The Threefold Cord

Title:  The Threefold Cord

Authors: M. Edison and Christina A.
Fandoms: Angel, Buffy, Highlander
Pairings/Characters: Angel/Grace (OC), the entire
Angel gang, Duncan MacLeod, Buffy, Giles
Disclaimer: The only one we own is Grace. We wish we owned them all,
but alas… we don’t.
Archive: At Ink-and-Quill Anywhere else, just ask.
Authors’ Note: We’re doing a bit of timeline jumping in our little
universe. This story actually comes after ‘Seeing the Other Side’ and
before ‘When You Come Back to Me Again’. Thanks to Julie.

Summary: fourth in the ‘Destiny’ series


*-*-*

The Threefold Cord Part 1
by Christina A. and M. Edison

Giles hung up the phone and took off his glasses. That phone call had
been interesting to say the least. He had mixed emotions about whether
or not to tell the Slayer. It was… well it was shocking. Wesley, a
fired Watcher, had been in contact with a friend about a prophecy
concerning an Immortal. He didn’t want to know how Wesley found out about
Immortals.

The phone call had not only verified that Wesley had learned about the
prophecy, but that it had come true. They’d been keeping an eye on
Angel since he left Sunnydale. Angel knew too much to simply leave him
alone. How did he tell Buffy that Angel had found perfect happiness with
someone and had not lost his soul? This was one of those moments when
he had to remind himself that he loved his job.

Sighing resolutely, he rubbed his eyes before putting on his glasses
and sought out the Slayer.

*-*-*

Buffy was in the magic shop, sitting at the table with books, when
Giles found her. Closing her book with a loud thump, the Slayer sat back
with a cheerful smile. “Hey, Giles, what’s up?” He didn’t look too happy,
whatever was wrong.

“Buffy,” he paused, sat down and then stood up again. He took off his
glasses and put them on the table. “I just received a phone call from
the Watcher Counsel.” He simply had no idea how to tell her this. “It’s
about Angel.” Knowing that would cause a panic in her, he quickly
added, “It’s nothing bad, don’t worry.”

Pushing down the wave of fear, Buffy let her gaze settle on the
glasses. “Okay, so no bad, why’d they call you then? He planning a move and
forget to leave change of address cards?”

Giles sat down in front of her. He was her watcher, sworn to train and
guide her. But truth was, Buffy was like a daughter to him. “He
hasn’t moved, no. But he has made some life changes. Some major ones if you
want to know the truth.”

“Major? How?” Leaning forward, her blonde hair fell to frame her face
as she waited for his answer. “Giles, why are you wigging on this? You
just said he’s fine so why are you so freaked out?”

He sighed and mentally chastised himself. “It’s about the curse. You
see, about the time that Angel’s soul was restored there was a prophecy
about a way he could circumvent it, so to speak. It seems he can find
perfect happiness so long as he finds the right woman.”

The world went numb and Buffy flashed back on the events after she and
Angel… how he’d gone back to being Angelus. All the pain that had
been dealt, on both sides. All that… “Obviously,” she said with a false
smile. “It wasn’t me…I take it he’s found this woman?”

Reaching out, he took her hand with his and offered a smile. It was
weak at best. “He has. She’s what is called an Immortal. She’s about
1000 years old, and perfectly fits all the criteria set forth in the
prophecy. So yes, he’s found her.” He would have rather removed his
eyeteeth than hurt her. This was tearing him up inside.

“Older woman huh?” The Slayer’s smile was shaky. “Y’know, I really
don’t have much room to be reacting like this…I mean, I moved on… he
had the right too… but,” She shook her head. “Is this how he felt when
he found out about Riley? Cause if it is…” She shook her head again.

He squeezed her hand in earnest. He never lied to her. “I’d imagine
so. Yes. And it is natural… moving on. No matter how much you may
not want to, there comes a time when it has to happen.”

“Still hurts.” Buffy mumbled, her eyes on their hands. “Giles… I don’t
mean to be rude, but why tell me now?”

“The vampire that we chased out of town the other day is heading to LA.
I’m not sure of all the signs yet, but you are the only one to stop
her, and I think, if what I see is correct, you’re going to need Angel’s
help, and the help of the Immortal. Buffy, you need to go to Los
Angeles and see Angel. I’ll go with you, of course, if you want me to?”

“I want you too.” She replied immediately, without thought. “I want you
too.”

“Then I go.”

*-*-*

Pulling her sword back just in time, Grace managed to avoid cutting her
opponent. The object was to get in shape, not wound. Besides, he
healed but not as fast as she did. “Almost stepped into that one,” she
couldn’t help but tease.

Angel grinned at her. “It’s that tank top… how’s a man supposed to
keep his mind on business with you traipsing around in that thing?”

She laughed hard at that, but didn’t break her concentration. “But you
see, I do that on purpose. Anything that distracts my opposition gives
me an advantage. Something my mother taught me.” She moved in again
and scored a move that could have been a kill. Kissing his cheek, she
smiled. “Almost back to normal. Thank goodness.”

“I’d say you’re back to normal.” Angel grinned, pulling her against him
for a deeper kiss. “Kicking my ass and keeping the rest of me off
balance.”

“But I love your ass,” she smiled, smacking his behind. It was one of
her favorite parts of his anatomy. Ah hell, she loved it all. “And of
course, I can stop wearing the tank tops if you want me to, but you
know the alternative.” She grinned evilly.

He smirked. “I end up getting knocked down before we even get started?”

“Isn’t that how it always goes?” Cordy questioned from the doorway,
earning her an exasperated look from Angel.

“What is it?” The vampire asked, noticing how the young woman seemed
torn between uncertainty and excitement.

“Umm… there’s someone here to see you.”

“Who?”

“Just come on…” Turning, Cordelia left the room, leaving Angel and
Grace sharing the same bewildered expression.

Resting her sword on her shoulder, Grace shrugged and said, “You know
how she is. She’ll be calling if we don’t get moving.” With her free
hand, she took Angel’s and pulled him toward her. Filling her space
with his, which was normal, Grace was talking about how Cordelia would act
if they delayed when she felt a change in Angel.

Stunned, the vampire’s gaze locked on the small blonde standing in the
doorway and his grip reflexively tightened on Grace as he stiffened.
“Buffy…”

Staring back at them, not sure whether to be angry, hurt, or happy for
them, the Slayer offered a faint smile. “Angel.”

Grace’s face ran the myriad of emotions. She’d honestly never believed
this would happen. The girl, and she truly was just that, was
beautiful and very, very spunky. Grace’s sword fell to the floor with a clang
and she offered Buffy a smile. “I’m Grace,” she said softly, although
she hadn’t been introduced. Truth was, if Angel’s grip hadn’t
tightened, she’d wonder if they even realized she was in the room. First love
was so very powerful.

Eyes focusing in on the older blonde, Buffy was unsure of how to
proceed. The first time Angel and Riley had met they’d fought, and she didn’t
want that to happen here. Especially not with Angel standing right
there, still holding Grace.

“It’s… it’s… hmm…” Shrugging, she went for honest. “Frankly, it’s
weird meeting you but nice to meet you anyway.”

If Angel had breath to hold, he would have been holding it up to that
point… he’d never expected this to happen… but now that it was… he
honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or lose it. Lose it was looking
quite attractive.

It was eerie at times, but Grace could almost sense Angel’s emotional
turmoil. With a supportive squeeze, she left his side and extended her
hand toward the Slayer. “It’s my pleasure to meet you,” and she meant
that, “I’ve heard so much about you, I feel as if I already know you.”

Glancing at Cordelia, she scrunched her eyes a bit, but continued, “And
yes, it’s weird, but still an honor.”

Buffy smiled self-consciously as she returned the shake, this woman was
obviously the love of Angel’s life. A position she’d once thought she
occupied. It was obvious by the look in his eyes. The concern with which
he was watching the situation told her that. She could also tell he was
trying to find a polite way to ask why she’d come. It obviously wasn’t
to catch up since their last visit.

“Vampire headed this way.” She answered, before he could speak. “Giles
thinks something very big, and very bad, is about to go down.”

Giles nodded and glanced over at the man who served as Angel’s watcher
and gave him the once over. “It is big,” he said, more to himself than
anyone else. “Very nasty.” Knowing Buffy would be okay for the moment,
he walked toward Wesley, intending to see what kind of information the
boy had.

