Until I Cry

by Isis FG

Feedback: vagabond_angel@comcast.net

Disclaimer: don't own 'em, and I don't make any profit off my fics

Rating: R (language)
Pairing: B/A, some W/O
Summary: post-Chosen - Buffy disappeared after 'Chosen'.  Where?  And why?
Spoilers: anything is fair game

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: This fic was written for Rachel for the B/A Angstathon arranged by Jade.
Requests : Oz to come back and steal willow.
Restrictions: No mention of Cordelia please.

AN2: For the purpose of this fic, some changes to AtS s5 have been made for simplicity's sake. In general, s5 occurred as it did on the show BUT...Spike never came back, Cordy still died, and Nina is only Angel's friend. Other changes will come up during the fic.

AN3:  Lyrics are from the song 'Rise' by Disturbed off their album Prayer.

Warnings: well, since this is for an Angstathon, there's gonna be angst *g*, a few bad words too


===<>====<>===
           Part 1
===<>====<>===

Rise
Throw away - the charade of your life
Let the flame of my heart
Burn away - your complacence tonight
I command you to rise
Wash away - the decay of your life
Feel the light of your eyes
Find the way - through the darkness tonight
Fearing no one

May - 2003

Angel had always been a patient man, or rather vampire.  It's just a quality that develops once you've been in existence for over two hundred and forty years.  Time begins to lack meaning after the first hundred.  After the second hundred, a day can seem like an hour, or a week.  At least there were such things as wrist watches and calendars to help keep track of the passing of days.

One particular wrist watch, the one on Angel's arm, had been getting an immense amount of attention the past twenty four hours.  Each minute that passed without the phone ringing, or the front door to the Hyperion opening, made him more anxious and flat out terrified.  He just wanted something to happen; anything to calm his fluttering nerves.

Thirty-three hours, and seventeen minutes had passed since he had returned from Sunnydale, and his mind had been on nothing but a certain blonde Slayer and the battle she was facing.  He didn't know all of what was going on in his former home, but from what Buffy had told him, and from reading Wolfram & Hart's files, he knew it was extremely bad; end-of-the-world type stuff.  As much as he tried to deny it, he knew there was a chance that it would end badly, or more precisely, that Buffy would die. again.  That was the reason why Angel could not seem to stop glancing at his watch every five minutes

He hoped that she would call him when it was over.  Better yet, he hoped that she would come to him and let him know all was well.  There was so much he wanted to tell her.  He had wanted to do it in Sunnydale, but with an impending apocalypse, there just wasn't time to delve into personal issues.

Never had it been more clear to him than it had that night in the cemetery that so much, too much, had been left unsaid between them.  Once upon a time, they had been so close that he had sometimes been unsure where he ended and she began.  But now, it was like he was looking into the face of time-worn stranger, and not one of a bubbly, smiling young girl. That needed to change.  He hated the distance that now existed between them.  He wasn't na´ve to the impossibilities of a relationship between them, but just because they could never be together didn't mean that they had to cut off all contact.  Did it?  No.  There were such things as letters, and phone calls to keep in touch.  Sure, it would be painful to have contact with her without having complete closeness, but anything was better than knowing absolutely nothing.

More than anything, Angel was tired of losing people he cared about.  Connor, Cordy, Doyle, they were all gone.  He didn't want to completely lose Buffy too.  They needed to have a serious talk when she finally arrived, or called.  It was time to reevaluate some of the choices they had both made.  If her haggard eyes were any indication, he knew that life apart hadn't been treating her too well, and his own life was a mess.  Maybe they could take some comfort in at least having contact with each other.

Of course, this was all contingent on her making it through the battle.  But Angel wasn't even going to consider the possibility that she might die even though it was an entirely likely outcome.  She would survive.  He just knew she would.

The opening of the front door startled Angel out of his extensive brooding and he jerked his head upwards.  Relief flooded through him as he saw Willow slowly walk into the lobby.  His eyes didn't linger on the redhead long, though.  He kept staring at the door waiting for her to enter.

The door never opened again.

"Willow?" he asked in a shaky voice.

===<>====<>===

March - 2006

With a loud sigh, Angel slowly descended the stairs of the Hyperion that led down to the lobby.  The hotel was strangely quiet for a Wednesday night.  There were usually plenty of people around to cause enough of a racket that it got on his nerves so he wasn't quite upset to be greeted by silence. 

With Wolfram & Hart out of the picture, he had reopened Angel Investigations and moved back to the Hyperion.  Gunn had been the only one to join him on a permanent basis.  For a while, Illyria had stayed, but eventually she had grown restless and left to explore the world.  The last thing Angel had heard, she was in Australia.  As for the rest of his crew...well, there wasn't any rest.  With Wesley's and Cordelia's deaths, and Lorne's departure, it was just him and Gunn now...along with the others.

After the final battle in Sunnydale, the Hyperion had become home to many of the remaining Scoobies, at least temporarily.  Faith and Robin still lived there, as did Willow.  Giles had a room that he stayed in whenever he wasn't off searching for Slayers or working on rebuilding the Council.  And Xander and Dawn visited often.  So the silence inside the building was rather unusual.

As he walked through the lobby, Angel tried to remember where everyone was.  He thought Gunn had said something about going to see Anne over at the shelter, but he had no idea where anyone else was.  It wasn't like they had to tell him where they were every second of the day, but he couldn't help but worry about their safety when they weren't with him.

Turning the corner to go behind the large desk, Angel nearly jumped out of his skin when he found himself almost tripping over Willow.  He grabbed the counter to steady himself and glared down at the redheaded witch.  She was sprawled out on the floor with about five books surrounding her, reading intently.

"Willow, you do have your own room," he pointed out, taking a seat on top of one of the desks.

"I know, but I didn't feel like lugging these books upstairs," she answered, not bothering to look up from her reading.

Angel shook his head and chuckled slightly.  "I would have carried them up for you," he offered.

"That's okay," she shrugged, finally tearing her eyes off the pages.  "Then I'd only have to get them back down here again."

"What are you reading anyway?" he asked, trying to remember if there was a demon problem they were supposed to be researching.

"Oh, they are Giles' journals he wrote about...that he wrote," she said hesitantly, refraining from saying the forbidden B-word.

His body stiffened instantly at the unspoken end to the sentence.  He knew without her saying so what exactly she was reading.  Clenching and unclenching his hands, Angel's eyes closed as he tried to brush off the wave of emotions threatening to surface.

"Oh," he mumbled.

