She woke with a start, searching for something she wasn't even aware had been missing. The candles had finally burned themselves out, plunging the room into complete darkness. Rain pounded loudly against the windows and lightning flashed against the sky. She groped blindly for Angel and found nothing. His side of the bed was cold. She was alone.
She slipped from the bed, quickly finding his discarded shirt and wrapping it around her body as she moved to the door. The hallway lights were off, but the lightning flashes were so numerous that she could clearly see the toppled table and shattered vase at the end of the hall.
Her heart pounded in her throat. Something was very wrong. She sprinted down the hall, mindful not to step on the broken vase. Her breath caught as she reached the top of the huge staircase.
At the bottom of the stairs rested Angel's crumpled form. She screamed, bolting down the stairs.
"Are you sure we shouldn't call a doctor?" Buffy asked in a whisper. Her eyes were puffy from crying and she couldn't stop fidgeting.
The shaman moved from where he was kneeling on the floor, rising to his own - rather impressive - height. He stared down at her, his eyes reflecting more than a little perceived insult. "Your clumsy human medicine can do nothing for him," he intoned gravely.
"But I don't understand. I -- "
Giles gently wrapped his hand around her upper arm, pulling her away from the shaman. He leaned in, saying softly, "His injuries are mystical in origin, Buffy. The shaman is correct, conventional medicine would be useless at best."
Buffy blinked quickly, wrapping her arms around her middle. She didn't mean to be disrespectful. The shaman was very powerful and her father had called in some serious favors in order to persuade the demon to look at Angel. It was just immensely frustrating that no one seemed to know anything, much less be in a position to help Angel. It had been hours since she found him and they still knew nothing.
Giles nodded toward the door and Buffy followed him outside and down the hall to Angel's study. Inside, Wesley, Willow and Jenny were fruitlessly searching ancient texts and internet sites for any possible clues. Buffy slumped into a chair, pulling her legs up to her chest. She was still wearing Angel's shirt though Willow had coaxed her into a pair of sweatpants as well.
Scant hours ago, she had been happier than she thought possible. "How can this be happening?" Buffy asked desolately.
Giles knelt before his daughter, putting his hand on her arm. "We'll find an answer," he promised.
Buffy was sitting on the bed next to Angel's unconscious form. She stared blankly at their intertwined fingers, their matching Claddaghs. She didn't understand. All of her life she had felt isolated from the rest of humanity. For the first time in her life, she was wanted and loved. She had found the only other soul on this planet who understood her. To experience that sense of oneness and then to have it all ripped away was the purest form of torture. Surely the universe couldn't be this unjust.
"I, uh, heard what happened."
Swiveling around, Buffy faced the doorway. She wiped away her tears self-consciously, not wanting Lindsey to see her like this. "What do you want?" she asked, her voice hoarse. She was aware that he and Angel had reconciled, but she had never gotten around to discussing the specifics. And she still didn't completely trust Lindsey.
"I want to help," he said seriously.
"And how exactly do you think you can help?" she demanded bitterly.
Lindsey shrugged off her anger. "I may be able to shed some light on what's going on," he explained.
"I don't like this," Giles stated for the umpteenth time.
"Do you have another idea?" Buffy demanded, fighting to maintain composure. She felt brittle, fragile, like a strong wind could send her shattering into a thousand pieces. Angel's soul hung in the balance and she had to do anything she could to sway the fight to her side. She didn't trust Lindsey, but right now, he was their best bet.
Giles' lips pursed together tightly and he fell silent. Jenny walked up behind him, twining her fingers through his to offer him support. She knew how worried he was for Buffy, how adamantly opposed he had been to her union with Angel in the first place. Jenny couldn't help feeling responsible. It was her doing that Angel was part of this family. If she hadn't maintained contact with him, Buffy would never have met him and Rupert wouldn't be facing the terrifying thought of losing his beloved daughter.
"We are ready to begin," the shaman announced.
Prophetic dreams were part of the Slayer package, so Buffy understood what was happening. Real as it might feel, this was not real. Her body was back in their bedroom, lying next to Angel's. But as she looked around the room, a room in which she had never before been, she also knew that it was more than just a dream. And more than that, it wasn't her dream.
Buffy tried the door and found it unlocked. She stepped outside into a blinding bright day. She blinked quickly, holding up a hand to block out the sun. Everything was so bright, washed out like a faded memory. She could see people in the distance. There was a small group several yards away standing in a circle. Closest to her, apart from the others, stood a woman. Slowly, Buffy ventured closer.
