A Glimpse of His Face

by Mariah

Rating - like the show.

Disclaimer - not mine. "Crying in the Rain" belongs to AHA. I was listening to it (like a hundred times!!!) while writing, and it inspired half of my fic...so I had to include it:)

Spoilers - "Freshman" and general B/A.

Summary - I've just seen the "Freshman" (a 'not-yet-Buffy/Riley' ep, hence one of the few I can tolerate from BtVS), and I saw it maybe three times for this scene alone, and I was just thinking...what if that moment when Buffy was all lonely at the Bronze, and she turned around and saw a man's profile that reminded her of Angel...what if she wasn't just imagining?:)

Feedback - PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Distribution- just ask me first if you want it.

Part One

*It can't be him,* Buffy mused, peering once more at the so familiar profile. No, she couldn't be wrong. There was no way she would ever mistake him for someone else. But she did. All summer she had seen nothing but her Angel in every face she glanced at. He was everywhere, and the most horrible thing was that 'everywhere'.was also 'nowhere'.

He was gone. Sure, she knew he was gone, she had seen him leave. It wasn't like she was living locked up in her own world, where everything was bright and shiny and Angel had never left, no matter how painfully awkward it was to put 'shiny' and 'Angel' in the same sentence. No, she was everything but oblivious. She knew full well what was going on. She had known ever since that moment when she peered at that mist.and he was no longer there.

I'll never let you see
The way my broken heart is hurting me
I've got my pride and I know how to hide
All the sorrow and pain
I'll do my crying in the rain

Yes, Angel was gone. Angel had left, taken off, out of his own free will, to give her normal life, normal future.Buffy wasn't really sure, her heart had stopped listening way before he'd said 'I don't'. Or.was it after? Did it really matter now? Her Angel was gone.

She scolded herself for that behavior. She'd thought it had been over by now, she'd thought she would never do that again, she'd thought she would never long for his arms to shroud her in his love and hold her when she's broken. And she was broken now, and she needed him so much the mere thought about his embrace almost brought tears to her eyes. If only he held her now, if only he were there.it would make everything right again. Nothing and no one would ever hurt her again, because he wouldn't let them.if only he were there.

But he wasn't. And his arms weren't either. Where was he, then? Buffy had to chuckle at that, even though it was so much more agonizing than it was actually funny. She didn't know where he was. He hadn't even called, not even once, throughout the entire summer. He'd just taken off.and he'd never even called. Yes, they were ex's, yes, she wasn't supposed to think about him, to worry about him, to care so much.to want to know where he was, what he was doing, what he was thinking about.was it her?

But she did care, and she did want to know, and there was no way she would ever know.because he had never even called. He could have at least called. Buffy was angry with him for that, but in the same time, she was also hurt, somewhat thrown. They couldn't have grown apart that much.could they? The summer.was it truly that long?

Why was she even thinking about him now, again? Why was she remembering him, again? She'd been through months of 'therapy', Willow's special, only to help herself through this Hell. Months of deceiving smiles, of empty laughter, of feigned happiness.all to show her friends that she was okay. Buffy smiled to herself. She was becoming more and more like Angel.keeping her real feelings inside. Where would it get her? Would she, too, wind up leaving the person she loved behind? No.it was too late for that. The person she loved had already left her.

So, now, again, her thoughts were full with this one person. Her dark Angel, in a way, a cryptic stranger, in a way, she felt she knew him better than she knew herself. But did she really know him? If she did.wouldn't she predict his leaving? Maybe it would be easier then.if she knew what was in his heart.

Buffy sighed, embracing herself, and sat down on a sofa. She winced slightly, her arm ached more than she had first estimated. If Angel were there.she would never have been injured in the first place. He would let himself be staked before one hair would drop from her head. Her Angel.her loving, sweet, caring Angel. *No,* she reminded herself again, *not mine anymore. He left.*

Buffy curled into a ball on the sofa, granting one last glance in the direction of the profile she'd spent the latter minutes reflecting upon. So much like him, the exact lines, the precise expression. Buffy could swear she perceived the tender brooding guilt-ridden glimpse in the eyes she was sure were dark-chocolate, even without looking into them.

A girl walked up to him, throwing an arm around his shoulders and occupying the seat next to him. Buffy bit her lip, not to cry. No, she was more than confident now. He was someone else's Angel.

If I wait for cloudy skies
You won't know the rain from the tears in my eyes
You'll never know that I still love you
So though the heartaches remain
I'll do my crying in the rain

Angel peered into the full glass before him. He wasn't sure why he'd bought it in the first place, probably a result of the last few months' training. If he was ever going to make it living among people on his own again, the first thing he should do was start acting more like them. So, he wouldn't really drink, but at least he would blend more if he ordered a glass.

He had to admit it was stupid, but the will to go back into the circle of people, and make something out of himself, was what had been keeping him relatively sane the past few months. At least, in the strangest of ways, it was some sort of a goal for him, something to wake up every night for, not that he really had anything to wake up for after he had left the only thing that mattered in this town, months ago.

So, what was he doing here? Was it his fate, to always come back to wherever she was, even after he had willingly left? What was it saying about his character? Was it that weak? Was it the weakness of his character, or was it something much greater than anything he could resist? A certain emotion he had felt for only one person in his two-hundred-and-forty-three years? Was it.love?

Funny. It was funny, that's what it was. Had he ever thought, that one small girl, the Slayer, would own his heart so totally, so completely? That he would love somebody, HER, so much that leaving her would almost kill him? That after months apart, it would still hurt so deeply? Torment so much?

Where was she now? Was she, like him, sitting somewhere alone, thinking about something that could never be? The heart that loved him, regardless, unconditionally, eternally, the heart that he'd broken.was it remembering him now? Was his girl longing for his embrace, just like he was longing for hers? Was she still HIS girl? She'd promise she always would be.then again, he'd promised he'd never leave her.so?

There hadn't been a day he hadn't thought about her, wondering how she was, if she was happy with her life, how she was coping, was it hard, was it painful, was she still missing him? He wondered if she knew who was calling her house so many times just to hear her voice answer and then hang up, who was spending hours, sitting in a dark room and just beholding her picture, which was stained with tears by now.

Raindrops falling from heaven
Will never wash away my misery
But since we're not together
I'll wait for stormy weather
To hide these tears I hope you'll never see

That's all he had left from her. That picture, and the ring that had been once given to her, and was supposed to spend eternity on her finger. Well, he was supposed to spend eternity with her.so?

But he was here now. The Hell knew what had brought him back, because he sure didn't. Maybe he just wanted to see her, to see her face again, to feel her gentle caress on his skin, her soft lips on his. She was the only one in this world who was ever able to see inside the shell of a demon, into his soul, and discover there something worth loving. She had found a person in there, a person he couldn't find himself. Maybe that's what he missed. Someone to love him like that, like she did.then why had he ever left her?!

Angel chuckled. How strange it was, to have your entire existence, your entire world, within this one person. For years it had been like that, and he still wasn't able to adjust. Years. Years of loving that same little person. What wouldn't he give just to hear her say she loved him too.

"You know, it would be the very violation of the lows of nature, if I let you sit here alone."

Angel rose his eyes from the glass, and gazed at the speaker.

It was a girl, approximately Buffy's age, or maybe a little older. His eyes slowly roamed to her arm, which he acknowledged was around his shoulders.

She smiled sweetly and removed it from there. "Sorry," she extended her hand. "I'm Ashley. You?"

He looked confused for a short spell. Interacting with foreigners was still new to him. "Angel," he whispered his name.

"Well, that's certainly an unusual name. How did you get it?" she'd clearly found a topic to start a conversation with.

"It was a very long time ago."

She giggled. "What are you, two-hundred years old?"

"More," he said, looking into the glass, instead of into her eyes. He really wasn't in the mood to talk to people, not that he'd ever been, especially to a girl who obviously had only one thing on her mind.

"You're not much of a people's person, ha?" Ashley grinned, Angel didn't. "So, how are you on the dance floor?" she asked, when a new song began to play.

Angel wanted to stake himself that very instant. He knew that song. It was one of those he and Buffy danced to on her prom night. Well, the fate was obviously not done with him yet.

"So, are you coming? I'd feel really bad leaving you here alone," she grinned.

Angel beheld her quizzically. "Coming where?" and he knew that question was stupid.

"To the dance floor," Ashley gesticulated in the spoken direction. "I wanna see if you're a better dancer than you're a talker."

"I'm worse," Angel replied quietly. There was one person he wanted to hold in his arms to the sound of that song, but that person seemed to be miles away.

Ashley sighed, and sat back down, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Feel like telling me?" she asked.

Angel sent her a questioning look.

She rolled her eyes, smiling. "I get it we don't even know each other, but.call it a disease. I don't know, but every time I see someone's down, I just have to cheer them up, no matter how. Oh, and by the way, in case you were wondering, I'm not here to hit on you or anything, it's clear to everyone you're taken, and besides, I have a boyfriend. He's, actually, right over there," she gestured with her hand to the right.

Angel followed her hand for a second, then looked back down into his glass. He seemed to know every detail of it by now. "I'm not taken," he whispered.

Ashley shrugged. "Oh, well.in that case, you're just in love, cuz sorry to let you down, but it's written allover you. AND.I also know that the lucky lady, whoever she is, is responsible for the gloomy face I'm here to fix. So, come on. Tell me. No matter how long, I'm here to listen. My friends don't call me 'the savior of lost souls' for nothing."

