The Last Loose End
Whenever she looked back at these events in her later years, Buffy could never be certain if she actually saw what happened or if she merely sensed it; her past self's memories agreed with her that she definitely sensed something
take place that should never have happened before, and Willow admitted that she had caught a glimpse of something later on, but added that it was most likely due to her own natural awareness of magic…
In the end, what they'd sensed or seen didn't matter; what was important was that, even as Buffy and the others reached the building where the Ritual of Transference was meant to take place- Angel's car still parked outside the building, which at least confirmed that they'd been right about what he was trying to do-, every member of the group who possessed any innate supernatural power of their own, ranging from the Slayers' strength to Lorne's empathy, felt something
briefly hit them with such chilling force that they were all left reeling from the darkness of what they'd just come in contact with- many of them even swearing afterwards that they'd seen
the energy coming for them before it made contact-, only for the feeling to pass away almost as suddenly as it had originally came.
"Was that…?" Buffy asked, turning to look apprehensively at Willow.
"The release of energy caused when something really powerful and really evil comes into this plane before something really… bad
happens to them?" Willow asked, shrugging slightly as she looked at Buffy. "No idea, sorry; that kind of thing isn't something I've really experienced that much…"
!" the younger Buffy yelled, practically leaping out of her car behind Buffy's own and hurrying into the building, the anguish on her face telling Buffy what her younger self thought she might find more clearly than if she'd delivered a monologue on the subject (And that was without
access to her past self's memories of this moment; the rate at which she was witnessing her younger self's view of events seemed to have slowed down ever since they met…).
Shaking her thoughts about the memory issue aside, Buffy dived out of her car and ran after her younger self, hurrying up the stairs with only the barest glances at the piles of ash at their feet that could only be recently-staked vampires; she wasn't concerned about minions right now, what she was
concerned about was-
As soon as she tore through the last door between her and the room that her past self had described to them previously, Buffy's eyes widened incredulously at the sight before her.
It wasn't the burned and damaged walls that drew her attention- judging by the energy she'd 'sensed' earlier, she would have been surprised if there'd been no
damage in the room-, and with that in mind, the mangled bodies lying in two corners that looked like they had been Adam and Dark Willow in life- the dark hair of one and the mechanical arm of another were suggestive of their identities, if nothing else- were only to be expected.
The thing that she almost couldn't believe was the sight of Angel, standing alone and apparently unharmed in the middle of the room, piles of dust all around him, looking at the door with a slightly stunned smile, as though he was unable to believe what had just taken place.
It was only after a few seconds of staring at him that Buffy realised the reason why she was so stunned at what she was seeing; the glass roof above Angel- the glass roof with the tinted glass that was meant to protect vampires from the sunlight
- had been completely shattered for some reason, leaving Angel standing in the area that had once been protected by the glass, completely exposed to the sun's rays
And he wasn't bursting into flames.
God, he didn't even seem to be singed
"A… Angel?" a voice said from off to Buffy's right; glancing over, Buffy wasn't surprised to see her past self standing there, staring incredulously at the vampire before her. "What… what…?"
Looking back at the younger version of the woman he loved, Angel smiled slightly at her.
"I'm human," he said simply.I'm human
God, he'd thought those words were good when he'd become human during that Day that only he remembered… but to say them now, with the fulfilment of the Shanshu prophecy, knowing what they meant, after hearing Jenny Calendar confirm that he had been forgiven for his past (He definitely
hadn't been expecting that last part)…
He'd gone in to stop the Partners, fully expecting not to survive, and the Powers had gone and granted him his greatest wish, finally confirming his redemption at long last.
He was human, the Senior Partners were dead, Buffy was with him...
It really wasa great day to be alive… particularly since it marked the first day that Angel had been really
alive for over two centuries (Not counting the Day That Never Was as that technically hadn't happened for anyone but him)...
"You're… you're human
?" another voice said; shifting his gaze, Angel smiled slightly at the sight of Fred standing slightly behind Buffy's left side, her gaze demonstrating her own awe as Gunn and Wesley stood behind her with equally stunned expressions.
