Author's Notes: Buffy, Angel, Xander, etc., all belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and WB, as does more than a bit of the dialogue and action of this story. The song's title and the lyrics quoted are from the song "Hold On" by Sarah McLachlan, from the fumbling towards ecstasy record. This was written strictly for the purposes of helping me to deal with the events of "Becoming II". It's for Gail. =)
Oh, and yes, I know that there's already a fanfic of the same title that also uses the same song. I'm sorry. It just fit too well. Anyway, I'm using everything without permission, no profits, I'm broke (well, I'm not, but shh, don't tell anyone), don't sue.
In this story, continuity diverges in the last ten minutes or so of Becoming II, as Buffy is headed to the mansion for the final showdown with Angel.
Feedback is welcomed at hutch @ jazmer.com.
Buffy was nearing the mansion when Xander jumped out of the bushes by the side of the road, a rock in his hand. She didn't even jump. Somehow, she was completely unsurprised to see him. She was also relieved; it neatly solved the problem of how she was going to save her Watcher.
"Cavalry's here," he quipped. "Cavalry being a frightened guy with a rock, but it's here."
She wordlessly offered him a stake, and he gladly dropped the rock to accept the more appropriate weapon. "That's better," he grinned.
"You're not here to fight," she informed him as she turned towards the mansion again, resuming her rapid pace. "You get Giles out, and you run like hell, understood? I can't protect you." As she spoke, she was removing the cloth wrapped around the item in her left hand. It was, as he'd half-suspected, the sword Kendra had brought. Buffy tossed aside the flimsy fabric. "I'm gonna be too busy killing," she went on.
"Now, that's a new look for you," he commented, indicating the sword, which she hefted lightly in one hand.
"It's a present for Angel." Her voice was cold, as if she had long since passed beyond the point of caring about anything other than completing the task set before her.
"Willow," he suddenly said. She stopped walking and looked at him, one eyebrow raised.
"She told me to tell you..."
He stopped. Buffy watched him, waited for him to continue. God, how can I do this? he wondered vaguely. And then, how can I not? The conflict in his eyes suddenly resolved.
"She said she's going to try the curse again."
"What? That's crazy. She's too weak..."
"I tried to stop her," he confessed. "But she gave me her resolve face. It's like puppy dog eyes. I was defenseless."
"Fine, all right," she conceded. "Not like I can stop her now, anyway."
They started towards the mansion again, and Xander shrugged. "Well, Oz and Cordy are with her," he pointed out.
"Oh, that's good news." Her tone of voice was honest, and Xander felt an ease of the tension he'd been carrying around.
The rest of the walk passed in silence. Only as they approached the back door of the mansion - the one Spike had told her about - did they rough out a quick plan of attack. Buffy slipped inside first; Xander waited for the five minutes she'd told him to, even though it seemed like much more of an eternity. Then came the yelling from inside, the sound of a fight. His cue.
He darted inside, passing through a walled-in garden and an arched entranceway to some kind of inner courtyard. Apparently, Buffy had wasted no time in throwing down. One pile of ash glittered to the right of the statue that had to be Acathla, if the sword sticking out of its chest were any indication. Angel was down on the floor; the white-haired vampire, Spike, was beating on him with a fireplace poker. Xander would have stopped to cheer him on if he didn't have a mission. Buffy was tangling with another vamp - he swung his attention to her just in time to see her scrabbling in a pile of wood for a makeshift stake as the vampire staggered to his feet. Distract him. Xander took a swing, got in a lucky punch. The vampire fell back in surprise, and Xander glanced back over at Buffy. Tag! You're it. She was coming at the guy again, so Xander took off in search of Giles.
What is it in me that refuses to believe
He was fierce, her assailant, but Buffy was cruising on a Slayer's high like she'd never known. She was focused, soaring on adrenaline, and the events unfolding around her passed like a blur: Spike and Drusilla fighting; Angelus regaining his feet, stumbling towards the statue; Xander helping an obviously battered and dazed Giles out from wherever they'd secured him. Finally she beat the vampire down to his back and plunged the stake into his heart. Instant dustpile.
And a sudden flash of glaring light from the statue that froze her blood in her veins. She swung around. Angel had the sword in his hands. The most twisted of smiles was on his face.
Behind him, Drusilla could be heard murmuring rapturously. "Ohhhh, here he comes." Buffy scarcely noticed her, and Spike was quick to grab her at any rate. The Slayer's attention was fully on Angel.
"You almost made it, Buff," he said casually, tossing the sword from hand to hand.
"It's not over yet." She forced the words in the same light tone as she gained her feet, grasping the sword she'd abandoned in the fistfight at the same time.