Angel chuckled dryly. "Mine is a little too late to save."

"Really? Seems to me like all we gotta do is to bring the girl back," she smiled knowingly.

"You can't bring her back," he murmured.

Ashley's face became somber. "Is she."

"You might say that she is," Angel replied silently. "You know, I.I really don't wanna talk about it.or anything else." He stood up to leave, but abruptly froze. He gulped, his face blanching even more if that was possible for a vampire, as his lips formed the name he hadn't uttered in months.

Ashley peeped at his face, then at the blonde girl, who was sitting a few feet away, curled up alone on a couch. Then she looked back at him, smiling this time. "Looks like we found the soulmate," she squeezed his shoulders encouragingly, and walked away.

Part Two

Buffy looked up from the floor she'd been inspecting for the past fifteen minutes, and her eyes encountered the softest brown orbs she had ever seen, peering down at her.

She choked on his name, unable to get it out, despite being able to recall the so many times she loved so much uttering his name. Had it really been that long?

She stopped giving notice to her lack of speech very quickly, however. Hindering herself from jumping into his arms abruptly became so much more significant, and so much more difficult.

Buffy briefly turned her head in the direction where she formerly perceived the familiar profile. The seat was empty. She gazed back at Angel, who was still standing at the same spot he had been earlier, just like her, still struggling for composure.

"It's really you." she ultimately managed to utter.

"Buffy, I." he began, but was unable to finish, because she abruptly launched herself into his arms, wrapping hers around him, clasping him like he was her very lifeline.

Angel hugged her back, holding her tightly, gently, burying his face in her golden hair, abstractly realizing he'd never forgotten its scent.

"I'm sorry," she pulled back eventually, awkwardly somewhat. She sniffled, trying to wipe her tears away before he could detect them, all the while knowing just how vainly it was. He could always know when she was crying, even before she shed her first tear.

"God, look at me, I." she took one step back, unable to fully look into his eyes. "I always thought," she sniffled, "that when I'd see you again, I wouldn't."

Angel pulled her to him before she could finish her sentence, placing a soft kiss on her forehead.

Buffy put her hands on his chest, gently shoving herself off of him. "Is this.is this why you're here? Because if you are, I.I can't.damn." she covered her mouth with the back of her hand, as another flow of tears came rushing forward.

Angel wrapped her in his arms and pulled her with him down onto the couch.

Buffy drew back from him, gathering her legs to her chest, looking to the floor again, helplessly avoiding his eyes, knowing what she would find in them, because these things were those she had always found in them. Pain, guilt, loneliness, regret, sorrow, love.loss.

Angel lifted her chin and leveled their eyes.

"Why are you here?" she asked, her voice hoarse and broken.

He cast down his eyes. "I don't know."

"You don't know?" she chuckled bitterly. "Come on, you must have had something going through your head when you set your mind on your out of the blue visit to a place where you have nothing to look for."

Angel bit his lip. Deliberately or not, these words cut deeper than any knife ever could.

"I'm sorry," Buffy looked at him tenderly. "Willow.she says I have been building a wall around myself all summer. I guess it's a repercussion of that.wall."

"Don't do this to yourself. Don't throw your life away like this, Buffy. Believe me, nothing's worth it. Especially not I."

"Let's.allow me to decide upon that, okay?" she half smiled.

He nodded silently, knowing that if it were an argument, he would surely lose.

"So, that brings us back to the topic. Why are you here?"

"The truth?" his eyes challenged her, while his voice told her she already knew the answer to her own question.

And so she did, but hearing it from him was something she'd never let pass. "Always."

"To see you. I just wanted to see you. I couldn't stand such a long time.without seeing you even once. I wanted to make sure you were alright, I guess. That you were coping.somehow."

"That's the only reason?"

Angel averted his gaze. "That's all."

And they both knew he was lying.

"Well, then.I'm okay. I'm swell, just.swell," Buffy smirked. "You realize you're gonna need hours for that, don't you?"

"I have centuries," he stroked her cheek gently, and for only a moment, felt her melt to his touch, like she used to...once.

Buffy nodded. "You've always been a good listener, you know? The only one I could tell everything to, the only one I knew would never judge me.whenever I really needed to talk to someone.the past months, I always wished."

"Me too," he smiled.

"Really?" she looked up, an abrupt sparkle of hope in her green orbs. "Was I."

"You weren't just my love, Buffy," he spoke, tenderly tracing the lines of her face, "you were my best friend. You were the only person I could talk to, open up to, and fully share my most inner feelings with. I knew you would always be there for me, to understand me, and just to listen. You have no idea how I cherished that, and how much it meant to me. You were my best friend."

"Were, ha?" she smiled sadly. "Have I ever told you how much I hate past tenses?"

Angel pulled her to him, but suddenly let go. She winced.

"What happened?" he inquired, his voice now wore an anxious timbre, and suddenly, the old Angel was back, all worried about who might have hurt his precious Slayer.

Buffy rubbed her sore arm. "Let's just sum it up and say I got my ass kicked."

Angel touched her arm gently, and she wasn't sure if it was her mere imagination, or if the pain really did vanish all of a sudden.

"Who did that?" he asked, in a voice that said only one thing. That whoever did that wasn't going to last much longer.

Buffy smiled at the typical concern in his voice, and leaned into his protective embrace, knowing there was no way those arms would ever let the slightest harm come to her. "I'll get to that part too," she promised.

Angel nodded, embracing her, stroking her arm gently, as she kept her head on his chest.

"Talk to me," he prompted.

Buffy chuckled. "I have so many amazing things to tell you. God, where do I start?" she asked sarcastically. "Let's see.my boyfriend leaves me, may I add, for a better life, I spend the summer sobbing into my pillow, since I can't cry in front of my friends, because they expect me to be FINE. Then, I don't pick my classes in time, and when I finally do, on the first class I have, the teacher humiliates me in front of the WHOLE class, and kicks me out of the room. Oh, wait, even before that, I manage to drop like five books on the head of an innocent student and make a complete fool out of myself, and later find out he's gonna be my psyche TA," she smirked. "Then I meet the first guy that I can actually run a conversation with, because guess what, we have so much in common; we're both lost and can't find our way through the campus. And the following night, I find out my only new friend had died and turned into a vampire, and guess who gets to stake him. Then, a vampire, a VAMPIRE, kicks my ass and almost breaks my arm, to Hell with my arm, she would have more than likely killed me if I hadn't ran off! Then, I come home, to MY house, and what do I find? My MOM turned MY ROOM into a storage room! My room! My own bedroom! Even my mom doesn't want me anymore! And my friends.well, what can I say there? They're all so happy, so excited, THRILLED from the whole college experience, while for me it seems like the worst time of my life, so, naturally, I can't talk to them. I feel they'd never understand me. Oh, and now we're getting to the best of the best parts," she made a gesture with her index finger, then folder her arms on her chest. "Giles has a girlfriend, or at least so I found out when I walked in on her wearing nothing but HIS SHIRT! And now, just like it was with my dad, I suddenly come second. He was.he was like my dad, and now, he's too.I feel I'm intruding now. I feel I don't have a place in his life anymore, like I'm not important to him anymore, and I hate that! And again, we come back to you," her voice softened, from now on receiving a more tender and slightly desperate note to it. "Everything brings me back to you in one way or another, regardless to how much I want it to stop. I feel.I feel like I'm dying inside sometimes, and I ask myself, where is Angel? Because I'm like some stupid little girl, always used to Angel being there for me, with me. And now, Angel's suddenly not there anymore. And no matter how much I wish he were there, he'd never be there again. Because, just like everyone else in my life, Angel left, and Angel didn't even feel I was important enough to call me, just to tell me where he was, and if he was okay. or just leave me a damned phone number if I ever need to talk to someone. This is the story of my wonderful life. You know, the little perfect life Angel has left me to have. Comments? Suggestions? Anything?" she gazed up at him.

"I'm sorry," he said, after a long moment of silence.

Buffy nodded to herself. "Fair enough," she nodded, fixing her somewhat wounded gaze on him, her eyes telling him that although she accepted his apology, sometimes saying sorry didn't make everything better again.

"You'll make it through everything, Buffy," he looked candidly into her eyes as he spoke. "I know it's hard now. If it makes you feel any better, don't think that for me it's in any way easier. You have no idea how strong you really are, love."

Buffy smiled. "Love," she echoed softly. "It seems it's been ages since anyone called me that."

"Me not loving you was never one of the reasons why I left. I really thought you knew that."

"Oh, that makes me feel SO much better about myself," she smirked.

"It should. I need you to know this, Buffy. Together or not, there won't be a moment, day or night, when you won't be able to come to me. No matter what, I'll always be there for you. Always. You'll always have me to turn to, to trust, and to rely on. And if you ever need.just to talk to someone, you always have me."

She grinned. "But not here.right? Never here. We're keeping distance now, aren't we? Playing some stupid twisted game, spitting on everything we feel, but nonetheless, keeping distance. For the greater good. Gotta remember that."

"It can't be, Buffy, you know that. Let's not start this again. It hurts me enough to merely ponder that, let's not talk about that too."

"You think it doesn't hurt me?! I feel like my world is falling apart, and the only one who can somehow make everything okay is gone! Oh, no, my life is great!"


