Rise

Rise

By Ducks, The Anti-Joss
Author's Notes

Sri Lanka, Autumn 2001

Sometimes he forgets to move, even so much as blink for hours at a time. It isn’t like his old habit of still and silent brooding,brooding - when he turned some painful or perplexing topic over and over in his brain like a rock tumbler of thoughts until the most familiar ones were worn perfectly smooth. Mental worry stones lodged in his harried mind.

No, this… this is different. This is as though entire days pass by when he simply ceases to exist.

He is beyond grief, now. Beyond tears. He has done the five stages: denied and fought and begged and wept and finally accepted. Knows. And with the knowing comes that familiar old emptiness. The same one that had devoured him for almost a hundred years before he knew her. The void she had filled with her warmth, her generosity, her smile… her love and most innocent, tender, foolish forgiveness. The wonder she had shown him -- the possibility that he might be worth saving.

Now all of that is gone, and with it, with her, went what little was left of that hope. His reason for being. He came to Sri Lanka to mourn, to think, and deep down, he thinks, to debate whether he wanted – could bear – to keep existing at all. Does he want to continue being, saving, fighting, in and for a world without her in it?

Months have passed. He knows this only because some still anal-retentive part of his vampire brain has been keeping track of the sunrises and sunsets he never bothers to see crawling above and plummeting below the mountains surrounding the temple. Plus the bells… The bells that toll, day and night, marking prayer times, meditation times, meal times, rest times.

But they signal only one thing for him. The end of everything. Buffy’s death has torn something delicate inside of him, and it will never mend even if he lives a thousand endless years.

No matter how deep his pain, however, no matter how much he wishes his final end would come and end this new, deeper torment, he has not crumbled to dust. He has not simply ceased to be from the searing fire of his loss. And when the host monks try to assassinate him in his eternity of weakness, he realizes.

He has to find a way to go on. To do otherwise would spit in the face of all she had shown him. All she had sacrificed. With her gone, the world needs him, and he needs to go on for her, if no other reason.

So he leaves the shattered peace of the monastery, and jumps a freighter back to L.A. to put together what he can manage of a life. To honor her. To remember.

Before he can do that, there is one final quest he has to undertake in Buffy’s name.

Sunnydale, California, Three Weeks Later

A different sort of paralyzing lethargy overcomes him as he stands, looking down at her grave. The words carved on the headstone echo through him over and over again like someone screaming them in his soul. Her name. The short span of years she graced the earth. How beloved she was. And how she saved the world… a lot.

But it isn’t the memorial stone -- so much said, so much left unsaid -- that freezes him where he stands, unable to tear his eyes away. Seeing her grave is not what fills him with horror, although it’s the first time he’s been able to bring himself to actually look at it. It isn't the realization – again – what is lost. To him. To everyone.

No. The very wrongness of the scene he observes is so very much worse than the fact that her once soft, warm body lies rotting beneath a mound of fresh grass. It's the gaping hole in that grass. The shattered coffin… the silk within empty of anything but dirt. That once-strong, beautiful body is gone.

“No,” he chokes. “Oh, God, no.”

He backs away a step, two, stumbling away from it.

A thousand possibilities tear through his twisted imagination, each more disturbing than the last. But there is one that keeps jerking his attention back again and again. A nightmare he’s had so many times over the past six years, he can conjure every excruciating detail without any effort.

Usually, though, this scenario is because of him. It is he who tears into her fair throat, sucks her dry, then force feeds her his own blood. It is he who watches her rise, vicious and bloodthirsty, to lay waste to the town and the world she gave her human life to protect. Against him and so many other monsters.

If he had to confess – and he never would, even under pain of vilest torture – that vision was less often a nightmare than a dream that left him wet and wanting when he woke. Guilty and unsatisfied.

But this… The possible reality of that tantalizing abomination… The thought that she might have really been so violated… Equal parts rage and repugnance roar through him, his stomach lurching, knees buckling as he falls into the grass, barely managing to turn his head before he vomits violently beside the gaping maw of Buffy’s empty grave.

