Angels In the Dark

by Mariah

Disclaimer - Blah blah blah (fill in the blank).

Rating - G/G-13 (?)

Spoilers - General Buffy/Angel, IWRY, Forever.

Synopsis - Set 5 years into the future, right after the 'end of days' fight. First, you should know it wasn't that bad. It was more or less just another fight, but demanded combined forces (didn't wanna make a big deal out of it. sorry:)). Anyway, close to the end of the fight, Angel abruptly receives his Shanshu, but something happens that moment, that changes things.

AN1 - Doyle is alive...........but Wesley isn't. I needed him dead for the sake of the plot, and it's not like his character ever seemed very important to me.

AN2 - No Tara and no Dawn. Joyce is long dead. And the Oracles aren't dead, I kinda need them.

AN3 - Starts with B/R, but ends very quickly. Pairings in general - B/A, C/G, A/X, W/O. B/R pop up along the story, but not as an established couple, more in a fashion of 'wannabe'.

AN4 - Kate's father died a few years after the date on the show, and her hatred for Angel, and her accusations were much more extreme than there. She isn't a character in the fic, but she is mentioned due to that.

AN5 - Fragments between ' * ' are thoughts. The fragments between ' ~*~ ' are memories.


Distribution - Just tell me where.

Feedback - YYYYYYEEEEEEEESSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Winner of the Not Entirely Perfect contest for Best Long Fic

Part One

Everybody's got something they had to leave behind
One regret from yesterday that just seems to grow with time
There's no use looking back or wondering
How we could be now or might have been
All this I know but still I can't find ways to let you go

- Sclub7, 'Never Had a Dream Come True'

Buffy stormed into the hospital's waiting room, rapidly advancing upon the three now startled people that were already sitting there.

"Where is he?" she demanded, not talking to anyone in particular

Cordelia put her hands on her hips, glaring at the Slayer, who had obviously arrived here straight from the battle scene, without taking care of herself first. She could tell by her dirty gear, the various bruises all over her body, and especially the still bleeding laceration on her left temple and the deep cut on her forearm. Well, for THAT, Cordelia had to admire her, but."What the Hell is he doing here?" she sent a hateful glance in Riley's direction.

Buffy ignored her. "Where is he, Cordelia?" she wanted to know, and she wanted to know now. She had that damned explosion fixed in her mind the whole way over here. During the first few minutes, she was so dazed she wasn't able to move a muscle. She just stood there, watching as Gunn and Doyle picked up his bloody form and carried him over to their car, followed by Cordelia. Then, when she finally let everything sink in, when her mind had finally digested all that had happened, she was quivering like a leaf. Her hands shook so badly she wasn't even capable of driving the car, and had no choice but to ask Riley. She wanted to avoid implicating him in this, knowing his precise feelings about Angel, but she had no other choice. Obviously, he declined at first, but after taking in the tears and the pleading and desperate gaze in her eyes, a certain truth he'd strove to feign was false finally hit home, and he knew he couldn't turn her down. There was no way he would do that. As much as he loved that woman, it wasn't himself he saw in her eyes when he peered into those wretched, formerly shining, green orbs. She needed to see him, to see if he was alright, if he was saved, and she needed it so much more than she would ever be able to show. They had been in an endless number of hospitals, or at least Buffy felt as if they had, until they had found him. She didn't even know there were so many hospitals in Sunnydale, not that it came as a surprise. But it all suddenly didn't matter. They found him. SHE found him, and she was here. And she needed so much to see him.

Cordelia shook her head, peeping at Riley again, then turning her look back to his girlfriend. "Go home, Buffy," she told her quietly, taking the seat next to her boyfriend. Her tone was reflecting both an order and a request simultaneously.

Buffy's patience had just ran out. The drive to the hospital left her in a not very stable emotional state, and by refusing to let her see him, Cordelia had just crossed the line. She stepped forward, and before Gunn or Doyle could stop her, grabbed Cordelia by the arm, hauling her up to her feet. "Where is he?" she questioned in a tone that told the brunette it was the LAST time she was going to ask.

Cordelia released her arm from the Slayer's grip, rubbing the sore spot, and jerked backwards, more out of annoyance than out of an actual fear. "You have no right to be here," she told Buffy, "so I suggest you take your boyfriend, your bitchy attitude, and of course, yourself, and get as far away from here as you can, because it's over my dead body you're getting into his room!" she hissed.

"I can arrange that," Buffy made a step forward but Cordelia didn't even flinch.

Before anything further could happen, Gunn stepped in between the two raging women. "Now, there's no need for things to get nasty here, ladies," he spoke to both of them as to one.

Buffy backed off. "So, maybe you should get your girlfriend out of my face," she glared at him.

Gunn turned to Cordelia.

"You want me out of your face?" she smirked. "Fine. But you're gonna have to hear this first, miss-everyone-owes-me-something. He doesn't need you here! Not you, and definitely not your boy-toy! What the Hell is wrong with you?! I always knew you were a selfish bitch whenever it came to do with Angel, but showing up here WITH HIM?! God, can't you give the man you're supposedly here to visit the minimum of respects?" She narrowed her eyes. "Why are you really here, Buffy?"

"What the Hell." Buffy began but was cut off by Cordelia, who was everything but done with her.

"Why don't you just turn back and go home? You don't REALLY care, let's face it. If you REALLY had cared, you would have shown up at least once over the past five years, to see how he was doing. He was there for you, damn it! You haven't got the slightest idea of what this man has done for you, what he has given up for you, and most of it you would never know! And after everything, you showed up in LA and treated him like shit. And he still came to be by your side when your mother passed away! Stood next to a grave of a woman who hated him for no reason, and grief over her death, just because she was YOUR mother. He was there to hold you and to console you, but you haven't come even once! He had been through so much, and as much as I hate to admit it, he needed you, but you were never there. You were obviously too busy with your boyfriend to show up at least a single time and hold the hand of the one who had given you everything, when he needed your comfort! And now, five years after you last saw him, you pop up here, DARING to say you CARE for him?! How dare you?!"

