Avox in Arcadia (perpetual) wrote,
Avox in Arcadia
perpetual

Let Me In (2/15)

Title: Let Me In
Author: Kairos
Rating: PG-13 (violence, some language, some sex)
Wordcount: Roughly 145,000 total


"And he thinks he's so cool because he's got a long black coat and super strength! And he drinks blood! And that's disgusting! And he has a girly name!"

Xander paused for breath and Anya said helpfully, "You're angry because Angel is back, and you don't like him."

Anya was standing at the register at the Magic Box, paging through order forms, and Xander was on the other side of the counter, leaning on it. He picked up a miniature bottle from a display full of them and toyed with it. "Yes, Anya, I don't like him. For the reasons I just mentioned and also because he is sometimes a psychotic killer."

She plucked the bottle out of his hand. "Don't touch that. If you shake them too hard they summon little fairies which are difficult to clean up after. You think he's going to kill us all?"

"No. Well, yes. Well, no, not really." He tapped his fingers on the counter, frustrated. "It's just...he's different than he was when he left. He never used to act like this."

"Like what?"

Xander looked up. "Like, in charge. Did you see the way he dominated that meeting? He used to keep to the shadows, go brood all by himself, or whatever."

"Who was in charge before?"

"Giles," said Xander automatically. Then he sighed and shook his head. "No. Buffy."

Anya gestured with the papers in her hand. "But Buffy can't be in charge right now because she's traumatized."

True as it was, that was difficult to hear. "Buffy's been traumatized before," he complained. "She always gets over it and comes back to us." He stopped. "Oh God, I just realized how horrible that sounded."

"I think she'll get over it and come back to us," replied Anya, unfazed. "Some girls need brooding men in black coats to help them get over things. I guess."

Giles came in from another part of the store, holding a book open in front of him and another tucked under his arm. "It's all rubbish," he announced without looking up. "If an established vampiric order is involved, there's no sign of which one it is, and there are any number of ancient vampires in the world who could be pulling the strings. Until we have someone to question, we're completely in the dark."

"But on the bright side of being in the dark, that means we haven't been attacked again yet, right?"
Giles looked up. "Oh, hello, Xander. If you're here to help I have a few more volumes you can search..."

"So I can look for something we won't recognize even if we find it?" Xander supplied.

"That's about the size of it, yes."

"I think I'm going to have to pass on this one." He leaned over the counter to give Anya a quick kiss. "Maybe Willy the Snitch knows something. At least I can budget a bribe for the cause."

"Ooh!" said Anya. "Or you could punch him!" She pumped her own fist to demonstrate.

As Xander left the building he heard her explain to Giles, "I like it when he punches people. It's sexy." At least there was someone in town who could still put a smile on his face.

***

Joyce's funeral was held in the daytime, so Angel went to pay his respects later on, by himself. The fresh grave was piled high with flowers of all kinds: there was hardly room for him to set the bouquet of white roses he had brought. For a long time he simply stood there in front of the headstone, wondering what he would be saying to her now if she were alive, wondering what she would be saying to him. The last time they had spoken had been a heart-wrenching moment in Angel's life, one of the crucial steps that led him to his hardest choice. Joyce would have told him that he had done the right thing in leaving, but what would she say now, finding him back in her daughter's life?

For that matter, was he really back in Buffy's life? He had to stay near her for as long as she needed him, there was no question about that, but he hoped he would know when she didn't need him anymore, and that he would have the strength to leave her again. He wanted to talk to her about it, to reiterate the impossibility of resuming their relationship, but it might take some time before he could even bring up any cold hard truths with her. She was dealing with enough of them as it was.

"I promise I'll keep her safe," he said finally to Joyce's grave. "I promise she'll be happy again. I don't know how but I'll find a way."

With that he turned and walked briskly away. There was still time to patrol, and he was already in a cemetery.

***

Packing for Buffy was a simple matter and the ride to the mansion was swift and mostly silent. Buffy was still recovering from her mother's funeral earlier in the day. She looked dazed, but she was lucid, and alternated long looks at Angel with examining the scenery and his Plymouth GTX. "Always wondered what you would drive if you drove," she commented at one point. "Not that I didn't think you could drive." He chuckled, and she almost seemed to smile back at him.

When he carried her to the door they were faced with a confusing dilemna- Angel couldn't get in. There was an invisible barrier, as he'd felt many times before, but this was the mansion, his own home. It didn't make sense.

"What is it?" asked Buffy. He was carrying her in front of himself, but she of course couldn't feel the barrier. She was a human, she couldn't be blocked from an entrance no matter who lived there...

"Oh," he said finally. "Could you invite me in?"

"Huh?"

"You live here now. I guess it took place before you even went in."

"Oh, weird," said Buffy. "I invite you in."

As they crossed the threshold she continued, "New developments in the field of vampiric invitationology. I bet Giles can write a paper on it for the Watcher's Council. Sorry for blocking you from your own house, though."

"No, I'm glad," he said, setting her down carefully on the softest chair. "It's good to think you'll be at home here. Close to me."

She made a sound of consent, showing some emotion that she wasn't ready to release fully, and then changed the subject. "So, what are we going to do all night?"

Memories of nights they had spent together assaulted Angel's mind, and he pushed them away. "Well, we need to change your bandages, but that shouldn't take long. I can build a fire and we can sit down here until you're ready for bed, if you want."

"Okay."

For a long time they spoke very little. Angel concentrated first on the fire and then, when it was blazing, on finding more ways to make her comfortable. Mirrors- he would have to get some mirrors. Buffy would want the mansion to be more girl-friendly.

Every time he glanced at her she was gazing right back at him, a constant scrutiny that would have made him uncomfortable if it had come from anyone else. She was just watching him, though, and for his part he supposed he was doing the same thing to her. He didn't have to use his eyes to watch her; the room was imbued with her scent and he was basking in it.

He brought her upstairs to tend to her injuries, as the bed was the easiest place for him to sit behind her while her foot was burdened by the cast. He took a deep breath as he carefully stripped the bandages from her back, revealing the numerous gashes beneath. They seemed to glare at him, all angry and red and accusing, and before he could bring himself to begin the process of cleaning them he had to put his arms around her first. He held her awkwardly, trying not to touch the raw skin of her back, but she responded by gripping his arms in front of her and tilting her head back to lean against him. All of the misery that Angel had been trying to hide for her sake came to the surface, and he found himself with his cheek pressed against hers, their tears mingling silently, rocking her from side to side.

