Angel came awake with a jerk when he felt a sharp sting on his chin.
"Relax," came a voice.
"Buffy?" he croaked, opening his eyes to the glare of the hall lights. Buffy was dabbing a piece of cloth to a cut on his chin, her delicate features pinched into worry.
"He dented you a little," Buffy murmured as she placed the bloodied cloth in the basin on a side table next to the sofa. "How are you doin'?"
Angel rubbed his chin. "Not bad," he muttered.
Buffy gave him a small nod as she dabbed his cut further. "A son, huh?"
He wasn't sure what to say to that. He merely nodded. Buffy merely gave him a humourless smile.
"I leave you for a few years ..." she murmured with a small smile.
"Buffy," he murmured. But he didn't know what to say.
She just shrugged. "People change," she simply said.
He met her eyes and saw something in there. Something which explained the scent of Spike on her. It was something he didn't even want to think about with Wesley running amok back at the house. Now that that was over, he still didn't want to know. Really.
"Wesley?" he asked, turning away from her ministrations. That was it, case closed.
Buffy straightened up at his tone. A look of hurt passed her features, but it was gone quickly. "Gone."
"I have to find him," Angel got up, but was sidetracked by a wave of dizziness. It didn't stop him long. He walked unsteadily towards the door.
"Wait ... Angel!" when that didn't stop him, Buffy ran to him and grabbed his hand. Surprised ... and strangely touched, he found himself squeezing her hand. He met her blue eyes and saw the pleading look in them. It, however, did not prepare him for her words.
"I think ... I think there's something going on here," she said.
Angel stared at her as if she just announced that she was the Virgin Mary. "Yeah, I would think so," he said levelly.
"No," she shook her head, her eyes serious. "It got me thinking ... the things Wesley could do ... he could've killed us any time, Angel, but he didn't. I mean, he helped me fend off the Luloth demons and he said some things-"
Angel could see the logic of her words, but that didn't mean he liked where it was going. "He tried to kill a child!" he snapped.
Buffy blinked, then placed her hands up in the air as if in agreement. "I know. But he got me thinking. He was right. Evil doesn't wear a convenient face."
"You think the girl is evil?" Angel said in disbelief.
"No, I mean ..." she sighed. "I don't think we're seeing the whole picture here. And unless we do, we're going to lose the battle," she said gravely. "I've gone through enough apocalypses to know."
Angel frowned at that. It annoyed him, her claim of expertise -- as if his years waging and going through apocalypses didn't count. "So have I. More than you can imagine. And you know what I learnt?"
Buffy opened her mouth to say something, but Angel went on before she could say anything.
"Wasting time is deadly. And I'm wasting enough already."
A flicker of hurt flashed on her face again. Angel winced at that and wanted to apologise, but everything is just a mess. There was just too damn much on his mind now. Cordelia. Connor. Wesley. Now this missing girl. He turned to leave.
"You know, you're full of shit."
Angel stopped in his tracks, but did not turn around.
"That's right," Buffy said, walking a few steps towards him. "Going on this holy crusade being angry at the man who wronged you. Being so righteous and all."
This time, he turned, growing fury etched on his face.
"You can be angry with me. That's fine. You can be angry with Wesley. That's fine too. But being righteous and unforgiving? That's pure BS. Because, what gives you the right?"
Angel clenched his fists, looking away.
"Jenny Calendar. Torturing my friends. Turning Drusilla-"
"-taking the only person Giles loved. Killing countless people. Unleashing hell on Earth-"
"I said, shut up." His voice did not rise, but it had an edge to it. As if it she didn't stop soon, he would do something. That realisation made him freeze in horror. What had he become?
"You let anger control you? You let unforgiveness take root? Then I don't know if you're Angel or Angelus."
"What? I'm no saint. I still haven't forgiven that shop assistant in LA for giving me a size 6 instead of a 3, but hey, I'm trying. You? You're determined not to."
