One Big Circle

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Challenge:

* Buffy in Los Angeles
* She sees an old friend
* She knows about Shanshu and Angel's future
* Angel doesn't like that Dracula bit her and gets all possessive
* Cordy has a crush on Gunn
* Buffy needs Wesley's help
* Cordy has to say, "oooh, he's invading her personal bubble"

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"So," Cordelia said, as she filed a few pieces of paper. She looked over at Gunn, who was leaning against the countertop and smiled. "You never told me how you got into the vampire business."

"It's a long story. It involves a girl," Gunn replied. Angel and Wesley, both of whom were sitting in chairs reading books, looked up at him. "She was fine. A little messed up, but then aren't we all?"

Angel nodded his head and stood, also leaning against the counter. "That we are, my friend."

"So, was this girl your girlfriend?" Cordy pressed, anxious to get the good-looking man to start talking. It was a rare event indeed, but when he did start telling his stories, she could listen for days. She wasn't the same person she used to be. Queen C would have turned her nose up and walked in the opposite direction from Charles Gunn, but Cordy, the woman she had become, longed to be his friend. And maybe more someday.

"Nah. She was the kind of girl who everyone wanted, but you knew you couldn't have. Plus she was hanging onto the demons of an ex-boyfriend and she just- she wanted to be left alone." Gunn ran his hand over her face and smiled at the memory. "She's was a powerhouse, though. She knew everything there was to know about demons and vampires and how to kill them."

"Did she die like your sister?" Cordelia asked, then regretted it the second that she said it.

Gunn's face fell and he took a step back away from the counter. "I'll be right back."

Angel watched the man walk into the bathroom and shut the door. "Cordelia-"

"You don't have to say it. I suck." The brunette buried her face in her hands. "It just slipped. It's his own fault for being all doe eyed over some weird girl!"

Wesley grinned at Angel and shook his head. "I dare say, Cordelia, that jealousy looks rather striking on you."

Before Cordelia could reply, the door opened and someone very familiar stepped in out of the sunlight. Every back in the room straightened as two sets of eyes landed on Angel, and Angel's eyes landed on hers. "B-Buffy."

The Slayer closed the doors and walked across the foyer, her heels on the polished floor the only sound in the room. "Hello, Angel," she said, then turned to smile at the others. "Cordelia, Wesley."

"What brings you to town?" Wesley said before Angel could speak at all.

"A prophecy. I'm looking for something called the Scroll of Aberjian. Word on the street around here," She looked up at Angel, "is that you might know where that is."

Angel's mouth had suddenly gone completely dry and the only things going through his mind were the words: prophecy, shanshu, Aberjian Scroll. Buffy couldn't possibly know, could she? Finally, he put his hands into his pockets and nodded. "I could probably get it."

Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Cordelia and Wesley look at one another as if to say, 'It's in the other room.' He shot them a look and glanced back down at Buffy. God, she was gorgeous. Her hair was longer than he'd ever seen it and the ends were curled. She was wearing red leather pants and a matching jacket and her lips were red; kissable. "Uhm, why do you need it, Buffy?"

Buffy knew that his gaze had washed over her and she could see that by the way it lingered that he liked what he saw. She knew that feeling. He was perfection, still able to steal her breath with a gaze and steal her heart with his presence. "There's someone named Glory in Sunnydale. She's strong, powerful, and apparently prophesied. There was a fleeting mention of her in the Codex, but it referred us to the Aberjian Scroll. Apparently that's where I can find the missing words to this." She pulled her bag from her shoulder and dug through it, lifting out a rolled up paper. It looked ancient, wrinkled around the edges and water stained.

She rolled it out on the counter and pointed at the ink. "As you can see, it starts off fine, but it's too faded to see how it ends. I have to figure it out before she does. She's got all these spells she can do and she's in communication with the Elder-beast." Buffy heard Wesley gasp beside her. "That rings a bell for you too, huh? Giles was completely floored when he found out."

"If you'll let me borrow this for a moment, I'll go into the other room and see what I can find," Wesley offered. He knew what Angel was hoping to block from her, and he'd do his best to see to it that the vampire's wishes were carried out. He watched the blond shrug and hand him the tattered scroll, then nodded. "I'll be right back."

Buffy busied herself with closing up her bag, then glanced around the old hotel. "Nice place."