After a long moment he steadied them both and reached for the water and sponge he had brought to clean out the wounds. To revive them both from their little brush with hysteria he began speaking as he would normally: "I can see them healing already. The bitemarks, too. They probably won't even scar."

She nodded, still facing away from him, and touched the right side of her neck. A bandage remained there, as Angel hadn't gotten to it yet. "Except for this one."

"That's true. You've been bitten there too many times."

She uttered a short, humorless laugh. "Six. Half of them from the last week."

Angel paused after he dipped the sponge back into the bowl of water, doing the math. "The Master...me. There was another?"

Now she sounded almost shy. "Do you know Dracula?"

"Dracula," he muttered. "Yeah, I've met him, the son of a...did you kill him?"

"A couple times, but I guess he's still out there. Angel, I didn't want to let him do it, he's just got that thrall thing and I couldn't get him figured out. I'm, I'm sorry." She sounded it, too.

"Don't say you're sorry. Why would you be sorry? You weren't to blame and anyway it's your own neck. I'm just glad it wasn't anything worse. He's old. He's powerful."

"I know. But I got so angry after it happened, I felt like I shouldn't have let it happen. It's my neck, but..." Her voice dropped to a whisper, and she touched the bandage again. "...This was your spot."

***

Oz knocked on the door of Spike's crypt, then decided that knocking on a crypt was a silly idea and pushed the door open without waiting for an answer. Spike was slouched in an armchair watching daytime television, which would have looked incongruent if they hadn't all seen him doing it already when he was living at Giles's house.

"Bloody hell!" yelled the vampire. "Shut the damn door, you're letting in the sunlight!" He jammed a cigarette into the ashtray beside him and glared at Oz. "And shut it with yourself on the other side of it, while you're at it."

Oz closed the door with his foot, but he took a look around before answering. He hadn't been inside before; Buffy usually claimed the bribery or threatening of Spike as her own job. There wasn't a lot to see in there, just the stone and dust and coffins one expected from a crypt, along with a few modern conveniences that made it look less like someone's home and more like someone's morbid joke.

"Nice place," he said.

"Seems like everyone thinks so, the way you're all barging in at indecent hours. What do you want, anyway? I already told the Slayer's boy toy everything I know."

That was odd. "Angel was already here? What did you tell him?"

Spike gave a choking laugh. "Angel? One of us is seriously out of the loop regarding Buffy's lovelife, mutt. It's that corn-fed GI Joe I'm talking about." He raised an eyebrow, suddenly interested. "D'you mean to say that he hasn't filled you in yet? Well, that doesn't bode well, does it?"

Oz blinked a few times. Nobody had seen nor heard from Riley since the incident. Could he really be trying to solve this independently? "Alright, so what did you tell him?" he said.

"First I'd like to mention that he paid good money to hear it."

"And you think you're getting paid for the same information twice? Nobody's that lucky, man."

Spike leaned back in his chair and put a fresh cigarette in his mouth. "I don't count myself especially lucky," he said around it, "but I do have a knack for profiting from other people's disharmony, and it looks like your sources are me or the one with unknown motives."

Oz shrugged. "Fair enough. I'll pay you half of what he did."

"Now we're talking. Let's see it."

Money changed hands- it wasn't all that much, so Spike must have been telling the truth, or at least somewhere close to it, when he named Riley's amount. He counted it, tucked it away, and said, "Big Ugly in town, name of Daemonis. Hasn't been in town before this. He's old, attracts minions pretty easily. That's all I got."

"That'll do. Thanks." Oz turned to go, but stopped when he heard Spike laughing. "What?"

"'Thanks'? You don't thank someone after bribing them, mutt." Spike blew out a cloud of smoke and shook his head, still laughing. "You're a novelty. Tell them to send you again next time."

"I'll put in a request for you." Oz shut the door behind himself. It didn't hurt to be polite.

***

Willow and Xander entered the mansion the next afternoon to find Buffy wrapped in a blanket on Angel's couch, showing no sign of her injuries except for the cast on her propped-up foot. She smiled when she saw them and flapped a hand to beckon them over.

"Buffster!" Xander exclaimed as both he and Willow leaned down to exchange careful hugs with her.
"How's life in Chez Dead Guy?"

"It's good. Look, he's cooking breakfast for me." She pointed across the room to the kitchen area, where Angel had returned to the stove after letting the visitors in. "Angel's cooking," she repeated reverently.

"Bah. I can cook. Lots of guys can cook. Of course the concept that Angel cooks, well that means awards are in order." He paused. "Actually that is kind of weird. How come Angel can cook?"

Buffy shrugged and Xander wandered into the kitchen to ask, as Willow sat down crosslegged on the couch beside Buffy. Effectively alone, they automatically started talking in lower voices, both feeling the need to converse privately, at least for a moment. "You really are okay here?" Willow asked. "Anything you need us to bring?"

"Nah, really I'm fine. Well, not fine fine, but...he's got everything taken care of. And just having him around again kind of counteracts some of the doom and gloom. I had no idea how much I missed him."

Willow smiled. "Maybe not, but for the rest of us that's a big duh. I talked to Cordelia, she said her vision of you was followed by her own little mental image of you going 'hooray for Angel being back in Sunnydale!'" A look of concern crossed her face. "But you're not hooraying too hard, are you? There's a lot you've gotta deal with right now, I don't want you to block it out."

Buffy looked away. "Not making with a lot of hoorays. Earlier today I was sitting right here, and I just started crying, and crying, and don't worry Angel was here for me but I just couldn't stop crying."

"That's good though. You should have a good cry sometimes, because good cries are...good."

"I guess. But last night I apparently started screaming in my sleep, and I'm not sure that's good."
Willow winced. "Was Angel there for that, too?"

"He came running. Had to pretty much shake me awake. It was scary."

Before Willow could reply, Angel came in. "It's done," he said. "You want it in here or at the table?"

"Table please." Buffy threw off her blanket and carefully lowered her hurt leg. "I've decided that plates on laps are entirely too wobbly."

"Table it is. Willow, there's enough for everyone if you're hungry." Angel reached down, Buffy reached up, and in one smooth motion he had lifted her up and was carrying her in his arms.

The sight of the Slayer being so openly vulnerable, and the vampire being so openly tender with her, gave Willow a momentary pang. Instead of dwelling on it, she said brightly, "Free late afternoon breakfast? Count me in," and followed them to the kitchen table, where Angel was settling Buffy into a chair across from the one where Xander was already sitting.