"You don't understand-"
"I don't need to. The only way you can get over this -- is to look at Wesley. Really look at him. Not through some hate-filled eyes."
Angel clenched his jaw as if he wanted to stop himself from saying something. Then he whirled around, barged through the door, thinking that perhaps if he walked fast enough, he could escape her words.
Buffy was tempted to stop him, but she had a big feeling that this was not her battle anymore. She wondered whether she had the right to say those things just now, but she felt such bitterness and anger coming from Angel that she knew she had to say something to shake him from this self-imposed emotional myopia. She probably didn't have the right. It could drive anyone bitter: being buried in the sea for the summer, losing his son and - she knew he'd rather die (well, shrivel to dust) than admit this -- losing a best friend.
"Good luck," she whispered at the retreating back.
He didn't arrive at Hyperion fast enough, because when he burst through its gilded doors, he saw Fred and Gunn's worried faces. They directed their gaze to Willow's slumped figure on one of the sofas. She gave him a bleary gaze and didn't appear to have any strength to even give him a trademark sheepish smile.
"It was Wolfram & Hart," Fred murmured, as if that explained everything.
"The bitch on heels had some demon folks suck Willow's energy. She nearly died," Gunn almost growled the words out. "But somehow she managed to teleport here. I think she would've died otherwise."
"No sign. But, er, good news. The professor said he needs to see us. I think he found a weapon," Fred gave him a shaky smile.
Angel walked to the weapons closet, got a sword -- what good would it do against an Elemental, honestly -- and tossed an axe to Gunn.
"I'll stay," she said immediately, understanding what needed to be done.
"At least until she's recovered."
Gunn quickly stepped to her and gave her a kiss. "We'll be back for supper."
Fred gave him a tight smile in return. "I'll make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."
With that, her boys left to fight the bad guy. She returned her attention to Willow. At least, she thought she believed she knew who the bad guy was ...
Gunn and Angel froze, staring at what was once Percy Mason. The professor's face was one of shock, his empty eye-sockets staring at his killer. At the killer that bore a familiar face, and who incinerated him without a second thought.
"Damn. I wish I could teleport too," Gunn said weakly.
The shop was left mostly unscathed. Somehow Wesley only burnt Mason, leaving his body a mountain of human-shaped ash.
Tentatively, Angel reached towards the book that Mason's ashy hand rested on. Reluctantly, he pulled the book from the corpse's grasp, knowing what would happen.
With a quiet sigh, Mason became a cloud of dust. Gunn, who had the inconvenient habit of breathing, began to gag and cough violently.
"Sorry," Angel muttered, looking at the page. The cloud of dust settled, as he added: "And she still gives Wesley the benefit of doubt."
"Who?" Gunn asked hoarsely.
"Never mind," Angel was too busy studying the text before him to explain.
"Is there a weapon in there somewhere?"
Angel nodded, opening to the page Mason bookmarked before ... "The sword of Arjosa. Great. We have to find it." He tossed the silver foil which served as the bookmark away.
"Where is it? Can't be that hard."
"It's in a hell dimension that has a name I can't even pronounce."
"Great. Things are looking up already." Frustrated, Gunn kicked a stack of books which went sprawling to the floor, kicking up another cloud of ash. Gunn coughed some more.
Suddenly, Angel looked up. "What's that?"
"Professor got into my lungs," Gunn complained.
"No, it's something-" He didn't get to finish what he wanted to say.
"The Bokan symbol. Aurelian nighthawk. Portal ... time ... time?"
"Got anything?" Buffy slid next to him on the neighbouring chair, handing him a cup of coffee. She took a sneak look at Wesley's journals and came up blank -- it was a bunch of squiggles and pictures. If Giles had a hard time trying to read Wesley's ramblings, she wouldn't even try.
"He seems obsessed with time. And dimensions. Thank you, Buffy," he took a sip of the coffee.
