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

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Let Me In (8/15)

Title: Let Me In
Author: Kairos
Rating: PG-13 (violence, some language, some sex)
Wordcount: Roughly 145,000 total
Notes: Oh, right, I'm still doing this. I didn't forget! I was just, uh, testing you!

Although, I'm aware that I've been unresponsive lately, and sorry for that. It's been a weird couple weeks. But how are you?


When it came to sorting out complex emotions, Angel's drug of choice was Buffy. Not only could he lose himself in her so quickly and easily that it was as if his troubles never existed, but she was an inspiring model of dealing with them herself. When she found something that made her happy, she threw herself into it. When things got bad, she let the pain in, experienced it fully, and moved on. Angel wanted to be able to do that.

He had tried last night to follow her example. He had matched each one of her smiles, and they were genuine, because he was truly happy. He had accepted a hug from Willow and tried not to show how odd it still felt to be hugged by anyone but Buffy, and he had shook hands with Oz and communicated an understanding that there were no more hard feelings between them. All of that was good. It was embracing happiness, like Buffy did. But he had also seen the back of Xander and felt the culmination of years of resentment, and he had exchanged a few private and forboding words with the only priest that he even knew by name, and he had met Giles's eyes and known that this wasn't over.

So the night after pledging his life to Buffy, he found himself out at night without her, walking and planning and hoping that there was still a chance to keep the happiness on top.

Angel entered the darkened store and saw Giles at the table, still busy, writing something by hand, his back to the door. Angel wasn't sure if he knew he was there, or how to announce his presence. Once lurking became a habit, it was hard to switch it off, and now he felt like a shadow, like he couldn't be noticed even if he tried. "The door was unlocked," he said.

Giles didn't turn. "I knew you'd be back sooner or later."

"I tried you at home first." He was glad he hadn't found him there, honestly. He hadn't wanted to knock on that door again, let alone go inside and face the immersion in Giles's personal life. "I didn't think you would still be here."

"This is where you can find me if you require it," said Giles, his hand flying over the page, focused on his work. "I've performed the ritual to disinvite you from my home."

Angel felt numb. He couldn't answer. There was no possible answer.

Giles looked over his shoulder, facing Angel for the first time. "Does that surprise you?"

Shouldn't it? Angel kept the hurt out of his voice, tried to keep the outrage from even beginning to enter him. "I knew you would be angry," he replied.

"Of course you did." Giles set down his pen and stood up. "It is an extremely predictable reaction. However, it seems my reactions, predictable or otherwise, are of little importance to your affairs.
Or Buffy's."

Angel stayed where he was, his hands at his sides. The last thing he wanted was for Giles to see him come undone. "I wanted to talk to you about it. If all this was happening two hundred years ago I would have asked your permission before I even approached her." He didn't break eye contact. "But I couldn't let you be the one thing stopping this."

"The one thing." Giles clenched his fists. "Because logic was obviously not going to stop it. Or caution. Or mercy."

"Mercy?" Angel repeated quietly. "I have never stopped looking for the right way to heal her. Leaving her doesn't work. I know that now."

Giles turned abruptly, stalked around to the other side of the table. Angel followed, slowly enough to leave some distance between them, until Giles faced him once more, seething silently. Angel recalled that Giles's current appearance and habits were a deceptive contrast to his violently wild youth, when he had wielded dark magic like a toy. It was lucky, thought Angel, that Ripper and Angelus had never crossed paths. If they had there might not be a Giles today, just a vicious and sharp-tongued British vampire. And the last thing the world needed was another one of those.

He attention was quickly brought back to the Giles of the real world, who asked with rising fury, "And marrying her does? What can you possibly have to offer her?"

Angel was ready for this one. "Protection. I'm almost as strong as she is, and there aren't a lot of us around who can say that. I can fight for her instead of being one more person she has to keep safe. Security. She won't need a job if she doesn't want one. Comfort, how about a little bit of that in her life for a change? Support. Understanding. Love, dammit. Are you not going to see this?"

It didn't matter anymore that Angel was losing his temper. Giles already had, and was speaking over Angel's last few words, loudly so as to try to make himself heard. "Love isn't enough! A year ago you knew that, I trusted you to know that, I trusted you not to put her in danger-"

"-I'm not putting her in danger!-"

"-to let her have some semblance of a normal-"

"-she'll never have that-"

"-life without a demon in her bed, waiting for its chance to come out again and destroy her-"

"-do not ever suggest I would let that happen!" Angel roared. He was already leaning onto the table and gripping it with white fingertips; both of them had already pounded on the wood a few times to punctuate their speech, making it wobble and possibly splinter. Angel was putting a lot of effort into restraining himself from vamping out, but it crossed his mind to wonder why he should bother.

Giles turned his back on him again and moved across the store, opening a cupboard up high and snatching a bottle and two glasses out of it. "And should I also assume that you'll be able to stop it?" he demanded as he slammed the glasses down on the table and splashed some whiskey into each one.
"That you'll even know what could bring it about?"

They both knocked their drinks back in mirrored motions and brought the empty glasses down hard on the table. "If you're trying to tell me I should go into exile rather than expose anyone to the extremely slim if not impossible chance that I'm going to revert again, all you need to do is say so. I've been down that road and it didn't do any good to anyone."

"Buffy set you off before."

"Noted and resolved." He threw in another couple words out of sheer spite. "And tested."

Giles reddened, definitely much more in anger than in embarrassment from the reference to Buffy and Angel having sex. "I mean to say her presence makes you volatile. There is something inexplicable about the link between you, and nobody can predict what happens when magic and love collide like this."

The sudden switch in tactics threw Angel off for a moment. Aside from the vague references to an even vaguer kind of danger (that Giles had to be drawing from his own instincts; no way had his books told him about this), it was a point-blank acknowledgment of the special quality of Buffy and Angel's love. Hearing that kind of artless and lopsided argument from a man of logic made Angel respect it more, not less.

"Would it make you feel any better," he said in a controlled voice, "to know that I'll be moving back to Los Angeles?"

Giles looked startled. "You mean to say you'll marry her and then live elsewhere? That's-"

"-Not very traditional?" Angel supplied. He almost smiled at the absurdity of it; he had known someone was going to make a comment like that sooner or later when they heard about the plan.

Giles almost smiled too; he got the point. Then his face settled back into its hard frown. "And hard on her. One might wonder, why go through it at all?"

"Because anything else is pretending. And there might come a day that we can seal the gap. All the gaps."

