Fade To Nothing

by Jill

Disclaimer: Angel actually admits that there is a Buffy … he does not moon over St. Cordy … if that doesn’t tell you I don’t own them I can’t help you!
Category: Angst/Drama
Pairing: B/A, W/T, X/A
Rating: PG-13
Distribution: my site, ffnet, several lists including BA_Fluff, if you have any of my stuff, just take it, anybody else please tell me where it goes
Spoilers: everything up to “Bargaining” and “Heartthrob” is fair game.
Summary: Buffy is back from the dead, but she isn’t the same anymore
Feedback: oh yes, please!!! send it to Connemara.Scarlets@t-online.de
Dedication: To Felicity whose story “The Real World” I absolutely adore.


Willow jumped when she heard the doorbell ring and cast a nervous glance at her friends. They were all sitting in the Summers’ living room with the exception of Dawn who was upstairs watching over her sister. She’d been eager to do it, and the others hadn’t stopped her. For what they were going to talk about tonight, it would be better she wasn’t around to hear it.

When the doorbell rang again, Anya’s brows knit in annoyance, “Is anyone going to answer this? I always thought it was general habit to open the door when the bell rings.”

“I know that, Anya,” Willow shot back, glaring at the ex-demon, then let nervous hands glide over her rumpled shirt. She had not the slightest idea what to say, how to explain what had happened last night. She felt Tara squeezing her knee, but she wasn’t able to give her lover a grateful smile. She could only hope the other witch would understand. Finally raising her chin, the redhead stood, “Alright. I’m going. It was me after all who had the idea to call in the first place.” Taking a deep breath, she walked out of the room, then turned right towards the door.

*

Angel was starting to wonder if he’d gotten it wrong on the phone. But he was sure Willow had asked him to meet them at Buffy’s house, that it was urgent and that he had to come immediately. And even though he had asked himself what all this was about, he had taken the chance to turn his back on L.A. for a while. He had not told his friends where he was going, only that he needed some days for himself and walked out of the hotel. He was afraid they would think he’d gone nuts and they were concerned enough the way it was after his recent return from the monastery. Especially Cordelia’s mothering that was slowly getting on his nerves. As much as he loved the brunette, who more and more reminded him of an annoying sister with every day, sometimes he would’ve been glad if she would back off at least a little bit.

Not that he wasn’t grateful for her concern, the way she was trying to get him to talk, or that a heated mug of blood always stood ready on the counter when he came down the stairs. He was grateful. Yet, sometimes he wished she would understand that there were things you head to deal with on your own, things you just didn’t want to share. Lately his friends seemed to forget that little fact.

Or rather, Cordy had. Wesley was trying his best to be tactful, while Gunn who had never met Buffy didn’t seem to get the brunette’s fussing around him. And then there was Fred who still didn’t leave her room other to go the bathroom. Going into her room had been a shock, even though it shouldn’t have been. Angel could still remember his own confusion after returning from Hell. True, it had been slightly different from being launched to Pylea, but in a way Fred had gone through Hell too.

He straightened when he heard footsteps approach from the inside. After another moment the door was opened, revealing Willow looking pale and exhausted in the bright light of the hallway.

“Angel,” she said, forcing a smile on her lips.

“Hi, Willow.”

They looked at each other in awkwardness for a moment, both probably remembering the last time they’d seen each other, the night he’d found her in his foyer, the night he had been certain would end his life as sure as it had ended Buffy’s. Angel was still trying to accept the fact that he was still … there, if not alive in the strictest sense. But he was still present, walking, talking, something he hadn’t thought possible after Buffy was gone. He had been able to laugh – even though it sounded wrong and somehow foreign.

The whole time during his drive to Sunnydale he had tried to imagine how it would be to go to her house, without her in it. He hadn’t thought about it when Willow called, only followed her call for help. But as soon as the lights of L.A. had faded behind him in the dark, his mind had started racing. He’d never been here without her. Could he do it? Sunnydale and Buffy were eternally entwined in his mind, as if one without the other just wasn’t comprehensive. Going to Sunnydale always meant going to Buffy.

Not anymore though.

He suddenly realised that Willow was looking at him expectantly, and noticing that she’d stepped back as an invitation, he entered the house, trying to block out the stab of pain he felt. Coming here made it final. Real. Yes, he had accepted her death, somehow, but he still had avoided to visit her grave. It was like reading the final chapter of a book. And after that all you could do was close it and put it away.

He was not quite ready to do that. Maybe it was a tiny rest of hope clinging to the idea that after all they’d been through they deserved their happily ever after, or maybe he was – even after all – just a romantic fool. Whatever it was, he wasn’t ready to give up on the idea of he and Buffy.

Angel wasn’t sure what he had expected when he would finally step into what had once been her house. Maybe a sense of loss, of loneliness. An aching emptiness. But strangely nothing happened. There was no emptiness, no sense of loss. Instead he still felt her presence, lingering in the air, like her scent, something his nostrils had instantly caught on. Confused he directed his gaze to Willow, “What-“

She gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head, and put a hand on his arm, “We will explain,” she said quietly, pushing him gently towards the living-room, where he was greeted by familiar faces and one he hadn’t seen before. That had to be Tara, Willow’s lover. Buffy had told him about her, the last time they’d talked. At her mother’s grave. How often during the past months had he wished he’d acted differently. Maybe he should have stayed. Would he have been able to protect her?

Cordelia said he felt guilty because he hadn’t been able to die with Buffy. But that was only partially true. The true guilt he felt was that he had not been able to die instead. Willow had told her it was Summers blood that closed the portal. There was some of it in his veins as well. If anyone was supposed to die, it was him. Not Buffy who had done nothing but good in her life.

Xander – to Angel’s utter surprise – was the first to hold out his hand, and the vampire took it without hesitation. “Angel,” the young man nodded at him, then turned to the woman beside him. “This is Anya.”

“Yes, we’ve met,” Angel replied.

“You did?” Xander raised a brow, confusion in his eyes.

“Uh … yeah,” the vampire felt suddenly uncomfortable with the subject. The ‘we’ve-met’ comment had just slipped out. He was remembering Anyanka, the demon, watching her while she putting her powers to use. He’d still been soulless then, and had been in awe. But when he was looking at Xander right now, Angel was pretty certain that the young man wouldn’t be too thrilled to hear about that special piece of memory.

Fortunately Anya instantly caught up with him, “Sure,” she smiled, “When he came to Sunnydale – remember when those Indians attacked us.”

“Native Americans,” Willow corrected out of habit.

