Out of Time
Author: Dark Star
Rating: Soft Adult.
He tipped the glass and downed the last of his whiskey. He placed the glass back on the bar, just as the hair on the back of his neck began to prickle. He tensed. Somebody was coming up behind him.
An unfamiliar woman's voice made him turn slowly. She had a confidence well beyond her young age, and he could feel the power in her lithe body.
She grinned at him. "Got it in one, big guy."
His heart sank. He really wasn't in the mood for this. Couldn't he even have a drink in peace?
"Do you mind waiting, while I have another…"
"Buffy needs you," the Slayer broke in, and his protest trailed off. She laughed. "Giles said that would stop you in your tracks."
"Giles sent you?" He knew his response was lame, but his brain had seized up with, Buffy needs you.
"Yeah." Her expression was sober. "Buffy's been taken."
"Where is she?"
"That's… something Giles should tell you."
"Why do you need me? Giles has got a dozen slayers to help him."
She nodded. "True. But this… is something we can't do."
That sounded intriguing. He followed her from the bar to where her car was parked down the street.
The journey across the city took half an hour, and the Slayer, who went by the name of Jackie, filled him in on what had been happening.
Jackie took him to Hyde Park, where she told him they would be meeting the others. Giles had eventually settled in London with the remaining Slayers. A contact had inherited the deeds to a property that had been owned by the Council of Watchers, and given it to Giles to help him with his self-imposed job of mentoring the new Slayers. But over time, some of the girls had lost their power. Others were weaker than they had been, and Giles felt it was only a matter of time before it happened to the other girls as well. When Faith had died - and Angel remembered grimly the pain he'd felt when he'd originally heard that news - no new slayers had been called. Buffy, in spite of her pleasure in no longer being the lone Chosen One was rapidly becoming the Slayer once again
Jackie took him to a secluded area surrounded by trees, and Angel wondered idly if this was all a ruse, whether this was all some kind of ambush for him. He could feel the power of the other Slayers, and his muscles tensed in readiness; but then, Giles appeared from somewhere behind the girls to meet him. Without waiting for any kind of greeting, Angel said, "Where is she?"
Giles motioned him to follow, and led him back through the trees. Angel wasn't sure what he had expected to see, but whatever it had been wasn't… nothing. There was nothing to be seen except more trees, and he frowned in confusion. No… that wasn't quite right. There was something here, in between the trees, and he turned back to Giles.
"Yes. We know Buffy is behind it, but we can't get in."
That was all he needed to know. Buffy was there, she could be in serious trouble, and he would find a way in. He'd taken two steps forward before Giles stopped him.
He waited. Giles opened his hand, and only then did Angel notice he was holding an apple. Why was he holding an apple? Couldn't he wait five minutes to eat his lunch? Curious, he watched Giles roll the apple across the ground and into the barrier. The apple rolled between the trees, shimmered, changing as it moved. It wrinkled, went brown, soft and powdery, and finally, it disappeared completely.
"We're not sure what it is." Giles was saying. "It could be a mystical or time barrier, it might be a portal. We don't even know if there is another side. Nothing we've sent in has made it all the way through. We have no idea what would happen to a human body during the journey through, or if it could pass through at all. A couple of the Slayers have offered, but I can't ask my girls to risk that."
"But you can ask me." It wasn't a question.
"I can't even guarantee that you will survive, Angel."
"Do you think she is still alive?" Angel asked softly.
"I do. The barrier went up after she passed by, and I believe something is trying to keep us out. I don't know why, but whatever took her didn't just want her dead."
"Well. We can't just leave her there. I have to try, Giles."
"I know." Angel took several steps toward the barrier. He stopped at the very brink, and Giles said, "Bring her back, Angel."
He squared his shoulders and prepared himself. "I will," he declared, and stepped into the barrier.
He stumbled, disorientated and trembling, reaching the other side of the barrier. The first step inside had been excruciating; he had forced his legs to take another step, and another; he had to grit his teeth and picture Buffy in his mind's eye to keep going. He would not let her down. The forth step was almost painless, and the steps after that became easier and easier. He assumed the first part had been the security element. He had no way of being sure, but he knew, somehow, that he had emerged into a different dimension. His mind, confused by the barrier, now focused on why he was here. He had to find her.
