Gamble on Destiny

Gamble on Destiny

By Leni
Author's Notes

I. She was supposed to be here.

There are cheers around him. Tears, too, but not the desperate ones he's used to. Humans won, then. What now?

Angel retreats to a dark corner, surprised when the Slayer joins him. "They don't know about you."

It's not a question, but he still shakes his head. "Giles does." He found out about Angelus. "He didn't trust me. Giles is the Watcher," he explains at her confused look.

The Slayer gives him a cold look. "Of course he wouldn't."

Do you? he almost asks.

But a teenager calls her over, and before she reacts he's already slipped back into shadows.

The teenagers hunt for stray vampires. Loudly. Only fledglings would be caught like that.

Hiding is easy, Angel thinks self-deprecatingly. Facing the world is not. He still can't feel free, as if the only thing that's changed is the size of his cage. What he feels is fear, with humans and demons targeting him on sight. Ironic, that the Slayer should be the one who might stay her hand.

She doesn’t know yet. How he’s walked into hell for the hope of her, survived knowing she was coming.

He got lucky once, with her finding him. It's his turn now.

He hears her from outside the alley. One heartbeat only, tonight the Slayer will be the only human on her own.

She pulls out a stake at his entrance.

"I'm on your side," he reminds her, forcing himself not to step back.

The stake points towards his heart. "Vampires lie."

Slowly, he brings something from his pocket. Her lost cross burns as he presents it to her….

Taken aback, she snatches the necklace away.

He closes his fist around the cross-shaped mark. "I am on your side."

She stares at him. Nods. Distrustful, but the stake returns to her waistband.

“So the slave has rebelled,” the vampiress laughs, a tickle of blood running from the corner of her lips. “Didn’t think Willow had left that in you.” She manages to avoid the Slayer’s attack again, clutching the wound on her chest tightly. “Look at you, running to another girl whose stakes miss the heart. Is that a theme, pet?”

Angel recoils at the memory. Punishment for trying to escape - again, Willow had said, and this time she’d invited everyone for the show.

The Slayer turns toward him, and if the contempt is better than any pity, it’s not by much.

The Slayer mustn’t know. Not now. Not ever. She has guessed, of course; the chains, the telltale burns, the cage, they sketch the story unerringly enough. But no more details. Never more.

It’s not his pride he’s safeguarding. It’s not only his pride, Angel amends to himself; but also this new beginning. Whatever the Slayer thinks of his motives, he needs her to trust his strength.

The whole of the Sunnydale underworld maybe have witnessed how his body broke as Willow gleefully tried to the same to his spirit. He doesn’t care.

As long as they keep it to themselves.

By the smirks the quartet exchange, Angel knows they have recognized him. They advance confidently, too stupid to fear the Slayer, too young to remember the tales of Angelus. “Well, guess who joined the White Hats,” one says. “The mistress let you out to play?”

Angel caresses the tip of his stake. “Her choices were limited.”

“Hey, guys.” Another walks toward the Slayer, lured by the cut along her forearm. The fool. “At least he brought dinner and, damn, she smells good.”

Oh, yes, she does. Angel stands between them, heedless to her protest, and smiles when the fool screams.

He can feel the Slayer’s eyes on his back, analyzing his moves like well-trained warriors should. “Anger blinds you in a fight,” she remarks, watching the fourth vampire burst into ashes.

In 1863 he’d idly paged through a Slayer Handbook, amused at the paragraphs blotted by Watcher blood. One comes to mind now. “Or it pushes you through the end,” he finishes the sentence, wiping the dust away.

“How did you....?” She stops herself, eyeing him warily.

But when he points to a rundown store and mentions a bandage for her wound, she doesn’t object as much as he’d expected.

"Go. Giles will give you breakfast." Dawn has come while they combed the sewers. "You need to eat," he insists at her incredulous look.

"We catch this vamp first."

Thing is, he needs to eat. Even the rats look appetizing now, but not with her standing right there. "I'll slay it for you," he tries.

She cocks an eyebrow. "You're too weak to hunt alone."

"Try me," he challenges, offended.

Her frown deepens but she finally nods. "The Bronze at nightfall. Be there or I'll hunt you down."

Angel shrugs. If he is not there, he won't be anywhere else.

"Take Larry along."

Buffy spares a glance for the boy before shaking her head. "He'll slow me down."

"You need someone," the Watcher insists.

Only his obvious concern stops her from laughing. "The Handbook forbids civilian intervention," she tries to reason.

The boy looks affronted.

So does the Watcher. "Civilians have held the fort in your absence, Miss Summers."

"And we'll keep doing it - Slayer or not!"

What's with males and pointless posing? The vampire may get dusted for it, she's okay with that. But the kid is human. "You'll live longer if you don't," is her somber advice.

The Bronze is empty now. The few vampires still in hiding are now dust - but no sign of him. Maybe he’s dead.... No. Impossible. Her instincts can't be wrong: He's old. One of the oldest she's encountered. If he can't survive a day in the sewers, then his claim to protect her was a joke all along.

((- I was supposed to help you!))

She almost believed that.

Maybe it's all a ruse. Maybe he was the Master's rival in ambitions and now he'll take over. Maybe this is a trap....

She sits beside the door and waits.

So be it.

He curses the demon before him.

This fight has drawn out longer than necessary, but he still cannot deliver the killing blow. His strength hasn't returned yet, and rat blood barely keeps the hunger away. A loud hiss escapes him as long claws scrape his side. Before he recovers his chest burns in tandem. He growls warningly.

He isn't dying here, not after finally finding her.

It's demon against demon now, fangs against claws that seem sharper in raw flesh. The sun sets outside, and that spurs him further. This demon must die soon.

He has a meeting to keep.

She stands instantly, stake ready.

"It's me."

"I know."

He staggers suddenly, shoots an arm out to steady himself. That's when she notices the blood. It's dark in the moonlight, almost black covering his torso and running sluggishly down his side. "You're hurt," she says stupidly. He falls to his knees as a reply.

Buffy moves towards him. Hesitates. He's helpless now. A vampire. Subduing him would be easy. Would be right.

((- You need to eat.))

She drags him into the Bronze, and her own hands are black when she comes out.

She laughs.

Shouldn't they be covered in ash?

She walks between the awed teenagers, annoyed that her quarry isn't in sight. "Where's your leader?" she calls out.

A fatigued figure rises from beside a sickbed. The Watcher smiles grimly at her approach. "You came back."

Buffy shrugs. "I need fresh bandages." He looks around for an empty bed. "No! Just give them to me. Please." she adds hastily.

"We'd be honored to help your friend, Miss Summers."

There are questions in his eyes. Watchers are smart, Buffy reminds herself. Nods. "I'll bring her." She'll take some unconscious woman from the streets. The vampire can look for bandages himself.

