Release the Demons

by Isis FG

Feedback: vagabond_angel@comcast.net

Disclaimer: It should be obvious...but I don't own them nor have any association with Joss, WB, UPN, etc.

Rating: R-ish (for a couple bad words)
Pairing: B/A
Summary: futurefic - Angel's humanity comes with a price. Can anyone help him make it through?
Spoilers: through BtVS s7, and AtS s5 only to the point of knowing basic concepts like W&H, Spike, Harmony, and Nina.  Any other similarities to AtS s5 storylines are unintentional and coincidental.

Distribution: my site (Vagabond Soul), and if you already have any of my fics, you may take this one, if not, please ask first.

Author's Notes: Written for the B/A ficathon for Green.
    Requests: futurefic, a little angsty but hopeful
    Restrictions: no character or relationship bashing, no NC-17

AN2: Set 3 years after AtS season 5

AN3: Fic title and lyrics are from 'Release the Demons' by Godsmack off their album 'Faceless'.

Thank you: As always, to my beta *Stars* for putting up with my whining and for beta'ing. And also to Roz for being a test reader.

Warnings: a little angsty, mentions of character deaths, some bad language


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Part 1
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What do you see in the dark
When the demons come for you
If only you could have seen
How fucked up my life used to be
Then everything starts to change
Supposedly healing my pain

Fifty-four.

Fifty-six.

Fifty-eight.

Wait...where was fifty-seven? Looking down, the blonde checked the piece of paper in her hand for the hundredth time. Yes, it said fifty-seven, but she didn't see a fifty-seven anywhere. It had to be there. She hadn't spent the last two weeks searching only to end up on a wild goose chase. Someone's ass was going to be kicked if they'd given her the wrong information.

Turning around, she saw another door down further to the right. Hopefully that one was fifty-seven. She tucked the paper back into her pocket and walked toward the unknown door. As she approached, the numbers 'five' and 'seven' came into view and she sighed in relief that she'd finally found it.

Though now that she was standing in front of the door, she was more nervous than relieved. She had no idea how this was going to go, or what she was even going to say. All she knew was that this was her last hope.

After double checking the address written on the slip of paper in her pocket one last time, she raised her hand to knock. It didn't occur to her until just then that it was possible no one would be home. Well, if she got no answer, she would just have to come back later, but hopefully someone was home. She'd already wasted too much time and she didn't want to have to wait longer.

To her great relief, the door opened only seconds later and she found herself face to face with the object of her search.

"Hi. Are you Buffy Summers?" she asked nervously.

"Uh, yeah." Buffy eyed the perky looking blonde warily. "Who are you?"

"My name is Nina," she introduced herself. "I'm so glad that I found you! I've been searching and searching. You're a hard person to track down!"

"I found an address for you in Italy," Nina continued to babble. "But when I went there, your landlord said you'd moved. He gave me the name of some guy in England that might know where you were so I went there. Of course the guy, Rupert something or other, was out of town and I had to wait for him to get back so he could give me your address. He didn't want to, but I finally managed to convince him and now here I am."

Buffy tried to digest everything the woman, Nina, had said, but only found herself completely confused. "Umm, I don't mean to sound dumb, but what? And am I supposed to know you?"

"Oh, no. I'm sorry. I just really need to talk to you," Nina explained, her hands fidgeting at her sides.

"Okaaaayyy," Buffy drawled out. "Com-...wait...you're not a vamp are you?"

"No, but I am a werewolf," Nina told her, hoping that the Slayer wouldn't take that as an initiative to kill her.

"Oh, uh, right. Would you like to come in?" She moved to the side and opened the door wider.

"Thank you." Nina smiled graciously and entered into the apartment. "Wow, this place is a lot bigger than it looks from the outside."

"So why are you here again?" Buffy decided to get right down to business. She had no idea who this woman was and it made her nervous that a perfect stranger appeared to have gone to so much trouble to find her. The woman wasn't giving off an evil vibe, but Buffy was already mentally calculating which one of her many weapons was closest.

The expression on Nina's face instantly went serious as the reason for her visit came back to the forefront. "It's about Angel."

"What? What's wrong with Angel?" Buffy was instantly panicked at the mention of her ex-lover's name. She had a sudden bad feeling that she wasn't going to like whatever this Nina had to tell her.

"He's disappeared," Nina spoke worriedly.

It took a moment for Buffy to gather her thoughts. Her first instinct was to run out and start searching for him, but then she reminded herself that Angel had his own life. He had people to help him. So why then was this woman here telling her?

"Are you sure?" she asked, trying to hide her concern. "Have you talked to the others? Wes and, well, the others?"

"That's part of the problem," Nina began, taking a seat on the couch nearby. "Maybe I should just start from the beginning. First, I feel like I should tell you that Angel and I aren't...involved...well, in the beginning I wanted us to be, but I realized it would never happen and...well, anyway, we're just friends."

"Oh, okay." She wasn't jealous, Buffy tried to tell herself. No, she wasn't jealous that Angel was friends, maybe more, with the beautiful blonde sitting in her apartment.

"Umm, let's see...where to start," Nina mumbled to herself. "You know about Angel taking over Wolfram & Hart right?"

After Buffy's silent nod, Nina took a few seconds to gather her thoughts before going on. "Ok, well, Angel finally managed to bring down their evil empire, or whatever you want to call it, but...but h-he was the only one to survive."

"He...he...what?" Buffy stuttered, not completely comprehending what Nina was trying to say.

"I-I don't know exactly what happened, but I know that Angel was the only one to make it out. Everyone else...Wes, Fred, Gunn, Lorne, Spike, even Harmony...is gone," Nina relayed sadly. She had become friends with all of them over the years, and would miss them, but right now her concern was with Angel.

Buffy almost fell into the chair next to her at the news. Gods, all of them were gone. She didn't know most of them, but they were Angel's friends. And Spike. A pang of sadness went through her heart over the bleach blonde vampire. They'd never gotten to make peace with each other. The only reason she knew he was alive was because Andrew told her. Now he was gone, along with all the others. And Angel was the only one to survive.

"There's more," Nina spoke softly a minute later.

What more could this woman possibly have to say to her, Buffy wondered. Wasn't it enough to tell her that all of the people closest to Angel were dead? If that was only half the news then Buffy wasn't entirely sure she wanted to hear the rest.

"The battle...it was his redemption," she finally said.

"His redemption?" Buffy repeated, not understanding what that was supposed to mean.

"It was his Shanshu, or whatever. Something about if he fought enough battles and saved enough lives he'd regain his humanity," she went on to explain.

Tears began falling down Buffy's face as soon as the implications of Nina's words sunk into her mind. Redemption. Humanity. Angel was human! She wanted to laugh; she wanted to cry; she wanted to do something, but she found she was completely frozen in her chair. It wasn't everyday that you found out your vampire ex-lover with a fragile gypsy curse had turned human.

"Angel's h-human?" She needed to hear it again. She needed to make sure that this Nina chick had really just told her Angel was beating-heart, able-to-go-in-sunlight human.

Nina gave her a sympathetic smile, knowing all too well how shocking the news was. "Yes, he is."

"And he's missing," Buffy said, suddenly remembering what the other woman had first said.

"He...," Nina sighed and looked directly at Buffy. "He didn't take the change well. He didn't think he deserved it because all the others died."

The explanation didn't surprise Buffy. Despite all their years apart, she knew Angel was still the insecure, guilt-ridden, fragile soul that he'd always been. He wanted to be able to save everyone and believed it was his fault if he didn't. Gaining his humanity while all his friends died had to be a slap in the face. She had no doubt that Angel was taking the blame for each and every one of their deaths.

"How long has he been gone?" Buffy inquired. If she was going to find Angel, she needed all the details. She knew without asking that Nina had come for her help in finding Angel. It wouldn't be easy, but she was not going to let him wallow in self-pity and throw away the precious gift he'd been given.

"About three weeks ago." Nina relaxed slightly at Buffy's demeanor. This was going a lot better than she expected. She'd had no idea how the woman she'd heard so much about would act. "He's been human for about six weeks."

"Ever since they died and he became human, he's locked himself away in a hotel room," Nina went on. "I tried to help him, but he would just sit there in the dark and do nothing. He barely ate or slept. I don't know how he was functioning at all."

Buffy's heart broke as she heard of Angel's condition. She, unfortunately, knew exactly what it was like to be forced to live when you didn't want to. Instead of realizing everything you have, you focused on everything you've lost. Yes, that was definitely something she could identify with.

When Buffy didn't say anything, Nina went on. "I stopped by to see him everyday; brought him food but he mostly just ignored me. Then three weeks ago when I went there, no one answered. I convinced the manager to let me in and there was no sign of him."

"So then you went looking for me," Buffy posed after she processed the information. "Why?"

"Over the years, and once we became friends, he told me about you and how much you meant to him," Nina explained with a slight blush to her cheeks. "I didn't know who else to turn to so I went through his stuff and found an address for you in Italy. And then like I said earlier, I went looking for you."

Standing, Buffy began to pace around the room. "And you want me to help find him," she assumed Nina's next question. In her mind, she was already cataloging places to check. If Sunnydale still existed, she would have checked the mansion and his old apartment, but they were dust and dirt like the rest of Sunnydale. Where would he go then?

"Yeah. I have no idea where to look for him. Plus I have work, and the full moon is in a few days," Nina relayed.