“Oh, yeah,” Xander smiled.

“And this is Tara,” Willow introduced the fourth in the room.

“Yes, I’ve heard about you,” Angel shook hands with her, liking her instantly. There was an air about her, he couldn’t put into words. Something truly good. And even though she seemed shy, she also seemed to know exactly who and what she was. It wasn’t often that you met a person not doubting herself.

Her brows came up, “Y-you have?”

“Yes,” he nodded, “Buffy told me, when – I came the night of her mother’s funeral.”

“You were in Sunnydale?” Willow asked in surprise. Then she seemed to remember something and gave him a mysterious smile, “Ah,” was all she commented.

“So,” Angel looked around, “Why did you want me here? You sounded urgent.”

He saw Willow and Xander exchange a short glance, then the redhead sighed, “We’re kind of desperate. Maybe,” she walked towards the stairs, “if I just show you … it’ll save a lot of explanation.” She motioned for him to follow her, and together they went up the stairs. In front of Buffy’s room, the witch stopped. “I … uh … know this is hard to believe and … but it’s real.” With that and a nervous glance, she pushed the door open.

*

Dawn heard a noise at the door and looked up from the books she was reading aloud. Buffy was lying on the bed, completely motionless, her eyes wide open and distant, resembling the Buffybot almost to a T. The only difference was that Buffy’s chest was rising and falling with even breaths, a sure sign that even though she seemed to have slipped into another world, she still needed air to survive. It was the only thing that kept Dawn sane.

“Hey, Dawnie,” Willow smiled at her, “Angel is here.”

The young Summers nodded, “I heard the bell.”

The man – or rather vampire – in question appeared behind the witch, then seemed to freeze in mid-stride. If Dawn hadn’t been so sure that vampires did not have circulation, she would’ve said that Angel went deathly pale. She saw his eyes widen, change their colour to almost black, before he took a step back, one hand outstretched he searched for the doorframe to steady himself.

“Buffy.”

The name coming from his lips was a mere whisper, holding disbelief and confusion in a way Dawn hadn’t thought possible. She and Angel had never been particularly close, but whenever she’d seen him he had seemed cool and a little aloof. The last thing she expected was for him to lose his control. Of course when he was in possession of his soul, that is. She frowned at the thought. How come, she wondered, she had never thought that way about Spike?

“I’m sorry,” she heard Willow whisper and saw the witch put a hand on Angel’s arm. “I know we probably should’ve warned you,” she shrugged, smiled a bit sheepishly, “But we didn’t exactly know what to say. ‘Hey, Buffy is back from the dead.’ seemed a little out of place.”

The vampire slowly let go of the doorframe he’d been holding onto and stepped fully into the room, his eyes on the sleeping form on the bed. “How?”

How? Was that all he was going to ask? Dawn had expected something like, ‘is it really her’ or along those lines. Instead, he seemed to know this was Buffy. Not some robot. Not some copy. Buffy. By the look in his eyes, he knew that as surely as his own name. Dawn couldn’t help the little pang of awe she felt at the revelation. Maybe that was what made Angel so different from Riley. Dawn still remembered all the times Buffy had been crying at night, when she thought nobody would hear, and Buffy’s little sister had blamed Angel for hurting the Slayer, had resented him for making her sister sad. But maybe that was what love was about. Maybe feeling deeply also meant hurting the same way. Suddenly love didn’t seem so romantic anymore to Dawn.

“I’m going to explain, I promise,” Willow answered his question. “Maybe we should let her sleep. She is … exhausted and not quite herself.”

Startled, the vampire looked at the redhead, “Not herself?” Then he nodded, more to himself, “Yeah. It’s to be expected. Coming back to life isn’t something you just brush over.” Then, after a short moment, he stood, and with a last long look at the sleeping Slayer, he and Willow left the room. As soon as the door was closed, Dawn picked up her discarded book and started to read again.

*

“What happened?” Angel asked as soon as they were back in the living room. His mind was doing sommersaults,  trying to understand what his eyes had seen. Buffy was back. She wasn’t lying in the ground, rotting to a pile of dust. She was alive.

She was alive!

Trying not to let his momentary excitement get in the way of desperately needed answers he swept his gaze over the assembled people in the room, waiting for them to start explaining. After all, people didn’t just come back from the dead. Not if their heart was still beating, that is.

“We brought her back,” Willow said after a short hesitation.

“Willow did,” Xander amended.

“I got the urn from e-bay,” Anya piped up, and when nobody seemed to take note of her, she added, “It was a lot of work, you know. The guy who owned it…,” she trailed off when the Sunnydale-gang was looking at her. “What? It was a lot of work.”

“Yes, we know that, Ahn,” Xander told her, and Anya seemed to be satisfied for now.

Angel had heard the words that were exchanged but he hadn’t really listened to the meaning, too busy trying to wrap his mind about what Willow had told him. “You brought her back?” he asked carefully, wanting to be sure he’d gotten it right. And when Willow nodded, he ran a suddenly shaky hand through his hair. No wonder Buffy had seemed so lifeless up in her bed. No wonder he had a feeling as if she wasn’t really there.

Christ!

Hardly able to contain his anger, he whirled around, his voice low and tightly controlled, “You brought her back?” The flicker of pride in Willow’s eyes almost drove him over the edge. “I assume it was by magic?” It wasn’t really a question. He already knew they had. If Willow had brought her back – and Buffy had told him the redhead had gotten pretty powerful lately…

“We thought it didn’t work at first,” Xander explained. “Because some demons on motorcycles disturbed the ritual and destroyed the urn, but then ‘wham’ – there she was,” he laughed, a little uncomfortable all of a sudden. Had he seen the dangerous glint in Angel’s eyes?

The vampire shook his head, not sure if he should laugh or scream, or just give in to hysterics. Because that was what he felt right now. Those fools! Didn’t they have any idea what they were playing with? Not able to hold onto his anger any longer, he said, “Are you completely out of your mind? Have you any idea what could have happened? What forces you were dealing with? What kind of black magic is needed to accomplish what you did?”

“I-,” Willow started to defend herself, then seemed to deflate the same moment. Sagging onto the sofa, she buried her face in her hands, “I didn’t think,” she said, her voice muffled. “Or rather, all I could think was Buffy being trapped in some demon’s dimension.” She looked up, “Like you were.”

“In a demon’s dimension?” Angel asked incredulously. “Whatever brought this on? She was the Slayer … is the Slayer – let’s hope she still is.” He shook his head, “She was good and died in the line of duty. Where do you think she went? Do you really think her soul would go anywhere but Heaven?”

