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Old Debts

by Gem

Disclaimer: I wish I could say the characters were mine, but they're obviously not. Only Joss could be so mean to his own creations.
Rating: PG13. My first try at gratuitous violence! And it couldn't happen to a nicer guy
Spoilers: Up to "The Initiative."
Author's Note: Sequel to "The Road Home" Since this only runs up to "The Initiative," then projects forward a few months in my own universe, there are a few differences from the shows. Doyle is still alive, Wesley is nowhere in sight, Oz and Willow are still together, Spike has been "neutered" but is not part of the Scooby Gang and Riley has no idea that Buffy is the Slayer. Remember when things were that simple?


Part One

Buffy sat bolt upright in bed, automatically reaching for the stake on her nightstand.

She had been peacefully curled up next to Angel, dreaming of making love in a moonlit garden. Suddenly their idyll was interrupted when the Sunnydale commandos attacked them. Angel was whisked away before she could stop them, and she was hurled into the daylight by a loud noise.

A moment later, she realized it was the combination of the bad dream and a car alarm going off down the street which had awoken her, not anything of the actual demon variety.

After taking a quick peek at Angel, still slumbering beside her, she yawned and stretched and tried to relax. She was amazed Angel had slept through her sudden lurch to consciousness. Granted, the smile on his face seemed to indicate he was having pleasant dreams, but this was in the teeth of car alarms and street noises and the new sound of Cordelia killing a termite upstairs in the office. Of course, to him this was probably just familiar background noise. The fink.

It was tempting to wake him, just to reassure herself the commandos were the dream, not Angel. But a desire to simply watch over him while he slept seized her. They had been apart for so long, and now another separation was looming on the horizon. All she wanted to do was spend the rest of her days watching him, and talking to him, and touching him and...

"You're staring."

Buffy started, then grinned back at Angel, who smiled sleepily from his pillow. "You're staring," he repeated. "Was I drooling or something?" He reached up and pulled her down against his chest, smoothing a hand over her tangled blonde tresses.

"Actually, that would be me," she admitted with some embarrassment, burrowing her head a little deeper into the hollow of his shoulder. "Not when I sleep," she hastily added, "just now, I mean. Watching you." She tipped her head so she could look deep into his gentle dark eyes. "I could watch you sleep forever."

He chuckled and kissed her softly. "I can think of better ways to pass the time." He kissed her again, this time longer and more thoroughly. "Much better ways," he said when, at last, they came up for air .

"Mmm, gotta agree with you on this one," she murmured, lightly tracing his ribs with her fingertips. "But even watching you is wonderful after all this time. Especially since I have to go back today." She anxiously waited for his response to her news.

"I knew it was coming," he sighed. "We've had three perfect days, but I knew sooner or later we'd have to rejoin the world." He tried to tell himself there was nothing to worry about, but something deep inside of him tightened at the thought of watching her walk out of his door again.

"I have class tomorrow," she explained sadly. "It's an early one too, so I wouldn't have much luck hitching back in time if I wait till morning." Of course, as soon as she said it wasn't possible, she started trying to work out a way around it. If she got up at dawn and reached the highway by seven, maybe she could...but probably not. She sighed, resigned to her fate.

"You don't need to hitchhike," he protested, staring at her in surprise. "I can drive you. I have a car, you know." He suddenly felt like a teenage boy trying to sneak his girlfriend back home before curfew. It was utterly ridiculous, but that was how young and almost carefree she could make him feel. It used to scare him, but now he was entranced with the possibilities, and with her.

Buffy couldn't help her giggle. "I know, and it's so you. Big and dark and not quite ...comfortable with modern technology. I saw it in the garage, and I loved it, but it doesn't make any sense for you to drive me back to Sunnydale, then have to drive to LA all in the same night. I can hitch."

"How about we compromise on a bus this time? And now I know what to get you for your birthday next week: driving lessons and a car. An"gel smiled in satisfaction, trying to imagine the type of car Buffy would choose. It was a toss-up between a little sports car and an SUV. Somehow, he was betting on the SUV it was better for battering purposes.

"A car? You're going to get me a car for my birthday?" Her voice rang with disbelief. "But Cordelia was complaining about how much money it costs to run this place, and how strapped you are for cash and..."

"And Cordelia's idea of 'strapped for cash' is not the same as yours or mine," Angel interrupted. "Besides, I try to keep the business separate, because eventually I'd like to just live on what I earn." He was almost embarrassed to admit his goal, but the delight on her face reassured him.

"Ooh, that is so...normal, and kind of sexy." She sat up in the bed and stared at him, wondering if she would ever plumb the depths of him. In some ways, she knew him as she knew herself, and yet he continued to surprise her. "So there really is enough to get us a second car?"

"I like the sound of that," he said softly. He propped himself up against the headboard and teasingly stroked her arm. "Getting 'us' a 'second' car. I think 'we' may need a 'second' apartment too. One in Sunnydale."

"You know, we never really discussed logistics, but you're right," she admitted. "If we're doing the commuter-marriage thing we need to...did I just say marriage?" Buffy blushed, wondering if she'd pushed her occasionally skittish suitor too far this time. "I didn't necessarily mean...that is to say..."

Angel laughed, a sound that brought joy to Buffy's heart because she knew she was the one who made him so happy. There had been so many tears and too much sorrow in their relationship thus far. She resolved to make him laugh like that at least three times a day from now on. More maybe, if she decided he wouldn't go poof from the shock to his system.

"I hope that's exactly what you meant," he ran his finger gently down her cheek, "but we don't need to rush anything. According to the customs I grew up with, and in my heart, you're my wife. The legal part can wait until you're ready." He raised her chin with the tip of his finger to steal a kiss.

"I think I'd like a little more...wooing, please." She breathed a quick sigh of relief and slid over to cuddle up next to him. "I want to get everyone used to us being back together again anyway, before we try and make them get dressed up and play nice in church." She glanced briefly at him, realizing an inherent problem. "Or maybe not a church, but you know what I mean."

"So, you don't want to live in the mansion," she continued a moment later, absently twining her fingers with his. It was a statement, not a question, but it still surprised Angel.

"You do?" He pulled back slightly to get a better look in her eyes, just in case she was kidding. Miraculously, joking had already become a part of their relationship, but he was still getting used to it."No!" She realized she'd yelled, and softened her tone. "I mean, no thanks. I never really liked that place. Too grim, and too many bad memories. I can never see that Great Hall without remembering..." her voice trailed off as her mind filled in the words 'the night I killed you.'

"I know," he whispered, remembering the night he almost killed her. He shook his head to clear it and continued in a steadier voice. "I stayed there for a night last week and I couldn't stand the..." He stopped talking suddenly and stared at the wall in shock. "It wasn't even a week ago. I can't believe how much has happened."

"It's crazy, isn't it?" Buffy's voice had a light, happy sound to it she couldn't remember feeling this peaceful in years. Everything in her crazy life was finally perfect. "Willow is never going to believe this."

*

"I don't believe it."

Buffy grinned and held out the phone so Angel could hear Willow's voice. A moment later she regretted the action, since the feel of his body so near to hers made it difficult to concentrate on Willow.

"Buffy, are you serious? You're really back together?" Willow tried to hide the apprehension in her voice, knowing her best friend was looking for happiness and congratulations on her news. Sometimes being a best friend meant keeping your mind open and your mouth shut. "Willow, why do you sound so strange?" Buffy pulled the phone away from Angel and turned her back to him ever so slightly, shielding him from Willow and whatever she might say. He leaned back against the headboard and waited patiently.

"Everything's fine, Buffy," Willow hastened to assure her. No need to get into a fight long distance, even if she was sure of what she should say, which she wasn't. "Will you be back for Psych class tomorrow? You know Riley said there was going to be...umm, Buffy, does Riley know where you are?" Even as she asked, Willow already knew the answer.

"No, but I'm telling him tomorrow." Buffy sighed and leaned back against Angel. "I'm going to tell him a lot of things tomorrow, most of which will not give him a happy. But I can't put it off."

"That would be bad," Willow agreed. She twirled her fingers in the phone cord and steeled herself to ask another question. "So you're really sure about this? You're certain this is the right..."

"This is completely the right, Will," Buffy interrupted her. "You know this is what I've always wanted. I don't understand why you're not happier for me." She knew she sounded petulant, but she couldn't help it. She had expected her best friend, and staunch supporter of "mixed" relationships, to be supportive. Instead, all she was getting was a feeling of impending lecture.

"I'll borrow Oz's van to pick you up at the bus station and we'll talk," Willow promised before she hung up, confirming Buffy's worst fears.

"She still has some reservations about me," Angel said softly, rubbing her arms as she leaned back against his chest. He held her tightly and kissed the top of her head as she unwillingly nodded. "I'm sorry."

Buffy resolutely blinked back tears. "She doesn't understand, that's all. She knows what happened in the past, and she just doesn't understand it's not ever going to happen again. When I tell her everything, she will be happy for us." She twisted her head around to look him in the eye. "I promise."

"I sure hope you're decent down here," called a voice from the stairs, "because I'm coming down anyway." A moment later, Cordelia appeared on the steps connecting the apartment to the office above. "Good, well, you've got clothes on at least. That's a switch."

Buffy and Angel reluctantly disentangled themselves and got off the bed. She still gripped his hand tightly, not willing to lose that last little bit of contact quite yet.

"Is it time?" Buffy asked wistfully. She felt Angel squeeze her hand, communicating the pain he, too, felt at the idea.

"'Fraid so." Cordelia suddenly felt like she'd shot Bambi's mother while boiling Thumper for dinner. "The last bus leaves in about 40 minutes, so you need to get a move on. Doyle has to go that way anyway, so he can drop you off. That will spare you both any World War II movie-parting-at-the-train-station type of good-byes." She looked sharply at Angel, waiting for a protest.