Willow was a bit worried that Angel and Xander would start nettling each other- she had been hesitant to come here with just him, but she couldn't exactly tell him that- but they were both civil and she soon accepted that neither was about to do anything to distress Buffy right now. The closest they came to locking horns was when Xander mentioned his bribery of Willy, which had turned up nothing useful. Angel's reaction was, "You don't have to pay that guy, you just tell him you're not putting up with his bullshit." A look from Buffy stopped him from taking it any further, but Willow took a good look at him and could have sworn that he was jealous, as if by talking to Willy, Xander was doing his job.

Otherwise the four of them had a genial meal together, a little quiet at moments but not too forced. And Angel, though he himself had only coffee, actually was a decent cook. She wondered if Xander had actually gotten some kind of explanation on it out of him.

Afterwards Xander suggested they go sit out in the garden. Angel supported this idea immediately, and Buffy joked, "What, trying to get rid of me already?"

Angel looked serious. "No, it's just...you should get some sunlight."

Willow understood, and she thought Buffy did too. No matter how attentive Angel was with his patient, he couldn't take her outside during the day, and if she didn't get her sunshine in one way or another he'd take it as a personal failure.

"If you can get out there alright," Angel added.

"No problem," said Buffy. "I've got one good foot"- she reached out with both arms and Willow and Xander both ducked under one to hold her up- "and two good friends. Sturdy ones. See you in a bit."

A little while later Willow excused herself from the patch of sunlight they were sharing. The reason she gave them was that she had to use the bathroom; the unspoken reason that she was sure they believed was that Xander ought to get a few moments alone with Buffy, too; the real reason was that Willow wanted to see if she could talk to Angel for a few minutes.

She didn't see him when she came back in, so she found the bathroom and then wandered around a little, taking everything in. Angel had a lot of old stuff, old in the way that wasn't shabby and wasn't exactly antique, just ageless, like he was. Some of it gave off vibes that weren't quite clear, but definitely excited the witch in her, and some of it had paranormal uses that she could easily identify. And the books...she stopped in front of one small set of shelves which held a row of leather-bound volumes behind a locked glass front. She stooped to read the spines, and right away one jumped out at her: a moderately thick brown one titled simply Angelus. She shivered as Angel came over and stood beside her.

"Wow," she said, still focused on the shelf. "Someone wrote a whole book about you."

"Yeah," he agreed. "I just wish I knew if there were any other copies. I guess it doesn't matter."

Willow straightened and peered into Angel's eyes. "Could I borrow it?"

"What?" He raised a hand, as if attempting to ward her off. "Hey, I know you're...naturally curious, and, and studious, but Willow, that's really morbid. There are things in that book that make me nervous, and I'm the one who did them."

She bit her lip and glanced furtively around. Buffy and Xander were out of hearing range, and no one else was around. It was the right time to tell Angel what she had in mind. "I'm working on a spell for you."

He raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. That was enough to put the pressure on, though, and she floundered for the right words to explain it. "It's just- I thought- you're doing a really good thing here, you know? For Buffy. You're just giving her all you've got and you're not expecting anything in return, and this after the whole going-to-Hell thing, which I'm kind of scared to know what that was like so please don't tell me about it, and here you are again with her sleeping right in your house, and it's still all 'be good, no touchy.'"

"It doesn't matter. I can handle it."

Willow's eyes slid to her feet. "I just don't think it's fair. You guys deserve to make each other happy."

"Fairness hasn't really been a part of life, as far as I've seen. Atonement, that's a concept I can grasp. It's easier to tell myself I'm atoning than it is to wonder if it's fair." Angel sighed. "So what's your spell?"

"Um, it's based on the one that Miss Calendar worked out to get your soul back in the first place. Only, that one was just copied off the original gypsy curse, so it was designed to maximize all the guilt and suffering and, you know, eternal torment. That's why happiness broke the curse- it just wasn't fulfilling its function if you weren't feeling bad, so it disappeared. Mine's going to have purer intentions. No loophole."

Angel was silent for a moment. Willow wanted to see him hopeful, but she knew it was unlikely. The best outcome she could ask for at this point would just be permission. Finally he spoke: "This could be getting in too deep for you, Willow."

"I'll be careful. I'll be very very careful. I mean right now I don't even really know if it's possible so the first thing is to figure out if it's possible and if it's not then so much for that. But don't you think it's worth a try?"

"Maybe," he said grudgingly. "What do you need the book for?"

"Oh, right. It's just that I'm trying to custom tailor this to you, and it helps to have some history, especially from around the time you were cursed. That's in there, right?"

"Yes, but...couldn't you just ask me whatever you need to know?"

He sounded dejected, and Willow was sympathetic. Usually nobody prodded Angel about his past; he was not an open book in the figurative sense and it was obvious that he didn't want to be one in the literal sense either. But Willow wanted to help him, and it looked like that was going to mean breaking the unspoken rules. "I won't really know what I'm looking for until I see it," she confessed.

At last Angel rubbed his forehead and then unlocked the glass doors- the key was sitting right on top of the shelf, so he must not have been that concerned about safeguarding those books- and placed Angelus into Willow's hands. "This isn't light reading," he warned her. "It goes into excruciating detail at some points, and I'll tell you right now that most of it is true."

"I have a nightlight," she assured him. "Wait, just most of it?"

"I made notes in the margins where I found inaccuracies." He smiled- it looked like it took some effort, but he smiled. "You promise you're not going to do anything without talking to me first?"

"Couldn't even if I wanted to," she replied. "This one's going to take cooperation."

***

Although Angel had taken over Buffy's standard patrol route while she was laid up, the Scooby Gang wanted to maintain an active role in protecting her and the town, and all of them used what experience they had to hunt and kill in the areas not covered by Angel. Giles had agreed to arm anyone who wanted to go, provided they stayed in groups of three or more, and sometimes he came along. This time it was just Willow, Xander, and Oz, though, and the prospects of finding something to kill were looking dimmer by the moment.

"Man, I wish Riley gave us some of those vampire detector gadgets before he decided to disappear," griped Xander as they tramped through their third cemetery of the night. "It would be really nice to be following a beep right now."

"Hey, I tried with the locator spell," Willow grumbled back. The locator spell had temporarily given them a tiny white beacon of light, but it vanished too quickly, all three times that she tried it, and she was still sore about it. "I'll tweak it when we get home. And anyway those gadgets weren't Riley's, they belonged to the Initiative."

"Which doesn't seem to be making much of a splash these days, does it? If you ask me, their military structure wasn't set up to endure losing its key leader figures, and now it's too weak to stay together. So! Time for them to donate their tools to a good cause."

Willow scowled and shivered. Her feet were getting wet. "Riley's a jerk. He hasn't even tried to see Buffy again."