He looked at Buffy’s assembled friends, all wearing similar expressions of shock now. They all had been standing by her side for years, had fought with her, been there for her, grieved with her. Could they really be that ignorant to her essence – to that what made her Buffy, so unique and special? Had he really been the only one who had seen it? He took another look at them and decided they probably could be that ignorant.

And for the first time Angel wondered if leaving Buffy to them had been really a good idea. Of course it wasn’t true. He had questioned his decision to leave time and again. But always for selfish reasons. Buffy had made him feel alive. She had loved him without reservations. Even after he’d come back from Hell, and they had been too afraid to touch each other. She had stood up for him. Now he wondered if he had done the same for her? Maybe he *had* been the only one to really understand her. The guilt that came crashing down on him at the revelation was almost pulling him under.

Then suddenly he realised that someone was missing, “Where is Giles?” he asked, hoping the watcher wasn’t anywhere near. He wouldn’t – couldn’t – believe that Giles would ever agree to such a dangerous plan.

“He left – he went b-back to England,” Tara said, her big eyes serious and sad. Her arm was wrapped around her lover, but she was barely holding her. Obviously the blond girl had already understood what they had done.

“So, what is the problem with Buffy?” Angel asked finally, pushing all his anger and guilt away, concentrating on the important things for now. There would be enough time later to deal with his grief, to beg Buffy for forgiveness for his misjudgement.

“She isn’t responding,” Willow replied, her eyes shadowed with pain now, “She doesn’t even seem to recognize us. We had to use a sleeping spell on her,” she explained, “She was like … a caged animal. Violent. Not like … Buffy.”

“Not something you want to see in a girl with Slayer strength,” Xander remarked. Even though the words were a little flippant, the boy’s posture wasn’t. He was standing near the window, his arms wrapped around his middle as if he was in pain.

“We … uh … I checked her aura,” Tara submitted, “A-and her soul. It’s there. It is Buffy. Do you think she might have lost her memory?”

Angel rubbed his hand over his face, before combing his fingers through his hair, “Maybe. We won’t be able to tell until … she is more responsive. Did she attack you?”

“Not directly,” Xander said. “She didn’t try to harm us. But she wanted to leave the house and in order to do that she would have knocked us out. So Willow put her to sleep.”

“I see,” the vampire nodded, before he looked at the redhead again, “You know that she might not be herself at all, even though her soul is there. We don’t have the slightest idea what your spell might have done to her.”

“That’s what I told them already, but nobody would listen.”

All the hairs in his neck shot up in an instant and Angel came out of his chair like a bullet, whirling around to the owner of the voice. Staring at his bleached blond hair, he asked nobody in particular, “What is *he* doing here?”

“Don’t worry, he can’t hurt you,” Anya started, then broke off, frowned, “I wanted to say. Because he has a chip that prevents him to harm humans. But you aren’t human. I forgot. Ooops.”

Over Spike’s chuckle, Angel let out a low growl, “The day when I’ll be afraid he might harm me, is the day this earth goes to Hell,” he said, giving the other vampire a  look of such superiority, Spike narrowed his eyes. “What I wanted to know,” Angel went on, ignoring his annoying grand-childe, “was *why* he comes into the house as if he’s living here? Why he acts around you as if he’s a friend?”

“Definitely not a friend,” Xander said instantly, then shrugged a little uncomfortable, “But he comes here. Like some pet you can’t get rid of.”

“Hey,” the blond vampire yelled. “Don’t insult me. I didn’t do anything.”

“He helped during Buffy’s absence,” Willow explained finally. “Thanks to him and the Buffybot, we managed to-“

“The, what?” Angel was sure he must have gotten it wrong. What the hell was a Buffybot?

“A robot,” Anya explained helpfully. “It looked exactly like Buffy. Spike had it made so he could have sex with it.” When she caught Xander’s and Willow’s glare, she threw up her hands, “What? Spike had her made. To have sex with Buffy, because the real Buffy wouldn’t touch him with hot pokers. It’s disgusting, if you ask me,” she added, then sighed, “But nobody ever does around here.”

Angel raised a brow, not sure if he should be angered or amused, “You had someone make you a robot?”

Frowning darkly, the blond vampire cast his gaze to the ground, “It’s none of your damned business. Besides,” his head came up again, “She proved to be very useful. Without the robot there wouldn’t have been any Slayer the whole Summer.” He grinned suddenly, “Hey, did anyone realise this has potential for poetry? No Summers over the summer.”

“Shut up,” the others yelled.

“It rhymes,” Spike defended himself.

“No it doesn’t,” Angel replied tiredly. He was suddenly very tempted to end Spike’s sorry existence, then settled for an insult of his own, “Seems a hundred odd years of being a vampire didn’t do anything to improve the skills of William the Bloody.”

“Shut your hole,” Spike growled.

Doing his best to ignore his grand-childe’s presence, Angel looked at Willow, “What I need you to do now is, to tell me what spell you used, what you did – exactly – and what happened. Maybe then we’ll find a way to help her.” Then he pulled out his cell, and dialled the hotel, hoping that Wesley was still sitting in his office, buried deep into books.

***

“What are you doing here?”

Angel stared at the two people in the doorway, hardly able to believe what he was seeing, hoping against hope that this was some wacky illusion and not reality. He had expected Wesley to show up, but this was certainly not what he needed right now.

Cordelia narrowed her eyes and sailed past him into the Summers house, “So sorry for caring,” she shot at him on the way.

Wesley gave Angel an apologetic smile when he followed her inside, removing his coat and handing it to the vampire, “I am sorry,” he sighed, “But she insisted. And you know how hard it is to resist her.”

Resist? Angel inwardly rolled his eyes. Resist wasn’t the word he would have used. It wasn’t that hard to resist her. The problem was that she usually went over them like an unstoppable tornado when her mind was made up. Not wanting to get into a discussion he nodded, “Uh-huh.”

Wesley who had obviously noticed his friend’s discomfort, put a hand on the vampire’s arm, “She cares. She was concerned.” Then he grinned, “At first she insisted you must have finally lost it.”

Angel had to chuckle, “Yeah. I can imagine that.”

“So,” the ex-watcher became serious, “How is Buffy?”

The vampire sighed, rubbing a hand over his nape, “The same. Well, it’s not surprising given the fact that Willow put her under a sleeping spell. Mainly to protect her from herself. I haven’t seen it, but as I told you on the phone …,” he frowned, “Wait a moment. How did Cordy find out about this?”

