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15 November 2011 @ 10:14 pm
Fic: Rewards (2/8)  
Summary, Notes, and Warnings are located in the Table of Contents.

Chapter One: Relics
 
Five Years Later
 
As they approached the client's office on the UCLA campus, Angel began to feel a worrying feeling in his stomach.  Something was wrong or out of place.  He turned to Wesley with a puzzled look on his face.
 
"What's this case about again?" he asked.
 
"The Archaeology department is working on a dig about an hour from here in the desert.  They unearthed an unusual artifact and would like our help in identifying it."
 
"That seems a little mundane for us, doesn't it?" Angel asked.
 
"Well," Wesley began.  "The woman I spoke with seemed quite insistent that it was more than a mere artifact.  She indicated that her research had led her to some obscure references regarding a cult who believed in the supernatural.  At that point her references dried up.  She is hopeful that with our more… esoteric library, we may be able to help her identify the piece."
 
They entered the office.  For a second, Angel felt something like a jolt of electricity run through him, but it quickly went away.  He followed Wesley to the reception desk.
 
"Excuse us, we're looking for a Miss Liz Snow," Wesley told the student at the desk.
 
She pointed to a group across the room.  "She's right over there. The blonde.  She just got through with her class."
 
They looked where she had directed them.  A group of students were clustered around a female standing with her back to them.  Her blonde hair was pulled back into a no-nonsense ponytail and she was dressed in cargo pants, a lightweight cotton shirt and boots.  Angel and Wesley started across the room as she finished her conversation with the students and turned around.
 
As stunned as Wesley was, he could still swear that he could actually feel Angel turn to stone momentarily.  The young woman walking toward them had Buffy Summers' face, her gait, her smile.  And when she spoke, she had her voice.
 
"Hi!  You must be the guys from Angel Investigations.  I'm Liz Snow.  I'm so glad you could get out here on such short notice."  She extended her hand.
 
Angel was standing as if in a fog, but Wesley shook off his stupor and, shaking her hand, stammered, "Uh… yes, we are…  I'm Wesley Wyndham-Pryce and this is my associate, Angel."  As he shook her very warm, very alive hand, he forcibly reminded himself that while this young woman was alive, Buffy Summers was dead and buried and had been for many years.
 
Liz smiled warmly at Wesley.  "It's great to meet you, Mr. … I'm sorry. I'm never sure what to do with hyphenated names."
 
"Wesley will be fine."
 
She nodded.  "Good to meet you Wesley. And you, Angel." She turned and took his hand, which he had finally recovered enough to offer.  As she did, she felt a frisson of something electric pass through her.  He looked so familiar to her.  She was sure she had never actually met him, which meant…  She didn't like what it might mean.
 
As she pushed that unwelcome world out of her mind, she made a mental note of how often it had been creeping up on her lately.  She pulled her hand away as quickly as politeness allowed, noticing the brief look of disappointment on Angel's face and trying to ignore the way it tugged at her heart.
 
Wrenching her thoughts back to the task at hand, she said, "If you all don't mind, perhaps we should get going.  It's about an hour out to the dig site.  I can fill you in on everything on the way."  With that, she grabbed a rucksack sitting by the wall and strode purposefully out the door they had just entered without glancing back to see if they followed.
 
Exchanging a confused and worried look, Wesley and Angel followed her out into the bright sunlight.
 
Once they got on the road, Wesley broke a silence which was verging on the uncomfortable what with Angel, who was riding shotgun, sneaking furtive looks at the young doctoral candidate who was studiously avoiding looking in his direction.  "So, Ms. Snow, may I ask exactly why you chose our agency for help with your project?"
 
"Please call me Liz.  And truthfully, you were just about the only name that came up when I asked around.  The only other person I heard about moved back to England some years ago.  You guys are pretty much the predominant experts on this continent for unusual objects."  She shivered slightly, remembering the chilly, electric feeling she got every time she was near the carved stone.  "And this one seems pretty damn unusual to me.  Although I suppose I should warn you, I'm the only one taking a specific interest.  Everyone else seems to think it's pretty much run-of-the-mill."  She shrugged, glancing at Wesley in the rear-view mirror.
 
