Windows on the Soul

 

Author:  Jo

Summary: Windows open both ways

Rating: General

Livejournal

 

Author’s Note:  Thanks, Dark Star!

 

**

 

Windows on the Soul

 

Wolfram and Hart are pleased with themselves.  They believe they have found the perfect prison for Angel, one where he will be trapped, for ever and ever, Amen.  For never and never, Amen.  They have put him into the Day That Never Was.  Not for Angel an eternity of humanity with his woman, though.  That would be too much to hope for as a prison. 

 

The Oracles swallowed the day, the day that Angel remembers with such bittersweet pain but that Buffy does not.

 

“We swallow this day,” the sister Oracle had said, “as though it had never happened.  Twenty-four hours from the moment the demon first attacked you, we take it back.”

 

Now the Oracles lie dead and unburied, decaying bodies in their sacred space.  But what happens to the spells they wove, to the time they swallowed, now that they can no longer contain it?  History has moved on without that day, its time has come and gone, and the events it contained never happened.

 

It isn’t the first time, in the eternity since Creation.  Reality gives birth to unreality, second by second; things that might have been, things that ought to have been, things that should never see the light of day.  There are whole universes of should have, could have, never did.

 

Released from the Oracles, the Day That Never Was has been swept up into the cosmic maelstrom of temporal unreality, fractured and fragmented, its integrity gone, its hours of love spilled over the chaos of a billion other days, a million lost Ages never to come.

 

Wolfram and Hart have caught the temporal ripple of the Day and imprisoned it, and Angel, in the most chaotic sector of this neverwhen, as far out of anyone’s reach as they can manage.  With his actuality so badly splintered, not even the most powerful mage could redeem him.  He will never trouble them again, for as long as they choose to keep him there.  They have no other plans for him in the foreseeable future, and they can see a long way.

 

Apart from Angel’s imprisonment, Wolfram and Hart want something else, too.  They want the Key Made Flesh.  They don’t need a Key to the dimensions.  They can come and go at will.  It’s just that they don’t want anyone else to have the Key.  Never leave any Power behind that your enemies can use against you.  What they want to do is destroy it.  Or to imprison it with their other toys.

 

+

 

Angel is in the heart of the maelstrom.  He is the heart of the maelstrom.  When has he ever been anything else?  Now, though, fragments of space and time surround him, making and remaking him in kaleidoscopic images of the unreality that they bring.  His body is their battleground, as the chaos gives him forms that he has never had, but might have, if reality had been different.  Claws, fangs, spines, or spikes; limbs in various number and purpose; each lasts a moment, or an eternity, in that place without time.  Each is more monstrous than the last.

 

He has no memory, no sense of self except...  He retains some consciousness of a body plan, and he does not recognise these shapes, in all their many varieties, as belonging to him.  He struggles, a moth in a spider’s web, a fly in nascent amber, a dreamer in the weavings of a nightmare, to remember who and what he is.  He cannot.  His intellect is as fragmented as his reality.  He knows that he is, and that is all he knows. 

 

But Angel is different to the surrounding skeins of tangled impossibilities.  His is a fixed reality, and his existence is stitched into more than one dimension.  This gives him a metaphysical gravitas not possessed by anything else in this plane.  Except, of course, for the Day That Never Was.  The Day was undone, but it still has the echo of reality.  And the Day lived on in Angel’s memory right until the end, when the hordes in the alley behind the Hyperion carried him away into bondage.  In all the many days that came after the Day’s loss of humanity, that sacrifice of Buffy, he examined every detail of the Day often, polishing it with love and regret and sorrow.  It always remained real to him, and even a memory that exists only in one heart still lives, still has weight in its world.

 

Perhaps that is why, or perhaps it is simply luck.  Or perhaps, even in this monstrous chaos, there is a hand that moves.  Whatever the cause, a fragment of the Day brushes Angel’s mind.  He doesn’t remember it, because he remembers nothing.  Nevertheless, he knows that this unremembered mote is his, and he reaches for it, holding it fast.

 

His hand is resting on something hard and shiny.  Another hand, much smaller, warm, feminine but strong, falls onto his.  His fingers tangle in the sleeve.  He can feel the texture of the knitted yarn between his thumb and forefinger, and there is a scent, delicious and familiar, at the edge of recollection.

 

It means something to him.  He knows it does, and he claims it as his, together with the remembered concept of hand.  And something changes in his perceptions.

 

Shift.

 

+

 

Buffy sits at the kitchen table, cleaning her weapons.  The scythe lies brightly polished, as sharp as ever after its efforts of the night.  Now, she’s working on a long knife that is covered with purple blood and shreds of orange flesh.  Never a good combination of colours, she thinks, and definitely unlucky for the owner.  She’s concentrating hard on scrubbing the steel clean, trying not to remember what she’s been doing with it.  Slaughtering evil is her trade, but tonight she’s travelled into darker territory.  This isn’t the first time that mercenaries have come for Dawn, and she needed to know why.  The last demon standing has told her, but not without persuasion from this knife.  She feels as soiled as the weapon, but at least she understands.  She wishes she could be cleansed as easily as the blade.

 

Giles interrupts her brooding.  Dawn has been out tonight, and Giles has been lurking to make sure that she’s safe.  There’s no reason why Dawn should have to see what her sister has sunk to and, besides, Buffy wants her to be free to come and go.  Anyway, she’s probably safer away from the house, and Giles is the only one left to watch her.  He puts the kettle on.

 

“Tea?”

 

She nods, scrubbing industriously.  One Thanksgiving, she discovered a strange liking for tea.  She thinks it must be Giles’ influence.

 

“Ah, Buffy, I think the current mirror-like finish on that dagger will probably suffice.”

 

He’s got a wry smile on his face, and she answers it with a wan smile of her own.  But she puts the dagger aside.

 

“There was another incursion?”

 

“Yeah.  Normal slice and dice job.  No problem.”

 

“And?” he prods, knowing that there’s more to come.

 

“It’s Wolfram and Hart,” she tells him.

 

“Angel’s nemesis?”

 

She can’t answer immediately, for the sudden lump in her throat.  It’s been three years since he came to her in the graveyard, two years since he walked into the alley behind the Hyperion and didn’t walk out again.  She’s accepted that, even though she’s scoured that alley a hundred times, there is no possibility that she could find his remains, but he’s as alive in her heart as he has ever been.  Without proof positive, she finds it impossible to believe that he is dust.

 

“Those guys, yes,” she manages.

 

“I wonder why?” Giles muses.  “They surely don’t need a Key to travel the dimensions?”

 

“They’re like collectors,” she tells him.  “They want her because she’s there.  But apparently they’re busy with something else just now, so we might get a break.  If that’s right, we’ve got time to work out how to persuade them that she’s too much trouble.”

 

“That’s a lot of information you gleaned,” Giles says, scrutinising the sparkling dagger and Buffy’s shadowed eyes.  He decides that he doesn’t need to make her talk about it.

