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Author's note: Angel's challenge comes from the episode 'The Trial' from Angel, Season Two. I have given Buffy and Joyce a chance to bond, while lessening the importance of the Homecoming competition, as I'm delaying Faith and Trick's arrivals. Enjoy.

In Her Name: Part I.
A Need To Atone.

Angel emerged from the stairway hall of the Crawford Street mansion, a large satchel attached to him via a shoulder strap, and turned to face his beloved's mournful gaze. "I have to do this, Buffy."

"But it's a week!"

Angel sighed and stepped towards her. "I will be okay," he assured her.

"We don't know that," Buffy sadly pointed out to him. "I know its the only way, but I'm annoyed that a; I can't come with you, and b; that its certain death if you fail."

Angel cleared the space between them and pulled her into his arms. "I won't fail. We both researched this," he reminded her. "This was the only way we could find." He dealt a reverent kiss to her hair. "We were lucky to find a way at all."

"I think that Whistler had a hand in it," Buffy mused, leaning her head on Angel's chest. "Willow told me that while he visited them, he mentioned that he would ask if she was needed."

"Then this was the only way he could get," Angel concluded for her.

"He doesn't like our lives to be simple, does he?" Buffy commented rhetorically.

"Perhaps the Powers don't," Angel pointed out. "He did say that he had to pull a lot of strings to get me back."

Buffy sighed again. "I can see why you two are friends now. He's just as cryptic as you."

Angel leaned back so he could see her face. "I thought I'd got over that."

"You have, and believe me, I'm very grateful for it," Buffy reassured him.

It had been a fortnight since their reunion and already both felt that they were a lot closer and a lot more secure than they had been before her fateful seventeenth birthday. This was due to number of resolutions that they had made in order to prevent any misunderstandings that could lead to a rift. The first was to be completely honest with each other about everything. Any fears that one had, the other would know, thus preventing any further insecurities between them. Second was to tell each other about their pasts, the resolution that Buffy most enjoyed, for it enabled her to learn more about her boyfriend than she could ever hope to know, as the Watcher diaries only referred to the demon and not the soul. Angel had been concerned at first, afraid that Buffy would turn away from him when she learnt of his drunken rebellious human years, but that fear turned to relief when she did not. The result was a greater ease with each other than they had ever known.

Their third resolution was a more unconscious decision on their parts; to not yet repeat their actions on the night of her seventeenth. Angel wanted to wait for the right moment once more, and Buffy, the memory of Angelus' words still fresh in her mind, preferred for him to make the first move.

Despite this however, their relationship was more secure than it ever had been. Now though they were to face their first test; temporary separation. Angel was to be in Los Angeles for a week, on a research pilgrimage of sorts.

The ensouled vampire in question dealt another kiss to the slayer's hair, leaned back and kissed her lips devotedly. A long minute later they reluctantly released each other and walked from the living room to the door.

"I promise to be back for Homecoming," Angel uttered in farewell. "Love you."

"The feelings mutual. Stay safe."

"You too."

Pupils poured out of classrooms as the bell rang for lunch at Sunnydale High.

"So he got away okay?" Willow asked her friend as she joined her for the first time that day, both having been in separate classes all morning.

"Yeah," the slayer replied mournfully. "I'm missing him already."

"Missing who?" Xander queried as he and Cordelia joined them. "No, wait, I know. What I am wondering is how long we will manage to keep you know who in the dark."

"That we haven't planned," Buffy reminded him, as they neared the library. "Just try to avoid mentioning him." She paused as they walked inside, then changed the subject. "How's the campaign for Homecoming Queen going, Cordy?"

"Not bad, considering my switch to you lot," Cordelia replied, immediately falling into the routine they had formed ever since this plan had been created.

Giles came out of his office, book in hand, looking up at their arrival. "How did it go?" He asked his slayer.

Buffy flushed and smiled at her Watcher. "A minus."

"Buffy, that's marvellous! Well done!"

