By Maquis Leader
Author’s note: This story is set during The Gift. Angel and gang came back from Pylea a little earlier than we saw in There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb.
“There’s a hole in the sky – demons – coming through – oh God – “ Cordelia had both hands fisted in her hair as the vision exploded inside her head. “Buffy – she’s fighting – “
“Where?” Angel crouched by her side, trying to help Cordy pull the details from the chaos in her vision. “Who is she fighting?”
“Bad hair – tacky clothes – “ Cordy’s eyes popped open. “She’s – oh God, Angel – she’s jumping!”
“Who’s jumping?” He prompted.
“Who has tacky clothes?” Lorne ran a hand down his flamingo pink shirt. “And let’s not get into who has bad hair.”
“Shh!” Gunn elbowed him.
“Buffy – “ Cordy sat up and grabbed Angel’s arm. “She’s jumping – oh my God, she’s jumping!” The vision shut off as quickly as it had hit her, and Cordelia slumped back into Wes’ arms.
“Cordy, Buffy’s jumping what?” Angel knew Cordy’s head was killing her and she was exhausted, but he needed to know if Buffy was safe.
“She – oh jeez – “ Rubbing at her forehead, she squinted up at Angel. “There’s a scaffold or a big ladder thingy – and Buffy jumped off of it.”
“Onto a demon?” Wes asked hopefully. “She’s killing a demon?”
“No.” Cordy reached up to touch Angel’s cheek. “She’s killing herself.”
“Giles said that Glorificus was banished from her own dimension.” Wes shined his penlight on the text he was scanning. He was shielding the light with one hand, careful not to let it interfere with Angel’s night vision. Considering the speed Angel was pushing the Plymouth to – it was best not to distract him.
“So she’s trying to go back?”
“Exactly. Although from what I’m reading here, the rift only opens once the Key is found and the proper ceremony performed.” He looked up. “It seems that Dawn is the Key.”
“How can Dawn be a key?” Angel pressed the gas pedal down a bit more. “She’s a child.”
“Better not let her hear you say that.” Cordy said from the backseat. “I remember being her age – just a couple of years ago, by the way. Too old for this – too young for that. Life sucked. Well, except for the shopping. God, I miss the shopping.”
“I’m not certain how Dawn became the Key. Perhaps her relationship with Buffy?” Wes mused. “The Key is referred to as a mystical energy… not a person… so how did Dawn…”
“It doesn’t matter how.” Angel told him, more annoyed at Wes’ habit of thinking aloud than usual. “What matters is that we stop Buffy from killing herself.”
“And stop the demon invasion?” Cordy hit the back of his seat. “You do remember the whole rift opening – demons invading thing?”
“Of course.” Angel gripped the steering wheel more tightly. “We can’t let demons invade – but we can’t let Buffy die either.”
“Buffy – she’s your ex, right? What’s she got to do with demons?” Gunn asked.
“Buffy’s the Slayer.” Angel told him.
“Oh yeah, of course.” He nodded. “What the hell does that mean?”
“Into each generation a Slayer is born. One girl in all the world, a Chosen One. One born with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness.” Wes responded automatically, as if he were back at exams. “She is the Slayer.”
“Yeah, yeah, Buffy the vampire Slayer, big deal.” Cordy nudged Gunn. “The real story is that Buffy and Angel were a thing. All hot and heavy until – whoops – Angel lost his soul one night.”
“He lost – “ Gunn frowned. “You pulling my leg?”
“Oh, Willow put it back.” She waved a hand. “But it turns out there’s this itty bitty catch to Angel’s curse.”
Gunn waited for a moment. When Cordy didn’t continue, he prompted. “What?”
“True happiness what?”
“Can’t have it.” She shook her head. “Can’t have it. At all.”
“Hello?” Angel said from the front seat. “I’m sitting right here.”
“So, no sex?” The thought horrified Gunn.
“I can have sex!” Angel growled. “It’s not about the sex!”
“Of course not.” Cordy patted his shoulder before leaning closer to Gunn. “Yeah, no sex.”