Oz stopped walking suddenly. "Hey," he said, and the other two halted as well. Silently he stretched out an arm and pointed far out, to where they could just barely see a dark shape moving among the tombstones.

"Good call," said Xander, in a voice more quiet than the ones they had been using. He hefted his crossbow and began stalking towards the figure, and Willow and Oz followed suit.

It was difficult to get close, as the person was walking at a normal pace and they were trying not to be seen, and they couldn't engage in combat without being sure he was a vampire. When they were finally near enough to make out some of his features, he stopped walking and so did they. He looked like a man in his fifties, sporting a short greying beard and dressed in an old-fashioned black raincoat and a hat with a wide brim. Before anyone could approach or decide what to do, he looked right at them and said clearly, "Daemonis isn't here. Go home."

With that he turned away and kept walking, leaving the three of them standing there blinking at each other.

Eventually, Xander found his voice. "Am I crazy or was he wearing a..." he gestured at his throat. "...priest collar thing?"

Willow nodded. "We just got dismissed by a priest who knows Daemonis."

"Okay," Oz said in summary, "that was weird."

***

The Magic Box had been closed for hours, but Giles and Anya were still there with a single light on, him sitting at the table with a spread of books and papers, she at the counter, organizing the accounts. The store was locked, as it ought to be, so when they heard a knock at the front door Anya looked vexed and moved to send the visitor away, but Giles stopped her. "We may have to start making allowances for certain after hours visitors," he said. He got up and let Angel in, locking the door behind him again, neither of them saying much.

"Do you know anything about Daemonis?" Giles asked as he sat back down in front of his research.
Angel thought about it. "Old...influential. Enough to fit the bill, anyway. He's been quiet for the last few decades. I wasn't sure if he was still alive."

"We have word from...a source, that he's in this area."

"That could be something." He sat down in one of the other chairs around the table and reached for one of the books. "Can I...?"

Giles nodded absently. "Be my guest."

The two of them studied in silence for a time, and Anya, sitting at the counter, concentrated on her own work and said nothing. Eventually she stood up and she and Giles exchanged some shop-related talk, and then he bid her goodnight and she headed out. Only at that point did Giles say, "Willow tells me she's formulating a spell for you."

Angel went motionless. "It's not what you're thinking."

"What am I thinking?" inquired Giles, turning a page in his book.

"That I'm digging for a chance to be with Buffy again. That I think I can take shortcuts to redemption, stop the punishment without earning it."

"Oh. Well, then it's a good thing it's not what I'm thinking."

Angel shut his book and addressed Giles with sudden intensity. "Listen. You said you fear me. Well, I do too. When I lost my soul I let something terrible loose in the world, and I had never even guessed it could happen like that. And now that I know the rules, I'm safer, but the truth is that I don't really know how to guard against happiness. If there's a way the demon can get out, and there's a way I can stop it, I say that's all the reason I need to go through with it."

Giles leaned back, giving him the attentive audience he was looking for. "And Buffy?"

"That's up to her. She doesn't know about the spell, and I'm not going to let it pressure her."

"I see." Giles removed his glasses and began to clean them. "Willow is very young to have this kind of talent in witchcraft. I've looked over her work so far to see if I can identify any dangers in it. I expect you'll want to do the same."

"I will." Angel looked back at the table, and as he did his eyes apparently fell on a sentence he had missed before. He read it aloud: "'Daemonis once claimed to be the only vampire to have ever experienced the agony of having a soul.' Huh." He passed the book over to Giles. "Now why would he say something like that?"

***

Buffy had spent most of the day practicing getting around the house using a pair of crutches, although opening doors gave her trouble and she didn't attempt the stairs. Angel was glad to see her regaining her self-reliance, though he couldn't help commenting, "I'm going to miss carrying you around everywhere."

She flashed him a sweet smile. "Maybe I'll let you keep doing it sometimes for fun."

Angel was home for the evening; he had staked two vampires almost as soon as he set out on patrol and was ready to call it a day after checking a couple other hotspots. Buffy wanted to know all about it and he obliged, though there wasn't anything unusual to report aside from his frustration at how few vampires in town seemed to know anything he wanted to know. He had already been active enough to advertise his presence in town, and they were starting to recognize him and run for cover.

At least he had progress in the research to tell her about. She listened to his account of his conversation with Giles- minus the part about Willow's spell, of course- and mulled over it, repeating the name "Daemonis" a few times to herself.

"You don't think he really has a soul, do you?" she asked.

"No, but it's possible he did at one point. There's nothing saying I was the first one of all time. I've got to say I'd really like to find out more."

"Me too." She chewed her lip for a moment, looking pensive. "I'm going to have to fight him sooner or later, right?"

Angel winced. "I don't know," he answered truthfully. "It depends on where we're at by the time you're fully recovered. And how you feel about it."

She gave him a skeptical look. "How I feel about it? Slaying isn't exactly a when-the-
mood-strikes-you activity. And the thing was responsible for killing my mother. I want his head on a plate." She considered this, then amended, "His ashes on a plate."

"I know, just...don't rush it. If you get too eager and join the fight too early it could be a disaster. We hardly know anything yet, and you know I'm not going to keep you in the dark about anything we learn."

"Uh-huh. Stairs first, killing Daemonis second."

He smiled. "Wanna go for a walk?"

The air was crisp and refreshing outside, and a few stars were twinkling merrily as Buffy and Angel made their way along a loop around the mansion. She held onto his hand and leaned on a crutch with her other arm, and made such an effort to keep to her normal walking pace that Angel had to slow her down. He could tell she was happy to be out of the house, and it lightened his spirits too.

They had been out for about ten minutes when Angel spotted a man in a raincoat and hat walking toward them. It was a bit late for anyone but a vampire (and a Slayer) to be out for a walk, but as they approached each other he could tell by the man's scent that he was human. He was about to pass him and forget about it when the man said, "Stop right there"- and took a crossbow from under his coat.

Angel's mind spun. He had expected no danger of any kind this close to the house, and hadn't brought any weapons. The house was too far for Buffy to get there on her crutch. He tried to push her behind him, but she smacked his arm and pushed back, glaring at both him and the bowman. The crossbow stayed pointed precisely at Angel's heart, showing that its owner knew how to use it, but when he spoke, it was Buffy he addressed.

"You know he's a vampire," he stated.

"Yeah. How come you do?"

Angel was critically examining the threat; he saw now that the man was not very tall and not very young, but physically fit and full of confidence. There was a large wooden cross around his neck, which Angel couldn't not notice, but he also noticed something especially unusual: a clerical collar. He cast a sharp look at the priest's face, but he was still looking at Buffy.