Grace returned to Angel’s side, her eyes locked on his face, though she
knew he was still looking at the Slayer. She wanted this to be as easy
as possible, so she’d made an attempt at friendship with her. But she
also knew about the difficulties of this situation. Small talk would be
for later, she understood. “I’m not too fond of big and nasty,” she
said. “There are no Immortals involved, are there?”

Giles shrugged. He honestly didn’t know.

“They usually find you sooner or later,” Angel teased, finding his
equilibrium. “So if there are, we’ll find out soon enough.”

She sighed and closed her eyes. Whispering to him, she said, “I’ll
find out before anyone else, I’m sure.”

Confusion showed in Buffy’s eyes along with envy as she watched them
interact.

“You can handle it.” The vampire reminded his Immortal lover. “You’ve
handled every other Immortal that’s shown up here… you’ll handle any
that’s involved here.”

“I’m not worried about me. I have no doubt that I can handle it. We
need to find out what we’re up against.” It was indeed bad if the
Slayer had to be here for it as well. The prophecy spoke of Grace and
Angel’s invincibility as a team, so for an addition to be added it had to be
bad.

“We will… Two Watchers are better than one right?” He countered
gently with a smile, rubbing his hands up and down her arms, oblivious now
to Buffy’s presence.

She chuckled lightly. Worry vanishing, as it always did, with his mere
touch. “A Watcher and an ex-Watcher, who loves to research the bad
guy.” Her hands on his chest, she locked eyes with him and said, “We
will.”

*-*-*

“Eureka!”

Eyebrows raising, Buffy looked to Angel. “Eureka?”

He shrugged. “It’s a thing he does.”

“I don’t remember him doing that in Sunnydale…”

“He does a lot of things here he didn’t there.” Cordelia interrupted as
Wesley crossed over to set a book before Giles, the two men leaning
together as they debated a page.

“And I thought it was traditionally British,” Grace added with a laugh.

Giles looked up at Wesley, his glasses hitting the desk. The former
Watcher was good, damn good. “This is very bad.” He looked over at the
group and sighed. “Is she as good as the prophecy says? She’ll need to
be.”

Wesley met the other man’s gaze, quite conscious of the fact he was a
drastically different man than the one that had left Sunnydale, with a
serious look. “She’s better.”

Giles stood and took his place by Buffy. “It appears that we have a
tandem at work here. A vampire and an immortal. A very old pair who
have been together for ages… centuries would be more appropriate. From
the chronicles that Wesley has, they leave devastation in their wake.”

Grace’s eyes turned deadly serious as she asked, “Do you have any idea
how old the Immortal is and do you have a name?” A vampire and
immortal tandem. She didn’t miss the comparison here. “Another pairing?” she
asked of Angel.

“Not good.” He agreed quietly.

“Yes, we do have a name. Apparently the Watcher Council was
particularly concerned about these two but couldn’t get close enough to do
anything.” Wesley, having gotten a copy of a Watcher CD, had printed off the
overview of one Immortal and now carried it over. “Chap by the name of
Aychon, Russian ancestry, particularly nasty. The vampire calls herself
Charann…”

“Charann…” Angel mused aloud, recognition on his face.

“You’ve heard of her?” Buffy prompted from where she leaned against the
wall.

“Yeah, a few decades after I turned, Darla killed someone Charann had
been planning to bring across. She was *not* happy…damn near ripped
Darla to shreds… the Master managed to save her by offering someone
else for Char to kill. She’s got a vicious streak.”

“Nice….” The Slayer sighed out, rubbing her forehead.

Angel wasn’t the only one with recognition on his face. For just a
moment, Grace felt fear, and then her gaze turned deadly. “Aychon, I’ve
heard of him. He’s almost 2000 years old… merciless killer. He has a
reputation for toying with his opponents before scoring a kill. He’s a
headhunter. Wouldn’t surprise me if he’s planned this all along, just
waited for the other pair to find each other. To kill a Slayer would
look nice on his resume as well.” She was definitely ready for this
fight.

“It would indeed.” Wesley nodded. “You must keep that from happening
Grace.”

“Uh, hello?” Buffy looked from one person to the next. “I think I can
protect myself.”

“Not against an Immortal you can’t.” Angel replied calmly. “Whole
different style of fighting.”

Giles could sense Buffy’s frustration; he needed to head it off so her
head stayed clear. “Immortals can only be killed in one way, Buffy.
You have to remove their heads. Now, it’s something that you could do,
but the repercussions of that could be dangerous for you. There’s an
energy release that destroys most things around it, but is safely, yet
painfully, absorbed by Immortals. And as much as I hate to agree,
against an Immortal as old as Aychon, it would be difficult. He’s fought
for his life for two millennia.”

Grace sighed. “As I’ve only fought for one. Ok, Wesley, everything
that’s on that Watcher CD, I need to know. I hate the old ones. I
really, really do.” The Quickenings always hurt much more than those younger
than she.

Immediately the Englishman nodded. “I’ll pull it right up…”

The other Watcher began to speak up but Wesley gave him a look that
communicated his opinion loud and clear. It was not the time, nor the
place, to be concerned about rules and regulations. Aychon and Charann
weren’t playing by any set rules; they didn’t have to either.

“Well,” Angel said with a look of mock cheer. “Guess that means we get
to researching again.”

Grace was concerned about her bit in all of this, but as always, her
overriding concern was Angel. “This Charann, she had a grudge against
Darla. Would it carry over to those she sired? And how tough is she
that it’s going to take you *and* Buffy to kill her? How old is she? Was
she with Aychon when you met her?” Grace not only talked a mile a
minute when she was happy, she did so when she was nervous. “It’s going to
take all three of us to take them down. I think concern is a good
thing here.”

“It probably would.” Angel responded with a nod. “She’s old from what
I understand…*old* old…”

“Yeah,” Cordy popped in with a book in hand. “Here’s a entry on her…
she’s as old as you Grace…”

“Well, no pun intended or anything, but that totally bites!” Buffy
exhaled in frustration.

“Woh,” Grace said, more than mildly worried here, “A 1000 year old
vampire.” Looking at Angel, she said, “And what do you mean old… old. I
resemble that remark. But I’ve never encountered a vamp that old. And
she’s teamed up with a 2000 year old immortal.” She sat down on the
corner of Wesley’s desk and sighed. “A vampire that old. Kinda scary.
I’m not that great with the vamp killing portion of this prophecy
thing.”

“Well, I am,” the blonde Slayer grinned. “You handle the Immie guy and
I’ll take the vamp.”

“I’ll just sit back and watch.” Angel joked. “You two can do all the
work.”

Grace rolled her eyes and tossed the nearest book at him. Of course it
was small and did nothing but make a small noise on impact.
“Incorrigible. Like you won’t have fun doing that.” She looked over at Wesley and
Giles. “Please tell me that he has to do *something* other than sit
there and look good.” Well he would have to pick her up after the Q, but
that would be later.

Giles, still not too sure they should be searching the database and
giving Grace information that she had no right to have, cleared his throat
and said, “Well… I’m sure there’s something in here somewhere. We’ll
find it.” He simply wasn’t too sure of how to take this Grace. It
must be what happened to someone when they live for a millennia. She was
an enigma to him.

Angel noticed the confounded look on the mortal’s face and had to
smother a grin. And Giles thought that Buffy was confusing. He hadn’t seen
anything yet.

“I guess I can help with the research.” He offered magnanimously as
Cordelia made a disgusted noise behind him.

“Grace, can I just cut off his head? Please?!” The slim brunette turned
pleading eyes on her teacher. “Pllleeaasseee…”

At the comment Buffy’s confusion surpassed Giles. Since when did Cordy
talk about cutting off heads?

Grace giggled, knowing Cordelia would never try it. “Well, if you did,
honey, you wouldn’t get any satisfaction out of it. No light show
coming from there, just a pile of dust.” She laid across Wesley’s desk,
knowing what that did to him. “But polish your sword.”

Giles looked at Wesley and commented, “I’ve missed something here,
haven’t I?”

“You have *no* idea…” The other man mumbled, not even bothering to
look up from his computer screen. “It’s been an eventful year…”

Cordy snorted. “Where’ve you been Wesley? It’s been a completely
whacked year.”