"You're probably right," he sighed instead, much to Cordelia's surprise. "It's hard enough to let you go without doing it in front of an audience." He slid one hand up and down Buffy's back, trying to memorize the feel of her in his arms.

"What am I? Chopped liver?" Cordelia tried to inject as much injury into her tone as possible, to lighten the mood. "And she's not going off to war, you know. She's going back to college."

"In Sunnydale," Buffy added dryly. "When you have your own hellmouth, who needs geopolitical conflict?" She forced herself to release her hold on Angel. "Okay, time to motor. Cordy, we'll be right up."

Cordelia sighed and headed back up the stairs. "All right, but you've only got five minutes. Five minutes," she repeated sternly as she disappeared from view.

Buffy stood as close to Angel as she possibly could without touching him. His dark eyes steadfastly held hers, promising everything would be all right, even if it felt like the world was ending.

"This is just for a few days, right?" she said, more to herself than to him. "You will be down on Friday, like you said?" After all they had shared the past few days, she felt almost guilty about expressing doubts, but theirs had never been a predictable, or simple, relationship. The only things she knew for certain were that he loved her and she loved him. Beyond that, it was pretty much all up for grabs.

"I will leave the moment the sun sets, I promise." He gave her the little half-smile she found so irresistible. "I'd say scout's honor, but..."

Buffy grinned against her will. "But you were so never a scout. I guess I'll have to take your word for it." She looked away for a moment, then pinned him with her hazel eyes again. "I love you, don't forget that. Ever."

"Never again," he promised, all signs of a smile gone now. "I love you too, no matter what I may have done to make you doubt that the last few months." He searched her eyes for signs of uncertainty or fear, but found shining trust instead. The knot in his stomach eased a little bit, even if the ache in his heart refused to go away. He raised one hand to cup her cheek, then bent down to kiss her as she leaned into his hand.

Buffy reached up to hold onto Angel more firmly as the kiss grew. She lost herself in the feel of his lips on hers, the strength of his arms around her, the solidity of his body pressed against her. All that she required of paradise was within her arms, and the idea of letting go was almost unbearable.

Cordelia's voice from upstairs finally managed to break the spell.

"I said five minutes! Doyle's already in the car. God, you must be the only vampire to tell time by sundial."

Hand in hand, they made their way up the stairs. Buffy kissed Angel once more at the door, barely brushing her lips against his. After a final caress of his cheek, she made herself turn away and walk to the door.

"Buffy, wait" he anxiously called after her.

She swung around in the doorway to see what was wrong.

"Be careful when you talk to Finn. He doesn't know you know anything about his involvement with the commandos on campus."

"Well, we don't know much yet, but I'll watch what I say anyway." There were times it paid to be cautious, she reflected, particularly in light of her recent dream. She glanced over at Cordelia. "Take care of him for me."

"He'll be in bed, alone, before sunrise every night," Cordelia promised, hand solemnly raised in pledge. "He's on his own, though, when it comes to the three square meals a day. Yuck!"

Buffy had to laugh. "Understood." She blew Angel a kiss, and then she was gone.

Angel stood silently in the center of the office, listening to her footsteps die away to nothing. He seemed to be watching the door, but his mind was actually far away, gathering memories of the past few days to keep close in the lonely days which awaited him .

"Angel."

There was no response, so Cordelia tried again.

"Angel."

Still nothing.

She finally snapped her fingers in his face, hoping for some sign he was...well, not alive precisely, but still in there. The snapping seemed to jolt him back to at least marginal awareness, if his involuntary head jerk was any indication.

"Okay, you have two choices now," she explained patiently, looking him directly in the eye and speaking very slowly. "You can spend the next few days in your office staring at her picture and brooding, or you can vent some of your frustration on nasty demons with evil intentions. One way will be completely non-productive, and an insult to the faith she has in you. The other way will earn some of my salary. Which is it going to be?"

He seemed to be thinking deeply about the alternatives that she offered him. He gazed at her silently for a few more minutes, until she was ready to scream with frustration. At last, he spoke.

"I'm sorry, Cordelia. What did you say?"

Ten minutes later he was still at a loss to understand why she'd screamed.

*

By the next morning, Buffy was the one ready to scream. She and Willow had talked all the way back from the bus station and long into the night, yet her best friend still seemed to have reservations about the one thing Buffy had ever been sure was right. For all Willow's starry-eyed romanticism, she had a strong practical streak. In her opinion, a down-to-earth commando in the hand was worth any number of charming, but occasionally wayward, vampires in the bushes. It didn't matter how good-looking the vamps were.

After spending the night defending her choices, Buffy was not in the best of moods to see her unsuspecting ex-boyfriend who thought he was still her current boyfriend. Since he was practically the instructor of one of her classes though, confrontation was inevitable. Sure enough, the moment she walked into lecture hall for class he was waiting to talk to her.

"Buffy, thank God you're okay," Riley whispered as he bent down to hand back her test booklet. He couldn't miss the way she shrank back into her seat to escape him, but he was helpless to question her until class was over. He spent the hour watching her fidget with her pen and avoid his gaze, while he racked his brain to remember when things had changed between them.

To Riley it seemed as though the class lasted forever, but eventually Professor Walsh closed her book and the students began filing out of the lecture hall. Riley hurried after Buffy, grabbing her arm as she tried to slide out the door after Willow.

"Buffy, what's wrong? Where have you been the past few days, and why do you seem to be avoiding me?" His blue eyes were troubled as he looked down at the small blonde girl who had stolen his heart.

Buffy glanced anxiously around the lecture hall but the last of the students had left. Even Willow had abandoned her. With no further recourse, she turned back to Riley. A familiar feeling of guilt crept over her when she saw the love in his eyes, because she knew she would never look at him the same way.

"Riley, I'm really sorry," she began slowly. "I know I've been blowing you off, and I never explained why, but it's all very, very complicated. Trust me on that score." She paused to take a deep breath. "I didn't want to tell you this way, but the bottom line is I want out. I mean, I am out."

Now he was very confused, and a little scared. All of the sudden he was sensing there was more to this girl than he'd realized, and that led him to wonder if she knew there was more to him as well. Too much knowledge can sometimes be a very dangerous thing.

"Out of what? I don't know what you're talking about." When in doubt, play dumb. He was good at that.

"Out of us. Our relationship, if you can call it that." She sighed she hadn't meant to sound so harsh. It wasn't Riley's fault she hadn't been able to let him fully into her world. Then she remembered all the little things Riley had been keeping from her, and she realized their lack of relationship was an equal opportunity failure.

"But..."

"I've been kidding myself, Riley. I thought I could make this work, but I realized there's just no way." She took a few steps back from him, hoping to emphasize her point with physical distance as well as emotional. "I'm in love with someone else. I have been since the day I met him, and I always will be."

"Is it someone on campus?" Riley looked wildly around the room, as though he expected to see his rival there. "How did you meet him? When did you meet him?"

"A couple of years ago," she reluctantly replied. She didn't want to get into this now, when people could walk in at any time, but Riley didn't look inclined to postpone things until they could find a couple of decaf cappuccinos and a private place to chat.

"Years? So where's he been? Did he suddenly appear out of the mist or...everything was fine just a few days ago, Buffy! When did it all blow up?" Riley stumbled back a few steps and sank down on a desk. It seemed as though his legs would no longer support him.

"Nothing was fine, Riley it never has been." Buffy made no move to comfort him, she simply watched from a distance. Any friendly gestures at this point would be subject to misinterpretation. "I've always been in love with Angel. He left town last summer, and I tried to move on, but it never worked. Not for either of us. Last week he came back...and I realized I couldn't let him go again. It was the wrong thing to do last summer, and I wasn't about to make the same mistake twice. So I followed him back to LA, made him admit he'd been an idiot to leave, and now we're back together." She breathed a sigh of relief there, it was done.

"So that's it?" Disbelief warred with anger in his voice. "He comes back for one night and you're out the door at his heels? Without even a second thought to what we have?"

"Oh come on!" she protested, starting to lose her temper. "What exactly do we have, Riley? We've gone to some parties, a few picnics, and of course some classes, since you're practically my instructor. We've had sex I'll give you that one. But we don't have any real interests in common. We don't feel the same way about anything that really matters, and we don't want the same things for the future. What exactly do we have that's so hard to lose?"

"And you have this great spiritual connection with him? This other guy?" Riley couldn't help his sarcastic tone as he processed Buffy's scathing analysis of what he thought was a promising romance.

"We want the same things out of life," she replied slowly. "We believe in the same things that make life valuable. Common interests? Well, not too many, but a few." God, this was so hard to explain to Riley, of all people. "Mostly we learn from each other, and we share things. He makes me want to be a better person than I am, and I do the same for him."

"You make me want to be a better person." He hated himself for the whine that somehow worked its way into that phrase, but he was powerless to eliminate it. She was ripping his illusions to shreds and throwing the pieces in his face.

Buffy was sorely tempted at this point to bring up his role with the commandos, but she decided that would provoke too many questions about her own nocturnal activities. Mud slinging would only get her into trouble, even if the mud fit.

"You make me feel like the person I used to be," she said at last. "When Angel left, I thought that was what I wanted, and what he wanted for me. But I can't go back to being her, and I don't actually want to. I want to grow up, Riley."

She dared to take a few steps closer to him, until she was standing directly in front of him. "If I had met you when I was fifteen, I think I probably would have loved you. At least as much as I was capable of loving anybody but myself then." Buffy looked off into the distance for a moment, remembering her former self the visions made her want to shiver. She snapped herself out of it and looked down at Riley again.

