Double or Nothing. 38

Chapter 38: Final Farewells

Lakhesis, she who measures out the Threads of Life, watched the group’s reaction to her prophetic announcement with cool interest. “Come the dawn the balance shall be restored and only the vampire who is our champion shall remain.”

Stone silence filled the Great Hall of the Moirae. Less than a minute passed. It did so at a protracted pace making moments seem like endless increments of time. All at once, a cacophony of discord arose within the chamber.

Erupting from their seated positions the eight outsiders crowded around the marble dais shouting out their questions, comments and complaints in simultaneous fashion.
Their targets remained nonplussed by the verbal barrage from these lower beings. It was little more than an irritant. Resolute, nothing could sway the hand of fate as the interference of the Moirae stood to alter or end the existence of Angel or Angelus.

“The time will soon be upon us, sister,” Klotho reminded as she lifted one hand back to her spinning wheel keeping the other draped across her gravid belly.

With a nod of understanding, Lakhesis shared a meaningful glance with Atropos who spoke in a tone that cut through the din. “Though you like it not, mortals, we Fates have gifted you with knowledge rare few of our own kind possess.”

“What will happen?” Cordelia demanded of the Moira despite the fearful quiver in her voice. The Fates had planned this for two hundred years and whatever it was would come to pass tonight.

Atropos gazed directly into Cordelia’s emotion laden gaze. Though bright with fear of the unknown, no tears fell upon her cheeks. There was only the determined desire to know the truth despite her fear of facing it. The crone’s violet orbs revealed nothing projecting only a reflection of what she saw in the young woman standing before her demanding answers.

“Your vampire will face his true path claiming his promised destiny,” Atropos told her despite knowing that the cryptic answer would not satisfy Cordelia’s human curiosity. “Take heart, daughter. Fate may appear to be cold and without mercy when it comes to cutting the threads of destiny, but endings may be beginnings if it is the will of the Moirae.”

Cordelia no longer cared that these were higher beings powerful enough to snuff out her own life in an instant if the whim hit them. Without warning, she stepped onto the dais not really certain of what she was doing; just wanting to shake some sense into the Moirae before they did something they couldn’t take back.

Angelus tried to reach her, but an invisible barrier blocked his path. It was already too late to shout out a warning for Cordelia was standing at Lakhesis’ side preparing to give her an earful. Since it wasn’t quite right to pick on an old woman or a pregnant one— even if neither were what they truly appeared to be— Cordelia had moved toward Lakhesis only to find a hand curled around her wrist in a vice-like grip.

“Choices are still to be made, daughter,” Lakhesis’ violet eye bore into hers drilling deeper than the conscious mind now focused with such desperate anger upon her. “A champion we will have no matter your pleas. It is your own destiny that may falter if you veer from the path we Moirae have set out for you.”

Sucking in a deep breath of air, Cordelia realized that the Moirae had plans for her as well. “Don’t threaten me. Stop playing these mind games. No more with the cryptic. I don’t care about your champion.”

“Do not lie to yourself, daughter,” Lakhesis held her steady. “You care to the depths of your soul for the vampire and our champion he will be. It is fear that governs your words and actions.”

“Vampires. Plural. Stop talking about them as if you’ve already killed one of them to satisfy your plans. Fix what you’ve done,” Cordelia had never begged for anything in her life, but suddenly did not care if her words came out that way, nor about the fact that she had an audience. “It’s not too late to change your mind. Please don’t let one of them die because you only need one as your champion. I-I need them both.”

Angelus noticed that the trio of the Moirae turned their gaze to him as Cordelia’s plea echoed in the hall. They expected an outburst in response to his mate’s unknowing confession that her feelings for Angel went deeper than she had revealed. Strangely, the news wasn’t really surprising and while his fury over it raged inside him, Angelus understood the reason.

The Moirae had never truly separated them. Not completely. While they possessed different physical forms, they remained connected on every other level. Somehow that included their feelings for Cordelia and in response also her attraction for them.

“Release her, Lakhesis,” Angelus gave the quiet command maintaining total control. “Nothing we say will change your plans. Whatever happens, it is something that was agreed to long ago.”