"Thank you. Uhm, would you like some coffee? A soda?" Angel's hands were clasped in front of him and they were icy cold. His entire body was cold.

"Yeah, Buffy, we've got a ton of stuff. We've got donuts too, want one?" Cordelia grabbed a pink box and held it up.

Shaking her head, Buffy smiled, "No, thanks. I just had a big lunch."

Angel looked at Cordy, who shrugged and sat down behind her desk. She could feign that she was busy and avoid the awkward Buffy moment. Angel, on the other hand-

The vampire took a step forward and indicated a chair for Buffy. He waited for her to sit down, then sat opposite her. "How are things in Sunnydale?"

"Things are still the same. A little better for some, a little worse for others."

"What do you mean?" He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees.

Buffy knew that there would be no point in lying to him. He could see right into her, through her. "My mom's sick."

"I'm sorry." He resisted the urge to take her hand. "Do you know what it is?"

"Yes," she replied, but offered nothing more.

The bathroom door opened and Gunn stepped out. Angel stood up and motioned for him, ready to introduce them. Buffy stood as well, watching the young man approach. When he was halfway across the large room, Buffy's eyes widened and a broad smile cut across her face. "Gunn!"

"Annie-girl?" Gunn shouted, stopping in place.

Buffy gave a delighted squeal and raced across the floor, throwing herself in the other man's arms. Cordelia had stood up behind her desk and raised an eyebrow at Angel, who shrugged.

"Oh my god, girl!" Gunn grinned as he sat Buffy back on her feet and looked her from head to toe. "Damn, check you out! You was always fine, but damn! I still miss the little dress though."

Buffy giggled and blushed a little, "Only you could possibly find Helen's uniforms sexy."

"No, babe, it was you in them."

Cordelia narrowed her eyes. "You two know each other?"

"You could say that. Anne's the one who taught me about va-" Gunn stopped talking and looked over at Buffy. "Am I about to say something that I shouldn't?"

"No, it's fine." Buffy told him. "They know."

"'Cause I was gonna blab all." Gunn told her with a chuckle. He draped an arm around her and gave her another hug. "I missed you."

"I missed you, too. Where's Allanna? Is she here?" Buffy glanced up the big staircase, hoping to see Gunn's sister.

Gunn shook his head sadly. "They got her, Anne. They turned her. I - I had to-" He trailed off and closed his eyes.

Buffy laid a hand on his cheek. "I'm sorry, Charles. Did you get the bastards that did it?"

Gunn squeezed her hand and nodded toward Angel. "Angel did."

"How do you two know each other?" Cordelia continued, coming from around the desk to stand beside her boss. "Details, please?"

Smiling, Gunn glanced down at Buffy. "She showed up one night in the warehouse where all of us were staying. She had laid her bag down in the bus station for three seconds and everything she owned got stolen, money, clothes, everything."

"I was so pissed," Buffy added, shaking her head at the memory. "I didn't have anywhere to go, no money to get there, and my stomach was rubbing my backbone."

"Why didn't you go to your dad's?" Cordelia asked, arching an eyebrow up. So, Buffy had been a player, even then.

"Uhm, remember that time that the Sunnydale police were after me for allegedly attacking all of you and running? And then my mom kicked me out?" Buffy asked. Cordelia nodded. "There you go. I came here, intending to keep going, but with everything stolen, I had to stay."

"And am I glad she did," Gunn told the others. "She was over in one corner of the warehouse crying and damn, but she looked pitiful."

"Hey!" Buffy cried, punching him on the arm. "I was pitiful!"

"Yeah, and damn cute. We gave her some food and stuff and she stayed with us and the next day, I got her hooked up with a job at Helen's Kitchen, where I was a part time cook."

"You were a wannabe cook," Buffy giggled at the memory and then laughed out loud at the look on his face. "What? Gunn, how many times did we have to evacuate people on your shift because of fires?"

"That's probably why I got fired, right?"

"I'd say yes."

Gunn chuckled and continued. "After I got fired, Anne started sneaking us food."

"Who is Anne?" Cordelia snapped, pointing at Buffy. "Her name is Buffy."

"Your name is Buffy?" Gunn looked down at her.