Buffy remained speechless after that. She had nothing to say to Cordelia, because nothing of what the brunette had accused her of was a lie. It was all true, and there never was and never would be another truth in this world Buffy was more ashamed of admitting. Buffy hadn't seen Angel in five years, since that horrible night they both stood at Joyce's funeral, silently watching as her mommy was being covered with dirt. He held her so securely in his arms that night, so close, not letting her tears fall anywhere but on his long black coat. That black many tears she had cried into that same coat, it almost smelled of her tears, together with the cool and refreshing scent of the dear body that was wearing it.

Five years. Five long years, in which she wasn't there. No, on second though, there was something Cordelia was wrong about. 'Bitch' was a too restrained label to tag her with. She knew what was going on. After all, she had Spike delivering her even the minor details about Angel he picked up amongst the vampires' community. She knew about Darla, about Drusilla, about him slowly loosing his grip, falling apart, letting people die as if they mattered nothing, firing his friends, being alone, Kate with her horrible and unwarranted accusations that nearly drove him over the edge just when he started recovering from Darla, him burying Wesley after a deadly fight with a demon that took the ex-Watcher's life.

All of those terrible things had happened, and she knew about them, and not once she came. For five years, not even once.

She looked back up at Cordelia, her voice humble and imploring now. "Cordelia, please," she tried again, "I need to see him, don't keep him away from me. I need to make things right." Her eyes were glassy with still tears when she peered at Doyle and Gunn for support.

Albeit Cordelia was desperately struggling to conceal it, her expression softened a bit. But just as she wanted to reply, a doctor approached the little group.

"Hello, I'm Dr. Newman. Are you the people who brought Mr. O'Connell here?" he inquired.

*O'Connell?* Buffy contemplated. She realized she didn't even know Angel's last name. She realized she didn't even know he had one.

"Yes," Cordelia hastened to answer, "is he alright?"

"Well, the scalds are rather minimal, which I'm surprised about, I must admit. He has no lesions that might leave long-term scars. I'd say you pulled him out of there just in time. You say it was an explosion?"

The three nodded in unison.

"Do you have any idea who might have, well.perhaps wished to harm Mr. O'Connell in any way? Because if he has enemies."

"No," Gunn interrupted, "it's nothing like that. "

"Alright", the doctor replied, but didn't look very convinced. "Does he have a family we can contact?"

"No," Doyle replied. "His family are dead. We're the only family that he has."

"How is he?" Cordelia repeated her question, seeing as the doctor was avoiding the subject matter.

He sighed. "Well, he is out of any danger. We checked for fractures, concussion or internal bleeding...he suffered from some internal bleeding inside his skull. We still can't know if it has caused any critical damage, but it's our only concern and we're keeping an eye on it."

It took them a while to process the meaning of his words.

"You mean, he." Buffy spoke first, faltering. "He could remain paralyzed? Or in a coma, or..." she choked on her words as her eyes pleaded for a two-letter answer.

"Heavens, no," Dr. Newman replied hastily, causing four people to release a sigh of pure relief at the same time, "No, there is a chance it would happen, but not in his case, no," he assured them, "but since it is the brain, many other things can happen. We'd need to operate in order to know for sure, but the chance of him surviving such an operation is rather slim. By operating, we could be causing further damage. It might be best to just wait and see how he responds to treatment."

They all nodded in understanding.

"Can I.can anyone see him?" Buffy asked waveringly.

"Yes, of course. He's right down the hall, room one-hundred-and-seven. Only please, not everyone at once, try to take turns. And easy, because he'll probably be exhausted after he wakes up. He's asleep now. The drugs' effect was rather strong on him. If you need anything, never hesitate to call me and I'll be right there." He gave everyone one last friendly smile and walked away.

Buffy rotated towards the LA trio. "Can I.can I go first?" she stuttered. "Please, I need to.I need to go first."

Both men turned to Cordelia, as if awaiting for her ruling.

She seemed to be reflecting upon it for a few seconds that seemed more like hours to Buffy. "Okay," she agreed eventually.

Buffy nodded and started moving past her down the hall, with Riley right behind her, until Cordelia's hand hindered his motion, resting on his chest. She peered him straight in the eye, her voice low and menacing as she spoke. "I see you anywhere NEAR his door, and you're dead. Understood?"

He backed off, occupying one of the empty seats in the waiting room.

After a few more minutes, Cordelia, Gunn and Doyle headed outside for some very needed fresh air. Although they were relieved their friend was alright and wanted to see him, they also knew a very very long time would pass until the Slayer would leave his room.

Buffy was smiling as she paced slowly into the small room. It was good his friends had insisted right away on a private one, because this way no one would be able to intrude on her time with him.

She noted the window was shuttered, as she slowly made her way towards his bed. She wanted to open it, to let in the precious sunshine he no longer needed to fear, and after almost three centuries, would never harm him again, but she restrained herself. She would wait. She would wait until he'd wake up.

Buffy finally neared the bed and pulled a chair for herself to sit on, never taking her eyes off his almost still form. No movements could be detected other than the slow rhythmic rising and falling of his chest, and she was taken with the sound of his mellow breathing, which was as music to her ears. No, on second thought, there was no music that could ever compete that sound.

He was so beautiful, she noted. She had nearly forgotten how handsome this man really was, she noted again, this time with slight dejection. He was an angel. HER angel. An angel she had deserted such a long time ago.

She didn't really know why, but Buffy fert relief seeing that he wasn't hooked up to too many tubes and machines. It kept her hopes high. Hopes that everything would be okay.that she would still have her chance to make things right with him. It was about time for some changes in her life. Changes he was a very large part of. And she would make those changes, or at least try to, as soon as he would wake up.

Buffy sighed, taking his hand into hers and holding it up to her face, briefly brushing her lips against his sensitive skin, closing her eyes in a complete surrender to his touch. How she missed his she longed for it, all those empty nights while she was lying in bed next to Riley, how she longed for the simple touch of his hand.