"Ah wait. I think I got something. It's in ancient Torellian-"
Buffy gave him a blank look.
"Another extinct demon language.?
"Right. Aren't they always," she nodded, as if it meant something. She was 'escorting' Giles back to LA, and she reckoned that because he was so excited and anxious and everything, he could get himself into a serious accident if she didn't drive him. But in the end, after much arguing, he agreed that she could come along -- in another car -- and return to Sunnydale halfway.
"You're needed in Sunnydale, Buffy. And I don't want to distract you."
Distract her? Couldn't he see help when it was yelling at his face?
"What does it say?" she asked after a while, poking her slimy hamburger.
"Bokan of the ..." Giles frowned in concentration. "...bayonet?"
Buffy frowned too. That was a mighty inventive name.
"No. Bay'ne. As in bai-nai."
"Weird. So who is he?"
"Um. It is sexless. The guardian of time. A powerful deity. It doesn't make sense ... apparently Wesley tried to break through time and failed. The Bay'ne was too powerful for him." Again, another frown. "He fought the Bay'ne?" he sounded flabbergasted.
"And ... that's a bad thing??
"No. I mean ... he survived. He shouldn't have. It shows me how powerful he is. If he had defeated the Bay'ne, I have no idea what would have happened to the fabric of time."
Giles read some more and ran a finger down the indecipherable -- at least to her -- text and shook his head. "Why would he want to break through time? What could he possibly want to do?"
"Why do people want to time travel? Change things, of course."
Giles frowned. "He did mention Quor-toth in his ramblings."
Buffy could see that Giles was putting two and two together in his head. As far as she was concerned, the jigsaw puzzles was still scattered in her head.
After a little more reading, flipping through the pages at random, Giles came up, his expression grave. "This isn't right at all. There are just too many pieces ... I can't make head or tails out of anything. Willow said he killed three people -- totally unrelated to each other. Why did he kill them? And what has time travel and Quor-toth got to do with any of this?" he slammed the journal shut and frowned heavily, a hand on his forehead as if easing an ache there.
"Giles. What if he doesn't have a reason? What if these are the actions of a madman?"
Giles shook his head. "It doesn't seem so. At least my hunch says otherwise."
"Yeah," she looked down at her uneaten hamburger. "My hunch says so too. But the facts ..."
"...say otherwise," he continued for her, staring at his coffee. "I have to go Buffy. I think I'm wasting too much time already. Don't bother to follow. Remember what I told you." With that, he left, bursting through the doors and scaring a few customers.
Buffy merely sighed and took an adventurous bite of her hamburger. "Does everyone hate wasting time these days?" she muttered.
Giles arrived a little while after Angel did, looking extremely worried and flustered. He zoomed straight to Willow who was sleeping on the couch.
"She seems okay," Fred told Giles. "Just tired."
"I'll take her up to a ... do you have an extra room?"
"All hundred of them." She led Giles to one of the extra rooms and watched as he placed her on the bed.
"She can't perform magic. Not like this. It's too dangerous for her."
"Not to mention that she won't stay awake to do it," Fred said, only to be met with an inscrutable look from Giles. "Sorry," she said lamely.
"Angel and Charles went off to see the Professor. Lorne and Connor ... actually, I'm not really sure what they're doing."
"Ah, I remember. I asked them to check on some things for me."
"Connor and research? Doesn't seem like a good combination."
"I asked them to search through Wesley's house for more clues. They?re not back yet?"
"Not yet. No. I hope something didn't happen to them."
Giles didn't know what to say to make her feel better. Right now, he was too confused to form a straight thought.
Just then, they heard something unusual.
"Is that ... a bell ringing?" Giles asked, puzzled.
Fred listened, puzzled herself, until she placed what made it.
"Oh, it's a bell that Charles bought at this street market -- he thought it looked cute so he hung it near the reception area -- thought it'd be cute if we had clients and they rang it. Unfortunately, we didn't really have clients so-"
The bell was more insistent this time. Giles gave her another deadpan look.
