"Life After ..."
Damage: Chapter Twenty-one
by indie

The following evening, the  A.I. staff along with Lindsey, Rupert and Jenny were seated around Angel's private study.  Buffy was ensconced on Angel's lap in one of the plush, leather chairs.  She hadn't let go of him since they came back.  She had no intention of ever letting go of him again.  Angel humored her, letting her mother him within certain bounds.  She had wanted him to spend another day in bed and while that definitely held a certain appeal, their family and friends were far too apt to walk in on them at any time.  Plus, Angel needed to get to the bottom of what had happened.

He took a deep breath, looking around the odd assemblage.  "Thank you all for everything you've done," he said.

"We owe ya," Willow said meekly.

"I don't," Lindsey pointed out.  "You owe me now."

Angel smirked at his once-again friend's comment.  "To get to the point," he continued, "I know that Wolfram and Hart had some theories, but what has anyone else come up with?"

"I think I can answer that," Giles offered, rising to his feet.  His expression was contrite as he looked around the room, his vision resting heavily on his daughter and wife.

He took a deep breath. "I have made numerous mistakes and I would like to see if I can remedy them."

Wesley looked at the elder Watcher somewhat nervously.  He arranged his papers so that everyone in the room could easily read them.  "So far," Wesley explained to Buffy and Angel, "we have endeavored to establish a firm timeline of events."

Giles nodded.

"To our knowledge," Wesley said, looking at Jenny, "and perhaps Mrs. Giles could correct us if we are wrong - Roarke's mother was a gypsy imbued with a certain affinity for magicks."

Jenny nodded, strain showing on her attractive features.  She gripped her husband's hand tighter.  "My mother was a magick worker," she confirmed.  "She was natural rather than trained.  She didn't study, it was all inherent power.  But even at that, her power wasn't great.  She was a little fish.  I really don't know why Vocah went out of his way to kill her and take her power."

Wesley nodded, making note of what Jenny had related.  "Roarke apparently had some natural power, as do you, correct?"

Nodding again, Jenny said, "Yes, we are both natural Wiccans, but Angel was always more powerful than me, even as a very small child.  I wasn't around him when he was growing up, so I don't really know how much that power might have matured."

Wesley pushed his glasses up on his nose, looking at Angel.  "So you took this natural talent and tracked down Vocah?"

"I did," Angel agreed.

Buffy's eyes were riveted to him.  Jenny had related the basics of what transpired, but Angel had never before spoken of the specifics.

"Somehow you managed to defeat the demon and consume not only the power that Vocah stole from your mother, but the power that Vocah had stolen from countless Wiccans as well as Vocah's own power?" Wesley asked.

"That's what I thought at the time, yes," Angel confirmed.  "I consumed the power," he said quietly, "and it began to change me."

"Yes," Wesley concurred gravely.  "It changed you, but don't you see?  It damn well should have killed you."

"What?" Buffy pressed, clutching Angel tighter.

"Vocah's powers are demonic powers," Wesley explained.  "They can't be contained within a human body.  The demon would eat away at the human form, body as well as soul, devouring it bit by bit until it superceded the humanity.  Vocah's power would eventually overtake the new host.  He would have a new set of powers in addition to his own."

"Consuming the human soul?" Jenny repeated, horrified.  "But how could Angel withstand it?"

Wesley sighed, removing his glasses to rub his eyes wearily.  "That part," he said, "I can't figure out."

"Angel was dying."

Everyone turned to Buffy.  Slowly she looked up, meeting their gazes.  Her eyes locked with Jenny's.  "He was dying," she repeated, her gaze shifting to Angel.  "That day Jenny and I first saw you.  You were barely alive."

Angel smiled gently at her, tightening his arms around her.  He was here now, but it didn't stop her irrational fear.

Slowly, Jenny nodded.  She turned to face Wesley.  "She's right," Jenny said, "Angel was dying."

"I should be able to clear some of this up," Giles said.  Everyone turned their attention to him and he straightened.

"First I feel the need to explain myself, to give a reason for my heinous behavior and my violent dislike of Ethan Rayne and my son-in-law."  He looked at Jenny and then at Buffy.  "In my youth I made some serious mistakes with magicks."

Buffy's eyes went wide, as did Jenny's.  Giles and magicks?  It was almost inconceivable.

