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PROJECT PARANORMAL STORY TEMPLATE

Becoming (part 3)

 

Project Paranormal

Season 4

Part 2

Author: Adjovi

 

**

 

Summary: As Angelus is still on the loose, the PP team works frantically to try and discover his plans while wrestling with a big decision that could affect them all. 

**

Becoming (part 3)

 

Angelus stealthily made his way down the rough landscape, pointedly avoiding the paved road, in an attempt to not broadcast his appearance. He had been careless when first arriving in country, hungry and restless after being trapped on a cargo ship with too few companions for far too long, and had killed without restraint once setting foot on the Guatemalan shores. Word traveled fast through the devoutly Catholic land, apparently, because by the time he reached Antigua, a crowd was waiting for the “Diablo Blanco” to show his face.  His carelessness had almost cost him his unlife, and he barely escaped the clutches of an angry mob. He sighed and tiredly rubbed a hand across his face, looking down at the lake below. Lake Atitlan was surrounded on all sides by dormant volcanoes, and he knew in the daylight the mountains would be reflected on the lake’s glassy surface. Moisture from the lake was trapped between the mountains, and the result was an almost always present fog that appeared to float just above the surface. A cruel smile curved his lips as he thought that Soul Boy would probably think this place looked like heaven. Idiot.

 

As he neared the lake’s edge, he squinted off into the distance, trying to catch a glimpse of the Mayan village on the far shore. He spied a few boats that most likely would be used to ferry tourists over to Panajachel, but he had his sights on Santiago instead, which was rumored to be the final resting place of the Mayan god Maximón. Legend had it that long ago, when all of the men folk of Santiago set off for battle, Maximón stayed behind to protect the women and the children. When the men returned, victorious, they found all of their women pregnant so they killed him. This greatly upset the women, so much so that the men had to pledge to worship Maximón for all eternity. Angelus smiled. A man after his own heart. 

 

He had been able to beat out of a snitch that the last known resting place for the artifact he was searching for was somewhere in Guatemala, although it had been rumored to have been lost over 150 years ago. Angelus had found Father Stepford, an acclaimed expert in Latin American studies, most helpful, eagerly filling him in with the details on the annual Maximón celebration. Every year, a different family hosted an effigy of Maximón in their homes, and tourists could, for a small fee, come and visit the statue and give him offerings of cigarettes and rum so that they would reap the benefits of his celebrated fertility. He also told Angelus something that most tourists didn’t know--that a special trinket traveled with the statue, which was very rare and of great value. A trinket that had been thought lost for over 150 years. Angelus had roundly thanked the clergyman for this information by draining him and leaving his body on the altar for his parish to find in the morning, resorting to form by carving a Christian cross into his cheek. You really couldn’t argue with the classics. He grinned, fingering the stone eye he had taken from Acathla’s acolyte in his pocket. Acquiring this particular trinket was the final step he needed to complete overseas before returning to England and continuing his plan, and the trinket would serve as payment for Drusilla. He had promised to retrieve it for her in exchange for giving him the information on how to enter this dimension and finally sever Acathla’s hold over his world. And over him. He just hoped that he could slay the demon before the Slayer’s crack team discovered that there was no real chance of Acathla ever coming into this world. Angelus was only in this for himself.

 

+++

 

Giles sighed in frustration, tossing the Grimoire he had been scouring down onto the table. He had thought he had made a break-through of sorts, that one of the symbols from the pages had matched that on the medallion. He glanced over at Angel, who seemed similarly frustrated by the tome he was reading. He shot Giles a contrite glance.

 

“Anything?” Buffy rounded the corner with three steaming mugs of tea, handing one to Giles and then the other to Angel, settling back into her own pile of papers.

 

“Nothing particularly useful.” Giles removed his glasses and rubbed between his eyes. He surreptitiously looked over at Angel, considering something, not wanting to upset the vampire further. He knew that Angel was taking the return of his alter-ego particularly hard, and he had to admit that Angelus’ return had stirred up some very unwanted fears and resentments. A fact he knew Angel was acutely aware of.  He cleared his throat. “Angel…can you think of any reason in particular why Angelus would be in need of Buffy’s help?

 

Angel sighed and closed the book he was holding. He had been trying so hard not to pull away from the humans, to fight the urge to just go after Angelus himself, and so it was with great effort that he was sitting there simply researching with them. The inaction was driving him crazy, but he knew if he flew off on a wild goose chase he would leave the humans exposed and vulnerable, and Angelus would be sure to attack. Buffy could take care of herself, but she wouldn’t be Angelus’ only target. Neither would Giles. Angelus had seen John and Martha, and now knew they were friends of Angel’s. He would probably kill the whole town, just for good measure. He knew this with absolute certainty because that’s what he would do. “Blood, maybe?”

 

“It’s always about the blood of it.” Buffy grumbled on autopilot before realizing she had said this aloud. Her eyes flew open in surprise, taking in Angel’s wounded expression. “Angel…I’m so sorry…I didn’t mean…”

 

Standing, he tossed the book on the chair. “It’s fine.” His voice belied the fact. He scrubbed a hand through his hair, making it stick up in front. He took in a deep, unneeded breath. “Look, I just need to get out for a little while, stretch my legs and clear my head. There’s got to be something about Acathla that I’m forgetting.”

 

Buffy stood as well. “Want company?” Her voice sounded overly bright.

 

“No thanks.” Angel answered a little too quickly, and he winced as he saw Buffy’s reaction. He crossed to her, taking one of her hands. “I just need a little…”  The “time” and “space” comments were left unsaid.

 

She nodded, obviously hurt but trying to hide it. “Yeah…ok…well, you can be the fresh set of eyes with this stuff when you get back.” She gave him a brave smile, and he nodded in thanks. She let go of his hand. “Be careful.”