Klotho chimed in, “You did agree. You promised and now it is our turn to fulfill the course of our mission.”

Trying to keep his own demon under a tight reign, Angel’s rage was visible and violent. The chair Oz and Willow had been sitting in went flying as he paced past it kicking it across the smooth floor. Ignoring the concerned looks from his companions standing around him, Angel stalked back to the edge of the dais pressing up against the barrier.

“I don’t care about your mission,” Angel ground out through clenched teeth. “I want you to let go of Cordelia and stay the fuck out of her life.”

“The Moirae do not yield to pleas, threats or profanity,” Atropos spoke again with a measure of censure. “Vampire, your fate was sealed the moment you agreed to complete the third visitation. As for Cordelia Chase, her life’s thread is as entwined with our mission as yours.”

“Entwined?” Giles inquired from the sidelines. The Fates had said something to that effect before, but without explanation.

“She is as much the daughter of destiny as is the Chosen One or any who play a part for the Powers whether they know it or not,” Klotho revealed. “I would have Cordelia fulfill the thread of fate to which she was born: shaping the course of our champion’s existence. For within him lies the potential for Order and Chaos, Good and Evil.”

Lakhesis gazed up at Cordelia. “Go now, daughter. Seek what comfort you will in the hours ahead. The dawn harkens a time when the vampire will achieve the fulfillment of our promise and your own destiny awaits.”

Released from the Moira’s clutch, Cordelia backed down the steps only to find herself enfolded by Angelus’ strong arms. Her own hands reached up to hold him and she leaned back resting her head against his shoulder while trying to make sense of the plan of the Moirae.

“For now, this interview is over.” Atropos waved her gnarled hand in the air signaling the appearance of a swirling heavy mist that curled into the chamber suffusing it in a matter of moments.

“No, wait!” Cordelia called out to no avail as the dais vanished behind its cover.

As the mist rose, darkness replaced the light and a wave of energy passed through them reversing the spell that brought them to this hall. Once again, the group found themselves scattered across the floor. The wooden surface beneath them, sprinkled powder, and the scent of incense and melted wax filling the room combined to prove their location despite their inability to see.

“Angel,” Giles spoke up. “Perhaps you could get the lights. They should still function and you’d know where to find the switch.”

A moment passed before the vampire answered, still breathing unnecessarily hard. “Sure.”

He’d been distracted by his own demonic senses and the soft sounds coming from the floor near his feet. The darkness was not as resolute as in the chamber before the Great Hall. Angel could see the outline of his brother and Cordelia still entwined in each other’s arms.

When the lights came on, Cordelia was sitting in Angelus’ lap on the floor with their mouths pressed together in a seemingly endless kiss. While Rupert Giles understood the urgency behind the embrace, he also felt it necessary to put an end to it despite the fact that interrupting a vampire in the middle of any task was rarely a good idea.

Tapping Angelus on the shoulder, Giles added the sound of clearing his throat to gain the vampire’s attention. “There are still hours left of the night for…for that. We need to talk this out. The Moirae have given us information, but no clear answers.”

Reluctantly, Cordelia and Angelus separated, but only far enough to recognize the uncertainty in each other’s eyes. If there was any chance that they might not have each other in the morning, being apart for any portion of the night ahead was totally unacceptable.

“The Watcher is right,” Angelus trailed his thumb over Cordelia’s kiss-swollen lips as he realized there was much to discuss even though he didn’t really want to talk. He wanted to drag his mate off to bed and spend every second until dawn’s breaking light making love to her.

Buffy watched as Angelus helped Cordelia to her feet, still holding her close within the circle of his arms. She glanced over at Angel who remained standing by the light switch. A look of dark determination appeared for an instant before vanishing behind a blank expression as he watched the two. The Slayer recognized her own feelings of despair over the potential of losing Angel even though technically he was no longer hers to lose.

“How much longer, Giles?” She found herself asking. “How long were we gone?”

The Englishman glanced down at his watch expecting the hour to be past midnight, but to his surprise his watch indicated, “We’ve been gone only a few minutes. Either my watch didn’t register the time we spent with the Moirae or time flows differently there.”

A comparison of watches and the mansion clocks proved all had approximately the same time. “So it’s only 8:30?”