He wretches until his gut cramps and the dry heaves threaten to tear him apart from the inside. Finally, as empty as the ground beside him, he forces himself to rise, to blank out the sudden riot of emotions consuming his heart and soul, and focus on what he has to do. The only thing he can do when there is a Slayer-Vampire loose in the world.

It's then he notices the litter around the vacated grave. Pieces of ancient pottery scattered here and there, along with a few melted and broken candles made of rendered goat fat. A deep inhalation brings the scent of innocent blood – deer, if he isn't mistaken, undercut with a touch of the decay one normally expects to find in cemeteries – to his senses. Deeper still, the stench of burnt amber, sulfur, hair, flesh. Darkest black magick. The scents of no less than four people, two of them deeply familiar, all of them struck with panic and terror as well as sorrow.

It takes only a moment for the truth to hit him. As shocking and repulsive as the idea of Buffy rising as a vampire is, this might be the only thing worse.

He examines the area around the grave with painstaking care, combing through the grass and finding signs of a struggle, then… the imprints or motorcycle tires? It takes a few minutes to sort through the tracks and other detritus before he finally finds what he's looking for: the marks left by a single figure, alone. First crawling from the desecrated grave, then rising to move away, stumbling and lost.

Looking off into the distance, he can hear the roar and crash of battle, smell fire and death in the fetid wind. Something has come to destroy Sunnydale, no doubt having learned that the Slayer was gone. But now Buffy isn't gone, is she? Her friends have done something ghastly, violating the very laws of nature to bring her back from her hard-earned rest. Now she is here, wandering the war-torn streets of the city he once called home. Alive? Undead? Either way he has to find her.

The journey through the familiar, but now utterly alien streets is surreal. He has seen so many war zones in his time -- caused more than a little destruction in them himself -- but to have one consume the place where he had spent so many of his happiest, and darkest, times is like another nightmare coming to life in a night already full of them.

Is there some spell in operation that's bringing his darkest fears to life? And if so, isn't it just a matter of time before he feels his soul being ripped from his body?

No, this isn't a nightmare. It's so much worse than that because it's real. And like so many other things in a world the Senior Partners consider The Home Office, plenty of nightmarish things happen without being pulled from the depths of his warped imagination.

There would be no waking up from this. No surge of relief to find it was in his head after all.

Buffy's trail is disturbingly easy to follow, confirming his fears about her condition. When he finds her, it's worse. She stands in the center of a ring of demons, each brandishing a deadly weapon: chains, swords, even one with what looks like a sawed-off shotgun. Buffy stands tall and proud, perfectly clean and bright-eyed, shifting and circling, trying to keep her enemies in sight. Ready for battle.

The odds are impossible, even for her. He starts running before he thinks about it, smashing, kicking, and rending opponents in his wake until he reaches her at the center of the scattering circle.

She smiles brightly at him, and the sight makes his chest squeeze tight. Joy at seeing her, fear for what's about to happen, dread for how she must be feeling, and... a strange sense of discomfort over how cheerful and happy she looks. There's something wrong about her. Her posture's too straight, her face too stiff, like the smile is forced or at least automatic. And her eyes...

He can't describe what's wrong with her eyes, but it makes him pause.

"Buffy?"

"Hello! You're Angel! You have a soul, and your hair is bloody stupid! Also, your forehead is inordinately tall and bulbous!"

He blinks in surprise, reaches up automatically to touch it. "I... my hair... what?"

Shock. She must be in shock. Of course she would be -- she's just been dragged from her grave by black magick. She's been alive again for an hour, two at the most, and already she's ground zero in an apocalyptic battle. The monsters roar and charge, and he doesn't have time to touch her, or even ask if she's all right before they're embroiled in battle.

