Forever Begins Again

by Isis FG

Feedback: vagabond_angel@comcast.net

Disclaimer: Do I look rich to you?...that’d be a no then. I’m just borrowing.

Rating: R
Pairing: B/A (major pair), but also W/O, X/C, Gi/Jo
Summary: Total AU (i.e. no vamps, no slayers, just regular humans)...Angel breaks up with Buffy after their high school graduation. Years later he returns to reclaim his lost love.
Spoilers: None…total AU…but ships from the show are used…and I did sort of vaguely reuse a few of the less supernatural storylines from the show.

Distribution: my site (Vagabond Soul), ff.net, BA_Fluff list, and LoD & Starrkitty’s Archive if they want it, anyone else, just ask first.

Author’s Notes: I started this quite a while ago, and then stopped working on it when I got completely sucked into writing ‘I Dreamt of Someday’, but now I’ve come back to it. This was the 2nd fic I ever started, and even with the re-writing, its still a bit raw.

AN2: The first maybe 7 parts of this fic have little actual B/A interaction…for a good reason…but the pair is still the focus despite that. Just thought I’d mention that.

AN3: Not beta’d, blame any mistakes on me!

Warnings:  mentions of domestic violence and drug use, some bad language, and also a small bit of mild sexual content


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Part 1 - Reminiscing
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It had been a long day for Angelus "Angel" Malloy. The flight from New York to California had seemed incredibly long. Then he had to deal with getting a rental car, retrieving the few belongings he had out of storage, moving everything into the small apartment he'd rented, and trying to get at least a little settled in. Yes, it had definitely been a busy day, but busy also meant that he had things to focus on. Things that would keep him from thinking about her. Now, though, he found himself sitting on one of the few pieces of furniture he owned, exhausted, and wondering about her, Buffy Summers.

Five years. It had been five long years since he'd last seen her, or heard anything about her for that matter. When he left Sunnydale a few weeks after their high school graduation, he had cut all ties to home. It was for the best, or at least that’s what he had thought back then.

Sunnydale had been left far behind when he went off to Columbia with the intent of becoming a writer. It had taken a little longer than he'd expected to graduate from college because of the semester abroad spent in Ireland, but he looked back fondly upon his college years, or at least most of the times. There had definitely been some bad times, but overall it had been a great experience, and he'd learned so much about writing, the world, and about himself.

The most important thing, though, that he learned in college was that he couldn't stop loving the girl he left behind. He had tried, of course, to forget about her. There had been dates with other women, some he had even been with intimately, but no one could compare to his Buffy.

After trying so hard to move on for almost three and a half years, he finally realized that as long as he lived, his heart would always belong to her. That personal revelation was what had led to his decision to return to the town he grew up in, the town where he had met the one girl who could make him weak in the knees. He didn’t know if it was the right thing to do. How could he? But he knew he had to try, had to see if he could win back her love. She was the only thing that completed him.

So that’s why he now found himself back in Sunnydale, trying to start his life there over again. It wasn’t going to be easy. He knew that. But he was determined to do whatever it took to correct the wrongs he’d committed in the past. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to do it. And maybe he would. Only time would tell.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Staring out the window, Angel sat in the ratty second hand chair he’d purchased and remembered the girl who forever held his heart. His eyes wondered to the various boxes scattered around the messy apartment. On top of one, the yearbook from his senior year of high school peaked out. The temptation to see her smiling face got the best of him so he reached over and pulled out the book. Leaning back in his chair, Angel ran his fingers over the cover before opening it.

As he flipped through the pages, he couldn't help but laugh at some of the pictures. There was one of Xander goofing off by hanging upside down from a tree, another of Willow sitting at a computer, then one of Cordelia doing what she did best which was making herself look pretty, and also one of their class advisor, Mr. Giles, sitting in the library. So many memories and he cherished them all.

And of course, there was Buffy, or rather pictures of him and Buffy together. Back then, one would have been hard pressed to find a time when they weren’t together. And since they were two of the most popular kids in school, there were plenty of pictures of them in the yearbook. It also helped that one of the best friends, Willow had been the editor.

He smiled at the pictures: one of them at a pep rally, one as Prom King and Queen, another of a stolen moment together in between classes, and the picture that went with the Senior Superlative for "Best Couple." The two of them had definitely not been wallflowers during their high school days. For a long time he thought they'd be together forever.

But then came the acceptance letter to Columbia. At first all it meant was that he’d be heading off to one of the best schools in the country. And his academic record had helped him get accepted on a full scholarship. It was one of the best things to ever happen to him.

Then the doubts came. What would he do about Buffy? He was going to be moving half way across the country while she remained in Sunnydale. Those thoughts plagued his mind for months until he knew what he had to do. For as long as he lived, Angel knew he would never forget the night that he had broken his beloved’s heart.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

~begin flashback~

They walked in silence back to Buffy's house, glad that they had decided not to drive to the post-graduation party. Alcohol and driving did not mix. Angel hardly said a word during the mile walk from Willow's house.

"So did you have a good time at the party?" Buffy asked, and got no response.

"Hello, earth to Angel, anyone home?" she questioned with a wave in front of his face.

"Huh? Did you say something?" replied Angel.

"Uhh, yeah. What's up with you?" she said with concern.

"Nothing,” shrugged Angel, trying his best to hide his emotions.

'You don't have nothing face, you have something face. Tell me what's bothering you," Buffy prodded.

"Why don't we sit down on the porch. There is something I want to talk to you about." He gestured to the stairs in front of Buffy’s house.

As they sat on the porch Buffy's stomach began to do cartwheels. She'd known all night that he had something on his mind. Angel was usually the life of the party, but tonight he'd seemed off in another world. He looked like he was really nervous about something. There was only one thing she could think of that would make him this quiet and nervous and she dearly hoped that her suspicion was right, that her dream was about to come true.

From the first time she met Angel three and a half years earlier, Buffy knew that he was her true love. Their first encounter occurred shortly after her move to Sunnydale with her mother. They'd bumped into each other at the video store one night and sparks had flown. Hell, fireworks had erupted. Not long after, they became an inseparable pair. But she had known from that first meeting that he was the one, the one she was meant to spend forever with. And tonight would be the night. He would ask her to marry him tonight. She could think of nothing more she wanted in the whole entire world than to be his wife.

"I've decided to leave for Columbia early," Angel stated in a cold, flat voice, breaking the silence around them.

"W-what?" she managed to squeak out in response.

"They have a summer program I can attend, so I'm leaving in 2 weeks." His tone remained steady as he spoke.

"I don't understand. When did you decide to do this and why did you never bring it up with me?" she questioned forcefully.

"I've been thinking about it for about a little while. This program is a chance to help me get a good start on my writing career and I have to take it," Angel replied trying to maintain the coldness in his voice.

"Oh....I-I guess I understand. That doesn't mean I like it," she muttered and then thought for a minute. "My classes don't start until the end of August maybe I could go with you and spend the summer there. It would give us more time together."

"Buffy…I've been doing some thinking," Angel started as he stood up and walked a few feet away from her. "We're both starting college soon, you at UC Sunnydale, and me in Columbia...” he ran his hand through his hair knowing he had to force the next phrase out of his mouth. "I think that we should see other people."

"WHAT?" Buffy screeched at the words he'd just spoken to her. A million thoughts ran through her head. This was no where near what she had been expecting. It was a continent away from the marriage proposal she wanted and thought she was going to get. "You're breaking up with me?" she spoke softly as tears begin to stream down her cheeks.

"It's for the best," Angel stated flatly.

"You mean it’s best for you. That way you can go off to college and have all the fun you want with the trampy little co-eds," Buffy shouted, anger coursing through her voice.

"Buffy, don't. I just think this is what needs to be done. I’m not doing this to hurt you," he said, his voice beginning to waver slightly.

"Oh really? You could have fooled me. That’s exactly what you are doing. God! I was so stupid. I thought you were going to ask me to marry you tonight, but instead I get the royal brush off so you can be free to get your happy on. How could I have never seen what kind of person you are? How could I have wanted forever with you?" she spat out at him, barely containing the rage that was building within.

"I'm sorry. I never wanted to hurt you. I'm just trying to do what's right,” Angel explained. He tried not to let the pain he felt for her show in his voice. Marriage. If only she knew how much he wanted that with her. He wanted to take her in his arms, tell her how sorry he was, how much he loved her, but he couldn't. This needed to be done. He couldn't make her wait four or five years for him while he was away. She deserved to be free, to be happy, to live like a normal girl, not one who was tied down to a boyfriend thousands of miles away. She'd never be free unless he did this.

Buffy saw him take a step towards her and fought to keep control of herself. Part of her wanted to launch her body into his and beg him not to leave her, and another part wanted to plant her knee squarely into his crouch. At the moment, she wouldn’t have minded seeing him in an extreme amount of pain.

"Don't fucking touch me! I don't even want you near me!" she screamed at him.

"Buffy, please-"

"I said get. the. fuck. a-way. from. me!" she replied, jaw clenched, fire blazing out of her eyes.

"I-I'm sorry," Angel stated softly before he turned to walk away. "I didn't want to hurt you," he added, but only he could hear those final words.

As he walked away he heard Buffy begin to sob. Guilt and pain seeped through every part of his body. He'd just destroyed everything he had with the love of his life. How could he have done this to her?

The sensible part of his brain told him that he did it because it was the only thing to do. But just because he'd broken up with her didn't mean that he would stop worrying about her welfare. He couldn't just walk away and leave her like that, not with the type of people that could be found lurking around in Sunnydale. So he quickly ducked behind a tree and watched her, making sure that she'd remain safe for however long she stayed out on the porch.

Buffy watched as Angel walked away. The anger that had initially driven her was beginning to wane, being replaced by mind numbing shock. Whatever she had expected from this night, the actuality had never crossed her mind. It was just starting to sink in that Angel, her Angel, her soulmate, had left her. That he had turned his back on her and everything they’d had and walked away.

Finally she couldn't hold it in any longer and fell to the ground, violently sobbing. She pulled her legs up and wrapped her arms around them, rocking herself ever so slightly. The events began to replay in her head which only caused her to cry harder. The only thought that her mind could grasp was that Angel was gone.

Suddenly, she felt a hand on her shoulder. Her eyes whipped open hoping to find Angel's beautiful brown eyes looking down at her, but instead she saw her two best friends, Willow and Cordelia, standing in front of her, with Oz and Xander a few feet away, looking concerned. Not knowing what to say she just put her head back down onto her knees and continued to cry. She couldn’t have stopped even if she wanted to.

Angel watched her until he saw that she was in good hands. She was safe, at least he would know that. Slowly, he walked home, fighting a constant battle against the urge to go back to her, to tell her that he was wrong and that he did want to marry her. But he couldn't. What he’d done was for the best. No matter how much he had hurt her, and hurt himself, he'd done the right thing. He was sure of it. Someday, just maybe, he'd be able to return to her, and he hoped that if that day came, she’d still love him and be able to forgive him.

~end flashback~

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Tears flowed down Angel's cheeks as he remembered that night so long ago. The hurt he had caused her still rattled him. But there was nothing he could do to take it all back. He didn’t know if he would want to anyway. Part of him still believed it had been the right thing, but another part told him otherwise. Funny how almost five years ago he was so sure that it had been the right choice, and now…well he wasn't so sure about it.

