Stumble Into Grace

by Kristi

Summary: Future fic. Five years after present day. Buffy is Cleveland. Spike got tired of the Helping the Helpless gig and went there too. Angel decides a trip to Cleveland is in order.


Chapter One

-Angel-

             She didn’t even come for the apocalypse. She sent a lot of slayers. Faith was there but my slayer wasn’t. It’s funny, after all these years apart I still think of her as my slayer. I’ve got to find something to do, get out of this penthouse, out of this office building. There’s too much time for introspection and brooding here. Normally, I’m all for the brooding.  Now I’m acutely aware of how short my time here will be. I don’t want to waste it brooding. I’m human now. I might have forgotten to mention it. It doesn’t mean as much now as I thought it would then. It just means I don’t suffer an eternity of torment, only sixty years or so. It happened after the apocalypse. There wasn’t a big bang or anything. I went to bed one morning nursing the injuries I’d gotten and I woke up with a heartbeat.

            I have always had this fantasy of what it would be like if I ever turned human during Buffy’s lifetime. It was this big movie production. I’d sweep into Cleveland, or whatever Buffy’s current city of choice happened to be, in my convertible on the brightest sunniest day of the year. I’d knock on her door. She’d answer and as soon as she saw me tears would come to her eyes. She’d throw herself into my arms, cue the dramatic music. We’d walk off into the sunset together.

            So I pack. I’m taking a trip to Cleveland. It’s not like there’s anything here for me. I mean there’s Hell, otherwise known as Wolfram and Hart, and my friends. Fred and Wes are both so wrapped up in their children that I doubt they would notice I’m gone. Gunn is working on some big profile case.  And I’m not the champion for the Powers that Be anymore. I didn’t get to keep the vamp strength, healing, speed or anything else. I’m just your average Joe with a nice bank account and a less-evil-then-it-was-five-years-ago law firm.

            I just want to see if she’s happy. I talk to Giles, I talk to Willow. They say she is but they don’t sound like she is. It sounds like they are repeating a script she gave them. I’m not going to be nosy; I’m not going to interfere. If she’d wanted to see me she would have come during the apocalypse. I understand why she doesn’t, seeing her hurts. It reminds me of all the things I want and can’t have. So I’m going to stay back and do what I’ve spent 256 years doing. I’m going to lurk.  I’ve also hired a private detective to take pictures for me, pictures of her.  He has already sent me a few.

            She’s with Spike. Giles told me that much. Some of the pictures confirm it. He showed up about four years ago. Buffy took him in and they’ve been a couple ever since. It hurts a lot. I could excuse her relationship with him after she came back from Heaven. I understand what it’s like to hit rock bottom and to want someone that’s there too. I did sleep with Darla and if I hadn’t had my epiphany, I probably would have spent a lot more time sleeping with Darla. This time it hurts more. He’s got a soul now. He’s not about rock bottom. Maybe he’s everything I can’t be to her, or couldn’t. Or maybe she’s in love with him. Maybe she was all those years ago before the crater that was Sunnydale became a state park. I push that thought aside. I can’t think of that. It hurts too much.

            And yet I know I’m going to have to. I’m going to her town. I’ll be watching her. I’m sure a lot of her life has him in it. He’ll know I’m there. I’ll eventually have to talk to him. It’s not a confrontation I’m looking forward to. She won’t know I’m there. I’m not a vampire anymore. She won’t get any spidey sense readings off of me. I hope I can keep it that way, for a while anyhow.

            The plane lands and I take a cab to an address I’ve got written down. It’s my new apartment. It’s not far from her apartment. I rented it sight unseen. The landlord was skeptical about it. I paid six months rent upfront. That cured the skepticism.  I unlock the door and walk in. The apartment is sterile. White walls, beige carpet. I bought furniture off the internet.  It’s beige and ivory furniture, bleached woods and sterile fabrics. It was delivered yesterday. It’s sitting rather haphazardly around the place, not that furniture placement matters.

            I make up the bed with sterile white sheets. A beige and ivory comforter finishes the bed. It looks like Buffy’s bed in her old room in the house on Revello minus the pig or the stuffed animals. I guess I noticed that when I bought the things. I just didn’t admit it. I unpack and hang the clothes I’ve brought in the closet. I got used to wearing suits at the law firm. I left most of them in the penthouse there. Hanging up now are dark slacks, dark button down shirts, sweaters, clothes I wore before the law firm, lurking clothes.  They are also clothes that Buffy will find familiar.

            I open my briefcase and take out the pictures the detective took for me. As per orders, he tried to keep Spike out of them but there are a few with his arm around her. I cut him out of those. There are pictures of Buffy at work. She helps Giles run a magic shop. She is beautiful. She doesn’t smile in any of them.  She also looks tired, weary and unhappy.  This is the reason I’m here. She looks unhappy. It’s most likely that I can’t do anything about that. My track record for making Buffy happy isn’t exactly stellar. I also know I can’t sit in my fancy penthouse in LA when she’s unhappy. I did that for to many years because there was a little thing like a Gypsy curse between us.  I’m not cursed anymore, at least not with that particular curse. I can’t lose my soul, or at least I assume I can’t. I haven’t actually approached anything near perfect happiness since that one night with Buffy when she was 17.  I tack her pictures up on the wall, across from the bed. I take a steaming hot shower and crawl under the blankets. I fall asleep looking at pictures of her.

Chapter Two

-Buffy-

            I’m tired. I walk through the seedy alleys and streets of Cleveland and I’m tired. Giles has tried to convince me to give up the slaying and let the girls handle it. I’ve told him I would. I don’t. If I go to long without slaying I feel itchy, edgy. The way most people feel after one to many mochas. So I slay. I don’t even get that adrenaline high I used to. There’s no joy in slaying. Hell who am I kidding, there’s no joy in life.

            I’m 29 years old and I feel like I’m 90. Willow had to explain to the slayers at one point that I’m a hardened bitch and I don’t really mean to be. She didn’t use those words of course. She probably said cranky or distracted. I’m neither, I’m a hardened bitch, I totally mean to be or maybe I just don’t care and the sad thing is if any of these girls live long enough, they will be too. There’s only so much death a person can take. Only so many people a person can loose. I’ve heard the same thing happens to homicide detectives sometimes. Maybe there’s a support group. Of course I can’t actually walk in there and tell anyone about the vampires and demons I kill. Those things don’t exist, don’t you know.

            If I were a different person, stronger or weaker or something more, I’d kill myself. I’d be done with this life and all the shit that it brings. I know there’s a Heaven but I don’t think there’s a Hell. Hell is here and the devil, he’s everywhere. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about the ways I’d do it. When I was younger, I thought pills. It’s a nice peaceful way to go. Now I know my life can’t end in peace. It’s got to end in violence with lots and lots of blood. Isn’t there some kind of saying about dying the way you lived? Maybe I made that one up, I’m not really sure. I’m not going to end my own life though, that’s the real point and I’m sure as hell not going to let some demon end my life. So for now I keep fighting. Maybe I’ll get lucky and I’ll have a brain tumor like Mom. Sometimes those things are genetic, aren’t they?

            I push open the door to my apartment and send out my spidey senses. No sign of Spike. That’s good. I can’t deal with him tonight.  I don’t know why I keep Spike around. Actually, yes I do. I keep Spike around because he’s convenient.  Spike is sort of good to me, most of the time. He knows I’m using him and he doesn’t care. I think using is what passes for love with Spike. That’s okay because it’s what passes for love with me now. Spike doesn’t say I love you. He doesn’t make promises he can’t keep. He doesn’t do what’s noble and right for me. He doesn’t break my heart into a zillion pieces and then leave.  The sex is good. He always gets up and leaves when I tell him too. Hell he doesn’t even ask if he can stay the night anymore. He knows I won’t let him. He stays in a nice little apartment just down the street. He’s here when I want him and he’s gone when I don’t.  He gets the slayer thing. He’s turned on by the slayer thing. And if Spike gets staked tomorrow, I’m okay. I’ll miss him but I won’t get my heart broken. I won’t cry, I won’t forget to breathe. I’ll just miss him. I’ll miss the sex, his brutal honesty and the fact that I don’t have to play the game with him.

            See there’s this game I play with Giles, Willow, Dawn and Xander. It goes something like this. I wake up, I go to work. I pretend to be interested in the other slayers, in the current apocalypse and in my friends. I pretend to be in love with Spike and that I like my somewhat normal life. Sounds like fun, I know. It sucks beyond the telling. I don’t have to play any of those things with Spike. I just am. He accepts it. Acceptance is hard to come by. I mean everyone says they accept this or that or whatever, but true acceptance, doesn’t happen every day.

            I take a steaming hot shower to wash away the vamp dust and demon blood. It crawls inside of you, the dirt, the blood, the darkness. I scrub until my skin is raw. I can’t wash it away. I’ll never be able to wash it all away.

            I pull back the sterile white sheets on my bed and slip between them. I close my eyes. Cool, like sheets on a warm night. My eyes snap open.  I don’t want to snuggle up in that coolness. It’s too familiar and to heart breaking. I turn on the electric mattress pad and set it a low heat.  Soon the bed is warm, to warm for the night. It doesn’t matter. I can’t abide the coolness.

Chapter Three

-Angel-

             Not surprisingly, it’s harder to lurk in the daytime. I manage though. I may not have the advantages of vampires, but I do have two and a half centuries of practice. Buffy seems absorbed in her own world. I wonder if she’s always like this or if something in particular is bothering her. I can feel that whispery heart-beating-too-fast feeling I always get when she’s around. It hurts. I’d almost convinced myself I’d forgotten that I felt her like this. I find myself hoping that her feeling me didn’t have anything to do with the vamp and everything to do with the man. Of course, that would make lurking a lot harder.

            I watch from behind a tree across the street from the magic shop. Buffy is working on something at a counter. The sunlight falls on her. She’s so much paler then she used to be. I always remember her skin soft and drenched golden from the sun. Willow walks in and they begin speaking. The closest thing to a smile she attempts is something near a smirk. She doesn’t laugh. I want to sob. Buffy was always so alive, so vivacious. It was one of the reasons I left her. I couldn’t lock her away in a cage and I was afraid by allowing her to live her life with me I would be doing just that. I guess I sacrificed us for nothing. It didn’t buy her happiness, or love or any of the other things I wanted for her. Somehow that hurts more then anything else we’ve done or said or didn’t have or didn’t get.  She should be married by now not living some half existence with a vampire who isn’t me.

            I sigh and rub my eyes. I didn’t sleep much the night before. I spent too much of the night thinking of her.

            “Wondered when you were going to get down here.”

            My eyes snap open and I look directly into the eyes of the private detective I hired. “I just got in last night.” I respond.

            He nods. “I got some good pictures of your girl there. I’ll develop them this afternoon. You can come pick them up tomorrow.”

            “I’ll pay you extra if you’ll drop them by my apartment when you’re finished with them.” I dig a scrap of paper out of my duster pocket along with a pen and scribble my new address on it.

            The detective looks at it and nods. “Nice place.”

            I shrug. “It’s a place to live.” If you can call what I’m doing there living. I’m not really sure you can.

            “I’ll head back and get started on these then.” He says.

            I nod and watch as he walks off. I can’t remember his name for the life of me. I want to say Herb. It doesn’t matter. I have his card on my refrigerator back at the apartment.

*

            Someone from the magic shop orders food. I don’t think it’s Buffy because she picks at the oriental food but never really eats anything. She’s entirely too thin. Buffy always did neglect herself when she got worried or stressed. Eating was the first thing to go. Spike should be reminding her to eat, or someone should. It sticks in my craw that Spike is there to remind her of such things, on the other hand it makes me want to beat him severely for not taking better care of her.  Don’t ask me to explain further, my feelings for Buffy are and always have been complicated. By nature, anything that involves her is complicated.

            I went home early afternoon and tried to sleep. If I know Buffy, she’s still a nocturnal creature. I sit in my hiding spot across from her apartment building. I watch her go inside after a day at the magic shop. I watch her come out a little later dressed in a pair of workout pants and a sweat shirt. I can see the outline of a stake thrust into the back waistband of her pants. She has tennis shoes on her feet. Following her is going to be harder then just lurking but I don’t want to let her out of my sight.   She walks with her head down, at a pace slightly faster then everyone else.  I am winded by the time she finally turns down an alley. I wait. I don’t want to fall into a trap if that’s what she is setting me up for. I don’t have to wait long. I hear the sounds of a scuffle and a girl runs past me. I sneak into the alley and watch her fight from the cover of a dumpster.

            It’s a vampire, and a young one judging from his fighting skills. She’s playing with him more then anything. Buffy always did take out her frustrations, pain and misery on the demons she slayed. If she was happy it was a quick stake and plunge. If she was miserable, well I almost find myself feeling sorry for this guy. She pummels him completely unconscious, not something I’ve ever seen her do, and then stakes him. Something is definitely bothering her. I never heard one pun or quip. She didn’t taunt the vamp or even say anything to him. That’s not the Buffy I know.

            Maybe that’s the whole problem; I don’t know Buffy, not anymore. I used to know her as well as I knew myself. I could write books on the things I could tell about Buffy Summers, just by looking at her, watching her. Now what I know about her could fit on a postcard. How did we get so far apart? I know I left her. I know I intended to stay out of her life. I never intended for this to happen. I don’t know what I thought would happen. I guess maybe we’d talk on the phone, write letters, and stay in touch, just not literally. We didn’t though. I sat down to write a thousand letters to Buffy. The only problem was I didn’t know what to say to her. I couldn’t tell her anything she didn’t already know. I couldn’t write anything I hadn’t already said a hundred times so I burned the half finished letters. I called Giles a few times to check up on her, but those conversations were always so stilted and uncomfortable that I stopped after a few, and calling Buffy that was almost as painful as seeing Buffy. Hearing her voice always made me want to run back to her.

            Before the night is over she’s tallied up a grand total of 6 vamps and no quips. I’m even more worried about her now.  I don’t know if I’m needed here or not, I’m probably not wanted, but Buffy’s little family seems to have missed that while she’s here physically, emotionally she’s gone. I curse Spike. If he loves her like he claims to he should notice this. He should care enough to try and fix it. I don’t know how Buffy got this way but I’m going to find out and if someone caused it, I will kill them, human or not. Not all monsters are demons and Angelus wasn’t the entire sum of the demon in me. I am still fiercely protective of Buffy.

            I slip into my alley across from her apartment. Spike is sitting on the front steps of the building smoking a cigarette.  I watch as she approaches him. He stands up and wraps on arm around her shoulders. He kisses her lightly on the mouth. I wanna strangle him. Part of me screams mine. The other part whispers quietly, not anymore. I think living with a demon and a soul for more then a century and a half has made me slightly schizophrenic. The only difference is now I war myself instead of Angelus.

            Buffy sags into Spike and I watch as they walk into the apartment building together. At least he holds the door open for her. This is just peachy. I get to go back to my own apartment and stare at pictures of her and think about what he’s doing with her. Things I never got to do with her, no doubt. I offer up a silent prayer that he’s good to her, that he loves her and tries with everything in him not to hurt her.

            There is an envelope of pictures under my door when I get there. I guess my detective got tired of waiting around for me. I check the watch on my wrist. Its eleven pm, a long work day for anyone. I grab a Guinness out of the fridge. I walk into the bedroom and sit on the floor, leaning against the bed. I tear open the envelope. There’s a note inside.

Sorry. It got late and I had to get to another survey job. Let me know if you need anything more specific then this.