Cordelia’s question sounded shaky to their ears and conflicted. More time than any had expected, but still not enough. It would never be enough no matter what choice the Moirae had in mind.

“Why didn’t they just tell me which one they plan to murder?” Cordelia asked the Watcher. “Why drag it out? Just to torture us with not knowing?”

Hating to admit that he was just as much in the dark, Giles could only answer her, “This would have happened whether we contacted the Moirae or not. I believe they provided us with all of the answers, Cordelia. We just don’t understand them yet.”

“W-What do you think will happen?” She respected the Watcher’s opinion and while the answer might not be one she wanted to hear, Cordelia needed something.

Before Giles could speak, Angel cut him off as he walked closer to the others. “I’m certain that Angelus is the champion.”

His brother looked flummoxed at the thought. “What?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

“No it’s not.” Buffy crossed her arms putting up an unconscious barrier between herself and the idea that Angel might not be there in the morning. “Angel, that is just crazy. What’s so obvious about it?”

A deep chuckle emerged from Angel’s throat sounding rife with irony rather than any kind of amusement. “Crazy? I think you’ve proven my point, Slayer.”

“You’re not crazy,” Cordelia scoffed at the idea. “Just a little…imbalanced.”

“Right.” Xander snorted, “This is Psycho Vamp we’re talking about. You think the Powers or whoever they are want him for a champion?”

“I have to disagree,” Oz put in. “Angel is the one with the soul. Even if Angelus has been sharing some of the effects of it because of the connection the Fates mentioned it still exists within Angel. I can’t believe that the Powers would choose a soulless champion.”

Willow gaped openly at her boyfriend. Not only had Oz chosen to speak up when he would normally remain silently neutral, but he had just indicated that he thought it would be Angelus who was going to die. “You’re guessing! How do you know what the Powers want in a champion?”

“I don’t,” Oz admitted, “but it makes sense to me.”

“Angelus has been the stable one,” Willow pointed out. “He’s fought along side us to keep the Good Fight going. Maybe he doesn’t have a soul, but he’s not evil anymore. Not like he was.”

Cordelia kept staring at Giles hoping that he would tell her that they were all wrong and that something good was going to come of this. That she had misunderstood the Fates and neither one of the vampires would be sacrificed come morning.

“There is nothing to be done except wait,” Giles admitted slowly recognizing his own feelings of helplessness. “The Moirae indicated that the balance would be restored for their champion. It is impossible to ascertain which vampire the Fates mean. As you all have already stated there are arguments for either one.”

The debate continued for some time despite the angst it generated. No one seemed willing to let the subject drop. Angel, Xander and Willow remained firm in their belief that Angelus was the designated champion. Angelus, Oz and Buffy argued that Angel had to be the one. The Watcher remained divided trying his best to remain neutral only to find himself arguing both sides of the fence from one moment to the next, his own indecisiveness surprising him.

Listening to it all, Cordelia found that she could not form an opinion one way or the other. If there was a point favoring one vampire, it was soon countered by another. They had moved into the dining room and were all gathered around the table while the discussion continued. Cordelia tuned them all out.

She couldn’t listen to it. Not anymore. The Moirae were right, she decided, about her being scared. Cordelia had never been so scared before. There was no one to rescue her from this situation. Nothing she could argue to change it. No magick that would erase what would happen as the night vanished with the dawn.

“Drink this,” Cordelia heard Willow’s voice as if from a distance.

Blinking, she turned her hazel gaze to see the redhead standing next to her holding a glass of pink liquid in one hand and a pitcher of the same in the other. “W-What is it?”

“Just orange juice,” Willow told her.

Cordelia pointed out, “It’s pink.”

“You’ll like it. Drink.” Holding out the glass, Willow encouraged her to take it. “Giles suggested tea, but I think this will be better.”

Realizing that she hadn’t even noticed Willow leaving the table, Cordelia took the glass from her outstretched hand. Sipping it hesitantly, she found the concoction to taste quite good. Glad of the distraction and realizing that she felt thirsty, Cordelia drained the juice glass.

“Have some more,” Willow told her.

Xander whined from the other end of the table, “Where’s mine? No sharing?”