He pulled himself up from his kneeling position and stood up. He was in some kind of hallway, and there were doors leading off on both sides. He turned back to the barrier, and he could feel that it was still there, but on the other side the trees had vanished and the hallway continued on behind it. He was reminded of the timeflux he experienced when he and the gang went to see Giselle.
He set off down the hallway, peering into all the doorways as he passed. Most of the rooms were empty; some had beings in chains or various stages of torment. He itched to help them, but he wasn't here for them. He could think of only one person, and until he found her - everything else would have to wait.
He lost count of how many floors he had searched, how many people he'd seen in distress in the building. Only twice had he hidden inside the rooms because somebody else was using the hallways. He was beginning to despair of finding her in the maze of the building, when… his skin started to tingle. Like the feeling he'd got off Jackie earlier, but much stronger. It had a special element all of its own, and only one person ever made him feel like that. He sprinted down the hallway, using his instinct to guide him.
He hesitated outside the door to her room. What would he find? Had they tortured or raped her like some of the others that he'd seen? Perhaps… he shook his head to clear the horrible images that confronted him. He pushed open the door and stepped inside.
The room was nicer than some of the others. Soft furnishings, comfortable furniture. She was lying fully clothed on top of the bed, not bound in any way, and yet - absolutely still. He frowned; something wasn't quite right.
He moved forward carefully, expecting some kind of booby trap. But there was nothing; he reached the bed and looked down. Her eyes were open but completely blank.
She continued to stare straight ahead, unblinking, and still totally immobile. What had they done to her?
She was alive, and he could hear her pulse speeding up. She knew he was there, but was unable to respond to him. Was she drugged? He hesitated, fighting his instinct to take her in his arms. Instead, he stepped back and let his gaze sweep down over her body. He could see nothing wrong. Except, on her left ankle was a gold chain that he had never seen her wear before. He bent down for a closer look, but still without touching her.
The anklet had tiny symbols carved into the gold, and he waved his hand over it. He could almost feel the energy in it. Damn. She was the booby trap.
Some instinct warned him it would be dangerous to touch her. Somewhere, there must be a way to get her out; a key of some sort.
"I'm sorry," he said sadly, "I hate to leave you like this. But I swear I'll get you out of here."
Her heart rate jumped, and he wished he could comfort her. He hated seeing her so still; he didn't want to leave her, but he had to find a way to get the anklet off without hurting her.
He backed slowly away from her, and then turned and entered the hallway again.
He searched all of the hallways and adjoining rooms, looking for some kind of office, or control area, but he grew more and more frustrated at not being able to find a way to help.
Eventually, he began to realise that the whole place was protected by the timeflux - or whatever it was. He felt like a rat in a trap. The only thing he could think of doing was to return to Buffy. As he approached her door, he noticed a second scent in there with her. She had company.
He stopped outside her room and listened. Somebody was talking to her, very quietly, but even his ears couldn't pick out what was being said. He slipped silently inside the room. The subdued lighting left shadowy edges to the room and it was easy for him to blend into the background.
Buffy's visitor was standing at the side of her bed, and standing looking down at her. He was slightly stooped, as though of a great age, and the loose lines of his garments made his apparel look like robes.
"Another four taken today, Buffy. What do you think of that?"
He cackled at his joke, knowing that she was unable to respond to him.
"I'm arranging to have that alteration to your chain I told you about." The man's voice had taken on a lower pitch, and Angel's back tensed with the man's leering tone. "Then we'll have some fun, Slayer. You'll still be completely frozen, but I'll be able to touch you any way I choose to, and I'm really looking forward to giving you a… urk!"
Angel's arm tightened around the old man's throat. He had no intention of letting him finish that sentence.
The man squawked, and Angel released his hold just a touch. "Are you going to behave?"
The frightened man nodded and Angel let go of his throat and shifted the hold to his chest.
"Who are you?" the man whispered, not being able to see his adversary.
"My name's Angel. What's yours?"
"Rig," the old man rasped. "I wondered how long it would take you to get here."
Angel tightened his grip on the man's chest. "You were expecting me?"
The old man chuckled, an attempt to make it sound as though he wasn't scared witless. The vampire wasn't fooled. "The Slayers' mate? I'm surprised it took you so long."
"Well, how about you getting her out of here before I snap your neck?"
The old man pulled a small stick from his pocket. The stick, no bigger than the palm of a man's hand had the same markings along the shaft that had adorned the chain on Buffy's ankle.