                                                Herb

            So I was right, his name is Herb. He’s right; he did get some great pictures of her. I look at a close up of her face. She’s looking down at something and studying it with concentration. She has her eyebrows drawn together and there’s that wrinkle I love between them. I don’t think I ever told her I love that wrinkle. She would have gotten upset and we would have had the conversation about her growing old and me not. She never did understand that the way she looks has nothing to do with how I love her. She’s gorgeous, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life, but it’s not why I love her. I look at her eyes. She has the most expressive eyes. I need to ask Herb to take some pictures like this in color. I need to know what color her eyes are. When Buffy is happy her eyes are green. When she’s sad they are gray.

            I tack my new pictures up on the wall with the old ones. I take a steamy shower and try to banish any thoughts of Spike and Buffy together from my head. I slide between cool sheets and fall asleep looking at my growing Buffy mural.

Chapter Four

-Spike

            I light a cigarette when I get outside. Bloody bint won’t let me stay the night. Not that I’d want to, she keeps that bleedin bed so hot it’s like sleeping on coals. I don’t mind being sent home afterwards like a good little dog, ok so I do, but even more then being sent home it rankles me that she won’t let me hold her. She won’t let me comfort her. Bitch doesn’t even let me kiss her at least not more then a light kiss on the lips, the kind you’d give your grandmother. She pulls away from my touch like it burns.  The only time I’m allowed to touch Buffy is just prior to or during sex. I’m never allowed to kiss her, really kiss her, like she kissed the wanker, even during sex. Afterwards she gets up and takes a shower, like I make her feel dirty. I have to admit at one time I got off on that. I wanted to make her feel dirty and evil. I wanted to bring her down to my level.

            That changed when I got my soul. No I didn’t go all broody and sensitive and shit like Captain Forehead. I didn’t even get my soul for her. What I wanted from the bloody smart ass demon was to be William the Bloody again. I wanted to be the vampire that dreamed of ripping the stupid bint’s throat out and bathing in her blood. Demon had different ideas. I got stuck with a soul, which I’m really not minding. Oh sure I belly ache a lot about it. Just didn’t want to be like Peaches and play the drama queen card.

            The point is, when I got my soul I found out what loving Buffy is all about.  I understand why the Big Pouf couldn’t get her out of his head. Hell, I’m actually playing second fiddle to him and taking orders. If it were Dru I’d chain her up, torture her a bit until she licked my boots and agreed to obey Daddy.  I’m not saying I love her to the ends of the earth forever and all time. That would be the Wanker’s position.  He was here at some point. I can smell him. He puts on enough of that Nancy boy hair gel the world can smell him. I didn’t mention him to Buffy. I figure she’ll notice him soon enough and she’ll talk about it when she wants to. Unlike the pouf I know it’s her life to live. I don’t push, I don’t prod. She’s a big girl. She talks when she wants to talk.

            I toss my cigarette to the sidewalk, grinding it out with the heel of my boot. There’s a demon bar just up the way that I frequent. Leaving Buffy’s place always leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth, the kind you can only cover up with lots of whiskey. I glance up at the night sky, still lots of time before dawn. Should be plenty to get pissed and pass out in my own bed. You can damn well bet my bed isn’t as hot as a bloody sauna.

*

-Buffy-

            I get out of the shower, relieved to see Spike is already gone. Every now and then he puts up a fight about leaving. I don’t have the energy to fight with him now. I take off my robe and slide in between warm sheets. I flip my pillow over so that the warm side is up and lay down. I stare into the darkness like it can give me answers of some sort. There are no answers. That’s part of life. When you’re young you think everything will be alright if you can just get the answers, figure out how everything works. There’s really only one thing you need to figure out, if you ever get close to finding out all the answers, they change the questions. I guess some people do find the answers. Just not people like me. Maybe the Powers just like screwing with me, because it’s so much fun to see the look on my face when my whole world falls down around me.

            I can’t sleep. I’ve had this off feeling all day, like something’s not right, or like I’m supposed to remember something, only no matter how hard I try I can’t. I flip on the lamp by the bed and prop myself on one elbow. I slide open the nightstand drawer, the one I never allow anyone to look in, and take out the picture there. It’s the only one I have. It’s one of the few things I saved from the hellhole that is Sunnydale. The edges are slightly burned. That’s my fault. One night, about four years ago, I decided it would be best if I just got rid of all the reminders I have lying around. I started with this picture. I couldn’t do it. I watched the flames creep in and I smothered them.

            I let the tears leak from my eyes. I don’t cry those great big, oxygen stealing sobs anymore. I can’t. I’ve actually tried and I’m incapable. I watched the Titanic dry eyed. It used to be a guaranteed sob fest. I can watch every chick flick in the world, all designed to make women weepy puddles, and never ever shed a tear. It bothers me sometimes late at night. I wonder about what I’m becoming. Last week I was too late to save a little girl from a vamp. She couldn’t have been more then ten. I solemnly laid her body out in the alley for someone else to find. I came home, I screwed Spike and took a shower, but I never cried. He’s the only thing that still has the ability to make him cry. Do I really have to specify which he? There’s only ever been on he in my life. I’m fairly certain there will only be one.

Chapter Five

A/N The comparison of Angel’s body temperature to cool sheets on a warm night along with the idea of Buffy’s eyes being green when she’s happy and gray when she’s sad comes from a much greater writer then myself, Maquisleader. You can find all her beautiful wonderful stories at her web site. http://maquisleader.com/buffy/

-Angel-

            I woke up early to find she sleeps in late. It doesn’t surprise me. Buffy has never been a morning person. I called Herb and requested color pictures. He told me it was going to cost me more. I told him to send the bill to Wolfram and Hart. They bring me Hell on earth, they can pay the bill.  I spent the day watching her. She picked at pizza for lunch this time. Xander brought it. I want to pummel him. He’s her white knight; he should see that she’s so drastically not herself.  He was supposed to make things right for her when I couldn’t.  As much as I used to dislike Xander, I thought I could always count on him to take care of Buffy.

            The truth is, I failed her. The Powers sent me to protect her and I couldn’t. Did they have to make it so damn hard? They had to know I would fall in love with her. I dare you to spend half an hour around the old Buffy and not fall a little bit in love with her. It’s impossible. It’s the reason I could forgive Xander all the things he did and said. The Powers could have at least bound my soul, or made me immune to her, something. Instead they gave me an impossible task, guard her, protect her, shadow her but don’t fall in love with her. Maybe the Powers just like messing with my head, because it’s so much fun to see how far they can push before I break.

            She left work early and went grocery shopping. She didn’t buy much, some orange juice, a carton of eggs, a box of cereal and a carton of milk. I want nothing more then to take the shopping cart from her and fill it up with steaks, bread, vegetables and fruit, even some of that yogurt that I can’t stand but that she used to love.  She carries her bag home. I follow at a distance. She keeps her head down and doesn’t meet the eyes of any of the people walking.

            I want to grab her by the shoulders and shake her and scream who did this to you? The bad thing is, I’m afraid to know the answer. I’m afraid the person I want to strangle so badly is myself. I can’t take all the blame. There was the matter of being pulled out of Heaven that had to have done damage. I’m willing to bet Spike caused some and preventing the end of the world time and time again has got to take its toll. I’m good at taking blame though. I’ve honed guilt to a fine art.

            I follow her home from a distance and stand across the street. If she’s true to form she’ll come out in a little while dressed for patrol. She does and I follow her again, the same as I did the night before. She’s like a beautiful deadly animal when she fights. There’s an edge to it there never was before. She doesn’t put any creativity into her fighting. She’s as silent as the grave. The only sound from the fight is the meaty thud of her fists as they connect and the grunts and groans as punches land or miss. She’s pure slayer. I wonder if there’s anything of Buffy left buried in her.

            She returns to her apartment around midnight. I am glad to see Spike isn’t waiting for her. I stand in the alley for a little while, not really ready to go back to the bleak apartment. I wince inwardly when I smell cigarette smoke.

            “Hello, Spike.”

            “Nice to see you too, Peaches. Knew you were here, smelled you last night.” He says.

            “Isn’t that special, since you’ve still got the vamp senses I’m not really sure what that proves.” I keep my eyes trained on Buffy’s apartment building.

            “What are you doing hanging ‘round like a lost puppy?” Spike asks, blowing smoke in my face.

            “I came to check on her.” I say trying not to cough.

            “Funny, never occurred to you to check on her when you were still a vamp.” Spike says.

            “That’s none of your business.”

            “Funny thing, Mate, I think it is. You see Slayer and me are an item. Her interests are my interests and if you’re going to waltz in here and break her bloody heart you can go on back to your fancy law firm.” Spike tossed his cigarette to the ground and stepped on it. He lit up another.

            “You’re one to talk about breaking her heart. She’s miserable and I guess you can’t see it. I’ve been here two days and I can tell. She doesn’t smile, she doesn’t laugh. There’s nothing about her that resembles the girl I knew.” I turn and face him for the first time.

            “And whose bloody fault do you think that is?” Spike roars at me. “You killed her when you left her. She walked and talked and smiled for a while but there was nothing there. And then, after we closed the Hellmouth and she came to LA, you sent her away. That was the final blow, Mate. All that’s left of Buffy is the bleedin slayer. You did that to her, Peaches. So don’t lecture me about not seeing her misery. I live her misery every single day. Do you know how long it was before she stopped calling out your name in the middle of sex? Three bloody years. Do you know that she still cries and says your name in her sleep? Do you even care that I’m the one that picked up all your bloody mess? Just like I’ve always done. Yeah she’s miserable but she’s not suicidal, which is a sight better then she was when I first got here.”

            Spike has backed me into the wall. I look over his shoulder at her building. “You should make her eat something. She’s too thin. And try to get her to sleep. She’s got circles under her eyes. I know you don’t owe me anything, but don’t tell her I’m here.” I say.

            Spike steps back and inhales deeply on his cigarette. “Hurt her again and I promise the only thing left they’ll have to bury are scraps. She doesn’t sleep because she has nightmares about you. And she won’t let me stay the night. She keeps her bed so hot and do you know why? The same reason she does everything else, you. She blathered on once about you feeling like cool sheets on a warm night, or some other gibberish. She can’t sleep on cool sheets. I guess it’s the same reason I’m not allowed to spend the night. She might snuggle up to me in her sleep and forget it’s me, not you.” He tosses the butt of his cigarette to the ground. “I’ve got a date with Blondie. I won’t tell her you’re here, for now. You better damn well decide what it is your doing here though.” He starts across the street.

            I yell out and he turns around. “Spike, what color are her eyes?”

            He looks at me like I’ve gone insane. “Gray, you bloody Git, just like they’ve always been.”

*

-Buffy-

            His kiss is gentle at first, probing, asking. I part my lips in answer and slip my tongue into his mouth. It’s cool and gradually takes on the warmth of mine. He laps at my bottom lip and sucks at it gently. He tilts his head, deepening the kiss. I draw myself closer, wrapping my legs around his waist. He slides his hands down my back. His thumbs cut into my hips, pulling me ever closer, like he can’t get enough of me. I tangle my fingers in his hair, urging him closer, one heartbeat, one breath, one soul, one body, as we always have been and ever will be.

            I exhale a breathy version of his name. It sounds sweet on my lips. He pulls back, giving me time to breathe and begins nipping at my neck, taking little bites of skin. He kisses and gently licks at the mark on my neck, his mark. He takes a deep breathe, breathing me in. Somehow he slips away. The vacancy is like a physical pain.

            “Come on, Buffy, catch me if you can.” He says.

            I stand up with a giggle. We used to play this game in the cemeteries in Sunnydale, only usually I was the hunted and he was the hunter.  I chase after him. I stop and turn a full circle. I’m lost. I can’t see anything for all the fog. “Angel?” I shout. There’s no answer. I yell his name again, there’s an edge to my voice born of panic.  I put my hands out in front of me; I bend over searching the ground beneath my feet. I yell his name again. It comes out a half sob. I’m lost; he’s lost, in all the fog.

            “Angel!” I sit upright in bed, the scream waking me up. I glance around frantically. I’m in my apartment in Cleveland. Angel isn’t here and I’m not lost in a fog. I’m pretty sure he isn’t either. I take a deep breath and bury my head in my pillow. The tears leak slowly from the corners of my eyes.

Chapter Six

-Spike-

            She had another dream about him. She wouldn’t tell me about it but I’m not as oblivious as the great pouf thinks I am. She gets this particularly haunted look about her when she’s been thinking about him. Her eyes seem to turn this deeper, more despairing shade of gray, almost like the gray before a storm. I use the sewer access to get to the magic shop and catch her before she leaves work. She shrugs my arm off her shoulder and turns her cheek into my kiss. Oh yeah, this one must have been a real doozy for her to act this way.

            “Let me take you to dinner. We could have one of those blooming onion things.” I say.

            She sighs. “I’m really not hungry, Spike. I just want to go home and get patrol done, take a hot shower and go to bed.”

            “You need to eat, Luv. You’re little more then a bag of bones.”

            She shoots a glare at me. “You weren’t complaining about me being a bag of bones last night.”

            “And I’m not complainin now. I just think you should eat something.” I say.

            He’s still out there. I can feel him. I don’t know what he thinks he’s going to accomplish with all the stalking. She can feel him too, she just doesn’t remember what she’s feeling, and it probably feels a bit different with him being human and all. If he doesn’t make a decision soon on what his plans are I’m going to make sure he gets a ride back to LA in a body bag. Slayer is miserable enough; she doesn’t need him to come in with promises and confessions of unrequited love, only to dash out again because of some noble bullshit.  Oh yeah I know all about the Buffy and Angel show, it’s the most oft whispered never talked about tidbit ‘round here. Not to mention, I lived a good part of it. Bloody prat tried to suck the world into hell because he couldn’t get her out of his system. I tried to tell the wanker once that he’d be in love with her until the day he died and in his case, quite possibly longer. Love has nothing to with brains, it’s blood screaming to work it’s will. Of course he didn’t listen to me then he sure as hell won’t listen to me now.

            She sighs. “Alright, but afterwards I just want to go home, change, and patrol and take a hot bath.”

            “I’ll take over patrols for you, Slayer. We’ll have dinner and you can go take your bath.” I offer.

            She glances up at me from the corner of her eyes. “I’ll think about it.”

            She ordered a salad, a bleedin salad. She ate a little of my onion thing but not enough to constitute dinner. She left most of the lettuce crap on her plate. I try to talk to her about eating more. She stonewalls me. Baby is good at that. I get her to at least agree to let me take her patrols. Not like the bloody city needs her to patrol it. There’s only a slayer school here. Somehow there’s always a demon that is fairly certain they can operate below the slayer’s radar or better yet, that can take the slayer. She’s famous, my girl. She’s the ungettable get.  Every big bad in the world has a story about how they almost took down the slayer and I’m not talking about those half grown little girls that the witch made. I’m talking about real live kick your ass THE slayer.

            “You know, if the lot of you had a brain, you’d stay as far away from Cleveland as bloody possible. I recommend Spain. It’s nice this time of year.” I say as I thoroughly beat on a vampire.  I stake the bloke and move on. I’m just not in the mood for this. I light a cigarette and lean up against the wall in the alley.

*

-Buffy-

            I drop my robe on the floor and slip into the big tub all the way up to my chin. I used vanilla scented bubble bath tonight. I don’t know why. I haven’t used that scent in years. I found a tiny bottle from part of a gift set Dawn gave me a couple of years ago for Christmas.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me lately. I feel twitchy and restless. It’s a different sort of feeling then my standard I need to slay feeling.  I close my eyes and lean back in the tub. I am disconnected from everything. My friends, Giles, work, the other slayers, they are all in this little bubble and I’m outside the bubble. I can talk and I hear. I even interact but I’m not a part of it. I know I used to be. It started in college, but even then I had friends and I was part of their lives. I guess I never really came back from Heaven. I mean we pretended, but it didn’t go all the way down. I really shut everything off when I came back from LA.