 

“I want you to do something for me, Giles.  Angel dealt these three a big blow, even though he... died... doing it.”  There.  She’s said the word, and it’s what Giles believes.  Still, it felt wrong even as she breathed it out.  “Now that they’re weakened, maybe we can give them a bloody nose.”

 

“So far so good, but what do you want me to do?”

 

“I was thinking about the monks.”

 

“The ones who gave Dawn flesh?”

 

“Yeah.  We know they did it because of Glory.  But, they were clever, and they knew a lot.  I was wondering whether they knew about Wolfram and Hart, too.  I’d like to know what they knew.”

 

“Shame they’re all dead, then.”

 

“But there are ways round that, aren’t there?  Spirit summoning?  Or some musty old records?  Or perhaps they put some memories into Dawn, to protect her?”

 

“Let me think about it.  I’ll see what I can come up with.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

+

 

Angel is a monster, a miscreation of fractured might-have-beens.  But his reality transcends the shifting sands of unreality in which he is mired, and each form that he is given is shed, water off a duck’s back.  And his metaphysical gravitas is attractive not only to the fragmented minutes of the Day.  His existence has weight and substance, and from the chaotic wreckage of nonexistence, phantasms of would-be realities begin to coalesce around him.  He draws them to him like cosmic dust to a star that has yet to ignite.  Or, perhaps it is just that like calls to like.

 

His mind is filled by the only thing that he knows, a soft hand on his, the feel of knitted yarn under his thumb.  His existence is built around this, he thinks.  And then he shifts perception again, into a nascent nightmare world.

 

Now Angel has a shape that might be his, if only he could remember.  He is ploughing the Field of the Dead.  It’s a grim expanse that goes on forever, from horizon to horizon, a flat grey land of mud and rock, of decayed flesh and bones under a grey and purple sky.  He has been here all the days of eternity, although he doesn’t remember how or why, or even where he is.  His task is to plough this endless Field until all the Dead are brought out into the light of day.  He doesn’t know what will happen to them then, just that he must do it. 

 

He turns to look at the Plough behind him.  All ploughs need a hand to steady them and steer them, but there is no-one there, or no-one that he can see.  It’s a heavy thing, of wood with a small metal shoe on the ploughshare.  He turns back again and leans into the harness, the rough leather biting into his bruised and bloody shoulders.  The rocks and bone shards slice into his naked feet.  He’s used to the pain.  Slaves can get used to anything, and that’s what he is.

 

He trudges on, weary beyond measure, dragging the Plough behind him, each furrow creating a curling ridge of flesh and bone.  Exposed for the first time to a harsh and fitful light, the remnants of the Dead become insubstantial and evaporate, motes dancing in grey air that are soon gone.

 

+

 

Giles fidgets with his mug.

 

“I’m... I’m sorry, Buffy.  The avenues that I’ve researched have all been dead ends.”

 

“I’m supposed to be the one with the quips, Giles, not you.”

 

His smile is tiny, sad.

 

“The... The monks weren’t actually human.  Some form of higher level balancing demons is the best I can come up with.  Or... Or possibly human presences from another plane.  Spirit summoning doesn’t work on them.  And they appear to have written nothing down.  Like the Druids, they considered that their knowledge was too sacred, too dangerous, to write down where others could read it.  There are no archives.  There never have been.”

 

“That can’t be all there is, Giles.  You always find something in your musty old books.  Can’t you dust off a bit more must?”

 

He frowns, unwilling to share the rest of his thoughts, but certain that he has no choice.

 

“There is one thing that might work.  I... I’m very reluctant to suggest it, because there’s a great deal of peril attached to its use.  But, it might provide the information you need.”

 

“Peril?  We do peril all the time, Giles.  That’s nothing new.”

 

Giles harrumphs.  Buffy never wants to understand how dangerous things are before she goes running in, usually wearing ridiculous boots.  It’s probably a defence mechanism.  The hard-of-understanding part, and possibly also the boots.

 

“It’s an unpredictable method, Buffy.”

 

“Don’t keep me in suspense.”

 

He sighs.  He really doesn’t have a choice.  He’s tried everything else.

 

“Watchers are trained to work with a number of esoteric objects that they hope they will never have to use.  This is one of those.  It’s called an Orlon Window.”

 

“An hour-long window?  So long as an hour’s enough...”

 

“No, Buffy.  An Orlon Window.  It’s a glass cube.  A person of Power can look into it.  If the Window has been prepared so that it opens onto a person whose memories have been altered, it can reveal reality.”

 

“You mean like me and Dawn?  But we know that the monks messed with our minds, and with yours, too.”

 

“That’s right, Buffy.  But it should also be able to show all the reality, and that means going back into the past.  If the monks knew anything about how to keep Wolfram and Hart away from Dawn, then it might be possible to see that.”

 

“Where’s the peril?”

 

“Windows open both ways.”

 

Buffy holds out her hand without hesitation.

 

“Give it over, then.  If the monks are there, I want a conversation with them.”  Uncertainty crosses her expression.  “Or is it too big to carry?”

 

“No, no, it’s a palm-sized cube.  But it has to be specifically made for each situation.  You can’t buy one off the shelf.  And please don’t think of talking to things on the other side...”

 

She ignores his warning, and he knows he’ll have to say it again, later.

 

“Can you make one of these things?”

 

“I think so.  I’ve got some shopping to do for it, and I’ll make a start tonight.”

 

Her smile is dazzling.

 

“Thanks.”

 

+

 

Angel stumbles to a halt.  It seems that the Field of the Dead isn’t endless after all, and the earth has given up the last of them.  He pulls the leather harness straps away from his raw flesh and falls to the ground beneath the only green thing in the landscape.  It looks like a huge, weeping tree, but it’s a clump of giant kelp waving in the heavy atmosphere.  There are red and gold fishes swimming through the fronds.  They are pursued by a great, grey pike-like fish with teeth as long and sharp as nails.  The kelp and fish make him uncomfortable, like a gritty pearl of memory, but he’s too tired to move yet.

 

He’s lying on his side, his knees drawn up to his chest, and his arms wrapped around himself, making his body as small as possible.  At last he falls into an uneasy sleep, giving himself up entirely to that moment of soft, feminine flesh on his, and the texture of knitted yarn under his thumb.

 

He sleeps through the Ages, and when he wakes his body has healed itself.  He sits up and looks at the furrowed earth around him, glistening in the ethereal light.  There are no traces of the Dead that he has unearthed, just the reddish-brown furrows that look so much like dried blood.  He wonders, now that they have undergone some sort of apotheosis, can he move on from this place?  Is he allowed to move on?

 

For the first time that he remembers, he feels hunger and thirst.  As if in answer to his need, another fragment of the Day brushes against him, something cold and wet on his chest, and then the warm moisture of tongue and lips.  His body shivers in memory, and there’s laughter in his ears, so inappropriate here, so right there.  And he has three new concepts.  Ice-cream.  Spoon.  Mouth.  He feels the mouth on his chest, a whisper of sensation like the touch of a dandelion clock.