"Instead, I met Angel, and he made me want to be something more than a frat boy's party doll. In a weird sort of way we're helping each other grow up, and even if it hurts like hell...I don't think we're doing too badly." She rested one hand gently on Riley's shoulder. "I'm sorry."

*

"So that's it for old Riley, huh Buff?" Xander leaned back on Willow's bed and rearranged the pillows to a more comfortable position. "Goodbye happiness clause, hello Dead Boy, and last call for Des Moines' pride and joy."

"That's it," she agreed cheerfully, tossing him another Ho-Ho. "I wish he hadn't taken it so badly, but considering what I could have said...I thought I went pretty easy on him." She stuck out her foot to admire the pink nail polish on her toes, then pulled up her other foot to complete the job.

"You mean not calling him on his after-school activities with the ghostbusting branch of the SEALS? I just want it on the record that I never bought his whole 'I'm just a corn-fed Iowa farm boy' routine." Xander stuffed the Ho-Ho in his mouth, but continued to speak. "Way too Hollywood," he mumbled.

"I never trusted him either." Anya looked up from her spot on the floor between the beds. "I always felt the presence of evil when he was around. Somewhere deep inside I must have sensed...Xander, I thought you said you only bought this CD for me." She waved the offending disc in his face as Xander shrank away from her wrath and tried to come up with an explanation.

"Maybe Willow bought..."

"It still has a little piece of Bugs Bunny wrapping paper on it," she retorted. "Did you think I wouldn't recognize the paper you bought as a cruel joke?"

"Honey, I was only teasing," he whined. "I never thought..."

"Guys," Buffy interrupted, laughing, "enough with the fighting, okay? I get plenty of that at work."

Anya contented herself with one final glare at Xander, who mumbled a hasty apology for both of them. With peace restored, Buffy finished her other foot and began working on her fingernails, until the ringing of the phone disrupted her.

"I'll get it," Xander offered, reaching for the cordless phone on the nightstand. "Wouldn't want you to smear or chip or anything. Fate of the world and all."

Buffy made a face at him as he said hello to the caller. Her good mood rapidly dissipated, however, when Xander handed the phone over to her with a frightened look in his eyes.

"Hello. Who is this?" she said swiftly. "Cordelia? What's wrong?...No, he's not here should he be?...Left when? But why?...Who? Cordy, you're breaking...Cordy?" She pulled the phone away from her ear and set it down on the bed, staring worriedly at it for a few moments. Finally she lifted her troubled eyes to face her friends.

"Cordelia said Angel left LA in a big hurry over four hours ago, and he was headed here. She was trying to tell me why when the line went dead. All I caught was something about Spike." She leaned over on the bed to pull back the drapes and stare out of the window, as if she could will Angel into appearing in the darkness.

Xander and Anya exchanged concerned glances. Neither of them wanted to say the wrong thing, but not saying anything at all didn't seem like a good idea either.

"Spike is almost never a good thing to be talking about," Xander said hesitantly. "Even now that he's harmless to us...we don't know about demons. But hey, Angel's been dealing with him for centuries. And it's not like Spike is exactly a braintrust." He cursed an unwitting Willow for being out on a date with Oz when they needed her compassion and unflagging optimism. This just wasn't his area of expertise.

"And Cordelia said Angel left," Anya offered helpfully. She got to her feet and joined Buffy on the bed, awkwardly thumping Buffy on the back in an attempt to give comfort. "She didn't say Spike took him, right?"

Buffy smiled in spite of herself. The sight of Anya trying to be positive and consoling was almost worth the worry she was feeling. Almost.

"Yeah, she said he left." Buffy quickly came to a decision and began to remove the cotton balls from between her toes. "And I'm going to find him. From the way Cordelia describes his driving, he should have been here almost three hours ago."

"And you'll be looking where?" Xander hated to be a wet blanket, but Buffy tended to lose all sense of reason where Dead Boy was concerned. "He has a car you do not. You don't know the route he'd be taking once he got into town, so it's not like you can..."

"Xander, shut up." There was a certain amount of affection in Buffy's command, but not enough to make him doubt she'd make him be quiet if she had to. She felt something in the back of her mind and she needed silence to get a fix on it.

"This is Xander shutting up," he said obediently, symbolically zipping his lip. He was about to say more about saying less when a voice was heard from the open doorway.

"Now why couldn't I ever get him to do that?"

Buffy darted to the door and flung her arms around Angel. "You're late" she scolded, before pulling his head down for a welcoming kiss. A sudden catcall from the hallway made her realize they were somewhat on display. "Come in, come in," she insisted, pulling him in the door."How am I late?" he asked as she closed the door behind him. "You weren't expecting me until Friday night." He nodded hello to Xander and Anya, who had both risen to their feet.

"Cordelia just called." Anya swiftly looked over Buffy's vampire boyfriend, all tall dark and sexy. It was suddenly clear to her why white-bread Riley never stood a chance of winning the Slayer's heart. Not that an evil demon-hunting commando deserved one, she reflected smugly.

"Then she told you." Angel sighed in relief as he sank onto Buffy's bed. He hadn't been looking forward to explaining this one to his girlfriend.

"She didn't say jack," Xander replied abruptly. He stared at Angel, who suddenly looked nervous and at Buffy, who was beginning to look suspicious. Ah, the glories of true romance.

"What should she have said?" Buffy asked slowly, sitting down next to Angel. "And what does Spike have to do with it?" She held Angel's eyes firmly with her own, willing the answer to be something innocuous. Actually, she'd settle for something easily killed.

"It's Dru," he answered reluctantly. He clasped Buffy's hand, absently stroking the ring that symbolized their unity. "Spike thinks the commandos have kidnapped Dru and he wants us to help get her out."

Part Two

*

Spike burst through the door of Angel Investigations just a few minutes before dawn, Angel reported wearily as he clasped Buffy's hand in his own.

*

"Oh great, break out the holy water," Cordelia wailed from the front office. "Angel, if you don't get your butt up here this instant I'm going to eat garlic bagels for breakfast every day for a month." She backed away from the door, trying to reach the filing cabinets labeled "S" (for stakes) before Spike realized what she was doing.

When Angel bolted up the stairs a moment later, Spike had Cordelia literally up against the wall. He hovered over her, blocking escape with an arm on either side of her.

"Aren't you happy to see me, pet? Your little pal Harmony seems to find me irresistible."

Angel shoved Spike away from Cordelia and swiftly inserted himself between them. Spike tried reaching around him to grab her arm, more to see what she'd do than to actually scare her. Evil intentions just gave him a headache these days, mores the pity.

"Back off, Spike," Angel snarled as he thrust Spike's arm down and away. He glanced back at Cordelia, who was using his body as a shield while she searched more thoroughly for a good stake. Filing never had been her specialty, he reflected grimly.

"I can't believe I actually came in early to check on you and now look..." Cordelia grumbled, tossing files and assorted weaponry on the floor in her haste.

"Now, now mate, I'm not here for breakfast." Spike tried to sound reassuring, but he was much more familiar with menacing, and old habits are hard to break. "I need your help, actually. That's your gig these days, right?" He gestured to the sign on the door. "You help people."

"You're not a people," Cordelia snapped. "Great! Found it!" She waved the long-lost stake over Angel's shoulder, prompting Angel to grab her wrist before she accidentally skewered him in her zeal to intimidate Spike.

"She's right. What made you think I'd help you anyway? We didn't exactly part on good terms, if you recall." Angel forced himself to remain calm and not give in to the memories of his torture at Spike's hands. It was in the past, and he would never let himself, or anyone he cared about, be at Spike's mercy again.

"What's a few chains and red hot pokers between mates?" Spike laughed, hoping to cajole Angel into Sir Galahad mode before his sire threw him out into the ripening dawn. Time was of the essence, in more ways than one.

"Get to the point, Spike, and then get gone." Angel sat down on the edge of Cordelia's desk, but he remained poised to strike if necessary. Cordelia edged her way behind the desk and began to polish the stake with a tissue. It felt vaguely like something Buffy would do, and she seemed to be a good role model. For the current situation, at least.

Spike began to pace, trying to avoid the potential patches of sunlight while achieving maximum sound effects from the flapping of his leather duster. Any good vampire knows presentation is half the battle.

"Dru came back to Sunnydale looking for me a few days ago. I was...indisposed, and she didn't find me. I've heard from some reliable sources that someone else found her. A very nasty group of someones. They're going to hurt her." He looked at Angel, all pretense of detachment gone. "They've already gotten to me, but I can take it. She can't."

"What are you talking about? Who got to you?" Angel was very confused now, and unwillingly concerned. Spike and Dru were walking reminders of his past sins, but as such, he felt responsible for them. He owed not only a debt to those he had killed as Angelus, but also those he brought over.

"I don't know what they call themselves, but they dress like Rambo rejects. They're hanging around your girl's school nabbing demons. They take you to this big white laboratory and they...do things to you." Spike couldn't look at Angel his shame was too great.

"What kind of things?" Angel growled through clenched teeth. Spike was enough to test the patience of a saint, and Angel wasn't even close.

"I can't...I can't bite," Spike replied at last. He spoke so softly Cordelia could scarcely hear him, but he knew Angel was getting the message loud and clear. "If I try, I get these great flaming headaches." He held his head in his hands, wincing at the very memory of the pain.

"Aversion therapy?"

If Spike was talking about who Angel thought he was, a lot of little mysteries were suddenly much less mysterious. Unfortunately, they were also a lot more dangerous, particularly for Buffy. She already knew one of the commandos a little too well.