"So...I've been researching this spell on how to enchant stakes with the essence of holy water," she quickly changed the subject knowing it was best to keep Angel's mind off certain subjects.

"That's...interesting," mused Angel distractedly.  "I guess it could be helpful in injuring vamps if you miss the heart."

"You always sit around talking to yourself?" a new voice spoke up, startling Angel for the second time in the past few minutes.  He looked up in surprise at the person standing on the other side of the desk.

"Oz?"

"Hey," the werewolf greeted.

"Uhh...hi," Angel stuttered out, his eyes glancing down at the shocked witch still on the floor.  "I was, uh, talking to..."

"Willow," Oz filled in when the redhead stood and revealed herself.

"Oz!" she squeaked, then quickly raced around the counter and hugged her former boyfriend tightly.

"It's good to see you, too," he spoke softly into her ear.

"What are you doing here?" Willow exclaimed, pulling herself off Oz as a blush crept over her face at her exuberant actions.

"Looking for you," he answered simply.  "I went to Sunnydale, but it looks kinda different from the last time I was there."

"Oh...yeah...that," she said sheepishly.  "That was kinda our fault."

"You took out a whole town?" he asked curiously.

"Not on purpose!  It was just sorta a side effect," Willow explained, pulling Oz over to sit on the odd circular couch in the middle of the lobby.  "It's so good to see you."

"You too," Oz agreed with a sincere semi-smile.

"What have you been up to?" she asked, pulling her legs up underneath her to get comfortable.

"Mostly just touring with my new band," he said, shrugging slightly.  Pausing, Oz glanced over toward Angel who was pouring himself a cup of coffee.  "I ran into Buffy a few weeks ago," he added on, almost unsure of whether he should say it or not.

A loud crash followed the stoic werewolf's revelation.  Both Oz's and Willow's eyes snapped to Angel, who was standing perfectly still, and whose coffee mug was no longer in his hand, but rather splattered all over the marble floor in front of him.  He said nothing for a moment, then quickly shook himself out of his daze.

"Sorry," Angel mumbled, bending over to clean up the mess he made.

Willow thought for a second before deciding to speak.  "You saw Buffy?"

"Yeah."  Oz nodded, looking strangely at Angel because of his behavior.  "The band was touring in Toronto.  Just ran into her one night."

"Toronto?" Willow repeated with a frown.

"Yeah," Oz said slowly.  His eyes went from Willow then to Angel, silently wondering what this was all about.

"Oh," was all Willow said in response.

No one spoke for several minutes as Angel scurried around trying to clean up the spilt coffee and broken mug.  After wiping up the last of it, he shoved his hands in his pockets and paced to one side of the room.  Turning, he faced Oz, opened his mouth to speak, but then quickly closed it. 

Oz glanced at Willow, hoping she'd give him some idea what was going on, but she merely shrugged and looked away.  So instead, Oz watched as Angel paced back behind the main counter and then stopped again.  This time, Angel finally did speak, but he kept his back facing the others in the room when he did so.

"How was she?" Angel managed to utter.

"She seemed...okay," Oz responded, hoping that was the right answer to give.

"Good," bit out Angel.  He then promptly stalked across the lobby and up the stairs without saying another word.

After hearing a door slam on the second floor, Oz looked at Willow.  "What was all that about?"

"It's a long story," she replied, sighing loudly before settling into the couch to tell Oz the long version of the never-ending drama that was Buffy & Angel.

===<>====<>===

Out on the balcony of his room, Angel stared tensely down at the busy streets of Los Angeles.  His jaw clenched, the muscles clenching as a tight frown formed on his face.

"She seems okay," he snorted, repeating to himself Oz's words.  "Nice to know."

He kicked at the iron railing, rattling it enough to send the pot of Geraniums that had been sitting on the edge of the balcony hurtling to the ground below.  Oh well, he thought.  He hadn't liked that plant anyway.

Stomping back into his room, Angel went over to his nightstand and opened the top drawer.  He dug through the mess inside until he found what he was looking for; a well-worn photograph.  It was the only one of HER he had.

Angel stared hard at the picture, his forehead heavily creased from scowling.  His mind drifted back to nearly three years earlier when Willow had shown up alone at the Hyperion.

"Willow?" he asked in a shaky voice.

The redhead averted her eyes, shuffling further into the lobby and away from the over anxious vampire.  Angel would have none of it.  He was in front of her in the blink of an eye, grabbing harshly at her arms.

"Where's Buffy?" he snapped nervously, his heart filling with dread.  Surely he would have felt it if something happened to her... if she had not made it.  Wouldn't he have?  Or had time dulled their connection that much?

"She's...she's fine," Willow mumbled, still avoiding looking directly at Angel.

"Willow!" Angel yelled, shaking the witch.  "Where.Is.Buffy?"

"I don't know," she finally answered.

"What?" he snapped at her.

"I don't know where she is," Willow repeated.

"Willow."

"She took off, Angel," she said softly, finally raising her eyes to meet his.

"What do you mean 'she took off'?" he prodded.

Willow sighed, rubbing at the back of her neck in hope of relieving some of the tension.  She pulled away from Angel and walked over to the couch.  Sitting down, she looked back up at him, knowing he was going to be hurt by what she had to say.

"We stayed in a hotel just outside of LA last night," she began to explain.  "When we got up this morning, she was gone."

"Gone?" he parroted, thoroughly in shock.  How could she just be gone?

"Yeah."  Willow nodded.  "All her stuff was missing and the clerk said she checked out before sunrise."

"I...I don't understand," Angel sputtered in confusion.  What was going on?  Buffy would never up and leave her friends and family like that.

"We don't either," she said with a shake of her head.

"Did she... did she say anything about leaving?" he wanted to know.

"No.  She said goodnight to us the night before and went to bed.  Then she was gone," Willow told him.  She hesitated a second before adding, "She left a note."

"What did it say?" Angel quickly asked.

Mutely, Willow pulled a wrinkled piece of paper out from her pocket and handed it to Angel.  He took it with a trembling hand, afraid of what it would say, and afraid of what it wouldn't say.

"You're probably wondering what's going on, and where I am.  I'm sorry.  I just can't do this anymore.

 

Giles, please look after Dawn.  She needs someone who can take care of her.

 

Please don't be mad at me.

 

Buffy."

That was it.  That was the last he'd heard of Buffy since that day, well, other than the recounting of the battle with The First from Willow, Giles, and the others.  She'd just up and disappeared that night and no one had heard from her since.