When he first left, he thought that, eventually, he would be able to stop thinking about her, worrying about her...loving her. But in the five years he'd been away, he hadn't been able to do any of those things. And that's what made him wonder if he'd done the right thing that night.

It was also part of the reason he was now back in Sunnydale, a place he swore he would never return to all those years ago. About a year and a half ago, he had realized that he would never be able to move on with his life until he came home and saw her. Even if he found that she was now happily married with a baby on the way, he would at least know that she was happy. That was all that he’d ever wanted for her.

Looking at the clock, Angel sighed and returned the yearbook to the box. The trip down memory lane had been emotionally exhausting. There wasn't anything he could do about Buffy at the moment, so he opted for some much needed sleep instead. But soon, he would find out if there was possibly room for him in Buffy's life.

As he laid down to go to sleep he sent a silent prayer to whatever higher being might be listening that she would someday forgive him.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 2 – Old Friends
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The following day, Angel spent the majority of his time getting further settled into his life back in Sunnydale. The move had left him with an endless array of things to do. First and foremost he needed to unpack more of his belongings. He’d spent nearly and hour that morning trying to find his shaving kit. Once he had unpacked some more he decided on a trip to the market to stock his apartment up with food.

While he was out, he also stopped by the newspaper office to meet with his new boss. After touring the office and meeting a few of his coworkers, Angel had finally been able to return home. The only bad thing about moving back to Sunnydale was that he was basically starting his life all over again. It was more tiring than he thought it would be. He was just glad that he had been able to postpone starting his new job for four weeks so that he could get fully settled into his new life before tackling his job at the newspaper.

As night began to fall, Angel set about making himself some dinner which consisted of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich due to the fact that all of his kitchen supplies were still in boxes. But he didn’t really care; more important things were occupying his mind.

Tonight, he planned on taking the first step in trying to work his way back into Buffy’s life. Or, of course, if he was too nervous, he would just watch from afar. He would at least be able to se how she was doing no matter what he did.

Just thinking about the beautiful blonde goddess caused his heart to nearly double in pace. It had been so long since he had seen her smiling face. Too long. The anticipation within him at the prospect of seeing her was nearly overwhelming.

Eager to get his night started, Angel took a quick shower and washed off all the sweat from unpacking. He dressed in a casual pair of black slacks and a royal blue button down shirt. The shirt was chosen for a reason, Buffy had always loved him to wear blue.

He stared at his appearance in the mirror for a minute, nervously wondering if he looked okay. Was his shirt too wrinkled? Should he have worn khaki pants? Did he put enough gel in his hair? After a moment, he laughed at himself, thinking that he was acting like a teenager going on his first date.

Finally, he took a deep breath and pulled himself away from the mirror. He tried convince himself there was no reason to be nervous. After all, he wasn’t even sure he would see her tonight. Sighing, he grabbed his keys off the dresser and made his way out of his apartment.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Angel headed toward the one club in Sunnydale, The Bronze. That was where the gang had always hung out in high school. It was the best place to begin his quest to find his love. There was good chance that neither she, nor their friends would be there, but it was the only place he could think to look. Hopefully, luck would be on his side and he’d find them.

The drive to the club was short, causing Angel to think that he may have been better off walking. The beat of the music inside could be heard from the parking lot as he got out of his car. Making his way to the door, he paid the cover charge and entered the club.

The second he was inside, memories washed over him. During his younger years, he had spent an enormous amount of time there with Buffy and their friends. Hours spent on the dance floor, Buffy cradled in his arms, the friendly banter traded at one of the tables. It was all so familiar, yet so foreign. He wondered if she now spent her time there with another.

The inside of the club looked a bit different from the last time he had been there. It looked like it had been remodeled a little and redecorated, but it still had the homey, comfortable feeling that he always loved about the place.

Angel wandered leisurely around the club absorbing the atmosphere. He didn't see anyone he recognized. The crowd was decidedly younger, well younger than him at least. They were probably the current high school group doing just what he and his friends had done at their age.

After looking around for a few minutes he began to think that his old friends weren't there, but then he saw a table off in the corner with four familiar people seated around it. He couldn’t help but smile at the sight. The group that he had spent so much time with years ago was still together.

Willow was practically sitting on Oz's lap. Angel had to chuckle at that. Some things never changed, they had been just like that in high school. He found himself surprised, though, when he saw that Xander was sitting with his arm around Cordelia. The beauty queen and the class clown. That was definitely something he never would have expected. The two had been friends back then, but had spent most of their time trying to annoy each other. It looked like some things had changed.

Cautiously, he made his way over to the table. Now that he was there, he wasn’t sure what to say. He hadn’t really thought about it. What if they hated him? Told him to go get the hell away from them? There was only one way to find out.

"Angel?" The sound of someone calling his name snapped him out of his internal monologue. Glancing up, he realized the Willow had spotted him. Pushing aside his nervousness, he walked over to their table.

"Hey," he replied, not really knowing what to say to the people he’d pretty much abandoned five years earlier.

"Well, uhh, it's been a while," Xander stated matter-of-factly. There was no mistaking the ice in his voice, or the less than warm looks from the others. And, really, Angel couldn't blame them. If he was in their position he would probably act the same way.

"Yeah, it has. Mind if I have a seat?" he asked nervously.

"Uhh, yeah sure,” answered Willow, sharing not-so-secret looks with the other. None of them had expected to run into their old friend that night.

Angel sat down in the seat next to Willow. Despite the fact that the four people at the table had been his best friends, he felt like he was sitting with a bunch of strangers. He didn’t know what to say to them, and it appeared that they didn’t quite know how to react to him.

Inwardly, he noticed that none of them looked beyond him into the club as if they were on the look-out for someone or that they didn’t look worried that someone else was going to be joining them at the table. And he also noted that there were only four cups on the table. Those facts could only mean that Buffy wasn't with them. A pang of disappointment flickered in his heart that he wouldn't get to see her yet, but he also thought that maybe it would be better to see the others first and possibly get some clues about her life now.

"So, you're back," Oz said in his usual man-of-few-words manner, breaking the uncomfortable silence.

"When did you get back in town?" added Willow.

"I just flew in yesterday. I've been busy trying to get things settled, and I had to meet with my new boss." Angel stated as casually as possible.

"Boss? You have a job here?" Cordelia nearly choked on her drink.

"Yeah, I'm going to be working at the newspaper as a junior editor. I got lucky. Someone left suddenly not long before I contacted them and they gave me the job without even having me come in for a face to face meeting." explained Angel, his eyes focused anywhere but at the faces of his friends. He wasn’t quite ready to deal with their accusatory eyes yet.

"So…that would mean you're staying in town, huh?" questioned Willow, more than a little shocked at the sudden reappearance of someone she’d once considered a good friend.

"You would assume right," answered Angel with a slight nod of his head. He didn’t really mind the idle chit-chat with his sort-of friends, but part of him just wanted to jump to the point and ask about Buffy.

"Wow, that's, well, interesting," Xander said flatly. He was more than a little angry that Angel had just shown up out of nowhere after disappearing like he had.

Angel inwardly sighed. Xander’s hostility was not lost on him. It wasn’t like he didn’t expect it, but it still stung a bit. He wondered if maybe he should just leave. It didn’t appear that they wanted him around. He wouldn’t know until he asked, though.

"Look, guys, I know me showing up is probably the last thing you expected or wanted. And I know there are probably some bad feelings about things that have happened in the past. I understand that. And if you would prefer it, I'll stay away from you guys and Buffy. If you think that's best, I’ll keep my distance." Angel finished the sentence and exhaled the breath he'd been holding in. He then noticed four sets of eyes wide open, looking back and forth between each other. It wasn't quite the reaction he was expecting.

"Buffy?" Willow spoke softly, keeping tight reign on her emotions.

"Yeah, I mean, we didn’t part on the best of terms. I would understand if she didn’t want to see me. I don’t want to cause trouble for her or any of you," Angel replied, not quite sure what was going on.

"Angel? Could you be a gentleman and get me another drink? Long Island Ice Tea. Please?" Cordelia asked out of the blue. It was the first thing that came to mind.

"Uh, yeah, no problem," answered Angel, getting more confused by the second. He got up to go get Cordelia's drink regardless.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Once Angel was out of hearing distance, the four friends quickly turned toward either. Their eyes showed their surprise at not only Angel’s arrival, but also his words.

"I don't think he knows," Willow leaned in and whispered to the others.

"Kinda got the same feeling," concurred Oz.

"I know none of us tried to get into contact with him, but I would have thought someone would have told him," Xander replied, a bit of anger in his voice.

"Who would have told him though? None of us have even spoken to him since he left town after graduation, and his family moved to New York about a year later. I don't think he kept in contact with anybody who knows what’s gone on here," Willow summed up, her mind reeling at the implications.

"Why should he know anyway? He's the one who up and ditched his life and everyone in it?" Cordelia barked. She could still vividly remember the night they had found Buffy crying on her porch.

"Yeah…but Cordy, they were together, for like what? four years or so. He's probably still got some feelings for her somewhere even if he did break up with her and leave town. He obviously still cares about her if he's willing to stay away from us and her," Willow answered back. She didn’t quite know why she was defending Angel after what he had done. Maybe it was because he was one of her oldest friends.

"Does it really matter anyway? His feelings for her, whatever they are, don't make a difference at the moment, and they might never again," Xander said with a slight hitch in his voice, his thoughts suddenly elsewhere.

"Xander, stop, we don't know that! We have to tell him. He has to know," Willow retorted sympathetically, her eyes showing sadness.

"Well, then I guess you're the lucky one since you think he needs to be told," countered Xander, not wanting to deal with Angel. He couldn’t get over what his former friend had done.

"Fine," Willow sighed. Somehow she always got stuck with the dirty work. She ran a hand through her shoulder length red hair wondering how exactly she was going to tell Angel what he needed to be told. She stood up and reached for her coat, not missing the questioning looks her friends were giving her. "I can't tell him here, geez."

"Here's your drink Cordy. Sorry it took so long, there was a long line,” Angel stated as he handed Cordy her drink. He then noticed Willow standing as if she was about to leave. “Are you leaving Willow?”

"Yeah…umm, sort of. Why don't we go for a walk or something…we can…talk," she stuttered slightly. This was not a conversation she was looking forward to. Something told her Angel was not going to take the news well at all. The look in his eyes when he said Buffy’s name earlier had not been lost on her. It wouldn’t have surprised in the least if he was still in love with Buffy.

"Uhh, yeah, ok, I guess so. I'll see you guys later then," Angel answered, his brow furrowing at the bad vibe he was getting. Something definitely wasn't right, he was sure of that. Their little group had always been on the strange side, but this was odd even for them.

The group exchanged good-byes. Well, they spoke the words to Willow and more or less mumbled them to Angel. Angel then turned and followed Willow out of The Bronze into the cool winter night. All the while his mind was frantically wondering what it was that Willow wanted to talk to him about.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 3 - Shattered
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After leaving the Bronze, Willow had asked Angel if he would drive her somewhere, purposely leaving out where exactly she wanted to go. Angel, still confused by the situation, could do nothing but say yes. It was obvious in his mind that there was something Willow wasn’t telling him, or hadn’t yet been able to tell him. He wasn’t sure which. The sinking feeling in his gut, however, told him that whatever it was, it was something very very bad.