"No, it's something they put in my head. They put some bleeding buzzer or something in my head and now I have to buy blood like a crip again instead of hunting for myself. It's humiliating." He looked to Angel for some fellow feeling, not realizing he'd offered insults to his would-be savior.

"And this would be a problem because...?" Cordelia said brightly. She suddenly realized she was cleaning for no reason. The stake hit the desktop with a clatter.

"Cordelia."

She glanced at Angel in surprise. "What? Are we supposed to go on a treasure hunt for the mystical Viagara for vampires just because someone can't get his fangs up?"

"Cordelia, enough." Angel held her eyes for a moment, silently signaling caution. He turned back to Spike. "You're breaking my heart, Spike. What's this supposed to mean for me?" He could feel Cordelia relaxing behind him, now that she believed the danger was past. Angel was fairly certain it was just beginning.

"Look, I can handle it." Spike gave up his bid for pity and came to the point. "Dru, she could never live like this. You know she lives for the hunt, you taught her the game. And it's all she has, since someone dumped all her marbles on the floor before he drank her dry." He glared at Angel, daring him to deny his responsibility.

Angel could not.

*

"So he actually expects us to risk our necks to save the psycho bitch, I mean Drusilla?"

Buffy's raw incredulity wrenched Angel back to the present. He met Buffy's hazel eyes squarely, willing her to see his side of the story."I don't have a choice, Buffy. He's right, I'm responsible for her." Responsible for her life, and her death, he thought. Responsible for her remaining sanity, and the cause of there being so little left to protect.

"That is so not fair!" Buffy couldn't sit still any more. She walked rapidly back and forth, punching her fist into the opposite palm. "It wasn't you, it was never you. How long do you have to pay for what the demon did?"

"We've been over this before, Buffy." He wanted so badly to take her in his arms, and magically make it all go away. He wanted it to be two days ago, when nothing and no one existed except for themselves. Lacking both fairy dust and a temporal fold, however, he had no choice but to talk things through calmly. "We agreed we can't escape the past, and Dru is a part of that past. I can't leave her for the commandos to experiment on."

"She tried to kill you." Buffy couldn't believe her ears. "She tortured you, and tried to kill me and she killed Kendra. She deserves to die and I say let the commandos have the fun. I don't want you risking yourself for her anymore." Deep in her heart was the unasked question of why he would still be willing to.

"Are you sure your reluctance to help doesn't have a little something to do with who we'd be fighting?" Angel had his own jealousy to contend with, and even Angelus was not so difficult a demon to master. Where Buffy was concerned, he feared he would never completely subdue it.

"Okay, that would be our cue to leave," Xander said hastily, jumping to his feet. He pulled Anya up off Willow's bed as well and dragged her to the door.

"But it was just getting interesting," she protested, digging in her heels. She stared in rapt fascination at Buffy, who stood deathly silent in the center of the room.

"With these two, interesting is usually very shortly followed by bloody and life-threatening," Xander explained hurriedly. He was watching Buffy as well, and he knew the signs of an imminent explosion. He wouldn't have admitted it to another soul, but it actually made him feel better about Angel's return. She hadn't cared enough about Riley to really fight with him, and that passive attitude had permeated her existence since Angel left. It was kind of good to see the old kick-ass Buffy back, so long as his own ass was at a safe distance.

"There won't be any bloodshed, Xander," Buffy said evenly. "Angel is so very mistaken, and he will realize how stupid he sounds in just a moment." She stood rigidly still and waited for her lover to apologize, preferably on bended knee.

Angel didn't want to hurt her, but he wasn't ready to back down just yet. For all that he knew how much she loved him, a small part of him still wondered about the life she was giving up for him, and if she would regret it. Finn had been her last shot at a quasi-normal existence.

"I'm not questioning your feelings for me, Buffy. But are you so sure you're ready to go up against Finn?"

"The only thing I'm not sure about is why Spike thinks we should go to battle against my ex-boyfriend over your ex-girlfriend." Buffy didn't even pause to think about how it would feel to fight Riley now that she knew she was fighting him. He was the least of her concerns right now. All that mattered to her was why Angel would risk all that they had for Drusilla.

Angel carefully studied his hands. "He didn't ask for our help, he asked for mine." He looked up, holding her fast with his eyes. "I came to you, because we're a team now. Or did something change since yesterday?"

"We so need to be going." Xander pulled on Anya's hand with all his might, almost knocking her off her feet in his haste to leave.

"All right," Anya grumbled. She turned to Buffy as Xander pulled open the door. "We'll be at Xander's. Don't wait too long to call for the meeting at Giles', because we might be having sex."

Xander and Buffy both blushed, though they were slowly becoming accustomed to Anya's uninhibited manner of speech. After two hundred-odd years on earth, Angel had seen, and heard, pretty much everything. At this point, only Buffy could have made him blush, if such a thing were possible for the circulation-challenged.

Buffy waited until she had recovered a little of her composure before responding. Carefully avoiding both Angel and Xander's faces, she said, "What makes you so sure we'll be meeting at Giles' house?"

"Come on, Buff." Xander put aside his own embarrassment for the moment in favor of honesty. "This is Dead Boy here, not the Farm Fresh Egghead. Much as it pains me to admit it, we both know that sooner or later he'll go all noble on us, even if it kills him. And you'll be right there beside him to make sure it doesn't."

Buffy smiled wearily. "When did you get so cool with the whole reconciliation idea?"

Xander shrugged, then cast a surprisingly affectionate glance at Anya beside him. "Guess I've learned a few things about separating the demon from the host. Plus Dead Boy lets me pick on him way more than Riley does."

"Would you please stop calling me that!"

After they left, Buffy turned slowly to Angel, who was still seated on her bed.

"The sad thing is, he's right about us," she said quietly. "No matter what I say, you'll go after her, and I'll go after you. And we may both die so they don't kill her."

"We're not talking about them killing her." He averted his eyes and stared out the window. "I wouldn't have gotten involved if that's all they were going to do. They will take away her ability to hunt and to feed, but they won't kill her. She'll either spend eternity locked up in a little cell, or she'll escape and starve to death. They will torture her just as surely as she tortured me, and they're supposed to be the ones with the souls." He tried to suppress the bitterness in his voice, but he couldn't quite manage it.

Buffy hurried over to rejoin him on the bed, her tender heart aching for his pain. She took one of his hands in hers and stroked his thick dark hair with her other hand. "Baby, I'm sorry," she said softly. "I know you feel responsible for what Angelus did to Drusilla, and even if you didn't you're too big of a marshmallow to let anyone suffer like that. That's part of why I love you so much."

He forced himself to smile at her words. "Marshmallow, huh? Not a whole lot of sex appeal in marshmallows." He kissed the inside of her wrist with gentle affection.

She leaned over and returned his kiss, but chose his mouth as her target. She had more than absentminded caresses on her mind. "Well, I think marshmallow topping can be kind of sexy...if you use it the right way." She pressed her body to his and gratefully followed him as he sank back on the bed.

Angel was only too happy to join her escape from grim reality for a few precious moments. "You wouldn't happen to have any of that topping handy, would you?" He tangled his hands in her hair and cradled her head as he teased her with light kisses down her throat. "You know, just so you could show me exactly what you mean," he whispered, rolling them both over on the bed.

Buffy was prevented from replying by the untimely arrival of her roommate, and (former) best friend, Willow.

"Oh God, I'm sorry," Willow stammered, stopping in the doorway. Her boyfriend, Oz, unfortunately stopped an instant too late. He plowed into her, knocking her into the room and almost onto Buffy's bed.

Angel rolled off of Buffy and got to his feet, pulling her up as well. While she was rearranging her clothes and putting on her boots, he tried to dispel Willow's embarrassment. It wasn't easy to do when they were both wishing they could crawl under rocks and never come out.

"It's okay, Willow. We really don't have time...I mean we can wait...it's okay." He glanced over at Buffy, who was now openly laughing at his attempts to be tactful. He was tempted to challenge her to do better, but settled for grabbing her hand and kissing it.

Buffy moved closer to Angel and slid her hand through the crook of his arm. "We're on our way out anyway, Will. We're headed over to Giles' for a pow-wow." She smiled at Angel in graceful surrender to the inevitable before returning her attention to Willow and Oz. "Believe it or not, the Scooby Gang needs to rescue Drusilla from somebody meaner than she is."

Willow's jaw dropped. She tried to say something, but no intelligible words could make it past the part of her brain that froze when Buffy dropped her bombshell. She finally settled for a variety of choked gurgles.

Oz blinked.

*

Giles didn't take the news nearly as well as Willow and Oz.

"You seriously want to rescue her from these commandos when they may have the means to neutralize her?" He was in full pace mode, which worried Buffy. He usually confined himself to slow strolls while reading from his beloved books. Flat out, energetic pacing signaled a serious disturbance in the Force.

Buffy glanced at Angel, silently questioning his commitment to this course. Unfortunately, the resolve in his eyes was painfully clear. She sighed and answered Giles. "We have to, Giles. She's already bonkers, so I can't really say it will drive her over the edge. But it's kind of like pulling the wings off of...well, a hornet, I guess.

"Giles stopped pacing and glared at them both. "This is no joking matter, Buffy." He looked sharply at Angel. "I find it hard to believe you, of all people, would compromise Buffy's safety for something so rash."

"Where he goes, I go," Buffy said, before Angel could reply. "He feels responsible for Dru, and I'm not going to let him get himself killed now that we've finally worked things out. Mi casa is his casa, or something like that."

"And we're sure Riley is a part of this?" Willow asked hesitantly. "That's the part I can't believe." She blushed when she realized how that might be interpreted. "Not that I think you're lying, or anything, Angel. And not that Cordelia would lie, well actually she might, but I mean I trust her research...well, not really, but...are we sure?" She ground to a miserable halt and stared at her shoes, too embarrassed to face her friends. Oz draped a consoling arm around her shoulders and pulled her close.

