TITLE: Bat Out Of Hell
AUTHOR: Lex, firstname.lastname@example.org
DISTRIBUTION: Anyone is welcome to it, as long as I am made aware of its location.
DISCLAIMER: Buffy/Angel/Whistler = Not mine. Never gonna be mine, unless my diabolical plan for world domination succeeds and I am able to take over Joss Whedon. The rest of the characters, such as they are, are figments of my rather alarming imagination. I'm just fixing Joss-God's mess. He did a Very Mean Thing to Buffy and Angel, and I'll be damned if I'll leave it alone.
RATED: R for massive amounts of angst, some humor, some cursing, and a wee bit of emotional upheaval.
FEEDBACK: Welcomed at <email@example.com>.
DEDICATED: To THE LEATHER PANTS, from which I draw so much of my inspiration. <g> I also dedicate this to all my Sisters suffering from PBSD. To everyone on firstname.lastname@example.org -- I love you guys, and I'd have never made it without you. Thanks also go to Tamara and Laure -- they know why.
_Bat Out Of Hell_
by Lex, who hopes this makes it All Better, at least until the Premiere.
"Damn it, Jossed again!"
"And when the sun goes down
And the moonlight's shining through
Then like a sinner before the gates of heaven
I'll come crawling on back to you"
Meat Loaf "Bat Out Of Hell"
June 14, 1998 (Middle Earth Time)
Twelve members of the Committee sat at the conference table, arguing amongst themselves. They were awaiting the thirteenth member, who was perpetually tardy. That same scene had been played out, with few variations, for the last two thousand years.
A short brunette woman shouted to be heard over the din. "What he has done this time is inexcusable. It's one thing to mess up a single life, which is bad ENOUGH, but by his foolhardiness, he may end up allowing the advent of Armageddon."
An older, bald man glared at her from across the table. "Lessandra, he couldn't have known this was going to happen, that Acathla would be found, that the Slayer would be required to..."
Lessandra met his gaze. "Rathe, if he had *bothered* to do his homework, he would have been able to predict this and he *would* have realized the trouble that was brewing. He was supposed to watch Angel to make sure something like this never happened, but instead he dropped the ball. Not only did he *lose* him long enough for Angel to be made into a vampire, he then let Angel run amuck for all those years, and then, oh THEN, he let the Gypsies plague the man with an extremely stupid, inane curse."
Rathe inclined his head, noting her point. "I'm not saying that you are wrong, but blaming the entire course of events on Whistler is a bit extreme. Just because your personal feelings -- "
She stood, the look on her face cutting off his words. "Don't you EVER speak of that to me. Never again, do you hear me, Rathe? The personal relationship between Whistler and myself is none of the Committee's concern."
"ENOUGH!!," a voice boomed from the opposite end of the room. Rathe, Lessandra, and the others turned around to see who addressed them. They were shocked to see Him standing behind them. Lessandra was the first to react, dropping to her knees before Him.
"My Lord, forgive us. We did not mean to offend thee with our prattle. We are merely concerned for the Slayer."
"As am I," He continued. "But arguing amongst ourselves will get nothing done. There has to be a solution to this problem. That is your job, people. You are solution providers."
His eyes scanned over the assemblage. Lessandra still knelt before him, her cloud of brown curls obscuring her face. Rathe stood rigidly at attention, ever the soldier. The others huddled around the table. Jonas, Mae, Aidan, Simone, Crispin, Gabriel, Michael, Tamarin, Dathan, and Laetitia held themselves still, unwilling to involve themselves in an old argument.
It was into this tense scene that Whistler strolled. Every eye swung around and focused on him. He raised his hands in mock surrender. "Okay, okay, I know I'm late but --"
"No buts, Whistler, haven't you done enough?" Lessandra interrupted quickly.
She was silenced from a sharp glance from Him. Whistler paused, noting His presence. "Uhh, my Lord, I wasn't aware that you were going to be at this meeting, otherwise I --"
" -- Would have made an effort to be here on time. I know. You've not changed in the two thousand years that I've known you, so why would you change now?"
Whistler had the grace to look embarrassed.
"As I was saying to the rest of the group before your untimely arrival, we need to figure out how to get the Slayer back on track as soon as possible. Her actions are going to not only get herself killed, but when she is dead, we may just lose the fight against the Dark One."
"That's just it -- she doesn't want to live. Uh, without Angel, anyway." Whistler spoke up, trying to explain Buffy's strange actions to the rest of the Committee. "She sent him to Hell. She's not dealing well. That's about it. She's just biding her time, waiting until somebody faster and stronger gets a hold of her and then she'll finally be where she wants to be, dead in the ground. She has too much pride to take her own life, so she's gonna continue to leave herself wide open until someone else takes her up on it."
The group murmured to each other, concerned at this twist of events. Crispin stood up from his seat. "I think the solution here is obvious."
