even if his best friend did trust this woman, he was in no position to be anything less than skeptical.

"As I said, Rupert and Kathleen were brother and sister. Rupert entered the British Military, joining the Royal Air Force soon after finishing his schooling. Eventually he was inducted into the MI6, our elite intelligence division, similar to your CIA, highly secretive. Aside from attending his sister's funeral, Giles was afforded no contact with his sister or her family for security reasons."

"Sounds like a good cover," Lindsey replied casually.

"Rupert is currently in the process of retiring from his position in MI6. I can have him forward any documentation you need to confirm my story."

"Okay, say that Angel's uncle really is who you say he is. Still doesn't explain why you just turned up all of a sudden."

"Mr. McDonald, I can trust that everything we talk about is strictly confidential?" Olivia questioned before she discussed anything further.

Lindsey nodded.

"Due to Angel's father's….business dealings over the years, Rupert became aware of some threats made against Kathleen and Angel. He had always kept tabs on his sister's well being, whether she knew it or not. She didn't and it was probably for the better. If Kathleen was anything like Rupert, she would have had him strung and flogged for such secretive practices, certainly if she didn't see it was fit for him to do so in the first place."

"So you're saying Mr. O'Connor was doing something illegal? I just don't…."

"No. Not at all. His business was always strictly by the book. It was actually his refusal to do business with certain people that resulted in the threats. Niall was reluctant to ask for Rupert's help, but as the threats came more frequently, his fear for his family grew. Finally, he managed to get in touch with Rupert and from that day on there have been contacts within the States looking out for Angel's well being."

"So then you knew that Darla did this to him and you haven't turned that information over to the authorities? That's illegal!" Lindsey shot back angrily. Pushing away from the table, his chair fell over hard against the tiled flooring.

"No. We haven't as yet been able to connect Ms. Chamberlin with Angel's poisoning, so to speak. Actually the further our contacts dig into the situation, the more innocent Ms. Chamberlin appears," Olivia offered in defense.

"Then why the Restraining Order?"

"Rupert wanted to cover his bases. If it were Ms. Chamberlin, he wanted to make sure she wasn't able to finish the job."

"I just can't believe this…."

"I know it sounds like something out of a movie, but I assure you this is all real. Rupert sent me here to attend to Angel's safety until he could personally make the trip."

"So, I guess that explains it all then, huh?"

"No, not all."

"What else could you possibly have to tell me that I don't already know?" Lindsey asked exasperated by the situation.

"We have reason to believe that Angel had been secretly seeing a young woman right before his accident," Olivia returned seriously, "Do you have any idea who that might have been?

"Angel wasn't seeing anyone. I would have known. He would have told me. Besides, if you know he was seeing someone, why don't you know who it is?"

"Well Mr. McDonald, all I can say is with Angel….the apple doesn't fall far from the tree," Olivia answered with a smile.

"What the hell is that suppose to mean?" Lindsey asked annoyed.

"He is quite like his father and his uncle. If he wants you to know something, you will. If he doesn't, you'll never find out."

"That son of a bitch! I'll get the name of this chick if I have to beat it out of him. She could be behind this whole thing! I can't believe the bastard didn't tell me he was seeing someone," Lindsey mused aloud.

"I'm sure Angel had his reasons," Olivia returned honestly.

"There isn't a reason to keep something like a new girlfriend secret from your best friend unless it's *his* fucking girlfriend!" Lindsey shot back angrily.

Turning on a heel, Lindsey stormed out of the kitchen and headed out the back doors to the brick patio. He desperately needed some fresh air before he confronted his friend. Because if Angel was screwing around behind his back with *her* there was going to be Hell to pay.

Only one way to find out.

Punching in the once familiar numbers on his cell…

"Hello."

"Willow?"

"I'm unavailable at the moment, but if you'll leave your name and number I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you."