Her mind started to clear up. After the danger to Angel's life was gone, the full meaning of everything that had come to pass in the last few hours started penetrating in. Images started rushing back, hitting her with full force and she wasn't able to defend herself against them.

"Angel!" she cried out loud, trying to take a better look at him, and fight the demon that was quickly overcoming her in the same time. Something was wrong with him, she could sense it. Something was terribly wrong. The battle was almost over. They had surely won. She had never thought the end-of-the-world fight would be so relatively easy, but was proven wrong. The Hellmouth was already closed, for good this time, and the few remaining demons still fighting for their lives were to lose for sure. But something was wrong.

And then her most horrible suspicions became factual. Angel sent one last gaze towards her, as his lips slowly formed her name, and collapsed to the ground, twitching in some kind of wrench she couldn't comprehend. He wasn't injured. She watched him throughout the entire fight, she was sure he wasn't harmed.

"Angel!" she screamed his name again, when he wouldn't rise to his feet after a short while, but she couldn't run to him, and she couldn't help him, at least not until she got that demon off her back. Buffy had no idea where that sudden strength had come from, but she managed to finish the creature off in a matter of seconds, after fighting it for nearly fifteen minutes. She rapidly started towards Angel, increasing her speed with every step she made.and then it happened.

Her ears almost went deaf due to that horrifying blast, and not because of it's being loud, but more because of what it represented for her. She stood still, eyes gaping at the red deadly flames.

Buffy was torn out of her memories by Riley's voice.

"Buffy," he called her again, and this time she disconnected her forehead from Angel's hand she was holding to her face and looked up at him for a brief second, only to let him know she was listening. "We should start heading home," he told her, knowing full well what her answer would be, "they're probably worried sick about us."

She nodded, but other than that didn't budge. "Go," she said, not looking away from Angel.

"I was talking about both of us," he cleared.

"Go," Buffy repeated, "I'm staying."

Riley's heart sank. Only the way of how tenderly and lovingly she was cradling Angel's hand in hers spoke volumes. She clung to this hand for dear life, as if it, and the man it belonged to, were the only things in the world that existed for her. But altogether, he knew how inevitable it all was. He loved her, and her heart had already been taken long before he had entered her life. He had left her once, and his reason had been that she could never love him, and three years ago he came back, hoping, fooling himself it might have changed. But he knew it never would. A person couldn't just stop loving his or her soulmate just because others thought they weren't right for each other. Riley was fully aware of that. As painful as it might be, but it was the truth. "You should come with me," he still said, quietly.

"No," she whispered, kissing Angel's hand gently, "I've made up my mind. I'm staying where I'm needed. Right now, it's here. I'm staying, Riley. I owe him that much."

"You owe him?" he almost chuckled. "Is that really why you're staying here, Buffy?"

Buffy sighed. "Will it make you feel better if I voice it?" She didn't want to hurt him, she really didn't, but it started to seem more and more that she would have to.

"It will," he replied.

"So, it will have to wait. It is neither the time, nor the place for us to resolve our love life. I'm not going to do this now. So, please, go back and check if the others are okay. Tell them where I am if you want, but please tell them not to come."

"You're making a mistake."

"Maybe," she smiled faintly, seeing as Angel sighed gently in his sleep, "I don't see it that way though." She stroked his spiny brown hair with one hand, still holding on to his hand with another.

Riley merely nodded and walked out of the room; leaving her alone with the man she loved.

"I guess I've made my mistake then," she whispered to her sleeping love, "surprisingly, I feel better than I have in years."

He sighed again, this time she noticed his face wince somewhat, probably due to a fleeting ache he was feeling, and his eyes slowly flickered open, a pained expression on his face, as his orbs slowly roamed around the room in a perplexed fashion, passing over her as well, as if she weren't even there.

Buffy squeezed his hand and had his immediate attention, though he didn't seem to be looking at her when he faced her. He closed his eyes, and then opened them again.

Something was different in those deep brown orbs, Buffy could easily tell. There was so much missing in them. They seemed almost vacant to her.dead, as if nothing was in them. It scared her at first, but she still couldn't quite put her finger on what was really bothering her. Maybe it was their strange expression, if there even was an expression in them, which she wasn't even sure about. They seemed to be losing more and more of their sparkle and depth with every passing second.until nothing was left. And then she spoke.

"Angel," she uttered his name gently, in a manner you say something you haven't been allowed to voice for a very long time, "what's wrong?"

"Buffy?." he finally acknowledged her presence, and she descried a single tear escaping the corner of his eye. "I can't see you."

Part Two

Buffy peered at him, her eyes reflecting disbelief and pain. "What?" she barely managed to let out.

Angel looked around the room frantically, in such blunt denial or attempt to denial, that Buffy felt she couldn't breath while seeing him like that. He pulled his hand out of hers, propping himself up almost to a sitting position, and gazing about the room once more. But it brought no results. The only thing he saw was plain nothing. A black darker than any night could ever be. So dark, it hurt. He put his hands on his eyes to cover them, to stop that pain, but it wouldn't stop. It wasn't a pain he could stop.ever.

After a while, Angel removed his hands from his face, his eyes turning towards Buffy's direction, and she sensed he was searching for her.

She took his hands in hers, squeezing them gently before he pulled them from her, but he only gazed at her, in his mind hoping it was the right spot he was looking at, but he wasn't so sure. He reached out a shaking hand, and Buffy took it in hers, predicting his next move, laying it on her cheek. Angel slowly caressed her face, his movements were uncertain, wavering, because of fear just as due to the increasing tears that were spilling out of his eyes as he strove to remember how her face looked like, even though only a few minutes ago he knew every tiniest detail of it by heart.

"I can't see you," he whispered in a broken voice, as his hand was still gently groping her face, more tears slithered down his marble cheeks. "I can't see you."

Buffy waited no longer to pull him into her arms, holding him close and tenderly as he cried silently into her chest. Tears started making their way down her own cheeks as she gently caressed his hair and back. Her mind wasn't quite processing everything yet; she didn't believe it yet. She didn't believe it, because it couldn't be true. Not after everything he had done, not after everything he had been through.he didn't deserve this. Now, when he had his life back.he didn't deserve this.