II. You don't believe I wanna help you?

Two nights after the raid at the Bronze, once the stories about her abilities have settled and spread, there can only be one vampire foolish enough to shadow her.

“If you’re going to follow me, at least show your face.” He steps into the moonlight, and she can’t help a small wince at his appearance. “You shouldn’t be standing,” she snaps.

Hands in his pockets, he looks at the ground and shrugs.

“You aren’t going to insist on that destiny thing, will you?”

He shrugs again.

Buffy glares at him and whirls around. “Whatever,” she mutters. “It’s your death sentence.”

The demon’s roar echoes like thunder in the backyard. Buffy groans as her elbow hits the ground, bearing her whole weight before she can right herself. Frustration fills her. Hours of study aren’t telling her this demon’s weakness. Aiming for the heart, brain and midsection hasn’t worked, and she’s dangerously out of ideas.

The demon roars again, fighting against the vampire’s hold. “Here!” her self-appointed companion shouts, pointing frantically.

Buffy locks eyes with him, too aware that she shouldn’t trust him. Then she clutches her stake and hurls it towards the exposed left flank.

One last roar, and it’s over.

“What was that?” she finally asks after the necessary call is made. The Watcher’s kids will take care of the bodies of the family, as well as the corpse in the backyard. “Some Hellmouth-y breed?”

The vampire watches her with something that’d be called amusement if he didn’t look so tired. “I thought Slayers were well-versed in demonology.”

Wyndham and he would be great friends, Buffy muses. “It’s no species I recognize,” she defends. “And the left kidney, how’d you know that?”

For once, he doesn’t shrug and ignore her question. “I told you. I was sent to help you.”

In the last week she’s only seen him twice more. Both times when she was overwhelmed by a pack of vampires. “Let me die already!” she shouts the third time.

“You don’t mean that.”

She laughs mirthlessly. “Maybe the next Slayer will actually appreciate the effort. Thought about that? Maybe you’re meant to annoy - oops, protect - her!”

She didn’t expect him to consider the idea. He stands quietly, regarding her, for long seconds. Then he shakes his head. “They could have waited until she was Called. I wasn’t going anywhere,” and he laughs just as dryly. “But it was you.”

She is momentarily taken aback by his resolve. Nobody had been so earnest about choosing her since Merrick - and look how that turned out. “You don’t want me.”

“Not your choice.” He shrugs, as if he were helpless against destiny. Aren’t they all?

“Forget it.” She turns around, and is facing him again. Sometimes she forgets how old he really is, how powerful. Faster than the average vampire, definitely. “Get down to earth, will you?” she is shouting again, “It’s me against a Hellmouth. You know how many humans have been turned since the Bronze burned? Dozens!”

“It’s survival instinct.”

“I don’t care!” If she wanted an insight into the vampire mindset, she’d take a book. “And don’t forget the demons trying to take over now that Nest’s gone.”

“You are tired.”

He makes it sound as if she should take a break. As if she could. And in that moment she hates him. Hates him more than having become the Slayer, more than being in Sunnydale. She hates him for not being there when she could have believed him. “Wrong answer,” comes the mechanical denial. “But you get a consolation prize for playing. Want the toaster or the mixer?”

“I want to help.”

In another lifetime, the sound in her throat would have been a chuckle. “Really? Now that’s news.”

He ignores the sarcasm. “But you’re right. You don’t need a shadow.”

“And so he sees the light,” she tells the heavens. Once upon a time, she had a flair for the dramatic. It’s been a long time since she’s used it.

He turns on his heel, and she reminds herself that this was what she wanted all along. For a mad second she’s tempted to call him back, when it dawns on her: she doesn’t remember his name.

III. I have to believe in a better world.

“You summoned?” She can’t help the sarcastic tone. In her book, all Watchers are the same. Sending for her long after sunrise doesn’t help the notion.

“Good morning, Miss Summers.”

A call for politeness? She yawns in response.

“Ah yes. I understand this is your resting time, but I’m afraid this complication cannot wait.” The older Watcher shuffles several sheets of paper, then cleans his glasses and puts them back on to check an entry in an old book. A Watcher’s Diary.

Buffy sighs. “What’s it this time?” she asks, already bored. “Apocalyptic prophecy? Portal? Or just another unbeatable demon?”

Mr. Giles turns around, wearing a disapproving frown. “Flippancy? I hardly expected such behavior from a seasoned Slayer.”

“Yeah, well,” Buffy answers moodily, “As I’ve told my own Watcher, pick another Slayer if you don’t like this model.” Not even Wyndham manages to imply so much exasperation with a single look. “That’s all? Because I am tired.”

“Of course.” Like a good professional Watcher, he easily slides back into his role. “There’s a high death toll in demon nests around Sunnydale...”

“You’re welcome,” she interjects impatiently.

“...in areas you didn’t patrol.”

“Oh?” She tries to sound surprised. Damn that vamp.

Wyndham scratches his earlobe when he’s nervous. This Giles guy takes off his glasses and polishes them. Must be a Watcher thing. “I feel that total disclosure must be achieved between us.”

“And then we paint each other’s nails?”

Unlike Wyndham though, this man isn’t easily distracted. Too much time among teenagers, or too much time in this war - either have taken away any sense of humor. “When I first arrived to Sunnydale, I found myself with an unexpected visitor. A vampire.”

She doesn’t have to pretend to be surprised. The vampire actually went to a Watcher’s doorstep? The fool.

“If this is about how well you slayed them before my arrival,” she stalls, “spare me.”

Another rub to his glasses. “I wish that had been the case. But I must admit that the vampire’s tale blindsided me.”

She can sympathize.

“By the time I recovered my wits and attacked him, he’d already run far from reach.”

Not such a fool, then. Just too trusting. Well, whatever had happened to him in the Master’s lair had certainly beaten that trust out of him. Except, Buffy mused, when it came to her. “So? Is there a point to this tea party?”

“I suspect he might be behind those unexplained killings.”

She blinks. Really, even if she didn’t know the truth already, this would be her reaction. “Yay?”

“Miss Summers,” The disapproval is obvious. “I don’t believe you grasp how undesirable this situation is.”

“The situation being someone doing my job, right?” she challenges. “Sounds pretty desirable.”

“We ignore his motivation!”

Because his words weren’t taken seriously. She can sympathize with that, too.

“Angelus could well be arranging his own ascension to power.”

Been there. Accused him of that. “Whatever.” Protesting further will only make the Watcher suspicious. “Find, fight, stake. Happy?”

She waits until the demon’s heart has been pierced. Her hand strays to a stake when the victor turns to her, vampire face in plain sight. He is not rushing her, she tells herself. “Giles knows that you are still in Sunnydale,” she relays her message.

Human features return. She wishes her hand would stop grasping the stake with the same ease. “Naturally,” he says.

“I didn’t tell him.” Until now it didn’t occur to her that she should have.