He practically growled out his message, "This is Lindsey, I need to talk to you."

~~~~~~~~~~

After several *long* minutes Buffy had finally come to. Spike let out a breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding when he saw the petite blonde's eyes flutter open. She questioned him again on the news he'd just given her, not sure if she'd been dreaming or not. When Buffy was finally assured that Angel was indeed alive and for the first time in over three months conscious, she smiled.

Since there wasn't much time to spare if they were to make the return flight Spike already had booked for their trip back to California, he hurried her off to her room to change and pack a few essentials. Had it been up to her she would have went in her 'yummy sushi' pajamas, anything to get to Angel more quickly, but Spike was adamant that there was at least enough time for her to change. He didn't suspect airport security would smile upon an adult woman in her p.j.'s trying to board a cross country flight.

Without more than a few minutes to spare, Spike escorted Buffy onto the airplane, breathing a sigh of relief when they finally settled into their seats and buckled themselves in. Resting his head back against the awful paisley print, Spike closed his eyes. He hadn't been to sleep, true deep sleep in over forty-eight hours. Once upon a time as a teenager he could've hung with the best of them, and did, but he was getting older now and the partying hours of his youth just didn't work for him anymore. With his 'package' tucked in safely beside him, Spike slipped off into dreamland.

With her escort drifting off to sleep beside her, Buffy finally had time to reflect on her decision to up and leave New York and run back to Sunnydale at the drop of a hat. A person could never be totally certain they were making the right choices in life, and this was no exception, but the longer she thought about it, the more sure of one thing she was…she didn't have anything to lose. It wasn't as if she would be leaving behind friends, acquaintances were all she had at best. She hated her job passionately, not that she was even sure she still had a job, but if she did, leaving it behind wasn't a big deal.

There was nothing tying her down in the Big Apple. If anything her roots had been firmly rooted in California at birth. Even if she found out that Angel wasn't right for her, or that she wasn't right for him, what did she have to lose by finding out? Not a damn thing.

And if she was completely honest with herself, she had been relieved that Spike had wanted her to go back to Sunnydale with him. Thinking about spending another second of time in that bare apartment of hers was pulling her under. She belonged in California, the warm air, the sunshine, family or not, Angel or not, it was her home. Why she had tried so hard to run away from that years ago she wasn't sure, but at least now she understood her place in this world, and her place wasn't in New York.

Buffy had to smile when the soft snores drifted her direction. It had been obvious from the way Spike had looked when she'd opened her door to him only a couple of hours ago that he was exhausted. Though at the time she'd mistook his ragged appearance for a mourning friend and not one who had simply been sent off on a wild goose chase to hunt her down. Apparently Spike was pretty good at hunting geese; he'd found her almost immediately.

The world worked in mysterious ways, something that Buffy was finding out first hand.

"…need more Weetabix…" Spike mumbled in his sleep.

Buffy giggled as quietly as possible.

"….did not nick a fag!" Spike continued to his subconscious friend.

The laughs began to rise in volume but Buffy couldn't help herself. He was just too darn cute arguing with whomever it was he was dreaming about.

"….ow! You burnt my bleedin' finger!"

That was it.

Buffy lost it.

She was practically hyperventilating from laughing so hard. Apparently though, not everyone on the plane found Spike's sleep talking quite as amusing as she did. The grouchy old Englishman in the completely out of date tweed jacket across the aisle "shushed" her.

How rude!

Eyeing the 'shushing-man', who looked like a librarian and apparently thought the plane was his own personal library to control, she leaned back into her seat and gently nudged Spike in the arm.

"….told you…didn't nick any fags…swear I didn't…"

"Spike…" Buffy whispered.

"….come on mum…"

"Spike…." She tried again, this time with a little more seriousness to her tone.

"Huh? What?" Spike answered dazed.

"You're talking in your sleep."

"Was not!"

"Was too."

"Don't do such a thing," he argued.

"Well then, the demon that had temporary possession of your body was talking to his invisible friend," Buffy quipped.

Spike raised an amused eyebrow to Buffy.

She flashed him a smile then turned to look out the plane window. Soon they would be back in California, back to Angel.


Chapter 10

After getting the disappointing sound of Willow's voicemail, Lindsey's mood deteriorated further.  He needed answers and he needed them now.  To hell with Angel and the "rest" he seemed to need.  If the son of a bitch was cheating with *his* girlfriend, *his* ex-girlfriend to be exact, then there was going to be hell to pay.  Sick or not, Lindsey didn't much care at the moment.

Storming up the back stairs of Angel's house and down the hallway, Lindsey became more infuriated with each step he took.

How dare he?

How could he have done this to his best friend?  Or so-called best friend.  Obviously they weren't as close as he'd thought.

Jerking on the door handle to Angel's room, Lindsey was met with a locked door.

Bang.

"Angel!"

Bang.   Bang.

"Angel!  Unlock this door!"

Bang.  Bang.  Bang.

"If you don't unlock this fucking door, I'm gonna break the son of a bitch down!" Lindsey spat out angrily.  The fury that was building inside of him only barely contained.

"What do you think you're doing?" Olivia questioned from behind.

Bang.  Bang.  Bang. 

He ignored the question.

Olivia moved quickly in front of the angry young man, blocking any further abuse to the bedroom door.

"Get out of my way.  Angel's got some explaining to do."

"Fine.  He can explain whatever it is he needs to explain, but breaking down his door isn't going to accomplish anything," Olivia shot back as she grabbed Lindsey's bleeding hand, showing him exactly what his caveman like actions were getting him.

Lindsey pulled his hand away from Angel's aunt, turning he stormed into the bathroom directly across the hall, slamming the door shut he grabbed one of Angel's expensive monogrammed towels and tended to his bleeding knuckles.

When Angel heard Lindsey close himself into the hallway bath he unlocked his bedroom door, opening it cautiously.  He wasn't sure exactly why his best friend wanted to strangle him, but given the more than one reason why he might, Angel wasn't interested in taking chances at the moment.  He'd really like to live long enough to talk to Buffy when Spike brought her back, *if* Spike brought her back and whatever Lindsey's issues were right now he wasn't interested in hashing them out.

Pleading with his eyes towards his Aunt Olivia, Angel begged her to be silent while he slipped out of his room and, if all went well, out of his house.  Though she wasn't privy to all that was going on in Angel's life at the present, she *was* quite opposed to him being pummeled into nothingness when his irate friend reemerged from tending his wounds.

Olivia silently agreed that it would be best for her nephew to slip out quietly.  She didn't know where he was going and certainly didn't think him being alone was appropriate in his early stages of recovery, but due to present circumstances, it was maybe for the best.  Stepping aside, Angel's aunt allowed him to quietly leave; to where, she did not know.

~~~~~~~~~~

His cell phone rang.

It was the 'Halloween' ring tone he had devoted only to her.  She was, after all, the Michael Myers of his real life.  That freak that you could never get away from.  The one who had you backed into a corner without you even realizing it had happened. 

She had one hand around his balls and the other holding a machete and there was no wiggle room for him now.  He had dove in head first in a moment of rage and passion, his anger toward the world overtaking him.  She seized the moment and pushed him under, held him there until he surrendered his soul to her. 

He was her bitch now.

"What?"

"He's going to cause trouble."

"So?  What is it that *I'm* suppose to do about it?"

"Exterminate the problem," she said flatly.

"That's your job, not mine.  I'm just the pawn in your little game…remember?" he threw her words back at her.

She smirked.

"Fuck you," he shot back.

"You are an accessory, just remember that.  I go down, you go down with me."

Silence.

He sighed heavily, knowing she was right, "What do you want me to do?"

"Call the psycho bitch, you'll need her help."

"I thought I was talking to her," he quipped with a grin, knowing how furious the comment would make her.

She didn't dignify his comment with a response.  She knew what his *game* was and she refused to play it.  She was the master in this, not he.  The rules were the ones she set out and they would be followed, or else he would find out just how much of a 'psycho bitch' she really was.

"Plan B.  Day after tomorrow.  Don't screw this up!"

Before he had a chance to comment there was nothing but dial tone ringing in his ear.