            I don’t know what I expected. I guess I thought I’d walk in the offices and say I’m done baking and we’d ride off into the sunset together. It didn’t work that way, obviously. There’s too much between us. We couldn’t do it. You know the biggest lie they tell you is that love is enough. It’s not. No matter how great the love is, it just doesn’t conquer all.  So am I cynical, hell yes. You live my life and tell me how you turn out. And if you think you can do better, fuck off. I don’t wanna hear it.

*

-Angel-

            I know Spike took over her patrol tonight. I don’t have any desire to follow him around so I walk. I think about what I want out of life, a human life.  There’s not much materially I can’t have. Wolfram and Hart still has extraordinary resources. I’m paid really well. You think I’d actually work in Hell for less then very high six figure number.

            I end up standing in front of a coffee shop. It reminds me of the Espresso Pump in Sunnydale. Buffy and I occasionally met there for our not dates. I decide to go in and get a mocha. I have it with extra foam, just like she used to. I sit in the coffee shop and I indulge in something I promised I wouldn’t do. I brood.

            “Angel?” a familiar voice says.

            I look up from my coffee. It’s Willow. I smile slightly at her and nod. “It’s me.”

            “Can I-can we sit?” She asks, gesturing to the empty booth across from me.

            I look around the coffee shop for the other half of the we she indicated. I am surprised to see Oz standing at the counter ordering coffee. “Oz?” I ask arching a brow at her.

            Willow smiles and blushes. “Yeah, I ran into him in Istanbul. I was there looking for a slayer. I was lost. I walked around a corner and literally ran into him.”

            Good for her. Willow deserves to be happy. Everyone deserves to be happy with the person they love. “Please, have a seat.” I say.

            She sits down. Oz joins her in a moment. He greets me with a nod of his head. “Hey.” He sniffs the air and looks quizzically at me.

            “Human.” I confess. “End of days prophecy thing apparently.” I offer as an explanation.

            “Cool.” Oz says.

            “Wow, human? Normal average Joe human?” Willow says. She’s more easily impressed by this information then Oz.

            “As normal as you are, only without the magic.” I say.

            “What are you doing here?” Willow asks.

            I sigh. That’s not an easy thing to answer. “I’m-I don’t know. I haven’t been human very long, about two months. I know she’s got Spike. I know we’re over, but I wanted to make sure she was happy. I sacrificed so many thing in our lives toward that purpose. I couldn’t start my human life without knowing. I don’t have any plans right now.”

            There was no need to tell Willow who she was. She is who she’s always been, my entire life, all 283 years, if you count the human years, there has only been on she.

            “Does she know you’re here, Angel?” Willow asks. Her voice is soft and sad.

            “No. I don’t want her to know.” I shake my head. “It will only hurt her. I’m tired of hurting her.”

            “What do you think it’s going to do to her if she finds out you were here and never even said hello?” The little red head begins to color. I know from experience she does then when she’s getting angry.

            “She won’t.” I assure her.

            “And that worked so well that Thanksgiving in Sunnydale with the Indians. Angel, talk to her.” Willow says.

            “She’s moved on with her life. She’s got a boyfriend-“I nearly choke on the word boyfriend, “and a job. I don’t have a right to come into her life anymore. If she had wanted to see me she would have let me know by now.”

            “God, could the two of you be more dense? You won’t contact her first and she won’t contact you first. You’re both like twelve year olds when it comes to each other. She’s not living a life. She’s existing and unless you’ve become joy and glee boy, you’re doing the same thing. Talk to her. I don’t know how it will turn out. She might kick you out of Cleveland on your ass, but she deserves that much. You owe her that much. And look at it this way; she can’t stake you if you piss her off.” Willow finished with a smile.

            I chuckle and shake my head. “It’s not that easy, Willow. We’ve got such a history, so much pain between us.”

            “So slipping a little more pain in there won’t hurt. If she finds out you’re here and you didn’t tell her, I don’t know what it will do her. She’s not herself anymore, at least not the way you knew her. It’s hard to gage what her reaction to anything will be on any given day. She’s cold and hard. She’s closed herself off completely to all of us. She can’t take many more blows or she’ll shatter.” Willow says. Her words come haltingly, as if she’s searching for them.

            I take a deep breath. “I’ll think about it. Will you keep my secret for a few days, please?”

            Willow sighs. She glances to Oz. He squeezes her hand. “A few days, Angel, but that’s it.”

            “That’s all I need. I’ve just got to figure out what I want.” I say.

            What a joke. I know what I want. I want the same thing I’ve always wanted, Her.  I’m scared though. I’m scared she doesn’t want me anymore.

Chapter Seven

-Angel-

            I tack new pictures to my Buffy wall. If I actually had any visitors I’d be embarrassed for them to see this. It’s long ago plunged into full fledged stalker territory. I’ve been here a week and a half. Herb gives me a new package of pictures every day.  I still watch her, every day. I try to formulate all the ways I’m going to approach her. None of them seem right.

            I haven’t talked to Spike or Willow again. I know Willow is getting impatient though. It will only make things worse for me if she says anything. I glance out the window. The sun is just beginning to set. Buffy will be leaving for patrol in a little while. I take a deep breath. Putting my fate off won’t change it, it will just make it harder to confront.

            I stop by a florist and get her roses. It gives me something to do with my hands besides stuff them in my pockets I walk up the steps to her apartment building. I want to turn and run all the way back to Los Angeles. If she throws me out on my ass, I have no future. Without her, I never have. “Oh for God’s sake stop being such a bloody wanker.” I tell myself in my best Spike impression. I pose my hand above her apartment door to knock. My heart is beating so hard in my chest that I feel like it’s going to explode. This being human thing is harder then it looks. I rap once on the door and silently hope that she’s not home.

            She opens it not even bothering to look up. “Spike, I told you-“Her eyes, gray eyes, meet mine. All the air leaves her body. All the air would leave mine too, but I can’t breathe.  “Angel,”

            Oh God, she still says my name that way. I thought I could do this. I can’t do this. I nod mutely and thrust the flowers out in front of me. She takes them. Her eyes glitter with awe, wonder, amazement and disbelief.

            “Can I-I’d like to talk to you. Can I come in?” I don’t need an invitation anymore. I know that, but I’m not going to barge into her apartment just because I can.

            She nods mutely and steps to the side, pulling the door wide open. I step across the threshold. She closes the door behind her.

            We stand there in her living room, staring at each other. Time has not made her any less beautiful. Willow is right though. She looks hard, cold. Her golden hair is pulled back in a severe bun.  Her face is void of makeup and the dark circles under eyes are very apparent. There is a faint scar about her left eyebrow. Her eyes are a dark shade of gray I have never seen, probably because I’m best at turning and running when she’s sad and in pain. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know where to start with her. I’ve messed things up so thoroughly in the past I don’t know if I can ever make things right.

            “I-uhm-what are you doing here? Wait, don’t tell me the world is ending tomorrow and I have to stop it.” Her voice is bitter and hard.

            I exhale the breath I didn’t realize I was holding. “No, Buffy, I’m sorry.”

            “Sorry for what, Angel?”

            “Where do I start? I’m sorry for so many things and so many crimes I committed against you, I won’t ever be through listing them. Let’s just call it a blanket sorry.” I say.

            “Let’s not. You want to apologize to me, start by listing every single fucking wrong you’ve done to me. Come on, you should be good at this self flagellation by now. You’ve had a long time to practice.” She folds her arms across her chest. In that movement I can see a tiny bit of the girl I knew. She’s guarding herself, drawing into herself, protecting herself. Anyone else might see it as an arrogant, cocky gesture. I know better.

            “Alright then, I’m sorry that I wasted so much time when I first met you. I’m sorry I didn’t declare my love for you earlier on. We had so few sweet times together. Maybe there could have been more if I hadn’t drug my feet and been so hung up about the age difference between us. I’m sorry that the one night we had together didn’t hold better memories. I’m sorry Angelus stalked your friends, you. I’m sorry he killed Jenny. I’m sorry that when I returned things were so hard, so difficult. I’m sorry I didn’t work harder to make them right then. I’m sorry I made decisions for you, without consulting you. I’m sorry I let you sacrifice yourself to save me. I’m sorry I left you on Graduation day.  I’m sorry I didn’t keep in touch. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you when I came to Sunnydale to watch your back. I’m sorry I let you go so easily when you came to confront me about it. I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you died.” My voice breaks. I take a deep breath and struggle for control. “I’m sorry that the happiest day of my life was that day they brought you back from Heaven. I’m sorry I let you go after that meeting. I’m sorry I never dropped by to see how you were doing. I’m sorry I let you fight the First on your own. I’m sorry I gave you that cock and bull story about the curse and not being able to give you all the things you deserved. But I will not now, or ever, apologize for loving you. You are the light in my darkness. Without the love we share-shared, my life wouldn’t be worth living.” I don’t think I’ve said that much at once since I became human. I have new admiration for Fred and her run on sentences.

            Buffy looks at me in stunned silence. She takes a deep breath. “Wow, that’s a lot to be sorry for.”

            I chuckle. “That’s just the highlights.” I can’t put it off any longer. It wouldn’t be fair. “There’s one more thing you need to know. I’m human.”

            I watch as the roses I got her slip from her hand and fall to the floor. She pales and I’m afraid she’s going to faint. I step forward and grab her by the bicep. Her knees buckle and I’m tempted to pull her to me. I know that’s not my right anymore. I help her over to the couch instead.

            She places her hand on my chest. My heart aches. I still remember the last time she did that to feel my heart beat. Her eyes fill with tears. I see a flicker behind them and then like a dam breaking the love she feels for me rushes into her eyes. “H-how?” She asks.

            “It’s a reward from the Powers for saving the world a handful of times.” I say with a smile, my first smile in regards to being human.

            “Please don’t-we still need to talk but I want to-“She gestures to my chest. “Can I just listen?”

            Her question breaks my heart. I nod. I can’t say anything. She leans in close to me. I take a deep breath of her. She still smells like mine. I want nothing more then to wrap myself around her and hold her there on the couch. I don’t. I sit there with her head on my chest, just over my heart. I can feel her tears as they drip onto my thigh. She cries silently. I give up the struggle of fighting my own tears and let them fall. This is what I wanted to be human for. This and nothing more. I still want the wedding, the life, the kids, the everything with Buffy, but if all I get is this one moment of her listening to my heart beat, that will be enough to sustain me for the next 60 years.

Chapter Eight

Pain is life-the sharper, the more evidence of life.

                                                -Charles Lamb

-Buffy-

            He’s human. He’s here. I’m listening to his heart beat. I can feel heat radiating off his body. His chest rises and falls with regular breaths, needed breaths. This isn’t possible. It’s not happening. I used to dream this. I stopped dreaming it after I came back from Heaven. I knew it wasn’t possible, and yet. I want to sit here until I turn to stone and just listen to his heart beat. Eventually my tears stop their slow descent down my cheeks. I sniff, wipe at them and regretfully pull away from him. I wrap my arms around myself. I look down at the floor. I need to vacuum.

            “So what now?” I finally ask. It’s obvious he’s not going to be the one to start the conversation. Not that he was ever Joe-heres-what-I’m-feeling anyway.

            “I don’t know, Buffy.” Angel says. He caresses my name. I forgot how he did that.

            “You don’t know? You waltz in here and you’re all I’m human and you don’t know?” My tone sounds accusing.

            He sighs and stands up. I always did inspire him to pace. “What do you want me to say Buffy? Do you want me to tell you that I want everything with you we could never have? That I want the picket fence house, the dog, the kids, the whole thing? Because I do. But here’s the thing. I know I screwed up, maybe too many times. Maybe we can’t fix us, there’s so much history and so much pain. Maybe us is broken for good because of it. I know you’ve got a life here and I have no right to ask you to leave it or alter it in anyway. I’m not going to force myself into your life. “

            “So now that you’re human, you’re good enough for me? Is that it? Maybe I’m not good enough for you anymore, Angel.  You have no idea the life I live now. You don’t know who I am or how far I’ve fallen from that naïve little girl you used to know.” I say.

            “I don’t know who you are anymore, Buffy. I’d like to find out though.” He says.

            I can’t do this. I can’t go through this again. I will not survive Angel leaving me again. It’s better if I shut it all off now, close up, don’t let him in.  “No.”

            I can’t look at him. If I look at him I’ll see the pain in his eyes, pain so great it fills up the room and crushes the air from my chest. If I look at him now I’ll cave in and I don’t want to do a re-run of Sunnydale. I’m so tired of Buffy, Angel and pain being synonyms.

            “So that’s it? It’s over. You don’t love me anymore and I should go back to LA.” His voice is thick and choked.

            “Don’t you know, Angel? It’s never over between us. The kind of love we have just goes on. No matter how much we hurt each other, no matter how far apart we are or how much time passes. Forever is the whole point with us, it always will be. That doesn’t mean that we ever get to be together. We’re like oil and water or something else that doesn’t work when you put them together.”

            He chuckles. It’s dry and harsh and sounds like something from the grave. “Have you ever tried to mix oil and water, Buffy? You’re right, it doesn’t mix but you get these beautiful rainbows.”

            Rainbows? When did Angel start talking or seeing rainbows? I turn to say something. He’s walking out the door. I collapse on the floor. I can’t even make it to my bed. I can’t cry. I can’t do anything but lie there on the floor and try to remember how to breathe.

*

-Spike-

            “Slayer?” I call as I walk into her apartment.  The smell of pain and tears washes over me. He was here. I don’t have to ask. I know what she smells like after he’s hurt her.

She’s lying on the floor in a sort of cationic state. Guess it’s time to kill the pouf. I wonder if it’s still considered killing your sire if said sire is human. I pick her up and carry her into her bedroom. I slide her pants off and tuck her under the blankets. I even turn that bloody electric mattress pad up like she likes it.

            I go into the bathroom and get a washcloth. I soak it in cold water and carry it into the bedroom. I dab at her forehead and her cheeks.  She barely blinks. The last time I saw her like this was when Niblet got kidnapped by Glory. I really hope I don’t have to call Red over to go poking around in her brain again.

            “Luv, you okay?” I ask.

            She shakes her head and her face crumbles the way it used to just before she cried. There are no tears this time, just that pathetic face. I smooth a strand of hair off her forehead. I don’t pull my hand back. Instead I run my fingers down the curve of her neck. I rest my hand there on the curve, where shoulder meets neck, where her pulse beats softly. She looks up at me and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything even remotely resembling the pain I see in her eyes. Oh yeah, I’m gonna kill the bugger and enjoy it. I’ll rip him from bleedin limb to limb. Forget about scraps there won’t even be that much left when I’m done with him.

            “Angel, he’s-“her voice is raw. I wait for her to finish. She can’t.

            “I know, Luv.” I look deep into her eyes and a knife slices my insides to bits. This bloody champion shit sucks. “Listen, Luv, you do what you need to. I’ll understand.”

            Being fucking burned alive hurt less then this.