"Right." Buffy nodded her understanding. Full moon plus werewolf equaled not a good time to be out roaming around looking for Angel.

"So you'll help?" Nina asked hopefully.

Buffy nearly rolled her eyes. Of course she was going to help! She had no intention of letting Angel destroy his life. He had so much to live for and he just needed a little help realizing that. "Of course. I'll do whatever I can to find him."

"Thank you. He's one of the best friends I've ever had and I don't want to see anything happen to him." Buffy could hear the almost imperceptible wobble in her voice and was torn between empathizing with the young woman and wanting to scratch her eyes out for being so close to Angel.

"Me either," Buffy agreed. "I'll get some of my friends started on tracking him down. If they find anything I'll go check it out."

"Will you keep me up to date?" Nina pleaded while reaching into her pocket and producing a small card. "Here are my numbers."

"Sure. I'll let you know whatever I find out." Taking the card from Nina, Buffy walked over to the end table where her purse sat and put the paper inside so she wouldn't lose it.

"Thanks." Standing up, Nina looked at Buffy for a second. The two shared a silent moment before Nina started toward the door. "I, umm...I guess I'll talk to you soon then."

"Yeah," Buffy said awkwardly. "Thank you for coming and telling me."

"You're welcome." Slightly nodding her head, she pulled open the door. "Bye."

"Bye."

As soon as the door closed behind Nina, Buffy was at the phone dialing the familiar number of her former Watcher. There was no way she would be able to find Angel by herself. She was going to need resources she didn't have at the moment.

"Hello?" Giles' British voice spoke after only two rings.

"Giles. It's Buffy." No time for platitudes, Buffy thought, best to get right to the point.

"Ah, yes, Buffy. I've been expecting your call."

"Good, then you know why I'm calling." Buffy grunted slightly in the middle of her words as she was already in her room pulling her suitcase out of her closet.

"Yes, I already have Willow trying to track him down. She's putting together a list of possible places he may have gone," Giles explained what he had started on after the strange blonde woman had come to him a few days earlier.

"Okay...ouch, damnit!" she yelped loudly.

"Buffy?"

"Sorry...just dropped my bag of stakes on my foot," she mumbled in embarrassment. "Anyways, I have to pack so why don't you call me back as soon as you have something."

"Fine," Giles agreed. "Do you want me to see if Xander can stay with Dawn while you're gone?"

"Nah. She's a sophomore in college now. I think she'll be fine," Buffy answered and then wondered if leaving her little sister alone was a smart idea. "But, uh, maybe you should call and check up on her everyday."

"Yes, of course." Giles smiled on the other end despite knowing Buffy couldn't see it. "Well, then I will speak to you shortly.

"'Kay. Bye Giles." She hung up before he could even reply. Her mind wasn't focused on being polite. The only thing she was worried about was packing and then finding Angel. Wherever the Hell he might be.

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Part 2
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I never thought I'd feel this way
I never thought that I'd see a day
I'd run away from anything or anywhere or anyone
It's all these demons haunting me
It's all these little things trapped inside of me
Releasing me from all my sin

Finding Angel took Buffy only three days. Actually it took Willow only three days to locate him. Ah, the wonders of a little hacking with some magick thrown in for good measure. Really, though, the 'how' wasn't important. What was important was that she'd found him, or rather the shell of a man that was supposed to be Angel. When the phone call from Willow came telling her that Angel was shacked up in some rented house in a small town in Ireland, Buffy took the first available flight.

Ever since Nina's visit Buffy had attempted to prepare herself for what was to come. She went over and over in her head what she would say to him, how she would act, and what she would be faced with. She also tried to prepare herself for what she would see. Her expectations were low, but the reality was so much worse.

The first few days she was in Ireland she spent spying on him. Technically, she supposed, it was considered stalking, but she simply wanted to get an idea of how he was. There was no way she could help him if she didn't have an idea of his state of mind. So she hid in the shadows and watched. She feared that he would know she was there, but if he did, he gave no inclination. For the most part, Angel appeared too lost in his guilt and sorrow to notice anything at all.

Learning Angel's routine took Buffy only a few days to figure out. Actually, she was pretty sure of what he did every day after only one day of watching him. The house he stayed in would remain dark and quiet all through the daylight hours, and then once darkness fell he'd leave, go to the local pub, and stumble out hours later. From there, he'd somehow manage to get home and then pass out on his bed. The next day was a repeat of the previous.

Buffy wasn't sure what he did during the day when he locked himself away in the house. Angel kept the drapes closed on every single window so she couldn't really see into the inside, but there were two that weren't completely closed so she could peek through. From what she could tell, he sat in the dark doing nothing all day long. She wasn't even sure he was eating which was one of the first things she'd have to rectify.

Simply put, Angel was a mess. He shunned almost everything remotely humanizing. The time he spent in the pub each night he remained silent, talking to no one except to get his drink refilled. He avoided sunlight. He didn't appear to eat. It was as if he was trying to remain living a vampire's life. That didn't really surprise her. From what Nina said, Angel thought he didn't deserve his humanity. If he really believed that then it was understandable that he was pushing away human-like behavior.

Well, Buffy was going to put a stop to that. She was not going to let him deny the gift he'd been given. And she certainly wasn't going to stand by and watch him drink or starve himself to death. No, she wasn't going to do anything like that. She was going to do whatever it took to get him to see the light, metaphorically speaking, starting tonight.

Ready to put the beginning of her plan into motion, she waited impatiently in the alley next to the bar while Angel drank himself into a stupor. Once he finally left, Buffy trailed him home and then stayed outside for an hour. She hoped that was enough time for him to pass out on his bed. If not, well, then she'd have to improvise.

Creeping up to the door, Buffy carefully turned the knob and thanked the Gods when it opened. Whether it was his drunkenness or just plain carelessness, Angel hadn't bothered to lock the door. All the better for her.

Now that she was inside, Buffy wasn't sure how to proceed. Of course, it would be easier if the room wasn't pitch black. Prepared for that situation, though, Buffy pulled out a small flashlight from her pocket. Turning it on, she peered at her surroundings. It seemed as though she was in the living room if the couch and chairs were any indication. She'd need to explore a bit, but first she had to figure out where Angel was.

She found him in the third room she looked in. And as she'd suspected, he was passed out on the bed on top of the covers and still in his clothes. If the situation wasn't so dire, Buffy would have laughed about it. Instead it was disturbing because she was sure this was exactly what he'd done for who knew how many nights now. She'd have to add this to her list of things he was not going to be allowed to do.

Sighing, Buffy silently backed out of the room and closed the door behind her. Hopefully he slept soundly while drunk because she had things to do. And now that she knew where he was situated in the house she could turn on some lights.

The next twenty minutes she spent exploring the medium-sized house. It was pretty standard; two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen, a living room, and an office. Buffy was immensely glad there was a furnished second bedroom. She hadn't been looking forward to sleeping on a couch or worse, the floor.

Now that she had the lay of the land, so to speak, it was time to get to work. First things first, time to get some food in the house she told herself. A cursory search of the kitchen found a moldy loaf of bread, some cheese, and pretty much nothing else. Good thing she came prepared.

Jogging out to her rental car, now parked in the driveway, Buffy retrieved the food she'd bought earlier that day and carried it into the house. She swore she bought enough to feed eight people not just her and Angel. Well, at least it would last a while.

After putting away the groceries she set about her next task: removing the draperies. And she didn't just mean opening them. No, Buffy took each and every one of them down and then took them out to her car and locked them in the trunk. It was a bit drastic, but Angel couldn't keep hiding from the sunlight now that it wouldn't kill him. She did leave the ones in his room, though, for now at least. He'd likely have a hangover in the morning and she didn't want to make it worse by blinding him. So instead she opened them slightly. They would get taken down later, though.

Seeing nothing else she could do tonight, Buffy trudged back out to her car and grabbed the bags she'd packed for herself. She placed them in the spare bedroom and unpacked a few things she'd need before changing into something more comfortable. Before leaving the room, she grabbed one of the novels she'd brought, a throw blanket, and a bottle of aspirin. She stopped in the kitchen to get two glasses of water and then made her way back to Angel's room.

He was still in the position she'd left him, and seemed completely unaware of her presence. Come morning, she'd shock the hell out of him. Shaking herself out of her thoughts, Buffy placed one of the glasses of water and two aspirin on his nightstand before settling herself down in the recliner that sat in one corner of the room. Now, all she could do was wait.

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

The blinding beam of sunlight shinning right on Angel's face quickly roused him from his sleep and he practically threw himself out of the bed, forgetting momentarily that the sun no longer held any danger to him. It took several blinks of his eyes and shakes of his head before Angel began to realize that something was not right in his room. There shouldn't have been any sunlight and he definitely shouldn't have a feeling that someone was staring at him.

As quickly as he could manage, given the pounding of his head, Angel pulled himself back up onto the bed, mindful to stay as far away as possible from the sunlight. His gaze first focused on the two windows, both of which had the drapes half open. Angel was positive they had been closed the night before. Actually, they had been closed since he first arrived. So someone had obviously been in his room and opened them.

Before Angel could ponder that thought too much, his eyes wandered to the opposite side of the room and widened at the sight that met him. Buffy. Sitting there in the chair, staring intently at him. For a short second, he questioned his state of mind. Was he still so drunk he was hallucinating? No, she had to really be there. The opened drapes attested to that.