Even in the dark, it’s obvious that he is surprised. Finally he shrugs. “I haven’t been very inconspicuous.”

“Hello, understatement.”

“I’m supposed to kill you.”

He spreads his arms. “Well?”

It’s been weeks since she actually considered the notion. “It would make my life easier.” She lets her imagination go through the motions. Would he let her? Would he fight? Maybe he’d win…. The air catches in her lungs. He’s strong enough.

“Shorter, too.”

It takes her a moment to tie his answer to her comment. “Aren’t you supposed to talk me out of it?”

He stares at her. “You don’t mean that,” he says. Again.

She brushes it off. After tonight, she won’t have to listen to him anymore.

“All the Watcher’s kids are looking for you. If you don’t want to be ashes, I recommend leaving town.”

He doesn’t react to the news; but besides those first encounters, she can’t remember any strong reactions from him. “They aren’t exactly the type to question orders, are they?” He shakes his head. “A real army.”

“For a real war,” she retorts, and doesn’t tell him how unsettling it had been to find civilians - teenaged civilians, some even younger than her - fighting in her stead. “Giles won’t stop until you’re dead, and I can’t cover for you anymore.”

“You’re leaving?”

“Tomorrow.”

The idea baffles him. “But… the Hellmouth?”

“Apparently it has enough warriors already. See, that’s what happens when you dare to defend your town, the Council won’t assign you a permanent Slayer.”

“They need you.”

“Yeah, well.” There’s nothing she can do about it. “Wyndham - that’s my Watcher - is expecting me in LA.”

He considers the new information for a moment, “I’m going with you.”

She opens her mouth to object - there’ll be a storm if Wyndham finds out. But hasn’t she tried to stop him already? Yes, and repeatedly. “Whatever.”

“No threats? Warning labels?” He smiles slightly. “That’s progress.”

IV. You're taking an awful lot on faith here.

Once in LA she orders him into the shower. The stench of death was normal in Sunnydale, but she doesn't need the reminder. He surfaces an hour later, a wet T-shirt in his hands and soaked old jeans hanging from bony hips. Neither garment could be in worse shape. "You're dripping," she complains, shoving down the uneasiness of never having wondered where and how he lived in Sunnydale.

He retreats back into the bathroom.

"If you'll wear rags," she calls out, "might as well steal a vamp's clothes."

His answer is a dark mutter. "Haven't found one my size yet."

She didn't know vampires could bruise.

Silly assumption, really. But how to tell from the ashes?

His back is to her now, and he's busy toweling off his hair. Morbidly curious, she counts the shadows of midnight purple along his spine. There, on his shoulder blade, his trademark tattoo. If she hadn’t seen it in the Diary, it would be impossible to tell its original shape. It’s that marred by scar tissue.

“Willow didn’t like it.”

She’s startled by the serenity of his voice, more so because she can’t help the anger in her own: “I’m glad we killed her.”

Even winter nights can’t last forever. Between the trip to LA, the ride to her place and cleaning up what seemed remnants of every square inch of Sunnydalian sewer system (one last patrol before heading North. They had time before the bus departed, and it wasn’t as if saying goodbye to Giles and his tribe had been long or painful), dawn sneaks up on them almost unexpectedly.

“Oh!” Belatedly, Buffy rushes to close her curtains. “Guess it’s sleepy time for us creatures of the night - uh.”

“Yes?”

“Two of us, one bed. We really should’ve figured out where you’d stay.”

“I’ll take the floor.”

She looks around her room. A small bed, a smaller fridge, a stove, a table and some chairs. She definitely isn’t ready for visitors, much less for those who stay overnight - overmorning? “Good thing you don’t need blankets.” and she’s indeed relieved. She never saw the point of buying a spare.

He looks at her oddly. “I've had worse.”

Right. A cage and chains flash in her mind. One of these days, she’ll finally learn to watch her mouth before she opens it. Suddenly she feels shy, “But you can take my pillow. If you want.”

An hour later she regrets the offer. He’s asleep, yes, but his hand curl around the pillow so tightly that by sunset the stuffing will peek out from finger-shaped holes. She doesn’t know what he’s dreaming, and from the distressed noises he’s making, she doesn’t want to know. Too quiet to be called cries, too frequent to be random…. Noises from someone who’s been forced too many times to keep it quiet.

How long was he caged? Whole months. No, whole years - ever since Merrick died.

((- I was supposed to help you!))

And what is she supposed to do now?

He whimpers again, and she can’t help but compare this side of him to the stubborn vampire who fights alongside her - with her consent or without it. “I’m….” No, not sorry, because it’s not her fault. But for the first time she truly understands what he meant when he said that this wasn’t supposed to happen.

What if they’d met sooner? What if she weren’t afraid of the Council’s reaction? What if…? “What am I doing?” she wonders silently, unable to relax. Instead she follows the thinnest sliver of sunlight peeking between her curtains, and hopes it’ll become darkness soon.

“Buffy.”

She jumps away from the touch at her shoulder, already brandishing the stake she usually keeps under her pillow. (Pillow. Angel. Safe.) She breathes deeply and tries to relax. “Don’t do that.”

He nods, and he’s already keeping a good distance between them. Now his survival instincts kick in. Figures. “I’m going out. I need…. I noticed a butcher’s around the corner.”

“Oh.” Of course. He needs to feed. On blood. From a butcher’s. She can’t help it, she must giggle at the whole thing. “Welcome to Bizarro World, Act Two.”

There’s an answering chuckle before the door closes.

She faces away when he takes the blood bag out. “Sorry,” she hears him mutter and lifts her shoulders in response. She can tell he’s being a quiet as possible, but her hearing is too sharp for her own good. “I called Wyndham while you were gone,” she tries to drown the suckling noises with her own voice. “Told him a vampire hunter had tracked me down, that he insisted to help me.”

“You make me sound like a stalker.”

She turns, eyebrow raised and incredibly thankful that there’s no hint of blood around his mouth. “Pot-ah-to, pot-ay-to, Mr. ‘You’re-my-Destiny’.”

“You need an identity.” At his look of incomprehension, she continues, “’Angel, the vampire hunter’ sounds okay for a book but Wyndham will want more detail. Where you are from, how you found me out, why you are so freakishly strong - and if we find a handy excuse for your sunlight allergy, it’d be nice.”

“Or we tell him the truth.”

She stares at him. “Sure, if you want a gallon of holy water aimed at you.”

“From your reaction, I thought he’d rather stake me on sight.”

“Wyndham? When I’m there to do the dirty work?” She laughs. “Please!”

Bigger cities, bigger vices. “Dealer vamps, huh?” Her eyebrows rise as the money tallies up to five digits. “Better than your regular ATM.”

“Right.” The reference is lost on him. “I’m amazed they are in the Slayer’s city.”