“Well, he can – he’s equipped and all I guess – but bad – “ She stopped and bit back a giggle. “For us anyway. I guess it was good for Angel. Buffy never did say – “
“Can we leave my love life out of this?” Angel snarled over his shoulder at her. “And Buffy was perfectly happy!”
“Well, yeah, sure.” Cordy smiled and nodded. “Okay, sure.”
“And it’s not about the sex! It was never about the sex!”
“He gets a little touchy about it.” She told Gunn.
“Here’s something.” Wes said suddenly. “The Key shall be made into the form, and the form will bleed – oh dear – “
“Oh dear? What?” Wes’ ‘oh dears’ were never good news. Cordy kicked the back of his seat. “Oh dear, what?”
“The rift will open as long as it flows. When the flow stops, the rift will close again.” He shut the flashlight off. “The rift has to remain open long enough for Glorificus to pass through.”
“Unfortunately, that means demons get to come through from her side.” The images of demons that Angel had seen during his time in Acathla’s dimension came to him. “Not good.”
“You think, oh master of understatement?” Cordy snorted indelicately. “Why can’t these demony things just stay home?”
“Glorificus didn’t want to come here, Cordy.” Wes told her. “She was banished here. It’s a punishment.”
“That’s another thing.” She poked his shoulder. “Why do they always send their baddies here? Like we’re not busy enough?”
“Yeah, like trying to get Fred to come out of her room.” Gunn liked the timid girl they’d brought home from Pylea. He didn’t like that she wouldn’t come out of her room in the hotel.
“Lorne is keeping her company.” Cordy shrugged. “He said he’d sit out in the hall and read People magazine to her.”
“Cordy, what did you see in your vision?” Angel guided the Plymouth off the freeway and into Sunnydale. “Where are we going?”
“There was a crane or some big window washer thingy.” She closed her eyes and tried to recall the details.
“A ‘window washer thingy’, Cordelia?” Wes frowned. “An altar to perform black magic is hardly a ‘window washer thingy.’”
“Shut up, Wes.” Something was familiar in the images. She’d been there. “Construction – there was – oh! Head for the high school!”
“They’re rebuilding the high school?” Wes shook his head. “Right over the Hellmouth once again, I assume?”
“This is Sunnydale.” Angel smiled, but it was grim and sad. “If there’s a worst possible place to put something – they do.”
“Whoa – what’s a Hellmouth?” Gunn asked. “'Cos that sounds like someplace I don’t want to be.”
“It’s a mystical convergence of forces.” Wes turned in his seat to look at Gunn. “Demons are drawn to it. Witches and sorcerers employ its power to – “
“Yeah, yeah.” Cordy rolled her eyes. “Big demon Energizer battery. We get it.”
“There are several Hellmouths, actually.” Wes didn’t notice Gunn’s expression. “Sunnydale, Cleveland, Milan, Rome – “
“Rome?” The other man shivered. “Does the pope know? Don’t tell me he’s a demon? I mean the dress is freaky, but he seems like a nice guy.”
“The Hellmouth is directly under the Vatican.” Angel told him. “The papal presence helps keep it contained. Well, depending on the pope.”
“Angel, what time is it? It’s not nearly dawn yet.” Wes looked out the window at the brightening sky.
“Looks like things have started without us.” Angel slid the Plymouth around a corner, controlling the fishtailing car and pointing it down the street.
“Oh dear…” The former Watcher sank back in his seat as he saw the growing rift in the night sky. “Glorificus has started the ritual.”
Dawn’s already bleeding. Angel ground his teeth in frustration. She’s alive, but for how long? And Buffy –
“That’s it – that’s what I saw!” Cordy leaned forward and grabbed the back of Angel’s seat. “Oh God, Angel – we have to stop it!”
“We will.” He pushed the Plymouth ruthlessly off the street and onto the construction site, scraping the undercarriage and making the car bounce crazily. Brown robed demons flew off the grill as the car slid to a stop at the edge of the battle.
“Be careful!” Angel swung his door open, knocking a woman off her feet. “I’m going after Dawn.”