Angel growled, and was rewarded with the unmistakable scent of fear. "I'm watching you. If anything happens to her… you die."
Rig nodded, too afraid to speak. Angel released him and watched as he passed the tiny stick over the chain. A blue spark passed between them, and the chain fell from her ankle. Buffy's fingers twitched.
"She'll be all right in a moment." Rig assured him.
"What do you want with her?"
"It's nothing personal," Rig said. "It's what I do."
"But she's not any woman, is she? She's the Slayer. A warrior." He gave Angel a very smug smile. "I'm paid very handsomely to remove warriors from their cause."
A chill crawled down Angel's spine. "You sent an assassin after me."
Rig looked uncomfortable. "The Mohra, yes. It wasn't very effective, was it?"
The memory of the Mohra brought up the memory of his perfect day, and he hurriedly pushed that back into the archive of his brain.
"Why go to all this trouble with Buffy?" he snapped, making Rig jump. "Why didn't you just kill her when you had the chance?"
"Because I am the Slayer," the familiar voice said, and he glanced back at her. She was sitting up on the edge of the bed, looking a bit weak but otherwise healthy.
"Are you okay?"
"I've been better," she said, but her smile melted his heart. "If he had just killed me, another Slayer would have been called. But storing me here - in a dimension where the time travels differently - I don't die, and no new warrior gets called. Possibly for a century or more."
"What would have happened if I had tried to get the chain off myself?"
"It would have imploded and taken us both with it."
Rig was edging backwards, when suddenly he turned and sprinted for the door. Well, he would have sprinted if he hadn't been so old, but Angel caught up with him easily. During the brief struggle, Rig tried to pull something that looked like a gun out of his pocket, and Angel, who'd had a really bad day, broke his neck with one swift movement. Rig and weapon dropped to the floor, and Angel ignored both of them to go to the woman on the bed.
He knelt down, and she let her head drop onto his shoulder. Angel took her in his arms; she must have felt so scared. The one thing that had always frightened her was becoming a victim. To be so helpless, and so much at the mercy of a maniac, must have terrified her.
When she pulled away, he asked, "Can you walk?"
"I think so." She tried to stand up, but sat down again rapidly, and said apologetically, "Give me a minute, okay?"
Angel sat down on the bed next to her, taking her hand without even thinking about it. "Do you know who all the prisoners in the building are?"
"Warriors, Angel. All of them. Without all the warriors and champions in the world, demons get to be top of the chain."
"Because nobody is strong enough to stop them."
"Yes. Time travels differently in this dimension. I don't know how much time has passed back home - but if it's years, then it probably isn't a very nice place to be."
"We've got to find a way back," he told her. "While you are getting your strength back, I want to go and release some of the other prisoners. Will you be all right?"
"Peachy." She smiled, looking more like her old self. "You go. Do what you have to - I'll be fine."
Angel raised her hand and kissed it. "I'll be back soon. If you need me - call."
"I will," she replied, her mind distracted by the touch of his lips on her skin. And then he was gone, and she was alone again.
Angel started with some of the prisoners closest to Buffy's room, and told them what was happening. And they, being warriors, wanted to find out for themselves. So they set to the task of releasing more prisoners. Some of those went off to find a way out, some to help the other prisoners, and some to look for the inevitable guards. The hallways, that had looked so empty earlier, now teemed with activity.
When Angel returned to Buffy's room she met him at the doorway. She looked a little unsteady, an after-effect of being immobile for so long, but she didn't want him to help her. In the background, they could hear sounds that could only mean fighting, and then there was a cheer.
With every step she took, she grew stronger. When they reached the point where the hallway turned, the whole area seemed to shimmer, and they held still. The never-ending hallways faded away, leaving a normal looking building in its wake.
"What's going on?" Buffy asked a passing ex-prisoner.
"Brewster's turned off the Simatek ."
"Simatek ?" asked Angel.
"Brewster?" said Buffy.
The informant grinned at them. "Brewster's one of those that were freed. He says the Simatek gives a false frontage to shield something. It's a bit like a glamour, but scientific, not mystical." The infectious smile was back, and he held out his hand. "The name's Phil, by the way. And I never thanked you for releasing us."
Angel took the man's proffered hand. "You're welcome. I'm Angel."