"Cordelia has actually gotten pretty good with the computer, Willow you'd be proud." Angel didn't tell her of some of Cordelia's spectacular early failures he still wasn't sure that accountant wouldn't sue. "I'm sure Finn's part of a para-military group on campus, Buffy is sure the commandos have been taking the demons before she can kill them, and Spike is sure of what they will do to Dru if they have her. It all adds up." He met Giles' eyes squarely. "I wish I didn't have to involve Buffy, but I made a promise and I'm going to honor my word this time. We're partners, through thick and thin."

Buffy wanted to be fair. She loved Angel, and she loved her friends, but that didn't mean they all had to love each other. She'd settle for them not trying to kill each other.

"The rest of you don't have to do this if you don't want. This is kind of above and beyond the call."

"She's right," Angel added, glancing around the room. "This is my fight, not yours. That's why I left Cordelia and Doyle back in LA.

"Oh please, like they would let you go without back-up." Anya had no use for what she perceived to be empty conventions. "We all know where Angel goes, Buffy will follow, and so will the Slayerettes. It's ludicrous to pretend anyone is going to think this through rationally."

"Thanks for the pep talk, sweetie." Xander lay what appeared to be a casual arm around her shoulders, but Anya could feel his nails digging into her arm. "Now why don't we let the planners plan and then we can get on to the dying horribly part that much sooner."

"Guys..." Buffy protested, but to no avail.

"We're going, Buffy," Willow said sternly. "Whatever help you need, you know we'll give you. Both of you. Right, Giles?" Willow shot Giles a warning look, which he missed entirely.

"This is still Drusilla we're talking about." Their casual acceptance of this mission's goal was frustrating Giles. "You were not born to save vampires, Buffy, you were born to slay them. Present company excepted, of course." He nodded courteously in Angel's direction. "You simply can't invade this laboratory, on Spike's say so, of all things, and rescue a vampire as...demonic as Drusilla. It's irresponsible."

"Giles, I never said we were going to save her." Angel's voice was quiet and steady. Only Buffy, who knew him so well, could hear the depths of his pain. "She won't survive what they would do to her, and you're right about how dangerous she is if we free her." He glanced down at his hands, tightly intertwined with Buffy's. "Whether or not we get to her before they give her the implants...we're going there to kill her. It's time." He lifted his head to meet Buffy's eyes, and saw she'd already realized his true goal.

The rest of his audience was not quite so sanguine. "You mean we're doing all this just to kill her?" Xander couldn't believe his ears. "If you had let Buffy do this a couple of years ago, we could be eating popcorn and watching 'Old Yeller' tonight."

"Buffy won't have to kill her, I will. I just need help getting in and out." Angel couldn't blame Xander for his anger. He had resisted killing Dru time and again out of guilt, and they had all paid a price for his weakness. Now that he had finally acknowledged his responsibility, they were still at risk.

"No." Buffy was calm, but firm. She had known Angel's motivation all along she just hadn't wanted to risk losing him over an ancient sin. Now that the die was cast, she had to find a way to make it bearable for him. "I will be the one to kill her."

"Buffy..."

She pulled one hand free of his and laid her fingers gently over his lips. "Angel, if you do it, you'll just have one more guilt trip to add to the scrapbook. I just need you to keep Spike away while I take care of things. No one should have the watch the person they love die." She didn't elaborate but the specter of Angel's poisoning last spring, and her own drowning sophomore year, still hung over them. She stood up and reached for the knapsack of weapons at her feet. "Let's get this done. Time it right and we could still make the last showing at the Cineplex."

*

Spike had arranged to meet Angel at a nearby park, where he said a storm drain led to the laboratory. Buffy had been uneasy about the plan all along, fearing a set up. The closer they got to the meeting place, the more her so-called "Spidey Sense" prickled in the back of her brain.

"I don't know why you couldn't have just brought Spike down from LA with you," she muttered under her breath as she scanned the eerily quiet streets. "Keeping him on a leash would have been an even better idea."

Angel was battling his own premonitions of doom. As natural as it felt to be by Buffy's side in a fight, he couldn't shake the feeling he was putting her in unnecessary danger. Ultimately, this was his responsibility, and he felt guilty relying so heavily on his girlfriend to bail him out.

"I needed time," he explained at last. "I wanted to come up with some sort of plan before I came to you with the problem. You know as well as I do that quiet thought and Spike do not mix."

"I'll have to give you that one. But why did we go to Giles if you already had a plan in mind?" She looked curiously at Angel, whose face was partially obscured by the fickle moonlight.

"I was hoping he had a better one. I thought maybe he could figure out a one-man operation that might work, so I wouldn't have to ask you to help me." He couldn't bear to meet her eyes. She was entrusting her life to him, for the settlement of a debt that never should have touched her.

"Hey!" Her voice was sharp, and he snapped his head around at the sound. "We made some major progress when you came to me, so don't backslide now. You accept Cordelia's help, and Doyle's. Would you feel better if you put me on the books as a part-time employee?" She stopped walking and waited, quite seriously, for his answer.

"That's not fair and you know it." Even in this light, the hurt on his face was apparent. "I have never minded you helping me, or me acting as your second. But this time...it's different. He didn'"t want to spell out what made this case so special, but he knew he didn't need to anyway. She knew him as he knew himself.

"It's because it's Dru, isn't it? You don't want to risk my life for hers." She shifted her crossbow to one side, so she could reach up to touch his cheek. "Angel, I'm not here for her, and neither are you, really. We're here to settle the past, and she just happens to be a part of it. We can't move on until we deal with the old ghosts, like Dru."

"And Riley?" He watched her carefully as he asked the question. "Is he another old ghost we'll be putting to rest tonight?" Without thinking, his hand rose to lightly stroke the scar on her throat. So many ghosts lay between them already.

"Yeah, him too." Buffy smiled ruefully, acknowledging her own past mistakes. She caught his hand in hers and held it to her heart. "We both have the ex's from hell...oooh, sorry." She winced at her gaffe, but Angel didn't seem to have made the same connection. "I wish we could just let them have a go at each other while we went to the movies.

"It does seem only fair."

"Unfortunately," she sighed, "we can't let her kill him, or let him play doctor on her. So we're forced to waste another perfectly good evening preserving the balance of power in the universe instead of supporting independent filmmaking."

"Sucks to be us." Angel smiled wryly, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. He leaned down to brush a gentle kiss across her lips. When he tried to straighten up, she held his neck fast with her free hand and returned the compliment.

"Umm, guys, can we save the PDAs for a less potentially deadly situation?" Xander whined from behind them. He awkwardly shifted his weight from one foot to the other, trying not to let his anxiety show too clearly. "The G-man and I would like to survive to see that movie too. You know, if Angel will spring for the popcorn and malted milk balls." He looked to Giles for affirmation.

"Quite." This was not how Giles had envisioned spending his evening either, and he was not in the mood for gratuitous sex, violence or humor. He wanted a good book, a dry sherry and a night off from demonic skullduggery. "I would have tried harder to come up with a one-man plan if I'd know this was how a group effort would evolve."

"Sorry." Buffy released Angel and tried to look as though she meant her apology. "We're still kind of new at this back-together thing. We've been apart for so long, and even before that we couldn't...well, when the mood strikes it packs quite a wallop." She smiled up at Angel, silently sharing some very precious, very private, memories of that mood.

"If you could please just keep your mind on the business at hand for another hour or so?" Giles was rapidly losing patience with young love's dream. "We're only a few blocks away from the park, and once we meet Spike I should imagine things will progress fairly quickly. You can get back to your mood later, if we survive."

"He's right." Angel moved back a pace from Buffy. "We're being irresponsible. Work first, play later." He looked suitably abject when he faced Giles and Xander, but Buffy could see a glint of mischief in his eyes when he mentioned later amusements.

"I'd forgotten how you often you two mixed them up," Xander grumbled, moving his tranquilizer gun from one shoulder to the other. "Since some us forgot to bring dates, I say we get on with this. Willow and Oz have probably already staked out their end of the park and they're wondering where the heck we are."

"All right, hi ho, hi ho." Buffy took firm hold of her crossbow as she continued under her breath, "to get the ho we go." She glanced sidelong at Angel as he strode beside her, but if he had heard her, he was ignoring it.

The rest of the journey was made in silence. It wasn't until they reached the entrance to the park that Buffy's prickling brain forced her to speak once more.

"I'm getting a really bad feeling here."

Angel glanced sharply at her, but Buffy shook her head. He wanted specifics, and she had none yet to give. She studied her surroundings with fierce concentration, trying to find the source of her distress. "It's kind of fuzzy, like a dream or something, but...oh God" S...he whirled around to focus on a cluster of trees in the distance. A moment later, they all heard the scream.

Buffy signaled to Angel to approach from one side of the trees then took off at a run without waiting to see if he understood. She knew he would be there they had hunted together often enough for words to become superfluous.

Xander and Giles followed them an instant later, but the battle was in full swing by the time they arrived in the clearing beyond the trees. There were five or six vampires Xander couldn't get a clear head count. The target was apparently a young couple out for a romantic stroll, which had turned into hide-and-seek under a park bench. There were a lot of bodies and crossbow bolts flying around, but Buffy and Angel appeared to be in full control of the situation...until the commandos burst through a break in the tree line.

Angel knew without being told that these were the men Spike had sent them to find. With their sudden presence on the scene, he lost the element of surprise, and the best part of their plan. He snarled at the young vampire trying to escape his wrath, and plunged a stake into his heart an instant later. As he turned to help Buffy, he didn't notice he had slipped into game face.

