All These Things That I’ve Done

 

Author: Taaroko
Summary: Angelus killed the Romani elder woman before she could complete the Ritual of Restoration in 1898. A hundred years later, Janna Kalderash finds the old curse amongst family heirlooms while spring cleaning, and after months of the seemingly unstoppable Fanged   Five terrorizing Sunnydale, the Scoobies are desperate enough to use it.

Rating: PG
Website

Word Count: 18,962

French translations at the end of story.

 

**

 

I. Time

 

Buffy stood slightly apart from the others congregated in the kitchen, her arms crossed, glaring in the direction of the locked door that led to the basement. It was a very lucky coincidence that her mother was out of town this weekend; Giles’s and Miss Kalderash’s apartments weren’t large enough to be good places to chain up vampires, and Willow, Xander, Cordelia, and Oz wouldn’t really be able to explain it to their parents, but it was crucial to do it within a home, where none of the other vampires would be able to get in to stop them. Still, while glad to be able to provide such a handy solution, Buffy was deeply uncomfortable with the thought that there was a vampire in her basement. Especially this vampire.

 

“Are we sure we really want to do this?” Oz was saying uncertainly.

 

“We’re sure we’ll never defeat the rest of them if we don’t,” said Xander. “It’s like Terminator II. We need one of them on our side.”

 

“Buffy killed Luke, the Three, and the Master last year without doing this to any of them,” Oz reminded him. “And we captured him, didn’t we?” he added, jerking his head in the direction of the basement.

 

“Yeah, and nearly died,” said Cordelia heatedly. “And Buffy actually did die fighting the Master, so that really doesn’t seem like a strategy we should reuse. Plus, if you think I’m going to keep risking—”

 

“We don’t have a choice, Oz,” said Buffy, loudly enough to break up the argument and prevent one of Cordelia’s tirades about always being the bait.

 

“Do you think Angelus is really the best choice for this?” asked Willow. “I mean, Darla’s the oldest. Doesn’t that mean she’s the strongest?”

 

“Not by much. Angelus is their leader. If we get him on our side, the rest of them will be crippled and we’ll have an ally who knows all of their weaknesses.”

 

“Assuming that this actually works and he wants to help us, of course,” said Giles, removing his glasses and beginning to clean them slowly on a handkerchief.

 

“Rupert’s right,” said Miss Kalderash. “This ritual has never been performed, so there aren’t exactly any success stories we can go by. I went through it as carefully as I could to get rid of any loopholes or exit clauses—old Romani magic can be tricky sometimes, but I still can’t guarantee that it’ll work. Besides, even if it does, no one knows what kind of person Angelus was before Darla turned him. If he wasn’t a good man, then restoring his soul might not make much of a difference.”

 

“And if he was, it could make too much difference,” said Willow, looking troubled. “Two and a half centuries of sadistic, bloodthirsty evil-doing? That can’t be an easy burden on anyone’s conscience. What if this destroys him?” Her voice had grown quieter and quieter so that she ended her last question on a whisper.

 

“Then we’re still one vampire down with just four to go,” said Buffy, her tone making even Xander shiver.

 

“Buffy,” said Giles, a sharp edge of reprimand in his voice. “I know what Angelus has done just as well as you do—”

 

“You didn’t see what he did to Kendra,” Buffy interrupted through clenched teeth.

 

“No,” said Giles heavily. “I did not. But that does not change the fact that we are not doing this to punish him. We’re doing it because we need his help. Never forget that the soul—the man he used to be—is not responsible for the actions of the demon that took his place. He is as innocent as he was the day he died. In truth, it would likely be far kinder to slay him now than to do this to him, but, as you say, we have no choice.”

 

“Great,” said Buffy. “Then I can put him out of his misery once I’m done killing his friends.”

 

“He may very well want you to,” said Giles, putting his glasses back on.

 

At this, Buffy finally turned to meet his eyes, but she had no reply.

 

“Okay,” Willow cut in somewhat shakily. “Are we ready to do this? I brought all the supplies you asked for, Miss Kalderash.” She plucked at the top of a brown paper bag sitting on the island next to her with her fingers.

 

“Good,” said Miss Kalderash. “Then we can get started.”

 

In response to these words, there came an animalistic roar of fury from the basement, which made Willow, Cordelia, and Xander jump.

 

“I’ll go make sure he stays put,” said Buffy before striding out of the room.

 

“Janna, are you sure you can do this?” asked Giles, gently grasping her upper arm. “This ritual is rather advanced magic.”

 

“I’ll be fine, Rupert,” she said with a soft smile, which then turned rather mischievous. “Just don’t stop worrying, okay? It’s kind of sexy.”

 

Giles coughed and blushed, while the grins that had been sported by Willow, Xander, and Cordelia (and the hint of one in Oz’s eyes) as they watched this exchange all vanished and were replaced with grimaces of revulsion.

 

 

The sounds of the others’ voices faded into nothing as Buffy descended the steps to the basement. Angelus sat in the middle of the room, heavy chains binding him to a metal chair. Buffy suppressed the impulse to clench her fists at the sight of him and forced her expression to remain as impassive as possible.

 

“Why, Miss Summers,” he drawled, a wicked smirk on his features, which were still devastatingly handsome even with the left side of his face covered in angry holy water burns, “it’s such an honor to be an invited guest in your home.” He hardly seemed bothered by the chains immobilizing him on the uncomfortable chair. From the way he was sitting, you’d think it was a throne, and you’d never know just by looking at him that less than a minute ago, he’d been snarling like an angry lion about the plans he’d overheard. But maybe that had just been to get her down in the basement with him so he’d have someone to play mind games on.

 

“Don’t get used to it,” said Buffy curtly.

 

He glanced up at the ceiling and tilted his head slightly, still smirking. “It must really suck being the—what is it?—seventh wheel, if you’d rather be spending time with me than with them. Everyone paired off except you—even the stuffy librarian. But oh, yeah, you did used to have a boyfriend, didn’t you?” His smirk transformed into a nasty grin. “Nice kid. What was his name?”

 

Buffy felt like she might explode with anger. If he was trying to goad her into staking him before the curse was finished, he might just succeed. “Ben,” she said. “His name was Ben Mitchell.”

 

“Ben, that’s right. You never told him what you are, did you? That’s why he walked you home that night. You showed up late for another date with all those cuts and bruises you couldn’t quite hide, and your gallant knight had to make sure you were safe. But Benny boy was the one who needed saving in the end, and where were you?”

 

“You bastard,” said Buffy through gritted teeth. Tears were pricking at the corners of her eyes, but she held them in. She didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of seeing the pain of the memories he had just evoked. She and Ben had started going out shortly after the beginning of the school year. Apart from exchanging a few smiles here and there, they hadn’t interacted much while they were in Algebra II together, but he was cute and she had been happy to accept when he asked her to Homecoming in the fall. She’d had a great time with him, and it wasn’t long afterwards that they were officially boyfriend and girlfriend. Ben had been sweet and gentlemanly and funny and a wonderful kisser, and she had been starting to suspect that she was in love with him when Valentine’s Day came along.

 

It hadn’t occurred to Buffy until now that Angelus had actually planned the entire thing. The fight that had made her show up late for her date that night, covered in minor cuts and bruises, had been against a few of his minions. She had brushed off Ben’s worried remarks and assured him that she was fine, but he still insisted on walking her home at the end of the evening. On the way, she’d spotted Penn attacking a woman down an alley. She’d made an excuse so that Ben wouldn’t follow her, but by the time she reached them, the woman was already dead and Penn was fleeing. She hadn’t been able to catch up to him, and when she gave up and returned to the place where she’d left Ben, she’d found him crumpled at Angelus’s feet, his blue eyes wide and glassy and his neck bent in a way it was never meant to bend.

 

Before Buffy had been able to recover from her shock, Angelus had disappeared. Though she had patrolled every night, she hadn’t seen him again until Kendra arrived in town a month later. Happy to assist Buffy in her goal to avenge Ben, Kendra had suggested that they attack the mansion where Angelus’s gang had been staying. It had been a stupid thing to do. They’d thought that two Slayers with the element of surprise on their side would be able to take out five vampires easily, but they’d forgotten that there’s no such thing as the element of surprise if one of the vampires in question is Drusilla.

 

They had attacked the mansion in daylight, thinking the vampires would be asleep, but they were waiting for them. Both Slayers found themselves fighting for their lives, Buffy against Darla (who wanted her own revenge on the girl who had killed her sire), Penn, and Spike, Kendra against Angelus and Drusilla. Buffy had managed to find safety within a large square of sunlight streaming in through the window they’d used as their entrance, but she hadn’t been able to do anything from there. Darla, Penn, and Spike had surrounded her, and Drusilla had joined them seconds later, boxing her in on all four sides. From there, she had been forced to watch Kendra lose her fight against Angelus.

 

He hadn’t killed her right away. Once she could no longer fight back, he’d taken his time, torturing her for at least an hour before finally sinking his fangs into her neck and draining her. Then he’d dropped her body and rounded on Buffy, still trapped inside her sunbeam. He’d reached right into the light, seized her by the throat, and hurled her back out through the window before his hand had even started smoking.

 

She still didn’t know why he hadn’t just killed her that day, but he was going to regret passing up that chance. It was the middle of April now, and while spring-cleaning the week before, Miss Kalderash had discovered the Ritual of Restoration inside a box of old family heirlooms and books she had brought with her when she moved to the Hellmouth to teach at Sunnydale High. Buffy thought it must have been fate. The curse had apparently been written for Angelus in the first place, but the Romani had never been able to cast it.

 

The trap had been carefully set. Buffy had trained Xander and Oz in the use of tranquilizer guns so that they, along with herself and Giles, could lie in wait at strategic points around the entrance of the Bronze, Cordelia had worn an alluring red dress and carried a thin-glassed vial of holy water in her purse, and Miss Kalderash and Willow had waited nearby in Oz’s van. They weren’t worried that Angelus would have company; ever since Kendra’s death, he had hunted alone in public places, as if daring Buffy to stop him.

 

It had worked. Cordelia had successfully smashed the vial of holy water against the side of Angelus’s face before he could bite her and Buffy’s and Oz’s darts had both hit their mark (though Xander’s had almost hit Cordelia when it missed) while he was distracted with the pain. After that, it had been a simple task to load him into the van and drive back to Buffy’s house with him.

 

“I’ve never had so much fun hunting a Slayer,” said Angelus, bringing Buffy back to the present. “I don’t really go for it when it’s just the kill—that’s Spike’s thing. Most Slayers only have their Watchers and their calling. But you…you have so much more to lose, don’t you? All those friends, your mom, Ben. You know, I only killed the Jamaican one because she meant something to you. Otherwise I might have left her to one of the others. Not that it wasn’t fun. There’s nothing quite like Slayer blood.”

 

“Say whatever you like,” said Buffy. “They’ll be done with the curse any minute now.”

 

“You think shoving my soul back in will be enough to make me help you?” he said in scornful amusement. “I heard all of you talking up there. Wondering what kind of man I was. I can tell you. Liam Gallagher was a worthless whoring drunkard who only followed his dreams of seeing the world as far as the tavern in his hometown. The one person who thought there was anything remotely admirable about him was his naïve little sister. How do you think Darla got close enough to turn me? That pathetic excuse for a soul couldn’t even rein in his human vices—in fact, he didn’t even bother to try, but you think he’ll be able to control demonic ones? Don’t kid yourself.”