"Your prophecy, yes. Wesley told me about it." Giles took a deep breath. "Of course, assuming it is about you, and that's become a large assumption...there's no timeline to it. Buffy could be an old woman by then. She could be a hundred years dead!" His voice had gained a slight hiss; the anger was on its way back.

"Then I will watch her grow old," said Angel firmly, "and I will be there for her when she dies. And she'll be there to tell me when she needs me at her side." He tried not to add any implications to that- it still burned that he had needed to rely on Cordelia's vision to tell him that Buffy was in danger, rather than Giles or anyone in Sunnydale calling to tell him she was missing. He just hoped it would show them that keeping in touch was a good thing.

"Los Angeles isn't terribly far," Giles mused, giving no sign of whether he thought more distance would be better or worse. He started pouring out a second round of whiskey, precise and civilized about it this time. "But you won't be driving it every day. You really believe your agency requires your residence there?"

It was tempting to try to take that as a request for him to stay in Sunnydale, but Angel knew that wasn't what Giles was doing. "It's where I'm supposed to be," he said dejectedly, lifting his glass. "I can't get away from my destiny."

Giles paused with his own drink in his hand, nodding once in slow motion. "Yet you still think you can make a good husband for Buffy."

"No, I don't." Angel stared at the liquid in the bottom of his cup, then finished it off and set it down, meeting Giles's perplexed eyes. "A good husband would keep her away from things that would hurt her. A good husband would give her a life without constant threats." Again, he didn't say what he could have- that a good father would do the same. They both knew the reality of it. "He would promise to grow old with her, and give her safe happy children, and time to do whatever she wanted to do. I can't promise her those things and if I keep her from her duty, it puts the world in peril. But nobody else can change that, either. Buffy doesn't have a good husband in her future." He raised his arms from his sides in a helpless shrug. "She has me."

"Yes," said Giles with resigned finality. "I suppose she does."

"So are you going to walk her down the aisle?" Angel asked wearily.

"Yes, I suppose I am."

***

Oz won the first game of pool. Anya won the next two. Xander won zero, but he was the one who remained at the Bronze after everyone else decided to go home. Time kind of stopped once he was alone, and he didn't know how long he had been there, playing against himself, glaring at each ball as if he could intimidate it into the pocket, when Angel showed up. He materialized out of the shadows just as he used to when the gang was in high school, never expected, never unexpected. He was the person if-you-can-call-him-that who Xander least wanted to see, so he did his best to ignore him until it was obvious that he was standing right at the pool table waiting to be acknowledged.

"Buffy's not here," said Xander shortly, setting up his next shot.

"I know where Buffy is." Angel took a pool cue from the wall and examined it. "I came to talk to you."

"Maybe you could assume I don't want to hear it, and save your breath."

Angel shrugged, twirling the cue in his hands. "Got no breath to waste. Listen, kid, I'm going to be up front with you here. I've had you making my life more difficult since the moment Buffy met you."

Xander scowled. "You mean since she met you. I've known her longer than you have."

"Don't be so sure of that." Angel started moving around the table as he spoke, not even facing Xander. "Now I didn't come to this town to hassle you. I came to help the Slayer, balance out my own karma a little, maybe save a life here and there. And I'm pretty sure I did, and I'm pretty sure one of those lives was yours. But for you that wasn't enough. For you it was always 'vampire.' 'Cursed.' And let's face it, 'the one Buffy chose.'"

That was enough. It had been enough as soon as Angel opened his mouth, of course, but now he was going too far. "If you think this is all about some teenage jealousy shit, then you're even more of a-"

Suddenly Angel had rounded the table and was right in front of him, one end of the pool cue on the floor and one pointed slightly at Xander. "Not done yet," he warned. "Whatever your reasons, you've tried to get rid of me. You've tried to come between me and Buffy. And, you being unable to do those things, ordinarily I'd just ignore it. But you won't let up, you won't accept me here, and it's bothering my fiancee. I'm officially tired of you, Xander. I've decided there's only one way to resolve this."

By the time he finished speaking he was standing close enough to use his height, looking down on Xander and holding the cue like a hunting rifle. Xander even thought he saw a flash of gold in his eyes, the demon's influence coming through for the briefest moment as a reminder that it still lived.
"Are you threatening me?" asked Xander incredulously.

Angel smiled. Could have been an innocent smile. Could have been a sarcastic smile. Could have been a demon's smile, and Buffy was the only one who ever seemed to know how to tell. "I want you to be my best man," he said.

Xander was still stupefied by the implication that Angel would actually try to threaten him, and this changed the source of the feeling but did nothing to lessen it. Best man? How long was it traditional to wait after attempting to kill someone before you asked him to be a witness at your wedding? Did it change anything if you had also attempted to kill the bride-to-be? Maybe he should write to Dear Abby.

Before he could make this suggestion out loud, someone in the club screamed. Xander and Angel both whipped around to see where the sound had come from; it was near closing time and there were few people left. Xander's eyes registered the appearance of a few men who hadn't been there minutes earlier, just before he saw that the scream had come from the bartender herself, who was now being cornered behind the bar by one of the new arrivals. He was sporting a fanged grin, and as he reached for the bartender, the faces of all his companions did the morph, and as one they rushed the pool table.

Xander hit the floor, allowing one of them to trip over his own body before he jumped back up, having successfully dodged the head-on attack. He turned back to the fray in time to see Angel snap the pool cue in his hands and toss half of it his way. Xander caught it from the air, congratulating himself smugly, and let Angel deal with his three assailants while he leaped up onto the bar. He didn't even have to break too many glasses, just ran two steps forward and threw himself down behind the bar, where the mirrored wall was reflecting a scared woman being attacked by nothing. Xander crashed into the nothing feet-first, sending him down to the floor on his face and freeing the bartender, who was bleeding from the neck but quite alive. From there it was easy to stab the stunned vampire in the back with the jagged end of the broken stick, and he even had a second or two to catch his breath.

"You okay?" he asked the woman he had just saved. Ha! I just saved a chick, thought his id. Go me!

"Yeah," she stammered as Xander found a clean dish towel and placed it on her neck. "I, uh. I've seen this before. Never, phew, never thought it would happen to me though."

He gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "Happens to the best of us. Uh, hang tight there, okay?"

The sounds of Angel's fight with the other three vampires had lessened slightly, and when Xander vaulted back over the bar he saw that it was because there was one less of them. Angel was standing on the pool table, grappling with one vampire and somehow managing to send a few kicks at the other one to keep him from joining them on the higher ground. Xander grabbed his half of the pool cue and charged the closer one.