She shrugs. “Well, the Council keeps sending me out of town - apparently some demons don’t like California. Freaks.” He turns left. “Um. Wyndham’s place is the other way.”

He waves a hundred note. “I need to do something first.”

An hour later, watching him drop his old clothes into a metal bin and light them on fire, Buffy agrees. He needed it.

“So - Liam.” The Watcher looks at her new sparring partner. “How long have you been involved in the underworld?”

She called him Angelus once. A Gurgh had been sneaking up on him, weapon ready, and the name had exploded from her mouth as she ran to them. “It’s Angel,” he’d told her, and after having read the entries about his unsouled habits, she understood the importance of a syllable.

“Since my family was killed,” ‘Liam’ answers easily and springs away from her attack.

Wesley nods, appeased.

Sometimes it shakes her to the root, how good a liar Angel can be.

“I can’t believe Wyndham fell for it,” she says as she sits gingerly on the corner of the one mattress in his new apartment. Two buildings away from hers. “Does that spell even exist?”

“Watchers have speculated for years - some think it’s the source of the demi-gods of Greek mythology.”

He looks better in his new clothes, and she’s relieved that he didn’t need her help. It’s been forever since she enjoyed sifting through colors and styles. Of course, she thinks looking at the classic black-on-black ensemble, it’s not as if he went to all that trouble. “Modern Hercules, huh?”

They slip into habits as if they’d worked together for years. Maybe they are making up for lost time, she thinks as she carves another stake. He’ll pick her up shortly after sunset, usually with a paper bag full of pastries. Her neighborhood has an excellent bakery she’d never have noticed without him.

“This isn’t a healthy diet,” she pouts one night. “I’ve gained two pounds already.”

He looks pointedly at the half-eaten donut, then swipes his gaze all over her. “Five more and my job will be done.”

She almost laughs, but something tells her that he’s not teasing.

Wyndham doesn’t question Angel’s schedule. After all, it was his idea that Buffy slept during daylight hours to take advantage of the nighttime. “I’m tempted to change my own sleep patterns; nothing like the quiet of night for in depth studies.”

Buffy looks up, alarmed. Ruling her life is suddenly not enough, must he be there at every turn, too?

“But somebody has to stand watch while we rest,” Angel says smoothly, not one hint of condescension.

The Watcher grins self-importantly. “You are quite right, Liam. Sacrifices must be made for the better good.”

Does he even notice the irony?

Buffy can feel her Watcher’s presence behind her. “You’re distracted,” Angel chides, walking in circles around her to look for a weak spot.

“What’s he doing here?”

Wyndham had been quite relieved to be replaced in his duties as a training dummy. After a few days hovering during their training sessions, he uncomplainingly left her to Angel’s teachings. “A professional hunter has more fighting experience than a scholar,” he had explained.

“A kitten has more experience,” she mutters now. “That little….”

“Focus!” Angel hisses impatiently, and when she takes a second too long, he tackles her onto the practice mat.

“You can’t let your emotions blind you,” Angel says from above her.

She rolls them until she’s on top, tilts her head. “I thought anger pushes you through the end?”

His expression shutters, remembering when he said those words. What he’d done just before he said them, and why he’d done it. Buffy refuses to feel guilty at dragging those memories up. “Only if you work with it, not under its influence.” The conversation is held in the lowest whispers. To Wyndham, it probably looks as if they are glaring at each other.

“Teach me, then,” she challenges.

He nods.

“He seems okay. For a Watcher,” Angel says.

Her first impression of Wyndham had been just as benign. Book-smart, harmless, too pompous but someone she could learn to respect as she had Merrick. But then she’d almost died (and she had the scar to remind her everyday), and it’d been her Watcher who’d knowingly sent her in without a warning. That was the day he stopped being ‘Wesley’. That was the day she ran away.

And Angel says he’s ‘okay’?

She is easily shoved down. Again.

“He isn’t,” she spits out, refusing to take Angel’s hand to help her up.

He dares to laugh. That sound he usually reserves for fledgings and clueless demons.

She can’t help it. She sees red and in a second she’s on her feet and charging him. He blocks her fist, and slips away from a high kick. She burns at the ease he shows, at the thought of her Watcher witnessing every move.

“I’m glad you took my place, Liam,” Wyndham's voice comes. “What was it you wanted to discuss with me?”

Buffy’s head whips towards Angel.

“Just a little test.” The vampire glances down at her, shrugs almost guiltily. “We’ll try again later.”

Angel brings out the best in her Watcher. Wyndham is suddenly sharing ideas rather than imparting orders (partly because Angel kept finding the Achilles heel in those orders), and Buffy has caught herself almost calling him by his first name.

“I wish you’d been here since the beginning,” she says wistfully one morning, when they’d returned to her apartment so close to sunrise that Angel had stayed safely inside. “Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad. Maybe….”

He probably waited for her to continue; but when he asked what she meant, she’d changed her mind and pretended to be asleep.

Wyndham seems to think that ‘Liam’ is his long lost twin, and Angel doesn’t disappoint. Sometimes, Buffy likes to think that he’s only playing a part, but one look at his apartment - at the two walls covered by bookshelves, how he’s organized them into modern and dead languages - tells her the truth.

More than once she’s found the two of them in a deep discussion on some arcane matter, different versions of myths dragged through hours of conversation.

“Who cares where the first vampire came from?” she explodes one night, exasperated.

It’s almost scary how their expressions are equally shocked.

She can hear their argument from two stories below.

“It’s not done!” Wyndham is saying. That seems to be his favorite phrase; he certainly has been saying it a lot since Angel arrived.

“So she'll risk her life alone?” The Council doesn’t have any problem with that notion, and they’ve been in charge for centuries. In her opinion, Angel’s fighting a losing battle, but it doesn’t seem to stop him. The Watcher must have said something, because a “No!” is roared all the way to the basement.

Seconds later Angel is at the doorway. "Come on. We are going hunting.”

Wyndham pours two glasses of scotch, shakes his head when she smiles hopefully. Miffed, but hardly surprised, she sits on the armchair and leaves the men to their ‘emergency meeting’ - Wyndham’s words when he called her.

“We are thankful for your intervention, Liam.”

Angel takes the glass and tips it slightly in the Watcher’s direction. “Buffy makes an excellent partner.”

“Ah, yes.” Something is in the air. Something she won’t like. “I’ve consulted with the Council and they agree that there’s exactly where our paths diverge.”

Apparently Angel doesn’t like it either. “Because the Slayer doesn’t need partners?”

Wyndham nods.

Sometimes she’s amazed that Angel’s true nature hasn’t been revealed yet. Like now. The atmosphere cracks like lightning; a shiver runs up her spine and screams for attention. She forces herself into a relaxed stance, but her eyes rivet to the vampire.

His expression barely changes. A slight rise of his eyebrow, maybe. “I see.”

