Secrets & Lies, Part I

Future-ish; post BtVS season 7 and AtS season 4. I don’t know what’s going to happen obviously, so I’m taking some creative license here.

Author’s Notes: Future-ish; post BtVS season 7 and AtS season 4. I don’t know what’s going to happen obviously, so I’m taking some creative license here.Also, this appears very pro A/C… but just wait. *evil grin* I’m writing as fast as I can on this, so thanks for your patience!Dedication: First and foremost, this is for everyone reading my fics. Thank you so much for taking the time to read them and doubly thanks for sending feedback. Your encouragement keeps me writing!

To Rehatha for reading and editing my stories and for helping me brainstorm and giving me honest feedback on my fics. You’re a treasure!

To Alessandra, who listens to me bitch and moan about, well, everything. Thanks for listening and thanks for the continued encouragement!

And to LelaRose. Hey girl – where’s that story? I’m waiting anxiously for you to post it – that glimpse of a chapter wasn’t enough – please hurry! *grin*

Rating: Adult; explicit sex

Disclaimer: Own nothing. All belongs to Joss, ME, Fox,

Pairing: Ultimately B/A. Has C/A and mentions of B/S

Distribution: My site, EverySixSeconds; sites currently with permission to host my fics; all others please ask.

Originally posted: Jan 12, 2003

December 2006…

Giles coughed slightly as he walked along the quiet street, searching for his destination. It had been years since he’d last been to Los Angeles and he would have gladly postponed the trip for many more – had he the luxury of time to do so.

He wasn’t fond of the big impersonal city teeming with artifice. If it hadn’t been absolutely necessary he would never have left the peace and quiet of his cottage outside of London.

There weren’t many people on the streets at this time of the evening at this location in LA; after all, it was the day after Christmas. A car drove past and the sounds of “White Christmas” swirled around him in the cool evening air.  Someone still hoping to make the Christmas holiday last just a little longer, no doubt.

Giles coughed again as he stopped and surveyed the building in front of him. It was a large and imposing structure, in need of repair, but it was, undoubtedly, the place he was seeking. He could feel it. Even after all these years of not practicing, the magic that he carried inside him still gave him an uncanny ability to recognize the nest, lairs, and abodes of creatures of the night.

With a determined look, Giles pushed open the door to the Hyperion. Even before he had crossed into the lobby he heard the sound of Cordelia’s laughter coming from somewhere within the hotel. The sound grated on his nerves like nails on a chalkboard.

His memory of Cordelia was that of a beautiful but vain, self-centered and arrogant girl. Giles shook his head, as if responding to the questions in his thoughts. He’d never understand how or why Cordelia had become a “higher-being” when so many other good people <like Jenny> lost their lives in the fight against evil. So many others that gave so much, yet were rewarded with so little and yet, Cordelia – who seemed to care only for herself and perhaps Angel – was rewarded so amply. Giles shrugged dismissively, too aware that he couldn’t change things, not now, perhaps not ever. But he’d never understand it. The logic of the Powers made no sense.

“Hello. Can I help you?” Fred smiled timidly, looking up from the laptop computer she had been using to research the latest case at Angel Investigations.

She and Gunn were both at the counter when the man entered; he appeared weak and somewhat frail, which made them both suspect immediately that they were looking at their next client.

“Uh, yes. I’m looking for Angel?” Giles attempted to return her smile, but only managed a pained grimace.

“I’ll get him. Why don’t you sit down?” Gunn cast a worried glance at Fred, handing her their baby daughter Amelia before he moved around the counter to help the man toward the settee.

After he had ensured that the man was comfortably settled, Gunn turned and started up the stairs.

Relieved to have a moment to rest, Giles looked around the lobby. His gaze stopped abruptly when it reached the flowers sitting atop the credenza near the base of the stairs. Without realizing it, he let out a startled “oh my”. The five calla lilies arched gracefully out of their container, beautiful in their simplicity. Their beauty was not, however, what attracted his attention.

“Strange, aren’t they?” Fred commented, hearing the man’s small sound of surprise and noting his intense regard for the vase of flowers.

“Yes. Red is an unusual color for lilies, is it not?” Giles was intrigued by the aberrant flowers; red lilies, to the best of his rather extensive botanical knowledge, were not a natural phenomenon. He could also feel the hum of magic from them along with the faintest whispers of something else… something that he felt that he should recognize, but didn’t.

Walking around the counter to stand behind him, as if to impart a confidence, Fred spoke softly. “Yes. They’re very pretty though, in a strange way.” She kissed her baby daughter’s head, frowning slightly and turning the baby away from the flowers as if she didn’t want to get to close to them. Despite their beauty, there was something almost eerie about the crimson lilies.

What she didn’t say was that the flowers had been in the hotel for over three years. And what she couldn’t say, for fear that the kindly man would think that she was crazy, was that every time they threw them out, the flowers simply reappeared. No one knew where they came from or why; they had simply appeared one day. Equally unusual was the fact that Cordelia seemed to treasure them as much as Angel seemed to be repulsed by them. The vampire had a particular aversion to them for some reason that no one, not even Angel himself, understood. It had finally been at his urging that Fred had thrown them out the first time only to have them reappear within minutes. After six or so repeated attempts throw them out over the first few months after they had appeared, including one attempt involving a magic spell, the AI team had simply given up and Cordelia had set the flowers on the credenza out of the way.

Fred frowned thoughtfully in memory. Even that had been a tense negotiation: Cordelia wanting them in their rooms, Angel adamantly refusing. The argument had persisted for days before the seer capitulated and put the flowers back in the lobby.