Buffy had chosen Angel. And that didn't matter in the same way it used to, because Xander had Anya and wouldn't have traded if it had been freely offered to him, but at the time, yeah, it stung. Angel practically had 'bad news' written all over him, along with a few iterations of 'no future,' and maybe a big stamp of 'YES he's dangerous, dammit' right on that oversized forehead of his. But Buffy wanted him anyway, and even more than it had hurt Xander to know that he came in second to a dead guy, it had hurt to find out that there was this side to Buffy he could never have expected. He knew the drill: tall, dark, mysterious...those were qualities that attracted the girls. But Buffy wasn't shallow. She'd look for something beyond that. What was it? Years later, Xander was still no closer to understanding what drew her to Angel, and it was hard, not understanding your friends.

He got his opponent turned around and focused on him. No fancy karate moves for Xander, but he did get in a decent slug on the vamp's jaw. Not enough to knock him down, unfortunately. He was showing his teeth and probably about to use them. Angel seemed to have just put a boot in the other one's face, for it was now a few feet away from the pool table and trying to pick itself up.

And then, why did everyone always just seem to pretend that evil Angel had never existed? They were the same person, Giles had explained it all, it wasn't just good twin switching places with evil twin. Angel himself didn't even talk about his bad side like it was dead and gone and someone else. He knew. That's what the whole atonement gig was about. Someone should just come out and ask him, "Gee, Angel, why all the atonement if it wasn't really you doing those bad things?" Then they'd get it.

Angel hopped down from the pool table in pursuit of his opponent. Xander remembered suddenly that he had a cross under his shirt, and kicked the vampire in the gut to give himself enough time to reach under his collar and yank the tool off of his neck. When the vampire lunged at him again, he hit him in the face with the cross and held it there, driving the vamp back with the pain.

There was no hope of helping the Slayer pick her boyfriends. Xander knew what he was: a Slayerette. Buffy jumped into trouble, and Xander jumped in after her to help get the trouble squared away. Lather, rinse, repeat. And it wasn't so bad, really.

The vampire was struggling to get past the cross and its power, but Xander gathered up his strength and pushed forward again, sending his opponent back one more step- right into Angel's stake. Angel and Xander stood face to face as the third party vanished from between them. Angel tossed his half of the broken pool cue back onto the green and dusted his hands together, the sounds of it seeming louder than usual in the stillness that engulfed the Bronze now that the troublemakers were gone. "So what do you say?" he asked, as if there hadn't been any interruption.

Xander eyed him, seeing the good-looking man in his twenties that had so intrigued Buffy, seeing the murderer who had terrorized her. He nodded once, slowly, keeping his eyes locked on Angel's. "For Buffy," he replied. "Not for you."

"That's all I'm asking."

***

It wasn't difficult to find the place that Father Tom had specified, and it wasn't surprising that it was a church. There were plenty of churches in Sunnydale, but they always stood out to Angel, especially the Catholic ones. They were so constant, so drenched in history, and, depending on your perspective, so imposing. He sighed as he pushed the large wooden doors open and entered the building.

He was anathema here, and he could feel it. The sensation of being in a church wasn't exactly physical, like the pain of holy items, but it was very real, and actually much harder to bear than it had been before he regained his soul. It usually manifested as paranoia, the sense of being watched and hated, the dread that came with being powerless. It was subtle, but tough to ignore unless he was concentrating on something else, and sometimes he couldn't do that. It didn't help that the crosses were so large and omnipresent, either, and then there was the holy water by the doors, and the always concealed, yet still powerful Eucharistic bread and wine, the body of Christ itself. He gritted his teeth and shut it all out. He was here to see a priest, he was going to have to play on the priest's terms.

For a moment he thought Father Tom was late. The doors had been unlocked, but the only light that he could see was coming from the offertory candles and the one by the tabernacle. Then he saw a faint line of light from behind a closed door at the back of the church, and as he approached, the door swung open and the priest beckoned him in. Angel saw with relief that it wasn't a room with a specific sacred purpose; those were harder for him. This one was just white painted walls and some chairs. He didn't take one, and Father Tom, who had donned a cassock for the occasion, wasn't sitting either.

He looked sympathetic without being remorseful. "It's been a long time since you were in a place of worship, hasn't it?" he greeted Angel.

Angel felt the sensation of invisible eyes on him spike for an instant. He nodded. "And the last few times, it wasn't to pray."

"Was it ever?"

The question was put forth so directly that Angel started paying attention- at least enough for the church's influence to diminish. "I was raised in the tradition," he objected. "I wasn't the most devout, but..." He floundered. "There's no way for someone like me to get back in the faith's good graces anyway. Just being here is...if I pick up a Bible, it burns me. I can only imagine what happens if I swallow a communion wafer."

"You die horribly," said Father Tom. "Don't ask me how I know."

"I...definitely won't. All I'm saying is that I didn't choose to take God out of my life. It was out of my hands the moment I was turned, and getting my soul back didn't change that."

"So that girl, she became your God."

Angel smiled. Father Tom could be shrewd, and he liked that. He had known telepaths who seemed to grow lazy, relying on their ability to read thoughts and forgetting how to read faces, or body language, or the layers behind the words people chose to express themselves. But this man, faced with Angel's locked mind, was reading him anyway. "What do you expect?" he answered. "She was life and death. She showed me mercy and justice. Meaning. Sacrifice. Forgiveness. What else is religion looking for?" He glanced toward the tabernacle- the door was still open- and added casually, "She also gave up her blood for me to drink."

"And a very brave act that was," said the priest in a level tone. "In the spirit of he who did it first. Yet with all her sacrifice and forgiveness, you continue seeking something beyond what she can give you."

"Absolution," said Angel without hesitation. "I still need that. Buffy isn't a god. I've learned that much, at least. But I love her."

Father Tom nodded slowly. "Or you wouldn't be here now, I know." He stepped out of the little white room, beckoning Angel to follow him. "I don't need to tell you that your situation is unique. What that means here, though, is that there are no rules written to cover it, and I'm relying on my faith to let me know what kind of exceptions I can make for you. Some of the customary parts of the process are simply impossible in your case. Others, though..." He stopped at the end of the center aisle, and turned to Angel as he stopped behind him. "You were raised in the tradition. You'll need that now."
He started walking up the aisle, Angel close behind. The altar was dead center in front of them, the crucifix looming over it. "You're willing to do what it takes," Father Tom stated.

"Yes."

Before they reached the front of the church, Father Tom turned and guided them between the pews. Angel winced involuntarily, seeing at last where they were going. "You know how this works?" said the priest.

"I doubt it's changed much."