He suddenly grew angry at her intrusion. Standing on wobbly legs, Angel stalked to the windows and drew closed the drapes before turning to glare at the unfazed blonde.

"What the hell are you doing here?" he snapped at her.

Buffy ignored the biting tone and continued to stare. "Hello to you to."

"You didn't answer my question," he growled loudly and then grabbed at his throbbing head.

"There's aspirin and water on your nightstand." Buffy nodded her head in the direction of the pain medication and merely sighed when Angel made no move to take them. "Fine, suit yourself."

"WHAT.ARE.YOU.DOING.HERE?" Angel repeated again.

"Making sure you don't destroy yourself," she finally relented and answered.

Angel's eyes narrowed despite already knowing somewhere inside why Buffy was there. "I'm fine," he told her curtly.

"Right," Buffy snorted, trailing her eyes up and down his body. "You sure look fine. Tell me, when was the last time you changed your clothes, or ate, or took a shower?"

"That's none of your business!" he snarled angrily.

"Well guess what?" Buffy stood and faced him, undeterred by his looming physical stature. "I'm making it my business!"

"Angel," she spoke again, her voice much softer this time. "You want to know why I'm here? Fine. About a week ago I had a visit from some woman I never met before. I believe you know her as Nina. She spent two weeks tracking me down, going to Italy, then England, and then finally my apartment in Philadelphia because she cares about you and is worried."

"So...what? You came here to check up on me for her?" Angel held his ground and stood eye to eye with Buffy.

"I came because I care Angel, because I'm worried about you." Reaching out a hand, she touched his arm and flinched when he immediately pulled away. She hated seeing him like this; so defeated. It reminded her of a night years ago when he'd given up all hope on a hill high above Sunnydale. She hadn't let him give up then and she was not going to let him do it now.

"I'm fine so now you can leave," he said, his tone serious, and then turned and stalked out of the room.

Angel stopped abruptly when he reached the living room and was assaulted by an abundance of blinding sunlight. He jumped backwards into the less bright hallway, staring at the horror that was his living room. Sunlight. Every-freakin'-where. And it didn't escape his notice that the heavy drapes he'd so carefully arranged were nowhere to be seen.

"What the hell did you do?" he spoke as he rotated to face Buffy who was standing behind him.

Buffy remained calm despite the raging anger in his eyes. "I did what needed to be done."

"How dare you?!! I don't need your help!" Angel wished there was somewhere he could go, but he felt trapped by the things he was trying so hard to escape, and all because of her. "Get the fuck out and leave me alone!" he shouted at her.

"I'm not leaving Angel." Buffy glared at him defiantly, crossing her arms over her chest. "You can yell and curse at me all you want, but I'm not going anywhere."

Shoulders slumping slightly, Angel ran a hand through his dirty hair. His voice was minutely softer when he spoke again. "Why are you doing this, Buffy?"

"Angel." Buffy took a step closer to him and looked directly into his eyes. "I'm worried about you and I hate seeing you like this."

"Like what?" he asked defensively, all the while knowing what she was referring to.

"You know what I mean, Angel. This," she waved her arms to point out his surroundings. "Living like a hermit, hiding from the sunlight, not eating, getting drunk every night. Should I go on?"

"I can live however I want!" Angel bit out, backing away from the persistent blonde Slayer.

"True," Buffy agreed with a nod. "But if you think I'm going to stand by while you slowly kill yourself you're dead wrong. No pun intended."

"Leave me alone," he mumbled again, daring to inch a little further into the sun-brightened living room.

Buffy answered with a simple, "no."

They stood eyeing each other for several minutes, neither bothering to speak. Buffy refused to give in while Angel tried to figure out any way possible to get rid of his unwanted guest. All he wanted was to be alone; to live out the rest of his existence in tortured peace. He didn't deserve the life that Buffy and Nina wanted for him. He was a useless fraud, a sinner destined for Hell. That was the way things were, and always would be.

"Like I said, Angel," Buffy broke the silence. "I'm not leaving. And right now we're going to go into that kitchen and have some breakfast." She started toward to the kitchen, pausing to turn and glare at Angel. "Don't bother saying no because I WILL drag you in there if I have to."

Angel reluctantly followed, having no doubt in his mind that she was serious in saying that she would force him. Well, he would sit, but he had no intention of eating. The thought of human food made his stomach churn. He couldn't remember the last time he'd managed to choke down more than a piece of bread.

"Sit," Buffy ordered, pointing to a chair at the table.

When Buffy pulled open the refrigerator, Angel nearly gasped at all the food inside. He knew for a fact it hadn't been there before. It seemed as if Buffy was busier than he thought. She'd obviously taken the liberty of filling his house with food. Without asking him, he had to add.

He watched disinterestedly as Buffy moved around the kitchen, preparing what looked like scrambled eggs and toast. Every once in a while she would glance in his direction. He supposed she was checking to make sure he hadn't run off. The thought had crossed his mind, but at the moment he didn't have the energy to run and have her chase. Plus his head was still pounding.

The deafening quiet in the room was broken by the shrill ringing of a phone. Buffy set down the egg in her hand and reached into her pocket to retrieve her small flip-phone. Her eyes flickered to Angel for a moment before she hit the talk button.

"Hello?...hey Dawnie! What's up?" Buffy said into the phone. She clenched the device between her ear and shoulder so she could work on breakfast and talk at the same time.

"Umm, I think it's in the hall closet. Why?...Yeah, you can borrow it. Just don't lose it!...Sure, okay...Anything else?...All right. Try not to burn down the apartment! And don't forget to feed the cat!...Love you...Bye!"

Hanging up the phone and slipping it back into her pocket, Buffy's eyes caught sight of the empty chair at the table. She frowned and quickly looked around the room, finding nothing.

"Damn it!"

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 3
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It's taken me all my anger
And taken me all of my hate
To learn how my life came together
Releasing the demons again

"Angel!" Buffy's yell sounded loudly throughout the house. She didn't expect him to answer and wasn't surprised when he didn't.

Annoyed, Buffy stomped into the living room and paused for a moment to contemplate where he might have run off to. She chastised herself for not paying attention while on the phone. She should have known he'd try to make an escape. Now she just had to locate him once again.

Considering it was a cloudless, sunny day outside, she doubted he'd venture outdoors. So that meant he was likely still in the house somewhere. Lucky for her, the house was small. It would only be a matter of time before she found him.

Buffy searched each and every room including the closets and even in the shower, but no Angel. She was just about to sit down at the kitchen table and reconsider the idea that he wouldn't go outside when she noticed the basement door was open a crack. That door had been closed before, Buffy was sure of that. It would make sense, too, for him to escape to the darkest place in the house.

As quietly as possible, she descended the stairs, thankful that they were carpeted. When she neared the bottom, Buffy could hear what sounded like grunts and smacks. It was a familiar noise; one she'd heard many times years earlier when they used to work out together. It shocked her somewhat to think that he was training considering he wouldn't do anything else, but she also knew that punching things was a good way to release pent up emotions. Like she'd told Giles once; 'kicking ass is comfort food.'

Reaching the bottom, Buffy settled herself on the last stair and watched as Angel threw half hearted jabs at a punching bag hanging from the ceiling. The blows held little force and she wasn't sure if that was because his mind wasn't on what he was doing or because he lacked the strength to hit harder. Either way, it saddened her to see him so lost.

For several long minutes she contented herself to watch while she tried to pull together her thoughts. There was so much she wanted to say to him, but Buffy just had no idea where to start. In the end, she settled for the first thing that came to mind.

"I know what it's like to be forced to live when you don't want to," she said, her voice a soft whisper.

The brutal, honest tone of her words cut straight through the muttled mess in Angel's mind. His hands stilled mid-punch as he tried to comprehend what Buffy had said. Though he had no idea what the driving force behind her statement was, he said nothing.

Sensing she had his attention, Buffy continued. "After they brought me back, all I wanted was to die again. Even today I still miss it."

The deep, almost reverent, emotion perplexed Angel. "Miss what?" he found himself asking.

"Heaven."

Whatever Angel had been passively waiting to hear, that wasn't it. His idle curiosity in their current conversation bumped up into full blown interest. The full meaning, though, of the single uttered word, Heaven, did not come right away to Angel. When it did a shard of pain shot through his body and he couldn't stop himself from spinning around to face Buffy fully.

"What are you talking about?" he questioned, though a sinking feeling in his gut told him he already knew.

Buffy didn't answer right away. Instead, she stood and mindlessly wandered around the dusty basement, running her hands over the old shelves and boxes. She didn't face him when she spoke next.

"When I jumped...when I...died...I wasn't sucked into Glory's dimension, or any other Hell dimension. I was in Heaven."

A shuddering breath escaped his lips as he stood and gaped at her. He was dumbstruck, utterly and completely dumbstruck. He'd never thought....he'd always believed what Willow had told him; that she'd pulled Buffy out of Hell. He should have known. Someone as pure and good as Buffy would have never been taken to Hell. Her soul had been in Heaven. And he'd never even suspected it.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he whispered, referring to the night they'd met not long after her return.

"What would I have said? 'Gee, thanks for pulling me out of one of the only places I've ever been happy!' I don't think that would have gone over too well." Buffy sighed and shook the maudlin thoughts from her head. "I couldn't tell them. I saw the happiness on their faces for what they'd done and I just couldn't. Even you, when I saw you, had this look of relief. I couldn't take that away from you; from them."

