A Broken Angel

by Mariah

Disclaimer: None of the characters are mine (k, that means, none of those who are Joss'. Kelly and Valerie are mine. I'm having doubts about Buffy's boss though...whose is he?...). Anyway, all Buffy/Angel related isn't mine. That's about the it.

Distribution: My site. Ask me first.

Rating: Like the show.

Spoilers: Mostly "Becoming" and "Surprise" from BtVS season 2, and some from "Anne" from BtVS season 3. I think that's all.

Summary: It started as an alternate "Anne" in "Remember Me" (which is the first story in the series and which you REALLY have to read. Well, okay maybe not REALLY...:)), but anyhow - to sum it up - Buffy brought Angel back from Hell and he's human. But...there's a lot of recovering for our boy ahead of him. Hell was...well, Hell. WARNING - ANGST!!! A LOT!!!

As far as I care, this fic is everything that Joss should have put on the show, but had clearly decided it was too trivial. (The B/A shipper in me has just spoken...:)).

Feedback:DUH!!!!!!!!! Essential!!!!!!!! Begged for!!!!!!!!! 

Part One

"Something tells me we're not in Sunnydale anymore," Angel pointed out, after they entered Buffy's apartment.

Buffy chose not to answer. She locked the door behind them and helped Angel to a seat.

He was breathing heavily. Buffy could tell that the absolute lack of strength AND now also the humanity was too much for him to cope with contemporaneously. He was clearly dangling on the edge. The entire way to the apartment, Buffy was panicked he'd topple to the ground any second. And though she was holding him as tight as she could, she was perfectly aware of that it wasn't enough. He was weak. He was more than weak. He was so weak, he was practically hanging on her while they were making their way towards her apartment. Sometimes, he wasn't able to keep his eyes opened, and then Buffy RALLY thought he'd drop down then and there. But he'd always come back. He tried to pretend, for her, but luckily, she knew better than to believe him. It scared her. It terrified her so much more than she wanted to acknowledge. Buffy knew he was hurting. His return from Hell hadn't made his various lacerations and wounds miraculously vanish. They were all still there, only now in a human body. A small part of her hated whoever was up there and in charge, for picking THIS time to reward Angel with his humanity. He couldn't handle a human body, Not now. He needed time to heal. He was in a pain she didn't even want to imagine, and now it doubled, even tripled, and all merely because he was human. Inwardly, Buffy prayed he would be able to survive through it, because seeing him like he was...made it too hard to believe.

"You want to tell me what happened?" he emitted a barely heard moan of pain as he sat down.

Buffy rushed to his side, searching his body for the most serious wounds. She gently removed his hand from his chest and groped there for inner bruises. Angel screamed when she touched a certain spot.

Buffy peered up. His eyes were closed, and his head sloping over the back of the chair. Her hand traveled in search for his, and gripped at it tightly before feeling the sore place more thoroughly.

Angel squeezed her hand and screeched his teeth.

Buffy left his chest after a few seconds and looked up at him. He slowly started relaxing. "Angel, I'm not a doctor, but even I can tell that at least one of your ribs is broken," she said. "Angel, what else is broken? Why didn't you tell me? Why don't you tell me anything?"

He shook his head weakly. "It didn't hurt as much when I was a vampire," he hissed, "but," he took a deep breath. A plain deed, which evidently cost him a large amount of energy, "it started to..."

She brushed his cheek tenderly. "Honey, human body reacts differently to pain, you should know that. I'm sorry. Everything will be more painful from now on."

Angel nodded in acceptance.

Buffy touched his forehead. It was hot, and he was sweating. "Angel, you're burning up," she observed, with a fear in her voice she didn't want him to know of. She gently brushed the perspiration from his brow and cheeks.

He slowly closed his eyes.

"Wait here, I'll get you something to drink."

Buffy froze to the sight she found when she returned.

Angel was curled in a ball on the floor, his arms wrapped around him against that same cold only he was feeling, while his entire body was shaking like a leaf.

Buffy ran to him and kneeled by his side, putting the drink she brought on the floor nearby. "Angel?" she whispered.

His eyes remained closed, and he flinched from her touch due to the constant shivering. Little drops of perspiration appeared again on his forehead and upper lip. Buffy tenderly wiped them.

She choked back her tears. The entire display became clearer to her all of a sudden. He was endeavoring to sleep. He lay down, to try to fall asleep.*on the floor.* Only now, Buffy realized just how hard it would be to bring him back. Making him remember - what she once thought was the hardest part - looked now like the easiest task on earth as compared to that. He was apparently bruised mentally a lot more than physically, and Buffy was just beginning to learn that. To completely reinstate the person inside him, to save his beautiful soul she loved so much, Buffy would have to work hard, really hard. There were billions pieces of that soul inside this bruised body, and it would take such a long long time to bring them all back to a whole. A very long time.

"Angel," she tried to reach him again, what seemed to be to no avail. "Angel, please, open your eyes."

His eyelids fluttered open, but his shudder didn't stop. He gawked at her, but clearly not really seeing her. He murmured something that sounded to Buffy like "I'm tired," and closed his eyes again, drawing his knees closer to his chest, and embracing himself even stronger.

Buffy stroked his hair gently. "I know," she whispered. "Honey, please, stand up. Come on, I'll get you to bed." She wrapped her arms around him, but even her Slayer's strength wasn't enough to lift him off the floor. "Angel, please, help me," she entreated.

Finally, he moved, leaning on her for support and standing up, though he almost collapsed from faintness once he was on his feet. Fortunately, Buffy was there to stabilize him.

She held him steadily, slowly walking him into the bedroom. Buffy cast the covers off of the bed with one hand and gingerly helped him lie down. He instantly fell back asleep, the second his head hit the pillows. Buffy retrieved a small knife from one of the drawers, and started working on the shackles around his wrists, trying to open the rusty padlocks. She quivered when she finally removed them from his hands. His skin was bloody and peeling beneath them. *Hadn't they ever taken them off?!* she pondered. It was a rhetorical question, though. The skin on his wrists, or whatever was left from it, to be exact, was enough of evidence to answer her question.

Buffy made a brief scan of the rest of his body. It demanded A LOT of cleaning and bandaging. There wasn't a spot on all of him that wasn't physically abused in one way or another.

She gazed at his sleeping face and smiled, gently kissing both of his hands. *God, how good it is to have him home again,* the thought filled her heart until there wasn't room left for anything else. He was home.

Buffy stood up, and covered him up to his neck with the comforter, then she paced over to her closet, and towed a box from the highest rack. She never knew why she was shoving this box so far away every time, considering she would open it and go through its contents at least once per day.

She perched on the floor, crossing her legs, and opened the box. It was her 'Angel box'. It held within it all of her memories from him.

She recalled the morning she had left Sunnydale, right after she'd killed him. She couldn't think clearly that morning, she couldn't think at all. Buffy reminisced how she'd returned home, abstractly throwing whatever her hand grabbed at into a backpack, inscribing a succinct note to her mother, and leaving through the same window that used to be her Angel's way in for so long. She hadn't known what she was doing. The only thing she knew was that in no way she could stay. She couldn't live.where he had died.

After a long last look in the direction of her friends, instead of heading straight towards the bus station, her legs had carried her to the only place she used to know as her shelter; Angel's old apartment.

When she had opened the door and walked in, she was surprised to find it exactly as she'd remembered it, as if he had never left. She had found his marble sculptures, his pictures and several drawings of his own, some of which were now decorating her own apartment, his clothes, that were now hanged and folded in her own closet, his books of poems and romance, some of them were now piled by her bed, serving her loyally each night of insomnia when she couldn't sleep because her memories of him became too strong.