 

He looked over at both Giles and Buffy, making sure to catch both of their eyes, answering seriously. “You too.”

 

+++

 

Buffy sighed loudly for about the fortieth time, glancing towards the door for any sign of Angel’s return. She knew that this was a tough time for him, and she felt a stab of despair that she didn’t know how to help him, how to let him know that when she looked at him, she only saw the man that she loved, not the monster. He had been pulling away from both Giles and herself since Angelus had arrived, retreating to a place she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to touch.

 

Giles looked at his Slayer with concern. “He’ll be ok, Buffy. This has to be incredibly taxing for him.”

 

Her eyes instantly misted over and her throat felt thick. “I know, Giles. I know he has to be going through hell right now.” She closed the book she had been reading and began pacing the room. “I just can’t understand why he feels guilty for things Angelus has done. He’s not him.” She paused, hugging her arms across her chest, making her look very small.

 

Giles closed his book as well and crossed to stand in front of her, placing his hand on her shoulder. “When we look at him, Buffy, we only see the man who has become our friend.” He nodded knowingly towards her. “We don’t see the monster. But, he’s still inside, Buffy. Always. Angel walks a fine line, which I know we both tend to forget. Seeing Angelus again, leaving him unleashed on the world to do God knows what, is an all too present reminder to Angel of what he is capable of.”

 

Buffy shook her head defiantly. “No. His soul is permanent. He’ll never be Angelus again.” She twisted away from Giles’ grip on her shoulder and began pacing again.

 

Giles took a deep breath. “But Buffy, Angelus exists in his dimension because you weren’t able to stop him there. He killed you, me and all of your friends. I imagine Angel feels guilt because he realizes just how close that came to being a reality here. If you hadn’t been strong enough, if you hadn’t…”

 

Buffy’s eyes went wide, and a large teardrop fell down her cheek, unbidden. She clutched her arms across her abdomen, looking sick. She backed herself up and sat down on the chair she had previously abandoned. “Oh God, Giles…” She put her face in her hands and began to weep. Giles knelt beside her, taking her into his arms. “I’m going to lose him.”

 

“No, Buffy.” He was rubbing her shoulders, trying to soothe her. He pulled back and cupped her face, making sure she was looking at him. “You just need to give him some time and be there for him. He obviously knows that you love him, he has to know deep down that he didn’t do those things.”

 

Buffy cut him off. “Then, we need to find out what the hell that bastard wants so we can be rid of him.” Giles gave her a mildly reproachful glare. “Sorry for the swearing.”

 

He chuckled at her. “No, you’re right.” He placed his hands on his knees and stood, walking over to his chair and picking back up the book. “Unfortunately, we aren’t any further in figuring out what that is.” He squinted at the medallion. “Not as if this has been of any help. It has to be a decoder of some sort, but the problem is, I haven’t a clue what the code is. I don’t even think some of these languages are even human.”

 

She held her hand out for it, and Giles placed the medallion in her palm. She’d seen something like it once before, a vague fuzzy memory from long ago, but she couldn’t place it. She shook her head and placed it down on the table in front of her. “So, what do we know about Acathla?”

 

Giles recited once again their very limited knowledge of the demon. Capable of sucking the whole world into a hell dimension simply by opening his mouth, Acathla was frozen in stone by a virtuous knight who wielded a blessed sword. Removing the sword would open the portal, replacing the sword would close it. Giles stood suddenly, knowing without a doubt that whatever Angelus was up to, it had something to do with the sword. “Buffy, he needs the sword!”

 

Buffy shook her head. “Who needs what now?”

 

“The sword, Buffy. The sword that Kendra gave to you, blessed by the knight…”

 

Buffy rolled her hand for elaboration, but just as Giles was about to explain, Angel came back through the door, taking in the scene in front of him. Giles suddenly became embarrassed, a bit like child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He was, after all, discussing the sword that Buffy had sent Angel to hell with. Angel shrugged in confusion, feeling like he had walked into the middle of something private. “What?”

 

Buffy swallowed, feeling a bit guilty as well. “Giles figured out that Angelus needs the sword, the one that…”

 

Something passed across Angel’s eyes quickly but he simply nodded, appearing deep in thought for a moment before looking up at Giles. “I think you’re right.” He began pacing the width of the room, long legs covering the distance in just a few steps. He paused and looked hard at Buffy. “And, I think I know why he needs you.”   

 

Buffy felt a sliver of fear trickle up her spine. Her mouth felt dry. It was a long moment before she finally found her voice to ask why.

 

“Because he needs a champion, someone who is pure of heart, to wield the sword. You closed the portal in this dimension. I’m sure he came here looking for you to close it, again, in his.”

 

Buffy shook her head. “How could he even know I was alive here?”

 

“Drusilla.” Buffy reared back, shocked. Angel crossed towards her, taking her small hand in his, squeezing her fingers in what he hoped was a reassuring way. He looked down at her, catching her eyes, willing her to understand. “It had to be Dru. She may be crazy, but she…knows things. She has the sight. That’s precisely why I chose her.” The pain in his eyes almost had her gasping.

 

Buffy wrapped her arms around his waist, pulling him into a hug. He was stiff against her at first, but then relaxed a bit, leaning against her, taking strength from her presence. She started, pulling away from him as she considered something else. “Does he think that I’ll actually agree to go back to his dimension with him and do this? What is he, high?”

 

Angel smiled fondly down at her. “Not as often as you’d think.” He suddenly became chagrined, realizing belatedly that this was not a joking matter. “He’s going to play on your good nature, Buffy. Dangle all of those lives that you could save in his dimension. He knows you won’t be able to abandon those people to their fates. That’s what I would do.”