"My boy Acathla here is about to wake up." He grinned. "You're going to Hell."
The banter came easily. "Save me a seat."
Swords met and clashed in a blur. The ringing of steel was loud in the otherwise silent courtyard; Buffy had never held a sword before, never trained with Giles in the fine art of swordsmanship, but the moves came to her as if she'd studied intensively under the greatest of masters. Angel's moves were swift and lightning-sharp, but she parried, ducked, jumped his low swings. One blow got through her defenses, and suddenly she was sporting a shallow cut on her left arm. First blood.
It threw her more than she expected. It put her on the defensive, and now she was pulling back, away from him, without even attempting to get any return blows in. He slammed the sword down on a clay pot, breaking it; he got in a hard slap to her face, and she was on the floor for half a second before she recovered her sword and regained her feet. She realized that he was backing her out into the walled garden; the sunlight was still indirect enough that only patches of light straggled to touch the walls.
Everything was happening so fast that Buffy couldn't react in time. The tip of her sword met the side of a stone planter, and he stamped on the blade, knocking the hilt from her hands. She felt herself hit one of the stone tables and go over. He kept coming, still smiling that awful, malicious smile that was Angel's and wasn't at the same time.
Wall at her back. She could go no further. She felt the sunlight on her face; she had somehow ended up at one of the few sunny patches. A flippant comment she'd once made to Angel suddenly came back to haunt her, about how she didn't look that good in direct light. She closed her eyes, waiting for the final blow. Please, she prayed, let it be quick.
Angel held the sword lightly in one hand, making the tip dance, letting it bounce towards her and back again. "Now that's everything, huh?" he grinned. "No weapons... no friends... no hope. Take all that away... and what's left?"
The words sparked memory again. Whistler. One thing left.
She acted without thinking. Her eyes opened; her hands came up before her face and slapped around the flat of the blade that Angel had thrust towards her.
"Me," was her terse reply.
Angel's face registered surprise and shock, but she didn't have even a moment to enjoy it. She shoved the sword back at him. The hilt caught him in the chin and he stumbled a few steps back. On her feet in the next instant, she roundhoused him in the chest, and while he was recovering, she grabbed her sword again.
Her rally was swift and sudden, the more powerful for being unexpected. Angel didn't stand a chance; it just took him a while to realize it. He tried, she had to give him that much, but it could only last for so long. They moved back into the courtyard, approaching the statue - rumbling ominously, Buffy didn't like that at all - and it was there that she got her blows in, slicing his hand, knocking the sword away from him. Another kick to the face and he was down on his knees, clutching his hand, his back to the statue, his head down.
She raised her weapon for the killing blow.
Without warning, Angel gave a loud gasp. His face snapped up as his entire upper body arced backwards, and for just a moment his wide-open eyes glowed bright gold. He cried out, an anguished, painful shout wrung from the depths of his soul. And then he collapsed forward again.
Buffy stared. She could do nothing else. She had frozen in place at the first sound he'd uttered. Hope, long denied, began to steal through her. Was it possible?
Slowly, his head lifted once more. When his eyes met hers, she could see the light picking out wetness on his face. He peered at her, narrowing his eyes as if he couldn't quite make out everything he saw.
"Buffy?" His voice was little more than a whisper, choked with tears. "What's going on?"
Her arms were locked above her head, the sword a dead weight in them. Fear and despair and hope all tried to crowd into her veins at once. He was getting to his feet now, gingerly, as though his body was something he had to get used to all over again. His dark eyes traversed the room, confusion evident in his continued, searching, glances.
"Where are we?" Those deep, radiant eyes, heavy with dampness, settled on hers again. "I... I don't remember."
Am I in heaven here or am I...
It was like a great relief to be able to lower the sword, and she did so gingerly, feeling her muscles relax. It was him. Even though the rational part of her mind kept shouting at her that it was impossible, it was him. She opened her mouth to say something. Only his name came out.
One hand reached for her arm as he saw the cut he'd inflicted on her only minutes earlier. "You're hurt."
Her gaze was drawn to the shallow gash by the motion of his hand. His touch was gentle, bringing back a thousand bittersweet memories of times he'd touched her... before. Firmly, then, he pulled her close, his arms coming around her.
"Buffy... God," he was murmuring in her ear. "I feel like I haven't seen you in months..."
The tears came when she realized that it was him, his warm, strong body that she'd missed so much. She wanted to deny it. It couldn't be him, not really, it was a joke, some cosmic prank, the gods laughing--
His hands so tender, so gentle, touched her hair, and when he pulled back to look at her, there was nothing of Angelus in his loving gaze. It was only Angel, speaking quietly. "Oh my God... everything's so muddled..."