Wesley scratched his chin, “She found me packing … I’m sorry, Angel.”

“No,” the vampire waved dismissively, “it’s okay. It’s just a little much to deal with.”

“You’re concerned something might be wrong with Buffy,” the Englishman looked at him with understanding.

“Yeah,” Angel admitted, “To think that … We don’t know what the spell did to her. Christ! They are such amateurs to use dark magic like that.”

“They meant well,” Wesley reminded him.

“I know,” the vampire turned away walked to the stairs, then back to his friend, “I know that. Still, it was irresponsible. They want to play adults and are still such kids. You should have heard what Giles said.”

“You called him?”

“Yeah,” Angel nodded, “last night after I called you. He wanted to rip Willow’s head off right through the line. Then he wanted to come on the first flight tomorrow. I finally convinced him that he should stay. He is at the Watcher’s Council headquarters right now, and it might prove valuable for us.”

“At the headquarters,” Wesley’s eyes took on a dreamy expression. “You have no idea what kind of library they have…,” he trailed off, coughed, “Sorry, I got carried away.”

Angel’s lips twitched in amusement, “I understand. Must be watcher’s paradise.”

The Englishman grinned, “Something like that. But let’s concentrate on the present situation. I would like to talk to Willow first.”

“Then come to the kitchen, they’re all there, including Cordelia I suppose.”

*

They already heard her voice when they arrived at the door.

“Well, Xander Harris, not all people are content staying in Sunnydale and doing … nothing.”

“Xander is working in construction. He is very sexy when he’s all sweaty and smelly,” Anya replied.

Angel pushed the door open to find Cordelia rolling her eyes in exaggeration, “God, I really don’t need the image. Where on earth do you find them?” She looked at Xander.

He grinned, “Where I found you.”

“Don’t remind me,” she tossed back, then walked to the fridge, opened it and studied the contents.

Tara and Willow had been watching the exchange, but when they saw vampire and ex-watcher enter, the redhead slipped from her stool. “Welsey,” she greeted him, avoiding to look at Angel. “It’s good to see you.”

“Why do you store blood?” Cordelia asked from the fridge.

“Because Spike comes here,” Angel replied. When he saw the seer’s eyes widen in shock, he added, “He’s harmless. To you, that is. Just … ignore him if you happen to meet.”

“Oh, ignore him, huh?” She placed her hands on her hips, “Like you do, right? Did you already forget what he did to you last time he came to L.A.?”

Closing his eyes and praying for patience, Angel rubbed his forehead, before he looked back up, “No I didn’t. And thanks for caring, but now is not the time. Spike is not important right now.” His voice became quiet, “Buffy is.”

“Oh sure, put her above you any time,” Cordelia snorted, then turned back to the fridge.

Wesley patted Angel on the back while Xander couldn’t help a chuckle. “Well, it’s good to see there’s still some of the old Cordy in her, although the protective streak is new.”

Realising that the seer was about to reply, Wesley quickly turned to Willow, “Angel has told me the basics of what happened. But could you show me the spell you used. Do you have the book here?”

“Yes,” the redhead nodded, grateful to escape the bantering in the kitchen. She was not in the mood for this. She felt horrible, and wasn’t able to look at Angel at all. Guilt was a horrible feeling she realised, and never before had Willow felt worse. God, what had she done? What if she’d harmed Buffy by bringing her back? What if the Slayer had really been to Heaven and now … No, she couldn’t think about that right now. This was not the time to give in to guilt. They needed to help Buffy, it was the least she could do after the mess she’d caused. With a last look at her lover she led Wesley into the living-room.

Angel watched them leave, then left the kitchen too, and walked upstairs to Buffy’s room.

*

“So, where is Dawn?” Cordelia asked, munching on a dry toast.

“Upstairs with Buffy. She doesn’t want to leave her,” Tara replied, sipping on a cup of coffee. She shouldn’t she realised. She was already feeling jumpy, having lived on coffee all through the night, but being alone with Xander, Anya and Cordelia whom she hadn’t known before, she needed something to hold on to.

“Figures. Poor kid. Her mom died, her dad doesn’t give a shit, and now here sister is gone to la-la land.”

“I’m sure Dawn would be touched by your concern,” Xander said sarcastically.

“I am concerned,” Cordelia insisted. “Buffy is my friend.” She saw Xander rise a brow, and sighed, “Okay, so we were never particularly close, but we went through a lot together. And we girls with supernatural abilities have to stick together.”

Xander almost choked on his coffee, “Supernatural abilities?”

“I’m getting visions,” the seer told him almost casually, “From the Powers That Be. And Angel goes out and helps the people in my visions.”

“The Powers That Be,” Tara breathed in awe and even Anya seemed a little impressed.

Xander – of course – wasn’t. “So you’re vision girl now. Very cute.”

Cordelia narrowed her eyes, “I want to see getting those head-splitting migraines. You wouldn’t survive a week.”

The young man held up his hands, “Hey, I’m impressed, okay.”

The brunette snorted, “Yeah, sure, construction boy.”

“C-could you stop that,” Tara pleaded finally, her head starting to pound from all this. She rubbed her temples, “Buffy is up there a-and not well. I think it’s hardly the time to …,” she gestured at Xander and Cordy, then picked up her cup again and emptied it with one gulp.

“I’m sorry,” Cordelia gave her a guilty look. “I’m usually not like this – not anymore. Maybe it’s the evil vibe from the Hellmouth.” She gave Xander a look that said clearly it was not the Hellmouth but the presence of ex-boyfriends that caused her to act like this. Sighing slightly, she plastered a smile on her face and turned back to the blond, “You want some more coffee?”

Tara sighed, then nodded. What would one more cup hurt, she was already past caffeine poisoning anyway.

*

Leaving Buffy with Dawn once again, Angel made his way downstairs and walked directly into the living-room, joining Willow and Welsey whose heads were tucked together over a book.

“Anything?” he asked, finding a seat opposite them.

“We’re getting there,” Wesely replied without looking up. Finishing the page he’d been reading, he shoved the book to the redhead and finally gazed at his friend, “From what Willow told me, it seems the ritual was really interrupted, and it may be the cause of the problem, not the initial spell used. I agree, however, that the spell was incredibly dangerous,” he gave the witch a stern look, “and it was irresponsible to use it without having an equally powerful witch to back you up. Not to talk about the moral scruples. But,” he gazed back at Angel, “be it as it may, Buffy is back and I may have an idea how to help her.”