“I’ll agree to that one.” Angel bobbed his head slightly.

“Do we get back story?” Buffy asked bluntly, folding her arms across
her chest as Angel and Cordelia looked to Grace for her opinion.

“In the realm of my life, it’s been a great year. And yes, I can tell
you my history.” She gave Buffy and Giles a quick rundown of Immortals
and then set into telling them some specifics about herself. When she
wrapped it up, she was almost somber. “So when I came to LA, I was
pretty much alone. It was how I wanted it. Then these people come into
my life. I shoot Angel, give Gunn mean looks, find out from Wesley that
I’m prophetic, find the love of my life, and take on two new students.”
She paused and smiled. “Cordelia’s right, it’s been a whacked year.”

“Grace,” Giles said softly, “you are the master of understatement.”

She laughed at that. “Not really. I’m just being nice because we just
met. I’ll be much more intense later. I promise.”

“She’s not kidding.” Cordy input with a cheeky smile. “She will be.”

“Two new students? As in new Immortals?” Buffy looked from Cordy to
Grace to Angel to Giles before settling on a guilty-looking Wesley. “Who?”

“Ummm…” The youngest Immortal, namely Cordy, looked equally guilty.

Grace pointed first to Cordelia, and then to Gunn, who was sitting
quietly in the corner. “Happened not too long ago when that bitch Darla
tried to bring back Angelus. I had the honor of killing her permanently
and her minions had the dubious honor of bringing Cordelia and Gunn
into their Immortality. I have a helper around here somewhere. I’m
assuming he and Fred are cooking dinner or something.”

“YOU’RE IMMORTAL!” Buffy squeaked as she looked over at Cordelia.
“YOU?!”

“Me.” The other young woman’s hair swung as she nodded her head. “Quit
looking at me like that Buffy, it’s not like I got to chose.”

“But…you?!” the Slayer shook her head. “There should be some
requirements, rules, or something. Like you need this many credits to become an
Immortal.”

Grace sat up. She was deliberately trying to goad Wesley now. She
just couldn’t help it, she loved messing with him, and she knew Angel knew
exactly what she was doing. Stretching backwards, she moved a couple
books so she could place her hands on the desk. “Well, there are
requirements. Cordelia learned that her parents actually adopted her. She’ll
never be a mother, and she’ll have to live with Duncan for the rest of
her life. That in and of itself would drive me to find someone to take
my head.” She fake shuddered.

Giles, not understanding Grace’s actions, looked to Wesley to see if he
was going to ask her to move. She was tall and taking up a lot of the
workspace with her form.

With a pause in his typing, the Watcher looked up at her, clearly not
enjoying the interruption and yet unsure of how to proceed. Fidgeting,
he looked to Angel but found no help there. The vampire was watching the
whole situation with a smirk on his face, clearly waiting to see what
Grace would do next.

Getting the impression this happened a lot, Buffy looked over at Cordy
who grinned before disappearing out the door. The smell of food cooking
was beginning to waft through the large room and she assumed her old
friend was going to visit the chef. The ‘friend’ Grace had mentioned. So,
content with that, the Slayer watched the action. As eager as Angel to
see what would come next.

Slowly, Grace let her arms slide toward her so that her elbows were
resting on the desk. Her head feel back, exposing her long neck, and she
stared up at the ceiling. The two Watchers had little or no work area
now. What could she say? It had been a while since she’d felt like
teasing anyone. Poor Wesley was just the target. “Do you think Charann
and Aychon are simply bonded because of the power they have or do you
think it’s love? If they actually love one another, wouldn’t that make
them more of a force to reckon with? And why is it that no one seems to
know how long they’ve been together.” Turning her head slightly, she
smiled at Wesley. “Any ideas?”

Stammering, the dark-haired Englishman sat back a bit. “Well…it’s
hard to say. With true evil there is no such thing as love. Lust perhaps.
But no love. They may stay together out of combined power. It’s the
most likely…ahem…probability. They know their power is stronger
together and that they have developed a rapport…I don’t doubt that if they
were put into a situation where they had a choice to risk their life to
save the other, or run, they would run…” Rather like he was tempted
to do.

She lifted her head and winked at Angel. They were actually learning a
lot about the pair, but she was helping herself relax in the process.
She had been way too tense lately. With a fluidity that belied her
height, she turned easily, backing up the Watchers even more. Her chin
was now resting in her hands, and Buffy and Angel were now presented with
her backside. “So, what you’re saying is that it’s an alliance of
convenience? If we can divide them, we can more easily conquer them. Buffy
and Angel could take out the very, very old Charann. She’s what 1000?
And I can add Aychon to my list of Quickenings. Their weakness is
their evil and selfishness. That about it?”

Giles ran his hand through his hair. Unable to understand why Wesley
didn’t say anything. “Miss Hammond…” he started.

She waved him off. “Please, call me Grace. I don’t stand on
formalities.”

“Obviously,” Giles offered.

Grace, smiling innocently, said, “I’m too old for them.”

Angel, forcing his eyes off the rather tempting sight before him,
chuckled. “Grace…be nice to the Watchers. They’re the brains remember.”

Buffy grinned. “Yeah, they’re the brains, I’m the brawn and you’re Mr.
Broody, Guilt-Ridden Hero while she’s Ms. Fun, Kick Ass, Immortal…
have we figured out everyone’s roles yet?”

Grace rolled back over, sending books and papers flying off the desk.
Giving Angel her infamous pout, she said, “I was simply asking
questions. You don’t have to ruin all the fun. We have to add Party Pooper to
Angel’s list.” She slid off the desk, more books following in her wake.
“I haven’t felt like too much fun lately. But I’m getting back to it.”
She returned to just barely leaning against the desk. “I still think
separating this pair is going to be our best bet.”

Hurrying to pick up his things, Wesley nodded vigorously, nearly
smacking his head on the desk. “Yes, indeed, most appropriate strategy…
question is how do we put it into practice?”

There was a question indeed.

But in Angel’s mind it was a different question entirely. Grace knew
full well what pouting did to him. Drew his mind straight to the idea of
kissing her and she was tempting enough when she was just standing
there. But the memory of that pout was fresh in his mind and it was very
hard to think past that.

“I know how to draw out an Immortal,” Grace said. “But I don’t know
how to make one turn against a vampire lover.” Her eyes floated toward
Angel. “I’m a bit handicapped in that area as nothing would make me
leave mine. What would a soulless vampire treasure more than Immortal
blood?”

Giles, getting what Grace was hinting at, had to clear his throat.
“Another good question,” he stammered.

Buffy’s eyes widened in shock at that one, and she looked from an
uncomfortable Angel to a speculative Grace. Angel *fed* from Grace? He’d
fed from Buffy once but she’d had to force him and it had been to save
his life. But this sounded like it was a regular occurrence.

‘Yet more proof they were meant to be’ that little voice in her head
interjected with even tones.

“Betrayal.” The flat word from Angel broke her out of her reverie.
“Betrayal would make him turn against her. If he thinks…”

“Yes…” Wesley said slowly, beginning to see where Angel was going.
“If we convince Charann that Aychon has betrayed her…”

“Bloody hell,” Giles interjected. “We could almost get Charann to kill
Aychon herself.”

“It would solve half the problem, I suppose,” Grace offered. She was a
bit distracted now by the look on Angel’s face. She didn’t like it too
much. Lifting off the desk, she put herself in his space again, not
saying anything just hoping her proximity would offer him some comfort.

Reaching out, he pulled her to him and let his hands slide up and down
her arms, her mere presence soothing so he could continue to speak.
“Charann’s very volatile, very suspicious, frankly, I’m surprised she and
Aychon have managed to stay together this long. It shouldn’t take too
much to convince her of his betrayal.”

“Anybody else feel like they’re in the middle of a soap opera?” Buffy
questioned with a faint smile. “Nights of our un-lives or something?”

Grace smiled. Her arms wrapped around Angel’s chest. “I like that.”
Her eyes turned to Angel, as she said, “I’m assuming you know how we’ll
make her think he’s betrayed her.” No doubt all of this was coming from
personal experience.

His expression turned reflective. “There are a few ways. Do we want it
to be a sexual betrayal or betrayal of their partnership?”