It's a familiar sensation that he'd thought long forgotten. And more, that he believed he would never feel again. The thrill of fighting beside her; of knowing that together they can defeat whatever enemy they face. When he catches sight of her out of the corner of his vision, each of her moves is entrancing, flawlessly executed, clean and vicious, and perfectly destructive. Something about that seems wrong, too, but he's too caught up in the moment to consider why. Or, really, to care. As long as they get the job done. As long as she's okay enough to function. Everything else can be worked out after.

It gets done with surprising quickness, and they are left in fighting stance, back to back when the last demon falls, its skull crushed between Buffy's small, smooth hands.

Smooth hands... But didn't she just dig out of her own grave a little while ago? He takes them as he turns to face her, and feels a little jolt of electricity arc between their skins. Hers is hot, as though she's consumed with fever. Some side effect of the resurrection?

"Buffy, are you..." He trails off as his eyes comb upward, inspecting her for injuries. In place of a bloody wound in her chest, there's a hole... full of sparking wires.

Angel drops her hands as if the growing electric shock could harm him, and stares at her.

"Thank you for helping me, but I absolutely in no way love or desire you anymore!" she chirps. "I love and adore only Spike! Spike is smart and handsome and funny and a champion in the sack!"

He boggles at her. "You're... some kind of a robot."

"Yes, I am! Thank you for noticing! Have you come here to get your bloody stupid ass kicked by my beloved Spike?"

"Your beloved..." He shakes his head, resisting the urge to engage it in this ridiculous line of conversation. "Okay. Did you... Were you buried in Buffy's grave? Did you dig your way out?"

Stupid questions. There is no doubt in his mind that Buffy -- the real Buffy -- had been interred there. He had seen it himself, hidden in the trees the night they buried her, watching through a veil of tears and the mist of the coming night. He could still smell her. Still sense the last vestiges of her essence, hovering around the corpse. Once the others left, he had watched Spike fall down in the dirt and sob until sunrise. Only when the sun made his skin smoke had he crawled away. Angel himself followed long after, taking advantage of the cover the deeper forest provided.

No, they had definitely buried Buffy, not this thing that smells like plastic and WD-40. But he has to ask, for hope that its human archetype is not suffering through what he fears she is.

"I am injured. I have to find Willow." The robot turns away without answering his question and begins to march down the street in the opposite direction from which he just came. Into the heart of the chaos.

Angel swallows his useless needs, and follows. If anybody knows what happened to the real Buffy, it's the woman who left her unmistakable magickal signature all around Buffy's grave. The one responsible for bringing her back from the dead.

The one whom he will have to use all of his strength and will not to strangle. Or fall at her feet in thanks.

The robot-Buffy leads him across town through more destruction and carnage, and part of him quails at having to ignore the opportunity to stop the demons' rampage. Right now he has one priority and one only -- helping Buffy.

Gods, it's been so long since that was the case, he has forgotten this urgency, this dire need to protect her at any cost. Now that need is exploding out of his chest as if he has a living heart to burst. Joy and terror in equal measure. A sensation like he means something, like he is important because he is himself, not because he's a supernatural champion of humanity or the centerpiece of some apocalyptic prophecy. Because he is Angel. And Buffy is back, needing him. If he fails again, there will be no second chances.

"Willow!" the robot cries out, "I am injured! I need assistance!" She wanders into a blind alley, smack into a brick wall, and it takes only moments for him to catch up to her and get a sense of what had happened here only moments before.

Buffy's friends are obviously wiped out and injured, but had done some serious damage themselves - if the pile of demon bodies around them is any indication. Looking more closely, and taking in the various scents of sweat, fear and blood, it becomes clear that the humans had some help.

"Angel!" Xander, ironically, is the first one to notice his arrival.

Angel bites his tongue, resisting the incredibly strong urge to either scream at or beat the crap out of Xander. He has to focus on what's important right now.

"Where is she?" he hisses, focusing his glare on Willow. Hoping his eyes express, at least partially, the rage and fear for Buffy that threaten to overwhelm his good sense. "I know she's been through here."

"This is Angel. He's a vampire. He's very stupid," the robot points out, and Angel has a sudden understanding of who must have designed her.