“This is for Cordy,” his best friend explained. “There are sodas in the refrigerator if you want one.”

He was halfway out of his chair when Willow added, “Not that we need you on a sugar high right now.”

Slumping back down, Xander distracted himself from the tension in the room by grumbling over the fact that Willow was denying him her fruity concoction.

Angelus pushed his chair away from the table rising to his feet. “I’ve had enough of this. We’re not accomplishing anything except to upset Cordelia. I won’t have that. This is hard enough as it is.”

“I’m fine,” Cordelia sat up straight rushing to reassure him. She didn’t want Angelus to spend his potential last hours worrying about her.

“No, you’re not, sweetheart.” It was Angel who responded cutting through the bull. “You haven’t said anything about the Moirae in the last twenty minutes. I’ve never known you to be so quiet.”

Gripping the edge of the table, Cordelia sucked in a deep breath of air. “What do you want me to say, Angel? This sucks! I don’t want either one of you to die.”

“The idea doesn’t appeal to me either,” Angel readily admitted. “Doesn’t change the fact that I can’t do a damn thing about it.”

“You’re so sure it’s you?”

Angel reached over to take hold of her free hand. “What if it is?”

Pulling away from his touch, Cordelia glared angrily, “That’s not a fair question.”

“Yes it is,” Angelus commented while deciding that it was folly to admit such a thing. He did not want to hear Cordelia’s answer, but his suspicions about her feelings for Angel were no longer just suspicions.

Angelus felt certain that he would be the one no longer there in the morning. He was not certain why he felt so strongly about the idea, but the arguments were there to his mind. Despite the fact that Angel pointed out the Moirae had revealed Cordelia’s future would remain tied to their champion and that as her mate and the legitimate head of the Order of Aurelius that gave Angelus a better chance at survival, he felt that meant nothing to the Fates. They would make their decision based upon their own criteria, not vampiric law or tradition.

“Answer him, Cordelia,” her mate encouraged her to speak, though his eyes were full of hidden emotions. “Angel deserves to know your feelings.”

Strangled by his words, Cordelia realized that Angelus knew about her feelings for his brother. “He knows.”

“You love him,” Angelus wasn’t certain if it was an accusation or a statement of fact.

Cordelia felt the eyes of everyone upon her, but did not drop her gaze away from her mate. This was hardly the setting or the circumstances in which she had envisioned talking to Angelus about her feelings for his brother. “Yes.”

“It’s okay, baby,” Angelus promised even as he bit back the raging jealousy that rose up within him.

“No, it’s not,” Cordelia snapped back. “I love you, Angelus. Until you came along, I didn’t know I could love anyone this much. That I could be loved this much.”

He had her back in his arms within seconds, just holding her this time with his cheek brushing up against her hair. “It’s better this way.”

Still nuzzled into the crook of his shoulder, Cordelia could only ask, “What?”

Angelus met his brother’s suspicious gaze from across the table. “Don’t you see? I’ve only been sharing Angel’s soul through our connection. What will happen if I am the one who is chosen? Without a soul will I be able to love you the way you deserve to be loved?”

Sputtering in response, Cordelia staggered back out of his embrace moving away so that she could see both vampires. “I hate this! I hate the Moirae for playing God and interfering in other people’s lives. It’s not their right.”

Giles gulped down the thick lump in his throat. “The Moirae are certainly not gods, but they are immortal beings with vast power. They have manipulated the outcomes of countless lives and situations for purposes beyond our understanding. If not for their influence who can say whether Angelus would have ever come to exist or that a gypsy curse would return Angel’s soul or that he would ever come to Sunnydale in the first place.”

“I’m supposed to thank them for this?” questioned Cordelia sourly.

“Maybe you should,” Buffy told her with a hint of venom. The part of her that still blamed Cordelia for the breakup with Angel couldn’t resist the stab. “If not for them, Angelus wouldn’t even be here and Angel would still be mine.”

Dead silence followed until Xander commented, “I thought you were over him, Buffy; doesn’t sound that way to me.”

Buffy got up out of her chair so fast that it toppled over and hit the floor. There were tears in her eyes as she hurried out of the room in the direction of the adjoining kitchen. Watching her departure, Angel felt overwhelming satisfaction at the Slayer’s response.