 

Buffy backed slowly away from him, her eyes wide with horror. “No…I won’t go there, Angel. I won’t go anywhere with him.” Angel walked towards her again, but stopped quickly when he saw her flinch. Some part of him knew she had done so involuntarily, that she was afraid and on edge, but to him it still felt like a rejection. He looked as if he had been slapped. “Angel…I’m so sorry…”

 

Now Angel was the one to back up. “No…it’s ok.” He spared a glance at Giles, who looked supremely uncomfortable. Angel couldn’t blame him. “We’ll find another way.”

 

Giles was deep in thought, mentally debating whether he should say what was on his mind. He carefully weighed the pros and cons of what he was about to suggest, and finally decided it was unfortunately the best course of action. He wordlessly walked over towards the wall safe, pulling out a few scrolls and the orb he had stashed inside. He walked over towards Angel, gazing at the vampire, conflicted, before silently handing the objects over. “There is another way.”

 

Angel, for his part, took the objects without looking at them, holding Giles with a steady gaze. To Giles’ regret, he appeared crestfallen. He nodded slowly.

 

“Is that…” Buffy wandered over, tipping the scrolls towards herself, revealing the restoration spell that went along with the Orb of Thessula Angel was holding. Her eyes flew to Giles in surprise. “Why do you even have this?”

 

Angel finally spoke. “It’s ok, Buffy.” He nodded towards Giles. “It’s a good thing, that he had this.”

 

“Your soul is permanent!” She felt herself bristling, wanting to come to Angel’s defense, knowing her sudden anger towards Giles came from an irrational place, but nevertheless unable to tamp it down.

 

Angel handed the objects back to Giles and turned towards her, taking her hands. “Nothing is permanent, Buffy. You of all people should know that.” When she made a move to protest he stopped her words before they came. “Giles did the right thing here.”

 

“So…what? We just shove a soul down Angelus’ throat?” Buffy pointedly stared at Giles.

 

He sighed deeply and glanced over at Angel. The vampire appeared deeply disturbed. Giles couldn’t blame him. “Yes, I believe that’s exactly what we should do.”

 

Angel felt panicked, trapped, the fight or flight urge right at the surface, clawing at his insides. He glanced wildly at the doorway, and actually jumped when Buffy lightly touched his arm. “It’s ok, Angel. It’s ok.”

 

He took in a deep, unneeded breath, willing himself to calm down. “Yeah. I know. It’s just…” he trailed off, not trusting himself to speak at the moment. If his heart was beating, he knew it would be hammering against the sides of his ribcage like a hummingbird in a cage.

 

Buffy scrunched her brow causing a small line to appear between her eyes. “Wait. Isn’t Angelus’ soul in the other dimension? Wouldn’t he have to return there to have it restored?”

 

“Actually, that’s a good point.” Giles let out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding. He hated that he was hurting his friends in this way, could see the tension on both of their young faces. “But, I think we may be able to overcome that if we perform the spell once the portal is re-opened. Then, we should be able to pull his soul into this dimension.”

 

“So, what? We get him to open the portal and then just tie him down and perform the spell? Won’t he smell a rat from a mile away?” Buffy threw herself down into one of the chairs.

 

“Yep. He is going to be wary of us. He’d never fall for that. But we can use the fact that he actually needs us to our benefit. We have to assume he took the eye from the acolyte that he killed and is planning to convince Giles to let him use the other eye to open the portal. Also, we can use the fact that he needs you to our advantage. We’ll have to trick him, make him believe that you are willing to go over with him.” Angel didn’t like this plan in the least, of using Buffy as bait, but he did begrudgingly acknowledge it was not without merit. Angelus had risked a lot to come over to their dimension, and true, he was arrogant and probably thought he could survive a stroll through the lion’s den, as it were, but Angel knew he wasn’t stupid. He would have planned every contingency he could think of. Getting trapped and staked would most definitely be at the top of this list. However, luckily for them, being re-ensouled most likely didn’t make the cut of probable scenarios, which they could use. Angel tried to ignore the nagging ball of guilt of what exactly re-ensouling Angelus would do to the demon.

 

Buffy tensed, not liking the idea of playing the role of carrot to a very hungry rabbit, but not seeing an alternative. She shivered despite herself. “Would Angelus with a soul be able to wield the sword? Would that work to kill Acathla?”

 

“If he wanted to save the world it would.” Angel’s voice was flat. “If he had pure motives, was a champion, I think it would work.” He seemed detached, almost as if his mind was elsewhere.

 

Giles cleared his throat. “Yes. Well. We need to locate said sword to begin with.” He walked over to the table, reclaiming the medallion. “And now I think I know what this says. Angelus wants us to use it to help him find the sword.”

 

Buffy scrunched her eyebrows. “What happened to Kendra’s sword? I don’t remember much after…” Her heart clenched in her chest as she saw something flash in Angel’s eyes.

 

Giles looked at the vampire with sympathy. “When we came back to the mansion, it was largely empty. There was no sign of the sword. I would hazard a guess that disciples of the Knight who used it last came to retrieve it. We never tried to find it, being that we were all a bit…preoccupied at the time.”

 

Buffy swallowed, forcing back the past, as they had come a long way since then. She gave a brave smile to both Giles and Angel, and valiantly attempted to bring them back into the present. “What do we need to do now?”

 

Giles hefted a large tome. “More of this, I’m afraid.” Buffy just groaned, but felt the band around her chest lighten a little when she saw Angel make a move to assist with the research, obviously glad to be shifting his focus to something other than painful memories. They might just survive this yet.

 

++

 

Angelus strode through the streets of London feeling somewhat elated, yet he resisted the cliché of rubbing his hands together with glee. After working over a rather large Sm’rajik demon who was rumored to be in the know, he had discovered that Buffy and Angel had returned to Westbury sans sword. There was certainly no sign of them in the city now. The medallion had done the trick, and he smirked, imagining the three of them struggling to decipher the meaningless code. Stupid saps.