She pushed herself from him, standing up. "I'd better go now. I'm sure there's at least one vampire out there that wants me dead."

Angel stood up after her and grabbed her arm. "I can't let you leave like this."

"Oh, that's right, I'm sorry, you're the expert, you go first," she motioned towards the exit of the club.

Angel dropped her arm, looking down in defeat.

"What else can you possibly have to tell me?" she asked, her voice more gentle now.

"I meant what I said," he looked up. "You can always."

"Come to you," she smirked, "I know. I can always come to you. But you know what? It isn't much good when you're miles away."

"Buffy, it's just LA."

"Oh, you're in LA? Well, good to know! Wanna give me a little more specific address or will that be too much to ask?"

Angel sighed. "Why are you behaving like that?"

"Like what? Oh, I know like what, what was that.oh, yeah, a spoiled brat. Well, that's me. Deal."

"That's not what I."

"How do you want me to act, Angel? What you TOO want me to feign? I thought that at least with you I could always be myself."

"You behave.like you hate me. Do you?"

Buffy sat down, looking away from him. "You hurt me, Angel," she whispered. "You have no idea how much you hurt me. Knowing how much I needed you, you just walked away. Why?"

"You don't need me, Buffy. You can make it on your own."

She grinned melancholically. "You really don't get it, do you? I don't mean that I can't make it without you, Angel. Sure, I can," she shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant, then her eyes turned serious again. "That's not it though," she said, with a 'this is our future I'm talking about here, so you better pay attention to every word I say' note her voice. "I don't WANT to make it without you. I don't want living just for the sake of being alive. I want to live with a purpose, FOR a purpose. You were my purpose, Angel. I thought.I thought I was yours. Tell me.why did you leave?"

Angel sat down next to her, taking her hand in his. "When you're older, with a husband, and a bunch of kids, if I'm still alive, you ask me again."

Buffy chuckled. "Just for the record, Angel, I can't have children. All Slayers are born infertile. Even if I wanted to, I can never conceive. I can't have children. I don't know why the Slayers are infertile, but I know they are, because I've read about it myself, and Giles confirmed it. He said he knew, but he just didn't know how to tell me."

"I'm sorry," he clasped her hand tenderly.

"Surprisingly as it might sound, I'm not. I don't see myself creating a child with a man I'll never be able to love."

"Buffy, you will love."

"AGAIN, you don't understand. No, Angel," she shook her head, smiling, "I'll love. Of course, I will. But I'll never love like that again, give myself entirely. I'll never love anyone the way I love you. I can't give my heart twice in my lifetime. I don't think anyone can."

"Me neither," he whispered softly.

Buffy turned his face to her. "The best life-partner for a Slayer is a vampire, Angel. If you only gave some thought to your decision, you'd see that too."

"You think I didn't."

"Let me finish, Angel. Now, you try picturing me with a normal guy, the human guy you want me so much to be with. Do you really think there's the slightest chance for a normal relationship in that scenario? How can there be anything, if I spend my life worrying over his safety? I never need to worry about you. I mean.I worry about you all the time, but only because I love you so much, not because I think you can't handle something yourself, because I know you can, and I trust you. You're reliable, and you're strong, and you're a fighter, and that's why I'm safe with you. A normal guy.sooner or later, he'll get me killed. Because a Slayer spends her life fighting, Angel. I can't fight while constantly worrying over him. Now, you're worried about taking the sunlight away from me. Angel, how the Hell will me being with you cost me the sunlight? The sunlight is still gonna be there. If I want, I can always go out. I so stupidly assumed that three years had proved you enough that sunlight doesn't come first in my order of priorities. You and I both know, this is ridiculous. And the curse."

"Buffy, can you even imagine how many people will die by my demon's hand if it's ever set free again?"

"Angel." she bit her lip, "there is no curse."

"What?" he asked, uttering the word incredibly slowly.

"There's no curse," she repeated.

Angel drew in a deep breath. "Buffy, I assure you, I know the difference between having and not having a soul, and right now, I have one."

She grinned. "There is no clause in it, Angel."

His eyes widened. "What.no, it can't.how?"

Buffy looked away. "Giles.I found in his Watcher's Diaries the ancient text.the old version of the curse, the one that was used on you the first time."

"The first."

"When the gypsies cursed you. So, I.I don't know why, but I asked Willow to.well, since I don't know the first thing about magic and curses, I asked her help in.comparing the old version and the new one. Angel, in the new one.there.there is no loophole. There is no clause. You're free."

Angel stared at her for a long moment. His lips were constantly curving in various attempts to form words, but no sound was emerging from them. He took a deep breath, and swallowed, dropping her hand and standing up, with his back to her.

After the silence became too much for her, Buffy rose to her feet, hesitantly reposing her hand on his back.

Angel jerked, turning around, and Buffy felt a piercing pang through her heart, perceiving the sparkling tears in his eyes.

"Angel." she whispered his name softly, but before she could even reach out for him, he was gone.

Part Three

"Buffy!" Willow exclaimed, running over to her friend, who had just entered her dorm room, and embracing her tightly, but Buffy didn't respond. She was inert in Willow's arms, until the redhead let go, taking a few steps backwards. She put her both hands on her friend's shoulders, peering carefully into her eyes. She could easily detect Buffy had been crying only recently. "What happened to you?" she asked gently.

Buffy didn't answer, only walked past her, and lay down on the bare mattress of her bed, drawing her knees to her chest and embracing them.

"Buff.where's your stuff?" Oz spoke ultimately, following a long silence.

She didn't reply here either, just kept aimlessly staring off into space.

"Buffy?" Willow attempted again, but this time, too, was in vain.

"Does she have mental issues?" Kathy wanted to know, gesticulating towards the seemingly oblivious Slayer. "Cuz I specifically asked for."

Willow shushed her with a glare, then walked over to Kathy's closet, and retrieved a blanket from there. After taking off Buffy's shoes, and covering her, she took Oz's hand, and they both headed out.

"What am I supposed to do now?" Kathy hissed.

"Nothing. Leave her alone for the night. Something's obviously happened to her. I'll talk to her tomorrow."

"Didn't she leave a note she'd dropped out?" Kathy gestured with her head at the said piece of paper on her desk.

"Well, she seems very much here to me," Oz replied simply, pulling his girlfriend after him out of the room, and silently closing the door on the two remaining girls.

Buffy wasn't listening to professor Walsh's lecture. She simply wasn't able to. Her mind had been elsewhere.ever since last night.

After he had left, Buffy couldn't hold it in anymore. She plainly broke down right there on that couch, and cried her eyes out, until a girl she didn't even know approached her, introduced herself as Ashley, and miraculously succeeded in lifting her spirit, at least, to some extend. She had talked to her, for what seemed like half an hour or so, and as a result, not even knowing how or why, Buffy felt at least a little better. She had been too busy sobbing to actually pay attention to what exactly Ashley had been saying to her, but whatever it was, it obviously paid off.

The next thing she recalled was locating Sunday and her minions, and this time, somehow killing them all. And then.then, while going through her stolen belongings, she had found her diary, and all the tears from before had come rushing back. Her diary, her 'Angel' diary, full with her happiest, and in the same time, most painful memoirs, with that angelic name popping up every three words, with dried stains of tears, with short love poems, scribed on little aged pieces of paper, with dried flowers, numerous sketches of her face he'd once made.her Angel. The Angel that had walked out on her. Again.

After her eyes had finally dried, she headed back to her dorm-room, and after her friends had left, and her roommate had fallen asleep, Buffy'd sneaked out, time and again, until she'd transferred all of her things back into the dorm.

And only then, ultimately, with the precious diary cradled securely in her arms, close to her heart, she had fallen asleep.

And now.well, technically, now she was in psyche class. Or at least, she was there in the physical sense, because mentally, psyche couldn't be farther from her thoughts. Her thoughts had long wandered to a certain ensouled vampire, who now knew he was free.and it had scared him so much, he'd just run off.

Or was it something else? Buffy had already spent hours atop hours, only trying to figure out exactly why he had just taken off like that. Not saying a word, just running away. Was he that deeply hurt?

He'd been crying. Her Angel had been crying, and SHE had made him cry. Buffy could recall clearly every single time she'd seen him cry. The first one was the night after they'd defeated Darla, when they had parted on the Bronze's dance-floor, a goodbye sealed with a gentle kiss, a goodbye that was never to last. Then, there was the moment she'd opened her eyes, right following Xander's CPR, and her eyes had met his, glassy with tears, tears of fright, tears of joy.tears he hadn't wanted her to detect. Then, the time he'd given her the Claddagh ring, had given her his heart, forever. And that same night, when he'd first told her he loved her, just before they had made love for the first time. There was also the time they both had been possessed by the school's spirits, and the moment when his soul had been returned to him, seconds before she had to send him to Hell. She would never forget the way he cried in her arms then, not even knowing what the future had held for him. And then, the time when he had returned from Hell, the precious moment he'd remembered who she was, and again, broken down in her arms. And there was that horrible Christmas morning, when he had tried to commit suicide, and Buffy but barely had managed to thwart him, with a little help from the Powers that Be, in a form of a magic snow. And then, the last time, while he had been braking up with her.

That was all, and she remembered each and every one of these times as if it'd just transpired. And in all of those times, SHE had been the cause for his tears, and yesterday, she initiated tears in him, again.

