** See the Prologue for disclaimers and story information
Author's notes: I'm sorry it took so long to get this part out. It needed a lot more revision than I thought it would. Thanks for the patience. Part 2 shouldn't be so long in waiting. As always, any and all feedback is appreciated.
Giles carried his teacup to the couch, careful not to spill any of the hot Earl Grey. It had turned out to be a week with less than average activity for the Slayer and he was looking forward to a nice, calm Friday evening of tea and reading.
"There's nothing like a cup of Earl Grey." The hot sip soothed its way down his throat, eliciting an un-librarian-like moan of pleasure. The cup had almost made its way to the saucer on the coffee table in front of him when a sudden thump shattered the silence.
"Bloody Hell!" he swore as his fingers were scalded. The knock was repeated while he finished putting the cup down and dried his fingers. "Who pounds at a person's door in such an uncivilized- The thought stopped halfway to the door.
Running the rest of the way, he threw the door open only to gape at the two figures standing motionless before him. "Is everything all right?" Giles' gaze flicked back and forth between the two, heart still hammering against his chest. Buffy said nothing, unusual enough to give him warning that this wasn’t just a let’s-scare-the-piss-out-of-old-Giles-because-it’s-fun moment.
"Giles," Angel started, the look on his face cueing a disturbing rumbling in the Brit's midsection. "You'll want to sit down."
Oh yes. Something was very wrong. Giles led the way to the couch and its accompanying chairs. "All right, I'm sitting. What's is it?" He braced himself for the worst he could think of: Spike, Dru and the Master all alive and ready for revenge against a particular Slayer. The reality was worse.
"Buffy doesn't remember anything about us," the vampire said, looking the Watcher hard in the eye. "Anything."
Giles' face drained of all color. "Good Lord." He jumped up to pace, pulling off his glasses in an unconscious gesture. "This, uh, this is, well, catastrophic."
"I was going with really bad, but I guess that works, too." Angel shot him a warning glance and nodded at the Slayer, who hadn't looked at either of them since sitting down.
"Yes, sorry." He returned to his chair, setting his glasses firmly back in place. "A bit of a shock that. What happened?"
Angel looked over at Buffy simply staring at her hands in her lap. "We ran into two vamp-, uh, guys" he carefully stressed the word, "and she got her head knocked into a marble gravestone."
Ouch. "Well, I suppose we should break it to her?" Giles' statement was definitely a question. His face had ‘how?’ written all over it.
The vampire sighed heavily. "Do you have any pictures here? Anything of the group? That might be the easiest way to start, you know, before. . ."
"Quite. Good idea. I'll get the album." He paused a moment to look at Buffy, who had lifted her head and was staring around uncertainly. "Right." There were never any lectures on amnesia, his mind groused, unsuccessfully avoiding thinking about the numerous ramifications of a slayer with no memory. Then the Watcher made a mental note to call the Council and inform them they had a hole in their Watcher training syllabus.
Downstairs, Angel shifted a little closer to the unusually silent slayer. "How you doing?"
"Well, let's recap. I seem to have lost the last two years of my life, I'm surrounded by men I don't know and for some reason I've taken up hanging out in graveyards, but, hey, other than that I'm just fine." There was no way to miss the sarcasm laced through her words and no way to miss the tears shimmering in her eyes.
"Don't do that, Buffy." He couldn't help himself. She didn't know him, didn't remember him, but he couldn't leave her sitting there in misery on her own. He reached for her, pulling her into his arms, holding her tight. His heart shivered slightly when she didn't respond to his touch, merely sat stiffly. "I'm so sorry. I wish there was something I could do to bring your memories back. Or to turn back the clock, but I can't. All I can do is be here for you. Please, let me. Don't push me away."
His last words were whispered in her ear, shivering their way down her spine. Buffy relaxed into his embrace, unable to stop herself. Then she realized she didn't want to stop. There was something about him, this Angel, that was like coming home. He was so different than the boys she knew. He was obviously older, all it took was a look at his face to figure that one out. But there was also a maturity, a sense of self that seemed to belie the age of his features. What circumstances had thrown them together, a high school teenager and a full-grown man? When he touched her, she felt a sense of peace that was also filled with excitement. His arms around her felt so right that she wondered if she would always know him, whatever face he wore, whatever memory she didn't have.