That's what she had been doing in his apartment that morning. Yes, she did know why she had come. She had come, because notwithstanding everything, she hadn't been able to leave without taking him with her. A thing that might sound stupid to someone other than her, and might even secure a special place for her in the nearest asylum, but she'd felt she'd needed his things with her, wherever she was heading. Buffy winded up with two extra huge begs, on top of the one she had brought from her house, after she had finished packing everything she'd thought she needed to constantly remind her of her lost love.

But that box contained other things. All the things she had taken from his apartment were all over hers. Pictures, books, gear.it made her place look like he was living there too, with her, and it was what she had intended to do. Even though that most of the time what she craved for so much was to forget, to stop the agony that remembering brought with it, she still could never bring herself to throw away his belongings. It was, as far as she concerned, what gave the place a feeling of home, a hope that maybe someday, he would come back to his place by her side. It made it easier to fall asleep at night.it gave her the strength to wake up. And the dark and guilt-ridden side of her held within it the second reason for her clinging to those objects. She wanted to have as many things as she could to remind her of Angel, BECAUSE it tormented her to no end. She thought she deserved to be tormented. She thought there was no torture she didn't deserve after what she had done to him.

In that box, were the things Angel himself had given her, the things that were the most dear to her heart. His black leather jacket usually lay neatly folded at the bottom, some letters.most of them love letters and poems Angel had composed for her. The portrait he'd made of her once when she asked him to draw her. Her smile was genuine and wide in that picture, her eyes full with love and focused on the artist himself. And there was the sketch he had made of her while lurking in her bedroom as she was sleeping. There was a small jewelry box, inside of which Buffy found a silver cross. She took it out of the box and clasped the chain around her neck, smiling. Her smile faded abruptly though, as she reminisced of the last time she wore that cross...but only one glance at her love sleeping in her bed, assured her it wasn't the case anymore, and the smile returned. Buffy had just realized she almost forgot how to smile.

Then she found a tinier box, but this one was empty. The ring was worn on her right ring finger since forever, with the heart pointing inwards.

Suddenly, Buffy glanced at the clock. It read 4:05AM. She gasped. She was so preoccupied with Angel's return, she had completely forgotten she was supposed to wake up to go to work in less than four hours! Her boss hated her, and if she started missing out workdays, she'd be fired in no time, and now that she had Angel to take care after and not only herself, she couldn't afford that. A strange perception came up to her by reason of her new way of thinking. She had apparently matured faster than she thought.

Buffy rapidly returned everything into the box, except for the cross that she kept around her neck, and the ring, which had never really left her finger.

She stripped and changed into a loose T-shirt. When she almost lay down, she perceived Angel was still quivering under the covers. She wished more than anything she could make his cold go away, that she could make his pain go away. She wished she could set him free.

All Buffy could do though, was to go and bring him some more blankets, inwardly knowing it wouldn't help anyway.

She tucked him in lovingly, and wrapped her arms around him, after pulling a sheet over herself. It was a warm morning, so she didn't need anything heavier, not that she had something left after covering Angel with everything she could find. She could still feel him shiver in her arms.

Buffy gently kissed his head and stroked his disheveled hair. "Welcome home, my love," she whispered before falling asleep.

Part Two

When Buffy woke up, the clock on her nightstand read 7:56. *Work in four minutes,* she contemplated indifferently. Her hand moved to the fresh welt on her jaw. *At least the swelling is down. I'm gonna have a Hell of a job covering that up.* Buffy peered at Angel. He was sleeping. Peacefully. But she had encountered it on her own flesh only an hour ago just how deceiving that appearance was.

Buffy had slept not more than a half an hour that night. It was the longest night of her life, and the worst thing was, that she knew that there would be many more to follow. This nightmare had only just begun. When she had had sleeplessness, well, that she could somehow deal, but this.she just wasn't ready for this. How could she ever be ready for this?

At first, he was calm. In some point, after she had been holding him long enough, even his shivering had stopped, and he seemed to be sleeping more quietly than he ever had. But then, in a heartbeat, it had all changed. He'd started getting more and more restive. All of a sudden, he wasn't himself. It was as if he were possessed by something that he was trying to free himself from, but was powerless against it. There was no way for Buffy to describe it.

First, he'd started turning in his sleep from side to side, and Buffy had embraced him closer to her, trying in vain to sooth him with kind whispers and gentle caresses, which weren't anywhere near working. Then she'd tried to wake him up, but failed there either. Then Angel had begun becoming more savage. He'd started hurling and tossing everything his hand touched, which was mostly comforters and pillows. Buffy had tried to wake him again, this time becoming more assertive when tenderness proved itself to be in no use, but still sticking to her limits. She wouldn't hurt him. She wouldn't EVER hurt him again, no matter what, she knew that for sure. Seeing him like that, had showed her she had already hurt him more than enough. When she had tried to force him down to the bed, he started squealing and turning and twisting even more than before, his eyes had been closed the whole time, since he was still rapt in a deep sleep. Finally, Buffy had prevailed, pining his wrists to the bed, but regretted it the moment she'd gotten the upper hand. She hadn't astimated how smarting it would be for him, in consideration of how bruised his wrists were. Angel had screamed in such a heartrending pain, that she'd just jumped off of him, releasing his hands, and only afterwards understood why was it that he had screamed in the first place. The second he was free, and before Buffy could even move to evade it, he had punched her face in the heat of his madness. Buffy had leaped off the bed in shock. She had touched her face and saw the red blood on her fingertips. Buffy had felt the tears rising in her throat, and it wasn't the lesion that initiated them. She'd beheld her lover again. He was much calmer now, but still sleeping. *The nightmare must be over.* Just as she rose that conjecture, he started turning in bed all over again. No. It wasn't anywhere near being over. This night was nothing more than a beginning. The blankets were strewed all over the room, and so were the pillows. The night lamp was shattered on the floor, presumably hit by one of the cushions. The sheet beneath Angel was now creased, soiled with blood and dirt, and moist from his sweat. But now, suddenly, after over two hours, he lay still.

Buffy's heart had stopped, both awaiting and dreading from what was still to come. Abruptly, he'd turned over on his stomach, seemingly at last coming out of his nightmare, and started to slowly, with evident difficulties, rising on his four, his back facing Buffy, who by now was standing away from the bed. Angel had turned his head and stared at her, his eyes glittering with tears, with a gaze that was the most helpless Buffy had ever seen.

"Angel?" she'd whispered carefully, with the aim to determine whether he was finally awake.

He had only maintained his piteous gaze and said nothing. Suddenly, he'd toppled on the bed, falling asleep again, as if nothing had happened. And then the shaking began anew.

Buffy had picked up the flung blankets, and covered him. Then she'd crept up beside him and took him into her arms again, gently stroking his back. She'd held him for the rest hour or so until she'd woken up.

The strident vibration of the alarm clock stopped her reminiscing of the past night. Before she could lean over to turn it off, she heard Angel scream, and one moment later, he practically darted off the bed, and cowered on the floor in the darkest corner of the room. Buffy instantaneously hit the button to stop the sound.

She turned to Angel. He was still squatted quailed in his nook, but the formerly demented look in his eyes was now gone. Buffy bit her lip and paced over to him.

"Angel?" she reached her hand to touch his face, and gently stroked it, when he let her. He leaned his face into her open palm, and closed his eyes. She hunkered in front of him, and he allowed her to hug him. "It's okay." she was saying softly, while stroking his hair, "it's gonna be okay." Buffy pulled away and looked at him.