She was ready to kill herself for having made him cry, but even more, she craved to know WHY he had cried. Were these tears tears of happiness, or were they ones of betrayal?

Buffy prayed for it not to be the second alternative. She wouldn't be able to bear it if it were. And still, she couldn't bring herself to get the probability out of her head, and it would not give her repose. Was THIS why he had run off? Because he had felt betrayed? Betrayed.by her.for that she hadn't told him. For that she had known something as momentous as this and had kept him in the dark nonetheless. The fact that she COULDN'T have told him, because by the time she had made the revelation, he had already been gone, completely slipped her mind. Instead, culpability and self-reproach took over.

What had she done? She had made him leave. Again. He had finally come back, and she.

Well, sure, she knew he hadn't come back for THAT. He made it painfully clear last night, despite her dull attempts to make him stay. He was there to comfort her. Only to comfort her. To let her know how much he'd still loved her, and that she'd always have someone to turn to, because she'd always have him out there, somewhere. And then, he had intended to leave.

And he had left. He really had. Again.

"Ms. Summers!"

Buffy shook her musings off of her, concentrating on her, rightfully enraged, psyche professor.

"Would you be kind enough to let the entire class in what was obviously so much more important than my lecture?"

Buffy looked down. "I'm sorry," she murmured. Another class-humiliation. No, her life couldn't possibly get better than that.

"Professor Walsh?" Willow rushed to her best friend's aid. "Buffy.she hasn't been feeling good ever since last night. Can I take her to the nurse?"

Maggie Walsh considered it for a second, then nodded in approval, and the two girls collected their books and exited the room.

"Where are we going?" Buffy inquired Willow, after realizing the redhead had been leading her in the direction opposite to the campus' clinic, or so she thought, and with her current sense of direction, it wasn't necessarily true.

But in this case, it was. "To my dorm," Willow replied, sending her friend a brief sly grin. But one second later, the smile vanished without a trace. "And there, you'd better be ready to tell me everything. I know only one person who can cause this behavior in you, and as far as I know, he's currently out of town."

Buffy sighed. Her mind was already working on what she was going to later tell her friend.

"Well?" Willow sat down next to Buffy on her bed.

Buffy sighed, casting down her eyes.

Willow sighed too. "I was right, wasn't I? It's Angel."

Buffy only nodded.

Willow did too. "I should have known before. What happened?"

"I saw him."

Willow's eyes widened in shock. "What?"

"Last night. I saw him. He was in the Bronze. We.talked."


Buffy chewed on her lower lip, nodding, tears streaming down her cheeks.

"What about?" Willow inquired cautiously.

"I think you know that, Will."

"And he hasn't changed his mind. And that's why you're crying."

Buffy covered her face with her hands, sobbing, shaking her head.

"It's not all?"

"I told him.about the curse." she sobbed.

Willow gasped. "Oh, God!"

"And he still left! He just walked away."

Willow hugged her friend, gently stroking her back. "God, Buffy.I.I'm so sorry. I can't believe this. I can't believe I've been such a horrible friend to you. I can't believe I let myself be fooled by this 'I'm over him' act. God, why were you doing that?"

Buffy straightened up, meeting Willow's gaze. "You weren't a bad friend."

"Buffy, I should have known. I should have known you were still hurting, and I tried so hard cheering you up, I in some point stopped paying attention to your genuine feelings. If that's not being a bad friend, I really don't know what is."

Buffy beamed sadly. "You saw exactly what I wanted you to see. It wasn't your fault, Will. I.I felt as if.if I could convince you guys, that everything was okay with me, so maybe, one day, I could also convince myself. But I failed. Miserably."

Willow hugged her again. "It'll be okay. Don't worry, I'm sure everything will be okay. It's Angel. He'll come to his senses sooner or later, the guy's incapable of staying away for too long. Don't you think the fact he came back last night proves that?"

"Does it? Well, so, where is he now? I told him that his worst fears were futile, that his worst nightmares weren't ever to come true, that he could be truly happy with me, and he gave all that up, and just walked away."

Willow looked down. She just didn't know what to say.

"And.it's not just the fact that he walked away that bugs me. It's the 'why' he walked away."

"What do you mean?" the redhead asked, not really understanding where Buffy was heading with that. She'd been sitting here, thinking about more and less painful ways to torture Angel for making her best friend cry like that again, and now Buffy told her that the reason he'd left wasn't why she was crying at all.

Buffy looked up at her. "You really should have seen him, Will. The expression in his eyes.after I had told him.he was so broken, like someone who'd just had his entire world collapsing on him. I thought.I thought he'd be happy. I thought he'd jump right back into my arms, and.and stay. And instead."

Willow nodded in acknowledgement.

"I just.I wish I could get to the bottom of this somehow. I wish I could find whatever hurt him so much, whatever.overwhelmed him like that, obviously leaving him no other choice but to just take off. I wish I knew what was going on inside of him. I feel like.for the first time in years.I really don't know what's going on inside him. There's this thing.and it hurts him so much.and I don't know what it is."

"I wish.I wish I could help you with that," Willow voiced hesitantly.

Buffy smiled gratefully, inwardly acknowledging there wasn't really anything Willow could do. There was nothing ANYONE could do, until Angel would be back, if he ever would, because she didn't even know where he was.

"You know, I." Willow shook her head. "I can kill myself right now."

"Why?" Buffy asked, confused.

"For having missed that. How could I've missed that? How could I've been near you, for months, and not see what was truly going on with you? I just don't get it. How dense am I? And you know why I hate myself the most?" she faced her friend. "I hate myself the most, for not sending you on a worldwide search after Angel, after we'd found out about his curse. I should have tied you up and kicked you out of Sunnydale by force, Slayer or not."

The blonde beamed. "I'd wanna see that."

Willow smacked Buffy's hip. "Stop it! We're having a crisis here. We're having a crying Buffy and a missing Angel on our hands. I remember the same scenario only too well from four months ago. And mind my words, if your truant boyfriend doesn't turn himself in within the next couple of days, I give you my personal guarantee he'll be found. You both have had more tears spilled over each other, than an average person wastes in one lifetime. And if neither one of you has the brains needed to fix it, I guess that's gonna have to be me."

Part Four

It'd been two weeks since that night in the Bronze, when Angel had walked out on her the second time. She was still thinking about him all the time, thinking about what she might have done to change things, to make him stay, to keep him from leaving. She had so many dreams once.dreams she had already learned would never come true, when he had left the first time. But when she saw him in the Bronze that night, the hope awoke inside of her again. She had allowed herself, for these fleeting moments in his arms, to feel again, to hope again, to dream again.

And then he'd left. The second time.

Buffy hated him for that. She hated him partly because she couldn't understand, partly because it was either hating him, or herself, for obviously having done something wrong. And a part of her hated him simply because it clouded her own pain. He'd come to her, that night, he had held her in his arms, so gently like only he could, and he had made all the frustration and the pain go away, like only he could. And now, he was gone. And she wondered sometimes, would he come again? Would he hold her like that again? Would he even want to see her.ever again?

She wished she had an answer for at least one of those questions.

Now, she was sitting in the Bronze with her friends. She used to do that, she recalled, a long while ago, but now.there was someone missing. Her eyes longingly observed Willow and Oz, as the two were dancing close to the slow melody of a song. Angel used to hold her like that, and she used to put her head on his chest, and he would stroke her hair, like that. Where was Angel now? Why was she the one to be sitting alone?

The song ended, and Willow and Oz returned to where she was sitting, taking over the empty loveseat. The look they'd exchanged before deciding to sit closer to each other wasn't missed by Buffy, and she sighed, tracing her finger over the hem of her glass.

"Earth to Buffy!" Willow punched her arm playfully.

Buffy looked up, smiling, even though she didn't feel like it. "What's up, Will?"

"I was thinking.well, Oz and I were. It's kinda one of the plans we made to cheer you up."

"Oh, really?" Buffy sighed.

"Quit the sarcasm. At least, listen to what I have to say," Willow insisted.

"Talk," Buffy waved her hand tiredly.

"Great. Anyway, we were thinking.Oz's band is going on a tour next week," Willow announced.

"It's great," the Slayer offered a barely convincing smile, looking at Oz. "Congrats."

"Thanks," he nodded, "but that's not the point."

"It's not?"

"Nope. We're going to LA."

Buffy gulped. *LA.*

"And since Oz's going to LA for like a week," Willow continued for her boyfriend. "I'm going with him."

"And how do I fit into that?" Buffy still didn't understand.

"In the sense that you're coming with us," Willow beamed.

"Oh." Buffy nodded. "And.when exactly did I say I was going?"

"You didn't. I've just said it for you. By the way, we're leaving on Sunday."

"Will, I don't think."

But the redhead shook her head. "I told you, I was gonna get the two of you back together. Now, it's your choice. I can either drag you with me to LA, or you can come willingly. Either way, you're going. There's no point arguing with me, and you know that. Resolve face," Willow pointed at her expression.

"There's definitely only one Willow," Oz embraced his girlfriend, kissing her on the cheek.

Buffy smiled. "Thankfully, there really is."

"Hey!" Willow smacked her arm.

Buffy made her way from the Bronze to her dorm by herself. Willow and Oz had wanted to go to his dorm for the night, and though they had offered to walk her to hers first, she'd refused. She needed some time alone. She needed to think. There was too much to think about.