“Yes, they are.” Giles acknowledged pensively, glancing at the baby in the young woman’s arms then back at the vase of lilies. The vase itself was a simple blue earthenware pitcher, making the deep crimson red of the flowers even more striking. Removing his glasses, he began to clean them. To anyone who knew him, it was a familiar gesture; one he often used when he was pondering some particular idea or circumstance. There seemed to be particularly strong magic associated with the flowers; and it was … familiar somehow. He just couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

Fred shrugged slightly and smiled hesitantly. She supposed that in their line of work, stranger things were bound to happen – and well, actually had happened. Given everything that she had seen in her years at Angel Investigations, ever-blooming flowers that refused to go away were simply not a priority to worry over.

Giles returned her smile almost absently, turning his attention toward the footsteps on the stairs.

Angel’s preternatural hearing picked up the sound of the former Watcher’s voice even over Cordeila’s loud laughter. He stood abruptly, surprising her as he moved to the door.

“What? Angel?” The smile melted off her face as Angel brushed past her. They had been talking about their last case, laughing and sharing anecdotes when the tall vampire suddenly appeared distracted.

Intercepting Gunn on the stairs, Angel simply nodded and made his way past his friend and co-worker down the stairs. He slowed his stride as he reached bottom, approaching the man waiting on the settee with some hesitation. He veered, as was his habit, away from the credenza and the revolting flowers; he’d been doing it so long, he no longer noticed but Giles did – and it made him even more curious about the strange red lilies.

“Giles?” Angel suppressed his surprise at the former Watcher’s appearance. Besides his frailty, Angel could clearly detect the scent of death and decay; Buffy’s mentor was dying.

“Angel.” Giles stood with effort, clearly attempting to conceal his ill health and obvious pain. Once more he attempted a polite smile. Again, he failed.

Angel wasn’t sure what to say, what to ask. His mind wouldn’t allow him to consider the reasons why Giles would have ventured to LA on the day after Christmas. Last he knew in fact, Giles had moved to England. He’d heard the news through Cordelia’s convoluted Sunnydale gossip grapevine. Someone told someone else who told someone else and finally the news reached LA… That had been what? Three years now? Nearly four?

“Is there somewhere we can talk? Privately?” The former Watcher asked gravely. Despite the few minutes of conversation with the young woman, Giles didn’t know either her or the man that had retrieved Angel from the depths of the hotel, both of whom were now watching them covertly from the counter. Nor did he know the young man that was now crossing the lobby with undisguised curiosity. He was uncomfortable with the idea of revealing his own shortcomings in front of so many strangers.

“Yes. This way.” Angel paused for a beat; he was almost afraid of what the two of them would have to talk about that required privacy. Nodding, he turned and started up the stairs toward his rooms, hoping that Giles would be able to make the journey up the stairs but knowing that pride would keep the former Watcher from speaking up.

“Those lilies-” Giles questioned, casting one last look at the crimson blooms as he made to follow Angel up the stairs.

“Are probably cursed. We don’t always make friends in this business.” Angel glanced over his shoulder, his distaste and loathing of the flowers obvious in the expression on his face. Over a year ago, he’d given up asking Fred to throw them out when she, in her frustration of not being able to get rid of them, had told him to throw them away himself if he wanted them gone. His pride however, refused to allow him to admit to her or to anyone that he couldn’t bring himself to touch them, that he had an aversion to them for reasons he didn’t understand. So the flowers had simply remained there where Cordelia had put them, unchanged for over three years now. They never wilted. They never died. They never changed in the slightest bit, which further added to Angel’s unease about them.

Giles said nothing more, aware of the tension and the vampire’s obvious agitation regarding the eerie bouquet. If he had more time, perhaps it would make an interesting diversion to research them. Sighing, he dismissed them from his mind. Time was a luxury that he did not have.

They entered Angel’s suite of rooms in silence, Giles concentrating on each step. He was usually stronger than this, but the long trip had sapped his energy. He hadn’t given himself the luxury of rest, knowing that every delay only made it harder for him to see this through.

Giles glanced casually around the room, noting the blending of styles, the photographs, and the obvious feminine touches. His eyes finally came to rest on the dyed blond, sitting on the couch and polishing her toenails. Although he had heard her voice earlier, he was still somewhat surprised to see that it was indeed, Cordelia. Next, he drew the obvious conclusion: Angel and Cordelia were clearly living together as a couple.

“Cor? You remember Rupert Giles?” Angel inquired, careful to keep his tone pleasant despite his own nervousness. In the next instant he almost flinched, the sharp scent of nail polish acrid and nearly overwhelming to his sensitive sense of smell.

“Giles!” Cordelia smiled brightly, putting her foot down and twisting the top on the nail polish. She’d seen the flare of Angel’s nostrils and she knew that he’d say something to her – again -about her nail polish once Giles left.

“Cordelia. Hello.” Giles coughed slightly as he replied, forcing his voice to remain pleasant. Seeing her brought home his earlier resentment that she had been gifted with so much while others that had offered as much or more to the fight against evil had been overlooked.

Giles declined Angel’s offer for something to drink then sat on the sofa where Cordelia had been. Angel joined him, sitting in the chair nearby.

The tall vampire searched his mind for polite conversation but was struggling. It was as if his mind had ceased to function, unwilling to entertain ideas as to why the Watcher was here, now.

Cordelia perched on the arm of Angel’s chair, sliding her arm around the vampire’s shoulder for balance. From Angel’s reaction – or rather, lack of reaction – Giles assumed that this was normal and expected behavior. He cleared his throat, attempting to speak. He looked from the former brunette to the vampire again. If anything, Angel appeared to be braced for bad news, his expression shuttered.

Seized with another hacking cough, Giles reached for his handkerchief as the phlegm and blood threatened to choke him. He convulsed helplessly beneath the paroxysm of wrenching coughs, struggling to breath beneath the sticky fluids that congested his lungs and once the wracking had subsided, he cleared his throat and looked up with watery eyes. He was uncomfortable now with Cordelia’s stare. Her eyes behind her smile were not friendly, not welcoming. He was unsure if he could ask her to leave them alone and it didn’t appear that the thought had even crossed Angel’s mind. Standing abruptly, the once Sunnydale High librarian altered his plans.