"What would that be?" Mae shot back, "Give the Slayer a stern talking-to about her duties? I think she's at the end of her rope. She's become a liability. I say we cut our losses and concentrate on training a new Slayer, one that is more capable of handling her duties."
Simone jumped up, enraged. "So you want us to let the Slayer die? After all the good she has done, after the number of times she has saved the Earth, you want to just cut her loose? Sayanara, sweetheart? Are you that unfeeling, Mae?"
Crispin cut them off with a wave of his hand. "My solution is the most direct. If Angel is a condition of the Slayer's mental health, so be it. I say we give him to her."
"I hate to point this out here, but Angel's in Hell, not in New York. It's not just a question of *airfare*," Gabriel mentioned with a frown. "He's going to have to be broken out of Hell."
Aidan smiled, the half-smile that so frightened those surrounding him. "It's not as if it's never been done before."
Abruptly, He stepped in. "You know that I cannot condone a trip into Hell to rescue Angel. It's directly violating every agreement we have in place with the Dark One. You all know that."
The Committee looked discouraged.
Then He continued. "However, having said that, if any of you were to go without my permission, well, I would have no way of knowing that and no way of punishing you."
Rathe grinned, a full toothed predators' grin. "Of course, we would never go against your wishes, my Lord."
"I'm sure, Rathe. Since none of you have ever gone behind my back..."
The Committee looked abashed. He smiled. "It's really a pity that Angel can't be broken out of Hell, because if he were, he would find that I had restored his soul completely, with no conditions. He would be free to be with the Slayer for her lifetime. But since he's in Hell, it's a moot point..."
Whistler was suddenly happy, truly happy, for the first time since Buffy had sent her boyfriend to his Eternal Damnation. They were going to save Angel, and by doing that, save Buffy too. It was all that a demon could ask.
After dispensing his non-advice, He took His leave, fading grandly from the room. The Committee members looked around to each other, relieved that there was a now a plan to save the day.
Lessandra walked back to her seat. "The only question remains is how, precisely, do we get him out? It is my understanding that Angel has to be willing to leave of his own volition. Someone just needs to go down and help him out."
All eyes once again turned towards Whistler. He backed up a few paces from the strength of their collective gaze. "Hey, hey, hey, I don't do Hell. I don't deal well under all that pressure, and the heat, I -- I burn easily. My skin is fragile. Very sensitive. I use Oil of Olay and everything."
Rathe glanced at him. "I don't see that you have a choice, Whistler. The Slayer and Angel are your responsibilities, and so far, you have made a serious hash of things. This very well may be the only way you have of redeeming yourself."
Dathan concurred. "Rathe's right, man. You have to be the one to show Angel the way out and then get him to the Slayer. You're the closest one to the situation. They trust you."
"A lot of good that did them," Lessandra snorted. Whistler glared at her.
Whistler looked around, searching for any sign of support. There was none to be found. Everyone looked pretty determined to him. Jaw clenched, eyes narrowed, he nodded. "Apparently, I don't have a choice, so I guess I'll be flying Immortal Airlines direct non-stop to the sunny gates of Hell."
The Committee was pleased.
Whistler hated Hell. A lot. With a fiery passion. Hell was the main reason he worked for The Big Guy and not the Dark One. The Big Guy's digs were so much nicer and conducive to being alive.
Grumbling to himself, he imagined himself at the gates of Hell, and he was there. Just like that, no travel time needed. One of the many perks of being an immortal demon working on the side of the angels.
//Now, to track down Angel and get us the heck out of Dodge.//
Stepping over the threshold, Whistler felt the stagnant air of Hell surround him. //Yikes, this is making my skin crawl.//
"Angel!! Yo, ANGEL!!! Where are you? Can you hear me, Angel?" he bellowed, working his way further into the interior. He continued calling, to no avail. Either Angel couldn't hear him or he was ignoring him.
//Just what I need, to be stuck in Hell with AngstMan. Could my life suck more?//
Concentrating deeply, Whistler bowed his head, mentally searching for a sign of Angel's presence. //Ah ha! There he is.// Setting off, he went off to hunt for Angel.
Angel was suffering.
He was sitting on the ground, a vast, barren nothingness spread out before him in every direction, as far as the eye could see. Since the instant the vortex closed, he had been there, on that empty plane, suffering the agony of the damned. And the worst part was, he was doing it to himself. He was putting himself through the wringer. That was his eternal fate, to torment himself. He had started with naming every person he had killed.
Then that list got to be way too long and he began to confuse himself. So then he skipped ahead to the most recent, the most significant of which was Jenny Calendar. And Kendra. He knew he hadn't physically killed Kendra himself, but he had sent Dru after her, assuring her demise.
Jenny. He had killed Jenny. Buffy's friend -- oh god -- Giles' lover. He could never forgive himself for hurting them the way he had done. Poor little Willow, she had been scared out of her mind when he had grabbed her. And Giles -- he had wounded Giles in a way that would never heal.