 

“If you’re so sure your soul won’t change anything, then why did you bother to stop the Gypsies when they tried to restore it a hundred years ago?” said Buffy. “Seems like a lot of trouble just to keep out a pathetic excuse for a soul.”

 

“It doesn’t take much effort to snap a Romani elder woman’s neck,” said Angelus indifferently. “Let me out of these chains and I’ll demonstrate on the computer teacher.”

 

It was Buffy’s turn to smirk. As cool as he played it, it was clear that he was furious about the turn of events. “You know, I don’t really care if you help us or not. If you don't, it just means I get to stake you that much sooner.”

 

He looked smug at this for some reason, but before he could say anything in reply, he gasped and lurched forward in the chair as much as the chains would allow. Buffy stood up straighter, watching closely. The next second, his head jerked back and his eyes shone with a brilliant golden light. A moment later, the light faded and he went limp.

 

 

The first thing he became aware of was a pair of wary green eyes staring at him. His brow furrowed in confusion, and then he felt his jaw drop slightly as his mind registered more of what he was seeing. The eyes belonged to a beautiful young woman with shoulder-length blonde hair. There was a certain rigidity about her features, as if she’d been through one hardship too many, but it didn’t detract from her beauty. He could have kept staring at her lovely face for quite some time, but he was distracted by the strangeness of her clothing. He’d never seen anything like it before. From there, he began to notice the rest of his surroundings as well, and his confusion increased at the sight of such unfamiliar architecture and peculiar objects. The biggest shock, however, came with the realization that he was tightly shackled to a chair. “What?” he said aloud. He looked up at the young woman, who seemed a little surprised now. “What is this place?” he asked, and even his own voice sounded strange to him. “Why am I in chains? Who are you?”

 

“You don’t remember?” she said, frowning.

 

“Remember?” he repeated blankly. “I don’t—” He broke off with a gasp and a shudder. “Wh-why do I feel so cold?” He could hear a rhythmic thumping noise. At first, he’d thought it was his own heart pounding, but he wasn’t so sure now. He couldn’t feel the corresponding pulse of blood in his fingertips like he would usually be able to if his heart were pounding hard enough for him to hear it, and it sounded as if…as if it were coming from the young woman. But how could that be? He listened harder, and suddenly he could hear a number of other voices and heartbeats coming from somewhere above them. He began breathing faster now due to nerves and the stirrings of fear, but then he relaxed slightly when his attention was caught by a truly intoxicating smell. He felt an odd prickling sensation in his forehead and eyeteeth and his insides clenched with hunger.

 

“You really don’t know what’s happening, do you?” said the young woman. He looked up at her again. Her expression had lost some of that hardness from before, and she seemed almost sympathetic.

 

He was about to reply in the negative when images began to flash in his mind. He recoiled in horror at what they contained. He tried to shut them out, but they continued to pour in, now accompanied by sounds, smells, and emotions. They were memories. “Oh, God,” he whispered. “No….” His hands clenched tightly around the arms of the chair, which creaked in protest. He could feel a thousand different necks snapping under his fingers, his fangs plunging into a thousand different throats. He could hear the screams, the pleas, the dying breaths. He could see countless pairs of eyes frozen open in terror. He could smell the fear, taste a sea of blood. He could remember how much he had enjoyed every last moment of it. Something inside him reveled in it even now, and he felt that gnawing hunger deepen.

 

He looked up at the young woman again, and the memories became more specific. She was Buffy Summers, the Slayer who had killed the Master. He remembered the plans he’d had for her, the plans he had already started to put into action. If it weren’t for the chains, he would have cowered away from her. He shut his eyes, only to be assaulted by still more vivid images of blood and carnage. “I’m sorry,” he said, and he repeated it again and again, his voice cracking and tears streaming down his face.

 

 

Buffy waited. A few seconds after the light faded, Angelus straightened in his chair again and stared up at her blearily. She didn’t know if she was imagining it or not, but there seemed to be a soft warmth in his eyes that she’d never seen there before. All the other times she’d seen them, they had been cold, cruel, and empty, like all vampires’ eyes.

 

He was looking at her with unmistakable confusion, as if he didn’t even recognize her. But there was also something like…awe? She felt the heat begin to rise in her cheeks, but then his gaze left her face so he could take in the rest of the basement around them, and he looked more disoriented and perplexed by the second. He finally noticed the chains binding him where he sat, which clinked and rattled slightly as he tried to move his arms. “What?” he said. He looked up at her again. “What is this place?” he asked. She had grown used to the predatory undercurrent in his voice, so its absence was startling. He sounded completely different without it, not to mention rather vulnerable. “Why am I in chains? Who are you?”

 

“You don’t remember?” she said. She was more surprised than skeptical. She knew that this was no act; the curse had definitely worked. Maybe Angelus could have faked these reactions, but he couldn’t have faked that warmth in his eyes, and surely it wouldn’t have occurred to him to start breathing as if it were actually necessary. She hadn’t been prepared to take Giles’s word for it before, but now she could see plainly that he had been correct: the being looking at her out of those eyes was no longer Angelus. This was not the monster who had leered at her as he stood over Ben’s body and laughed while he tortured Kendra to death.

 

“Remember?” he said, looking bewildered. “I don’t—” But he stopped talking as a violent shiver ran the length of his body. “Wh-why do I feel so cold?” he said. The vulnerability in his voice had intensified, making Buffy picture a frightened child. She felt both sympathetic and slightly nauseous at the realization that he was only just becoming aware of the aspects of his vampiric nature—he was waking up in a nightmare.

 

“You really don’t know what’s happening, do you?” she said, more to herself than to him.

 

He seemed about to reply when his eyes widened with horror at something only he could see, and his body went rigid. “Oh, God,” he said.

 

Buffy was starting to regret supporting this plan. Without really thinking about it, she took a step towards him. The movement caused his eyes to snap up and meet hers again. His face was no longer void of recognition, and he looked terrified at the very sight of her. He turned his head away and shut his eyes. She saw tears beginning to leak out of them. “I’m sorry,” he said, and he kept saying it over and over in a small, trembling voice.

 

 

When Buffy went back upstairs, she found that the others had migrated to the dining room to perform the ritual. Those who had been sitting stood up at once upon her entrance.

 

“Did it work?” asked Willow anxiously.

 

“Yeah,” said Buffy.

 

“And you didn’t stake him?” said Oz.

 

“No.”

 

“Great!” said Xander. “So is he going to help?”

 

“I don’t know yet.”

 

Giles moved closer to her, looking concerned. “What’s wrong, Buffy?”

 

Buffy’s jaw worked for a moment before she opened her mouth to speak. “Next time, I don’t care what kind of odds we’re facing; we’re coming up with a different solution. I’m not doing this again.”

 

“Why?” said Cordelia. Willow looked worried, as if she knew what was coming.

 

“Because we took a human soul and put it in hell. Giles was right. He didn’t do any of it, but now he has to remember it all as if he did.”

 

 

Within half an hour, everyone else had gone home, none of them feeling quite as optimistic as they would have expected to with the success of the ritual. Giles had offered to let Angelus stay at his apartment once Buffy’s mother came home, and Buffy had no objections. Once they had all departed, she walked slowly back to the door that led to the basement and stretched out a hand towards the doorknob, but at the last second, she changed her mind, grabbed her coat and a few bills of the emergency cash left by her mom, and strode out into the night.

 

It was only eight-thirty, so the butcher shop was still open when she reached it, though there were currently no other customers. Feeling a little nervous, she walked up to the counter. A tired-looking balding man in a bloodstained apron stood behind it. “Can I help you, miss?” he said.

 

“Uh, yeah. I just need one half-gallon each of cow’s blood and pig’s blood.” To Buffy’s intense relief, the man made no comment about the unusual order; he simply nodded and headed to the back room to get it.

 

As she walked home, the blood sloshing a little in its containers, Buffy wondered why she was going out of her way to do this for him. An hour ago, he had been the thing she hated more than anything in the world. And he was still a vampire. His face was the same. His hands were still the same hands that had snapped Ben’s neck. But she couldn’t see that demon anymore. All she could see was the childlike terror in his eyes as all those memories and demonic instincts came crashing down on him. She couldn’t just do nothing. She had to help him. It might still be kinder to stake him now, but maybe he could have some peace first if she waited until he’d had the chance to help her rid the world of Darla, Penn, Drusilla, and Spike.

 

 

He sat in the chair for what felt like an eternity. The hunger wasn’t quite as demanding now that the house was empty of humans, but the memories were relentless. There was always another victim’s face. He could see each one clearly, all the way back to the unsuspecting groundskeeper he’d drained just moments after crawling out of his grave. He wanted to die every time his sweet little sister’s face rose to the surface of the roiling mass of images. He wished he had listened to his father. That Kathy’s tears and his mother’s silent pleas had been enough to stop him from storming out that day. How many lives would have been spared? How many families apart from his own would never have been torn asunder? A howl of despair ripped its way out of his throat and he strained against the chains binding him.

 

Above him, he heard a door open and close. Footsteps and a solitary heartbeat moved about the floor above for a few minutes before drawing closer and closer until the basement door opened and the Slayer appeared. His first thought was that she had come back to stake him (again, the memories of everything he had done to hurt her replayed in his mind). He would have welcomed it. But as she descended the steps, he saw that she was carrying, not a stake, but a plastic jug full of deep crimson liquid.

 

“What are you doing?” he asked, unable to trust the evidence before his eyes.

 

“Bringing you dinner,” she said, clearly attempting to make her tone light and casual, but not quite succeeding.

 

“Why?”

 

“Figured you’d be hungry,” she said, shrugging. “You didn’t exactly get a chance to finish your hunt earlier.”

 

He flinched. “You should be staking me, not bringing me blood,” he said hollowly, his eyes on the floor.

 

“Hey,” she said. “You have a soul now. You’re one of the good guys. Or, you can be. It’s up to you.”

 

“How can you say that? After everything I’ve done? After everything I’ve done to people you care about?”

 

“That was the demon, not you.” She set the jug down on the floor beside his chair and pulled a small silver key out of her pocket.

 

“It was me,” he said. “I am the demon. I did all of it, and I enjoyed it.”

 

She froze for a second, but when she spoke again, her voice was as calm as before. “Doesn’t sound like you enjoy it much now,” she said, inserting the key in one of the padlocks securing the chains around his right arm.

 

“Of course I don’t,” he said, horrified by the thought, though part of him definitely felt otherwise, and he could feel his hunger rising again with her proximity. He tried not to look at the pulse beating in her neck, but he couldn’t block out the sound.

 

“And would you have done it if you’d had your soul then?” she asked, unwinding the chain and proceeding to free his left arm as well.

 

“No!”

 

“See? It wasn’t you,” she said simply, now working on the chains around his ankles. “The demon’s still inside, but it doesn’t get to call the shots anymore, as long as you don’t let it.”