*

-Angel-

            I take down her pictures one by one. I’ve been doing this for hours, every since I left her apartment. I sit and stare at her pictures. She’s not happy. I can tell, seeing her only confirmed that. But she doesn’t want to try and be happy with me either. I can’t say I blame her. I’ve hurt her to many times to count. I’ve told her I’d stay forever, and then in the next breath I walked away. Everything is different now, can’t she see that? I’m human and she’s not the only slayer. We could actually have something close to a normal life.  She’s not willing to risk the pain though.  I’m done here. I didn’t do what I set out to do, but she won’t let me finish. I wanted to see if she was happy, if she wasn’t I wanted to make her happy.

            And what was that crap about we’re never over? If we’re never over then why the hell won’t she try? I guess it’s easier for her to live the half life she’s got then to take the plunge and try for something that could be amazing. No pain no gain. God I must be lame, I’m quoting Nike commercials here.

            You know, it doesn’t matter. She made her decision. I promised I would respect that decision, let her make it. I’m going back to LA. I don’t know why. I’m sure there are papers to sign or an evil client to help.  She’s moved on with her life, now I’ve got to move on with mine.

            The door shatters under the impact. There goes my security deposit.

            “Invite me in, Wanker.” Spike is in full vamp face standing at my doorway snarling.

            “Oh, that’s right. I’m human now you need an invitation to come into my house.” I stand with my hands in my pockets. I didn’t bring weapons with me. It wasn’t really a priority when I got here.

            “Oh for God’s sake, haven’t you had it enough with the gloating. Invite me in.” Spike says.

            I sigh. “Come in.” I grumble.

            The next thing I know I’m flying across the living room. There’s blood trickling from the corner of my mouth. I wipe at it and struggle to get up. I’m kicked in the ribs for my effort. I kick up to my feet. I may be human but I do have a little bit of prior fighting experience. I catch Spike in the jaw with a strong right hook. He staggers back. I get a jab to the kidneys before he turns on me again.  He knocks me down with a roundhouse.

            “Stay down, you blood Git. I’ve got a few things to say to you.” He snarls.

            I’m not normally one to take orders from Spike, but in my defense, being human and being beat on by a vamp, ow. I have new respect for Gunn, Wes and even Xander. I think the asshole cracked one of my ribs.

            “I warned you not to hurt her. Do you know what she was like when I left her a few minutes ago? She was practically in a fucking coma. This is after hours of me coddling her and trying to get her to talk. I think she said 2 words and one of them was your name. I had to call Red because I don’t trust her being there by herself.” Spike is leaning over me, still in vamp face.

            I shake my head. “I didn’t mean to hurt her, Spike. I gave her the choice. I told her I love her and I told her I want everything. She sent me out the door.” I’m wheezing. I grit my teeth.

            “And what was she supposed to do, Peaches? Sign right up for another stay in the Heartbreak hotel? Have you ever caused her anything but pain? You know she thinks you’ll make these empty promises and then dance out of here just like you have a hundred times. Buffy doesn’t know anything but you leaving her. It’s all you’ve ever shown her.” Spike says.

            “She doesn’t want me around, Spike. How much clearer can I make that?” I shout at him.

            “You always were more brawn then brains, Peaches. She wants to see if you’ll stick. I’m sure she was a cold hearted bitch to you. I’ve seen that side of her many times. You know what you do? You take it like man, get knocked down and then get the hell back up. You’re not playing with a little girl anymore, Angelus. She’s a full grown woman and she plays dirty. Try having some stones and showing her you’ll stick around when it gets hard and dirty.” He backs off and reverts to his human face.

            I stand up, trying not to favor my ribs in front of him. “Why are you telling me this? I’m walking out and leaving her all to you. I don’t see what’s in it for you if I stick around.”

            Spike shakes his head. “You still don’t get it. I love her. I love her enough that I want to see her happy. And I know she doesn’t love me. She never has and if we have until the end of forever to spend together, she never will. You’re to much a part of her. You’re in her soul, her blood, her heart. I tried to get you out. Nothing worked.  If I thought killing you would help, I’d rip your bloody throat out right now. It won’t. Hell, she killed you and it didn’t help. Besides with your track record for dying, you’d just come back.”

            I chuckle I can’t help it. “So what do you suggest we do, Spike?”

            “I’m going to stick around a little longer. She needs someone to take care of her right now. I suggest you stick around even longer then me. Start up a fancy evil law firm out here in Cleveland. Show her she’s worth more the pretty words and broken promises. Now I’ve got to get back to her, make sure she’s okay.”

            He’s gone before I can say anything else. I’d almost forgotten what having vampire speed is like. I sit down on the couch, my elbows on my knees, and I stare at my hands. This is great. I’ve sunk to a new low. I’m taking love advice from Spike.

Chapter Nine

-Willow-

            I sit down on the bed next to her. Spike warned me her condition was almost as bad as when Dawn was kidnapped. I didn’t really think it was possible. Its times like this that I wish I had taken D’hofferyn up on his offer to become a vengeance demon.

            “Hey, Buffy.” I say. Her eyes flicker toward me. That’s a good sign because before, with Dawn, she just stared straight ahead.

            “I know Angel came to see you. I know he’s human. It’s sort of my fault he came to see you.  I told him he needed to. I thought if he was here and never even said hello it would hurt you more. I wanted him to give you the chance to make a decision about your future, or lack of future, with him.” I’m mostly talking to hear myself talk.

            “Thanks, Will.” Her voice is cracked and distant.

            “Oh! Oh, you’re here. I mean, I know you’re here but Spike thought you were catatonic.” I clasp my hands in my lap to keep from fluttering them around like butterflies.

            Buffy shakes her head and sits up. “I don’t know what I am, Will. I mean, I was, when Spike got here. I can’t remember how to breathe, Will. It feels like I can’t breathe.” Her eyes well with tears. I don’t remember the last time Buffy really cried. I reach out to pat her shoulder. That’s all it takes. She crumbles under a flood of tears, pain and emotion she’s held in for so long I thought she had forgotten how to feel. She puts her head in my lap and sobs. I bend over her and sob too. I forgot Buffy could cry like this. She aches so much that it fills the room and you can’t help feel it too.

            At some point I hear the apartment door open. I assume it’s Spike. I hear it open and close again within minutes. He wants to give us girl time. Buffy and I both sob until there are no tears left. My throat aches. Her eyes are red and swollen. I retrieve a box of Kleenex for both of us. She blows her nose and sniffles. “Thanks Will, sorry to sort of lose it on you.”

            I shake my head. “No, you’ve had that coming for years, literally. I’m glad you finally let it go.”

            Buffy shrugs. “I don’t think it helped. The answers aren’t any easier now then they were before I made a sobbing snotty mess of us both.”

            “It’s not about answers being easier, Buffy. And besides are the answers really that hard?” I ask.

            “That depends on the questions.” She says. She tears the tissue in her hand to little shreds.

            “So what are the questions?” I ask softly.

            “They are like those huge essay questions we use to have in Professor Walsh’s psych class. I don’t know what to do, Will. I want someone to come along and just tell me what choices to make, to straighten out my life.” Buffy says.

            “Well, then lets start with the easy questions. What do you want?” I ask.

            Buffy bites her lip. She chuckles dryly. “Not an easy question. The things I want cancel each other out.”

            “Angel?” I ask.

            She nods. “I’ve always wanted him, but he’s not stable, he’s not good for me. He hurts me, Will. I can’t take anymore hurt, at least not from him. I can’t just jump into something with him. We can’t pick up where we left off in Sunnydale. And then there’s Spike. I don’t love him like I love Angel. I never have and I’ve never pretended too, but I do care. He’s been good to me, more then good. He was there to pick up the pieces when Angel left. He was there when I came back from the dead. He saved the world and I’ve treated him like shit. He loves me and I’ve taken that and used him. So now I’m supposed to what, just dump him because Angel comes into town? I can’t do that to him. That’s worse then even what Parker did to me.”

            I chew on my bottom lip. “I’m not trying to be all selfish girl, but I really kind of thing this is a decision you have to make based on the things you want, and not what anyone else wants. No matter what you do, someone is going to get hurt, so you gotta try and focus on what you want and what’s going to hurt you less.”

            Buffy sighs and flops back on the bed. “I want my life to be a movie, one of those old black and white ones. The choices aren’t this hard in movies. It’s all about happily ever after.”

            “Not true. Remember Casablanca?” I remind her.

            “That’s the one where the guy owns the bar and she gets on the plane and goes with the other guy, huh?”

            I nod.

            Buffy wrinkles her nose. “Ok so, a fairy tale. I want my life to be a fairy tale. The knight in shining armor always comes to save the Princess. He never leaves her so she’ll be happy. She never has to worry about picking the wrong guy because the wrong guy is always vile and evil and the right guy is always noble, handsome and honorable, which resembles my life in no way.”

            “Want some hot cocoa?” I ask standing up.

            “Oooo yes, with little marshmallows.”  Buffy stands up and follows me into the kitchen.  She doesn’t actually have hot cocoa in her kitchen. I brought some from home when Spike called me. It’s an official comfort food.

*

-Buffy-

            I sip hot cocoa and sit on the couch with Willow. We’ve got Casablanca in the DVD player.  We’ve both seen it so many times we don’t actually have to watch it.  I can’t remember the last time Will and I watched a movie together, or had a girl’s night. Since I moved to Cleveland I’ve been all slay all the time.  I’ve closed myself off. I don’t let my friends in. I am so afraid of getting hurt again. I’m not sure when that happened. I’ve always been heart on my sleeve girl. Angel once told me that I held my heart out in front of me for the world to see, and it’s true, only not anymore. I guard my heart. I put it behind this wall in a box and a big lock on the box.

            “What do you think I should do, Will? Honest answers, no just telling me what you think I want to hear.” I say.

            “I think you should do what makes you happy.” She says.

            “What if I don’t know what that is?” My voice sounds trembly.

            “Then you find out.”

*

            Willow goes back to her house after many assurances from me that I’ll be okay and I’ll call if I need her, even if it’s the middle of the night. She shouldn’t have to spend the night away from her sweetie because I’ve gotten an attack of emotions and become clingy. Besides, I’ve got a lot of thinking to do and thinking is best done alone. I sit cross legged in the middle of the bed. I bend over and rest my forehead on the mattress in front of me.

            A million thoughts and a million memories vie for attention inside my head. Willow’s words keep coming back to me. What do you want? An easier question is what don’t I want? I don’t want to hurt Spike. He’s been much too good to me. I don’t to have to survive Angel leaving again. I don’t want to live the rest of my life never feeling the way I felt the year I was sixteen.

            And that leads me right back to Angel. It seems like since the day I met him, everything always circles around to him in some form or another. I honestly don’t think I could be rid of Angel even if I tried. Somehow, for some reason he’s a part of me and he always has been, since the day I was born until the day I die.

            Opening myself back up to Angel is scary. He can hurt me in ways that no one else and nothing else can. He’s like a great big dangerous wild cat, in more ways then one. He doesn’t even realize it when he hurts me most of the time.  And everything is always all or nothing with Angel and me. I know if I let myself get involved with him again I won’t be able to do it with these walls that I’ve built to keep everyone else out.  I’m not built that way, not when it comes to Angel. I wish I were. It would make things so much easier.

            I sit up with a growl. . I’m just not gonna do a damn thing for now. I’m not going to let him hurt me. I’m not going to let him tear down my walls. I’ve always just accepted Angel back with open arms. I’ve trusted that our love will be enough and it’s proven time and again, it’s just not. There is one thing I know, though, I’m not going to push him away. I’m not going to tell him to go back to LA. I can’t watch Angel leave me again.

*

-Angel-

            I leave Buffy’s apartment and walk into the first bar I can find. I sit far away from the mirror out of habit. I order an Irish whiskey. The point here is to get drunk, good and pissed so I don’t have to think about Buffy giving up on us. I drain the whiskey quickly and motion to the bartender.

            “Just give me the damn bottle.” I growl. I still manage a pretty respectable growl for a human.

            The bartender doesn’t even glance twice at me. He just smacks the bottle down in front of me and leaves me alone. That’s fine. It’s exactly how I want to be and apparently how I’m supposed to spend the rest of this fucking human life I wanted so damn bad.

            I know I hurt her. I know I hurt her so bad that I killed everything inside of her. The things I’ve done to Buffy in the name of her happiness rank right up there with murdering children, which I’ve also done. Go me. I’ve got a chance to make it better though and she won’t let me. She’s so drawn into herself, I don’t know if anyone can get her back.

            Several Irish whiskeys later I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I’m going to get her back. I rub at the spot just below my rib cage, a spot that still aches from time to time, the exact spot Buffy ran a sword through me to save the world. I drain my last whiskey and stand up slowly. I give the world a chance to stop spinning before I start walking back to my apartment. I came back from Hell for her. There’s no way she’s getting rid of me this easy.

Chapter Ten

A/N The timeline I based this on was the first airing of Graduation Day 2 (July 13, 1999) until the month and year I place this story in (October 2009)

-Buffy-

            I notice Angel sitting on the park bench across from the magic shop on my way to work. I don’t say anything to him, but he sees me looking. He smiles. I don’t smile. I push open the door to the shop and am confronted with more blush roses then I have ever seen in my life.

            “Giles, did Willow mess up a spell?” I ask glancing around the shop. There are ten different vases filled with a dozen blush roses a piece. Giles hands me a small bouquet of three blush roses and a card.

One rose for every month I was gone.

                                                            A.

            I bite down on my bottom lip. I refuse to tear up. He is not going to buy me off this easy. “How long has he been sitting out there?” I ask Giles.

            “He was here when I opened up the shop this morning.” Giles says as he moves a vase of roses and opens a book.

            “Did he say anything to you?” I ask. This is like pulling teeth.

            “Good morning, I believe.”

            I grumble. “I don’t want him in here.”

            There are one hundred and twenty three roses, exactly one rose for each month he was gone, including the ones I was dead for. I had lots of time to count. It was a slow day.  I take one vase of roses home with me. I leave the rest at the magic shop, it’s not like I could carry all of them home anyway. Angel gets up from where he has sat on the park bench all day and follows me home. I stop in front of my apartment building and turn toward him. He smiles. I scowl.

            “You realize what your doing is considered stalking in almost every state?” I say.

            “I wanted to make sure you got home safe.” He says.

            “And you were sitting outside on the park bench for what reason?” I ask.

            “I need the sun.” He says with a quick grin.

            I roll my eyes and leave him standing on the steps while I go up to my apartment. I consider going back down there and strangling him but since he’s human, well I still don’t kill humans.  I make myself a peanut butter sandwich and drink a glass of milk. I change into black pants, a sweater and boots. When I go downstairs for patrol, Angel is still there. He falls into step behind me. I jam my hands into the pockets of my jacket.

            “Don’t you eat? I mean you could go home, assuming you have one, and eat or sleep or watch TV.” I snap at him.

            “I grabbed something from a street vendor while you were in your apartment.” He responds.

            I walk too fast, purposely trying to lose him. He falls back a bit but stays within sight. Where are all the vamps, demons and other monsters when I want them? It never fails, if I don’t feel like patrolling they are out in force. If I want something to pummel on they hide.

            I wrap up patrol early and head back to my apartment, with Angel in tow. I see Spike sitting on the steps to my building long before I get there. It’ll be interesting to see how Angel reacts to this. His reaction surprises me. He doesn’t confront Spike or growl and tell him to get away from his mate, like he would have at one time. He stops several feet from the building and watches.

            I fish my apartment key out of my pocket. Spike puts out his cigarette. He doesn’t try to kiss me or put his arm around me, which also surprises me a bit. I would have bet money Spike would take every advantage to rub our relationship, if that’s what you call it, in Angel’s face.

            “Looks like you’ve got a stalker, Luv.” Spike says.

