Lending a Helping Hand

by Serena

TIMELINE: Christmas of the 4th season

SPOILERS: Up through 'Something Blue' and 'Hero'

AUTHOR'S NOTES: I didn't get to do a Christmas fic last year, so I decided I'd do it this year.


Prologue

The female Oracle looked at her counterpart in disgust before turning her gaze back to the glowing ball before them. They were messengers of The Powers That Be, powerful in their own right yet mere servants to the greater good. This often caused a conflict between conscious and duty, and that was what was resulting right now.

"How can you think that they are better off this way?" she demanded, gesturing to the glowing orb. It was not an actual orb, of course, for the Oracles had no use for material things. It had been made of air and earth, natural elements like the Oracles themselves. It shimmered in the large open space they occupied, the window to the mortal world that was at their disposal. She had called on it now to emphasize her point.

A blond girl sat among people who were obviously her friends. While they were laughing and joking, she was quiet and pensive, her chin in her palm and a look in her eye that betrayed the fact that although she was there, her thoughts were not. She was beautiful, yet dangerous, and she carried herself as such.

She was the Slayer.

And she was not doing well.

The orb split suddenly into two separate balls of light, and the new one was filled with the face of a dark man working for his redemption. The image displayed showed him fighting off a demon, a young woman cowering behind him in fear. He was brutal, yet not more so than needed. He was doing his job.

He was known as Angel.

And he, too, was not doing well.

"They are fine without each other. This matter of love does not concern us," he spat, turning away from the orbs in disgust. The place they resided was filled with nothing, and yet it was filled with everything. It was not heaven, it was not hell. It was supernatural and extraordinary and beautiful all at once.

It was their home.

"You seem to focus only on the love they share. Why not focus on the skills they possess as Warriors?" she replied calmly, her eyes fixed on the two.

"Their skill has nothing to do with this," her counterpart said. He was angry that she felt the need to interfere here, where she had no place to. This matter had been closed almost a month ago.

"Ah, that is where you are blind," she said wisely. Touching his arm, she forced him to look at her. "Their skill to fight comes from the will they have, and that will is close to being broken. Can you not see that they are miserable without each other?"

He sighed. "The matter is out of our hands. The Powers have the final say and they do not agree with you. And, I must confess, neither do I. If they were true Warriors, they would carry on no matter what happened. They are weakened by their love."

"You are wrong," she said violently, her anger making the facade around them shimmer in warning. "They are made stronger by their love. Why am I the only one that sees this?"

"You have always been compassionate when it comes to lovers, and that is your downfall," he retorted. "This matter does NOT concern us."

"If they are not reunited, they will die. It has been foreseen," she said.

"Then it is their responsibility to reunite themselves. We have no power over this," he told her, linking his hand in hers. They were two halves of one whole, the same as this pair of star-crossed lovers. Together, they were invincible. Apart, they retained some of their power, but they completed each other and that kind of bond was a different kind of power all together.

"Maybe if we just pushed..." she suggested, raising a golden brow at him.

"What do you propose?" he asked skeptically, crossing his arms over his chest. She took a step over to the orbs that still glowed brightly and sighed. Looking down, she was able to concentrate better. There was no floor, for the Oracles did not need something solid to stay upright on. They did not float, either, but merely existed.

"Let her remember," she said suddenly. "Not completely, but through dreams let her remember what happened. The fighting, him coming here, the Mohra demon. She could interpret them differently, perhaps as hints to the future. She will go to him if she thinks he is in danger--or perhaps for answers. Either way, they will be together..."

"And what if she does? We cannot turn him human for her," he argued.

"If we show The Powers how powerful they are together, rather than apart, surely they will realize the mistake they've made and promptly fix it."

"I know you have something else up your sleeve," he said in defeat, "and The Powers will probably have my head for letting you do this. But do what you will."

The female smiled in triumphant, her plan put into action instantly.

And so the dreams began.


Part One

Buffy bolted upright in her bed, a cold sweat making the sheets cling to her body. Her heart was racing a mile a minute and she brought a hand up to her chest, taking several calming breaths in the process. Glancing over, she was relieved to see that Willow was still sound asleep. The artificial Christmas tree they had set up sat in the corner, lights casting a soft glow around the dark room.

Buffy's eyes drifted around the room as she calmed down, her brain moving at the speed of light to process her disturbing and almost erotic dream. It was all rather hazy and unclear at first, the kind of dream that was usually prophetic.

She ran a shaky hand through her rumpled hair, brushing the scar on her neck in the process. Angel...

Her dream had been about Angel, Angel being human. They had been together, and it had been perfect. They had made love all day long--on a table, in his bed, even in the shower... They had enjoyed food and each other's company and Buffy had felt such contentment, such happiness, that it couldn't have been a dream. Everything felt so vivid now...

Was it prophetic? Would her dream come to pass like so many others? Or was it just her subconscious, reminding her of what she could never have?

Buffy sighed in frustration and flopped back down into her covers. She rolled over in an effort to get comfortable again, but nothing worked. She was too confused and too worked up to sleep. Unlike most dreams that fade away moments after you wake up, this one became sharper and clearer with each passing minute--almost as if it was a memory...

Buffy punched her pillow several times to reshape it, rolling over onto her back. She had her last final tomorrow, and then it was vacation. She was spending Christmas with her father in Los Angeles while her mother went to New York to visit Buffy's aunt...

She stared at the ceiling for a long time, her mind replaying the events over and over again. The dream was too perfect, too right...it could only be that--just a dream. Content with her answer, she slipped back into sleep.

The dreams haunted her once more.


"Rough night?" Riley asked as he and Buffy walked idly across the campus to Stevenson Hall. Her psych final had been a killer, but with the help of her T.A. boyfriend she as sure she had aced it.

Buffy sighed. "I had strange dreams," she told him as they reached the doors to her dorm.

"Want to tell me about them?" he asked, holding the door open for her like a gentleman. She smiled her thanks and stepped over the threshold.

"No," she said quickly. She didn't think Riley would like to know that she had dreamed about having tons of sex with her demonic ex-boyfriend...which is what they had had. Tons... "They're just keeping my thoughts occupied."

Riley seemed content with her answer as he linked his hand with hers. "How do you think you did on the final?"

"I think I should thank you for helping me," she said playfully as she stopped and turned to him. He flashed her a brilliant smile and tugged him closer to her.

"And just how are you gonna do that?" he asked with a sexy half-smile on his lips. She pulled his head down to hers, her lips melding with his in the middle of the lounge. Pulling away, she gazed up at him happily. "Well, that works for me," he said, kissing her again before leading her to her room.

As Buffy dug in her bag for her keys, Willow opened the door. She seemed to be almost comatose, for she didn't even notice that Buffy and Riley were there until she bumped into her roommate. She startledly looked up, tears bright in her eyes as she met Buffy's gaze. Buffy quickly abandoned the search for her keys and looked up at Riley worriedly before turning her attention back to Willow.

"Will? What's wrong?" Buffy asked as she gently took Willow's arm and led her back into the room. Riley closed the door quietly as Buffy led Willow to her own bed and sat the witch down.

Wordlessly, Willow handed her an envelope.

Buffy pulled the letter out carefully and unfolded it, Oz's chicken scratch jumping up from the page at her. Silently she read the letter, which simply stated that he had not 'found' himself yet but missed her terribly and would try to make it back to her as soon as he possibly could.