//How would I have felt if someone I had trusted had killed Buffy and left her body in my bed for me to find? I would have gone mad.//
He gripped his head in his hands, rocking his body back and forth. //Forgive me Father for I have sinned...Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name...Hail Mary, full of grace...// Words from his Catholic childhood tumbled through his mind, taunting him with their false promises of salvation.
Of all the things he had ever done in his centuries of existence, what he had done to her was the worst. Buffy, the one who had always accepted him for what he was, had always loved him no matter what he had done, had gone against the wishes of all those who were important to her to be with him, not to mention going against her sacred duty. She had always valiantly stood up to all those that came between them, disallowing them to interfere with her heart.
And how did he repay her unconditional love, her trust, her faith? He betrayed her, mocked her, murdered her friends in cold blood. There was no torment enough to make him pay for what he had done.
There could be no amends. Ever.
Even if she forgave him, he could never go back to her, never allow himself the safe haven of her embrace, of her love. He could never allow himself to be welcomed back into her arms.
That was, of course, assuming there was a way out of Hell. Angel couldn't bring himself to care either way. Life was not worth living without her, and no matter what, he couldn't be with her, so any way you cut it, he lost.
But he deserved this loss. It was his penance, to have the one thing he cared about more than anything, ripped from his grasp. It was fitting. He ruined the lives of so many, and this was payback. And was it ever a bitch.
Suddenly, he heard his name being called, in a nasal New York accent that could belong to only one man -- er, demon. Whistler.
//Hell just got worse. If such a thing were possible.//
"Angel! Buddy, pal. How've you been, man?"
Angel raised his head from his knees. He regarded Whistler from red rimmed eyes. "I'm in Hell. How do you think I am?"
"And I see Hell hasn't improved your disposition one bit."
"Whistler, not to make it seem that I'm not grateful for your company -- actually, I'm not grateful for your company -- but could you go away? I have an eternity of serious brooding stretching before me, and I'd really like to get to it, if you don't mind."
Whistler shook his head. "Tsk, tsk, tsk. Now is that any way to treat the man who has come to rescue you from the depths of Hell?"
"I don't deserve to be rescued. I deserve Hell for what I've done."
Looking up, Whistler sighed. //Do *I* deserve to listen to this whining, angst-ridden crap?//
"Listen, you need to want to leave here before we can go, so get to it, will ya?"
Stubbornly, Angel shook his head. "No. I'm staying here, where I can't do any more harm."
//This is going to be one heck of a long night,// Whistler thought as he rubbed his eyes. Then, suddenly, the light bulb over his head went on.
"Okay, Angel, I'll buy the you-deserving-Hell concept. But does Buffy?" The demon mentally rubbed his hands with glee. //Got him by the short hairs this time.//
"Buffy? What about Buffy?" Angel questioned as he stood, advancing towards Whistler.
Whistler shook his head. "Nothing. It's just -- nah, you don't want to know, with you being in Hell and all."
"Well, Buffy's playing a pretty impressive game of Russian roulette with the demons back on earth. She's pretty much dared them to kill her. I think she's got too much pride to do herself in, so she's waiting for one of them to kill her. Odds are, one of these days one of them will succeed."
Angel let out a low pitched moan of agony as he lunged at Whistler. The shorter man dove out of the way of the enraged vampire.
"And you LET her do this to herself?" Angel howled, horrified at the thought of Buffy dead.
"Like I have a choice? Like I could go up to her and say, Hey Buff, you mind not trying to kill yourself while I'm on watch? She'd slay me and move on."
"You could talk to her, convince her to live."
"What for? According to her, her only reason for living was sent to Hell by her own hand."
Frozen in place, Angel could only stare at Whistler. "You mean -- you mean this is all because of me? She's trying to die --"
"-- She's trying to die so that she'll finally be with you again."
Angel shut his eyes, shaken to the core by the thought that Buffy was willing to die to be with him. //I love her so much...but I'll kill her if she hurts herself.// Nodding slowly, Angel accepted his fate. "I'll go get her, knock some sense into her, and then that's it! I'm never going near her again. She'll be better off."
Whistler snorted. "Oh, yeah, *that* will work." Angel, buddy o' mine, have you not realized yet that Buffy's not a normal girl?"
"But it's not her fault that she's not!" Angel protested, jumping immediately to Buffy's defense.
"I never said it was, but the fact remains, she's not. She's not completely human, and because of that, she'll never be able to love anyone else like she loves you."
"That makes no sense, Whistler."
"But it does, my friend. Because Slayers tend not to live past the ripe old age of 23, everything about them is enhanced. If you ask Buffy, she'd tell you that she physically matured very early."
"And this has what to do with me?"
"Damn, you still have no patience. You really need to work on that, Mr. Let's-Destroy-The-World." Shaking his head in frustration, Whistler continued. "She feels things differently than other mortals, because she's not really one of them. Every emotion she feels is stronger. It was The Big Guy's way of repaying them for sending them off to their doom. When she hates, it's forever, because her forever is probably only going to be a few more years."