It was the demon in him reveling in her pain. He started to go after her automatically preparing to twist the emotional knife a little deeper when he realized that Xander’s hand was on his shoulder.

“Stay here, vampire,” Xander glared at him. Even if his own big mouth had caused Buffy even more anguish than necessary, it was not Angel’s place to follow her. “Let me do this.”

“The Slayer is yours, Harris,” Angel shrugged carelessly realizing he really didn’t care about going after Buffy one way or the other. “I did give her to you.”

Xander frowned in confusion. “Yeah. Whatever.”

Looking over at his brother, Angel suggested, “If I’m not here in the morning, be sure to explain it to him.”

Willow frowned in disapproval. “This is hardly the time to joke.”

“Who’s joking?”

“If you’re not, then I don’t wanna know about it,” Willow grumbled. Pouring another glass of juice, she handed it over to Cordelia while insisting, “Drink this.”

Cordelia didn’t think to ask why Willow was so insistent about it. In fact, the drink actually tasted good and seemed to make her want more of it. She was on her third glass when she asked Giles, “Is it possible that we’ve got this all wrong? Maybe Miss Slut of the Eon isn’t doing anything to Angelus or Angel. Maybe she’s just doing the obvious and giving birth to a baby champion.”

The Watcher suddenly wondered what was in the concoction Cordelia was drinking. “We’ve been over this already.”

“Oh.”

Giles realized the cheerleader had been rather distracted during much of the group’s conversation. It was possible that she had simply not heard his explanation of why that was not a likely prospect. Unless he was completely wrong about his research. Unless he was fooling himself and only thinking the worst. Somehow, he knew better than to be so optimistic.

“Klotho’s pregnancy is not what it appears to be,” Giles recounted. “The Moirae are not corporeal nor do they reproduce in any manner we would understand. Though she is associated with the beginnings of life and childbearing, it is not in a physical sense, but a metaphorical one.”

“I don’t get it,” Cordelia admitted and deep down she wasn’t certain she wanted the full explanation. “Not sure I want to get it, but tell me anyway.”

As he understood the nature of their powers, Giles attempted to convey that limited knowledge to Cordelia. “Everything you saw in the Great Hall was illusion. Something filtered by our own minds into something we could comprehend. They appeared to us as the Greek goddesses because mythology provides that expectation.”

“The spinning wheel, the tapestry and the scissors are metaphors for their powers,” Willow told her having learned everything Giles had discovered during preparation for the summoning.

Loosening his tie, Giles could see that explanations were lost on the cheerleader. She wasn’t fully listening to him. Still, talking about it helped him come to terms with his own mixed feelings. No matter all the good that Angel had done or that Angelus had done of late, there were countless thousands of lives lost due to their existence.

One in particular that Giles could never forget, even after Angelus’ apology. The idea that the vampire who had murdered Jenny Calendar would become a champion for the Powers that Be was beyond his full reckoning.

Giles decided that the Moirae’s reasons were far beyond his understanding. Focusing on the method to their seeming madness gave him a tiny glimpse of perception into what might happen.

“The Moirae deal in mathematical probabilities and outcomes on a universal scale,” Giles explained. “What Klotho revealed to us as— as a liaison with Liam was in fact no such thing.”

“It wasn’t?” Angel smirked at the vivid memory in his head. “Seemed that way at the time.”

Rolling her eyes, Cordelia told the vampire, “You would think that. Liam was such a man-whore.”

“A what?” Angel laughed at the new term.

“You heard me. He was after everything in skirts.” Cordelia dared him to deny it.

Angel glared at his brother. “You have been talking, haven’t you?”

With a shrug, Angelus commented, “It was hardly a secret.”

As Cordelia appeared to be a little more relaxed about the conversation, Giles went on to tell her that the Moirae’s ability to affect outcomes is frequently dependant upon the decision-making of the individual. “One person can change the course of destiny through the act of free will. By making the deal with Liam in the manner that she did assured Klotho that her plans would come to fruition.”

“She did something to us,” Angel realized.

Giles nodded. “I believe she referred to it as— uh, gathering your essence.”