The car ride was silent except for Willow’s scant directions. Angel was tempted to pull the car over and demand that she tell him what was going on. Instead, he wordlessly complied with her directives. Part of him just didn’t want to know what had Willow acting so strangely.

When they finally reached their destination, Angel stared curiously at the house. It was rather large, well kept, and was part of the so-called ‘wealthy district’. He recognized it from his years living in Sunnydale, but had no idea who lived there. Why had Willow asked him to bring her here?

"Where are we Willow? Whose house this?" questioned Angel. The situation was getting odder by the second which only served to make him more nervous.

"This is Joyce's and Giles' house," she answered, glad that the dark of night didn’t allow Angel to see her face. When she realized her statement probably didn’t make sense to him, she explained further. "They got married about 2 years ago and moved here."

"Oh…that's…well, unexpected, but what are we doing here?" he asked even more confused and a bit shocked. Buffy's mom and Mr. Giles. Another unexpected turn of events. He wondered what Buffy thought of her Mom’s marriage to their high school class advisor.

"I, uh, stay here sometimes. Well...I guess I practically live here, especially when they are out of town. They're on a retreat for a week so Oz and I are staying here to...take care of things," she stated, knowing full well that her vagueness was obvious.

Angel’s brow furrowed. It was more than a little weird to him that a young woman like Willow was living with another person's family most of the time, and with her boyfriend. Couldn’t they have hired someone to take care of the house, or couldn’t Buffy do it? And what ‘things’ exactly did she have to take care of? Something was very wrong, he was sure of that.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Angel followed as Willow entered house. He glanced around at the interior, taking note of the expensive pieces of art. The house was beautiful filled with exquisite furniture and such. No doubt the result of two mildly wealthy people marrying each other. It was still strange to Angel that Buffy’s Mom had married Giles.

Without saying anything, Willow started walking up the large oak staircase leading up to the second floor. Angel followed, hoping that sooner, rather than later, he’d get some answers as to what was going on. They made their way down a long hall to an open sitting area where Willow told him to wait for a minute.

He watched impatiently as she went over and talked to a young woman in her mid-twenties who was seated on a couch reading a book. They spoke quietly so he couldn't hear what they were saying, but he saw the young woman glance over to him. Who was she? A servant? The woman then stood and walked past him down the hall. Willow walked back over to Angel with an obvious look of sadness and fear in her eyes.

"Willow, could you please tell me what's going on?" he said slightly angered.

Instead Willow lightly took his hand and led him over to a door to the right of the couch the young woman had recently been sitting on. She couldn't think of the right way to tell him, so she decided it would be best to let him see for himself. It was the cowards way out, she knew that, and probably wasn't the best way to handle things, but it was the only thing that she could think of.

"What's in there? Why won't you tell me anything?" Angel demanded, his mind was searching for answers. What was behind that door that Willow was intent on showing him rather than telling him?

"Just go in," she said softly, her eyes unable to look into his.

"Aren't you coming with me?" he asked when he saw Willow walk toward one of the chairs in the sitting area.

"No," she answered with a slight shake of her head. Taking a seat, she finally looked at Angel, her eyes telling him without words that whatever was behind that door was not something he wanted to see.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

For a moment, Angel could only stare at Willow. The red head’s actions had him truly frightened. And part of him was about two seconds away from throttling her for being so cryptic. The knot in his stomach tightened even more, if that was humanly possible, as he fought with the dueling desires of forcing Willow to explain what was going on or to just go into the room before him.

Realizing he wasn’t going to get any more information out of Willow, he turned toward to door that he supposed held the key to the ever confusing situation he found himself in. Slowly, he grasped the handle and turned it. Pushing open the door, he swiveled his head to take one last glance at Willow in hopes that she would reveal something, anything, to him. But her face adeptly masked her emotions. Taking a deep breath he wasn’t sure if he needed, Angel walked into the room.

The first thing he noticed in the room, other than the lack of significant light, were all the machines scattered around. His eyes narrowed as he strained to see them in the dim light. They were the kind of machines seen in hospitals that measured various vital statistics. What were they doing in the room? His questioning gaze turned to look out the door to Willow, but abruptly came to a stop on a sight he almost wished he hadn’t seen.

There, lying on a bed in the corner of the room was Buffy. Angel’s mouth dropped open as if to speak, but no words came out. He took a cautious step toward the bed. His eyes ran over her form. She looked incredibly pale and fragile, a few wires here and there trailed from her body and appeared as if they connected her to the machines he’d first noticed. He took another hesitant step toward the bed.

“Buffy,” he said in a choked whisper.

His hand reached out to touch her, but dropped quickly. He almost didn’t want to touch her, didn’t want to make the sight in front of him any more real. But it was real. His beautiful Buffy was lying lifeless a mere foot away from him. What had happened to her? His eyes roamed over what he could see of her body, searching for something to tell him what was wrong with her. But there was nothing.

Angel stood there for what seemed like hours staring at his love. He didn’t even notice when the tears began falling down his cheeks, the only thing he could think about was Buffy. She looked so small in the bed, like a child’s baby doll, neatly tucked in for bedtime.

He took the last few steps until he was standing beside her. His left hand reached out and touched the side of her face while his right hand found its way into hers. She felt not quite warm but not quite cold and didn’t stir at his touch. The tears that had started earlier continued to fall as he stood and stared at what seemed like her lifeless body. The only sign of life being the blips on the machine that he assumed measured her heart rate.

Seeing the chair beside the bed, Angel sat down and tried to absorb the picture that lay before him, all the while never letting go of her hand.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

A half hour went by as Willow waited in the sitting room next to where her best friend resided. She could almost feel the pain radiating out of the room from Angel. Tears began to well in her eyes as she thought about her friend lying unmoving on the bed. She still had hope that Buffy would wake up, that things would go back to the way they used to be. Go back to when she had a best friend who hadn’t pushed her away, who wasn’t now in a coma.

Finally, she heard Angel’s footsteps and saw him emerge from the room. He was puffy and red eyed Angel, as she assumed she was as well. He closed the door, staring at it for a moment before walking over to Willow and sitting in the chair next to her.

“I’m sorry Angel, we thought that you knew,” Willow said breaking the deafening silence surrounding them.

“H-How long has she been like that?” he asked in a barely audible voice.

“Seven and a half months,” she answered softly, pulling a tissue out of her pocket to dab at her tears.

“What happened?” Angel questioned tersely, fresh tears beginning to fall at the thought of his Buffy being like that for so long. She’d always been so full of life…to see her like he just had was so foreign.

“She was attacked. Someone found her in an alley badly beaten and stabbed. The doctors didn’t think she would survive the night. The stab wounds had penetrated her liver and lungs, and there was serious head trauma. She made it through all the surgeries, but hasn’t regained consciousness since then,” explained Willow as she reached to close one her hands around Angel’s.

Angel’s eyes closed and his head dropped slightly as the things Willow told him penetrated his mind. His heart ached for Buffy. He couldn’t imagine what she must have gone through. And he hadn’t been there. Somewhere in the back of his mind a voice spoke out saying that it wouldn’t have happened if he had been there, that his beloved wouldn’t be lying in that bed if he hadn’t left.

When he didn’t speak, Willow continued, “they kept her in the hospital for two months. But her condition didn’t change, that was when Joyce and Giles decided it was best to move her back home and hire a private care. So she’s been here since then. That’s why I often stay here, to help out with whatever they need and to be here for Buffy.”

Willow’s words again received no response. Angel just continued to sit there, but his eyes had raised and were now staring at the door through which he’d just walked through. His mind couldn’t seem to form a coherent sentence. There were only singular thoughts mostly focusing on the words Buffy and coma.

The utterly lost look in Angel’s eyes was not lost on Willow. She knew that look well, she still saw it often in Joyce’s eyes. She wished that there was something she could do for him, but experience had shown her that there was nothing that would ease them pain. They had all had a while to come to terms with the situation, but it was all very fresh for Angel. She couldn’t help but be worried about him. Seeing someone you love in the condition like he had just seen Buffy was always hard.

“Angel, there’s a lot of stuff that you don’t know…things that have gone on since you left, but now’s not the time to talk about them. I think we both need some sleep. Why don’t you stay the night in one of the extra rooms. I don’t think you should be driving right now,” Willow offered, trying to be as comforting as she could. The last thing Angel should be doing at the moment was driving in the condition he was in.

“Ok,” answered Angel when he snapped out of his daze enough to realize what Willow had said. His mind was still too much in shock to absorb anything she’d said or to say that he’d be fine to go home. So he just followed her down the hall and into one of the guest rooms.

“There are some spare clothes in the dresser. You should be able to find something you can change into,” Willow told him and gestured to the dresser. She watched him for a minute as he just stood in the room. She again wished there was something she could do for him, but only time would ease the hurt. Sighing slightly, she turned and left the room, closing the door behind her.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Willow was lying in bed thinking about all the things that had gone on during the evening when Oz finally entered their bedroom. She was grateful that Joyce and Giles didn’t mind him staying with her when she slept at the house. Oz was her rock, he comforted her when she was sad, laughed with her when she was happy, he was everything she could want in a boyfriend.

“How did it go?” he asked as changed into his sleeping clothes.

“About as I expected. He was really upset,” she began and then told him about all that had transpired with Angel earlier.

“You think he still loves her don’t you?” he asked already knowing the answer.

“It was pretty obvious,” she replied.

“Yeah, I think Xander was the only one in denial land about that,” Oz answered back.

“We better get some sleep. I’m gonna need it for the conversation I have to have with Angel tomorrow. He doesn’t know yet about everything else that’s gone on while he was away,” she said sleepily.

“Mmm, yeah, he’s not going to take that well,” Oz said with a yawn and then pulled the covers over Willow and himself. She snuggled closer to him and drifted off to sleep.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 4 – Her Story
^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

The next morning Willow awoke a little before 9am. She thought to herself that she could have easily slept another few hours, but with Angel having slept at the house, she figured that she better drag herself out of bed and check on him. So she showered and got dressed before making her way toward the room Angel had spent the night in. Upon arriving at his door she found that it was open and Angel wasn’t in the room. She knew right away where he was.

Quietly, she crept down the hall to Buffy’s room and found what she expected to find: Angel asleep in the chair, his head resting on the edge of the bed near Buffy’s hand. If she hadn’t been sure the previous night that he was still in love with her, she would have been now. Part of her was tempted to leave him there, but she knew he should probably eat something, and they also had things that needed to be talked about. Placing her hand on his shoulder she shook him lightly.

“Angel...time to wake up,” she said softly.

“Huh...Willow?...What time is it? I must have fallen asleep,” he replied, blinking his eyes at the harsh sunlight filling the room.

“It’s almost ten in the morning. Why don’t you come down and have some breakfast. You’ve got to be hungry, and Buffy’s physical therapist will be here soon so you can’t stay in the room anyway,” Willow answered as she walked over and adjusted the blinds covering the windows.

“I’m not really hungry, but I guess you’re right, I should have something. Physical therapist?” he asked looking up at her, wondering at the statement.

“Yeah, he comes by a couple times a week to work on her muscles. It keeps them from atrophying,” she explained, wiggling her arms as if it would help show her point.

“Oh, okay. I guess we should get some breakfast then,” Angel said and got up from the chair he’d been seated in for hours.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

They sat quietly on the patio with their breakfasts. Angel took an occasional bite out of the omelet that Willow made, but his mind was elsewhere, cluttered with a thousand different thoughts. Finding Buffy in a coma upon his return to Sunnydale was something that he had not expected at all. He couldn’t get the sight of her out of his head, lying there pale and motionless.

