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15 November 2011 @ 10:10 pm
Fic: Rewards (3/8)  
Summary, Notes, and Warnings are located in the Table of Contents.

Chapter Two: Delusions of Sunnydale
 
Angel and Wesley were already formulating plans of attack by the time they returned to Liz's Jeep and began the return trip.  While Wesley was mentally reviewing Slayer history that he had learned from his time with the Watchers' Council, Angel got on the phone to the gang at the Hyperion.  Wesley half-listened to Angel's conversation.
 
"Cordy, it's me.  I need you guys to look up some information.  Things have gone very strangely out here.  I need you guys to find Liz Snow… yes Liz Snow, the client….  No, we didn't get paid up front.  Cordelia, can you focus for a minute please!?!  Start with hospitals between here and LA.  I also need someone to find any available background on her, and on this project she's working on.  They mentioned something about clients – see if you can find out who's funding it as well.  Wes and I are on our way back to the hotel now.  See if you guys can't have something for us by the time we get back."
 
He hung and looked over at Wesley.  "Wes, I'm not crazy am I?  That was… was that Buffy?" That crushing weight on his chest just wouldn't go away.
 
Wesley slowly nodded.  "It certainly appeared to be.  I mean, it's not impossible that there would be another young woman with similar physical characteristics, but given the circumstances of our meeting, the… I would think that we certainly need to keep our minds open to the possibility that somehow that she is Buffy."
 
The car was very quiet for the remainder of the trip back to the hotel.

~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~

When they returned to the hotel, Fred gave them a status update, which did not improve Angel's mood.
 
"We haven't found a whole lot of information yet which in itself tells us that this is more than just your average archaeological dig.  I mean, most of the files on this thing are hidden behind passwords and multi-level encryption, not the kind of security you'd find for most of these types of things.  Plus the 'client' is just a dummy corporation.  We're trying, but I'm having trouble tracing it back to any type of real entity.  It might help if we knew a bit more about what we were looking for."
 
While Angel sat impatiently brooding, Wesley filled the others in on the events of that morning.  Everyone pretty much shared the same look of stunned confusion that Wesley felt had permanently etched itself onto his face.  When he was through, they returned to their tasks with a renewed vigor.
 
Wesley noted, "I'd like to try to research the object in question itself, but I only got a brief glimpse."
 
Gunn interjected, "Maybe Angel can do that photographic memory thing.  Do you think you could draw it, man?"
 
Angel reflected, seeming more and more agitated as the minutes passed.  Finally he said, "All I can see is her hand, reaching out to touch it.  I couldn't stop her. I was too late."  He abruptly stood up and headed back into the office.  Cordelia followed him.
 
The year after Buffy's death had been harrowing to live through.  Angel had completely lost his will to live and Cordelia had lived with the constant fear that each battle would be his last.  The look on his face now was reminiscent of those first days when the pain had overwhelmed him.   Not for the first time, she mentally cursed the Powers That Be for their utter insensitivity.
 
"Angel, I can't even begin to imagine how you must be feeling right now.”  She waited to see if he was going to respond.  He didn't.
 
"Despite appearances to the contrary, we are good at this.  We will find her and we will find out what is happening."
 
"I found her!! I found her!" Fred exclaimed excitedly. 
 
Angel ran back to the lobby.  "Where?  How?"
 
Cordelia shook her head.  “Okay, that was faster than I thought,” she muttered as she followed Angel back where the others were gathered around Fred at the computer..
 
"Well you see, I was calling about emergency admissions and getting nowhere.  But it turns out that she didn't go through the ER at all.  She was admitted directly.  She's at St. Rita's Hospital.  But it looks like it's just a temporary admission.  Oh…" she trailed off.
 
"Oh?  What 'Oh'?" Angel asked, looking over her shoulder at a complex table of data.
 
"She's been given a room at the hospital until a bed opens up at Wildwood, the private psychiatric facility just west of the city."
 
“Why a psychiatric facility?” Wesley questioned. 
 
Fred shook her head.  “I don’t see that information here.  I think you'll have to go look at her chart in person.”
It was decided that Wesley and Cordelia would accompany Angel to investigate at the hospital.  Before they left, Wesley asked Gunn to visit Liz's apartment and see if she had any information on the dig there, specifically information on the stone in question.
 
They arrived there within half an hour and went straight to the room number Fred had obtained, bypassing the information desk.  They entered the room.  Liz was lying in bed, still unconscious.  In a chair at the side of the bed sat an older woman, her face drawn.   She looked up as she heard them.
 
"Are you friends of Liz's?  I'm Laura Snow, her mother." 
 
Angel was taken aback. Somehow, he had not imagined anyone being there.  “Uh, yes, well, that is to say we were working with her.  We were there this morning when she collapsed.  This is Wesley and Cordelia,” he said indicating the other two.  He stuck out his hand in greeting.  “And I'm Angel.”
 