To say he'd been hurt was an understatement.  She hadn't bothered to contact him, or to even leave a personalized note to him to let him know she was okay.  Hadn't he meant more to her than to deserve that treatment?  What did it mean that she'd not spoken to him, or taken the time since then to let him know she was still alive?

Angel knew what it meant.  It meant that she obviously didn't care about him anymore.  If she still cared at all she wouldn't have just vanished without talking to him or at least leaving him a letter.  But no, there were no letters, no phone calls, no nothing.  As they say, actions speak louder than words, and her actions screamed of disinterest.

He wondered for a long time afterwards how he could have misinterpreted their last meeting in Sunnydale.  He was sure then that she still cared.  After all, she'd kissed him with a fire that he'd dearly missed.  Obviously, he'd somehow managed to get their signals crossed if she could just nonchalantly forget about his existence and disappear into the night.  He was a fool, that's what he was.  And now, after almost three years had passed, Oz shows up with news that he'd seen Buffy.  And that she was okay.  Angel snorted indignantly.  She was probably off living it up somewhere, laughing at how stupid they all were.

Well, he'd had enough of that.  He wanted answers.  And he was going to get them.

Standing abruptly, Angel stormed over to his closet, yanking out his suitcase.  It was time to get to the bottom of this.

===<>====<>===
           Part 2
===<>====<>===

Do you really think I covet like you do?
Come, take me away
Remove the fear from my eyes
Feel the flame of my heart
Burning away - All conversation tonight
Hearing no one
Am I precious to you now?

Finding Buffy didn't take Angel long once he arrived in Toronto, thanks in large part to the information Oz provided.  His first stop was to the club where Oz had said he'd seen Buffy, and it turned out to be a good choice.  She arrived there half an hour after he did, and from what he could tell, she worked there.  As a bouncer.  Well, he supposed, it was a logical choice of employment for a Slayer.

He stayed in the shadows, which really wasn't that hard considering he was in a dimly lit, smoky club, but he still worried she'd be able to sense him nearby.  Her actions gave no indication, though, that she knew of his presence.  She hardly seemed to notice anything.  She did her job, and little else.

There were other things about her that stood out to Angel.  Physically, she was a bit thinner, and although not exceedingly so, it was enough that he could notice it.  Her hair, too, was shorter, and even though the club was dark, he noticed it was a few shades lighter than it had been the last time he saw her.  And gone was the stylish clothing, replaced by black pants and a black turtle neck shirt.  On the outside, she resembled little of the Buffy he had known for so long.  He wondered what had brought about the changes in her appearance.

Around midnight, he watched as a young man of medium build walked over toward her.  An instant scowl settled on his face at the thought that the man could be her boyfriend.  He stared intently, wanting to see how she acted around him.  To his surprise, the man simply nodded at Buffy, and then once she had stood from her stool near the door, he sat down on it.

Angel thought maybe her shift was over and that she would leave, but instead she walked over to the bar and sat down on a stool near the end.  She spoke to the bartender for a minute and he handed her a small backpack that appeared to have been stored somewhere behind the counter.  The bartender walked away, returning moments later with a drink in a clear glass, probably something alcoholic.  The drink didn't necessarily surprise Angel, but when Buffy pulled out a pack of Marlboro Ultra Lights from her backpack and lit one of the cigarettes up, he nearly fell off his chair.  Buffy was smoking?

An urge hit him to run over and rip the cigarette from her lips, but he resisted.  He didn't want to give away his presence yet.  Even so, he absolutely hated the idea of her smoking.  Not only was it bad for her health, but it just didn't fit the Buffy that he knew.  She would never have smoked.  The idea that she now did was almost unfathomable.

Buffy remained at the bar for fifteen minutes, during which time Angel saw her consume two drinks, and chain smoke three cigarettes.  After snuffing out the third one, she glanced at her watch, handed her bag back to the bartender, and then returned to the stool by the door she'd been on earlier.  From her actions, Angel assumed that she'd been on a break.

After speaking to one of the waitresses, he was able to learn that the club closed at three a.m. that night.  So fifteen minutes before then, Angel carefully snuck out a side door and stayed in the shadows near the corner of the building so he could see her when she left.  He wasn't sure if she would leave by the front door, or the side door he'd used, but from his position, he could see both and not be standing out in the open.

She didn't exit the building until nearly four.  Angel was suddenly glad he'd slept on the plane; otherwise he'd be dead on his feet.  He followed discreetly behind her as she strode down the sidewalk toward a destination unknown.  If he hadn't been aware of her Slayer status, he wouldn't have been comfortable with her walking alone like this at night.  The club wasn't in the best of neighborhoods so she had not only vamps to worry about, but also the run of the mill criminal.

After about five minutes of walking, Buffy took a left turn and went down an alley.  Angel stopped at the corner and poked his head around the edge.  He watched as she jumped up onto a dumpster, then onto an old, dilapidated, metal firewalk.  Quickly, she disappeared through a window on the second floor.

From the look of the exterior of the building, it appeared to be abandoned, which made Angel wonder what she was doing there.  The only reason he could come up with was that there were vampires inside she was taking out.  His concern for her safety made him want to follow and make sure she wasn't hurt, but he knew she could take care of a few vamps so he waited and stayed where he was.

A half hour passed without Buffy reemerging from the building.  Angel's worry got the better of him and he quietly crept down the alley.  Doing the same as she had, he climbed up onto the dumpster then the metal balcony.  He hesitated for a moment before stepping through the window.  He hadn't expected to find Buffy standing right there, casually leaning against a pillar.

"Took you long enough," she said pointedly, then pushed away from the pillar and walked away from him.

"Uh, yeah," Angel mumbled in confusion.  He was about to say more, but the interior of the building suddenly caught his attention.

The place was Buffy's home, or at least where she stayed.  That much he could tell for sure.  He didn't know what the building had been when it was being used, but he would have guessed it was a warehouse of some sort due to the open, spacious layout.  What surprised Angel, though, was that despite the obvious fact the building was abandoned, Buffy had made it quite livable.

In the back left corner a mattress lay on the concrete, a few blankets covering it.  Plastic crates stood on each side of the head of the mattress with what he assumed were some of Buffy's personal belongings on top.  The 'bedroom' area was separated from the rest of the space by makeshift screens made out of pipes tied together with sheets draped over them

To the right of the bedroom were several crates pushed together with a piece of plywood on top that appeared to be a table.  More crates surrounded it to be used as chairs.  Angel could also see a hotplate and a mini-fridge against the back wall.  The necessities used for cooking were stacked on top of some other crates.