            I nod and let us both into the building. “Yeah, that started this morning.” We walk up two flights of stairs to my apartment. I let Spike in and shrug off my coat.

            “You two talk some more?” Spike asks and throws himself down on the couch.

            “Nope.” I boil water for tea.

            “Don’t you think you should?” he says.

            I turn and glare at him. “So now your Angel’s champion?”

            “Oh bullocks, no. Bloke’s got to wonder though, don’t he?”

            I sigh and lean against the counter. “He’ll leave on his own when he’s ready. I can’t make myself send him away though. Don’t worry; Angel has always been good at leaving me. It’s the staying he sucks at.”

            “Not worried a bit, Luv.” Spike stands up and paces. I know he wants a cigarette. I won’t let him smoke in my apartment.

            “Spike, whatever you’re thinking, just say it. One thing I’ve always appreciated about you is your outspokenness, even if it’s not particularly wanted.”

            “Not the time, Luv. We’ll discuss it later. I need a drink. I’m gonna head down to the bar. Get some sleep, Kitten.” Spike says.

            I walk across the room and stop him with a hand on his forearm. I peck him on the cheek and he looks surprised. “Thank you, Spike.”

            He winks. “Not a problem, Luv.”

*

            The next morning when I walk to work Angel is sitting out on the park bench again. This time he’s wearing a coat at least. He smiles at me. I don’t. I walk into the magic shop and there are iridescent balloons everywhere. They literally cover the ceiling in a way that actually looks very cool and planned. Giles hands me a small pink pig with a card attached to it. He never looks up from his book.

One balloon for every moment I wasn’t there.

                                                                        A.

            “Buffy, between the balloons and the roses, we’re not going to have actual room in the shop for inventory. I trust you are planning on speaking to him soon.” Giles says.

            “No. I’m not. He left me for ten years. A truckload of roses and balloons, and a pig that looks exactly like Mr. Gordo are not going to make up for that.” I am almost yelling at Giles and I don’t know why. None of this is his fault.

            “Very well then. You’re going to have to get rid of some of these things, and I don’t mean the inventory.”

            I take a vase of roses out onto the sidewalk. I start handing out roses to every person walking by. I watch Angel’s reaction from the corner of my eye. I expect him to be mad. Instead he’s chuckling at me. That makes me mad. So I take one vase at a time down the street and into an alley that is home to several people. I give them the vases of roses. Angel just smiles at me. He is the most infuriating man.

            I don’t have the time or the patience to take an accurate count of balloons, but there are somewhere in the neighborhood of five hundred and eighty, so I had a little time and a little patience.  Giles is busy inventorying and I help him to get my mind off Angel sitting complacently on the park bench across the street reading a book. It’s probably Shakespeare or something equally as old. It’s nearly dusk by the time we come to a stopping point on the inventory. I tell Giles to go home. I can lock up. He thanks me and takes the opportunity to get a bit of sleep. Sometimes I forget he’s getting old. I prop open the door to the magic shop and take a broom. I bat at all the balloons, herding them out the open doorway where they float up into the sky. I stand and watch them with tears in my eyes. The pale purple of dusk comes through the iridescent of the balloons and makes everything satin shiny. I try not to notice Angel is watching me with the same intensity he always has.

            I brush at the tears that gather in my eyes and go back into the magic shop. Everything is whisper quiet. It was Willow’s day off so I’m the only one left here. I pick up the pig and toss him in the trash. Five minutes later I’m on my hands and knees in tears pawing through the trash. I clutch the pig to my chest and sit on the floor sobbing. Mr. Gordo was one of the things I had to leave behind in Sunnydale.

            He’s here. He must have been watching me from the window. I dig my fingers into the softness of his sweater and pull him to me. I don’t care that I’m mad at him. I don’t care that we have more things to work out then can be said. In fact, truthfully it probably wouldn’t even matter if it wasn’t him. It could have been Spike, or Willow or even Giles. It makes all the difference that it is him.  He doesn’t ask questions and his touches are tentative. At one time he would have clutched me to him with the same desperation I’m clutching the pig. He croons to me in a soft murmuring voice. I’m not even sure the words are English. He sings a lullaby to me that I know isn’t English.  It’s soothing and sweet. It sounds old, like something mothers have sung to their babies for centuries.

            I cling to him and I sob. I cry for all the things I’ve lost. I cry for Mom. I cry because I don’t have a grave to put flowers on. I cry for all the slayers I’ve lost since Willow made them. I cry for Sunnydale and the memories buried in the crater that I have never gone back to see.  And I cry for me, for the person I’ve become and the person I lost. When I finally manage to stop the waterworks we both pull away awkwardly. Angel offers a hand and helps me to my feet. I can’t get used to the idea of warm Angel. He’s always felt like cool sheets on a warm night. I brush my pants off and turn my back to him.

            “I’m sorry.” I mumble.

            “No, you don’t have to be sorry.” He says. I hear him take a step toward me. I can almost feel his hand reach out to touch me, and then pull away. Predatory senses I guess.

            I grab my bag from under the counter and stuff the pig he gave me in it. I can’t say thank you. That would be like accepting him back in my life and I can’t do that. I just can’t. Everything inside is still so sharp and brittle. He could break it all so easy.

            “Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.” I whisper.

            “What?” Angel says.

            I shake my head. “It’s nothing.” I sigh and close my eyes. I press my hand to my forehead. Neither of us says anything for a long time.

            “Come on, I’ll walk you home. You don’t have to talk. Just pretend I’m stalking you.” He says. He doesn’t reach out to take my hand, even though I can tell he wants to.

He holds the door open for me and waits while I lock up.

            We walk to my apartment slowly. It’s cold and I can see his breath freezing in the air. I choke on tears I can’t shed in front of him, not over this. I wrap my arms around myself but I don’t speed up my pace. Even though it hurts, it’s nice to be around him. I forgot how safe he makes me feel. It’s a different from the general I’m a slayer safe I always feel. It’s the kind of safe I felt at home in my own bed before I found out what goes bump in the night. The kind of safe I felt before I was a slayer.

            As if by mutual agreement we stop at the door to my building. He holds the door for me but doesn’t come inside the building. He watches as I start up the stairs and then turns to go back to his own place. I walk into my apartment with a sigh. I don’t bother with turning on the lights. I fish the pig out of my bag and make my way in the darkness to my bedroom. I lay down on the bed clutching him. I would cry but there are no more tears. Lying there in the dark clutching a little stuffed pig, I realize something for the first time. I still feel Angel, human Angel, inside like I always did.

Chapter Eleven

-Angel-

            I’ve been stalking her for three weeks. I half expect the police to come and haul me off of my park bench. I thought maybe we had made some progress after the crying fit she had in the shop. I showed up at the magic shop the next day and at least hoped to get a smile. I didn’t. She hardly even looked at me. In the meantime I’m sitting out here freezing my ass off. Is she worth it? Yes. Does that mean I’m not pissed? No. I’m sure as hell not going to let her know I’m mad.

            I’m getting desperate. I give Buffy a brief break from the stalking and go to see Willow at the magic shop on Buffy’s day off. The door chimes as I walk in. Willow looks up from the counter. I can see Giles in the back room at a desk.

            “Angel, Hi. Buffy’s got the day off. I think she’s at her apartment.” Willow says.

            “I know. I came in to talk to you.” I say.

            “Oh! Oh, okay.” Willow looks dubiously at me.

            I gesture toward some chairs sitting in front of a window. “Can we sit?”

            “Sure,” She comes around the counter and walks past me to the chairs. I follow. We sit down facing each other.

            “Okay, here’s the deal. I’m sure you and everyone in Cleveland except Buffy has figured out I want to spend my human life with her. I’m getting no where fast with her. I don’t know what else to do, Willow.”

            “She’s scared, Angel.  When she had to kill you, it was 5 months before she could talk about it, at all. When you left her after graduation, it was almost along before she would say your name then, and you weren’t even dead. I’m not talking about heart to heart conversations; I’m talking about your name. It hurt her so much to say it that she just couldn’t. She’s afraid she’ll get hurt like that again.” Willow said.

            I bury my face in my hands and sigh. It is a long while before I speak again. “I can’t erase the past, Willow. No matter how much I wish I could. All I can do is let her know I’m not going anywhere.” I say.

            “Yeah, that is all you can. It might take a little while to convince her though. Buffy is stubborn. She’s only gotten more so with time. She closes herself off and won’t let anyone get near. That’s what she’s doing with you. She’s better then she used to be though.  She actually cried the other day, real crying. I don’t think I’ve seen her do that since before her Mom died.”

            “This is better?” I look at her in disbelief.

            “She’s not the girl you knew in high school anymore, Angel.” Willow warns me.

            “I’m beginning to see that.” I say.

            “So, does that mean you’re giving up and going back to LA?” Willow asks.

            “No.” I snap.

            “Good.” Willow smiles at me.

            I made Willow smile, well at least that’s something.

*

            The next day I send her an antique compass with a card that says “You can’t lose me.” I watched her open it from the window. She covered her mouth with her hands and I’m pretty sure her eyes teared up but by the time she looked at the window at me she’d already slid that stone mask in place.

            She still refuses to talk to me on the walk home but she does have the compass with her.

            This week I’m actually leaving Buffy alone during the day. I bought a car or rather Wolfram and Hart bought me a car. It’s getting to cold for her to walk to work. The first day she made me drive five miles an hour the entire way to the magic shop while she walked. I spend the day looking for an apartment I actually like. I figure if she’s going to make me live here in misery I might as well live in misery somewhere nice. I’m there to pick her up when she gets off work.

            “Buffy, this is silly. It’s cold. I’ll drive you home. I won’t touch, I won’t speak to you. You can even sit in the back and pretend I’m a driver. I just don’t you to be cold.” I tell her through the open passenger side door.

            She looks warily at me and then climbs in the car. “Nice car.” She says.

            “Thank you. Hell bought it for me.” I say.

            “Hell?” She quirks an eyebrow at me.

            “Wolfram and Hart.” I say.

            “Oh, Evil Inc. That’s what Will and I call it.” She almost smiles but it’s like she catches herself just before she does. “Is it that bad, working there?” she asks.

            I’m ecstatic. This is the most she’s talked to me in three weeks. “It’s-yes and no. It forces me to walk in a lot of gray areas. I have to help some people that are small evil so I can get the bigger evil and I hate that but in the end, I think it works, most of the time.” I say.

            She nods. I guess that’s the only little bit of conversation I’m going to get out of her. It’s okay, it’s more then I got yesterday. I stop in front of her apartment building. “Are you going patrolling tonight?” I ask.

            She looks at me, hesitant to answer. “Yes, for a little while at least. Are you going to chauffer me?”

            “If you’ll let me.” I answer.

            “I’ll meet you down here in an hour then.” She closes the door goes into the building.

            I let out a whoop of joy. I don’t dance, but if I were standing up, I would dance. I have a date, with Buffy, sort of.

            Back at my apartment I tear through my closet. I can’t pick her up wearing what I always wear. I rack my brain trying to remember anything she particularly liked when I lived in Sunnydale. I decide on the black leather pants and a deep, almost black, wine shirt. I look in the mirror and try desperately to smash down my hair but it doesn’t want to do anything beside stick straight up. I brush my teeth and have a conversation with myself in the mirror. I can almost hear Angelus’ voice in my head. She might kiss you. She’s not going to kiss you, dufus. She could. She won’t. She might. She doesn’t smile at me, she’s not going to kiss me. She doesn’t have to smile to kiss you. Shut up.

            I glance at my watch. I’ve got to go, I’m going to be late and she might never forgive me if I’m late.

            We don’t talk much. I drive where she tells me to and pull the car up to the curb. She takes her stake out of her pocket and moves to get out of the car.

            “Let me go with you.” I say.

            She shakes her head. “Stay here, keep the car running. I’ll be right back.”

            “I’m human but I do have a lot of years of fighting experience. I can hold my own, Buffy.” I say.

            “It’s not that. I want a warm car when I come back.”

            “Buffy, be careful.” I say.

            “Don’t worry. The vamps here are deeply stupid.” She closes the door and walks into the alley by herself.

            I sit for maybe ten seconds drumming my fingers on the steering wheel then I turn the car off, get out and follow the way she went. I find a broken crate in the alley and grab a piece of wood from it.  The alley is quiet. I’m still getting used to the human hearing. For days I thought I was deaf when I first became human, as well as blind. There’s a door that’s half open and I can hear the sounds of a fight inside.

            Buffy’s in a fight, that’s all I need to know. I’m in the middle of it before I even know what’s happening. She’s fighting four vamps, what in the hell was she thinking taking on those kinds of odds herself.  I duck a right hook and come up in time to slam a stake into the vamp’s heart. One down, three to go; make that two because Buffy just shoved one conveniently into a broken wooden crate. God she’s beautiful to watch fight. That’s how I get knocked down. I catch a roundhouse in the jaw because I’m watching her. I kick up to my feet, trying to tell my human heart to slow down.  I shove my fingers under the vamp’s rib cage and catch the edge. I pull up as hard as I can. I hear a faint cracking and he screams. Buffy rams a stake into his heart from behind. The vamps are all dust.

            “Didn’t I tell you to stay in the car?” She stalks me. I step backwards. I forgot how intimidating she was when she’s truly mad.

            “Buffy, you took on four vamps. You could have been hurt.” I say.

            “Six, Angel. There were six. I dusted two before you got into the fight.”

            “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”  I can feel the blood rushing to my head, pounding in my ears.

            “No, if I wanted to do that it would have been done years ago.” She snaps. “What the hell were you doing in there?”

            “Helping you.”

            “No, you were distracting me.” She says.

            “Distracting? I see its okay for Xander to go on patrols with you but not me?” My voice is tense. I’m trying not to raise it.

            “Don’t even bring Xander into this. It’s about you, not him.” She says.

            “Buffy, you’re being unreasonable. I’ve been fighting for almost three hundred years. I think I can hold my own on patrols with you.” I don’t want to yell at her. I don’t want to be having this fight with her but I have to wonder if it’s better then silence between us.

            “You don’t get it, Angel. You’re not going to so lets just drop it.”  She stalks toward the door.

            “No, Buffy, you don’t get to walk away that easy.” I snap.

            “Why not? You do.” Her voice is cold and hard and filled with hurt that she’s trying desperately to hide.

            I sigh. I guess we had to talk about it sometime. I would have just preferred it be over dinner or coffee or anything besides a cold warehouse. “Buffy, I’m freezing and I know you have to be. Let’s go talk about this over coffee, please?”

            “You promise we’ll talk. You won’t do the avoidy thing?” she asks.

            “I promise I won’t do the-avoidy thing.” I say stumbling over her word.

            “Kay.”

            We sit tucked into a small table in the corner of a dim coffee shop. Thankfully things are quiet. I order a coffee black. Buffy orders a mocha extra foamy, extra milky, extra sweet. Neither of us speaks until we have our coffees.

            I clear my throat. I guess it’s my turn to start this conversation out and I honestly don’t know where to start. If I say the wrong thing I could snap this very tenuous connection we seem to have made. “I’m not leaving you this time. You’re going to have to get a restraining order to keep me away from and then it will only land me in jail because I won’t pay attention to it.”

            She wraps her hands around her coffee mug and sighs. It strikes me how tired she looks. “I’m not going to tell you to leave.” She says.

            I start dancing inside again, might I mention this is the only place I will be doing any dancing. I can feel my heartbeat hammering a wild staccato inside my chest and boy is that a weird feeling. I take a deep breath and remind myself to calm down. It would be just like the Powers to let me have a heart attack right here and now. “So where does that leave us, me and you I mean, not us, I’m not implying there’s an us.” God could I be any more of a dork?