‘I don’t care,’ he means.

“Of course, should you choose to keep fighting, I could tell you where your assistance is needed,” Wyndham continues, oblivious to the undercurrents. Buffy wants to tell him to run, and run fast; but she bites her lips - and waits.

“I thought the Council was concerned with the Slayer, not garden-variety demon hunters.” If he’d ever smiled like this in Sunnydale, she wouldn’t have hesitated to slay him. “You don’t have any authority over me.”

”We are not entirely powerless, Liam. And antagonizing us is, well,” Wyndham says confidently. “You’d rather stay our friend.”

Buffy remembers vividly the time she tried to run away. Tried, and failed spectacularly. The Council knows no boundaries, and one vampire would be easy pickings for them. “Ang-” Luckily, she catches herself in time, “Liam!” She has no words, so she just shakes her head.

Angel glances at her, frowns. Then, suddenly, he’s relaxed again. His body virtually flows into a more comfortable position and he looks at Wyndham indulgently. “Tell me, Wyndham,“

“My name is actually….”

“Did the old boys ever manage to find the Pergamum Codex?”

Wyndham pales. “The Codex?”

“Or the Tiberius Manifesto, perhaps?”

“You have them?”

“Not yet.” Angel sips his drink calmly. “But of course, if I cease to work with Buffy, Slayer lore wouldn’t interest me anymore.”

Wyndham nods, practically salivating.

Angel stands up, and she follows suit. “See that everything’s fixed, friend. We’ll be back tomorrow after patrol.”

They are tracking a Luith, when it dawns on her. “You really are staying.”

“You keep sounding surprised by that,” he notes, the tone reproachful but a smile plays on his lips. “Of course, my contacts are years cold; but I’m sure I can reconnect with them.”

“And after they get the books?”

“We’ll see.”

We? A part of her doesn’t believe him, but she is already turning away. Her voice is not on the verge of tears when she tells him to take different routes to look for the demon, and thankfully, he doesn’t make any comments before leaving.

V. But people were happy. Mostly.

Their first trip is to a little town three hours away from Tucson. A warlock has posed as a kindergarten teacher, and has been trying to turn his students into marionettes.

“There, there,” she hears Angel’s voice behind her. He’s trapped in a corner of the classroom, a square of shade surrounded by sunlight, but two little girls are half-dangling, half-clinging to him. He looks too awkward, bent at the waist like that; but when she approaches, the girls scurry away to hide in a corner. “The sword,” Angel whispers, and she belatedly remembers the dripping weapon in her hand.

“It’s okay now,” she tells the terrified children, slinging the sword to a corner.

None moves.

“Do you want to call your parents?” Angel tries.

Nods, and after giving her a quick glance, they run back to their hero. Buffy takes the chance to close the blinds as tightly as possible, even drapes the largest safety blankets over them. Carefully, Angel herds the girls to the desk and the telephone on it. “Can you dial your number, honey?”

Buffy takes another blanket and covers Angel with it, trying not to notice how quickly the children move away from her path.

Angel throws the borrowed blanket onto his bed. It may have saved him from some nasty burns; but it looks ridiculously childish now. Peppered with purple stars, it clashes against his dark satin sheets. “We won’t have convenient sewers to help us every time,” he says, obviously not amused by the sight.

“And I can’t always wait until sunset to stop the bad guys,” she retorts, uncharacteristically staying by the door. 'This is when he leaves,'> she thinks, 'when he finally realizes it won’t work.'

“I think it’d be better if….” He sighs.

She braces herself.

“We need a car.”

“I’m not sure I can approve,” her Watcher says.

Buffy stares at him. “You’re worried about my safety? Because I’ll wear my seatbelt and all, Wyndham.”

“I’ve told you repeatedly not to call me that.”

“And I’ve told you to get out of my life.” She can’t help the hostility. This is probably the best thing that’s happened lately and he’s ruining it. “Guess we’re even.”

He backs away, obviously disappointed, and faces his second target. “Liam, I trust your intentions were good; but the Slayer must be discreet. This -“ He points at the black Plymouth “-is anything but.”

“You sent one teenage girl to demon hotbeds across the country. Couldn’t think of anything that spelled Slayer more clearly?” Angel takes the car keys from the Watcher’s hands. “I bet that demons know she’s arrived before she even makes her first move.” He’s talking about Sunnydale. He once told her how Willow had boasted about stopping the Slayer from crashing the plant inauguration - five hours before she was dust.

Shame she hadn’t staked the vampiress herself.

“And not one fake ID at my disposal,” Buffy adds with a pout. “Buffy Summers is not exactly a common name, you know?”

“I refuse to do something illegal.”

Her lips twist at the hypocrisy. She remembers him leading the team that hauled her back to LA. He told her mother that she needed psychiatric internment. No, not illegal. “But unethical is just fine, right?”

Angel looks at her, brow knitted in confusion. But he doesn’t tell her about Sunnydale, about the whimpers when he sleeps. Apparently they are even, too.

Wesley flusters, but bravely keeps on, “I don’t believe that cruising in this monstrosity would protect your identity.”

Angel is about to protest, but her arms around his middle freeze him mid-word.

“Buffy?” Both men ask, equally bewildered if for different reasons.

“But Wyndham,” Buffy says sweetly, enjoying the man’s near apoplexy, “don’t you see?” She presses herself against Angel, rests her cheek on his arm. They have never been so close that she feels the lack of a pulse against hers. It’s unsettling, but she pushes the feeling away and smiles at her Watcher. “It’s the perfect alibi.”

“Liam?”

Angel catches on quickly; he relaxes in her embrace and even shrugs adorably. “It is a good idea. A young couple on a road trip, what could be more average than that?”

She learns to drive soon enough; but it’s weeks before Angel lets her do it unsupervised. Apparently she’s just as aggressive at the wheel than with a stake, and terrorizing unsuspecting drivers isn’t acceptable.

“I can drive during daytime,” she is pleading now. “I promise, no more tickets. Really.”

Expectedly, Angel shakes his head. It’s almost infuriating how he keeps the car exactly under the speed limit.

“We need to catch those Bukkas before the full moon! One lousy ticket can’t slow us down.”

“Good try.” He drives expertly past a truck, never endangering the side mirror.

Most infuriating, indeed.

“Miss Anne?”

Buffy’s sick of the rain and eager to get to their room and into dry clothes. Why must demons live in Seattle?

“Miss Anne!”

Her assumed name finally registers. It’s the motel clerk’s wife. “Something awful. Just awful.” It’s never good when strangers have bad news for her. “We called the police; but they are completely clueless.”

Police?

“Is it Angel?” The lady looks blank. “Liam, damn it. Is he alright?”

“Oh dear, oh dear. Such a good boy, too….”

Buffy isn’t listening anymore. She is running, and for the first time in years, she is truly scared.