 

These two fragments are his, part of the same puzzle.  He knows it.  He cleaves to them, claims the new memory, and his perception shifts again.

 

Shift.

 

+

 

She stares at it on the white table cloth.  It’s a cube of frosted glass that’s been mixed with tiny golden sprinkles.  Each edge is decorated with – or perhaps contained by – a pattern of cut semicircles of bronze.  It’s about the size of one of those awful Rubik’s cubes that she’s never been able to solve.  She hopes this won’t be the same.

 

She reaches for it and Giles snatches it away.

 

“I know you hate warnings, Buffy, but I need you to listen to me about this.”

 

She nods, sharply.

 

“This is used by people of Power, Buffy.  Mages, sorcerers... real, inbuilt power.  It can’t be learned.”

 

“What makes you think I can use it?  I have no magic.”

 

“You are magic.  You are a human being made into something different by magic, with the power of a demon inside you, and I believe you can.  If I’m wrong, then you will see nothing except the cube.  Hopefully, no harm will be done.”

 

“And if you’re right?”

 

“If I’m right, you can activate the cube by holding it, and by thinking clearly of what you wish to see.  Remove all other thoughts from your mind.  Use the kind of focus that you use in battle.  Do that when Dawn is in the house.  It should show you the truth that surrounds her.”

 

“Okay.”

 

She holds out her hand, but he doesn’t give her the cube.  She recognizes the sternness of his expression.

 

“Now for the warning?”

 

“Yes.  You may be watching an altered memory, a hidden truth, but that memory can also be watching you.  And windows open onto vistas, rather than specific areas.  This is the same.  Around the edges of the vision will be other... things.  Things that are linked to the altered memories you are searching for, but that might not belong in this reality.  You should keep a weapon handy in case something tries to enter by the Window.”

 

She remains silent, and he wonders whether she has tuned him out.  She does that sometimes.  He realises how dangerous the Orlon Window can be if misused, and he’s almost at the point of wishing that he had never mentioned it.  He tries again.

 

“Buffy, this is really important to you and to Dawn.”  He knows that will get her attention.  “The Window cannot change reality here, cannot bring the past back...”  He curses himself silently.  He doesn’t want to put ideas into her head.  “It will show you the truth of altered memories for people in the vicinity, but ‘vicinity’ is not necessarily a useful concept when the Key to the Dimensions is sleeping a few feet away.  Dawn may have been made flesh, but magic is a hard thing to control.  It can be fuelled by things that we don’t expect.”

 

“I’ll make sure I’m armed to the teeth.  Is that everything?”

 

“Yes, unless you or Dawn has undergone other memory magic.  That would give another dimension to the visions.”  He gives her a smile at the tiny joke.  “I think one of us would have remembered...  I have made this with one purpose in mind.  But Buffy, I’m not an expert.  I may not have done a good enough job.  Are you sure you want to do this?”

 

“Certain.  I promise to take care.  Do you have to stick around while I try it?”

 

“If you wish me to, of course I will.”

 

“Nope.  I’ll give it a go.  I don’t want things going hinky because there are too many people around.”

 

“Very well.”  He still looks uneasy.  “Promise me you won’t try to see other things...”

 

She gives him a quizzical look, and he gives up what he had been about to say.

 

“Never mind.  And on no account break it.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“The memories it sees will become real again, whether you have the power to use it or not.  That can be very... confusing, I imagine, living two realities at the same time.  It would make things difficult for Dawn, and for yourself, too.  Schizophrenia is probably not a useful thing.”

 

He lets himself out, and she carries the cube into the living room, making herself comfortable on the settee.  She’s brought a stake with her.  She’s comfortable with a stake. 

 

She glances at the clock on the mantelpiece.  A Napoleon’s hat clock, that’s what the shopkeeper had told her it was called, and she can see why.  The sinuous curves of the wooden sides sweeping out from the round clock face make it look like Napoleon’s hat.  The man had asked her if she liked antique things, and said how unusual that was for a young woman.  She’d nodded and agreed, but she’d bought the clock for a quite different reason.  As soon as she saw it in the shop window, a few days before Thanksgiving, it reminded her of Angel, of one of the very few times that she’d seen him since he moved to Los Angeles.  That had been Thanksgiving, too. 

 

That was when she’d just told him that they should stick to the plan, start to forget – as though her heart wasn’t racing and her brain screaming, her tongue almost cleaving to the roof of her mouth in an effort to say not those words but different words, and the tears burning behind her eyes – when a demon had crashed through the window.  A warrior demon, with a jewel in its forehead.

 

Angel had picked up the clock from his desk and smashed it into the jewel with all the force he had, as though his life depended on it.  As though her life depended on it.  Or, as though he hated the clock with a passion, although she knows that’s a dumb thought.  The clock in the window was similar to that clock, and for some reason, she just had to have it.  From what she can remember, it isn’t exactly the same, but very close.  On the mantelpiece, where she can see it every day, it reminds her of him.  Of a dark Champion who should never be forgotten.

 

I will remember you, she thinks.  Always and forever.  I don’t need a clock to remind me.

 

The clock’s hands stand at half past eleven, its tick a steady heartbeat.  Dawn is in her bedroom, probably asleep.  No better time than now.  She focuses her mind, and the cube begins to glow softly.  So far, so... something.

 

+

 

Angel lies shivering under an overhang of red rock.  Everything is red here.  Blood pulses like water across the land, in rivers and streams and falls, throbbing into lakes and seas.  And it burns him.  When he tries to slake his thirst, the liquid scours the flesh from his bones.  When he crosses the landscape, the moisture in the soil and in the growing things strips away skin and muscle, layer by layer.  His cries of pain are the only sound.

 

He tried to eat a moment ago, an eternity past.  There are forests of strange trees, each towering above him in a strange, bizarre topiary, each one the pink and red of rubies.  He picked a fruit, and when he bit into it, the bloody juice ran down his chin like acid, burning even his fangs. It ran down his wrist and arm, scouring away skin and veins until his flesh hung in rags, and dripping onto the forest floor to form a tiny, scalding rivulet.

 

That was when he ran to this mountain refuge above the valley of the trees.  From here, he can see the trees, and he can see what they are.  They are living beings, contorted into fantastical shapes as though by some sadistic surreal artist who finds only blood and pain pleasing.

 

His body is rebuilding itself, as it has so many times before in the Age he has spent here, and to escape the pain he tries to lose himself in the comfort of that touch of a hand, the texture of a garment, the lips against his chest, and the laughter.  As he searches the edges of these fragments, desperate for more, another splinter brushes his mind.  A woman – his woman – stands in the doorway.  In his mind’s eye, he speaks to her, just one word.  And now Angel has her name.  Buffy.

 

Shift.