Angel returned her gaze, but then his eyes suddenly focused on her wale. He drew back, averting his eyes not to look at her.

Buffy inspected him with concern. "Angel, what happened?"

He still wouldn't look at her. "I hit you," he murmured under his breath.

She swallowed. "No, Angel.it's not you," she tried to dispute, but he wasn't listening.

"I hit you," he reiterated. Then he started rising to his feet, leaning against the wall for support, and slowly stumbling away.to the door.

Buffy walked after him and put a hand on his shoulder, but he lurched from her. "Angel, where are you going?" she inquired.

"Anywhere.away." she heard him stutter, "I won't hit you again."

When his hand lay on the doorknob, Buffy ran before him and slammed the door he started to open.

He stumbled backwards, losing his balance for a moment, then gazed at her with confusion, and looked down again. "Let me go," he requested in a pleading whisper.

Buffy shook her head resolutely. "Not in this lifetime," she put her hand on his arm but he recoiled.

"Don't touch me," he appealed inaudibly.

Buffy pulled him back gently and enveloped him in her arms, heading back into the bedroom and seating them both on the bed.

There were tears in his eyes when he looked at her again. "I'm sorry," he whispered, "I didn't mean to.I would never.I.I'm so sorry."

Buffy gathered him into her loving embrace again. "I know, sweetheart," she whispered, "don't worry. We'll make it through this one too, I promise. I'm not giving up on you." She planted a soft kiss on his nape. "Not now.not ever. I promise."

Part Three

In the arms of an angel
Far away from here
From this dark, cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You're in the arms of an angel
May you find some comfort here

- Sarah McLachlan, "Angel"

Buffy peeped at her watch. She was forty minutes late for work. *I'm dead.* Then she looked at Angel. He was slowly sipping at the water from his glass. *No, I can't leave him alone at home. Not today, that's sure. I can't.* She could only pray something would happen that would make her boss wake up on the right side of the bed, cuz if not, she should start looking for another job.

Angel looked up from the drink. "You have to go somewhere," he observed simply, after studying her for a short spell.

Buffy smiled. He still had the ability to see right through her. "No. Don't worry, it's nothing important," she caressed his cheek. "Are you feeling better now?" she queried thoughtfully.

He swallowed and put the glass on a nightstand, wrapping his arms around himself. "It's just..." he took a deep breath, looking away from her, "everything hurts..."

Buffy hugged him. "I know," she kissed his shoulder and reclined her head against it. "Angel, I'm so sorry."

He didn't answer. He just bent his head and kissed her crown.

Buffy straightened and stood up before him.

He gazed at her with expectation.

"I was just thinking. Maybe you wanna take a hot shower or something," she suggested with a smile. "It'll make you feel a lot better."

Angel smiled weakly at her attempt.

She beamed. "Great! So I take it as a 'yes'." She took his hand and slowly led him into the bathroom. "Take a shower, and meanwhile I'll jump to the store and buy us something to eat." She shrugged and grinned coyly. "My fridge's kinda empty."

When she turned to go, Angel snatched her arm feebly to stop her. She rotated. Buffy could see it on his face; he wanted to say something, but for some reason couldn't get the words out. After a spell he released her arm and cast down his eyes, turning away from her.

He didn't need to say anything, Buffy understood. She put a gentle hand on his back. "Angel, the store is right next to the building. It won't take more than five minutes. I'll be back before you notice."

He nodded, but without revolving back to look at her.

Buffy brushed a hand over his arm allayingly, and turned on the hot water. "I'll be right back," she promised again, before closing the bathroom door on him.

*And I was actually CONSIDERING going to work today,* was the only thought in her head as she was leaving the apartment.

The second she reentered her dwelling, she could sense the hot steam emitting from the bathroom. She put the groceries in the fridge, and went to check up on Angel.

Buffy had troubles adjusting her breathing at first, when she stepped into the bathroom. The mist was so thick that there seemed not to be any room left for air. Through the fog, Buffy could descry his tall and muscular form. She couldn't thwart the gasp of veneration at the sight of his naked perfect figure. Without even minding her actions, she stripped and stepped under the hot stream behind Angel. The water was almost scalding, but Buffy didn't really pay attention. All she wished for was that it would succeed in warming him, but she knew it just wasn't enough.

Angel was standing with his eyes closed and his shoulders dropped tiredly, like the weight of the world was on him alone, leaning with one hand against the wall in front of him, shaking somewhat. He didn't discern her presence until her arms slid around his waist from behind.

He inhaled a deep breath and winced with slight pain, but remained as he was, only put one of his hands on hers. Buffy reclined her head against his bruised back, fastening her clasp around his waist. It was the first time she saw his entire body since he'd returned, and she now found the sight was as much frightening as it was splendid. He was so much slimmer than how she remembered. When he inhaled air, Buffy could see his ribs bulging out. His muscles, on the other hand, seemed to have surprisingly strengthened after all the centuries in Hell. His entire body was blemished by the miscellaneous abuses he had been put through. His once flawless skin was strewn with lacerations and slashes. "What did they do to you, Angel?" she asked in a whisper, the same question she had once asked him in Hell, and again, no reply followed. His face was still cast down to the floor, his eyes closed. He was just standing there, relaxing his body under the hot stream.

Buffy unwove her arms from around his waist, and took a sponge. She soaped it and started gingerly washing Angel's back. He trembled from time to time, when she inadvertently chanced upon a lesion that was yet scarcely closed. They hadn't exchanged one more word the entire time.

After they had finished showering, Buffy went to the kitchen to bring a first aid kit and some extra bandages. It took her nearly an hour to treat all of his wounds. There were some superficial ones, which were already healing by themselves, and there were the ones that caused Angel to sporadically scream when she touched them. Buffy tried not to do the dressing too tight, but it didn't help in reducing the smart.

After the last wound had been treated, Buffy put everything aside and cleaned the bed so he could lie down. She went to the closet and retrieved some of his old clothes for him to wear.

Angel gazed at her in wonderment when he saw them.

She shrugged, blushing slightly. "I kept some of your things," she accounted for them simply, and handed him the garments. "I guess now you can use them again."

Angel took the clothes from her, examining each item, as if he were seeing it for the first time.

Buffy sat beside him and stroked his cheek mildly, turning his face to her. "I want you to sleep now. You're tired, and you're sick. You're barely standing on your feet." Inside, she thanked God he wasn't like he was yesterday. Then, she was practically scared for his life. "In the meantime, I'll go and fix you something to eat for the time when you'll wake up." She almost stood up to leave, when he lay a hand on her arm. Buffy turned her gaze back to him.

His hand slid down her arm, and entwined with hers. He smiled at her. "Thank you," he whispered.

Buffy beamed, and sat back down. She ran her fingers through his wet brown hair, and reposed one hand on his nape, slowly drawing his face closer to hers, tenderly kissing his lips. Angel responded to her kiss, but just before it became too ardent, Buffy pulled off reluctantly. Her lips were still tingling from the taste of that kiss. It was THAT kiss that she missed so much. No one had ever kissed her like Angel, with so much love, devotion, passion and tenderness, all in one kiss. She had lived too long without it.

Angel's eyes were gazing at her after the kiss had ended, seeing only her. His love was thoroughly apparent in the windows to his beautiful soul. Buffy could see he was sharing her exact thoughts. She felt a lone tear traveling down her cheek, but Angel caught it with his index finger, bringing it to his mouth and kissing it, still not taking his eyes from her.