 

The only remaining chain was the one around his torso, and he watched incredulously as she unlocked that one too, and it fell to the floor with a clatter like the others. Now she stood in front of him with her arms folded, looking him straight in the eyes. “Angelus told me that his human soul would be too weak to fight the demon. But you’re going to prove him wrong, and I’m going to help you.”

 

She picked up the jug of blood again and held it out to him. “I wasn’t sure what kind would be best, so I got cow and pig. If you don’t like this kind, the other one’s upstairs in the fridge.”

 

He reached up hesitantly to accept the blood, his eyes still on hers, searching them for proof that she really did want to help a creature like him, that she really did believe he could be good in spite of his past and what he was, that she really did trust him to be unchained and able to roam free within her home. As hard as he looked, he couldn’t detect a single trace of insincerity in her. A spark of hope ignited in his chest. Though he’d certainly done nothing to deserve it, Buffy Summers, the one girl in all the world chosen to eradicate his kind, who had more reason than most people currently living to want him dead, had faith in him. The razor-sharp memories and powerful instincts suddenly didn’t seem like an entirely impossible burden to bear.

 

She was almost at the top of the stairs again when she turned around. “Um, do you want to come upstairs?” she asked. “We don’t really have a guest bedroom, but we can at least do better than the basement.”

 

He stood and followed her cautiously up the stairs. “Kitchen’s that way,” she said, pointing to the right, “and over here is the living room,” she added, leading him to the left. She hurried ahead of him, making sure all the blinds in the room were closed and curtains drawn so that it would still be safe for him in the morning. “If you don’t feel like sleeping during the night, you can watch TV or find a book from the sitting room over there.” Once she had finished drawing the curtains over the last window, she faced him again, looking more nervous and uncertain than he’d seen her so far. “Are…are you going to be okay in here?” she said.

 

He nodded.

 

“I mean, do I need to stay here and watch you all night, or can I go upstairs to bed and trust you not to leave the house or…or hurt yourself, or something?” she clarified anxiously.

 

This question caught him off-guard. It hadn’t even occurred to him that not being chained up meant he was capable of leaving the house. As for hurting himself, well, his mind was already doing that more effectively than any physical pain ever could. He could see that the Slayer was perfectly serious about being willing to keep an eye on him all night, but he could also see that she was exhausted—probably largely because of him. “You can go,” he said. “I’ll read.”

 

 

Buffy woke up the next morning only for her nostrils to be assaulted by a horrible smell. She scrambled out of bed and, still in her pajamas, ran down the stairs to find out what had caused it, her imagination showing her visions of half the house burning down and her mom’s expression when she came home and discovered it. Upon reaching the kitchen (which was still perfectly intact), she stopped in her tracks. Angelus was standing in front of the stove, a look of intense exasperation on his face. Sitting on the front right burner was a frying pan, the contents of which were charred and smoking.

 

“Trying to go off the liquid diet?” she said dryly.

 

He jumped and spun around. Apparently he had been so preoccupied with his doomed cooking endeavor that his supernatural hearing had failed to alert him to her approach. When he saw her standing there, half amused, half mystified, his exasperation was replaced with sheepishness. “No,” he said, avoiding her eyes and hunching his shoulders slightly. “I just thought I would—well, you got blood for me, so—”

 

“Were you…trying to make me breakfast?” she asked, feeling both bemused and a little touched.

 

He turned off the stove and nodded, still not looking at her. Buffy had a very strong suspicion that if vampires could blush, he would be bright red right now, and she had to admit, it was kind of adorable. “Not a lot of experience with cooking human food, huh?” she said, leaning on the island and trying not to look too amused.

 

“I think I ruined the frying pan.”

 

“Nah,” she said, waving a hand dismissively. “A little dish soap and it’s good as new.” She went to the pantry to get the Cheerios, which she set on the island, then retrieved milk from the fridge and a clean bowl and spoon from the dishwasher. “Here,” she said, holding out the bowl. “Bacon and eggs are kind of advanced for someone who doesn’t normally use a kitchen, but Cheerios are impossible to get wrong.”

 

His fingers brushed against hers when he took the bowl, and the physical contact made her jolt involuntarily, almost causing him to drop it. “Sorry,” she said quickly, feeling rather flustered all of a sudden. “I’ll just, uh, clean this up.” What was the matter with her? She moved around him to get the frying pan and went to work scrubbing out the charred bacon and eggs in the sink.

 

They were both silent while she cleaned the pan and he carefully poured cereal and milk into the bowl. She also opened the window above the sink to help get rid of the burnt food smell. When she turned around, task complete, Angelus was standing awkwardly beside the island, upon which her bowl of Cheerios sat waiting for her.

 

 “Thanks!” she said. She sat down on one of the stools and started eating. “Uh, are you going to have breakfast too?” she asked between bites.

 

“No. Vampires don’t need to eat as often as humans.”

 

“Oh. Okay. Well, um, you can sit down if you want.”

 

He took the stool at the opposite end of the island.

 

“How long do you think it’ll be until Darla and the others start wondering what happened to you?” she asked about halfway through the bowl’s contents.

 

His expression darkened. He’d spent so many years with all of them. Even though the vast majority of his memories involving them were ugly and violent, they were still his family, in a sense, and he could not contemplate bringing about their deaths with any kind of pleasure. “They might already know, if Dru saw it and was lucid enough to explain it.”

 

“Hmm,” said Buffy, frowning slightly as she went back to her cereal.

 

A few minutes later, she was finished. “You know, I don’t think I can call you Angelus,” she said, letting her spoon clink down into the empty bowl, which she then deposited in the sink. “Should I call you Liam?” she asked.

 

Now that he thought about it, he didn’t much want to be called Angelus anymore, but he was sure it would be worse to be called by his human name, having killed nearly everyone in Galway who knew him by it.

 

She seemed to sense his lack of enthusiasm for the idea. “Well I’ve got to call you something,” she said. Her eyes brightened and her lips quirked in a slight smile—the first smile he’d ever seen on her face. The sight of it was doing funny things to his insides. “How about Angel?” she suggested.

 

He looked at her askance. “You have a very strange sense of humor,” he said eventually.

 

Her smile widened. “Angel it is.”

 

 

For the rest of the morning and the first part of the afternoon, Buffy spread her homework out on the dining room table and attempted to concentrate on it. However, the fact that a centuries-old vampire was only a few yards away made it rather difficult to concentrate on anything else. Sometimes when she glanced up from her textbook, she saw the monster who had murdered Ben and Kendra sitting on her couch, but then he would make some little motion that turned him into Angel again.

 

The sheer number of changes his soul had wrought in him still amazed her. She had expected a lot of the big ones, but even his movements and mannerisms were different. Everything about Angelus had screamed predator, from his walk to his smirk to his tone of voice. His stance had been tall and confident and his speech had been eloquent and smooth as silk. Angel, on the other hand, walked with his broad shoulders hunched and his head down. He spoke hesitantly and awkwardly when required to say more than one syllable at a time, and he rarely made eye contact.

 

Eventually, she did make progress in her homework, but not long after she got started on her French assignment, she dropped her pencil in defeat, thudded her head down on her workbook, and let out a loud groan of frustration.

 

“What’s wrong?” asked Angel, setting his book aside and walking slowly into the dining room.

 

“Je n’aime pas le français,” Buffy grumbled, her voice slightly muffled.

 

“Est-ce que je peux aider?”

 

Buffy lifted her head back off her workbook and gaped at him. “You speak French?”

 

He nodded, looking sheepish again. “What are you working on?”

 

“Impersonal pronouns,” said Buffy darkly. For a second, he looked like he was going to laugh. A glimmer of reflected light danced in his eyes, and she felt her breath catch in her chest. Then she shook herself mentally and slid the workbook over so he could see it better. He sat down in the chair next to her and quickly read the exercises in question.

 

“Which ones are you having trouble with?”

 

“All of them?” said Buffy hopelessly.

 

He looked over the exercises again. “May I?” he asked, indicating her pencil. She handed it to him, careful not to let her skin touch his again, and he went through the questions she had already answered. “You only got two of them wrong,” he said, showing her. “That one should be ‘ce qui’ and this one should be ‘celles-ci’.”

 

“Oh,” she said, frowning and reading the sentences with his corrections included, trying to focus on the meaning rather than how pretty his handwriting was. “But why is that one ‘celles-ci’?”

 

 

An hour later, they had worked their way almost to the end of what Buffy had been assigned for the weekend, and she actually felt confident that she understood the material, which was an extremely rare occurrence in French class. Just when they were about to move on to the very last exercise (possessive pronouns), the doorbell rang.

 

“Come in,” Buffy called vaguely, her attention still on her workbook. The door opened and Willow, Oz, Xander, and Cordelia came inside.

 

“Whoa! Angelus! He’s not chained up!” said Xander in alarm, pointing at Angel, who tensed and moved slightly closer to Buffy.

 

“That would be because I unchained him,” said Buffy calmly.

 

For a second, Xander looked at her like she was insane, but then he relaxed. “Oh, right,” he said, “because it’s daylight, so he can’t escape anyway. And you’ve got a stake at the ready in case he tries anything.”

 

“No, I unchained him before I went to bed, and I don’t have any stakes.”

 

“What are you doing, working on battle strategies or something?” said Willow before Xander could exclaim further about Buffy’s apparent disregard for security.

 

“French homework,” said Buffy.

 

“You mean he’s tutoring you?” said Xander in disbelief.

 

“Hello, did you miss last night? Angel has a soul. Plus he speaks French, which means he now has both of the qualities I require in my French tutors.”

 

“‘Angel’?” repeated Oz, while Xander made an odd spluttering noise.

 

“Oh,” said Buffy, feeling herself beginning to blush. “It just would have seemed weird to calling him Angelus now that he has a soul.”

 

“That makes sense,” said Willow. “’Cause ‘Angelus’ has all those bad connotations. A-and ‘Angel’ is good, because it’s different enough with one less syllable and pronouncing the other two syllables differently that it doesn’t make you think ‘Angelus’ when you say it, but it’s not so different that it’s completely random.”

 

“Exactly,” said Oz, his face not quite as straight as usual.

 

“Okay, well, the new name is great, but we should also get you some clothes,” said Cordelia, becoming the first one to address Angel directly. “Not that I have any objections to that outfit, because,” she concluded her sentence with a dreamy expression and a noise of appreciation somewhere between a groan and a sigh, at which everyone stared at her. “What? Do you see how that material hangs on him? I only didn’t say something about it before because he was evil, but you know you were all thinking it.”

 

“I’m fairly certain I wasn’t,” said Xander, scowling.

 

“My point,” Cordelia resumed, ignoring Xander, “is that as great as that outfit is, you need more than one outfit, and new, less ‘creature of the night on the prowl’ type outfits would be better than all those ones you wore when you were killing people every night, right?” She looked around at everyone else for support. “Right?”

 

Angel wasn’t the only one wincing at her lack of tact, but she did have a point.

 

“Great,” said Buffy. “So, shopping later, but what are you guys doing here?”

 

“Giles and Miss Kalderash sent us to see if you needed help with…anything,” said Willow, fidgeting nervously, her eyes darting from Buffy to Angel and then back again.