 

+

 

Buffy stares into the Orlon Window, but there’s nothing to see, simply the complicated shapes of the brass fittings and the warm glow of the cube itself.  It seems she’s been here for hours, as she tries to focus her mind.  Perhaps it would help if she’d ever been to Czechoslovakia, or wherever those monks came from.  Or perhaps there is simply nothing to remember.  She really doesn’t want to have to ask Dawn to look into this thing.

 

And then, she’s aware of movement, out of the corner of her eye.  Keeping her body quite still, as though she were stalking an enemy who might run, she lifts her gaze and widens her field of vision.  Before her, like a silent movie on a silver screen, is a scene of chaos.  She focuses harder, and sound starts to come.  These are the memories of the monks, or maybe Dawn’s memories, before she was given flesh.

 

A monk is running down a corridor.  Under his arm is a book.  Her stare is intense now, and she can see the title, gold lettering on a tattered brown leather binding.

 

Enemies.

 

That’s it.  Enemies.  So, the monks did keep records of a sort after all.  Now the monks are in a place filled by candlelight.  There are three of them.  Only three?  To guard the Key to the Dimensions?  She tuts silently under her breath.  She must have picked that up from Giles.  As she watches, the three kneel in a triangle, and start to work their magic.  Not understanding a word of their chanting, she watches until Glory breaks into their sanctum.  One thing Buffy does see, though, is that during their ritual, the book is missing.  She has a chance then, that the book didn’t die with them.  That’s a job for Giles.

 

As her focus slackens, other images slip onto her mental screen.  There’s a monster whose shape changes from moment to moment, trying out different body plans.  At least, she thinks it’s always the same monster, but she soon loses interest in it, because there, in her mind’s eye, is Angel.

 

It’s a scene that she remembers from long ago.  She’s standing in the door of his office, and he’s looking at her like a dying man in a desert might look at a mirage of water.  He says her name.

 

Buffy.

 

+

 

He’s on a rocky shore, lost in a purling mist.  His current body plan has some faint sense of familiarity – at least, it seems to be something that might live in the same Universe as the woman in the doorway – but he’s struggling to hold on to it.  The imperative seems to be for change, and it takes all his will to hold on to what he currently is.

 

He scrambles over the rocks, unable to see more than a few feet ahead.  His breathing is laboured, and he’s surprised by that, because until now he hasn’t been aware that he needed to breathe.  Then he understands that it isn’t what it seems, and fear spikes through him.  As the mist fills his lungs, it makes him reach for more, until he’s gasping in great draughts of it.  And the more of it he breathes, the more he’s losing whatever grip he has on himself.  His muscles, too, are weakening, until he can barely stand.

 

He stumbles on as far as he can, until he falls to the ground.  He feels the rocks around him fragmenting, barely holding together, and then hands reach out to him, grasping his wrists and arms.  At least, he thinks they’re his, because he can feel the touch of the strangers, but they look nothing like the body plan he had such a short time ago.  He tries to reassert his will, even as the hands pull him deeper into the mist, but his consciousness is muted, dulled.

 

Now the mist is thinner, and he is in some sort of structure, lying on a heap of furs.  Darker shapes are half-concealed by thicker swirls of mist, and obscured by monstrous shadows that group around them.  A stray breath of cool salt air sighs through the great chamber, parting the clinging curtains, to reveal other creatures, recumbent on their own piles of cushions or furs, and then the air is gone and the mist closes up again.

 

There is a scent to this place.  He knows it and he does not.  He has never encountered it before and yet something in him understands.

 

A hand, like the hand that fetched him here, but whether it’s the same one or another he doesn’t know, places a stone bowl of strange fruit in front of him, large, fleshy and blood red.  The scent of the place is the scent of the fruit, and already he feels his will slipping further away from him.

 

Lotus-eaters.  The creatures here are lotus-eaters, sleeping away their existences in peaceful apathy.  This Angel cannot understand those words, but Angel in his right mind would understand it very well.  Even here, he doesn’t need the words.  He knows, without knowing.  He can’t tell about the monstrous carers-minders-guards, doesn’t yet see what they might get from their service.  He suspects that their reward is something not freely given, and that the creatures on their gilded cushions will never leave, or not until they have been sucked dry of every particle of life.  They are prisoners, and he’s one of them now.

 

He must not eat.  The enervating, soporific, soul-sapping mist is danger enough, but if he eats from this bowl, he is sure that he will never rise from this bed of furs.

 

The hand takes a fruit and presses it against his lips, hard enough that the skin splits, spilling flesh and juice and seeds.  When he resists, the fingers become more insistent, forcing the pulp between his lips.  The taste is... euphoric.  It might be the honey from a virgin’s thighs.  It is as sweet as the lifeblood of a bride, and he wants to gulp it down.  His belly cramps with need.  A few bites would tame the raging pain.  Just a few bites.  His fangs open, and the luscious nectar seeps onto his tongue and he shudders in ecstasy.  This is all he needs of heaven.

 

As he sinks towards a dreaming somnolence, he barely sees that the mist is thickening around him, or that the taloned hand that gave him the fruit is now poised over his neck.  And then, in his mind’s eye he sees the woman in the doorway, and a voice in his head says her name.  His voice.

 

Buffy.

 

She stares at him, and he sees anger and disapproval in her eyes.  With a supreme effort, he turns his head towards the floor, closing his throat to the narcotic juice.  He opens his mouth, his tongue working to push out the pulp.  He must not eat, or he is lost, more lost than ever he has been before.  But the taste is oh so sweet...

 

He tries to focus on saving himself, and perhaps his sheer will power calls another fragment of the Day to him.  However it has happened, it is there.  Buffy is in his arms, in his bed, and he’s sinking into her soft warmth.  Her legs are wrapped around him and the utter joy of the moment loosens the grip of the lotus.

 

Shift.

 

+

 

Buffy doesn’t know what to say to Giles.  She wants – needs – to understand why the Orlon Window would show her Angel, but there is so little to tell.  She saw him as she remembered him, that Thanksgiving, when she went to ask him why he had come to Sunnydale without telling her.  It’s not a meeting she could ever forget.  But there was more, two small snippets that never happened.  His hand on hers, and the power of that touch raging through her, his fingers tangled in the sleeve of her sweater, pulling her towards him.  And then, his skin against hers.  Her lips on his warm chest.  The taste of cold ice cream in her mouth.  The sound of his heart beating.

 

These are things that she has fantasized about so many times, but never exactly like that.  Was it all just a figment of her imagination?  Should she ask?

 

“Buffy?  Are you alright?”

 

Giles’ voice is gentle.

 

“Yeah.  Fine.  The monks had a book.  Brown leather, big old book.  Gold lettering.  Enemies.”

 

“A book?”  Now he’s excited.  Books are like sex to Giles.  “What happened to it?”

 

She hesitates, then makes up her mind to keep Angel to herself.

 

“Don’t know, but I don’t think Glory got it.  I’ll look again tonight.”

 

“Was there... Was there any trouble?”

 

“Worked like a charm.”

 

“Be careful.  Please.” 

 

She can tell that he means it.

 

“Always.”