"So you just didn't say anything?" Angel mused out loud.

"No, not for a while," Buffy affirmed, resuming her stroll around the room before returning to the stair she'd been sitting on. "But that's not really the point. I learned to accept what happened long ago."

Angel said nothing. He was torn between sorrow and deep regret for what she'd been through, and hurt that she hadn't trusted him enough to tell him. He couldn't imagine in the least what it must have been like to be in Heaven and then to return to a world that had always treated her so cruelly. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, a little voice whispered to him that she'd made it through and become a stronger person because of it. He ignored the proclamation.

"I remember what it was like, though," Buffy began again. "I went to bed every night wishing that I'd wake up back in Heave where it was peaceful and I was no longer the Slayer. It never happened."

She shifted to sit long ways on the stair and leaned her head back against the wall. Though years had passed, the memories of that time were still strong in her mind.

"I didn't care about anything. I flipped burgers at the Double Meat Palace like some mindless drone." She winced at that particular memory, but went on. "I never noticed that my sister was becoming a juvenile delinquent, stealing crap left and right from stores."

"I was blind to the fact that one of my best friends was spiraling out of control because of an addiction to magic. And I never saw Xander's fears before he was supposed to get married to Anya." A moment of silence passed as Buffy remembered the former vengeance demon who had not survived the final battle in Sunnydale.

"None of it mattered to me then," she resumed her unscripted speech, raising her eyes to meet Angel's. "All I saw, all I felt was emptiness. I drowned in the pain I was feeling. I let it eat me alive from the inside, and I did so many things I'm not proud of."

"What changed?" Angel spoke for the first time in a while.

"I slowly realized I still had a place in this world." Buffy paused, stood up, and then added, "just like you do."

Without waiting for Angel to reply, she walked casually up the stairs. About half-way up, she stopped and called over her shoulder.

"I'm going to make something to eat. I'm starving. You're welcome to join me."

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

Buffy was straddling the line between mild surprise, and wanting to give herself a pat on the back when thirty minutes after she'd left Angel in the basement he appeared in the kitchen and took a seat at the table. She said nothing to him, though. He was very obviously deep in thought and she didn't want to intrude. So instead, she set a ham sandwich down in front of him and sat down with her own.

They ate silently with Buffy trying to watch Angel as unobtrusively as possible. He only nibbled on his sandwich and by the time she'd finished he'd only eaten half. She supposed that was better than the nothing he'd been eating. It was progress if only a small amount.

As she washed her plate, Buffy couldn't help the yawn she emitted. She'd hardly slept at all the night before, nor the previous nights since she'd arrived in Ireland. All she wanted was to go sleep for a few hours, but she didn't know whether she trusted that Angel would still be there when she woke up. His posture still decidedly screamed 'stay away from me', but the rage that had been there earlier in the day had mostly calmed.

Deciding to take the risk, and obey a biological imperative, Buffy wiped off her hands on the dish towel and turned to face Angel. "I'm going to go take a nap."

Angel mumbled an 'okay', but Buffy wasn't sure he'd really heard what she said. He was too focused on whatever thoughts were in his head and pushing his half eaten sandwich around his plate.

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

Hovering in the doorway to the room Buffy had commandeered for herself, Angel watched her as she slept. He told himself he shouldn't be staring. He told himself he should stay far away. He told himself he should go grab his meager belongings and be miles away before she awoke. But he couldn't seem to do any of those. In fact, he seemed drawn to do just the opposite.

So he crept, silently, slowly, into the room and closer to her. Temptation beckoned him to sit on the edge of the bed, but he resisted and instead clung to the outskirts of the room, sliding down the wall and coming to a rest on the floor. It was far enough away, yet just close enough.

The peaceful expression on her face seemed to glow under the waning light of the day shining through the undraped windows. He tried to remember the last time he'd seen her look so serene and couldn't. The last few times he'd seen her she'd been buried under the strains of life and her destiny.

There was an aura of contentedness and harmony around her now, though. And that ate away at him. Her life had been nothing but one horror after another ever since her Calling.

She'd been forced into the life of a Slayer, and dealt with her parents' divorce simultaneously. Then the move to Sunnydale. She'd died at the hands of the Master only to be revived shortly thereafter. They'd fallen in love and subsequently unleashed Angelus onto the world. His soul had been returned and they'd been forced to fight their feelings.

All of that was only the tip of the iceberg, though, of what she'd faced. There was some thing called The Initiative that he knew little about. And a failed relationship with 'Joe Normal', followed by a sister who was really a mystical ball of energy with the power to unleash Hell on Earth. In the midst of all that her mother died.

As if that weren't enough, her own death, a second one, ensued. Again she'd been resurrected, this time under much harsher circumstances. Only a short year later, the fiercest battle of her life began as The First returned with plans to take over the world.

Any normal person would have succumbed to the pressure and the constant losses after only a short while. She survived, though. She persevered and continued battling despite each and every blow to her life.

He recalled the words she'd spoken to him in the basement hours earlier. The honest, brutal, sincere emotion in her voice sunk like a rock in his gut. In one of the harshest, bleakest times of her life, a period when she'd told him without hesitation that she had wanted to give up, she'd plowed forward and made her way to the other side. And now she was happy and settled.

'Just like you could be,' the little voice in his head whispered to him, repeating the sentiment Buffy has issued earlier.

No. He could never have what she had. He was weak where she was strong; dark where she was light; tainted where she was pure. And now she had everything she ever deserved.

He, on the other hand, deserved nothing.

Not humanity, not redemption, not sunlight, not human food, not friends, not love. Nothing.

With that thought in mind, he struggled to his feet, stumbling out of the room and out of the house. He had only made it about ten feet from the door when he heard Buffy's voice call out to him.

"It won't change anything, Angel! They're gone, but you're not. You're still alive. Getting drunk, avoiding sunlight, not eating...it won't make it better."

He heard her words; knew somewhere inside that they were true, but he couldn't face them. At least not yet and maybe not ever. So he kept going, running toward oblivion and straying from the redemption he did not want.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 4
^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

And now I look through my mind's eye
And see where my past needs to rest
It's always disturbed by these voices
That echo inside of my head

Buffy paused just inside the door before straightening her shoulders and strolling the rest of the way inside. Silently, she plopped herself down onto one of the stools near the end of the counter. Gazing around the dimly lit establishment she had to admit that it was a nice place. Definitely a lot quieter than what she was used to though. She smiled brightly as the bartender walked up to her and waited for her to speak.

"Something fruity. Surprise me," she requested and then when he started to walk away she added, "and a shot of tequila."

The barely audible gasp that came from the person sitting to her right was not missed by Buffy. She forced herself to hold back the smirk that was threatening to appear. She was baiting him and she knew it.

"Here ya go." The middle-aged bartender returned and set down a glass with a pink concoction in it as well as shot glass filled with amber liquid, a salt shaker, and a little plate with several lime slices. "It's on the house for a pretty lady such as yourself."

"Thank you very much," Buffy said, giving him a slightly flirty grin.

Chuckling to herself, she lifted her arm up and licked the inside of her wrist and then sprinkled a light coating of salt onto the spot. Just as she was about to reach for the shot glass her silent companion's hand reached out to snatch it first but Buffy managed to grab it before him.

"Excuse me," she spoke politely.

Before he could reply, Buffy licked the salty spot on her wrist and downed the tequila without hesitation. She grimaced only slightly as the potent liquid burned the back of her throat and reached for one of the slices of lime. Slowly, almost sensually, she raised the sour fruit to her mouth and bit into it.

"What the hell are you doing?" Angel snapped at her.

Buffy raised an eyebrow at the question, wiping the small dribble of lime juice off her chin with a napkin. "I'm having a drink. Isn't that what it looks like?"

Angel swiveled on his stool and faced her angrily. "You shouldn't drink that."

"In case you've forgotten, Angel, I'm twenty-six years old," she told him, rotating her body slightly. "That means I'm a big girl now."

"You shouldn't be drinking," he retorted forcefully, eyes narrowed.

Her eyes flitted to the half empty, dark brew in front of him before returning to Angel. "Double standard much?"

Angel scowled but said nothing else. She was right. Again. He had to bite his tongue, though, when the bartender returned and refilled the shot glass without asking.

"Thanks. I insist on paying for this one," she stipulated while picking up the tiny glass.

Quickly, she downed the shot and set the glass back onto the bar upside down; a signal to the bartender that two was her limit. He nodded at her and moved away to serve another customer. Buffy returned the nod and grabbed a handful of pretzels out of a nearby basket.

"Hello," a new voice greeted off to her left.

Buffy turned her head and saw a man about thirty years old with light reddish-brown hair smiling at her. He sat down on the available stool to her left and stuck out his hand.

"My name's Tim."

"Hi, I'm-."

"Leaving," Angel swiftly cut in, speaking in a low, threatening growl while grabbing Buffy's hand and yanking her off her stool.

"Sorry," Buffy yelped with a shrug to the would-be suitor. She knew she should be annoyed at Angel's caveman act, but in actuality, she found it funny.

Angel continued to drag her out of the bar; promptly dropping her arm once they were outside.

"You could have at least let me say goodbye," she chirped lightly, a mock-pout forming on her face.

The glare he sent her would have made a world-class boxer flinch, but Buffy brushed it off. She was getting a reaction out of him and that was exactly what she wanted. Well, she would have preferred that he didn't go to the bar in the first place, but at least instead of drinking himself into a stupor he was dealing with his very human emotions. It was better than nothing.