"Buffy, "she said eagerly, not wanting to be left out and Phil shook her hand too. "Do you know how to get out of here?"
Phil sobered. "You'll need to see Brewster. Come on, I'll show you."
Brewster turned out to a very large man with snow-white hair, his left arm in a sling and wearing a wild expression. He was scurrying up and down the bank of sophisticated computers, apparently knowing what he was doing.
He grunted when he saw them. "If you want to go home, you'll have to wait. I've got a backlog of warriors all wanting…"
"Brewster," Phil broke in gently, "Angel is the one who came and freed us."
Brewster's expression changed instantly to one of apology. "I'm sorry, I had no idea…"
"Looks like you've got your work cut out." Angel commented, watching the large man feeding in codes, organising helpers, and reading printouts.
"Do you understand all this?" Buffy asked.
"Mostly." Brewster replied. "It's a little more recent than I'm used to, but I'm figuring it out as I go. My main concern is not overloading the system. There are over a hundred people here who insist on getting back to fight the good fight. If I try and send too many through, the whole bank will collapse and likely take weeks to sort out. I seem to be the only one who knows anything about this. We need to allow it to build up power again, and that will take about three hours before I can send anyone else through. I'll make you two a priority."
"Thank you. Is there anything we can do to help?"
"Phil's trying to organise the headstrong bastards into something that resembles order, and he could really use some help."
And help is what the young man received, in the form of one very large and formidable vampire, and one very small and bossy blonde woman. Many of the assembled group were awed that they had a real slayer in their midst, and order was achieved rapidly.
An inventory was made of everyone who had been freed, what skills they had that could be used to help; who needed to return home quickest or could go in groups, who was too ill to return just yet, and a priority list was drawn up. Everyone was given a job to do, from security personnel, to science assistance to helping Brewster with the Simatek technology, right through to organising food, supplies and sleeping arrangements for those who had to wait before they could return home.
By the time the Simatek was ready to send them through, Phil was in charge of an organized and useful group.
An archway in the adjoining lab turned out to be the entrance to the portal. Brewster assured them that the security element in the barrier that had caused Angel so much trouble had now been nullified.
"How can we be sure to arrive together?" Angel asked. "Don't we need to be enclosed by iron on four sides?" At Buffy's enquiring gaze, he explained that he'd had to do that once. Brewster shook his head. "No, no. This technology is more sophisticated than that. As long as all those who wish to arrive together leave during the same power surge, it will work."
Together, they stood beside the archway, and waited for Brewster to turn the power on. A faint whine filled the air, and the space under the archway crackled and then cleared, but there was no other sign that the portal was active. Conscious of the need not to waste the Simatek's power source, they stepped through the arch as soon as Brewster told them it was ready.
They emerged out of the portal into an alley behind some shops. Slightly disorientated, Angel blinked - he had expected to return to the point that he had left from.
"Where are we?" Buffy asked as they made the short walk down the alley.
"I'm not sure," Angel replied. "It's not Hyde Park, but I think it's still London."
Rubbish was strewn alongside the walls, poked out of soggy cardboard boxes and rattled over the concrete when accidentally touched. They emerged from the alley, and began to walk along the deserted street. Angel felt certain that he had been there before, but it was hard to tell. The streets were all empty, lights muted or absent, and he was reminded of how things had been during the blackout. The people were in hiding.
A faded underground sign came into view, and the location of the place immediately became obvious.
"We're in Knightsbridge," he said firmly.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Harrods is just down there. I know exactly where we are."
Buffy grinned. "Harrods? Never figured you for a shopper, Angel."
"I wasn't, but…" he hesitated, wondering whether to tell her the truth. "….Darla was. She loved the place."
Buffy scowled. "Lucky for them they had what she wanted."
"Oh, they didn't." One hundred years ago, and he remembered the incident so clearly. "She was so pissed off she burnt the place to the ground."
Buffy started to respond, when the sound of an engine reverberated down the silent street. She and Angel ducked into a darkened shop doorway to see what was coming.
A motorcycle, whose mounted rider was clearly a demon, sped past them and disappeared from view.
"What's going on?" Buffy exclaimed. "As far as I'm aware, demons don't roam freely around the streets of London, and the streets are busy and less… derelict. What's happening?"
"Without the world's champions to stop it, demons have taken control. I don't know how widespread this is…"
"Well." Buffy's eyes were alight with anticipation. "The champions are back. I think it's about time we took control again, don't you?"