They stopped in front of a matched pair of narrow, ornately carved wooden doors. Father Tom paused with his hand on one of them. "This isn't punishment, Angel," he said. "Not everyone understands that. Whatever you take from it, remember that what God asks of us, he asks it only to bring us closer to him."

"I can feel God right now," said Angel through clenched jaws, "and he doesn't want me."

"Let him decide." Father Tom disappeared behind the door.

Angel squared his shoulders and resolutely entered the other booth. He noticed as he did so that he deliberately brought Buffy to mind when he needed extra strength of will. Maybe he was still praying to her, in a way. He sat down, and drawing up memories older than the walls around him, made the sign of the cross.

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been two hundred and forty-six years since my last confession..."

***

Buffy leaned forward to look Angel in the face, upside-down as his position with his head in her lap made him look. "And you told him?" she asked, still not quite believing. "Like, everything?"

"Not yet." He looked up at her, his eyes all dark and innocent. "It was getting late, so we decided to split it into two parts. I'm going back tomorrow to confess everything I committed when I did have a soul."

"Geez. Angel. That is...that is dedicated."

"What else would I be?"

She brushed her fingers through his hair and smiled down at him. Dedicated was the right word, indeed. "You just seem a little too chill for someone who basically just lived his worst nightmare."

His voice remained calm, even a little dreamy. "That wasn't my worst nightmare."

"Oh." That right there was one of those things she wasn't going to ask him about. No sane person wanted to look in on the greatest fears of someone who had spent a hundred years in Hell.

"And it wasn't all bad," Angel continued. "I got some work done. Found out where Giles keeps his secret stash. And I made sure we're getting married."

She doubled over to land an awkward kiss on his mouth. "That you did."

There was silence as she traced a path along the lines of his face with her fingertip, his eyes closed and his lips still wearing a small smile. "So," she said eventually, "should we set a date?"

"As soon as possible. I don't want to miss our chance." That was a sad way to look at it, but he was right. If they didn't get it done before he got called back to LA, it could be a long time before the opportunity opened up again.

"Good. I mean, it won't take too long to plan. We don't have to do the standard Big American Wedding Fuss, with the embossed invitations and the predictable DJ and the frilly white dress and all..."

His eyes snapped open at the last part. "You're getting a dress," he said in a tone that allowed no disagreement.

"Oh, well, it's really not a big...okay yeah I do want a dress. But I'm just saying, it's going to be small and private anyway, so we don't have to go overboard. I mean, I don't even really want to have to plan seating arrangements, and does a cake even make sense? And..."

"We're getting a cake," he cut in. "A white one with little people on the top. And everyone's going to have some. And we're doing that ridiculous tradition of freezing a piece and eating it on our first anniversary. Buffy, we only get to do this once. Tell me what you want and we'll make it happen that way."

She kissed him again. It wasn't as if she had spent every moment since her childhood planning her dream wedding, but of course she had preferences. Maybe marrying a vampire didn't have to get in the way of that. "Well, it still has to be small. Only people who know who we are. I don't want to spend the night doing the masquerade."

"What about your father?"

Even the thought of her father coming up in this context felt strange, but of course it had occurred to her too. "I think I'm just going to have to call him in a couple months and tell him I eloped. Not the ideal, but he kind of brought it on himself."

Angel frowned. "I'm not sure I like that. Am I ever going to meet him?"

Her mouth reacted to that before her brain. "You're not sure you like that? This is my father we're talking about, and I can't just spring you on him when he doesn't even know vampires exist."

"But he's going to be my father-in-law, isn't he?" Angel asked patiently. "I'm not your secret boyfriend anymore. I don't want to hide from everyone."

She hesitated, fighting the instinct to dish out a comeback. What the comeback could be, though, she wasn't sure. If Angel was tired of being hidden, she was just as tired of hiding him, but old habits died hard. In fact, she still wasn't quite used to this new Angel, who wasn't a secret made flesh and didn't instantly do whatever she told him to do. This was better, no doubt, but lately their relationship seemed counterintuitive at times. "Sorry I snapped at you," she said slowly. "He is, um, he is technically going to be your father-in-law. But inviting him to the wedding is...and I mean, for the stuff that really matters, it's Giles who..."

"I know." He reached behind himself to squeeze her hand. "Okay. The Mr. Summers issue can wait. We'll keep the wedding personal."

"You're being so amazing about this. Everything you've done already, I don't know how to match it."

He looked up at her with a kinked grin. "You're not supposed to match it, you're supposed to enjoy it. But you do owe me one favor."

"What's that?"

"Helping me explain to Wesley why he's not my best man."

"...Maybe you've been a little too amazing."

***

"But you still get to have a honeymoon, right? You have to have a honeymoon." Willow made the statement as a personal demand. She could just picture Giles telling Buffy and Angel that it was too dangerous for them to go away together right after their wedding, and she had intentions of taking it up with him herself if that was the case. Honeymoons were important, dammit.

Fortunately, Buffy nodded in response, digging her spoon deeper into the cardboard bucket of ice cream. "Just for a few days. There's a place a couple hours down the coast where you can get a cabin on the beach. It's nice. We'll have our own little rustic-fest."

Willow was on her belly on the bed, propped up on her elbows, but she sat up to reclaim the ice cream and poke around for a chunk of fudge. "The beach is good. Aw, but you can't sunbathe together. What are you going to do all day?" She looked up to see Buffy giving her the universal look of 'duh' and replied to it with an eloquent "Oh." Then she leaned forward and put on a low conspiratorial tone.
"Okay, so now that you've got some experience in the area and he doesn't turn evil afterwards...is it good?"

Buffy smirked and lifted her eyebrows as she slid her spoon out of her mouth. "Oh yeah. Angel was a sexual deviant for a good hundred years of his life. He knows what he's doing."

That wasn't the kind of answer that Willow was quite prepared to celebrate. She tried to imagine Oz using techniques he had picked up during a century of evil, and it didn't even make enough sense for her to figure out if she would have liked it. "Doesn't that ever feel kind of...weird?"

Buffy shrugged, apparently not taking insult from the question any more than Willow had meant any. "The way I see it, the problem with most guys who have a lot of experience is that you can't really trust them to be faithful to you. And with Angel, well...virtuosity isn't going to get in the way of devotion, so, lucky me. The only annoying thing is that when he thinks about it, he goes to his guilty place and gets all distant like he doesn't want to soil the holy grounds with his presence or something. So I have to keep him distracted."

"Bet you're pretty good at that," Willow teased.

"I'm learning. Okay, so I did mine, now let's hear about the secret lives of Ozophiles."