"And you're in love with him," he said, and again, it was not a question.

Angel felt himself glow a little hearing that, in spite of the predicament, but Buffy just snapped, "None of your business! Tell me who you are, and stop pointing that thing at my boyf- my, my vampire!"
Slowly, very slowly, the priest lowered the bow. "Goodness, dear, you're not just a human girl, you're the Slayer. How could such a thing...ah. He has a soul, does he? And I thought Daemonis was the only one."

Buffy looked about ready to explode. "What are you, psychic? You know something about Daemonis? Give us some answers here!"

He smiled, giving him a kind expression which looked very appropriate on a priest despite the weapon in his hand. "Perhaps if you and your vampire would invite me into your home we can share all of our answers. That is your home, isn't it?" He pointed at the mansion, a clearly visible silhouette looming in the darkness.

"I see no reason to invite you anywhere," said Angel coldly, speaking for the first time.

"Right, right, we haven't quite gotten off on the right foot, have we?" The priest chuckled. "But you must understand, a man of God who sees a young lady walking arm and arm with a vampire tends to make certain assumptions."

It was the man's inexplicable wealth of knowledge that was bothering Angel more than being at the end of a crossbow, but Buffy squeezed his hand and said, "We can't talk here, let's go inside."

"Is that alright with you, Angel?" asked the priest politely.

Buffy cut in again. "And now you know his name?"

"Indeed, and now I know that yours is Buffy, and for a rather long time I've known that mine is Father Tom Ambrose." He tipped his hat at them both and moved aside so they could turn around, back towards the house. Before anyone started walking, though, he looked around, saw something that interested him, and said, "Wait."

Angel looked. It was the distant shape of a very tall man, broad across the shoulders, and Angel felt sure that this one was in fact a vampire. Father Tom Ambrose seemed sure as well; he raised his crossbow in the direction of the figure, then said, "I apologize deeply for backing out on you now, but that's him." He hurriedly tipped his hat to them one more time and added, "You were right, by the way. I am psychic."

As he sprinted off at a surprisingly fast clip, Buffy asked flatly, "Daemonis?"

"That would be my guess." Angel hesitated. "Maybe I should..." He thought some more. He couldn't catch up with them without leaving Buffy out here alone, and even if he did he didn't know enough about the situation to fight properly. "Maybe we should get inside," he said instead.

"Okay," Buffy said in summary. "That was irritating."

***

Willow stepped out of the bathroom at Buffy's house, wearing a bathrobe over a towel and using another towel to dry her hair. Since Buffy wasn't going to be there for a while, she and Oz were housesitting until something more permanent could be arranged, and that had led to everyone else stopping frequently at the house so they could all communicate. At the moment Cordelia was in the guest room, and Xander was downstairs waiting for Anya. It had been a long night so far- and an unsuccessful one, if the complete lack of staked vampires meant anything- and Willow really wasn't looking to socialize with any of them.

She went into Buffy's room and smiled when she saw Oz lying on his back on the bed holding an open book over his face, and then the smile dropped as she saw what the book was. In her possession for one day and she'd already forgotten about it!

Giving a little squeal, she scurried over to the bed and snatched Angelus out of his hands, tripping and landing on his chest in the process. "Don't look at that! Angel will kill me! I mean not really because he doesn't do that anymore, but I'm not supposed to show it to anyone!"

"Oof," said Oz in reply, and Willow blushed and hoisted herself off of his chest. He sat up and ran a hand through his hair. "Okay, I won't. I think I already saw enough to keep it off my list of recommended beach books, though. I wonder what he had against puppies."

Willow's eyes widened and she put a hand to her mouth. "I forgot there were going to be parts about puppies," she said miserably.

"What's this about?" Oz put his arm around her. "You're not reading it for fun."

She let out a long breath, shaking her head no, and told him all about the spell and her conversation with Angel. She could tell he felt wary about her experimenting with magic of this magnitude, but all he said when she finished was, "You really think you can do it?"

"Pretty damn sure. I didn't even want to tell him how sure I was, 'cause you know he'd just doubt it even more. And I didn't tell him how long I've been working on it, either."

"How long have you been- oh, hey. I remember, you mentioned it...last year. Thought you'd given up."

She shrugged. "It was an on-and-off kind of thing. Ran into a few hints by accident now and then, though. And I'm getting more powerful, Tara's helped me a lot. I really want to do this for them. It must be awful."

He sat behind her and put his arms over her shoulders. "Awful," he said quietly into her ear, "to not be with the woman you love."

"And if he doesn't want to be tempted," she continued, leaning back against him, "he can't even get close to her."

Oz kissed her on the cheek. "Can't even kiss," he said.

She took his hands and folded them into her own. "Or flirt with each other," she murmured. The towel around her body, which had been threatening to fall for some time, finally did so. Oz reached for the sash of her bathrobe...

A knock on the door. Xander's voice. "Guys, you decent? Can I come in?"

Willow arranged her bathrobe more tightly around herself, muttering a string of curses that made Oz laugh, and replied, "Fine."

Xander opened the door and poked his head in. "Buffy just called. We weren't the only ones to run into His Holiness tonight."

***

Without really planning it, Angel and Buffy fell into a daily schedule at the mansion that allowed him to care for her around the clock. She woke up in the late afternoon, like he did, and when the sun went down he left the house to patrol and her visitors showed up to keep her company. It was usually two or three at a time, whoever had a few hours to spare, although Willow came alone sometimes and so did Giles. When everyone else had gone home to go to bed, Buffy and Angel would still be awake until close to sunrise. Buffy didn't seem to mind, but Angel worried that she'd get bored and thought up a number of ways to keep her occupied while she was still mostly off of her feet. He found books she would like, helped develop her strategy in chess and Go, and taught her a few scattered words and phrases in a few different languages. Xander and Anya showed up one day with an old TV and VCR, and Angel started stopping at the video store after patrolling on some nights.

The steady improvement in Buffy's physical condition was clear, but she remained frustratingly reticent about the things that were really troubling her. She had spilled all the details about the night of the attack, down to the place she had been standing and the color of the hellbeast's eyes, but she evaded answering any kind of question that dealt with her future, or what the incident had really meant to her. She was willing to let Angel comfort her when she got too emotional, but wouldn't let down her guard around anyone else...and then there were the nightmares.