            The corner of her mouth turns up in a smirk. That’s almost a smile. I grin at her like a total idiot. I’m on an almost date with Buffy and she almost smiled at me. Wooohooo!

             “I don’t know where it leaves us. You want there to be an us? A real us not an on again off again sometimes maybe one day us.” Buffy says.

            Was she always this hard to follow or is it my human hearing? “I want there to be an us, a real us.” I have to stop myself from telling her the full extent of the us I want there to be with the marriage and the house and the dogs and the 2.5 kids.

            “Okay, so you know I suck at this dating thing, right?” She says.

            I chuckle. “We’ll figure it out as we go.”

Chapter Twelve

-Buffy-

            I’m supposed to be going over the slayer end of the Watcher’s council stuff for Giles. I can’t concentrate on it. All I can think about is Angel. I’m afraid to even hope that things are going good. I’m almost afraid to even think it.  If I don’t think it, don’t hope for it, it can’t hurt me. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. Part of me tells myself it’s only a matter of time before he leaves me again. Eventually he’s going to decide that he can’t make me happy, or give me the life I deserve. Or worse, now that’s he’s human he won’t be able to deal with me being a slayer. He’ll want a girly girl that isn’t stronger then him, that doesn’t have a destiny, that can’t take a down a demon faster then he can organize a team to go retrieve said demon. Ok, so maybe those are some old Riley issues coming up, but they are valid arguments none the less.

            I shove the stack of papers away from me. This is getting me nowhere very quickly. I can not spend the rest of my life like this. Maybe it was a mistake letting him get this close. Of course it was a mistake. I mean look what happened last time he got this close. He shattered my heart into a million pieces and left. Angel and I are like communism, we sound good in theory. It just doesn’t work between the two of us. I honestly believe we were fated to meet, we were fated to fall in love and that I am his destiny. We were also fated to be apart. The Powers have proved this over and over. I can’t give them a chance to prove it again. I’m gonna just have to walk away from him.

            Angel chooses that exact moment to show up.  I recognize the black Audi as it pulls up to the curb. He walks in the magic shop. He’s actually whistling and he’s whistling pretty badly. I don’t think I’ve ever in my entire life heard Angel whistle. I scowl at him. He smiles at me and I order my stomach not to do that flip flop thing. It promptly disobeys.

            Angel holds out an envelope for me. I take it and hold it in the tips of my fingers, looking at him warily.

            “Well go ahead, it won’t bite.” He grins. He is entirely too happy about this.

            I slip several sheets of carbon paper out of the envelope and look over it. I swallow thickly “Is this what I think it is?” I finally ask.

            “I don’t know. What do you think it is?” He asks.

            “A two year lease agreement on an apartment.” I say.

            “Then yes, it’s exactly what you think it is.” He says.

            The papers slide out of my fingers to the floor. “So what, we have coffee one night, I let you drive me to work on cold days, and you just assume I’ll move back in with you? You assume I’m that desperate to get my hands on you that I’ll drop my entire life so that I can move into your brand new apartment?” I’m yelling and I’m thankful there aren’t actually any customers in the store.

            “Wait, stop, no. I don’t assume anything. The apartment is for me, just me. I wanted you to see the papers so you’d know I’m planning to stick around. I’m not leaving this time. And as for dropping your entire life, I’m dropping my entire life so I can move here, so I can be closer to you.” Angel says.

            I blush bright red.  God, could I be any bitchier, apparently no. I mumble something that sounds like I’m sorry. Giles steps out of his office in the back of the store and clears his throat.

            “I’m just going to go take my lunch break. I’ll lock up for an hour or so.” He leaves before I can stop him, turning and locking us in as he goes. We both watch him get into his car and drive away.

            “Buffy, do you still love me?” Angel asks.

            I look up at him. Tears glisten on my eye lashes and threaten to spill over. “I will always love you, Angel. I don’t know who I am if I don’t love you.”

-Angel-

            It takes every bit of willpower I have learned in the last two centuries not to wrap my arms around her and pull her into me. I know she’d run, or kick my ass and then run. Either way, I’d never get her back.

            “Let’s go sit down.” I gesture over to the pair of arm chairs Giles has sitting near a window. She nods and walks over there. She sits on the edge of the chair, her arms wrapped around her body. Her back is curved, her head is dipped toward the floor. She sits in classic Buffy defense posture.

            “Okay, here’s the deal. I’m staying, for as long as you’re here. You can’t lose me, Buffy. Not this time. When I moved up here I rented a crappy apartment because it was close to yours. I didn’t want to make permanent plans. I didn’t want to interfere if you were happy but when I got here, I didn’t think you were. I don’t think you are.” I say.

            “That’s kind of presumptuous of you, Angel. How can you tell from looking at me if I’m happy?” Buffy says.

            I look up at her face, into her gray eyes. “When you’re happy your eyes are green, Buffy. When you’re sad they are gray.”

            She looks past me, just over my shoulder, to a mirror hanging on the wall. Her mouth forms a round o. “Oh,”

            “So can we start talking to each other at least and can you stop acting like you can’t stand the sight of me?” I ask.

            “Angel, I love the sight of you. It’s the absence of the sight of you I’m worried about.” She says.

            “I don’t know what else to do, Buffy. Help me out here. Tell me what to do to prove to you I’m staying. I just signed a two year lease agreement on a beautiful penthouse apartment. You want me to buy a house? I’ll find a house. You want me to open a business here? I’ll do it. I’m failing miserably at proving this to you, but I’m giving it everything I’ve got. So help me out.” I throw my hands up in the air as I’m talking. I’m completely stretched to a breaking point here.

            “It’s not one big thing you can do, Angel. It’s something you do everyday just by picking me up at the house and taking me home after work, by being there, by showing up.” She explained.

            I reach out to take her hand in mine. At first she resists but then relaxes and lets me hold her hand. “I’ll spend the rest of my life proving that to you then, if you will let me.”

            “Let’s take it one day at time, okay? I’m not 16 anymore. I don’t think about the future. I don’t plan for it because that just gets my hopes up and then it comes crashing down. Let’s just focus on today.” She says.

            I swallow thickly. I wonder if I will ever get her back to the girl that lit up a room just by being in it, the girl that reminded me the world was a better place, even when she wasn’t a part of my life, just because the world had her in it. That’s another thing I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to do.  “Today it is then.” I want to ask her to dinner. I want to ask her to move in with me. I want to ask her to marry me. I think I’ve asked for enough today, just by asking that we talk to each other.

            “Ok, so how does today go?” I ask.

            She smiles. “Maybe you can pick me up from work and take me home. Then you can pick me up a few hours later for patrol and mocha chinos later?”

            “That sounds like a perfect today.” I say honestly.

            “Oh, and the leather pants, you could wear them again, if you wanted to.” She says with a grin.

-Buffy-

            I open the can of soup and pour it into a bowl. I pop it into the microwave for a few minutes. The door opens.

            “You here, Luv?” Spike yells as he walks in the door.

            “Kitchen, sec.” I yell back.

            I grab my soup out of the microwave and walk into the living room. Spike is reclining on the couch. I sit down next to him. “I have blood if you want some.” I say.

            “Nah, thanks, Luv. Wanted to talk to you ‘bout something.” He says.

            I cock an eyebrow at him. “Okay, I’m all ears, only not literally because that wouldn’t be attractive.”

            “Here’s the deal. I’ve been here what, four years. I’ve never been much for staying in one spot. It’s time for me to move on.” Spike says.

            I bite my bottom lip and sigh. “Spike, is this-are you leaving because of Angel?”

            “Not entirely, Luv, least not the reasons you think. You love him. I’ve known that for bleedin ever. I knew it when you came back from Heaven, I knew it when I got my soul and I knew it when you said you loved me.  I have to admit I had hoped when I first moved here that time had changed things. I should have known better. The kind of love you and Peaches have doesn’t change, or go away. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, you’ll both be in love ‘til it bloody kills you.”

            “I don’t want to love him. I’ve tried to change it, I’ve tried to stop and I can’t. I never could. I never did, no matter how much I’ve told myself it didn’t matter. The closest I’ve ever gotten to not loving him is right now and I still love him so much that the idea of him leaving me now is more then I can take.” It’s more then I intended to say, probably more then I’ve said to Spike in ages.

            He smiles at me. “And you’ve lost every bit of yourself trying to get to this point, Luv. Look, I’m not a fan of the ponce. I never will be, but he loves you. He’s been in love since the moment he saw you. He’s just really bloody awful at it. Not everyone can be a natural.” He winks at me and I smirk.

            “Where are you going to go?” I ask.

            “Not sure, really, Pet. Never been much of anywhere here in the states.” He says.

            “You’ll write and call? I mean it. I don’t want to have to wonder if someone managed to dust you.” I say.

            Spike chuckles. “I’m touched.” He stands up and then just looks at me for a moment.  “We had some good times, Slayer.”

            I stand up and catch him by surprise with a hug. Tears gather in my eyes. “I’m going to miss you, Spike. Thank you, for everything.”

            “Buffy, I can honestly say, it was my pleasure. One for the road?” He says looking down at me.

            I tilt my face up and kiss him lightly on the mouth. “One for the road.” I was right all those years ago when I told Angel Spike was in my heart. He is. He always will be.

-Angel-

            Spike is just coming out of her apartment when I pull up in the car.  He waits until I get out. I walk over to him. He lights a cigarette before speaking.

            “Thought you should know, I’m leaving, but if you hurt her again I’ll come back and kill you very slowly. I don’t have the problems killing humans who deserve it like you do, Peaches.”

            I duck my head to hide the smile that comes to my face. “I’m not going to hurt her, if I can possibly help it.”

            “Not so encouraging. You’ve never tried to hurt her and yet you’ve succeeded remarkably.” Spike says.

            “You love her, don’t you Spike?” I ask.

            Spike takes a deep drag off his cigarette and looks me straight in the eyes. “Everybody loves her.” He turns and walks off.

            “Spike, if you need anything, call Wolfram and Hart. Hell, go back and pick up the Viper if you want it.” What can I say? I’m feeling generous.

            Spike grins at me. “Just might do that, Peaches. Might as well see the States in style.”

Chapter Thirteen

-Angel-

            The cell phone ringing wakes me up. I grumble and search blindly for the phone on the nightstand. I answer it and squint my eyes looking at the digital clock. Its 8 am Cleveland time.

            “Angel, its Wes. I hate to disturb you, but we need you here, now.”

            “Wes, what’s wrong? If I need to sign something, fax it over. Harmony has the number.” I say.

            “No, it’s not that. Remember the Vinji and Sahrvin clans, they’ve had another disagreement. The only way they will organize a truce is if you’re here to supervise it.” Wes says.

            I groan. “Can’t Lorne do it? He speaks the language much better then I do.”

            “They both insist upon having you present. Of course Lorne will translate.” Wes says.

            “Dammit. Alright. Send the jet. I’ll be there as soon as I can. I’m going to need a few hours, if I’m lucky, to explain to Buffy. Set the meetings up for tomorrow morning. I’m giving this one day and one day only. If I’m gone longer then that I might as well stay in LA because Buffy will kick my ass all the way out of Cleveland.” I hang up the phone and get out of bed. I take a long hot shower and try and figure how the hell I’m going to tell Buffy that I’ve got to go to LA.

            We’re just beginning to make progress, if you can call it that. We talk on the short drive to and from work. I find myself wishing it was a longer drive so I could keep her closed in the car, all to myself. She actually skipped a patrol night and went to get coffee with me.  We’re supposed to go shopping for furniture for my apartment tomorrow.  I’ve just got to figure out a way to explain this to her so she’ll understand I’m not leaving.

            I get dressed and call her apartment. She’s got the day off from the magic shop. I stop and get bagels and coffee to take over there. I’ve never actually been inside her apartment and I’m shocked when I walk in. There is nothing here that looks like Buffy.  The carpet is Berber. The walls are sterile white. There are no pictures hanging on the walls, no bright throw pillows on the plain beige couch.  There are no candles sitting around the place. The only part of the entire place that looks like Buffy is a small sidebar that has some pictures on it. The one of Xander, Willow and Buffy from her first year at Sunnydale high is there. I can’t help but smile at it. Buffy was so young. There is also one of Joyce and one of Dawn.

            Buffy eagerly takes the coffee and bagels from me. She spreads strawberry cream cheese on the bagel and sits cross legged on the couch. I sit down beside her. She offers me cream cheese and I take it even though I haven’t really developed a taste for it.

            “So what’s up? Did you decide you couldn’t wait one day to go shopping with me?” She asks.

            “No, actually I got a call from Wes this morning.” I say, measuring my words, measuring her reaction.

            “From LA?” Her voice falls and loses all emotion. I can almost see her drawing the little bit of herself she allowed out of the shell back in.

            “Yes, but it’s not what you think. There are these demon clans. Up until a few years ago they were warring. A lot of humans got caught in the cross fire, a lot of innocents. So several years ago I helped organize a truce between them. Apparently some more problems have come up and they want to talk again. They insist that I’m there, although I’m not exactly sure why. Wes says they won’t even talk if I’m not there.” I explain.

            “I see. It’s fine. I mean go, stay as long as you need to.” She says. I can hear the hurt creep into her words, even though she’s obviously trying to keep it out.

            “One day, Buffy. That’s all I’m going to be gone. The company plane is picking me up tonight and I’ll fly back tomorrow night.” I promise.

            “You don’t have to, Angel.” She says.

            “I know I don’t have to. I want to. I’ll be back. In fact,” I take my wallet out of my pocket and fish out my Wolfram and Hart Company American Express card. I hold it out to her. “Take this, take Willow with you and go buy furniture for my apartment. Get whatever you think I’ll like and have it all delivered.” I dig my keys out of my pocket and take the apartment key off and hand that to her also. “Here’s the key. If you have any problems with anything at all I’ll have my cell phone. You can call it anytime.”

            She looks up at me doubtfully, holding the credit card and apartment key in her hands. “Are you sure?”

            “I’m positive. I was going to let you pick out all the furnishings anyway.” I say, which is mostly true. I hope one of these days she’ll actually move into the apartment with me. I want her to feel comfortable in it.

            She bites her bottom lip and looks up at me. Her painfully gray eyes glisten with tears she refuses to shed. “You’re really coming back?” Her voice has that little girl lost quality to it that breaks my newly beating heart.

            “I promise, Buffy. I’ll always come back for you.” I want to wrap my arms around her. I want to hold on to her so tightly that she knows I’m never letting go. I can’t. I’m rarely even allowed to hold her hand and even then sometimes she skitters away like a frightened animal. I clench my fists in an effort not to reach out to her. I think she can sense that I’m losing the battle because she gets up and walks across the room.

            “So, when does your plane leave?” she asks.

            “I’m supposed to meet it there at 5.” I answer.

            “I’m supposed to go work with the newer slayers today. Usually one of the other girls does it, but I try to get up there once a month or so. Willow says it’s good for their morale to see me since I’m almost twenty nine, a slayer and so much alive. If you wanted to come with me, you could. We should be back in plenty of time for you to leave.” She sounds hesitant but she’s already invited me and I’m not going to turn down a chance to be locked in a car with her.

-Buffy-      

            I go with him to the private airstrip. He’s not taking a bag with him, and for some reason that’s encouraging to me. I want so badly to throw my arms around him and beg him to come back to me. I don’t. I wrap my arms around myself instead. If he doesn’t come back I don’t want the memory of last kisses, touches and words to haunt me. I’ve got enough of those to last an entire lifetime. The saying goodbye part is awkward. I don’t know why, we’ve done this often enough it ought to be easy. He stands with his hands in his pockets. I stand at least two feet away from him, my arms wrapped around me.