"Bitch," he would get the last word in, even if she didn't hear it.

~~~~~~~~~~

Buffy stared quietly out of the cab window as her escort did the same next to her.  Spike had barely uttered a word since they had left the airport.  She wasn't sure if he was simply enjoying the quiet or if he was completely mortified from his little "sleep talking" venture on the plane. 

Shrugging off the thought, she watched as the cab slowed then pulled into the private drive off the main road.

Butterflies began weaving back and forth in her stomach and little white shining stars began to dance in front of her eyes.  This was it. 

This was Angel's home. 

The home he was in. 

The home he was in and conscious. 

The home he was in and was conscious and was waiting to see her.

"Take it easy Pet 'er you'll hyperventilate," Spike offered, patting her hand with his and giving a reassuring smile.

Buffy returned his comforting look with one of thankful hesitation.  She was grateful that Spike was there by her side and so reassuring when he knew she needed it.  But it wasn't taking away the almost dizzying feeling hovering over her.  She really was going to hyperventilate.   All those teenage high school crush feelings had come flooding back, compounded by all of the adult issues that now existed for her, for him, for them. 

The cab finally slowed to a stop in front of the monstrous stone home that had belonged to Angel's father before him.  Climbing out of the car, Buffy's mouth was agape at the sight of everything.  She had never even gotten so much as a glimpse of the home before, not that she hadn't given it her best shot.  One night during her freshman year she had begged Willow to sneak out of the house with her so she could find out where Angel lived.  

Buffy had heard the rumors of course, but had desperately wanted to see things for herself.  Willow had been her reluctant accomplice and the two had climbed out of Buffy's second storey bedroom window, slid down the roof to the edge, closing their eyes they leaped to what both hoped wasn't their death or broken bones.  Lucky for both of them the fall wasn't that far and neither walked away with soo much as a scratch.

The duo had gotten as far as Crawford Street before they encountered a gang of creepy looking guys with really bad looking faces, clothes that were so 1980s and all of whom seemed to be in serious need of an orthodontist.  Buffy was sure she'd heard her mom talking about a gang of thugs running around town cranked up on PCP, she was pretty sure that had been them.  So, she and Willow did what any red blooded American teenagers would do, they screamed and ran the other direction as fast as they could.

"Some flat 'eh?" Spike offered as more of a statement than a question. 

"Uh-huh."

Spike simply smiled and put a friendly arm around his charge.  He was about to lead her up the front walk way and towards the foyer when the sound of an approaching vehicle stopped him in his tracks.  Spinning both he and Buffy around at the same time, he watched carefully as a second yellow cab pulled into the private drive.

"Who the…"

When the cab pulled to a stop in line the door opened and its occupant slid out.

"That's the stuffy librarian looking guy from the plane!" Buffy whispered in a conspiratorial tone. 

Spike raised a questioning brow towards Buffy.

"I'm serious.  He kept giving you dirty looks when you were talking in your sleep," Buffy explained.

Removing his arm from Buffy, Spike stepped away and towards the stranger who was quite casually invading his space.

"Lost mate?" Spike asked tersely.

"Rupert!" the name was shouted from the front door of the house.

"Nurse Giles?" Buffy said aloud.

Olivia paid no attention to Buffy; rushing past both she and Spike to greet her husband.  They had been separated for what felt like an eternity and to finally see him, touch him again was Heaven to her.

Spike was as confused as Buffy was by the whole situation, but had little time to consider the two in front of him as Lindsey's irate voice was rolling out of the house in heated waves of anger.

"You fucking bastard!  I'll find you if it's the last fucking thing I do!"

"Bollocks!" Spike mumbled to himself.  He then sighed heavily, turned and marched in resigned determination towards the house to find out what exactly had Lindsey's panties in a bunch.

"Oh dear," Giles offered towards his wife when the sounds of breaking glass floated towards them.

Buffy stood as still as a statue as everyone but her descended on the house.  Forgotten in the chaos that was somewhere this side of nuclear, she was seriously beginning to second guess her decision to come back to Sunnydale.  No matter *how* much she wanted to see Angel, there was more going on here than she had *ever* been led to believe. 

This was nuts.

Crazy.

She was nuts and crazy.

"Psst….Buffy."

The soft sounds of someone calling her name seemed to be coming from her right, but as she squinted to see where it was coming from and who it was, she was side tracked by two cab drivers demanding their fares.

Digging around in her purse, Buffy scraped together enough to satisfy both men and contemplated the sanity of letting them leave without them taking her too.

"Pssssst….Buffy."

Looking back to her right and then back to the house and hearing the commotion that was still in full swing inside, Buffy shrugged and opted for the quieter of the two distractions.  Feeling around in her purse once more, she found her small canister of mace she carried with her at all times and then slowly made her way towards the tall Oak trees lining the right side of the front yard.  Right now her dad could jump out of the bushes wearing a Santa suit and singing Jingle Bells and it wouldn't surprise her.

"Buffy…."

This time the owner of the voice stepped out from his hiding spot and revealed himself to her.


Chapter 11

"Ford?"

"Buffy….its been awhile. You're looking as beautiful as ever though," he complimented as he stepped closer to his high school sweetheart, a reminiscent smile pulling at his lips.

"What are you doing here? Hiding in the bushes I might add?" she questioned accusingly.

"Gee Ford, thanks for the compliment, it's nice to see you too and may I say that you're still the hottie I remember from high school," Ford returned sarcastically, mocking Buffy for her accusations.

"Sorry," Buffy offered, "things are just….crazy."

"Apparently," Ford agreed, nodding towards the ruckus still obvious from the house.

Buffy shrugged, having no idea herself what was going on inside she had no explanation to offer.

"I'm outta the loop on that one," she said then sighed, unsure of her feelings at the moment.

As more glass could be heard shattering from across the yard Ford decided this was neither the time nor the place to attempt a conversation with Angel about his ex-wife and her more than questionable antics. Stepping in front of Buffy, Ford smiled as he brushed back a few stray strands of hair. Some things never change, Buffy never changed.

"Ford, I…."

The young attorney stepped back, "Give this to Angel," he handed her his business card, "tell him to call me. I need to talk to him."

Buffy smiled sheepishly at her ex-boyfriend, "I'll do that."

Ford didn't say anything further; instead he turned and made his way down the paved driveway towards the street where his car sat parked next to the curb. He'd burned the bridge with Buffy a long time ago and he was no longer young and stupid, he knew he could never go back. Not to her. Not to that naive young man he had been when he had so royally screwed things up with her junior year.

Opening his car door, Ford slid into his seat, glancing back towards the house he could no longer see and the girl who had been his every fantasy once; he jammed the key into the ignition and turned the engine. He could only hope that Angel would treat Buffy better than he had. She deserved it.

~~~~~~~~~~~

"So, was he everything you remembered and then some?"

Buffy spun around quickly, "Angel?"

His breath caught when she turned and faced him. The protective alpha male in him had been raging when he had seen her standing way to close to that low life scum attorney Billy Fordham. He couldn't believe that after all the jerk had done to her in high school she could even stomach the sight of him, let alone exchange words with the bastard.

And so it was those feelings that overrode his intellect and true feelings he had for Buffy. Instead of pulling her into his arms and kissing her senseless like he knew he should be doing at that moment, he spewed forth yet more loathing remarks about Buffy's ex, "I can't believe you actually spoke to that creep."

"What?"

"After all the hell that that jerk-off put you through in school and you let him *touch* you?"

Buffy was astonished.

She could *not* believe what she was hearing.

This was Angel?

This is what she'd flown thousands of miles for?

This is the man who she'd ditched spending time with her dying mother for?

She was too upset at that last thought for tears. She was not in the crying state of mind. Maybe later, but not now. Now she just needed to get her stuff and get the hell away from this fucked up place.

Eyeing Angel with as much hatred as she could muster she spun around to leave. Her angry exit was halted by the solid figure standing in her way.

"I'm leaving Lindsey. You can't stop me. Just get out of my way and let me go," Buffy demanded from the man who she'd practically ran right into in her haste to get away from Angel.