When she was done, she carefully folded it up and put it back in the envelope. She mouthed 'Oz' to Riley, who sat on her bed opposite from them staring at her. He raised his eyebrows and sat back, bracing his hands on the bed for support. When she gave him a look, he reluctantly got up and kissed her lightly on the lips before leaving.

"I'll see you tonight at Xander's!" she called after him.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Riley said with a grin. Buffy smiled slightly, the words he spoke echoing in her mind. It was almost like déjà vu...

"Will? Oh, Willow, it'll be okay," Buffy said softly as she pulled her friend close and hugged her. "He misses you and he says he'll be back."

Willow looked up at her, her face stained with tears. "But when? He said he's not ready...and I don't know how much longer I can go on without him," she whispered brokenly.

"Shh," Buffy said, rocking her softly, blinking back her own tears. "It's hard, Willow, I know...but you're strong. You can do this."

"No, Buffy, I can't!" Willow cried. "I'm not you!"

Buffy had nothing to say to that.


After Willow had calmed down somewhat, the girls set to packing for the holiday. Suitcase after suitcase was filled until the room was nearly bare and the girls lugged their things out to Buffy's mother's car as the sun set on Sunnydale.

"I know I'm going home with more than I brought..." Buffy groaned as she closed the trunk to the Jeep and turned to Willow.

"So am I," the redhead agreed as they got into the car. "Now, you promise not to kill me?"

Buffy laughed. "Hey! I'm a good driver! Riley taught me, remember? Plus my mom helped over the summer."

"Yeah, but remember the last time you drove me anywhere? You wrecked the car," she argued as she got into the car and buckled her seatbelt. Buffy slid into the driver's side and after checking her mirrors and seat turned on the car.

"Totally different situation. Everyone was embracing their inner child then, it wasn't my fault," the Slayer argued playfully. She could barely see out over all the bags and trunks in the back, but she managed to maneuver the car out of the parking lot and onto the main road.

"Good-bye Stevenson Hall," Willow waved as they headed down the highway to downtown Sunnydale. Buffy reached over and switched on the radio, not wanting to have a conversation with her best friend right now. Her mind was going strong again with the dreams and she could barely concentrate on her driving while she thought about them. Only when the song on the radio pushed through the cobwebs did she realize how freaky it was...

"There were nights when the wind was so cold.
That my body froze in bed
if I listened to it right outside the window.

There were days when the sun was so cruel.
That all the tears turned to dust
and I knew my eyes were drying up forever...

"I finished crying in the instant that you left
And I can't remember where or when or how.
And I banished every memory you and I had ever made...

"But when you touch me like this and you hold me like that...
I just have to admit that it's all coming back to me.

And when I touch you like this, and when I hold you like that...
It's so hard to believe but it's all coming back to me."

Buffy quickly reached over and changed the station to the local alternative one. Willow, who had been resting her head on the palm of her hand, snapped to attention and looked worriedly over at her friend.

"Sorry...that song reminds me of Kathy," Buffy said quickly. Willow nodded, remembering Buffy's demonic roommate's obsession with Celine Dion. Sighing in relief, Buffy listened attentively to Creed's 'Higher', hoping to put the thoughts of Angel and her disturbing dreams out of her mind.

A minute later, they arrived at Willow's house. Quickly unloading her things from the car, Buffy helped her best friend carry it all in and lug it up the stairs.

"What time do we have to be at Xander's?" Willow asked as she carefully pulled her neatly-folded clothes out of her suitcase and placed them in her dresser while Buffy lounged on her bed.

"Seven. Hey, aren't college kids supposed to come home with a ton of dirty laundry? I know I did...my mom's gonna have a field day with it tonight," Buffy mused as she twirled a piece of hair around her finger. Willow smiled at her as she closed the drawer and picked up the bag, throwing it in the closet.

"Done!" she cried, dusting her hands off. "Wow, it's good to be home. Now if only my parents were actually here..."

"The parental units are coming back tomorrow, right?" Buffy asked as she swung her legs around to the side of the bed and sat up. Willow nodded.

"And yours is leaving...when?"

"Day after that," Buffy said. "I'm driving her to L.A. so she can get her plane and then I'm going to Dad's."

Willow sat down on the bed next to her. "Are you worried about running into Angel?" she asked softly. Buffy looked over at her.

"Kinda... I mean, it's a big city. The chances of us bumping into each other on the Santa Monica pier are slim to none, but you never know... Where did that come from?" she wondered aloud, knowing the answer instantly. She had kissed Angel on that pier, in the daylight, right after he had been turned human...

"What?" Willow asked, totally lost. Buffy shook her head.

"It's nothing. You ready to go? I just have to drop off my stuff and pick up the gifts and then we can go..." Buffy said as she stood and offered her hand to Willow.

"Riley's coming too, right?" she asked as the girls left the room. Buffy couldn't stop the smile that crept onto her lips at the mention of her boyfriend's name.

"Yep, he's meeting us there."

"He's gonna LOVE what you got him, Buffy," Willow said enthusiastically as the exited the house.

"I hope so," she said happily as they got into the car and headed for her mother's house, Jewel's Christmas CD blaring.


Part Two

After dropping all her dirty laundry off at her mother's, Buffy and Willow headed to Xander's house. Arms laden with presents, they were greeted at the door by Anya, who was wearing a short red dress with white trimming. She looked like those ridiculous people at the mall who dressed up as Santa's helpers...

"That's a...nice dress ya got there, Anya," Buffy said, looking her over. Anya shot her a look as she held the door open for them to enter.

"Xander likes it. When Xander likes something, I get sex. Hence the embarrassment," she said. Buffy winced.

"WAY more info than I needed," she said as they walked in and set the presents under Xander's tree. The needles were brown and the branches drooped where the ornaments hung. Spike sat in the corner smoking a cigarette and Giles and Olivia stood by the drinks.

"Merry Christmas!" she cried, hugging each of them in turn. Well, everyone got a hug but Spike. She still couldn't look at him without getting icky feelings from the time when they had been engaged...

"Okay, everyone's here--" Xander started.

"Riley isn't," Buffy said from her seat on Xander's pullout couch. Xander made a face.

"Remind me again why he's invited?"

"He's my boyfriend and he's leaving tomorrow for a month," Buffy said sternly. Xander sighed.

"Oh, that's right, Fish Boy has to go back to his cows." Buffy threw a pillow at his head as the door opened to reveal the commando.

"We was beginning to get worried!" Buffy exclaimed as she jumped up and hugged her boyfriend.

"No, we really weren't," Spike muttered, propping his boots up on the coffee table. Buffy glowered at him before leading Riley over to the bed.

"Okay, now everyone's here. Gifts!" Xander shouted as he jumped up and headed for the tree. Giles shook his head at the boy's excitement.

In a matter of minutes the gifts had been passed around. Amid the gasps of surprise and the crinkling of wrapping paper, everyone opened their presents.

"Well, this will certainly...be useful?" Giles said cautiously, holding up the dancing Santa Xander had gotten him. Xander beamed at the Watcher, watching as he turned it on.

"Wow, Santa has some moves," Willow commented as she pulled a beautiful cashmere sweater out of a box, a gift from Buffy and Anya. She gasped in shock. "It's beautiful!"