            “I’ll be back tomorrow night.” Angel says.

            I nod. I’m afraid if I try to speak the only thing that will come out is begging or pleading or asking him yet again if he promises to come back. I don’t want that. I want to be strong and stoic. I want to not need him, like that’s ever going to happen.

            “Make sure to call me anytime tomorrow if you have any problems with the credit cards or getting up to the apartment.” He says.

            I nod again. I know he wants me to say something. I can’t. There is part of me that doesn’t think he’s coming back and that part is dying inside.

            “Here,” he fishes his car keys out of his pocket and holds them out for me. “Take the car. You’ll need it for driving around town shopping. I can take a cab when I get back.”

            I silently accept the car keys. I clear my throat. My voice comes out little more then a strangled whisper. “I could come pick you up.”

            He smiles. It’s one of those big silly smiles that I’m beginning to really like. It’s not my smile, that little half grin that makes my stomach flip flop, but it’s a smile that he seems to use a lot lately. It’s a smile I’ve never seen before, when he was a vampire and Mr. Broody guy. “That would be great. I can call you when I find out what time we’ll be landing.”

            I nod. The pilot leans out of the plane and shouts that they are ready for takeoff.

            “I guess that’s my cue.” He says. “I promise I’ll be back.” He leans forward and places a very quick kiss on my forehead before turning to get in the plane.

            I stand there watching until the plane is out of sight. I drive around town. I don’t want to go back to the apartment. I don’t want to give myself time to think about whether he’s really coming back or not. I dust some vamps, thankful for the distraction. Finally it’s getting late and I hate to go back to the apartment. It’s funny; it’s always the apartment or my apartment, never home. I know where home is, home is on a plane to Los Angeles right now and God can I just tell you how much I don’t want that to be true. That doesn’t mean it’s not, doesn’t mean it hasn’t always been true.

            I turn my electric mattress pad on and give the bed time to warm up before I slip between the sheets. Angel may be human now, but in my memories and in my dreams he still feels like cool sheets on a warm night.

*

            The next morning I drive over to the magic shop. I hit the curb and wince. Angel will kill me if I destroy his car. I run into the shop. Willow is dusting things off.

            “Giles, I’m borrowing Willow for the day! Call us if you need us.” I grab Willow by the wrist and pull her outside.

            “Angel’s going with us and where are we going?” Will asks.

            “No, Angel is in LA for the day. I have his car and his credit card. I’m supposed to get furniture for his apartment.” I say.

            “Nice. I’ve never gone shopping and spent someone else’s money.” Willow says sliding into the car.

            “Me either. Let’s go check out the apartment first. I haven’t even seen it. Angel says it’s huge though.”

            The doorman nods at us as we walk in the building.  We take the elevator up to the sixteenth floor.  I am stunned once we start walking around the apartment. I guess I shouldn’t be. Angel always liked lots of space. There are two huge living rooms at opposite ends of the space. Each has its own working wood burning fireplace. The kitchen is enormous and would probably leave a chef panting with envy. The master bedroom is easily the size of my apartment, which isn’t saying a lot but still. There are three other rooms that could be used for bedrooms or offices. The master bath has a luxurious sunken bathtub setting on a pedestal. There is also a shower the size of a walk in closet. There are hardwood floors throughout the place. There are also balconies off both living areas and the master bedroom.

            “Wow, I knew Angel had good taste but wow.” Willow says.

            “I know. Shopping for this place is going to be daunting, to say the least. I don’t even know where to begin.” I say walking around in awe.

            Willow and I are in an antique store on Washington looking for odds and ends for Angel’s apartment. We’ve already bought a bunch of the main pieces, a huge carved wooden sleigh bed, a really beautiful taupe sectional couch, big screen TV and DVD player, some big overstuffed chairs, things like that. I’m looking for smaller pieces now like end tables, side bars, and lamps. I’ve already bought a couple of mirrors and some rugs to scatter around the apartment. My cell phone rings while we’re contemplating an end table.

            “Hello,”

            “Hey, it’s me. I’m on my way home.” Angel’s voice rumbles softly and I feel my heart jump into my throat. He’s coming back, he’s really come back. I have to remind myself to breathe. I reach out and hold onto Willow’s shoulder for support.

            “Ho-how long?” I manage to get out.

            “The pilot says another hour or so. Are you okay?” he asks.

            “I’m-yeah I’m okay.” I answer. “Willow and I are shopping.”

            “Are you having fun?” he asks.

            I take a minute to think about it. I don’t remember the last time I had fun. “Yeah, I am. You could have told me the apartment is gianormous though.”

            He chuckles. “Sorry, I didn’t think about it. I don’t expect you to buy everything for it in one day.”

            “We didn’t but you do have a bed to sleep on, a couch to sit on and I sort of bought you a TV and DVD player. I decided you had to get into this century sometime before the century is actually over.”

            “I can’t wait to see yo-it. I can’t wait to see it. You’re still picking me up at the airport, right?” he says.

            He can’t wait to see me. He almost said it. He can’t wait to see me. I feel like dancing in the middle of this very stuffy antique store. “Yeah, we’ll leave now and I’ll drop Willow off at her place then I’ll be there waiting.”

            “Ok, see you then.” He says.

            “See you then,” I hang up the phone. My knees are shaky.  I sink down into a chair that I’m sure is eighteenth something or the other. The salesman will probably be over in a moment to sniff disapprovingly about me sitting down on the merchandise. Of course throwing up and then fainting would be so much nicer.

            “Buffy, are you okay?” Willow asks. Her face is etched with concern.

            I nod. “Gimme a second.” I say. I can’t get my brain to move past the he’s coming back part. I take several deep breaths.

            “He’s on his way back.” I say.

            “That’s a good thing, right?” Willow says.

            I nod. “I just sort of assumed he wouldn’t though. I’m used to him leaving. The coming back part is new.” I say.

            Willow smiles at me. “It shouldn’t be. I mean he does leave but think about it, Buffy. He’s always come back to you. And you guys never ever say goodbye, not even on the phone.”

            “Come on, let’s finish up here. I’ve got someone to pick up at the airport.” I stand up and start toward the register. I arrange to have everything we bought delivered to the apartment tomorrow. Angel is going to busy doing a lot of moving.

            I’m waiting in the car when the plane lands. Of course watching it come in I had all these horrible images of it crashing and burning, but thankfully it does none of those things.  I get out of the car and stand beside it while the small door folds down. Angel hunches over and comes through. He smiles one of those big goofy grins when he sees me. I walk toward him with my hands folded behind my back. He stops inches from me and just looks down at me. The grin melts from his face and his eyes take on an intense hungry look. I blush and look down at the pavement. My right hand snakes out and my fingers entwine with his. He smiles at me again and it’s my grin, crooked and ever so adorable. I can’t help it, I smile at him.

-Angel-

            I lay in bed on my back with my hands under my head.  I’m grinning up at the ceiling like the goofy idiot I am. I don’t care that Buffy wouldn’t hug me or kiss me or come back to my apartment with me. She held my hand and she smiled at me. Best of all, when I dropped her off at her apartment she looked at me and her gray eyes had just the smallest bit of green in them, like the ocean after a storm.

Chapter Fourteen

-Angel-

            Buffy is coming over to watch movies at my new apartment. It’s taken me almost a week but it looks like someone lives there now, at least in most of the rooms. I had some pieces of art sent from LA so it feels more like me. I love the furniture Buffy picked. It’s all big heavy pieces in dark and neutral colors. Every thing has texture and encourages you to pull up a seat and stay awhile. I hadn’t realized she’d paid so much attention to the few furnishings I in Sunnydale. The only thing I don’t have is a dining room table. I haven’t found one yet that I like enough to buy. Buffy assures me that it’s fine I don’t have a dining room table. We’re eating pizza tonight on the couch in front of the TV. I wanted dinner with candlelight and romantic music. I wanted everything to be perfect for our first date, but Buffy suggested this so that’s what we’re doing.

            She knocks on the door, even though she has a key. I open the door, staying behind it in case a beam of sunlight comes through, even though it’s night, even though the sun is no longer fatal to me. Old habits are hard to break. She half smiles at me and holds up a bag.

            “I’ve got movies and microwave popcorn.”

            “I ordered pizza, with everything on it. That’s okay right?” I ask.

            “That’s perfect. And you’re sure you haven’t had pizza before? You’re not just telling me this?” Buffy asks.

            I chuckle. “I haven’t had pizza before, at least not since I’ve been human. Fred is really big on Thai food so we always had a lot of that.”

            “Goody. I get to introduce you to pizza.” She smiles and it’s one that almost reaches her eyes, which I think are a little more gray green then they were yesterday. If she’ll smile like that, I’ll let her introduce me to anything.

            “So what movies do we have?” I ask.

            “The Princess Bride, my all time favorite and Moulin Rouge except Willow says we have to stop it after Christian and Satine sing their song together at the end so that it has a happy ending.” She says.

            I furrow my brow and look at her. “Wait a minute; they made a movie about the Moulin Rouge?”

            “Yeah, it’s a musical. Don’t tell me you’ve seen it. It has Nicole Kidman and Ewan MacGregor in it.” She says.

            “No. I haven’t seen the movie. I just-you’re sure it’s about the Moulin Rouge?” I ask.

            “Well, duh, the title of the movie is Moulin Rouge. Why?” Buffy asks

            “Well, Buffy, I’ve been to the Moulin Rouge in Paris and there’s no way they could possibly make a movie that you would like.” I say. There’s no way they could make anything but a porno out of the real Moulin Rouge. And please God don’t let Buffy have brought over a porno, wait what am I saying? Please God let Buffy have brought over a porno but only if she’s staying.

            “Please don’t tell me you ate the dancers there.” Buffy says.

            “Well, not the dancers.” I confess.

            “Never tell me. I want to pretend the Moulin Rouge is dancing and singing and pretty girls.” Buffy says to me with a grin.

            “The girls were pretty.” I tease her.

            The doorbell rings, announcing the arrival of our pizza. Buffy grabs sodas out of refrigerator for us. I pay for the pizza and set it on the big coffee table in front of the TV.

            “Which movie first?” I ask

            “Moulin Rouge, that way I can go to sleep with Wesley and Buttercup in my dreams.” Buffy says curling up on the couch.

            “Wesley and Buttercup?” I ask. I’m trying to figure out the DVD player.

            “They are the characters in The Princess Bride, you’ll see.” She says.

            Buffy stands up and pushes a button on the face of the player. It opens. I look bashfully at her and put the DVD in it. She curls back up on the couch and pats the place next to her. “Sit by me.”

            As if there is any other place I’d rather sit.

*

            Buffy stops Moulin Rouge right after Christian and Satine finish their song. She sits back on the couch with a small smile on her face. “I love happy endings.” She says.

            “So how does it really end?” I ask.

            Buffy wrinkles her nose. “She dies in his arms. She had TB.”

            “The real ending is more realistic.” I say.

            Buffy rolls her eyes. “I think I’ve had enough realism in our relationship to last a couple of lifetimes at least. I’ll take happy endings please.”

            “I’ll do my very best. Ready for the next movie?”

            “Yes. I’m going to start popcorn. You go ahead and start it.” She says. She gets up and walks in the kitchen. She acts like she lives there and it lets me imagine for just a little while that she does.

            She comes back into the living room with a big bowl full of popcorn. She settles down next to me, ducking under my arm. She’s not quite snuggled up next to me but she’s not very far from me either. I’ll take what I can get.

            I enjoy this movie, more then Moulin Rouge. As the movie gets further and further along, Buffy sneaks closer and closer to me. She’s fascinating to watch, more so then the movie. She actually laughs and I didn’t realize how much I’d missed that sound. I even catch her whispering the lines along with the movie under her breath and I know when a good part is coming because she smiles before it happens. I notice while she’s watching the movie her eyes are almost green. When Wesley and Buttercup roll down the hill she snuggles up flush with me, her head on my chest. By the time the movie is over she’s snuggled tightly against me, almost asleep. I start to get up and turn the movie off.

            “No, stay right here, just let me listen a little while longer.” She mumbles sleepily. It takes me a moment to realize she’s listening to my heart beat. I gulp and smooth her hair back from her face.

            “You can listen as long as you want.” I whisper.

            We fall asleep like that. I’m half sitting up with one hand on her hip and the other on her back. She’s lying down with her ear over my heart snoring softly. In my entire life, human or other wise, there has never been a sweeter night.

*

            Sometime during the night she jerks awake. I wake up to find her sitting looking around franticly.

            “Buffy,” I say sleepily.

            “Angel?” She asks my name, as if she can’t believe I’m real.

            “I’m right here, Baby.” I reach a hand out to touch her shoulder and jumps. “Hey, it’s okay.” I lean over and flip on a small lamp. The room is bathed in too bright amber light. I squint my eyes and shut the lamp back off. I get up and stumble to the hallway and turn the light on there. It casts the room in soft light. Buffy is sitting in the corner of the couch with her knees drawn up to her chest. I sit down close to her on the couch, but not to close. I don’t want to crowd her, not yet.

            She looks at me with wide teary eyes. I reach out to her and she almost knocks me back with the force that she scrambles into my lap.

            “You left me. You promised to never leave me.” She sobs into my chest. I wrap my arms around her and kiss the crown of her head.

            “It was a dream, Baby. I’m not leaving you, ever. I promise.” I take a deep breath and inhale the scent of her. It’s not overwhelming like it once was but it’s nice. It feels like she’s all around me.

            “Say it again.” She whispers.

            “I promise, I’m never leaving you, Buffy.” I whisper.

            “Again.”

            “I promise I’m never leaving you.” I bury my nose in her air and clench my teeth to keep the sobs that threaten to rack my body in.  I had no idea the damage I caused her would reach this far. I thought because she was strong, the slayer, she’d be okay. I thought her emotional wounds would heal as fast as her physical wounds. They didn’t though. They festered and ate away at her little by little until nearly everything that was Buffy was gone and all that was left was a scared little girl in a hard shell. I stroke her back and murmur soft words to her. I sing a Gaelic lullaby that my mother sang to me and Kathy when we were small. Slowly her tiny body relaxes. Her breathing becomes even. If I were still a vampire I would hear her heart slow down.

            “Angel, do I have to go back to my apartment?” She asks sleepily.

            “Never.” I answer. I know she’s not really awake and I know in the morning that she’ll want to go home. I just hope she won’t be sorry that she stayed the night in my arms.

-Buffy-

            I wake up in the morning lying on top of Angel. His arms are thrown around my waist. For a moment I let myself lay there, listening to his heart, marveling at his beauty. The warmth of his skin seems foreign but nice. Parts of me want to close my eyes and pretend this can go on forever. It can’t, even if we both wanted it to the world would interfere. I manage to wiggle out of his embrace and lock myself in the bathroom. I splash cold water on my skin and make a face at myself in the mirror.

            “Nice way to not fall right back into getting your heart broken, Buffy.” I tell my reflection.  “Might as well put a sign on my forehead that says Leave me again Angel I’ll just take you right back.” I mutter. I run my fingers through my hair. It’s a rat’s nest as usual when I wake up. I scrub a finger over my teeth and rinse my mouth out with water. I hear him calling for me. I decide that’s the best I can do with what I have and open the door.

            “I’m here.” I say.

            Angel pokes his head around the doorway and smiles at me. “Eggs and bacon or pancakes for breakfast?”

            I might as well eat while I’m here. “Pancakes.” I say.