 

That night, when Dawn is in bed, Buffy sits down with the cube again.  She places a stake on the table in front of her, and then begins to focus her mind.  It’s difficult.  Angel’s face fills her thoughts.  But she’s a warrior.  She knows how to put aside everything she loves.

 

Eventually, the window opens, and the monks are hurrying to meet their fate.  She sees more detail than she did the night before, but no matter how hard she concentrates, she cannot see what happens to the book.

 

And then the scene is replaced by the one she has been fighting off.  She’s standing in the doorway.  Angel’s face is painted with longing and love.  His hand on hers.  Her mouth on his naked chest.  And something else.  She’s in his arms, and they are joined together.  It isn’t just a vision.  Her body embraces it, and she feels him move within her, a ghostly joining of lovers.

 

Tears fall down her cheeks, and she wants to reach out to him, but she’s afraid that he will disappear.  But when she closes her eyes to blink away the tears, his hand is still on hers, her mouth is still on his chest, and he’s still inside her, filling her, bringing her to ecstasy.

 

When her body is quiet again, quiet but enfolded by his warmth, she opens her eyes.  His warmth disappears, but he hasn’t gone.  She’s in the doorway again, trying to maintain her anger in the face of his expression of naked need.

 

There’s more, though.  What she sees is like an overlay painted on glass.  Behind the image of her beloved is something else, a true monster, although it’s hard to see its exact shape as it fluctuates from form to form.  It’s sprawled across a pile of furs, and a ruby fluid runs over its lips.  It looks like blood.  The creature is retching into a small pool of dark redness on the stone floor.  As she watches it, it raises its head and looks directly at her.

 

It doesn’t frighten her, doesn’t alert her warrior instincts.  She’s simply curious.  She wants to understand this thing that has intruded on her visions of Angel.  She’s drawn to it.  She wants to get under its skin.  That must be curiosity, right?

 

She continues to watch, replaying the snatches of Angel-fantasy, and the sufferings of the monster.  It’s a long time before she can tear herself away.

 

+

 

The land of the lotus-eaters has gone, and so have many others.  Now, he’s tearing his hands open as he scales an overhang of rock, trying to reach the top.  All around him are sheer cliff faces, scoured by whatever forces are at work here into a sculpted nightmare of shapes that coil around each other.  The rock is harsh and gritty, in all the earth shades that can be imagined.  His blood has been added to all that richness of colour.

 

When he reaches the summit, there is nothing to be seen in any direction except rock, still in contorted and twisted shapes that are too huge to comprehend.  There are no other beings, nothing to eat, no water.  There is only rock.  He stands on the great sloping ridge and howls in despair, roaring out his grief and loneliness and passion.  If he expected a reply, he is disappointed.  The sound of him echoes emptily from cliff face to cliff face, and then trails away until only the scouring wind is left.  Surefooted, he makes his way across a sloping bridge of pink, gritty rock to the base of another cliff, and then he hunkers down to try to sleep.

 

His dreams are filled with Buffy.  More fragments of the Day have coalesced around him, slotting into their proper places.  It’s a patchwork, but he knows he’s part of it.  What he doesn’t know is that the weight of his reality is growing, and so is the reality of the Day.  The lost pieces are circling faster and faster, broken debris around a gravity well, brought back together again by the fact of his existence.  And as the Day grows around him, so does Angel’s intellect quicken, as though the Day is bringing back pieces of himself.  As his mind quickens, his metamorphoses are slowing, his form changing less often, growing more like his own.  He doesn’t yet know who he is, or what has happened, but he feels like a man with amnesia, whose memories are returning, first in a trickle, and then in a flood.

 

The same thing is happening to the chaos of unreality in which he has been placed.  The worlds that are being created around him, tiny realities that his long lifetime of psychic baggage has unwittingly drawn to him, have more solidity in the fabric of existence.  If Wolfram and Hart had chosen to look, and see what is happening, they would be vexed indeed.  But they are far away in both space and time.

 

He curls up on the bare rock, holding close these comforting fragments, and another, larger one brushes his mind.  He and the woman – Buffy – are lying comfortably in his bed.  Her head is on his chest.

 

“No, I - want to stay awake - so this day can keep happening,” she says.

 

He doesn’t know what came before that moment, but he can guess, some of it at least.  His body is totally sated.  He kisses her forehead, and the taste of her is ambrosia.

 

“Sleep,” he tells her.  “We'll make another one like it tomorrow.”

 

When she speaks, her voice is sleepy, and he is satisfied with that, but her next words make his heart glow.

 

“Angel?  This is the first time I ever really felt this way.”

 

“What way?”

 

“Just like I've always wanted to.  Like a normal girl, falling asleep in the arms of her normal boyfriend.  It's perfect.”

 

As he watches the intimate scene some emotion, only half-forgotten, surges through him.  He cries a little, and then walks through all the accumulated fragments again.  But now he knows his name.  He’s Angel.

 

Shift.

 

+

 

Buffy cries, too, as she feels his lips on her forehead, as she tells him that he is her normal boyfriend, as she hears the steady beat of his heart.  Behind that image, a monster sheds its own tears.  It looks different to the other monsters that have always underlain the images of Angel, but she thinks it’s the same one.  She can’t rationalize that belief, and so she puts it down to Slayer instinct.  And still she doesn’t fear it. 

 

It’s in a landscape she hasn’t seen before.  If she doesn’t concentrate on the figure of the creature itself, she can pull back, see where it is.  It’s in a landscape of mountain-sized, writhing, tormented bodies which seem to be pulling themselves out of the bedrock.  The creature is tiny by comparison, no bigger than a tick, a parasite, on the stony flesh of one of them.  It is curled up on a shoulder, at the base of the sloping neck.  Her curiosity is stronger than ever, but she puts it aside to concentrate on her beloved.

 

She has been a voyeur to a patchwork of visions again, but this time, when they ended, she waits, and she is rewarded.  The visions come again.  And again.  Seeing him in his office, the clock on his desk telling the time at nine in the morning.  She’s standing in the doorway, seeing the yearning on his face; a warrior demon crashes through the window; they’re hunting it through the sewers; they’re in his kitchen, drinking tea; his hand is on hers, tearing down the walls of her resistance; they’re in his bed, and he’s moving within her as they tangle together in love, and he is human; there’s the taste of ice cream and Angel in her mouth; he’s kissing her, and she’s telling him how this is perfect.

 

She remembers the doorway.  She remembers the demon crashing through the window.  They didn’t hunt it through the sewers, though.  Angel broke the clock on the jewel in its forehead, and killed it.  The rest of it must be her fantasy, mustn’t it?  But Giles said that the Orlon Window was about altered memories, not about fantasies.  What are these visions, these feelings, these memories?  So far she has avoided mentioning Angel to him, but she can bear it no longer.  She must ask him.

 

She waits until after the evening meal, which Giles is sharing with her.  Dawn is out.  There have been no attacks from Wolfram and Hart for weeks, but they are still alert to the dangers.