"I do." Angel's expression was thoughtful. "But we need to know exactly what's been going on. I think there is somewhere we have to go first."
In order to get to where they wanted to go, required a fairly hazardous journey across town. They decided against hijacking a demon motorist and stealing his transport, and they decided against using the underground system. Although it might have been a quicker route, they reasoned that it was probably crawling with demons of all kinds, and opted instead to travel above ground on foot.
At Piccadilly they ran into a gang of four leather adorned demons who fancied themselves as tough guys. Two minutes later, all four had been dealt with and left dead on the ground. The whole area around Shaftesbury, Regent Street and the Strand was swarming with demons, forcing them to make a wide detour down by Victoria Embankment. It didn't even occur to them to backtrack and maybe try Park Lane as an easier route. These two didn't do easy.
And it was there, down by the Thames, that they ran into real trouble.
The first part of the road was quiet, and the walk along the Embankment could have been called pleasant, if it wasn't for the lack of light and traffic in the area, making it feel surreal. And then the place was filled with noise; a gang of demon motorbikers appeared in front of them. They had heard them coming, but there was nowhere to take cover where they were, and although they hurried up in order to get off the street, the bikers saw them, and screeched to a halt with loud whoops and screeches.
"I hope you feel up to this," Angel said under his breath.
"Don't worry about me," she shot back. "I'll be fine."
The leader of the pack - and the snuffly howls some of his compatriots were making made that particularly appropriate - approached them with a swagger. Buffy stepped forward to stand next to Angel, in what she hoped looked a confident pose.
"What have we here?" He barked at them. His ears wiggled, and his long snout dripped saliva.
"Euw," said Buffy. "You got a hanky there, Angel?"
"I wouldn't waste it on the underdog," he shot back.
The dog-demon paused uncertainly. He was used to humans screaming and being frightened, and he wasn't certain how to handle this.
He tried again. "I'm going to give you a head start, " he barked. "Think you can get away? Huh? Do you feel lucky?"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Oh, pulease! Now you think you're Clint Eastwood?"
To the demon's surprise she stepped forward. She'd had enough of this silliness. "Tell you what, Clyde, why don't you be a good doggie and let us pass?"
"Clyde?" he repeated, totally confused.
"Clyde." She said again. And then, in her best authoritarian voice, she commanded, "Sit!"
The demon didn't move, but it was beginning to filter through his small brain that she was making fun of him. Buffy glanced at Angel and said, "Well, it was worth a try…" she never finished that sentence because that was when the leader charged at them.
Then there were demons everywhere. Buffy and Angel managed to manoeuvre themselves so that they stood back to back, protecting each other. They hadn't fought together in years, but they had always worked well together, and now, it was as though nothing had changed. Together, they were strong.
Their movements were strong and fluid, dropping dog demons at every turn. But there were too many, and they were being worn down by the sheer weight of numbers. Close by, they could hear a car, or a van, screech to a halt and the door slam open.
Buffy's heart sank, and she fought harder. There were already too many to beat, and more…
But then, newcomers arrived on the pavement. Humans, armed with weapons, joined the melee, and a few of the remaining dog-demons fled in fear.
Four young men stood over the mass of demon bodies in the street. One of them came over and nodded to the pile of bodies surrounding them.
"You did well," he said, his voice tinged with awe. But before Buffy and Angel could respond, the sound of more motorcycles filled the air, and their rescuer said, "Unless you want another round with them - do you want a lift out of here?"
That sounded like a great idea, and Buffy and Angel scrambled into the back of the van.
The van pulled up at what looked like a deserted garage, and went inside. People were waiting for them to hide any evidence that the van had been there at all.
"Our place is close by. Do you want refreshments? A place to crash?"
That sounded even better, and they followed him through a couple of side streets and down some steps.
A young girl, apparently on sentry duty, saw them coming and welcomed the newcomers in, and the three people that they hadn't spoken to passed them by and went on ahead.
The leader of the humans led them through some disused offices. "The name's Jack, by the way."
"Nice to meet you, Jack. Thanks for the help back there." He grinned at her, and she continued, "My name's Buffy. And this…" She caught Angel's eye, who, oddly, was shaking his head, so she improvised, "…Jason."
Jack shook both their hands, and when he turned away, Angel mouthed, "Jason?"