"Be my guest," Lindsey smirked, stepping to the side and gesturing a path past him. All the while keeping his eyes firmly glued to Angel. He'd found the bastard and now no one, not even Buffy would get in his way of getting the answers he deserved.

~~~~~~~~~~

"I don't know Rupert, maybe you should have went after him; tried to calm him down a bit," Olivia suggested to her husband. She was less than confident that letting Lindsey storm out of the house was a good idea.

"Oh let the bugger cool his head a bit. Ain't much damage the bloke can do outside that he ain't already done in here," Spike declared as he surveyed the mess that went from one end of the house to the other, all thanks to Lindsey and his now infamous temper. And people said he was a loaded gun. Pffftt….

"I must agree with…." Rupert started, but trailed off when he realized he had no idea who the young man that had offered up his opinion even was.

"Name's Spike," he offered a hand.

Mr. Giles raised and eyebrow at the spiked, blond-headed man's introduction.

"Uhh….yeah….well maybe I'll just venture out and look a bit myself. Maybe he's just needin' a good shoulder to cry on. "Spike said.

Before anyone could say another word they heard a deafening scream come from the front yard.

"NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Without thinking, the three occupants of the house ran down the hallway and out the front door. Moving the fastest of the three, Spike was the first to get to Lindsey who had Angel pinned to the ground and his police issue gun pointing squarely between their friend's eyes. Buffy was still screaming for Lindsey to "please not do this".

Spike tackled Lindsey like an all-pro defensive back, taking the serious chance that Lindsey didn't have the safety on his gun locked and wasn't just trying to scare the shit out of Angel. But it wasn't like the three of them hadn't had these kind of throw downs before. The ones previous had been serious, but not a one of them had ever resorted to threatening another with a gun.

With Spike's momentum on his side, he and Lindsey went flying to the ground and the gun rocketed out of Lindsey's hand and into the bushes behind them.

"Oh my god Angel!" Buffy cried out, rushing over she practically threw herself on the man who only minutes before she was ready to punch herself.
She had no idea what the hell was going on, but seeing Angel with a gun to his head was almost more than she could take. She had thought he had been all but lost to her when she had left to go back to New York. His unconscious state never changing in all the days she had sat with him, and then to find out that he was okay. That all that praying to a higher power had maybe worked. That most importantly, he wanted to see *her* and then to bear witness to his life being snuffed out in front of her eyes, and by one of his best friends at that.

That was unacceptable. No matter what he had done or what Lindsey *thought* he had done, Angel didn't deserve to have his life ended that way. No one deserved that kind of treatment. Cradling Angel's head in her arms, Buffy sobbed; the raw emotions of the day finally getting the best of her.

It felt like one of those slow motion sequences out of a movie to Angel, but the slower, the better. He wanted to savor every second of time he was allotted with Buffy, he had been waiting far too long for this day and there wasn't anything, or anyone who would ruin it for him.

Sliding out of her arms and into a sitting position, Angel reversed their rolls and pulled Buffy tight to his body. He did his best to shush her cries, whispering comforts into her ear. She had no idea of knowing how long he had been waiting to hold her in this way, though wishing with all his heart that the circumstances were different.

He had dreamt of sunshine and roses for the beauty who had held his heart for so long, but instead she had been dragged down into the pits of hell that always seemed to surround his life.

Rocking Buffy's shaking body back and forth without a moments notice to those around them, Angel pondered his reality and whether having her here, near him, was such a good idea. As obvious as it was that his life was in danger, the direct correlation to the harm that could befall Buffy wasn't a hard line to draw.

"Shhh…..baby, its okay," Angel cooed once more, smoothing Buffy's hair with his large hand.

She ignored his words, instead holding tightly to his body she continued to cry for the man she'd almost lost and even if she wouldn't rightly admit it, for those who she'd lost before. Too many bad memories flooding back in the face of dire tragedy.

While Buffy and Angel sat tangled in a mess of limbs and emotions, Spike had done his best to wrestle Lindsey to the ground and restrain him with his own handcuffs. Pulling the other man to his feet he shoved him towards the house and away from Angel.

"What the bloody hell was that?" Spike spat out as he continued to push Lindsey forward.

But before Lindsey could speak his mind he was blindsided by a right hook. Rupert had stood back and watched his only nephew stare down the barrel of death; a gun pointed squarely between his eyes and an enraged friend holding the trigger. He had looked death in the eye like that himself a time or two and he could relate all to well to what Angel must have been feeling at that moment.

More so, on his mind though was the fact that one of Angel's friends had been the culprit. He couldn't fathom what his nephew could have done to provoke such behavior, actually there wasn't a thing *anyone* could have done to justify Mr. McDonald to act in such a barbaric way.

Lindsey stumbled to the ground, doing his best to fall on his side and not flat on his face as his hands had been neatly bound behind his back with his own handcuffs. Begging Spike with his eyes to keep Angel's uncle off of him, Lindsey snaked his tongue out of his mouth and licked at the blood running crimson from his upper lip.

Spike did his best to restrain his fellow countryman; Mr. Giles had no way of knowing.

"Let go of me you pansy-ass," Rupert hissed at Spike.

"Look-here ol' man, there's more here goin' on than ya know. Settle down a bit will ya?" Spike said in a low tone to which only Mr. Giles could hear.

In an icy tone only a seasoned being could possess Mr. Giles replied,"I will kill you now with my bare hands if you do not voluntarily remove your hands from my person."

Spike dropped back immediately, shrugging in defeat to his still bloodied friend.

Both men watched in fearful curiosity as Angel's uncle removed his glasses and began to clean them in chilling calm with the white hanky he pulled from his jacket pocket. There was certainly more to this man than either of them had known. It was quite possible that they had failed to inform the wrong person.

"Uhhh….Spike," Lindsey begged.

"Sorry mate, bloke threatened to kill me," Spike returned in defense.

"Well *mate* I'm at a bit of a disadvantage here…hands and all," Lindsey shot back, rolling around to emphasize his point.

"Umm….boys?" Olivia tossed in.

"Not now!" the three shot back in unison.

Refusing to be ignored Olivia tried again, "Maybe the three of you should take a hint," she offered with a toss of her head towards the house.

It was there that they each witnessed Angel carrying Buffy in his arms, up the front lawn and into the house; neither paying the lot of them any attention.

~~~~~~~~~~

"Nice….place…..you've got here."

"The stars speak to me; they tell me where to go."

"Umm….yeah….sure they do. Look, we've got things to work out here. Let's just get to it." He tried to steer the conversation back to the task at hand and away from the pretty little nether world the wacko liked to live in.

"The bees are buzzing in the perfume of the flowers, they are dizzying my head with all their talk," she answered.

"You want to tell me again why it is that *you* are in this?" he demanded angrily.

"Because daddy's been a very naughty boy," she answered wickedly, an evil smile dancing across her pale face."

"Daddy? Issues much?" he returned sarcastically.

"When the children are bad they must be punished, but sometimes when the daddy is bad…." The laugh that came at the end of that unfinished statement sent chills down his spine.

"God Dru, can you please not talk like that, you're creepin' me out!"

Seductively she ran a finger down his cheek, neck and chest, before dancing a finger in the shape of a heart over his own organ.

Smiling in that wicked way she did, she questioned,

"Is Xander scared of daddy too?"


Chapter 12

The strained, hot afternoon dragged into an early, cool evening and the tempers from earlier that day seemed to lower with each degree. Though it was never voiced, it was decidedly unanimous to let everyone go their own ways in the house and regain their composure. After several long and tedious hours, all those involved finally began to make their way into the kitchen.

The room had always been a gathering place for Angel’s family. From the time he was a small child, the kitchen was the one place in his house that everyone enjoyed being. It filled his heart to see everyone sitting around, sipping their tea or coffee’s and waiting for him and Buffy to join them. Hand in hand, the two eased their way into the room.

“Bout time mate, was beginnin’ to think we were gonna have to send out the army for ya.” Spike teased, trying to lighten the continued heavy mood within the house.

Angel smiled, pulling a still timid Buffy closer to his side. Easily and quietly, he guided them to the large kitchen table, pulling out chairs for both of them. Following suit, Angel’s two best friends, aunt and uncle joined them.