At first Buffy thought it was Jenny, but as she closed in, the woman turned to face her. Buffy would know those eyes anywhere. Buffy looked from the woman to the circle of other people. There were two men, neither of whom Buffy recognized, a girl in her early teens and a little boy. The men were arguing. The girl was crying and the little boy just stood there, seemingly oblivious to everything. Buffy looked at his sad countenance, mindless of the men yelling. Slowly, the little boy lifted his eyes and looked right into her soul. Tears immediately rose in Buffy's eyes and she reached out, distressed at finding she could not run to the little boy.
"He's been looking for you."
Turning, Buffy looked at the woman - Angel's mother. "Why are you here?" Buffy asked, completely confused. "You were never anything but a curse to them."
The woman smiled gently, reaching out to touch Buffy's cheek. Her expression was pensive and sad. "Regardless of what you may believe, I never meant to hurt them," she said. "I made many mistakes and I've done everything I can to atone for them."
"I led you to him," she said simply.
Buffy blinked, frowning. "What are you talking about?" Turning, Buffy looked back at the little boy again. He was staring right at her, his huge brown eyes so full of grief and pain. Her heart ached to go to him. He needed so much love, so much protection and they both knew he wasn't going to find it.
"When Janna found Rupert," the woman said softly, "it meant that my Angel would find you. You alone have the power to save him, to understand him, to see through the demon to the man's soul inside."
Turning, Buffy looked into the gypsy's eyes, once again thrown by their resemblance to Angel's. "I don't know what you mean."
"He is feared," she said. "And rightfully so. Even Janna looks at him and sees only the darkness. But you - you are his other half. You can see his soul when no one else has the power."
Buffy turned back to the little boy, but the scene had changed. They were somewhere else, a basement maybe. It was dark, dank. She looked up the stairs to the closed door. "He can come out when he learns some fucking respect!" a man's voice bellowed. She turned, looking around and saw Angel. He was just a boy, fifteen, maybe sixteen. He was too skinny. Wearing only a pair of dirty jeans, he was huddled on the floor, leaning back against the bare concrete wall. The side of his face was swollen and blood was dripping on his chest from his split lip.
She walked over to him, crouching in front of him. He didn't see her. His eyes welled with tears she knew he would never allow to fall. She could feel the rage coming off of him, the pain and despair.
"He's been down here for weeks," the gypsy said. "His father told him he could come up when he agreed to live by his rules."
Buffy snorted, knowing full well that Angel would swallow his own tongue before his pride. But looking at his dirty, too thin form, she sobered instantly. It was one thing for a grown man to exhibit that level of obstinacy. It was quite another for a child to do so. It spoke volumes to the amount of abuse and mistreatment he must have suffered at his father's hands. "How long will he stay down here?" she asked.
"Too long," the gypsy replied softly. "It is in his nature to win at all costs. Even if that cost means his own destruction. When he was younger ... " she trailed off, seeming to steel herself. "When he was younger I could still offer him some comfort, but by this point, he was closed off to everyone, including me."
The scene changed again and Buffy knew exactly where they were. She had been here before, in this room, at this time. She looked at Angel lying in the bed, barely breathing. She could see the dark form coiling tighter and tighter around him like some great snake. She could taste his death on her tongue. Tears streamed down her cheeks and she cupped her hands over her mouth to keep from crying out.
The gypsy touched her lightly on the shoulder. "He was looking for something," she said. "Always looking for what was missing. He thought it was vengeance that he needed. So he took it."
"It's killing him," Buffy whispered.
"I know," she said plainly. "But you know how this story goes. All is not lost. Not yet. In our darkest hour, we find hope."
As Buffy watched Jenny entered, pulling a little girl behind her. Buffy's eyes widened as she realized she was looking at herself ten years earlier. She watched Jenny and Angel argue, listened to the cold rasping of his voice. Then she watched the little girl venture closer. She watched herself reach out, watched the dark forces recoil from where she touched Angel. A white light seemed to spread out from where she had touched her fingers to Angel's forehead. It radiated through his body, pushing the coiling form back, protecting him.
"You found him," the gypsy said softly.
She shook her head. "But he's gone again," Buffy said in a soft wail.
The scene darkened and Buffy could no longer see anything. "No," the gypsy whispered, "for the first time, he is truly here."
[End Chapter 19]
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