Mr. Stevens heard a large vehicle pull up, then a loud fight and by the time he deemed it safe to look in, the vehicle was long gone. Along with Angel.

Buffy stands in the middle of the chaos that was their room, trying to make sense of everything. The Bukka are keeping all clues to their ritual concealed. Would they dare such a risky offensive?

Maybe. Angel’s the demon psychology expert.

She takes comfort in the fact that one of the blankets is missing. Because it’s barely 3pm, and the option is unthinkable.

She’s never hated sunlight so much.

“Return immediately,” Wyndham says over the phone. “Liam knew the risks and….” For a second, Buffy thinks she hears a grieving sigh on the other side. “And we must go on.”

Not an option. But she doesn’t want to think of the consequences if she disobeys. She still has nightmares of being helpless against the Council team. “What about the Bukka?”

“Right. The full moon is tonight.” He must be weighing all pros and cons. “Fine, stay. But I expect you tomorrow, Buffy.”

“Of course.” Not without Angel. That not an option. “I’ll be there.”

With him, she doesn’t say.

Angel usually plays nice to their informants: pats on the back, large bonuses for especially useful data, maybe even a round of beer at the local bar.

Of course, Angel has never been under such a tight timetable.

“You see, Steven,” she says as she corners the bigger man against a wall of his kitchen. He’s already seen her break through the door with a punch, so he steps back fearfully. “I’ve been patient with you. Liam said you’re a good boy deep under-“

“I am. I am!” He sounds suitably terrified.

“- but guess what? Someone’s kidnapped my friend.”

Even backed against the wall, Steven is quick to understand her. “List’s too long, Slayer. Liam made enemies left and right.”

She nods. One more thing they shared. “Heard of any who’d go against a master vampire and win?” Angel’s secret is no good if he dies; she’ll worry about damage control later.

He gapes. “Master…?”

Buffy taps his chin edgily. “Keep with the program? I still have a long journey ahead and I’m starting to feel I’m wasting my time here. Am I, Stevie?”

“But you’re the Slayer.”

“Shocking, huh? Now, names and locations. I’m in a hurry here.”

Suddenly the elements themselves come against her. A thick curtain lowers between her and the world, hindering her search. Angel could be anywhere…

…Or nowhere. Just ashes washed in rainwater.

Buffy bites her lip at the unwanted thought. Think, girl. Think! She just went through the forest. Steven said to look for a hill with odd ruins on top.

Ruins? No. Those are….

She laughs. Thank Wyndham and his endless ranting. No, not ruins. Bukka lairs! Angel must have been brought there.

Finally!

With a challenging cry, Buffy cuts through the rain. Tonight, not even hell itself will stop her.

She starts to wonder if she hasn’t wasted her time after all. Yes, she ruined the ritual. She was the good little Slayer and saved the innocent sacrifices-to-be. The Bukka tried to delay the threat, but Buffy was in no mood to be delayed. Those she hasn’t killed must be hiding in the forest. Yay her!

Wyndham will praise her at her return. He’ll ask for details and spend the weekend writing in his Diary. Even Angel would be proud that she saved the world by herself, but the thought tastes like ashes.

Yes, the world’s safe.

But where’s Angel?

Full of labyrinthine passages, these lairs are perfect to retain a prisoner. Wyndham once commented that Bukka were extremely intelligent; Buffy agrees now. They’d played her from the beginning, fooled all their informants with false clues.

If Steven hadn’t heard of the attacks on tourists who visited the ‘ruins’, she never would’ve come here.

And Angel is here.

Call it foolishness, or sixth sense, or that they are Slayer and souled vampire. Call it destiny, their destiny, and let irony laugh at her admitting to it at this time.

He’s here, somewhere, and leaving him behind is Not. An. Option.

“Angel….”

He doesn’t react. Buffy remembers Wyndham’s teachings, that a hurt vampire is an even bigger threat. So be it. Buffy steels herself and rushes inside. So many wounds…. "Oh God."

"That bad?"

She nearly falls backwards at the sound. "Angel! Are you o---?" Silly question. Pragmatism works better. "The car's waiting outside."

"You drove." He laughs weakly.

She laughs too, through relieved tears.

"Hey." He tugs her pants feebly. "I'm glad you came."

Her hand meets his in the lightest grip. "Wait 'til you see your car."

She doesn't loosen her grasp long after his return to unconsciousness.

VI. We really are living in a golden age.

She enters his apartment quietly.

“I’m not dead, you know.” Angel is reading on the very comfortable couch he bought two months ago when Buffy decided that sleeping close to him, nightmares and all, was more relaxing. Its twin is in her own apartment, and Angel spends many days between them.

Wyndham isn’t aware of this, of course. He keeps proclaiming that the Council will demote him if they discover their sharing motel rooms. Buffy would’ve called them herself; but they might examine ‘Liam’ too closely while they’re at it.

That’s something she won’t risk - more than she already has.

“That’s up to long and very boring debate,” she answers, more cheerily.

He closes his book and rises to his feet to get the bags she’s carrying.

“And you’re still recuperating.” She bats his hands away and opens the paper bag. “I’m starting to believe Wyndham actually likes you. He’s even sending ice-cream,” and she holds up the carton. “Snow-white plain vanilla. God. He really is that boring.”

“Or he thinks I’m not up to that much excitement.”

She finds a hefty volume at the bottom. “A Watcher’s Diary.” Her eyebrows shoot up. “Forget the liking, he’s actively wooing you.”

He rolls his eyes. “He probably needs some passage translated to English. See?” He shows her the attached note. “It’s a good sign, though.”

“Hm.” She walks to the fridge and deposits the second bag inside. “Hope you like pork - and being slain by your good signs. Wyndham will so flip if he finds out.”

“Hey. Steven liked us-“ She gives him a look. “Alright, he was terrified of us. Still a good reason to keep his mouth shut.”

“How comes you’re the one with faith in humanity?”

“I met you.”

He sounds so serious it’s impossible not to blush.

He finds out about her mother one Wednesday morning. “Mail!” he announces as he opens the door, ducking to avoid her quarterstaff.

Buffy chuckles, trying to hit him. Those magazines are wasting paper on her. “Anything on Slayer fashion? Maybe the trendiest outfit for the next Apocalypses?”

“We haven’t had one of those in weeks,” he reminds her. Jumps to the side. “And no, this looks like an actual letter. It’s….” And he pauses. “Your mom’s?”

The quarterstaff falls to the floor, forgotten. “What?” Buffy snatches the white envelope away and rips it open.

“I believed….” He starts, unusually awkward.

“That she was dead?” Her eyes pour over the letter, then suddenly she gasps and reaches deeper into the envelope for a smaller card. “Nope. Just went MIA two years ago. 'Dr. Travers' said I was too unstable for a family environment. That I’d keep sneaking out until I got in serious trouble.” She waves the card - an invitation. “Apparently she’s started a new life, and she hopes I’m well enough to be at her wedding.”