“These people aren’t responsible – “ Wes pushed a dazed man out of his way. “Glory used them for the ritual – try not to hurt them!”
“Plenty of demons to play with anyway.” Gunn swung his battle axe in a vicious arc, cutting down one of the brown robed demons. “Damn – are we fighting Jawas?”
Angel took his broadsword from the trunk and ran along the edges of the battle, searching for a way to the scaffolding. He spotted Willow working a spell, Xander wrestling with one of the demons, and Spike – Spike?
The blonde vampire jerked his head around and snarled. Tossing aside the demon he’d killed, Spike watched his grandsire run toward him. He waited to see if the sword would come up, but it remained at Angel’s side. “Plans?”
“Get Dawn down.” Angel looked up to where the small figure stood on the very edge of the scaffolding. Behind her, the rift grew steadily wider. “Alive.”
“Prefer it that way.” Spike pointed to the base of the scaffolding. “Bit crowded.”
“She went up. She and Glory were having quite the chick fight.” He frowned. “Suppose she’s getting the niblet down now.”
Or she’s about to jump. Angel looked up – one looped edge of the scaffolding was directly over his head. About fifty feet straight up, but directly overhead. “Give me a lift.”
“Right, happy to help.” The other vampire sneered. “Anything else I can do? Polish your boots? Spray on that fancy hair gel for you?”
“Spike…” Angel let his features morph to those of the demon living within him as he leaned down into the other vampire’s face. “Shut – up – “
He hated it. Hated the instinctive fear of his grandsire. Hated Angel. Spike lowered his gaze, unable to meet the amber stare. He cupped his hands and waited.
Angel backed up and took a running start. Planting his foot in Spike’s cupped hands, he pushed as Spike lifted. And nearly shot over the edge of the scaffolding to plummet off the other side.
“Insolent get!” Angel scrabbled for a handhold, desperately trying to hang onto his sword, and pulled himself up. “I’ll kick your ass when this is over!”
“Piss off!” Spike flipped him off. Angel wasn’t half the badass that Angelus was. A black eye and a bloody lip would satisfy the big pouf’s ego.
The scaffolding twisted and turned, crawling back on itself for support as it rose higher into the sky. He was forced to slow his pace as the walkway continued to narrow. Still, Angel ran as fast as he dared, aware of the metal quivering under his feet with each step.
One last turn brought him into a long straight stretch of walkway. At the end, Dawn was tied between two jutting supports, blood trickling down the front of her dress and staining her feet.
Behind her, he could see shapes through the glowing rift. Winged things and scaled demons. A dragon-like creature flew in and out of the opening in random patterns. He did not want to fight that. Well… maybe just a little bit.
As he got closer, he could see Buffy standing behind Dawn, her feet on the very lip of the platform. She was smiling and saying something – her sister’s sobbing covered the words, but Angel knew what was about to happen.
Buffy turned her back on her sister. She would die. Dawn would live. Simple math. A smile curved her lips. Finally something simple. Something she could slay. She looked out at the night sky in the direction of LA. Angel, I love you. She stepped off the edge.
She shrieked as a hand grabbed the back of her neck and hauled her back up onto the platform. Cool breath blew across her face as her head was tipped up. A ridged forehead and golden eyes came into view at a tilted angle. “Angel?”
“What the hell are you doing?”
“I have to save Dawn.” Buffy struggled in his arms, managing to twist around and nearly sending them both plummeting to the ground. Dawn shrieked behind them, her hand reaching for them.
“Not this way.”
“I won’t let her die.” She glared up at him. “The flow has to stop. That means dying.”
“Why do people always assume the worst?” Angel let his features flow back to his human face. “While she’s bleeding the rift is open. Bleeding stops – it closes. Bleeding stops – stops – nobody mentioned dying.”
“You think – if we just stop it – “ Buffy turned to her sister.
“Help me.” Angel pulled her over to Dawn. Grabbing the front of Dawn’s dress, he ripped it down the front. “Sorry, brat, I won’t look.”
“I’m so scared, Angel.” Dawn sobbed. “Please don’t let Buffy die.”