Mrs. Snow started as she heard his name and looked closely at him as she shook his hand.  “How strange.  Is that your given name?”
 
“Well, it's kind of a nickname, but it's what I go by.  Is there a problem?”
 
“No, no,” Mrs. Snow said tiredly.  “It's just that there was someone once, also named Angel, who was very important to my daughter.”  She glanced back down at Liz, shaking her head.  "I can't believe this has started again."  Tears began forming in her eyes.
 
Cordy stepped forward, placing a gentle hand on her arm.  "Mrs. Snow, you look like you could use a break.  I saw a cafeteria as we were coming in.  Would you like to go and get a cup of tea with me?"
 
"But what if… what if she wakes up and I'm not here?"
 
"Angel and Wesley can stay here.  If she wakes up, one of them will come get us immediately."
 
“Of course,” Wesley agreed. 
 
Mrs. Snow moved to Liz's bedside and gently kissed her forehead.  “I'll be back soon, sweetie,” she murmured.
 
As soon as they had left the room, Wesley grabbed the chart off the end of Liz's bed.  Angel stood by the bed looking down at the girl.  She looked just like Buffy.  Angel had never though he would see that beautiful face again.  Wesley gave a slight cough to try to get his attention. 
 
“Talk to me, Wes,” Angel replied tersely, unable to tear his eyes away.
 
“Angel,” Wesley's voice was heavy.  Angel looked at him.  “She has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.  I don't have the whole history here, but it appears to date back to her teen years.  There is an indication that she seemed to have been spontaneously cured about six years ago.”
 
“Six years?” repeated Angel.  “That's when Buffy died.”  Even now, uttering those words caused immeasurable pain.
 
“Yes, I do find it an odd coincidence.  I wish I had the full history.”  He continued studying the chart, looking at prognosis and treatment, and then said incredulously, "This can't be right!" 
 
"What?" Angel said sharply.
 
"Well, these dosages.  They've got her on anti-psychotics, which seem to be reflective of her historical condition more than the symptoms we saw this morning.  But that aside, these dosage levels would be lethal to most people."  He looked contemplative.  "However, levels like these might be used to subdue someone of preternatural strength, metabolism… someone like…"
 
"… a Slayer," Angel finished.
 
Wesley continued reading the chart.  He suddenly put it down and checked out the door.  He looked back at Angel and said urgently, "We've got to get her out of here.  Now."
 
"What? Why?  What's going on?"
 
"Just help me get her out of here.  I don’t think they mean for her to wake up."
 
Wesley ran down the hall to a supply closet and returned with a wheelchair.  As Angel removed Liz from the bed and began to position her in the chair, Wesley tersely commented, "They have her scheduled for electroshock therapy; at levels that will kill her, possibly even if she is the Slayer."
 
Angel's face hardened.  He nodded abruptly.  "We're ready.  What about Cordy?"
 
They started moving the wheelchair down the hall.  Wesley grabbed his cell phone and called the office.  "Gunn, I need you to call Cordy.  Tell her not to go back to Liz's room with Mrs. Snow.  She needs to leave as soon as possible."

~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~

In the cafeteria, Cordelia and Mrs. Snow were sitting with mugs of hot tea.  Cordelia felt for the poor woman, she looked so tired and so worried. 
 
“So,” Cordy began, you said that you couldn't believe this was happening again?  What's going on?  What's wrong with Bu... Liz?”
 
The older woman sighed.  “Of course she wouldn't have told you.  She was so happy to be able to put it all in the past.  And of course so many people hear schizophrenia and just get scared.”
 
“Of course,” Cordy agreed.  “When did it start?”
 
“Oh, she was about 15 when it first happened.  But after a few weeks, the delusions stopped and we thought it was an isolated incident.  About half a year later, it all began again and we, well we just lost her for years.”
 
“What were her delusions about?” Cordelia asked, already having her suspicions.
 
“Vampires and demons.  She thought she was some sort of superhero that was destined to save humanity.  There was even someone in her delusional world named Angel.  That's why I was so startled to hear that name, especially given what's happened.  Her delusions were so complete.  She had friends, Willow and Xander, and enemies.  She even thought she lived somewhere else, someplace called Sunnydale.  That was all she ever shared with us.  She was catatonic most of the time.”
 
Cordelia swallowed.  This was very very creepy.
 
Mrs. Snow continued, so grateful to be letting all this out that she didn't notice Cordelia's discomfort.  “And then, as suddenly as they appeared, they were gone.”
 
“When was that?” Cordelia asked slowly.
 
“Spring, six years ago.  She would never tell us what happened at the end, but she came back to us.”  Mrs. Snow was smiling and crying at the same time.  “She worked so hard to put it all behind her.  She got her GED in no time at all, excelled at college.  I thought it was over.  And now...”
 
Cordelia's phone rang.  Looking at the caller ID, she saw Gunn's number.  “I'm sorry, but I have to take this.  It's my work.
 
“Yeah, Gunn?”
 