She found his lips with her own, and his kiss was as sweet as she'd remembered, his lips as soft and smooth as they'd been every night in her dreams since her seventeenth birthday. Delicious, it was, mixed with her salty tears.
Through her matted lashes she could see the portal of Acathla opening behind him. The statue's jaw gaped wide, and from it whirled a swirling vortex of energy fully twelve feet across, so swiftly moving that it hurt the eyes to gaze upon. Coruscant bolts of lightning shot through it. The mouth of hell, opened by Angelus...
No it's him I can't lose him again but what if it isn't I can't take that chance--
Whistler's words came back to her all at once, flashing through her mind like a rapid series of slides, and the lightbulb went on. She knew what to do.
She was still holding the sword Kendra had traveled so far to give her, the one that had been blessed by the knight. "Angel, your hand," she breathed.
"Wha--?" He was still dazed by the transfer and the shock of seeing her again, and didn't resist when she grabbed his right hand by the wrist and placed her sword's hilt into it. Reflexively, his hand grasped it. He had half-turned, and his jaw dropped when he caught sight of the vortex's great whirling maw. "What the hell is that?"
"Your evil twin's little plot to bring hell to Earth," she replied. She had his wrist by both hands now. Angel blinked at her, then let out a surprised yell as she lunged forward, plunging the sword into the heart of the portal.
Please God let it work it has to work he said Angel's blood is the key there's still blood on his hand--
The wind rushed and roared in their ears angrily, demons denied screaming their rage in impotent fury. Angel's cry of pain was drowned in the huge noise. Then the silence clapped down like thunder.
Angel took a shuddering breath and looked up at Buffy again. His eyes were full of stunned confusion.
"Can I let go now?"
She slowly swung her gaze to Acathla. She'd been too scared to look. But the statue stood dormant before them, as immobile as ever, and Kendra's sword protruded from the center of its chest. There was no mark where the other sword had previously rested. Giles can analyze it later. Right now, she was too tired to think about anything except the fact that the world was safe from harm, and that by some miracle - by the grace of Willow, she thought irreverently - her love had been restored to her.
"Yeah," she breathed, unable now to restrain a grin. "I think it's safe."
He did so, tentatively. He was still on his knees before the statue, with her body between the stone figure and his own. Her hands released his wrist and he slumped forward involuntarily. She gasped. "Angel!"
"No, I'm all right," he promised, gulping. "God, it's all - it's all coming back, like the first time..."
"The first time?" She was baffled for a moment, until realization struck - the first time he'd been cursed, of course.
"I'm so tired..."
She shook off her own exhaustion. "You can sleep here. All the others are gone, Spike and Drusilla split, so there shouldn't be anything to worry about."
He got to his feet slowly. He was starting to scare her a little, the way he leaned heavily on her, but she knew that he had to be suffering from a heavy shock to the system and sleep was probably the best thing for him. She helped him to one of the bedrooms buried deep within the mansion's walls, far away from sunlight. The previous tenants had painted all the windows black, but it was still best to take precautions whenever possible. As Angel tumbled down to the dusty mattress, he blinked at her, managing a faint smile.
"Don't leave me."
"I'll be right here," she promised, and bent down to give him a soft kiss. "You sleep now."
Soon, she knew, she would have to contact the others, find out if the police had cleared her yet, deal with school and her mom. But for right now, it was enough to sit on the bed next to Angel and watch him drift off into peaceful relaxation.
So now you're sleeping peaceful
She was instantly startled. She hadn't even remembered falling asleep, but clearly she had, for she was curled up in a dark bedroom, a sheet pulled tight around her. As she sat up, a glance was enough to familiarize her with her surroundings and jolt her memory. The darkened room was where she'd led Angel to rest, after everything with the portal and Acathla. She remembered sitting on the bed, watching him sleep, and nothing more.
I must have just conked out from pure exhaustion, she mused as she stood. Her shoes were still on, indicating that she hadn't even been awake enough to consider disrobing. She turned to see if Angel was still asleep--
The other side of the bed was empty.
He's gone. The panicked thought scurried through her head and she forced herself to calm down, to breathe deeply. Surely he was still here somewhere. He wouldn't have left her. He couldn't have.
She made her way out through twisty passages and weird corridors, only vaguely remembering the trip through them made earlier that morning. As she approached the courtyard in which they'd fought, a mental tingle tickled the back of her brain, and she felt her body go on alert as it always had whenever she'd seen him.
He was there, sitting in a chair - the wheelchair she'd seen Spike in, she realized - and he had propped his chin in one hand as he contemplated the statue of Acathla. It was the same as they'd left it - crouched in an awkward looking stance, its hands clutching a tablet before it at crotch-level, it stared balefully out at the world as if annoyed at its continued existence. The sword still protruded from its chest, and its mouth had remained shut.