Anya had gotten a book on torture from Giles and Olivia as a gag gift. At the far-off look in her eye, Xander questioned whether or not it was the best idea... Buffy had given the ex-demon a gift certificate to the local record store and Xander's gift came in the form of a gift certificate to hours of loving from him.

"Oh, God, did you have to let her open that in front of us?" Buffy groaned as she tore into her present from Riley. Gasping, she carefully pulled the necklace from the bed of cotton it lay in. It sparkled in the light, a beautiful crystal on a gold chain. She leaned over and kissed him happily before opening the clasp and securing it around her neck.

"Wow, Riley, it's beautiful!" she gushed, gazing down at it happily. He smiled back at her and leaned over for another kiss before pulling away and picking up the wrapped package that sat on his lap. She looked on expectantly as he carefully ripped the wrapping paper away, revealing a framed picture of himself and Buffy. It had been taken on a beautiful day outside the dorm and Buffy was holding onto Riley's waist and grinning happily. The frame had been made by one of Buffy's art friends and was clay with small lacy designs imprinted in it.

Riley held the frame carefully as he gaze at the picture. "Is this the one you took?" he asked Willow. She nodded.

"It was after class that one day, before you guys were going out," she told him as she carefully placed the things she had gotten at her feet.

"I love it. I'm gonna put it on my desk at home," he said softly, pulling her close to him and kissing the top of her golden head. Buffy smiled and sighed contentedly, glad she was around her friends during the holidays.


Around eleven thirty, the small party began to break up. Giles and Olivia left early; they had a flight out to England the next day at six in the morning. Buffy and Willow said their good-byes and Buffy promised to call the minute she got back from L.A. so that she could hang out with Xander and Anya.

She surprised everyone, including herself, by giving Spike a kiss on the cheek. They had been standing under the mistletoe, granted, but it was still unexpected.

"Thanks for the tank top, Spike. Can I just say that you have THE sickest humor?" she grinned up at the stunned vampire. He quickly reverted to his cocky self and brushed her off.

"I saw it and knew it was you, Slayer," he said simply, running a hand through his platinum hair. The tank top in question was a black thick-strapped one with 'Vampires suck' written in blood-red letters across the chest. She smiled and leaned into Riley.

"Merry Christmas, everyone!" she called as she and Willow made their way to her car, Riley escorting them. Once they reached it, Willow became fascinated with the paint on the car, staring at it awkwardly as Buffy said good-bye to Riley.

They kissed softly under the moonlight as Riley lifted a hand to brush her blond hair back. "Thank you for a wonderful evening," he said softly.

"Thanks for the necklace," she replied shyly. "It's beautiful."

"You're beautiful," he told her. She kissed him softly on the lips before pulling away.

"I gave you my dad's number, right?" Buffy asked. Riley patted his jacket pocket, indicating it was there. She smiled and with one last kiss reluctantly turned away.

"Have a good time in L.A.," Riley said as he kissed the back of her hand and moved away. "Try not to bump into any old friends."

Buffy looked up at him strangely when he spoke. Since Buffy had not told him about Angel, he must have meant her old friends from Hemery... He knew that she had been less than nice at her old school and she hoped that was what he meant...

"I will...or won't," she said with a forced smile as she climbed into her car. Waving, she started it and peeled out of her spot before he could so much as pull his keys out.

"What was that all about?" Willow asked after a minute of silence. Buffy was quiet for a moment and just as she opened her mouth to speak another part of her dream surfaced, one she hadn't remembered.

She was at Angel's and she was crying in his arms. What was going on? They were supposed to be happy, Angel was human...and then the conversation filtered through and she realized the source of her distress. Angel gave up his humanity--and the memory she would hold of the day--for her. With a cry, she jerked the wheel to the side, stars exploding before her eyes. Everything felt so vivid, her pain, her anguish, the love and respect she held for Angel.

Willow's voice slowly infiltrated the haze in her mind, the panic making the fog clear. Buffy pulled over and slumped into her seat, her head resting on the steering wheel as she fought down her tears.

What was wrong with her?

"Buffy? What's going on?" Willow asked. Buffy slowly turned her head and looked at her best friend, her eyes bright with unshed tears. She sighed brokenly and was so overcome by the emotion of the dream that she couldn't speak. Willow rubbed her back in comfort for several minutes as she calmed down.

It was the soft song on the radio that caught her attention, the same one she had heard before...

There were moments of gold,
And there were flashes of light.
There were things I'd never do again,
But then they'd always seem right.
There were nights of endless pleasure...
It was more than any laws allow.
Baby baby...

If you kiss me like this, and if you whisper like that,
It was so long ago, but it's all coming back to me.
If you want me like this...
And if I need you like that...
It was dead long ago
But it's all coming back to me
It's so hard to resist,
but it's all coming back to me.
I can barely recall,
but it's all coming back to me now...

But it's all coming back.

With a shout, she turned it off hurriedly. Knowing Willow needed an explanation, she said the only word that was needed.

"Angel."

"What about Angel?" she asked, folding her hands in her lap. Buffy wiped the tears from her eyes and straightened up, shaking her head.

"Not here. We'll go to my house," Buffy said as she let off the brake and steered the car in the direction of Revello Drive.


"Okay, talk," Willow said as they sat on Buffy's bed, clean laundry carefully folded on the floor. Buffy was gazing out the window into the night, her gaze fixated on nothing...and yet everything all the same. She didn't know what they meant, these feelings she had and these dreams that were the cause of the feelings, and it was driving her crazy...

"I had a dream last night," Buffy started slowly.

"About Angel?"

Buffy nodded. "He...he was human," she whispered, twisting her hands in her lap.

"Buffy, you've had that dream a thousand times," Willow said, apparently brushing her off. Buffy grabbed her arm forcefully.

"Will...this one was different. It was so vivid, and it felt so real...almost like a memory," Buffy said. Willow sighed. "He was turned human by a demon's blood, and then he came up and kissed me on the Santa Monica pier...and then we went back to his place and..."

"Had lots of passionate sex?" Willow joked. Buffy nodded and Willow immediately sobered. "Really?"

Buffy laughed at her friend's baffled face. "Oh yeah...Will, we even had sex on his kitchen table."

"Wow," she breathed. "That's the kind of stuff those cheesy romance novels are made of!" Buffy grinned again.

"I know...but that's not all that happened," she said, her tone somber again. "He gave up his humanity so I wouldn't die."

Willow stared at her. "What? I mean, I know Angel's all about sacrifice--but his humanity?"

"Yeah, he did it for me. The day was erased and I didn't remember a thing," Buffy said as she ran a hand through her blond hair.

"But it was just a dream," Willow said. "Right?"

Buffy sighed heavily. "I don't know, Will. It felt...almost prophetic, I guess. Everything was so real."

"So what are you going to do?" Willow asked. Buffy looked her straight in the eye.

"I honestly don't know. Maybe I won't have another one and then I'll know it was just a dream," Buffy said. Willow nodded.

"Guess you'll just have to wait and see," she agreed. She stayed for a few more minutes before having Buffy drive her home.

On the way back to her mother's house, Buffy pondered her dream once more. She'd have to look into it when she got to L.A., maybe call Cordelia and find out if she knew anything. Her plans beginning to form, she changed for bed and snuggled under the covers.