Angel further darkens his evil look, cutting short the snicker bubbling out of someone in the exhausted group. Probably the ex-demon. She looks unstable; a little hysterical.

"You know?" Willow says, her voice barely a whisper, her expression and body language saying she had given up a great deal of her life force to make this abomination happen. "You know she's back?"

"Yes. It became readily apparent when I found her grave empty. WHERE. IS. SHE?"

Everyone's eyes tick left toward a scattered pile of demon bodies that lead, like rotten meat breadcrumbs, into a blind alley. Once he pauses, taking a moment to still his roiling mind and concentrate, he can catch Buffy's scent beneath the fire and death and fear glutting the air all around them.

He could find her scent from the depths of Hell. Probably had, come to think of it. He can certainly follow her through the war-torn streets of Sunnydale.

Angel doesn't bother another harsh word or angry glance at the foolish humans Buffy loved so much. Instead he turns and sprints full vampire speed in the direction her trail goes, vaulting the chain link fence at the head of the alley, hoping beyond hope he can find her before they lose her again.

Part Two
Notes

It's disturbingly easy to follow Buffy's path through Sunnydale -- she leaves a trail of dismembered and eviscerated demon corpses to mark her passing. The carnage is extreme. Angel barely catches her scent among the myriad stenches of death and destruction in the air.

He can't be sure if it is the stink or the crushing weight of dread that chokes him, making him feel as though he really does need to breathe, and suddenly no longer can. The town grows more and more eerie as he makes his way, trying to find any direct evidence that Buffy has been this way besides the trail of devastation. It feeds his irrational fear that this is his nightmare come to life. Or worse, that he has somehow been plunged back into Hell.

His skin crawls as if it wants to creep away from his body entirely; a fine tremor shakes him from head to foot, threatening to slow him down. Storm clouds bloom on the horizon, ablaze with lightning arcing across the sky, readying to break and make the night more terrifying.

He ignores it. Nothing will keep him from finding Buffy. Helping her, if he can. She once told him that when he returned from whatever demon dimension Acathla had sucked him into, Angel had been feral. A wild thing with no conscience, no self-control. Most certainly a killer, but of what? Or who. He couldn't be sure about anything in those first days, roaming free, or after, when she said she'd chained him in the mansion where they'd fought that fateful final battle. He didn't remember much about any of it.

Except the growing sensation that She was in trouble, that he had to save Her. Breaking free. Running. The searing heat of bestial rage and bloodlust. And then in a moment -- sudden clarity. The warm, clean scent of her skin, touched with a musk of violence and fear. He had known one thing in the flash that cut through his pain, rage, and confusion like a sword. A single word, pregnant with memory and sensation, the unbelievable knowledge that he was home, safe.

Buffy.

How many times has she saved him? In how many ways has she been his salvation? For all the pain that remained from their separation, all the regrets, the scars of loss and longing, beneath it all he always knew that she was the reason he was still here, on this Earth, at all.

How many times has he let her down? Not now. He sure as hell won't now. In the past, he has repaid her generosity and loyalty with nothing but pain, but this time he vows that it will be different. Whatever condition he finds her in, however much trouble, he will do anything to help her.

That certainty fires him, pushes him through the fear and the anger that threaten to bring his quest to a screeching halt. There was a time when exactly that would have happened; when he had been crippled by his endless guilt and sorrow to the point where he was nothing more than another one of the filthy, stinking vermin scouring the alleys for garbage.

((You see, and then you tell me what you want to do.))

Lightning strikes somewhere nearby, as if conjured by the memory, and it's then that he hears the screaming. The voice nearly as familiar as Buffy's.

"Dawn!" he cries, but the shout is drowned by the burgeoning storm and a screeching racket - like some great metal object swaying in the wind, getting ready to fall apart completely. He remembers Willow in the lobby of the Hyperion, telling him about Glory and a tower built by crazy people. It feels like a million years ago. Can it really only be a few months since the new and tentative foundation of his world crumbled to ruin all around him?

He looks up, and terror finally manages to stop him in his tracks.