 

“Have you seen anything else from the monks?” Giles asks her.

 

“No.  Any better luck with the book?”

 

He sighs.  “No.  If you haven’t seen anything more by now, then I think that must be all there is to know.  Perhaps I didn’t make the Orlon Window well enough, but I did the best I could.”

 

He looks disconsolate, and she puts her hand over his.  “You did fine.  As well as anyone could.”

 

He smiles a little.  “Thank you.”

 

She fidgets, trying to assemble the right words.  It’s hard, and she decides to start somewhere else.  “You don’t think we should ask Dawn to look into the Window?”

 

“No.  Do you?”

 

“No, she’s got enough weird stuff to worry about.  Giving her back real memories of being a cloud of glowing green gas isn’t necessary.”

 

“I agree.  Give me the cube, and I will dispose of it safely.”

 

She fidgets even more.

 

“I thought I’d keep looking for a bit longer.  Each time I look there are some little differences, some extra detail.  We might get something yet.  Giles...”

 

She can’t think how to put it, because she absolutely knows what his response will be.

 

“What’s wrong, Buffy?”

 

She rushes her fence.

 

“I’ve seen Angel in the Orlon Window.”

 

“What?  You couldn’t have.”

 

She shrugs.  “But I have.  It was the time I called in there after that Thanksgiving when he was lurking in Sunnydale.  Remember?”

 

“Yes.”  Giles’ expression is grim.

 

“I remember some of it, but I don’t remember the rest.”  She doesn’t specify.  She simply can’t imagine telling Giles the whole of it.

 

He frowns.

 

“You don’t think he... interfered with you?”

 

He’s said it as though he expects that Angel raped her.  His mouth is prim with distaste.  She decides to ignore that.

 

“How could he, Giles?  I came, I stayed a few minutes, no more, he killed a demon that crashed through the window and I left.  That was it.”

 

“Yes.  The Mohra demon.  I remember you telling me about that.  Assassins.  He must have been getting up someone else’s nose.”

 

She can’t help glaring at him.

 

“Buffy, I’m sure that what is happening is just your imagination feeding on your memories, and the fact that you won’t let go.  Perhaps I didn’t quite make the Window correctly.  Perhaps it’s taking Dawn’s and your memories and using them to fuel erroneous visions.  I don’t know.  You should forget Angel.  He and his... they never brought you anything but trouble.  He did the best thing he could have done when he went away.  He’s dead and gone.  You must let go.  Put him out of your mind completely.”

 

Her heart is a leaden lump in her throat as the memories flood back.  Angel gave her his reasons for leaving and, although she fought them, she understood them.  Even so, she thinks that the real reason he left was that he couldn’t bear to make her choose between himself and everyone else she loved.  And she would have had to do that, eventually.  How could they not fear and resent him when they looked at him and saw Angelus?  Like Giles has now.

 

“Giles, I know that you can never get over what Angelus did to you, and I couldn’t expect you to.  But you can only see the worst.  You won’t let yourself see the good that Angel did, the lives that he saved.  How hard he tried to do the right thing, despite everything and everybody that tried to stop him.  He was never more human than when he was struggling with himself, and I will never forget him.  He saved a lot of people, and he deserves to be remembered.  Even if no one else wants to remember him, then I will.  Always.  Don’t ever ask me not to.”

 

Giles gives in, but not with a good grace.  Angel will always stand between them.

 

“I really think you should give me the Orlon Window back, Buffy.  It’s clearly not functioning correctly.  Memory magic is dangerous at best, but if it’s presenting false memories to you, that’s beyond dangerous.”

 

He wisely stops short of saying that he insists on it, but that’s what he wants to say.  She offers him an olive branch.  She knows that, despite all, he has her well-being at heart.

 

“It’s not caused any harm so far.  I’ll give it a few more days, see if there’s anything more on the monk front.  If there isn’t, I’ll give it back to you.  And I promise I won’t go looking for Angel in it.”

 

She won’t go looking, but then, she hasn’t needed to go looking.  The images and thoughts find her without any effort on her part.

 

+

 

Alleys.  He’s in a labyrinth of alleys.  He still doesn’t remember everything.  His being is like an old shirt, moth-eaten and frayed.  But the memories are sleeting in now, faster and faster, like iron filings to a magnet.  His soul may have been weighed down by almost three centuries of psychic baggage, but it seems clear that, in its own way, the past remembers him, belongs to him, and will never be parted from him, like an unpredictable but fiercely loyal dog. 

 

He smiles to think that he remembered Buffy before he remembered himself.  He doesn’t yet know where he is, or why he’s in somewhere so different than he remembers.  Perhaps it’s Hell.  He expects that would be fitting for him.  But if it is, it worries him.  He can’t think that Buffy would deserve Hell, but sometimes he thinks that he can feel her nearby.  That feeling has been growing, as though she’s just round the corner, just out of sight.  Sometimes, his flesh quivers with the nearness of her, his nostrils flare with the almost-scent of her.  And sometimes he thinks he can almost see her shadow.  But she can’t possibly be in such dreadful places as he has been, not the woman who burns with a purity he could never aspire to.

 

He remembers alleys, and how much of his life seems to have been spent in them. 

They weren’t like this.  This whole world must be made up of alleys.  He’s travelled many miles between the blank high walls, and most of the time he’s been running.  Running for his life.  He thinks that he’s accustomed to being the hunter, but here he is the hunted.  A roar behind him starts him moving fast again.  He’s been chased by that roar for hours.  The creature is big and agile and can move more quickly than he can.  Its claws are as long as his forearms, its fangs as deep as his skull.  He’s handicapped because it caught him a while ago and his thigh is ripped to the bone.

 

He can find no way out, no escape from the twisting, turning maze.  The walls are too sheer for him to find a handhold, and he knows from experience that it won’t be long until some other hunter approaches from a different direction, and he will be trapped.

 

It comes unexpectedly, a thick whip scything down from the roof tops.  It isn’t truly a whip.  It’s living, and it has intention.  It wraps around his waist, the tip questing for his face.  He grips it, and it takes all his strength to keep that tip from his flesh.  A dark shadow falls on the angle of the wall, and his pursuer’s roar is ear-splitting.  He has only moments.

 

He relaxes his body against the corded flesh that imprisons him, and the monster above reels him in.  From Scylla to Charybdis, he thinks, and then he remembers what that means.  He wants to live, to completely rediscover himself, to save himself, but he doesn’t know whether he can.  He fixes in his mind that first fragment of his own reality, the feel of his hand on hers, his fingers twisted into the knitted fabric of her sleeve. Then he steels himself for the next fight of his life. 

 

+

 

Buffy knows that the Orlon Window is an obsession, an addiction.  She’s going to have to give it up soon, or she may spend her life lost in the toils of its golden dreams.  She tells herself that she will give it up as soon as she knows the whole of it, and she doesn’t mean the monks.  The events of a day are building, a jigsaw puzzle of disconnected minutes that are being brought back together, piece by piece.  In that day, Angel becomes human.  And then he isn’t.  She doesn’t know the hows and the whys, and she needs to.