Willow felt her cheeks blushing, but Buffy's forthrightness was contagious and she had a thing or two to brag about herself. It was like playing Anywhere But Here, except with real life instead of fantasies. "He has this sound he makes, I think it's got to be a werewolf thing because humans totally can't growl like that-"

Buffy dropped her spoon into the empty container and interrupted with a miniature shriek of excitement. "Oz can growl too? Oh my God, you're kidding! Does it sound kind of like- grrr, rrrrrr...okay I can't do it but-"

"Yeah I can't do it either, but it's kind of like, mrrrrf-"

"I totally know what you mean!"

A few mimicked growls later, there was a knock on the bedroom door and both of them stiffened in alarm, an impulse they had yet to unlearn from the days when parents might be checking up on them. Willow thought about her mother catching her and her best friend in the act of attempting the sexy growl that vampires and werewolves made in bed, and giggled. Buffy followed suit as the knock was followed by Anya's voice.

"Willow? Buffy?" She sounded tentative, the way she acted when she really did want to fit in with the born-and-raised humans. "Can I come into this room and gossip about having sex with our boyfriends? I brought my own ice cream. I promise I won't suggest any good ways to exact retribution."

Willow met Buffy's eyes with a slight grin. "If we open that door," she said under her breath, "we're going to learn things about Xander we never wanted to know."

Buffy swung her legs off the bed and stood up. "Things I never wanted to know, anyway," she corrected her, and reached for the doorknob.

Anya's admittance to the bedroom coincided with a pillow bouncing off of Buffy's head. The ex-demon looked at both of them with concern, holding up her ice cream like a talisman. "Are pillows part of this?" she asked. "I can go get one..."

***

The wolf set his nose to the ground and regained the trail he was following. It wasn't the trail of edible prey, but he wasn't hungry, so that didn't matter. What mattered was that he knew he was tracking an enemy, but something kept reminding him that when he found it, he still wasn't supposed to tear it apart. He had no memory of anything that could convince him of this, just a strong feeling that it was true, and it left him annoyed and impatient.

There were animals in these woods, quick rabbits and agile squirrels, and even without the hunger to accompany it, there was still an urge to abandon his current quest in favor of one that would leave his predatory instincts satisfied. He knew there was a time that there wouldn't have even been a question about it, but the past had little meaning to him. He only knew that he was becoming progressively more conscious of shapeless scentless things like duty and friendship and possibility, and he wasn't at all sure that it had come to him out of his own choice.

The scent of his quarry grew stronger, and he instinctively drew back, knowing that getting any closer would put him in danger of being seen. He remembered that he wasn't supposed to be seen. Why did he care? Who was controlling him? It didn't matter now. There were too many to fight anyway.

He was near a lake. He didn't know the place by a name but by the way it felt to his senses, the way he felt when he knew he couldn't get lost. That wasn't enough right now, though; he had to be able to find his way back here later, when he was...different, so that he could show...someone. Even if he didn't know why. He trotted down to the water and found there a flat wooden path that reached right into the lake and let him stand over it. Humans had built it, and some human part of him was telling him that it was a dock and those pale bobbing things beneath it were little boats, but he didn't like the feeling of exposure it gave him and he returned to the water's edge. He let his paws be dampened in it and lapped some of it up. A frog swam under his nose, and he snapped at it and leaped forward, making a loud splash.

The night had been fairly still before being broken by that sound, and the wolf was immediately aware that it had drawn the attention of his enemies. At least one had left its cover and was moving closer to him. It wasn't quick enough to be a threat, but he still had to leave the lake, and he whirled and ran. Running felt good; he kept it up for much longer than he needed to, though he knew where he was headed and didn't stray from his path, even when it brought him out of the cover of the trees. At last he stepped reluctantly into the territory of humans, a sandy patch of land with metal and plastic constructs at every corner. There was even a solitary human there, one who sparked recognition in the wolf instead of a desire to attack.

"Oz," said the human. "Change back."

The wolf didn't move. It bothered him that he could understand the words, and that he felt compelled to obey. He lifted his lips over his teeth, not in a snarl, but a slight warning.

"Come on, buddy," the human persisted. His voice was cautious but calm. "Don't get wild thing on me now."

Oz stumbled a little as he shifted into his human form. This one seemed to have taken more out of him than it usually did. All that compromise between his two natures was a burden.

Xander breathed a sigh of relief, subtle but not lost on Oz, and tossed him a backpack. "Find anything?"

"Yeah." Oz opened the bag and found a pair of his own jeans, a shirt, boxers, and shoes underneath the rest. He got dressed as he kept talking. "They've got a base at the lake. That one on the east end of town, I think it's called Silver Lake. At least twenty vamps nearby that I could smell. There must be some kind of shelter nearby." With the rest of the clothes on his body, he dug through the bag to find some socks, but Xander had apparently forgotten that detail. Oz didn't mention it, just slipped the shoes onto his bare feet. He was still a little wet from the lake anyway.

"Nice job." Xander started walking and Oz followed, glad to be leaving the playground. As a meeting place it was the best local compromise between safe and secluded, but it was creepy at night, even without the wolf's wariness toward signs of human life. The swings all rocked in the breeze like they had ghosts astride them, and Oz could still scent the children who had played there all day. He hoped they had left the place without incident and gone back to their boring, secure houses, and that they didn't know yet that vampires were real.

"You look tired," remarked Xander. "How did it feel to be free?"

Oz considered the question as they hit the sidewalk. "Free," he said, and left it at that. It wasn't that he wanted to hide anything from Xander, there just wasn't much about the experience that he could explain to someone who hadn't lived it. "Everyone else still out?"

"Just Giles and Angel, over by Daemonis's flophouse on Walnut Street. Though I wouldn't be surprised if they stumbled on a few more lairs they had to map out before they came back to meet us."

"Like, overworking as a way to relieve stress?" Oz shook his head. "I never understood that."

Xander chuckled. "Me either, but it kind of gives me a happy to think about Angel spending all night teetering on the brink of the famed Wrath of Giles."

Oz eyed him curiously through the half-light of the street lamps. "How 'bout the Wrath of Xander? Alive and well?"

"Anya wants to see me in a tux." If Xander had more to say about his grudging acceptance of Buffy and Angel's engagement, and Oz was sure he did, he kept it well concealed. "Not sure if she knows how wedding parties work, though. She probably thinks she's automatically the maid of honor so she can be opposite me. Of course, that slot's your girl, so you and Anya are gonna have to commiserate."