Angel winced, stricken by the thought of Buffy as the Slayee instead of the Slayer.
"Are you getting it yet? When she loves, that's forever too. That's the only reason I'm here, really. Oh, sure, the Committee was sad to see you go, but you were expendable. Not like her. But the fact is, she can't or won't live without you. So, she gets you. Got it."
Angel sighed, dropping his head into his hands. "I just don't know..."
Reaching over, Whistler grabbed him. "Let's get a move on, shall we? Time's a wastin'. You can angst on the way."
Angel took his hand, and then there was nothing.
Sighing loudly, Buffy slumped against the unforgiving brick of the apartment building. She was tired and filthier than she had ever been before, and she just couldn't bring herself to care.
//Like it matters that I'm a total skank? I don't think so. The vamps don't care that I'm not a beauty queen, and since they're all that matter...//
Suddenly, she heard a loud scream, and the sounds of a physical confrontation. She jumped to her feet and headed towards the piercing sound. The scream sounded again, this time from the alley. Flying around the corner, Buffy came face to face with what she had least expected.
She had been anticipating the normal cause of noctournal trouble -- a vampire. But this was no vampire; instead it was a mortal boy, perhaps fifteen years old, holding a knife to the throat of an even younger street urchin.
Slowing down, Buffy raised her hands, palms up. "Whoa, whoa, calm down there. It's okay. Really. You don't have to do that." Carefully, she advanced on the pair. "How about you put that knife down and we talk about it?"
The boy sneered at her. "Fuck off, bitch."
"Okay, so you're gonna take the non-verbal approach. I can deal." She shrugged, trying to edge closer to them.
Whimpering, the smaller child tried to avoid the knife. Buffy met her scared eyes, trying to convey calmness.
"C'mon, you don't want her when you can have me."
The boy's eyed darted from his captive to Buffy, rapidly back and forth. "Why should I do that?" he questioned, not realizing that Buffy was gaining ground on him.
Buffy shrugged again. "I don't know...except maybe it would have saved you this?" Quicker than the boy could see, she wrenched the little girl away from him, shoving her in the direction of the alley, and then wrenched the knife out of his hands. Buffy watched the little girl take off, frightened out of her mind.
Buffy turned her attention back to the boy after that split second's distraction, but that split second was all it took for the kid to pull another knife out of his jacket and stab her through the abdomen.
Buffy let out a low groan as the knife sliced through her gut, blood pouring out even before the knife stopped its deadly motion.
The boy looked down at the blood covering his hand and paled. Ripping the knife from her, he turned and ran out of the alley as fast as his legs could carry him.
Staggering backwards, Buffy clutched her abdomen in a futile attempt to halt the flow of blood. She fell to the ground, whimpering in pain. She started to shake, suddenly freezing cold.
She gave a short, humorless laugh through her chattering teeth. //Killed by a mortal. How embarrassing. Giles would be so humiliated...oh, Giles, I'm so sorry, so sorry for all of it...//
Buffy knew that she was going to die there in that filthy alley, and she took some small comfort that her friends would not see her like this, as she was right then. It was better that they remember her as the Slayer, as the girl who could handle anything, not as the pathetic scrap of humanity that she had become. She curled more closely around herself, moaning slightly as she jarred the torn flesh.
As her life drained out of her, she found herself thinking of only one thing -- her beloved, precious Angel, whom she had betrayed in every way possible. She could almost imagine that he was there before her, reaching out to her...she stretched out her hand, whispering his name.
His face was the last thing Buffy Summers saw before she died.
The next thing Angel knew, he was on a streetcorner in LA. "What the hell...?" Whistler turned around to look at him. "She's here somewhere, we just have to find her.
"Where IS she?" Angel demanded, reaching over to grab the smaller man.
"I don't KNOW, man, I can't..."
"You can't WHAT?" Angel bellowed, completely losing his cool. "Why can't you feel her, damn it?" Just then, he gasped, his hands grasping his stomach. Ice filled his veins. "It's her," he gasped out, "She's been hurt." He took off running, guided by an unexplicable awareness of her.
Whistler had no choice but to follow him.
Angel got there too late. Running into the alley, he found her, lying in a pool of her own blood. He froze, agony tearing through his heart. Dropping to his knees before her, he reached out a tentative hand to her face.
"Buffy," he called her name softly, willing her to wake up. "Buffy, wake up and talk to me." He gathered her into his arms, rocking her gently, unable to comprehend her stillness.
Whistler, completely out of breath, finally caught up to Angel, who had been moving with the speed of one possessed. The sight before him rendered him speechless. It just wasn't possible, after all they had just been through, that Buffy had died anyway.
Angel was on his knees, the limp Slayer laid out across his lap. He was calling her name, hoarsely begging her to come back to him, the blood tears streaming unashamedly down his face.