“I should not have come here,” he muttered. Aware that he would be sharing what he considered to be his own as well as Buffy’s intimate secrets with someone that would gleefully dance upon her misfortune, someone who would cheerfully celebrate her pain and misery, Giles realized that there was nothing he could say to Angel in her presence. Without another word, he turned and fled, leaving Angel and Cordelia to stare at his retreating back.

“Well, that was just a little too close to Sunnyhell for me.” Cordelia frowned, studying her fingernails. She needed a manicure. “And the cough? Ew. Disgusting.” Dismissing the brief visit from the past, Cordelia sprang up and went about her business. Angel however, stared at the door thoughtfully.

Arriving back at the hotel, Giles collapsed in an exhausted sleep. He slept until the pain became too great, the gnawing ache waking him and forcing him out of bed.

Carefully he dispensed two drops of morphine under his tongue. He had resorted to the heavy painkiller only a few weeks ago, when both meditation and magic has ceased to work to stave off the debilitating agony. Sighing heavily, he leaned on the bathroom counter and studied his reflection. The trip to the U.S. and then to the Hyperion had been taxing, more so than he had expected. He had chastised himself repeatedly after leaving the hotel, ashamed of his lack of courage and disheartened that he had yet to accomplish the task he had set for himself.

He dropped a cloth in the sink basin and turned on the water. He needed rest. A respite from the pain before his mind would be clear enough to figure out his next step.

The knock that sounded on the door was soft yet insistent. After a few minutes, it was repeated.

“Just a moment.” Giles called, dabbing at his face with the damp towel.

He was not entirely surprised when he opened the door to reveal his midnight guest. “Angel.”

“Hi.” Angel studied the former Watcher in the dim light of the hotel corridor; he was weak and frail, yes, but the old familiar intelligence and strength was still evident in the piercing brown eyes. Giles may have lost ground physically, but mentally he appeared to be in top shape.

“Are you… alone?” Giles questioned softly. The hallway appeared vacant except for Angel, but he wanted to be certain.

“Yes.” Angel replied. And he was alone. The tall vampire hadn’t told anyone where he was going, or why. He didn’t understand it himself, and he certainly didn’t want to try to explain his actions to Cordelia or Connor, but something told him that this was important. That Giles would not have sought him out on a whim, especially in his condition. And the feelings that accompanied the possible reasons why alarmed him.

“Would you like to come in?” Giles stepped back and gestured into the room, at the same time taking a deep rattling breath, the morphine beginning to take the edge off the pain. He felt a sense of relief. He hadn’t needed another plan. The plan had come to him.

They made idle conversation about the weather, about Giles’s flight to LA, about the hotel – inane pleasantries – while they settled in the small sitting room. When the conversation trailed off, they sat for a moment in awkward silence.

“Cordelia and I- It’s a long story, but we’ve been through a lot together and -”

Angel spoke first, breaking the stilted quiet. Somehow he felt that he owed Giles an explanation, like a child that had been caught doing something that they were not supposed to do. It was surely irrational for him to feel this way, wasn’t it? There was no need for him to explain himself to anyone. And yet…

Giles interrupted with a wave of his hand. “It’s not necessary to explain. It isn’t really any of my business.”

If he were completely honest, Giles would have had to admit that, while it might not have been any of his business, it did make him angry. Angry that Angel had apparently grown complacent about his existence again, and resentful that the vampire appeared to have all but forgotten about the girl he had left behind in Sunnydale. The girl who, according to a letter Willow had once written him, had admitted that she “loved him more than I will ever love anything in this life.”

While going through his desk, attempting to put his affairs in order before the inevitable, Giles had found a stack of letters. Most were from Willow, but there were a few from Buffy and a few from Anya. Feeling a bit nostalgic, he had re-read them all, laughing and smiling and occasionally holding back tears. It had been the re-discovery of that letter in particular that pushed him over the edge; that spun his guilt out of control and sent him on this journey to Los Angeles despite his ill health. He would never be able to take back what he had done, nor could he off true reparation for the pain he had caused, but at least he could do this… for Buffy.

Noticing Angel’s stare, Giles returned his thoughts to the conversation at hand. Angel’s relationship with Cordelia didn’t matter. The truth. That’s what mattered now.

Unexpected feelings of remorse washed over Angel as he studied the former Watcher. Why had he come to LA? Was it about Buffy? The smallest whisper of her name through his mind awakened long-buried feelings within him. Feelings he wanted to deny still existed. Feelings that his closest friends – Cordelia, Fred, Lorne – expected him to disclaim. He’d moved on. Hadn’t he?

Attempting to slow the morass of uncomfortable thoughts that were surfacing, Angel forced himself to speak. “Why did you come to see me today?”

Giles was not offended by the blunt statement. In fact, he welcomed it. It was the opening he had needed, the prodding to speak his peace.

“I’m dying, but I suppose you knew that.”

Angel nodded, his earlier suspicions confirmed.

“Cancer. Incurable. Olivia knows, of course, but no one else.”

Who was Olivia? Did it matter? Angel glanced down, noting for the first time the wedding band on the ex-Watcher’s left hand. Apparently Giles had married. “No one… in Sunnydale?” Angel found it hard to break old practiced habits of self-restraint: Buffy’s name was never mentioned at the Hyperion. It was a rule that Cordelia had insisted on as part of her efforts to prevent him from brooding, to help him move on.

“No. No one.” Giles replied, shifting his position slightly as he felt a return of that small tremor of anger. Had Angel moved on so far from Buffy that he could no longer even say her name?