She dreamed the exact same thing for the second night in a row.


Part Three

Buffy was silent as she and her mother drove towards the city of Los Angeles. For a day and a half she had been constantly plagued with images and parts of her dream and she could not get it out of her head. Joyce Summers was quiet, knowing something was bothering her daughter.

After seeing her mother safely off, Buffy drove around the city for a while. She had missed L.A., its excitement and obsession with beauty. She drove through her old neighborhood and passed Hemery High, where her life had changed forever. Without even knowing it, she sat in her car in the same place Angel had when she had been called, gazing at the smiling teenagers with a sad smile on her lips. How she wished she could be like them again...

Buffy pulled up to her father's house as the sun began to set and darkness descended on the city. Gathering her bags, she quickly jumped into her father's waiting arms.

"Hi Princess!" he cried as he spun her around. Holding her at arm's length for a moment, he looked at her in wonder. "Is it possible that you've gotten even more beautiful?"

She blushed at her father as he led her inside. "Wow, Dad, you sure have done wonders with this place!" she said sarcastically as she gazed around her father's living room, any doubts that he wasn't a bachelor flying out of her mind. The place was littered with papers and pizza boxes and used plates, soda cans on the coffee table and a beer bottle or two mixed in. He chuckled.

"Well, I knew my wonderful daughter was coming to stay with me so I figured I should clean up the place a bit," Hank Summers said.

"I'll do it for you first thing tomorrow morning," Buffy sighed, pretending to scold him. Hank laughed and kissed her forehead.

"You hungry? We have reservations at a great Italian place down the street at eight."

"Actually, I was hoping I could look up my friend Cordelia. I've been dying to see her," Buffy said. Hank nodded and glanced at the clock.

"Well, it's only five now. Why don't you call her and see if she can come with us?" he asked, gesturing to the phone. Buffy smiled and picked it up.

"Sounds great!" She carefully punched in Cordelia's number, praying she was there and not at the office. She turned her back on her father, indicating she wanted privacy, and listened to it ring several times. Sighing, she hung up and hesitated slightly before dialing the number that had been burned into her mind from the moment Cordy had sent her the business card.

The phone rang twice before Cordelia picked up. "Angel Investigations," she said cheerfully. "We help the helpless."

"Cor? It's me, Buffy," she said, grinning at the sound of her friend's voice.

"Buf--Betty! Wow, it's great to hear from you!" Cordelia said, quickly covering up her mistake. Buffy frowned.

"Betty?"

"I'm at work and my boss is right by my desk. I can't talk long," she said through slightly clenched teeth. Buffy nodded.

"Oh, I get it. Very smart," Buffy said. Cordelia smiled and quickly averted her gaze from Angel's.

"It's often been said," she quipped. "Now, what can I do for you?"

"First of all, Merry Christmas!"

"Right back at you."

"Second, I'm here. In L.A.," Buffy told her. Cordelia gasped.

"Does he know?" she asked. Buffy shook her head and sat down on the arm of the couch.

"Of course not, it's...too hard," Buffy said softly.

"You visiting your dad?" Cordelia asked as she removed a nail file from her pencil holder and began working on her nails.

"Yeah, which is why I called. Do you want to come to dinner with us?"

Cordelia paused. "Sure! I'd love to come. What time?"

"Eight," Buffy said before giving her the address. Cordelia agreed to get to Buffy's father's house around seven thirty so that the girls could talk before they went to dinner.

After Buffy was finished unpacking and her father's gifts were under the tree, Hank and his daughter sat down to talk. She told him all about college, what courses she was taking and how she had done. She mentioned Riley when he brought it up, but was very brief. Before they knew it, the doorbell rang.

Buffy jumped up and answered it. "Cordy!" she cried, flinging her arms around her friend. Cordelia was a bit taken aback by her, but returned the hug just as fiercely all the same. Buffy stepped back after a few moments to get a good look at the May Queen.

Her hair was longer and she seemed thinner, but besides that Cordelia looked exactly the same. Except for her eyes, which looked haunted by something...

"How've you been?" Buffy asked as she ushered her inside and shut the door.

"Don't you mean how's Angel been?" she teased as they walked into the living room. Cordelia waved to Hank and took a seat next to Buffy on the couch. Buffy shot her a look.

"Angel? Who's Angel?" Hank asked, clasping his hands in front of him.

"An old friend," Buffy said quickly. "How is he?"

Her voice was soft when she asked and Cordelia immediately sensed something was wrong.

"Is he okay? Has he been having...weird dreams lately? Have there been any Mohra guys around lately?" Buffy asked, careful not to give too much away and cautious of her father. Cordelia looked at her in confusion.

"What in the world are you talking about?" Cordelia asked as realization dawned on her face. "Dreams...Buffy, what have your dreams been about?"

Buffy shifted uncomfortably and turned her head so her father wouldn't see. "Angel being human," she mouthed. Cordelia sighed and leaned back into the cushions.

"You're on your own for this one, Buffy. I can't help you," she said in regret. Buffy looked at her closely, knowing she was hiding something.

"Cordy..." Buffy said, her voice slightly warning.

"It's not my place. Go talk to Angel," she said harshly. Buffy's eyes darted around the room as she fought panic down. She couldn't go to Angel; he'd think she was crazy...

"You two realize that you're making no sense, right?" Hank spoke up. The girls looked at him.

"No, Mr. Summers, we make perfect sense. Just not to you," Cordelia said jokingly.

"Well, why don't you go not make sense at the restaurant, hmm? It's almost eight," Hank said as he stood. Cordelia and Buffy followed suit, although Buffy was deep in thought and didn't really know what she was doing. Go talk? To Angel? No...

All throughout dinner Buffy's mind was elsewhere. She answered Cordelia's and her father's questions, but she seemed dazed and it was not lost on them. Several times during the meal she got a faraway look in her eyes that betrayed her, and Cordelia and her father exchanged glances about it.

When the waiter brought them their check, Buffy seemed to snap out of her funk. "Daddy...would you mind if I spent the night at Cordy's?" she asked. Her father pondered it for a moment.

"I suppose it would be okay, as long it is with you, Cordelia," Hank said. Buffy and Cordelia exchanged a look and Cordelia sighed.

"Yeah, sure, it'll be a big old slumber party," she said as they stood and made their way out of the restaurant. Cordelia knew that she and Buffy would be up for the better part of the night talking...


And she wasn't wrong. As soon as Buffy was done gushing over Cordelia's lavish apartment, they got down to business.

"So, how's the gang?" Cordelia asked over a pint of Rocky Road ice cream. The girls were curled up in their pajamas on Cordelia's couch, the Late Late Show blaring in the background.

"Pretty good, I guess. Xander and Anya are as horny as ever--"

"Xander and Anya? Oh, God, I've missed a lot!" Cordelia cried in disgust. Buffy smiled.

"Yeah, you have. You know Oz left, right?" Cordelia nodded.

"You told me in your e-mail," she said.

"Well...Giles has a girlfriend. Her name's Olivia and she's from England, she knew Giles from when he was Rebel Guy," Buffy said. She proceeded to fill Cordelia in on everything else, from their disastrous Thanksgiving to the time when she and Spike had been engaged.