Buffy shrugged. "The first name I thought of."
Jack led them down to where the others had congregated. Food and sandwiches were offered, and Buffy realised that she was starving. When had she last eaten?
The coffee and sandwiches were most welcome; Angel accepted a mug of tea, and carried it off with him when he offered to help unload a lorry that had just pulled in.
After they left, Buffy ate her sandwiches in awkward silence, not certain what to say to the young man with her.
"Um…" she started, wondering what on earth to talk about. "Where are we, exactly?"
"Abandoned warehouse down by the Angel," he told her.
Okaaay… "The Angel? Why is it called that?"
Jack shrugged, handing her some more sandwiches and wondering where on earth such a tiny woman was putting them all. "Nobody knows. Some people think that there used to be a pub here called the Angel, but some believe that an Angel helped somebody down here. A miracle, maybe."
He grinned at her bemused expression, and decided to change the subject. "Where are you trying to get to?"
"Highgate." Buffy replied.
That seemed to satisfy Jack. "Makes sense," he agreed. "Highgate is still a safe area. Many of our people hole up there."
"The demons haven't tried to take it over?"
Jack laughed. "Oh, they've tried. But there's a feisty old guy up there that seems to be able to keep them at bay. Don't know how he manages to keep it so organised up there, but we get most of our supplies and information from him."
"Well," Buffy said reluctantly. "When we've had a bit of a break, we'd better be going. We want to be there by morning."
"Look…" Jack was saying. "You both look beat to me. Why don't you stay here for tonight, and go up in the morning?"
"Uh… thanks. But… Angel's got this thing about travelling under cover of dark. Stealth, and all that."
"I understand. But we've got a lorry going back to Highgate first thing - it'll still be dark. If you try to get there by foot, you'll have one heck of a job; this time of night, the route is crawling with demons. In the morning, they usually leave us be. There are more patrols about then."
"Well…" she hesitated, but the idea had appeal. "Thank you. I… we would appreciate the lift, if its no trouble for you?"
Jack grinned. "No problem at all. I'll speak to the guys and they'll arrange it for you."
After Angel returned, a small room was found for them, and a couple of sleeping bags thrown in. Buffy found it curious that Jack's group had not asked them anything about where they had come from, or why they had no provisions of their own.
"It probably doesn't really matter to them," Angel suggested. "When you're faced with day-to-day survival, its probably best if you don't dwell too much on the past."
"I guess," Buffy replied, distracted because she was eyeing up the two sleeping bags and wondering whether to put them next to each other or not.
As if reading her mind, Angel said, "They know we're a couple. It will look strange if you don't."
Her mind in a whirl, she placed the two bags together in the corner. Angel had said, They know we're a couple. Had he meant it? Now that the world had changed… would he stay with her?
"Are you okay?" his soft voice broke into her muddled thoughts, and she felt just like a child with her hand caught in the cookie jar.
"Yeah," she replied, pretending to busy herself with straightening the bags out, and desperately wanting to change the subject, she accused, "That was you this place was named after, wasn't it?"
She was gratified to see that he now looked embarrassed, and she asked, "What did you do?"
"I just happened to be in the right place," he said modestly, coming forward to sit down on the bags next to her. "I helped somebody."
She was getting the impression he didn't want to talk about it, and for a moment, she considered pressing him on it. In the end, she gave him a rueful smile. "It's what we do, isn't it?"
He smiled back, and her heart skipped a beat. She had forgotten how much his face could change when he smiled - maybe it was because he didn't do it nearly often enough.
"You should rest," he was saying. "We don't know what tomorrow will hold." He was disconcerted that her expression fell.
"What is it?"
"Angel…. When you found me, I'd been held still for so long, and… you don't know what that does to your mind. Supposing… none of this is real? Supposing I wake up to find that I'm back there again?" She swallowed and looked down, her voice coming out in a whisper. "I was so scared. He could have done anything he wanted to me and I couldn't have stopped him. It was only that the anklet held a security element that he didn't. He was going to get a modification that would allow him to do those things to me, and the things he said…."
Angel sat up, brought his hand to her face. "That part is over now. Rig is dead. This is real, Buffy. I'm real."
