As the blur cleared, the Coven's original eight members found themselves standing in their pocket dimension headquarters once again, looking around themselves and their five benefactors as they did so.
"Whoa..." Blade said, the normally stoic Daywalker taking in their surroundings with a slight smile before he looked at the five non-Coven members in the room. "Getting out of Hell's that simple?"
"Well, the fact that you just killed Satan helped; for the moment, the rules are in flux, so we're free to make a few minor changes," Chas explained with a nonchalant shrug. "We'll probably have to work out new terms for maintaining the balance between both sides later, but there's people higher up to deal with that, and we've still got to wait for the demons to settle things among themselves before we can negotiate with anyone."
"Ah," Blade said, nodding in understanding.
"Hold on..." Angel said, looking in confusion at Cordelia as he raised one hand to his head, cupping it slightly as though he was trying to listen for something. "Angelus... he's-"
"Gone?" Cordelia said, smiling at him as she finished his sentence. "Of course he is; he was completely spiritually destroyed down in Hell, and the past version of him isn't needed up here any more now that you've got a human soul to maintain your existence. It might be a bit harder for you to access 'vamp face' than it was, but your soul's been capable of sustaining your body without Angelus for a while; unless you lose it, that's not going to be an issue."
"What about the others?" Constantine asked, indicating the rest of the room, where the Coven's recent recruits were conspicuous by their absence. "I get what happened to everyone we picked up from purgatory, but where's everyone we recruited on Earth gone?"
"They've all returned to where they were when this situation started; you can get back in touch with them later," Cordelia said, smiling reassuringly at the exorcist. "Everyone's back to where they were before the apocalypse struck, remember? You were here, but that means that everyone else is back where they were before you- or the Stranger- picked them up and brought them here."
"And... Fred's in Heaven now?" Spike asked, looking hopefully at the former cheerleader.
"Oh yeah; she and Wesley are back together for good now, I promise," Cordelia said, grinning over at the pale-haired ensoulled vampire before she looked over at Hellboy and Spawn. "We'll be sure to let you know when your magic's ready to give you your new appearances, assuming you don't realise it yourselves; keep in mind that nobody's done anything like this before, so we don't know how you'll react when it happens, even if we're sure that it won't cause any negative consequences."
"Sure thing," Hellboy said, grinning at the woman with the warmest smile even his teammates had ever seen the large red demon express. "And... thanks."
"No problem," Prue said, before she turned to look at the Goldlighter. "Oh, and Cole? You can deliver that other gift we talked about now."
"Wha-?" Spike began, only for the entire group of higher power representatives to suddenly vanish from view, the Phantom Stranger's cloak expanded to envelop the other three before fading into thin air.
"'Other gift'?" Hellboy said, looking over at Cole in surprise. "What 'other gift'?"
"Oh, nothing much," Cole said, grinning as he turned to look at Angel, his hands now glowing with golden energy. "Just a prophecy that needs fulfilling."
Before Angel could say anything else, Cole had placed his hands on Angel's shoulders, and the vampire was surrounded by a brilliant golden light for a few moments before the Goldlighter stepped back, grinning at him. Angel was just about to ask what Cole had done when he suddenly felt the urge to take a deep breath, his hands on his chest to confirm the sensation that now filled his body.
"Oh my God..." he said, his eyes widening incredulously. "My... my heart
"Your heart?" Spawn said, looking sceptically at Angel. "You're a vampire
; you don't have
"JUST A SODDING MINUTE
!" Spike said, walking over to glare at the Goldlighter in frustration, even as the other members of the Coven looked at Angel with increasingly-broadening smiles as they realised what had just happened. "After all that effort, he
gets the sodding Shanshu? What did he do
that I didn't?"
"Led a team of assorted demons and reformed supernatural criminals in a one-of-a-kind assault on Satan himself with the objective of thwarting the apocalypse even when all available evidence suggested that he and you wouldn't be able to enjoy the fruits of your victory even if you got it, and also sacrificed his life for another just because he wanted to rather than because he honestly thought that it would accomplish anything, to say nothing of turning down a chance at Heaven to help the rest of you," Cole said, looking pointedly over at Spike. "Nobody's denying that you're a capable Champion, Spike, but in the end, Angel earned it more."
"Sorry, but could we clear this up for me, please?" Spawn asked, glaring in frustration between his teammates; while on one level he was flattered that he'd fitted so easily into the group that none of them were even fully aware that there was a time he hadn't been there, at the same time it was slightly frustrating not to know what they were talking about. "What the hell is this 'Shanshu' thing you're talking about?"