"Hey, where's Doyle? I want to properly meet him this time," Buffy said, gazing at a picture of him on the mantle. Cordelia's eyes moved to the carpet as tears threatened to spill out of them. "Cordy?"

"Doyle's dead," she whispered. "He died saving a bunch of demons. But they were the Casper kind of demon, not the 'I-want-to-cut-out-your-still-beating-heart-and-eat-it-in-front-of-you' type. And we were just starting to get close and it turns out he was a half-demon himself and I still liked him and I think I was falling in love with him and now he'll never know!" she cried in one breath. Buffy placed the ice cream container on the coffee table and gathered Cordelia into her arms.

"Oh, wow, Cordelia I'm sorry. I wish I had known..." Buffy said as she softly stroked her friend's hair. Cordelia sobbed all her grief out, this time to the girl she had always secretly admired. After a time, she pulled away sheepishly and wiped at her tears.

"Sorry about that, I just seem to cry at the worst times," she apologized. Buffy reached up and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

"Hey, that's what friends are for, right?" Buffy asked. Cordy smiled and nodded. "It must have been hard on Angel," she whispered. The actress nodded.

"I hadn't seen him so upset since I first got here and he was still Brood Guy twenty-four seven. It hit him really hard," she said. Buffy sighed and leaned back into the soft pillows of the couch. She felt sleep beckoning to her but feebly pushed it away, knowing if she succumbed the dreams would come again. She needed to get out, to be active, to kill something.

Buffy quickly stood and went over to her bag. "What are you doing? Do NOT tell me you're going patrolling," Cordelia said with a roll of her eyes. "Angel's out there, he'll get it done."

"I need to get out, Cor," Buffy said as she changed into a pair of flared leggings and a black tank top. Pulling her hair back in a ponytail and placing a few stakes in strategic places, she turned back around to find Cordelia nearly asleep.

"There's a key by the door, you can take it," the cheerleader said sleepily. Buffy nodded.

"Don't wait up."

"Wasn't planning on it," Cordelia said with a grin.

"Oh, and Cordy? Thanks for letting me stay with you tonight," Buffy said as she moved to the door.

"It's no problem, Buffy, you know I miss seeing you," Cordelia told her in a touching manner. Buffy smiled and with a wave vanished into the night. "She and Angel are the only two people I know who can do that..."


Buffy roamed the darkened streets, knowing her way around the city extremely well. She came close to Angel Investigations but felt Angel's presence there and left. That bond that they shared sure came in handy sometimes...

She idly fiddled with her stake as she walked. Despite the noise coming from the different clubs and the traffic, the night was quiet for L.A., almost calm, something she chalked up to the holidays. Buffy was growing antzier by the minute, itching for a fight. A fight would take her mind off of Angel, something she really needed right now...

Up ahead, the sounds of a fight reached her Slayer ears. Cautiously, she flattened herself against the wall and peered around the corner, startled to see Angel fighting another vampire. He obviously had the upper hand and within a minute the vamp was dust. Buffy couldn't help but appreciate how good he looked, deadly and lethal and mysterious all at the same time.

For a moment, he paused, cocking his head to one side slightly in thought. He turned to look at her and Buffy quickly ducked out of view before she could be seen. That was the last thing she needed. With a shrug, Angel turned and walked the other way, deeper into the shadows of the alley, his coat swirling at his feet.

When she was sure he was gone, Buffy let out a sigh of relief and quickly began walking the other way. For about an hour she made her way around, not finding any demons to fight, much to her dismay. She returned to Cordelia's at around two in the morning, not at all surprised to see the May Queen asleep in her room. Buffy quickly changed and fell onto the couch. Cordelia's spirit roommate, Dennis, turned out the lights for her and pulled the blanket over her.

Tonight, Buffy welcomed the dreams.

And, of course, they came.


Part Four

Buffy awoke the next morning to find Cordelia in the living room, Christmas tree lights strung around the entire room, on every open surface and even hanging off of the brunette. She burst out laughing at the sight of it and Cordelia shot her a dark look from under the bulbs. She sighed in frustration and threw them down, putting her hands on her hips as she surveyed the mess.

"What's the matter, Cor? The big bad Christmas lights giving you a hard time?" Buffy asked, laughing the entire time. She nearly fell off the couch in her fit of giggles, something Cordelia found funny.

"You try untangling all of these," she growled, gesturing around the room. Buffy sighed and stood up, carefully making her way over to the small tree Cordelia had set up in the corner. She gave Cordelia a look as she set out to untangle the sea of colored lights, silently shaking her head all the while.

"Dennis! Music!" Cordelia cried after about ten minutes. The two girls were nowhere near done; in fact, it seemed as though they had managed to tangle themselves up as well. The spirit switched on the radio and the song that always seemed to haunt Buffy began playing once more.

There were those empty threats and hollow lies.
And whenever you tried to hurt me,
I just hurt you even worse and so much deeper...
There were hours that just went on for days.
When alone at last we'd count up all the chances
That were lost to us forever...

But you were history with the slamming of the door.
And I made myself so strong again somehow.
And I never wasted any of my time on you since then...

But if I touch you like this,
And if you kiss me like that.
It was so long ago,
but it's all coming back to me.

If you touch me like this
And if I kiss you like that.
It was gone with the wind,
But it's all coming back to me.

It's all coming back, it's all coming back to me now...

Buffy stood silently among the mass of bulbs, listening to the song that seemed to describe her predicament oh so well. As much as she tried to deny it, she wanted to go see Angel...so much that she couldn't bear it. Cordelia was silent beside her, torn between her hurt friend and her promise to Angel. It wasn't her place, and for once she was going to keep her mouth shut about it.

"Dennis, change the station," she ordered after a short time. He obediently did as she asked, the sounds of 98 Degrees filling the cheerful room. Buffy heaved a sigh and pushed the memories away, concentrating on helping her friend decorate her Christmas tree.

It took them hours, but finally the lights were untangled and hung around the room. The tree was decorated as Christmas music played from Cordelia's stereo. The girls laughed and chatted as they put the finishing touches on the room.

"I have to admit we make a good team, Summers," Cordelia said as they stood gazing around the room. It was cozy and homey, yet still stylish enough for Cordelia's liking.

"We do, don't we? Just be glad I rescued you from the evil lights," Buffy laughed. The phone shrilled on the end table, and Cordelia went over to pick it up.

"Oh, I am," she grinned, lifting the receiver to her ear. "Hello? Buffy, it's for you."

Buffy took the phone from her. "Hello?"

"Hi, Princess."

"Daddy! What's up?" Buffy asked. Cordelia walked into the kitchen, giving her privacy.

"Something came up and I need to fly to Dallas for a few days. I'll definitely be back for Christmas but I really need to do this. I'm so sorry, sweetie," he said. Buffy furrowed her brow in thought and sadness.

"You're leaving? For how long?"

"I'll be back the twenty-fourth," Hank told her. Buffy sighed and reluctantly nodded. She couldn't stop him from going... "You have a key, and I left you my credit card so you can get whatever you need. Cordelia is more than welcome to stay here with you if you want--"

"Yeah, okay Dad. Thanks. Have fun," Buffy said abruptly, cutting him off. "See you when you get back."

"Buffy, it's only for a few days..." Hank told her.