"You didn't hear?" Oz inquired. "Anya's a bridesmaid. I'm a groomsman. Everyone who's invited has a part."

"Oh." Xander scratched his head. "I feel less special now. On the bright side, now we're in this together and you can help me with the best man duties. I gotta confess I'm not really keen on making a speech."

"Nobody's keen on you making a speech, man. Let's keep it simple." Oz squinted into the night air and spotted the house up ahead. He wanted in. He was as tired as he looked, and he still had to sketch out some kind of map while his memories of the night still made sense.

***

Someone had known they were coming. Daemonis's suburban refuge was without any kind of guard, and they hadn't run into any vampires at all on the way there, either. Giles mentioned this to Angel as they approached the front door, and Angel agreed but seemed unconcerned. "They were here recently," he said. "If they come back, it means they're short on housing. If they don't, it narrows down the search."

He knocked, which startled Giles, but on second thought he couldn't see any reason not to do so. There probably wasn't anyone inside anyway, and they were prepared for it if there was. Angel had his spring-loaded stake sheaths under his sleeves, and Giles was wearing his best sword- not something he usually took with him anywhere, but they weren't expecting to see anyone who would require an explanation, and it felt better to be armed.

When there came no answer, Angel kicked the door down, not just open but right off its hinges. Giles gave the indoors a quick look, but his eyes were drawn back down to the door. "Do you always do that without checking if it's unlocked first?"

Angel blinked and bent down to grasp the knob. "This one was locked," he said sheepishly as he straightened. Giles sighed and walked inside with him.

As soon as they had entered the first room, a voice rang out from the one behind it. "Don't shoot! Or stab, or bite, or anything! I surrender!"

"Show yourself," called Angel, his stern voice offset with an amused smile that he hid when the demon came out with his hands up. He was short and blue-skinned, dressed in shabby sportswear and not a threatening sight, but Giles identified his type immediately and knew this wasn't going to end with all three of them unharmed.

"Alright," started the demon. He lowered his hands, then seemed to realize that nobody had allowed that yet and put them back up, then realized that nobody had told him to keep them up, either, and lowered them again, albeit hesitantly. "I got a message for you. And this isn't any 'kill the messenger' thing, right? Just gonna say my piece and go, right?"

"We'll see," said Angel in that same cocky 'bad cop' voice. "After we hear the message."

Giles, who hadn't signed up to be the good cop, gave Angel a long look. He had no doubt that either one of them could have handled this alone, but since they were together they had to work that way. Did Buffy ever have this problem when she worked with her lover? Giles couldn't imagine her allowing herself to be reduced to a sidekick like this.

Angel noticed Giles's silent rebuke and cast him a glance that might have been apologetic. The demon didn't seem to sense anything wrong between the two of them, though he did address Angel directly, ignoring Giles. "Frater Daemonis says the offer still stands," he said. "Says you'll know what he means. You can, uh, be free or whatever."

This changed things for Giles; he no longer wanted a part in the discussion, though he wanted very much to hear what was going to happen next. Angel raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms before answering. "Or what?"

"Huh? Or what what?"

"What's he going to do if I say no? I do know what he means, but there's got to be some kind of threat attached to this if he expects me to listen."

The demon looked perturbed, making Giles wonder if that question wasn't part of what he had been told to expect. It seemed unlikely. They were dealing with a trickster of some kind, and even his apparent emotional reactions couldn't be trusted. "He, uh...if you say no, he's gonna kill you."

"That's it?" Angel probed.

"Yeah, he's gonna kill you."

"But he isn't going to take my soul without my permission? That's awfully polite of him."

"Well," muttered the demon, "he respects you, okay?"

"Or he just can't do it without my cooperation."

"Yes he can. He can do it to anyone. It's just, uh..."

"Spit it out," said Angel. "I'm already bored."

The demon threw his hands in the air. "It takes some travel, okay? He's not in any condition to travel right now, much less take you with him."

Angel nodded with a satisfied smirk. "Now we're getting somewhere. Tell me where he's hiding and we can get even further."

"Nuh uh. I carried the message, now I'm gonna carry your answer back to him. That was the deal."

Giles spoke up quietly. "We didn't agree to any deal. And it seems that if you don't return to him with an answer, he'll find it very plain that the answer was no."

The demon let out a long, resigned breath. He left a short silence, full of resentment, and then finished it by turning to Giles and shooting at him.

This was where a Watcher's encyclopedic knowledge of demons came in handy. This variety's weapon was a limited supply of sharp bony projectiles that came out of its wrists, and Giles had been holding himself ready for such an attack as soon as the conversation began. He dodged the bones while at the same time holding his sword to block his face and heart, and that plus a little luck was enough to leave him unscathed.

His clean escape clearly astounded the demon, who had but a second to gape at him before he was forced to contend with an attack himself. Angel needed only to take two steps forward, grab the demon's head firmly in both hands, and twist. There was a loud, nauseating crunch, and then the little blue demon was in a heap on the floor. Giles remembered the unnatural angle of Jenny's neck when he had found her in his bed, and shut his eyes to quell his sudden desire to vomit.

"Sorry," said Angel, master of the unintentionally ironic apology. "I didn't know he could do that, or I would have killed him sooner. You alright?"

"Fine. Let's go."

***

Angel watched Buffy dress, noting each article of clothing she chose and how it served the dual purpose of free movement and the appearance of a normal girl. Her battle outfits differed only subtly from the ones she wore in the daytime, but he could always tell. She piled her hair on top of her head, fastened it in place with a pair of carved sticks, and thumbed through her jewelry for a cross. When she turned to him he recognized the one she had chosen as his first gift to her, and smiled as she put it on. "Ready to go?" she asked.

They were quiet for the first part of the walk, but Buffy was practically crackling with energy. It was her first night back on patrol, and of course it was only occurring now that Sunnydale's entire population of vampires had the fear of Daemonis struck into them; by now they'd have orders to bring him Buffy soon or face the consequences. Angel suspected that if they saw any vampires at all, they'd be smart ones, with a strategy. He didn't know if that scared Buffy, but it scared him. Not that either of them were going to talk about fear.

When they reached the first cemetery she startled him by dashing forward and turning a cartwheel, then wiping the dew off of her hands and falling back into step with him. He chuckled quietly and landed an affectionate touch on her back. He liked seeing her employ her own ways of releasing tension.

"I can't believe the plan is finally coming together," was the first thing she said. "It's really going to happen."

He made a sound of agreement. "It's a good thing you put Willow in charge of the cake, I don't think anyone else would have the tenacity to get one on such short notice. Even for the reservations on the cabin we were cutting it a little close..." He trailed off as he saw the amused expression on Buffy's face. "What?"