“First off I want to say that no matter what has happened or will happen after today, I couldn’t ask for better people in my life,” Angel began.

Grasping Buffy’s tiny hand in his for support, he continued, “I owe some people some explanations…apologies. The ones I owed to Buffy, I have given, to an extent, but to everyone else, I’m sorry.”

“No problem man, just glad you’re okay now. Gave us all a right scare,” Spike offered before taking a drag off the cigarette he knew he wasn’t allowed to smoke inside his friend’s house.

“As much as it pains me, I have to agree with William,” Rupert began, “we are truly grateful you’re okay. The rest…though possibly not to my approval, is….rubbish now.”

Angel watched as his Uncle Rupert pulled his Aunt Olivia in close to him, both of them smiling at their nephew. The two had taken over as make shift long distant parents for him after both of his parents’ passings, and he had little doubt that they were conveying the exact emotions his own parents would be having if they were still here. Both his parents and his aunt and uncle had never been anything less than supportive of him, no matter what kind of fool he had made of himself.

Lindsey however was a different story, and Angel knew it. They had been best friends since the first day the boy moved into town with his family from Texas. They had clicked instantly, enjoyed the same things, sometimes even wanted the same women, but had always been honest with each other, until her.

Angel had committed an act of betrayal, and he knew down to his core that he deserved everything that Lindsey had dished out and probably more. He had allowed himself to get tangled in the web of lies she told, putting himself in the line of fire for his best friend. He had known that she was deceiving Lindsey, he just hadn’t known how badly. He hadn’t known that was, until he was drowning in the middle of it.

“If you think saying ‘I’m sorry’ is going to make it all go away you’re sorely mistaken,” Lindsey finally spat out.

In heartfelt seriousness, Angel responded, “Not in this lifetime or any other.”

“Just so we’re clear,” Lindsey answered evenly.

Angel nodded, “We are.”

Taking a few moments to gather his thoughts, Angel rose from his chair, releasing Buffy’s hand and moved towards the large French doors. Staring out into the wilds of his back yard, he tried to organize his thoughts. He wanted to be as open and honest as he could, but knowing how much some of what he was going to say would ultimately hurt Buffy the most, was heart wrenching.

He had apologized to her, confessed his infatuation with her from the beginning, thanked her again and again for sitting with him day in and day out during his coma and in the end asked that she forgive him for things she didn’t yet know he had done. They had held each other; grateful for a second chance all the while Angel knew that their second chance might be very short-lived.

Taking in a deep breath, Angel turned and walked back to the table, looking confidently into the eyes of each one of his treasured family and friends, Angel began to explain. He chose his words carefully, trying to delicately as he could, explain his secretive actions over the past few months. The why’s of betraying your best friend were not easily rationalized. Angel had practically made himself sick in the beginning of all this. Deliberately deceiving one of your best friends, even if it were in his best interest was hard, much harder than he had anticipated. In the end, though it had almost cost him his life, he had obtained what he was after, proof that Willow Rosenburg, Lindsey’s ex-girlfriend, had been using him for information. Information, that was worth a pretty penny in the hands of the right person.

It was Buffy who protested first, “I don’t believe you.”

Angel looked at her with pleading eyes, “I’m sorry. I know you were…are friends.”

“We aren’t *just* friends,” she started through choking tears, “she’s been my best friend since our freshman year in high school. We’ve told each other everything. She would never do the horrible things you’re accusing her of. She’s a doctor for crying out loud, she took an oath!”

Lindsey pushed away from the table and began to pace the room. It was his habit when thinking, when he was putting all the pieces of the puzzle together.

“You think she’s the one who poisoned you? It wasn’t an accident…you’re sure?” Lindsey questioned mid stride.

It had been he and Spike’s thought from day one, but never once had either man thought that Lindsey’s ex could have been the perpetrator. Both men had been surely bent on Darla being behind it all that they had turned a blind eye to details that could have very well pointed them in the right direction.

“She was here, she ordered us Chinese, but before it arrived she got a page from the hospital and left. She said there was some kind of emergency and she had to go,” Angel answered.

“And *that* makes her your prime suspect?” Buffy returned harshly.

Angel sighed, he knew it wasn’t the ace in the hole she would need to condemn her best friend, but it was the last bit of evidence he had needed to sink the redhead’s ship.

“She knew about his food allergy. We, Willow and I, had been out to dinner with him and Darla several times. She’s a doctor. She knew what the wrong ingredient would do to him,” Lindsey offered regretfully.

“What she ordered was the same thing we have ordered from that same place numerous times. It wasn’t what she ordered, because I know their menu like the back of my hand. I know the exact ingredients that they use in every dish, I have to,” Angel continued, “It’s the fact that she came back to see if I was dead or not later. I was in and out of consciousness after the reaction hit me, but I have a clear recollection that she was here arguing with another female about how long it would take me to die.”

Angel’s Aunt Olivia gasp at that revelation. It almost made her physically ill to think that her nephew had overheard his own killers discussing his death. How horrible.

“But why? Why would she do this? She has no incentive, no motive to want you dead,” Buffy cried out.

As if a lightening bolt had come down and struck him in that moment, Lindsey McDonald knew. He knew why Willow had used him, why his friend had risked his life to prove it, and why a thousand different reasons weren’t going to make it any easier for Buffy to believe.

“She was jealous of you,” Lindsey offered in almost a whisper.

It made him sick to his stomach to think he had been so oblivious to it all as it was going down, how he almost lost his best friend, hell he’d even thought about killing Angel himself and all for what? A redheaded whore who was so petty she’d let high school jealousy rule her life.

“What?” Buffy questioned, sure she had heard the detective wrong.

Spike kicked his feet up on the kitchen table and lit up another cigarette. This was better than that soap opera Faith had gotten him hooked on. Angel eyed his friend; Spike knew he didn’t allow smoking in his house. The blonde shrugged off the look and continued as he was. There wasn’t a shot in hell Angel would do anything about it now, not with all this damn drama going on.

“I said she was jealous of you. She said as much to me on a daily basis when we were going out,” Lindsey returned unapologetically.

“I don’t believe you,” Buffy countered, “Besides, why would she be jealous of me? She’s the smart one, she’s the one with the great future ahead of her. I have a crap job, my dad deserted me when I was a kid, my mom just died and my sister took off for who knows where because she can’t deal. Loads to be jealous of!”

“I don’t understand what this woman’s issues with Buffy have to do with trying to kill Angel?” Olivia interrupted.

“Its quite simple really,” Rupert began, “This Willow has been walking in Buffy’s shadow since high school. She wanted everything that Buffy had and then some.”

“But…” Olivia began to argue.

“Or, she’s been a little off kilter ever since she was physically abused by her step-father at the age of six,” Rupert continued, grabbing a manila folder off the counter behind him. He opened it and splayed it out on the kitchen table for everyone to see.

“I had my people do an intense background search on everyone who had ever had contact with Angel or his friends, though I must say that William has quite a colorful past, he has nothing on Ms. Rosenburg, or shall I say the other Ms. Chamberlin.”