"It's a prophecy, made so long ago that even the source of it has been lost to virtually everyone," Leo explained, looking apologetically over at Spawn; the former assassin had so quickly become a part of the Coven's 'core' team during the fight with the Gathering that they'd almost forgotten that he was a relatively new addition to the group. "Basically, according to prophecy, the vampire with a soul- that was the only information we were ever given for definite; it would be the vampire with a soul-, having achieved his destiny, would shanshu as a reward; the technical translation of 'shanshu' was a bit complicated, but it basically boils down to the prophecy revealing that, having fulfilled his destiny, the vampire with a soul will 'live to die' by becoming human and living to die a mortal death-"
"And there was nothing
to suggest that it was going to be him over me, so why the hell
didn't I get it?" Spike asked, glaring over at Leo and Cole in exasperation as he waved an indignant hand at Angel. "I bloody died
to save the world-!"
"You did it for Buffy," Cole said.
"Huh?" Spike asked, blinking in confusion.
"I'm not saying that you haven't improved since then to recognise that being a champion goes beyond that these days," Cole said, looking solemnly at Spike as he explained the situation. "The fact that you died to save the world isn't something that can just be overlooked, and you've definitely shown that you're willing to help people primarily to help them
rather than because you want to win points with someone else since you started working with Angel... but, regardless of how you've changed recently, the fact is that you started out on the path to become a vampire with a soul because you wanted to be better for Buffy; proportionately, you had less to overcome, and most of your changes were forced on you anyway-"
"Hold on; you're saying I'm less of a champ because I wanted
to become this?" Spike said, looking indignantly at Cole. "I was certain that I was going to have to die
to stop the sodding First; he's never dealt with-"
"That's the other problem; you've done one big thing on your own and you think that's all you need," Cole said, shaking his head slightly as he looked at Spike.
"Huh?" Spike said, looking at the Goldlighter in confusion. "What the hell does that
"Redemption's like anything worthwhile in this world of ours, Spike; when it really counts, you get it when you're not trying
to," Constantine said, looking solemnly over at the vampire. "I spent most of my life after my first suicide attempt trying to atone for my original sin by exorcising demons and saving lives, but because I was always doing it to win points with the guys upstairs I couldn't change where I was going; the only way that I could get out of going to Hell was when I did something that I was absolutely certain wouldn't benefit me in any way, shape or form, and that only happened when I had absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose by taking action. Even if you thought you were dying, what you've told me suggests that you were still doing it to prove yourself to someone; it's good, but it's not what they're looking for."
"Plus," Faith said, smirking slightly as she looked over at the other vampire, "no offence, but speaking from personal experience, three weeks of insanity doesn't really compare to a near-century of self-loathing; you weren't even really aware that you were suffering, so you haven't quite gotten past the worst of the soul thing yet in my book, and probably a few others."
For a moment, Spike could only stare in frustration at his teammates, before he finally sighed and slumped down into the nearest chair in resignation, glaring over at the former vampire as he did so.
"Figures," he said, rolling his eyes in exasperation even as his posture made it clear that he had given up on the previous argument. "You have to do everything first, don't you?"
"Actually, Darla did become human before me-" Angel began.
"By accident; that doesn't count," Spike said, glaring at Angel for a few moments before he shrugged. "Well... guess the best man won, right?"
"But... hold on, how did this happen?" Angel asked, his initial move towards Spike halted as he looked over at Cole in surprise, another thought having just occurred to him. "I signed it away-"
"Firstly, you can't
sign prophecies away- there's too many other issues to take into account for anyone to just 'invalidate' such an ancient prophecy as that one-, secondly, the Partners had never tired to invalidate a prophecy this old and were underestimating their abilities to deal with something that mysterious, and thirdly, there's the fact that they didn't have the time to file the 'resignation' anyway before you destroyed the Circle," Cole said, shrugging nonchalantly. "Upper-level management; there's always too many bits of paperwork for them to spare time to deal with the minor details, isn't there?"
"Quite," Hellboy said, smiling slightly at the Goldlighter.
"So," Constantine said, smiling over at the former vampire, "if you're human, what now?"
"If it makes a difference, you've still got at least some of your old powers; you're just a bit more breakable now," Cole said, shrugging at his friend. "Does that help?"
Looking around at the rest of the Coven, Angel smiled.
"What else are we going to do after we just saved the world?" he said with a grin. "Go out for a celebratory drink."
The following night found Angel sitting alongside the rest of the Coven's core seven members sitting around a table at the P3 nightclub in San Francisco, with the rest of the Coven's expanded members standing around the nightclub.