She was going to LA in four days. Buffy had to admit it to herself already that her future held within it four sleepless nights. LA. The City of Angels, of her Angel. She was going to see her Angel.

Buffy laughed silently at that. The chance she would actually SEE him was so minor it wasn't even worth the regard. For the matter of fact, it was even smaller. All of a sudden, LA had never sounded so large in her life. What were the chances she would ever run into.him?

On second thought, an inner sensation prompted her it was almost certain she would run into him. If she didn't find him, he would most definitely find her.

And what would she do then? What would she do when she saw him? What would she say to him? How would she act? How would she be supposed to act?

Buffy smiled. She abruptly felt like a sixteen-year-old allover again. She was so nervous, it almost reminded her of her first date. *First date*.Buffy smiled again. Her first date with Angel. Well, no, it hadn't gone as planned. And now they would laugh about it, and she would still insist she had had horrible hair.if only they were still together.

But she was right to be nervous. In a sense, it would also be their first date. Their first date as a couple again, because Buffy swore to herself there was no way she would let him go again once she would get him back. And she was intending to get him back, she was surer than ever now. If she made it to LA, if she found him, she would never let him go. She would make him see, just how futile his arguments were, and she would make him realize they could make it work if they wanted to, and that all that was up to him was to say 'yes'. She wouldn't give in again. There was no way on earth she would give in to his 'what's right' crap for the second time. Now, if she finds him, he's not going anywhere. Now, SHE would decide on what's right, and she, like he had, would make the decision for both of them, and dare him to object.


Buffy halted her walk and rotated to the sound of a man's voice calling her name.

Riley increased his pace and a second later was striding along with her.

"Where are you going?"

"To my dorm," Buffy replied. "It's almost ten o'clock. I'd say it's about time I started studying for the psyche exam tomorrow. You?"

"I was looking for you."

Buffy gave him a questioning look.

"Riley," he reintroduced himself, assuming she'd forgotten.

Buffy shook her head, smiling sheepishly. "No, I'm sorry, I remember you. I just.you said you were looking for me?"

"Right," Riley inhaled a deep breath, and looked down at his feet for a moment, then looked back at her. "I've given it a lot of thought, you know.and yesterday, I finally made up my mind to.well, I was wondering.would you like to go out? Umm.okay, that was too blunt. Well, I thought." he trailed off, taking in the abrupt change of Buffy's mien. "You don't want to," he observed.

Buffy beheld him for a long moment. "No, I.it's not you, it's.it's not that I don't want, I.I'm sorry," she swallowed. "You're a nice guy.Riley, you.you are, but.I just have so much going on in my life now. Many things that you wouldn't understand even if I tried to tell you."

Riley nodded. "Can I.you think I can help?"

Buffy smiled. "I somehow really doubt it's possible, for anyone to.to help."

"You know, I can settle for a cup of coffee.if you want, that is. Jut something small. You think.there's a chance?"

Buffy looked down. "I'm sorry."

Rile examined her for a long spell. "You're taken," he said, as if it were a plain obvious fact.

Buffy looked up in surprise. "I.umm.no, I.well, technically, I.I'm not. I have someone though."

"But you're not taken?"

"Well, I." she took a deep breath. "I'm kind of.taken."

"Kind of?"

"I had a boyfriend. We'd been together for years, in a very serious relationship, and a few months ago, he left. So, I'm free.basically, but I.I still." she bit her lip. Thoughts of Angel had always made her cry, and she didn't need that right now. It was the last thing she needed.

"You still love him," Riley completed her sentence for her. "Must have been serious."

"It was," she sniffled. "But.he's gone now, so.it was."

"He's an idiot."

Buffy half-smiled. "Not entirely. As dumb as it might sound.he did that for me."

"For you?" Riley arched a brow, chuckling.

"Yeah, it was.it wasn't the 'I don't love you that's why I leave you' kind of break-up. It was more the 'I love you too much that's why I leave you' kind. He wanted me to find someone else. He decided he wasn't good enough."

Riley nodded to himself. "I see he loved you a lot."

"Yeah," Buffy smirked. "Obviously not enough to cut the 'not good enough' crap and stay."

They stood in complete silence for a long moment.

"I'm sorry I asked you out," Riley said finally.

"You are?"

"Yeah, I.it was stupid of me. I should have asked if you weren't in any kind of a relationship first. I'm sorry I hurt you. I'm sorry I reminded you of.you never told me his name."

Buffy grinned. "Angel," she uttered the name softly.

"Angel," he echoed. "Certainly uncommon."

"So is he," she smiled. "Look.Riley, you.you didn't hurt me. It's just.every time he's brought up, I." a sob escaped her lips, and Buffy covered her mouth with her hand, to hinder any more that might follow.

Riley considered it for a second, and then took her into his arms, as she continued crying in his chest.

A tall dark shadow turned around behind a curtain of trees, unable to watch them anymore, and rapidly walked away. As far away as he could, vowing never to return.

Part Five

"Will," Buffy turned to her friend apathetically, while wiggling the straw in the remnants of her coke. She and Willow were both sitting in a bar in LA, where Oz's band was playing tonight. But Willow turned out to be too busy keeping eye contact with her lead-guitarist boyfriend.

Buffy sighed, returning back to her musings.

After having been restive the entire ride to LA, Buffy still hadn't calmed down. Not even a little. Not knowing what to expect was probably what had been intimidating her the most. She had already come to the terms with the fact that there was an equal chance between meeting and not meeting Angel. So, after finally taking in that their paths actually MIGHT cross, no matter how large LA was, as she had convinced herself, the current matter that was eating her up was what she was going to tell him, once she met him.

She'd even reached a point when she was standing in front of the mirror, rehearsing a conversation that might never take place. Deep inside, Buffy was fully aware that, surprisingly, there was nothing EVER in her life she was more nervous about than this potential encounter. She had practiced on every word, every gesture, every mien.

No matter how hard she'd tried though, there had been no way Buffy could predict Angel's behavior. She knew almost by heart everything SHE would, or might, do, but Angel.that was another story. How he would react.she couldn't guess. Not ever. His recent reaction had been the last thing she had expected from him, so if Buffy had learned ANYTHING following that incident, it was that she'd better stop trying to predict his actions. What he might say, what he might do.she would never know. Not until she saw him face to face.

Well, now it was the second day of their staying in LA, and there still wasn't a thread that could lead her to Angel. Not a clue.

On their first day, Willow and Oz had logged onto the net, and double-checked every rented hotel room, motel room, apartment, house, or anything else a person might reside in. They'd come up with pure nothing. It's like he didn't exist. Well.unless he'd changed his name and had recently acquired a reliable human background. But since that option had come down even before it could rationally rise, Willow and Oz had had no other choice left than to finally listen to Buffy, who had been trying to reason with them ever since they had left Sunnydale, that they wouldn't have any luck in locating him until he wanted to be found.

And now, without any luck in finding Angel, and with tones of tormenting guilt and pain for that he's gone, Buffy was sitting with Willow in that bar. And while the redhead witch was busy making googly eyes to her werewolf boyfriend, who was playing on stage, the Slayer was siting in silence, her thoughts far away, searching in the infinity for the ones of her soulmate vampire, who she knew was there, somewhere, but was so deeply bruised by something she had done he didn't want to be seen by her, didn't want to be found, didn't want.HER. Buffy bit her lip. No, she wouldn't cry now. She had cried enough already. Too much, one might say. Certainly a lot more than she had thought she ever could. And regarding the state of things as they were now, her tears had been spilled for nothing.

He was still gone.

"What am I doing here, Will?" Buffy asked her friend again.

This time, Willow tore her gaze from Oz's and concentrated on Buffy. "Do you even realize that if I got a dime for every time you've asked me that question in the past HOUR, I'd be a millionaire by now?"

Buffy smirked.

"You know why you're here. Stop being a brat," she grinned impishly beore continuing, and sighed. In her friend's current state, knocking sence into her was everything BUT an easy task. "Incase you haven't gotten that yet, it's for you I'm doing that. I want you happy. You don't seem to be very cooperative, or even worse, you don't seem to get that there's only one person in this world that can make your smiles stop being fake, and HE'S the one we're here to find."

"The only thing I'm about to find here, Will, is additional pain. Let's face it." She gazed down into her glass.

Willow rolled her eyes, groaning. At some point, she had become tired of Buffy's demeanor. Ever since Angel had walked out on her in the bronze that night, it had been as if nothing mattered to her anymore, as if she didn't care what did or didn't happen. Willow couldn't just stand by and watch her friend lose her vitality and vivacity. She'd had a hard enough time getting her out of it when Angel had left the first time. She had no intentions to go through the same thing again. This time, for Buffy's sake, she would get him back. And she would not, under any circumstances tolerate her friend's attitude any longer.

"How much did you pay me to come here, Will?"

"Will you stop?!" Willow realized she had said that a LITTLE too loud, after everyone around them had rotated in their direction. Willow smiled sheepishly, and lowered her tone. "You're driving me nuts!" she hissed.

"I'm sorry," Buffy retorted.

"What's going on with you?" Willow touched her arm gently. "I thought you'd be excited. I thought you'd put your heart into finding Angel, and sorting things out with him. You're acting like you don't care. Do you care, Buffy? I gotta know. Because if all this is for nothing, I."