"Why didn't you say? That's amazing!" Willow began, turning to her friend. "Now you can go to France, and speak French, and....."

"Will, you're babbling," Buffy admonished gently.

"Our resident genius didn't help you then?" Cordelia queried.

"Angel helped," Buffy explained. "He can speak loads of languages. French, Spanish, German, Italian, Romanian, Gaelic, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, some demon ones I cannot pronounce, let alone spell...."

"I must have a talk with him soon," Giles mused. "I have some texts that could prove very useful if translated."

"I'll let him know," Buffy replied before he started to ask for a date when her boyfriend was available, rapidly changing the subject. "Has anyone dared to see what the cafeteria is serving today?"

"Been there, revolted that," Xander replied.

Two hours away in a deserted park, Angel stood wondering if Whistler had taken him for a ride. Before him lay an empty pool, the entrance to the quest that he needed to survive in order to accomplish the plan that the Scooby gang were desperately trying to keep from their ever curious Watcher. All he had to do was jump, although to where he had no idea, except that the space below him was a gateway of some sorts. Or not, as the case may be. Resolving himself, Angel stepped off the diving board and fell to the tiles below.

He landed with a controlled roll on to his feet in a room full of arches with a barred exit.

A valet appeared before him. "Well you certainly have faith," he began in greeting, his voice the cultured accent of an aristocratic Brit. "Now we will test your valour. I shall be assisting you with the trials, sir."

"Trials? How many?" Angel asked.

"Your test will consist of three challenges. I will need your shirt and shoes please."

Angel tossed him his jacket. "Unarmed combat then?" He asked as he diverged himself of the rest of the required garments.

The man chuckled. "Well, you'll be unarmed, yes."

"Three challenges. What are they?"

"That's for you to discover, sir."

"Can't you give me a hint?"

"Well I've never done that before, sir. Wouldn't be fair to the other combatants."

"How many have asked?"

"Well," the valet considered carefully. "The first test is child's play. When the gate goes up all you have to do is walk through it."

"That's it?" Angel queried, suspicious already. "What's the catch?"

"That would be telling."

"And the other two?"

"Oh, I wouldn't know about that, sir. No one's ever survived the first. Best of luck." He disappeared, leaving Angel alone. The vampire took a look at the door and tentatively stepped forward.

The archway opened. In walked a giant of a demon. He struck a punch and the fight began. Fiercely and intensely they battled, Angel finding himself a David against this Goliath, only minus what could have been a helpful weapon. Relentlessly he fought, mindful of the end result. Eventually he saw his opportunity and pounced, wrenching the sword away. His counterattack was instantaneous, a straight hit to the midsection, slicing Goliath in half.

Elated, Angel rushed to the door. It remained closed. Turning round he watched in horror as the demon pulled himself to his other half. Rushing forward Angel pulled the half away and chained it to the wall. He did the same with the other part.

The door opened. Angel dashed out before it could trap him once more.

"Mom, I'm home," Buffy called out as she walked inside the hall of 1630 Revello Drive later that afternoon.

"Hey," Joyce replied, coming out of the living room. "Did you have a good day?"

"Fairly," Buffy answered, dumping her books and bag on the nearest piece of furniture. "Lessons majorally dragged though I think that's because I'm little antsy."

"Why, do you need to patrol?" Joyce asked.

"No, Angel left for L.A this morning, remember?"

Joyce looked at her daughter blankly. "What? Why?"

"Oh, I didn't tell you," Buffy recalled. "My bad. After the thing with the First I gathered the gang together to search for a way to bring back Miss Calendar."

"From the dead?" Joyce queried. "Like a Zombie?"

"No. Angel wanted to repay her for finding a way to fix his curse, and Whistler mentioned it was possible to the gang while I was in L.A. Anyway, we researched for ways and found one a few days ago. It's called a trial. The chosen champion has to go through a number of tasks and win them before the Powers That Be will grant the request. Angel decided that as he was the one most responsible for her death in the first place- although I argued that it was his demon, not his soul, but that's beside the point -and unlike me he didn't have school to catch up with and certain immunities to death, he ought to be the champion and get her back. So he left early this morning."