 

 

 

Buffy’s friends ended up staying for a few hours. Angel felt less at ease with all of them there than he had when it was just himself and Buffy, and not just because their blood smelled much better than what she had bought for him. It wasn’t that they were deliberately unpleasant company—well, with the occasional exception of Xander, who seemed to be the only one having difficulty with the idea that he was on their side now (though, as Angel couldn’t really blame him for that, it didn’t bother him). No, they were friendly enough, but their curiosity made him uncomfortable.

 

Willow, once she mustered enough courage to speak to him directly, spent much of her visit bombarding him with all kinds of questions, ranging from how he managed to shave with no reflection to whether or not various details from her history textbook were accurate. Cordelia made no attempt to conceal her interest in him, which he suspected was the main reason for Xander’s irritable attitude. Personally, Angel found this interest a little incredible, considering that he had tried to have her for dinner less than twenty-four hours ago. Oz mostly remained silent, watching Willow’s interrogation with subtle amusement and affection in his eyes.

 

Despite feeling slightly overwhelmed by the attention, Angel was nevertheless grateful for the distraction it provided from thoughts about his past. He was also grateful that Buffy stayed beside him for the duration of their visit. If he hadn’t already spent several hours in her company, he might have thought she was merely positioning herself ideally to protect her friends from him if he tried to hurt them (which was what Xander seemed to think she was doing, thus explaining the absence of fear in his scent), but he recognized that she was actually offering him her unspoken support.

 

He valued this support even more when Oz took Willow and Xander home at sunset and Cordelia announced that it was time to go clothes shopping. For two and a half centuries, his interpretation of “shopping” had involved killing well-dressed men who were the same height and build as him and stealing their clothes, or else looting a shop after killing the workers and patrons. Obviously that was going to change.

 

Cordelia insisted on paying for everything, and though this offer sounded rather less generous coming from her than it might have done from someone with tact, it was also strangely impossible to turn down. Buffy accompanied them and spent much of the trip deflecting Cordelia’s attempts to make him try on clothes he had no taste for. This was especially helpful because he wasn’t sure he was up to using his intimidating glare on anyone, but also because he suspected it might not work on Cordelia even if he tried it. In the end, apart from essentials like socks, boxers, and undershirts, he acquired a few pairs of black pants, several button-up shirts and pullovers (all of which were black, blue, or dark burgundy), and a leather jacket. Some of the items he had only agreed to get because of Buffy’s appreciative reactions to how he looked in them (which she displayed far more subtly than Cordelia did). 

 

It was a relief to be back at Buffy’s house again and free of Cordelia’s forceful personality. He drank some more of the blood in the fridge while he watched Buffy cook pasta for her dinner, hoping to discover the secret of how to use a stove properly.

 

Throughout the day, he was constantly amazed by how many things he had failed to notice about Buffy when he didn’t have a soul, despite having had her firmly in his sights and studied her as closely as he would any other “project” victim. He now saw how sincere she was as a friend, and the way people gravitated towards her and relied on her. He saw the way her whole face lit up when she laughed. He discovered that she was very smart, and not just when it came to slaying—though she didn’t seem to realize it, if her lack of confidence in her French was any indication—, and she had an active sense of humor that could be sarcastic without being cruel.

 

Before he had a soul, he had respected her for her achievements as a Slayer—it must have required a great deal of strength and skill to kill a vampire as old and powerful as the Master, after all, but he had been more intrigued by her remarkably open heart. Of course, that quality had only interested him as something he could destroy. He was glad he hadn’t had the opportunity (or perhaps the capacity) to see just how open her heart was. His guilt and remorse for what he had done to her and his absolute certainty that he didn’t deserve so much as a second of her notice should have had him running as far away from her as he could, but instead he wanted to do the opposite.

 

 

II. Truth

 

“Hey, uh, do you want to go patrolling with me?” Buffy asked a little later in the evening. “You don’t have to, but it would be a good opportunity to see how we fight as a team instead of opponents.”

 

Angel was so taken aback by her invitation that he did not immediately respond, and Buffy’s face fell as she interpreted his silence as a refusal. “That’s okay,” she said. “Maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea to give the bad guys—”

 

“I’d like to come with you.”

 

“—A chance to see you working with the enemy this early on.” She froze and looked at him, realizing what he’d said. “Oh.” She blushed. “Okay. Um, do you need a stake?” she blushed even harder and answered her own question, “Of course you need a stake; why would you have one already? I’ll be right back.”

 

She dashed upstairs, very conscious of her burning cheeks. Why couldn’t she get a grip? They were only going patrolling; it wasn’t as if she had asked him on a date. Still, that didn’t stop her from checking her reflection before leaving her bedroom with two stakes in hand.

 

“Ready to go?” she asked when she was almost to the bottom of the stairs again, hoping she sounded and appeared more composed now. In the minute or so that she’d been in her room, he had donned his long wool coat and moved to the foot of the stairs to wait for her.

 

He nodded in response to her question, then proceeded to open the front door for her. None of this was helping her to shake the “date” comparison—at least, not until he asked, “Tonight’s Restfield and Shady Hill first, right?”

 

“You know my patrolling pattern?” she said, and her surprise made it come out more sharply than she had intended.

 

“Yeah,” he said after a few seconds, his head dropping an inch or so.

 

This unexpected revelation of how much her enemy had known about her made her shudder. Angel noticed; Buffy saw him turn his face away out of the corner of her eye—Angel, not Angelus. She walked a little closer to his side as they continued up the street, wanting to reassure him.

 

There were no new graves at Restfield, but Shady Hill had two, and they were just close enough to be able to see the freshly turned earth of one of them from between the surrounding headstones when a pale, grimy hand broke the surface.

 

“So have you ever actually dusted any vampires before?” said Buffy as they watched the fledgling vampire fight his way out of his grave.

 

“The ones that challenged me,” said Angel. “Or annoyed me.”

 

“Want to show me what you’ve got?” said Buffy with a playful smirk.

 

It didn’t exactly require much skill to stake the vampire. He still wasn’t out of his grave yet, so Angel only had to wait for him to extricate his torso before plunging the stake through his heart.

 

“Maybe a cemetery isn’t the best place for us to go if we want to find out how well we fight together,” said Buffy, frowning. No sooner had she said it, however, than Angel closed the distance between them, grabbed her by the upper arms, and pulled her behind a mausoleum, where he pinned her against the stone wall with his body and covered her mouth with his hand. Startled, her immediate, instinctive reaction being to assume that he was attacking, she struggled to get free, but he held her still. She relaxed when she realized from the tilt of his head and his alert expression that he was listening hard to something she couldn’t hear.

 

Five vampires were on their way into the cemetery. Angel didn’t recognize their voices, but he thought they must be relatively young, because they clearly didn’t know the first thing about stealth. He looked down at Buffy, who was staring up at him with wide eyes. It hadn’t occurred to him when he pulled her to where she wouldn’t be seen by the incoming vampires what a precarious position he’d be putting them in. Her body was still flush against his, her throat still inches away from his teeth. He didn’t know which was the stronger temptation.

 

He slowly removed the hand covering her mouth. His gaze drifted to her neck, her lips, and back up to her eyes.

 

“Vampires?” she mouthed, reminding him of the situation. He nodded. “How many?”

 

“Five. They’re coming to greet the new member of their gang—too bad he’s already dust.”

 

Her smirk was back. “Think we can take ‘em?”

 

He stared at her for a moment. She looked eager and excited at the prospect of fighting alongside him. He couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face. “Definitely,” he said.

 

Once the vampires were close enough, Buffy and Angel sprang out from behind the mausoleum and attacked. Nobody watching the fight would have guessed that this was the first time they’d worked together. They ducked and weaved around each other, punching and kicking the vampires around them and dodging retaliatory blows. Not even with Kendra had Buffy experienced this level of synchronicity. The vampires barely had time to register their shock and outrage that one of their own kind was helping the Slayer fight them before they were all turning to dust in quick succession.

 

Buffy let out a delighted laugh, and Angel turned to face her just in time for her to throw her arms around him in a hug that nearly knocked him off his feet. “That was incredible!” she squealed. “Fifty points for team us. We should always be patrolling buddies.”

 

Though Angel returned the hug automatically, it had taken him completely by surprise. The last person to hug him like this had been Kathy, and he’d either forgotten or never really appreciated how warm and wonderful it could be. But Buffy definitely wasn’t his sister, and though his feelings for her were confusing and frightening and mixed up with the memories of how he had felt without his soul, they definitely weren’t brotherly. He gently disengaged her arms from around his neck and set her back on her feet. By this point, she was blushing furiously again and not looking at him, having clearly realized that she’d made him uncomfortable.

 

“Um. Ready to head to cemetery number three?” she said awkwardly.

 

“Sure.”

 

 

“Willow tells me you prefer to be known as ‘Angel’ now,” said Giles.

 

“It was Buffy’s idea,” said Angel. It was Monday, and true to his word, Giles had opened his apartment to Angel now that Mrs. Summers was home.

 

“Hm,” said Giles as he chewed a bite of scone, looking thoughtful. After swallowing, he asked, “How’ve you been keeping so far, in the aftermath of the curse?”

 

Angel stared at the table between them. “It’s hard,” he said. He hesitated, but this Watcher seemed to encourage confidences with his hospitality and his calm manner. “Buffy treats me like someone she can trust, but every time I close my eyes, I see the face of someone I killed.”

 

“Someone the demon killed,” said Giles firmly. “You had no soul then, no capacity to choose differently than what your demonic nature demanded. Why do you think the Slayer’s calling is to kill vampires? Even if they are fresh out of the grave and have never killed before, she doesn’t first offer them an opportunity to change their ways, because they are incapable of it. Without souls, they have no free will. Evil is their only option. There is no possibility for them to be reformed or redeemed, so the only way to ensure they don’t kill is to kill them. To blame you for what you did when you were like the rest of them would be unjust in the extreme.”

 

Angel couldn’t look at Giles. His words made logical sense, but it wasn’t easy to believe them while he shared his body and mind with the monster that had done all of those things. He still felt like that monster. He was afraid of himself. He had thoughts and desires he couldn’t control or suppress. Not five minutes ago, it had occurred to him that he had now been invited into the homes of both the Slayer and her Watcher, so he could kill them in their sleep whenever he felt like it. He tried to push the idea away, but it continued to lurk beneath the surface. He missed Darla, Penn, and Dru—hell, he even missed Spike. He missed how simple everything had been before the curse. He hated the cold, flat animal blood he had to drink now. His insides ached for human blood that was warm and alive and richly seasoned with fear. His fangs itched with the need to pierce living flesh.

 

“I don’t know if I can help you.”

 

“With killing Darla and the others?” said Giles, raising his teacup to his mouth again.

 

“I know what they’ve done. I know the longer they stay alive, the more innocent people they’ll kill, but—”

 

“You care about them,” Giles finished the sentence for him. Angel looked at him in surprise. He didn’t appear angry or disappointed. “It’s only to be expected. You’ve spent over a century with all of them, and over two with Darla and Penn.”

 

“I didn’t care before.”

 

“But now you have a soul. You think humans never care for those we know don’t deserve it? Believe me, I appreciate your reluctance to work against them, but you must understand that my sympathies are with their future victims.”