"I do care," Buffy whispered in an abruptly cracked voice, which made Willow to instantly pull her into a comforting embrace. "I'm scared," Buffy kept sobbing against Willow's chest. "I'm scared of what might happen when, and if, I find him. I'm scared he will reject me again. I can't stand having him walk away again, I just can't. I can't take on myself anymore. You have no idea how much it hurts, Willow. Every single time.you have no idea."

"Shh." Willow stroked her back gently, "it's okay. It's gonna be okay. Buffy, look at me." She pulled off, making the Slayer face her. "There is no one in this world, and I repeat, NO ONE who loves you the way Angel does. And you better remember that and never forget, because his love is your most cherished asset."

"You think I don't know that?" Buffy smiled weakly, wiping her tears away. "You think I don't love him just as much? Maybe even more..."

"So why are you doing this?" Willow demanded.

"Because it's the only way I know how to deal! Because if I don't live in this careless denial, I'll go mad. Do you know what it's like, wondering 24/7 where he is, what happens to him, is he okay, is he hurt, just how much he hates me that moment? Do you know?" a tear made its way down buffy's cheek, without the Slayer even noticing. "Well, I do. So, don't ask me why I'm doing this anymore, okay?"

"He'll show up, Buffy," Willow tried to assure her. "Call it sixth sense, but I just know he will."

Buffy smirked. "You know what I know? I know that the man I love finally found out he could be with me, that there was nothing more to stand in our way, and he ran off. That's what I know. And after he hasn't come back, after I haven't seen him for weeks, what I have come to know is that he DOESN'T WANT TO SEE ME," she almost choked on the words, taking in their meaning in the same time.

"Of course he does." Willow hastened to sedate her, putting her hand on Buffy's arm.

"So where's he been all that time? Fixing his tie for the grand date?" she asked sarcastically.

Willow sighed, looking away.

"I'm sorry, Will. I know you're trying. I should too. I love him so much it kills me to merely think about the possibility of never seeing him again. It's just hurts so much.that sometimes I can't see through the pain. I never thought something could hurt so badly."

Willow squeezed her hand, smiling briefly.

Buffy repaid her with a feeble grin of her own. "You know what, I think I'd better head off."


Buffy shrugged. "I can't stay here. I just need to get out. If I'm lucky, I'll even get to kill something tonight. You, stay. Enjoy with Oz."

Willow beamed, but her expression was somewhat skeptical. "You sure?"

Buffy nodded firmly. "Very. I'll see you guys at the hotel. Probably not before tomorrow."

"Okay," Willow agreed. "Don't break."

"I'm a pro, Will," Buffy flashed her a brief smile, and walked off.

Willow sighed heavily, her eyes following Buffy until she was lost in the crowd.

A strange sound tore through the silence of the night, while Buffy was strolling through the dusky back-streets of LA. Her Slayer senses instantly kicked in, and the next time she heard the sound, she knew it was one of a fight. She started towards the direction it was supposedly coming from, ready to strike, stake in hand.

When she reached her destination, Buffy froze on the spot, unable to proceed any further. She could only stare, luckily for her, from a concealed spot where she couldn't be descried.

Angel dropped on the couch in his apartment. His muscles hurt, and he hadn't been so beat in his life, or unlife, for that matter. That night's demon had certainly taken the best of him. It would have been easier, he had to admit, if she had been there, by his side, fighting with him. He was more than confident in his strength and stamina, but it wasn't the same.fighting alone, and fighting with her. It just wasn't the same. They worked best together, as one. It had been becoming clearer to him every night of his life ever since he had left Sunnydale. Existing as a half of a whole wasn't easy, there was nothing to say about that.

He wondered briefly, if she was thinking about it too. *No she isn't,* he acknowledged melancholically, *she has him."

HIM. Angel had had to muster all of his self-restraint not to snap that guy's neck there and then. He had dared to touch his girl. HIS girl. Someone else was with his girl now. Someone else was holding her in his arms. Perhaps that same 'someone else' was making love to her too?.

He shouldn't have left. He never should have left. He'd ruined everything. He'd screwed things up, and now she was with someone else, and it was entirely his fault. HE shouldn't have left. She had been offering him everything, everything he'd always dreamt of, so much more than he had ever thought he was allowed to have, with the only woman in this world he would ever love, and he had declined her offering. And he had left. And now, he had absolutely no one to blame but himself.

He loved her so much. He had been scared, that's all. Just scared. It had been a revelation he had never dared to even dream about, and now it was real, and it scared him. It terrified him, because he now had everything, now he could have it all. He could have the woman he loved, he could have happiness with her, and it scared him. He didn't mean to react the way he did. He hadn't meant to throw her, to hurt her, or Hell knows what else he had done to her. He was just confused. That's all. Just confused.

He hadn't been able to deal, didn't know how to deal, and by the time he had finally managed to pull himself together, and to come back, and to hope to stay.for good.he'd found her with him. And then he'd left again. But no, this time, he wasn't going back. No way he was going back again. His undead heart wouldn't survive another display of the kind he was fortunate enough to encounter on his latest visit. He'd had enough. He had had enough pain.

And at the same time, Angel knew just how fast he'd be back to Sunnydale...if only she called.

He rose from the sofa and dragged himself to the bedroom. He lay down on the bed, just contented to finally feel something soft and comfortable underneath. He was too spent to even take his clothes off. He turned his head to the right, peering at the framed photograph of her he had standing on his nightstand. Angel gently traced her features with his fingertips.

"I miss you," he whispered, and then his eyes finally closed, and he fell into a dreamless sleep.

He didn't even know someone had followed him into the apartment.

Part Six

Angel woke up at sunrise, abruptly recalling he hadn't even pulled the draperies over the bedroom window before falling asleep. He noted he'd become reckless recently, and it wasn't the first time. Recently. What a joke. He knew exactly when that 'recently' had begun. He sighed. He could feel the dawn already, and he knew that if he woke up only several minutes later, he'd be a pile of dust by now. Funny, death didn't intimidate him anymore. Not having a single reason to keep going, he would probably even welcome it.if it ever came. One glance in the direction of the window revealed to him he really was just in time. The first sun beams of the morning had already tried sneaking into the room. But.they were halted with heavy dark curtains. Angel frowned. He was SURE he had left the window undraped. He was sure. That revelation was followed by two more; the first was that he had been half covered with a comforter, and the second was that he was wearing absolutely nothing but his boxers. He briefly wondered when the Hell had he managed to undress and make his bed. He quickly dismissed that thought though. It was just another thing to add to the long list of those he didn't really care about.

Being already awake, Angel decided to get up, since he needed to feed anyway. He wasn't in his best during daytime, the sunlight had always weakened him, but he had already been extremely drained and debilitated after the fight, and therefore famished. He could always go back to sleep after he fed.

He went to the bathroom, and splashed some cold water on his face. It didn't quite wake him up, but it'd do for a quick feeding. After a brief reflection, Angel watered his face a few more times, and headed towards the kitchen.

He had never made it there though.

The moment Angel entered the main hall, he stopped, unable to tear his eyes from the tiny blonde Slayer curled up on the couch.

All the thoughts of weariness and hunger instantly left his mind, and nothing existed. Nothing, but her.

About five minutes had passed, from the moment when he'd first seen her, until the moment he finally digested she was actually there, in the flesh. SHE was there. SHE.Buffy. HIS Buffy.was there.

That moment, she sighed silently, turning in her sleep on her other side and grimacing slightly, rubbing the small of her neck.

It snapped Angel back to reality. He quietly paced over to the sofa she lay on, and carefully, trying not to awake her, picked her up.

The moment Buffy was in his arms, even without waking up, she nestled closer to him, making herself more comfortable, as a little smile flickered across her face.

Angel grinned down at her. For a moment, he stood there with her in his arms as she slept like a content baby, just watching her. Seeing her sleep in his arms like that was one of the things he had missed the most. How could he ever think he hadn't made her happy, when now, while he was observing her serene slumber, her utter happiness was radiating from her, enough to light the entire room. She was an angel to him. HIS angel, slumbering in his arms. And his angel was happy. He had not a single scruple about that.

Eventually, he remembered what he had intended to do, and gingerly carried her into the bedroom.

In his bedroom, he undressed her, leaving her in nothing but her underwear, offhandedly realizing with a smile who took care of him the previous night, and gently covered her still sleeping form.

He had many questions he wanted so much to receive answers for. Questions such as why was she here? How was she here? How had she found him?... WHY had she found him?...

No, he'd better not hope. Hoping was no good in his case. Hope hadn't brought him anything but more anguish over the years, and some of it he had caused himself.

He'd wait. He'd wait until she would wake up, and then they would talk. And somehow, not knowing how, he now felt they had all the time in the world.

Buffy awoke several hours later, and wasn't even a little surprised to find herself snuggled deeply into bed, wrapped in silky sheets. She fastened them around her body, enjoying the mild friction of the fabric against her skin. The bed smelled of Angel. Everything smelled of Angel, including herself, she noticed, and she didn't want to ever leave that bed. HIS bed. The sheets caressed her skin, swathing her in his mellow fragrance, and having them so close to her, all about her, allover her, could almost supplant his arms. Almost.

It hadn't been too long until she finally acknowledged that except for her underwear, she was completely naked. She smiled, recalling how only last night, she did the same to him. Buffy could still feel the amiable shiver his fingertips had inflicted upon her whenever they had come in contact with her skin, even though she had been sound asleep while he had been undressing her. His touch was irreplaceable, there was no doubt about that. And she had lived without it.for far too long.