“Hey!” Spike protested.

“Other Ms. Chamberlin?” Angel questioned ignoring his friend’s comment, “The only Ms. Chamberlin around here is Darla.”

Rupert nodded and pushed the folder towards Angel. His nephew picked it up and studied it carefully, “I don’t understand.”

“Ms. Rosenberg was the bastard younger sister of your less than pleasant ex-wife. Darla’s father had an affair when Darla was three, producing Willow. I don’t believe that Darla knew who Willow was or anything about her, but I’m quite confident that Willow had always known about her much more wealthy and popular older sister.”

“But I know Mr. Rosenburg, he would never have hurt Willow,” Buffy argued, “He was a nice guy.”

“I have no doubt, as he was not the father figure who parlayed punishment so strong to a six year old that she would end up in the hospital for two months,” Rupert answered sadly.

Buffy’s hand flew to her mouth as the information about her friend’s childhood sunk in. How could she have been so close to her for so many years and never know that such atrocities had taken place?

Rupert stood from the table and walked towards the obviously upset woman, “There was nothing you could have done; she needed a great deal of help, professional help. You knowing wouldn’t have changed what she’s done, what she’s capable of.”

Suddenly and without warning Spike jumped from the table and headed for the French doors. Something had caught his attention, and he wasn’t sure what or who it might be.

“Spike?” Angel questioned.

“You just go on talking, I think I need a smoke,” he answered and with that, he opened up one of the doors and stalked outside.

“Like he’s cared up until now about smoking in the house?” Lindsey commented with a roll of his eyes after his friend shut the door.

Spike stood for a moment on the patio that was directly outside the kitchen doors, allowing his eyes to adjust to the blackness outside. The moon was out in all of its full glory, though with all the foliage surrounding his friend’s house the light from the night sky did little to aid his view. It wasn’t like he was a creature of the night or anything, one of those damn vampires or werewolves that one could read about in books or watch on the telly. No, this was real life, and as good of a hunter as Spike was, he wasn’t *that* good.

After several long minutes of quietly standing still; waiting, listening, Spike moved forward off the brick patio. Looking left then right, he decided on the direction his gut instinct had turned him in first, left it was. Less than fifty yards into his quest the bleach blonde private investigator heard hushed voices. In that moment, he knew, things were not right outside his best friend’s home.

Running purely on instinct, Spike flattened himself against the wall of the enormous stone home. Drawing his concealed weapon from its holster secured over his shoulders, Spike moved in measured steps; careful to make as noise as possible. He needed to get as close to whoever was out here as he could.

And Spike had a real good idea who was fumbling around outside his friend’s home. Or at least he thought he did.


Chapter 13

Tip toeing through the tulips he was not, or he guessed he could be for all he knew. Maybe there really were tulips planted next to the house somewhere, as dark as it was outside, he really couldn’t tell. Regardless of whatever it was he was trudging through, Spike was certain that he was destroying every bit of it. Shaking that absurd thought away, he continued to quietly move towards the front of the house; gun drawn, ready for some action. He’d had about enough touchy-feely lets share our emotions for the night.

The next twenty or so yards yielded several quiet mumbles to himself about the definite rose bushes he was parading by. He may not be able to discern tulips from tiger lilies, but he sure as damn well recognized a rose thorn when he felt it piercing though his skin. Spike looked skyward as he pulled the last thorn from his left hand; as the full moon caught moving metal a few yards in front of him, reflecting for a brief moment light in his direction. He was now certain he wasn’t just chasing a ghost of a robot somewhere in his imagination, there was most definitely someone out here.

Moving with catlike grace, the blonde investigator changed into predator mode; gun out in front of him, almost sniffing out his prey. With quick steps, it took him mere moments to catch the hushed voices directly in front of him.

“The moon whispers to me.”

Xander ignored his partner. He’d had about all he could take from the nut job. He wouldn’t have even brought her along had it not been for the demon bitch from hell’s orders. He would get revenge on that bitch one of these days. It wasn’t like when all this was said and done he didn’t have enough shit on her to blackmail her to the next millennium.

Dru grabbed Xander’s arm, squeezing tightly she continued, “It says we are doomed.”

“I’d say it’s pretty damn accurate,” Spike informed the intruders from his position behind them.

~~~~~

At Spike’s exit, Buffy quietly excused herself. The nauseousness in her stomach was close to taking over. Her body was ready to rid itself of any contents at the thought of what her best friend had endured as a child. At this point, she couldn’t even grasp the idea of Willow trying to kill Angel. It was a concept her mind but mostly her heart wouldn’t accept. She’d known the redhead too long to believe that she could have honestly had anything to do with Angel.

Angel gave Buffy some distance before he followed her up the stairs. He could only imagine what this must be like for her. In an instant, the whole world she’d known before was coming crashing down around her, and he was partly to blame for it. The relationship that he’d started with Willow had been his doing to protect his friend, but deep down inside, he knew that one day he would regret that move almost more than anything else he’d ever done. To finally have the one girl that he’d always pined for in his grasp and then to lose her, which he was certain at this point and time was a real possibility, would be devastating.

Without effort, Angel found Buffy in his bedroom, staring out the open window that looked out over his front lawn. She was hugging herself, like a small child would do. The temptation was there, to go to her pull her into his arms and sooth the pain that he knew she was in. As it stood though, he didn’t deserve to even set eyes on her. He’d betrayed her even before he knew her.

“I can’t believe someone would do such things to children…I can’t believe she never told me,” Buffy said sadly, never turning to look at Angel.

Angel cautiously moved into the room, “Maybe she was ashamed, thought it was her fault somehow.”

Buffy shrugged.

“I’m sorry, for my part in all of this. I was trying to protect Lindsey. I had no way of knowing I’d finally find you.”

Buffy turned quickly, anger clearly written on her face.

~~~~~

At the commotion that was wafting through the open living room window, Lindsey, Rupert and Olivia moved from their seats they were still occupying in the kitchen to investigate. Peering out into the darkness, Lindsey couldn’t see a thing, though Spike’s raised voice was obvious.

“I told you to put your hands behind your head. NOW!”

With the seriousness of the situation coming through Spike’s tone, Lindsey ran for the door, stopping only briefly to grab the baseball bat he knew Angel kept in the umbrella holder next to the front door. Since his gun had been retained from his possession earlier in the evening, he was weaponless without the bat. It wouldn’t save him if someone shot at him, but hopefully his friend had the situation in enough control that wouldn’t be an issue.

Unbeknownst to Lindsey, Rupert followed his lead and was out the door in a flash. All those years in Special Forces had kept him in good shape for his age. A thought that hadn’t escaped Rupert as he kept closely to his nephew’s friend.

“On your knees!” Spike barked out, noticing Lindsey and Rupert coming up the front lawn.

“My sweet Xander….the stars are singing the end,” Drusilla sing-songed.

“Not a word Dru! Just shut the hell up!” Xander ordered.

“What is she talking about?” Lindsey demanded on his approach.