“Buffy doesn’t know. Nor do I want to tell her.” Deliberately emphasizing her name, with a direct gaze the former Watcher looked back at the vampire. “I’m here because I have something to tell you.”

At his words, Angel was flooded with both relief and anxiety. Relief that Giles wasn’t here to tell him about Buffy’s death and anxiety about what he might say instead. He didn’t question his feelings of relief even though he was no longer supposed to be a part of the Slayer’s life. Even though he now loved another.

With a small nervous chuckle that came out more like a cough, Giles continued. “Or, rather I should say it’s a confession.”

Still Angel waited, now tense and curious.

Giles took a deep breath, both to bolster his courage as well as to test the effects of the morphine at dulling his pain. When he spoke, his voice was soft, solemn. “Your soul… well, there is no clause in the curse any longer.”

Angel blinked in stunned surprise.

Giles looked away from the gaze that focused on him with sudden intensity before continuing. “Jenny…well, before she died, she had translated the curse and had rewritten it, removing that condition.”

Angel rubbed his hand across his eyes, attempting to absorb the news that Giles had just dropped on him. He felt elated and yet, the reminder of Jenny’s death brought with it reminders of guilt. She had done this for him and still had died at his hands. Anger began fast overtaking the guilt. Why had he not been told? They had obviously known. Had it been part of some plan to ensure that he continue to suffer? Granted, what his demon had done had been terrible but he suffered that each and every day. There were times when he would have welcomed his own death as an end to the remorse and recriminations. It would have been a far easier fate than suffering as he did every day.

His eyes flashed gold as he returned his gaze to the former Watcher. His eyes were piercing, intimidating. Lesser men would have cowered from that stare alone but Giles stared back, unflinching.

“Why… didn’t … someone … tell me?” Angel forced out the words, terse and angry.

Giles could feel the vampire’s seething anger. He expected it. He embraced it. It was a small penance that he could pay. And if Angel chose to end his life now in retaliation, then he would welcome that as well. It would be an end to the horrible, wracking pain; the slow degradation of the body while the mind stayed sharp, trapped within a decaying vessel.

“No one else knew that the curse had been changed. Only I.” Giles stated firmly. He wanted to make sure that Angel didn’t blame the others for his mistakes.

Closing his eyes, Angel attempted to control the pandemonium of emotions threatening to bubble over. It was … relief and anger and confusion tangled up with hope and excitement. It was the lifting of a burden.

“I’m not proud of what I did.” Giles replied contritely, coughing slightly as he reached for his handkerchief to dab at his face. There was a touch of weariness in the careful articulation of his words. “It was selfish and wrong.”

Angel opened his eyes, returning his gaze to Giles’s face. When he spoke, the words came out a low growl. “Then why?”

“I was angry. Angry at you for taking Jenny from me. She was the first woman that I had allowed myself to love that much. It ripped my heart out when she died.” Breathing deeply Giles relived that day in his memory. The day he had found her on his bed, the roses strewn on the steps. “Quite honestly, I wanted to hurt you in return. I wanted to punish you for her death. Since I could not have a future with the woman I loved, then I wanted to deny you that as well.”

Angel sucked in an unneeded breath. He wasn’t sure what to say. Part of him understood the motivations that had led Giles to this. He wanted to, but he couldn’t blame him. Before he could speak, the former Watcher continued.

“And, as most attempts at revenge often go, I see now that it failed. Actually, I should say it more than failed, it backfired horribly.” Giles went on remorsefully, averting his gaze again. Had he known that the choice he had made would have hurt Buffy so terribly, he liked to think that he would have been a stronger man. That he would have made a different choice.

“What do you mean?” Angel asked. Still reeling from the news, his mind in chaos, he searched for clarification.

“You were used to pain and suffering. Depriving you of love may have been hard, but you had long ago developed skills to cope. Perfected them, in fact. Dealing with all that your demon had done and having to face that when your soul was returned to you – that could not have been easy. Surviving hell and managing to reclaim your humanity – not many could have done that.”

Angel nodded slightly in agreement. It was true that he was used to pain, to suffering. He’d spent 80 some odd years in the dark, castigating himself for each and every hurt he had inflicted, each death that left blood on his hands. He had learned, with the help of a golden haired, green-eyed girl that he could be more than what he had been. He had learned to separate himself from his demon. Perhaps most importantly, he had learned to start putting the past behind him and start working toward redemption.

“But Buffy…” At her name, Giles’s voice cracked with emotion. His eyes took on a faraway look as he reflected back to those days at Sunnydale High School. “She was so young then. Seventeen and in love for the first time in her life. Idealistic and hopeful, as most of us were at that age.” He paused, wiping at this face with his handkerchief and choking back tears. When he regained control of his emotions, he looked at Angel and smiled a rueful smile. “I always forgot how young she was since she dealt with so much, so capably.”

With each word, memories of Buffy surged more firmly in Angel’s mind. The first time he had seen her on the steps of Hemory. She had been young. Young and sweet and … innocent. She had given him her heart so readily and trustingly. She had believed in him when no one else did. She had accepted him for who he was, man and demon, complete package without reservation. She had done that with such determination, such conviction. Or so he had thought at the time…

“I thought that she would rebound from her relationship with you. That she would heal and move on as most do after a first love.” Giles’s words interrupted Angel’s thoughts, bringing him back to their conversation. Even the Sunnydale High Librarian had believed that what Buffy had felt for the tall vampire had been more like a crush, a fleeting first love that would be remembered fondly on occasion, but would be surpassed someday by something stronger, something real and lasting. He coughed slightly, clearing his throat. “I underestimated her love for you.”