“By using magic again?” There was no mistaking of the disapproval in Angel’s voice, and Willow flinched inwardly. She had always valued the vampire’s friendship and it hurt that she might lose it now. Wasn’t he at least a little bit happy that Buffy was back with them?

“I’m afraid we have to. And because Willow is the most powerful of us, we will have to rely on her skills.”

“I’ll do it,” she said eagerly. If there was a way to help Buffy, to make her whole again, she would do anything. “Just tell me what it is.”

“One thing at a time,” Welsey put a calming hand on her arm, and the witch let the warmth of it soothe her. She was amazed at the change in the formerly stuffy watcher. They way he was now, he might even be a friend one day. “First of all,” he looked at Angel, “we need several ingredients.” He got up, “Is the magic shop still there?”

“Anya runs it now,” Willow answered, “I’ll go an get her. If you can give me a list, I’ll be back in no time.” She finally risked a glance at Angel, “She’ll be fine. I promise.”

“Don’t,” he replied, obviously not ready to forgive and forget, “Just help her. We can talk later.”

With a sad expression, the witch left.

*

“Tell me about this spell,” Angel said as soon as Willow and Anya had left the house.

“It’s pretty simple, actually,” Wesley explained, then waited a moment before he added, “As far as soul spells go.”

The vampire stiffened instantly, the word soul together in one sentence with the world spell always did that to him. “A – soul spell?”

“Yes,” Wesley nodded, pretending not to notice his friend’s change in mood. He picked up a book, “This is *the* book on Black Magick. It contains spells long thought lost. I have no idea where Mr. Giles got it. Through some dark channels I guess. I doubt even the Watcher’s Council knows of its existence. I was told it was destroyed long ago. A part of it, a big part, are soul spells. Willow will travel into Buffy’s mind, her soul – she seems to have done it once already to help her – and with the help of this spell she will restore the Slayer’s memory.”

“And you call that simple?” Angel asked, his eyes darting to the book time and again. A book of soul spells. What kind of soul spells, he wondered?

“It is. Especially with a witch as powerful as Willow. I could hardly believe it when she told me what she accomplished the last two years. She must be one of the most powerful witches alive. She channelled forces that revived a person dead for months. A lot of strength is necessary to be able to go through such a process.” Wesley looked at the book again, then said quietly, “I only skipped through the pages, because helping Buffy was our first priority. But I’m pretty certain that it also contains ways to anchor your soul.” He could see that Angel was about to protest, and added quickly, “I’m not trying to … I know you and Buffy are not a couple anymore, and … but think what it would mean, besides being able to experience perfect happiness. It would also protect you against people like Wolfram & Hart, people who are trying to steal your soul for good. No more Angelus. No more fear of losing control and killing people.”

Suddenly feeling restless, Angel got up and walked towards the window, careful not to step into the sunlight. With his back to his friend, he said, “I didn’t just leave her because of my soul.”

“I know,” the ex-watcher replied. “But it was a big part.”

“True,” the vampire confirmed. “Still, there are other things like … sunlight or that I’m going to live forever and she’s – not. But … last night when I looked at her friends, realised what they had done, it was for the first time that I thought it might have been a mistake to leave. Not just because we … loved each other,” it was hard to say it in the past tense. But it was the only thing he could do. Angel had not the slightest idea what Buffy felt for him these days. He loved her still, but she had been with other men, had had a steady boyfriend for over a year. She had changed, he had felt it when they met at her mother’s grave. So why shouldn’t her feelings have changed, too.

Remembering his friend, Angel glanced at Wesley over his shoulder, “Even though there isn’t a day when I don’t wish,” he took a deep unnecessary breath, “Anyways. … But it might also have been a mistake because I’m not sure anyone can really understand what she’s going through each day.”

“But you can.” It was a statement, not a question, and Angel realised his friend understood. “You are very alike,” Wesley went on, “despite the differences. You both hide your identity most of the time. You both have friends, friends who … care deeply for you. But there are parts of what you’re going through on a daily basis, parts you simply can’t share.”

“I don’t need to share them with her either, not with words,” Angel told him, “She always understood.”

“And so did you.”

“Yeah.” It was barely a whisper. Staring into the deadly rays of the sun, Angel knew it was true. “I always knew what she went through. The darkness she carries inside, but can’t let the others see, afraid they won’t understand, or worse, be repulsed by it. The doubts. True, vampires are evil and to kill them is a good thing, but now and then you think about all the lives you have taken. And it changes you. To live with death every night isn’t easy. And you have to be very careful not to let it consume you.”

“I’m sorry I never realised that.”

There was such honest concern in Wesley’s voice that Angel turned to his friend, “I didn’t tell you this to make you feel bad. I’m sorry. It’s not unbearable. Not for me anyway. I’ve been through worse. The first hundred years before I met Buffy were – well, let’s say they were my own private hell. Not to mention the real thing. I’ve come through. I’m not going to break. But I’m not so sure about her. She is only twenty-one. There is a reason Slayers usually don’t grow old, and only part of it is due to vampires and demons. I think a lot of Slayers finally can’t face it anymore.”

“Maybe you should share your insights with the Watcher’s Council one day,” Wesley suggested.

Angel gave his friend a doubtful look, “You think they would listen?”

“Maybe not all of them. But some of them might. And maybe it’ll help the Slayers in the future.” Suddenly realising what he had said, Wesley reached out and touched Angel’s shoulder, “That is … I didn’t mean to imply … I’m sorry.”

But the vampire shook his head, “No, it’s okay. I always knew she wouldn’t live forever. None of them will, but maybe having someone really understanding what you’re going through will make it a little easier for them.”

“Yes,” the ex-watcher, gave Angel’s shoulder a last pat, before he walked out of the room. “I need some tea. The night has been long and exhausting. And the day will be, too.”

“Wesley?”

The Englishman turned, “Yeah?”

“I’d appreciate if you …,” Angel looked to the ground, swallowed. “Could you look into the spells for me?” His head came up, his eyes locking with the other man’s.

After a long moment, the ex-watcher smiled. “It would be a pleasure. How about you. Want some tea?”

“Why not,” Angel replied, hoping he’d done the right thing, but already knowing he didn’t have a choice.

“Then let’s go and see Cordelia. I’m sure she feels neglected already.”

At that the vampire groaned.