 

More, she doesn’t know whether this is a figment of her imagination, a day that belongs in an alternate reality or whether...  Well, she daren’t even think the words of what the alternative might be.

 

Conscientiously, as she does whenever she sits down with the glass cube, she concentrates on the monks to start with.  What she doesn’t know tonight is that Dawn is watching her. 

 

Dawn is very astute, and she is well aware that Buffy is trying to recover memories that belong to her, from the time before the monks made her flesh, and that she hasn’t learned as much as she wants to.  Dawn also knows that Buffy has found something else in the Window.  She stands in the shadow of the door, as close to Buffy as she can get, to see whether that will give more detail to the memories that her sister is collecting.  Or, indeed, to see whether she can remember something not available to Buffy.  But Dawn can see and feel nothing.  Perhaps glowing clouds of green gas don’t have memories.

 

After a little while, Buffy gives a small sob of pleasure, and with unaccustomed delicacy, Dawn goes to her room, leaving Buffy to whatever is giving her that pleasure.  She thinks she can guess.

 

Buffy has seen nothing more that might help them, and, as usual when she reaches that point, her focus slips.  She gives a small sigh of pleasure, knowing what is to come, but then she is surprised to feel his hand on hers, his fingers in her sleeve.  For weeks now, her experiences in this fantasy have started earlier and earlier in the day.  She’s even more surprised to find that the vision does not move on.  There is only this one image, this one sliver of time.  Fear sours her belly.  Is it all gone?  Has she lost all those precious moments?

 

She sees just this one frozen instant, feels the warmth of his hand, the way her flesh welcomes his.  No matter how hard she concentrates on the other things that she has seen, there is no more.  But the monster is there, behind the vision, clad in shadows and rags.

 

She blinks to clear her sight, to look through the intimacy before her.  The creature has its back to her, staring down into an urban abyss, where the shadowy figures of two other monsters tear each other to pieces.  Her own monster – yes, she has come to think of it as her own, a monster battling to survive – turns towards her, and the shadows swirl around him, like the memory of a cloak or a long coat.  She gasps in shock.  It isn’t him.  She can see through the darkness that it isn’t him.  There is too much bone, too many fangs.  But it is almost him.  It is nearly Angel.

 

She watches as he leaps from roof to roof until he finds a corner that he can wedge himself into.  Her Slayer instinct tells her that he needs a refuge where he cannot be attacked from the rear.  As he sinks to the ground, she sees that he is covered in blood and bruises.  Whatever he is, he needs to rest and heal.

 

He looks up, his nostrils flaring, and he’s facing her.  Can he see her, as she can see him?  Is this what Giles warned her of so severely, that windows work both ways, and that things can come through?

 

But he lowers his head, resting it on his knees as he tucks himself into the smallest space that he can manage.  After a few minutes, the image between them shifts.  She’s standing in the doorway, and Angel’s face is painted with love and longing.  She watches the scene unfold, as it has so many nights before, but she does so with a new and shocking understanding.  What she is seeing and feeling and remembering is not fuelled by her memories.  The visions are fuelled by his.

 

She ought to tear herself away, but she cannot.  She allows herself to be swept away again on a tide of love and passion and perfection.  She lives the Day, as the demon’s blood makes him human, and as that humanity almost kills him.  She’s cradling him on the floor of the saline plant, and then she’s pacing the floor of his apartment, waiting for him to come back from wherever he’s been.  The hands of the clock stand at four minutes to nine in the morning when he comes down the stairs to her.

 

“The Oracles are giving us back the day, turning back time, so I can kill Mohra before his blood makes me mortal.”

 

“When?” she asks, her heart breaking.

 

He looks at the clock.   It’s exactly nine.  “Another minute.”

 

She can’t hold back the tears.  “A minute?  No.  No, it's not enough time!”

 

“We don't have a choice.  It's done.”

 

“How am I supposed to go on with my life knowing what we had?  What we could have had?”  It sounds like begging to her, and she’ll beg as much as she has to.

 

“You won't,” he tells her gently.  “No one will know but me.”

 

“Everything we did?”  She can’t bear it.  Everything they were, everything they might have been together.  What will happen to that?

 

“It never happened.”

 

Buffy sees herself shaking her head.  “It did.  It did.  I know it did!”  She puts her hand on his heart.  “I felt your heart beat.”

 

“Buffy...”

 

He kisses her, and never was a kiss so sweet or so tear-stained.  Her other self looks at the clock, and she sees that the minute is almost done.

 

“No!  Oh God.  It's not enough time.”

 

Angel, too, is crying.  “Shh, please.  Please.”  She knows he’s close to breaking point.

 

She clings to him, and he to her, flesh trying to meld with flesh, perhaps, to never forget the touch of the other.  They are both crying.

 

Now Angel begs, although she’s not sure to who he’s begging, or what for.  “Please, please...”

 

“No,” she declares.  “I'll never forget.  I'll never forget.  I'll never forget.  I'll never forget.”

 

Through her own tears, she sees a white flash, and they are standing apart.  It’s the day before.  Angel is leaning against his desk blinking, looking around.  She is standing next to the door.

 

“So, then let's just stick to the plan.  Keep our distance until a lot of time has passed, and given enough time - we should be able to..."

 

Buffy remembers that moment so well, the crack in her heart that made it hard to speak. 

 

Angel stares at her with that look of pain and longing, and he swallows hard.  “Forget,” he finishes for her.

 

She realises exactly what that word means, now.  She did, and he did not.  The Buffy in the vision doesn’t understand, though.  She has her own pain, but it’s nothing compared to what she would feel if she knew.  To what Angel must have felt every day since.

 

“Yeah.  So - I'm going to go - start forgetting.”

 

The Mohra demon crashes through the window behind Angel with a battle cry.  Angel turns, snatches the clock from his desk and, in one smooth movement, smashes the Mohra's forehead jewel with it.  Now she understands how much he hates that clock.

 

It’s the end of the vision, but it isn’t all of it.  It can’t be all of it.  Why did he choose to end his life as a human?  His life with her?  If he weren’t dead, she would beat him to death for doing that.  But she knows him well enough to understand that he must have had a reason.  There are gaps in the vision, and if these are his memories as well as hers, perhaps she can find that out.

 

She takes a last look at the monster that perhaps is Angel, as it dreams the dreams in which she has been a voyeur.  Could it possibly be her Angel?  Her lover?

 

Reluctantly, she puts the cube down.  It’s almost daybreak.  She needs some sleep if she is to try and understand this.  And perhaps she will have a Slayer dream.

 

+

 

He sits on a lonely peak, with nothing but ruins around him.  In the middle distance, on all sides, a maelstrom is building.  He knows now what is happening.  He knows who he is, what he is, and why he has been trapped here.  Memories have flooded back to him in a mighty river of knowledge.