The far right corner held a walled off area with a door that had a dirty, crooked restroom sign hanging off it.  It seemed as if she had a bathroom to use as well.  All in all, the place was rather habitable if one could discount the fact that it was an abandoned building.  Still, Angel wondered why she was living in such a place when she had a job and should have been able to afford an actual apartment.

He held off on that question, though, and stared as Buffy dropped her backpack and several stakes onto a bench made of plywood and cinder blocks.  Despite the fact that she'd spoken to him, she didn't once turn to look at him.  Instead, she strolled over to the mini-fridge and pulled out a diet soda and then proceeded to sit down at the 'table'.

Confused, he started to walk towards her before speaking.  "So...you, uh, knew I was here?"

 "I've known the whole night," she replied, glancing at him with one eyebrow raised.

"Oh," he mumbled, dismayed that she'd been aware he was there and not even batted an eye about it.

"And why are you here?" she asked forcefully after guzzling down half her soda.

Angel glared at her in disbelief that she could ask such a question.  It should have been obvious why he was there.  So he said nothing in response.

"Whatever," she said with a shrug, standing and then walking back the bench.  She grabbed a few stakes and then spoke without facing him, "I have a quick patrol to make.  I'd suggest not following me.  I might accidentally stake you and have to send you back to LA in a plastic baggie."

Before Angel could reply, she was gone out the window.  He stared dumbfounded at the spot where she had been, hurt by her careless words.  The little voice in his head told him that he should follow her.  It was likely she'd take off and not return, but by the time he made it to the window and looked out, she was no where in sight.

Sighing, he shook his head and turned around to face the interior.  He knew he shouldn't, but he decided to explore the place a little bit anyway.  He justified his actions by telling himself he wasn't invading her privacy, he just wanted to make sure the place was safe.

An hour of checking the room out revealed little to Angel.  The only interesting thing he found was a box of personal items such as a few pictures and mementos that were tucked underneath an upside down crate in one corner of the room.  Everything else seemed to serve some functional purpose.  Buffy appeared to be living with only the basic necessities of life.

Angel had just seated himself on one of the crates by the table when Buffy popped back through the window.  He didn't know if he had really expected her to reappear, but he was glad she did.  Now he wouldn't have to go searching for her again.

"You're still here," she snapped at him in annoyance.

"Yes," he answered simply.

She scowled at him then tossed her stakes back onto the bench.  "You might as well just leave."

"Actually, I think I'd rather stay," Angel told her, irritated by her blasÚ attitude.  There was no way he was leaving, not when he deserved answers as to why she'd just taken off like she did and hadn't bothered to contact any of them for three years.

"Suit yourself.  I'm going to bed." 

With that said, she walked behind the screens blocking off her bedroom area.  The rustle of clothing reached his ears so he assumed she was changing.  He was tempted to stalk over to her and demand the answers he'd come for, but he decided to hold off.  There would be plenty of time to question her in the morning.  He was in no hurry.

===<>====<>===

Sometime during the night, Angel had dozed off after moving his crate against the wall.  He woke to the sound of cereal being poured into a bowl nearby.  When he opened his eyes, he found Buffy sitting at the table completely ignoring the fact that he'd been asleep only a few feet away.

Even though it was now daytime, the large room was still rather dark.  There were only a few windows, and most of them were toward the front of the building.  In the back part where they both were, it was dark except for light emitted by the spare bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling.  He was surprised that the place still had functioning electricity.

"Good morning," he mumbled, still half asleep. 

Her only response was a snort.  Realizing she was not just going to talk to him on her own, he stood and walked over to table before taking a seat on the crate opposite her.

"So," Angel started casually.  "Care to tell me why you've been hiding for three years?"

She raised her eyes to him for a moment, pondering her answer.  "I've not been hiding."

"It seems that way to me," he shot back heatedly.

"It's not my fault no one found me," she replied unemotionally as she continued to eat her cereal.  "I've been here for two and a half years."

The small revelation unnerved Angel.  She'd been in the same place for that long and no one had found her.  He supposed that was partially his fault.  He hadn't tried very hard to find her.  When she had just up and disappeared without a word to him he'd taken it to mean she didn't care.  It left him with little motivation to search her out.  Sure, he'd tried for a while, but his heart wasn't in it.

"That doesn't explain why you're here in the first place," he pointed out.

"Why not?" she challenged him.

"Buffy," Angel groaned.  "I'm not leaving here until I know why you abandoned everyone who cares about you."

He didn't know how he expected her to react, but a loud burst of laughter wasn't it.  The almost maniacal noise was disturbing, especially considering the question he'd asked.  But before he could speak again, she leapt from her seat, grabbing her bowl and stomping over to a large sink near the bathroom.  The bowl clattered noisily as she dropped it into the sink.

When she finally spoke, she kept her back to him.  "The people that care about me?  I assume you mean Willow, Xander, Dawn, and Giles?  Yeah, they care so much they kicked me out of my own fucking house!"

The final sentence was laced with clearly heard anger, but it was what she said that startled Angel.  Kicked out of her own house?  He had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.  He'd never heard that mentioned before. So shocked by Buffy's words, Angel could say nothing.  By the time he'd shaken off the daze he was in, she had dashed across the room and grabbed her backpack.  He started to move toward her when he heard her speak.

"I've got things to do," she bit out harshly.

Again, Angel was left dumbfounded as Buffy jumped out the window and away from him.  For the first time, he was beginning to realize there was something more to Buffy's disappearance than he'd always suspected.  And he hated himself for not figuring it out sooner.

===<>====<>===
           Part 3
===<>====<>===

Now rise - Turn away
From the shame of your life
Feel the light from my eyes
Offering - Consolation tonight
Fearing no one
Do you really think I want it like you do?

Hours passed while Angel remained in the warehouse waiting for Buffy to return.  It left him a lot of time to think about what she'd said.  Had her friends really kicked her out of her house?  When?  Why?  All questions he did not have answers to.  But he intended to get them. 

Tiring of waiting, Angel left Buffy's 'apartment' and decided to head over to his hotel.  He needed to shower, change clothes, and take care of a few other things.  He could only hope that Buffy wouldn't take the opportunity to disappear if she came back and found him not there.  Once he'd cleaned up, he grabbed the bags he'd brought with him to Toronto and checked out of the hotel room.  Buffy was getting a roommate whether she liked it or not.  They were going to talk and get everything out in the open.  If that meant camping out on the concrete floor, then so be it.  Well, hopefully she'd at least give him a blanket to use

As he returned to the warehouse, he knew that she was inside the building before even climbing through the window.  The fluttering tingle in his gut alerted him to her presence.  It was the sight that greeted him, though, that sent little tickling flames of lust racing through his body. 