***

She had done this before, but this time was nothing like the first. Willow felt like diving head first into a black void when she closed her eyes and found herself inside of Buffy’s mind, as a part of her soul. Wesley had given her all the instructions she needed, and now it was up to her to rectify what she had messed up. At least she hoped she could. No. She *would* do it. She was a witch. She was powerful. She could do it. This was not the time for self-doubts. She owed it to Buffy – and to Angel. She had seen the soul-spell pages in the book, too. And it had been her idea to try to find a way to anchor Angel’s soul. Wesley had been doubtful at first, but she had insisted she could do it. Maybe in the end everything would be well. Maybe even better than before.

Willow concentrated on the darkness in front of her, like a tunnel, endless, not a light shining through. Slowly finding her way through it, she called out for her friend, “Buffy? Buffy are you here?”

No answers. Not that she had really expected to get one. If Wesley was right then the interruption of the spell had caused a break in the channelling, and as a result Buffy’s soul wasn’t as complete as it should be, or rather her soul was here, but it was empty. That was the reason, according to the ex-watcher, she hadn’t recognized any of them, that she had panicked and tried to break out, tried to get away from the people she didn’t feel connected to.

The witch sighed, hoping once again she was up for the task, and slowly groped her way through the endless nothingness. She wanted to cry out at the idea of Buffy being empty like that. There was nothing of her spirit, just an empty soul. Lost. Reminding herself of the herbs she was carrying, Willow let go of the ginger root in her hand, knowing that Wesley who was sitting beside her in the real world would understand the sign. And as she had expected, the dark tunnel was suddenly illuminated by the faintest of shines, like a guide, showing her the way. “Buffy?” she asked again, and once again nothing happened.

It was time, she realised. She had to do it now, and let go of the rat’s eye she hold in her left palm. Bracing herself for the pain that would follow the action, she took a deep breath, and tried to ignore the noise growing in her head. The tunnel in front of her suddenly grew bright with almost blinding light, then changed to dark, only to go bright red the next moment.

It was like watching a light show, if you could ignore the terrible noise that accompanied it. Willow felt as if her head would explode any moment and finally also let go of the small urn she held in her right. She could feel the sand from it running through her fingers, soothing the pain instantly. She took several shallow breaths, hoping the worst was over, but knowing that there was more to come.

The light changed to green, then violet, then disappeared all together. For several moments nothing happened, then out of nowhere it started to rain. Big, heavy drops, shooting at her face, driven by a storm, hurting her skin like nails. Willow closed her eyes and started to walk again, finding her way by groping the walls of the tunnel. God, she wanted to turn and run, but there was no way. The storm picked up speed, the drops turned from nails to bullets, and she felt as if her skin was ripped from her face, the blood running down in streams. And still she forced herself to walk on, not to give in to pain and fear.

And then – when she thought she couldn’t take it anymore – the rain stopped. Willow almost sank to her knees in relief and tore her heavy lids up to see if she could find out where she was. There was a light – finally – at the end of the tunnel and laughing like a child, she started to run, ignored her aching body, or that her hands were scraped from the walls. This was the light Wesley had told her about, and she would reach it. “Buffy!” she cried, running faster still. “Buffy!”

She felt a sudden push, then a pain so blinding she thought she couldn’t stand it, before she was thrown against a door – and fainted.

“I-is she going to be o-okay?” Tara asked, not able to stop touching her lover. Willow was so pale, so fragile, Tara was afraid she would disappear if she let go. She had almost passed out herself when she had seen the other witch faint with a cry of pain that seemed like nothing she had ever heard before.

“I’m very optimistic that she’ll recover completely,” Wesley assured her with a smile. “It’s to be expected that she’d be exhausted after the spell.”

“Are you sure the spell worked?” Cordelia who was sitting on the bed as well looked at the ex-watcher. She’d been shocked to say at least when she’d seen Willow channelling forces. Little Willow. People never ceased to amaze her. As soon as the witch had collapsed, Angel had carried Buffy from the room, his eyes dark with concern, and hadn’t given Willow a second glance.

“We will know as soon as Buffy wakes up,” he glanced at his watch, “which should be in about five minutes.”

*

“She looks a little more like Buffy, don’t you think?”

Angel raised his head, his eyes finding Dawn who was sitting on a chair beside the bed Buffy was lying on. The teenager’s face was exhausted, showing the strain of the last few days, but he could also see the faintest glimmer of hope in her blue orbs. He tried to summon a smile for her, but failed. He was still feeling too shaken himself to find the strength to assure others. Would Buffy really be herself when she woke up? Or would she be lost to them forever – up to a point when having her running around free would make her a danger to herself and to other people? His hands suddenly shaky again, he rubbed them over his thighs needing to steady himself. He couldn’t think about this. They would know soon enough.

Looking at the clock on the nightstand, Angel released air from his dead lungs.

Three minutes – according to Wesley. And the ex-watcher was rarely wrong.

He reached out, taking her tiny hand, watched it disappear in his. She was warm now, not cool the way she’d felt before, her fingers fitting perfectly with his. Like everything had fitted together as if it was made for each other. He still could remember her body molding into his, their hands finding the right places, their lips adjusting. How could he ever think they were not made to be together? How could he ever think being apart was better than being one? Questions he couldn’t answer anymore. Yet, answers must have existed. He wondered what they were. How they had convinced him to let her go.

Right now he couldn’t find them anymore.

Suddenly realising that Dawn was still looking at him, he said, “We’ll know soon.”

Obviously satisfied with his answer, Dawn turned her head towards the window. Gnawing her lower lip, she asked, “Do you still love her?”

That – at least – was something he could answer without a problem. “I never stopped.”

“When you were … together … I thought … she was crying a lot and I didn’t like it.” She laughed a little, “You must have thought I was very dumb.”

“No, I didn’t - still don’t,” he replied quietly. “I think you are a very brave girl and one day some guy is going to be very lucky to get you.”

She blushed slightly, then took a deep breath, “Anyways. With Riley she never cried. I though it was because she was so happy. But I was wrong, wasn’t I?”

How was he supposed to answer that? Buffy had told him she loved Riley. But was it really true? Was Dawn right? Had her sister never cried? And wasn’t that what Angel had wanted for her? “I don’t know,” he said after a moment, not sure of anything anymore. “She told me she loved him.”

“She did?” Dawn turned her head to look at him, real surprise in her voice. “Hmmm. Maybe she did. But it wasn’t the same. She put Riley aside for the Slaying. She never did that with you. While you were together, all she could talk about was ‘Angel here’ and ‘Angel there.’ Oh, and that was her favourite, ‘Angel is such a good kisser’.” The teen rolled her eyes, “It was nauseating.”