"Well, since you've ended my fun for the night I guess I'll go back home and get some more sleep," she chatted casually as if Angel wasn't burning holes in her with his eyes. Shrugging, she meandered down the street, knowing instinctively that Angel was following behind her.

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

The next morning Buffy woke shortly after ten. She saw that Angel's bedroom door was still closed as she walked down the hallway and debated charging in and dragging him out of bed but she opted to give him a little space. The day before she'd gone at him pretty hard so she figured it might be better to leave him alone for a while. She just hoped that some of what she'd said and done had stuck in his mind.

A little nudging wouldn't hurt, though, so Buffy made an inordinate amount of noise while cooking her late breakfast. She hadn't meant to drop that heavy, metal frying pan on the ceramic tile floor. Really she hadn't. Her 'clumsiness' was rewarded, though, when Angel stalked out of his room and dropped himself down onto one of the chairs at the kitchen table.

Buffy hid her pleased grin as she served him a plate of French toast. He seemed to be making some effort which was at least progress. This non-showering bit would have to change soon, though. He looked like shit and smelled a little ripe. She bit back a groan at the idea of stripping him down and dragging him into the shower. Now was definitely NOT the time to think like that.

Knowing that Angel was human, curse-free, and somewhat available was something not easily ignored, unfortunately. Back in the dark corners of her mind, Buffy acknowledged that this situation, minus the crippling Angel brooding, was one she'd dreamed about many times as an idealistic teenager. The recent years had been filled with more pressing matters and distractions, but still, there'd always been an unspoken hope that they would find their way back to each other.

As she'd already told herself, though, now was really not the time for those thoughts. Getting Angel well was her foremost priority and until that was accomplished she would not think about the future and its possibilities. With that in mind, Buffy mentally went over her next plan of attack which she would initiate after she'd showered, dressed, and called Willow to check in.

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

Several hours later, Buffy strolled into the living room carrying her backpack and another larger bag. She set them down onto the coffee table before seating herself cross-legged on the couch. Once comfortable, she pulled a leather bound book from the smaller bag as well as her favorite purple-inked pen.

Her newest plot had two purposes: one being getting some of her work done, and the second being another way to hopefully get through to Angel. Of course that was all dependent on whether he ever came out of the basement. He'd retreated there not long after eating barely half of the breakfast she cooked. She guessed he chose to go there because it was away from her, and also the only dark place in the entire house. It'd be night soon so maybe he would venture up finally.

Sure enough, a half hour after the sun had set Buffy heard the solid footsteps signaling that Angel was climbing up the basement stairs. She kept her eyes focused on the book in front of her, but kept her ears trained on the noises he made. He wandered through the house for a few minutes before she heard him come into the living room and stop moving.

"What are you doing?" he asked when Buffy didn't even bother to acknowledge him.

To be honest, Angel was a bit perplexed by her actions. The day before she'd hounded him almost non-stop, but today she'd yet to utter one single word to him. That was what he wanted, though. Wasn't it? He wanted her to go away. He wanted to be left alone. Didn't he? Yes, that's what he wanted. Why, then, did he feel disappointed that she hadn't bothered him all day long?

"Working on my Slayer Diaries," Buffy answered offhandedly.

Slayer Diaries? What were they, Angel wondered. He'd heard of the Watchers' Diaries before and other Council documents, but he'd never before heard of the Slayer Diaries. Whatever they were, Buffy seemed intensely focused on them.

"What are they?" Angel couldn't stop himself from asking.

Buffy quirked a half smile for a split second. Bingo! He was taking the bait. Him asking about the books was exactly what she wanted.

"It's this thing Giles started after Sunnydale imploded," she explained as she finished writing a sentence in the book in front of her. Setting her pen down, she closed the book and finally looked up at Angel. "He thought it would be helpful to have Slayers chronicle various aspects of their lives; said it would prove useful to current and future Slayers."

"I can see how that would make sense," he agreed, thinking about how other Slayers might be able to benefit from knowing what their fellow Warriors went through

"Yeah. Me too. It's just annoying having to go back through and write down everything about my entire life; recounting fighting all the things that go bump in the night." She grimaced over the amount of time she'd spent the last couple years working on the journals for Giles.

"That's a lot to write," he pointed out.

"No kidding." Buffy laughed and shifted to a more comfortable position on the couch.

Inside, she couldn't stop the happiness she was feeling that he wasn't shutting himself off completely. They were having an actual conversation, and that was a very good thing in her mind. She needed to get him to open up; to reintegrate into the human world, and this was a good way to start. Conversing was much better than him brooding alone in the dark or sitting at the pub guzzling nasty beer.

"How's it going?" he asked, referring to her enormous task.

"Almost done. Finally," she answered exasperatedly. "I'm on my last book. It covers the last two years of Giles taking over the Council, the new policies, and the fact that there are now a lot of Slayers, but it mostly deals with how all that relates to me as a Slayer."

"That's good," Angel mumbled, his thoughts on the books and what she'd written.

"Yeah. I'll be glad to be finished. Of course it would have been easier if he'd let me type them, but you know Giles. He loves his books." Buffy smiled at the memory of Giles' adamant insistence that she actually write the journals. "Willow demanded they be computerized as well so she's had them transcribed as I finish them. The older Slayers have been encouraged, to use Giles' word, to read them."

Angel didn't reply for a few minutes and Buffy could tell he was thinking about something. She didn't push, just let him brood. "So the others are done?" he at last asked.

"Yup," Buffy answered with a nod of her head.

"Can...can I see?" he requested hesitantly.

Jackpot! That was exactly the question she wanted him to ask. Her little plan couldn't be going any more perfectly. She hoped that it would continue to proceed flawlessly.

"Sure," she acquiesced.

Reaching to the coffee table, smiling on the inside but stoic on the outside, she grabbed the other bag she'd brought out to the living room with her for just this purpose. It contained all but two of her Slayer Diaries. One of those missing two was on her lap, still being completed, and the other was the volume carefully tucked away in the bottom of her suitcase for later use. She had plans for that one.

Buffy pulled out her first journal; the one that covered from a couple months before her Calling through her initial year in Sunnydale and handed it to Angel. He accepted it wordlessly, taking it into his hands reverently.

She watched him out of the corner of her eye as he stared at the book for a long while. He seemed torn over whether he really wanted to read it or not. His hesitation was understandable. The journals had been hard enough for her to write and they would be just as hard for him to read, especially the parts relating to them. In the end, she knew they would help him. At least she hoped they would.

Finally, she saw him open the journal and begin reading. She said nothing to him, content to allow him to absorb her written words. Needing to keep herself occupied, Buffy went back to working on her current account.

An hour later, Buffy sighed and closed the book on her lap. "I'm gonna head to bed," she said, standing up from the couch.

"Night," Angel mumbled, too entrenched in his reading to even look up.

"Night," she returned and strolled out of the room, leaving behind the items she'd brought out with her.

Buffy remained awake in her room for several hours after leaving Angel. She listened carefully from her bed for any noises to signal that he was leaving to make his nightly pilgrimage to the pub downtown, but no such sound came. It was a small victory in the battle she was fighting, but a victory was a victory.

Pleased with her progress, she finally allowed herself to drift off to sleep, already preparing in her head for what would come next.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 5
^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Another way that I can hide
Another reason to crawl inside and get away
From everything and everywhere and everyone
No! It's all these demons haunting me
It's all these little things trapped inside of me
Releasing me from all my sin

Over the next several days Buffy hardly saw Angel at all. In the mornings he would come out of his room while she was making breakfast. He'd never say anything, just sit down and nibble on whatever she put in front of him. And then by the time she was showered and dressed, he was tucked away down in the basement. She wouldn't see him again until nightfall when sometimes he would join her for dinner and sometimes he wouldn't.

Buffy should have been displeased by his behavior, but she wasn't. He was doing just as she hoped: reading her Slayer Diaries. The days he spent down in the basement she knew he had one of her journals with him. Each morning when she awoke the book he'd been reading was neatly placed back into her bag and another one was taken.

He'd read all of the journals now, even her current volume. All but one, that is. And that one Buffy was saving for last. She kept it hidden inside her suitcase until the time was right to bring it out. That was why she now found herself standing in the living room staring down at the book in her hands.

The label on the spine read 'Buffy Anne Summers: October 2001 to September 2003', but the actual numbers meant little. It was the fact that the journal covered her return from the dead through the battle with The First that was important. Of all the things that had happened in her life that time period was by far one of the worst and having to recount each detail was excruciatingly painful. But it was also a cathartic experience.

She spent nearly eight months working on that particular volume; pouring out legions of agonizing memories. The first few pages detailed the peaceful bliss of Heaven and then shifted into the horror of waking up in her own coffin followed by her non-adjustment to being alive again. Page after page she covered the events of that tumultuous year; everything from the geek trio to her money troubles to her abusive affair with Spike to Willow's addiction with magick. All of it was laid out in blinding detail. And that was only half of the volume. The second half was about The First, the Slayers in training, and Spike's return with a soul.

As a whole, the journal was desolate and depressing. There had been little joy in her life then. Many times after her resurrection she'd wanted to give up completely and return to the only peace she'd ever known, but she hadn't. She'd kept going and kept fighting the creatures of the night that threatened to destroy the world. She'd survived and come out stronger because of it, and she'd learned that life wasn't hopeless; that there were things worth looking forward to.