"Major fan of Willow's cake-obtaining skills right here, but I was talking about the attack on Daemonis."

"Oh." He stalled by scanning the area for signs of enemies. It wasn't his fault if he was preoccupied with wedding preparations. Modern American economics made them more complicated than he had expected.
"Well, of course, I was thinking about how we'll have him out of the way and then we'll celebrate. Logical progression."

"Angel, there has never in the history of weddingdom been a woman who complained that her fiance was putting too much thought into it. That was a slip you don't have to cover up." She tensed suddenly and pointed up ahead. "Ooh! There's something!"

It was a single vampire, and not one with a strategy, unless his strategy was to let Buffy make short work of him. Angel didn't have to lift a finger, or even really have a chance to help, she was so quick. In minutes she had dished out a dozen solid blows and just as many quips, and Angel felt an unexpectedly enormous wave of relief rush through him as she administered the stake. She was back on her game. She could take care of herself without him here. At the same time, it highlighted the unpleasant reality of his situation, that her recovery meant one less excuse for him to stay. He gazed at her with longing, some part of his mind telling him that he should pin her against a tree and take her, now, because every moment they weren't touching was wasted time, but he and Buffy were nothing if not dutiful and right now they were at work.

"The thing is," said Buffy, checking herself for ashes, "Oz might have found us their base of operations, but we don't know for sure if Daemonis is parked there. And Sippy only tells us about what happens in that one house where you saw him, and apparently they've abandoned it already. What happens if we make our move and he just slips through our fingers anyway?"

"Well," said Angel slowly as they resumed their circuit of the cemetery, "I don't want to underestimate him, but it seems like the most important thing is to take all the minions out. He's already weak and he's just going to get weaker. He won't be capable of much on his own."

"Including magic?" Buffy frowned. "I know Willow said he's probably chasing a lost cause with the ensoulment reversal spell, but thinking about it happening makes my stomach do the tango."

"Especially magic," he assured her. "Think about how many helpers the Watcher's Council had to enlist before they could get started on the original one. It's not going to be a one-man job." Angel himself wasn't worried that it would happen, but problems always arose where they were least expected, and he wanted to have something to back up his words for Buffy's sake, too. "There's some information on it at the Magic Box. We're not that far- do you still have the key?"

She pulled her keyring out of her pocket and jingled it. "I should just make you a copy," she said, but he shook his head.

"Giles didn't offer me one. Still got some issues there. I'll leave well enough alone."

She didn't look happy about that, but she had apparently chosen the path of neutrality when it came to him and Giles, so she left the topic alone as they walked to the store. It was odd being there without Giles, but Buffy seemed perfectly comfortable, even raiding the drawer where they kept some candy for customers with children. Angel had spent more time there than she had lately, but he supposed that her bond with Giles made a difference in how much it felt like home.

Angel felt guilty just opening up an accordion folder, but he knew these files belonged to all of them. "Aha," he said as he laid it out in front of her. "Willow found this. 'Without the joint power of many savants, such a spell requires a sacrifice which few can conceive. The body must die while the mind still comprehends, but in the end there is nothing left of the one who makes the sacrifice, for he belongs to the one who accepts it.'"

"Who's the one who accepts it?" she said around the butterscotch in her mouth.

He tapped the tabletop pensively. "Probably depends on your intentions. If it were our side, bringing all the souls back, I'd say it's the Powers That Be. If Daemonis cast it to remove all souls, though, it would be whatever evil counterpart he can contact. But all I'm seeing here is that the price is death, and he's not going to give up his life for this. Believe me, he wouldn't. There's no such thing as giving yourself up for the greater evil, even if some greater power actually wanted a sacrifice that was already undead."

She reread the passage a few times, looking grave, then asked, "Is there anyone who would give up their life for this?"

He sighed. Believing that this wasn't going to happen didn't make it a pleasant subject of conversation. "Me. Maybe. If he somehow managed to cast his spell, and if for some reason it was only humans who were affected and I was the last one left who had a soul, then I would try it. But I can't see any way it's possible. Can you?"

She shook her head, hesitantly at first and then more firmly. "No. You're right. All he's doing is keeping himself busy with a fool's errand, and that's more win for us. Okay, I do feel better about this. Though I still wish we could see what he's up to right now." She leaned her elbows on the table and let her gaze wander, stopping near the ceiling. "Awwww," she said.

Angel looked blankly at her, then followed her line of vision. The Moisipi spirit was hovering mindlessly, as was its wont. Giles or Anya had apparently only told it not to appear during store hours, though he had no idea why it would choose to show up on its own. Buffy smiled and reached up to it, making little cooing sounds. Angel wondered if he should get her a cat. She might get lonely in the mansion by herself.

"Wish we could just send it over to the new lair while we're here," said Buffy. "Seems a bit obnoxious that it obeys almost everyone except the fighters. Wounds my dignity." She reached out again, but the spirit wouldn't approach her hand. She stuck her lip out at it. "Maybe there's a way to get around that. Where's the manual?"

It seemed to Angel that this was something that could wait until the next day, but he had nowhere to be and it was nice to get off of the apocalyptic talk. He scanned the bookshelf and pulled out a heavy volume with Demons and Spirits K-N on the spine, setting it down in front of her with a thump. She gave it a doleful look- Buffy never did like researching, however much she wanted to know its results- but cracked it open and started flipping through the M section.

Angel selected another book for himself, though he knew most of them that mentioned Moisipis at all were just going to have the same few lines of information. His mind soon started wandering to wedding plans again. This was getting ridiculous. If Cordelia ever found out that he was spending this much brain power on weighing the pros and cons of buying a new tuxedo, she'd never let him hear the end of it.

"Moggr, M'Ohsti, Mohra...Moisipi!" Buffy placed a triumphant finger on the page she had just reached, then flipped back one. "Hey, Mohra. Isn't that the one that attacked you that time in LA? Sure looks like it."

His whole body tensed and he resisted the impulse to snatch the book away from her. "Yes," he said in the most emotionless tone he could summon.

"Hm. 'Veins run with the blood of eternity.' Wonder what that means."

"Regenerative properties." He wasn't going to lie to Buffy, not this time. If she asked, well, that was it. Of course, she wasn't going to ask a question like 'Did you become human and then turn back the clock so you could keep fighting instead of being with me,' so that left a lot of wiggle room. Tough choices.