With the Coven having made contact with the rest of their expanded members, it hadn't taken long for them to make the necessary arrangements for this party. With Paige and Leo willing to make the necessary recommendations, the other Charmed Ones had been willing to keep P3 closed for the night in order to give the Coven members the chance to have a final relaxing party with each other to celebrate what they had accomplished. Even Hellboy and Spawn were present, the two of them now in their new human disguises and enjoying every minute of it. Spawn's appearance was apparently based on the way he'd looked while he was originally alive- although he noted that the full beard was apparently a new addition, most likely to help him look different if anyone who knew him back then happened to see him and started asking questions about how he was still alive-, while Hellboy had a shaved head and a neat black beard around a weathered-looking face, each of them dressed in dark leather jackets and dark trousers.
Boston had contemplated borrowing a body for the party, but had eventually decided to just hang around and slip into the rest of the team at least once when he wanted a drink; even if the host wouldn't be aware of his activities while he was in control, everyone present felt that this was something that should only be shared with those who had to know. Some of the Coven had decided to bring along a few dates or friends- Danny was accompanied by a Goth girl around his age called Sam Manson, Johnny Blaze was with a dark-skinned woman in a blue dress he had introduced as Roxanne Simpson, Hellboy had been joined by Liz Sherman, Cole was exchanging glances with Phoebe, Leo was sitting in a chair with a place saved alongside him for Piper-, but in general only those who had returned to Earth after the fight in Hell had come to the current party, with the exceptions being those who their partner felt certain could be trusted to be here; Faith and Willow in particular had avoided revealing the full extent of what had happened to the rest of the Slayer Organisation, even if Willow was already looking into a few changes that could be made to the current training regime and defensive preparations to ensure that something like the recent apocalypse couldn't happen again.
As far as the planned party itself went, the younger members of the group were obviously forbidden to have any alcohol- even if they had proven themselves responsible fighters, there were certain things that the Coven would prefer to avoid- but otherwise the bar was open to the entire Coven; after they'd saved the world, the Halliwells had felt that giving them free drinks for the night was the least that anyone could do.
"Hello, everyone!" Piper Halliwell said, smiling as she looked around at the large group of people sitting around them, giving Leo a particularly warm smile before she continued to address the Coven as a whole. "My sisters have informed me about your victory over Satan and your thwarting of the Apocalypse, so, now that you're here, consider this your post-Apocalyptic celebration party; drinks are all on the house, the club is your own for the rest of your night, you can feel free to ask us to play whatever you want music-wise... if it's in our power to deliver it, we'll give you it."
"Good to know," Angel said, nodding at the witch before he stood up to address the rest of the Coven, raising his glass as he looked at them.
"I may not know some of you as well as I know the others," he said, smiling at his assorted teammates, "but even before we won this fight, I was proud to know that I was going into battle with such a dedicated group; we were waging war against one of the most powerful beings in existence, and we pulled through because we believed in each other and what we could accomplish as a team, and refused to give up no matter what the odds were again us."
He smiled wistfully as he looked at the assorted demons and magic-users around him, each of them grinning in approval and pride at his own pride in them.
"Some of us might have played a bigger part in this fight than the rest of us did," he continued, still taking care to address everyone in the club around him at the moment- he wasn't going to single anyone out for special treatment-, "but the end result is that we couldn't have done anything if all of us hadn't been there, and we only came through this mess because we know that we could trust each other, regardless of how little time we'd had to train together before things came to a head. We had to face a great deal in a short amount of time, facing stakes on a scale that even the most experienced among us couldn't have faced before, but we came through, and we all owe each other a great deal; personally, even if I hope we never face something that dangerous again, I hope that you all know that you can all feel free to call on me for assistance in the future if you want it."
"Just so long as you remember the same," Constantine said, grinning as he nodded at the vampire with a broad grin, raising his glass at his leader. "You might be human now, but I think I prove that you can still do a good job at the but-kicking even if you don't have your old powers; whatever you are after the shanshu, you're still our leader."
"And you always will be," Spike said, a solemn expression on his face as he looked at his sire, their old rivalry abandoned and forgotten in the face of this newest, greatest victory. "To Angel."
"No," Angel said, shaking his head as he looked at the group around him, raising his own glass as he gave his toast. "To the Coven; we were an unorthodox team and concept, but we made it work and we saved the world while doing it."
"To the Coven
!" the assorted group said, raising their glasses to accompany the ex-vampire's toast, broad grins on their faces as they did so.
"So... what are you going to do with yourself now?" Faith asked, smiling slightly at Angel as he sat down at a nearby table as the music started up, leaving the Coven to dance or mingle according to their preferences. "Back to B. for you, huh?"
"Actually... I don't know," Angel said, shaking his head slightly as he looked at Faith, the dark Slayer now sitting beside him.
"Huh?" Faith said, her eyes widening in confusion. "But-"
"It's not that I don't care about her, Faith- nothing could change that
-, but... well, we've spent more time apart than we ever spent together, and that's even if you consider us as having been 'together' from the first time she kicked me down in the alley behind the Bronze to when I left Sunnydale," Angel said, sighing grimly as he took another sip from the beer in front of him before he sat back once again. "I just... we're getting along better than ever before, but I don't want to be like Spike, you know?"