Shrugging, Buffy nodded. "I had an alias. Isn't that bad of me? Very con artist-y." One look at their faces and she added, "It's my middle name. And anyway, I met up with Gunn and his crew at the warehouse to bring them all some dinner and vampires attacked. They didn't know what the hell was happening, so I started kicking in these wooden crates to make stakes. They didn't believe me until they saw the fangs, then we dusted them and the rest is history."

"No, it ain't," Gunn shook his head. "Vampires, I can handle. But then me and Tino, and a bunch of us got sucked into worker bee HELL, and Anne came and got us out."

"You went to Hell?" Angel asked, swallowing hard. That was no place for Buffy. Or Gunn.

"We went to a dimension of something like Hell. Ken said it was Hell, but I don't know. All I know is they had all these kids down there and they would work them for what felt like hours in our world, but when they spit them back out, they were old." Buffy recalled what it had been like and shuddered.

"Hey! I remember! Your name * is * Buffy!" Gunn suddenly said, then looked at the others. "We was all down there and these demon dudes would get up in your face and make you say that your were 'nobody'. They lined us up and started down the line and they'd be all like, 'Who are you?' and you had to say, 'I'm nobody' or they'd beat you down. Well, they get to Anne and they're all, 'Who are you?' and she goes-" He nudged Buffy. "Say it."

Buffy ran a hand through her hair and said with mock conceit, "I'm Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and you are?"

Gunn howled with laughter. "And then she wrestled his weapon away and beat the hell out of anything that got in her way."

Angel grinned. He could see it in his head clearly. Before he could reply, Buffy glanced over at Gunn and said, "Battle scars?"

Gunn lifted his shirt, pointing to a row of scratches. "Gilbre demon."

"Ooh!" Buffy pulled her jacket off and showed him her arm. "Pansa demon."

The man showed her his back. "Hell hound."

Buffy lifted her the bottom of her shirt, exposing a bandage, which she peeled back. "I got staked by my own stake."

Gunn kneeled down at looked at it. "Now that's just clumsy. What're you trying to brag for?" He pulled the bandage back in place and showed her his elbow. "Broke the jaw of a vampire with it."

Buffy pulled her collar aside. "I got bit by Dracula."

"What!?" Angel cried, storming across the room. He had been tempted to grab her and shake her when she exposed her belly and showed her stab wound, but this was too much. He yanked her collar aside and examined her neck. "When!?"

Gunn moved aside and watched the vampire. Cordelia came to stand next to him. "Oh boy, here is goes."

"What?"

"Buffy and Angel were together," Cordelia said. "He's the guy who was haunting her when you met her."

Gunn didn't reply, he just watched as Angel trailed his thumb over the mark and glared down at Buffy. "When did it happen, Buffy?"

"Months ago," Buffy tried not to delight in the feel on his skin against hers, his body so close she could move an inch and be flush against it.

Angel growled, gathering her collar in his hands and yanking her toward him. "And you let him?"

Buffy shoved him away. "I think 'let' is a pretty loose term. He put me under his thrall - or something."

"Did you sleep with him?" Angel moved toward her again, towering over her and following her as she backed away. "Answer me."

"Oooh, he's invading her personal bubble," Cordy said. "But she likes it."

"No, I did not sleep with him!" Buffy stopped walking and held her ground. "And stop trying to intimidate me!"

"No, she doesn't like it," Gunn told Cordy. "She's gonna kick his ass in five- four- three- two-"

Angel grabbed Buffy by the shoulders and crushed her mouth with his. He half lifted her, making her stand on her tiptoes, and continued to kiss her, parting her lips with his tongue. He felt her resistance give, growled with need when her tongue danced against his, then lowered his arms around her waist, holding her against him.

"Okay, I was wrong. I can admit it," Gunn watched them. "Can she kick * my * ass that way?"

Cordy groaned in reply, but also watched. She couldn't figure out what the hell people saw in Buffy. Short. Scrawny. Brown roots. And sure, she was strong, but she wasn't so special. Right?

Buffy wrapped her arms around his neck, effectively silencing the protests in her mind. His hands were everywhere; on her back, on her shoulder, on her cheek. She wanted them everywhere else. Finally, when she couldn't stand it any longer, she broke away. He looked smug, satisfied. She felt her hand fly through the air, ready to strike against his cheek, but he caught it and yanked her toward him.