 

 

A week and two days after being cursed with his soul, Angel was feeling restless. He and Buffy had finished patrolling hours ago and Giles was asleep upstairs in his room. He’d been spending a lot more time awake during the day lately than he usually did, but he was still nocturnal by nature, so it was almost impossible to sleep at night. Instead of trying this time, he stole quietly out of Giles’s apartment. He didn’t really have a particular destination in mind, but he soon found himself standing in front of the mansion. He hesitated. Would they know about his soul? Aside from Dru’s clairvoyant abilities, it was also entirely possible that they’d heard he was fighting on Buffy’s side from some demon or vampire who had witnessed one of the patrols. If they did know, he doubted he’d get a warm welcome. Still, now that he was already here…he had to see them.

 

Inside the great room of the mansion, Angel found Spike and Dru passionately making out on the sofa while Penn was draining whatever blood he could still get out of the newly dead corpse of a woman. Darla was nowhere to be seen, but Angel knew she was somewhere nearby. “How many times have I told you to clean up after your meals?” he said coldly to Penn.

 

Penn’s head jerked up from the woman’s neck and Spike and Drusilla broke apart.  “Angelus!” said Penn, his blood-smeared face splitting into a fanged grin. “Where’ve you been?”

 

“We were starting to think the Slayer got you,” said Spike, sounding as though he wouldn’t have minded too much if she had.

 

“Nonsense, my dear,” said Drusilla. “The Slayer can’t kill Daddy.” She looked up at Angel and tilted her head to the side. “Nor does she want to.”

 

“And what is that supposed to mean?” said Darla, stepping into the room from the hall. Her tone held the same bite of condescension it almost always had when she spoke to Dru, but her narrowed eyes were fixed on Angel. “Angelus killed the Slayer’s boyfriend and the other Slayer in front of her eyes. Why on earth wouldn’t she want him dead?”

 

Dru giggled. “Because she wants him, Grandmum.”

 

“You’re seducing the Slayer?” said Darla incredulously.

 

Angel raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong, Darla? Jealous?”

 

Penn chuckled. Darla shot him a brief withering look before fixing her icy gaze on Angel again. “What makes you think you’ll succeed?”

 

“She thinks I’m good now,” said Angel casually. “She’s already invited me into her house. The rest of the plan is on hold until I’m in her bed.”

 

“What, we can’t even kill her friends?” said Spike crossly. “You said I could have the redhead.”

 

“All good things to those who wait, Spikey.”

 

 

For the next few days, Angel could think of little but the encounter at the mansion. It had been so easy to slip back into his place with all of them. Only Darla had seemed suspicious, though that might have just been annoyance at the revised plan. Could he really go back? Did he want to? Surely his past wouldn’t be able to torment him like this if he embraced it. He wouldn’t be reduced to drinking the blood of cattle and swine. He wouldn’t be constantly struggling against his nature.

 

In these vague terms, it seemed like it would be so simple. But that illusion shattered when he forced himself to think of the details. Buffy. To secure his place with them, he would have to carry out all of his old plans for her, and now he would also have to seduce her first. He could not deny that her blood was the most tantalizing of any he had ever smelled, nor that he wanted her more than he had ever wanted anyone, but the thought of deceiving her and hurting her repulsed him. Had her health and happiness really come to mean more to him in under two weeks than the family he’d been with for lifetimes?

 

Beyond his interest in Buffy, it was also difficult to stomach the idea of doing any of the things he used to do to his victims again, and the thought of forcing himself to do it enough that it would no longer affect him almost made him physically ill. If he remained on Buffy’s side, he would never have to do any of that again, and perhaps he would eventually be able to accept the truth of what she and Giles had said: that he was not responsible for what he’d done without a soul and it was unfair to blame himself for any of it when he couldn’t possibly have stopped it.

 

The prospect of living with himself until then, however, was unbearable. And so he’d find himself back at the beginning of that train of thought, and around and around it went.

 

 

“So, what exactly are we doing in the library in the middle of the night?” Buffy asked.

 

“Sparring,” said Angel.

 

Buffy turned to look at him and saw that he had removed his coat and was halfway through unbuttoning his shirt, revealing the white cotton v-neck underneath it. She swallowed, trying not to look at or think about his torso. Just last night, he’d been injured by one of the demons they’d been fighting. The wound hadn’t been major, but she’d still insisted on patching him up, which had required him to be shirtless. She hadn’t been able to think straight in any of her classes the following day, and several pages of her sparser-than-usual notes contained sketches of his tattoo in the margins. “Why spar when we could just patrol some more?” she said.

 

“Because I’m going to show you how Darla, Penn, Dru, and Spike fight.”

 

Buffy’s eyes widened. “You mean you’re ready to fight them?” Giles had told her of his conversation with Angel, as a result of which she hadn’t been pressing him to plan their attack on the other vampires. She hadn’t expected him to bring it up this soon.

 

Angel grimaced. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to fight them,” he said, “but that’s no reason why you shouldn’t be.” He set his shirt on the table next to his coat, then slipped off his shoes. Buffy did the same, glad she was dressed in comfortable, stretchy clothes.

 

After she tucked a stake into the waistband of her pants, they moved to the large open space in the center of the library. “So, which opponent will I be facing first?” she said. This exercise intrigued her greatly.

 

“Got a preference?”

 

“Hmm,” she said, tapping her chin thoughtfully with a finger. “Darla,” she decided after a few seconds.

 

“Okay,” said Angel. He began to pace in a wide circle, and Buffy copied him. “For Darla, this is personal. You killed the Master, and she wants you dead for that. You two are going to be pretty evenly matched, though. She’s had a long time to work on her technique, but you’re the same size as her and have about the same strength. But Darla fights dirty. If there’s anything she can do to give herself the edge, she’ll do it. She’s fast and she’s vicious.” They halted and faced each other.

 

“You sure you can imitate her style from all the way up there?” asked Buffy teasingly, shifting her weight from one foot to the other in preparation for the first part of their sparring match.

 

Angel smirked. “I think I can pull it off.”

 

Buffy nodded, indicating she was ready. Angel lunged at her. She dropped one foot back and caught him by the arm, sending him skidding along the floor to the base of the short flight of steps leading to the bookstacks.

 

“Is this really a good idea?” she said anxiously as he got to his feet.

 

“I can handle it,” he said.

 

“Actually I was more worried about whether the library can handle it,” Buffy clarified.

 

Angel chuckled. “I’ll try not to break anything in here if you will.”

 

“Deal.”

 

He dove at her again, blocking before she could use his weight against him like the first time. He aimed a few open-handed blows at her head, which she deflected, then seized her by the shoulders. He tried to throw her, but her stance was too firm, so he ended up sending them both rolling. He leapt to his feet first, but she swung her leg around and knocked him back to the ground. Before he could get up again, she pinned him and thunked the blunt end of her stake against his chest.

 

They continued to practice this scenario for about half an hour, by which point Angel was satisfied that Buffy would be prepared to go up against the real Darla.

 

“Okay,” Buffy said, bouncing on her feet a little as they circled each other again. Endorphins and adrenaline were pumping through her and she was eager for the next stage of the sparring. “Who will I be fighting next?”

 

“Spike,” said Angel. “He doesn’t really have a set technique, he just fights with a combination of brutality, taunts, and evasion. That coat he wears billows up behind him a lot when he moves, so make sure you don’t let it distract you.” He picked up his own coat off the table as he spoke and put it back on. “He loses his temper easily, and that’s when he makes the most mistakes. Always have your stake in your hand when you’re fighting him. He’s killed two Slayers, and he managed it because he got them away from their weapons. The harder you fight, the harder he’ll fight back. He’ll only slow down when one of you is dead.”

 

This time, there was much less grappling and much more punching and kicking. Though Angel didn’t throw in any verbal taunts, his body language had the same effect as spoken jeers all on its own. This was surprisingly irritating and distracting, but only heightened Buffy’s determination to win. They had a close call with one of the bookcases about fifteen minutes in, but by the time another half hour had passed, their surroundings were still intact.

 

Before continuing on to part three, they took a short break. Angel stretched a bit while Buffy went to get a drink of water at the drinking fountain in the hall. “Intermission over,” she announced as she strode back inside the library. Angel’s coat was once again on the table. “Drusilla next?”

 

Angel nodded, looking thoughtful for a moment. “Dru is probably the most dangerous,” he said eventually. “Even though she’s the weakest physically, she’s insane and she can see the future. In a fight, that gives her the advantages of being unpredictable and of knowing her opponent’s moves before they make them. Never ever look into her eyes. She can hypnotize you with a single glance. Try to throw her off by thinking about the wrong moves so she’ll have a harder time figuring out the moves you’re really going to make.”

 

This fight was definitely the most challenging so far. Buffy had a hard time with the rule about not looking into the eyes—that was normally where she picked up hints about her opponent’s next move. Every time she slipped up and looked him in the eye, Angel made them start over. He used such a wide, disjointed array of moves against her that she probably wouldn’t have been able to see them coming even without the eye rule, but she got better and better at adjusting anyway. It was also hard to think about one move while doing a different one and blocking his, but that too got easier with practice. By the time she passed him up in the number of rounds won, this part had gone on for nearly a full hour.

 

They took an even longer break once they finished. Buffy knew she was probably going to spend the entire day at school feeling more sore and exhausted than she had in her whole career as a Slayer, but for now, she still had enough energy to burn for the fourth and final portion of the sparring session.

 

“Ready?” Angel said when she returned from another trip to the drinking fountain.

 

“Yep,” said Buffy.

 

“Okay. Penn fights like me, but sloppier. He never had the patience to learn finesse. If you can take me, you can take him.”

 

“So I’m fighting you this time?” she asked.

 

He nodded.

 

Buffy grinned. She’d had many opportunities to observe his fighting style during their patrols over the last couple of weeks. This was going to be fun. He opened with a roundhouse kick that would have hit her squarely in the head if she hadn’t ducked. She kicked back, but he blocked it, then came at her with a powerful reverse punch. She dodged, grabbed his arm at the elbow and wrist, then swung it around so that he was pulled off his feet and went sprawling on the floor, but he quickly rolled and was back upright in a second.

 

For the first twenty minutes, every time Buffy got close to hitting his chest with the blunt end of the stake, he would suddenly reclaim the upper hand and put her back into defense mode. The fight moved up the steps to continue amidst the bookshelves, and thanks to her smaller size, Buffy had the advantage in these closer quarters. She finally succeeded in throwing him back against the wall, and the stake touched his chest a split-second before his hand could close around her wrist.

 

She smirked triumphantly up at him, covered in sweat, her chest heaving as the two and a half hours of exertion caught up to her. Her smirk faded, however, at the sight of the intense look on his face and the way his eyes bored into hers. She didn’t know which of them moved first, but the next second, the stake had fallen to the floor with a clatter, their arms were locked tightly around each other, and they were kissing fiercely.

 

Buffy couldn’t form a coherent thought. She’d never been kissed like this in her life.  His cool body felt wonderful against her own overheated one. She pressed even closer, wanting more of that contact, and she stood on tiptoe to get a better angle for kissing him. After what might have been several minutes for all she could tell, she became dimly aware that he had maneuvered them so that she was the one with her back to the bookshelves.