"You're awake," his soft voice entered her reflections, and Buffy turned her head towards the doorway, where he was standing, impulsively pulling a sheet to conceal her breasts, albeit they weren't bare at all.

Angel didn't overlook that motion. "I.I'm sorry," he stuttered, "I'll leave, I.I'll let you dress." *I should have never undressed her in the first place!* He was about to go, when Buffy stopped him.


Angel turned around, but instead of her, his eyes roamed the earth.

"Come here," Buffy told him, patting on the bed next to her.

After a brief hesitation, Angel complied, occupying the offered spot.

Buffy inwardly thanked him for having remained in his boxers only. She hadn't realized just how much she had really missed his body until she got to see it again, and now she had to use all of her willpower not to wrap her arms around him, and press her face to that wide muscular chest.

They had both been sitting in silence for a short spell, until Buffy mustered the courage to speak up first.

"You're probably wondering what I'm doing here."

That was the first time Angel looked up, allowing his eyes to finally meet hers.

"Can I.can I even be here?" she faltered. "I mean.is that okay that I."

He opened his mouth to reply, but as soon as he opened it, he closed it right back, not uttering a word.

"Do you want me to go?" Buffy felt she needed to be certain in whether he wanted her here or not.

To that, Angel replied promptly. "No."

She beamed lightly. "Thank you."

He nodded, swallowing and moistening his lips. "Why are you."

"Why am I here?"

He nodded again.

"Well, since you made it seem like you weren't EVER going to show your face in my town, I figured I might as well come to yours."

"I came," he whispered, his expression instantly transforming from irresolute into melancholic.

"Well," Buffy chuckled, "then, you must have just missed me."

"I was there," he contended.

"When?" Buffy wanted to know.

"Almost a week ago."

"And you didn't come to see me because?. It wasn't on your road-trip plan?"

"I did see you. I saw even more than I wanted to see, then I left."

She shot him a look of misunderstanding. "Care to explain?"

Angel rolled his eyes, trying to appear annoyed, but his expression hadn't changed from rueful. "I saw your new boyfriend, Buffy. Congratulations. And I really mean that. I suppose I should have expected that, after what I've done."


"Human, breathing, tall, blond, broad shoulders?..."

"Riley," Buffy whispered.

"I see you got your memory back," Angel stood up from the bed, heading nowhere in particular, just away from her.

"Angel, wait!" Buffy called after him. She jumped from the bed and caught up with him. Grabbing his arm, she whirled him around to face her. "What makes you think Riley's my boyfriend?"

Angel intended to answer that, but at the last minute.couldn't. She was right. WHAT made him think that Riley person, or whoever he was, was her boyfriend? He had only now realized he'd jumped to a groundless conclusion. He had no evidences whatsoever to that the two were leading any kind of intimate relationship. He averted his eyes.

Buffy put her hand on his cheek, turning him back to her. "The closest thing Riley and I have EVER had to a relationship was when he asked me out. Wanna know what happened then? Then, I told him about this boyfriend I once had, and how we loved each other very much, and how he'd left me, and how much I still loved that boyfriend, and therefor could never date HIM. And then I broke down in his arms and just started sobbing, about said boyfriend."

Angel studied her eyes carefully. His mind was racing, replaying over and over again the scene he had witnessed while his latter visit to Sunnydale. It wasn't true, then. His inferences were wrong.

"Well?" Buffy tore him from his thoughts. "You think there's a chance you might believe me? There's been no one, Angel, NO ONE BUT YOU. In all my life, there's been no one but you."

"I.I'm sorry," he said quietly. Then, unable to hold the urge in any longer, he pulled her into his arms, hugging her tightly. "Buffy, I'm so sorry."

"I know," she whispered, snaking her arms around his waist, inhaling his scent, "and I'm sorry too."

Angel drew back, just enough to look into her eyes, but not releasing her from his embrace. "What about?"

"Shh." she put her finger on his lips. "Let's just stop that. Stop being sorry, and stop causing each other pain, so that we won't need to be sorry about it later. Let's just be happy, Angel. For once, I just want to be happy, and we can do that. So, please.let's just." her eyes had abruptly fell on his lips, and all the words she had intended to voice were forgotten. "Just kiss me."

Angel hadn't seen that one coming. "Kiss you?"

Instead of answering, Buffy encircled her arms around his neck, and pulled him to her, into a sweet passionate kiss, the exact one that had been haunting their dreams ever since they had broken up.

After the kiss had ended, she looked up at him.

Angel's eyes were half closed, as if he still couldn't believe she really had just kissed him.

"Angel?" Buffy spoke softly, stroking his face.

His eyes met hers, awaiting for her to go on with whatever she had to say.

"The next time I will wake up, I want it to be with you."

Angel swallowed, and pulled her into his arms again, this time holding her even closer than before, if such thing was possible. "I love you," he whispered the words into her hair.

"I love you too," Buffy grinned briefly, placing a soft kiss on the chest she was once again held so close to.

Angel hoisted her in his arms, and gracefully reposed her on the black silk.

Part Seven

They lay in his bed in complete silence. Her head was resting on his chest, and his fingers gently played with her hair. Their bodies were naked, entwined together until it seemed there was only one person underneath the black silk sheets, instead of two.

They hadn't made love. They had intended to, obviously, but eventually they both had decided to wait for the right moment to come. They hadn't been allowed to touch each other, and to crave for each other for such a long time, that the mere knowledge that everything that used to be forbidden was now permitted strangely looked gratifying. Just lying together, holding each other so possessively, so gently and so close.was something that up until recently they had tried to avoid even dreaming about. And now, suddenly, they could have it all. Things went back to the way they had been prior to Buffy's seventeenth birthday, before all the anguish, the misery and the pain. They were that couple again, totally and utterly in love, nothing but them existed, nothing was there to menace them or to hold them back. Things couldn't be any better than the way they were now, and they couldn't have asked for better. They had each other now, they had each other the way they had been so terrified to have each other only some time before, and now it was okay. Now, it was right. Now, everything was right, right with them, right with the world, and there wasn't a single thing that could determine otherwise.

They had the world on the very palm of their hands, no more restrictions, no more constraints, nothing to stop them. Nothing to take the happiness away from them. Formerly, they hadn't been allowed to go anywhere near each other in the sense in which they were together now. Now, they lay in each other's arms, secure, safe and loved, and they knew they would never let go, never break apart again, no matter what. They were relishing the fact that now nothing could get wrong. They could pick whichever course in life that suited their taste the most, and nothing bad would happen. Making love.it was now something they could do whenever they wanted. It wasn't something they needed to hurry with, not something so scarce it might be gone and therefore they had to grab at it and never let go. It was the way their lives were right now. And starting now, the way it would always be. They could allow themselves to wait. As much as they wanted to, now they had the privilege to wait until they would know for sure the time was right. And the right time would come, and they both would be there, because now, neither one of them was going anywhere.

"Angel?" Buffy spoke, breaking the silence.

"Hmm?" he reinforced his firm hold of her, to show her he was listening.

"Why did you leave...again?" she voiced the inevitable question.

Angel was silent for a short moment.

Buffy looked up, and he was too late to hide the flicker of pain in his eyes. "Angel, please, just tell me."

"I don't know."

"Angel.you had a reason. I know you did, because you wouldn't have walked out on me when we finally had everything, if you didn't have a sound reason. Now, whatever it is, I want to know it." She brought her hand to his face, caressing his cheek gently. "Angel, there's nothing, I repeat, NOTHING that you can ever do that I would not understand. Everything you do, I can understand. I can see through you, Angel, I always could, just like you can see through me. I know something was bothering you, and I won't stop asking until I will receive an answer. Angel," she took his both hands in hers, peering deep into his eyes, into his soul. "I love you so much, you know that. Don't keep me in the dark, please. I want to know, because I want to understand, and I want to make whatever pain's still there go away. We're starting our new life now. I don't want it to begin with covert secrets. I want you to talk to me. Please, it's important to me. YOU are important to me. You're the most important person in my life."

He smiled, kissing her crown softly. "I love you."

"Enough to tell me?" she looked him deep in the eyes.

Angel sighed. "I.I don't know how to tell you. I don't know if I understand it myself. How can I expect you to understand it for me?"

Buffy cupped his face. "I'll try my best," she smiled.

Angel pulled himself up to a sitting position, and shifted Buffy with him, without releasing her from his grip. "I guess.I was just scared."

"That's what you didn't know how to tell me? That you were scared?"

"No, I.I don't know," he swallowed. "I didn't even know that would be the way I would react. It's like.I lived, knowing that there were things I could never do, that there were certain aspects in which you were forever out of my reach, you understand? You'll never know.you'll never know, just how much it hurt me, not being able to make love to you. The way I'm expressing myself right now might give the impression sex is the only thing I'm interested in, but."

"No!" she protested. "Angel, God, I would NEVER think that way about you."