"I was twenty-one," he continued, "studying history at Oxford and the occult by night. I hated it. The tedious grind of study, the overwhelming pressure of my calling as a Watcher, the expectations of my family. I dropped out, I went to London.  I fell in with the worst crowd that would have me. That is how I met Ethan Rayne. We practiced magicks, small stuff for pleasure or gain. It was all rather harmless until Ethan and I discovered something ... bigger."

Buffy gaped at her father, and Jenny, while more composed, was visibly shocked as well.

Giles smiled a tight, self-loathing smile.  "We learned how to summon demons, how to leech power.  One of us would go into a deep sleep and the others would summon the demon. It was an extraordinary high," he groaned.  "God, we were fools. One of our group lost control. The demon consumed him, took corporeal form. We tried to exorcise the demon from Rodney, but it killed him."  He swallowed thickly.  "No. We killed him."

He raised his hand, intertwined with Jenny's and gently pressed a kiss to the back of her hand.  He gave Buffy a pleading glance.  "I learned the hard way the downside of tampering with powers beyond our control.  From that day forward, I avoided them as much as possible.  Needless to say I was less than thrilled with my wife's younger brother.  Angel was reckless and power hungry and I knew firsthand how badly that could turn out for him and for the people that cared about him. But my distaste for magicks became somewhat of a personal crusade.  I allowed my prejudice to cloud my judgment.  I required my wife to give up an integral part of her being."  He looked longingly at Jenny.  "Which she did, because she loves me," he said thickly.

He looked across the room at his daughter.  "I did everything in my power to discourage your association with Ford," he said.  "I know Ethan.  I know he's dangerous and I figured his son was more of the same.  But for as much as I feared your involvement with Ford, it didn't come close to the absolute terror I felt at the idea of you being anywhere near Angel."

Tears once again clouded Buffy's vision.  "Why?" she managed to croak.

"Because you are bound to him," Giles said simply.

"Bound?" Angel asked.

"The ShadowTongue," Giles said, "it took me years of researching to discern the reason for your ability to communicate in that manner."

"I'm a Slayer," Buffy said.

Giles and Angel both gave her confused expressions.  "What?" they asked in unison.

"I'm a Slayer," Buffy said.  "I'm sort of halfway between demon and human. Angel is ... er ... was too.  That's why."

Giles frowned and shook his head.  "While I appreciate the fact that you took the time to consider this, I'm afraid you're wrong."

"No I'm not."

"Buffy, if that was why, then it would stand to reason that after Angel woke without Vocah's demonic powers that you would no longer be able to speak to him in ShadowTongue, correct?"

Buffy's brow creased as she considered her father's words.  "I suppose," she admitted reluctantly.

"And you can still speak to Angel in ShadowTongue, correct?"

Buffy frowned.  "Yes," she concurred.

"Your ability to speak in ShadowTongue has nothing to do with your status as a Slayer," Giles said in his best Watcher voice.

"Then what about Faith?" Buffy demanded in a huff.

"What about Faith?" Angel snorted.

Buffy looked at her husband, nonplussed.  "Why can Faith speak ShadowTongue?"

Angel shook his head.  "Ionuin, Faith can't speak ShadowTongue," he said.  "At least not to my knowledge.  Definitely not to me.  Why do you think she can?"

Buffy chewed on her bottom lip, slightly embarrassed.  "I just thought ... "

"You thought?" Angel prompted.

"Yeah, okay, so it was a hunch and apparently it was wrong."

Angel pulled Buffy more tightly against himself.  She was still frowning, more embarrassed than anything at her jealous nature where Angel was concerned.  "You need to stop worrying about Faith," he said.

"It's on my list of things to do," she countered wryly.

"I take it you two got something sorted out?" Gunn asked, his irritation obvious.

Buffy looked up, realizing their entire conversation had been in ShadowTongue.  "Uh, yeah," she said tightly.

"Back to my point," Giles said, doing his best to accept the obvious affection between Buffy and Angel, "in my research on ShadowTongue I came to the less than felicitous discovery that it can only be spoken if the two beings are split halves of one whole.  Soulmates.  It took me some time to piece things together, but I realized that Jenny must have taken Buffy with her that morning to see Angel and that his recovery was no doubt related to his bond with Buffy."

"Soulmates?" Jenny asked, looking at Buffy and Angel.