 

She never wanted him to stop, but then the stray observation that it felt so different kissing him than it had to kiss Ben drifted across her mind. It was as if her heart had turned to ice. She broke away from Angel with a gasp that was more of a sob. “Oh, God,” she said, covering her mouth with her hand, tears blurring her vision. “Ben.”

 

Angel’s expression of dazed confusion at the abrupt end of the kiss turned stricken at the sound of the name. “I’m sorry!” he said, jerking his hands away from her as if he’d been burned and taking a step back. “I shouldn’t have—”

 

“No!” said Buffy, trying to pull herself together, but her voice was still shaky and cracked. “It’s not you! I’m not blaming you. It’s just—it hasn’t even been three months since he died. I shouldn’t be kissing anyone!” She felt like she might be sick. Ben deserved better than this. She should be able to show more respect and grieve a decent length of time. She felt Angel’s tentative hand on her shoulder, and she allowed him to pull her into his arms, now crying harder than ever.

 

Angel deserved better than this, too, and Ben would want her to move on and be happy. She’d been trying to pretend the feelings weren’t there, but now that she was being honest with herself, she could admit that she was falling for Angel hard and fast. She had expected him to be more like the man Angelus had described—rude and licentious, perhaps—but he wasn’t. He was quiet and polite and considerate almost to a fault; she always felt completely safe around him; and, like Cordelia, now that he had a soul, she was free to acknowledge how gorgeous he was.

 

After a few minutes of being held by him, her crying subsided, but she made no effort to move out of his arms. She felt a little better now. That was the first time she’d really allowed herself to cry after Ben’s death. She’d been carrying the grief and pain inside her all this time, but getting them out into the open seemed to have eased their weight in her chest and afforded her a sense of peace.

 

“You know,” said Angel quietly, “I’ve wanted to kiss you since the first moment I saw you after the curse?”

 

Buffy looked up at him in surprise, tears still clinging to her cheeks and eyelashes.

 

“You were standing there and I thought you were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. But then everything came back, and I didn’t think you could ever think of me that way.” He smiled ruefully. “It was almost enough and already more than I deserved just to help you with your French homework and patrol with you.”

 

After a brief examination of her feelings, Buffy decided it was safe to let him know what his words meant to her. She stood on tiptoe again and kissed him. Though it was their second, this was much closer to her idea of a first kiss: gentle, hesitant, and sweet. When they broke apart, she smiled at him. They moved back to the main part of the library to retrieve their shoes and his shirt and coat. “Walk me home?” she asked shyly when he was ready to go, holding out a hand. He took it and they departed the library together.

 

Buffy was so drained, both physically and emotionally, that she didn’t even protest when Angel scooped her up into his arms a couple of blocks away from the school and carried her the rest of the way home. She merely snuggled against his broad chest, and by the time he reached their destination, she was fast asleep. With only slight difficulty, he managed to get up to the roof and through her window without waking her. Still being careful not to disturb her, he pulled back the covers on her bed and laid her down, then removed her shoes and tucked her in. Before leaving, he leaned down and pressed a brief kiss to the corner of her mouth.

 

 

III. Hearts

 

Buffy had been completely right in thinking that she would be horribly sore from all the sparring the following day at school. She hurt everywhere, even though Angel had been very good about not letting his punches and kicks actually connect with any real force. It also didn’t help that she’d gotten much less sleep than usual, nor that she was even more distracted today by fantasies of her and Angel kissing than she had been yesterday by memories of his very attractive shirtless torso. Xander, Willow, Oz, and Cordelia wanted to go to the Bronze later, but Buffy had to turn down the invitation to join them due to exhaustion, and she was deeply thankful when Giles told her she should take the night off from patrolling as well.

 

Not long after sunset, there was a knock on her bedroom window. She looked up from the homework strewn across her bed and a wide smile lit her face to see Angel crouched outside. She started to get up, but her muscles protested painfully and she winced and resumed her previous position, gesturing that he could come in, which he did.

 

“Hey,” he said. “Giles said you were staying home tonight.”

 

“Yeah,” she said somewhat grumpily. “How come you aren’t partially paralyzed too?”

 

“I spent the whole day sleeping off the worst of it,” he admitted.

 

“Lucky.”

 

“Anything I can do?” he said, sitting down in the homework-free space next to her and covering her hand with his.

 

“Well…you could patrol for me,” she said, leaning against his shoulder and looking up at him with wide, imploring eyes. “Giles gave me the night off, but I don’t want my sore muscles to cost people their lives.”

 

“Of course,” he said. Buffy beamed at him and kissed him on the cheek. “Any French homework you want me to help you with when I’m done?” he asked, sounding hopeful.

 

“Peut-être,” she said slyly, concealing with difficulty how delighted she was that he was fishing for reasons to spend time with her.

 

“Alors, je reviendrai, ma mie,” he said.

 

Almost sure she had understood him, she grinned and replied, “Je vais t’attendre, mon ange.” At this, he gave the closest thing to a goofy smile she had ever seen on him, and they shared a lingering kiss before he departed.

 

 

Xander was on his way back from the Bronze (on foot, because Cordelia still refused to be seen driving him home and he valued his male dignity too much to ask her to in the first place) when he caught sight of Angel walking alone at the other end of the street. His eyes narrowed suspiciously. Wasn’t he supposed to be at Giles’s apartment or patrolling with Buffy? Xander hadn’t spent a great deal of time in Angel’s company since that first Saturday, but the vampire’s surly, brooding behavior during the time they had been in the same room as each other hadn’t done much to earn the boy’s trust—though, admittedly, he wasn’t likely to offer much benefit of the doubt to an undead guy who kept making his best friend and girlfriend swoon without even trying anyway.

 

Ignoring the nagging voice in the back of his mind trying to warn him that this was a bad idea, he quickened his pace and began to follow Angel at a distance. It was lucky he still retained the stealth training from his soldier-boy costume at Halloween, or he’d probably give himself away in a second. As it was, he was able to move very quietly, and as a bonus, a breeze blew steadily from Angel’s direction towards him, ensuring that his scent didn’t go anywhere near Angel’s sensitive nose.

 

After about a quarter of an hour, they reached one of the city’s many cemeteries, and Xander was slightly disappointed to recognize that the thing in Angel’s hand was just a stake. Was he really only out here to patrol? But then, before Xander could slink off in the direction of home, a voice rang out that nearly caused him to jump out of his skin. It took him a few seconds to realize that it wasn’t actually coming from right next to him, but merely being carried back to him on the same wind that kept Angel from hearing or smelling him.

 

“Hello, my darling boy.” The voice belonged to Darla, who had just stepped out from behind a large statue in the cemetery. “Where’s the Slayer? Haven’t you been spending your evenings helping her kill our kind?”

 

“It’s an easy way to gain her trust,” said Angel, shrugging. “And it must be working, because tonight she sent me out by myself.”

 

“You can stop pretending, Angelus. Since your last visit, Drusilla saw what they did to you. I know about that tortured little soul of yours.”

 

“I’m not pretending, Darla,” said Angel, a growl in his voice that made Xander want to turn tail and run, but he had to hear more. He edged as far around the tree he was using for cover as he dared, hoping to get a better view of them. “It’s still me,” Angel was saying. “You think a soul is enough to erase the last two hundred and fifty years?”

 

“Not erase them, no,” said Darla. “But it still changes things. How do I know you’re not really working with the Slayer? I can smell her all over you.”

 

Angel laughed derisively. “You do understand the concept of a seduction, don’t you? Physical contact is kind of the whole point.”

 

“I’ll believe that’s all it is when the Slayer’s dead at your hands.”

 

“You won’t have to wait long,” he said, before leaning down and sealing his words with a kiss.

 

 

The next day at school, Xander was still so shaken by what he had witnessed that he knocked into several people on his way through the halls. He finally located Buffy sitting with Willow in the courtyard. They were both giggling, and he caught the words “Angel” and “smoochies” during the moment’s hesitation he took to decide whether this was something he wanted to interrupt, which had the immediate effect of steeling his resolve to do so.

 

“Buffy,” he said, causing Buffy and Willow to look around at him.

 

“Hey, Xander,” she said cheerfully, and her greeting was echoed by Willow.

 

“I need to talk to you,” he said. “Now.”

 

Buffy and Willow frowned and exchanged glances. “What’s up?” asked Willow.

 

“Look, it’s about Angel. Can we just go somewhere to talk?”

 

Buffy’s expression hardened, but before she could say anything, Willow stood up, slinging her backpack over her shoulder. “I’ll see you guys in class,” she said, and she hurried off.

 

“Okay, Xander, I guess this is somewhere to talk now,” said Buffy coolly. “So what exactly do you have to say about Angel?”

 

Xander struggled for words. How did you tell your best friend that her new boyfriend was plotting with his seemingly-not-so-ex to kill her? Ultimately, he settled on asking, “Are you two together now?”

 

“How do you know about that?” said Buffy.

 

“Because last night I heard Angel bragging about it to Darla,” said Xander. They were lucky nobody else was nearby, because he was having difficulty containing his agitation.

 

Buffy’s eyes went round as coins. “No,” she protested weakly, “he wouldn’t.”

 

“Well, he did. I guess everything you’ve done to try to help him hasn’t meant very much, because he still wants to hang out with his old crowd, even if their price for readmission is your life.”

 

“But it—it was probably just an act!” said Buffy, more conviction in her voice now that she had recovered from the initial shock of Xander’s accusations. “If he ran into Darla unexpectedly, then of course he’d act like Angelus so she wouldn’t suspect what we’re planning.”

 

“Maybe last night was unexpected, but from the way they were talking, it wasn’t the first time they’ve met up since the curse. He’s been to see her and the rest of them already.”

 

“But Giles said it’s normal for him to miss them. He probably just wanted to see them. It doesn’t mean he’s on their side.”

 

“Okay, then he must be one hell of a good actor, because kissed her and he’s got her convinced that he’s seducing you so that killing you will be more fun.”

 

Buffy stared at him, her eyes filling slowly with tears.

 

“I’m sorry,” said Xander sincerely, lowering his voice back to normal conversational volume. He hated how much this was hurting her, but she had to know the truth. “Once a vampire, always a vampire. We thought having a soul might change that, but we were wrong.”

 

 

Buffy was more distracted in class than ever after her conversation with Xander. She didn’t take any notes at all, instead spending the time repeatedly combing over all of her interactions with Angel, searching desperately for evidence that would clear him of the charges Xander had laid against him. She couldn’t recall anything to indicate that he had been wearing a mask with her, and she couldn’t imagine how anyone who had suffered such acute anguish and guilt as Angel had in those first moments after he was cursed would be able to turn around and conspire to kill someone who cared about him.

 

She was determined not to come to any conclusions until she saw Angel that evening, but she was terrified that he would do something to prove Xander right. By the time her last class was over, she had worked herself into a state of near emotional collapse. Without even checking in at the library after the final bell rang, she exited the school and headed straight for Giles’s apartment. It would be at least two hours before Giles got home (longer if Miss Kalderash distracted him), which should leave her plenty of time to talk to Angel.

 

Careful to make as little noise as possible, she slipped inside the apartment. The urge to barge in while loudly calling Angel’s name had been strong, but she knew he was probably asleep, and she wanted to approach the matter more subtly than Xander had. As it turned out, she was correct. Angel was lying on his stomach on Giles’s couch, dressed in sweatpants and an undershirt, his head pillowed on his arms and his bare feet sticking out past the other armrest.