During the second night that Buffy spent at the mansion, she had woken Angel again with a fit of screaming. Again he came running, again he woke her and held her tightly, whispering reassurance. But this time, after her tears dried up, she had looked at him and said, "Angel, I appreciate that you gave me my own room and all, but if you let me sleep in yours I promise I'll behave." He couldn't deny her. From then on, when she had a nightmare he would take her into his arms and calm her down before the screams set in. He knew such proximity was questionable in their situation, but she behaved as she'd said she would, and he was too worried to be tempted.

On the third day, Cordelia dropped in to say goodbye before she went home to LA. Buffy was still asleep upstairs, making up for some lost time, and Cordy said she'd wait to see her before she left. In the meantime they talked about the agency and how to manage it while Angel was gone, and he aired his fears about reaching the point where he needed to be in two places at once.

"I had another vision yesterday," Cordelia revealed. "Addressed to Wesley and Gunn again, so sit tight. I don't know how long this is going to go on, but I think the Powers That Be are making it pretty clear that your duty right now is to rehabilitate the Slayer."

Angel nodded, relieved. "I'll be calling. Every day."

"Boy, that's gonna get old fast." She smiled. "You know, I don't want to be too optimistic, but maybe there's an Apocalypse waiting for you here in Sunnydale. You know, in a Shanshu kind of way."

He grinned back at her. "You never know."

At that moment there was a rapid knock on the door, and Willow burst in without waiting for an answer. She saw Angel and Cordelia and rushed over, saying, "Where's Buffy?"

"Sleeping upstairs," said Angel, half-rising, "but if it's important I can-"

"No no no!" Willow replied in a stage whisper, making shushing motions with her hands. "Don't wake her up! Shhh!" She dropped the backpack she was carrying, pulled a chair up close to Angel's, and sat down. Cordelia leaned in to hear too.

"I finished working out your spell," Willow said in a low voice. Angel reeled- he had never expected to hear that so soon. Cordelia looked confused: she hadn't heard Willow's plan, but she knew better than to interrupt.

Angel searched for a response, but all he came up with was, "Are you...are you sure?"

"Totally sure," said Willow. "So completely positively sure it's scary. See, phase one, we just lifted that right from the books, and then the second part...the hard thing was actually narrowing it down."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, I mean there are two parts to it because it's two different spells. We can't just change the curse while it's still on you, so we remove your soul, bring you back to square one, and then perform the second spell to get your soul back without the loophole. Are you okay with that? We can lock you up while you're evil, it shouldn't be a problem."

"Yes, I'm okay with that. But I meant, what do you mean about narrowing it down?"

Willow hesitated, probably realizing that she'd led the conversation somewhere that she wasn't quite ready to go, but she was too excited about her accomplishment to backtrack. "I mean, I figured out how to get souls back into undead bodies! Bam, whoosh!" She fluttered one hand into the other in a gesture that was probably meant to represent a soul landing in a body. "It takes some work and some tools but otherwise there's no limit. So mostly I just had to figure out how to specify which vampire I wanted re-ensouled. And the book you loaned me, well, it worked! We can do it!" Her volume was rising, and she suddenly glanced up at the ceiling and clapped a hand over her mouth.

Angel counterbalanced her enthusiasm. "There has to be a catch to this."

"Oh, shoot!" said Willow. "There is! This is the important part!" She reached into her back and pulled out a little datebook, opening it to a calendar of the full year. She had marked it up with an elaborate pattern of red lines and arrows, and she pointed to various parts of it as she spoke. "See, this kind of spell is powered by cosmic rotation, and there's this algorithm you can use to figure out which alignment works best, and we're in this quarter, so..." She glanced up at Angel and Cordelia's blank looks, and lowered the calendar. "Okay, the relevant part of what I'm saying here is that it has to be within the next few days. Ideally, tonight."

There was a short, stunned silence, and then Cordelia said, "Angel's getting his curse fixed tonight? Oh, I can so put off going home for another day."

***

They chose to perform the spell in the underground cage just off campus, where Oz used to lock himself during wolf nights. When Willow and Tara got there, they could hear Angel's and Cordelia's voices echoing through the stone chamber. It sounded like Cordelia was trying to convince him that he was going to be stressed out by the procedure and that they should make preparations to do something afterwards that would make him feel better. Angel, predictably, refused to allow anything of the sort, until Cordy suggested he do something nice for Buffy instead.

"That would be okay," he conceded as Willow and Tara descended the steps.

"Knew it," said Cordelia, smiling broadly. "Okay, we'll stop at the grocery store when we're done here and pick up a gallon of ice cream, and then you can give it to her and she'll give you that cute little only-for-Angel smile and the rest of the night will just fly by. Hi Willow!"

The cage kept Angel safely separated from everyone while remaining in the same room, and he tested the structure carefully to make sure he couldn't break out of it while evil. Even after he approved it, though, he still insisted that they tie him to a chair, and he spent a few minutes trying to get out of these restraints, too, before finally agreeing that they would hold.

As Willow and Tara set up the spell components he observed everything in silence, but when Willow asked if he was ready he said, "You'd better gag me, too."

"There's nothing you can mess up by talking," Tara assured him.

Cordelia held up a hand. "Ahem. He's right. Gag him."

"But why?" asked Willow, feeling slightly amused in spite of it all. "Are you afraid you're going to hurt our feelings?"

"Yes," answered Cordelia and Angel at the same time.

Willow didn't know what that was about, but she felt like she had to show them that she was the one in charge of the spell. "I'd rather have your mouth free once it's over, so you can tell us that you're back before we untie you."

"No," said Angel with surprising vehemence. "Listen, Willow, you remember I said I go through a little bit of amnesia when I get my soul back? Well, it doesn't work like that the other way around. I'm going to remember this conversation, and I'm going to know what we're doing and what's going to happen to me next, and if I think I can talk my way out of it I will. I'll tell you I'm re-ensouled whether I am or not. If we're going to do this at all, you have to know that it worked. Or if it didn't, stake first and untie later and tell Buffy I'm sorry."

Upon hearing all this, Willow almost lost her nerve, but Tara nodded confidently. "We can do that. It's easy." She turned to Willow and smiled. "We can do that," she repeated.

Cordelia had been digging in her purse during this exchange; now she straightened and held up a thin scarf of some kind. "Gag," she explained. "I'll do it." She stepped into the cage and tied it over

Angel's mouth, and he grunted to tell her it was secure. After she stepped out again and they set the combination lock, there was nowhere to go but onwards.

Willow withdrew a handful of powder from her bag. It was deep purple and finer than flour, and had a sweet scent to it. At the same time, Tara scooped some golden, coarse powder from her own bag, and at once they blew into their hands, sending clouds of scintillating dust into the cage. Angel closed his eyes and let it settle over him.