A few minutes later it was all over. The ground was sprinkled with ashes of slow-moving vampires, the commandos had vanished and the young couple whose presence precipitated the attack was stumbling back to their parked car. Buffy finally paused for a breath and took a long look around the moonlit park.

"Angel? Angel, where are you?"

Part Three

*

"He has to be here. He has to be here."

Buffy chanted her mantra over and over again as she moved rapidly along the edges of the clearing. She thrust aside tree branches and peered under bushes, but all to no avail. She barely heard Giles and Xander searching further away in the park, beyond the clearing where the battle had taken place. All her energies were focused on finding Angel herself. And all she could see was the dusting of fine ashes that covered the tops of her new boots. Vampire ashes.

"Buffy, stop." Giles' voice was gentle, as was the hand he lay on her shoulder when he came up behind her. "We've looked all over the surrounding area. He's simply not here."

He could only imagine how deep her sorrow ran, but somehow he would see her through this latest tragedy. She was the strongest person he'd ever known, and she would survive. Of this he had no doubts.

At least not until he saw her eyes.

He barely recognized Buffy in those wild eyes that locked onto his own. He felt a stab of fear, but he honestly wasn't sure if it was for her or for himself. The Slayer was a white-hot mass of agony about to be released on an unsuspecting world.

"He's not dead." Her tone left no room for argument.

"Buff..." Xander tried to step in to help, but he fell back a pace when he felt her burning gaze fall upon him. Marshaling his courage, he tried again. "Buffy, we've been looking for ages. He wouldn't have chased them without telling you, and he's nowhere in sight." He looked around the quiet park, normally so romantic in the moonlight. He had a feeling his starry night strolls through the greenery with Anya had also died this night. This park would never look the same to him again.

"He's not dead. I would know." If she was sure of anything, it was that.

"Then where is he?" Xander tried to control the anger in his voice, but he felt an urgent need to break through to the Buffy he knew. The one hiding behind those terrible eyes.

"Xander, please." Giles slid his arm around Buffy's shoulders, giving her a gentle squeeze. "I think we should find Willow and Oz and get Buffy home before we discuss this any further."

"Where the hell are they, anyway? They should have come running when they heard the fighting." He wanted to add, 'They should have stopped it,' but he knew there was no point. If the combined forces of Buffy and Angel couldn't fight off the commandos without loss of life, then a werewolf and a witch wouldn't have added much fuel to the fire. He just wanted someone to blame for the great swamping waves of pain he felt emanating from Buffy.

A sudden flash of memory made Buffy pull herself free of Giles' tender restraint. "Willow and Oz, we have to find them. You have to find them, and together you all need to look for Spike." She looked wildly from Giles to Xander and back again, trying to communicate the urgency of the situation. They had already wasted so much time.

"Spike." Xander's voice dripped with disgust. "This never would have happened if Spike hadn't been so hot to rescue Valium Barbie from the clutches of GI Joe. I agree, we should find him and a tree branch and make some fertilizer for the flowers."

"Now is not the time..." Giles' lecture was interrupted by a frantic Slayer stomping her foot on the ground.

"Listen to me! Both of you!" She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. Panic wouldn't save Angel now, only cool rational thinking could make the difference. "Angel is not dead. I would know it." She held up both hands when Xander and Giles started to protest in unison. "Even if I wasn't sure because of that, and I am so sure like you wouldn't believe, the commandos don't kill their prey. We've seen how they suck at fighting, and even Spike told us they'd rather experiment than exterminate. They couldn't have killed him, but if they realized he's a vamp, they might have been able to grab him. We can get him back, but we have to hurry."

They still looked skeptical. She tried one last argument, the one that never failed. "I had a dream, Giles. In my dream, they took him away from me."

"She may be right," Giles said thoughtfully. He found it hard to believe he was actually hoping Angel was still alive, but somewhere in the last year a wound had sufficiently healed. Whatever the sins of Angelus, Angel was a friend in need. More importantly, Buffy needed Angel.

"Okay, so they have him and we need to get him back. But, Buffy, there's no need to wig now. He doesn't hunt anyway, so even if they...well, it's not like he's going to miss it." Xander reminded himself this was a predatory instinct they were talking about, not...anything important. Still, he felt an overwhelming urge to hold his tranquilizer gun just a little lower.

Buffy stared at him in disbelief. Xander could be a little childish sometimes, but deep down he was one of the most rational people she'd ever known. Except where Angel was concerned there he had a mental block the size of Soviet Georgia.

"Xander, he wouldn't be able to fight," she explained slowly, trying to quell the urge to beat his stubborn head against a rock. "He doesn't hunt, but he uses the same skills to protect others. And if you think he would stop just because it gave him a headache..." She dropped her head briefly to contemplate the ashes on her boots once again. "He really would get killed, in no time flat."

Xander gave in with a reluctant sigh. If anyone knew Dead Boy, it was Buffy. "Fine, we'll find Willow and Oz and Spike. Let's go." He turned to leave, but suddenly realized Buffy wasn't following.

"What's the deal?"

"You two find the others, and bring Spike to me. He's the only one of us who knows where to find the entrance to the right tunnel." Buffy suddenly felt a calm presence within her, focusing her energies. She wasn't sure if it was actually Angel, or just her need for him, but she wasn't about to question help from any source.

"And you will be where?" Giles wasn't sure he actually wanted to know, but he had to ask.

She smiled at him. The only frame of reference Xander's suddenly frozen mind could access was the Grinch's smile as he cut out his Santa suit. Buffy's face, the face he had worshipped in some of his best dreams, was contorted by a smile that would give him nightmares for days.

"I'm going to the only other person I can beat the truth out of. And I bet he screams like a girl."

"Willie?" Now Xander was scared and confused.

*

Riley was not prepared for the spectacle of his door flying across the room. Nor was he ready for the sight of the stylish boot that sent the door to meet the opposite wall.

"Buffy?" He could barely get her name out.

"You have roughly three seconds to tell me how to get into that lab." There was no smile now, just deadly sobriety. She stood in his doorway, her hands on her hips, and waited for him to decide his fate.

"Buffy," he tried again, sliding off the bed and getting to his feet.

"Three."

"I don't understand..." A tiny worm of fear crept into his mind, but he tried to subdue it. This wasn't a psycho killer, it was his girlfriend. Well, ex-girlfriend, but it was still Buffy. She of the frivolous clothes and nervous babblefests. Little Buffy.

"Two." Her voice was implacable.

"What lab?"

She was across the room before she finished saying "one."

"Buffy! Stop!" Any further speech was made impossible by the hands clenched around his throat, inexplicably lifting him off the ground as they tightened.

"Don't play games," she said through gritted teeth. "Tell me where the lab entrance is and you get to live. Keep it a secret and I'll make you wish the vamps got you tonight." She shook him slightly as he dangled a few centimeters above the ground. With the differences in their height, it was the best she could manage, but it seemed to make an impression. Or maybe it was just the strength of her grip that made his eyes bulge like that. She couldn't say for sure.

Riley suddenly realized he was in deadly danger. Whatever drugs Buffy was on, and they were no doubt courtesy of her low-life new boyfriend, they had given her incredible strength. They had also caused her anger to focus on him and his people. He couldn't allow her to find the lab, but he needed to be very careful to deflect her attention without drawing it all onto himself.

His brain was starting to fog over from lack of oxygen, but he managed a feeble kick at her legs. The next thing he knew, he was flying across the room to join his door. He slid bonelessly to the floor and stared up at her.

"What..." Riley croaked. Rubbing his throat, he tried again. "What are you on?" Instinctively, he pulled his legs up to protect his chest while he tried to summon the strength to stand up.

"Where is the lab, Riley?" Buffy didn't care that Riley thought she was on drugs. If that helped him justify being beaten up by a girl, then fine. All that mattered was finding Angel before it was too late.

"What..."

"And don't say 'what lab' anymore, or the next time I throw you across the room I'll make sure to aim at an open window." She took a few steps closer to him, and noticed his flinch with grim amusement. "Your soldier boys took my boyfriend tonight, and I want him back before they use him as a lab rat. You can either help me or..." she paused to consider, "no, there is no 'or'. You will help me. Now."

He decided it was too late to pretend complete ignorance. She obviously knew something about the Initiative and his part in it. If nothing else, he needed to know how much she knew.

"Why would they take him?"

Buffy backed up a pace and turned away. Riley took advantage of her momentary distraction to rise to his feet. He still kept his distance, however.

"He's a vampire." She said it softly, but it seemed to echo.

"He's a what!"

Buffy turned back to face him defiantly. "He's a vampire, okay? His soul has been restored he's a good person. He helps me fight the bad guys. But he's a vampire, and that's why they took him and I want him back before they hurt him." She advanced on Riley again. "If I'm too late, you are all going to learn a whole new definition of pain."

"I can't believe this. My girlfriend dumps me for one of the hostiles." Riley ran a hand through his perpetually unkempt hair. "I will never live this down."

"You won't live period if you don't help me," Buffy snapped. "Focus, Riley. How do I get into the lab, and how do I get him out?"

"He's a demon," Riley explained patiently. "Why would I help you rescue a demon?"

"Because that's the kind of dumb thing you do when you care about someone." She never should have come back to Sunnydale. She should have grabbed Angel by the hand and taken the first flight to Tahiti, or maybe Seattle so he could go out on cloudy days. They never should have let work get in the way of their relationship again.

Riley chanced taking a step closer to her. "I do care, Buffy. I don't know how you know about vampires, or how you got mixed up with this guy, but I want to help you." He put his hand up to touch her cheek as hope flared in her eyes. "The Initiative will take care of him and I will take care of you."