Finally finding his voice, Whistler spoke up. "Angel, man, I'm so sorry..." He trailed off, unable to think of anything even remotely comforting to say to the man whose heart was clearly breaking in two right before Whistler's horrified gaze.
Angel raised his head, and the look on his face made Whistler's gut lurch. His eyes were empty of anything, dead, cold, unfeeling. "This is not what she deserved, dying by herself in a gutter. She saved the world countless times, and this is how you thank her? By letting a punk with a knife do what innumerable demons tried to do and failed?" The words welled out of him on a tremendous tide of bitterness. "If this is how you treat your Chosen One, then I'm glad I wasn't so lucky."
Whistler closed his eyes, unable to believe what was happening. Angel focused his attention back on his lover. Tenderly, he brushed the hair out of her eyes, noting dispassionately the scratches marring the beauty of her face.
"She's gone, Whistler. And I --," Angel's voice broke, unable to finish his sentence. He began to sob, throat rasping out his agonized cries. Setting his jaw against the flood of tears, Angel continued. "I never got to tell her again that I loved her. She died not knowing how much she means to me, how much I need her..." Dropping his head to rest against hers, Angel let the tears flow freely.
Whistler strode over to his friend, placing a comforting hand on Angel's shoulder. "C'mon, man, let's get out of here. We'll take her someplace nice and -- and --" He found that he couldn't complete the thought -- the concept of Buffy encased in the ground was just not happening.
Angel shrugged off Whistler's touch. "NO!," he shouted, "NO!! DAMN IT!!! I CAN'T LET HER GO!" With that, he began to shake her violently, grasping her shoulders and roughly jerking her body back and forth. Buffy's body shook limply, like a rag doll.
Whistler reached down to stop Angel's frantic motions. "Angel -- ANGEL, man, stop it, stop it, STOP IT, damn it, Angel, she's gone. GONE. You can't bring her back. You can't do it. I can't do it. No one can do it."
Angel looked up at him, tearstained face reproaching him. "That's not true, Whistler. You know that's not true. She can be brought back. If I can be brought out of Hell, she can be brought back to life. Please, please. I'll do anything. They can take my soul back, they can send me back to Hell, I'll go willingly, just let her live. She's so good, she deserves to live her life, a normal life. Please," Angel begged, his heart in his eyes.
Whistler swallowed hard. It could be done. It wouldn't be simple, but then again, nothing involving these two was simple. The Big Guy could do it. He could restore Buffy's life, and Angel's soul, and give them happily ever after. If He was in the mood. And that was a big if. But they deserved that chance. If nothing else, Whistler could at least try.
Nodding, Whistler held out a hand, and pulled Angel, bearing Buffy's body as though it were a piece of the most delicate glass, up to his feet. "All right. Now let me tell you a little something about where we're going. It's the Committee Headquarters."
Angel opened his mouth as though he was going to say something.
Whistler cut him off. "Don't say nothing until I'm finished, please. It's a long story, but I'm gonna give you the Cliff Notes version. The Committee is made up of angels and good demons working together to keep the balance of good and evil constant in the world. It's supervised by the Big Guy himself. We're basically His problem solvers. He has a problem with something, one of us gets dispatched to fix it. I'm in charge of both you and the Slayer. Because I didn't do my job so good, they're kind of after me, but that's a story for another time. I'm gonna take us there now. I don't want you to speak until I say it's okay. Trust me, they'll eat you alive if you offend them, and then Buffy stands no chance whatsoever. Capisce?"
Angel nodded dumbly, trying to absorb the concept of a group of angels and demons presiding over the world. He clasped Buffy more firmly to his chest and dropped a kiss on her forehead. "Soon, my love, soon."
Whistler grasped Angel by the shoulders, and suddenly, they were at Headquarters.
Angel looked around in awe. "*This* is Headquarters?"
Whistler ignored him, and started to walk down a long corridor. Angel hurried after him, attempting not to gawk at the people he saw standing around. For all intents and purposes, it looked like an office building, complete with partitioned cubicles and upwardly mobile young professionals.
After walking for what seemed like hours, Whistler stopped at a large oak door at the end of the hallway. Motioning with his hands for Angel to be silent, he knocked once on the old wood. From within, several voices chorused, "Come in."
Stepping over the threshold, Whistler entered, followed by a still, wan Angel. Angel's eyes widened as he noted the people already present in the room. Reflexively, he clutched Buffy closer to him, as though to protect her from unforeseen threats.
His motion was noted by every being that sat on the Committee. Rathe and Lessandra stood, and hastened over the new arrivals. "What is the meaning of this?" Rathe questioned, clearly not pleased with the turn of events.
Whistler paled. "Weeeellllll, you see, I managed to get my boy here out of Hell, but by the time we got Earthside, Buffy had been killed by some two bit punk with a knife. So, I figured that if we appealed to The Big Guy, we might be able to --"
Lessandra interjected. "You want to reanimate her? Have you completely lost what little mind you have left?"