 

Buffy came around to kneel on the rug in front of the couch, her eyes fixed on Angel’s face. He looked so peaceful and innocent. Xander had to have been wrong about what he saw. Buffy wanted to let Angel sleep, but then his expression changed. His brow furrowed and he shivered. His hands clenched on the cushion of the couch.

 

“Angel, wake up,” said Buffy, stretching out a hand towards his face. Before her fingers reached it, there was a low growl, her wrist was caught in a vice-like grip, and she found herself inches away from a pair of angry yellow eyes and a set of bared, glistening fangs. She barely had time to do more than be very alarmed when recognition dawned in Angel’s eyes, which turned back to brown as his vampiric features became human once more and he released his hold on her wrist.

 

“Buffy,” he said thickly, hastily moving to sit up on the couch. “What are you doing here so early? Is something wrong?”

 

“I just wanted to see you,” she said, taking the cushion next to him. She opened her mouth, then closed it again, suddenly at a loss to ask the questions that had been burning in her mind all day. She cast around for something else to say instead. “I think maybe you should start looking for your own place. This couch is way too small for you.”

 

“I’ve had worse,” he said, shrugging. “But you’re probably right. I think Giles would like his living room and fridge space back eventually.”

 

He fell silent and Buffy watched him for a moment. “Are you okay?” she asked. “You looked like you were starting to have a nightmare—or a daymare, I guess.”

 

Rather than reacting, he merely stared at the coffee table, his head low.

 

Buffy’s chest tightened. “You have them every day, don’t you?” she said, reaching for his hand and slipping her fingers between his. The interrogation could definitely wait. Now that she was here with him, she didn’t see how Xander could possibly be right anyway.

 

“Angel?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“You know I’d do anything to help you, don’t you? I know I probably can’t even imagine how hard it is for you, but I’m here, okay?”

 

He gave her hand a squeeze. “I know.”

 

 

Buffy managed to convince Xander not to reveal what he had overheard to anyone else by telling him that they couldn’t let Angel know they knew, or it would put them and the other Scoobies in danger, and in the meantime, she was being careful and waiting for Angel to slip up. It was technically true, she and Xander just had very different expectations of how it would all play out.

 

Another couple of weeks passed without Angel showing any sign that he was still in league with Darla, and the last of Buffy’s misgivings began to fade. As per her suggestion (and much to Giles’s quiet relief, even though Angel had given him little to complain about as a flatmate), he began to look for his own apartment. They also continued to spar in addition to regular patrols, playing out many different scenarios of how the actual fight against the other vampires would go. Buffy took this as further proof of Angel’s innocence; why would he give her detailed knowledge of how to kill them if his plan was really to kill her? Some of the sparring sessions were poorly disguised preludes to make-out sessions, it was true, but she still came away from each one feeling more prepared than before.

 

 

Darla’s patience had worn thin. No matter what Angelus said to the contrary, that soul was a problem. Unbeknownst to him, she had been following him and the Slayer on their patrols, and if she had to watch them kissing and making moon eyes at each other one more night when he should be tearing her throat out, she was going to be sick. The Slayer was by no means the first naïve human girl he had seduced, but it had never taken him this long and he had certainly never seemed so attached. And he was playing the part a little too well in other ways, too. He wasn’t with the Slayer or her Watcher around the clock, so why was he lowering himself to drinking animal blood? She had smelled it on his breath that night in the cemetery, but it wasn’t as if the humans would be able to tell the difference if he resumed his normal eating habits.

 

Penn, Dru, and Spike were also getting on her nerves, as they always did when she spent too much time with them. Even though they knew about Angelus’s soul now, they were still following his orders not to attack anyone the Slayer cared about. Idiotic sheep. Darla wanted Angelus back and she wanted the head of the girl who’d killed her sire, and she was done waiting. She would give him one chance to make good on his promises. After that, she would track down that meddlesome computer teacher and force her to fix her boy before slowly torturing her to death. Then Angelus could thank her by groveling for a decade or two.

 

 

Normally, Buffy was happy to spend quality time with her mom, who was kept so busy by her work that she often didn’t have a lot of opportunities for it, but lately she’d been finding it difficult even to eat dinner at a normal pace, let alone carry on a conversation between bites. All she wanted to do was get out of the house and find Angel. She forced herself to clear her plate slowly and give decent-length answers to all of her mom’s questions about how her day had been, but then she practically sprinted up to her room to get ready. To her delighted surprise, she found a red rose and a note in Angel’s handwriting sitting on her bed when she got there.

 

She held the beautiful flower up to her nose and inhaled its lovely scent while she read the note:

 

Ma mie,

Meet me at 7:00 at the apartment we checked out last

night. The one near the Bronze. Je vais t’attendre.

~Ton ange

 

Buffy’s heart fluttered and she was unable to suppress an enormous grin. Glancing at the clock, she saw that it was already a quarter to seven, so she dashed around her room, changing her clothes and fixing her hair and makeup at top speed. Assuming they would patrol after whatever he had planned at the apartment, she tucked a couple of stakes into her jacket pockets, checked her appearance in the mirror one more time, and clambered out of the window.

 

She didn’t have a watch, but she knew it had to be after seven already by the time she reached the basement apartment mentioned in the note. She knocked on the door, but there was no response. It wasn’t locked, so she pushed it open and stepped inside.

 

The apartment was completely dark except for a strip of dim light that followed her in from the hall. “Angel?” she called uncertainly, taking a few more steps inside.

 

“Not quite,” said a voice behind her as the door slammed shut, plunging the room into complete darkness.

 

“Penn,” said Buffy, her lip curling. She turned to face him and reached for one of her stakes, even though she couldn’t see a thing.

 

“Hello, cutie,” came a second voice from the opposite direction, causing her to spin back around.

 

“And Spike,” she said, trying not to let her worry show at the fact that it was two-to-one and she was, for all intents and purposes, blind. “Where’s Angel?” she asked through clenched teeth.

 

“He sends his regrets; he couldn’t make it,” said Penn.

 

 

Angel paced restlessly in front of the entrance to Restfield Cemetery. On the nights when Buffy’s mom was home, she usually met up with him at the beginning of the designated patrol route, but tonight she hadn’t showed up. Just when he decided to go check her house to see if she got held up for some reason, Darla sidled up next to him.

 

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

 

“It’s been a while since you checked in,” she said. “I wanted to make sure you didn’t get distracted from your goal. Or by it.”

 

“You don’t have to worry, Darla,” said Angel with mocking laughter in his voice. “Everything is going according to plan.”

 

Darla smirked. “It was. Now, it’s going according to my plan.”

 

Angel’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

 

“It’s a surprise,” she said, slipping an arm through one of his and leaning up against him.

 

 

The back of Buffy’s head was throbbing painfully when she came to, but she quickly realized that this was the least of her problems. She was inside the mansion on Crawford Street, and her upper arms were held in the cold, vice-like grips of Spike and Penn, both of whom were looking expectantly towards the doorway at the far end of the room. A chill ran up her spine when the sound of humming reached her ears. Drusilla drifted into view, swaying as she walked, almost as if she were dancing. She made her way over to Buffy, who remembered Angel’s warning and avoided looking into her eyes—even when her fingers suddenly shot out and gripped her chin tightly enough that the crimson nails dug into her skin.

 

“Pretty little Slayer,” she cooed. “Daddy’s head is so full of you. Will you be my new mummy, then?”

 

Spike snickered. “Darla wouldn’t be too happy about that, love.”

 

“Not that it’s ever up to her,” said Penn dryly.

 

“Speak of the she-devil…,” Spike muttered. Drusilla turned around and stepped aside, giving Buffy a clear view of the doorway, through which Darla had just entered—on Angel’s arm. For the first time since regaining consciousness, Buffy fought to break free of Penn’s and Spike’s clutches, but they only laughed and held on even tighter.

 

 

Giles was worried. Buffy hadn’t checked in. It was something he had only started insisting on after Kendra’s death, and this was the first time she had failed to call. Angel hadn’t either, which was also worrying. But perhaps she had decided to go to the Bronze before patrolling and simply forgot to mention it to him. With this thought in mind, he picked up the phone and dialed Willow’s number.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Yes, hello, Willow,” he said.

 

“Giles, hi!” said Willow brightly, but then her tone changed. “What’s wrong? I-is there something wrong?”

 

Giles smiled in spite of himself at her familiar sweetly fumbling manner. “Er, no—at least, not necessarily. Are you aware of any plans Buffy may have had for tonight, apart from patrolling?”

 

“I don’t think so,” said Willow slowly, and he could hear the frown in her voice. “We were planning on going to the Bronze tomorrow, but I think she just wanted to spend time with Angel tonight. But maybe Xander knows?”

 

“Yes, perhaps. I’ll give him a ring. Thank you, Willow.”

 

When Giles phoned Xander, he had the misfortune of speaking to his father first. After the man made several grumbling aspersions against Giles’s nationality and the school district for hiring foreigners, he handed the phone off to his son.

 

“Sorry about him,” Xander mumbled.

 

“That’s quite all right,” said Giles. “Now then, I’ve just been speaking with Willow. Have you any knowledge of Buffy’s plans tonight?”

 

“No,” said Xander. “Why?”

 

“She hasn’t checked in with me, I’m afraid.”

 

“Is she with Angel?”

 

The sudden sharpness in Xander’s tone took Giles slightly aback. “Very likely, yes,” he said.

 

“Then I think she might be in trouble.”

 

 

Buffy’s wide eyes were fixed on Angel, who appeared to have frozen. For a second, there was something like abject terror on his face as he stared at her, but then a curtain seemed to drop, his gaze moved to the vampires around her, and he looked more like Angelus than Angel.

 

Fear swirled in the pit of her stomach. “Angel?” she said in a small voice. She understood what was happening now. They all expected him to kill her—or, if Drusilla was right, turn her—and his expression wasn’t doing a lot to reassure her.

 

“Oh, come on,” he said—she flinched; that was Angelus’s voice—, “What are you holding her down for? That’s no fun. She’d come to me on her own, wouldn’t she?” His eyes were back on hers, and she had to fight down the urge to weep, just like when he’d taunted her in those last moments before the curse took effect.

 

He prowled closer. Darla hung back, watching him, Drusilla giggled, and Penn’s and Spike’s fingers bit into Buffy’s arms. He halted only when he was right in front of her. “I told you the demon was stronger than the soul. You should have listened. But you’re just too trusting, aren’t you? Not the best quality in a Slayer.” He laughed softly and his face transformed. “Did you think it was all real? The only thing the curse really did was make the game more interesting. Now guess what?” His hand shot out and seized her by the back of the neck, jerking her head upward so he could press a bruising kiss to her lips. Despite everything, it was hard not to kiss him back. Penn’s and Spike’s laugher rang in her ears and her lips stung as Angel’s fangs grazed them. He licked up the droplets of blood and pulled away. “Game’s over,” he said.

 

She barely saw his hand move, but next second, there was a stake protruding from the left side of Penn’s chest. For the briefest moment, they all stared at the four inches of wood that were visible, and then Drusilla’s horrified wail of “Big brother!” mingled with Darla’s scream of fury as Penn disintegrated into dust.