Angel looked more than a little disturbed, however. He'd found his trenchcoat from somewhere, and as he lounged back in the chair, regarding the statue, a shadow crossed his face. Then he looked up and saw her standing in the doorway. Emotion warred on his face, in his eyes: love for her, revulsion at himself, shame, grief...
The silence grew deep and barren. Buffy took a breath and stepped into the courtyard.
"Angel," she said.
"Buffy," he replied. There was the tiniest hint of a smile on his face at this old greeting.
"I - I woke up and you weren't there," she said finally.
He stood, then, but he seemed afraid to move. He stuck his hands in the pockets of his trenchcoat and looked down. "Yeah, I'm, I'm sorry. I needed to do some thinking."
"About..?" she prompted.
"Well, um, the things I've done," he said haltingly. "I almost want to say the things he's done. Angelus. As if he was someone else. God, I wish it could be that simple."
"Angel--" she began. He waved a hand.
"Like killing Jenny. That was unforgivable. But I did it, and I enjoyed it. And then I made it worse by being as deliberately cruel to Giles as I could. Or when I told your mom about us making love. Or torturing Giles last night--"
"Angel, that wasn't you," Buffy said desperately.
He looked at her bleakly. "Don't you think I wish it wasn't? God, if there was a way--" He cut himself off suddenly, looking pained. "It didn't hurt this much the last time."
She started to take a step towards him, but he stepped away, keeping the distance between them equal.
"How can you stand to come near me after what I did to you, to your mother, to Giles? Buffy, I could have killed you in your sleep."
"I trust you." She didn't know where the words came from, but she knew that they were true and needed speaking.
He was looking at her with a somewhat shellshocked gaze, as if she'd grown another head. Calmly, she went on. "Angel, I trust you. I know you weren't in control of yourself after - after you lost your soul..."
"No, that's the thing." He turned, began pacing around the perimeter of the courtyard like a caged tiger. "I was in control. I knew exactly what I was doing. The only difference - the only difference - is that now, I feel remorse."
He stopped pacing suddenly and snorted. "Father O'Hare always said I'd grieve for my sins. Guess he was more right than he knew."
Buffy had stopped by a pillar and leaned on it, wrapping her arms around herself. She looked innocent still, despite the wells of sadness in her eyes.
"So you're saying you'd do it all again, except that you've got the whole guilt thing going on."
He nodded. "Pretty much. Which is why you shouldn't trust me."
She glanced up at him, and he thought he heard her say, very softly, "Oh," just before she burst into tears. The desperate sound of her crying undid his resolve to stay away from her. He crossed the courtyard in an instant, reaching for her, gathering her into his arms. How long had it been since he'd held her like this, comforting, protecting? He didn't want to think about it.
Her sobbing eased gradually, and he ran a gentle hand over her hair, which had come loose from its tieback sometime while she'd slept during the day.
"It's just that you're all I have left," she murmured, pressing her cheek to his chest. "My mom and I had a fight, and she kicked me out, and I got expelled from school because of that moronic troll, and - and the police think I killed Kendra, and now I don't know what I'm going to do."
"I'm sorry," he whispered. It sounded inadequate even to him, but she just sighed and slipped her arms a little more firmly around his waist.
The simple pleasure of holding her was in itself fulfilling, and he allowed himself to enjoy it with the surety of one who is aware that it might be taken away at any moment. His hands were soft and soothing on her back, her hair. Buffy didn't want to leave the warm security of his arms, not when she'd been denied him for so long. Eventually, though, she drew back, looking up at him.
"I - we - have to do something. We can't stay here."
"Yeah, I know," he admitted heavily. "You should let Giles and the others know you're all right, and your mom..."
Her face became bitter at the mention of her mother, but then she nodded. "Yeah. I don't know if she's gonna let me back in the house."
"There's always my place," he suggested. She blinked, then looked thoughtful.
"I hadn't thought of that. Is the, uh, the lease or whatever still good?"
He couldn't help but chuckle. "You could say that, yeah. I mean - I don't know if it's the best place for you to live, but at least for a few days..."
"Until I know what's going on," she agreed. "All right. I can call Willow and Giles and everyone from there."
As they abandoned the mansion, walking down the road hand in hand, Buffy could almost feel her heart lightening with every step she took. She couldn't remember the last time she'd smiled - maybe briefly, when she'd learned Willow was all right, but before then, not too much - and it felt good to realize that the world was all right. Better than all right. She had Angel back. Even if things couldn't be the way they were between them, maybe, just maybe, they could be a little bit better.
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this page last updated on 18 january 2003