He shook his head violently. "Nononononono. No reanimation. I just want Him to do that thing He does where He waves His hand and presto chango, she's alive."
Tamarin dropped her head into her hands. In a muffled voice, she said, "That's it. The Earth is doomed." Crispin patted her consolingly on the back. "There, there, Tamarin. It will be okay. He will save her, He has to, she's His favorite."
Looking from face to face, Angel searched for some sign of compassion, for some irrefutable proof that one of these creatures would be willing to help them. Whistler shook his head. "We have to do something, the longer we wait from the time she first died, the harder it's gonna be."
Lessandra walked up to Angel, hand outstretched placatingly. "Angel, I want to say first how deeply sorry I and the other members of the Committee are for your loss, we realize --"
Angel cut her off by snarling, "She's not gone yet. I won't let her be gone. The world needs her. And *I* need her."
"I quite agree, " a powerful voice said from the corner. Everyone whirled around.
A chorus of "my Lords" sounded through the conference room. He acknowledged them with a majestic wave of His hand. Angel was frozen to the spot, struck dumb at the sight before him. Before he could actually connect his brain to his mouth, he blurted, "You don't really look like my mental image of God."
There was a collective intake of breath. Whistler cringed, drawing his head down to his shoulders, like a turtle crawling into its shell. The Big Guy HATED that comment. Big time.
Angel closed his eyes. //Well, that was fucking brilliant, Tact Guy.//
Suddenly, The Big Guy laughed. The chuckles poured from him, shaking his large frame. The Committee smiled weakly, unsure if this was some divine trap. Angel's eyes widened. //Is this good, or is this bad?//
Walking over to Angel, The Big Guy clapped a big hand on his shoulder. "Well, young man, my name is -- "
"-- DON'T SAY IT OUT LOUD!!," all thirteen members of the Committee screeched in unison. The Big Guy looked perturbed.
Laetitia hastened to explain. "My Lord, you know what happens when you say your true name out loud..."
He smiled. "Oh, yes. Right, right. Very good." Continuing, he spoke to Angel. "Young man...I feel silly calling you Angel, by the by...Anyway, I understand that this beautiful woman you hold in your arms is my Slayer."
Shifting her slight weight in his arms, Angel nodded. "Yes, sir, uh, my Lord, this is Buffy Summers."
The Big Guy reached out a hand and stroked her cheek. "And you love her, even though you are a demon and she is the mortal enemy to your kind?"
Angel nodded once more. "I love her more than anything in the world. She is my world. I have nothing, I *am* nothing without her."
"And so you stand here before me, with her dead body clutched desperately in your arms, ready to beg me for her life."
Angel's eyes flashed with something akin to anger. "Yes, my Lord. I was cast from your graces long ago, but not her. She has done nothing but serve you from the time she learned of her destiny."
"You would do anything, say anything, to save her?"
"Anything, my Lord."
"You would forfeit your life?"
"Without a second's hesitation."
Looking into Angel's eyes, The Big Guy smiled ruthlessly. "She is worth all this to you? Why?"
Whistler winced as he saw Angel bristle under the scrutiny. //C'mon, c'mon, Angel, you're almost home free. Just take it for a few minutes more.//
Angel looked at her, seeming to draw strength from the very sight of her. "Because she loves me."
"She loves you so much she abandoned her duty."
Twitching, Angel tried to restrain his game face from appearing. Somehow, he didn't think The Big Guy would appreciate a snarling vampire in his midst.
Slowly, carefully, he spoke. "She never ABANDONED her duty. She's dead now because of her duty."
The Big Guy shook his head. "No, no, no. She should have killed you the instant you lost your soul. But she was too busy writhing under you, moaning out her pleasure, to care."
Suddenly, before either man could react, Lessandra strode forward, placing herself between a tightly wound Angel and a scornful deity. "Gentlemen, I would ask, for the Slayer's sake, that you do not speak of her in this manner. She is unable to defend herself, or give an account of events."
Tamarin stood up. "I agree with Lessandra. We do not know the Slayer's reasons, and after all the good she has done, it would be unfair to judge her thusly."
One by one, each female member of the Committe stood and voiced her agreement.
The Big Guy looked from stern face to stern face. He shrugged his shoulder and raised his hands. "Okay, okay, I know when I'm outnumbered." Then he grinned, and clapped Angel on the shoulder. "Very well, young man. Today's your lucky day. You get your soul back, free and clear. Permanently. Irrevocably."
Angel nodded. "Thank you, my Lord. I'm honored. But what about Buffy?"
The grin faded from his face. "I give you this gift and you ask for more?"
"Respectfully, my Lord, my soul means nothing without her."
Throughout the exchange, The Big Guy watched Angel, noting his clenched jaw, his taut muscles, the anger he was barely holding in check. He smiled minutely. //I like this man. Even though he *is* a demon.//
The Big Guy sighed dramatically. "Very well then. Consider your wishes granted. Welcome to happily ever after."