            I go sit at the bar in the kitchen and watch him make pancakes. He cooks surprisingly well for someone who’s only been eating four months. We eat our pancakes silently.

            “Angel, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to fall asleep here last night. I just-after the movie I was-I didn’t want-“I give up trying to explain. The truth is I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to pretend that Angel and I didn’t have all the painful history we have. That he was just a boy and I was just a girl and we were falling in love for the first time.

            “Buffy, its okay. I’m not going to tell you that I didn’t enjoy getting to sleep all night with you in my arms, because I did, but I know it didn’t mean anything. I know we still have a long way to go and a lot to make up for.  If you haven’t noticed I’m letting you drive this relationship. You decide how fast, how much, everything, as long as I get to be there, I’m happy.”

            I can’t help but smile at him. He’s trying so hard. I take a deep breath. We both might as well be upfront and honest since we’re starting this thing out brand new. “I know and thank you. I’m trying. I know it may seem like I’m just being Bitchy Buffy, but I’m not, or at least I’m not trying to be. Every time I think I’m going to be able to let you in and let all the ugliness in the past go, I have a nightmare like last night and all the old pain gets drug up again.”

            He smiles at me and cups my cheek with his hand. “Give it time, Baby. I’m not going anywhere.”

            God please let it be true this time.

Chapter Fifteen

-Angel-

            I’m making progress with her. I get to hold her hand almost anytime I want to. I generally get a brief kiss hello and goodbye and I get to hold her as long as I want to. We fall asleep on my couch holding each other more often then not.  It doesn’t sound like much I know. I’ve worked almost 2 months to get to the point I am now. And Buffy’s eyes, they are mostly green.

            She’s still so hurt. She has nightmares almost every night. She wakes up crying in my arms if I’m there. If I’m not she calls me on the phone just to make sure I haven’t left town in the middle of the night without saying goodbye to her. This never fails to break my heart and after I hang up the phone I lie in bed for hours mentally beating myself up for the things I have done to her. I almost convince myself that it would have been better if I’d left her alone, if I hadn’t come to Cleveland and then I remember her eyes are mostly green now.

            I can’t stand the pain she goes through though. I can’t stand to see the way she comes out of a dream in a panic, fear written all over her face, all over her body, her eyes that hopeless slate gray they were when I first came here. I hate the way she shivers in my arms while I try to reassure it was only a dream. I hate the haunted look that resides in her eyes afterwards. And I hate that the only reason she calls me first thing in the morning is to make sure I’m still here.

            I pace my apartment. Willow should be here in minute now.  I don’t know if this is the right thing to do or not, but if it stops her from hurting it will be enough. There’s a soft knock on the door and I know it’s Willow. I open it and the little redhead smiles. I step aside to let her in.

            “Can I get you some tea?” I ask.

            “Please.” She says and sits down on the couch. I walk across the room to the kitchen and put on a kettle of water. I return to the living and sit next to the redhead.

She looks at me quizzically. “You still do that.” She says.

            “Do what?” I ask.

            “Avoid the patches of direct sunlight.” She answers.

            I chuckle. “Two and a half centuries of behavior is hard to overcome in a few short months.”

            “But you go out in the daytime.” She reasons.

            I nod. “I do, often. The patches of sunlight though, it’s an unconscious thing. I don’t even realize I’m doing it. Sometimes I’ll stand in front of the window and let the sun pour over me though.”

            She nods.

            I stand up to pace. “Willow, I’m sure you know I asked you to come here for a reason, other then to discuss that I avoid patches of sunlight. It’s about Buffy.”

            “She’s doing good though, mostly, I think. I mean you two look all coupley and she’s talking more now, not a lot but more. She even smiles sometimes, you know that smile she has where her eyes wrinkle up and all her teeth show and her face kind of lights up.”

            I smile at Willow’s description. “Her sunshine smile,” I say.

            Willow looks oddly at me. “Sunshine smile?”

            “I love that smile. It used to make me forget that I hadn’t seen the sun in two hundred years.” I explain.

            “Oh. Well I’ve actually seen that smile a couple of times, usually when she’s talking about something the two of you are going to do or did do.” Willow says with a smile.

            “She still has nightmares, almost every night. She’s still terrified I’m going to leave her and she’s still in so much pain, Willow. I’m trying to make it go away but I don’t know if it’s getting any better or not.”

            “I don’t know if you can, Angel. Sometimes I think the pain will always be there. Just, eventually, hopefully the happiness outweighs the pain and the pain doesn’t matter so much anymore.” Willow says.

            “I want you to do a spell, Willow. Not necessarily a forget spell but something like that, that makes the pain go away.” I say.

            “Angel, I don’t know. I did that once and it wasn’t good. It made everyone forget everything including their names. I mean, Tara left me after we all remembered what happened.” Willow says.

            “I remember Buffy telling me about that. She said you accidentally burned an entire bag of Lethe’s Bramble. You’ll be careful this time. You’ll stay and watch to make sure the spell goes right. I’ll be with Buffy and make sure things go alright on that end.”

            “Angel, I really don’t think-“She starts.

            “I just want her to stop hurting. I want to see her smile and laugh. I want the girl back that I fell in love with. I want the old Buffy. Don’t you?” I ask her.

            Willow looks away from me and smiles. “Yah, I do. Of course I do. I’ll do some research and see what I can come up.”

            “Thank you, Willow.”

*

            Two days later Willow calls me from the magic shop.

            “I think I’ve got it. It’s a modified forget spell combined with a pain killer spell. It’s technically for physical pain but I think I’ve altered it enough that combined with the forget spell, it will do what we want it to.” Willow says.

            “It’s not going to make her forget anything, is it?” I ask. I’ve taken enough memories from her, I don’t want to take anymore even at the cost of her pain.

            “Not in terms of memories. It should only make her forget the pain the memories and events caused her.” She says.

            “Ok, when do you want to do it?” I ask.

            “Tonight? Giles is off; I know Buffy is going over there. I think tonight would be as good as any time.” Willow says.

            My throat closes. I wasn’t really ready to do this so soon. I mean I want her to stop hurting but I had thought it would take more time for Willow to research, or something. I forget she’s so powerful now; this is probably like brushing her teeth.

            “Okay, uhm she’s coming over around 6, we’re going to eat and watch movies. She insists I have to see something called the Ringwald Era. She says they are classics.” I say.

            “Oooo I hope she brings over Pretty In Pink, that’s my favorite.” Willow says. “Okay, so around 9 or so I’ll start the spell. She’s gonna get really sleepy once I do it so don’t let her drive home or even walk home. Once she’s asleep she might be hard to wake up for a few hours. Don’t worry; it should knock her out pretty good.”

            “Alright, I’ll just keep her here. We usually fall asleep on the couch watching movies anyway.” I say.

            “Good. Okay, so if anything other then the sleepiness happens, you can call me. I gotta go get some of this stuff ready and make sure I know what I’m doing.” Willow says.

            I hang up the phone and try to prepare for that fact that in a few hours, I’m going to be watching something called Pretty In Pink.

-Buffy-

            I find myself humming in the video store. The sound surprises me. It’s been so long since I hummed or sang in the shower that it sounds weird to me.  My guard is slipping, actually slipping is an understatement. Angel is sending my guard crashing down around me. I’m trying not to let him. I feel like I’m running around trying to catch all the pieces as they fall and hurriedly put them back up before he can hurt me. I can never get all those pieces back up. He’s been here two months, but it’s not like that’s a record for him. He stayed almost three years the first time, if you don’t count the time he was in Hell and I mean really is it fair to count that time.

            I snag some Twizzlers from the candy aisle. The video stores have those great big packages like at the movies. I decide to rent The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink. Angel completely missed the eighties somehow. I’m trying to introduce him slowly. I walk to Angel’s apartment and take the elevator up. I use the key on my key ring without thinking and step inside.

            “Hey, I’m here.” I yell. It’s not until Angel steps into the living room from the kitchen that I notice I let myself in. “Sorry, didn’t mean to just barge in. I-I didn’t think about it.”

            He smiles at me. It’s something between that big goofy smile I am beginning to love and my smile. This whole not being a Broody Boy is taking some getting used to. I never knew Angel had more then one kind of smile. There was always just my smile.

            “It’s fine. I gave you a key for a reason. I want you to feel comfortable here. I ordered Chinese food. I hope that’s okay.”

            “Chinese food is good. Did you get some of those little pot sticker things? And fortune cookies?” I ask.

            “Pot sticker things? I’m not sure. Fortune cookies, definitely.” He says and pulls me close.  We stand like that a moment, the crown of my head resting in the crook of his neck. I wish time could stop and we could exist inside this little bubble of denial where there is no past, no future only this moment. Surely even Angel and I can’t hurt each other with only a moment. There is a knock on the door and we are forced to pull apart.

            Angel pays for the food; I set up the movie because he’s really still not so good with the DVD player. He sets an impressive array of food out on the coffee table. We sit down to eat with chopsticks, because it’s fun even though I know I’m going to drop half of what I pick up with them.

            “Ok, so these are classics?” Angel says.

            I nod. “I know you’re thinking Shakespeare and stuff but really they don’t put his stuff on film much, except Romeo and Juliet. I saw the one with Leonardo Di Caprio and Claire Danes. This is eighties classic with Molly Ringwald. She epitomized everything about the eighties.” I tell him.

            “Buffy, I remember the eighties. I was there.” He says.

            “No, Angel, you were doing the fringe of humanity thing in the eighties that doesn’t count. Here have a bite of sesame chicken.” I feed him a piece with my chopsticks.

            “Mmm. I want some more of that. Trade you, I’ve got beef chow mien.” He says.

            We switch boxes of Chinese food. Watching movies like this with Angel is fun. He’s always Mr. In the Know with the history and the demonology. When it comes to movies though, movies of my generation, I’m the one that knows. It’s like getting to teach an 80’s history course, or in some cases a High school 101 course since Angel sort of skipped high school.

            “Did you ever have to do this?” Angel asks.

            “Detention you mean?” I say.

            He nods. “Well, not on a Saturday but I had to stay after school in my old school a couple of times. Snyder never made us because he wanted every kid off school campus as soon as demonly possible.”

            He nods again. I’m not really sure he gets the whole movie. He’ll understand Pretty In Pink a little more, since he did sort of kind of live my prom with me. We crack open fortune cookies.  I smile at mine.

            “Do not ruin today’s happiness with tomorrow’s worries.” I read out loud. I giggle and remember a game we used to play in high school. “In bed!” I add with a shout.

            Angel looks at me like I’m crazy. I rein in my giggles and explain. “It’s a really silly, high school game. You read your fortune and no matter what it says you add the words In Bed on the end of it. So you read yours.”

            “Anything important enough to find, isn’t worth losing…” He glances up at me and quirks a grin, “In bed.”

            I dissolve into peals of giggles. I’m not really sure why but the idea of Angel playing a game I played in high school is funny.

            “You need to do that more often.” He says.

            “What? Make you play stupid games?” I ask.

            “If it makes you laugh like that, yes.” He answers.

I get the Twizzlers out for the next movie.  It’s nice; sitting like this snuggled together, munching on Twizzlers. Angel and I never got to do anything this normal in our old lives. I bite off both ends of my twizzler and stick it in my can of coke. I drink coke through it like a straw.

            “Buffy, what are you doing?” Angel asks.

            “It’s a straw. It makes twizzler flavored coke.” I say. He just keeps looking at me like I’m wonderful and extremely strange at the same time. “Oh come on, don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it. Just bite off both ends and take a drink.”

            Hesitantly, Angel tries it. I beam at him. Wow, when was the last time I did that, beam I mean. It’s a pretty big expression for me and it came naturally. It doesn’t feel bitter or hard or forced, so I keep smiling at him. He gives me that big dufus ear to ear grin and I wiggle a twizzler out of the package. I use it like a whip and smack him lightly on the arm.

            “Hey!” He says a bit shocked.

            “Twizzler war!” I shout and whip his arm again. He grabs another twizzler and comes after me. I jump over the back of the couch and he takes the bait. We end up running all over the house, whipping each other with twizzlers. I know his neighbors are going to complain about the noise. I don’t care I keep running, letting him get just close enough to “whip” me or for me to smack him before taking off again. I don’t know why I did it. I wanted to I guess, somewhere inside, but I ran into his bedroom and let him “catch” me there.  I could have kept away from him. He is only human now. Maybe that’s why I let him catch me, he is only human now.

            He’s lying on top of me, a twizzler held not so threateningly in his hand. His breath is coming hard. Mine is too, but not for the same reasons. His lips brush mine, whisper soft, asking. I slide my hand up into his hair and increase the pressure of the kiss, granting.  He kisses my upper lip, that place just below my nose and then my bottom. We spend a long time kissing with open mouths but no tongues, just getting used to, and remembering. The heat consumes us both, the way it always has. I don’t know why I thought his turning human would change anything.  The heat starts in my stomach and then flares, like when you pour lighter fluid on a flame, and rockets everywhere, singeing the ends of my nerves, stealing my breath, but it doesn’t matter. I breathe his touches, his kisses. I unbutton his shirt, frantic suddenly to feel his bare chest. Warm, hard I can not help but pause over his heart and thrill at the soft thud there. I slide his shirt over his shoulders and run my hands down his back. His back was always one of my favorite parts of his body. And I remember the gryphon, the first time I saw his back.

            “Wait, wait, I have to check.” I whisper and wiggle out from underneath him. I apply pressure to his shoulder, coaxing him to twist. I smile. It’s still there. He’s warm and he breathes but there’s tangible proof in the gryphon that he’s still the guy I bandaged so long ago, the guy I fell in love with so long ago. Tears come unbidden to my eyes.

            “What’s wrong?” he whispers.

            I shake my head. “So much about you has changed; I wanted to make sure some things were still the same.”

            He smiles. He seems to understand, which is amazing because I don’t. I fall back into our kisses. His hand slides across the bare skin between the waist of my pants and my shirt. His fingers rest lightly there and it is so hot it’s unbearable. I have to feel his hands on the rest of me. I need to. I can’t breathe if I don’t feel him. I know he won’t make the first move though. I pull my shirt over my head and toss it across the room.  He looks at me in wonder. He’s amazed. I feel a delicious shiver go through me. I’m proud I can still amaze him. His lips find my neck. He pauses at the scar, his mark, still evident on my neck. He laves the raised skin with his tongue and rumbles low in his throat. He nips at the scar with his blunt teeth. “Mine,” he whispers.

            “Always,” I whisper back and it’s true. I may have shared my bed and even pieces of my heart with men over the years but I was always his. I have been since the beginning of time and when time ceases to exist I will be his still.

            He undoes the catch on my bra. Soon it has gone the way of my shirt.  When did the air get so hot and close? My mouth finds his again, much better. I can breathe now. The air is bearable. I fumble with the button and zipper on his pants. His hand covers mine, his mouth comes away from mine and he looks at me. His eyes are all passion and hunger. I know he wants me. I can see me reflected in his eyes and I know I look as wanton and hungry as he does.

            His voice, when it finally comes, is thick and husky “Buffy, are you sure?”

            “Angel, don’t, don’t ask me because then I have to think and if I have time to think all those defenses go back up and I don’t want them to, just make love to me.”

-Angel-

            Her warm, naked little body is curled up against mine.  Her head rests on my shoulder and her breath wafts across my chest with each exhalation. I glance at the clock on the nightstand. It reads 9:45. Willow would have done her spell by now. I kiss the top of Buffy’s head and curl my body around hers. I close my eyes and sleep more peacefully then I have in years.


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