Angel opened his mouth to speak, but was unable to form words. He was confused and uncertain. Giles’s words had opened up a torrent of feelings inside him that he had not allowed himself to have in years. He felt vulnerable, open and exposed. He stood, restlessly pacing around the small room until he stopped at the window, looking out in to the dark night.

Giles wearily continued, studying Angel’s stiff posture. “In my own petty revenge, I failed to see that I hurt the girl I loved like a daughter more than I thought possible.” Pausing, the former Watcher attempted to reign in the emotions that were threatening. After a few deep breaths, he began speaking again. “She closed herself off from emotion, from love. Oh, she’s had relationships, no doubt. She’s a beautiful woman. I’m sure she never lacks for male attention.”

At the window, Angel frowned, the image hitting him like a blow. The thought of Buffy with other men shouldn’t bother him. That’s what he wanted for her. Wasn’t it?

“But her relationships are fleeting. I suppose she’s never fallen in love again.” Giles trailed off, thinking about another letter from Willow, one that had suggested as much. “I know what I did was wrong. I only hope that in time, she may understand. Maybe even come to forgive me.”

Giles slumped tiredly against the small sofa closing his eyes. Silence descended in the room. Initially he hadn’t seen what he’d done. It was only after a few years and some distance, did he realize that his act of vengeance had hurt Buffy far more than it had ever hurt Angel. Quietly, Giles scoffed, thinking of the irony. Angel had apparently recovered from the loss of love and found another, and had the son that he had told Buffy he could never have. His search for redemption brought him a direct link to the Powers that Be, while the Chosen One was forced to fight the evils of the word unaided. Once again, the injustice struck him forcing a bitter laugh.

Angel turned away from the window hearing the small sound. Buffy’s former mentor couldn’t hold him responsible for her happiness or lack thereof. He’d left her so she could have all the things that he couldn’t give her; a normal life complete with walks in the sunlight, nights spent making love. Something outside of demons and darkness. And children. Was it his fault that she didn’t find those things? It wasn’t like leaving her had been easy for him. It had taken him a long time to get his life under control, in order. The way he wanted it to be.

“You’re wrong.” Angel’s voice was flat. He no longer believed that Buffy had loved him. He no longer believed that she separated the man from the demon as he once did. Distance from her had given him that objectivity, as had Cordelia’s love and support. Over the last few years Cordelia had revealed various truths about Buffy’s feelings, about her distaste for his vampiric limitations, about that day when he had been sent to hell.

“About?” Giles queried as he opened his eyes tiredly. In a familiar gesture, he removed his glasses and began to clean them.

“Buffy’s so-called love for me.” Angel said tersely. Since Giles was in a confessing mood, Angel was ready for the truth. It was important that Buffy’s watcher hear the truth. The complete truth. No more pretending.

“Pardon me?” Giles was confused by Angel’s words, the bitterness in his voice. The conversation was taking a turn that he had not expected. He put his glasses back on, as if he needed them to clarify what he had just heard.

“There’s no need to pretend. I know she was attracted to me at first; she loved the idea of having a dangerous vampire for a boyfriend. She loved the irony, being the Slayer. She even bragged that she’d made a lapdog of the Scourge of Europe. But I know that she tired of that quickly.” Angel retorted insolently.

“You have no idea what you’re talking about.” Each word was distinct, carefully enunciated and underscored with outrage. Giles met Angel’s gaze unflinchingly. “If you really believe what you’re saying, then I wish you had stayed in hell.”

The absolute certainty in Giles’s voice gave Angel pause. He stared at the former Watcher, waiting for an explanation. His brows lifted in question.

Giles sincerely wished for a stake at that moment along with the physical strength to use it. He then debated on simply throwing the vampire out and being done with this infuriating conversation. But he found he had to speak up. He had to make an attempt to correct the false perceptions that Angel had tossed at him.

“Did you not think it odd that you were returned from hell? And in the precise spot where Buffy had left the ring that you gave her? Do you still believe that the First Evil really brought you back? You, a champion for the Powers that Be?” Giles choked out bitterly. Then he laughed slightly, a sardonic, bitter laugh. He was somewhat amused by the absurd thought and the idea that Angel might actually still believe it. “I did some research after that. Of course, as yet another of my shortcomings, I shared my findings with neither Buffy nor you. Everything I found leads me to say that I honestly believe that her love for you wrested you from the depths of hell.”

“She probably wanted to alleviate her guilt since you made sure that I went to hell along with Angelus. Or should I say, *instead* of Angelus? Buffy managed to execute that part of the plan perfectly.” Angel lashed out angrily, unwilling to believe Giles when he had come to accept as truth something altogether different.

“What are you saying? You think that Buffy knew that Willow was attempting the curse again? That she wanted to send you to hell? Is that what you’re implying?” Giles was incredulous. It was inconceivable that Angel seemed to believe that Buffy sent him – Angel – to hell deliberately.

“Didn’t she?” The words came out a hoarse growl. Cordelia had told him how Buffy and Willow had bragged about the flawless execution of their plan. How the ‘little Scoobs’ as she often called them, had congratulated themselves often that summer on a job well done.

“No.” Giles’s voice was cold, his expression enraged. “Absolutely not.”

Again, Giles’s firm conviction, his determined gaze did more to convince Angel to listen than the words themselves.

When Angel remained quiet, contemplating, Giles grew impatient. He sighed disgustedly. “Xander never told her. She went there to do the only thing she thought she could do. You were hell bent on destroying the world. She’s the Chosen One. Knowing Buffy would you have expected any less? ” Staring back at the vampire challengingly, he waited. “Think before you speak. Make no mistake, love powerful enough to extract someone from a hell dimension is rare indeed.”

Angel studied Buffy’s former mentor, searching him for signs that would substantiate the truth of his words. The roar of his anger receded as memories of those painful days surfaced.

“I never… she never…” Angel sighed heavily. “We never talked about it. About what happened. And later… I believed that she knew about the attempt to restore my soul before sending me to hell.”