“I won’t.” He tore the dress from her and handed it to Buffy. “Wipe it all up.”
“Wipe – “ Buffy nodded and knelt next to her sister. “We’ll try – but if it doesn’t work – “
“Worry about that later.” Angel pressed his hands to the cuts on Dawn’s stomach. They were shallow slices, designed to let her bleed out slowly. Whoever did this was more interested in letting things out of the rift than going through the rift themselves. “Slow breaths, Dawn, try to slow your heartbeat.”
Buffy wiped the blood off the platform at Dawn’s feet; it ran and dripped through the grooves in the metal, each falling drop widening the rift as it fell. She stared up at it for a moment.
Angel reached out and grabbed a handful of her hair, twisting painfully. “Don’t even think about it. Keep wiping.”
Tears sprang to her eyes and trickled down her cheeks from the burning in her scalp. “Okay.” After a moment, Angel let go and pressed his hands to Dawn’s stomach again.
The dress turned red as Buffy scrubbed the blood off the platform. There was less of it running down Dawn’s legs now as Angel blocked off the flow of blood with his big hands. Carefully, she reached underneath and wiped at the blood clinging to the underside of the metal.
“The rift is getting smaller.” Buffy turned to him, a smile on her face. The smile faded as she saw Angel, his face morphed once again to that of the vampire, lips curled back and fangs exposed, as his breath came in harsh gasps. The blood must be making him crazy.
“Help me lift her up.” She touched his arm, not letting herself jerk back as he growled softly.
Angel gently lifted Dawn and held her while Buffy spread the dress on the metal platform. Setting Dawn back on her feet, he turned away and picked up his sword, using it to cut the bonds holding her in place.
Dawn’s hands went down in an effort to shield her naked body. Being naked and covered in blood in front of Angel had never been a part of her innocent fantasies of being his girlfriend.
Pulling his jacket off and dropping it to the walkway, Angel unbuttoned his shirt and handed it to her. “Put this on, lass.” He waited while Buffy helped her put it on before he pressed the silk into the cuts. “I’m sorry, I know it hurts, but it’ll help stop the bleeding.”
“It’s going to be okay, Dawnie.” Buffy wrapped an arm around her shoulders and kissed her forehead.
Dawn winced and cried out as he pushed the material firmly into the cuts. The silk would help them clot up. “I’m sorry.” He repeated.
Buffy looked up as a man started down the walkway toward them. She picked up Angel’s sword. What? Is there a sign saying the bad guys should just come on up? “I am so not in the mood.”
“It’s okay, he’s with me.” He’d recognized the scent and the movement even before he looked over his shoulder and saw Gunn standing and staring, wide eyed. “Buffy, Dawn – this is Gunn. Gunn, the sisters Summers.”
“Yeah… hi… Did you see – is that a dragon?” Gunn stared up at the flying creature. “We need a bazooka.”
“Wrong demon.” Buffy smirked.
“I’m sorry, lass.” The cuts were drying up, and Angel pressed the material in more firmly, wincing as Dawn did so. “I have to do it.”
“It’s okay.” Dawn bit her lip. The pain was bad, but at least she was alive. And Buffy was alive. “Don’t let her jump.”
“I won’t. I’ll follow her and kick her butt.” Sitting back on his heels, Angel ripped away a chunk of the dress that wasn’t under Dawn’s feet. He began carefully wiping her legs and thighs clean.
“It’s closing.” Buffy knelt next to him. “Are you okay?”
“Fine.” He lied. The scent of blood on his hands and right in front of his nose was making it hard to concentrate. “There’s some underneath we need to get.”
“I’ll get it.” She lay down on her stomach and hung over the side, looking for the last of the dripping blood.
The rift grew smaller and smaller, almost catching the tail of the dragon like creature as it flew back inside just before it closed.
“Oh thank God.” Gunn leaned on his battle axe. “I did not want to fight that thing.”
Angel had turned his back to Dawn when Buffy sat back up. He’d never let Dawn see his true face, and he didn’t want to scare her. She’d never seen the monster that lived inside of him. Angelus hadn’t shown it to her while he played on her sympathies, pretending that Buffy had rejected him after they’d made love.