Tara began the incantation: "Anime, vale. Spirite, ablite."

Willow continued: "Nullem corporem iam habes."

"Hic vir nunc solus est."

"Spirite, liber es."

As Willow recited the last words, she and Tara pressed their powder-coated hands together, and the purple and golden swirls in the air suddenly flared up, shone briefly, and disappeared. Angel's body lurched violently backwards and would have toppled the chair if they hadn't braced it against the wall. He let out a scream, muffled by the gag but still a wretched sound, and then the chair rocked back onto all four legs and he sat very still, his head hanging down in front of him.

When he lifted it again, it was a different face. Angelus gave a low growl, bared his fangs- and bit right through the gag.

"Oh," said Cordelia. "Guess we didn't think of that."

"Having fun, ladies?" Angelus asked politely.

Willow's palms went sweaty. She had thought she was prepared to face him again, and after all, he was caged, bound, totally harmless, but those malevolent eyes, that voice that was Angel's but wasn't...it terrified her. She turned away from him as quickly as possible and started fumbling with the magic supplies.

"Stage one completed," said Tara in a positive voice that Willow knew was put on for her benefit.

Angelus laughed. "Well, I'm having fun. Watching amateurs at work is always an amusing experience. Let's hope stage two goes just as smoothly, right?"

"Amateurs?" Cordelia huffed. "You know damned well they're going to pull this off without a hitch. Why not just shut up and use your last five minutes to meditate on your own evilness, or something."

"Nah," he said, "no need. See, I've got it all figured out now. I'm not going to fight your witches. Why should I? All this work you're all putting into securing my soul, and nobody seems to realize that it doesn't even mean anything."

"Nice try, Dark Revenger," said Cordelia, "but experience tells us differently. You're over. Face it."

Willow wished Cordelia would be quiet. Didn't she know there wasn't going to be any meaningful dialogue with an evil vampire? She unwrapped her orb of Thesulah with shaky hands and glanced at Tara, who was flipping rapidly through their book of spells.

"And experience is going to tell you some more, given time," said Angelus. "Personally I think I've got a lot to look forward to. All the old Sunnydale haunts, a nice massacre here and there, the taste of Slayer...it's all going to open up to me. So maybe I'll have a soul, what of it? Soul doesn't have to get in the way of a good time."

This time Cordelia took longer to retort. Willow looked at her to see why, and wished she hadn't, because Cordelia's frightened expression deepened the fear that was already blooming in Willow. Concentrate, she had to concentrate! "Can everyone just ignore him please?" she requested. "We just have to finish the spell." Tara took the point and thrust the book at her, open to an ancient spell with a page of loose leaf paper beside it, bearing their alterations to the spell in Willow's own handwriting.

But Angelus refused to be ignored. "You know what's funny? Rupert Giles. See, not too long ago, Rupert tells me he understands the nature of the soul, that he knows what it means to vampires." He leaned forward as much as his restraints allowed, his yellow irises burning. "Tell me how a human can think he understands that? If he did, don't you think he'd realize that it's all in our heads? Wouldn't he notice that most of the evil in the world has come from beings that supposedly have these so-called souls?" He laughed again. "It's so easy. Go on and cast your spell. I can still bring it all down around you."

Willow and Tara had already started reading aloud from the book and were halfway through the spell. Willow tried to speak over Angelus, but she could still hear everything he was saying and she had to settle for not thinking about it too hard. Everything would be okay if they could just finish the spell. Of course it would.

"But you won't," said Cordelia uncertainly. "Once you have your soul back, you won't want to hurt anyone."

"Try me," he purred. "I know how the guilt trip feels. Sooner or later I'm going to realize I'm happier without it."

At last they reached the final words of the spell. Willow snatched a dove's feather out of her pocket and waved it in an intricate pattern in the air, and the orb of Thesulah pulsed with a gratifying glow. Angelus was thrown back again, and this time his chair did fall over. He remained strapped into it and apparently unconscious with his face pressed to the floor, but now it was his human face and that revived Willow's courage a little. She was about to open the cage when Tara took hold of her shoulder to stop her.

"He wanted us to check and make sure that it worked, remember?" She stretched out her arms and pointed her hands at Angel. "Veritas," she said, and her hands shone bright white for the merest instant. She lowered them and smiled at Willow. "Did work."

Angel was regaining consciousness already when Willow opened the door. He looked up at her with great confusion, and twisted his body against the ropes and the chair as he examined his position. "What's going on here? I don't remember-" His eyes went wide as realization struck him. "Oh God, have I been evil?"

Willow went at the ropes with her pocketknife; the knots were too complicated for her to bother untying. She didn't really feel up to filling Angel in on the last few minutes, either. He'd remember it all in time.

As the restraints fell away Angel kicked away the chair and slowly got to his feet. He looked at Willow with extreme worry. "Did I...did I kill anyone?"

They all let the question hang in the dusty air of the stone room for a few moments, and then Cordelia, unbelievably, began to laugh.

***

Anya rolled her three red dice onto the table. "Six-six-five," she announced. "And Xander has three and one. So! I get Kamchatka, and that means Asia's mine." The doorbell chimed, and she was the first to jump up. "I'll get it! Just move my little horses into Kamchatka. And you can take your turns and then I'll come back and take Australia."

Xander stared at the game board, his brow furrowing deeply, as he counted up his few remaining territories again. Buffy grinned and nudged his arm. "She's good at all kinds of stuff, isn't she? I wonder if being a vengeance demon requires a lot of strategy." She picked up the defending dice and looked toward the antechamber. "I really wasn't expecting anyone else tonight. Maybe Willow and Oz got bored."

But Anya reentered the room alone, explaining, "Buffy, there's a man in a hat out there who says he wants to talk to you and Angel. Should I invite him in?"

Buffy leaned her elbows on the table. "Um. Is he a vampire?"

"Can't be, he was wearing a big cross." Anya patted her throat. "And this collar thing, like a..."

"Priest?" Buffy supplied. "Anya, that's Father Tom! Let him in."

Anya turned to go back to the door, and Xander said, "You sure about this? I mean, we're the only ones here, and we don't really know anything about him..."

"I really don't think he means us any harm, and I want some answers. I'm the lady of the house, I get to invite people in."

When Anya came back, Father Tom was strolling along behind her, holding his hat and not a crossbow. He greeted her with an incline of his head, and then saw Xander and said, "One of the young hunters, I see! I might have known you knew each other. I'm sorry if I was impolite the first time we met; I'm afraid I was in a bit of a rush. Please call me Father Tom."