It was back to the wall time again before he knew what was happening. This time he was pretty sure she'd broken at least one of his ribs, if not more.

"I am the Slayer.' She spoke very slowly and clearly, leaving no room for confusion or argument. "You can't beat me in a fight, and you won't get me back by eliminating him. I spend most of my life fighting evil to make the world safe for creeps like you, and all I ask in return is a little time with the man I love. If you want to take care of anyone, make it yourself by helping me."

She was standing over him as he huddled against the wall. Her hands came down, ready to haul him up once more, when they were suddenly interrupted.

"Are we too late for all the fun?"

She whirled around to face Xander and Spike in the doorway. "It's about time," she complained. "Where the hell were you?"

Spike correctly assumed this question was meant for him. Gazing appreciatively at the hinges dangling from the doorframe, he explained he'd gotten lost in the unfamiliar park. He was not pleased with Buffy's loud expression of derision.

"It's an effing big park!" he protested, leaning into the room without thinking. He couldn't enter without invitation, but his change of position allowed Riley an unobstructed view of him.

"Hostile Number 17!" Riley was stunned, and not for the first time that evening.

Spike waved from the doorway. "Hey Sarge! Having a little trouble with the Slayer, are we? I'm right there with you, man."

Xander shook his head. "Poor Spike. Here you always made yourself out to be such a badass demon, and you don't even make the top ten in Sunnydale. Seventeen, huh? Bummer." He ducked out of the way of Spike's punch, then grinned when Spike grabbed his head and moaned.

"Buffy, why are you hanging out with all these demons? Is Xander some sort of demon too, and what about your friend Giles? I can't believe all this. I feel like I don't even know you." His blue eyes were wide with confusion, and his voice rang with hurt. It was a performance worthy of an Iowa farm boy, if not a demon-torturing commando.

"I don't have time for this." Buffy turned her back on Riley, both literally and figuratively. "Spike, can you get me to the entrance?"

"If you can get this baboon to stop baiting me," Spike grumbled, rubbing his forehead. "All the way over he kept trying to make me take a swing at him, or a bite. I'm only human, you know."

"No you're not." Buffy glanced swiftly at Xander. "Game time is over, Xander. We need Spike's help and we need his strength. No more teasing."

The grin melted away from Xander's face as he crossed his heart. "I promise, Buff. I know this is serious."

"Dead serious." She motioned Spike and Xander to leave, and started to follow them. She paused in the doorway to look back at the man who was supposed to have been her escape from this life. He was still slumped against the wall, shaking his head and clutching his chest. "And I do mean dead, Riley."

"Buffy, wait!"

His cry was useless she was gone. He slowly got to his feet, checking himself for open wounds. Satisfied none of his injuries were visible he headed for the hall mirror that guarded the entrance to the lab.

*

This time they took Oz's van to the park. There was little point in stealth, since Buffy was certain Riley would head straight for his comrades to warn them. No one talked much on the way, except to check weapons and ammunition. If the knowledge of what could be happening to Angel hadn't been enough to sober them, the determination on Buffy's face would have done the trick.

Spike directed them to a secluded section of the park. After unloading the van, Buffy split them up into teams.

"Okay, Giles is the last line of defense, Xander covers my back and Spike will take point. Willow and Oz, you cover the exit. Once we get in, Xander and Spike are in charge of carrying Angel out if he can't walk."

"Why do I have to do the heavy lifting?" Spike grumbled. He glanced over at Xander, then back at Buffy. "Come on, you know I'm the one who'll carrying most of the weight."

"If you can manage to do some damage to these guys without your head exploding, then go for it." Buffy glared at him, furious with the unnecessary delay. "Since I figured that was kind of on the impossible side, I thought you might make yourself useful by helping Angel. The only reason he's there is because you came to him for help, you know." She lay her crossbow over one arm and grabbed a battle-axe with the other hand. Not bothering to see if anyone was following, she lifted the lid of the tunnel and dropped down.

One by one, her companions climbed down after her, leaving Willow and Oz to guard the escape route in their wake.

*

Riley strode through the stark white hallways of the Initiative's compound, trying to ignore the pain he felt in his chest every time he breathed. He needed to find this Angel person, scratch that, this Angel thing before Buffy and her friends tried to penetrate the lab's defenses.

"Forrest," he called, seeing his best friend walking with another one of the commandos at the end of a corridor. "Wait up a sec."

The other commando went on his way while Forrest waited for Riley to catch up. When the two friends met, Forrest looked him over carefully.

"What the hell kind of a truck ran you over?"

"Long story," Riley replied tersely. "Are there any...new arrivals? A vampire, specifically." He didn't know whether to hope Buffy was right or that she was crazy. Either way, their chances for reconciliation were not looking good.

Forrest looked puzzled, but answered quickly. "Yeah, sure, about an hour or so ago. Big guy took a lot to sedate him. Why? Did you used to know him?"

Riley shifted his eyes to the floor. "No. A friend...a friend of mine did. I need to see him. Now." He prayed Forrest wouldn't hear the desperation in his voice.

"I don't think Dr. Walsh wants him woken up just yet," Forrest said uneasily. Something weird was going on here, even weirder than usual. "I think she wants to do the procedure right away, before he takes out any more of us."

"Did he kill someone?" Riley asked eagerly. This was good, very good. If this guy was homicidal, Buffy couldn't possibly want him back. Good vampire my ass!

"No, but some of the patrol got roughed up pretty good. He went down okay, but he woke up kind of fast, and then he skunked us. He played it real nice until we got near the cells, then he went wild. There were barely enough of our guys left to drag him into the cell. I don't think the doctor wants to trust his good manners to the taser any longer than she has to."

"Forrest, man, I have to see him." Riley grabbed his friend's arm and shook it. "I can't explain why, but I need to see him before they do the procedure."

"Okay, okay." Forrest held up his hands in surrender. "They've got him in Holding Cell B, I think. I'll try to get the guard out of the way so you can take a peek."

Forrest was as good as his word. He speedily sent the guard on a wild goose chase, then melted out of sight himself, leaving Riley alone to stare at his rival through the plastic cell wall.

Riley had spent most of the last twelve hours or so imagining this meeting. But he hadn't pictured it quite this way, and he also hadn't imagined feeling quite so intimidated. He had envisioned someone more like...well, more like Parker, actually. A pleasant-looking, but shallow, boy the love 'em and leave 'em type. Or perhaps a bad news biker guy, who offered maximum parental aggravation. In all his hopeless what-ifs, he hadn't pictured a vampire who looked like a male model.

"So you're the one," he murmured, squatting down to watch the unconscious vampire lying on the cell floor. "You're the one she's willing to give up everything we had for." He suddenly remembered Buffy's words from this morning. "And we did have something," he continued indignantly. "I made her happy, and I bet that's more than you can say. She was a wreck at the beginning of last semester, but I didn't give up on her. I hung in there and kept pitching. I finally won her over, everything was great, and then you come back!" He rocked back on his heels as he warmed to his subject. He didn't notice Angel's eyelashes begin to twitch.

"You dumped her, she told me. She didn't give me details, but I can imagine. You're an older guy, well, probably a hell of a lot older, and you're bored with a nice, normal girl. So you dump her, but then you can't stand the idea of her being happy with anyone else, so you come back." He looked down at his hands for a moment. "Great, well she's yours again, for now. But you should know that I'm not the type to give up easily. I'm going to get her back because sooner or later she'll realize you're nothing but an overgrown mosquito in an expensive leather coat." He faced his unconscious rival again, only to find himself the object of intense scrutiny.

The compassion in those dark eyes unnerved him.

"I'm sorry," Angel said softly. "Not enough to walk away from her, but I am sorry." He had hated this boy, truly hated him, for being able to give Buffy the normal life she deserved. Now he pitied him, because Angel knew what it was to have a dream just within your reach and then lose hold.

"I don't need your sympathy, hostile. You won't have her long enough to remember what it's like." Riley stood up, wincing with pain. "Even if she gets you out of here, which is not going to happen, do you really think she's going to want you if you're...fixed? You're not going to be much use to her, are you?"

Angel briefly closed his eyes against the idea of watching Buffy fight and being incapable of helping. He wouldn't mind not being able to feed it's not like he could do it without guilt as it was. But to be unable to fight, unable to protect those he'd been brought back to save, unable to truly be Buffy's partner in all things...this he could not bear to envision.

"She won't forgive you." It wasn't a threat, just a simple statement of fact. "If anyone knows how much she can forgive, it's me, but she's never forgiven anyone she knows tried to hurt me." Angel smiled slightly as he propped himself up on one elbow. "She's funny that way."

The certainty in his voice chilled Riley. He wanted to defend his actions, his purpose in life, but he was afraid even if he convinced this man, he couldn't convince Buffy. Not if he allowed Prof. Walsh to hurt her lover.

"Agent Finn, why are you here?"

Riley whirled around to see Prof. Walsh staring at him. "Professor, I was just...checking on the new hostile. Forrest says he was a handful to bag." He avoided any eye contact with the vampire slowly rising to his feet in the cell. He was a vampire, a hostile, and somehow Riley had to make Buffy understand those facts.

Prof. Walsh glanced sourly at Angel, noting the already healing bruises. "He was a tough one, all right, which makes it all that more urgent to get him permanently subdued." She turned around and motioned to two guards standing a few feet away. "Keep your tasers up and hit him the moment the cell door lifts. I don't want anymore bloodshed tonight."

Angel looked steadily at Riley. He wouldn't beg, but he needed to appeal to this boy's sense of honor. If Riley let them alter him, Buffy would be the one most hurt by it. Angel sensed the boy truly cared for Buffy, at least as the woman Riley perceived her to be. To knowingly hurt her would negate everything he professed to feel.