Before him stands the very structure from which Buffy ended her life to save the world. Time and the elements have not been kind. It creaks and squeals, shuddering and lurching in the wind, sagging as if the next lightning strike will fell it once and for all. And standing at its very edge, like a child pondering the height of some morbid high diving board, stands the very goal of his quest.

In that moment, it feels like she is the goal of every quest he has ever undertaken.

Then lightning does strike, the wind picks up, and the tower sways dangerously to the left. Dawn's screaming increases, grows more panicked, but Buffy barely even shifts to balance herself. In a moment, if she doesn't jump, she's going to fall.

Angel starts running again without consciously deciding to do so, the instinct that had been pushing him on through this horror of a night kicking him back into reality. The reality in which Buffy and Dawn are both about to die if he can't get to them in time.

When he looks back later, he doesn't remember that last quarter mile, or the precious moments spent climbing the disintegrating tower to where Dawn clung precariously to the edge. He doesn't remember grabbing her and carrying her to what he hoped was a safe distance, or setting her down, or promising that everything would be all right. Those are only stories Dawn herself tells him in some calmer, saner moment in the future.

What Angel does recall with perfect clarity is everything that happened once he reached the top of the tower the second time. When he finally saw Buffy up close and was struck dumb by equal parts joy, horror, and fear at the sight of her. Her hair had grown dark, almost to her waist, and hung in lank, filthy tangles. The black dress Giles and Dawn had chosen to bury her in (what were they thinking?) was torn and stained with demon goo. He could smell the blood -- her blood -- on her hands, just as he had expected to when he met the robot earlier.

He remembers how certain he was in that moment, the way Buffy stood there staring down, that she was about to jump and that he would dive after her without hesitation. It was the exact same dream he'd dreamed every night for months after she died. Reliving her final moments over and over again, imagining how things might have gone differently had he never left her. If he had somehow listened to that nagging feeling in his gut that she needed him and gone to Sunnydale. Kept Cordy from being swept into Pylea; kept Glory from taking Dawn; gotten Dawn back once she was taken. And the nightmare twin of this final, desperate scene... Buffy plunging from the tower, him following her, cushioning her fall.

He knows that it wasn't the fall that killed Buffy, but the vortex through which she plummeted. That her essence had already been gone when her body crashed, broken and empty, to the cement. If Angel had dived after Buffy, it still wouldn't have saved her, but probably only ended his existence, once and for all, as well.

He couldn't say the latter wouldn't have been an acceptable result, if the former hadn't been possible.

There's no vortex this time, unless the pit of agony he can scent coming off Buffy's skin counts. He's not entirely certain that this won't kill her just as readily.

"Buffy."

He can hardly hear the word leave his lips over the deluge that begins to fall, soaking them to the bone in seconds; the crashing thunder and the screaming of the collapsing tower drowning out everything else. Still, her back straightens, her head comes up, although she doesn't turn around. She can hear him.

"Buffy, you have to get away from the edge. This tower is going to come down any second."

Buffy turns, frowning, and opens her eyes to look at him. For a moment, she seems to see him, to focus, the expression on her face moving from one of pain to surprise. Her lips open, eyes wide.

Lightning strikes the ground not ten yards away from the base of the tower, and the world explodes into fire and debris. The tower shakes and lists heavily to one side, throwing both Angel and Buffy off their feet. He looks out, terrified, certain that she's fallen, but she's simply lying flat on the platform where she had been standing, slowly struggling to her feet. She shifts to the end of the platform and looks down once more.

"NO!" Angel shrieks, pulling himself upright and moving toward her as fast as he can with the tower shuddering and swinging the way it is. "Buffy, don't!"

She turns once again to look at him over her shoulder. He's close enough now to see her eyes, and for a split second, the lack of light within them makes him think, "Zombie."

But then he sees a single tear run down her cheek.

"Don't jump, Buffy. Don't move. Just walk back to me. I'm right here. I won't let you fall."

She blinks slowly, scowls at him. Confusion passes over her features, and his gut twists as she turns away again.