Buffy's lower lip started trembling. "Angel..." she mumbled, as more tears followed, before finally throwing herself into his eternally open arms. "Oh, God, Angel," she sobbed into his chest, as he held her in his tight and loving embrace, on the verge of crying himself. He remembered now all those endless nights, before they had made him forget her, how he used to dream about his love, afraid he would never hold her in his arms again. And the chill that had haunted him, for centuries, all the time she hadn't been near. His whole body cried out for her, craved for her, ever since she gave him her innocence on the night of her seventeenth birthday. His soul and heart had been hers ever since the first time he'd laid eyes on her. She became a part of him he couldn't live without. Angel upbraided himself for ever forgetting that small girl he now held so tightly in his arms, the only being that gave his life meaning. The only one who could ever look into the soul of what he used to be, and give him her unconditional love, regardless to what he represented, regardless to what they all were saying. Give him her heart, her body, and her soul, and have his in return. He realized once again just how deeply he loved her.

Buffy was crying her heart out in her love's warm embrace. She felt so safe and so loved that she let all of her tears stream freely. The mere thought it was her Angel who was finally holding her, gave her a feeling of peace she had forgotten she ever could feel. All the emotions she couldn't allow herself to feel while he was gone, came back to her, and now, finally, feeling them was allowed. It was allowed, because the only person who they were meant for, the person who had her heart and she had his from day one, finally had his arms around her again.

Part Four

Buffy heard a knock on the door and hastened to answer it, before it awakes Angel. He'd been such a serene sleeper for the past several days, hardly any nightmares. For his sake, Buffy didn't want anything to ruin it.

Kelly was at the door. Buffy was slightly surprised to find her there at first, but stepped back to let her in, bringing her finger to her lips, indicating her to be quiet. Kelly nodded in comprehension, and the two girls headed towards the single couch in the main room to talk.

"So, what brings you over?" Buffy asked, sitting down. "What's up?"

Kelly also sat. "What's up with you?" Kelly answered her with a question of her own. "You don't look sick."

"Who told you I was?"

"Well, I kinda assumed. You know, with you not showing up at work for like over a week. So, wanna share? I was kinda worried about you, you know. Sorry I hadn't come earlier, but my aunt got the flu, so I had to babysit the little brats. Anyway, enough about me. What gives, Buffy? You haven't missed a day of work since I met you, up till two weeks ago. By the way, since when do you have a roommate, and why do I gotta keep quiet?"

Buffy looked down. She couldn't tell her. Yes, Kelly knew all about demons and vampires, or at least what she asked Buffy to tell her, after the Slayer had saved her and some other teenagers from Hell several months ago. But would she understand this?

"Hey, girlfriend, I don't get you. I mean, take me for instance. If I skip ONE day of work, that's gonna be one day less of food on my table."

Buffy smiled at the closest thing to a friend she had these days. "Well, maybe if you actually put your extra cash aside when you had it, instead of wasting it all and more on clothes, you wouldn't be in this jam. Which is the reason I'm not, by the way." While Buffy knew it was hard to get by on a waitress' salary alone, Kelly never seemed to really grasp her money was limited.

Kelly raised her hand in defense. "Don't even go there. A girl's gotta look her best. Besides, we're not all like you. Some of us actually WANT a relationship, and don't play nun." Kelly bit her lip at Buffy's sudden change of expression. "Gosh, Buff, I'm sorry. I forgot what you told me about your boyfriend. Man, I'm such a bitch sometimes!" she hit her head in frustration, and then turned back to Buffy. "Buffy, I'm sorry."

Buffy smiled. "It's okay. Don't worry about it."

Kelly smiled too. "I didn't mean to," she apologized again.

"I know. As I said, don't worry about it."

"It's just...you know, I'm not a sensitive person. I mean...well, remember that time when you first told me about him? Angel...that was his name, right?"

Buffy nodded.

"Yeah. A pretty name. Well, so I thought like, Gosh, this girl is SOO deep into that whole thing. I mean, you talked about him like he was the only thing in the world for you, and I couldn't understand that. I just never see myself so in love with someone, so I don't relate with the whole 'love' idea in general. You know my idea of relationship, it's a one-night stand. And it'll do, cuz all guys are bastards as I see it, so why not to use them for the only thing they're supposedly good at?" she smirked. "What you told me about...that was real, that was special, not the scenario I'm familiar with. Sorry I acted like a jerk about it."

Buffy grinned. "Kell, it's okay. Really. No big. Don't worry. But you know, I don't entirely agree with you on that."

"What, I didn't act like a jerk?"

Buffy chucked. "The other thing, Kell."

"Oh, that. Okay, so provide a guy who IS dream-material."

Buffy smiled. No, she shouldn't tell her, but she wanted to so much! She wanted to tell her about Angel, she wanted to tell the whole world about her love's being alive again. Angel's recovering was slow, yes, and it was hard, but all in all, life couldn't be better for her. Her Angel was back.

Apparently though, it was too manifest in her eyes. "God, you're dating! I thought you said you'd never...you know, after you lost Angel...okay, maybe I should just shut up. It'd be a lot safer..."

Before she could finish the sentence, a shriek cut through the air. Buffy jumped to her feet and sprang towards the bedroom.

The bed was a total mess when she entered the room. Angel was tossing in bed with a strength and dash of a savage beast, crying random NO's and Buffy's name, while being trapped in a nightmare.

Buffy ran to him, and tried to get a hold on his arms. She managed to pin his wrists to the bed after several attempts. "Honey, wake up," she tried to speak to him, "wake up, please." It was in no use. He was still fighting her grip, screaming her name for all his lungs could stand.

After about ten minutes, he started coming back to himself. His breathing sounded more and more intense as his body was relaxing. Then he abruptly gasped and opened his eyes hastily. He gawked at Buffy, breathing heavily. She released his hands and helped him to sit up. He hadn't taken his eyes off her the entire time. It seemed he wasn't aware of anything but her.

He sat up slowly, gazing at her with disoriented eyes, as if her face was only now clearing up before him. "Buffy?" his voice cracked, and she saw a tear escaping his eye. His orbs beheld her with incredulity, not believing she was really there. "B...but they killed you..." he finally murmured.

Buffy pulled him into her arms. "It was just a dream, sweetheart. It was just a dream. I'm here. I'm here, and I'm okay."

"They killed you..." He kept whispering, his voice muffled by her shirt, he was so desperately clinging into. "They tortured you...and then they killed you...and they made me watch..."

She braced her arms around him, gently stroking his hair. In the corner of her eye, she perceived Kelly standing in the door, but as Buffy turned to look at her, she was gone.

Tears formed in her own eyes. Buffy recalled how she had once woken up, after a nightmare about Angel getting killed before her eyes. She was so hysterical that she had ran straight to his apartment just to make sure her dream was just a dream. And to think that Angel dreamed about her dying, in numerous ways, and much more than once. She kissed his head, holding him close. "Shh...it's okay," she spoke inaudibly, "it's over, Angel, and I'm here. I love you. It's okay..."

"I couldn't save you," he wept.

She pressed him closer to her. "I love you," she kissed his head. "It wasn't real. It was just a dream. Just a bad dream."

When Buffy returned to the living room, Kelly was still there, waiting for her. She gazed up at the Slayer's teary eyes.

Buffy quietly sat down on the sofa next to her. "I'm sorry you had to see that," she apologized.

Kelly nodded. "What happened to him? Who is he?"

"You remember how several months ago I saved you and some others from Hell?"

Kelly nodded silently, shivering at the reminiscence of that.

"For how long had you been there before I got you out?"

"Actually, for only a couple of hours. What does it have to do with anything?"