He put his index finger upon her lips. "No, you wouldn't, and I know that, and that's the main reason why I feel I can confide in you with this." He took a deep breath. "It was torture. I couldn't.I literally couldn't touch the woman I loved, and she couldn't touch me, because of some God damned curse. There were certain occasions on which.I just couldn't stand being anywhere near you, when I just wanted to stay away, as far away as I could, because being near you, but never in the sense I wanted to, was just too much to bear. It was like there was this aura around you, a shield I couldn't get through. I could never have all of you, and it was driving me crazy. I wanted so much to touch you, and to hold you, and every time I mustered the courage to do at least a little of that, I felt I was doing something incredibly wrong, like putting my arms around my girlfriend was a crime against humanity. And at that time, it really was, because I don't think I need to reiterate what we thought could happen if we ever became.too close. And you know what the funniest thing is? Before your seventeenth birthday, before we made love for the first time, I never felt this way. I never felt so much hurt and frustration that I simply couldn't cope. I was happy with what I had, and I never felt that much frustration when I was around you. It's not that I didn't want you, Buffy, God knows how much I did, but I didn't push it. I knew it would come, and whenever it happened, it would be at the best possible time, and I knew it'd be the most wonderful experience of my life. I never thought.that us making love would inflict so much pain and sorrow upon us.and everyone around us, and I never even imagined that the price I would have to pay.would be so tremendous. I lived.for the moment, not caring about the tomorrows, and all the 'can be's, and 'must be's, and what I shouldn't or mustn't do, and the repercussions my actions might have on others, and myself. The only thing that was significant to me was having my love by my side. And that's the ironic part, because after I knew what making love to you could bring about, I started seeing IT as my curse. Not my soul, but my desire towards you."

Buffy was quiet for some time. "I had no idea," she spoke ultimately. "I knew it was hard.intolerably, because I felt it too, but. but not like this. I had no idea." She hugged him tighter around his waist, and inwardly, Angel was grateful for that little gesture beyond words.

"And then you told me about this," he went on, "and abruptly, I was so thrown, and so hurt, that I wasn't able to think straight. I'd just discovered that.the torture I had known as my everyday existence had been.it had been no more than a sheer lie. All my inner torments, all my shattered dreams, my fears, my pain.it had all been futile. All had been for nothing, because it had just been revealed to me that.there wasn't a clause." Angel paused for a second, inhaling a breath he needed to go on, while Buffy took his hands in hers. "And you know, after such a long time of living with that pain, I adapted it. It became such a part of me, I didn't feel safe, didn't feel myself, without it. And when you told me about.you just said I had been living in a constant lie, that there was no reason for that pain, and that there never would be, and still.I in some distorted sense.couldn't let go of it. I couldn't face life without it, I.I was scared to. You know, people say that it's easy to get used to having everything after having had nothing, but I've learnt the hard way that the other way around is what's true. I didn't know.how to deal with having everything. You offered me everything, and I was so scared, I didn't know how to deal. That's why I ran away from you that night. Well?" he peered at her. "You have anything good you wanna say about me after this little divulgence?"

Buffy only beamed, stroking his jawbone with her index finger. "I wanna say that I love you, so very very much, I wanna thank you for sharing it with me, and I wanna say how sorry I am, for obviously having not been there enough for you to trust me with something like that before."

"It wasn't your fault," he said tenderly.

"Well, I clearly did something wrong, since my boyfriend," she looked directly into his eyes saying the word, "who I thought trusted me with everything, couldn't tell me something as intimate as this."

"Buffy, no," Angel straightened, putting both hands on her shoulders. "Honey, you were the ONLY ONE always there for me. You were, and are, and always will be, the only person I can tell everything to, and I'll never lie to you, and I'll never hide anything from you. Please, understand this. The only reason that I didn't tell you anything was that I didn't want to put you through the same suffering that was my share. I knew it was hard on you, but I didn't see a reason to make it even harder." He pulled her to him, and Buffy enclosed her arms around him. "I love you," he whispered.

"I'm sorry I brought it up," she murmured into his chest.

"No, don't be. It felt good, to get it all out once and for all. I actually feel better now that I've told you. It makes accepting reality so much.easier."

Buffy chuckled. She slid down to the bed, until her head hit the pillows.

Angel's head rested next to hers, and he wrapped her in his arms.

"So, mister 'Stealth Guy', next question. Under what name exactly is this apartment listed?"

Angel beheld her oddly. "Liam Donnelley. That's.that's my name. My real name, I mean. The one I was given in birth."

"Right," Buffy nodded. "Now, to the reason I'm asking. I've been trying to find you ever since you left. Will and Oz even checked the internet, and they came up with no Liam Donnelly who had acquired an apartment within the last few weeks. Care to explain why you were hiding from me?"

"I wasn't hiding."

"Oh?" Buffy sent him a skeptical gaze.

"I wasn't, Buffy. If I were hiding, do you honestly think I would get so careless to allow you to locate me after all? I'd been following you for nearly a year until I revealed myself to you in that alley, and you hadn't even known I'd been there. Believe me, I know how to be invisible when I want to."

Buffy grinned. "Honey, no one knows THAT better than me. And you still haven't answered my question."

"I bought the building half a year ago."

Buffy choked. "Did.did you just say?."

"I always buy the entire building, Buffy. How could I have survived throughout the years if I hadn't? when I own the building, no one can disturb me, no one can intrude on my personal life, and I don't have to watch out from humans who might find out something they shouldn't, and it would cost me my life, and I don't need to feign being human to chase away suspecters. Besides," he grinned sheepishly, "I'm not really good with neighbors."

Buffy just gaped at him for a long moment. "Just.how many buildings.do you own?"

"After being alive for as long as I have, you tend to pile up quite a fortune. That's good. That way, I never have to rely on anyone. I can live.survive, on my own."

"I thought you could always rely on me," she pointed, a bit offended by his earlier statement.

Angel smiled, stroking his cheek. "Relying on a loved one is easy, but what about before you? I'd been alone before you, Buffy, for a very very long time. Loneliness is the most horrible thing in the world. My greatest fears were originated from being given to someone else's mercy. I taught myself to trust no one, to open up to no one, and to count on no one. It's the only way of life I had known.until I found you, and then everything changed. But before that, I had made sure I would never need anyone's help, and that I would never lack anything. It'd also removed the necessity of being among other people. I simply didn't need them. By the time I realized just how alone I was.it was too late to fix."

Buffy lay her head on his chest, and closed her eyes, tightening her embrace. "You'll never be alone anymore. You know that, right? As long as I'm here, you'll never be alone."

Angel smiled, and kissed her hair, mildly stroking her bare back. "I know."

"Angel, I.well, I see that you have a life here now. You wouldn't want to go back to Sunnydale, and I understand that. But it creates a problem. Because I don't think I can stand having you miles away and seeing you only on weekends. I thought maybe.well, I'm gonna have to talk to Giles, of course, but.maybe I could live with you?" she didn't look at him when she asked the question. Knowing the answer, she didn't really need to.

"You already live with me," he kissed her head. "But it's something you have to be sure about, Buffy. My home is yours, and you know it. You don't have to ask me something like that, but it's you I'm worried about. I don't really have a life here, you know. LA wasn't my destination, it was my escape from you, and being the coward that I am, I found the closest escape to Sunnydale. But.I don't want that either. I don't want long-distance relationship with you. I don't want five nights a week when I wouldn't be able to hold you in my arms, and I don't want to not be able to see you every day. YOU are the one who has a life somewhere, and this 'somewhere' is Sunnydale. So, I'll come back. I actually love my apartment there a lot more. It holds within it my best memories."

Buffy beamed. "Mine too. Thank you," she kissed his chest, nestling on it. "Thank you for doing this. I really wasn't ready to have a fight first with Giles, and then with my mom. He wouldn't wanna let me go because it's the Hellmouth, and she wouldn't wanna let me go because it's you."

"I'm sorry."

"I'm not. She can say whatever she wants. I'm not letting my mother rule my life anymore."

"I still hate coming between the two of you."

"You're not. SHE'S coming between the two of us. She's the one causing trouble, Angel, and whether she likes it or not, she's gonna have to deal with the fact there's absolutely no way I'm giving up on you. Either she learns to deal, or.I don't know," she sighed. "I hope she's not gonna cause trouble again. I love my mother very much, but.I think that one of the reasons she doesn't want you in my life is because she's always known you come first. Anyway, enough about that. So.when is my BOYFRIEND moving back to my own little Hellmouth?"

She received no answer.

"Honey?" Buffy looked up from his chest, and suppressed a giggle. He was sleeping like a baby. Buffy had only just realized that she'd kept him up for too long, considering now it was the middle of the day, and that he had been worn out even before that, after that fight with the demon. They hadn't been falling dead asleep in the mansion after almost each night of slaying for no reason. She stroked his face tenderly, and softly kissed his silent lips. "Sweet dreams, my Angel," she whispered, covered him, and reached out for the phone that stood on a table next to her side of the bed. Buffy dialed a number and waited for an answer on the other side.

"Oz?" she recognized the voice. "Yeah, it's me. I'm okay, you?. So, how was the gig last night?. Really? Well, that's great, right?. So, it means we're not going back as planned?. Will wants to go back? Why. On, man! I totally forgot about that exam! I can't believe it, it's my second exam this year, and I'm so gonna flunk it!. Oh, you're staying here?. Well, it's okay. Will and I will see you in a week or so, right?. Yeah, listen. No, don't wake her up, listen, maybe I won't be back today. No, the whole day. Well, whatever's left of it, anyway. Yeah," she grinned, sending a loving smile to her sleeping Angel, "I found him."

On to Part Eight