Her Angel, her bruised, shattered and broken Angel who cried in her arms now; her love, to whom she could do nothing to help, although she was willing to do everything, her Angel.who couldn't see her.

He didn't deserve this.

A feeble knock on the door made her turn her head in that direction. It was Cordelia. She started towards them, but stopped as Buffy motioned for her to get out and mouthed to call the doctor. Cordelia had no clue regarding to what was going on, but in this point, she decided to obey the Slayer.

A few minutes later, she returned, with Doyle, Gunn and Dr. Newman in tow.

By that time, Buffy already had managed to somewhat calm Angel down, and he was now sitting quietly on his bed, his eyes looking down and his hand clasped firmly in Buffy's, while her other hand lay on his arm.

"Well, I see you're awake," the doctor observed. "How are you feeling?"

Angel didn't look up, so Buffy spoke instead. "What happened to his eyesight?" she asked directly.

It was a good thing he couldn't see, because the looks that crossed his friends' faces the moment the words left Buffy's mouth would bring him nothing but more sorrow.

The doctor didn't look very surprised at her question. "There was always a chance," he sighed, "I'm sorry, but the chances of you regaining your sight are extremely slim, Mr. O'Connell. I'm afraid it's quite common in these cases..."

"THESE cases?!" Buffy interrupted, unconsciously squeezing Angel's hand.

"Mr O'Connell suffered from severe internal bleeding, which caused sufficient damage to cause a loss of vision, Miss Summers. There's nothing more that can be done. I'm afraid this condition is permanent."

"There is ALWAYS something that can be done!" Buffy argued, but inside, knew the doctor was right.

Dr. Newman merely sighed.

Buffy turned to Angel, who by now was looking up, but seeing nothing, and slowly lay her head on his chest, wrapping her arms around him. "I'm so sorry," she whispered silently, when his arms closed around her and she felt his head lay on hers.

"What is going to happen now?" Buffy broke the ice in the waiting room approximately an hour later.

Cordelia lifted her head from her hands to peer at her, but said nothing.

"Well," Doyle stood up and started pacing back and forth before them. "Angel has a house near LA. It's on the beach. Delia convinced him to buy it two years ago. I gotta admit it's a pretty place, quiet environment, distant from the big city, and I'm sure he'd rather live alone, especially now, so it's good too." He glanced over at Gunn, "I wanna move all his stuff in there today, you're free?"

Gunn nodded. "Count me in."

"Good," Doyle acknowledged, "I want it to be ready for him when he comes, because whether he likes it or not, there will be no more agency, at least not for him, and he's going to live there. You know, you can also come, lass," he turned to Buffy.

But she refused. "No. I'm staying here. I'm not leaving him again, I've done it enough already," she murmured the last sentence under her breath, but the three picked it up.

Cordelia smiled, a genuine smile. "Just make sure you don't change your mind anytime soon," she commented, harshly, but gently.

Buffy bit her lower lip. "I won't. Never. I know what you're thinking, what you all are thinking, and you have every right to think that after the way I treated him for years, but it ends now. I swear, it does. He needs me now, and I'm not deserting him. Not anymore. Not again."

"Don't stay because he needs you," Gunn told her.

"I'm not," she smiled, "I'm staying because I need HIM."

"Well, I'd say we should head home," Doyle turned to his two companions. "It's a long ride to LA and we have a lot of packing to do. I don't think Angel would wanna see us today, anyway, and I can hardly say I blame him. Buffy's long as she's with him, he'll be fine. But we at least have to prepare the house for him if he doesn't want anything else."

Gunn stood up, nodding, and pulled his girlfriend after him, encircling one arm around her waist.

"Are you sure you wouldn't wanna come?" Cordelia asked Buffy one last time. "He's sleeping right now, and you can come back later if you want, you don't have to stay the night or anything,"

"But you should at least see the house," Gunn finished her sentence for her.

Buffy shook her head. "No. Thanks, but I'm staying. I wanna be there when he wakes up. And you were there when the doctor said that if nothing goes wrong during the night, he'll release him tomorrow, and I wanna be here tomorrow morning because of that, so I'm staying the night here. I don't want him to be alone when he doesn't have to be. It's been going on long enough already." She gave them an apologetic look. "You know what I mean."

"Alright," Cordelia agreed, "then we'll be here tomorrow first thing in the morning. Everything in the house will be ready by then, so we'll drive him straight there. You'll be coming with us, right?"

Buffy nodded. "Cord, could you stop by Will's place before you leave town?"

Cordelia peered at her quizzically. "Why?"

"Because she has my keys. I wanted to.if it's not too much trouble, I wanted you to stop by my house too and get me some clothes for tomorrow, since I'm not going to be home before.can you do that?"

Cordelia beamed. She was actually starting to like THAT Buffy. She almost felt sorry for calling her a bitch earlier today. "We're on our way." She laid her hand on the Slayer's arm. "Take care of him for me," she requested softly.

Buffy grinned. "I'll take care of him for all of us."

She watched in complete silence as the three disappeared down the hall, and entered his room.

"Angel?" she whispered his name softly, as she took the seat next to his bed again.

He remained sound asleep.

Buffy sighed, taking his hand in hers, smoothing it between her two palms. Looking at him almost made everything that had transpired lately unbelievable, almost unreal. She had so many thoughts running through her head, and she didn't even want to try to imagine what he must be going through right now, despite his serene slumber. He'd been through so much throughout his long life, so much more than any normal person could endure. He'd seen so much pain, most of which had been caused by his demon. And now, he should be the one finally at peace. He should be happy now, because if anyone in this world had earned happiness, it was her Angel. Her Angel, with the one-of-a-kind beautiful soul, and with the dazzling light of wisdom, depth and the eyes that now didn't see. Buffy wanted to cry. She would cry an ocean if it could help him. If it could allow him to take at least one glimpse at the sunlight he'd been waiting to see for centuries, she would give her life. But it wouldn't do. It wouldn't help. Her Angel, who had finally received his fully earned redemption, his Shanshu, was now trapped in an even greater darkness than the one he was trapped in before. Her sweet and loving Angel, the only thing he wanted in his life was to see her in the sun, so he told her only a half an hour ago, and now.he would never be able to do that.