 

He came upon the shortish building that was surrounded by sandbags on all sides, grinning despite himself. Some truly brutal decisions had been made within these walls. He laid a hand on the cool cement, trying to feel some of the power that was wielded in the Cabinet War Room. Apparently, this was where the sword had been hidden by a follower of Sir Whomever, not trusting the Council to give it the proper care. Probably a good thing, since the Sm’rajk had told him the Council had gone boom not too long ago.  He had taken longer than he’d care to admit to figure out what Dru had been babbling on about, in that dreamy sing-songy way of hers, talking of poison and coffee and chains of destiny, but he finally realized she was quoting Churchill. 

 

He made his way quickly inside, easily evading any security. He didn’t even have to kill the lone guard, who looked like he could have been a vet from World War II, sleeping soundly at his post. That was a bit disappointing, but the old ones were never that much fun. He crept softly along the corridors and made his way to the staircase that would lead him underground. Angelus snickered a bit at the mannequins that were staged inside the viewing glass as if they were still conducting the war and an attack by the Jerries was imminent. In the last room in the first underground hallway he saw it, clasped in the hand of some general who was consulting a large map. Hidden in plain sight, just like Dru had said. He was able to retrieve the sword without much trouble and make it outside without the elderly guard even moving a muscle, his melodious snores following him out into the night.

 

He regarded the sword critically—it didn’t look like anything special. He just hoped that it would do the trick. He absently ran his thumb over the spot on his wrist, a scowl on his face. Now all he had to do was convince the Slayer to come back with him and do the deed. He didn’t think it would be too hard, seeing as it was her job to save the world. He would enjoy killing her for a second time.

++

 

The atmosphere in the study was tense, to say the least. Even the cats avoided coming inside, a sure sign that the situation was not normal, as they typically haunted the study in the afternoon, the best time for catching some of the late afternoon sun. Books were strewn on every available workspace, and they were no closer to finding the location of the sword. Giles silently cursed the loss of so many of the Council’s books, and similarly, Angel wished that he had snagged one of the template books from the law firm before the big fight in the alley. Either resource would have been a Godsend at this point. Giles finally decided to give Buffy and Angel the space they obviously needed, volunteering to go out and bring back supper, since Martha and John were away visiting their daughter and they had to fend for themselves. Although he was pretty sure Martha had left the pantry well-stocked, but Giles really needed to clear his head.

 

Buffy looked over at Angel, who was squirreled away in a far dark corner, hiding from the offensive sun’s rays. He was attempting to draw the symbols on large sheets of sketch paper, hoping maybe they would better be able to decipher the code if they had a bigger template to go by. She got up and crossed over towards him, wavering a bit before deciding to sit down directly in front of him, placing her hand on his knee. “Hey.”

 

He looked up from his sketchpad, charcoal in hand, eyes sad. He seemed to hesitate a bit before answering. “Hey.”

 

Buffy gave him a small smile, and squeezed his knee. She leaned forward so that she was almost in his lap, trying to get a better view of the sketches. “How’s it going?”

 

He tilted the pad so she could get a better view, and shrugged. “Ok…I guess. Still doesn’t make any sense, though.”

 

She reached over and pulled the pad from his hands, giving it an appraising glance. Once she determined that it still looked like gibberish, she placed it on the ground beside them, taking the charcoal from his slim fingers and doing the same. She leaned forward and climbed into his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck and hugging him tightly. “Let’s take a break.”

 

He returned the hug without pause, trying to seem like everything was normal. “That sounds like a good idea.”

 

She pulled back from him, catching his eyes. She could see his soul burning inside the dark depths, flickering with the life within, whereas to her, Angelus’ eyes seemed completely dead. She nuzzled his neck. “You know I love you, don’t you?”

 

He placed his head on top of hers. “I do.” He began softly rubbing small circles on her neck with his thumb, inhaling her scent deeply. “And you know I love you, too.”

 

She nodded into his shoulder, then pushed back so she could look him in the eyes again. “Angel, he’s not you.”

 

He just stared back at her for a long minute before swallowing slowly. “I know.” When she looked like she was going to say something, he caught her chin, holding her still. “I do know that, Buffy. Really I do.”

 

She shrugged slightly. “Then…” When he just turned away from her, she shook his shoulders lightly, forcing him to turn back towards her. “Hey…it’s me. Remember? You can tell me anything.”

 

He closed his eyes and pulled her towards him again, holding her close. “I know, Buffy. I really do. It’s just…” He trailed off, not wanting to voice aloud what had been plaguing his thoughts since the suggestion of re-ensouling Angelus had been placed on the table.

 

She seemed to take umbrage with what she thought he was implying. “I can take care of myself, you know. And yeah, ok, I’m scared about facing him again, but this is the right thing to.” She placed a hand on his cheek. “Besides, it’s not like I’ll be going it alone, you know. Kinda planning on some backup here.”

 

He gave her a weak smile. “I know you can take of yourself, Buffy. Of course I know this. It’s not that…” She leaned back a little, surprised, so he continued quickly. “Not that I’m not worried about you, I always worry about you.” He took her hand from his cheek, interlacing their fingers. “But that’s not…” He looked down at their joined hands in his lap. “There’s more than just that.”

 

“Then what?”

 

He sighed deeply, and closed his eyes, looking down. “When I came…back to Sunnydale…I had to deal with all of the terrible things that I did when I lost my soul. Jenny’s death, tormenting your friends, what I did to Giles. Things that still haunt me.”

 

Now Buffy was the one to look down. “But that wasn’t you.” Her voice was small, making her sound like a little girl, and Angel could smell the start of tears.