Giles spoke up then. “It should be whatever wounds her more. Vampires
are very sensual beings… but most don’t bring any love into it.” The
exception was standing before him. And Angel was different because he
had a soul.

“We need her wounded and angry,” Grace said, “The angrier she is, the
more unfocused she is. And we can’t let her kill him that would avenge
her. We want her off balance.” She understood what anger did. She’d
just gone through that herself.

“Then,” Gunn’s voice was hesitant. “Why doncha get him in a
compromisin’ spot and as soon as she goes crackers, get him out of there. Kidnap
him or somethin’.”

“That could work,” Giles chimed in. He hadn’t even realized the boy
was in the room.

Grace turned to look at him, her back now pressed against Angel’s
chest. “We’d have to be sly about it. If Aychon senses an Immortal presence,
there could be trouble. But I like the idea. It would work. She’d be
good and angry then.” Her own anger set aside, they needed Gunn and
his abilities. And yes, she knew that come what may, she’d protect him.

“Wouldn’t sense no presence if it were her,” Gunn nodded at Buffy, his
eyes on Giles. He wasn’t ready to look Grace in the eyes. Not yet. He
knew what he’d find and he wasn’t ready to face that. “She’s tough
enough to handle an Immortal… long enough to take him down so we can get
to him.”

“He’s right.” The Slayer interjected, looking to her Watcher. “This
could be the best chance we have.”

Giles looked to Grace. She was the Immortal expert here. “What do you
think?”

Grace shrugged. “I think it’s the best shot we have. Angel can’t go in
Charann knows him. And, Buffy, all you have to do is kill him. He’ll
think you’re going for his head… don’t. Go for his heart. He’ll be
protecting his head. Gunn and I will take care of him once you bring
him to us. Then that will leave Charann for you and Angel.”

Buffy nodded while Gunn briefly looked worried before hiding it behind
a mask of indifference.

Angel noted the expression but said nothing. This was not the time for
him to interfere. He’d take care of that later. Now it was Grace’s
time. She wanted to try and fix this so he’d let her. It was the best way
for all concerned.

“Then it’s agreed,” he spoke, looking at all of them. “We’ve got a plan
now all we need is a timeline.”

“Soon,” Giles said. “The longer we give them to set up shop here, the
more powerful they will become. We need to hit them while they are at
their weakest.”

Grace sighed. “And then kick them while they are down. I’d rather
meet on even turf, but I understand why we aren’t. How soon is soon?” she
asked.

“Very soon,” Giles said. “As soon as we can find them.”

“Well then, we start looking.”

*-*-*

“I like her.”

The blunt statement caused Angel’s head to swivel in the direction of
the Slayer. “What?”

“Grace.” Buffy clarified with a hesitant look. “I like her. I’m not
sure I want to but…I like her.”

The vampire’s eyes relaxed, losing some of the wariness that had
haunted them since she’d walked into the hotel. “I’m glad.”

“I didn’t want to like her when Giles first told me.” She confessed
with a guilty reluctance. “I wanted to hate her.”

Angel chuckled softly, looking down at the ground before his eyes moved
skyward. “Expecting a first encounter like the one I had with Riley?”

The blonde laughed. “God, I hope not. That would have been bad; me
wrecking the hotel in the first few minutes I’m actually in it.”

“Yeah, at least Riley and I picked an alley.” The vampire allowed
himself a rare grin. “But… Buffy…” When she met his gaze, he continued.
“I am glad you like her. It…”

“Helps.” The Slayer nodded. “I know.”

They walked along in silence for several moments before she spoke
again.

“I guess…” She looked over at him. “It just makes it final, y’know?
Like, somewhere, I thought, no matter what happens, you’d always be
there. If I made a complete and total mess of romance in general… you’d
always be there to help clean it up… maybe pick up where we left off.”
She ducked her head, blonde curls falling around her face. “And…
now… you’re not.”

“I’ll be there to help.” Angel reminded softly. “But not to pick up
where we left off…”

“We’re done now.” Buffy nodded. “Yeah, I think I always knew that
but… this made me face it. I’m flying without a safety net now.”

“On your own.”

“Yeah.” Her voice dropped. “On my own.”

Her former lover smiled encouragingly. “You’re going to do fine, Buffy.
You always do.”

“It’s the Slayer in me.” She mustered up a cheerful smile. “You know
how it is. Complete and total overachiever.”

He grinned. “Yeah, I know.” Reaching into his coat, he found a stake
and tossed it to her. “Once more for old times sake?”

Buffy laughed. “Ok, I dust, you sweep.”

Angel laughed as well. “Ok, I sweep. Just don’t make too big a mess.”

She pasted on an innocent expression. “Would I do that? On purpose I
mean?”

“Yes.” He deadpanned.

The Slayer shrugged and almost skipped forward. “It’s my nature. Can’t
help myself.”

“Can too.” Angel argued.

“Nope… sorry!” Buffy singsonged back before disappearing around a
corner.

Chuckling, the vampire shook his head and followed.

*-*-*

This was uncomfortable.

Very uncomfortable.

Angel, for a reason unknown to Gunn, had split them up into pairs to
start checking with their sources. And the person he’d paired Gunn with
was Grace. Of *all* the people… he got Grace. The one person who
probably wanted to kill him… at that moment.

Gunn wasn’t sure he regretted what he said to Angel, he knew he would,
but he wasn’t sure he regretted it yet. He knew he didn’t mean it. Not
in the sense that he hated Angel, or that he’d only stuck by him to use
him, he didn’t mean that. But he did mean the emotions behind it. He
was frustrated. Torn. And the source of all of that was Angel. He’d been
the one who’d found Gunn. He’d been the one to keep him around. He’d
been the one who left them behind when he wanted to go to his dark moods.
It was hard to live that way. Hard especially when he’d been the leader
of his crew, a crew that’d been doing just fine with him. And was now
doing just fine without him. It had been hard enough to leave that
behind, even when it wasn’t completely, but now… with the whole Immortal
deal hanging over him… he knew a day would come when they’d be gone
completely… and that too, could be traced back to Angel. Well,
somewhat.

He’d lashed out, thinking it would help but it hadn’t. Even though that
was true, he couldn’t say he was sorry either. Not completely. Not yet.

Grace knew exactly why Angel had split them up as he had. Force her to
look after him, and maybe it would put them on the road to recovery.
She loved Angel intensely, but sometimes he could tick her off too. And
he mostly did that when he was right.

She glanced back at the man pacing just a few steps behind her and
sighed. Speaking very softly, she had to be the one to break this horrible
silence. “I’m not going to try to kill you, Gunn. No matter what, I’d
never do that.” Silence broken. They’d see where it went from here.

“Yeah, probably not,” Gunn agreed quietly. “But I think it smart to
stay outta your way G.”

She turned to look at him fully, stopping their progress. “A few days
ago, yes. It would have been. I’m not going to explain myself. I’ve
failed miserably with everyone else. But general consensus here is that
I’m wrong in all of this. I don’t know if I can ever tell you how much
I cared… care about you. I do. More than I can say. I’m just very
protective of him. Can you understand that?” Hell, she wasn’t even
understanding herself.

He nodded. “Yeah, everybody can see you’re protective of Angel. Lucky
guy that way…”

“Depends on whom you ask,” she said softly. “All of this is new to me,
just as your Immortality is new to you. We’re all going to make
mistakes here. Big ones. And I’m sure I’ll get my ass kicked more than once
before we figure things out. But bottom line is just like you said…
we all fight the same fight and we’re a team. At least you had the
balls to be honest with him, no matter what it cost in the process.” She
shrugged and turned to continue on their journey. She wasn’t good at
saying what was on her mind. She just knew it all had to be said.
“Though I didn’t like one damn word of it. And I hated that look on Angel’s
face. But truth is truth, you can’t change that.”

“No,” Gunn agreed. “I can’t. There are a lot of things that can’t be
changed.”

Well, at least they were talking. She supposed it was better than
nothing. Sighing, she said, “What happens between you and Angel, is between
the two of you. It’s not my business. But the damage I did to us is my
business. Perhaps some day we can change that.” She shrugged. Her
mother would have been happy to hear that… the butt kicking was worth it.
She hoped. No matter what, Gunn was her student and she’d take care of
him.