As she moved her eyes back to the road ahead, she noticed that Angel was watching her again.  Liz was a beautiful girl, and attracted her fair share of attention, but there was something in his eyes that seemed… different from the average admirer.  He seemed almost awed when he looked at her.  It was something she could easily get used to, she thought.  Except for that feeling of familiarity, she would have been anxious to pursue this man.  Images flashed through her mind: sitting on a bed next to him in a small dark room, both soaked with the rain; his face lit by firelight as he read quietly.  Stopping the unbidden mental jaunt to that fantasy land, she was glad when Wesley continued.
 
"So what about it makes you think there's something…" he searched for a word, not wanting to scare her off by suggesting the mystical if she was not already aware of the possibility.
 
"Supernatural?" Liz suggested.
 
"Okay, supernatural, about it?" Wesley finished.
 
"Well, all right."  She took a deep breath, praying that they weren't going to think she was crazy.  "There are certainly plenty of ruins, settlements, and other archaeological evidence left by the Spanish explorers and settlers and the Amerindian tribes that existed around this area.  But this site doesn't have any of the key markers we'd look for in those types of digs.  If anything, I'd say the writings and the artifacts look African in nature, which certainly doesn't fit with what we know of the history of this area.
 
"But, more importantly, there's the object itself.  There are symbols on it that I've found in some other writings.  As I explained on the phone, most of my resources deal mostly with scientific fact.  But I dug into some of the personal accounts of explorers and archaeologists that have worked in this area over the centuries and some of them contain references, some more direct than others, to works of… the occult, I guess I should say." 
 
Angel nodded and making appropriate sounding noises of agreement or understanding as this conversation went on.  But he found that he had no idea of what they were talking about.  His mind, his senses, everything was inundated with Buffy.  Somewhere, the rational part of his brain kept shouting that this couldn't be Buffy, but that part was being pretty well stifled by everything else. 
 
No wonder he hadn't recognized the sensation he felt earlier on the way into her office.  He hadn't felt the buzz signaling Buffy was near for years.  And since she was dead, he really hadn't expected to be feeling it ever again.  But looking back, that's what it was… almost. 
 
Liz chatted on about some of the sources she had examined in her search.  Wesley was growing alarmingly aware of the number of volumes she was mentioning that were considered directly related to Slayer lore.  If this artifact was related to the Slayer line, and it had been discovered by this girl who happened to look exactly like the greatest Slayer who had ever lived, there were forces at work here that deeply disturbed him.
 
When they reached the site, Liz parked, tucking her keys up on the sun visor.  She had been getting more and more pensive as the neared the location and was now practically silent as they walked toward the entryway dug into the small bluff in the middle of nowhere.  As they passed into the antechamber, Angel and Wesley were aware of a shift in the surrounding environment.  There was no doubt in either of their minds that this area was powerful with magicks.
 
The antechamber had one exit uncovered, leading into a dark, narrow hallway.  Coming toward them from the hallway was an older man, dressed similarly to Liz.  He smiled warmly when he saw her.
 
"Liz, how wonderful to see you," he fawned over her, taking her hand in both of his, clasping it warmly.
 
"Dr. Moore!  I didn't know you were on-site today," she said, appearing slightly uncomfortable, guiltily glancing at Angel and Wesley. 
 
"Well, I heard you were coming in today and thought it would be nice to touch base with you."  He glanced pointedly at Angel and Wesley.  "And who are your friends?"
 
Liz cleared her throat.  "Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, Angel, may I present Dr. Philip Moore, the head of our archaeology department.  Dr. Moore, these gentlemen are from Angel Investigations.  I've asked them to help me in identifying the object in the inner chamber here."
 