"Yep," Angel confirmed, his grin still dominating his face as he held his hands out in front of himself, flexing his fingers at the sight of his hands still out in the sunlight without any sign of flames or any trace of pain; he vaguely registered Spike looking at him in stunned silence and frustration at this latest turn of events, but decided not to bother too much about that particular issue and focus more on the present unexpected situation. "Looks like killing the Partners was enough to earn my Shanshu; after setting things up so that I
became the 'host' for the Ritual of Transference, I shot the glass out of the roof-"
"And, with the Partners now inhabiting vampire
bodies because they were now basing their bodies on you
, the sunlight would have automatically destroyed them…" Wesley said, his voice low as he processed the implications of Angel's actions. "Of course
… the resulting energy released at the demise of such powerful beings would have been… well, dangerous is barely an adequate word; Angel probably only survived because he was located at ground zero and the explosive blasts were focused outwards…"
Further speculation on the part of Angel's survival was cut off when PastBuffy suddenly ran forward and jumped into Angel's arms, wrapping her legs around him and grabbing the back of his head before forcing his lips against hers in a desperate, passionate kiss, tears streaming down her face as she sobbed for joy at this latest turn of events; evidently, she, at least, was more concerned with the fact of Angel's survival than the how of it.
Angel didn't even care in that moment about how this display of affection might be affecting the Buffy of the present; all that mattered to him right now was reassuring this younger, more vulnerable version of the woman he loved that he was here, that he was real, that he hadn't
died on her again...
Then the sound of movement behind him caught his ears- evidently not all of his vampiric abilities had left him with his new human status-, prompting him to pull away from PastBuffy as he turned around, his eyes automatically falling onto the red-scaled, red-clad form of Heure. The demon had apparently just departed a room that looked like a small storage area of some kind at one end of the hall- most likely the place where Duana had kept supplies for any rituals he might need to perform- and was now heading for a nearby door at the other end of the room from the main entrance, most likely leading to a secret exit of some sort.
you are," Angel said, his arms grimly folded as he stared pointedly at the demon whose ritual had started this whole mess in the first place.
"Oh… hello there," Heure said, waving an awkward hand at the group before him "Well... seeing as how Duana's dead and the rest of my... associates... have joined him in that status, I see no reason to remain; I'll just be off-"
"Hold it," Willow said, raising one hand to halt the time-manipulating demon in his tracks mid-step. "You caused
this by bringing Buffy here in the first place..."
"Look, I was just following orders; all I did
was-" Heure began.
what you did," Angel said, walking forward to stand directly opposite the currently-immobilised Heure, indicating Buffy and her past self as they stared at the red-skinned demon, Buffy seemingly almost unaware of her actions as she comforted her still-shaking past self despite her own evident shock at the current situation. "Which is why I'm offering you a simple deal; send her back-" he jerked a thumb at the younger Buffy as he spoke, "-and you leave here alive."
"Uh... really?" Heure said, looking uncertainly at Angel. "I mean, no offence, but you don't exactly have-"
"I'm working on changing that," Angel replied briefly, his arms folded as he stared at Heure, his tone making it clear that the situation wasn't up for debate. "You set up that ritual, and agree to allow us to monitor you afterwards to stop you from attempting something like this ever again, and you can live."
For a moment, Heure and Angel stared uncomfortably at each other, until Heure nodded in confirmation.
"All right," he said simply. "Just... let me get everything together-"
"Under Willow and Wesley's supervision," Buffy added, the witch and the ex-Watcher automatically walking towards the red-skinned demon. "If you try and slip a fast one on us, they're the best people qualified to know what you do and don't need for this to work."
"Uh... sure," Heure said, nodding with a grim expression that could have indicated dissatisfaction with that arrangement because he wasn't trusted or because he'd lost an opportunity to turn the tables on his enemies, before he simply shrugged and walked off towards the storage room, Willow and Wesley close behind him, leaving PastBuffy to look at Angel in shock.
"You're... you're sending me back
?" she said, unable to conceal the evident hurt in her voice. "But... but I..."
"Buffy," Angel said, walking over to stand in front of her, sympathy clear on his face as he reached up to gently caress her cheek, "believe me, if I had a choice, I wouldn't do this, but you have
to go back..."
"There's the whole 'temporal paradox' situation to take into account, after all," Fred suddenly said, looking urgently at PastBuffy, evidently recognising her comparatively superior knowledge of this field compared to the others present. "The consequences of you not
going back to live out your life when you've already lived it could be very
dangerous; we've escaped any signs of potential consequences to the present so far, but that doesn't mean we're going to stay that lucky for long-"
"In other words, if you don't
go back we could end up with the world ending because you're not there to help us stop it," Xander said, walking forward slightly to better address the younger version of the world's oldest Slayer. "Trust me, we're all in agreement with Dead-Boy on that- and I can't believe I said that-; if any of us could get you away from what's coming up, we'd do it for you in a heartbeat, but-"
"You go all 'needs of the many' on me and I will
punch you," PastBuffy interjected, narrowing her eyes slightly as she glared at him, her initial shock pushed aside in favour of a more focused anger. "Keep in mind that I'm still a bit
angry at you for not mentioning the curse..."