 

He placed a finger under her chin, bring her face to his, not wanting to argue this point. “But, the one thing that kept me going, that stopped me from drowning in the guilt, was that at least I hadn’t killed you. Because that I knew I’d never be able to survive.”

 

A large tear rolled unbidden down her cheek, and she nodded her head, finally understanding. “But he did. He killed me.”

 

Angel’s eyes were wet as well, his voice hoarse. “Yes.”

 

Buffy nodded again, hugging him close, murmuring into the side his neck. “And if we give him the soul, he’ll have to live with that.” They sat there, clutching tightly to each other. Buffy marveled at the man she had before her; so selfless as to be considering the feelings of his worst enemy. “I love you, you know,” she finally said softly.

 

“I know.” Angel found himself again in awe at the amazing woman he was holding in his arms. The woman who all those years ago had saved him by giving him a purpose. The woman who taught him how to love. “I love you, too.”

 

She allowed him to hold her a bit longer before pulling back, dragging her forearm across wet eyes. She reached down for the sketchpad again, frowning. “You know, this looks like a bunch of drawings just made on top of one another.”

 

He took the pad from her, turning it towards himself. His face suddenly lit with excitement, and he shook his head in astonishment. “Buffy, you’re a genius!” He leaned over and kissed her on the temple.

 

“Well, it’s often been said.” She grinned at him. “So, why am I so smart?”

 

Angel shifted slightly, drawing his finger over the design on the pad. “They are separate designs, see?” And suddenly, she did see. There were about five different patterns all laid over each other. This had been difficult to discern on the small medallion, but blown up on the larger sketchpad made it very clear.

 

Buffy hopped off of his lap. “So what does this mean?”

 

“Back to the drawing board…only literally.” Buffy groaned at his bad pun, but inwardly she was rejoicing. Angel had opened up to her, had laid bare his fears. She felt a warm glow spreading through her core as a new sense of determination overcame them both and they set off to work.    

 

++

 

When Giles arrived back at the house, two sandwiches for their dinner, he found the study had been vacated as Buffy and Angel had moved all of their books and papers into the much larger space of the kitchen. They were critically studying a pile of sketches on the floor. “I think maybe…there?” Buffy pointed to an open spot and Angel slid it over, like pieces of a large puzzle.

 

“What…what is all this?” Giles was completely bemused.

 

“Well, turns out, I’m a genius.” Buffy smiled teasingly at Angel, who returned the easy grin. Angel hadn’t smiled readily in far too long, and Giles found himself delighted to see at least some of the dark brood that had been plaguing his friend appeared to have been assuaged.

 

Angel gestured towards Giles with a handful of papers. “She figured out that the designs were actually overlaid with one another, so in effect, instead of one code, there are five separate codes, all interwoven with one another. Together, they make no sense.” He displayed the original sheet he had drawn to Giles. “But, separated, maybe we can actually make sense of them.” He pointed out each of the five separate designs he had pulled from the entwined symbol.

 

Giles was shocked despite himself. “Good lord, I think you’re right.” He smiled warmly at Buffy, chiding himself for still being surprised by her after all these years. He could tell she was pleased with the praise by the big grin on her face. He glanced down at the careful design on the floor. “And, this is how you think they fit together?”

 

Angel shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant. “Well, it reminded me of a case we had once. Looking up close, even the separate designs are meaningless.” He leaned over, carefully placing another on the floor. “But, sometimes, if you take a step back…” which he did, encouraging the others to do the same. From a distance, it was clear that the papers had been arranged in the shape of an “A” inside of an “O”. The traditional symbol for anarchy. Giles clapped his hands together despite himself. “Well done, you two!”  Buffy and Angel smiled, obviously happy to have finally made some progress. Giles knew that having a task to focus on made this all easier; they needed to treat this as just another case that needed solving, despite the obvious personal connections. He went back to consult the books as Buffy and Angel bickered over where to place the next sheet of paper.

 

They all researched for the next hour or so before Giles made his first breakthrough. The sun had just begun its descent towards the horizon, casting the room in shadows, tingeing everything with a golden glow. The night air was a bit chilly as autumn had finally set in, and Angel leaned over to close the windows, knowing the humans would feel the cold air even if it didn’t bother him. The cats had made their way into the kitchen, and Zillah was currently curled up on Buffy’s lap, her purring filling the wide space with a steady strum. Giles stood suddenly, causing the cat to raise her head sharply, then seeing the cause of the disturbance, snuggled back against Buffy’s thigh. “I think I know what this says!” He was holding a book sideways, and both Buffy and Angel tilted their heads to try and read it, achieving a very comical effect. Giles walked in front of the papers on the floor, gesturing animatedly. “It says something about drinking!”

 

Angel’s eyebrows knitted together in confusion, and he stood and crossed to Giles, taking the book from him and righting it so that he could read what it said. “Drinking? Drinking what?”

 

Buffy joined the two of them, much to the dismay of the cat who had been enjoying the ear massage she had been receiving for the last half hour. “Blood? Beer?” Angel tilted the book down so that she could read it as well. “There’s lots of things to drink.”

 

Giles grasped the book back, looking critically at the papers on the ground. He tried from several different angles, still not happy with what he was seeing. “Well, it doesn’t make much sense, actually.”

 

“We could be talking about everything from a reservoir to a distillery. Buffy’s right, far too many things to drink. What does it say exactly?” Angel was peering at the papers from different vantage points as well.

 

Giles held up the book, consulting it again, before looking back down at the papers. “Well, I’m not completely sure, but I think it says something along the lines of ‘Be sure to drink more…” He looked up at Angel and Buffy, a bit chagrined, pausing at the absurdity of it all.

 

“Ovaltine?” Buffy giggled at her own joke.

 

“No, I believe it says ‘Ovaltine’.” He looked gobsmacked. “Wait…how did you know…”

 

“Oh. My. God.” Buffy shook her head and threw her hands up in frustration, clearly agitated. “That big jerk! He’s just a big…jerky person.”