“Maybe.” Was his quiet response after several moments of thought. He
hoped so. But at that moment he really couldn’t see how…not for a while
anyway. He might have been new to the Immortal life but he knew it
wasn’t right for a student to be afraid that his teacher was going to kill
him. Which was what he had been, probably still was, and that was going
to take a while before he got over it.

“Better than ‘no’,” Grace said. “We’re almost to the address that
Wesley gave us. Aychon, according to the Watcher database, fights with two
swords. It’s fast and reaction time is almost nil. Be ready for
anything.” All this said as she, with her physical positioning, insisted on
taking the point. “Just hope Buffy and Angel can get to them first. I
do NOT want to meet that vamp.”

”You and me both, G.” The younger Immortal agreed, his hand slipping
into his coat to put a hand on his sword, reassuring himself it was
there. “If they’re half as good as you and Angel…” He left off there, not
needing to finish.

She nodded. “With the time they’ve been together, they could be
better, which is why the Slayer is here. Between you and I, it scares the
hell out of me, Gunn. I’m not ready for any of this to be over.” She
couldn’t help but shiver. Sure, it had its complications, but her life
here was perfect.

“Me either G. Me either.” Gunn moved forward, tentatively, but he still
moved. “I still say you all can take ‘em. Just gotta do it right.”

She ran her hand through her hair and sighed again. “It’s a great plan.
It will work. It has to.” She wasn’t surprised that she was showing
her fear to him. It let him know that she was human too. And her mother
always said that fear was good. It gave you balance. She hadn’t had
that earlier. “And you and I are a good team. We can do this. I just
hate waiting.”

“Yeah, we are, G, and waiting totally sucks.” It was a simple statement
but it was something he completely believed.

She took off her long coat, exposing her crossed swords secured on her
back. Dual sword fighting really sucked, but it was going to have to
be done. “Did you bring a deck of cards?” she teased. “We may need
them.”

Leaning back against the wall where they’d hidden themselves, Gunn
smirked. “Actually… yeah.”

She looked at him, mildly shocked, and then smiled brightly. “Perfect.
Name the game.” Small steps, but life was definitely getting back on
an even keel. “And your deck, you deal.”

A bit hesitant, Gunn thought for a minute. “Poker?”

“Perfect. Only nothing wild.” She sat on her coat and looked up at
him and smiled. “I must warn you though, I had a husband who’s best
friend was an excellent poker player. You could say, I’ve been beaten by
the best.”

There was another faint smile as he shuffled the cards. “Is all right…
my sister used t’take me to the cleaners every time we played. Had the
gift for it.”

She was tempted to reach out and take his hand, but decided against it.
Instead, she smiled back. “You’d think that playing against people who
were good would make you better. Never worked for me.”

“Naw… they don’t teach you none of their tricks.” Gunn’s small smile
turned wry. “Like it better that way.”

Grace shrugged. “You’re right, I suppose. I’m the freaky kind who
likes to try to learn from my loses. I used to bug him for hours after a
game, and all he’d do was smile at me. My tenacity had little to no
affect.”

The younger Immortal opened his mouth to answer but was cut off by the
form of a man flying out the door, propelled by Slayer-strength, and
skidded down the front steps.

“We’re here!” Buffy called out cheerfully.

“Damn!” Grace said. “I had four Kings!!” She looked at the sprawled
form, still unconscious from the fall. They had a few minutes. “How’s
it going in there?” she asked, unsheathing her swords.

Shrugging, the slim blonde mortal started back up the steps. “Just
another day at the office.”

As the Slayer departed, Grace handed her swords to Gunn and moved to
the unconscious Immortal’s side. This was all a part of the plan.
Sensually, the tall, slender, blonde knelt beside the man and put his head in
her lap. Her hand in his hair, for all intents and purposes, she was
lovingly stroking it. Her back was to the house, trusting Gunn to protect
her. It also provided good obstruction of the man’s face. It had to
for the plan to work.

The ancient vampress glided toward the window. The look on her face
belied loathing and hatred. He was hers! All hers!!! And he was in the
arms of another. “Who is she?” Charann all but hissed. “Tell me who
she is.”

“She’s an Immortal…” Angel replied, his tone casual. “From what I
understand, they knew each other…*knew* each other, before you…”

Charann’s hand pressed against the glass. So, his bond to the woman
overcame his bond to her and the power they had together. “Angelus…
you I know so well. You would not lie for your own gains. Not now.”
Her hand reached back and grasped his arm. “We will kill them both.
Revel in their Immortal blood and then remove their heads, releasing their
Quickenings into oblivion.” She did hiss as she said, “I will not be
betrayed again.”

Letting his memories of Angelus take hold, Angel managed that
devil-may-care smile his alter ego was famous for and purred into her ear.
“We’ll keep them alive for months…feeding. An inexhaustible food
source…we can release them, then hunt them down, as long as we like.” In
truth, she’d be ashes before she got anywhere near Grace but he wasn’t
letting on about that.

She smiled. Leaning back into him, she let her eyes drift shut as she
remembered hunts with Angelus. She pulled his arm around her waist and
sighed. “Ah, my dearest Angelus, you were always the most devious
among us. Tis why I always loved you best. We’ll play by your rules. How
can I resist?”

“You can’t.” Angel hid his grimace as he ‘playfully’ nipped at her
neck, reminding her of a few other things Angelus and she had done. If that
didn’t keep her distracted, believing the lie, than what would?

Pressing herself further back into him, she all but purred. “We’ll tie
them up and force them to watch what a real alliance can bring. I
never dreamed you’d be back in my bed, Angelus.” She spun gracefully into
his arms, the treachery outside all but forgotten by the gift that was
now in front of her. “And we’ll make them suffer before they die. I
want it to hurt. You can take care of that for me, can’t you?” After
all, Angelus was the master of torture.

Pulling her tight against him, he ‘smirked’ down at her. “Anything you
want baby…”

Her finger caressed his face in the most loving of gestures. To think,
it had been the childe of one of her children who had blessed them with
this creature. Fantastic didn’t even begin to describe him. “I want
it, darling. All that and more.”

Capturing her hand, he bit it before drawing her up close. “Then you’ll
have it.” Kissing her, Angel spun her at just the right angle, knowing
who was creeping in the door.

Charann’s eyes grew wide with shock as the full extent of the betrayal
made itself clear. She knew who the Slayer was, had been watching her
for weeks. “Angelus,” she cried. “You betrayer!!!”

“Angelus is long gone,” Angel replied quietly as Buffy struck like
lightning. “There’s only me now.”

All that was could be heard was Charann’s shriek as a thousand years of
existence turned to dust.

*-*-*

Hearing the screech, Grace dropped Aychon and moved to stand beside
Gunn. She took her swords from him and watched as her opponent finally
regained consciousness. “I’ll give you a moment,” Grace smiled. He
already had his swords, and Grace wanted this fight to be fair.

Not recognizing her, but having some idea a of what was going on, he
pulled his weapons and staggered to his feet. “What in the name of the
gods? Who are you?”

“She’d be your executioner.” Angel replied from the door where he stood
watching.

Grace, as always, took comfort in his presence. “The name is Grace
Hammond. And he’s right. The reign of terror is over, Aychon.” She held
her swords firmly. “Your vampire lover is dead. It’s Judgment Day.”

“Charann?! How?!”

“Mr. Pointy.” Buffy held up the stake with a smirk. “Business…sorry.
She was a vampire, I’m a vampire Slayer…good arrangement doncha
think?”

Looking back to Grace, he held up his weapons. “You’ll pay for this…”

“I think not. But you are more than welcome to try.” If she’d shown
fear or concern before, she felt none now. Yes, he was a millennia older
than she. And yes, he’d taken twice as many Quickenings. His attack
was furious, her response blindingly quick. But she had every
believable confidence that she’d win this battle.

She was good and he was angry. Blind rage was not a good way to go into
a fight and too late he remembered that. By the time he did, she was
already well on her way to the upper hand. The best he could do was hope
to avoid beheading and slink away before she recovered. If he could
just get in one slice…

Grace read the look on his face and drew her swords more closely to her
body. She was used to taking cuts to score them. And in this fight,
using double swords, both opponents took them. She was bleeding, so was
he, but she wasn’t losing so much blood that it was a hindrance. Her
mother taught her how to fight with these, and it was from that that she
drew her knowledge now. With a flourish that would have surprised
her, if she’d seen it, she drove in, not noticing when his sword cut her
deeply and scored a long cut along his abdomen. Intestinal cuts put
anyone down.