Her tears dried without falling, comforted by this stranger's arms. But was he really a stranger, she wondered. He seemed to know me pretty well at the cemetery. She pulled slightly away from him, to look into his eyes. "We've known each other for a while, right? I mean, we're friends."
He gazed down at her. "Yes, we're friends. We have been for two years now."
Two years. That's why he seemed so familiar, yet she didn't know him. There had to be more to their relationship, though. The expression on his face when she had woken up hadn't been that of a worried friend. "And, uh," the words stuck in her throat, unable to be pushed out. She took a breath and tried again. "We, uh, that is, uh, you and me. . ." She stared into his eyes, embarrassment creeping into her cheeks. "Forget it." She jumped up, her hands waving emphatically. "Just forget I said anything."
Angel almost smiled. This was more like the Buffy he knew, not that freaky cross of Cordelia and Buffy he'd seen at the graveyard. He caught her hand before she could get more than a step away. He rose, still holding her hand. "Yes, Buffy. We are. You and me." He did smile this time. "For a long time now." Ever so slowly, he leaned close and lightly kissed her. She read the promise in his eyes before he spoke. "And if I have anything to say about it, for a long time to come." They held together for a long moment. Then Angel looked up over her head and backed slightly away.
"Giles has some pictures of you and the Scooby gang. Maybe that will jog your brain. If not, we'll just have to tell you." He smiled sympathetically. "There's an awful lot you need to know before tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" She turned to look over at Giles who carried a large black photo journal. "Why do we have to do this all tonight?" Buffy watched as the two men spoke volumes through a look - volumes in Man Talk that she had no way of understanding. "Hello? Did I become invisible all of a sudden? Tonight? Why?"
"I'm afraid any kind of half-explanation would make no sense to you. It must be all or nothing." Giles gave her a smile similar to the one Angel still had on his face. Handing the album to the vampire, he asked, "Do you know where the others might be?"
"They're at The Bronze," Angel said. "We were supposed to meet them there after patr-" he cut himself off sharply, throwing a glance at Buffy who raised her eyebrows expectantly at his cutoff sentence.
"Ah, yes, of course," Giles muttered. "Well, why don't you two start with the pictures? I'll call Cordelia and have her bring the others over here. This problem might solve itself if she sees them all together."
"Right." Angel didn't sound all that far away from disbelief. Tugging Buffy's hand, he pulled her down to the couch with him. "Let's see what we have here." He pressed a quick kiss to her lips, relieved to feel her return the pressure.
"Lead on, MacDuff!"
The vampire jerked at the name, but she was already opening the cover. His Irish roots obviously hadn't prompted the remark.
Her question pulled him back to the pictures and her pointing finger. "That is Willow ..."
Before a person got anywhere near the front door, it was clear that The Bronze was the place to be. It was Friday. It was Sunnydale. And Dingoes Ate My Baby was playing.
"What time is it?" Willow asked Xander and a bored looking Cordelia as they sat at a table on the edge of the dance floor, sodas and cappuccino in hand. They were also waiting for Buffy and Angel, who were late. As usual.
"Three minutes later than the last time you asked, Will," Xander said kindly, smiling sympathetically. He knew what she was feeling. He always worried about Buffy when she was on patrol. Even when he knew she was with Angel. Or was that why he worried? The Slayer and a vampire. It still seemed wrong to him. There was only one relationship they should have had and smoochies had no part in it.
"Maybe they ran into trouble," she worried, toying with the straw in her coke. "'Cause, you know, patrolling's dangerous. Maybe they need help." She sounded just a little too happy about the thought.
"It really is rude of them to keep us waiting around," Cordy complained, checking her lipstick in a compact. "Punctuality should be a law. Except when I'm late, of course." The compact went back into her voluminous purse and out came the phone.
Xander just stared at the beautiful brunette for a long moment before turning back to Willow. "Think about it, Will. The Slayer and a vampire. Do you think we could really be of any help if they couldn't handle it?"