"HE'S been there for centuries. Tortured in ways you can't even imagine possible. HIS Hell was much much worse than the one you know. There's the humans' Hell...a place where people are being enslaved by the demons, and thrown out once they become useless, and there's the demons' Hell...also called 'demons' dimension'. It's the same, but worse. Whoever gets there, has no way out. He's stuck in there forever, being tormented until the loss of memory, emotions, identity...sanity, and it's eternal. It never stops. That's where he's been."

Kelly only nodded again. "So...you saved him too, then?"


"So, you always risk your life for people you don't know?"

Buffy chuckled. "For him, I'd be risking my life for the rest of my life if needed."

"You said no one can get out of there. How did you?"

"I got help."

"And...okay, I know it's none of my business, but why are you getting into that? Why do you have to take care of him? Can't you just...lock him up somewhere? I mean, come on, Buffy, he's crazed. He's a wreck of a person. Do you actually think you can help him? You think ANYBODY can help him?"

Buffy's eyes opened wide. "ARE YOU INSANE?!"

"Buffy, way to go for the gesture, but he needs A LOT of help, which you can't provide."

Buffy simpered briefly. "Well, that's where you're wrong, Kell. I know it's gonna sound mushy to you, but ONLY I can provide it, and ONLY I can save him. You say that just cuz of what you saw today..."

Kelly cut in. "Buffy, the guy's mad. THAT'S what I saw."

"Don't talk about him like that! EVER!" she almost yelled, but lowered her voice, not to awake Angel.

"Oh, hey, wow...why are you getting so touchy over him? Just a guy, Gosh. A not entirely sane guy," she muttered the last phrase to herself.

"Damn, Kell, Angel had a nightmare. And, yeah, his nightmares aren't like yours or mine. Well, aren't like yours anyway. They drove him insane there, what are you expecting for? For him to just step back into this world, and go on with his life like nothing happened? I so DON'T think that's possible. It's been centuries, Kelly! I wanna see you after centuries in there. Yes, he needs help, and YES, I'll be there for him. Always."

Kelly stared at her with wide eyes. "Oh, God, I SO need to learn how to keep my mouth shut sometimes," she murmured, "I can't believe this. You mean, THIS is Angel? THE Angel?"

Buffy smirked. "Yeah, remember my vampire boyfriend? The one who 'died'? Well, 'died' was only half of the story. The other half is in that bedroom, finally back asleep."

"Could you please just slap me the next time I do that? You know, open my mouth? It might actually help. Prevent A LOT of damage."

Buffy giggled, discharging her uptightness, and drew in a deep breath. "It's okay. You didn't know," she stood up, and so did Kelly, "but now you do. This is why I haven't been to work all that time. I've been taking care of him. He needed me here twenty-four-seven."

"I understand. Buffy, listen, I'm really sorry, I should have never talked about him like that. I hope he'll be better soon."

Buffy beamed. "He's already better. He's sleeping most of the time now, but the nightmares have lessened. I mean, you should have seen him when he first came back. He couldn't sleep at all then, and he was so much weaker. I gotta make him eat more though, eating is definitely a problem. Angel's not a vampire anymore," Buffy shook her head at Kelly's puzzled look. "I'm not gonna get into the details, just that he's human. Eating our food is something he needs to get used to and it takes time, and on top of that, his appetite is very low, because of being so weak. He barely eats at all, and sometimes I really don't know what to do to change that. And unless I want him dead, I should think of something fast."

Kelly shook her head in concern. "Buffy, this is serious. It's not a joke anymore, you gotta get him to a hospital."

"I can't. He'll never get better there. I know it's gonna sound dumb, but he's getting better only cuz he's with me. We give each other strength, we always have, and right now, he needs mine."

"It does sound weird," Kelly admitted, "but cute just as much. I really hope he'll recuperate."

"Thanks, Kell," Buffy put her hand on Kelly's arm.

"Buffy?" she heard Angel's voice.

She turned around and was astonished to find him standing in the entrance, leaning against the doorframe.

Buffy quickly paced over to where he was, entwined her arm with his and walked back into the room.

She sat down on the couch, and Angel did too, leaning back on the cushions with a moan, then looked back at Buffy, waiting for her to ask her question.

She smiled, stroking his face gently. "What are you doing out of bed?"

He gulped and looked down. "I didn't want to sleep anymore."

She chuckled. "I put you to sleep like a minute ago."

He gazed back at her. "I know. I...I heard voices, so I came."

"Oh!" Buffy almost forgot. She motioned for Kelly to come closer. "Angel, this is my friend, Kelly. Kelly, this is my boyfriend, Angel," she added the last part with a proud beam.

Kelly gazed at the man sitting before her. She had to admit Buffy knew how to pick them. He wasn't wearing a shirt, and though he was relatively slim, and obviously not in his best, she could see his body was gorgeous. So was his face...

He extended his hand to her. "Angel," he said his name, as she shook it.

Kelly smiled. "Kelly. Nice to meet you." She pulled herself a chair and joined the couple.

Buffy didn't overlook the way Angel winced and placed his hand on his sore side after shaking hands with Kelly. But she knew he hoped she would. She also perceived how restless he was around her. He was uncomfortable around people who weren't Buffy. It was demonstrated in the way his hand tightly held onto hers. She turned to him. "Honey, are you hungry?" there was a trace of hope in her voice.

He shook his head.

"Are you sure? Maybe something small?"

"I can't," he whispered inaudibly, reposing his head on her shoulder.

She put one arm around him, raising his chin to level their eyes with her other hand. "But you have to. Angel, maybe a salad or something? I can fix you a salad in two minutes tops. Please?"

"I can't," he repeated feebly.

"Honey, please. At least, try," she locked eyes with him. "Will you try? For me?"

Angel closed his eyes and opened them again. "Okay."

Buffy beamed and kissed his cheek, hoping he'd be able to keep his promise too.

Suddenly, Kelly spoke. "You know, maybe I should get going. I just came by to see how you were."

Buffy smiled at her. "Okay. Thanks."

Just before she was about to open the door, she rotated. "Oh, and by the way, don't worry about your job. You picked a good time to start missing out. The moron decided to take off to Hawaii for like two months, so he left the diner to me to manage. Beats me, I don't know why. But anyway, I wanted to tell you that it's not that busy, so we can do without you for a while, and I can cover you."


Kelly beamed. "No problem. Spend some quality time with your Honey," she winked at the couple. "See you. It was nice to meet you, Angel. Bye." With that she closed the door behind her.

A short disclaimer: The quote in the beginning of this part is from Jack London's book "The Call of the Wild". It's one of my favorite books (and needless to say I was totally thrilled when it was mentioned in the episode "Beauty and the Beasts", and I also think it really expressed its true concept).

So, anyway, beacause I love that book so much, I decided to make it the one Buffy reads to Angel. That simple.

Why did I pick this specific quote? Because this part is Angel's true first entrance into the real world - from the trap to the freedom. I realize what I'm saying now tells you absolutely nothing, but I promise you'll understand just what I mean once you'll read this part.

BTW - A personal note - if you haven't yet, you really should read the book. I think it's very beautiful and extremely well written.