With a grunt he dropped to his knees. He’d been around long enough to
know when it was over. And it was over. Not giving her the courtesy of
looking up, he waited for the blow.

For a split second, her eyes locked with Angel’s. This wasn’t going to
be easy. With a scream, she delivered the blow that severed his head
and promptly dropped her swords. The air virtually hummed with
electricity, the ground shaking. Her eyes held onto Angel’s as if deriving
strength from him. Bricks in the buildings began to shake and not a wisp
of it had hit Grace yet. But she could feel it brewing. And just as a
whirlwind of lightning, it encompassed her and lifted her off the
ground.

She couldn’t remember hearing herself scream. In fact, she couldn’t
remember anything after being engulfed. All she remembered was opening
her eyes and feeling pain in her throat. Actually, she was in pain all
over. She had been right. From the damage around her, that had been
one of the biggest she’d ever taken.

Having reached her side, Angel took her into his arms and lifted her
up. “Hate to rush things but that’ll have the cops here for sure…we
have to get moving.” Issuing orders to Gunn and Buffy, he cradled his love
close as he carried her away from the building.

She knew he was right, but everything about her hurt. Immortal healing
could take care of the cuts and bruises, but not the pain of the
Quickening. That always had to settle on its own. Her arms loosely around
his neck, she tried not to cry as she said softly, “It hurts.”

“I know, I know…” he soothed, rounding the corner to where he’d
parked the car. “But we’ll be home soon…we’ll get in a hot bath, you’ll
get a chance to calm down, it’s over…”

She couldn’t even nod as she held onto him. He always had to clean her
up after these messes. And they always messed with her emotionally.
Her body hurt, and she could feel Aychon rumbling around inside of her.
“Let Gunn drive,” she whispered. And there was no stopping the tears.
She hated this weakness.

“Okay…” He agreed quietly, settling in with her as Gunn hopped into
the driver’s seat. Reclining against the backdoor, the vampire cuddled
her in against his lanky form, he whispered soothing words to her as
Buffy got into the front seat and glanced back with a worried look.

At the slight shake of his head, she turned to give them privacy,
understanding there was nothing she could do to help.

Grace tried not to curl up in a ball. It never helped, but this was so
intense. Her head rested on his shoulder as she let the tears come.
His words helped. He helped. But her body was demanding relief.
Grabbing his shirt, she couldn’t help her words. “We have to get there. We
have to get home.” If she could have buried herself in him, she would
have.

“We will.” He reassured. “We will. Just a little while longer.”

She nodded, biting her lip to keep herself from crying out. The
physical pain actually helped. She closed her eyes, trying desperately to
forget that they weren’t alone. It was hard enough going through this
with just him.

“Almost there…” Keeping up the soothing talk until they reached the
hotel, Angel didn’t have to tell Buffy and Gunn to disappear as soon as
they’d stopped, they understood. Letting go of Grace long enough to get
out of the car, the vampire leaned in to pick her up and carefully
carried her into the hotel, past Cordelia who’d been pacing in the lobby.

With a sympathetic look, the girl didn’t say anything, instead she
watched silently as he headed up the stairs with nary a word. Grace was his
focus now. The others he’d worry about later.

*-*-*

She didn’t even realize where she was until he sat her on the side of
the tub and began to run the water in the tub. According to Angel, a
nice hot bath fixed everything. She was thinking nice hard sex, but she
could do that after the bath. With shaking hands, she tried to pull
her shirt over her head. Seeing the rips in it, her voice mimicked her
hands as she said, “Jesus, he cut the hell out of me.”

“Yeah,” Pulling off the remnants of her clothing, her vampire lover set
her down into the tub and reached for the soap. “Relax back…” With
deliberate movements he took the sponge in hand, poured some of the soap
onto it and began washing her.

“An… Angel,” she asked softly. “We’re ok, right?” The hot water felt
good but something was tugging at the back of her brain. She was
supersensitive to every place he touched her. It felt good, but something
was out of sorts. It had to be the Quickening.

“Yeah,” he reassured with a smile, “We’re ok.” Running the sponge up an
arm, he leaned in to kiss her. “We’re okay.”

She let her eyes drift closed, letting his touch wash away the pain.
“If you say so, then it must be so. Who am I to argue?” The sponge
touched her neck and she gasped, almost jumping out of the tub. “Ok, extra
sensitive, not really sure why.”

Angel’s smile turned wry. “Could it be the 2000yr old Quickening you’re
still processing?” Finished washing her, he poured water over her hair
to wet it before squirting shampoo into his palms to work into the wet
locks. “And I think that’s one for the record books, you letting me win
before we even fight.”

She gave him a smirk. “Could it be the 2000 year old Quickening I’m
still processing? You know how much will power I’m exerting by not
grabbing you and jumping your bones right now. You have no idea.” She
sighed at the massage he was giving her scalp. “Although this hair washing
is helping a lot.” Ok, she was getting a bit better. She was speaking
in sentences.

“Good…” Leaning over, he whispered into her ear. “And who says you
can’t jump my bones *after* the bath?”

She shivered visibly. “Oh that I know! It’s just the waiting.” She
turned her head just a bit and gave him a soft kiss. “This shampoo
new?”

“Yeah, Cordelia bought it with some new stuff for you.” Angel reported.
“She’s been busy while you were brooding.” The last was said in a
gently teasing tone as he rinsed her hair.

She sighed. “I think I’m pretty much over that. The road seems to be a
little more smoothly paved.” Her eyes found his. “I’m actually
feeling much better all the way around. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” He replied with another smile, reaching for a towel.
“Halfway human?” Another tease. Had to be a record for him.

Rolling her eyes, she flicked water at him. “Halfway Immortal. And
play nice.” She couldn’t figure out what had gotten into him, but she
liked it… a lot.

“I thought you preferred it when I didn’t play nice?” He countered,
helping her to her feet and wrapping the towel around her. “You always say
you do anyway.”

“Oh I do. And tonight especially. You play nice, and I’ll be… Well,
you know.” She smiled at him and dropped the towel. “I hate covering
my body,” she teased. She was feeling better. Still a bit quivery,
but Angel always made it better.

He rolled his eyes but pulled her close anyway. “You just like getting
me going.”

Her forehead pressed to his. “Ssh…” she said softly. “That’s a
secret, don’t let it out.” Her hands went into his hair and she smiled
devilishly.

“Won’t breathe a word.” Angel promised then smirked. “Actually I don’t
breathe period but…you get my meaning.”

“Good thing you didn’t say your lips were sealed or I was going to have
to prove you wrong.” She put her lips to his, kissing him deeply.
When it was over, she pulled away slightly. “I’d hate to have that
happen.” She pressed her nude form to his clothed one, letting him know just
what she needed.

His hands began to roam as he walked them out of the bathroom. “Oh yeah
right, you delight in proving me wrong almost as much as you like
teasing me by parading around naked. More probably.”

“Like you are ever wrong,” she rolled her eyes. “Though you’re right,
I do enjoy parading around naked. It’s a thing with me. The fact that
it gets you all worked up…” she pressed against his lower body for
emphasis “…is merely a delightful perk.” Skin still highly sensitive,
she shuddered at his touch. She could feel the Quickening start to
settle. She’d scared herself in the car.

He groaned, pressing back. “One you love to play with.” Turning her, he
guided her down onto the bed and grinned. “But there is one thing I
love using against you…”

Wiggling against the soft bed… their bed… she laughed lightly and
suggested, “You?”

“Well that’s one answer…” Carefully he trailed a finger along her
throat. “But I was thinking how sensitive you are…after a Quickening.”

His touch on her neck, sent goose bumps down her body and a look of
stark longing in her eyes. He knew what that did to her. Her body
already cried out for it. “Oh boy, you better,” she licked her lips eagerly.

He grinned, kissed her deeply, then turned her head to one side, giving
him access before he let his fangs sprout and dove in.