"Which is why you didn't come home last night," Joyce remarked mildly.

"Yeah, sorry." Buffy said sheepishly.

"Honey, I don't mind you staying out late; you're the slayer, its part of your job and I have come to terms with that. I would just like to know why and when that's all."

"I will tell you next time I promise," Buffy vowed. "In the spirit of that I will probably be out tonight too. I have to patrol."

"Okay," Joyce nodded, accepting it. "Would you mind if I came with you one night?"

"Mom, I'm not sure that's good idea..." Buffy began uneasily, not wanting to destroy the good rapport between her and her mother which had existed ever since she returned home.

"I won't get in your way, I promise you," Joyce interrupted. "I just would like to see you in action. I've seen the research side, now I would like to see you do your destiny."

"Okay," Buffy agreed. "You can come tonight. But I need you to follow my instructions and take care to stay out of the way when I'm slaying. I don't want anything to happen to you, alright?"

"I promise," Joyce replied. "Now, what do I need to know?"

Angel came to an abrupt halt as he reached a corridor to his left. He turned, heard a noise and glanced up as the ceiling opened to reveal a moonlit night sky, bathing the next test in an eerie glow.

The sight which met his eyes was like something out of a vampire's worst nightmares, excepting the ones which included the slayer. Every inch of the entire hallway was littered with crosses. In the centre stood a stone font, and the other end stood a closed door, the exit he had to reach if he survived.

Angel took a deep breath, knowing there was little he could do about avoiding injury in this test. In fact he would be hurt the moment he put one foot on the floor or a hand on the wall. Brushing his fear and the thought of what his beloved would say when she saw him afterwards aside, he started to run, instinctively choosing the quickest way across, taking purchase with his feet on what little gaps he could find. Passing the font he stumbled, falling to the floor to receive burns to his chest.

Letting lose a screaming growl of agony, he somehow managed to rise from the floor and gather the rest of his strength to make it to the door. He wrestled with the knob, turning it one way then the other, only to realise that it was locked.

Breathing heavily he turned and rested his gaze on the only place he knew the key could be. The cross covered hallway loomed ahead of him, with the nondescript stone font marking the half way point. Suddenly he knew that the key to this door was hidden in that font. And he knew what else would bar him from simply putting his hand to retrieve it.

Holy water.

He took another deep breath, preparing himself to make the dash once more. Then he ran towards the font, diving his hand deep into the corrosive depths, grabbing the key. Ignoring the burning sensation from his injured hand as it absorbed the remaining moisture from the sodden metal, he turned round and ran back to the door. Almost stumbling again, not from exhaustion but from the pain caused by the many burns which now littered his feet, Angel's hand shook as he struggled to slot the key into the lock, turn the knob and escape from the corridor.

"So how do you know where a vampire or demon is likely to be?" Joyce asked her daughter as they entered the graveyard. Before they left the house Buffy had taken her Mom through a quick summary of what she needed to know about killing vampires or demons, and what not to do during a patrol. Then she had handed her mother a stake before they left for the nearest of Sunnydale's numerous cemeteries.

"Giles will tell me if someone died suspiciously enough for it to be mentioned in the papers, or if anyone is missing," Buffy replied, casting her gaze about the graveyard as they walked down the gravel path. "Or if a demon happens to be in the area, drawn to the hellmouth. Sometimes its real obvious though, like a fresh grave or a vamp who just happens to be passing. You develop a sense for it."

"Do you patrol alone?" Joyce asked, adopting her daughter's state of alertness, although she had little experience in these things.

"Sometimes. Occasionally Willow or Xander will come along, or Giles if he thinks the vampire or demon is connected to a prophecy. And Angel frequently came with me, though that usually turned out into a makeout session," Buffy finished with a blush.