Angel chuckled at that, his heart warmed by what he’d heard. “Well, she was pretty much all I could think of. So I say we’re even.”

“I think she loved you a lot,” Dawn looked at him seriously. “I thought she’d die when you left.” Suddenly she laughed unhappily, “Of course I wasn’t really there, so who knows what’s true.”

The vampire remembered what Buffy had told him while he stayed in Sunnydale the last time, that Dawn was energy transferred into human form. He was hardly able to believe it. How could all the memories he had of the kid be made up? How could she not be real. “Dawn,” he gave her a slight smile, “It doesn’t matter. You are real to me. To all of us. And now that Glory is gone and the portal is closed, I think you’re as human as they come.”

“I suppose,” she said, then looked at her sister. “How long.”

Angel glanced at the clock. “Any moment now.”

*

Buffy felt as if she was walking under water. As if gravity didn’t exist anymore. She couldn’t remember what had happened. Was it day? Or night? Was she drowning? And who was holding her hand? Who was talking?

She could hear two voices. One young, and definitely female. The other deeper. Very familiar. She tried to concentrate on it, then dismissed it. It couldn’t be. He wasn’t there. He had left a long time ago. It seemed like ages.

Why was it dark?

Why was there no light?

She remembered light. Bright and happy.

Peace.

But the peace was gone.

She had felt bodiless where she had been. Free of responsibilities and duty. Free of pain and sorrow.

Free.

She remembered Willow calling out her name. Buffy had not been able to answer, caught in a nightmare, fire consuming her, her mouth hot and burning. And once again her friend had called out. And she had reached for the redhead’s hand, with the strength she had left, with what was not consumed by fire.

Was she free again? Or caught once more? Where was Willow?

The urge to know what was going on suddenly too great to bear, she opened her eyes, licked her dry lips, “Willow?” she whispered.

“Buffy!”

Dawn. She recognized her sister’s voice, and after a moment her familiar face came into focus. Blue eyes glistening with tears. Dark hair. Definitely Dawn Summers.

“Buffy, you are back.”

“Dawn.” God, was this really her voice, sounding like rusted metal.

“Oh, Buffy.”

Her sister threw herself at her neck, clinging to her, her hot tears falling on Buffy’s face telling her like nothing else could that she was alive, even though she remembered dying. Or had it be a dream?

“Willow did it, she really did it,” Dawn was saying, “She brought you back.”

Brought her back? From where? What had happened? Why was Dawn crying?

A tower.

Blood.

A portal.

Glory!

OhGodohGodohGod. She had died. She had truly died. But why was she here?

Willow.

Dawn had mentioned something about Willow bringing her back. They raised her from the dead.

“No.”

She only realised that she’d said it out loud when Dawn pulled back, her eyes huge and full of hurt. “Buffy?”

The Slayer shook her head, “I …” she drew her brows together in concentration. “I … I died.”

“Yes,” Dawn confirmed. “You jumped. Into the portal, do you remember? But Willow brought you back. I can’t believe you are really here.” Once again the teenager threw her arms around her sister. “I’m so happy. So happy.”

Happy? Buffy frowned again, only now realising that someone was still holding her right hand. Slowly turning her head, she felt her eyes widen. “Angel?”

His own orbs were dark with concern, and the happiness her sister was showering over her seemed to escape him. He looked so serious, holding her hand firmly in his. “Buffy.”

She licked her lips, her mouth suddenly gone dry again. “What are you doing here?”

“I-“

He couldn’t finish because the door suddenly opened, and the others were standing in the doorway, Willow leaning heavily on her lover, but a smile was on her lips. “Buffy,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.

“Well, I think it is safe to state that it worked.” Wesley couldn’t completely hide his satisfaction.

“It did,” Dawn beamed at him happily. “She is back. Fully and completely.”

Xander pushed past the others and caught the Slayer, who was still sitting on the bed in a bear hug. “Buffster,” he said, and Buffy could do nothing but hug him back, feeling lost and lonely in the middle of her friends. Not feeling as if she belonged.

She never noticed that Angel let go of her hand, and slipped from the room.

***

She found him – hours later – on the back porch where he had fled from the crowds, not ready to share her with all these people, needing to meet her in private, and she understood. Understood because she always had, because she could feel his thoughts, because they were one. She had never doubted it – he had been the one to deny it, had been the one to walk away, leaving her in shambles. She had picked up the pieces and glued them together the best she could. But things had never been the same.

There was too much pain, too much loss, to just forget. Her friends thought she was happy. She had thought that the Slayer in her was getting stronger, making her harder, leaving no room for feelings. They had all been wrong. In reality she had been dying. Wilting like a flower in the desert. Thirsting for the life-bringing water, tasting it even, but never able to get it, never close enough. It had drained her, taken her energy, her spirit, until nothing had been left anymore.

And now he was back. Sitting in the dark, his head bent, his elbows resting on his thighs, his entwined hands dangling between them. She could see at the tension in his shoulders that he had already sensed her presence. Yet, he didn’t move, didn’t acknowledge her with a single word.

She allowed herself to simply look at him for a few moments, to study his profile, still the one she remembered, which was not really surprising. Vampires didn’t age, after all. Not physically, that is. Inside was an old soul, a weary one. Someone who had seen too much, lived through the worst, yet still managed to keep his head high and his spirit up. Unlike her, Angel was strong. He would deny it, but she knew better than anyone how true it was. He was a fighter, a true champion. Someone who was battling evil not because it was his destiny but because he couldn’t help it.

She had been chosen to be the Slayer. Nobody had asked her. She had been born with it – without knowing, yet still carrying it inside. Angel had met his fate in person of a beautiful blond woman in a dirty alley behind a bar. It had not been foretold, there was no Watcher’s Council forcing him to fight evil. He did it nevertheless. Because he had to, because his soul wouldn’t allow him to back down.

No, there was no way she could forget, but maybe they could go forward now. She was determined to. She had learned that life could end any minute. To waste a minute of it was one minute too much. There was a lot more she had learned of course, but this was the most important lesson. Life was too short to pretend, to hide or to deny. She was through with it, and she could only hope Angel felt the same.

“You left,” she said finally, not able to stand the silence any longer.

“You had enough friends around you.”

She acknowledged that with a nod, even though he was still looking at his entwined hands. “True. Even Cordelia hugged me.”

He chuckled, finally raising his head, “She can be a little overwhelming. But she is a good friend.”