"Check," Xander said, stepping back and raising his hands in an apologetic gesture just as Willow, Wesley and Heure left the storeroom, Heure moving to a clear area of the room before kneeling down and beginning to draw an elaborate circle on the ground, Wesley silently staring at Heure as Willow walked over to join the others, a slightly sad smile on her face.
"Well... he's doing it," she said, indicating Heure with a brief wave of her hand. "Actually, it's a bit simpler than the ritual he used to bring... Buffy... here; given that she's actually meant
to be back there, all he needs to do is end the spell that brought her out of time and she should go back to where she's meant to go..."
"What, you mean like what you did when you stuck Xander back together?" Buffy asked, looking curiously at her friend.
"When she what?" her past self said, looking at Willow in confusion.
"Oh, this demon blasted Xander with a mystic weapon thing which made him split into two separate people representing varying extremes of his personality; I managed to put him back together just by ordering the spell to break," Willow answered, smiling briefly at her before a more apprehensive expression crossed her face. Uh... one thing; before you go, I… I'm going to need to wipe your memory."
"Uh… what?" she said suspiciously.
"Gotta second that, Will," Buffy said, turning to look pointedly at her oldest friend; she might trust Willow in most magic-related matters, but the memory of what had happened the last time Willow had attempted a memory spell wouldn't go away that easily. "I mean, after the mess you made of that last
time you tried it..."
"Look, it's not going to be permanent
, and it's not like I'm doing this on impulse just to show I can do
it; it's just… well, you've seen what's going to happen to you in the next few years of your life," Willow said, looking apologetically between the two versions of her friend in front of her before her gaze settled on the younger one. "If we don't erase it now
, there's no way of knowing how you'll react to stuff when you get back; what if you… I dunno, try and stop Angel leaving for L.A.? What if you can't fight Faith when she goes evil because you know she'll be back on your side later? What if you get reckless or careless in a dangerous fight because you think that you'll survive it because you met yourself now
"Uh… right, gotcha; future memories, bad," PastBuffy said, nodding in uncertain understanding at Willow before she seemed to realise something. "What do you mean
, it's 'not going to be permanent'?"
remembering them…" Buffy said, her voice low as realisation hit her as she looked over at Willow. "You're putting my- her- whatever, our
- memories on a… time-release switch?"
"Basically, yeah," Willow confirmed with a nod. "I mean, I know when she's from, and I know when you
started remembering things from this time frame; allowing for a few 'time-outs' when you're not actually... well, conscious
, all I need to do is cast the spell so that it starts to restore your memories when you catch up with now- when she shows up in the present, you know-, and from there…"
She shrugged. "Well, it's a bit tricky, I know, but look on the bright side; we already know
that it's going to work."
"Point…" PastBuffy said, smiling briefly at her friend before she glanced over at her future self and Angel. "Well… at least I know I'm giving it up for a good
"It's not always going to be smooth," Buffy said.
"Should be interesting, anyway," her past self replied, trying to sound nonchalant about the idea that she was about to forget everything that had happened to her over the last few days, before she sighed and nodded. "Well... let's do it."
"Right," Willow said, raising her hand to press it against PastBuffy's head and mumbling a few words under her breath, culminating in PastBuffy falling unconscious into Angel's arms, the now-ex-vampire looking anxiously at her.
"She'll be fine," Willow said, nodding reassuringly at her old ally. "It's just easier to have her be unconscious for this part; based on what I've heard about when she came from, she'd probably assume that she just... fell asleep for a bit on the bus or something."
"Sounds good," Buffy said, nodding gratefully at her old friend before turning back to look at Heure. "Well, are you ready now?"
"Of course," Heure confirmed, a slight swallow the only indication that he was feeling nervous as he sat down in the middle of the circle they'd put together, muttering various words in a language that Wesley was probably the only person present capable of understanding, culminating in PastBuffy vanishing into nothingness as the group watched.
"She's home," Heure said simply, looking up at the others with an anxious glance.
"Good," Angel said, indicating the door as he stared at the red-skinned demon. "Now... get out before I change my mind."
As Heure got up and left the room, Wesley turned to look at Angel.
"Are you sure about that?" he asked.
"Letting him go?" Angel replied, shrugging. "Not entirely, but I only just got my Shanshu; I'd rather not start jeopardising things by acting too ruthless."