“Angel.” Buffy laid a hand on his bare shoulder, rubbing the gryphon’s cheek. “She won’t care.”
Ripping a strip from the bottom of her shirt, Buffy used it to wipe his hands and arms. There was a big splash of blood on his cheek. “No wonder you’re crazy. It’s all over you.” She licked her fingers and rubbed at the blood until it was gone.
His face gradually changed back and he turned to smile at Dawn. She was crouched down on the platform, trying to cover her bare legs with his shirt. “Put on my coat.”
“She didn’t have to die.” Buffy said quietly. “You were right.”
“I’m glad.” Angel didn’t mention the stake that was tucked into his coat pocket. If his plan hadn’t worked, he would have killed Dawn and then staked himself before he’d have let Buffy sacrifice herself.
“Does this mean I didn’t have to kill you? Send you to hell?” The gray eyes stared into his. “Could I have just cut you – or put your sword with your blood on it back into Acathla?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “Maybe.”
“Oh my God…” Tears welled up and spilled over. “I’m so stupid – so stupid – forgive me, Angel – “
“I forgave you a long time ago, Buffy.” Brushing her hair back, he kissed her cheek. “We can’t change the past. Trust me.”
Angel buttoned the middle buttons on his coat for Dawn; her fingers were trembling too much to accomplish the simple task, and he doubted she’d be able walk on her own. “Let’s get you home.” Lifting her up in his arms, he began the long trek down the twisting scaffolding.
“Damn.” Gunn stared at where the dragon had disappeared. “One swing – just one swing.”
“And then it would eat you for lunch.” Angel snorted.
“I could run.” Gunn turned as Angel reached him, leading the way down. “Swing and run, no shame there.”
Behind them, Buffy rolled her eyes. Men.
At the bottom, Spike was leaning against a stack of concrete blocks, smoking a cigarette. “’Bout time.”
“Where’s Glory?” Buffy asked as she stepped off the metal ramp. She could see the brown robed demons had gathered in one place and were crying and clutching at each other for support.
“She’s – dead.” Giles told her. “We need to get these people to a hospital.”
The people who had been under Glory’s thrall were milling about the construction site. They appeared confused by their whereabouts, and a few nursed bumps and bruises from the battle.
“Dead? How is she dead?” Buffy tried to catch Giles’ eyes, but he turned away. “I thought she couldn’t be killed.”
“Apparently we were wrong then, weren’t we?” He walked away.
Anya and Xander were also of the avoiding mood, seemingly anxious to help Giles round up the dazed people. They followed him before she had a chance to question them. Willow was already leading Tara home.
Buffy looked again at the group of minions who were wailing and rubbing dirt on their faces. Grimacing at their grooming habits, she pushed them aside to take a look at Glory. Ben lay in the dirt in the midst of the crying demons, his eyes wide and frozen in shock. She didn’t need a doctor to tell her that he was dead. It wasn’t possible to kill Glory, but it was possible to kill Ben. And without Ben – Glory couldn’t exist here.
Leaving the minions to their grief, Buffy walked across the dirt lot to Angel’s car. Dawn was sitting in the back, leaning on Cordy’s shoulder, a blanket wrapped around her. Angel was pulling on a clean shirt he’d gotten from somewhere, and peering up at the pinkening sky.
“Take me home?”
“Get in.” He opened the driver’s door for her.
Wes was already in the front seat, giving her an excuse to sit close to Angel. She leaned against his shoulder as he started the car and turned it around.
Spike watched the Plymouth pull out onto the street just as Sunnydale’s finest began to arrive. “That’s right, ride in like the big hero and save the day.” Flicking his cigarette away, he stalked off into the predawn shadows.
“Dawn isn’t real?”
“She’s real. Only – “ Buffy shook her head. “Only she’s not.”
The house was full with both the Scooby gang and the AI gang crashing there for the day, and Angel and Buffy had escaped outside once night had fallen again. They’d settled in the swing in the backyard, trying to get a little alone time before Angel had to go back to LA.