She actually cried out with that. It was almost a scream. The
sensitivity of her neck was extreme at a time like this, and the shot of
euphoria that ran through her caused her entire body to come alive. Of
course, it was also a high for him. Her blood, after a Quickening, was more
compelling than normal. She writhed underneath him, grasping her hands
into his hair and holding it so tightly, she was almost pulling.

Drinking down the powerful blood, Angel rubbed his clothed body against
her nude one, doubling the sensations until finally – his head spinning
–he pulled away. “How was that?” He questioned with a lazy smile.

“Like if there were a heaven for us, I’d be there.” She wasn’t as weak
as she usually was, it was the affect of the evening. “What you do to
me? With a touch, you completely unmoved me.” Her hands roamed his
face, touching his forehead, nose and mouth; loving every inch of him,
inside and out.

“Natural talent and hard work.” He grinned down at her. “Besides, it’s
you… anyone else I wouldn’t be able to after all, you’re the one who
brought it out in me to begin with.”

She smiled. “Natural talent. You died so that you could love me.”

She’d said the words valiantly, but she couldn’t help but wonder if a
part of that were true. Neither had been the first’s love, but it was
so much more than clear that they were the last. “I scare myself when I
start to wax philosophical. Kiss me!” She smiled, pulling him down to
her for a nice, long, hard kiss.

And kiss her he did. Over and over. A thousand different ways as they
joined their bodies together. Sometimes hard and fast, sometimes gentle
and slow. Whatever their bodies needed and demanded, they responded to.
It was an affirmation of what they already knew, already understood:
the link between them. The ties that held them together – would hold them
together for eternity.

It was something Aychon and Charann could never have understood.

It wasn’t about the power, it wasn’t about the prophecy…it was about
love. It would always be about love.

Grace sprang down the stairs, taking two at a time. She was definitely
feeling better today. She stopped in her tracks suddenly when she saw
luggage. Buffy’s luggage. The Slayer wasn’t sticking around, but then
Grace couldn’t blame her. She didn’t know what Buffy and Angel had
talked about last night. It wasn’t her business, unless Angel decided to
share. But it had no doubt been intense. “Call me master of stating
the obvious, but you’re leaving, huh?” she asked with a smile.

Looking up from the latest addition to the pile, the blond mortal
nodded, a smaller smile of her own on her face. “Can’t leave Sunnydale for
too long. Vamps’ll overrun the place if they think it’s Slayerless.”

Grace nodded, her hands going into the pocket of her jeans. “Duty
calls and all that.” She paused for a long moment. She had more she
wanted to say, but wasn’t sure about how to phrase it. She didn’t want it
to sound unmeaningful. “Buffy, I don’t always say things how they
should be said, but I just want to tell you how glad I am to have finally
met you. Like I said the other night, I’d heard so much about you, I
felt like I knew you already.” She paused again and moved her hands to
her back pockets. “I’m just really glad to have met you finally.”

“Angel’s talked about me?” Buffy’s eyebrows rose. “Or did Cordelia and
Wesley?”

Grace smirked. “At first, it was Cordelia. She seemed to think that I
needed to know everything. So, she told me everything. Then Wesley
chimed in with tidbits here and there. Angel, for as much as he really
talks about anything, did fill in a lot of gaps for me. I came to
understand a lot from what little he would say.” She smiled. “Short and
sweet is not my specialty, but yes, they all talked about you.”

The younger woman laughed. “Sounds like you got quite the lecture.”
Sitting down, she watched the Immortal calmly. “I can’t say the same about
you, I didn’t even know your name when I got here. All that I knew was
that you’re a thousand years old. That was it. You’ve definitely turned
out to be more than what I’d expected…and it’s obvious he adores
you.”

Grace took the seat next to her and looked forward thoughtfully. “I
can’t say it any clearer than to say he’s my life, Buffy. I’m 1000 yrs
old, and I’m not sure I truly started to live until I met him.” She ran
her hand through her hair and turned her gaze to Buffy’s. “But you,
you are his first love. You gave him the desire to live. I may have
known about you, heard all the stories, but actually meeting you… it
means more than I can say.”

The mortal’s cheeks tinged slightly. “He’s different now.” She
confessed quietly. “More…at peace. He’s accepting who he is and what he’s
here to do. I could never do that for him. In his eyes, on some level, I
was a reminder that he was on the wrong side of the fence. You helped
him see differently.”

Grace sighed. “I’ve seen darkness at it’s worst, Buffy. I was raised
by someone who’s done worse than even Vlad the Impaler. But I accept
it.” She shrugged. “It’s weird, you know. I’m the epitome of light.
Spent most of my 1000 years being a ‘goodie-goodie’.” She gestured to
the empty room, acknowledging the others. “They tease, but it’s true.”
She looked at Buffy again, “What he is now has a lot to do with the
path he started when he was with you. You taught him to live, Buffy, not
I. Not I.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Buffy agreed with a flashed smile. “We both had an
affect… but I’m glad he’s happier here. It makes everything…just a bit
easier y’know?” After a moment, she grinned. “Worse than Vlad huh? Must
be somethin’.”

Grace rolled her eyes. “You have no idea! But I’ll tell you what…
if she’s on your side, she’s your strongest ally. Someday, I’ll have to
tell you the story of how nervous Angel was when he first met her.”
But would there be a ‘someday’. Grace liked this girl… a lot. She
felt a kinship with her that she didn’t normally feel with mortal women.
Speaking seriously, Grace continued, “I’d move Heaven and Earth to make
him happy. In all my life, I’ve never loved someone as completely as I
love him.” She bit her bottom lip, not sure if she’d said too much or
not. She did that sometimes.

“Good.” The mortal said softly. “That’s all that matters…though,
someday, I do want to hear that story.” Someday she would hear it. She
could see that.

“I look forward to sharing it, as much as I look forward to our next
meeting. One condition though… better circumstances. I used to take
vacations… once upon a time. I think I was oh about fourteen or so.
But I could bore you for days with my talking. Ask anyone, I’m an
expert at it.”

“So am I.” Buffy countered with a grin. “I can ramble on for days once
I get going. Angel must like talkers.”

Grace laughed at that. “Talking isn’t the only thing we have in
common.” She touched her hair and then pointed at Buffy’s. “And we aren’t
the only ones. You’re just the only one I like.” And there it was, out
in the open in pure Grace-style. She liked Buffy… a lot.

“I like you too.” The Slayer agreed. “Definitely a step up from Darla.”
A teasing grin accompanied her words.

Grace rolled her eyes again. “Darla… well you know, ‘bitch’ is just
too nice of a word for her. ‘Dead’ is one I prefer. Just the sight of
her… Ick!” She shivered dramatically.

“Oh yeah…you should have seen her in Sunnydale… She was into the
Catholic School Girl look…” Buffy rolled her eyes. “She was one I was
more than glad to see go.”

“Catholic School Girl?” Grace questioned a little louder than she
intended. “She was into Street Walker when I saw her. Now she’s very much
into the Really, Truly Dead look. I was glad to see her go too.”

“You’re not the only one.” Angel interrupted as he walked into the
room. “I was glad to see her go the first time…never mind the second.”

Looking up at him, Grace sighed. “She’s harder to kill than a
cockroach!! Either that or she’s a cat with nine lives or something. If I
never see her again, it will be too soon.” She patted the space between
her and Buffy, “We were just talking.”

Unable to decide if he should be nervous that they were talking, Angel
did as she’d gestured. “So I heard.” He agreed with a nod.

“What’d you hear?” Buffy prompted.

“You talking.”

“Angel,” Grace mock-scolded, “I never pegged you for an eavesdropper.
Or were you just afraid we were swapping stories about you?” She
pinched at his side, playfully.

Squirming out of reach, he grinned. “Thought had crossed my mind. You
two are dangerous enough when you aren’t plotting…”

Grace did look offended and then looked at Buffy. “You believing this?
*I* am not dangerous!” She tried for huff, but failed miserably.

“Me either!” Buffy’s eyes widened with convincing innocence. “I’d never
hurt a fly!”

“Not unless he’s the blood sucking variety.” Angel countered
immediately.

“Well, actually, some flies do suck blood.” Grace paused and looked at
the other two. “What?! I can’t help it. I loathe insects…
spiders… snakes. Anything that is generally yucky! And you know what, if I
want to share stories about you, I will. I know there’s things you’ve
yet to share.”