"Try and be the good guy, huh?" Willow said, smiling briefly at Angel. "We've all been there sometimes; all we can do is go with the flow and hope-"
"OK," Spike said, breaking into Willow's sentence as he walked up to the edge of the shadows that protected him from the sunlight, glaring at where Angel still stood in the middle of the open beam as the now-ex-vampire stared at his non-burning hands, "now that we've got all that out of the way, I have one thing to say; how the sodding Hell
get the bloody SHANSHU
"I earned it," Angel replied simply, looking up at Spike with a nonchalant smile.
?" Spike protested, looking in frustration at his sire. "I went and bloody died
for the sodding world
after fighting through all kinds
of tests to get my soul back-"
"That's the difference," Lorne said, the surprise of him speaking drawing the attention of everyone else in the room as he looked at Spike, offering the group's only remaining vampire a brief, sympathetic shrug. "You wanted to be this."
"Pardon?" he said uncertainly.
"Hey, I'm not saying you haven't done a good job since you got it," Lorne continued, waving a hand in a speculating manner as he spoke to make it clear that his current train of thought was only guesswork. "What I'm saying is that, based on what I heard, you mainly got
the soul because you wanted to be something more than what you were before; Angelcakes got his soul as a punishment, and he's moved on a lot
from that point-"
"Which has what
to do with anything?" Spike asked in frustration.
"The fact that Angel rose above
his original limits?" Gunn suggested.
"Uh... what?" Xander asked, turning to look at the former street fighter uncertainly. "What's anyone talking about?"
"Basically, the fact that Spike only got his soul for the single purpose of being more than he was, while Angel was meant to just become a mess," Lorne clarified, looking at the vampire with an apologetic smile. "You've done a good job, don't get me wrong, but you've only ever been what you asked to be; Angel's gone beyond the original reason he was given a soul in the first place, and he's become a lot
more effective than what he started out as."
"Oh, it's the old 'the best candidate is the guy who doesn't want it' thing, huh?" Xander asked.
"Quite," Wesley said, nodding at Xander with a grim exasperation that the Scoobies recognised from Giles. "As always, you have trimmed a complicated theory down to its basic essentials to make it sound fundamentally stupid."
"Sorry to interrupt, but can we get back to the important factor of Angel being human
now?" Fred asked, raising a hand with a broad grin as she looked at the man who'd saved her life all those years ago in Pylea. "I mean... you did
it! You got your Shanshu, saved the world, and got the girl!"
She paused as she turned to look at Buffy. "Uh... he did
get the girl, right?"
"Get me?" Buffy replied, smiling as she walked up to wrap her arms around Angel, smiling up at the former Scourge of Europe with a broad grin. "Trust me; he's had me since I was sixteen."
With that, Buffy pulled Angel's head down to hers, their lips meeting in a deep, passionate kiss as the rest of the group simply watched, varying sizes of smile on their faces- Spike and Xander's smiles in particular were rather reluctant, even if they saw the sense in graciously accepting the way things were rather than protesting about them- at the sight of two of the most tragic lovers they'd ever known finally reunited.
It had been a long, hard, and seriously strange road to get here, but as they looked at the two people standing before them, lost in each other's arms, even Spike couldn't help but feel slightly touched (Even if jealousy was still the dominant emotion Spike felt about the whole mess).
Los Angeles outskirts, 1998
"Mmm... what?" Buffy muttered, blinking her eyes open as she glanced at her surroundings, noting with only a slight surprise that she was already approaching Los Angeles.
She must have dozed off after leaving Sunnydale; most likely the earlier adrenaline rush from trying to... stop Alcathla (She couldn't
think about what else had had to be sacrificed to achieve that)... had finally worn off...
Buffy paused for a moment, suddenly lost in a vague memory of some kind of dream; flashes of a dark-haired Willow hovering in the air while two versions of Angel fought each other in brutal battle...NO
! Buffy thought, pushing those thoughts aside as swiftly as they had entered it.
She could never move on from that part of her life, but she would not
keep thinking about it; this wasn't helping anyone right now.
She could never go back to the girl she'd been before...
But, as she walked out of the bus and back into the streets of the city that had once been her home, she knew, on a deeper, fundamental level than she'd ever known anything before, that she would always be Angel's girl...
And, until she could find a way to make a life without him in it, she had to be away from the memories of the life she'd had with
him in it.
If only she could place why Los Angeles felt like it wouldn't
be the right place to accomplish this...
Or, more importantly, why a part of her felt like this whole effort to get away from her past both would and wouldn't