 

Angel looked as bewildered as Giles. “What are you…”

 

“This is a joke. He’s been trying to trick us!”

 

“Well, obviously, but we already knew that.” Giles ran a hand over his forehead, attempting patience.

 

Buffy picked up the medallion. “No…this…” she held it up tightly in her fist for emphasis. “This is the joke. It’s a fake, or a hoax, or whatever. He’s trying to throw us off the trail, buy himself some time.”

 

Giles stepped forward, making a grab for the medallion. “Buffy, how do you know…”

 

Buffy glanced between Angel and Giles, who both equally seemed lost. “Don’t you guys ever watch television? You know, ‘A Christmas Story’? Ralphie, Red Ryder BB gun?” She pointed at the medallion. “Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring?”

 

“That doesn’t sound very much like Dickens.” To Giles, Buffy could have been speaking in Yiddish. Well, at least then he would have understood a great deal more.

 

A hazy memory wound its way to the front of Angel’s cortex. “You’ll shoot your eye out?” He resisted sing-songing the phrase, but only just.

 

Buffy sighed dramatically. “Yes! You have seen it. Seriously, Giles, did you ever turn on the TV even once while you lived in America? How could you miss this movie? They show it like 24 hours straight between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day!”

 

Giles felt flustered despite himself. “Well, I don’t see what this has to do with…”

 

Angel reached out, taking the medallion. “I do. She’s right. This is worthless.” He sighed and placed his hands on his hips. “This was all just a ruse.”

 

“About Ovaltine?” Giles couldn’t keep the defensive tone out of his voice.

 

Buffy rolled her eyes. “No…it’s not about Ovaltine. In the movie, this little boy, Ralphie, sends away for a ‘Little Orphan Annie’ decoder ring. He waits weeks and weeks for it to arrive, and when it finally does, he finds the first secret code to be a commercial for Ovaltine.”

 

Angel flipped the medallion end for end, catching it perfectly. “The decoder ring was meaningless. Just like this. He wanted to buy himself some time.”

 

“To do what, exactly?” Buffy looked at Angel as if maybe he could guess, but unfortunately for them all, the vampire didn’t have the first clue.

 

“Oh dear.”  Giles leaned back and crossed his arms across his chest.

 

Angel nodded grimly in agreement. “My thoughts exactly.”

 

++

 

Angelus was humming “Oh Happy Day” as he made his way through sleepy Westbury, noting that the town all but rolled up the welcome mat as soon as the sun had set. He guessed that perhaps the Slayer and her pathetic sidekicks had warned some of their friends to get out of Dodge, due to his arrival. Just as well. He wouldn’t have time to spare for their slaughters.

 

He made his way carefully up to the house that Giles shared with Buffy and his annoying alter-ego, always keeping a vigilant eye for any traps. He had to play this *just right*, or the whole thing would have been for naught. He found a nice little nook inside of a hollowed out tree, the perfect place to stash Drusilla’s present.

 

The house was largely dark, yet he could see shadows playing against the wall in what looked to be a study. He crept up slowly towards the house, moving with a kind of stealth only afforded the supernatural set.

 

As he neared the window, he peered inside, noting with satisfaction that the medallion must have done the trick. Books and papers were strewn across the floor, accompanied by copious amounts of notes. It really wasn’t until he felt the first dart in his neck that he realized that he, in fact, had been the one duped by the clever use of some chairs, a fan and a pulley, which cast false shadows across the floor. He had to admit, he was impressed. Which was pretty much the last thought he had before the darkness pulled him down into oblivion.

 

++

 

Angelus struggled in vain, trying to move his arms and legs, but he finally figured out that they had chained him to the bed.  Luckily, this was a contingency he had prepared for, so he really wasn’t all that concerned. He smirked lasciviously towards Buffy. “Hi honey, I’m home.” Angel made a start towards him, but Buffy held him back with a staying hand on his arm. Angelus just winked lewdly at him. “Oh. Don’t worry, Lover Boy, I haven’t forgotten about you.”

 

Angel actually growled, low and deep in his throat and Buffy felt the hairs on her neck stand on end. “Looks like we’re the ones calling the shots around here now, moron.” The tall vampire was clearly ill at ease standing in such close proximity to the beast who dwelled inside of him.

 

Moron? Moi? Oh, your words wound me, you evil thing, you.” Angelus opened his eyes wide in mock horror.

 

“Yeah, you don’t behave and my words won’t be the only thing wounding you.” Angel was gripping the stake so tightly that it squeaked in his grip.

 

“Empty threats. Ah…some things never change.” Angelus tried shifting on the bed, looking for a weakness in his bonds, although truthfully not really expecting to find any. “Don’t you want to hear me out first? I mean, I did come all this way…”

 

Giles strode back in the room then, giving the chained vampire a wary glance before looking up at his friends. “I phoned Ian. There have been no victims in England since the last victim, a Father Stepford of London, was discovered a few weeks ago.”

 

Angelus grinned. “See…I’ve been a real good boy.” He shifted his lazy gaze towards Giles, pleased when he saw the man wince. “Ah…Rupert. So kind of you to finally invite me into your home.”

 

Giles stared hard at Angelus for a long moment. “I’d like a moment alone with him, please.”  

 

“Oh Rupert, I didn’t know you cared.” Angelus just smirked at him.

 

“Giles…” Buffy’s tone was wary, revealing her obvious apprehension at the idea of leaving Giles alone with Angelus. Angel put a steadying hand on her arm, shaking his head slightly. “I don’t like this.”

 

“I just would like a word.” Giles never took his eyes off of the vampire.