"I know, I just never get to see you and now you're leaving."

"I wish I didn't have to, but my job depends on it, sweetheart," Hank said. "I have to go, my plane leaves in a few minutes."

"Okay, I love you, Daddy," she said softly.

"Love you too, Princess."

With that, her father hung up. Buffy stared at the phone for a moment before clicking it off and replacing it on the table. Cordelia appeared behind her, arms laden with junk food.

"What was that all about?" she asked as she walked forward and deposited the food on the table.

Buffy sighed. "My Dad is just leaving me for a few days on a business trip. God, this is SO like him!" she said as she plopped down onto the couch and reached for the ice cream again. "Ooh, I didn't know you have Cookie Dough Fudge Mint Chip!"

"God, what is it with you and Angel and that ice cream?" Cordelia asked as she watched Buffy inhale it.

"Angel eats this stuff?" Buffy asked as she licked the ice cream off her spoon. Cordy nodded.

"Oh, yeah, when he was hum--hungry, one day, he...uh...ate it."

Buffy looked strangely at her. "Human?"

"Hungry," she amended, looking away. Buffy raised her eyebrows before deciding to just drop it. There was no way Cordelia could have known that she had eaten it with Angel in bed when he was human...because that hadn't happened. It was just a dream.

Right?


Cordelia had to go to work and Buffy decided to go back to her father's and clean the place up before going shopping--she wasn't about to let an unchaperoned father-sponsored shopping trip pass her by.

Idly walking down the street, bags swinging by her side, she was struck with a Christmas-y feeling. All the stores had lights and holidays themes up, and Christmas carols were being played everywhere. All that was missing was snow...

But it rarely snowed in Los Angeles. Well, it had last year, when the snow had saved her suicidal boyfriend from becoming a little pile of dust...but what good would it do to think of that?

Even then, she had been able to convince him that love would be enough...so why hadn't it worked when they had broken up? Buffy frowned, not liking where her thoughts were going. She shook her head and looked up, startled to see that she was standing in front of a Celtic jewelry store.

Without thinking, she walked in, causing the little bell on the back of the door to chime. On autopilot, she went to the counter and asked to see the male Claddaugh rings, quickly selecting a silver one. Her mind protested, but her heart said it was for Riley.

Yeah, and Giles was going to profess his undying love to Willow.

She quickly paid for it and left the store, holding the bag to her chest. She didn't know what had possessed her to go in and buy it...well, Angel had given her one and she hadn't given him one. He had already had his. Buffy wanted him to have one from her, and only from her...

It was growing dark once more and Buffy headed back to her father's quickly. She ordered a pizza and set to work at cleaning up the mess her father lived in, all the while a nagging feeling in the back of her mind. She felt something, something subtle but powerful, a warning of what was to come. It wasn't necessarily malicious, per say, but it was there and it bothered her.

Buffy sat at home alone that night, watching Showtime and eating leftover pizza. She didn't want to go out and risk seeing him again. It had taken all her control not to go to him last night; she knew she wouldn't be that strong again...

She fell asleep curled up on the couch, her mind and body exhausted.

And from above, the Oracles watched.


"She is stronger than I thought," the female said as she watched the Slayer sleep. The male stepped up behind her, out of her line of sight but still visible to her. He too stared at the sleeping girl, who had the faintest smile upon her lips while she dreamed yet again.

"Don't you think she's getting a bit tired of these dreams? They have been the same every night," he said, partly disgusted, and turned away. She mimicked him.

"Does she look like she's getting tired of them?" the Oracle asked, gesturing to the glowing window. The Slayer moaned softly in her sleep and a look of pure, unadulterated ecstasy graced her face as she arched off the couch, thrusting up to an invisible body.

"We are running out of time," he snapped. She waved a hand at him.

"We have all the time in the world."

"I hope you know what you're doing," he said menacingly, taking a step toward her and looking into her dark eyes. "The Powers will not be pleased."

"Oh, but they will," she argued, turning her gaze on the blond girl once more. "She is strong, and so is he. But together they are stronger. Everything will come to pass, I assure you of that."

He looked at her helplessly before spinning around and dissolving the orb when he walked through it, leaving their haven. She shook her head and sighed, calling it forth once more. Her gaze fixated on the Slayer, she said softly, "Yes, everything will be all right, little one. He will be yours again."


Buffy awoke feeling extremely refreshed. While she had woken up distraught and filled with sorrow and pain the day before, she was at peace now. A voice, a heavenly voice, had spoken to her and told her that everything would be all right. Angel would be hers again.

She realized she had fallen asleep on the couch and stretched leisurely, working the kinks out of her back and neck. After a quick shower, she brushed her teeth and got dressed before wrapping the gifts she had gotten for Angel and Cordelia. Just as she applied the last piece of tape, the phone rang.

"Hello?"

"Buffy, it's me."

"Hey Cordy," Buffy said cheerfully as she stuck a bow on the present and pushed it out of her way. "What's up?"

"Well, seeing as how my boss isn't back yet, I'm thinking early lunch break. Wanna come?" she asked. Buffy smiled.

"Sure! I'd love to...wait, Angel's not back yet? Is he okay?"

"Nice attempt at subtly, Buff," Cordelia laughed. "Yes, he's fine. I had one of those God-awful visions and Angel went to check it out. He'll take the sewers home and probably won't be back for a while."

"And he won't mind you leaving early?" Buffy asked, biting back a grin.

"Oh, he'll mind. But he won't be able to yell at me until later, and by then I'll just guilt him into dropping it," she replied.

"You're evil."

"Oh, but I'm so good at it!" she laughed. "Come here and then we'll go to this cute little cafe I found."

Buffy stood and made her way to the bathroom. "Give me a few minutes, I have to look presentable."

"Take as much time as you need, I know it's hard for you," Cordelia joked.

"Later, Cor," Buffy said, trying to pretend she was angry. She hung up the phone and shook her head. "Will she ever change?" she asked her reflection. "Oh, yuck. That's the last time I'm sleeping on a couch. I look like death warmed over."

That said, she set to work making herself look halfway decent.


"Why are you so happy today?" Cordelia asked when Buffy walked into Angel Investigations. Everything seemed so familiar, as though she had spent more than five minutes there. She wondered...if she went downstairs, would everything be the way it was in her dreams?

"No reason," Buffy said with a shrug, looking around a bit apprehensively. Cordelia sighed and shook her head as she grabbed her sweater.

"He's still not back yet, don't worry," she said as they moved to the door.

"Worry? Me?" Buffy joked. Cordelia shot her a look. "Okay, okay, there's no need for that. Just because I don't want to see my ex-honey right now doesn't mean I'm totally paranoid..."

"Buffy?"

"Hmm?"

"Shut up."

The door slammed shut behind the girls.


Buffy and Cordelia walked back into the office three hours later, laughing hysterically as they replayed what had happened at lunch back again. Two guys who had tried to pick them up using every lame come on in the book, and they had just laughed and brushed them off. Cordelia flipped on the lights and tossed her keys onto the desk as a voice sounded from the couch.

"Buffy," Angel said, his tone almost desperate. Buffy froze, staring helplessly at her lover. Cordelia stopped smiling and set her packages down on the floor.

"I'm just gonna go--" she pointed to the door leading to Angel's office, "get some water."