"Right, so I get the bell."
Giles followed her down the stairs and nearly bowled into her when she suddenly stopped halfway.
"Oh great," she moaned.
Giles wondered what was the big deal. After all, the clients looked smartly-dressed, particularly the woman in front -- quite attractive at that.
"Lilah," Fred said, her voice dripping venom.
"Well, hello to you too, Fred," the woman returned derisively.
"I'll offer you a deal. After all, we're all after the same goal. Rescue Cindy."
Fred considered this for a while, then straightened up as if steeling herself. They were seated at the lobby. Lilah has comfortably perched herself on one of the sofas, her goons staying protectively by her side.
"He has her?" Fred asked.
Lilah's cheeks became flushed, the only hint that she was embarrassed. "Yeah. Broke through our magical shields like papier mâch&eactue; and grabbed the girl."
"What makes you think that she's alive?" Giles interrupted.
Lilah looked at Giles curiously then smiled. "Of course, Rupert Giles. How's the Slayer?"
His gaze narrowed at her knowledge, but he pressed on: "What makes you think that she's alive?"
"We kept a sort of tracking device on her. Life indicators on full. For some reason, he's keeping her alive. Like how he's keeping Angel and that Gunn person alive."
Fred's eyes widened. "He has-"
"Yeah. Torched Percy Mason and grabbed the two. Why? You ask me, I don't know how crazy people think."
Fred wrung her hands together, imagining Gunn as a pillar of-
*Stop it Fred! Be rational, take charge!*
"What's the deal?"
"Fred," Giles warned.
"What's the deal?" Fred repeated, with more force this time.
"Alright. Here it is. We can't hurt the Elemental, only you can."
"What?" Fred didn't buy that.
Lilah rolled her eyes. "Are you guys this thick? It's amazing how long you've survived doing what you do. He doesn't burn you to a crisp, didn't you notice? He has a thing for all of you." She gave her a sly smile. "Though I think he has a thing for you most."
Fred realised what she meant, but she didn't have the time to deal with the implication that Wes was in love with her all this while.
"So, you're the only person who could get close to Wesley," Lilah said with finality.
"And do what?" Fred was afraid to know.
A satisfied smile broke through the lawyer's flawless features. The cat has gotten the canary. She clapped her hands once and the goon behind her stepped up and presented Fred with a scabbard.
Giles recognised it at once. "The Sword of Arjosa. How? It was supposed to be lost!"
Lilah shrugged nonchalantly. "Oh, just a little something one of my colleagues got while on a business trip in a hell dimension a while back."
Fred took it tentatively. "This will ... kill..."
"That's right, honey bun. This belonged to the Elemental of White Water, Anosa. Gotta love the name. She threw this to another dimension and froze herself to death. Elementals are so dramatic, don't you think?"
When she saw only blank faces, Lilah sighed. "Yup. This will do it. Nothing is more deadly to a green fire elemental than the white water elemental. Their Achilles Heel."
"Why are you doing this?" Giles said, his voice heavy with skepticism.
"Because I want Cindy. And you can get Cindy for me."
"Why is she so important?" Giles prodded.
"That's for us to know, and for you to never find out," Lilah?s voice became hard.
"Why would you let us rescue her? It's not as if we're going to hand her to you on a silver platter," Fred said, her voice equally hard.
"Oh, that's where you're wrong. We'll be there waiting to snatch her from you, just you wait." she winked.
Fred gripped the sword in her hands, trembling with indecision. Then she looked up, determined.
"Where are they?"
"I thought you'd never ask." Lilah gave her a sweet smile.
"Giles," Fred said as gently and firmly as she could. "I have to. You have to stay here."
Giles opened his mouth to protest.
"If anything happens to me, at least you'll be around to do something," she whispered.
"Wow," Lilah said after a moment of silence, smirking. "What a hero."
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