It was that message she hoped Angel would be able to see when he read that journal. She understood his pain and reluctance to live all to well. It was all-consuming and so tempting to forget about today and the days after. For so long she'd ignored all that was around her; her friends, her family, her part in life, and that was what Angel was doing now. She'd found her way out of the darkness, though, and she had every intention of helping Angel do the same.

With steady hands, Buffy tucked the book into the bag lying on the coffee table. She stared at it for only a moment before leaving the living room and heading to her bedroom. She would check in the morning to see if it was still there, but she already knew it wouldn't be.

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

Two days later Buffy was lying on a blanket in the yard behind the house soaking up some of the midday sun for lack of anything else to do. She'd not seen hide nor hair of Angel since the night she put the final volume of her Slayer Diaries out for him to find. He was still around. She could hear him occasionally, but he had not come out when she could see him. And during that entire time, the journal she'd wanted him to read had been missing.

As she lay there on the blanket, Buffy tried to figure out how things would continue to go with Angel. She'd made some progress that was for sure, but he still was locked inside a wall of misery. He hadn't been outside during the daylight since she'd been there and he still wasn't eating very much. At least he'd started showering and changing his clothes again even if not regularly.

Buffy had been outside for almost an hour when she felt a shadow cover her body. Slowly, she blinked open her eyes to the harsh sunlight, grateful that she'd worn her sunglasses, and found Angel looming over her. She blinked again; almost unsure of what she was seeing because she honestly hadn't expected him to come to her when she was outside during the day. He was definitely there, though.

Silently, Buffy sat up on her blanket and studied Angel. She had to hold back a joke that he should put on some SPF 45 sunscreen since he was so pale because she didn't think now was the time for silly jokes. So instead she scooted over and patted the ground next to her. Angel hesitated for a moment before taking the offered seat.

After a few seconds of silence, Angel took the book in his hands and set it down in front of both of them. He didn't turn to face Buffy when he said, "you wanted me to read it."

"Yes," she answered honestly, running her hand over the front cover of her journal.

"Why?" he questioned, finally lifting his eyes to hers.

"I think you know why," she spoke softly.

Angel sighed and looked down at the book. He'd read every single word, some more than once. The insights he'd gained into Buffy's life were deafening. Never could he have imagined all she'd been through during his absence. He had always tried to imagine her living the good life and happy. To hear that her life had been nothing but one tragedy after another was a sharp blow to his heart. But he knew that wasn't why she wanted him to read the book.

No. She wanted him to see that there was a proverbial silver lining to all that she went through. All the ugliness, the death, the pain, and the sorrow led her to where she was today. She made it through and she wanted him to know that.

"I'm not you, Buffy," he told her; the dejection in his voice clear.

"I know you're not." She reached out and took one of his hands into hers, pleased that he didn't flinch from her touch. "But you have the same chance I did. You can make a real life for yourself."

"I have nothing," he mumbled, shoulders drooped, head hanging low.

"You have more than you think," Buffy replied, pulling his hand onto her lap. "You have your friend Nina. She went halfway across the world and back looking for me because she was so worried about you. And you have Dawn. When I told her about what happened she was so upset and wanted to come with me. You have the rest of the gang. Even Xander helped me try to find you. And you have me. We all care about you, Angel."

Angel didn't respond. There was nothing he could say to her claims. He did have all those people, but he'd also lost so many that were important to him.

"And you have your humanity." Buffy took his silence as her cue to go on. "I know it doesn't seem like it, but you've been given a gift no other vampire has ever been given. You took a horrible situation and turned it to good by fighting evil, and now you've been rewarded."

"I don't deserve it," he rasped.

"Don't you?" she shot back.

"No," Angel snapped, yanking his hand from hers. "I let them all die!"

"You didn't ~let~ them die," she corrected, turning her body to face him. "They knew the risks of being part of this life. They knew they could die any day."

"You can't save everyone, Angel. It sucks. Trust me, I know, but it's the truth." She once again took his hand into hers. "I tried so hard for so long to save everyone; my classmates, my Mom, Tara, Anya. All of them. But it's just not possible."

"They shouldn't have died," he choked out in a half-sob.

"No, they shouldn't have, and neither should Tara or Anya or any of the others, but that's not your fault and it's not my fault," she reassured. "They chose to fight knowing they could die."

"But I-."

"Angel," she said, unclasping her hand with his and reaching both of her hands to cup his face. "What would have happened if you spent all your time trying to protect them? You'd be dead, most likely, and Wolfram & Hart would still be spreading evil around the world. You, all of you, managed to stop them and make the world a better place. They would be happy knowing they were part of that."

"I should have died with them," he whispered.

"But you didn't," she spoke just as softly, wiping at the solitary tear that fell down Angel's cheek. "You survived, and whoever is in charge of this freaky world we live in saw all that you sacrificed. They've given you a chance for a life outside of all the darkness. Don't you think that Wes, Gunn, Fred and everybody would want you to take that chance? Don't you think they'd be happy for you?"

"They were my friends." A sob tore from his throat as he spoke the words; long held tears finally being released from their prison.

Buffy fought to contain her own tears at the sight of Angel letting go of all the pain pent up inside of him. She pulled him into her arms, laying his head in her lap, and rocking him gently as he cried for the people that he'd lost. It tore at her heart to see him so broken, but she knew he needed this. He would never be able to heal until he accepted the past and dealt with what happened.

"I never got to say goodbye," Angel croaked, his tears falling down and wetting Buffy's shorts. "I never got to tell them how much they meant to me."

A thought occurred to Buffy as she heard his words but she filed it away for later use. "They knew, Angel. Just because you don't say something doesn't mean they didn't know it. You took care of them, gave them a place in this world. They knew you loved them like family."

A few minutes passed with Angel continuing to cry for the friends he'd never see again. Buffy remained silent, her hands trailing through Angel's hair in a soothing manner. She wished there was something she could do to ease his pain, but she knew from experience that there wasn't. All she could do was be there for him.

When his tears slowly ceased, Buffy looked down at his tired eyes and requested softly, "tell me about them."

He didn't comply right away, and Buffy wasn't sure he was going to but then he spoke; detailing the lives of the people who had been closest to him the past few years. Buffy listened intently, still stroking his hair, as he began.

Wesley came first. She learned about how he'd become a part of Angel's team. He told her about how Wes changed over the years, losing the stuffiness he'd once had. She heard, for the first time, about the prophecy detailing Angel's Shanshu, and though she was angry, Buffy held back, knowing that now wasn't the time to deal with that issue. So she let him continue and heard about Darla's return and Connor, more issues to be dealt with later, and then Wes' betrayal that resulted in the loss of Angel's son. He finished with Wes' return to the fold and then the move to Wolfram & Hart where the former Watcher was in his prime dealing with all the texts.

Gunn came next; a street kid fighting vampires on his own with his 'gang'. Buffy hadn't known anything about him before, but Angel filled in the blanks. He explained Gunn's reluctance to trust a vampire and his eventual friendship. She found out that Gunn had once been involved with Fred but that it hadn't lasted. And she learned about the changes he went through after the take-over of Wolfram & Hart.

On and on Angel went. Buffy kept listening as he spoke about Fred, the shy girl sucked into another dimension and rescued by Angel and the others. And also about Lorne, the tackily dressed, green skinned demon who could read the souls of people when they sang. Angel even talked about Doyle and Cordelia, two who had been lost years earlier. All the while, Buffy just listened.

By the time he finished, night had long since fallen and Buffy could tell Angel was exhausted. "You need to get some sleep," she spoke faintly, running her thumb across his cheek.

Angel didn't answer or make any attempt to move so Buffy gently urged him to his feet. She kept his hand in hers as she led him to the house and then into his bedroom. Not bothering to try and get him changed into more comfortable clothes, she just eased him down onto the bed. When she turned to leave, she was stopped by Angel's tired voice.

"Stay...just...stay with me. Please."

"Okay."

Giving him a small smile, Buffy climbed onto the bed and sat with her back resting against the headboard. She didn't move when he shifted over and again rested his head on her lap.

"Thank you...for being here," he mumbled before drifting off into sleep.

Buffy waited for several minutes after she felt his breathing even out. Once she was sure he was asleep she carefully lifted his head and placed it onto one of the pillows and soundlessly crawled out of the bed. She tiptoed out of the room, closing the door behind her, and walked down to her room.

Retrieving her cell phone from the top of the dresser, she quickly dialed a familiar number.

"Hey Will. I've got a huge project for you."

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 6
^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

It's taken me all my anger
And taken me all of my hate
To learn how my life came together
Releasing the demons......again

Angel glanced down at his watch, barely lit by the soft moonlight, and saw that it was almost two in the morning. He knew he should be sleeping, but he was restless. His body and mind still seemed to be set to their old activities of long nights battling demons. That life was over, though. He was no longer Angel, vampire with a soul, and Warrior for The Powers That Be. Now he was just Angel; your everyday regular Joe. Okay, well, maybe not that regular, but still an average human.

Every instinct in his mind and body told him he didn't deserve his humanity. As a human before he'd been a drunken lout. Then as a vampire his viciousness rivaled no other. Even when his soul was restored he spent almost one hundred years drifting from place to place and never really doing more than an occasional good deed. It wasn't until Buffy came into his life that he tried to become someone that mattered. What did that say about him? What did that say about his right to be human again?