There was Buffy.

Wearing only a skimpy shorts and tank top set.

Standing with one leg propped up on the sink.

Shaving.

Angel never knew that a woman shaving her legs could be so incredibly sensual.  Or maybe it was just Buffy doing it that turned him on.  Whichever it was, he had to bite back a groan at the beautiful image she presented.  If he didn't have the self control of a monk, he would be over there in a flash, pulling her into his arms.  That probably wasn't a smart thing to do, he told himself.

He continued to watch her for a while longer.  Her hair was wet, and a bottle of shampoo sat next to the sink, so he assumed that she must have washed her hair in the sink as well.  It was a rather primitive way to live, and again Angel wondered why she was living in squalor when she had a job.

"Staring is rude," Buffy's voice sounded, breaking through Angel's thoughts.

"Sorry," he mumbled, quickly averting his eyes.  "So, uh, not working tonight?"

"No.  Not that it's any of your business," she replied sarcastically as she finished shaving the last little bit of her left leg.  Once done, she piled her supplies into the plastic basket sitting on the floor and walked back to her bedroom area, not once bothering to look at Angel.

"Interesting set up you've got here," he mused out loud.

Buffy walked around one of the screens separating her bed from the rest of the room, her arms crossed over her chest.  She glared at Angel, a heavy scowl on her face.  "I like it," she stated.

"Why exactly are you living in a place like this?" Angel finally asked, having wanted to know the answer to that question since he arrived.

"What does it matter to you?" she snapped angrily at him.

"It doesn't matter, I guess," he sighed, growing weary of her bitterness.  "So, what?  You're just going to live in this rat-hole for the rest of your life, working a minimum wage job, and doing whatever the hell else you do?"

"It's my life, Angel.  Key word in there *MY*," she replied, putting emphasis on the appropriate terms.

"I know it's your life!" Angel practically shouted at her.  "I just don't understand why you've abandoned everyone and are living like some transient."

"I can't afford anything else," she bluntly replied, avoiding the first half of his plea.

The answer only confused Angel more.  "But you have a job," he pointed out.

"Yes."

"What do you do with your money, then?" he wanted to know.

"Nothing," Buffy said sharply.

He knew she was lying by the way she avoided looking directly at him.  "You might as well tell me.  I'll find out eventually."

Buffy sighed, her head falling back to lean against the makeshift screen.  She had been doing fine.  Now Angel was here trying to mess everything up.  Why couldn't he just leave her alone?  She closed her eyes, debating for a moment the merits of making a quick run for it, but knew he'd only catch up to her.  "I send it to Dawn," she finally revealed.

The real answer only served to further baffle Angel.  Dawn hadn't said one word about hearing from Buffy, or getting any money from her.  He wondered if Buffy was just trying to throw him off track, but he didn't think so.  Suddenly, he remembered a conversation from almost two years earlier.

"What do you guys think?" Dawn asked after she'd shown Angel, Xander, Willow, and Giles her new apartment.

"It's nice," Angel replied hesitantly.  It was a great apartment: one bedroom, a nice sized kitchen, along with a living room, bathroom, and two closets.  The place wasn't exactly a penthouse, but for one college student, it was more than suitable.

"Dawnie, how can you afford a place like this?" Willow questioned, curious as to where her surrogate little sister had gotten the money to pay for it.

"Oh...umm, the freshmen housing was full so the college refunded my room and board money so I could get an off-campus apartment," the teen lied convincingly.

Thinking back on it, Angel now realized where the money had really come from.  "She never told us," he spoke more to himself than to Buffy.

"I asked her not to," she stated curtly, suddenly feeling guilty for what she'd made her sister do.  "I told her if she told anyone where I was, I'd disappear and she'd never hear from me again."

Angel gaped at her, almost disgusted by the lengths she had gone to in order to keep her whereabouts secret.  At the same time, his mind reeled at the thought that something in her life had been so terrible to make her do such things.  "How could you do that to your sister?" he asked after deliberating for several seconds.

"It's not like I wanted to!" Buffy defended herself.

"Then why?" Angel demanded, wanting to get to the root of the matter.

"Why? - such a simple question," she pondered out loud, wandering away from Angel.  Sitting down at the table, Buffy tiredly rubbed at her temples.  She knew he wasn't going to give up.  "You want to know why?  It should be fairly obvious, but in case it's not, let me explain:  I didn't want anyone to find me."

Groaning, Angel stalked over to the table.  This conversation seemed to be going in rapid circles, always skirting the real issues, and never delving any deeper.  "You're going to have to give me more than that, Buffy."

"What do you want me to say?!" she cried out, jumping out of her seat and pacing a few feet away.  "Do you want me to tell about how they kicked me out of my house?  Or how they never trusted me?  Or how they make decisions for me and tell me what to do?  Or how about how they go behind my back because they think I can't handle something?  Is that what you want to hear?" she ranted, an unbidden tear slipping down her cheek which she hastily wiped away.

Buffy slid down the wall, falling heavily onto the cold concrete.  She took several deeps breaths, calming the reborn rage inside.  Her knees drew up to her chest protectively, keeping a barrier between herself and Angel.  She didn't want to be doing this, especially not in front of him.

The force of her words pained Angel.  He had no idea things had been so strained in Sunnydale.  After leaving her, he'd always imagined her to be leading a happy life.  That was what he'd wanted.  Now, it seemed as though that hadn't been true.  But he still didn't fully understand what had gone on there.

Angel stood, and walked over to Buffy, sitting down on the ground in front of her.  He didn't dare touch her.  He knew she would only shun contact.  "Buffy, you can talk to me.  You know that?"

"Talk?" she laughed bitterly.  "Since when do you 'talk', Angel?  You're the one who broke up with me in a sewer without talking to me, and who also snuck around Sunnydale a few months after that to protect me without talking to me.  Yeah, you're real good at talking."

She was right, and Angel knew it.  He'd never been much for talking.  Though that was likely a leftover from living alone for nearly a hundred years after being cursed.  Still, she was right.  He had done all that she accused him of, and more, from the moment he arrived in Sunnydale, warning her with cryptic messages in a dark alley.  That night he gave her the ring by the docks he had hardly been able to say the words.  Talking just wasn't something that came easily to him.