Part Five

"Nor did he open his eyes till roused by the noises of the waking camp. At first he did not know where he was. It had snowed during the night and he was completely buried. The snow walls pressed him on every side, and a great surge of fear swept through him--the fear of the wild thing for the trap. It was a token that he was harking back through his own life to the lives of his forebears; for he was a civilized dog, an unduly civilized dog and of his own experience knew no trap and so could not of himself fear it. The muscles of his whole body contracted spasmodically and instinctively, the hair on his neck and shoulders stood on end, and with a ferocious snarl he bounded straight up into the blinding day, the snow flying about him in a flashing cloud. Ere he landed on his feet, he saw the white camp spread out before him and knew where he was and remembered all that had passed from the time he went for a stroll with Manuel to the hole he had dug for himself the night before." Buffy lifted her gaze from her book, and sighed, folding the edge of the current page and closing the book, putting it aside. He fell asleep. Buffy smiled to herself as her hand continued tenderly stroking his brown hair. She was sitting on the bed, her back inclining against the wall, while his head was resting on the cushions next to her. He was asleep. Buffy had known for a while now that he had fallen into slumber, but kept reading to him nonetheless. It was habitual. He would ask her to read something he liked from one of his books, and he would always fall asleep in the middle, and she would always keep reading to him even as he slept. Buffy knew it wasn't disturbing him. On the contrary, he loved falling asleep to the sound of her voice. He told her so himself.

Buffy grinned down at him, as he gently nuzzled her thigh in his sleep, and nestled closer, embracing her hip in his arms. She pulled the comforter to cover him, and kept stroking his hair.

He could be sleeping like a baby occasionally, and the next second, he could be jouncing in madness from some nightmare that would be haunting him, and Buffy would know nothing about it. It seemed to her sometimes that it hurt her seeing him go through this, so much more than it hurt him to go through this, because there was never something she could do. There was no way she could help him, and seeing the only man she loved suffer from so much anguish killed her a little every time.

She sighed, gazing off into space. Doubts started creeping into her mind, whether she should or shouldn't go through with what she planned for today. He was so peaceful. She couldn't bring herself to awake him. *I'll give him a few more hours,* she decided eventually.

Buffy stood by the window, beholding her peacefully sleeping love. She gave him hours. She gave him six hours, and they miraculously passed without a single nightmare. It was 16:20 now. In a couple of hours it would be sundown. She had to do it now.but she wasn't able to. She raised her hand, and it fell right back, for about a hundred times. And in neither one of those times even her fingertips touched the curtains. She couldn't do it.

She took a deep breath. *Now or never.* She raised her hand again, and with one rapid motion, removed the draperies, no longer impeding the glistening sunshine from penetrating the dusky bedroom. She turned back to look at Angel, and emitted a sigh of relief when she saw he was still soundly asleep. But that was the point. She needed him awake.

She strode towards the bed, and sat down. She inclined, and gently kissed his head. "Angel, wake up," she whispered, but he didn't move. "Angel, open your eyes," she tried again, but in vane.

Buffy shook his shoulder gently, and he started slowly opening his eyes, but the second he perceived the sunlight, he closed them right back, pulling the covers over his head.

Buffy sighed, and reposed her hand on his shoulder. "Sweetie, it can't harm you anymore," she promised him, "I swear. I won't let it." A part of her knew he'd react like that. She was perfectly aware of these moments he was occasionally having, cutting himself completely off reality, by that CHOOSING to have no idea where, or in this case what, he was. He'd been having them a lot the first weeks after he came back from Hell. They were a lot less frequent now though.

Angel hugged himself under the comforter, but didn't remove it. "It will burn me," she heard his whisper from underneath it.

Buffy stroked his shoulder. "No, it won't," she assured softly, "if you uplift the comforter, you'll see for yourself. It can't hurt you."

"It can," he insisted feebly, "it will kill me."

Buffy bent down to kiss his crown that was showing from under the comforter. "No," she said softly. "Honey, you're not a vampire anymore, remember?" she prompted patiently. "That's why you don't need to drink blood anymore," *that's why everything hurts you like Hell,* "and that's why the sun can no longer burn you. I'll never let anything hurt you, trust me. Sweetie, take it off. Please, Angel."

"You promise?" he finally asked the question.

Buffy smiled with relief. She could tell he was coming out of it. "I promise."

Angel hesitantly removed the blanket, and looked up at her, flickering from obviously too much light at once.

Buffy beamed, stroking his face. "Well? You see? Just like I promised."

Angel straightened up in bed, and merely blinked at her. His eyes showed confusion and helplessness. Just like a little child, seeking for protection in his mother.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

He gazed at his body, as if in search for any possible singes or scalds, then, after he made sure he had none, looked up at her again.

Buffy smiled. She glanced out of the window, and then back at Angel. *Now it's the really hard part.* "Would you.would you like to.to go outside?" *There. I said it.*

Angel cast down his eyes immediately. He didn't need to verbalize his answer in order for her to understand.

*Damn.* "Why not?" she inquired, a little let down.

"I can't.yet. I just can't."

"You feel you're too weak?" There was concern in that question.

He shook his head. "It's not that."

"What is it, then?"

"I don't want to.to go outside, where there are.all these people, and.and see them. I don't want to see them. And I...I don't want them to see me..."

Buffy looked down. It was what she feared. That he wouldn't be able to coexist. She couldn't have him being afraid of people. She could only hope it was mutable. "Why?" she still asked, even though she could guess the answer would be...

"Because I don't. I...I can't."

*Bingo,* she thought sadly. She needed to cure that in him. He couldn't go on like that. Buffy gazed at him. There was pain in those beloved eyes. Pain, and fright, like she'd just asked him to do something no person would ever go for. She could see he really wasn't ready yet, but she could also see he'd never be ready, unless she pushed him to it. Buffy would never do that if she weren't sure it was essential. It wasn't only his fear from people that she needed to cure. It was he. He had been back for nearly a month now. For the first day or two, he was relatively okay. Then, unexpectedly, for the next several days, he was so weak he couldn't move. The pain and the affliction his human body imposed on him were just too much for him to bear. He was practically confined to bed then. And now he had improved so much, he was much stronger than before. But even though, Buffy knew he could never fully recuperate if he upheld his present lifestyle. He was spending his entire time in this dark room, without letting the sunshine in. He was mortal now. Human body needed sun, and fresh air to live, and he was receiving none of it. "Angel, please, for me. For the selfish me who doesn't want to lose the only thing she has." She practically begged him, because nothing else seemed to be working. "Don't you understand you can die?" A tear trickled down her cheek, and she didn't even notice it. "I can't let you die. Angel, you refuse to eat, you're lying here in the dark all the time.I can't let you die, Angel. I can't lose you. Don't you understand? Honey, please," she cupped his face in her hand.

Angel closed his eyes. He sighed before opening them again. Without saying a word, he slowly flung his legs over the side of the bed, and began pulling his slacks on.

Buffy beamed, and threw her arms around him, by that making him stop dressing himself and hug her back.

"Thank you," she whispered into his shoulder.

Angel smiled, gently caressing her back. "What damage a stroll can do, right?" Another inner voice prompted him he'd have to use all of his minimum present strength to make it through that 'stroll', but for her sake alone, he ignored it.

Buffy giggled and pulled back, her eyes shining with unbelievable happiness when she looked at him again. Angel was now sure about it more than ever. Just to see that precious smile, he'd ignore everything. "Right. And I promise, the moment you'll feel you're too tired, we'll go back."

Angel smiled. "I know," he kissed her forehead, "I love you."

Buffy only cuddled him again, snuggling in his lap. "Thank you," she repeated.