Did she dream? Was she in pain? And then there was the part of his brain that was telling him that this was all his fault. He had left her without a look back, left her alone, to fend for herself. As a result she was now just a body lying on a bed, a shell of what she once was. His conscience kept repeating over and over that she wouldn’t have been hurt if he had stayed.

“Are you okay?” Willow interrupted his thoughts.

“Yeah, it...it just hurts…to see her like that. She was always so full of life,” he answered, not able to look Willow in the eyes.

“I know,” she agreed, a tear forming. “It’s still hard for me to look at her even after almost eight months.”

“Tell me what happened, all of it,” he asked firmly.

Willow inhaled deeply and looked up at him, not quite knowing where to start, or how to tell him all that there was to tell. It was going to be hard for him to hear, she knew that. But it was important that he know.

“There’s a lot to tell you, Angel, and it’s not all stuff you’re going to like. But please, just listen to everything I have to say,” began Willow, taking a sip of juice before continuing. “Things changed a lot after you left, Buffy changed. It took her the whole summer to get over you leaving. We tried to get her to go out with us, but she wouldn’t leave the house most of the time. So we just tried to be there for her.”

“School started in the fall, and she seemed a little better. She still didn’t go out much, but she was doing really well in her classes. The summer after freshmen year she moved back in with her mom. She would hang out with us once in a while, but mostly we had to go to her house to see her,” Willow paused and looked toward Angel. This is where things started to go downhill, she still wasn’t sure he was ready to hear it all. But he nodded so she went on.

“Then not long after sophomore year started, she met a guy, bumped into him in the hall, I think. They started hanging out and she was almost like her old self. But he just up and dumped her after...well...after he got what he wanted from her,” she looked pointedly at Angel to make sure he understood the connotation. His head drooped slightly showing he got the meaning. “She was crushed, to say the least. Everything that she’d built back up in her life just came crashing down.”

“For a while we hardly saw her, she skipped classes, never answered the phone. But then all the sudden she seemed to, I don’t know, get over it maybe. We were all so worried about her, and so relieved when she stopped hiding herself away,” she sighed, running a hand through her hair. The toughest part was coming up. What’s she’d just told Angel was bad, but the worst had yet to be told.

“Go on,” Angel requested, although dreading whatever was left. He couldn’t believe that some guy would just use her like that. If he ever found out who the prick was, he was going to pay him a little visit.

“It only lasted for about a month. Then she just disappeared. No one knew where she was for maybe two weeks. When she came back she was completely different. She wouldn’t tell us where she had been, what had happened, nothing. Finally, she dropped out of school and just stopped talking to us altogether. We tried to keep being her friends but after a while we gave up. We couldn’t force her to be friends,” taking another sip of her juice, she glanced again at Angel. He looked just as perplexed as they had been back then at the changes in Buffy.

“The things that happened afterward we’re not real sure about, some of it we only heard from others, or saw glimpses of. From what we know she met some guy named Ford - Billy Fordham - at a bar and started dating him. People told us that he was bad news, drugs, illegal stuff like that-“

“What?” yelled Angel, shocked by the revelation. “Buffy hated drugs. She never would have gotten involved with someone like that.

“I know Angel. It didn’t make any sense back then and it still doesn’t now. I tried to confront her about it once and she went off on me. Anyways, they were together for two years on and off. We ran into her a couple times and she didn’t look good. Once she had a black eye and scratches on her one arm. It was obvious that he was abusing her, but she didn’t care about anything we said to her or our offers to help,” stopping for a moment, Willow gave Angel some time to take in what she had just said. It had been hard for them back then, she could only imagine how Angel was taking the news.

“About a year ago she just showed up at my room one day, crying. She never did tell me why, except that she was scared. She never came back after that night. Then she was attacked,” Willow reached over to take Angel’s hand, hoping to offer him some comfort. But he quickly pulled away from her touch.

Angel didn’t know what to think. The Buffy he knew would have never gotten herself into a situation like that. He couldn’t even comprehend the idea of her being in an abusive relationship with a junkie. It just wasn’t her. What had happened to change her? And then there was the voice inside him telling him that none of it would have happened if he hadn’t broken up with her and left. How could this not all be his fault?

“W-what happened with attack?” Angel choked out, hardly able to form a complete sentence. His mind was just too overwhelmed, his heart broken for all that Buffy had been through.

“The police don’t really know what happened since she’s been in a coma and couldn’t tell them. But we’re all pretty sure about who attacked her. All they officially know is that someone called the police after they heard shouting and what sounded like a fight in an alley behind a bar, and when they arrived they found her lying there unconscious. No one claims to have seen anything or know anything. That’s pretty much everything I know,” Willow finished and looked down at her hands. She handed realized she’d been wringing them through the whole speech.

A full five minutes passed and Willow just continued to sit there watching Angel, waiting for him to say something. He hadn’t looked up since she’d finished telling him everything. He just sat there, staring down at nothing.

“Angel?”

“I-I....” he still couldn’t find the words to say anything.

“It’s a lot to take in, I know,” Willow sighed, wishing she had better things to tell him.

“I didn’t know, about any of it,” he replied, a solitary tear falling down his cheek.

“We figured that last night when you mentioned her. That’s why I brought you here," she stated, pulling her sweater tighter around her.

“It’s all my fault,” Angel cried out, feeling completely overcome with guilt. Every single thing that had had happened to her was all on his shoulders. None of it would have happened if he hadn’t done what he had five years earlier.

“What? Angel, no,” she replied gently, knowing what he was thinking.

“If I hadn’t left none of this would have happened,” he almost shouted at her.

“Angel...no....this is not your fault. I can’t tell you that what you did wasn’t wrong, but you didn’t cause this,” she disagreed. They’d all tried to take the blame for Buffy’s situation at one point or another.

“How can you say that? It is. It’s all my fault,” he retorted and hastily got up from the table.

“No. Yes, you hurt Buffy... a lot... when you left like you did. It destroyed her. We tried to help her, but none of us understood why you did it. But it’s not your fault she went down the path that she did. She’s responsible for her own actions,” Willow tried to explain, receiving no response whatsoever from Angel.

“You leaving may have been a catalyst, but she’s the one who made the choices she did. We’re all to blame, you for leaving, her for the decisions she made, even us. We knew she was in trouble, but we just stood there and watched. If we’d have tried harder maybe we could have prevented it. Don’t blame yourself Angel; it’s not your fault. And even if it was, blame isn’t going to change anything now,” Willow said trying her best to comfort him

Angel didn’t reply, he just sat back down at the table and poked at his eggs. He knew there was logic in what Willow was telling him, but it didn’t stop the guilt. It didn’t stop the feeling inside telling him he was responsible.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 5 – Relentless Guilt
^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

For nearly an hour, Angel and Willow sat in silence at the table on the patio. Neither knew what to say. One because she didn’t know how to comfort her friend who had just heard devastating news, and the other because all he could do was find ways to blame himself.

Willow knew that Angel still thought Buffy’s condition was his fault even thought she’d told him that the blame did not lie squarely on his shoulders. The look on his face told her all she needed to know. The sad part was, that she could see how he could place the blame on himself. Buffy had been a happy, carefree person up until Angel left her. His actions all those years ago had set in motion the downward spiral.

At the same time, she had truly meant what she said to him: that Buffy was responsible for her own choices. No one forced her to retreat into a shell after Angel left, no one made her stay with an abusive boyfriend. Those choices were hers, and hers alone.

In the end, though, no one, and everyone was to blame. Buffy’s situation was the culmination of many different things, some of which Willow was sure she didn’t even know, and may never know. The only way they would find out the whole story would be if Buffy woke up, and although she still hoped for it, it got harder and harder to do so each day.

For now, she realized, Angel just needed some time to let everything sink in. The guilt would probably always plague him, as it did all of them. Some days it was harder than others to not let it overwhelm her, but she deep down she knew that no one person was responsible for all that had happened.

"Hey Willow, just wanted to let you know I'm finished for the day and heading out." The now familiar male voice brought her out of the past and back to the present.

"Okay, thanks. Did everything go well?" she questioned as she turned to face the man talking to her.

"Yeah, same as usual," the new man replied, his gaze falling on Angel.

"Oh, I should introduce you. Angel, this is Riley Finn, Buffy's physical therapist. Riley, this is Angel Malloy, an old friend of ours and Buffy's," spoke Willow tiredly. The conversation with Angel seemed to have drained all of her energy.

Angel looked up to find a tall, stiff looking man with dark blonde hair, and a goofy smile. He made no effort to shake the man's hand, just said hi and looked back down to the nonexistent spot on the ground he had been staring at. He didn't know why, but he didn't like the oafish physical therapist.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

After speaking with Willow for a little longer, finding out anything else pertinent to Buffy, Angel helped her clear the dishes from breakfast before retreating back to Buffy’s room. Part of him never wanted to leave her side again, wanted to be there to do anything he could to help her, wanted to be there in case she woke up.

As he sat there by her bedside, Angel stared at her still form. He couldn’t help but notice the differences in her appearance from the last time he had seen her five years earlier. She was much thinner, her face boney, her eyes sunken. Her hair was still blonde, but it was shorter and lacked the luster it had always had.

Morbid curiosity caused him to pull back her covers and lift the hem of her shirt revealing her taut stomach. His eyes closed in sadness, tears welling in them at the sight. Five rough, jagged lines marred her once perfect skin. Not even eight months had made the scars from her attack disappear. They probably would remain forever.

Gently, his fingers traced each and every mark on her stomach. The tears in his eyes fell as he wished he could take them away, take it all away, and go back to when they’d been happy. Why had he been so stupid?

She should be out enjoying life, happy. She should be married to him, as she had wanted to be so long ago. Not lying in a bed, oblivious to the world around her. The echoes of blame just would not stop sounding throughout his head. If he’d never left, none of it would have happened.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

A few hours later, Angel returned to his apartment. He was mentally and physically exhausted. Seeing Buffy as he had rattled him to the core. The memories he had of her and the sight of her lying on the bed, unconscious, just did not match. It was as if they were two completely different people. But unfortunately, the reality was that they were one and the same. His beautiful, wonderful Buffy was the one in that bed.

His fingers grazed over a photograph of Buffy and himself at their junior prom. That had been one of the best nights of their lives. They’d danced, and laughed, and had fun with their friends. Afterwards, he’d taken Buffy to his parent’s beach house. There, underneath the moonlight on a blanket on the sand, they had both made love for the very first time. The experience had been magical, one he was not likely to ever forget.

Letting his hand fall to his side, Angel stood and stared at nothing. He felt completely lost. When he had moved back to Sunnydale, he had had a goal: to find some way for Buffy to forgive him and take him back. Now, he didn’t know if that would ever be possible. No one knew if she would ever wake up.

Running a hand through his hair, Angel decided to take a shower. He hoped that it would help clear his head a little. But as he stood there, letting the hot water crash into his body, he found himself silently weeping for his beloved. Images of her from their time together flashed through his head, coupled with the sight of her comatose body. This outcome was not what he had wanted at all. She was supposed to be happy. That's why he left her, so she could flourish and live, but instead he'd pushed her into darkness.