 

The maelstrom is the chaos of unreality breaking down the realities that construct themselves around him.  This reality will soon go, unmourned, the way of all the others, and he will become something else.

 

What he is now is Angel.  He holds out a hand.  It’s a hand that might hold Buffy’s.  He turns it over to inspect the palm.  Five fingers, an opposable thumb, and nothing else.  He’s what he should be.  He has worked his way back to the form that belongs to him.  But for how long?

 

He and his memories aren’t entirely complete, but the flood is abating.  It won’t be long now.  Can he hold on to what has been so hard to win back?  Will the next metamorphosis wipe it all away?

 

He can’t fight what is coming, and there is nowhere to run to.  He decides to immerse himself back in the Day, with its joys, its sorrows and its pain.  If there is anything that can hold him together, it is this.  And he wants to know why he gave up his humanity.  That memory is still a lost sheep.  Perhaps he can bring it back home.

 

As he focuses his mind on this most precious of Days, he feels her presence more strongly than ever before.  He wishes he were with her.  And then the Day begins again for him.

 

+

 

Buffy has had no Slayer dreams to help her.  The dreams she has had have been repetitions of the fantasies shown to her by the Orlon Window.  She can’t get it out of her head.  Tonight, she doesn’t even try to think of the monks, and yet there they are, in front of her.  So is the book.  It’s lying open on a chest, and a gust of air or an invisible hand ruffles the pages, turning them one by one.

 

She sees the heading.  It reads ‘The Wolf, The Ram, and The Hart’.  Quickly she scans the pages.  Now she knows what she needs to know, because the monks had a defence to hide Dawn from the demons that have done so much harm to Angel.  It might work, it might not, but it’s worth a try.

 

She doesn’t see Dawn move away down the hall.  Now Dawn, too, knows more than she did before.  It doesn’t worry her.  She’s always known more than she’s told anyone else.  Her presence might have helped her sister, or it might not, but she doesn’t think she’s done any harm by eavesdropping.  It’s time to leave Buffy alone with her visions.

 

Buffy is standing in the doorway to Angel’s office.  She’s there, and she’s watching herself there, and she’s watching the man behind that picture, alone on a rocky peak with a swirling sky behind him.  The man is Angel, her own lover.  She walks once more through the day with him, and through the night that she spent in his bed.  She is swallowed up by the Day that was perfect.

 

There is a new piece, and she knows that it is the last piece.  This one isn’t something she could ever remember.  It’s his memory, and it carries more pain than she thinks she could live with.  He’s talking to a man and a woman who she now recognizes as the Oracles.

 

“The Mohra demon said the end of days had begun.  That others were coming, soldiers of darkness.  I need to know if he was telling the truth.”

 

The man of blue and gold answers him.  “As far as such things can be told.”

 

“What happens to the Slayer when these soldiers come?”

 

It is the woman who replies this time.  “What happens to all mortal beings.  Albeit sooner, in her case.”

 

“She'll die?  Then I'm here to beg for her life.”

 

The Oracles turn and walk away.  “It is not our place to grant life or death.”

 

Angel never hesitates.  “And I ask you to take mine back.”  The Oracles turn back to him.   “Look, I can't protect her or anyone this way, not as a man.”

 

The woman seems intrigued.  “You're asking to be what you were, a demon with a soul, because of the Slayer?”

 

The man turns to leave again.  “Oh, this is a matter of love,” he says contemptuously.  “It does not concern us.”

 

Angel speaks quickly, trying to persuade them in words that they will understand.  “Yes, it does.  The Mohra demon came to take a warrior from your cause - and it succeeded.  I'm no good to you like this.  I know you have it in your power to make this right.  Please.”

 

The man is dismissive.  “What is done cannot be undone.”

 

The woman is more interested.  “What is not yet done can be avoided.”

 

The man frowns at her.  “Temporal folds are not to indulge the whims of lower beings.”

 

“You are wrong,” the woman tells him.  “This one is willing to sacrifice every drop of human happiness and love he has ever known for another.  He is not a lower being.”

 

Buffy wants to scream.  Angel gave back his humanity for her?  And she died anyway?

 

The man is speaking now.  “There is one way.  But it is not to be undertaken lightly.”

 

The woman explains to Angel.  “We swallow this day, as though it had never happened.  Twenty-four hours from the moment the demon first attacked you, we take it back.”

 

Angel shows the first signs of hesitation.  “Then none of this happened and Buffy and I...   What - what'll stop us from doing the exact same thing again?”

 

The woman shows real regret.  “You.  You alone will carry the memory of this day.  Can you carry that burden?”

 

Tears are streaming down Buffy’s face.  He did carry that burden, with not a word to her.  How could he have borne it?  She knows that she could not.  She hasn’t that strength.

 

She almost misses what the Orlon Window is showing her, the moments of time and tears and the bone-deep terror of loss.  The Day is complete, and now she knows.  This did happen.  She is certain of it.  The figure behind all of the visions is her Angel, suffering unimaginably.

 

But now that it is complete, what if that is the end of it?  What if she can never live it again?  More importantly, what of Angel?

 

She remembers Giles’ warning.

 

“You may be watching an altered memory, a hidden truth, but that memory can also be watching you.  And windows open onto vistas, rather than specific areas.  This is the same.  Around the edges of the vision will be other... things.  Things that are linked to the altered memories you are searching for, but that might not belong in this reality.  You should keep a weapon handy in case something tries to enter by the window.”

 

In case something tries to enter by the window.

 

It’s light outside.  She’s been here all night.  Her eyes tick up to the clock on the mantel.  It’s one minute to nine.  Perhaps it’s now or never.

 

“And on no account break it.”

 

She focuses on the lonely figure standing on the other side of heaven from the Buffy and Angel who are clutching each other in pain and sorrow.  Without conscious thought, she reaches out her hand.  The figure looks into her eyes and stretches out his own hand.  His face shows the same love and longing of her Angel when she’s standing in the doorway.  And then it shows fear, as the maelstrom closes in on him.

 

Buffy picks up the stake, and crashes it down onto the Orlon Window.  Slivers of glass fly everywhere in a cloud of white light, but she’s more interested in the body that tumbles past her to lie curled at her feet.  She falls to her knees, cutting them, but she doesn’t even notice.

 

Was his breath warm on her cheek as he fell past her?  She doesn’t know, and at this moment she doesn’t care.  He is back in her world, and that is all that matters.  She holds out her hands to him, reaching for whatever future Angel has brought with him.  She pulls his head into her lap, as she did all those years ago in the saline plant.  Wolfram and Hart will answer to her for this.  Even though he is much more than he was when she first knew him, she still vows that no one messes with her boyfriend.

 

He reaches out to take her into his arms, disbelief and love and yearning warring across those beloved features.  Over his shoulder, she sees the hands on the clock move with the remorseless, infinite slowness of the Ages towards one minute after nine, and she holds on to him as tightly as she can.  This time, she means to hold onto him forever.

 

 

The End

October 2011