With that, Buffy coughed and stirred in Angel's arms.
The Committee jumped at the sound, amazed that he had done it.
But their reaction was nothing compared to Angel's. He gasped, looking down into her face. //She's alive. Alive.// His brain was on meltdown; he couldn't seem to speak.
She looked up at him, confused and disoriented. "Angel? What's going on?"
Angel continued to stare, unable to form the words. Suddenly, Buffy whimpered, her memory returning. Her eyes welled up with tears, and she closed them, the tears spilling down her face. "A-a-angel? Is it really you?" She raised a shaking hand to his face, caressing his cheek. He leaned into her touch, nuzzling himself against her, desperate for the feel of her after all this time.
He opened his mouth to speak, to tell her what had happened, but instead of the words he had planned, a sob erupted, heralding an onslaught of tears.
Amazed, Buffy stared into Angel's beloved face, unable to believe that he was really there. She wrapped her arms around his head, drawing his face into the safety of her neck. Clutching him to her, she stroked his head as he sobbed brokenheartedly.
The Committee noted with interest the oddity of a Slayer willingly baring her throat to a vampire. What was said about the couple must be true, the love between them was so obvious it was tangible.
The Big Guy stood near them, an oddly pleased smile on his face.
After a few moments of basking in Buffy's affection, Angel pulled himself together, for the first time remembering just *where* they were. He looked at her. "Hi."
"Hi, yourself. Long time no see."
"I was...unavoidably detained," he said with a wry grin.
Her gaze clouded with tears as her brow furrowed. "Oh, Angel, I'm so sorr--" Angel cut her off with a quick kiss. "Later, my love, later. We'll worry about all the old stuff later. First I want to introduce you to someone." With that he let go of her legs, allowing her to stand on her own, all the while keeping a firm grip on her. "This is...well, this is...," he trailed off, not sure of what to say.
Buffy looked up into the face of The Big Guy. "So you're my boss."
The Big Guy chuckled. "I guess you could say that."
Arching an eyebrow, Buffy grinned ruthlessly. "I think it's time for a raise, don't you?"
The Committee recoiled, bracing for the divine wrath that was soon to follow on the heels of Buffy's careless statement.
Eyes wide, Angel snaked a hand around to cover her mouth. Shaking him off, she advanced on The Big Guy. "Oh, no, Angel, I've been waiting for this moment ever since I was Chosen."
Looking down his nose, The Big Guy asked, "You have a problem with your destiny? What precisely do you want?"
"I *want* to beat the shit out of you, but since you're the Almighty, it would be pretty pointless."
By this point, the Committe in its entirety was pressed up against the back wall of the conference room. All thirteen members had their eyes closed and their fingers crossed. Angel was right behind Buffy, silently begging his girlfriend to shut up.
The Almighty smiled coldly. "Is that right, little girl?"
"Yeah, that's right. You Chose me, ruined my life, hurt my family, hurt my friends, forced me to send Angel TO HELL, LET ME GO CRAZY, AND ALLOWED ME TO DIE IN A POOL OF MY OWN BLOOD IN SOME SLEAZEMOID ALLEY IN LA!!!"
Whistler winced. //We're all going to suffer for this one.//
Just then, The Big Guy raised a hand, readying himself to smite the annoying wench. With a yelp, Whistler dove between the two of them. "Whoa, whoa, whoa, let's step back here and take a look at the tension in this room here."
The Big Guy waved his hand. "Whistler, get out of my way. I'm going to give this impertinent chit what she deserves."
Hearing that, Angel snarled and vamped out, shoving Buffy behind his back. "You have to go through me first."
Whistler's eyes locked with Angel's. "Wrong. He has to go through ME first."
"Gladly!" The Big Guy raised the hand again.
"STOP IT!!!!," a voice shrieked from the back. Lessandra rushed forward. "Stop this insanity! Right this second!" She flung herself in front of Whistler. "My Lord, we cannot condone this action. This is madness! She is Your faithful servant. You would kill her because she spoke her mind? Because she spoke the truth? She was never given a choice. All that has happened to her in her life has been out of her control. I think she is perfectly within her rights to say what she has."
The Big Guy's eyes narrowed. Everyone in the room held their breath, whether they actually needed the oxygen or not. His face was expressionless. "Lessandra, you never learned to hold your tongue." He crooked a finger at Buffy. "Slayer, come here."
Buffy looked up into Angel's worried gaze. Certain she was going to die her final death, she kissed the palm of her right hand and pressed it against his chest, right where his heart was. "Forever, my love. For all eternity and beyond, no matter how long it takes."
Angel covered her tiny hand with his much larger one as he repeated the vow, his eyes suspiciously moist.
Shoulders squared, she turned to meet her fate.
She stood proudly before The Big Guy, showing no fear. He looked at her, noting everything about her carriage: her straight back, her rigid spine, her defiant chin.