"Oh, you don't wanna give the impression that you did everything for her, huh?" Faith said, smiling slightly at him in understanding.
"Well... basically, yeah," Angel confirmed, before he indicated the group gathered around the club that they were currently sitting in. "Besides... after everything I've been through with the Coven..."
"They're your family now," Faith finished for him, smiling in approval as she looked over at one table where Hellboy and Blade were engaged in an arm-wrestling competition; evidently Hellboy had decided to test his strength in his new human body. "I can get that; they're an interesting bunch."
"Yeah," Angel said, smiling to himself as he looked at the group of people around him.
He'd had a family in Angel Investigations, of course, but it definitely become more of a business in the last few months before the Coven came together; even if part of it had been the necessity of setting things up for his plan to strike at the Circle to pay off, the sheer size of the operation they'd taken charge of at Wolfram & Hart had made it hard for them to get the chance to spend time together as individuals without worrying about their business.
In the Coven... well, it was larger than the Angel Investigations team had ever been, but it was still small enough for him to feel like he had a chance to get to know everyone in it, and he found himself able to relate to them more than he had been able to relate to the old group.
Not only did each of them have to deal with a destiny or powers of their own, but they'd also all been outsiders from humanity because they weren't human; even Constantine, the most 'normal' of them all, had been able to see what others couldn't from virtually the moment of his birth...
"Hey," Paige Matthews said, walking over to sit beside the Slayer and the ex-vampire, smiling over at the two of them as Angel turned his attention back to the present as he turned to look at her. "You OK?"
"Just... thinking, really; there's been a lot on recently," Angel said, smiling slightly as he looked at Leo's sister-in-law. "How about you?"
"Well," the red-headed witch said with a shrug, "the time-travel aspects of this mess gave me a headache that I'm not going to get over any time soon, but in general I think we did a good job; I just... well, you're not who you were before all this, are you?"
"No," Angel said, nodding briefly at her in acknowledgement of her statement, raising one hand to feel the still-strange thumping of his heart as he spoke. "But... in the end, I think I'm OK with that. It'll take a while to get used to, but, as Constantine said, I'm still able to play a part in the fight I've spent my life in; what's happened to me has changed what I am, but it doesn't have to change who
Even as Angel spoke, he found himself wondering if he'd be that comfortable with his humanity if it hadn't been for his time with the Coven. When he'd first heard about the existence of the Shanshu prophecy, he'd mainly seized upon it as evidence that he could be redeemed of his past- even after his brief period of time as a human on the Day That Wasn't, he'd not exactly spent much time considering the implications of returning to human life full-time and on a long-term basis-, but now that he was actually here, a part of him had to wonder if he would have just tried to 'escape' the fight if he'd become human with his old team, given that he'd have lacked his most obvious asset in a fight situation.
Working with such a diverse group as the Coven, each of whom brought different strengths and weaknesses to the team that came together to form the force that had killed Satan himself...
It had helped Angel recognise that his limitations and involvement in the fight were only limited if he wanted
to limit them. He might not be as strong or durable as he was in the past, but that didn't make him helpless; he still had his experience, and that was the main thing.
He'd spent the last few months leading a bizarre but effective team of outsiders, and they'd found a place in the world for themselves; if he had to re-learn what he was these days, he couldn't think of anyone or anywhere he'd rather be as he explored what he had become.
He might not have his full vampiric strength any more, but the centuries of training he'd gathered as Angelus meant that he wasn't exactly a slouch even without what parts of his strength he'd retained, and there was still the question of what he was going to do about rejoining the world he'd left behind so long ago now that he had a more definitively human persona, but at least he had a wide group of friends willing and able to help him figure out the answers to those questions...
"Makes a change, anyway," Faith said, smiling over at the vampire. "Last couple of major changes I went through introduced me to this whole lifestyle; nice to know that we can change again without losing what we were."
"Amen to that," Paige said, nodding at Faith before she looked over at Angel with a slightly curious smile. "And, talking of what you were... the whole vampire thing aside, what was your life like before you joined up with this group?"
"It's a long story," Angel replied, even as he found himself smiling in response to Paige's query, settling himself in to tell her the story that she'd asked for.
The future might be an open and confusing book, but, right there and then, as he casually sat alongside Paige, the beautiful half-Whitelighter smiling at him as he smiled back at her and began to tell her his story, he couldn't think of anywhere else that he'd rather be.
AN: Well, that's the end of my 'Coven of Reformed Supernaturals' trilogy; hope you liked it, and thanks to everyone who's stuck with this series from the beginning to the end.