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15 November 2011 @ 10:17 pm
Fic: Rewards (1/8)  
Summary, Notes, and Warnings are located in the Table of Contents.

Prologue: Après-Apocalypse
Angel looked around the ruins of what had once been a school.  He shook his head.  What was it about centers of mystical energy that everyone wanted to build schools on top of them?   Limping through the debris and demon bodies that littered the floor, he stopped to help Wesley up. 
“You ok?” he asked.  Wesley had a pretty bad gash across his forehead and his right arm hung by his side.
Wesley winced, but not nodded.  “I’ll survive.”  He smiled.  “And so will the world, again.  Thanks to you.”
From the other side of the room, Gunn coughed as a shower of dust descended from the desk he was trying to move out of his way.  “You guys all right?” he shouted.
“We’re good.  It’s finished,” Angel replied. 
We survived, he thought, trying to ignore the slight disappointment he felt deep in his heart.  He had been prepared to die, part of him had even wished he would.  Angel would never take his own life, but he wouldn’t run from death either.  It was only a year ago that he had walked into the lobby of The Hyperion to find Willow waiting for him with the worst news he could ever imagine in his nearly 300 years.   The year since Buffy’s death had not been easy on him.  The constant guilt that he should have been there, that he could have protected her, irrational as it was, had prompted him to take more than his share of stupid risks. 
Gunn made it over his friends and looked around.  “We made it, but this place is trashed,” he commented.  “We'd better vacate before some enterprising young public safety official decides to see what all the ruckus was about.”
The others agreed and the started toward the exit.  Suddenly, Angel felt a pain in his chest.  He staggered and grunted in pain.  Wesley and Gunn looked at him, concerned.  “Angel,” Wesley said his name, questioningly.
Angel tried to talk, but couldn't force sound out.  The room started spinning  around him as the pain increased to nearly unbearable levels.  As his friends watched, his legs gave out from under him and he fell to the ground, unconscious.
The pain stopped as suddenly as it started.  Angel found himself somewhere bright, but hazy.  He tried to look around but could not see very far in any direction.  He was standing, but he wasn't sure on what.
“Hey,” he shouted, his voice muted by whatever he was surrounded by.
After a moment, there was a shimmering around him and two beings appeared as if there were formed out of the air.  As they coalesced, Angel noticed that they bore a striking resemblance to the Oracles. 
“Champion,” the female being addressed him.  “You have questions.”
“Where am I?  What's happened to me?”
“We have brought you to the in-between place.  You have earned your reward.”
Not dead then, Angel thought.  “I don’t want any reward.”  Fury began to build in him.  Once again, the Powers that Be were playing games with their pawns.
The male stepped forward, as disdainful as ever. “Your ingratitude is noted.  As is your casual regard for your own life and the lives of your friends.”
“My friends?  What do you know about my friends?”
“More than you can imagine, lower being.  Yes, you go into battle, looking for death.  What would happen to the friends who depend on you in those battles if you were to find it?”
 A twinge of guilt hit Angel.  He knew that there was no way Wesley or Gunn would have survived the battle they had just endured if he had not been there. 
“Ah, he sees,” the female said with a slight smile.  “He is learning.”  She tilted her head as if listening, the male posed in a similar position.
“Very well.  While it was initially fated that you would receive your Shanshu today, it now appears that you are not ready.”
Angel scoffed, not surprised that the Powers were changing the deal. 
“You think the Powers are unfair?” said the male.
“Devious?” supplied the female.
“When I was human, I asked you to take back that day in order to save Buffy.  You told me she would die if I stayed human.  She died anyway!  That time we could have had together, I gave it all up, for nothing.”  Tears glistened in his eyes as he thought of the fact that he would never touch her again, never hear her laughter, or see her smile.
“We did not promise that she would live if we swallowed that day, only that she would die if we didn’t,” shared the female.  “She was the Slayer, with all the attendant risks and dangers.  She died a noble death, protecting those she loved, and you should not denigrate it.”
“But,” Angel protested.  “But, I... I need her.”
“No,” said the male, brusquely.  “You do not.  And I tire of this.”  He looked to his sister, who nodded. 
She said, “You will not be made human today.  But in preparation for coming events, you will be granted a reprieve from some of your shortcomings.  Daylight will no longer be anathema to you.”
The male added grudgingly, “And your curse is lifted.  Your soul is bound.”
Angel chuckled wryly.  As if he needed the curse lifted.  With the knowledge that Buffy was dead, there was no chance that he would ever again know perfect happiness.
The scene once again became hazy then dark.  He opened his eyes to see Wesley and Gunn staring anxiously down at him.  His anger with the Powers still fresh in his heart, he also realized the truth of their words.  His friends were relying on him and he could not let them down. 
He held out his hands for them to help him up.  Taking a deep breath, he resolved to stop seeking out needless danger, to continue the good fight in Buffy's memory.  Looking at them, he said, “Come on, let's get back to the hotel.”