"Hey Angel," Buffy said, mentally chastising herself for sounding so lame. He stood slowly and walked over to her.

"Want to tell me what's going on?"


Part Five

Buffy sighed heavily and shifted uncomfortably on her feet. She refused to meet his gaze, her mind throwing image after image of her dreams at her. When she finally did look at him, she had nothing to say. Sensing this, he made it a bit easier for her.

"I thought we had agreed no stalking. No seeing each other actually... We were supposed to stay away," he whispered, swallowing. He stood suddenly and closed the distance between them slowly.

"I didn't think you would be here," Buffy said. "Cordelia said--"

"I wasn't talking about that, Buffy," Angel told her. He looked down at his hands awkwardly, struggling for the right words. "I meant two nights ago."

"I was patrolling," she stated, raising her eyes to his.

"You were there. When I was fighting, you were there," Angel said. It wasn't a question. Buffy nodded hesitantly.

"How did you--"

"I felt you."

The bond they shared. She should have guessed that if she could feel him, he could certainly feel her nearby as well... Feeling claustrophobic, Buffy stepped back and turned away from him, glancing around the office desperately. Cordelia was fiddling around in Angel's office, moving things around in an attempt to not look like she was eavesdropping.

"Why didn't you say anything? Come and see me or at least call--" Angel started as Buffy moved to cut him off.

"Oh please," she scoffed. "The same reason you didn't tell me you were in Sunnydale when you were. It's too hard."

Angel was silent, staring at the woman he loved more than anything in the whole world. Her back was to him, allowing him to stare at her without worrying about making her uncomfortable. His eyes bore into her, watching the way her breath seemed to catch every time she took one, the rigid way she stood that betrayed her uneasiness. The memories had come rushing back, all of them in a tumult of emotions, in the instant he had heard her joyous laughing down the hall.

"This is too weird for me," Buffy said suddenly, picking up her purse quickly. "I'm just gonna go, tell Cordelia I'll call her later."

"No, don't go," Angel said, stepping into her escape route. "We can...talk." At her incredulous look, he said hastily, "or something."

"Angel," Buffy sighed. "We both know that if I stay, things will get even more awkward then they already are. I'm gonna go and spare us both all this...pain." The last word was whispered, and accompanied with unexpected tears. Without another word, she brushed past Angel and ran towards the door.

"Buffy! Wait!" he called after her, his hand reaching out to her, beseeching her silently... She paused at the door hesitantly, but when she looked back and saw him looking so needy and loving an ancient memory fluttered through the haze of her mind, of Angel reaching out to her, begging her to save him from the pits of Hell...

He seemed to realize it as well and dropped his hand to his side. With a final pained look, Buffy took off down the hall, her platforms slapping noisily on the tile floor.

Angel was alone in the middle of the room, abandoned by Buffy once more.

Cordelia's shout of pain snapped him out of the daze he had fallen into and he strode into his office to find his assistant doubled over his desk in obvious pain. She yelped again and brought her hands up to her head, trying to claw the pain away. Angel gently took her into his arms, reaching for the aspirin that sat on his desk.

Cordelia groaned as the vision took shape, a swirl of bright colors and flashing lights. She always hated the visions, they made her mind seem as though it was not hers anymore. A thousand different images flashed through her mind, pictures of people, of nature, of the universe at large...all at the speed of light, and Cordelia felt as though she was falling, trapped in her own mind. And through the chaos and the flashes of light, a figure appeared, an otherworldly figure, made of air and Earth, and spoke to her.

"It is time. Bring Angel and his Slayer to us."

The vision ended abruptly and Cordelia gasped, trying to pull air into her burning lungs. Her head ached and she felt as though her brain was becoming too small for the space it was confounded to. Squeezing her eyes shut in a vain attempt to ease the pain, it took her a minute to open them again.

Angel's worried gaze met her pain-filled one. Wordlessly he handed her the aspirin and a glass of water and she gulped them down with a nod of thanks. Shaking her head slightly, she turned to Angel.

"Get Buffy. You two have a date with the Oracles."

Angel was speechless.


When Buffy had finally finished crying, she sat on her couch stone-faced. She was quiet and pensive, reflecting on the events that had just transpired. He had been so close, and her vivid dreams had taunted her, teased her...making her want to reach out and touch him so badly that she thought she would go insane with need. Angel had felt it too, she knew, although he didn't know about her dreams. It couldn't have been as bad for him...which was good, because he had suffered enough. She hated to think that he was in more pain.

Buffy sighed as she stood up and went to the kitchen, rummaging around for something that would make her feel better, preferably chocolate or ice cream. Finding nothing, she pouted as she went back into the living room.

The screech of tires outside caught her attention and she flew to the window to see what was going on.

A black car pulled into her father's driveway, windows tinted so she couldn't see who was in the vehicle. The engine was cut as Cordelia jumped out and she strode up the walkway and to the door, getting ready to knock as Buffy flung it open.

"What's going on?" Buffy asked, eying the car warily. Cordelia grabbed her friend's hand and pulled her out the door.

"You've been summoned."

"What?" she asked as she hurriedly locked the door and raced to keep up with Cordelia. "Cordy, what are you talking about?"

She didn't answer, only hopped into the car and started the engine again. Buffy ran around and jumped into the passenger's side, barely buckling her seatbelt before Cordelia threw the car in reverse and backed out of the driveway. She took a deep breath and turned to ask Cordelia where they were going when she caught sight of Angel in the backseat.

"What's going on?" she demanded, looking quickly between the two. Angel was hunched over in the backseat, trying to keep his cool. She smelled so good, and she was right in front of him after so long... He looked up at her then, and his gaze quieted her. She would get her answers, of that he promised.

He just wished he knew what the hell was going on as well.


"Here," Cordelia said, shoving a shopping bag into Buffy's hands as the Slayer looked around dubiously at the underground cavern. "Your offering."

Buffy peaked in the bag. "Cordy, what are they gonna do with a Gucci handbag?" she asked before looking around again. When Cordelia didn't answer, she tried small talk with Angel. "What gets me is that this is all under the post office. You'd think they wouldn't be so disgruntled or whatever..."

Angel flashed her his famous lopsided grin and she found herself returning it. He knew how to make her feel comfortable even in the creepiest situations, he made her feel safe. He made her feel loved.

"Okay, you guys ready?" Cordelia asked as she lit a match. "Guess we'll see if you two have pure souls..."

With a flash of light, Buffy and Angel were hurtled into the portal, leaving Cordelia alone as the flame was extinguished. They were slammed through time and space and deposited unceremoniously on cool marble, limbs tangled helplessly. Buffy blinked and quickly looked around, taking in the environment around her before realizing that Angel's hard body was pressed tightly against her soft one. She looked up to see him staring down at her, his lips a hairsbreadth away. She remembered suddenly, they had been like this before and nothing had happened...

But this time she allowed something to. She brushed her lips ever so slightly against Angel's, shuddering at the pleasure of the mere kiss. She caressed his lips with her own softly...gently...oh so gently. The kiss did not deepen, only stayed soft and feather-light for a few moments' time.

Reluctantly, Buffy pulled away from him, feeling the presence of something much more powerful than herself coming to stand before her. She quickly pushed Angel off of her and stood, helping him up in the process.