It was true that he and Buffy never talked about what had happened after his return from hell. They probably should have, but their relationship had been so tenuous that neither of them wanted to broach the subject. She had been so tentative and afraid to look at him then; it was as if she had something she wanted to say but was afraid of his reaction. He had been equally hesitant. Had her love really been the reason he had been returned from hell? Was it possible that she had loved him that much?

“I’m surprised you can say that, knowing Buffy as you did. She blamed herself because you lost your soul. She felt it had been her fault alone, that she ‘killed’ you in a selfish moment of passion. Her words, not mine. It’s inconceivable to me that you would believe that she never loved you. She proved that to you over and again. She was hellbent on saving you when Spike attempted to kill you to restore Druscilla’s health. She went up against the First Evil to save you from yourself.” Giles voice rose in outrage. He stood, trembling with anger. “She even risked her own life to save yours from Faith’s poison arrow by offering up her own blood, her own life. My god, how much more proof do you need?!” He no longer hoped that Buffy and Angel might find their way back to each other. In fact, he was cheerfully contemplating the vampire’s demise at this moment.

Angel wavered. It was true that he did not want to believe that of the girl that he had known. He had never wanted to believe it. She had been so open, so trusting. So loving. She had always been accepting of him, man and demon. She had been the one to make him believe in himself again. When had he begun to believe otherwise? Had he been wrong?

“Did she- does she know about the curse?” Angel ventured, wondering if Giles had told her.

“No. I wasn’t sure I could face her.” The last he muttered more to himself than to Angel. He had hoped perhaps that telling the vampire who be enough. That perhaps, Angel would tell Buffy… it was cowardly and he knew it.

Angel stared at Giles. He didn’t know what to say, what to do. He didn’t know what he believed any more. He didn’t even know what he wanted; he only knew that he couldn’t stay in this small room any longer. He was uncomfortable with the idea that he might have been wrong these last few years.

“Thank you. For telling me.” Angel forced out the words as he left. Giles could have taken the information to the grave. He had to at least thank him for that small measure of courtesy, for the truth.

Giles closed his eyes when the door closed. He felt a small measure of solace. The dark secret he had kept all these years had finally been freed.

In Sunnydale…

Buffy dropped her bag of weapons just inside the door and kicked it closed with her foot. Flipping on the light switch, she glanced at the answering machine. The number 3 was flashing in bright red. Given that it was late on Christmas Day – make that, early on the day after Christmas, she knew the calls would most likely be from Dawn, Willow and Giles. Xander and Anya rarely called anymore, busy with their own lives since Xander’s unfortunate accident that had left him basically an invalid.

She listened absently to the messages as she put water on the stove for tea. Dawn raved about her new boyfriend, Todd, whom she was spending the holidays with at his family’s home in New Hampshire, about her classes at U. Mass and finally about the weather. She loved the snow, having not had the chance to experience it first hand in Sunnydale.

“Except that once…” Buffy mumbled to the machine, suddenly remembering that day when it had snowed on Christmas. Pushing aside the memory before it descended into an unwanted reminiscence, she reached for a teacup.

Willow’s voice echoed through the small apartment, sounding cheerful and happy. She reiterated her invitation for dinner with firm insistence, wanting Buffy to spend the day with her and Jessie, Willow’s partner of just over a year. Even though the red-haired wicca didn’t celebrate the holiday, she didn’t want her friend to be alone.

Buffy smiled slightly as she nibbled on a cookie, waiting for the start of the next message. There was a pause as if someone were about to speak, then silence. The message beeped without a word.

Shrugging, Buffy hit the reset button to delete the messages and picked up the mail. She sorted through it disinterestedly as she waited for the teakettle to whistle. Briefly she wondered why Giles hadn’t called, when he had called every year.

Taking her teacup, she made her way down the short hallway to the bathroom. Setting the cup on the vanity, she started the shower. She hummed as she stripped off her clothes, thinking over the previous week’s patrols. The Hellmouth had never been so quiet or so contained. Demons were getting harder and harder to find, and vampires were fast becoming non-existent.

Buffy never once stopped to think that her reputation as an invincible slayer had begun to spread, making all creatures of the night doubly cautious when they ventured any where near Sunnydale. She had become such a ruthlessly efficient hunter, that rumors had even begun to circulate that she possessed powerful magic.

Of course, the truth about the magic would have been just as surprising…

Just over three years ago, during a trip to Los Angeles, Buffy had indeed resorted to magic. She had gone there in search of a very old magic shop, one that was reputed to have the oldest of the Slayer prophecies around. With the First Evil defeated and the potential Slayers sent back home to various parts of the world, she wanted to know what predictions, if any, could be found regarding her future. Or, if nothing else, maybe they would provide some amusement.

She had been combing through the stacks near the back of the shop, when she overhead the tinkling of the bell on the door followed by the conversation of the two men that just entered. The proprietor of the shop called out a greeting to the men, calling them Gunn and Lorne and then proceeded to ask about Angel as he wrapped up a book that the man, Gunn, had apparently been sent to retrieve.

Hearing her ex’s name, Buffy peered quietly around the corner, her attention riveted. She briefly felt ashamed for eavesdropping, given that she was unsure if they were talking about her Angel, but it was only a matter of minutes before the question was clarified. Gunn, the green demon that he was with, Lorne, and the shop proprietor had gone on to talk in some depth about Angel, about how he was now reunited with Cordelia – the love of his life, and about his continued hope for reconciliation with Connor, his son.

The demon mentioned something about destiny and a thing called kye-rumption, and how he had known all along that Angel was predestined to be joined with a great warrior. They exclaimed over Cordelia’s beauty, and commented on what a great and perfect couple the two of them, Angel and Cordelia, made. Apparently there had been some earlier bumps in the road, but all-in-all it appeared to be a happy ending to what had seemed to be a disastrous tale only a year before.