 

Buffy gaped at Angel, confusion and the stirrings of relief making coherent thought rather difficult, but then she came back to her senses and swung the arm Penn had been holding around to clock Spike squarely in the nose. He let out a howl of pain and released her other arm, blood already leaking from both nostrils. At the same time, Drusilla had lunged for Angel. Buffy barely had time to duck Spike’s retaliatory punch, but he was still too dazed to block her uppercut to his chin and her sidekick to his chest, which knocked him to the ground, where the back of his head hit with an audible crack.

 

Before she could do anything else about Spike or help Angel with Drusilla, Darla appeared out of nowhere at her shoulder and yanked her back by a fistful of her hair. “You took my sire from me,” she snarled in Buffy’s ear. “I won’t let you have Angelus. Once I kill you, I can see to that filthy soul of his, and then he’ll help me pick off your friends.”

 

It was difficult to aim from this position, but anger at Darla’s words seemed to make up the difference. Buffy threw back her elbow as hard as she could, and it collided with the side of Darla’s head. They crashed to the floor together, the impact making Darla let go of Buffy’s hair.

 

Buffy just had time to see that Spike was still down and Angel was still fighting Drusilla before Darla was on top of her. Angel had done his job well in their sparring sessions, however; Buffy was ready for Darla’s attacks.

 

 

Across the room, Angel wasn’t faring quite as well against Drusilla. It wasn’t that he wasn’t a match for her physically, it was that the memories of the innocent young woman she had been before he entered her life kept interfering, and they were making it almost unbearable to hurt her now. But it seemed that hurting her was the only thing he had ever been able to do.

 

“Daddy, why are you fighting us?” she cried brokenly, even as she slashed at him with those wicked talons of hers. “Why did you choose the Slayer?”

 

Angel didn’t answer. Until he’d seen Buffy looking at him in fear when he walked into the room with Darla, even he hadn’t known who he was going to choose. “I’m so sorry for everything I did to you, Dru,” he said, his voice cracking. “You were so good and pure.”

 

“Until you came and made me like you,” she said, grinning. “Cold and hungry and wonderful, with little shards that won’t fit back together.” Her laughter turned to sobs. “I know I wasn’t what you wanted, but you can’t leave me now.”

 

Her childlike pleas made him want to fold in on himself, but she was still fighting as viciously as ever, leaving him with no choice but to attack back.

 

 

Buffy succeeded in hurling Darla off of her once more, but when she leapt up to renew the attack, Darla seized her around the head. Buffy threw all her weight against her and the pair of them went smashing through the glass doors that led to the garden courtyard. Darla kicked Buffy away from her, and she fell hard on the edge of the stone flowerbed. Pushing past the pain, she jumped back up and barreled headfirst into Darla’s middle, knocking her back against the stairs. Darla kicked out again, catching Buffy in the stomach. She fell to the ground, completely winded. Darla stalked towards her, an evil grin starting on her face. Buffy’s hand closed around one of the larger shards of glass from the door. When Darla dove at her, she whipped it out in front of her in a wide arc. There was a brief spurt of blood, and Darla’s eyes widened in shock.

 

 

Angel ducked and rolled to avoid another swipe from Dru’s fingernails. He ended up right next to the ornate coffee table, and he hurriedly broke off one of the legs. Dru was coming at him again when her fluid movements suddenly faltered. “Grandmum,” she said, looking over her shoulder towards the courtyard. The second’s distraction cost her. Before she turned back around, he drove the jagged end of the table leg into her chest. She looked down at it, then up at him. He’d never seen her expression so peaceful as in that second before she crumbled into ashes.

 

Before it settled, Angel was nearly deafened by a roar of rage coming from his right. He wheeled around and saw Spike, who had evidently recovered just in time to see his sire and lover of a hundred and eighteen years turn to dust.

 

 

Buffy got shakily to her feet, brushing specks of Darla’s remains out of her clothes. She felt as if at least one of her ribs was broken as a result of getting kicked into the flowerbed. She had just turned her head to look into the great room to see how Angel’s fight was going when Spike’s roar filled the air. She saw him seize the stake lying in Penn’s ashes and leap at Angel. “No!” she cried. She picked up one of the splintered pieces of wood lying at her feet and sprinted back into the room.

 

Spike had dived at Angel, tackling him to the ground. Angel caught the stake before it reached his chest, but it was still moving inexorably towards him. Spike was full of a berserker’s wrath, and Angel’s strength wasn’t enough to stop it. But the stake had just barely broken the skin over Angel’s chest when Spike suddenly arched backward, this time letting out a roar of pain. Then he too had turned to dust, and Angel was left holding the stake and staring up at Buffy’s panicked face.

 

Buffy helped Angel back upright, but then staggered sideways against the end of the couch, needing a moment to recover. When she looked around again, Angel was standing over one of the piles of dust with a completely blank expression on his face. She moved over to him cautiously. “You okay?” she asked.

 

“They’re gone,” he said, sounding torn between disbelief and devastation. He seemed to become intensely interested in the stake in his hand then, and Buffy felt a spasm of fear. She closed the remaining distance between him in a second and caught hold of his wrist.

 

“Please,” she begged him. “Don’t.” She remembered how she had planned to stake him herself once the others were dead, but now that the prerequisite had been met, she couldn’t bear the thought of not having him with her. It was selfish of her, but she couldn’t help it. “Just let it go, Angel,” she said, her voice cracking. “Stay with me.”

 

The stake dropped from Angel’s limp fingers and rolled a short distance away. He sagged against her, then fell to his knees. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and neck and held him to her, feeling his tears soaking through her shirt as his body shook. She pressed her face into his hair and let her own tears fall.

 

After about a minute, she heard a noise that made her look up. Xander and Giles stood framed in the doorway, both of them holding loaded crossbows. Her body stiffened and her arms tightened around Angel. Giles was first to lower his crossbow, his eyes traveling around to the four piles of dust on the floor. Xander took a while longer. He stared from Buffy to Angel and back again, then finally let the weapon fall harmlessly to his side.

 

 

The end of the school year arrived without much further incident. In May, some developers on the edge of town stumbled across an ancient rock tomb containing a demon that had been turned to stone. Giles made a phone call to the Watcher’s Council, and within two days, the tomb mysteriously vanished from the Sunnydale Museum of Natural History.

 

On Buffy’s last day of school, Angel could be found nervously pacing his new apartment, which was now furnished and decorated. The worst of his grief had passed, and with it, a significant portion of the crushing weight of guilt. Though he missed his family, it was nevertheless good to know that they could do no more harm.

 

At the moment, he was waiting for Buffy to arrive with a mixture of eagerness and dread. He had something he wanted to give her, but he wasn’t sure how she would react. It was one of a pair. He’d been wearing the other for a very long time, though it had never meant anything to him until now. He kept switching it from his right hand to his left and back as he paced, anxious about coming on either too strong or too weak. There didn’t seem to be a good medium.

 

All too soon, he heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs in the hall outside and the accompanying heartbeat. He looked down at his hands and saw that the ring was on the right one. He started to switch it over again, then decided it was probably best to err on the side of less presumption, and left it where it was. Buffy had only had the chance to knock one time before he opened the door, with the result that she grinned awkwardly at him from the other side. “Been waiting for me to show up?” she asked.

 

“Maybe,” he said, ducking his head a little.

 

She beamed and leaned up to kiss him. She meant it to be a short hello kiss, but he pulled her closer and it quickly turned into something much more passionate. When they parted, she was smiling dreamily and her eyes were unfocused. “Is this your way of getting me in a good mood so you can tell me bad news and get away with it?” she said breathlessly. “Because it’s definitely going to work.”

 

“No,” he said, his nerves spiking again, “uh, actually I have something for you.”

 

Her eyes refocused at once and she perked up. “Ooh, is today some kind of Irish holiday or something?”

 

“Well, there’s Pentecost and Whit Monday next week, but they aren’t really holidays for gifts.” He reached into his pockets with fumbling fingers and drew out the other ring, holding it in his palm so she could see it clearly.

 

“Angel,” she said, looking from the ring to his face. “It’s beautiful.”

 

“It’s a Claddagh ring,” he said, seeing the wonder in her expression and feeling a little less anxious because of it. He haltingly explained the symbolism behind the ring. “If you wear it with the heart pointing towards you, it means you belong to somebody,” he said. “Like this.” He lifted his hand to show her the one he wore.

 

“Have you, um, have you ever worn it like that before?” she asked hesitantly as she held out her right hand.

 

“No,” he said. “And you’re the first one to wear this one,” he added with a smile once he had slipped the ring onto her finger.

 

Buffy couldn’t find the words to express what she felt. She had harbored a nagging worry ever since the battle at the mansion that one reason why he had been so distraught was that the woman he loved was a pile of dust. Something of this worry must have reached him, because he had just said exactly the right thing to quell it.

 

The words could come later. For now, she thanked him with a kiss.

 

Fin

 

 

Deleted Scene

or

How the Rose and the Note Got onto Buffy’s Bed

or

Why Darla Has Little Patience for Penn and Spike

 

“Bollocks,” said Spike. “Didn’t think of this.”

 

“We could just tell Darla we did it and find some other way to capture the Slayer,” said Penn. The two of them were perched on the roof outside the Slayer’s open bedroom window, facing the dilemma of planting the rose and the note Darla had forged on her bed—without having been invited in.

 

“No,” said Spike, “this way is better. Poetic, you know?”

 

Penn scowled and rolled his eyes. “Then what do you suggest?” They could hear the sounds of voices and the chink of knives and forks on plates coming from somewhere inside the house, but the Slayer wouldn’t be eating dinner forever. They had to think of something fast.

 

“Fishing pole?” Spike offered.

 

“Yeah, that’s great!” said Penn, clapping Spike heartily on the back, making him stagger where he crouched. “Have fun getting to a sporting goods store, burglarizing it without anyone noticing, and making it back in the next ten minutes. I’ll wait here.”

 

“Let’s hear your suggestion, then,” said Spike crossly, banging Penn’s head against the invisible barrier keeping them outside. Penn shoved him in retaliation, almost causing him to topple off the roof.

 

“Give them to me, I’ll just toss them in.”

 

“No, you great sodding prat,” said Spike, holding them out of reach, “what if you miss the bed? Here, let’s just find a long branch with some twigs at the end.”

 

With this solution, the task was accomplished fairly easily, though Penn accidentally bumped Spike when he was almost done, nearly causing him to drop the branch inside the Slayer’s room. Spike whacked Penn over the head with it when it was safely outside again. The two vampires continued inflicting minor injuries on each other all the way to the apartment where they were to lie in wait, only ceasing when they heard the Slayer approaching.

 

 

*

 

Author’s Note

 

French translations:
"Je n'aime pas le français." = "I don't like French."
"Est-ce que je peux aider?" = "Can I help?"
"Peut-être" = "Maybe"
"Alors, je reviendrai, ma mie." = "Then I will return, my love*"
"Je vais t’attendre, mon ange.” = "I will wait for you, my angel."
*"Ma mie" is an old-fashioned term of endearment that comes from "mon
amie" or "my friend", but it was used to mean "my dear" or "my love".