"Don't do this. It will only get her killed in the end."

"I'm...I'm going topside," Riley said unwillingly, turning away from the cellblock. "I have a feeling the action's not over yet tonight."

"Don't let them hurt her!"

Riley steeled himself to walk away from the cry that seemed to echo endlessly down the corridor.

*

Spike came to an abrupt stop at the end of the tunnel. "Okay ducks," he whispered to Buffy, "this is it." She peered around him to look through the grating that separated it from the lab.

"Which way now?" she whispered back, motioning Giles and Xander to lean in closer as well. "We can't just walk out into the open lab."

"Guess what, that's the only way," he replied sourly. "If it helps, the place looks deserted." He waved a hand to indicate the deathly silent room.

"I cannot believe this is the great plan," she grumbled, ripping the grating from the wall with one swift tug. "Walk into an open room which could be filled at any moment by gun-crazed frat boys. You were with Custer at Little Big Horn, weren't you?"

"Your boy needed a way in and I provided the only one I knew. It's not my fault you couldn't pound a better one out of Bachelor #2."

"Enough!" Giles couldn't speak as loudly as he wished, but there was no mistaking the authority in his tone. "We need to focus, and we need to be quiet. We can still surprise them if we're careful."

"Okay, Giles, you're with Spike, and Xander, you're with me. First priority is Angel," she continued with an icy glare at Spike, "but grab Dru too if you find her. We need to get in and out fast, before they can assemble an assault force. Bottom line: I'd rather do this cleanly, but we'll do what's necessary. Let's go."

Spike led them along the edge of the lab, just beyond the video cameras' range. When they reached the holding area of the facility, the sheer number of cells and cellblocks they would have to search stunned Buffy. She forced her panic deep down inside of her, and concentrated on feeling for Angel with her sixth sense. A sudden noise in the open corridor overhead made them all back up against the wall.

"Come on, come on," an impatient female voice could be heard saying. "This one wakes up faster than any I've ever seen. I don't want him trying to bite me on the table."

When the footsteps died away, Buffy took a few steps away from the wall and looked up, her eyes wide with fear. "That was Angel they were talking about," she whispered. "I could feel him."

"Then we need to follow immediately." Giles motioned to Xander to check his tranquilizer gun. "Wait, where's Spike?" He looked around, but there was no sign of the blond vampire in the corridor.

"Dammit!" Buffy swore quietly. "New plan. Xander, you go after him. Giles and I will take care of Angel's escorts." She hefted the battle-axe to get a better feel for its weight and power.

"Are you sure you guys can handle it alone?" Xander shifted his wait from foot to foot, unsure of where his duty lay.

"Go!"

"Gone." And he was, at a run.

Buffy and Giles moved quickly down the corridor, keeping an eye out for guards and an ear out for the mysterious female voice. Buffy had a teasing memory of where she might have heard it before, but she dismissed it as unimportant. She didn't care if Angel was being held captive by Mata Hari or Mother Goose, as long as he was back in her arms within the hour.

She quickly realized they were headed back to the same lab where they entered the facility. One look at the torn grate and they would know there were intruders present.

"Giles," she whispered, "we have to go in shooting. It's the only way." Her eyes begged him to understand why she would risk killing humans to save a vampire.

Giles didn't answer he only nodded sadly and lifted his weapon.

*

Xander had never seen so many different kinds of demons in his life. He thought he'd become a trifle jaded over the past few years, spending week after week battling (all right, outrunning) the best that the hellmouth had to offer. Apparently, he'd only tried the sampler platter.

The demons seemed curiously uncaring regarding his unauthorized presence. They watched him silently, reminding Xander of old photos of POWs. He was unnerved by their silent regard, but there wasn't time to stay and make nice. He heard the distinctive sound of a Cockney accent up ahead.

"Hector, man, I can't believe they got you too," Spike had called out upon seeing his old minion in the last cell of the cellblock. He stood outside the clear plastic wall and tried to remember if the vampire was a good enough fighter to make it worth rescuing. Of course, it also depended on whether or not Hector had had the 'Big O' yet.

"Spike, I heard you escaped," Hector whispered, nervously trying to see around the flat edge of the plastic wall. "What are you doing here?"

"Drusilla. It always comes back to women, you know." He shrugged in defeat. Even death couldn't quell hormones.

"Drusilla? I didn't hear they had her."

Spike was suddenly excited. "Are you sure?" The one thing he did remember about Hector was his love for, and facility with, gossip. If anyone in this hole would know if Dru were a captive, it should be Hector.

Hector looked indignant. He might not be quite the vamp he used to be, but he was still a formidable gossipmonger.

"She kind of stands out in a crowd, Spike," he drawled. "Last I heard, she was headed to Spain. It'll be time to run the bulls before you know it."

Spike grinned with relief. "She always did love blood in the streets, even if someone else started it." He straightened his leather duster and raised his hand in farewell. No point in rescuing Hector now. "Right then. Guess my work here is done. Best of luck to you."

A hand gripping his shoulder stopped him. He turned his head slowly to face his would-be captor, and found only Xander.

"Not so fast, Blondie. Buffy still needs your help to rescue Angel."

"Oh, come on," Spike protested as he pulled away from Xander's pathetic human grasp. "I got you in, now let me out. You know the rest of you just have to worry about dying if you get caught. Me they'll keep like an animal for centuries."

"Damn! And here I forgot to bring my violin. Move, Spike, or I'll tell Buffy you set Angel up. That should make you hope Riley keeps you as a pet."

"But I didn't set him up." Spike was in the rare position of being completely innocent. It felt...wrong.

"And who do you think she'll believe, Fang Boy?" Xander turned and started to walk away, leaving Spike to make his own decision about his future.

Spike carefully weighed his options, for about ten seconds. "Coming," he said glumly, trudging after Xander.

*

Spike and Xander let the shouts and buzzing taserfire echoing down the corridor guide them back to the laboratory. They came in at a full run, to discover a battle zone.

Buffy had abandoned her crossbow and axe in favor of hand-to-hand combat. She was fighting off three commandos in an attempt to reach Angel, who lay unconscious on a gurney. Giles had the crossbow, but he was trying to aim for legs and arms to avoid lethal injuries. Not an easy task in a room filled with so much confusion, but he was managing to keep several of the guards at bay.

"Spike, you get Angel," Xander called as he aimed his tranquilizer gun at the nearest soldier. "I'll cover you."

"There's a comfort," the vampire muttered as he ducked to avoid the grasp of another commando. " Simply bloody marvelous. Spike, show us the tunnel. Spike, lead the way. Spike, get Angel." He dove under the gurney to elude a guard and came up on the other side. "When did I join the Scooby Gang?" he shouted as he began to undo Angel's restraints.

Buffy was almost limp with relief when she realized Spike had reached Angel and was in the process of releasing him. A sudden kick to her left knee reminded her they weren't home free yet. She turned to face her assailant, borrowing a growl she learned from Angel. She might not have intimidated a demon with it, but it sure seemed to scare the hell out of Riley.

"Buffy, what the hell..."

She didn't hesitate. He was the enemy now, and he needed to be eliminated, one way or another, to save Angel. She grabbed an IV stand and swung it at Riley's head, connecting with a solid thump. He fell to the floor and slid several feet before coming to rest at the base of the gurney.

Buffy looked around the wreckage of the laboratory. Despite the commandos' advantage in manpower and weapons, they had been vanquished. The floor was strewn with unconscious and bleeding bodies, including, she was puzzled to note, her psychology professor. There went that A-.

"Do I have to send out a global e-mail or what?" she complained as she stepped over the bodies. "How many times do I have to tell people not to mess with my boyfriend?"

A sudden groan from the gurney wiped away her self-congratulatory mood. She hurried over to help Angel as he tried to get to his feet.

"Easy, big guy," she said as she slid an arm around his waist to support him. "You're more doped up than Spike at Woodstock." But blessedly restored to her, and for that she would be forever grateful.

"Are you okay?" He raised a shaky hand to touch her cheek as he checked her over for injuries. The worry in his dark eyes was almost palpable. "There were so many of them. You're sure you're not hurt?"

"I'm fine. Piece of cake," she said patiently. "You're the one who was about to be declawed." She glanced up at his face, wanting reassurance they had reached him in time.

He saw the look, and he knew what it meant. "I'm okay, Buffy. The procedure they were going to do takes time, and you didn't give them any." He shook off Spike's grudgingly offered support and leaned more heavily on Buffy. "What about Dru, though? Do we know?"

"Never here," Xander said quickly. "And I suggest we make a run for it while we can." He began to gather up the weapons with both hands.

Buffy was shaking her head as they slowly stumbled to the grate in the wall. "I cannot believe you get captured, beaten up, drugged and almost lobotomized, and you're worried whether we got Drusilla out."

Angel quickly looked down at her face, but she didn't seem angry. If anything, she seemed amused.

"I like to finish what I start," he explained simply. He grunted as he bent over to fit through the hole in the wall. Buffy's arms were around him again almost immediately, steadying him as always.

She breathed a sigh of relief once they were in the tunnel. She knew she'd be even happier when they had Angel out of sight, and reach, of the commandos. Suddenly UCLA was looking like a pretty good school.

"Well, it's finished. Your debts are paid, as much as they can be, and the ghosts have been flattened. Can we just go home?"

In the darkness, his lips softly brushed the top of her head. "I'm already home, sweetheart."

"Good answer." She stretched up to kiss the base of his throat, and felt his arms tighten around her in response.

Xander's voice floated back from the end of the tunnel.

"Jeeze, can't you two keep your hands off each other for ten minutes?"

The End

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