“You okay?”

She notices that she has stepped back when Angel came to her. “Just peachy. Didn’t you hear? I’m getting a new daddy.”

“I don’t see any impediment for you attending this event.”

Buffy looks at her Watcher with distrust. “So I tell her that the doctors have discharged me? That I’m sane again, no more delusions of vampires and monsters.”

“Those were very special circumstances, Buffy. You refused to see reason.”

Thankfully Angel still is supposed to be in bed, recovering from their trip to Seattle. She ended up telling him everything last night, and his anger had been palpable. If he had come, she doesn’t want to think what he’d have done after what Wyndham just said. “Fine. Don’t wait up.”

“Come with me,” she blurts out.

“To Delaware?” Angel stops mid-step, stake hanging uselessly from his grasp. “And do what?”

The vampire they’ve been following starts edging along the alley wall, hoping to reach the main street before the unexpected reprieve ends.

“Drive me?” Buffy nervously fiddles with her hair. “Distract me from becoming a total basketcase at the thought of facing the woman who birthed me?”

“What will you wear?”

They’ve had this argument for the last two days. “Whatever you want,” she concedes.

He nods, “Wise decision.” Then he throws the stake, and the fleeing vampire is dust.

He smiles indulgently at her expression. "I know, books are bad enough already."

"Not bad," she retorts. "Just boring."

"Do Slayers have a single artistic bone in their bodies?" he teases as he places the charcoal on the table.

Buffy rolls her eyes. "Must have broken it that first year."

Angel frowns deeply, and she knows that he’s damning Sunnydale for separating them. "I promise," he makes his voice light. "You'll love this."

This time she smiles indulgently.

But the next morning, as Buffy wakes up to a beautiful drawing of her mother, her smile is earnest. Perfect wedding gift.

The lights are too bright, the people too pushy. Once upon a time, she'd have loved it.

Buffy sighs. She's trying to bring back that forgotten self, the one who'd enjoy a new dress…. Maybe she'll even wear it in her coffin.

She freezes at her own thought. Will she never fit back in?

"You okay?"

"Yeah," she lies, aware that he's worried. Another sigh. "I don't belong here anymore, Angel."

"It's your mother's wedding," he reminds her.

And Slayer attire isn't proper, yes, she remembers. A new dress. Get in, get it and get out. Sounds easy, doesn't it?

"No pants," he tells her patiently.

Buffy rolls her eyes. "Eighteenth century much?"

Wordlessly he hands her the dress he chose while she was changing. Her eyebrows rise, high. "Don't you trust me?"

"With my life," she answers honestly. "But your wardrobe choices?"

"Way better than yours, darling," a nearby saleslady mutters to herself.

Buffy winces.

Angel ignores the comment. "We'll leave if you don't like this one."

"Fine." She sulks, but studies the offered dress. A simple, elegant cut in the deepest indigo. Buried instincts whisper in joy. "Shoes?" she asks impatiently.

Angel tuts.

"You were right. Happy?”

“Ecstatic.”

Given the circumstances, Buffy guesses she can’t complaint. The women she met at yesterday’s party have come over to chit-chat; but Buffy lost the habit long ago. Robert, her new step-dad, also introduces her to his business associates, but they keep asking about her career choices and her plans for the future and, well, she’s also lost the habit of planning that far ahead.

One more hour, she promises herself. One more hour of standing in the gown and the heels before kissing her mom goodbye and rushing back to Angel.

He’s the one habit she doesn’t want to lose.

Joyce feels torn. Robert deserves her undivided attention, true. But Buffy will leave tomorrow.

At least she did come, and Joyce's heart tightens at the gorgeous woman she's become. But so lost, too. A mother can always tell.

Somehow Buffy notices her scrutiny, smiles uncertainly. That's it; her daughter needs her most. But then the same smile blossoms beautifully. Joyce follows the surprised gaze and finds a stranger. How did he get through security?

She easily forgives the trespass, seeing the guarded joy in their greeting.

Lost and found, Joyce muses, kissing Robert with a lighter heart.

Ah, young love.

She can feel her mother checking on her constantly. She feels touched, she does; but the hour is up and it’s time to go.

She steps toward the happy couple - and freezes.

“Angel?” she whispers, unable to rein in a smile.

He also smiles and then tugs at his indigo tie, looking ready to throw it away.

“How?” she asks.

“The invitation said the reception started at six. I left as soon as the sun set.”

Buffy’s smile drops when she sees her mother and Robert advancing towards them. “Ready for the firing squad?” she half-jokes, not feeling touched anymore.

They finally make their escape after a tortuous half hour of fielding questions and sidestepping the truth. She leads him outside, where the waves echo around them. “Mom always said she loved beach weddings. Guess second time’s the charm.”

The sea is tranquil tonight, and the moonlight softens the rocky piers.

“Where do you want to go?” Angel’s voice sounds unusually deep. His arm has gone over her shoulders and she’s resting against him.

There’s only right or left, but for once Buffy feels that she can do anything, even survive her real world. “Everywhere. Does everywhere work for you?”

"Thanks for coming," Buffy says suddenly, breaking the sound of waves around them. “You’ve been perfect.”

He shrugs uncomfortably. Joyce, now Joyce Dyer, is a protective mother and he's not come unscathed from her wedding reception. "I was nearby."

"With a handy tux?"

He rented it after the bachelorette party. Buffy's expression, anxious because she knew nobody but the bride, had decided him. Hopefully the owner won't mind all this sand.

She looks back at the party further up the shore. "We should go back," she says.

Angel sighs. Parental inquisition vs. a quiet walk down the beach. "Not yet."

VII. Buffy. Buffy Summers.

He has an image in his head, vivid and frighteningly intense. He can picture every inch, every angle as he takes the pencil.

Everything is perfect.

The blank page mocks his hesitation.

But how does one start on perfection?

By the eyes, of course. Bright as he imagines them under sunlight.

The forehead is next. The shape of her face, her neck and bare shoulders. Her hair for once free of a ponytail. He gives her a smile he's seen only in his imagination; and there, stroke by stroke, the white paper slowly yields into a young girl in love.

VIII. I kept hoping maybe you'd come. My destiny.

Quentin Travers at his doorstep can’t herald good news, Wesley thinks even as he greets the older Watcher.

“Wesley, my boy. I was hoping to find your Slayer here.”

An inspection of sorts? “She’s in Sunnydale at the moment. A new crisis has emerged; the Hellmouth does seem to be quite a quest.”

Travers frowns. “Didn’t the Council instruct not to approach that area?”

“Surely you heard….”

“Ah yes. Rupert. Always a rebel, that one, but I admit I was shocked at the news. Alright. Maybe it’s better to find you on your own - I was hoping for your assistance….”