Realistically, Buffy knew that it shouldn’t matter. They were of the past. But each word brought home with sudden, stabbing clarity the truth. She was of the past to him.

Each word they spoke chipped at the protective shell she had placed around her heart, breaking it down and allowing the long buried pain to slowly seep through her entire body. Each laugh brought home clearly how far apart they had grown, how much they were no longer part of each other’s lives.

Buffy had slumped down against the wall, her eyes filling with unwanted tears as she finally accepted that it was over. Theirs was not going to be a fairytale ending where he realized that she was his true love and that he couldn’t live without her. He wouldn’t rush back to Sunnydale to sweep her off her feet with heartfelt apologies. She’d never fight beside him again or sleep in his arms at night, and she’d never again be allowed to feel his hard strength pressed against her or to taste his kisses. She never have his children – not that she’d expected too, but there had been a lingering wish – and she’d never grow old with him. He’d perhaps get his Shanshu and become human, only she would never know. She’d die – again – without him, and he might not even know. Worse yet, he probably wouldn’t even care.

Even though she thought she had moved on, she realized that somewhere deep in her heart she had held out hope. Hope that one day she and Angel would be allowed to be together… Hope that one day, he would come back to her… But each and every word they spoke hammered away at that hope until there was nothing left. Until hope itself existed no longer. There would be no more chapters in the Buffy and Angel show. The writers of their destiny, the creators of fate, the Powers that Be – whoever was responsible for their lives – had seen to that.

That’s when she met Nikkos. He had found her shortly after Gunn and Lorne had left, her large silent tears and heartfelt shaking sobs breaking his heart. When her sobs had subsided, he had led her to the kitchen where he made tea and rolled a joint, listening as she poured out her heart.

And that’s when the pain in her heart had finally ended.

Buffy sighed as she stepped into the warm spray of the shower. Nikkos and the magic shop were a distant memory now; the Slayer had never admitted to anyone what she had done. And if any of her friends had suspected, they never mentioned it. Only once had Dawn had commented on her ‘tattoo’ – the intricate vine complete with thorns that wrapped around her ring finger. Buffy had dismissed it as a whim – saying she wanted it as a reminder that true love was something that existed only in fairy tales and movies, or for people that were not Slayers. Dawn raised her eyebrows at her sister’s cynicism, but had no reason to question it. After all, it had been around that time that Spike had left Sunnydale – finally abandoning his attempts at a relationship with the blonde Slayer.

As had been her routine for the last year and a half, Buffy climbed into bed after her shower and sighed comfortably against the clean, cool sheets. She dozed off, unaware that her life was about to change.


In LA…

Connor quietly and carefully picked the lock on the hotel room. When the deadbolt clicked, he carefully and slowly pushed the door forward waiting for the sounds of a chain or other type of bolt latch to prevent his entry. Finding none, he smiled and exhaled softly, thinking about the stupidity of tourists that didn’t set their room locks properly.

It had been almost two hours since Angel had left, and little over an hour since the old man had turned out the light. Not wanting to risk getting caught, Connor had allowed sufficient time to ensure that the man was fast asleep before he had attempted to enter the room.

It was only sheer luck that had kept him from being discovered eavesdropping when Angel abruptly left the room. Connor had been standing, stretching his legs when he heard the knob on the door turn, giving him much needed seconds to duck out of sight. The bits of conversation he had heard through the door had intrigued him, but it had been his father’s sudden exit along with his apparent anger or distress as he swept out of the room that had cemented his need to know more.

Stealthily, the young man crept into the room giving his eyes time to adjust to the dark. He was well versed in the necessary tactics needed to sneak into the room unnoticed. His feet moved soundlessly on the carpeted floor as he searched the small sitting room. He could hear the deep breathing of the man sleeping in the next room as he made his way carefully to the small suitcase sitting just inside the closet between the two rooms. Pausing every so often to listen, making sure that the man’s breathing was unchanged, Connor pawed through the suitcase, looking for anything of interest. Finding only a leather-bound journal, he pulled it out and tucked it carefully in the interior of his jacket. He then searched the small bedroom and bathroom, noting the vials of unmarked medications but nothing else of interest.

As quietly as he had entered, Connor left.


After leaving Giles, Angel walked the streets of LA for a while, his mind in turmoil. He didn’t know now what to think or believe. He didn’t know what he wanted. He hadn’t allowed himself to think of Buffy in years, and yet now she was all he could think about.

Ducking into a dimly lit bar, Angel took a table in the corner and ordered a scotch neat, a gesture that would allow him to blend in with all of the other patrons in the run down establishment. He ignored the curious and interested glances from the two women at the bar, and toyed with the glass, lost in thought.

In his mind he attempted to replay the day that Buffy had sent him to hell with Acathla. The memories were distant, mostly belonging to the demon, but they were there none-the-less. He grimaced slightly as he recalled that Angelus had nearly done her in – but she had fought back bravely and skillfully. He remembered holding her in his arms; he remembered her soft words “Close your eyes” along with the catch in her breath as she spoke them. He felt her tears on his face as she kissed him and told him that she loved him. The next feeling was the sword piercing his stomach. He closed his eyes. He could still see the expression of horror on her face, the tears.

Suddenly the small bar felt too small, too confining. He stood abruptly and dropped money on the table to pay for his untouched drink. In the blink of an eye he was gone, his preternatural instincts taking over in his agitation.

In the cool night air, Angel calmed but his earlier thoughts returned. Had Buffy been duped? Was Giles telling the truth when he said that Xander hadn’t told her? Xander. Angel scoffed. Of course Xander wouldn’t have told her the truth. The boy had always hated him, had always resented his relationship with Buffy. Furthermore, the boy was certainly capable of attempting to exact petty revenge and wouldn’t be above using his friends to do so.