A tear trickled down her face as she gazed down and found his eyes open and peering up at her. Empty. Too empty for her to be able to look into them for long.

"You want me to remove the blinds?" she inquired, knowing the reply that would follow.

He shook his head weakly, tears shimmering in his eyes as well. "No," he whispered.

Buffy nodded, more to herself than to him.

"I don't want open windows," he went on, feeling she was listening, even without knowing if she were. "I never want to let it in."

*It*. She knew what 'it' was. No, she didn't want 'it' either. She didn't want it to warm her skin, and she didn't want it to shine in her eyes, because it abruptly became so meaningless, so futile, without him to share it with, it meant nothing to her. Nothing at all. No, she didn't want 'it'.

"Buffy." he spoke again, and when she looked at him she saw he was propping his hand up on his elbow, waiting for her to take it.

She did, and a slight resemblance to a smile flashed over his handsome features.

"Stay with me," he requested, his voice both soft and weak in the same time, but still steady. "Please, don't go. At least not for a little while. Stay.for a while."

Buffy leaned forward and her lips tenderly brushed against the warm skin of his brow. "I'm not going anywhere," she promised.

"Thank you," he breathed out, closing his eyes as he fell back asleep.

Buffy grinned feebly. The peace he was sleeping in was so deceiving it broke her heart, but at the same time it warmed it so much, knowing that it was HER he was drawing his strength from. It was SHE who was making this Hell livable for him. It was her hand that gave him the power and the strength to move on, and even though she felt like the weakest person in the whole world due to her inability to help him, the fact that she meant so much to him, made her feel vital. Made her feel essential. Made her feel worthy of his love, even though after years of neglecting him, she felt she was everything but.

Her Angel needed her. He needed her, and she needed him. And she vowed to do anything in her power to make sure their paths would never part again.

Buffy took off her shoes and jacket, and slipped into the bed next to him, snuggling closer to a body she had almost forgotten how it felt to be near. She snaked his arm around herself while he went on sleeping, and lay her head on his chest, embracing him tightly and quickly falling asleep herself to the reverberation of the steady throbs underneath her ear.

Part Three

Buffy was awoken by a constant tapping on her shoulder. When she finally managed to shake the dream off of her, and opened her eyes.Cordelia Chase stood above her in all her glory.

Buffy pushed herself off of Angel's chest on which she had spent the previous night, and managed to sit up without awakening him too.

"What?" she asked Cordelia sleepily, rubbing her eyes until Cordelia's image became clearer to her. A horrible thought came up to her that second.while she was bothered with a blurry morning vision.Buffy looked down at Angel melancholically, sending her hand to gently run her fingers through his hair.

"What is it?" she asked Cordelia again.

"We're ready to move," she announced, "everything's set up and ready for him to move in."

Buffy looked up at Cordelia. "Cord, it's only."

"Ten o'clock. We all decided to let you two have your beauty sleep. By the way, Buffy, how was your night?" she winked.

Buffy smirked. "Your incredible humor amazes me every time anew, Cordelia." She stood up from the bed and tugged Cordelia a few steps away. "We aren't even officially together yet," she whispered, making sure Angel really didn't hear her, "at least not until he says we are. What do you know?"

Cordelia shrugged. "Well, that you broke up with fish-face, for starters," she grinned.

"Who told you that?"

"Willow. When I jumped in yesterday to take your house keys, Miss. Rosenberg was kind enough to drop everything on my shoulders."

Buffy didn't understand. "What are you talking about?"

"She said I put all sorts of ideas into your head and that made you break up with Riley, that it's all my fault, and that you so stupidly threw away the best thing that ever happened to you." Cordy rolled her eyes in her typical manner, "or something like that."

"Aha.okay," Buffy smirked. "Now, to the really big question. How does she know that I broke up with Riley?"

"Don't look at me!" Cordelia raised her hands in defense. "I didn't tell her anything, I didn't know anything myself up until she spilled it out. I'd put my money on your ex if I were you."

"Why would Riley tell.never mind." She waved her hand. "What's done is done, I can't say I really care what she does or doesn't know. It's her business." She bit her lip, briefly looking away, thinking back to the times when her best friend really was her best friend. "So, you said you were ready to go?" she went back to the matter at hand.

The brunette nodded. "Gunn and Doyle are waiting outside. I was too, but then I got tired of it and woke you up," she smirked. "Oh, by the way, we spoke to Angel's doctor, and he's officially released. That is, as soon as we take him home, he is. Here," she handed Buffy a bag full of clothes. "That's for him," she gesticulated with her head towards the still sleeping Angel. "And for the next part I'd better leave you two alone."

Buffy rolled her eyes as Cordelia walked out, closing the door on her and Angel.

"Angel," she shook his shoulder gently, in an attempt to wake him up.

He opened his eyes, at the beginning still trying to find her, but eventually giving up and staring off into space.

Buffy had to wonder whether or not he was aware of her presence at all, because after taking one glimpse into his eyes, she was no longer sure whether he was fully aware where HE was. But she rapidly dismissed those thoughts. She had to acknowledge she no longer could read his eyes. She couldn't see through something so empty, and the sooner she came to terms with it, the better. For both of them.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked him quietly.

"About the point of opening my eyes," he replied dryly, but Buffy could hear the emotions screaming inside of him. Screaming, wishing to be set free again, but his eyes remained blind, still unseeing, and those emotions would remain locked forever inside him, because those eyes would never be able to reflect them again.

And that moment, Buffy vowed another oath. She would do everything in her power to make those beloved eyes shine again. And they would shine again, because they would shine again for her.

She stroked his cheek gently, and he leaned his face into her palm, nuzzling it. "You know, we're leaving today," she pointed out, trying to sound as cheerful as she only could, but his expression was unchangeable. "You don't seem very happy about it," she observed.