"I know I didn't always do things right in the past," he began, his voice calm and soothing.  "But I'm here now for you to talk to.  I want to help."

"There's nothing you can do to help," Buffy muttered, leaning her head back against the wall.

"Maybe not, but you won't know until you tell me what happened and why you just ran off," he suggested, fighting the urge to reach out and take her small hands into his.

Buffy was silent for a moment, her eyes staring blankly up at the dark ceiling of the room.  She was so tired, and it was so hard having Angel close to her.  Her body and her heart were urging her to turn to him, to seek comfort in his arms, but her head told her that it would only lead to more pain when he left again.  And he always did leave.

"Did you know," she started to say, lowering her gaze to look above Angel's head.  "That Xander lied to me?  He never told me that Willow was going to try and recurse you.  He came to me that night, and told me that Willow said to kick your ass.  I never knew until just before the battle with The First that Willow had asked him to tell me she was trying the curse again."

"No, I didn't," Angel replied, stunned by the revelation.

As Angel imagined Buffy had, he wondered at the implications.  His knowledge of the events of that night was sketchy at best, containing only fragments of memories.  They'd never really talked about what had happened after his return.  From what she'd said, though, he took it to mean that when she'd gone to fight Angelus, she didn't know Willow was going to try to curse him again.  Would that have made a difference in how things turned out?  He didn't know, and neither he nor Buffy would ever find out. 

"Is that why you ran?" he asked, focusing again on the important subject.

"It wasn't just that.  I just couldn't pretend or try to be perfect anymore" she clarified, but still lacking the detail Angel wanted. 

"No one is asking you to be perfect," Angel countered, correcting her assumption.

"But they are!" Buffy shrieked.  "They all wanted me to be a perfect something.  Mom wanted the perfect, typical daughter.  Giles wanted the perfect Slayer.  Willow wanted a perfect, happy best friend.  Riley wanted the perfect, less freaksome girlfriend.  Dawn wanted the perfect big sister.  And Xander...Xander just wanted me to be perfect!"

"I'm sure they didn't expect you to be everything," he reasoned, wondering to himself, though, if Buffy's perceptions were, in fact, true.

"You weren't there.  You don't know how things were," she said sadly, shaking her head.  She hadn't meant her words to hurt him, but from the look on his face, she knew that they had nonetheless.

"I...I know I wasn't there, Buffy, but like I told you before, I am here now," Angel offered, feeling a pain in his heart for all that he'd missed out on in her life, and all that he had not been there to help her through.

"I wish they'd never brought me back," Buffy murmured, her voice barely above a whisper.

"Don't say that," he snapped angrily, but then quickly calmed himself.  "I know it must have been hard, but you have so much to live for."

"Do you?  Do you really know how hard it was?  I was in heaven, Angel," she voiced out loud, despite knowing Angel was already aware of that not-so-little fact.  "I was at peace and everything was just so warm and comfortable.  Then I got ripped out and forced back here."

"But...that was years ago," he haltingly replied.

"I know...and I'm over it...mostly.  But I still remember what it was like," Buffy recalled.  "I remember it all, and I remember how they all wanted me to jump right back into my life.  I was just supposed to forget all that happened and go back to being Perfect Buffy: Slayer, sister, mother, friend, and whatever the hell else."

"Did you ever talk to them?" Angel asked pointedly.  From her lack of response, he knew she hadn't.  "How were they supposed to know how you were feeling if you didn't tell them."

"What would I have said?  'Gee, thanks so much for bringing me back, but I hate it here and I'd jump right off that tower again if I could'," she mocked, then snorted.  "Yeah, that would go over well."

"You don't know how they would have reacted.  They are your friends.  You should have trusted them," he said softly.

"Trust?" Buffy repeated, bewildered.  "You mean like how they trusted me so much they kicked me out of my house?  I bet they never told you about that."

"No," he admitted honestly. 

"Well they did," she spoke, her voice a mixture of anger, weariness, and nonchalance.  "I know they had a reason to be upset, and angry.  I made a choice, and people got hurt and killed.  Maybe it was the wrong choice, maybe not, but I did the best I could.  I gave everything I had, made decisions no one should ever have to make, and sacrificed my life for this world.  And what do I get in return?  Asked to leave my own fucking house!"

From what Buffy had said, Angel gathered that one of Buffy's decisions had resulted in unintentional harm to others.  He knew without asking that she had done what she thought was right.  No matter how much she hated it, Buffy always did what she thought was best for the cause.  Unfortunately, sometimes wrong choices were made.  Angel knew that for a fact.  And sometime people got hurt or were killed.  He was also all too familiar with that.  It was a regrettable side effect of the lives they led.

Angel was also left to conclude that her friends had then kicked her out of her house because of the choice she'd made.  It infuriated him that they'd do that to her.  At a time when they should have all stuck together and supported each other, they chose sides and drew battles lines against each other.  He could only imagine how much that must have hurt her.  It was suddenly hitting Angel why Buffy had vanished after fighting The First.  Like a wounded animal, she'd virtually run with her tail between her legs, leaving for parts unknown to regroup and heal the wounds inflicted by others.

"I'm sorry," he whispered sympathetically.  He reached out a hand, wanting to touch her, but pulled back before he did.

"They...they just threw me away," Buffy said, her tone broken and beaten as a sob erupted through her hardened exterior.  "They just t-told me leave, told me that...that they wanted Faith as their leader.  I-I had nowhere to go...I n-never felt so alone in my life."

As she finished, the tears she'd been trying to hold back broke free.  Her body shook as she cried over the betrayal of her friends.  Even though three years had passed, the memories of the night still remained in her mind like a movie playing on repeat.  No matter how long she lived, Buffy didn't think she'd ever forget her sister standing before her, telling her to leave the house.

Angel could no long restrain himself.  He scooted closer to Buffy, and pulled her into his arms.  She didn't fight him, for which he was glad.  But his heart splintered a little more when she turned her head into his chest, sobbing loudly and grasping at his shirt as if her life depended on in it.  He wished he could more than just hold her, but at the moment, it was all he could do.

===<>====<>===
           Part 4
===<>====<>===

Come, take me away
Remove the fear from my eyes
Feel the flame of my heart
Burning away - All conversation tonight
Hearing no one

Sometime during the night, Angel fell asleep with Buffy curled against him, Buffy having worn herself out.  For hours, he'd sat there, lightly stroking her back, all the while trying to figure out how he'd never known.  How had they drifted so far apart that he never realized how unhappy she was?  How had he never known that she'd reached a breaking point, one so steep and jagged that she felt her only recourse was to run away from everything?