"Do the others help?" Joyce asked, smiling at her daughter's embarrassment.

"Yeah, when they feel they can. I do worry though, I don't want them getting hurt. I even worry about Angel, though he can take care of himself in fight, sometimes better than me."

"Does he know all the vampires?" Joyce asked, curious.

"No, though he's heard of some of them, and they've heard about him. Having a soul makes you unique, and if you're with the slayer too, it lends a certain notoriety. And he knows the ones his demon sired."

"Like Spike and Druscilla?" Joyce asked, causing her daughter to look at her briefly. "Giles told me about them while you were in L.A," she explained.

"Yeah. Spike's all right, but Dru was a total wackjob," Buffy turned to scanning the graveyard. Suddenly she came to a halt, her hand moving to her pocket to retrieve a weapon.

Joyce's voice dropped to a whisper. "You sense something?"

"Yeah," Buffy replied. "Go wait by that large granite coffin."

"Good luck," Joyce uttered before obeying her daughter's order. Cautiously she sat down on the stone and watched as he daughter readied herself for the fight.

The vampire emerged from the darkness at a run, coming so fast Joyce was afraid that he would knock Buffy to the floor. But her daughter anticipated the move, and dodged the demon at the last moment, throwing out her arm to strike a blow to his midsection.

Winded the vampire fell over her arm to the ground. Buffy turned round, tracking it's progress as he rolled over to regain his footing. She advanced forward, striking him with another punch to his abdomen. This time the vampire was prepared for the move and blocked the punch with his palm. He made his stance rigid, attempting to transfer part of his strength into the block, hoping to knock the slayer off balance.

Buffy's quick reflexes put pay to that hope. She drove her fist into his palm, using the force to twist his wrist and then opened her hand to grab his, restraining him. In a move which Joyce barely caught the start of, she raised her other hand to strike, thrusting the stake deep into her attacker's chest.

The vampire exploded into dust, giving Joyce and her daughter a brief visual of his skeletal structure before transforming into ashes which fell to the ground.

Buffy put her stake back in her pocket and turned to her Mom. "Well," she began, "what did you think?"

"That was amazing," Joyce replied as she stood up from her granite seat. "Is it usually so fast?"

"Depends on how old the vampire is," Buffy replied. "The longer they've been around, the stronger they are, and the more it takes to kill them." She brushed a piece of ash off her jacket. "Come on, we've got other graveyards to check out before we go home."

Angel came to a halt, exhausted from running away from the second test. Suddenly, before he could summon the strength to go on, two manacles came out of the ceiling and wrapped themselves around his hands, raising them up, forcing his body to stretch as his feet tried to remain on the ground.

Then the valet appeared before him. "Well done, sir," he said almost cheerfully. "You've survived far longer than any other combatant. Now for your final challenge."

The dark chamber abruptly lit up, the bright light making Angel blink in order to adjust his pupils to the change of visibility. When he had focus once more, he saw that the darkness had previously hidden what the final test would be, as he was confronted by millions of stakes lying in a portcullis in front of him. "What is this?" He asked, confused.

"Your final trial," the valet informed him diffidently.

"But, those go through me and I die," Angel felt he had to remind him.

"Yes. Ready?" The valet paused and then added, "or you could refuse to accept it. Walk out of here. No one will stop you. You've earned that much."

The demon inside him was urging Angel to accept the valet's offer and walk away. Angel ignored him, hoping somehow that he was wrong about what would come next. "But you won't...."

"Yes, I'm afraid so," the valet confirmed, anticipating the end of his question. "Which will it be then? Accept death and succeed, or walk out of here and fail?"

Angel took a long look at the target, the valet's words still running over his mind. Something in the valet's words suddenly struck him as having significance. He repeated the phrase in his mind, wondering if it could be possible. There was only one way to find out. Slowly he nodded. "Ready."

The valet waved his hand, a silent signal to the portcullis, which let loose the stakes.