He'd had a lot of time to think about that question during the past week since reading the last of Buffy's Slayer Diaries. One thing she'd said to him more than once stuck out in his mind; about how the Powers wouldn't have given him this gift if they didn't believe he really deserved it. Was she right? Yes, it was true a higher power had deemed him worthy of his humanity, but that didn't stop the doubts, the guilt, and the hurt.

No matter what his thoughts were on the subject, it didn't change the fact that he was now human. He couldn't give it back this time. If he could and get his friends back in return would he? Yes, in a second. But then if his friends lived and he remained a vampire would that have changed the outcome of the battle with Wolfram & Hart? Would it be fair to leave the evil conglomerate to menace the world some more simply to save his friends?

So many questions and so many ways to play out the situations, yet there seemed to be no way for him to win. No matter how he tried to change it all in his mind, though, it didn't change what had already occurred. His friends were dead, Wolfram & Hart was destroyed, and he was human. Those were the facts plain and simple.

What was he supposed to do with his life now? He'd been content to waste away his remaining years wallowing in his guilt, but then she'd shown up. Back when he was a vampire lurking in the shadows she'd become a beacon of light in his dark world and now she was the voice of reason trying to break through the solid line of defense he'd built against his humanity.

Angel didn't want to admit it, but she was succeeding. Bit by bit she was managing to tear down the walls he'd erected. He hadn't wanted to let her in, but her persistence in saving him was unwavering despite how badly he treated her when she first arrived. It was nice, though, to be able to talk to someone and not have to worry about them judging you.

Turning away from the window, he peeked over to the bed where Buffy was sleeping soundly. He didn't know what he was doing in her room. Old habits died hard, he supposed. Even after all these years he still loved to watch her sleep. She looked so serene and beautiful that he couldn't help but smile slightly.

For a moment, Angel let his mind wonder to what his life would have been like if she'd never come into it. He'd probably still be feeding off rats and hiding in alleys if it hadn't been for Whistler taking him to see Buffy when she was Called. Her innocence and purity drew him into her world and he was forever lost, or maybe he should say found. Whatever the case, she'd changed his life immensely.

"Are you going to stand there all night?" Angel was startled to hear her soft voice speak all of a sudden.

"What?" he squeaked, head whipping back to Buffy where he saw her open eyes staring at him.

"You've been standing there for ages," she said, sitting up slightly in her bed.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean...I'm sorry," he mumbled, embarrassed.

"It's okay," she told him with a smile on her face. "Come here."

Angel looked at her in confusion. "What?"

Moving over on the bed and pulling back the covers, she patted the mattress. "Come on."

"No...I shouldn't," he spoke, backing away a foot.

"Angel," she said sternly and gave him a pointed look. "Get in."

He didn't move for a second and then shuffled to the bed, knowing she wasn't going to let him get away. After pulling off his shoes he climbed underneath the covers making sure to leave plenty of room between him and Buffy. As much as he wanted to feel her body pressed against his, he knew it wasn't appropriate.

Buffy, herself, was tempted to scoot over and lay her head on his chest, but she, too, knew it wasn't the time for that. Instead, she turned onto her side and faced Angel. His face looked tired and worn under the pale glow of the moonlight and she wished she could just erase all the sorrow from his life. He deserved so much more than the endless suffering he seemed to be always subjected to.

"You're tired," she whispered, tucking her hand under her head.

"It's hard to sleep," Angel answered as he shifted onto his side to face Buffy.

"Yeah." She smiled sympathetically at his admission. Lives like the ones they'd lived often made sleep a plague instead of a time for happy dreams. That was something she understood well. "After the final battle with The First I had trouble sleeping for weeks. Every time I closed my eyes I would see it all over again. Dawn used to stay up with me and tell me stories about us growing up."

"Tell me one," Angel murmured, reaching out to tuck a strand of Buffy's hair behind her ear.

"Tell you one what?" she asked.

"A story," he elaborated, pulling his hand away from her before it began to wander.

"What kind of story?" she prodded him further, happy that he was reaching out to her.

"Any kind," he answered in a half-yawn.

Buffy thought for a minute, trying to come up with a story to tell him. She opted for something light and fun. A dark, tragic tale wasn't something he needed.

"One time, when Dawn was about five she...," Buffy began and then regaled him with the story about how Dawn had decided to 'paint' her room purple using crayons.

Half way through the second tale she'd started telling him, Angel was sound asleep. Buffy didn't mind, though. He needed to get an actual full night's sleep especially when considering what she had planned for tomorrow. She just hoped it went off okay and that he wouldn't get upset with her for what she'd done.

Despite her worries for the events that would occur the next day, she was relieved at the progress she'd made so far. The past week, since their talk in the back yard, had been better than her first few days with Angel. He was reluctantly starting to accept his new life and that was really all she could ask for right now. It would take him a long time to heal the non-physical wounds opened by the death of his friends and the subsequent return of his humanity.

He was beginning to heal, at least a little bit. They'd spent the last week mostly talking about anything and everything. She'd told him about her life since Sunnydale was destroyed and he'd told her more about his life in LA and taking over Wolfram & Hart. And as hard as it had been, they had also talked about the touchy subjects neither of them quite wanted to broach: Spike, Cordelia, Darla, Connor, and a certain day she'd never before known about. It was liberating, exhausting, and an up and down emotional roller coaster.

Through the hurt feelings and flared tempers an openness was found that had always previously eluded them. There had always been so many secrets between them; so many things left unsaid, but now there was only openness. As painful as it was to dredge up so many things in their pasts, it was beneficial to both of them. Still, she didn't like hearing about his one night affair with Darla, the mysterious child, and his...whatever...with Cordelia.

Yawning, Buffy pushed her thoughts out of her head. She needed to get some sleep as well or she'd end up sleepwalking through what she had planned for tomorrow.

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

The next day Buffy waited until early afternoon before deciding to suggest to Angel that they should 'go for a walk'. She didn't think she'd have much trouble because he'd been better about such things. Over the past week she had been able to convince him to go on a couple strolls around town during the day and also out to dinner one night. He wasn't all that comfortable going out in public or during the daylight hours, but he was trying. So she hoped he would be agreeable today or her plans would be ruined.

Moving through the house in search of Angel, Buffy found him sitting in the living room reading some book that looked to be older than her. She idly wondered what he could possibly find so interesting about old books. They bored her to tears.

"Hey!" she chirped lightly, plopping down on the arm of the chair Angel was sitting in. "Want to go for a walk?"

Angel finished reading the paragraph he was on and then warily looked up at Buffy. "Not really."

"Oh come on! You said we could go up on top of the cliffs sometime when it wasn't raining. Well, it isn't raining today," she pointed out with a nod to the open window.

"Buffy," he sighed in resignation.

"I won't take no for an answer." She stood up, grabbed his arm and yanked him out of the chair. "Get your coat. It'll probably be windy!"

Seeing no way around this, Angel set his book down on the coffee table and then trudged to his room to get his jacket. He contemplated looking for somewhere to hide but he knew she'd find him somehow. The sooner they left, he supposed, the sooner they could get back.

Fifteen minutes later they were nearing the spot Buffy had been secretly steering them towards. It was on the outskirts of town and on top of an incline that overlooked the ocean. She had managed to sneak away from Angel and scout it out a few days earlier and was glad to see that although it was an open area there weren't any houses nearby.

Turning left, Buffy started walking up a pebbled walkway that wove its way through a wooded area. She glanced behind her once to make sure that Angel was following. He was better than he had been, but sometimes she still expected him to disappear on her. Thankfully, he was still silently trailing a few feet behind her.

Soon, she could see the edge of the clearing ahead and knew they were almost at their destination. "Well, here goes nothing," she muttered under her breath.

"What?" Angel asked, thinking he had heard her say something.

"Oh, I, uh, just said we're almost there," Buffy stuttered out a lie.

When she reached the top of the trail she stopped and waited for Angel to catch up to her. He did within seconds and came to a stand beside her. It took him a minute to realize her gaze was cast straight out in front of him. Wondering what had caught her attention, he looked in the same direction and was utterly shocked at what he saw.

There, standing in the middle of the field, was everyone he'd come to know over the past ten years or so: Giles, Willow, Xander, Dawn, Faith, and Nina. Utter shock didn't even begin to describe what he was feeling. He had no idea what they were doing there or what was going on.

"Buffy?" he spoke in an unsure voice.

She gave him a gentle smile and held out her hand to him. He took it hesitantly and let her lead him across the clearing toward the group of people who were apparently waiting for them. They all smiled nervously at him as he and Buffy approached and Angel felt his confusion growing.

"What's going on?" he asked when they were almost to the gathering.

Nobody answered him. Instead the group parted revealing a medium sized stone behind them. Brow furrowed, he stepped toward it and let out a gasp when he saw a bronze plaque on top. Reaching out to touch it, he read the words engraved in flowing script.

"Wesley Wyndam-Price
Charles Gunn
Winifred Burkle
Lorne
Spike
Harmony Kendall
Cordelia Chase
Alan Francis Doyle

True friends are never forgotten."

Tears in his eyes, Angel lifted them to look at Buffy. "You did this?" he asked hoarsely.

"Yeah. I did it for you, and for them," she answered and nodded at the plaque. "They deserve to be remembered."

"Thank you," he whispered, trailing his fingers over the names of the people who meant so much to him.