"Maybe I can catch Harmony before her date," Cordelia continued, oblivious to the non-attention around her.
Willow smiled sheepishly. "You might have a point, Xand."
Finger poised to punch Harmony's autodial, Cordelia let out a yelp and dropped the phone when it rang in her hand. "Oh, I so need to stop hanging out with you people."
Willow leaned over to Xander as Cordelia answered the recovered phone. "We don't make her come with us."
He smiled at the un-Willow-like comment. Even after all the years, she still managed to surprise him every now and then. His thoughts were interrupted by Cordelia's loud, "What?"
"What what?'' Willow asked, bending over the table toward Cordelia to try and make out the whole conversation.
Cordelia shot her a look that screamed 'loser' and waved a hand imperiously. "Oh, bummer. Wait, you want me to bring them over?" An affronted look came over her face. "Well, you don't need to put it like that." She closed the phone down and made a show of putting it back into her purse. "Alienate people much?"
"Cordelia!" Xander cried, anxious for the news.
"What?" Stuck in her own world, she mistook his tone. "He needs to take some people skills classes, like, bad."
"What's going on?" Willow qualified.
"Oh, that," she said dismissively, sliding her purse over her shoulder. "I guess Buffy's got this amnesia thing and Giles wants us to come to his place." After dropping that bomb, she turned and walked unhurriedly for the door.
"What?" the lifelong friends echoed in unison, staring at Cordelia's retreating back.
"Uh oh," Willow murmured quietly.
"This is so not good," Xander agreed, turning to meet her worried gaze. Together they jumped up and ran after Cordelia.
The black haired figure let the shapely blonde slumping in his arms fall to the ground. She puddled at his feet like an old banana peel, hair shining in the light from the streetlamp. Twin holes in her neck left little streaks of blood running across the pale skin. Once she hit the pavement, the vampire paid no further attention to what had been a vibrant, young college student.
The demon licked blood from his lips, watching another shapely young thing stride out the door of The Bronze. "Dessert?" he asked himself, shifting back into human guise. "Why not?" He took a step out of the shadows of the alley, preparing his college-boy dialogue. And came to a sudden halt when two other humans ran out of the door to catch up to the delectable morsel. Dessert would have to wait. He eased back into the shadows, wondering what the emergency was. Curiosity had caused him quite a bit of trouble in his roamings. But it had also brought immeasurable amounts fun, as well.
"Cordy!" the second girl exclaimed. "What else did Giles say? How'd Buffy get hurt? When did it happen?"
In the alley, the demon's eyebrows lifted in surprise. Buffy? How many humans in a town the size of Sunnydale could be named something that ridiculous? These must be her companions, the ones that assisted her in the hunt. He had heard rumblings from the others of the Slayer's unusual pack of friends. Including, most unbelievably, Angelus. He couldn't bring himself to believe that his old terrorizing buddy, the Scourge of Europe, was in cahoots with the Slayer. Some things a vampire just had to see for himself, but maybe these three younglings could provide some information on that score. He didn't like the stories he had heard of this Slayer. She took far too many vampires down for his taste.
"I already told you what I know," the brunette was saying blithely, unlocking a car door. "Buffy's got a little case of amnesia and Giles wants us all there." She flung the door open then turned to the others. "So quit grilling me, all right? You can always walk." With that, she slid gracefully into the driver's seat.
The demon watched in silence as Dessert's companions jumped into the car mere moments before it screeched out of the parking lot. A smile slowly slid over his face as he replayed the scene in his mind. "The Slayer has amnesia?" The smile became a chuckle that echoed down the alley, bouncing off the walls.
"This is good." He stepped over his dinner's body, moving out of the alley. "A confused Slayer often becomes a dead Slayer," he quoted, smile firmly in place as he sauntered down the street. "First the Slayer. And then maybe Dessert."
A jauntily whistled tune echoed between the buildings and mixed strangely with the driving bass rhythm of the band inside The Bronze. "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" was nowhere in evidence on the Dingoes set list for that night.