"Because I don't care. Someone in my position doesn't really care where he is. I thought you'd at least try to understand me. Hospital or no hospital, it doesn't matter. The rest of my life will be an interminable hospital anyway, so what's the point?"

Buffy swallowed hard. "Angel," she began, not exactly sure what she was going to say, but began anyway, "if you're looking for a companion for a personal pity party, look elsewhere." By the pained look that flashed across his face, Buffy knew it was the most inapt thing to say right now, but she had to make him see. There was no other way. "I didn't mean that," she lay her hand on top of his, "or.I did, but not like that." She sighed, sitting down on the bed and taking both his hands in hers. He was still looking away, or maybe he was looking at her and just didn't know.she couldn't tell anymore. "Angel, I do understand. You're the most important person in the world to me. I've been an indescribable bitch the last few years, and I have so much time to make amends for I don't know if I'll ever make it. I'm here to help you, Angel. I'm here to put you back on your feet and hold you up, to take care of you and to help you through this, because I KNOW it will be hard. But that's why I'm here, to be by your side, all the time. You think there's even the slightest chance you could stand my presence?"

Buffy watched attentively as he fumbled up her arm, until his palm rested on her cheek.

She beamed, covering it with her own. "You're ready to go?"

He suddenly pulled his hand back. "I'm scared," he whispered humbly.

"Don't be." She kissed his forehead. "You have me."

After approximately half an hour, Buffy and Angel emerged from the room, greeted by Cordelia, Doyle and Gunn.

Angel looked around in confusion, blinking, as if trying to see anything, but he soon stopped.

He insisted on walking by himself, but after a few seconds realized it was a mistake. He abruptly felt like a small child who was just learning to walk. He halted right outside the door to his former hospital room, unwilling, but more unable to proceed any further. He was terrified he would fall into a bottomless abyss if he made one more step. And even though his rational side prompted him it was highly unlikely, it made him only more terrified. His forehead started perspiring, as he was becoming more and more anxious. He felt a male hand resting on his arm, and another male hand resting on the other, and instantly shook them off, backing into the wall, until he was forced to stop. His hands agitatedly groped for something in the wall he would be able to hold onto, as if it was the only thing he trusted, while his eyes kept restlessly straying about. He drew in a breath when a gentle feminine hand lay on his shoulder, and closed his eyes, his tension starting to melt.

"It's okay," Buffy whispered gently, taking his hands in hers and once she pulled him from the wall, snaking her arms around his waist, pulling him close to her. "I'm here, it's okay." She cupped his face, making him look directly at her, even though she knew he couldn't see her. "I won't let you fall, Angel," she promised, "I'll never let you fall."

He gulped, moving farther away from the wall, but never letting go of her hands, holding on to them like to his very lifeline.

Buffy encircled one arm around his waist, while her other hand never left his, as they both started making one cautious step after another down the hall, with Cordelia, Gunn and Doyle in tow.

"Oh, Buffy, by the way, Willow told me to tell you she doesn't allow you to go to LA and that'd be the stupidest thing to do now that you have Riley, or.had Riley, I'm not sure. Anyway, she doesn't want you to go, and she asked you to call her ASAP. There. I told you." Cordy grinned.

"Okay," Buffy replied abstractly, while continuing leading Angel.

"Okay?" Cordelia cocked a brow.

"Sure. I'll call her from LA."

"Angel, there's a step," Buffy warned him quickly, slowing their pace even more as they were making their way up to the front porch of the house. Buffy had to admit it was a beautiful house. Cordelia had a pretty good taste, as turned out. She could see it wasn't too expensive. It was rather small, and Buffy even had to admit it was very much 'Angel', having no idea why she decided so, and she guessed it would suit his taste inside as well as outside.

It was placed in the sand, having only a driveway that eventually led to the nearest street. Having no front or back yard, it was mostly surrounded by sand. She already liked it, and especially the fact that the ocean was right outside the door.

"Where are we?" Angel interrupted her thoughts by a question.

"It's the beach house, Angel," Cordelia informed him gently.

He stopped his pace. "Why are we here? Why aren't we at home?"

Buffy faced him. "Angel, come in and sit down, we all need to talk."

"No," he shook his head, but still didn't let go of her hands, even though Buffy could feel in a normal situation he'd jerk away from her.

"Angel, please, just come inside," she let his hand slip out of hers as she headed forward to open the door with the key Cordelia had given her sometime earlier.

Angel instantly gripped the nearest still object, which happened to be one of the terrace's posts. "Buffy," he whispered her name, traces of panic in his voice as his eyes were searching for her in his eternal darkness.

"Oh, God, Angel," she hastened back towards him, taking him into her arms. "I'm sorry, God, I'm so sorry!" she caressed his back as she finally made him release his grip on the post and wrap his arms around her. "Come on, let's get inside." She led him indoors, motioning for the others to follow.

Once inside, they all got set up in the living room.

Buffy led Angel to an armchair and perched on its arm next to him, at least because he gripped her hand in such way that told her he probably wasn't ever letting go, as the other three took over the large sofa.

"Angel," Cordelia started first, "we decided to close the agency. Not now, but in a short while, that's why there is no need for you to stay in the big city anymore. We figured you wouldn't want that anyway. We thought this would be easier for you...just for a while, at least. So, we just basically wanted to do what's best for you."

Angel looked down. "To leave me alone.that what's best for me?" he asked quietly.

Buffy climbed down and kneeled before him, taking his both hands. "No one is leaving you alone. You won't be alone, you understand me?" she cupped his cheek. "You won't be alone, as long as I have a say in the matter."

"Buffy's staying with you," Doyle informed him, smiling.

"That's right," Buffy assured, and her heart warmed at the smile that appeared on his face. The first genuine smile since the calamity that doomed the rest of his life.

" are?" Angel asked her, hoping it was her he was looking at.

Buffy beamed. "Do you want me to stay?"