Dr. Moore's expression became disapproving.  "Now, Liz, we've discussed this.  There is no need for further investigation.  The client will handle that end of things.  In fact, they have indicated that they want the stone as soon as possible."
 
"I know that there's no need, Professor."  Her tone implied that they had had this discussion several times before.  "But think of what we could learn.  There's something different here, new…"
 
"Liz, you are creating mysteries where none exist.  If you attempt to go public with these… these theories, you know that you will be entirely discredited.  Add to that, someone will dig up your past and make that connection."  Her face tensed and he glanced at Wesley and Angel and hesitated.  "Liz, I'm only worried about your career.  You've worked so hard."
 
"I'm not going public willy-nilly… or even at all necessarily.  I've just asked them in for a consultation.  I want to find out what the factual basis is for what we're seeing."
 
Frustrated, Liz walked on past the professor, gesturing for Wesley and Angel to follow.  She didn't understand why he was so set against her following up on this.  And to bring up her past!  That was beyond the pale.  This man had been her mentor for years, but over the last few months he had been behaving more and more erratically. 
 
Wesley and Angel started after her, but were stopped when the professor grabbed Wesley's arm. 
 
"I am familiar with your… organization.  It truly is in Liz's best interests for you to turn around now, stop indulging her in her little fantastic notions.  Please… leave now."  He spoke in a voice low enough not to attract Liz's attention.
 
Wesley heard the vague threat behind the professor's concern, but detected something else as well, something verging on panic.  "I'm sorry, Dr. Moore.  Ms. Snow is the one who engaged our services.  She is the one to whom we report and she is the only one who can terminate our services."
 
They headed down the hall.  Suddenly, Angel felt a pull toward the room into which Liz had disappeared, followed by an acute sense of alarm.  He broke into a run, followed by Wesley.
 
Angel and Wesley entered the chamber and saw Liz standing almost trance-like, reaching toward the object on the dais in the center of the room.  Angel shouted, "No, Buffy!"
 
Liz turned her head and said, "Angel?" just as her fingertips lowered and brushed the stone.  Her body went rigid for a moment before she collapsed to the floor.  Then seizures overtook her body.
 
They ran to her side, and tried to stabilize her before she threw herself against the stone pillar.  Wesley shouted, "Help here!"
 
Others came rushing in as Angel picked Liz's convulsing body up from the floor.  He began carrying her out through the tunnel.
 
Dr. Moore ran alongside as they emerged into the daylight.  He stopped Angel, who was heading for Liz's Jeep.  "I'll take her from here, young man," he said, his tone brooking no argument, even as two students were lifting her body from Angel's arms.  "Thank you for your help, but your services will no longer be needed on this project."  Angel still held on to Liz's hand.  The professor gently but firmly disentangled their hands.  "We will see that she gets the proper care."
 
The two students deposited her body in the back seat of a sedan parked nearby.  The professor walked to the driver's seat, got in and drove away, leaving Angel staring blankly at a cloud of dust, wondering what had just happened.
 
Wesley put his hand on Angel's shoulder.  "I'm going back in to take a closer look at that object."  He looked at the lost expression on his friend's face.  "We will find out what is going on here."  Angel barely acknowledged Wesley's presence.  Wesley thought, 'We never should have come out here.  We should have turned back the instant we saw her.  This is too much for him…'
 
Angel nodded, vaguely processing Wesley walking away.  What had just happened here? he was wondering; why had he let them just take her away from him?  Angel felt as if his heart had shattered into a million pieces.  His breath caught in his throat; his chest felt as if a weight had settled on it.  'So close, Buffy. So close.'

~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~
 
Wesley was stopped before he entered the antechamber.  A young woman blocked the doorway.  "I'm sorry sir.  Dr. Moore said you were not to let back in."
 
"Miss, I need to examine that object.  I promise I will not disturb anything."
 
"I'm sorry.  Even if I could let you in, it wouldn't do any good.  The professor took the stone with him when he left."