The vampire blinked, a bemused grin tweaking at the edges of his mouth.
“Ok.”

Grace simply shrugged. “I don’t know why you’re shocked. Like I
haven’t done something like that before.” Explaining to Buffy, she said, “I
could blame it on the Quickening of last night, but that would be a
lie. I think of something and I say it. It’s a fault, I know.”
Sometimes, Grace Hammond just didn’t know when to be quiet.

“It’s interesting.” Buffy countered with a smile as Angel shook his
head.

“It’s not the Quickening. It’s you.” He smiled. “And we like you that
way though we really don’t need a bug lesson today.”

Ruffling his hair, she said, “Don’t act like you don’t like the bug
lessons. We ever meet a big ugly one and you’ll understand why I pass
out. Believe me, I will.”

Angel grinned. “Mess with the hair again and you’ll understand why I
don’t catch you when you do pass out.”

“Bah!” she commented. Crossing her arms, she crossed her legs at the
knee and pouted. “Fine. I’ll never touch your hair again. Don’t worry
about it! I wouldn’t want to mess with the sacred locks.” She loved
teasing.

“That’ll last about five minutes.” Buffy commented with a smirk. “His
hair’s addictive…”

“Always been my opinion,” Grace said. She couldn’t help herself. “It
is addictive, isn’t it?”

“Incredibly.” The young woman agreed as Angel squirmed, embarrassed.
“You just can’t help but touch it.”

“Make Mohawk designs with it in the bathtub. It’s the best! But never
again. His royal hair-ness has spoken.” She gave Buffy a wink.

Angel shook his head. “You two finished teasing or do I have to get
drastic.”

Grace laughed almost evilly. “Oh now that I’d like to see. You going
to give me that *look*?” Batting her eyes at him, she smiled. “You
know you love it. And I liked the new title. It’s very… um… regal.”

“No but I might give you a spanking.” The vampire leered. “Or not…
take a bite for a while.”

She had the nerve to look appalled. “You wouldn’t dare?! You know,
that’s not even nice to tease about.” She stood as if to walk away,
turned completely around, tried to sit down, and then thought better of it.
“That’s just not nice.”

Propelled by a Slayer-shove, Angel stood up and smiled. “Make a deal,
I’ll bite, you play nice. How’s that sound?”

“Sounds like it’s only sincere cause you’re afraid the Slayer will
filet your butt.” Oh, she had pouting down to an art. “I rather enjoy the
biting and you know it.”

“Then behave and you’ll get it, and for your information the only time
she ever kicked my ass I wasn’t occupying the body at the time.” Angel
pronounced with a smug look. “So it doesn’t count.”

Grace gave Buffy a questioning look. “To hear him talk, not even the
Slayer can take him.” Squeezing Angel’s muscles, she said, “Oh yes! My
big, strong vampire.”

“Well, Angelus almost did beat me.” Buffy confessed with a shrug.
“Angel probably could.”

Pulling Grace into his arms, the vampire nipped at her ear. “You
complaining?”

“I always complain, nothing new there. The point is, I don’t mean it.
And you win, yet again.” She hugged him tightly. “I just enjoy the
arguing,” she teased.

“Imagine that,” He countered with a laugh. “You a troublemaker.”

“Will wonders never cease?” Buffy interrupted dryly, grinning.

Playfully swatting his chest, Grace pulled away. “I think there’s
something to be said for troublemakers. Anything else is boring. And I
can’t stand boring. I’ve had it, believe me. I’m much happier as a
troublemaker.” She kinda liked having another troublemaker around. Think of
all that fun that could be had.

“Boring?” Angel smirked down at her. “You and boring don’t belong in
the same sentence.”

She sat down beside Buffy and countered, “Of course it doesn’t because
I purposely keep it from happening. You know, things start to settle
into routine and I rename all of Wesley’s files.” She couldn’t help but
laugh.

That brought a wince from her lover. “And you know what happens when
she does that…” He addressed Buffy who looked sympathetic.

“If he’s anything like Giles…” She mock-shuddered. “You’re lucky
you’re Immortal.”

“He can’t curse at me in a language I don’t know. That’s a plus. And I
always put them back. I do it mostly for reaction. I just mix things
up a little. What exactly is Giles like?” From Buffy’s expression, it
had to be bad.

“Oh yes he can.” Buffy disagreed. “He’s Watcher. They know demon
languages… they can curse in languages most people can’t even *pronounce*.
And Giles is pretty cool, for an English guy, but *nobody* mess with
his books or Grrr!”

“Oh yeah, there are those.” Grace’s bubble deflated just a bit. “Giles
has a ‘Grrr face’! Wesley’s is more like a ‘hmmm face’! But it’s
fun!”

“It is!” Buffy agreed as Angel shook his head.

“No wonder they’re so stressed out most of the time, between you two,
it’s a miracle they’re sane.”

“Believe me, those men love it!!! I was raised around Brits, I know.
You honk them off, they just ignore you. Wesley doesn’t ignore me. He
has strained tolerance. That’s almost love! Does Giles ignore you?”
she asked Buffy.

“Only when he’s absorbed in a book. It’s not wise to ignore a Slayer.”
The blonde quirked a smile. “We’ve been known to get violent when
annoyed.”

Grace mimicked Buffy’s quirk to the best of her ability. “And yet
people live to annoy me. There’s
something wrong with this picture. But then again, I do have pouting
down to an art form.” She tugged on Angel’s shirt and pulled him to sit
beside them again. “But you know something, I’m perfectly happy with
all of it. Annoyed at times because I can’t live an oblivious life,
yes! But I wouldn’t trade any of it… my past, nothing. It brought me
here, and here is where I belong.”

Draping a possessive arm around her shoulders, the vampire rested her
body against his. “Yeah, you do.”

Watching them, Buffy was surprised to discover she felt no jealousy, no
twinges of pain in her heart at the sight of Angel so close to another
woman. It was different now, having met Grace she could honestly say
she was happy to see them together. They’d both moved on and both were
doing well. She still had the Slayer-angst to deal with but overall, they
were both happy. And, in the end, that was all that mattered.

At Giles’s signal, she made her goodbyes to Angel and Grace then, with
a smile and a jaunty wave, left the hotel.

Grace watched her go. Her leaving was as abrupt as her arrival. Grace
was not surprised. She moved toward the door and sighed. “I’m going
to miss her. I could… well, I could identify with her.” She shrugged,
not sure if she was saying what she actually meant. “I’m just going to
miss her.”

“I know.” Angel smiled. “You two hit it off better than I thought you
would.” Walking up behind her, he slipped his arms around her. “And
you’ll probably see her again. You know how much all hell breaks loose
around here…it’s almost expected.”

“Or we’ll have to go there. And I know you were worried… about us
meeting, I mean.” She let her head rest against his chest. “She’s a
child who has had to deal with adult situations well before she should
have. But she’s strong. And she loves you… always will. But it’s
different now. She’s going to be fine.” Grace couldn’t help but sound
parental. She really liked Buffy.

“She will.” The Immortal woman’s lover affirmed, resting his chin on
her shoulder. “And so will we.”

Her head fell against his. “Of that, I have no doubt. I have you…
you are all I need.” And there was so much more that she felt she
needed to say, but she honestly didn’t think she had to say it. He knew how
she felt. And lately, even as she had been on the outs with Gunn, she
knew he supported her fully, just as she supported him. Let whatever
evil come! They would be there… together… to fight it. And there was
no way evil could win against a love so strong. “I love you,” she
whispered softly.

“And I love you,” Angel responded equally soft, his grip on her tight.
As long as he had her they were unstoppable. They’d proven it more than
once. They’d prove it again. As long as they had each other, there was
nothing they couldn’t beat.

Turning in his arms, she hugged him fiercely before whispering
suggestively that they go upstairs. The prophecy drew them together. There was
no doubting that, but as he led her up to their room, she knew it
wasn’t the prophecy that held them together. It was a combined total of
over 1200 years of searching and waiting to find the kind of love and
connection that they had. He was always saying nothing could pull them
apart, and he was right. Nothing could. She was his forever, just as he
was hers. It was about time their lives were completed. They’d waited
long enough to find it!

Finis


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