The unspoken reverie of guilt persisted until the water began to run cold. He quickly finished his shower, dressed, and then sank down on to his bed. His thoughts again, or rather still, were on focused on Buffy. The last five years of her life may damn well be his fault, and he could never take them back, but he could do whatever possible now to help. He vowed to himself that he would be there in whatever way he could for Joyce and Giles, for the gang, but mostly for Buffy. He owed it to her.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 6 – Tell Me Why
^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Three weeks had passed and Angel was finally feeling settled in. Sunnydale was home again, almost like it was once before. Almost was the key word there. He was still missing one key piece of that puzzle: Buffy. His beloved was still in a coma. Her condition had not changed at all in the recent weeks, but he still had faith that she would be all right. It was all that kept him going at times. Even if when she awoke she wanted nothing to do with him. It only mattered that she got well and had a chance to be happy.

Angel hadn't forgotten his vow either, that he would help in any way possible. It was why he spent most of his free time at the Giles'. When Joyce and Giles had returned from their retreat he had spoken with them. Joyce was leery on letting him help, she still remembered the pain he caused Buffy. She softened after a while and they developed an amicable relationship since then. He would often run errands for her, or help out around the house, and he enjoyed the meaningful conversations he had with Giles over tea in the garden.

But it was his time with Buffy that meant the most. He didn't know if she knew he was there. He hoped she did. Sometimes he would read Irish poetry to her, other times he would tell her stories of his time away from Sunnydale, and every so often he would just sit with her, holding her hand, and stroking her hair. He hoped that his actions comforted her soul, even though the others believed that they were just meaningless gestures. To him, they meant everything.

Even though he spent large quantities of time with Buffy or her family, he managed to let the gang convince him to go out once or twice a week. Their relationship had improved greatly in the time he'd been back. Xander still looked upon him with hatred, but the others forgave him, or maybe they just pushed his previous actions to the back of their minds. Angel had to admit that it was nice to hang with the group again. They were the best friends he'd ever had, but it wasn't the same without Buffy there.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

"Hey Will, how's my favorite red head doing?" asked Xander after Willow arrived and sat down at the table he'd chosen at the Espresso place.

"Xander...aren't I the only red head you know?" Willow replied with a glare.

"Oh....yeah, right. You still didn't answer my question," grinned Xander, taking a gulp of his coffee.

"I'm good, tired though. Work was busy. I love setting up computer systems, but everyone wants their problem solved before everyone else's," sighed Willow in exasperation.

"That's the only negative about having a job, you have to deal with people. I had some guy come to the office today to tell me that he wanted the blueprints for his building changed when we're starting the job tomorrow,” related Xander. “So anyway, we hangin' tonight, ya know, Friday? Bronze?"

"I think so, Oz is in LA with the band, but I'm free. I haven't asked Angel yet though," spoke Willow, knowing that Xander still wasn’t keen on the fact that Angel was back.

"Angel," Xander said mockingly.

"You're going to have to get over it sooner or later Xander," Willow stated with a pointed look at her friend.

"I've been nice. Haven't I been nice? Doesn't mean I have to like him!" he replied. He just didn’t understand how everyone could forget about what Angel had done.

"Why can't you just let it go?" prodded Willow. And men claimed women were the one’s who held grudges!

"Willow, Angel was my best friend for how long...eight years? And one day he just up and dumps his girlfriend, and leaves town without saying goodbye or ever talking to us again. I can't forgive him for what he did to Buffy," explained Xander with a shake of his head.

"You know as well as I do that what happened wasn't his fault, or at least not all his fault. I'm angry with him too for what he did, but it’s in the past. We can't change it. We've all made some bad choices in our lives," reminded Willow.

"I know. I just wish I knew why he did it. Why he left," Xander relayed of the issue that bothered him most.

"Well, why don't you ask him?" concluded Willow. Men never took the easy solution to anything.

"Do you ever *not* think so logically?" responded Xander with a scowl.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Later that evening Angel found himself sitting out in the garden at the Giles'. After a stressful week at their jobs, Joyce and Giles had decided to enjoy an early evening out, leaving Angel pretty much alone at the house except for Buffy and her nurse. He was almost glad they weren't home. He very rarely got to spend time by himself, except when he was with Buffy, but that was different.

Now, he found himself sitting on a bench, staring up at the stars. The air around him was utterly still, the only sounds to be heard came from the small fountain a few feet away. He'd missed evenings like this, just absorbing nature all around him. The clouds above him shifted allowing a bright streak of moonlight to fall before him. Glancing back up at the stars, Angel wondered if Buffy's spirit was up there somewhere watching him, and if it would ever return to her body.

"Enjoying your brooding?" came a voice to his right.

Angel looked up to find Xander standing a few feet away.

"I wasn't brooding, just sitting," he answered. "What are you doing here?"

"Came to see if you are coming out with us tonight...and yes, you were brooding," corrected Xander with a smirk.

"Haven't decided yet." Angel ignored Xander's last statement.

"And I came to talk to you," Xander conceded after taking a deep breath. He wasn’t quite sure he wanted to have this conversation with Angel.

"So talk," requested Angel. He had known this confrontation was forthcoming. Xander was the only one of the group not willing to let go of the past and give him a chance to make amends.

"Why'd you do it man?" Xander questioned, anger slightly tinting his words.

"What?" Angel responded, even though he knew what he was referring to.

"Leave like you did," furthered Xander, honestly wanting to know the reasons behind his friend’s actions.

"Because I thought it was the right thing to do," Angel stated simply even though he knew it wasn’t enough of an explanation.

"In what universe? You weren't here. You didn't see how hurt and lost she was," replied Xander sharply, his mind drifting back to right after Angel had first left.

"I know," Angel cringed.

"So tell me why," spat Xander

Angel sighed and ran his hand through his hair. He knew there was no way Xander would understand why he did it and accept it, because he couldn't even accept his own actions anymore. Not when they'd caused so much pain for everyone, not just Buffy. At the time, though, he'd had a reason. One that he thought was valid. So he explained, or tried to explain, to Xander about the decision he made five years earlier. When he finished he just sat there and waited for Xander to react.

"You said you thought it was right *then*, and what, you're not so sure now?" posed Xander, not wanting to admit that he could somewhat understand Angel’s reasoning for what he had done.

"No, I'm not. How can I be when everyone around has been hurt by me leaving? Buffy most of all, but not just her, you guys, her family. You've all suffered. How can I still believe what I did was right when all this has happened?" said Angel as he stood up and walked toward the fountain.

"It's not about that. It’s about choice. You took hers away. I can't blame you for all that happened afterwards. Like Willow said, Buffy made her own choices. You can't be held responsible for them, but you took her choice away. A relationship isn't a one way street. You're both in it together. She should have had a say in what direction your future was going in," spoke Xander, the rare clarity of thoughts surprising even himself.

Angel turned to stare slightly at Xander, more than a little shocked at his truthful, concise words. "When did you get so wise?"

"It's a rare moment, don't get used to it. But do you see what I'm saying?" asked Xander, hoping he’d made his point.

"Yeah, I guess I do. I just wanted to do the right thing and obviously I didn't," shrugged Angel as he sat back down on the bench.

"Not gonna argue with you there. And I'm not gonna say I'm not still pissed off at you, because I am," Xander iterated, making sure Angel understood that he was not entirely forgiven.

"I know, I can understand that," Angel replied, giving a nod of head in acceptance.

"Good. Now that that’s out of the way…are you coming to The Bronze tonight?" Xander asked, grateful to get away from serious conversation topics.

"Yeah, probably. I'm going to go sit with Buffy until Giles and Joyce get back and then I'll meet you guys there," Angel stated. He would have been happier spending the night with Buffy, but he knew it was good to get out once in a while.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 7 – Forgotten Memories
^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Another week passed by and life remained at status quo for the members of the Sunnydale gang. Each went about their lives as best they could. They went to work, ate, slept, and commiserated with one another. But life went on, and there were happy times.

The first couple months after Buffy's attack had been agonizing for them, but as time passed the girl in the coma became less pressing on their minds. They still worried, still and hoped, but they couldn't allow their lives to revolve around her. So they continued on with their lives, moved forward, but never really forgetting.

Angel dejectedly accepted the fact that four weeks had passed since his arrival back home. That detail held little merit except it unfortunately meant it was time for him to start his job. For a moment he wondered if he should quit the job, but quickly realized it wasn't a valid idea. He needed to work. If anything it would give him a focus other than Buffy.

Even he realized that devoting his entire life to her was a little on the unhealthy side...plus the monetary income would be rather helpful. The job itself didn't make him nervous in the least bit. Angel was quite confident in his abilities. What made him nervous was having something take up so much of his time.

From the time he learned of Buffy's condition, he spent hours a day with her, or in the vicinity. He did anything possible to be of assistance because he just wanted to be useful. Or maybe it was just a vain attempt to repent for past wrongs. Regardless, it meant that he was often nearby in case, well, in case *anything* happened. But now he wasn't going to be able to be there as much, wouldn't be able to hold her delicate hand, caress her silky cheeky, silently beg her to wake up…or anything as much as he had.

Angel knew the others discussed amongst themselves about how it would be better if he weren't there if she were to someday wakeup. He hated them for it, but he also understood. Having her wake up and look upon him with seething hatred would be unbearable, but at least he would know she was going to live, and have another chance to be happy. That was all her wanted.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Willow awoke and glanced at the clock to her right. It was eleven a.m., on a Thursday. She reveled in that fact. She'd decided to take the day off to spend some time with Joyce, who seemed a bit depressed, and also to get some extra rest since she'd been feeling not quite herself lately. No matter how much sleep she got her body was always fatigued. She assumed the stress of the last eight months was finally catching up with her. Grumbling at the thought of leaving her warm bed, she forced herself to get up and shower. She had promised Joyce she would have lunch with her today.

A few hours later, satisfyingly fed and relaxed, Willow decided she would use the afternoon to straighten up Buffy's room as she had taken to doing every so often the last few months. With all the people traipsing in and out of the room daily, and the constant barrage of flowers and gifts, the room took a beating. The little bit of cleaning she did was reassuring to her that she was doing something useful.

As Willow entered Buffy's room she eyed the flower arrangements that were scattered about. Giles had new ones delivered every few days. He said they made the room more welcoming, and he was right, they did. The others often brought things once in a while as well, stuffed animals, pictures, cards, flowers. And Willow had saved all that she could, the flowers, of course, couldn't be saved, but the other stuff remained in the room, waiting there for Buffy to awake and see how much her friends and family cared about her.

Sighing to herself for no reason, Willow set about the task at hand. She threw away some of the dying flowers, gave fresh water to the newer ones, and arranged the new stuffed animal arrivals. A soundless giggle echoed in her head as she looked at the menacing plush hyena that Xander had brought the week before. Only Xander could pick out something like that she noted.

Once all the various room decorations were tended to, Willow pulled out the dust rag that had been stored in her pocket and worked on ridding the room of the annoying little particles that constantly reappeared. A moment later the silence of the room was broken by a slight sound from behind her.

"Willow?"

Willow spun around quickly in response to the almost inaudible call of her name. Her eyes widened in pleasant shock at the revelation before her.

"Buffy?" she whispered, hardly able to form words at all.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Across town Angel sat silently in a meeting with his coworkers who were discussing ideas for upcoming stories. He didn't yet feel quite comfortable with his new job to be an active participant in the discussion, but he still gave his opinion when asked.