"I hope my collection was of service," Wesley continues the charade.

"Certainly. Your treaty on the Cleveland hellmouth was quite insightful."

Wesley nods politely, playing along. Both know the Council holds copies of every Watcher's work. Whatever Travers' game, Cleveland can't be it.

"You know I hold your father in the deepest regard, my boy. Your mistakes won't reflect on him, of course. But I'd dislike to inform him of this one before you've had the chance to rectify the situation." He looks properly regretful.

Here it comes.

"It's about Summers'… companion."

Liam?

"Ever heard of the Scourge of Europe?"

Buffy looks around the desolate streets. “I can’t believe people insist to live here. It’s more depressing than I remembered.”

“People hold onto what they have,” Angel tries to explain. As if to demonstrate, he takes her hand. “You were great tonight. All of them are alive because of you.”

“And Giles’ kids,” she admits. “I was wrong. Having back-up helped.” Before he can boast about his wisdom, she tugs him towards the one convenience store open. “Now, you owe me some ice cream, mister.”

“Happy to oblige,” he laughs. “One chocolate-min-“

And that’s when the arrow pierces his chest.

"He is dying."

Buffy stares at the witch. "He's a vampire! Stakes, fire and beheading," she recites. "Vampires don't die in fever."

"It's beyond sickness," Tara tells her softly. "And it's spreading so fast I can't tell the source." A sigh. "I've never saved vampires, Buffy."

"Tell me about it," she mutters. She holds Angel's hand, so unnaturally hot. The arrow is useless for information; Tara's healing magic ineffectual. The assassin has long left Sunnydale.

There must be a way, though.

"I will find it." She isn't talking to Tara anymore. "But you have to hold on. You have to."

Wesley takes out the bottle of whiskey. Miss Raiden has already left with the second half on her pay. The job is done, she reported happily. The vampire won't trouble the Council anymore.

The vampire.

Liam - Angelus?

He's read the Diaries, of course. He is still horrified by the accounts of a uniquely remorseful and inventive vampire. The Scourge of Europe, indeed.

And yet….

He downs the glass quickly. Pours again.

Liam killed Penn - whom he sired in the first place.

Liam dragged him from certain death - most undignifiedly.

Liam helps - his Slayer's words.

Triumph tastes like burning whiskey tonight.

((- I saved them once already. Can't they keep their Hellmouth to themselves?))

"I knew Sunnydale was bad luck," she whispers softly.

((- Where's the Watcher?

- Mr. Giles died. That's the reason they called you.

- But they're all kids!

- They are your age, Buffy.))

"I like the witch, at least." She sighs. "Not that she's much help."

((- Politicians are evil…. What's new?

- Buffy.

- Alright. The mayor’s a new person - or new demon. I get it. Do I get chocolate-mint-cookie-dough ice cream if I kill him today?

- You do.

- And a pony?

- Buffy….))

"It was just a joke, Angel."

He still doesn't laugh.

So this is despair. Countless times fearing that she’d fail and the world would end, and it’s the loss of one person, one!, which is about to break her.

She doesn’t have any options; Buffy knew that even as she started driving back to LA. She isn’t the one with the contacts, always happy to leave the shades of gray to Angel. And now she’s all alone.

So she barges into Wyndham’s apartment, the stench of alcohol barely registering. “I’ll tell the truth and you - you….“ She starts crying. “You have to help me. Ang… Liam - no. Angel’s been poisoned.”

Wesley Wyndham-Pryce is okay. For a Watcher. Too shortsighted and chained to Council tradition, but his friendly exchanges with Angel gave her a new perspective.

But he’s failed her. Again. And until this moment Buffy never realized how much she’d started to trust him. "You?" She knew as soon as she mentioned Angel's plight. Wyndham was never able to dissemble. Her hands fist at her side, but she reins herself in.

This is too much. If she starts, she'll never stop.

"He's a vampire!" he grounds stubbornly, retreating in fear. "You betrayed me."

Buffy laughs. He dares talk of betrayal?

"What was in that arrow?" she asks again.

No broken bones. Not one drop of blood. Questions. Threats. She follows through and sets on fire one of his precious bookshelves.

He is a Watcher, and yet he never understood what a Slayer really was. He is scared. Until now, it never crossed his mind that the girl in love is a thousand times more dangerous.

Soon enough the story pours out.

She smiles when she hears about the cure. "That's all?"

Wyndham narrows his eyes. "No, you won't." He'll never understand. "I forbid it!"

She breaks his nose for that.

She sends Tara away, and the older girl retreats sadly, sure that she wants to say her goodbyes in private. She’d be right; this is goodbye. Just not for the reasons Tara thinks.

“Remember when you insisted it was all Destiny?” She laughs at the memory, and takes the knife from her boot. “You could be so stubborn. How did you put up with me?” She passes her hand over his sweaty brow.

He groans.

“Shh. Before it ends, I have one thing to tell you.” She leans in and steals their first kiss. “I believe.”

There’s barely any pain.

He's home again. Mother's food at the table, sweet milk from the stable. He opens his mouth to thank her…

…for choosing him. "Drink!" He's on Darla's lap, swallowing the unknown world she offers. He dances with her, kisses her, licks her skin like a babe. Cold and salty. "Angel…." she moans softly…

…he tastes the name from Buffy's lips. (Angelus never more.) He's kissing her under the sun. All sins washed away... All warmth leaving her…

He wakes up, the taste of her blood fresh in his mouth. Underneath him, Buffy breathes shallowly.

Happiness shatters before it takes root.

"Drink!" she orders, pressing her slashed wrist against his mouth. She almost breaks when nothing happens, but rationality wins. Her free hand takes the knife, stabs him between arm and shoulder. Pain finally rouses him, blind instincts taking her offer.

"Drink!" Softer now.

Suddenly he abandons her wrist, pulling her fiercely into his lap. There's no recognition as he tilts her head to the side. Her small cry of pain doesn't move him; instead he holds her body steady, drinking deep.

It'll be over soon.

"Angel…."

It's okay. If anyone has a right to her life, he's always been it.

The End

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Author's Notes:
Rating: PG-13. If you watched ‘The Wish’, you’re good to go.
Summary: Suppose Angel avoided getting staked, and then managed to save Buffy from the Master. The story starts an hour after the worst of the battle has passed.
Disclaimer: Nope.
Thanks to Semby (who even told me how to keep the wordcount! *HUGS*) and Sharon, for telling me that I wasn’t demented when I started this, oh, some 27 months ago?
Wordcount: If I did it right, there should be 100 drabbles of 100 words each.
A.N.: All 100 prompts taken from . Subtitles taken from the 'The Wish' transcript at buffyworld.com
Feedback: I'd love it. Written for the
I Will Remember You Fic Marathon 2008, held by the wonderful .

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