"Please," he whispers -- to himself, to her, to any god or power that might care to listen. He keeps shuffling forward, onto the platform at the end of which Buffy stands. There's nowhere left to hang on, and he only hopes that his preternatural agility is as good as Buffy's if the tower tilts again. "Buffy. I know you can hear me. Please, don't move." The tower screeches and shudders again, and the noises make it clear that it's not going to remain standing much longer. "Or... move, but toward me, okay?"

He can see her focus somewhat. There is no other word for her expression but anguish as she asks him, "Is this... Hell?"

Angel's gut twists, and it takes all his will not to waste time and energy vomiting. He can't give her the answer that he knows is true, because she just can't hear that right now and still resist the urge to jump. To go back to wherever it is she came from. Because he still loves her more than anything in the universe, he lies.

"No. Of course not. You're home. We're here, together. Whatever you've been through, it's over. Come to me now. Let's get off this tower."

She turns away again. He inches closer, almost close enough to touch her. He hears her whisper, "It was so clear... on this spot. I remember how shiny... and clear everything was." She shakes her head. "But now... Now..."

He can hear it in her voice. He recognizes the sound of hopelessness from long, intimate experience with it. If he can't reach her...

"Buffy, I know you're in pain. I know what you've been through is horrible. I know it seems like going back would be easier than this. But you can't. We can't. We have to go on. The world needs you. Your family... your friends. Everyone's missed you so much. They need you." He loses all of his energy and will in a sudden rush of remembered grief. "I need you. Please. Let me help."

((It's hard, and it's painful, and it's every day. But it's what we have to do. And we can do it together.))

She moves so slowly, like it hurts. Too slowly, but she does turn. She stares at him like she's never seen him before in her life, but at the same time there's a spark of recognition deep in the shining hazel of her eyes.

"Angel?"

A dam of emotion breaks inside him, and months -- maybe years -- of tears begin to spill down his face. "Yes. It's me, Buffy. I'm here. Please keep moving toward me. Don't leave me again. Please."

"I can't," she says, her voice flat, quiet, revealing nothing of the pain in her expression. It's clear that's she's in shock. "I can't do this again. I was so tired. And I could... I could finally rest. Angel... Please let me go. Make them let me go."

She turns away, takes a step toward the edge.

"NO!" he screams, and dives for her. The tower rocks backward, throwing him away from her and sending her sliding closer to the edge. "BUFFY! HOLD ON!"

The first miracle of the night--or maybe the second, once he gets passed the horror of it all--she does. Buffy clings to the edge as the tower starts to fall. Angel clamors to the edge and throws himself in her direction, scooping her off the platform as the tower crashes away from them, leaving them plummeting after it.

He can do nothing but wrap himself around her and twist so that he hits the ground first. Their impact blows a hole through the plywood platform into the concrete space beneath, a fall that saves them from the last killer pieces of the tower that otherwise would have flattened them both.

Angel blacks out for a moment. When he comes to again, he's holding Buffy's still form against him, and the dust of the tower has settled. The night is quiet but for the rain and the thunder as it rolls away toward the sea.

"Buffy," he croaks out, giving her a gentle shake. "Buffy, can you hear me?"

She shifts in his embrace, struggles to pick her head up. The look she gives him tears him to the depths of his soul with its torment, but at least she's alive.

"I can hear you," she whispers, and lays her head back down on his still chest once more.

They lay like that until Dawn's head appears over the opening to the hole, and a moment later, Spike's joins it. He’s obviously trying to hide his own tears as Angel hands Buffy up to him, which does absolutely nothing to dim the fierce urge to punch Spike in the face just on principle. After all, the last time they met, Spike had hired a sadistic, child molesting mercenary vampire to torture Angel to final death.

But the way Buffy looks at Spike -- with the affection and trust built between soldiers who have survived epic battles together -- squashes the impulse. She is in enough pain without them digging out their old baggage.