As he sat listening to the words being spoken a sudden feeling washed over his body, dizzying his mind. Moments later an image of Buffy flashed in front of his eyes. 'Oh god', he thought to himself, knowing instinctively that something was wrong, but not having a clue as to what.

He wanted desperately to dash out of the room and run to her, but he couldn't and part of him wasn't sure if he wanted to. Did he want to know if her condition had suddenly worsened? Did he want to arrive at her house to find her awake and looking at him in distaste? He honestly didn’t know. Sometimes ignorance really was bliss.

So he just stayed where he was, listening to the droning words of his colleagues. Despite his indecision on wanting to find out what had happened, Angel knew that the second the meeting was over he would be out the door and on the way to Buffy. His only thought was that he hoped that, whatever it was, she was all right.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Hours seemed to pass as Willow stood and stared at the frail blonde girl before her., the unexpected shock of her awakening overloading her mind. Finally she shook herself out of the daze she’d lapsed into and rushed over to her once best friend and embraced her in a firm hug.

“Oh my god, Buffy,” choked out Willow, tears running down her face.

“What’s going on?” the confused blonde asked.

As she continued to embrace her friend, Willow began to worry about what to do. Other than Buffy’s nurse she was the only one home. Giles was at work, Joyce had gone out to run a few errands, so it was just her. Fortunately they all had discussed with the doctor what to do if she woke up. It had been decided that they would tell her the bare minimum of details because they had no idea what she would remember of the events preceding her attack and usually it was preferred that a patient remember trauma on their own accord. Remembering this decision Willow pulled back from Buffy.

“I’ll explain in a minute, I have to go get someone first,” replied Willow.

A minute later she returned with the day nurse who, aside from being shocked at the young girl’s recent turn of events, checked all of her vitals to make sure that she was doing okay. Once she had completed her exam she left the room to place a call to Buffy’s doctor to inform him of the change in the patient’s condition.

Upon her exit, Willow found herself in the position to be the one to have to tell Buffy about all that had happened. Well, at least the parts that were absolutely necessary to tell her, and truth be told, there was a lot that neither she, nor any of the others knew and therefore they couldn’t fill in those blanks anyway.

“You changed you hair,” commented Buffy, not knowing what else to say, and also rather confused at how different her friend looked.

“Yeah, I did it a while ago,” frowned Willow, her mind beginning to grow even more nervous.

“A while ago? How long have I been out?” questioned Buffy, realizing that she’d obviously been unconscious.

“You’ve been in a coma…for a while. What do you remember?” Willow questioned. It was the best way to determine what memories Buffy held of her attack.

“I…I, uh…that psych project for Prof Walsh is the only thing coming to mind,” Buffy answered with a scrunched brow. Everything in her head was hazy and confusing.

Willow fought to contain the shock she felt at the answer she’d received. They had taken that class together freshmen year…which was four or so years ago. The implications of this were setting into Willow’s mind. Was that the most recent thing Buffy remembered? If so then that meant there was a whole lot she didn’t, and not just the attack. She thought for a minute and tried to figure out how to proceed.

“What year are you in college?” she asked cautiously.

“Huh? We’re freshmen, duh…what’s up with you?” Buffy replied incredulously, her hand going up to rub her aching head. She didn’t understand why Willow had asked her that.

“Buffy…I’m not a freshman anymore. I graduated from college over a year ago,” spoke Willow slowly. She knew her words were going to come as a shock to her block friend.

“What???” Buffy yelped, her voice cracking from disuse. Willow had graduated? How was that possible?

Finally deciding to take the plunge, Willow set about telling Buffy some of all that had gone on, leaving out the parts that were best for her to remember on her own.

“You’ve been in a coma for almost nine months. There was an attack, you were stabbed and beaten, and since then you’ve been in a coma,” she explained while holding Buffy’s right hand in hers.

Buffy remained silent and let Willow’s answer sink into her brain. She searched her memory for any signs of what Willow had just told her, but nothing stood out. She remembered nothing at all about an attack, but from her psych class she remembered that this was common in people who just woke up from a coma. A thought then struck her. A nine month coma didn’t work with Willow finishing three more years of college.

“You finished college? How? I don’t remember finishing college,” Buffy stated, a feeling of helplessness growing in her.

“The doctor told us before that you could have some memory loss when you wake up so I guess that’s what’s going on. But we’ll have to wait until he sees you. The nurse called him so hopefully he will be here soon,” comforted Willow, her heart breaking for her friend. “You look a little tired so why don’t you try to get some sleep, ok?”

A thousand thoughts were swirling through Buffy’s head. Everything was so muttled, and the more Willow talked the more confused she got. It felt like there was so much she was missing and it hurt her head to try and think about it. Maybe some sleep would be helpful. Maybe when she woke up this would all be a bad dream and everything would be back to normal.

“Yeah, I think some sleep might be good,” she replied unenthusiastically.

Willow gave her a quick hug before slipping from the room as Buffy lay back and closed her eyes. She felt like her world was crashing down around her…again. She tried to understand the fact that the last thing she remembered happened almost four years earlier, but she couldn’t. And then there was the reason for her coma. An attack. Someone had stabbed and beaten her. It just made no sense.

Turning over, Buffy buried her head in her pillow, silent tears soaking the cream colored material. She remained that way for nearly a half hour until exhaustion had taken over. Finally drifting off into a fitful sleep, one thought sounded deep inside her mind: what had she ever done to deserve the things that had happened to her?

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 8 – Anticipation
^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Only fifteen minutes later, Buffy awoke abruptly from her sleep. Her mind was racing, but as she tried to grasp at the thoughts they slipped away. Running a hand through her hair, she noticed the layer of perspiration coating her forehead. What had caused her to wake up? And why had she broken into a sweat during the little bit of sleep she had gotten?

Buffy lay in her bed, eyes closed, mind absorbing everything that had occurred only a short while ago. As she had earlier, she tried to make sense of it all. Attacked…coma…nine months…missing memory…at least three years of missing memory.

Tears formed in her eyes as she thought about all these things. Nothing felt real, she didn’t feel real. She searched through her memories for anything that could tell her something, but there was nothing. It was like the world ended at a certain point during her freshmen year in college, and nothing happened after that.

As Buffy continued to lay there processing all that she knew, her mind went back to Willow and not exactly what she had told her, but the way she had told her. If there was one thing Buffy remembered without a doubt, it was the personality of her best friend. There had been something in Willow’s eyes when she had talked to her. She couldn’t quite place it, but it seemed like there was so much emotion hidden in them. She felt as though there was something big that Willow hadn’t told her, and it didn’t quite feel like a good thing.

The pounding in her head was ever increasing with all the confusing thoughts floating around. The only thing she wanted was for all this to go away. For everything to be back to the way it used to be when she was happy, carefree, and possessed all her memories. She wrapped her arms around herself and began to cry, wishing heavily that it would all just not be real...and she wished, just for a moment, that *he* was there to hold her.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Two hours later Buffy’s closest family and friends were seated in the Giles’ family room. Xander and Cordy on the loveseat, their hands clasped, Willow and Oz stood behind them, Joyce was seated in one chair, and Giles in another. The only person missing was Angel. Willow had called him but gotten his voicemail so she just left him a message to give her a call when he got back. She’d tried to make the message sound casual so he wouldn’t panic. And now they were all waiting for the doctor to come downstairs and talk to them. He’d arrived a half hour earlier and went straight up to check over Buffy and talk to her.

Finally, he arrived in the family room and began to brief them on Buffy’s condition. “It appears as though Willow’s assumption is correct. She has no recollection of any event after the early part of her freshmen year of college, which was approximately three and a half years ago. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise since I suggested it may occur. But there’s no reason to believe she won’t regain her memories,” he explained and then glanced around the room. After seeing that they were all listening intently, he continued.

“I have to admit, the length of the missing period of time is rather distressing. Usually in cases of severe trauma such as this, the memory loss surrounds the event, but Buffy’s goes back much further. This could be the result of the coma and injury to the brain…or considering what you’ve told me about the past few years of her life, she could be unconsciously repressing it all. It’s possible she’s regressed to a point when her life wasn’t so traumatic, so to speak,” enlightened the doctor in as comforting a voice as he could muster. These types of situations were never easy to deal with.

“Repressing? You mean she’s intentionally forgetting it all?” questioned Joyce, her brow furrowed slight as she expressed the same thought that the others had.

“I wouldn’t say intentionally. It’s a coping mechanism for the brain. When the mind becomes overwhelmed it finds ways to ‘work around’ the distressing information. In Buffy’s case, it’s blocking access to four or so years worth of memories. That is, if it is indeed a case of repression. As I said, it’s also possible that the injuries themselves have destroyed the memories. Unfortunately there’s not much I, or any of you, can do other than just wait and see,” the doctor clarified.

“What do we do in the mean time, or more precisely, how are we to act around her?” requested Giles, his heart aching for his step daughter. She’d been through so much already, and now this.

“The most important thing to do, is *not* to sit down and explain to her everything that’s happened in the last four years. For it to feel real to her it’s best to try and let her remember. There’s obviously going to be a lot of things you have to tell her, but it’s best if you only reveal more mundane facts such as what your jobs are or trips you’ve taken. Items that are more specifically related to her you shouldn’t just come out and tell her,” he stated somewhat forcefully so that they would understand the importance of his words.

“If she’s going to remember, it will most likely start as little flashes or images she can’t place but feels a familiarity to. These can often be triggered by something currently going on around her. Hopefully as she heals the memories will come back, but as I said, I can not guarantee that,” he added knowing that there were no guarantees that their loved one would ever regain all of her lost memories.

“What are the chances that she will get them back?” Willow questioned as she held tightly onto Oz’s hand. They’d all known that memory loss was a possibility, but having it actually occur was completely different.

“I can’t say for sure since we don’t know for sure the true cause of the loss. Memory loss and brain injuries are still such an unknown subject in the medical community,” the doctor sighed, wishing he could tell them something more definite.

“The good news though, is that other than the memory loss, her physical condition is quite well. I would like her to continue to see her physical therapist to rebuild her muscle strength and coordination. It’s best to keep her from being too active for time being until she’s recovered a bit more. I would also suggest having her see a psychologist. She’s going to be very frustrated and will likely lash out because of her lack of memory. A therapist will help her deal with the situation, and also if the traumatic memories start to return, he or she will be valuable in her recovery from the events,” finished the doctor as he glanced at his watch and saw that he must leave.

“Of course doctor. We will do anything required of us in order to ensure her recovery,” Giles answered firmly. Buffy’s medical bills were already astronomical, but neither he nor Joyce cared, just as long as she got better.

The doctor then said his good-byes to the assembled group and was accompanied to the door by Mrs. Giles. The others remained in the living room digesting all that the doctor had told them. If there was one thing they knew for sure, the coming weeks, maybe months, were going to be very had and stressful.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Angel’s meeting finally ended, unfortunately it had lasted a couple hours. Of course he didn’t really remember much after he felt something going on with Buffy. He was torn between getting up and running out of the meeting, and cowering in a corner somewhere afraid to hear the news, whatever it was. As soon as the meeting ended though, his need got the best of him and he dashed out to his car, not even returning to his office to gather his things or to check his messages.