Years ago, when he'd left Buffy to go to LA, he'd thought it was the best thing for both of them.  It still seemed like it was the right choice.  There really wasn't anyway they could have been together without unleashing devastating chaos.  But Angel now wondered if completely separating their lives was had been right.  It didn't seem so.

Back then, Angel hadn't really considered what would happen between them after he left.  His mind had been one track:  leave Buffy, and allow her to have a better life without him.  So caught up in what he would have been giving her by leaving, he hadn't thought about what he was depriving her of at the same time.  Now, he doubted his choices. Would their lives have been different if they'd stayed in more constant contact?  Would she have died if he'd been there to help?  Would she have fallen in Spike's arms if he'd been there after her resurrection?  Would she have run away if he'd have been there to help relieve some of the burden of her life?

Angel wanted to say no, to claim that he was just an ex-boyfriend.  But that would be a lie.  They were so much more than exes.  He knew the battle she faced.  He knew about making the right choice even if it wasn't the popular one.  He knew what it was like to be different.  They were so alike, and yet so different.  And he'd left her in a place where the people around her could never truly understand who she was and the life she led.  Obviously, that hadn't worked out well.  But could things have been different?  He'd never know the answer to that.  The past was the past.  He couldn't change what had happened, but he could try to make things better now.  He could help her come to terms with the life she led, and the life she left behind.  So Angel fell asleep, still holding Buffy, trying to figure out what to do next.

===<>====<>===

When Angel awoke the following morning, his arms were empty.  His scanned the room, but Buffy was nowhere to be found.  Standing, he walked over to the bedroom area and carefully peeked behind the screens.  She wasn't there either.  He dejectedly realized she'd probably left, off to do something that mainly meant that she could get away from him.  Like yesterday, she likely wouldn't return until after the sun had set.  At least he hoped she would return.  In the meantime, he had a few errands to run.

Checking his pocket to make sure he had his wallet, Angel walked over to the window.  The last thing he expected to find was Buffy sitting on the metal walkway outside, feet dangling over the edge, a lit cigarette in her left hand.

"Buffy," he said breathlessly.

Her head turned to look at him, and the second her eyes landed on him, her mouth dropped open, the cigarette held between her fingers falling carelessly to the ground.  It took Angel several seconds to realize what had caused her reaction.  He was half out the window, his face fully illuminated by the early morning sun.

"You're...you're...," she sputtered, slowly reaching out a hand to touch his face.

"Human," Angel completed, finally revealing a fact he'd kept hidden from her since his arrival.

"How?" she asked, her hand trailing down until it rested over his steadily beating heart.

Angel laid a hand on top of her, content for a moment to simply revel in the touch of her palm on his chest.  She was looking at him expectantly, and he knew he needed to explain, but part of him was loath to do so.  His new state of being changed everything, or at least he had always hoped it would.  Then, after it happened, it had seemed like a faraway dream because Buffy had been gone for over a year.  Now, he didn't know what it meant, or how she would take it.

Stepping the rest of the way out the window, dislodging Buffy's hand in the process, Angel sat down next to her.  "It was a reward from The Powers That Be for fighting against evil and redeeming myself," he explained.

"When?" she asked, continuing the trend of one-word questions, unable to take her eyes off him as he sat there in the sun.

"About two years ago," Angel went on, smiling at the wonderment in Buffy's eyes.  "It happened after we defeated Wolfram & Hart.  One second I was a vampire, the next I was breathing."

"Just like that?" Buffy questioned skeptically.  It had to have been weird to just suddenly become human.

Angel hesitated, remembering that Buffy never knew about the Shanshu prophecy.  "I...I knew it was a possibility," he began, knowing he had to tell her the truth.  "Wes translated this scroll I found my first year in LA, but he had a hard time transcribing it, and we were never quite sure if it was true.  He thought it said that one day, after many battles, the vampire with a soul would become human.  Of course that was after he first thought it said I would die."

"You never told me," she spoke softly, the hurt clear in her eyes.

"I'm sorry," Angel apologized.  "I wanted to tell you.  It was the first thing I wanted to do, but we were never sure the prophecy was true, and even if it was, it said nothing about when it would happen.  I didn't know if it meant a year from then, five years from then, or a hundred years.  In the meantime..."

"Nothing had changed," Buffy filled in sadly.

"Right," he agreed.  "I wanted so badly to tell you.  I stood there one night with the phone in my hand, ready to dial your number.  But I couldn't do it.  You had Riley and were trying to move on.  I didn't want to ruin everything.  I wanted you to be happy."

Buffy laughed, a tired, mirthless sound.  She reached for her pack of Marlboros and lit one up without looking at Angel.  "Yeah, and I did so well in that department," she answered sarcastically.

He wanted to say something to deny her words, but Angel couldn't.  It didn't seem like either of them had found much happiness in life after separating

"You shouldn't smoke," he settled on saying.

"Yeah, well, there are a lot of things I shouldn't do," she snorted indignantly, taking a heavy drag on the cigarette.

Before Angel could think too much about what he was saying, the words were out of his mouth.  "So, what?  You're just going to live like this the rest of your life, living in an abandoned building with a mattress on the floor, no kitchen, or anything else, and waiting to get lung cancer.  That's not you, Buffy."

"How would you know?" Buffy snapped, scowling at him.

"What?"

"We haven't been together for over seven years, Angel.  How would you know who I am?" she posed.

"I know who you are, Buffy," Angel disagreed vehemently.

"Do you?"  Buffy stood, her arms held out in demonstration.  "This is me, Angel.  I'm twenty-five years old.  I work as a bouncer.  I live in squalor.  I have no friends.  This is who I am!"

"I can't believe that," he refuted with a shake of his head.

"You don't know me!" she shouted back at him. 

"I want to know you, Buffy!  Don't you get that?" he offered in supplication as he, too, stood.

"You don't know the real me!"  Buffy repeated, not having truly heard what Angel said.  "You don't know that I was practically relieved when Riley left me.  You don't know that jumping off that tower didn't bother me as much as it should have.  You don't know that I let Spike fuck me at my job, at the Bronze, behind a tree at my house, and on the floor of his crypt, and that I liked it.  You don't know that I barely batted an eye when one of the young slayers was killed.  You don't know that I couldn't wait to get away from everyone after the battle.  You don't know about all the one night stands I've had in the last three years.  You don't know about the time I got so drunk after work that they just left me there to sleep it off.  You don't know me, period!"