“Eew!” Cordelia responded still thinking in terms of them having sex.

“Yes, well, I must admit to feeling a little invaded on their behalf,” Giles confessed to Cordelia. “Though it was all an illusion, it included the gathering of something real that Klotho has watched over for the past two hundred years while making her plans to create a champion for the Powers that Be.”

Willow shuddered, “Pregnant for two hundred years. Can you imagine that being the real thing?”

Ignoring the comment, Giles continued, “I am certain that it is not a child, Willow. It is the vampire the Moirae have interest in. They spoke of him as one being, not two. The only question remaining is whether the one will be Angel or Angelus.”

“Giles,” the sound of his name came from Cordelia’s mouth immediately gaining his attention despite its softness.

Looking at her, the Watcher asked, “Yes?”

“Go away.”

“Pardon?”

“I want you to leave,” Cordelia told him with quiet determination. “Now. All of you. I want everyone out.”

Willow looked like she wanted to cry as she gazed back and forth between Cordelia and Angelus. “But Cordy—”

“Just get out!”

The sound of her suddenly raised voice brought Xander and Buffy back to the dining room from the kitchen. The Slayer asked, “What’s going on?”

“It’s time for us to leave,” Giles explained fully understanding that Cordelia needed some time alone with the vampires.

“No!” Buffy defied him. If there was a possibility that Angel wasn’t going to be here in the morning, she was planning to wait every second out right here at the mansion.

Angelus met her tearful gaze. “Buff, please go with the others. One of us will call you in the morning. Just give us some time.”

Protesting, “I should be here. What if— well, I maybe can—,” her voice trailed off as Buffy realized there was nothing she could do to change the outcome of the Moirae’s decision. Walking up to Cordelia, she no longer cared that her tears were falling. “I should have tried to stop them.”

“You couldn’t,” Cordelia realized that Buffy was blaming herself for not attempting to fight the Moirae.

“I’ve never been faced with anything I couldn’t kill,” Buffy admitted feeling helpless against what was happening. She glanced over Cordelia’s shoulder at Angelus and then back at Angel. “Not anything. This isn’t a fight I can win.”

Cordelia pulled Buffy into her arms for a hug. There was a time, however brief and unrealistic, when they thought they might become as close as sisters. Before the idea of double dating ran into a few snags, the major one being Angel and Buffy’s deteriorating relationship.

“It’s not your fault, Buffy,” she told the other teen while stepping back. “This isn’t something the Slayer has to fight, but you will have to accept it. I’ll have to accept it. God, I don’t want to, but it’s going to happen.”

There was a crack in Cordelia’s voice and unshed tears in her eyes. Something else that Buffy had never before experienced. It unnerved her to see that first tear fall and she followed its course down the curve of Cordelia’s cheek realizing no matter what she was feeling at the moment, Cordelia’s pain had to be doubled.

Xander had been right to say what he had when they were alone in the kitchen. This situation wasn’t about her or her remaining unresolved feelings for Angel.

“I-I’m—,” so sorry, Cor, “going now.”

Cordelia sighed in relief, not wanting to argue about it.

“You’ll call?”

“Tomorrow,” Cordelia promised.

Giles suggested, “Why don’t you call me. I will inform the others.”

After a huff of a minor protest, Buffy clamped her mouth shut. Secondhand news wasn’t quite what she wanted, but considering that Cordelia was not likely to be happy about any outcome it would be kinder to let her make one phone call. Buffy knew she would not be the cheerleader’s first choice.

“We’ll gather the summoning spell components another day,” Giles told Cordelia. “I’ll speak to you in the morning.”

She nodded and accepted the hug he gave her. Giles held out a hand to Angelus, “I can only say that you have shown extraordinary resolve given this opportunity. Your determination to fight alongside us and your love for Cordelia have proven you to be more than the sum of your past experiences.”

“Should I not be here in the morning, Rupert, I hope I can count on you to watch out for Cordelia,” Angelus told the Englishman as he shook his hand.

A hint of a smile appeared on his face as Giles glanced over at Cordelia. “I shall do so with as much veracity and tenaciousness as she did in looking out for me during my depression.”