Her eyes held real fear as she whispered, "But how do I know that?" she blinked her eyes, trying to focus on him. "You don't understand, Angel. You don't know what it was like…"
"But I do," he replied, his eyes locking on hers intensely. "I was held a prisoner in a box at the bottom of the ocean for three months. I do understand, Buffy. I understand the fear, and the loneliness, and the utter despair of ever getting out." He had her attention now, and he continued, "But you're free. You're here with me, and it's all real."
His fingers traced the side of her face. "This is real," he said again. "My hand is real. Feel the touch of it on your skin and tell me it's not real."
Her heart was thundering. Was he real? Or was he only here because she had dreamt of him so much? His fingers were now running down her neck, and tracing his scar with a touch so delicate, it made her shudder. And suddenly it didn't matter. If this wasn't real, if he was going to disappear when she woke up, she wanted whatever support he could give her tonight.
She leant forward slowly, touching her lips against his, and expecting him to pull away. But he stayed still, except that the hand on her neck slipped back behind her head to slide his fingers through her hair, and only then did he respond to her.
She was dreaming. She knew she was dreaming; everything she had always wanted all in one package, and suddenly, she didn't care. She needed him; needed to feel his mouth on her skin, needed to touch and be touched by him. She moved to straddle his hips, and already his hands were peeling her sweater off and she raised her arms to help him. His hands were on her back, and her skin tingled where he had been but he wasn't touching her where she needed him to, so she unfastened her own bra and threw it down on top of the sweater.
Taking his cue from her, Angel's hands moulded round her breasts, feeling the weight and texture of them, and enjoying her moans of pleasure as he explored the softness of her skin, and the arching of her back as her body begged for more.
Her skin felt like silk, and wanted to touch every part of her, but he was afraid of moving too fast, and he was content to let her take it as far as she needed to.
Buffy leant forward, fumbling with the buttons of his shirt, yanking the material open so that she could run her hands over the hard contours of his chest; Bending further, she let her mouth follow where her hands had been, but she wanted more, and all the time her lips caressed his skin, her hands were impatiently working to unfasten his belt, his jeans, and get them out of her way. Angel was doing the same with the rest of her clothes, and with a tangle of arms and legs they came together, skin on skin, bodies joined at every place that was possible to connect with.
Afterwards, she collapsed on top of him… and slept.
The first thing she felt when she awoke was Angel's naked chest against her face. She pushed up to rest on one elbow. He was asleep, and he looked… happy. Something twisted inside her. Oh god… what had she done? She was off the sleeping bag in an instant, pulling on her clothes as quickly as she could.
"What's up?" his voice, slurred from sleep, sounded confused.
"Nothing," she snapped, already turning to get out. Too slow, he was off the ground to grab hold of her arm and turn her round. She was very conscious of the fact that he was standing in front of her, stark naked.
"Talk to me."
"We can't, can we? Angel… the curse…"
He let her go, a frown creasing his face. "Last night was wonderful, Buffy. But it isn't going to give me perfect happiness." When she looked hurt, he rushed to explain. "It isn't just sex that is the problem. The danger comes when everything is right, and I finally feel at peace. And I'm sorry, but as much as I long to make love to you… doing it in a grubby warehouse doesn't count as perfect."
"Oh," she said, sounding disappointed. Then she gave a slow grin, and she deliberately let her gaze drop down his naked torso. "Think we've got time before we have to leave?"
That morning Jack had an extra pair of helpers to load his lorry. He couldn't put his finger on why they looked different this morning, but he reckoned that rest must have done them good.
Demons were beginning to become scarcer as daylight approached, and the lorry made the short journey to Highgate unhindered. The guards at Highgate checkpoint let them through, and the lorry dropped them outside the house they were looking for.
The wooden front door suddenly seemed scarier than the worst foe. Buffy raised her hand and knocked. The sound was so soft, that she could barely hear it, and she knocked again - much harder this time.
The door inched open, and Rupert Giles, seventy-three years old and clutching the doorframe with one hand and a crossbow with the other, stared in shock at the vision on his doorstep. Neither of them had aged a day since he had last seen them. Was he hallucinating? Had he finally gone raving mad?
Nobody moved, perhaps because they were afraid that this would all disappear if they did. Eventually, trying to break the strained silence, Angel said, "Hello, Giles. I did as you asked…"
And then, both Buffy and Giles were laughing and moving toward each other and the years seemed to just drop away from him as he clutched his Slayer tightly in his arms, crossbow forgotten somewhere on the floor.
She was home.
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