Angel's last thoughts as he prepared for the wood implements to impact into his body, were of Buffy.

Two hours away, another vampire was facing instant death. His last thoughts, were not of his love, for vampires consider such human frailties to be beneath them, preferring to lust where they may, and scorn those who indulged in such pointless monotonous choices. No, he was frustrated, for he was suffering the ignominious fate to be killed before reaching his half century. And it was not because of the slayer.

Joyce felt all the surrealness of the moment as she drove the stake into the vampire's chest, watching him as his skin and muscles gave way first to bones, then to dust. She watched the ashes fall to the ground, stunned by what she had just done.

Beside her, Buffy staked her own vampire, and then turned round to see how her mother had done. She felt annoyed, not with herself for not preparing her mother as thoroughly as she perhaps could have done, but with the vamps for deciding to two team them, thinking they could distract her and kill her mother. The emotion disappeared however when she saw her mother's hand outstretched, clutching a stake before the ash covered grass.

"Well done, Mom," she praised, causing Joyce to realise her surroundings once more. She turned to her daughter.

"That was incredible," Joyce uttered. "And weird," she added, lowering her hand.

Buffy nodded knowledgeably. "Felt weird for me too the first time," she replied. "In fact, I was so clueless back then that I missed the heart. Had to take the stake out and try again." She smiled as she realised that it was the first she had recalled that moment without feeling the same emotions which she felt that night; grief at what her life had become. Perhaps she was finally beginning to accept her destiny and all its conditions.

"You really think I did good?" Joyce asked her.

"Totally," Buffy assured her. "Three vamps is a solid effort for tonight. I say we go home now." She grinned. "I can't wait to tell Giles you dusted a vamp."

Joyce beamed, pleased that she was bonding with her daughter. The dark world which she was now part of no longer seemed so frightening and strange. She had always wondered at the distance which seemed to exist between them ever since the divorce and their removal from Los Angeles. Previously she had put it down to normal teenage rebellion, which was why she had been completely unprepared for the harsh awakening that was her daughter's expulsion from school for arson. It was also why she had been terrified and confused and angry when she discovered the truth behind her daughter's nightly absences and frequent quitting classes. Now there were no secrets between them, and thanks to that strange demon who had made her curious enough to go looking for the answers at Mr Giles' apartment, she and Buffy had a chance to repair their relationship. And she was determined to do it in a way that would make her daughter proud.

Angel opened his eyes, half expecting to be confront with hundreds of wooden pointed stakes, flying into his body. He felt that he had them closed for too long a time, and that the sound of their flight should at least have been heard by him, instead of this oppressive silence which now seemed to surround him.

He blinked in shock at seeing nothing before him. It took him a moment to realise that he was no longer chained to the ceiling, that the room was now devoid of stakes and he was fully clothed once more. Half angry and half exhausted, he glared at the valet, who did not look in the least affected by his fierce gaze.

"Congratulations, sir," the valet said agreeably. "I must say you are the first one who has not quailed at the sight of their own mortality."

Angel was in no mood for praise. "Cut to the chase. Will she?"

"Yes, sir. Not immediately- that we can only do that if she had just died, or was dying. She shall appear by voice, then all that is needed to bring flesh and blood is a simple invocation."

"And the invocation?" Angel practically growled.

"I believe you will find that in the same reference volume that led you to undertaking this series of trials, sir." The valet expressed a small smile. "Best of luck. The exit is up that stair way behind the arch."

"Thank you," Angel managed to force himself to say. He walked towards the stairs, slowly climbing them as his adrenaline faded away and the wounds which were still festering on his body made their presence felt once more.

He turned as he reached the ground above, expecting to have one final look at the series of underground caverns he had just spent god knows how much time in.

Instead, he found himself at the top of the ladder to the empty swimming pool once again.

Trying to summon some more energy out of his body, he made his way to the car, whereupon he cautiously climbed in and retrieved his phone with good hand. He dialled the number for his beloved's house and put the handset to his ear, waiting for her to pick up at the other end.