“Listen, Cordy, I don't know what's going on over there, but Wesley says you've got to get out of there.  And whatever you do, don't go back to Liz's room.  Just get back here ASAP.”
 
“Oh, okay.  I understand.  I'll be there right away.”
 
She hung up and turned to Mrs. Snow.  “I'm so sorry, but I really have to run.  Please give Liz my best when she wakes up.”  With that, Cordy hurried out of the cafeteria and out of the hospital only to realize that Angel and Wesley must have taken the car already.  “Great,” she grumbled.

~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~

Gunn closed his cell phone and looked around Liz Snow's apartment.  She didn't have a desk or a computer here.  Given the urgency of Wesley's phone call, he wasn't sure that he wanted to stick around too much longer.  Moving into the bedroom, he did a quick check through her closet and night table.  Pay dirt!  In a drawer in the night table was a thick file folder surrounded by a rubber band.  He pulled off the band and took a quick glance through the contents.  On top was a printout from the Angel Investigations website, and the rest of the papers seemed to be summaries and drawings from the dig.  He quickly bundled it back up and exited the apartment. 

~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~

When Cordelia returned to the hotel, she found the lobby and office empty.  Hearing faint voices from upstairs, she followed the sound until she found everyone in one of the unused guest rooms.  As she walked up, she could hear Wesley explaining that apparently Liz had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and violent delusions.
 
She entered the room.  “And I can tell you what those delusions were about.”  Turning to Angel, she added, “And thanks for ditching me!  What was so important that,” she stopped as she saw Liz laying unconscious in the bed at the far end of the room.  “Oh boy.”
 
“We had to get her out of there, Cordy. We think someone may be trying to kill her.” 
 
“And again, I say Oh Boy.”
 
Wesley interrupted.  “Cordelia, you were saying you know something about the delusions.”
 
“Yes.  Well, her mother was pretty forthcoming.  I think you’ll find the story pretty familiar.  When she was about 15, she started having “delusions” that she was some type of superhero destined to save the world from vampires, along with her friends Willow and Xander.  This all continued until six years ago, when she abruptly came back to reality.”
 
“I don’t understand.  Are you saying that she shared Buffy’s experiences?” Fred asked.
 
Cordy shrugged.  “I don’t know what I’m saying.  I’ve never heard of anything like this.  But look at her.  I mean, that’s Buffy.  And she apparently knows about Slayers and vampires and everything else.”
 
They stood around the bed looking at her, each wondering what was happening.  After a moment, Fred ventured, “This is a little morbid, just watching her.  Don’t you think?”
 
Everyone except Angel looked away, nodding.  Wesley said, “Of course, you’re right.  We aren’t doing any good just staring at her.  We should get back to the research.”
 
Gunn added, “Yeah, I found some stuff in her apartment.  I’m pretty sure there’s a sketch of the stone in there.”
 
“Great, we can research that as well as any history of Slayer doppelgangers.  Fred, you can continue trying to track down who is funding this project.”
 
Angel was vaguely aware of the conversation going on around him.  He had been watching her since they had returned from the hospital.  All he wanted to do was sit by her bedside and hold her hand, but it somehow didn’t seem appropriate.  He hadn’t touched her since he had put her on the bed.  His eyes covered every inch of her face, looking for anything that was different, that would say she wasn’t Buffy, but finding nothing. 
 
He remembered the last time he had seen Buffy before her death.  It was after her mother’s funeral.  She had looked drawn and anxious, but was still the most beautiful woman he’d ever known.  She had asked him to stay.  They both knew he couldn’t for a myriad of reasons, but she had still asked.  Ever since her death, he had wondered what would have happened if he had stayed?  Would he have been able to help in the final fight, would his presence have changed the outcome?  Or was his Slayer fated to meet her end that bitter morning?  And if it was fate, then what was she doing here, now, a totally different person?
 
The rest of the gang had started to the door, but stopped when Angel said suddenly, “She’s waking up.  I saw her hand move.”  Angel stared intently at her hand, willing it to move again.  He was sure if she would only wake up, she could tell them what was going on.

 ~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~
 
She heard voices around her.  She wanted to talk to them, but she was so tired.  Everything hurt.  One voice stood out from all the others, warm and comforting.  She needed to talk to him.  She struggled past the fatigue. 
 
Pushing her eyelids up, she stared glassily up at him.  She smiled and murmured, "Angel…"  Her eyes moved past him.  "And Cordelia?  Your hair…?"  A stab of panic shot through her.  "Where's Dawn?"  She tried to sit up but succumbed quickly to the continuing effects of the drugs and fell back into unconsciousness.
 
They stood stock still, looks of shock on their faces.  Angel shook his head.  "I don't care what you say; that is Buffy.  She knew me, us.”
 
Wesley nodded.  "I think it might be time to involve some of her friends from Sunnydale."
 
Angel nodded slowly.  "Call Giles.  Let him decide who else, if anyone, should know at this point."