"Uh, hi. I'm Xander." He pulled out the chair beside him. "Have a seat? Wait, maybe the lady of the house should say that."

The priest accepted the chair and sat down, between Xander and Buffy. "Where is your vampire tonight?" he asked.

Buffy was about to answer, then stopped and thought the answer instead. "Guess."

"He's out searching for vampires and killing them, which you would be doing if not for your injury. He came down from Los Angeles to help you, and the two of you have a complicated history together which seems to involve his death." This earned him some impressed looks all around, but he seemed merely resigned. "You know, I try to avoid doing that unless I have a good reason, but you did request it."

"I'm not complaining. But I can start at any time." She was about to start demanding answers again, but then she remembered something. "Can someone grab me the phone? Giles should be here for this. He's my Watcher," she explained, probably unnecessarily, to Father Tom.

"Ah, of course. My order has had some limited communication with the Council, but they never told us anything as concrete as the Slayer's location, except that it was on a Hellmouth. Quite a surprise to find you here."

"So you can't read Watchers' minds?" asked Xander eagerly as Buffy called Giles.

"My child, I've never met one."

"Cool," said Xander. "I've never met a psychic. Except for that one time when Buffy was one. So do you listen to confessions or just dole out penance to whoever's thinking bad thoughts?"

Anya reacted to this question before Father Tom did, looking alarmed. "What counts as bad thoughts?" she asked with nervous gravity. "Am I thinking bad thoughts right now?"

Father Tom gave a low whistle. "Twelve hundred years of vengeance? You're an interesting bunch."

Buffy finished her call and set down the phone. "And the witch and the werewolf aren't even here. But the Watcher's coming. And the vampire will probably show up before long."

Anya looked distressed about her identity coming out, and Xander put a protective arm around her shoulders. "I'm sure the good father isn't here to lay the smack down on ex-demons," he said, making it sound just a little bit like a challenge.

"He's quite right," Father Tom confirmed. "In fact, nobody's past is any of my business unless you want it to be. I'm here to swap information, since your collective thoughts have made it clear to me that we have a common enemy. Who, incidentally, I have not yet killed. We'll wait for the Watcher to tell the whole story, but I didn't want to keep anyone in suspense about that part."

"Right, okay," said Xander, "but tell me if I've got this right: you're a psychic vampire hunter battle priest, right?" He looked around at Buffy and Anya. "I think I finally figured out where I want my career path to take me."

Anya slapped him on the shoulder. "Xander! You have to be born psychic or it drives you insane. And priests can't have sex!" Her nervous expression came back and she looked to Father Tom. "Oh no. Was that another bad thought?"

By the time Giles arrived, they had moved into the living room, leaving their unfinished board game intact at Anya's insistence. The priest and the Watcher shook hands cordially, and everyone settled down to listen to Father Tom speak. He claimed to want to hear more from them than what he'd already picked up from their thoughts, but admitted readily that he was the one who had the most explaining to do and ought to go first.

"There are a few religious orders that the Church doesn't readily talk about; mine is one of them. We take our vows and dedicate our lives like any other, but we're concerned with fighting the forces of evil in a much more material way. Vampires are vulnerable to the tools of our trade, and they're our favored enemies. We fight them where we find them, and sometimes the finding takes more work than the fighting.

"Now, I live with my community in upstate New York, and for the last few years, so did Daemonis. He's crafty. We knew he was there but it took a long time to flush him out. I was able to confront him once, but I missed the heart and he fled. Fled far, as you can probably gather by the presence of both of us in California."

"You chased him all the way across the country?" said Xander, sounding awed.

Father Tom nodded. "The real mystery is why he's running instead of fighting me. He has powers beyond the average vampire, and I'm only a man."

Buffy was thinking hard, but Father Tom didn't seem to be looking into her mind. It was actually Giles who appeared to have the telepathy at that moment, for he asked exactly the question that Buffy had in mind: "How long has he been here?"

"In Sunnydale? Not more than a week, I should think."

Buffy slapped the arm of her chair in frustration. "Then he couldn't have been the one to arrange the attack on me and my mother. That would have taken longer."

"Don't be so sure," said Father Tom. "I think he's fully capable of setting up an attack from a distance, if he has good reason to do so." Then suddenly he looked straight at Buffy, aghast and full of pity. "Oh, dear child, I am so sorry. The Slayer must endure so much, it's always true..."

She swallowed hard and closed her eyes for a moment. "Not now, please. But thank you. I just want this to be finished."

Giles nodded firmly. "Is it true," he said, "that Daemonis has a soul?"

Everyone was silent and alert waiting for the answer. Buffy kept wondering when Angel was going to return; there was no reason that they couldn't repeat everything to him later, but his absence was making her anxious. Father Tom cleared his throat.

"Frater Daemonis- Brother of the Demon- was a scourge of humanity when he was first turned. Of course, nobody really knows when that was, but the name suggests that his origins are in a time when the residents of Hell mixed more freely with each other, and more openly with us poor souls on Earth. When he was cursed, and it seems fairly certain that he was cursed, it was by an ancient people using primitive magicks. Both the people and their magic are gone by now, but they were powerful, and they restored his soul as the Romani did for your Angel, Buffy, much much later.

"There is evidence that he no longer has a soul. There are stories of the lengths he went to trying to get rid of it, and they are not reassuring stories. There is also a great deal of controversy about how long he had the soul. It could have been hundreds of years. More."
Giles grasped the implications of this immediately. "To have a conscience for so long, and still wish to return to pure evil...he must have felt no remorse."

Buffy squirmed. "Angel never tried to get rid of his soul," she murmured. "I don't think so, anyway."

"I have no doubt that he's taking the path of repentance," Father Tom told her with warm
forthrightness. "I can see it in your thoughts of him."

"You met him," said Xander. "Could you see it in his thoughts, too? I'm just asking," he added as Buffy cast him a sharp look.

"His mind is closed to me," the priest replied. "Vampires are-"

"-Unreadable!" Anya interjected. "I knew that."

Buffy smiled. "Yeah. Me too."

She was relieved when Father Tom left. Not because she didn't like him- she was quite convinced now that he was of the good- but because the conversation had exhausted her. Following his departure, she subtly persuaded everyone else to leave, too, mostly by assuring them that she could handle a moment in the mansion by herself for once. Father Tom would be back, they even had a phone number for him now, and they had a lead on the evil thing that had destroyed her life so quickly. Time to call it a night.

Angel came home just minutes after Giles left. He looked strained, troubled about something, but he put on a smile when he saw her and held up a small white bag. "Brought you some ice cream," he said.

***


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