Angel gazed at the ocean. Then at the soft ivory sand he amassed on his palm and let it sluggishly leak through his fingers. Then he looked at the cerulean sky. There wasn't a cloud in them. And the shining rays of the sun, that played innocuously on his pale skin. The colors alone fascinated him to no end. It was splendid in his eyes, something he hadn't seen.in nearly two hundred and fifty years. He hadn't seen the world in so long, and now he wasn't able to stop looking. Nothing disappeared from his eyes. He abruptly realized how much he had missed all this, even though the last time he had seen it was so long ago, he could no longer remember it. The simplest things, that everyone take for granted, he was seeing for the first time in over two centuries. Everything looked so impeccable, and so perfect.he just couldn't stop. Inwardly, he was thanking his love for taking him out. He needed it, a lot more than he could ever imagine.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" she asked quietly. "I can't believe I've been taking it for granted all my life. I see it through your eyes now.and I can't stop looking. I feel like I see the real world for the first time."

Angel beamed, and wrapped one arm around her, pulling her closer to him. "Is what I feel really that obvious?"

She smiled, and nestled against him, digging in the sand with her toes. "No. I just always know what you feel."

He smiled in acknowledgement. "You always do," he kissed her crown.

Buffy cupped his face and turned him to her. "So," she began, "was it a good idea to put some color onto those cheeks?" she asked with a beam.

Angel returned her an even smile. "Yeah."

"Are you feeling better?" she wanted to know.

He shrugged, but the smile didn't fade from his lips. "It hurts," he admitted, and seeing the failure distinct on her face, added, "but not like before. You were right. I should have come out sooner, but without you, I probably never would have at all."

She wrapped her arms around his waist and snuggled against his chest. "I'm glad you have. I'm not ready to lose you yet, and besides, the sun looks good on you," she gazed up into his dark eyes. His softest orbs were, for the first time in as long as she could remember, shining with life. For all she cared, it was the most beautiful sight in the whole wide world. Sure, he was still lean and wan, and had dark circles underneath his eyes, but his image in the sun, was undeniably the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

Buffy hadn't noticed she was staring at him, until he gently pointed it out. She smiled, looking away for a moment. "Sorry. I couldn't help myself. It's just that.you.in the sun," she reached up her hand to tenderly stroke his cheek. "You're so beautiful," she said finally, losing herself in the endless depth of his eyes.

He beamed, reposing his palm on hers. "I know what you mean," he told her, "ever.ever since I met you, I pictured you.smiling in my arms.in the sun. I thought I'd never get to see that." He nuzzled her palm and kissed it gently. "You're the most beautiful sight. It's the little things that make you so distinctive. The way the sun puts sundry tinges in your hair, the way it makes your eyes sparkle, the way the sunshine meets your long lashes, and adds them a silvery touch. The way the rays illuminate your face just right." he put his hand on her face, tracing her lips with his thumb. "Beautiful," he summed up.

Buffy smiled, kissing his thumb while it was caressing her lips. "I love you so much," she whispered, tears sparkling in her eyes, and impending to leak out.

Angel hastened to gently brush away every single one of them. "Don't cry," he said softly.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled.

He leaned forward and kissed her nose, cupping her face in his both hands. "Don't cry," he repeated, now tenderly kissing her lips, "don't you ever cry," he murmured against them, in the mellowest tone Buffy had ever heard.

Buffy beamed. "I won't," she assured him.

He grinned, pulling her into his arms. "I love you," he whispered against her lips, before sealing them in a gentle kiss.

Part Six

Buffy woke up to the sound of her alarm clock, and sleepily stretched her hand across Angel's chest to turn off the vexatious noise. She snuggled back in her lover's arms and gazed up at his still sleeping face. Buffy beamed and stroked his cheek tenderly. He smiled, fastening his arms around her, but didn't wake up.

Buffy moved her hand to his exposed chest, mildly caressing its muscles. His skin had been clear of scars by now. Maybe only several had remained here and there, but in time, they would fade as well. It had been three months. Three months since he had returned from Hell. Buffy grinned inwardly, thinking of how much better he was. Almost all of his wounds had healed by now, and almost all of the marks had faded. He was slowly regaining his weight too. He was still not eating much, but it was more than after he had just come back. His strength was coming back to him as well. Apparently, for some reason they couldn't understand, he didn't lose it along with his immortality. He was smiling a lot more, and Buffy started catching glimpses of real happiness in his eyes occasionally, instead of the dolor that wonted there most of the time. Especially when he looked at her. When he looked at her, his eyes always glittered with pure and real happiness. She was so glad she could make him so genuinely happy, and she was even gladder that now it was allowed. Angel was slowly permitting himself to feel again, to open up to his new world and his new life and embrace them as a gift. With her help, he had learned how to feel worthy of this gift, and THIS was the most important progress he had made, as far as Buffy was concerned.

But it wasn't just that. It was everything. Buffy was so proud of him for everything he had attained in the past couple of months. He was slowly rebuilding himself, both physically and mentally, and he was doing great. Buffy knew he still suffered, she knew he was still hurting. What kind of a person would she be if she didn't notice? Buffy knew he would never get rid of it utterly, he couldn't. It was an encumbrance he would have to bear for the rest of his life, and she hated herself for being liable for his eternal Hell. He was the man she loved more than anything else in the world, and whenever he was feeling the slightest of pains, she was feeling it too. And there weren't only the memories from Hell. Buffy knew she would never rid him of them, but nor she would rid him of the guiltiness and the remorse, and THEY were his second Hell. These things were a part of him, and even his humanity - that was supposed to bring redemption and ease to his tormented soul - couldn't make them evaporate completely, and so couldn't his time in Hell. Whatever he had been through there, and he had never told Buffy of it, he still didn't feel he had made amends. If anything, his time in Hell impaired him, not relieved him. He still suffered from the nightmares. Of course, they were a lot less frequent now, but it didn't mean they weren't there. They were diminished, and it was one more thing Buffy was so happy about. In the past month, he had only five grim attacks. It was an accomplishment for itself. Before, he would have a nightmare sometimes more than once per day. She had no doubt, he was getting better.

And the lack of this doubt was the only reason she was coming back to work today. Well, technically, it was that and the fact that today her boss was coming back from his vocation, and therefore Kelly couldn't cover for her any longer.

Buffy nestled in Angel's embrace, rubbing her body against his like a delighted kitten. Today! Of all days, her boss needed to pick TODAY to get back! *Couldn't he have stayed a little longer? Hawaii is nice.away.* Today. It was the perfect day to wake up in Angel's arms. It proved Buffy everything that had been transpiring for the past three months wasn't a fantasy, that it was real, that Angel was really back, and that they were together again.and that now there was no stupid curse to ever drive them apart again. After the empty bed she had woken up into on the morning after her seventeenth birthday, and all that had happened afterwards, THIS was the day Buffy had been waiting for ever since. To wake up in Angel's arms. Today. To know it wasn't a dream.

But she still had to get up. Buffy reposed her head on his chest, and closed her eyes to the sound of his beating heart. *So, who cares? So I'll be a little late.*

The problem was that when she opened her eyes again, Buffy learned that her 'a little late' had already come to thirty minutes. She jumped off the bed, and got ready for work in a record time.

After she was fully dressed and ready to go, she stopped, granting one final gaze at the still slumbering Angel. She hated leaving him. *He'll be okay,* she was promising herself, but still.*What if he won't be? What if something happens to him and I won't be there when he needs me?* So many what ifs.

Angel was there when Kelly phoned yesterday, telling her it was time to get back to work. He knew she wasn't going to be home today, and he convinced her he'd be alright by himself, that she had nothing to worry about. But she was still worried. Buffy had never abominated her job as she did today. She took a deep breath and stalked over to the bed. She had no choice, she had to go. They could live on her savings for the past months, but they weren't going to last forever. Buffy leaned forward and gently kissed his brow. She covered him, and slightly shaded the window, so that the sunlight wouldn't intrude on his slumber. Then she kissed him again, and left for work.