“You knew what I was doing?” Cordelia reacted with surprise.

The Watcher grinned. “There is not much that brings you to the library excepting Scooby meetings.”

“That obvious, huh?”

“Afraid so, my dear.” Giles knew that he owed her a lot for those little niceties she provided even when it was only her encouraging smile. The genuine one that nobody thought her capable of possessing at the time.

Angel watched the exchange with amusement. It was only the fact that he realized that Cordelia looked at Giles as a fatherly figure that stopped him from ripping out the Watcher’s throat for daring to smile at her. There must have been something in the way he was staring because Giles kept his distance and didn’t bother with the offer of a handshake.

The Watcher did tell him, “Angel, I am certain that if you are present in the morning and your internal balance is restored we can let bygones by bygones.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Buffy inquired curiously.

“Nothing that concerns you, Buff,” Angel smirked while remembering threatening Rupert Giles a time or two.

“Oh. I-I’ll see you in the morning,” Buffy told him refusing to think otherwise.

Angel looked down at the Slayer who looked rather vulnerable with her tearstained face and petite body. With her blonde hair done up in a twisty knot, she looked even younger than her years. More like she did over a year ago when his heart was so full of her that he could feel nothing else.

“Goodbye, Buffy.” Taking her jaw in his hand, Angel tilted her face up to him as he pressed a hard and fast kiss onto her startled pouting lips.

“C’mon,” Xander took the Slayer by the arm seeing that she was staring up at Angel like she might never see him again, which he supposed was true. “Time to go.”

“No hug, Harris?” Angel laughed at Xander’s glare.

Xander paused for a moment, meeting Angel’s amused gaze. The vampire appeared to be relaxed despite this whole situation. Realizing that this might be the last time they ever faced off, Xander nodded his farewell. “Angel.”

The vampire did the same. “Xander.”

Oz followed Giles’ example with the handshaking. He made no effort to say anything suggestive of false platitudes. The vampires already knew the potential outcomes. It would be useless to say otherwise. The werewolf also kept a safe distance away from Cordelia sensing both Angelus and Angel were feeling a little territorial. He chose to give her a look that conveyed his concern and friendship.

Having purposefully waited, Willow broke into tears. She didn’t like goodbyes of any kind and knowing that one of them was going to be the forever kind made it difficult to say anything. She was closest to Angel having been standing next to Oz while he sent his silent messages of farewell.

Staring wordlessly at the vampire, Willow was completely unable to bring herself to say anything.

“I never gave you that punishment I promised,” Angel’s eyes sparkled. He ignored the look of caution that Oz sent his way. “It’s not too late.”

Willow tilted her chin up a little higher. “Thanks for making it easy, Angel. Goodbye.”

Then she turned immediately to wrap her arms around Angelus’ waist burying her head against his chest. She heard the other vampire chuckling behind her, but was too focused on the sound of her own sobbing to care. “I-I don’t want you to die.”

“The feeling is mutual,” Angelus quipped while wrapping his strong arms around Willow’s quaking form. He sent Cordelia a look of confusion as if he wasn’t quite certain what to do next.

Then Willow wretched herself out of his arms as if she couldn’t take it anymore. He was trying to be funny, but she knew that he had to be feeling sad or scared or any number of other emotions that vampires weren’t supposed to feel.

“T-Thanks for the fish,” Willow cringed at her own words. Surely she could’ve found something better to say to the last person in the world she ever expected would be her friend. Make that second to last. That honor belonged to Cordelia. She hugged the cheerleader tightly wishing that she could make this easier. “See you soon.”

Cordelia caught Willow’s arm as she started to move away. “Willow. I know the spell didn’t work the way you planned. Thanks for trying.”

Tearfully, Willow nodded. “Um, Cordy, I think I need to tell you something.”

Angelus put a hand on the redhead’s shoulder. “Tomorrow, Willow.”

“But—,” Willow’s protest was cut off by her own boyfriend echoing the vampire’s plea to wait.

“Time is passing, Willow,” Oz reminded. “We’re intruding on family time.”

“But—,” she started again only to bite down on her lower lip. Walking out to the van, she mumbled to herself, “Guess they’ll find out soon enough.”

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