In Rupert’s haste to prove he still “had it”, trying to keep up with the much younger man, he found out just what it was that the woman was speaking so oddly of. Catching a toe on a line of something, Rupert went face first into the wet grass. For all of his years of military training it hadn’t taken him long to figure out what it was that they were dealing with. The situation was beyond dangerous.

“I would kindly request that NO ONE move,” Rupert said with as much emphasis on this applying to everyone as he could without turning this into an even larger problem.

~~~~~

Angel prepared himself for the worst. Not that he didn’t deserve every bit of it, but still, the thought of the things he done in the name of loyalty to his friend, that those things would come back to drive a stake through Buffy’s heart….

“I can’t believe….” Buffy started, interrupted in mid-sentence by her cell phone.

Over the time her mother had been ill, Buffy had trained herself to ignore everything around her when her cell phone went off. An automatic response from the numerous amounts of calls she received when her mother had first become ill. Those first couple of months of being unable to be at home with her mother had been horrible, but her one lifeline had been her cell phone. She had been comforted by the fact that no matter what, she could always be reached.

Buffy immediately pulled her phone out of her jeans pocket, “Hello?”

“Whatch’ya thinkin’?”

Buffy didn’t skip a beat, she answered immediately, “That after all these years, after all the things I’ve shared with you….I *never* knew *you* at all.”

“Hmm….guess not.”

“Why?”

“Like you would have wanted to know my deepest, darkest secrets. You had it all, why worry about poor, pitiful Willow.”

Angel moved closer to Buffy. By the half of the conversation he could hear, he knew who had called, and he didn’t like it.

“Why would you think that? HOW could you think that?” Buffy questioned. Startled at the hateful tone that tinged her friend’s voice.

“Bored now,” Willow stated simply and hung up.

“Willow? Willow???” Buffy yelled into the phone.

~~~~~
Rupert slowly brought himself to his feet, unsure of the stability that Bonnie and Clyde had prepared their surprise with. He knew first hand that explosives were a touchy thing to handle even by experts, he could only guess what these two clowns had concocted.

“No sudden moves, by anyone,” he advised again, “and I want one of you two to tell me what you’ve used here.”

“The reign of fire will fall on you under the silver moon….and you will BURN!” Dru spat at Rupert.

“Shut UP!” Xander ground out.

“The redbird is restless within the cage, she yearns to fly again.”

“What the hell is she talking about?” Lindsey asked.

With cautious steps Rupert brought himself eye to eye with Xander, “What have you used and WHY?”

Xander turned his head away from the older gentleman; he was not talking to him. He was as good as dead if he ratted her out, he might as well take everyone else with him if this was going to be his end.

“The bloke asked you a question….think you better answer ‘im,” Spike said, pointing the barrel of his gun to Xander’s temple.

~~~~~

“She hung up on me….just….” Buffy said aloud.

“What did she say?” Angel questioned as he moved to stand in front of Buffy.

Buffy didn’t answer, but then, she didn’t have to; the closet door opened in a flash and the redhead appeared, “I said I was bored now.”

Both Buffy and Angel jumped at her words. They weren’t expecting her to be there in the room with them and the tone in which she spoke had sounded so evil, so angry, it was frightening even to Angel.

“Willow?”

“Sorry Buff, didn’t mean to ….*scare* you,” she said with a laugh.

“How did you get in my house?” Angel asked as he protectively moved in front of Buffy.

Willow smirked at her former lover then threw him a key. The key that he had given her once upon a time when he thought he was playing her. Little did he know, he was the one being played.

Angel’s reflexes were as keen as always; his hand reaching up and catching the key without incident. He hadn’t exactly had time to change the locks since he had been home, he should have known how Willow had gotten in. What a ridiculous question.

The redhead moved through the room, crossing in front of her former best friend. She stood in front of the open window, taking in deep breaths.

“Why?” Buffy asked, “Why would you do such a terrible thing? Why…”

“Have I ever told you that you talk too much?” Willow returned interrupting Buffy.

“I..”

“Yeah, it’s always been about you Buffy. How much *you* were in love with Angel. How much *you* wanted to date him. You…you…YOU! Ever think about anyone other than yourself sweetie?”

“Willow, that’s enough,” Angel demanded.

“Awww….how precious. Big strong Angel’s finally figured it out, come to the rescue huh? Well, how about a gift? I think in your new “togetherness” you need a gift.”

“Why don’t you come down stairs with me, we can talk,” Buffy offered.

“Isn’t she just the bestest! She wants to be friends NOW!!!!!!!” Willow said sarcastically to Angel.

“That’s not…” Buffy began.

“Oh shut the fuck up. You’re going off topic, and I don’t appreciate it. The present, you’re trying to avoid your present,” Willow returned.

“Okay, okay…what present?” Buffy asked, trying to calm her angry friend.

A devious smiled crossed Willow’s face. This was what she’d been waiting for.

“I fucked Angel in every room of this house.”

“Willow, DON’T!” Angel ordered.

The redhead eyed him but continued on, “I fucked him and then I tried to kill him. What a fucking bonus, he lived through it and I got to tell you all about it,” she laughed that manacle laugh of a crazy person, “and then I get to kill you both.”

Buffy and Angel looked at one another, unsure whether they could take someone so obviously disturbed at her word. Was she really going to attack them. It was ridiculous, she was no physical match for Angel, and even if she could take him down, Willow was quite aware Buffy had several years of martial arts training. Her mother had refused to let her move to New York without knowing she could take care of herself. She’d never been forced to put her skills to the test, but she knew that it just had to play in Willow’s mind…at least a little.

“I could shoot you, but I don’t have a gun,” Willow taunted, “I could have poisoned the coffee each and every one of you drank tonight, but I didn’t.

“Or maybe I did, you just never know….”

“We can get you some help,” Buffy pleaded, desperately trying to think of a good way to end this.

Willow turned towards the window, looked over her shoulder and laughed at the couple who had betrayed her for years, at least in her mind, “I’m not the one who needs help, ‘cause in about thirty seconds, this place is going to get rocked…like hard.”

And with those last words, Willow dove out the bedroom window head first. Her movements were so quick that neither Angel nor Buffy had time to react, let a lone stop her from plummeting to her death. They reached the window only to find the redhead sprawled in a tangled mess of limbs on the lawn below. She had dove headfirst on purpose, knowing that the distance she fell most likely wouldn’t kill her unless she landed on her head, effectively breaking her neck. And that’s just what she did.

~~~~~

“Ohh…look Xander, she finally got to fly! Did you see her? Did you????” Dru asked excitedly.

Xander looked ahead in shock. He had seen her, but he hadn’t actually thought it was real. This whole thing had been her idea and now she was going to leave them to pay for it. No fucking way.

“That psychotic BITCH!!!” Xander screamed!

Spiked cocked his gun, just to remind the boy who was in control and that there was a question to be answered.

“That fucking bitch set us up!”

“Set you up for what?” Lindsey questioned angrily.
“To take the fall, that’s fucking what. This was her idea and now she’s taking the easy fucking way out,” Xander spat at the detective.

“What have you done here?” Rupert asked again, moving cautiously closer to Xander.