Buffy backed away from him a few steps, staring hard at him.  "This is me, Angel.  This is who I am.  Can you accept that?"

Shocked into speechlessness at the scathing rant, Angel could say nothing.  There weren't words to express what he was thinking or feeling.  It was unfathomable to him how jaded Buffy had become.  He'd never wanted that to happen to her.  Though looking back, he wondered if it was inevitable given the life she led.

"Guess that answers my question," Buffy mumbled tearfully before turning and leaping down onto the dumpster.

She was gone so quick, Angel barely had time to react.  "Buffy!  Wait!" he shouted, but she was already gone.

Angel slammed his hand down onto the railing, cursing out loud.  "Fuck!"

===<>====<>===

A week later, Angel was still trying to find Buffy.  She hadn't returned to the abandoned building, and this time, he hadn't really expected her to.  But he wasn't about to let her run away from him permanently.  They still had things to talk about.  So he searched.  He even staked out the club she worked in, but she was never there.  Talking to one of the waitresses, he'd found out that Buffy had taken some time off which meant he was pretty much going to have to stalk the streets in order to find her.

When he finally did find her, he ended up feeling incredibly stupid because she'd been on the fourth floor of the same abandoned building.  He hadn't thought to check the other floors.  At least he knew where she was now.

"You've been up here the whole damn time?" he groused as he climbed in through the window.

"Haven't you gone back to LA yet?" Buffy snapped at him from the dark corner she was sitting in.

"I'm not leaving, Buffy," he said firmly, then added, "I'm not leaving you."

"Why can't you leave me alone?" she asked in exasperation.

"Why do you keep running away?" he shot back.

"I didn't run away.  I left," she corrected.  "You made it clear that the real me is not the one you want."

"Did I?" Angel challenged, walking toward her.

"Seemed like it to me," she answered, shrugging her shoulders indifferently.

Angel sighed.  He'd had a week to hate himself for not saying something that day.  "I should have said something.  I'm sorry," he apologized sincerely.  "I was just...surprised...to realize..."

"What?" she questioned.  "That I'm not the perfect little princess you always thought I was."

"Buffy," Angel started, kneeling down in front of you.  "I never expected you to be perfect.  I wanted you to be you.  And what I meant was that I just never realized that there's so much about you that I didn't know."

"Oh," Buffy mumbled, looking away.

"Buffy, look at me."  He waited until her eyes were gazing into his.  "I don't expect you to be perfect.  I want you to be whoever you want to be.  I'll love you no matter who you are."

Buffy's mouth dropped open, tears gathering in her eyes.  "You still love me?" she whispered.

"I never stopped," Angel proclaimed, reaching out to wipe a tear from her cheek.  "I know I may not have acted like it sometimes, and I'll admit that I tried to move on, but I never stopped loving you."

"I...I never stopped either," she replied softly.

Angel saw her hesitate.  "What?"

"I just...how can you love me even though I'm not that Buffy anymore?" she asked, not understanding how he could love who she'd become.

"Everyone changes, Buffy," he pointed out.  "I'm not the same person I was when I left Sunnydale.  What if I'm not someone you could love anymore?  What if human me isn't who you want?"

Gasping, Buffy looked at him with a curious look in her eyes.  "How could you even think that?  I will always love you.  I loved you when you were a vampire with a soul; I couldn't stop loving you even when you were Angelus; and even after you left, I still loved you.  You're still you, Angel, whether you're a vampire or a human."

"Just like you are still you; the woman I fell in love with the very first moment I saw her," Angel rebutted, his voice soft yet serious.

Angel reached up and touched her face lightly.  He didn't miss the fact that she shied away from his touch.  "I know we've both changed, Buffy.  Everybody changes.  It's human nature.  But just because we're not the same people we used to be doesn't mean there can't be a future for us."

"What do you mean?" she asked, fighting the urge lean into his touch.

"Maybe we need to get to know who we are now," Angel explained, somewhat reticent to say what he had in mind, but doing so anyway.  "Would you like to go out to a movie sometime?"

The simple question shocked Buffy.  It had come completely unexpected.  Date Angel?  The idea was almost entirely foreign.  In all the years she'd known him, they had never really done the dating thing.  Their lives, and then the gypsy curse had nullified such actions.  But now things were different.  Could she date Angel?  Did she want to date Angel?

Despite the simplicity of the question, the answer was much more complex.  If she said yes, she would be risking so much.  She'd be taking the chance of having her heart broken yet again.  There was no doubt in her mind that she still loved Angel, but was that enough anymore?  In her life, she'd seen more than once that love didn't conquer all.  What would make this time any different?

Even though there were a million arguments running through her head for saying no, Buffy couldn't seem to speak the word.  Because at the same time, she wanted to say yes.  She hadn't really realized until Angel arrived how lonely and solitary her life was.  She knew that was her fault; she'd pushed everyone away, but she was so tired of being alone.  And she missed the way things used to be.  Was that enough to take the risk?  Was Angel enough to take the risk? 

"I don't know if I am ready to go back to LA," Buffy settled on saying as the internal battle in her head continued.

"I won't force you to," he promised, taking her statement as a hesitant 'yes'.  "But you'll have to face them sometime.  You'll never be able to move on until you talk to them and get out all the things hurting you."

"I wish it were that easy," she said with a sigh, still avoiding directly answering that dating question.

"I won't lie to you and tell you it'll be easy because it won't.  But I can promise you that when you're ready, I'll be by your side," Angel replied as he shifted his body to sit down next to her.

"I'd like that," Buffy answered, unconsciously leaning her head on Angel's shoulder. 

Instantly, she felt his arm slip around her waist to pull her closer.  Tears formed in her eyes as she remembered how comforting it always felt to be held by him.  Just a simple touch could always make her forget, if only for a little while, everything around her. 

Coming to a decision, Buffy spoke, keeping her head tucked against Angel's shoulder.  "So where are we going on our first date?"

Above her, Angel smiled and leaned down until his cheek touched the top of her head.  He would have shouted in joy if it hadn't meant moving Buffy, and he certainly didn't want to do that.  Still, she'd said yes.  This was their chance for a future neither thought they'd ever have.  There were still a lot of things to work through, conversations that would have to be had, but there would be time for those later.  One step at a time, he thought happily.

"Anywhere you want, baby.  Anywhere you want."

Now, I cannot stop this
Pure emotion
Falling from my eyes
You are vindicating
Liberating
Saviors of my soul

Now rise...

===<>====<>===


THE END!!

(there will be no sequel!)