He moistened his abruptly dry lips, and the beautiful smile vanished from his face. "What about your life? In Sunnydale? And.your friends, and Giles, and." he looked away, or thought he did, muttering the name 'Riley' under his breath.

Buffy turned his face back to her. "It's none of my friends' business what I do with my life. At least not anymore, and Giles will have no choice but to release his twenty-five-year-old Slayer to have a life of her own. It's not like I'm leaving to the moon or something, it's just a couple of hours drive to LA from Sunnydale, so they can call me if they really need me. And besides, the Hellmouth is closed for good, they can't POSSIBLY conjure up major problems there while I'm gone, now, can they?"

"And Riley?" he was afraid to ask. "Wouldn't he mind that you'"

"Riley'll have to deal." She shrugged and smiled her little so familiar to him sheepish smile, before realizing he couldn't see it. "I'm through with Riley. We broke up. Yesterday."

Angel swallowed. "What? Wh.why?"

"Umm.I'd say it's our cue, guys," Cordelia spoke to her two friends. "Buffy-Angel drama begins as of now, which means we should leave before they start breaking tables." she trailed of taking in Doyle's deadly glare. "Sorry," she mouthed, as they were leaving through the front door.

Buffy placed her hands on Angel's knees. "Because it was over long before it started." She replied his earlier question. Then, she rose to her feet and helped him up too, leading him into the bedroom.

"Where are we going?" he asked.

"To a place where people who were given doctor's orders to rest for a few days rest," she replied. "Guess where that is."

"Sit down, it's the bed," she slowly lowered him to a sitting position, and started unbuttoning his shirt.

"Where will you be sleeping?" he asked.

"I think the couch should do."

"You don't have to," he whispered silently.

"I don't have to what?" She looked up at him.

"Sleep on the couch."

"Oh," she grinned at him, "do I hear a better offer, then?"

Part Four

"What are you saying?" Cordelia asked maybe the hundredth time.

Buffy groaned. *She's not dense, is she?* "Why do you think I'm telling you that? Because I don't know how to handle it myself. I don't know what's going on with him."

"Why are you flipping over a nightmare? THAT'S what I don't get."

"It wasn't JUST a nightmare, Cordelia," Buffy spoke very slowly, "if it were just a nightmare, I'd drop it. He has a problem."

"As do we all," Cordelia interrupted.

"God, can you at least PRETEND to be serious? Don't you care at all?"

"This is Angel we're talking about," Cordelia tried to explain her uncharacteristic indifference.

"I know! But it doesn't change the fact that it's not something to be ignored."

Cordelia sighed. "Maybe we're overreacting here. Maybe it's not a problem at all, maybe he's just scared. You would be, if you were in his condition," she pointed out.

"Maybe. But even so.I don't know. should have seen him, I mean.I walked into his room this morning, and he was having this nightmare."

"Crying out 'don't leave me alone' and stuff, you told me. Probably, more than a dozen times."

"Oh, good, now I know you were listening," Buffy berated.

Cordelia smirked at that comment.

"He has this fixation." Buffy tried to pick her words carefully, "I think.about everyone leaving him. And I don't know why."

"I told you why, he's scared."

"Angel? Angel lived alone for decades, and now he's suddenly scared of it? Even regarding it's current situation, it's still uncharacteristic. You gotta admit."

"Okay, let's say - for argument's sake - that you're right."

Buffy grinned.

"What are you suggesting?"

The slayer sighed. "I tried talking to him, it doesn't help. He wouldn't listen. It's like it comes through one ear and out the other. It's like he doesn't WANT to listen. He barely lets me out of his sight, metaphorically speaking, and it's not that I need space, it's more that I'm concerned for him. He's developing dependence on other people, and he mustn't. ESPECIALLY not in his current state."

"So, what are you planning to do? You wanna throw him into the water and see if he drowns or not? You think THAT'S gonna help? I can't believe these words just come from your mouth!"

"Because they haven't! No, I don't wanna do that. I'll never do that. I gave him my word, I promised him million times he WOULDN'T be left alone, not by anyone, and especially not by me, but it was the same as talking to a wall, Cord. He wouldn't listen."

"So you want me to talk to him too," Cordelia completed Buffy's thought.

The Slayer nodded. "Yeah. It's worth a try. It's just too important to let it pass. I think it's becoming more of a matter of self-reliance. He's stopped believing in himself, stopped thinking about himself as a worthy individual. That's what worries me the most."

"And it surprises you?" she asked the blonde as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

"Yes, it surprises me! You're acting though he's invalid!"

"He has a disability, Buffy. It's about time you saw that too. He obviously does, that's why he's acting like that."

"He's the same person he was a few days ago."

"Only blind. Look, Buffy, I think it's time for you to quit the denial and acknowledge some facts. He's never going to be THE SAME again. He has different needs now, and you should start being attentive to them."

"You think I'm not?"

"Are you? So why are we having this conversation?"

"Because you seem to think that dependency is a healthy way of life, while I'm trying to help him back into the world."

"Has it ever crossed your mind that dependency is the ONLY way of life for him now?" Cordelia inquired. "Blind people live everyday, just like other people, and one day he will too, but right now, he can't. Right now, he needs you, because he thinks there are so many things he's not able to do anymore, while he's just afraid to try and find out that he can."

"And that's exactly what I'm doing here. I'm showing him that he can do it, if he only wants to. But it seems sometimes like he doesn't. I don't want to see him like that, Cordelia, it breaks my heart every time anew. He IS scared, and he IS confused, and do you have any idea what it does to me seeing the man I love go through that Hell and there's nothing I can do?"

"Do you know how much you're doing for him just by being with him?" Cordelia smiled supportively. "He's distanced us all from him, and you are the only one he trusts now. Do you ever stop to think about how much it means to him that you're here? That you DIDN'T desert him? That's the problem you're so worried about, don't you see? The only thing he's scared from is not having you here anymore."

"So why isn't he saying something?" Buffy asked after a moment of silence.

"Something like what?" Cordelia grinned, knowing.

Buffy chuckled. "I don't know, let's see, 'I want you here', 'I'm glad you're here', something like that maybe?"