Buffy looked at Angel.  His brow was puckered, obviously uneasy with the new information.  He frowned at Buffy.  "You don't seem shocked."

"I'm not," she countered.  "I already knew you were my other half."

"How?"

"My tattoo," she said.

Angel stared at her for a moment, obviously trying to remember her tattoo.  His mouth twisted into a grin.  He laughed lightly, shaking his head.  "Out of Bind's Compendium, right?" he asked.

"You got it," she said.

"I should have known," he said dryly.

"Yeah, well when you're busy spying on everyone and everything in a hundred mile radius, you have to expect that every now and then something will get by under the radar.  Even if it is just a little tidbit like the fact that you have a soulmate."

He frowned and she smiled at him cheekily.  They turned back to face the group who once again hadn't been able to follow their conversation.

"That's really annoying, ya know," Gunn groused.

"Sorry," Buffy said, contrite.

"Bite me," Angel added with a fake smile.

Seeking to head off a fight, Jenny said, "So when Buffy went to see Angel it somehow ... did what?"

"Vocah's power should have consumed Angel's soul," Giles explained, "except it couldn't.  That morning was the first time Buffy and Angel met.  When they touched, it did something to both of them, it activated their bond if you will.  Vocah's power couldn't consume Angel's soul because Angel's soul belongs to Buffy, with Buffy.  Angel drew upon her strength  - which being a Slayer, is considerable.  It allowed him to hold that power without falling victim to it."

Buffy swallowed thickly, looking around the room.  She didn't want to ask, but she had to.  "So now what?"

"What do you mean?" Wesley asked.

Buffy shifted nervously on Angel's lap.  "Well, now that Vocah is gone, what happens?  Where does that leave Angel?  If most of his power was actually Vocah's, is he going to be left defenseless now?  Are we going to have to worry about old enemies crawling out the woodwork?"

Giles sighed heavily.  "Only time will tell," he said seriously.  "But it's not as if Angel is defenseless.  He is still the head of a very powerful organization, not to mention bound to a Slayer."

*****

Willow smiled cheekily at him.  "It will come in time, grasshoppah," she said.

Angel frowned, reaching for his coat.  It was definitely a turn of events having to apprentice himself to Willow, though he had to admit she was an infinitely more patient teacher than he had been.  Willow had no trouble going over spells again and again until he was satisfied he could perform them flawlessly.  His knowledge was still in tact and it was formidable.  But without the backing of Vocah's near limitless raw power, he was having to learn the fine art of finesse.  It had never and would never be his strong suit.  Three months of training daily and he was still a long way from being proficient.

"Can you please give this to Buffy?" Willow asked, handing him a box.  "It's a few odds and ends she left.  She keeps forgetting to pick it up.  I've had it for months."

"No problem," Angel said, taking the box and heading for the door.  He had to get back to the Hyperion.  Nowadays, he took a much more active role in the day to day operations of Angel Investigations.  He wasn't the only new name on the boards.  Jenny and occasionally Giles worked there as well.  Lindsey hung around so much that Angel was going to start assigning him cases if he didn't find a hobby.  Lindsey would always grouse at the suggestion, but Angel knew him well.  Lindsey wanted to help, he just didn't want to look like he wanted to help.  Maybe he'd team Linds up with Faith ...

*****

"Ooh, it's studious guy," Buffy said with a grin as he pushed through the doors of the Hyperion.

"Yeah," he said wryly, rolling his eyes as he walked behind the counter.  She was sitting on the barstool next to the phone trying to give the appearance that she'd been busy researching.  One look at her bare feet and freshly painted toenails and Angel knew she hadn't been checking up on the Grentor demons like he asked.  He shook his head, shrugging out of his coat.  She hopped off the stool and sauntered over to where he stood.  With no warning, he attacked, reaching out and pulling her against his chest.

Buffy sighed contentedly, snuggling into his embrace.  He tilted her head up and kissed her gently.  Her arms wound around his neck and she pressed her breasts in to his chest in blatant invitation.  He broke off the kiss chuckling.  "We alone?" he asked.

She nodded.

*****

"That's my office!" Wesley yelled, banging on the door.

Faith laughed, taking a break from her mock fisticuffs with Lindsey.  "English, they don't care," she said.

And they didn't.

THE END

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