"Oh, now that's downright handy. Wouldn't mind a few regenerative-blood-flowing veins myself. Just think, you make a slip, you lose an arm, and then before you even have time to miss it, your arm's growing back, and I'm sure it would seem pretty gross the first time, but I'd pony up for that, and there's something you're not telling me, isn't there?"

He blinked. "Yes."

Her voice lost its playfulness, and she sized him up like dinner, which was a terrible analogy because humans didn't eat vampires and it put bad thoughts in his head. "Secrets again," she said. "Is it about me or about something you did in the past that makes you feel shitty these days?"

"You- well, a little of both." His eyes ventured up from the table enough to see into hers. "It's not...anything dangerous, or with any leftover consequences..."

"I know that." Irritation played on her face. "That's why I didn't ask. So you think you're ever going to tell me this one? Someday?"

Off the hook. He was awash in mixed shame and gratitude. "Yes. Someday." He paused, then added meekly, "Is that okay?"

"God, Angel. C'mere." Even as she said it, she was coming to him, moving around the table to straddle him on his chair, her face just centimeters from his. "Yes, that's okay. And forget this Moisipi stuff, it can wait 'til tomorrow." Her mouth found his, and his arms tightened around her, and her cross fell into his collar and burned him but he didn't care.

Her hands were making their way up his back underneath his shirt when she suddenly jerked back and looked around herself. "Whoa, hey. We're, ah, we're still in the magic shop, aren't we? I think there's a line somewhere that I'm about to stumble over. On the other side of it is the land of Never Look Giles in the Eye Again."

"A forbidding land," he muttered as he set her on her feet and straightened his clothes. "Fraught with dangers. And you know that spirit would be watching."

Buffy's eyes widened. "Sippy," she said to the floating feline, "if you ever obey a single command from me, let this be the one. Please don't report this." She grabbed Angel's hand and led him to the door. "'Kay. Workday's over."

***

Buffy had been feeling extraordinarily fond of everyone. The hardest parts of introducing them all to the idea of her being married to Angel were done with, and they were getting serious about a plan to bring the fight to Daemonis, and if anyone wasn't getting along, they were at least hiding it well. She remembered how many times in the past she had come through an especially frightening battle and felt her gratitude for being alive express itself in an outpouring of love for her friends and family. As her return to full strength finally approached, she supposed she was feeling a magnified, slower version of that gratitude to match the extended recovery time.

In any case, lately she always welcomed the sound of someone opening the door downstairs. In the mansion, it meant Angel, and here in her old home, it meant one of many people who had access without knocking, and they were coming home safe from whatever they had been doing. Tonight, though, when they heard someone at the door for the third time, everyone looked at each other with confusion.

"Father Tom said he was taking the night off," said Giles, and Oz added, "It's one in the morning." Nobody got up.

The door burst open anyway. We have to start locking it behind us, thought Buffy inanely. As if that would have stopped Spike when he wanted to get in. Time for a little disinvitation ritual, maybe.

Spike had blind fury painted all over his face- and something underlying it that looked like fear. His question came in a shout that could have woken the neighbors, his accent buried in the unrestrained force of it: "What did you DO to me?"

He was looking at Buffy, at Angel, at Giles, at Willow, but not really at any of them because whatever was wrong, he didn't seem to know who he was really blaming except that it had to be one of them. It took Buffy a second to figure out whether he was right or not; the shock of seeing him in such a panic overshadowed her ability to reason out what had happened to him. Physically, he looked fine. There was only one thing it could be.

She asked anyway. Someone had to. "What's wrong, Spike?"

"That's what I want to know!" His voice barely even decreased in volume. He pointed to his head- not the back, where his chip was placed, but at his temple, his brain. "What's going on here? Why does it all seem so sodding different? Why do I care?"

Everyone understood now, Buffy saw as she looked around at them. She slid her hand into Angel's, who was sitting next to her on the couch, and he squeezed it but then let go and stood up. "Because your eyes are opened," he said slowly. "Because it is different. You have a choice now."

"Go back to the hell you came from," Spike spat back. "I've had enough of guidance from you. I'm here to find out which one of you decided to play this trick and what you thought you were thinking. I can't hurt you but it's not just me this time. Is it? You did this to every sodding one of us, didn't you?"

There was a brief but cavernous silence, and then Giles began, "It wasn't anyone here-"

But Willow spoke at the same time, and though she was much more quiet than Giles, she was the one who drew Spike's attention and halted Giles's explanation. "I'm sorry," she said.

Spike's face turned vampiric for the first time since he had entered. "Sorry. For. What?"

"This isn't your fault," Xander told Willow angrily, but she raised her hand in a call for peace as Spike gave Xander instructions on how to shut his bloody mouth. Buffy had a few things she wanted to say herself, but it looked like they were going to have to take turns this time.

"I know it's not my fault," said Willow. "But I'm sorry anyway. All of us got caught up in something we didn't really understand, and now you're caught up in it too, and even though I pretty much hate you it sucks and I'm sorry." She lifted her eyes from her hands, folded demurely in her lap, and gazed up at Spike's disfigured features without fear. "You have a soul now. Like Angel. Like all of us. Learn to live with it. That's what we have to do."

Spike lost his game face. He turned away from all of them and put his arms and forehead to the wall, saying nothing. Some part of him, Buffy mused, must have already known that the change he felt within himself was a soul, but there was a difference between feeling it and hearing it confirmed. She herself was still struggling with the unfamiliar sensation of feeling sorry for Spike. She stood up and stepped forward, but didn't come too close to him and didn't place herself next to Angel, either. This time she was speaking independently.

"We don't have to hate each other anymore," she said. "There are a lot of ways you can help us, and we can, well, tolerate you. It hurts, but it's freedom. Angel knows what you're going through, and-"

He rounded on her, fire burning in his pale blue eyes, daring her to continue. "Bugger that. If I never see another one of your faces it'll be the greatest respite that I can even hope for now that you've pissed all over the natural order and left me as a bloody obscenity. If you try to find me I swear to all that's unholy I will find a way to kill again." He stormed outside, slamming the door behind him.

"Hostile 17 becomes Repentance Candidate Number One," said Xander into the following reverberations. "Not feeling like his example bodes well for the rest of them."

Angel stared at the door for a moment, then turned back to the room. "He still has a chance," he said. Was that hope or regret in his voice? "He could have a change of heart. Maybe after a little time..."

"The least of our problems," Giles cut in curtly. "If it happened to him it happened to all of them, and the rest can still kill. Daemonis will be furious, and his minions all the more dangerous for it. We must eliminate him at the earliest opportunity."

"Death to the vampires, newfound souls and all," sighed Buffy. "This is the world we live in now."


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