Morghane was leaning against the doorframe.
She broke the heavy silence with a weak, unsteady voice.
"I'm sorry. I linked to Angel while I was dreaming and, with my psychic shields down, I broadcast his nightmare to all those who were sleeping in the building. I didn't mean to. The content of your dreams is a private matter, Angel, and no apology will ever be enough. But I'm sorry."
Angel did not respond right away, still reeling, and Morghane lowered her eyes to the floor in shame.
"So you were there."
She raised her gaze to the Watcher. "Yes. I was. I did all the things you said. Took his memories from him. Kept the image of Buffy safe so that I could give it back to him through the link when he started to forget who he was. When he lost hope."
Buffy sat up, still cradling Angel in her lap. Spike followed her example, keeping one of his Sire's hands secure in his gentle grip.
"I guess... I guess you couldn't get him out... before," said Buffy.
It wasn't an all-out accusation, yet the Slayer still felt the need to ask, and it hurt.
Morghane hid her wince skillfully.
"No. I... visited... when I could. Which wasn't often enough. I cannot move freely in the demonic plane."
"I'm still amazed you were allowed access at all," remarked Giles, falsely detached.
Morghane flinched again. She was in no condition to partake in that kind of cat-and-mouse game with the Watcher.
But Giles smelled blood and like a hound he wouldn't let go. "What did you have to do with Angel's release from Hell?"
She remained silent.
His tone hardened. "What kind of deal did you make?"
She didn't see Buffy relinquish Angel's care to Spike but suddenly the Slayer stood in front of her.
"No more secrets, Morghane. Angel deserves to know. We all do. Whatever you did, we will forgive you. But we need to know."
The Guardian bit back a sorrowful smile.
Forgiveness was the last thing on her mind.
Angel now stood behind Buffy, Spike hovering protectively at his side. And she could never deny him the truth.
"I did. Make a deal."
"What kind of deal?" asked Buffy, dreading the answer.
Morghane opened her mouth to explain. Nothing happened.
She tried again.
"When Angel was sucked into Hell... it was... I mean, a vampire with a soul. The demons down there were all over themselves with joy. Like kids handed a new toy at Christmas." Angel flinched, and Morghane cursed her straying tongue. "What I'm trying to say is that the event didn't go unnoticed and it attracted the attention of one of the oldest powers that inhabit the demon dimension." She swallowed. "The First."
Angel took a step back, certain he wasn't going to like the rest of the story.
Spike put a steadying hand on his shoulder.
"It didn't take the First too long to understand what had just landed in its lap. It knew how important you were to me and... well, the First wanted to play, and you were the prize. It wanted to destroy you, turn you into a mindless slave and it delighted in seeing me trying to play damage control. Eventually however, it got bored. And I saw my chance. Your chance."
"What..." murmured Angel, uncomprehending.
Giles' expression darkened once again, and Morghane knew he already understood. What she had done and why.
"You were of no use to either the First or myself in Hell, so I challenged it to let you go. The First bet that it could get you to relinquish your soul voluntarily. I bet that it could not. I also had to agree not to interfere in any way, shape or form. I made the deal. You know the rest."
Buffy looked at her Watcher, obviously expecting him to object loudly. But it was Angel who spoke.
"You risked Buffy's life. I could have killed her."
The Guardian shook her head, vehement. "No, never. I trusted you."
Angel ignored her, lost in a world of his own.
"I wanted to know... I wondered... why I was back. You could have told me."
"Interfere, yes. What about the snow? It was you, right?"
She didn't answer.
"Right?" Angel repeated more forcefully.
Morghane closed her eyes. She had known he would react that way. He was still shaken by the resurgence of his memories from Hell and she had suddenly been added to the ever-growing list of people who had robbed him of his freedom of choice.
She deserved his anger.
"Not directly. I asked a favor from a friend. I couldn't lose you."
"But you could liberally risk Buffy's life?" Angel retorted coldly. "You didn't mind taking the chance that the First would persuade me to lose my soul in the Slayer?"
Her throat tightened painfully and she couldn't force another word past her lips.
Instead, she submitted herself to his reproachful, betrayed gaze.
Until Giles intervened. "The power that was behind the cadre of Nehemiah. The force that followed you from Sunnydale. It is the First, isn't it?"
"I... I don't know."
"You strongly suspect, though."
The Watcher sighed, deeply. "Why didn't you tell us before? It could have saved us so much time."
Morghane's shoulders straightened and she faced them all.
"Because you can't destroy the First. Because I didn't want any of you going after it and risking your lives in vain."
She smiled painfully and her irises glowed white.
"And, forgive me, but I still don't."
Before any of them could move forward or even realized what she intended to do, she raised her hand and pronounced a few sharp words in her mother tongue.
Giles had the time to implore "Morghane, don't..."
They all slid unconscious to the floor.
Shakily, the Guardian took a few steps inside the study, kneeling beside Angel and Spike. She bent and deposited a small, chaste kiss on Angel's lips.
"Ón am seo go dtí síorraíocht, mó Aingeal."
Then she extended a hand to caress Spike's cheek and murmured in his ear. "I bid thee, keep him safe for me."
She stood and left the room after taking the time to spread a thick coverlet over Watcher and Slayer. She found her luggage and changed quickly into a snug pair of faded Levi 501s and old leather boots. Rummaging in Angel's closet, she found one of his customary black cotton shirts and put it on.
It still smelled like him. The feeling comforted her.
She picked up her own black cashmere duster, concealed a couple of stakes and the dagger she had found in Angel's study the previous night deep in the garment's pockets, and she was ready to go.
She hurried as fast as she could towards the freight elevator, knowing her spell wouldn't last long. Checking her watch, she saw that it was only eleven in the morning. < Good. > She had plenty of daylight time to find Lisandra without having to worry about protecting herself from random bloodsuckers. She would have taken Spike with her, but she figured Angel and Buffy would need him more than her when they came to. They would try to go after the First despite her interdiction. Hopefully, things would have settled down by then.
The office was empty. The rest of the Scooby Gang was safely tucked away in bed and that was fine by her. No sign of either Doyle or Cordelia. She had sent them all to sleep around 5am, arguing that they were exhausting themselves.
In truth, Morghane had known that she would break her promise to the Watcher to allow them one more day. In all probability she had about four days still before the Sepulcher killed her, but she didn't want to cut it too close or give the First the tiniest chance of success. That it let her go after attacking her in Sunnydale was bizarre enough. There was still something that she did not understand and she would kill herself rather than give the slightest advantage to her enemies. They had enough as it was.
She reached the front door and thought she was home free.
< Think again. >
"Hey, good-morning, Morghane. Where are you going?"
"I... I've got to go, Oz. Please."
Why bother to explain? She didn't have that long before the others came to.
She tried to pass by him, but he moved in her path.
He shook his head. "Why do I get the feeling that no one knows where you are going?"
"Because you're very perceptive?"
He didn't so much as twitch. "So where are we going?"
"Or we could also wait and ask Buffy to come along."
She read his eyes and he let her.
Morghane growled. "Where's your van?"
"A block down that way," said Oz pointing to his left.
"Then let's go."
He didn't say a word when Morghane held onto him for support. He silently wrapped an arm around her shoulders and they continued down the road.