He could not help feeling slightly disappointed when the answering machine message received his call. "Hi, Buffy, its Angel. I've finished what I came here to do," he began, deciding to be circumspect about what happened, just in case Giles decided to visit. "And I wanted to let you know that I'm on my way home. I'll see you at the mansion." He hesitated, then decided to add, "I love you," before ending the call.

Slowly he put the cell phone away, turned the keys in the ignition and drove for home.

From outside the mansion on Crawford Street looked imposing and terrifying to any who would dare to walk past it. The inside was a remarkable contrast. A large roaring fire reigned inside the magnificent hearth, casting light over every particle of the large living area it was required to warm. Two plush sofas circled it, on one of which the slayer sat in wait for her boyfriend, who was expected home tonight. Since Angel's return she had persuaded him to get some furniture for the place, borrowing her mother's credit card to buy the purchases honestly, and retrieving what they could from his old apartment near the Bronze, after the scoobies returned the temporary furniture they had installed during Angel's convalescence. Having received his message after school that day, she had told her mother not to wait up and arrived at the mansion to wait for her boyfriend to come back.

She occupied herself by doodling various variations of her name coupled with his, all over her notebooks for school, while trying not to worry at what sort of injuries he possibly might have endured due to the Trial, the reference volume for having been typically vague on the details. She sat in a perfect spot to view the door and thus was there when Angel came home.

Actually, stumbled into the room would be a more apt description. "Angel," she uttered, shocked, "good god, what happened?"

"The trial," he replied thickly, gratefully accepting her arm to lean on as she escorted him to the nearest sofa.

The slayer's face formed a grimace, a sign that someone would be in trouble shortly, and that the death would not be quick. "I wish I could have gone with you."

"You couldn't. Your life might have been held over me and if I'd failed...." he hissed as she slid off his shirt to reveal the still healing burns from the crosses.

Buffy helped him sit down and then set about delivering first aid. Angel watched her for a moment, reading the emotions which were visible in her face. Seeing the mixture of fear, relief and frustration, he gently placed his bandaged hand underneath her chin, making her stop to look up at him. "It was worth it, Buffy. She's coming back."

"Just as well, else there would have been hell to pay," Buffy uttered as she carefully pressed antiseptic cream to one of his burns. "No one messes with my boyfriend."

She saw him smile at that, before closing his eyes, and letting her finish dressing his wounds. Eventually exhaustion took over, and he fell asleep.

"And the Homecoming Queen is; Cordelia Chase."

Cheers rang in the Bronze as the member of the Scooby gang walked to the stage to claim her prize and glory. Until now she had prepared herself to lose, knowing that her exile from the popular group was a clear barrier to wining this outright. Then she touched the trophy and a mixture of feelings possessed her. Relief at winning the title which had coveted for so long, and wondering almost what all the fuss was about. If Homecoming Queen compared to making the world a better place by being one of the slayerettes. Then the microphone was put before her mouth, and she was force to abandon searching for the answer, though she suspected that part of her already knew what it was.

Below her the remaining members relaxed in the arms of their significant others. Angel, no longer so much the worse for wear, thanks to vampire healing abilities and the tender loving care from his girl, had his arms wrapped tightly round his beloved, shutting the outside world away from the both of them as they relished the first public showing of their relationship since her seventeenth birthday. Willow and Oz stood next to them, the werewolf arms' around his witch, both of them smiling while Xander jumped and hollered in joy for his girlfriend's victory.

Rupert Giles stood behind them all, admiring at how well they had gotten past the difficulties and trials of last summer. Suddenly he stilled as a presence seemed to pass over him, a voice whispering in his ear, bringing back wonderful memories of happier, hoped for times, which promised at a future no longer alone. Convinced he was imagining things, Giles paid it no mind and forgot it just as quickly as he could.

Little did he know that this incident was only the start of things to come.

To be continued in.....
In Her Name; Part II:
The Loudest Whisper.