The only thing on Angel’s mind was Buffy, and whether or not she was all right. Something inside him was saying that she was fine, that he would have felt something different if the unacceptable had happened. This didn’t calm his nerves though. What if she woke up and was severely brain damaged? What if she was paralyzed? Numerous possibilities ran through his head on the journey to the Giles’ residence.

As he pulled into the driveway he saw several cars stationed in front of the house, a sure sign that his feeling that something had changed was indeed correct. He prayed to whatever high power existed that everything was all right, that his beloved would once again be able to find happiness.

Finally Angel managed to pull himself out of his car make his way into the house. Upon entering he heard quiet voices coming from the family room. He approached slowly, remaining a few feet from the entrance. Inside he saw that *everyone* was there. They seemed to be deeply engrossed in conversation with expressions that were a mix of worry and happiness upon their faces. Not realizing it, Angel just stood there for what seemed like hours, but was really only a few minutes.

Angel snapped out of his daze when he heard Willow calling his name and found that she was standing right in front of him.

“What’s going on Willow?” queried Angel worriedly.

Willow sighed and quietly led Angel into the room where the others were seated. After looking around at her friends and surrogate family, she realized they expected her to break the news to Angel. So that’s what she did. She told him all that had happened that afternoon, and all that the doctor had told them, leaving nothing out. During the whole explanation Angel remained seated, his gaze directed downwards at his hands, not saying a word.

The silence hung in the room for a few minutes after Willow finished speaking. All eyes were focused on Angel, who had still yet to say anything. Each member of the group knew, that despite his past actions, the man before them still loved Buffy deeply. They would have had to have been blind not to see it.

Inside Angel’s head he was trying to put everything he’d heard together. Honestly, he wasn’t even sure he’d taken in most of it. As soon as the words ‘she’s awake’ had come out of Willow’s mouth he zoned out. The phrase just kept repeating over and over in his head and his heart soared with the news. She was awake, she was going to be okay.

His thoughts finally turned to the other things what Willow had said…memory loss. It shouldn’t have surprised him, they’d all been warned it could happen, but still it was a shock to hear. Especially the extent of the loss. Despite all this, there was only one thing that he wanted to do at the moment.

“Can I see her?” Angel at last choked out.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Quietly, Willow entered Buffy’s room. She didn’t want to wake her if she was asleep since the doctor had said she needed as much rest as possible. However, when she walked into the room she found Buffy not in her bed, but sitting knees to chest on the window seat, staring out at the night.

“Hey, you ok?” questioned Willow softly.

“Huh? Oh, hey Willow. Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just all…overwhelming, ya know?” Buffy responded, not removing her eyes from their gaze outdoors.

“I can imagine. I wish there was more I could do for you,” said Willow sympathetically.

“It’s okay, just having you here helps,” Buffy said in a near whisper. The confusion in her head had not lessened at all. All she wanted was for things to be the way they used to be.

“Is there anything you need…food?...magazines?...a hug?” the red head smiled sheepishly. There had to be something she could do to help her friend.

“Not really hungry and I don’t think my brain could handle even mindless reading right now, but I wouldn’t say now to a hug,” shrugged Buffy. Really, all she wanted was to be left alone. Maybe then she’d be able to find answers to all the questions in her head if she thought about them long enough.

Willow smiled at her sadly. It was obvious how much pain her friend was in, and it wasn’t even physical pain, it was all emotional. The kind she couldn’t really do much to help ease, and that’s what annoyed her the most, that there wasn’t really anything that she could do.

Instead she just had to be there for Buffy, and support her no matter what. And if that included lots and lots of hugs, then that’s just what she would do. So she strode over to where Buffy was sitting and embraced her warmly, hoping that in some small way it eased her pain.

“Thanks Will, I don’t know what I’d do without you here,” Buffy said in response.

“Anytime, I’ll be your personal hug machine,” answered Willow with a grin.

“I might just take ya up on that,” chuckled Buffy sadly before returning her eyes to where they had been watching out the window.

Both girls remained silent for a few minutes, not knowing what to say to each other, mostly just enjoying each other’s presence.

“Are you up for a visitor,” Willow spoke.

“Sure,” replied Buffy without much thought, her mind still focused on her internal thoughts and staring off into the night. It was probably just one of the gang anyway. They’d all been in earlier, but they probably wanted to see her again.

“Ok, if you’re sure. I’ll send him in,” Willow replied somewhat nervously. She had no idea how Buffy was going to react to her visitor.

Him? Buffy thought to herself, must be Xander. He was the only *him* she knew other than Giles. So when she heard the door open she didn’t bother to look away from the window, figuring he’d just come over and plop down next to her. It wasn’t until she heard the voice say ‘Buffy’ that she snapped her head around to stare into the eyes of the man who had spoken her name.

“Angel?” she whispered, tears already cascading down her cheeks.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 9 – Hold Me
^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Moments passed as Buffy and Angel remained rooted in place. Angel, despite the fact that he had seen her so often the past few weeks, felt as if his eyes were gazing upon her for the first time in five years. It was one thing to see her lying unconscious on a bed but to see her awake and staring intently at him was entirely different. His heart leapt at the feel of her hazel eyes boring into him.

Buffy, on the other hand, found it impossible to suppress the shock of seeing the man that was now before her. She had expected Xander, or maybe even Giles. To find Angel only a few feet away was overwhelming. Tears prickled her eyes at the sight.

Without realizing what she was doing, Buffy launched herself into Angel’s arms. The stress of waking up from the coma and the revelation of the memory loss was too much to bear. All she felt was an overpowering, unconscious need to be held in Angel’s strong arms, to feel his muscled body pressed against hers.

The last thing Angel expected was for Buffy to come running to him, but that’s not to say that he minded at all. When she was in his arms again for the first time in so many years, everything felt right once more. He once wondered if he would ever be in this position again, to hold his goddess so close to his heart. And now that she was there he felt as though he would give up anything to remain like that forever, forgetting all the pain, the anger, and whatever else tried to intrude on their bliss.

As he continued to hold her, Angel heard soft sobs emanating from her mouth. There was no need to ask her what was wrong, he could only imagine the things she must be feeling. Being told that there were four years of your memories missing had to be devastating. So he just held her, his left his caressing the small of her back, his right stroking through her blonde tresses.

Buffy continued to softly cry in his arms for how long, neither of them knew. Angel felt her body growing slack and realized that she must be exhausted. Without asking permission, he gently scooped up her tiny body and carried her over to the bed. After he pulled back the sheets he laid her down, but as he went to move away and cover her with the sheets and comforter she held on to him tightly. The request was not vocalized, but as he had always been able to, he understood the unspoken question and knew that she just wanted to be held.

His thoughts warred inside his head over whether he should or not. Part of him relished the idea of cradling her body against his as she slept, but another part told him that once she regained her senses a bit she probably wouldn’t be too happy with him. It took only one look at her saddened, sleepy face to make the decision.

Angel shed his coat and shoes and slipped into the bed next to her. The moment he was comfortably positioned she shifted over next to him and laid her head down on his chest. Inwardly sighing contentedly, Angel wrapped his right arm around her.

Shortly thereafter he heard her breathing even out and knew she’d fallen asleep. Realizing he was quite tired as well, Angel closed his eyes, the last thought before he fell into a slumber beside his beloved being that he would do anything possible to earn her forgiveness and have many more nights like the one he was currently experiencing.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Outside the room, Willow waited for the former couple to complete their visit. She was more than a little worried that it might turn into a shouting match. She had no idea how Buffy was going to handle seeing Angel again. With four years worth of missing memories she could only imagine that Angel’s departure must still be raw for Buffy.

As she waiting and waited, she heard nothing. Not even the slightest hint of raised voices. So she just remained seated outside the room by herself. All the others had gone home or retired to their rooms leaving her to deal with any situation that might arise.

After waiting for a half an hour, Willow decided she should check to see what was going on, and she wanted to make sure Buffy was okay. The doctor had said she needed plenty of rest and she didn’t think that a confrontation with Angel was healthy for Buffy at the moment.

Opening the door quietly, Willow peered into the room to find it lit only by the slight glow from the nearly full moon outside. On the bed she saw the figures of her two friends twined together in a seemingly blissful sleep. With a slight smile on her face, Willow backed out of the room, closed the door and headed off to her own little piece of heaven, sleep with Oz.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

The morning sun was slowly inching its way towards the sleeping bodies. Neither had woken once during the night, both finding peace in the most relaxing sleep they’d had in years.

With a sigh, the small blonde was the first of the two to drift back to consciousness. When she did she found herself staring at the face of a man who was the love of her life. In his arms was the one place she always felt safe and truly loved.

Smiling, she reached out and softly caressed his face. He was so incredibly handsome, and his body was so hard, yet so soft and welcoming. She wished his eyes were open so that she could peer into the deep chocolate brown orbs and see the gentle soul they were windows to. Instead she settled for snuggling up closer to him, relishing the feeling of his body so close to hers.

At the feeling of a moving form beside him, Angel slowly came out of the deep sleep he had been in. As he rose further out of his sleep induced daze the scent that was uniquely Buffy assaulted his senses. It was a smell that he would recognize anywhere and had missed so much in the preceding years. A mixture of vanilla and sunshine, and something that could only be described as Buffy. So enticing and natural.

Gradually he opened his eyes, blinking against the harsh morning sun that had now cast its light upon them. He must have made a slight movement because Angel soon found himself gazing down into hazel green eyes that were staring at him.

“Hey,” was all that he could think to say.

“Hey back,” Buffy yawned to him.

“Did you sleep well,” he asked and pushed a stray hair out of her eyes, a gesture that seemed all too familiar to both.

“Yeah, like a rock. Feels like I hadn’t slept in ages before that...which is dumb considering I was asleep for nine months or whatever,” she joked lamely, not sure what to say to the man next to her.

“Are you feeling better?” he questioned softly. The act of talking to her warmed his soul after having spent so much time sitting next to her still body on the bed. But he knew that at some point, she would come to realize how strange his presence was.

“Much. I’m sorry I jumped you last night and cried all over you. Great impression to make huh?” she answered, her eyes looking away from him out of embarrassment.

“I didn’t mind at all. I’m glad I could be here for you,” Angel reassured as he lightly stroked her back.

At the strange rumbling sound coming from Buffy’s stomach, he chuckled. “Your hungry.”

“Yeah, food would be of the good,” Buffy replied, blushing slightly.

“I can go get some food and bring it up to you,” he offered with a smile.

“Actually, I think I’d like to get out of this room and eat somewhere else, like the kitchen or something.” After a pause and slightly scowling she continued, “well, not that I know where the kitchen is. Willow said this is my mom and Giles’ house. Weird. Them married. Kinda hard to digest.”

“We can go to the kitchen. I know where it is. Are you sure you’re feeling up to going down? You must still be weak,” he replied, unable to stop the edge of concern in his voice.

“I think I can make it, dunno, I haven’t moved around to much,” she shrugged, unsure herself if she would be able to do it.

“Ok, if you’re sure, but don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it,” stated Angel knowing Buffy’s stubborn streak.

The two then began the task of getting out of bed. Although neither said it, they both regretted moving from their positions. The loss of body contact struck them both profoundly. Neither would have objected to spending the whole day in bed. But unfortunately, there were other things that had to be addressed outside of their personal comfort.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

The walk to the kitchen was slow going, especially the stairs. Buffy’s weak body and muscles were not used to all the movement and protested loudly, but the ever stubborn Buffy refused to let Angel carry her. Instead she allowed him to support her with his arm around her waist. By the time they made it to the kitchen she was nearly panting from the exertion of the trip.

