When Morghane came to for the second time, she was still aware of the pain, although it was a dull hum in the background.
There was once again a heavy weight pressing on her stomach, but of a wholly different nature this time.
And above all, there was sound.
A soft, repressed weeping. Small sobs shuddering against the velvety skin of her belly.
She tried to lift her left hand. Her limbs felt like lead. As if her wrists were chained to the ground. She had never been drained before.
A fleeting quote grazed the edge of her mind.
'Die, dying clasp'd in his embrace.'
Morghane pushed Tennison away and took a deep breath.
The hold around her waist tightened. A tiny cry hitched close to her navel.
Still, he wept.
Retreating inside her self, she seized the bond tying her to the vampire - and pulled.
< Angel! >
The sobs died down abruptly and she sighed in quiet relief. The weight against her stomach vanished and she felt him shift along her small, prone frame. Powerful arms lifted her off the ground, large hands caressed her skin in shuddery, sweeping strokes.
He was shaking so strongly, it made her teeth clatter.
"I'm okay, Angel. I'm okay."
He ignored her, cradling her in his lap, against his heaving chest.
"We'll be fine, Angel. You didn't hurt me. Look at me."
He choked and buried his face in her tangled, filthy hair.
"I... I thought... I'd killed you."
Summoning the strength she did not possess, she raised her hand to caress his dirt-streaked cheek. She shushed him sweetly.
"No, Angel. The... The counterspell worked. I'm immortal again."
He whimpered. "What happened?"
Her voice was quiet, lulling. "The circle was broken before the counterspell was completed. The unleashed energies destroyed the warehouse. Lisandra's dead. Everybody got out but us. We fell through the floor. I think we're in the sewers. I don't know how long we've been down here."
Angel sniffled and wiped away at the tears drying on his face like a tired child. "I think... It's close to dusk."
The vampire was still rocking her, although he didn't seem to realize what he was doing.
"Then the others will be back soon," she suggested. "They would have wanted to wait for the night before shifting the debris."
Without words, he undid the choke collar Lisandra had fixed around her neck.
"I'm sorry, Morghane."
"Enough," she growled. He tensed, bowing his head in shame, but she crushed her first impulse to console him. "I let you drain me, Angel. You were badly hurt, I was too weak, and one of us had to be in good enough shape to get out of here in case the others didn't show up. You just needed blood to heal. It's not like it was going to kill me."
Her tone was hard as steel and it tore her apart to talk to him like this. But she couldn't allow him to sink into a funk now. He would have time for that later.
She squinted and saw Angel biting back an apology.
The Guardian couldn't help it. She had to comfort him in some small way. She nuzzled his jaw a little and deposited a feather-like kiss there.
He closed his eyes.
"I heard you."
She nodded. "I called out to you."
"No. I heard you in my soul. Not emotions, like before. But thoughts..." He gasped in wonder. "Words."
"Yes. It takes a lot of concentration. It's not easy. But it's possible now, because the bond between us is stronger than it was before."
"How? W... why?"
She clasped his wrist and tugged as strongly as she could - which wasn't very much.
"Look at me, Angel."
He did. The deep dark pools of his eyes glinted in the golden glow of the magical sphere that still hovered over their heads.
"From the moment I learned about the happiness clause devised by the Kalderash, I worked on concocting a spell that would get rid of it. I succeeded. A long time ago."
He flinched, almost letting go of her. Her hand clutched his forearm, refusing to let go.
"No. Listen." He stilled, his body rigid against her back. "I couldn't cast the spell, though. It required more energy than I had at my disposal. The kind of energy that is only ever generated by ethereal magicks during the Rapture. That's why I went in search of Lisandra. I hoped that she could cast the spell after my passing."
"I know," Angel murmured, almost too low for Morghane to hear.
She frowned. "You do?"
He nodded. "The First told me as much, while you were unconscious. I just didn't believe it."
She worried her lower lip.
"Well, for once, it told you the truth."
Angel trembled fiercely. "You're... you're saying..."
His voice broke.
Morghane continued her explanation. "I was so far gone that only the most tenuous link subsisted between me and the ethereal community. When Giles cast the counterspell, and the magicks flowed back into me, through me... for all intents and purposes, I went through the Rapture all over again."
The vampire choked as realization overtook him. A small, mixed "oh" of surprise and raw pain escaped him and Morghane shifted in his embrace. She burrowed closer to him, wrapping her arms in a stranglehold around his waist.
"Your soul is yours, now, Aingeal."
He moaned, pushing his face into the gentle curve of her shoulder.
"Shh. We're okay now, Angel. We're okay."
Deep tremors shook his large frame.
"Shh," she murmured again. "You need not say anything."
She felt his soul swell - both with hope and dread. Mind-altering joy and despairing sadness. A conflicted reaction someone with Morghane's experience could understand right away. With this new freedom came crashing down the weight of responsibility. And Angel struggled under so much of it already.
There would be a lot of confusion in the vampire's future. And fear. Angel couldn't go through yet another redefinition of his ontological self unscathed. It would take time.
The Guardian prayed that Buffy had the patience and strength to grant it to him.
Angel was over two hundred years old - centuries older if one counted his time in Hell. Yet his journey had just begun.
"It's... too much. I... I can't."
"Give yourself time."
He gave up a small, awkward cry and sought out her warmth and her heartbeat again. His mind crumbling around him.
His pain saddened her more than she could bear. But some battles had to be fought alone, some demons had to be conquered in the privacy of one's soul.
The voice was soft, inquiring - tired, relieved and awed too.
The vampire started and Morghane lifted her eyes away from him to meet Buffy's dark, wet orbs.
The Guardian struggled out of Angel's embrace and grabbed onto a huge piece of concrete. She pulled herself up.
It was like a signal. The Slayer rushed forward, half-stumbling, half-running, and threw herself at her lover's coiled form with a hoarse shout.
Angel toppled over under the frantic onslaught.
Morghane swayed as what little strength she still possessed abandoned her. Powerful arms encircled her shoulders and she sighed.
"You scared us to death, you know."
"S'okay. We're all good now."
The Guardian leaned in the vampire's embrace, looking down on Buffy who was busy showering Angel with kisses.
Damn good thing he didn't need to breathe. And he hadn't said a word.
< No, Will. We're not all good. Not yet. >
"Why don't you go to him? She'll let you, you know," Morghane murmured, soft and low.
"This time's for her," he replied simply.
"How... How long have you been standing... here? How much did you hear?"
"Enough. The Slayer's in shock."
The Guardian shivered and Spike brought her closer to his chest, forgetting that he did not give off any heat. He lay his palm on her back. It came away wet.
"This duster is soaked." Spike frowned, considering his own attire. He wasn't even wearing a shirt, just his black tee-shirt.
Xander appeared behind them, followed by Willow, Oz, Giles, Doyle and Cordelia. Only Wesley had been left above ground.
Spike took the coat Xander was offering with a small nod of thanks. He tugged Angel's ragged duster away from Morghane's shaking body, shielding her nakedness with his own frame.
It wasn't necessary. They had all lowered their eyes to the ground anyway.
Spike helped her get into the warm, dry coat. It reached to her knees and way past her hands. Then the bleached vampire looked down. And scowled.
Her feet were blue and covered in mud.
"Why didn't you say something?"
Incredibly, he sounded offended.
She smirked - although she didn't really feel like joking. "It's not like I'm going to catch pneumonia."
He grunted, then scooped her up in his arms.
Morghane didn't protest. She wanted to lie down. Badly.
And sleep for half a century.
"Let's go home, Will. Let's just go home."