But what about the things that Cordelia had told him? That Buffy and Willow had bragged about their successful plan over and over throughout the summer. She had known because she had been dating Xander at the time. Had Cordelia misunderstood?

He didn’t know what Buffy had said later, but his gut told him that she hadn’t known about it at the time. Her surprise and her distress had been genuine. Angel shrugged, closing his eyes and rolling his head from side to side attempting to release the tension in his neck and shoulders. He also knew that she didn’t have a choice. The portal to hell was open and his blood was needed to close it. She did what she had to do. He couldn’t blame her for that.

Crossing the street, Angel’s thoughts shifted to Giles’s other statement. That Buffy had loved him enough to wrest him from hell. Was that possible? His mind was flooded suddenly with memories of her smiling face, her sweet kisses. She had been so open, so trusting. So loving. She had always been accepting of him, man and demon. She had been the one to make him believe in himself again. But had she really loved him that much? Giles seemed to think so.

He himself had thought so once. But later he believed that it had only been a crush. It wasn’t real love, was it? Then why was she so determined to save his life? Why had she offered herself that day rather than let him die…? His mind veered sharply away from further thoughts in that direction. If she had loved him that much, then what he had done – breaking up with her in a sewer, leaving her alone – seemed … wrong somehow.

It was easier now to believe that she hadn’t really loved him.

Nearing the hotel with the scent of dawn beginning to fill his senses, Angel ruthlessly crushed the reawakened feelings. He reminded himself that he had a new life now, a new love, even a family. With deliberate emphasis, he told himself that he was happy. That his life now was exactly what he’d wanted for years; he’d been allowed to have it because he’s earned it.

None of which accounted for his sullen disposition.

When he entered the hotel no one was about. Gratefully, he made his way to his rooms and sank onto the couch in a tired sprawl. For some reason, he found the thought of climbing into his bed next to an assuredly sleeping Cordelia disagreeable despite decisions made in the night.

He tossed and turned for a long while before finally finding a comfortable position. A few hours after he drifted off to sleep he began to dream…

He was walking the streets of LA again, only this time with a purpose. He was seeking something or someone. As he approached the tall brick building, the people that he passed all watched him, as if they knew him and had expected him. They whispered to themselves, but he ignored them, stopping in front of the building.

There were small blue lights on either side of a nondescript door. He opened the door and went inside, pushing his way through the crowded room. It was nightclub of sorts, almost a football field in size. Every so often along the wall there was a platform surrounded with golden bars like a cage; the base of the curved platform was at eye level and inside each cage was a woman scantily dressed and dancing erotically to the insistent beat of the music. The crowd was thick in the club, more so around each girl. He had to push his way through the throngs of people to reach the front in order to look up and see the girls faces. He repeated this maneuver over and over again until he approached the last cage at the far end of the club.

This cage was different from all the others. The base and top appeared to be glass covered with tiny white crystals, sparkling like a pristine snow bank on a sunny winter day. The bars of the cage were clear and thick. On closer inspection, they appeared to be ice. A blue light illuminated the girl inside. As he drew closer the crowd parted easily and ultimately disappeared, leaving him alone with the blonde dancer.

The girl inside the cage was facing away from him. She was wearing white knee high boots and a tiny blue skirt that hung low on her hips, barely covering the rounded curve of her behind. Her long blonde hair effectively hid her back, as she dropped her head back and swayed to the music.

“Angel.” Her voice sounded as if it were coming at him from a distance, calling his name. Angel stepped closer expectantly as the girl turned to face him. “Angel.”

In the next instant, the girl in his dreams vanished. “Angel!” Cordelia said irritably as she shook his arm, harder this time, waking him.

Angel blinked, his eyes focusing on the woman leaning over him. He felt a strange sense of disappointment. Rubbing a hand across his eyes, he sat up.

“Wake up. You’ve been sleeping here on the couch all day.” Cordelia admonished, offended that he had not joined her in bed when he returned near dawn.

“What time is it?” Angel asked unenthusiastically, still tired from his fitful night of sleep on the couch.

“After 5. I was worried about you. You left without saying where you were going, and then when you didn’t come to bed I thought that you’d run into a stake somewhere.” Cordelia groused, crossing her arms across her chest. “Honestly. At least call or something. Or answer your cellphone.”

“Sorry. I- I had a lot on my mind.” Angel replied apologetically, studying her under his lashes and noting her tense and worried expression. He couldn’t help but look at Cordelia with new eyes. Had she lied to him about Buffy’s culpability in sending him to hell? If so, why? Or had it just been an honest mistake? A misunderstanding?

“Well, you know I worry. I love you.” Uncomfortable with his scrutiny, Cordelia turned away. Since Giles had been there Cordelia has been flustered. She had no idea what Buffy’s former watcher wanted there, but she knew she didn’t like it. Anything Buffy related always smacked of trouble, particularly for Angel.

For the briefest moment, her words struck him as insincere, rehearsed, and Angel shook himself mentally. He had no cause to doubt Cordelia. The gentle seer had been with him since the beginning. But sometimes he couldn’t help but notice that her gentle concern did not extend to anyone outside their small circle… He was reminded then of her comments about Giles’s illness yesterday, about her concern last week about blood stains on her clothing rather than the girl that had been seriously injured by the demon they had been tracking…

“Did you find out anything on the St. John case?”

Cordelia’s voice interrupted his thoughts.

“No. I’ll look into it today.” Angel sighed and stood, heading to the shower.

“Okay. But be careful okay? And call? I need to know where you are, if you’re okay.” She smiled at him then turned and left the room.

Cordelia’s concern reassured him that he was doing the right thing. He had the right relationship; he was happy.