The walk back to Revello Drive is strangely uneventful considering the general tone of the night, but no less nerve wracking for it. Buffy refuses to let anyone help her, though it's apparent that trauma of the past few hours is beginning to tell on even her preternatural body. Dawn openly watches her sister's every small twitch, notices every pained sound, and each one shows on her young face as if she's sharing it. Beneath all that, though, it's apparent she’s overjoyed.

Spike keeps his head down, gaze on the ground in front of him, but his line of vision ticks to Buffy every few seconds, and the blue of his eyes remains swimming in tears that never break free.

Angel, meanwhile, keeps watch over them all and their broader environment, keeping an eye out for any of the demons that have all but destroyed the town and for Buffy's friends. Neither appears, and after what seems like forever, they reach the familiar bungalow. Dawn leads Buffy upstairs to clean up, leaving the two vampires staring after them, standing uncomfortably in the foyer.

"I can't believe it," Spike murmurs after a time. "I can't bloody well believe it's her."

"Yeah," Angel replies, though he doesn't think Spike is actually speaking to him. He heads into the kitchen to put on some tea and see if there is any food in the house. Buffy would need to eat after... God. After being dead for so long.

Angel sags against the kitchen counter, all the driving adrenaline and fear leaking away, as if reaching the house safely poked a hole in his strength. To his chagrin, Spike enters the kitchen just as he is sliding down to the floor, unable to keep himself upright any longer. The younger vampire -- once his closest companion as well as his greatest rival -- stands staring at him.

Angel tries to remember if he has ever shown so much emotion in front of Spike. He doesn't think he has. Under any other circumstances he would care. Would rein in his exhaustion and sorrow, keeping it for a more private moment, but tonight he just doesn't have the capacity for even his characteristic stoicism.

"I, uh... I'll put on the kettle," Spike mutters and turns away, leaving Angel alone with the last shreds of his dignity. He pulls his knees into his chest, hides his face behind them, and just sits on the Summers' kitchen floor while a soulless monster of his own design makes tea for the love of his life, who has just returned from the dead.

Only his life could be this twisted.

He doesn't move again until Dawn joins them over an hour later, still looking both exhilarated and exhausted in equal measure. She collapses onto one of the bar stools with a weary sigh and gratefully accepts the cup of tea Spike offers her.

"How is she?" Angel and Spike ask in tandem, shooting one another matching glares.

Dawn shrugs. "She's alive. She's sitting on her bed staring at nothing; won't say anything or even look at me, but she's alive." The teen turns to Angel. "How did you do this? I mean... why? Didn't you... When I tried to bring Mom back, you said that was a serious mistake. I don’t understand why you would--"

Angel lifts his head. "I would never do this. Not even to have Buffy back again."

Spike snorts. "I would." Off Dawn's shocked look, he quickly adds, "But I didn't."

"Then who?" Dawn asks.

Angel wonders whether he should tell her, wonders if it will change the way the girl looks at her magickally talented friend. He decides the truth is the best way. "Willow, I think. Along with Xander and his girlfriend, and that blonde girl Willow's been seeing." Angel forces himself to his feet. "I want to talk to them when they get here. Right now, I'm going to go see if..."

He shrugs, letting the "... I can reach Buffy" go unsaid, and heads upstairs, trying not to wonder what he'll find when he gets there.

To Be Continued...

The End

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Author's Notes:
Rating: NC 17 Language, violence, sexuality
Summary: Legend has it that Angel was supposed to cross over during Buffy’s resurrection, but as usual, network politics (and Joss’ complete lack of give-a-shit) prevented it. I wanted to consider what might have happened if Angel had been there. (An Alternate “Bargaining” and “After Life” (BtVS Season 6))
Disclaimer: Um… not so much.
Notes: This idea has been kicking around in my head for years, and I've been plugging away at it for a few months, but I thought the IWRY 2007 Ficathon was the perfect excuse to finish it!
Thanks to LJGould and Spiralleds for the awesome beta!
Feedback: Ah, it’s what I live for. :)
Distribution: Feel free, but please let me know!

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