Leaning down into her face, Angel whispered, "I will mark you again and if you ever let another vampire -"

"You're gonna 'mark' me? That's very 'dog pissing on a tree' of you, Angel." Buffy's eyes flashed with fury, but she knew he could see beneath the fašade. He knew that the fury was only with herself, for letting him ignite the fires within her again. "Don't try to threaten me."

"I don't have to. You know I mean it." Angel pulled her even closer. "I can tolerate Riley Finn, Buffy, but if I so much as think that you are messing around with another vampire-"

Buffy swallowed hard, the fact that he was only inches from her wrenching the truth from her. "There's only you. Always you."

Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Here's where the sappy violin music starts." She mimed playing a fiddle.

Buffy glanced over at her, then back up at Angel. "Always you."

Angel pressed a kiss to her forehead and leaned his head against hers. "I'm sorry."

"Forget about it," Buffy replied.

Wesley walked back into the room with Buffy's scroll and a notebook. He paused when he saw the hugging couple, then looked at Cordelia, who mimed the violin again. He nodded in understanding, and cleared his throat. "Uhm, Buffy, I think I've found what you needed."

Buffy stepped away from Angel, giving his hand a final squeeze, and took the scroll from Wesley. She put it in her bag and looked over the notes he had taken. Satisfied, she put those in her bag and turned to look at Gunn. "I have to go."

"Can't you stay for dinner or something?" Gunn asked her, pulling her in for another hug.

"No, I've got to take care of this before it takes care of me," Buffy said with a sigh. She looked at Wesley and Cordelia. "It was good to see you again."

"Likewise," Wesley told her. Cordelia only nodded.

Buffy turned to where Angel was standing and looked at him for several seconds. "You know, you think you're sitting on a secret here, but you're not. The Codex also told us about Shanshu, just like the Aberjian Scroll." She heard the gasps around her and watched Angel falter slightly on his feet. "The next time you 'mark' me, you'll have a heartbeat, a pulse, and you'll be alive." She moved to where he stood and pressed her palm against his cheek. "And I'll let you back in, I won't hesitate and I won't think twice about it no matter how long it takes, so don't you."

With a smile, she turned on her heel and headed toward the door. "I'll be seeing you. Thanks again, Wesley."

"Anytime, Buffy," the ex-watcher called.

"Hey, don't get staked again," Gunn added. "That's just too ironic."

Buffy winked, took one last look at Angel, and stepped out of the building. Angel sat down hard in one of the chairs and put his head in his hands. Wesley joined him and sat in silence for several seconds, watching. "Angel, it's probably better that she knows."

Angel glanced up at him. "Right."

"I'm serious. It not only gives you a reason to hold on, it gives her a reason. She's getting old, Angel. Old, as far as Slayers go, and she has to maintain a connection to this world to remain strong as she ages. I spoke with Giles on the telly back there and he told me that things are bad for her back home. He told her about Shanshu to give her new hope."

"What if it doesn't happen in her lifetime, Wesley. What if it's false hope?" Angel sighed and rubbed his forehead. "What if-"

"What if I told you that what I translated for her indicates that your final battles are to begin? What if I told you that within the year - your atonement would be complete and you would be free to return to her?"

Angel's eyes widened. "Would that be the truth?"

"Yes."

"Oh great!" Cordelia cried. "Just perfect! I'm going to be jobless within the year?"

"Calm down," Gunn said. "That's still a while, yet. Live in the moment."

"I want out of this moment! This moment right now is very unstable." Cordy told him. "Hurricane Buffy strikes again."

"Well, my night is clear. Want to go get dinner? I'll take you to the place where Anne- I mean, Buffy and I worked." Gunn held out his arm to her.

Cordy grinned, really grinned. "Am I overdressed?"

He took in her jeans and sweatshirt. "Probably, but we'll cross that bridge after dinner."

Angel watched them leave and shook his head. "Life is just one big circle, isn't it? We're all connected somehow. I mean, Gunn knew Buffy and we know Buffy and-"

"And you'll know her again. But until you do, we'll keep busy. Keep your mind off of her."

"That's impossible," Angel grinned.

"I know, but humor me. I've found out where that Bunga demon is hiding. His lair is-"

And Angel humored him.

But his mind was exactly where his heart was.

With Buffy.

____

-Fin

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