"Angel?" Willow spoke up, the first of the group to say anything. "We, uh, wanted to do a memory box to bury next to it, but unfortunately pretty much everything at Wolfram & Hart was destroyed. We put this together, though, with Nina's help." She took a flat looking object from Xander and handed it to Angel.

Taking deep breath, Angel looked down at the object. It was a picture frame that held three photographs. In the center was a group picture taken not long after the take over of Wolfram & Hart. On the right side was a picture of Cordelia, and on the left side was a picture of Doyle. They were all there, his friends and family, staring back at him in full color.

The group watched Angel with sad smiles on their faces as he studied the images of his deceased friends. Realizing he needed some time alone to remember the people he loved, they walked a little ways away, offering their silent support from a distance.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 7
^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Facin' the days as I grow into my own
Loving and hating's the same
And three-fold I told you
It comes back with laughter
Over and over again
It's coming back

One month after first arriving in Ireland, Buffy was sitting out on the back porch of the house enjoying the beautiful weather. It wasn't too hot and it wasn't too cold, and there were just enough clouds in the sky to keep the sun from being overwhelming. There were birds chirping nearby and a light breeze blowing over her body. The whole atmosphere was truly serene.

She wondered where Angel was. He had gone out a few hours earlier to get some groceries for the house and wasn't yet back. She assumed he decided to stroll around town; something he'd been doing often lately. Ever since the memorial for his friends he'd seemed more at peace with himself. Things weren't perfect yet, but he was beginning to live life again.

The tribute had gone off better than she hoped it would. Angel finally had a chance to say goodbye to his friends and accept their deaths. It had also given him an opportunity to see that there were still people who cared about him. The others had been so supportive, even Xander. It was a moving experience not just for Angel, but for all of them.

After burying the photo in a metal box by the plaque they had talked for a little bit and then Angel had surprised them all by saying they should go out to dinner. She knew it wasn't easy for him. He wasn't a social person by nature, but it was good for him to interact with others. It was another step closer to putting his life back together.

"Hey."

Buffy jumped at the unexpected voice and gazed up through the glare from the sun to see Angel standing next to her. She'd been so lost in her thoughts that she hadn't even noticed him approach. If Giles were there he'd have a thing or two to say about being observant.

"Hey. You're back." She smiled at him as he sat down against the edge of the house next to her.

"Sorry I took so long. I stopped at the book store first," he explained.

She rolled her eyes and chuckled at the excuse. "That's okay."

"What were you thinking about?" he asked, cocking his head at her.

"Nothing really. I was just enjoying the weather," she answered with a shrug.

"Yeah, it is nice here," Angel agreed whole-heartedly.

Buffy pondered her next statement for a moment before speaking. "Is that why you came here?"

"Somewhat," he replied, feeling a little uncomfortable. "This is near where my life started longer ago than I'd like to remember and..."

"This is where you wanted it to end?" she finished for him.

"Yeah," he mumbled, looking down.

Nodding at his answer, she rested her head back against the siding of the house. "Is that what you want, Angel? Do you want your life to end here...now?"

"No...I...I don't know." And he didn't know. He still had no idea what his place in life was now that he wasn't a Warrior for the Powers.

"It scares you doesn't it?" she asked, turning her head towards him.

"What does?"

"Having your whole life ahead of you and not knowing what to do with it," Buffy clarified.

Angel sighed at her perceptiveness. "It's hard. I've been fighting for so long and now I have nothing."

"You don't have nothing," she disagreed. "You can do anything you want now. There's nothing to tie you down."

"That's the problem," he pointed out. "I always had a purpose and now I've got nothing."

"You just have to find something new. You always liked to draw. Maybe you could be an artist," she proposed, understanding his dilemma. When you spend so much of your life being one thing it's hard to imagine being something else. "And you know Giles would kill to have someone with your knowledge and experience helping out with the Council and the Slayers."

"He would?" he questioned in surprise.

"Angel," she said, bemused. "He practically offered you a job at dinner that night."

"Oh. Yeah," he said quietly.

Buffy shuffled her body around to sit in front of him and took one of his hands into hers. "It takes time, Angel. You're not going to find all the answers right away. You've got time to figure everything out and try new things. That's what life is all about, and you got me and the others here to help you along."

Smiling gratefully, Angel gave Buffy a tug so that she was sitting along side of him, leaning against his body. He wrapped an arm around her, hugging her close. "Thank you. For everything. If it wasn't for you I'd probably be dead right now."

"You're welcome," she replied, hugging him back. "You'd do the same for me."

"I would," he told her. "And I'm sorry I wasn't there for you after you came back."

"It's okay. That's all in the past," she answered firmly.

They sat in silence for a few minutes before Angel spoke again. "So what are we going to do tomorrow?"

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

A few days later, Angel entered the house after spending a couple hours sketching the scenery in the backyard. He set his paper and pencils down onto the kitchen table and then went to find Buffy. He wanted to see if she wanted to go out to dinner that evening. Roaming through the house, he could hear her voice coming from the direction of her bedroom.

Stopping in the doorway he could see that she was talking on her cell phone. He was torn over whether to give her privacy or wait for her to finish. Before he could make up his mind, he heard her next sentence and felt his heart drop.

"Dawnie, of course I'll be there. I promised I would."

Angel felt like his feet were glued to the ground as he listened to her talk to her sister about what he assumed was her leaving.

"Yeah...my flight should arrive in Philly around six at night....you're going to pick me up right?...cool. And don't forget to make sure there's enough gas in the car this time!...okay...I'll call you tomorrow...love you...bye."

Hanging up the phone, Buffy tossed it onto her bed. It was then that she noticed Angel standing there staring at her. "Oh, hey. I, uh, didn't see you there."

"You're leaving?" Angel drove right to the point.

"Yes," she admitted, knowing this wasn't going to go well.

"Why?" he asked, fighting the urge to beg her to stay.

"I told you how Dawn is majoring in journalism. Well, this article she wrote is going to be given an award at a banquet and I promised her that I'd be there," she explained. It was the truth, but not all of it. She didn't quite know how to tell him that it was time for her to leave. He was becoming dependant on her and she knew that he had to learn to be on his own.

"Oh. So you're coming back after?" he inquired hopefully.

Setting down the bag she'd retrieved from the closet, Buffy walked over to Angel. She didn't want to say what she was about to say, but she had to. "No, I'm not."

"What?" he gasped, his heart pounding in his chest.

"I'm going to be staying in Philadelphia," she said bluntly.

"Oh, okay," Angel mumbled, shoulders drooping. Without saying another word, he turned and left the room.

Buffy contemplated going after him and talking it out, but she left him be. It wasn't that she didn't want to stay. She wished she could. In the long run, though, it would do him no good to always have her around to guide him. But she understood his hurt. She'd felt the same way when Giles had done it to her years before. Hopefully someday he would understand why she was leaving and not coming back. And it wasn't like she was abandoning him completely. There were such things as phones after all.

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

Early Thursday morning Buffy walked into the living room and set down her suitcases. She went through a mental checklist to make sure she'd remembered to pack all of her stuff. Going through her carry-on bag she checked to see if she had her tickets. They were tucked away in the inner pocket where she'd put them the night before.

The beep of a horn from outside alerted Buffy that her taxi had arrived to take her to the airport. Opening the door, she yelled out to the driver that she'd be ready in a minute. It would cost her a few bucks to have him wait for her, but she was hoping to speak to Angel before she left. He'd pretty much ignored her since he found out she was leaving. She couldn't blame him, but she didn't want to leave things as they were.

Just as she was about to go search him out, Buffy saw Angel walk through the hall and come to a stop a foot into the living room. The frown on his face told her he was still upset with her. He eyed her bags and then her for a few seconds before finally speaking.

"So you're leaving."

"I have to," she replied sadly.

"No. You can come back after Dawn's thing," he responded in a determined voice.

"I can't, Angel. I just...can't," she whispered, tears threatening to fall.

"But I love you," he choked out.

Buffy nearly melted at hearing those three little words. She wanted to throw herself at him and stay forever, but she just couldn't. It wasn't right.

"Angel," she started, walking up to him. "I love you, too. I hope you know that. I'll always love you, but I can't stay."

"Why?" he asked, reaching out to cup her face with his hand.

"Because I can't be your crutch, Angel," she explained, placing a hand on top of his. "You have stand on your own and figure out what you want out of life. If I'm here you won't be able to do that."

"Yes, I will," he refuted her claim.

"No, you won't," she disagreed, stroking his hand with her thumb. "You have to figure things out on your own."

Unable to stop herself, Buffy pulled his head down to hers and kissed him softly. The feel of his lips set her body on fire and she could have easily lost herself in him quickly. She let the kiss linger for a few seconds before breaking the embrace.

"You'll do fine. I know you will," she said softly, caressing his cheek. "And I'm only a phone call away if you need me."

Backing away before she was no longer able to, she moved over to her bags and loaded them onto her shoulders. Her eyes met Angel's and she wanted to cry over the look in then. It broke her heart, but she knew she was doing the right thing.

"I'll miss you," Angel whispered when he realized he wouldn't be able to change her mind.

"I'll miss you, too," she said, giving him a trembling smile as she approached the door that would take her away from him. Before she opened it, she turned and spoke again, needing to say one more thing.

"When you're ready, I'll be there."

It's taken me all my anger
And taken me all of my hate
To learn how my life came together
Releasing the demons again

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


THE END!!