After Angel seated Buffy in one of the kitchen chairs he set about preparing her favorite breakfast: pancakes. She grinned happily as he made the food for her. Halfway through breakfast the two were assaulted by a worried Joyce and Willow who had gone to check on Buffy and found her room empty. Both were relieved and ecstatic to see her up and about, her voice alone lifting their spirits. Angel prepared more food and the four sat down and finished breakfast together.

There wasn’t much talk as they ate. Angel, Willow and Joyce spoke little for fear of revealing something to Buffy that was better for her not to know yet and also out of sheer lack of things to say. Buffy remained quiet out of pure uncomfort being around the group of people. She sensed their nervousness which only made her nervous.

Once breakfast was over, Willow reluctantly left so that she could go to work. Even though it was Saturday, she had to go in and finish and important project. Joyce, on the other hand, went off to make phone calls and set up appointments for Buffy which included a follow up with her doctor, informing her physical therapist of her new condition, and contacting a psychologist for Buffy to meet with since the doctor had strongly advised for it.

Buffy and Angel alone remained in the kitchen. After Angel finished cleaning up from their breakfast she asked if they could go outside for a few minutes. Angel happily acquiesced. He took her out to the bench in the garden near the fountain that he often found himself sitting on when he needed to think.

They didn’t speak to each other. Instead they just sat in the early morning sun, Buffy’s head reclined on his shoulder, their hands unintentionally grasping each other. For Angel, he reveled in the utter closeness to her after so long. The sight of her up and moving and talking after seeing her so still in the bed for weeks brought joy to his heart. It was all that he could have asked for.

But in the back of his mind he knew it was temporary, that there was going to be a bumpy road ahead of them. Buffy’s happiness around him would only last for so long. As far as he knew, she still possessed the memories of their breakup and that it would only be a matter of time before she realized that he hadn’t just been gone for a few months but rather almost five years. He knew that her need to be close to him at the moment was derived from confusion and emotional pain and he suspected that she hadn’t consciously thought about the fact that they had broken up. But that would only last so long. Eventually she would question his presence. Until then, he would be there for her, comfort her, hold her, love her.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 10 – Why Are You Here
^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Angel groaned and slumped back against the cool tiled wall of the shower. He was emotionally worn-out. The hours he spent with Buffy had been incredible, wonderful, amazing or any other positive adjective. But at the same time they had been draining.

He’d spent half the time with her worrying about when she would suddenly realize that he shouldn’t have been there at all. And the other half the time he was caught up in comforting her. Not that he minded, but it was definitely challenging on an emotional level.

They had spent an hour after breakfast just sitting outside. Occasionally they would speak, but mostly there was only silence. Angel had no idea what to say to her. Part of that was because he didn’t want to accidentally say something that she was not yet ready to hear or something that would snap her back into the reality where he had dumped her five years prior. And the other part was because he just honestly wasn’t sure what to say to her.

How do you talk to someone who you hadn’t spoken to in five years and who also had just come out of a nine month coma? That was a question he had absolutely no answer to. So to keep from saying the wrong thing, he mostly just said nothing. But he didn’t think she minded. It wasn’t lost on him that Buffy seemed to be completely overwhelmed by her situation.

For the most part, she had been fine throughout the morning. But, then, apparently, the stress had overtaken her and led to a raging crying fit. It had started out as something simple. She had wanted to take a shower and as she went to go it suddenly occurred to her that she had no idea where the shower was or even how to get back to her room. In her mind, she’d never been in the house before.

The frustration at her lack of knowledge tumbled quickly into the small breakdown which afterwards left her exhausted. Helpless to do anything else, Angel only held her and then carried her up to her bed and sat while she slept for an hour.

Upon awakening, her doctor and the psychologist Joyce had contacted were waiting to see her. With a promise to return later, Angel had left to return to his apartment in order to shower and change his clothes. Which was what he was doing at the moment. The alone time also gave him space to gather himself back together, to try and restore some of his energy before heading back over to the Giles’. Even though he was emotionally tired, he couldn’t wait to return to his beloved.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

After knocking softly on the door Willow peeked her head into Buffy’s room. She didn’t want to wake her but was eager to see how her day had gone. Stepping further into the room, Willow found Buffy sitting in one of the plush chairs going through a large stack of cards. They were the ones that she had saved while Buffy had been in a coma.

“Hey,” Willow spoke softly.

Buffy turned and smiled when she saw her friend standing their. “Hey. How was work?”

“Same as always….work-like. How was your day?” she questioned as she sat in the other chair in the room. Willow couldn’t help but feel happy inside at Buffy’s apparent happiness to see her. It had been a long time since they had been true friends.

“It was…okay…I guess. It’s just all so weird. Nothing here is familiar,” shrugged Buffy, not particularly wanting to talk about her lack of memories at the moment.

“Where’s Angel?” prodded Willow sensing Buffy’s preference to not talk about her condition.

“He went…home…to change and stuff,” she answered, shaking her head slightly at the weird feeling that passed through her at the word ‘home’. She couldn’t help but feel like there was something she should know.

“Oh ok. Is he coming back?” Willow asked gently. She could see the wheels turning in Buffy’s head. It would only be a matter of time before it all clicked for her. Who knew what would happen then.

“Uh…yeah…,” Buffy replied distractedly. Her mind was too busy trying to sort through the jumble of thoughts, trying to piece together what it was that was nagging her.

“You look tired. Do you want me to leave so you can get some rest?” Willow stated as she stood up from the chair she had seated herself in. Buffy did look tired, but really she didn’t want to face the barrage of questions that were looking like they would spew forth from her friend at any moment.

“Yeah, I think I will lay down for a little bit,” said Buffy with an exaggerated yawn. She was a bit sleepy, but mostly she just needed some time by herself to try and figure out what kept irking her memory.

“Ok, get some sleep. I’ll check in later to see if you want some dinner,” Willow offered before leaving the room.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Once outside Buffy’s room, Willow found Oz waiting for her. With a sigh, she sat down next to him on the small sofa. She pinched the bridge of her nose as she worried about what was probably forthcoming.

“How’s she doing?” Oz asked as he took his girlfriend’s hand in his.

“Pretty good, considering. But…but I think it’s about to get a lot tougher,” she answered as she leaned her head back against the wall.

“How so?” he posed, slightly confused.

“Remember how I said that she hadn’t yet questioned Angel being here?” When Oz nodded, she continued. “Well, I think it’s finally coming to her that Angel left and shouldn’t really be here. I could see in her eyes that she was preoccupied with something.”

“Oh boy,” was all Oz could say in response. He knew that there would be trouble, he had been there when they had broken up five years earlier.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

After Willow left her room, Buffy went over and sat on the windowseat as she had the night before. Her mind would not stop bugging her that there was something important she should be realizing. It had started with her conversation with Willow, so Buffy went over what had been said in the short talk between them.

Thinking for a few minutes, her thoughts kept focusing on Angel. The feeling was strongest when he was on her mind. Whatever was bothering her had to have something to do with him. But she just couldn’t figure out what.

Even though she was a bit confused at moment, she couldn’t help but smile at the thought of Angel. Waking up to his handsome face earlier that morning had been perfect. He always knew how to comfort her when life was taking its toll on her. He was the perfect...

...boyfriend.

Her eyes suddenly snapped open. Angel *was* the perfect boyfriend. But he wasn’t her boyfriend anymore. Everything suddenly clicked into place with that revelation.

Angel had broken up with her after their high school graduation. A shudder rippled through her body as she remembered the night that he had shattered her heart. In all the confusion and bustle of the day before their history hadn’t even crossed her mind.

He had dumped her and left town, leaving her behind without a second glance. That had been months ago. But no, she realized quickly. It hadn’t been months ago. To her it was, but she was missing *four* years worth of memories. Had Angel been gone all that time? Had he returned and they had worked things out?

Her head started to ache at the inner turmoil over Angel. The memory of him breaking up with her ran over and over in her head. The question over how long he’d been back in Sunnydale also circled round her thoughts. Her need to be close to him, to the one person who always made her feel safe warred with the knowledge that he had just cast her aside and left.

Resting her forehead against the cool glass, Buffy closed her eyes. Tears crept down her cheeks as she once again wished that everything that was happening to her would just go away. All she wanted was to go back to when she had been happy and loved.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Two hours later, Angel strolled down the hallway toward Buffy’s room. He’d been held up longer than expected at his apartment because his mother had called and talked for an hour. She had been happy to hear that Buffy was awake and had asked him to say hello for her.

Buffy had become close to his family in the almost four years they had dated. She was practically part of the family. His parents would have her over for dinner at least once a week. They still didn’t quite understand why Angel had broken up with her. And to be truthful, he really didn’t know anymore either.

At her door, he paused for a moment. Why was he nervous about seeing her? They’d spent the night before and most of the morning together. He glanced down at the bouquet of deep red roses in his hand, taking a moment to make sure they looked perfect. With a deep breath he entered into her room.

Buffy heard the door open. She knew who was there without looking to see. She always knew when Angel was nearby. Again, her mind was at war with conflicting thoughts. She desperately wanted to feel his arms around her, but she also wanted answers. Her need for the latter took precedence.

Without turning to face him, she spoke. “How long have you been back?”

“I just got here,” he replied, moving toward where she was sitting.

“That’s not what I meant,” she stated curtly, willing the tears to remain unseen in her eyes.

Angel gulped visibly. His eyes drifted shut as his shoulders sagged. He’d known this was coming, but it didn’t make it any easier. Taking a deep breath, he answered. “A month ago.”

“So you’ve been gone for five years.” It wasn’t really a question, but more of a statement.

“Yes,” he admitted softly.

For long minutes, silence dominated in the room. Buffy was trying to sort through the muddled mess in her mind, leaving her vacant of words. The confusion was overwhelming. Angel had left, but now he was standing only a few feet away. She honestly had no idea how to react to that.

Knowing he had to say something, Angel broke the silence first. “Buffy…I-I’m so-“

He didn’t get to finish his statement when Buffy interrupted. “Why are you here?”

“W-what?” he stuttered. How could she not expect him to be here?

“You left me remember? So *why* exactly are you here?” she stated harshly.

“Buffy, my leaving had nothing to do with my feelings for you. You know th-“ again his words were cut off.

“No!” she yelled, all the anger from their breakup suddenly bubbling to the surface. “All I *know* is that five years ago you dumped me, left me crying on my front porch. I don’t *know* anything else. *You* broke my heart that night and now you expect to just leave it all in the past. I don’t think so.”

“Buffy, please, let me explain,” he pleaded, fighting the tears forming in his eyes at the reminder of what he had done.

Gathering all of what little internal strength she had, Buffy turned to face Angel, determination evident in her eyes. “Leave.”

Angel went to speak, but found that there was nothing he could say.

“Leave,” she repeated, the word coming out cold and hate-filled.

He stared at her for a moment contemplating what he could say to her. But he realized that there was nothing would suffice, at least not now. The emotions in her eyes were obvious. She didn’t want him there, and if that’s what she wanted then he would oblige.

Staring at her for a moment longer, Angel turned and walked out of the room. He closed the door behind him, falling back against it. The soft cries from inside the room were not missed by him and he couldn’t help but curse himself once again for what he had done to her five years before.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^


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