At his inspection, her chin went up even farther.
And then He chuckled.
The Committee's eyes widened. This was downright abnormal behavior from him.
Reaching out a great hand, he placed it on Buffy's head. "Be well, Slayer, and continue on your path. You are the greatest Slayer I will ever have, so you are allowed a few impertinences."
Buffy smiled, as all her anger towards this man flooded away from her. He was only doing what was best for mankind, and she understood that. Dropping to her knees before him, she took his hand in both of hers and kissed the back. "As I forgive you, my Lord."
She smiled impishly at him.
He smiled back, and the Committee let out the breath they hadn't realized they were holding.
"I'll be in touch," he continued, clutching her hand. She nodded, stepping back from him. With one fond smile, he disappeared as suddenly as he had arrived.
The inhabitants of the room were left to stare in amazement at the spot which he had just occupied. And then they looked at each other, jaws dropping from the shock.
Buffy was the first to move, finding her way back into Angel's waiting embrace. "Well, I'd say that went well."
Slowly, Whistler regained the power of speech. "Uh, yeah, you could say that, if you don't count the part where HE ALMOST KILLED YOU!"
She shrugged. "I called his bluff."
Angel moaned and covered his eyes with his hands, finally realizing the import of the situation. "Buffy, you took an awful risk..."
"It had to be said. And now everything is fine." She looked around the room, for the first time noticing all the faces. "Uh, hi. Um, how is everybody?"
The Committee assembled themselves in front of her, all wanting to have their turn talking to the Slayer. One by one, they introduced themselves. Buffy smiled and nodded at each of them.
From the corner of the room, Angel stood, amused. He watched Buffy greet the Committee like a queen of old, sure in her position in the scheme of things. He caught Whistler's eye, and they both grinned.
Whistler jerked his head to the side, indicating his desire to leave. Angel answered him with a quick nod. He stepped up to Buffy's side, drawing her attention away from Dathan, who was attempting to entertain her with a story.
"Buff, I think it's time to go. We've taken up enough of the Committee's time."
She looked up at him and nodded. She smiled at the Committee and thanked them profusely. The men stuttered and blushed at the impact of her killer smile.
Taking her hand, Angel turned, and together, they followed Whistler out of the room.
Once in the hallway, Angel spoke again.
"Drop us off in Vegas," Angel said, turning towards Whistler.
Buffy's jaw dropped. "You just got out of Hell and you want to go gamble? Haven't you gambled enough for this lifetime?"
Angel shot a withering glare at her. "No, I don't want to *gamble*. The last time I checked, Las Vegas is the closest place you can get married with no waiting and no blood tests."
Her eyes goggled. "M-mmarried?" she squeaked.
"We've just been given your life back, and if you think I am going to let you out of my sight for even ONE SECOND, you are sorely mistaken."
Whistler looked on, seriously amused by the turn of events. //Damn, there's gonna be a happily ever after after all. I love that.//
"But-but, *married*? Isn't that, well, I don't know, sudden?"
Angel grasped her by the shoulders, forcing her to meet his gaze. "Buffy, in my heart I married you the day I gave you that ring. From that point on, it was 'till death do us part'. It may have taken a while for us, but we're finally there." Reaching for her hand, he kissed her ring. "You know the line, 'with this ring I thee wed'." Then he kissed her hand, tongue darting out to lick the skin. "With my body I thee worship."
She gasped, tears welling up in her eyes.
Uncaring that Whistler was watching, Angel dropped to one knee before her. "Buffy, I love you. I love you more than I love my own life. And quite frankly, the thought of my life without you in it makes me want to take a walk in the sun. So, in attempt to prevent a serious sunburn on my part, will you please do me the immense honor of becoming my wife?"
Laughing through her tears, she threw her arms around him, tumbling them both onto the floor. "Yes. Yesyesyesyesyesyes."
He grinned, and drew her head down to his for a kiss that left her aching and needy. So needy that she settled herself closer to his body, her own arching into his.
Whistler cleared his throat. Loudly. "Uh, guys, I'm not needing this imagery."
The couple peered guiltily up at him. "Sorry about that. We just got a little carried away."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. As soon as I'm outta this joint, you two can make with all the smoochies you want." Whistler stood before them. "I'm gonna zap you in front of the Elvis Chapel O' Love, presided over by The Reverends Tamara and Lex. They'll help you get hitched; after that, you're on your own.
Buffy smiled at him, an old Buffy -- a Buffy before Angelus -- smile. An honest to goodness, genuine, happy smile. "Thanks, Whistler. See you around, huh?"
"You know it, babe. You know it." With that, there was a blinding flash of light and they were gone.
Whistler dusted his hands together. "All in a day's work. And what a day it was." He turned around to walk back to the conference room. He had some SERIOUS explaining to do. He just hoped The Big Guy was in a good mood. He was not looking forward to the boils and the blinding torment. At all.
AND THEY ALL LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER, DAMN IT.