Buffy Summers came face to face with the Oracles, some of the most powerful beings ever created. She stood with her mouth open in awe as Angel unconsciously slipped an arm around her shoulders and stood side by side with his soulmate, waiting for the Oracles to speak.

"What have you brought us?" the female asked, her gaze sweeping over the two. Ah, yes, they were powerful indeed. And so in love that they were nearly blind...

"Why should we bring anything? You summoned us," Buffy said tartly. Angel squeezed her shoulders, indicating she should give them the bag. Reluctantly, Buffy held it out and an unfelt wind took it from her, depositing it into the female Oracle's hands. She peaked inside and gasped with delight.

"Gucci. My favorite," she squealed. Buffy raised her eyebrows at her. "Just because I'm all-powerful doesn't mean I don't like designer."

Buffy smiled. "Are you gonna tell us why we're here or are we gonna sit around discussing the spring line?" she asked, her arm creeping around Angel's waist. She was scared and he was her lifeline. He would keep her safe, and she knew it.

"You see?" the Oracle said to her other half as she slowly approached the couple, gazing at them in wonder. "I told you they were meant for each other. Can you not see how perfect they are?" She circled, slowly, like a vulture circles her prey. But the act was not malicious, merely observant.

He gazed at them dispassionately, not wanting to admit that she was right. Standing before him, light and dark, fair and chiseled, soft and hard, Slayer and vampire matched each other in every way. They seemed relaxed by the simplest word, the softest touch. He had witnessed their kiss before and could tell that they were soulmates in every sense of the word instantly.

He also knew that if they did not intervene, both vampire and Slayer would die.

The Powers could not afford to lose these two Warriors.

"You see it, I know you do," she purred, coming to stand behind Buffy and Angel. Reaching a hand up, the Oracle caressed their cheeks as she continued speaking. "You see the love, the bond between these two. We must see to it that The Powers do as well."

Angel turned to look over his shoulder at the Oracle as he spoke. "Why have you brought us here?" he asked, tightening his hold on Buffy, never wanting to let her go.

"She remembers," the female Oracle said, waving a hand in Buffy's direction as she stepped around them and, her eyes glues on the two, walked back to her brother. If Angel hadn't been pale before, his face would have been as white as a sheet. Glancing down at her, he saw realization dawn on his beloved's face.

"That was real? Those dreams...they really happened?" Buffy whispered, catching Angel's glance with her own. "You were human?"

Her voice was so soft and heartbroken that Angel felt tears spring to his eyes. Wordlessly he nodded, watching as a single tear slipped from her eyelid, sliding down the curve of her cheek.

"Everything...it all happened? We made love?" Angel nodded again. "You gave it all up for me?"

"I had to," Angel whispered. "I couldn't bear to see you die..." At his words, uttered so softly, Buffy finally allowed herself to break down. She leaned heavily into his chest, her face covered with her hands as she wept for what she had lost.

She was whispering incoherently, nonsense words that somehow Angel understood. "It happened...oh God, you were human--and I was there...and we were together..." Angel gathered her in his arms, crushing her to his chest in a futile effort to make all the pain go away. He ran a hand through her soft hair, nuzzling her neck in comfort as he whispered sweet nothings to her, silent tears in his own eyes.

Angel looked up to see the Oracles whispering furiously to one another. He should have been able to hear them--a perk to being a vampire--but it was as if they weren't speaking at all. Buffy sniffled and pulled away slightly, gazing up at him with her bright, tear-filled eyes.

"Yes, it happened," he murmured, answering the question in her eyes as he brushed his lips across her forehead.

"Why didn't you tell me? You...you let me walk away," she said softly, her tone not angry, only inquisitive.

He gave her a look. "Would you have believed me if I had?" She faltered, looking away briefly.

"Okay, one point for the vampire," she joked, wiping the tears from her eyes before surprising Angel and wrapping her arms around his waist, hugging him to her. He was startled for a moment but reacted involuntarily, pulling her up against him. Buffy sighed, trembling against him as she breathed in deeply and inhaled his sharp scent. Angel kissed the top of her head lovingly, reveling in the feel of her in his arms again.

"You two can touch each other all you want when you leave," the male Oracle said in disgust as he turned to his other half. "You see, this is why I hate human romance. It's so...clingy."

"Hush," the other scolded, her eyes shining with excitement. "They are experiencing something rare and beautiful. Be thankful you are here to witness it."

Buffy and Angel pulled apart reluctantly and turned to face the pair, arms still around each other. "So I'm guessing this isn't a social call..." Buffy said, shifting her weight to her other foot. The Oracle folded her hands over her heart.

"No, my pretty Slayer, it is not. You see, we feel that you two are being treated unfairly." At this point, the male Oracle tried to protest but was silenced with a hand gesture. "You two have so much pain...and you know you cannot be together, yet you love one another all the more. It is really quite fascinating...and sad."

She moved over to them, carried through the air effortlessly by something other than her feet. Smiling up at them, she raised a hand to cover both their hearts. "Ahh, yes...I feel how broken they are. This is the very thing we set out to rectify..."

"That's really sweet and all, but what are you talking about?" Buffy asked, looking up at Angel before returning her gaze to the Oracle.

The female didn't answer, only turned swiftly and floated in the opposite direction.

"What's with all the floating?" Buffy asked Angel in a hushed voice. He shrugged and squeezed her shoulders.

"Last time they walked...must be some Oracle power or something," he mused. The male Oracle cleared his throat and glared at them.

"What she means is that we wish to prove to The Powers that you two need each other," he said. Buffy and Angel looked at one another.

"Uh...okay. A question--why would The Powers or whatever care?" Buffy asked.

"Ah, young one, you have not yet learned when to keep your peace," he scolded gently. "But you ask for the truth to be spoken, and so shall it be."

"We have come up with a way to show them that you two work better together than apart," the female interjected. Buffy and Angel looked at her.

"And that would be...?" Buffy asked, still unsure of what they meant.

"Simply put--we are granting Angel his humanity once more."

Buffy felt the breath escape her in a gasp as her knees buckled. Had she not been holding onto Angel, she would have crumpled to the floor. She stared at the Oracles with wide eyes, a small smile spreading on her lips as the news sunk in. Turning her gaze on Angel, she saw that he too was in shock. She leaned up against him heavily, afraid she would fall over if he was not there to support her.

"Angel..." she whispered dreamily, trailing off softly.

"Human?" he croaked, licking dry lips. The female Oracle nodded happily.

"With your supernatural strength. But there is a price," she warned, watching the smile slip from the Slayer's lips. "You have to prove to The Powers that you truly are better off with him by your side, fighting with you. If you can do that, I cannot see them having any problems with making it permanent."

"How much time do we have?" Angel asked, his voice strained. Buffy squeezed his waist in reassurance, her heart singing at the thought of her wildest dreams coming true.

"Two days," she replied. "Are you up for the challenge?"

Angel glanced down at Buffy, whose eyes were shining like those of a child's on Christmas morning. She was crying silently, tears of joy streaming down her face in proud rivers. He felt the overwhelming urge to kiss her then and there, but the Oracles were waiting.

Looking up at them, he nodded.

"Always."

With a sweep of her hand, it was done.

Angel's heartbeat resonated through the great hall, a steady beat that matched Buffy's perfectly.


On to Part Six