 

“Come on, Buffy. Let’s check the perimeter, make sure he didn’t bring any flunkies with him.” Angel gently nudged her shoulder towards the exit. He didn’t like this, either, but knew Giles needed to confront his alter ego if he was to get any closure. He reached down and laced his fingers with hers, pulling Buffy reluctantly towards the doorway. She walked backwards, holding Giles’ gaze as Angel led her out of the room.

 

Angelus laughed, an eerie sound that was nothing like Angel’s own gentle tone. “Well, well. I always knew you wanted some time alone with me.” His eyes were sparkling with mischief.

 

Giles tried to steel his nerves, as he knew the vampire would smell this, and he took a deep, steadying breath before crossing over towards the side of the bed. When he finally spoke, his voice was cool and controlled. He pulled out a stake, pushing it against Angelus’ chest. “It really is amazing how little pressure it would really take.”

 

Angelus winced a bit, then giggled. “Oh please. If you wanted me dead, I’d already be dust.”

 

Giles pushed the tip of the stake a little harder, satisfied when he heard the vampire grunt. “You’re right.”

 

Angelus tilted his head to the side, appraising Giles anew. “Wow…your Slayer really has you whipped, doesn’t she?”

 

“Buffy wasn’t the one lobbying for your well being.”

 

“You take orders from Soul Boy, now? Tsk, tsk, what would the Council say?”

 

“Well, the Council’s not saying much of anything these days, as I’m sure you’ve heard.” Giles stood up straighter, removing the stake from Angelus’ chest. “But, this wasn’t Angel’s call, either.”

 

Angelus scoffed in disbelief. “Oh wait, let me guess: ‘the quality of mercy is not strained’ and all that?”

 

Giles’ lips quirked slightly at the corners as he completed the quote. “It is twice blessed—It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.” Angelus was regarding Giles with something approaching respect before rolling his eyes and shaking his head in dismissal.

 

Buffy and Angel entered the room then, both noting with relief that Giles appeared no worse for the wear. He nodded at them both.

 

Angelus smiled widely at Buffy. “Well, sweetheart, I’ve had a blast trading quotes from the Bard with your Old Man, but shall we get on with it? Don’t you want to know why I’m here?”

 

Buffy reached behind Angel, grabbing up the sword they had retrieved from the study, hefting it in her hands and pointing the sharp end towards his chest threateningly.  “Sorry to take the wind out of your sails.”

 

Angelus cackled again, not even flinching. “It’s a real beaut, isn’t it, Buff?” Buffy pulled a face at his misuse of her name. “So, tell me Slayer—are you going to be my hero?”

 

Buffy let the tip of the sword fall to the floor. “Sorry. Gonna have to decline.”

 

Angelus shook his head in false dismay, clucking his tongue. “Sorry to hear that.” He turned his gaze towards Angel, who had been standing behind her, radiating hatred towards the other vampire. “So, Soul Boy, you ever tell her what hell was like?” Buffy reared back, but Angel put a comforting hand on her shoulder. Angelus just rolled his eyes. “All of those people, no hope, no chance...”

 

Buffy sneered at him. “Which is your fault. You were the one who released Acathla in the first place.”

 

Angelus appeared unconcerned. “Hey…nobody’s perfect, right Angel?” Buffy moved protectively in front of her boyfriend, hefting the sword towards the prone vampire once more. “Still hiding behind the Slayer I see.”

 

Angel stepped out from behind Buffy, noting that Giles had slipped from the room. He knew that they needed to buy some time, as not only had Giles found the second eye on Angelus’ person and was frantically working on how to open the portal using both eyes, but also he was preparing to complete the Restoration spell. He leaned back against the near wall, crossing one leg over the other, addressing the other vampire conversationally. “So, Dru helping you out on this one? ‘Cause I know you could have never figured this out on your own.”

 

Angelus gaped at him, incredulous. “You do realize you are insulting yourself, here, right?”

 

Angel put up his hands in supplication, keeping his tone light. “Nothing of the sort. It’s just that there are too many unknowns, here. You couldn’t have known that Buffy existed in this dimension, the location of the sword and where to find the eyes. Too many moving parts. That kind of knowledge speaks of a seer.”

 

“Well, it’s no picnic back home for Dru either. “ He nodded pointedly towards Angel. “You should feel bad about that.”

 

Angel just tried to maintain an unflappable demeanor. “Well, I did set her on fire once.”

 

Angelus seemed decidedly flustered, but quickly gathered his resolve, turning his attention towards Buffy instead. “What about you? The Buffy I know wouldn’t leave all of those poor innocents to die.”

 

Buffy stiffened in anger. “You don’t know me at all!”

 

Angelus leered at her in challenge. “Well, I do know that sound you make right before you…”

 

Angel had reached the end of his tether. “Enough!” He stepped towards Angelus menacingly, holding his stake in the striking position. Buffy tried to stay his hand, but he twisted away, only to stop short when he smelled Giles’ blood. The ritual had begun.

 

Angelus sniffed deeply and he tilted his head before his eyes bulged in shock. “What are you playing at, here? You just going to leave me here?” He bucked uselessly against his bonds.

 

It was Buffy’s turn to smirk. “Not exactly. Me and the sword aren’t going anywhere.” Buffy and Angel walked back towards the far wall, securing themselves in the bonds that had been fastened there. A whooshing sound emanated from the hallways outside, and the door flew open. Books and debris and anything else they hadn’t quickly secured ahead of time began flowing towards the open portal, sparking as they hit the interdimensional barrier and were sucked away into the other side. Above the din a steady chanting could be heard.

 

Angelus snapped his head in Angel’s direction, eyes full of fear for the first time. “Is that…”

 

Angel looked on at the writhing demon, kind eyes full of compassion.

 

Angelus began frantically scrabbling against his bonds to no avail. As the ritual reached its zenith, his eyes glowed bright gold for just a second, then he collapsed back down upon the bed in defeat.