“She has to be if you survived working with her for more than two years.” Seeing that there was room beside him, Buffy sat down, their bodies not quite touching, but close enough for her to feel the coolness of his skin, the lack of body heat. It was comforting like nothing else. How often had they sat like this. Side by side, just talking, too afraid to touch. Which reminded her of something.

“Willow told me they are planning to anchor your soul.”

He looked at her then, only a quick glance, but it was enough to see the weariness in his eyes. “Yeah,” he said. “Wesley told me it was possible, and I asked him to try.”

“I’m glad.” When he glanced at her again, she added, “That you want to do it. Even though you didn’t know if I would be coming back. I think it would be bad if you wanted it just for me.”

Now he was looking at her intently, “You … don’t … I mean …,” he cleared his throat, then said simply, “Yes.”

She had to smile, “But I’m also glad for myself.” Allowing herself the comfort, she reached out and took his hand, and he instantly entwined his fingers with hers. “For us,” she added quietly, gazing at him nervously, not sure of his reaction.

He kept his eyes on their entwined hands, “Us. That sounds … wonderful. But are you sure. We haven’t talked about anything. You just came back from the dead. We aren’t even together.”

She raised their entwined hands, “This looks a lot like together for me.”

“That’s not…,” he paused, tried again, “Don’t you think …”

“Think, what?” She cocked her head, waiting for him to continue.

“Don’t you think you need to think this through. We’re not … we’ve both changed.”

“True,” she smiled, more to herself than him, “But isn’t half the fun of a relationship to find out about the other? I mean, where’s the thrill when you already know everything.”

“We know what’s important,” he replied quietly, everything suddenly seeming so easy and clear. “I love you.”

Her smile widened, “And I love you.” She could feel him squeezing her hand. “You didn’t know?”

He shook his head, “I couldn’t be sure. You said that Riley-“

“I know,” she sighed, interrupting him. “I was stupid. And I wanted to hurt you. I had just seen you with Faith, your shirt open-“

Angel’s head came up abruptly, “There was nothing with Faith.”

She chuckled, “I know. But I was jealous. Embarrassing, I know. But there it is. Jealous people don’t tend to think straight.”

Now his chuckle joined hers, “Oh yes, I know.”

A comfortable silence settled between them. It was strange, really. They had been apart for years, the few short visit in between didn’t count. And Buffy didn’t remember the happiest twenty-four hours of his life, when everything had suddenly seemed possible. But maybe this what should’ve happened from the start. Who could really say it wasn’t?

“When Willow told me you died,” he said finally, “I thought the world would stop turning.” He looked at her almost apologetically, “But it didn’t. It continued moving, life went on, the sun came up each morning, as if nothing had happened. And … somehow I did, too. Go on, I mean. Not well, but I did.”

“I’m glad,” she told him softly.

He nodded, her reaction was what he’d expected, would have said himself. “I can live without you. I can laugh and enjoy things, but I’d rather not.”

She smiled, “Yeah. I know what you mean. I went through it as well. And I don’t care for a repeat. So Willow better anchor your soul soon – and then bye-bye Angelus.”

He chuckled at that, “I have a hard time believing it. That … we … us … is finally possible.”

“Sounds almost too good to be true, huh?” She leaned her head against his shoulder. “But I don’t care. We have earned good. Even too good. After what we’ve been through – this is what is rightfully ours.”

“So,” Angel said, “Now that we’ve finally admitted that we love each other. Where do we go from here?”

“I want to go away for a while,” she smiled when his head came up in surprise, “With you,” she added. She didn’t have to think this through for ages – besides she had, long, lonely months. She had thought about things she had failed to do. It wouldn’t happen anymore. This was what she wanted. Being dead and coming back had given her a whole new perspective. Life was short. Don’t waste it.

“But-“

“I talked to Willow,” she interrupted, “She told me what happened. Seems my father called a lot lately. He wants Dawn to visit, and I’m very tempted to take him up on his offer. She has three weeks of holidays left. Why not spend them with her father.”

“What about Sunnydale?”

“Spike can take care of it, he seems to enjoy playing hero. Or Willow. She’s powerful enough to keep the demons in check for a while. Someone who can bring me back from the dead, can manage.”

Angel leaned his head against hers, “How do you feel about it?”

“Being back?”

“Mmmm.”

“I’m not so sure. It’s a lot to take in, and a little early to give you an answer. That’s one of the reasons I want to go away with you. You’ve been through the same. You won’t ask stupid questions.”

“Not quite the same,” he replied quietly.

She shrugged, he could feel the movement against his body. “It’s not important. You’ll understand.” Suddenly she laughed, “Of course there is also the point where we are going to make wild monkey sex the whole day round – of course after my friend, the witch, has altered the curse.”

He joined her laughter. “Wild monkey sex, huh?”

“Mmmmm,” she purred like a content kitten. For the moment everything seemed right. She had a lot to work through of course, she knew, but sitting here with Angel, it was better than anything she could have imagined.

“I’m not sure I’m up to this. I don’t have a lot of practice, you know.” He would tell her about Darla, Angel promised himself, when they were away. Right now was not the time to do it.

“Oh,” she turned her head, looked at him deeply, “Well, that means we have to start slow,” she let her voice drop to a seductive whisper, “Very slow.”

“I can do slow,” he replied, their lips only an inch apart.

“I know,” she whispered. “Angel?”

“Hmmm?”

“Would you kiss me now?”

“With pleasure.”

*

On a little happy sigh Willow closed the curtain at the kitchen window and turned to her lover. “I think we didn’t do too bad,” she stated, smiling at Tara.

“So they’re going on vacation?” the blond witch asked.

“I think it’s a safe bet.” Willow walked over to her and pressed a kiss on her mouth. “Did I tell you that I love you lately.”

“Not for the last few days.”

“I love you,” the redhead whispered. “You are everything I ever wanted.”

“You too,” Tara told her, feeling so full of love she was afraid to burst. “You did good, Willow.”

The redhead blushed, “I almost messed this up.”

“No I mean your idea with the softening spell. It helps her. She has lost the bitterness. You can see it in her face, in her eyes.” Tara wrapped her arms around her lover.

“It was Wesley’s idea after I told him about the way Buffy behaved lately.” Willow frowned slightly, “We will never tell her. It’s our secret. And my present to her. I hope I’ll be a better friend in the future.”

“You will. We all learned a lot from this,” Tara kissed the redhead on the nose. “It will be interesting to watch them together,” she said with a nod towards the porch.

Willow suddenly grinned, thinking about the drama that always came with Buffy and Angel. “You have no idea.”

No idea at all.


END

NEXT: Rising Into the Light