“The monks took this Key and somehow made Dawn?” Angel was trying his best to come to terms with the fact that Dawn wasn’t real. “When did they – how long – “
“Last year. When Mom first got sick. When I came home for awhile – Dawn was here.” She looked up at the window to Dawn’s bedroom, where her sister lay sleeping. What had the room been before Dawn came? Had the room even been there? “It felt odd – off somehow – but I thought it was because I’d been living away from home, you know?”
“So, when Dawn walked in on us kissing through your window – “ A smile quirked his lips as he remembered how they’d gotten around Buffy’s being grounded one night. “Bribing her not to tell your mom?”
“Never happened.” The same memory made her smile with him. “So I guess we didn’t have smoochus interruptus.”
“All these memories of her – they’re fake?”
“Yep. Planted by the monks’ magic.” She put an arm around his shoulders. Angel looked more upset by the news than she would have thought he would be. “Some serious magical mojo when you stop and think about it. Which I have, by the way.”
“They’re real – it’s – “ The memories of Dawn were so vivid, so easy to recall – how could they be planted there? Even Angelus believed in them. “I love her, Buffy, that’s not fake.”
“I dunno – I hope not.” Buffy had wondered the same thing. “Do I love her because it’s programmed into me? Or have I come to love her just from knowing her?”
“I don’t believe that. That’s saying that I’ve only really seen her twice now. Dawn is like my own sister to me – “ Angel winced at the memory that bobbed to the surface.
“I know what you mean.” Angel had told her about what he’d done to his family, to his sister. “They’re good memories, Angel. And they’re ours, no matter how we got them. Though I have to wonder now about those times Dawn interrupted us just as things got interesting.”
“I would imagine not much more – well, I can imagine a lot more.” Angel grinned. “But I would think that they would want to create as little as possible so that we wouldn’t trip over inconsistencies.”
“Can I imagine more, too?” She asked as Angel slid his arm up over hers and pulled her into the curve of his body. It was a perfect Buffy sized fit.
“Why did you quit school?”
“With Mom gone – “ She still couldn’t say the ‘d’ word. “I had to stay home and be with Dawn. Her memories feel real to her, too.”
“What do you do all day?”
“I clean the house, and I – “
“Get bored?” He finished for her.
“Out of my skull.”
“You could go back to school.”
“I can’t move back to the dorms.” Buffy shook her head. “Dawn needs me here with her.”
“I agree with that, but UC Sunnydale is close enough that you can live at home.” Angel lowered his head to rest his cheek against her hair. “You only moved out to get away from your mom.”
“Yeah, and no guilt there.”
“Leave the guilt to me, I’m the expert.” He kissed the top of her head. “Go back to school, and live here at home. You can schedule your classes around when you need to be here.”
“There’s the money thing. School costs.”
“Your mother had insurance and Giles said that ‘managed properly’ it should last while you get an education.” Angel mimicked Giles’ British accent. “And if not, I know someone who can lend you money, at a very reasonable rate.”
“Reasonable?” Her tone said reasonable was probably too much.
“Say… kisses…” He kissed the top of her head again. “Maybe a kiss per semester hour? Provided you get good grades.”
“Define good grades.” Buffy squeezed his thigh. Maybe A’s would get her more than smoochies? Then reality intruded, and her good mood vanished. “Why bother? It’s not like I’ve got a career ahead of me.”
“Stop that.” Lifting his head, Angel tipped her face up to where he could look into her eyes. “We both have a someday, and that someday is together.”
“I hope so.” Buffy reached up to touch his cheek.
“I want to be able to say ‘this is Buffy, she’s my college girl.’”
“You’ve just heard that college girls are quick.” The chocolate eyes lit up with humor and she knew she’d gotten the word wrong.
“I’ve heard that.” Angel’s lips hovered over hers. “Is it true?”
“Let’s see.” Sliding her fingers into the thick hair, Buffy pressed her lips to his, showing him some of the things she’d learned in school. Freshman year hadn’t been a total waste after all.
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