 

“It’s done!” Buffy yelled, and moments later, the portal closed.

 

Angel silently watched the vampire, closing his eyes against the anguish he could see the other creature was feeling. When he finally spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper. “I’m sorry.”

 

++

 

Giles reluctantly entered the small room, as he could almost feel the tension spilling out into the hallway. Angelus, or Angel, as it were, had been unbound and was in the fetal position, rocking back and forth and muttering something under his breath. Buffy’s wide eyes fixed on the bed, and she had wrapped herself in Angel’s arms. Angel just stared, eyes wet, jaw tightly clenched. When Angel saw Giles enter the room, he moved back from behind Buffy. He seemed to hesitate a moment before sitting on the edge of the bed, the mattress dipping under his weight. He reached out a tentative hand, almost as if to place it on Angelus’ shoulder, before thinking the better of it. In the presence of the other vampire, Angelus had stopped moving, but was still staring straight ahead, unwilling or unable to make eye contact with anyone. As Angel moved closer, he realized that the other vampire had been repeating “Forgive me,” in at least half a dozen different languages. Angel’s heart lurched. Finally, the vampire shifted his gaze up towards Angel, his voiced hushed. “What do I do now?”

 

Everyone was clearly uncomfortable, but eventually all three members of Project Paranormal haltingly filled the newly en-souled vampire with the details of how he needed return to fulfill his own destiny by saving the humans in his dimension. They explained that he needed to locate Kendra’s sword and prove his worth so that he could finally defeat Acathla. After a long moment, Angelus finally looked towards Angel. “Do you think I’ll be ready?”

 

It was Buffy who answered that awkward, albeit loaded question. “Prove that you are.”

 

Angelus stared at her dumbly before finding his voice. “Buffy, I’m so…”

 

“Don’t.” She tried to keep her own voice steady, but knew she was failing miserably. She took comfort from Angel’s hand on her shoulder. “Save the world.” She gave him a small smile. “Hey, think of the karma: two for one deal.”

 

“Um…yeah. I kind of lied about that part. Acathla was never coming into this world.” He dropped his head, full of shame. “I was only in this for myself.” He seemed about to say something else before his eyes flew up towards Angel’s again. “The skull!”

 

Angel seemed perplexed. “What skull?” He eyed Buffy and Giles, but they both seemed as lost as he was.

 

Angelus gestured with his free hand, miming holding a rounded object. “For Dru. I promised I would retrieve it for her.”

 

Angel still shook his head in confusion. “We didn’t find any skull…”

 

Angelus licked his lips, considering whether or not to trust them. He guessed he really didn’t have a choice at this point. “I hid it outside, in the base of a tree. Apple I think, near the driveway.”

 

Giles nodded, heading out at once, figuring he was leaving Angelus in good hands. He returned shortly after, carefully cradling the fragile looking Crystal Skull in his hands. He held it up against the light, casting tiny refracted rainbows on all of the walls. To Buffy, it looked like something you would get out of one of those souvenir shops along the Boardwalk in Venice Beach. She turned towards Angelus, breaking the silence. “What is it?”

 

He seemed a bit unnerved under her steady gaze. “I don’t know, actually. Dru just said she wanted it.”

 

“If I am correct, I do believe this to be one of the Crystal Skulls, yes?” Angelus just nodded mutely in Giles’ direction.

 

“What does it do?” Buffy ran her finger along the skull’s smooth surface.

 

“I…” Giles held the skull aloft again, causing crazy patterns to be thrown against the walls. Both vampires winced against the glare coming off of the skull. “I don’t rightly know, actually. Their origin is shrouded in mystery, but nothing of consequence has ever been written of them.”

 

“We can’t just give this to an insane vampire! Who knows what she’ll do with it!” Buffy placed her hands on her hips, arms akimbo.

 

“Maybe she wants to use it for a paperweight?” Angelus ducked his head, apologetic. “Acathla’s expecting me to bring it back. If I don’t, he’ll know something is up, and I need some time if this plan has any chance of working.”

 

After a long, tense moment, Giles finally spoke. “Well, I do believe Drusilla is going to be receiving more than she bargained for as it is.” He glanced uneasily in Angelus’ direction. “I don’t like giving it to her any more than you do, but I do believe it is the most prudent course of action if his plan is to have any measure of success.”

 

Angel couldn’t help but feel that someday Giles’ words would come back to haunt them.

 

++

 

After much discussion, the team decided to allow the fragile vampire to remain with them for a bit in order to regain enough strength to be able to face Acathla. The newly ensouled Angelus was tucked away in the small room that Giles had allocated for him, so the team retired to the study to share cups of tea, sitting in silence for a long while. They all watched the steam curl away from mugs that had cooled before they could be drunk, no one really knowing what to say. Finally, after long moments of stops and starts at uncomfortable conversation, Buffy finally voiced what was on all of their minds. “Do you think he’ll actually be able to go through with it?”

 

Giles nodded gravely. “We have to trust that he will.”

 

Angel stared into his cup, looking for answers in the loose tea leaves along the bottom of his mug. He honestly didn’t know. If it had been him, if he had killed Buffy and Giles and all of their friends, he didn’t know if he’d actually be able to go on. If he’d be strong enough. His silence spoke volumes.

 

**

 

 

A/N:

Information on Lake Atitlan:

http://www.atitlan.com/maps/index.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Atitlan

 

Legend of Maximón:

http://www.eveandersson.com/guatemala/atitlan

http://www.luckymojo.com/maximon.html

 

Winston Churchill quotes:

http://www.famousquotes.me.uk/churchill_winston/

 

Cabinet War Room:

http://cwr.iwm.org.uk/server/show/nav.00f00k

 

Quote from The Merchant of Venice

 

 

 

 



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