"Do you need him to say this?"

The Slayer bit her lip. "Sometimes.I feel like that's the only reason I'm staying. To hear him say those words to me eventually."

Cordelia beamed slightly. "What significance do words have when you know what's in his heart?"

"Do I?" Buffy arched her brows. "For all I know, he still hasn't forgiven me for keeping away all these years, and frankly, I can't really blame him."

"I'm sorry i gave you a harsh time back in the hospital. Angel is like a brother to me, and I admit that I can sometimes be a little overprotective."

"I deserved it," Buffy acknowledged.

"You got that right," Cordy continued, "so, what I'm saying is that I've forgiven you. If I could, Angel definitely can. And besides, the guy is incapable of hating you, trust me. There is nothing in this world you can do that will make him see you in a bad light. That's just the way he is, Buffy, and there's no one who knows him better than you, not even himself, so you shouldn't ever doubt that."

Buffy beamed. "You know, on the first day we arrived in this house, he invited me to sleep in his bed," on seeing Cordelia's face she rephrased, "just share it during the nights, Cordelia, nothing more."

"Oh," Cordelia let out a breath of relief.

"Yeah, well.." Buffy sighed. "I still sleep on the couch," she paused, then sighed again. "It just wasn't the right time..."

The brunette chuckled. "And you blame him for being distant, did I get that right?"

"I'm just saying it would be nice if he told me what he feels for me, that's all."

"You mean, that he loves you," Cordelia corrected.

"No, I don't mean that, even though I want that. I never expected to jump back into his life after five years, and having him say he loves me only after a few days," she admitted, somewhat bitterly.

"Don't you know by now that he does?"

"Does what?"

"Love you. Why do you need to make him say it out loud? You never needed him to say what he felt before," Cordelia observed gently.

"Well, things change," Buffy replied, "maybe it's BECAUSE it has been so long, that I need him to say these words to me. Maybe.maybe I've just missed hearing him say them, maybe it's because I wanna tell him the same but I'm afraid he'd turn me down."

"Talk about self-confidence," the brunette noted.

"Not funny," Buffy muttered.

"Wasn't trying to be. It's you who should trust him a little more, don't you think?"

Buffy groaned. "All I want is for him to say the words, I just, I want."

"The things to be the way they used to. You want the same fairytale you wanted at seventeen. The happily-ever-after Buffy and Angel story."

Buffy shook her head. "It doesn't matter what I want," she ended this discussion. "Cord, could you watch over him? Stay here for a few hours?"

Cordelia nodded. "Where to?"

"Sunnydale," Buffy informed, "I wanna lock the house and transfer most of my stuff over here." She glanced at her watch. "He'll be asleep for a while longer, but when he wakes up, tell him I'll be back in some hours. Get Gunn here," Buffy beamed and shrugged, "to keep you company."

Cordelia grinned. "If I weren't so predictive, I would hit you."

Buffy merely smiled and left through the door, grabbing her car keys on her way out.

"Willow," Buffy acknowledged, finding her friend sitting on the sofa in HER house, the moment she entered the living room. "What are you doing here?"

"Spare key," Willow waved the said object in front of the Slayer.

"How did you know I was coming today?" Buffy asked cautiously, proceeding into the room.

"Prediction," Willow shrugged, then rose from her seat, following the Slayer around the house as she was, without wasting any time, packing everything essential to take with her to LA for a permanent staying. "You never called back," she pointed out.

"I didn't see the need. I didn't feel like calling back only to hear you yelling at me for throwing away the best thing I ever had. Cordelia told me everything you said, which sums up everything we could have talked about if I had called."

"You ARE throwing everything away, Buffy. You."

"DON'T even dare to start!" Buffy held up her hand. "I don't remember having asked for an approval. Incase you haven't noticed, it's MY life."

"So, you think I'll stand aside and watch you throw it away?"

"You can always look the other way," Buffy started ascending the stairs towards her bedroom. "As I said, I never asked for your approval. Not yours, not Xander's and not Giles'. So, stay out of it."

"You're making a mistake."

"And you're sounding like my mother," Buffy retorted.

Willow couldn't speak for a spell. "You're twenty-five years old," she breathed out.

"What does this have to do with my age?"

"You have an entire future ahead of you, and you're."

"Oh, I know where you're going with that!" Buffy cut her short, chuckling bitterly. "I have my entire future ahead of me, and I'm planning on wasting it on taking care of my now blind ex-lover, did I get you right?"

Willow looked down. "I didn't say that."

"You didn't have to!" Buffy spat out. "God, Willow, sicken me! How can you conjure something like that in your mind? Don't you even have a little compassion in your heart left? What the Hell happened to you over the years? What happened to my best friend?" she lowered her voice. "I don't know you anymore."

"I'm trying to make you see what's right," Willow strove to make her friend understand. "You haven't seen each other for years. I.I'm sorry for Angel."

"Sorry?" Buffy laughed. "Oh, you're sorry! Well, that's good, isn't it? You have no idea what he's going through, so you better keep your sorry's to yourself, ESPECIALLY when you don't mean them!"

"I'm sorry for him," Willow went on, "but why.why do you have to go? Why do you have to be the one to make so many sacrifices?"

"Helping the man I love through a crisis in his life is NOT making sacrifices!"

"You think it's gonna be so easy? You haven't seen the half of it yet, if you think so," the redhead tried to convince her friend, who had by now miraculously seemed to have finished packing.

Buffy stopped by her drawer, suddenly oblivious to Willow's words. In front of her stood a framed photograph. She picked it up, smiling at the couple in it. She had almost forgotten how handsome he looked, years ago, on her prom night. How gently he held her that night, the last time in so long she could barely remember how. Buffy shook her head, putting the photograph in one of her three enormous traveling bags. Then, she picked up the little silver ring, and the cross that lay next to it and pocketed them both.

"You're really leaving," Willow observed quietly.

Buffy didn't answer, only shouldered one bag, taking the other two in her hands, and headed out of the room. In the living room, she picked up another smaller bag and left the house.

On to Part Five