“The whole house is rigged. It probably has less than a minute before it goes up. If we’re anywhere close it’s taking us all.” He answered reluctantly.

Rupert immediately went into commander mode, “The two of you get these two out of here, pick up the girl out front, if this place goes really does go….I have to find Olivia.”

As the five turned to head away from the house Olivia appeared, she’d heard the loud noise from the front steps where she’d been standing. When she found the source of the racket, she’d known immediately the young girl had fallen to her death.

“There was nothing I could do, she died instantly,” she offered tearfully.

“It doesn’t matter, we have to get away from here,” Rupert answered sternly, pulling her by the arm towards the street.

Suddenly it hit Rupert, looking up he saw his nephew holding the young woman in his arms at the window. They must have seen her jump they….

“Angel! Angel you have to get out of the house!” He yelled up to them.

“What?” Angel hadn’t heard what his uncle had said to him, so he eased away from Buffy and leaned out of the window to hear him better.

“GET OUT OF THE HOUSE! IT’S GOING TO EXPLODE!!!”

He had heard that, loud and clear. The present. The house rocking, hard. She’d been planning on killing them both. In that instant, it all became perfectly clear to Angel. He had no idea how much time he had left, but he wasn’t going to go out without a fight. He had to try to save Buffy.

Grabbing her by the hand, he yanked hard on her arm as he headed for the door.

“What are you doing?” She asked, trying to stop him.

“We have to get out of the house,” he answered still at a run, pulling a begrudging Buffy behind him.

She could be as pissed off as she wanted to be at him when this was all over, but they *had* to get out first. That was the main thing….they had to get out alive.

~~~~~

Lindsey started past the group; he was going in to get his best friend.

Rupert reached out with one strong hand and grabbed a handful of his shirt, “You are not going in. They’ll make it. Stay put.”

“You can’t tell me what to do, I’m a grown man, and Angel’s my best friend and I have to *try* to save him. I let him down before; I’m not going to let him down again.”

Rupert grabbed the man this time with both hands, pulling him close to his face, “He’s *my* nephew! My flesh and bone, but I cannot allow anyone back into that house. You of all people should know this.”

Lindsey pushed away from Rupert. He was clearly angry, but did in fact know the man was right. If they lost two lives, it would be bad, if they lost three or four it would be worse. All he and any of the rest of them could do now was pray.

~~~~~

Within seconds, Buffy got the message from Angel that this was serious and not just some macho guy thing, and he was for some weird reason trying to prove something to her. So, in that, Buffy quickened her steps and ran along side Angel, following his lead as he was quite a bit more familiar with the house than she could ever be.

As the pair hit the bottom of the staircase, the loud popping noise started in the back of the house towards the kitchen. In that moment, the two knew for certain, they were at the end of the line. They had to step it up if they were to make it out of the house alive.

Buffy did her best to keep up with Angel as he maneuvered through the hallway and living room area towards the front door. He was quite a bit taller than she was and so his longer legs made longer strides, something that forced her to run as quickly as she could force her body to go just to keep up.

The couple hit the front door as the heat from the blasts behind them began to claw at their necks. Both took the front steps with a leap and hit the front walk with a stumble and a roll. Angel dove towards Buffy’s body when he heard the last crack of explosives erupt behind him. He covered her body with his and did the only thing he could at that moment, he prayed.

~~~~~

He wasn’t sure how or when it had happened, but suddenly it was dark, and very, very quiet. He was trapped in a cavernous pit of blackness that had engulfed his being in an instant and there was no one to save him, no one to comfort him. He was trapped in solitude. If death had been his destiny at this very point in time, then karma was dealing him his fated hand. Torture in one of Dante’s circles couldn’t be a worse way to spend eternity than in the dark aloneness he could not presently escape.

Just as Angel O’Connor was about to give up hope that anyone would ever find him, wherever he was, there was a voice.

“God Angel, I can’t believe we’re back where we started. You know, I’m really tired of talking to you while you’re unconscious in a hospital bed. Can you maybe try not to get yourself almost killed anymore? And maybe….wake up?” The last of her words squeaked out as she tried to hide the tears that began to fall.

Buffy couldn’t help the desperation she felt at that moment. She’d found the man she’d been in love with forever and just when she thought she had him, he ends up in the hospital, again.

“How’s it going babe?” Spiked asked from behind her, Lindsey at his side and both with concern marring their faces.

Buffy looked up at Angel’s friends, “Same…I guess,” she answered with tears.

“Buffy?”

At the sound of her name, she whipped back around to look at Angel.

“Oh my god….You’re…you’re awake,” Buffy smiled, moving quickly towards his bedside she caressed his face gently with her good hand.

They both had been burned in the explosion, but thanks to Angel’s heroics, Buffy had taken the lesser of the blow. Angel on the other hand had been knocked unconscious and had taken some injuries to the back of his legs and arms, somehow missing his back altogether.

“Mate!” Spike added in and he and Lindsey moved to surround their friend’s bed.

“I feel like I’ve just been run over by a truck,” Angel mused out loud.

“More like had a house land on you, but close enough,” Lindsey said deadpan.

That comment seemed to lighten the mood, if only for a moment. Suddenly there was commotion outside Angel’s hospital room door.

“What the hell?” Spike commented.

Before Lindsey had a chance to open the door to investigate what the commotion was all about the blond tornado whirled in, with a very angry nurse in tow.

Darla shoved everyone in the room out of the way, as she marched up to Angel’s bed.

In a replay of a couple of days earlier, Angel’s former wife slapped him across the face, “Why couldn’t you just die like any decent man?” Darla spat at him, “I go through all this trouble and this is the thanks I get?”

Buffy didn’t hesitate to act, she grabbed a handful of blond hair and yanked backward as hard as she could. With a squeal of surprise, Darla went flying towards the wall. Moving in front of her, Buffy reached back and with all her strength punched the woman straight in the nose.

“OWWW! You bitch!” Darla screamed as she clutched her face.

Lindsey grabbed Darla by the arms and began reading her, her rights. Spike was hard pressed to stop laughing and Buffy was doing all she could not to punch the woman again. It wasn’t like they weren’t all kind of expecting this brazen entrance. The pair of fools that had helped with Willow’s plan had spewed forth where the source of these activities had actually come from.

In the end, Willow had screwed a lot of people, no the least of which was her own sister. Darla had wanted Angel dead first for the money she figured on inheriting, then after he survived that she wanted him murdered simply out of spite. Willow had wanted everyone who she deemed to have ever wronged her to pay and poor Xander and Dru were just pansies wanting to be a part of something.

~~~~~

After a short hospital stay Angel took Buffy home, this time to the home they would share together. His childhood home may be in ruins, but he took the only thing from it that was important, the memories. Though Buffy admitted they had a lot of talking to do, she couldn’t argue with his generosity and besides, she did kind of owe him her life. A fact that he wasn’t above reminding her of when she started to get cold feet on him. He’d waited a long time for this to happen, made a lot of mistakes in between, but he was determined to at least give them the chance that they hadn’t had before. A chance at a life together. A chance to touch reality.


THE END.