Valerie, who had been apathetically staring into space, while Kelly was serving a customer, abruptly elbowed her friend in the ribs.

"Aw!" Kelly moaned in irritation. "What was that for?" she gave the guy his change and turned to Valerie.

Valerie gesticulated towards the entrance. "Check this out!"

A tall and handsome man entered the diner. He was wearing black pants, and a white shirt that was tucked in them, showing his perfectly built frame and giving him an elegant look. It wasn't buttoned all the way up, and hence exposed some of his impressive muscular chest. In one of his hands he was holding a beautiful carmine rose.

"I'm telling you, Kell, my bachelorhood days are SO over." She started towards the man, but Kelly pulled her back by the sleeve. "What are you doing?" Valerie inquired with both annoyance and misunderstanding.

Kelly grinned. "Trying to spare you the embarrassment."

"What're you talking about?"

Kelly grinned even wider. "He's taken."

Valerie narrowed her eyes in frustration. "By whom?"

Just then Angel approached the two girls.

"Hey, Angel," Kelly greeted him with a smile. "How's outside?"

"Hey," he smiled back, "sunny."

Kelly laughed at his answer, understanding the full signification of it.

Valerie blushed slightly and turned to Kelly. "By you?"

Kelly giggled. "Yeah, right. I wish." Then she turned back to Angel, who was gazing around as if in search for someone. "Hey, big guy!" ahe snapped her fingers before his face, bringing him to focus on her. When he did, she grinned, pointing to a table in the far end of the diner. "The love of your life is over there."

A wide beam lit Angel's face once his eyes found his little Slayer.

"Wait here," Kelly told him, "I'll go get her for you."

Buffy stopped taking the order, and rotated at the feeling of somebody's fingers tapping on her back. It was Kelly. "Kell, I'm kinda in the middle of something here, incase you haven't noticed."

Kelly beamed mischievously. "You have a visitor." Without waiting for a reply, she took the pad from Buffy and smiled at the people around the table. "Hi, what can I get you?"

Buffy turned to the direction Kelly had gestured at formerly, and her astonished gaze met with Angel's smiling orbs.

He hardly had time to put the rose aside before she launched herself into his open arms, nearly striking him off his feet by that. She wrapped her legs around his waist, and her arms around his neck, beaming at him happily. "What are you doing here?" she asked with surprise.

Angel slowly put her back on the ground, because holding her in his arms like that still wasn't an easy task. But when she looked up at him, he merely beamed, gently kissed her lips, and wrapped one arm around her shoulders, taking the flower in his other hand and leading her to a table, where they sat down.

"I missed you," he stroked her cheek, "so I thought I'd come visit you at work," he smiled.

Buffy moved into his lap and looked into his deep chocolate eyes. "If you keep doing that, I think I'm gonna like coming to work after all."

Angel wrapped his arms around her and kissed her nose. "That means if I don't do it, you'll stay home?" he grinned.

Buffy giggled. "Looks like somebody has it all planned already." She reposed her head into the crook of his neck, as he was gently stroking her blonde hair. "How are you feeling?" she inquired.

"I'm here, aren't I?" he kissed the top of her head.

She stroked his chest gently, for the meantime letting the fact that he had ignored her question drop. "You are."

Angel picked the rose from the table and traced it down from Buffy's forehead to her lips, where she took it from him, inhaling its aroma.

"Is it for me?" she asked.

He nodded, his fingertips mildly caressing her nape. "I'm sorry it's all I can give you right now. Happy birthday, my love," he whispered, and kissed her lips.

Buffy smiled. "You remembered," she observed inaudibly.

He reinforced his arms around her. "Of course, I remembered. It isn't only the birthday of the only woman I love, but it is also the date of the happiest day of my life, how could I ever forget it?"

Buffy looked up at him, and he detected tears in her eyes. "Thank you," she whispered.

"Thank me for what?"

"For saying it was the happiest day of your life."

Angel kissed the tears off her eyes tenderly. "It was, love," he kissed her lips, "and you know what the most wonderful thing is?"

Buffy sniffled and smiled. "What?"

Angel beamed. "This is just how the rest of our lives is gonna be like."

"You promise?"

He nodded. "We have an unfinished business since your seventeenth birthday."

She studied him in wonder.

Angel brought the upside of his right hand before her eyes, and Buffy gently stroked the silver ring on his ring finger, her eyes glancing down on her own. "Do you know what it means?" he asked.

She nodded. "You told me."

He shook his head. "Then you don't know."

She gazed at him with misunderstanding. "You didn't tell me?"

He smiled. "I never finished." Angel took in a deep breath. "Buffy.technically.you're my wife."

She gaped at him.

He looked down, to avoid her piercing eyes. "From the moment you accepted the ring, you have been my wife," he completed his rationalization.

Buffy was still gaping at him. She climbed off his knees, to Angel's unmistakable consternation. "Your.what?"

"And you're not too happy about it," he observed bitterly. "Maybe I should have told you before."

But Buffy threw her arms around him before he could complete his sentence, with an exhilarated squeal that drew all the eyes in the restaurant to them. But they didn't seem to mind. Angel wrapped her in a tight embrace, and the force of her body landing on his, almost knocked them both off the chair.

"What the Hell is going on here?!" they heard an aggravated male voice behind them.

Buffy pulled off, and they managed to sit upright in the chair, Buffy still in Angel's lap, with his arms protectively around her.

The man glared down at her, with both scorn and wrath. "Get back to work, Summers!" he finally snapped at her contemptibly. "If you wanna be working here at all. Despite what you sluts are thinking, I'm running a business here and not a public house!"

Buffy looked away, not even trying to hinder her smirk. She wanted so much to beat her boss up once and for all, but couldn't risk losing her job, so she was forced to put up with that over and over again. This time, however, Angel was here, and Angel WASN'T going to put up with that.

Before she realized what was happening, he lifted her off off him, and in a split second, Angel's hand was suffocating her bosses neck, shaking his body in the air like the nothing he was. He tried to unfasten the deadly grip around his throat, but it was pointlessly. Angel shook him until the terrified man's attention was focused on him, then he flung him onto the table, not releasing his hand from around his neck. "If you talk to her like that again, I'll rip your tongue out," he hissed menacingly, and shook him again, "understood?"

The man tried to speak, but couldn't utter a word. He was quickly running out of oxygen. Angel loosened his grasp and let go of his neck, grabbing him by the collar, and standing him back on his feet. "And by the way," he added, "starting now, she's not working for you anymore."

Then he completely let go of him and rotated to face Buffy's stunned gaze. The crowd that had congregated around them to witness everything, had already scattered.

Suddenly, Angel doubled over and groaned in pain. Buffy enveloped her arms around him and seated him on a chair, stroking his hair. "Honey, are you alright?"

Angel bent down, with one arm around his waist and his other hand pressing against his knee. He nodded, but the pained grimace still hadn't faded from his face. 

"Angel?" She put one hand on his shoulder and propped his chin up with the other. Her voice now received a slightly terrified shade.

He took a deep breath. "Don't worry about anything. After you live for two hundred and forty three years, you assemble a little fortune of your own. You will never have to work for this asshole again, I can assure you that."

She stroked his face, and smiled at his so expected 'Angel-thinking'. "It wasn't what I meant."

He finally straightened and beamed. "I'm fine. Don't worry here either. I guess I'll just have to wait a little longer before I start pummeling guys again." He stood up slowly and took Buffy's hand. "Let's go home, okay?"

Buffy smiled and pulled Angel after her towards the counter, when they met the incredulity stares of Kelly and Valerie.

"Can I just say.wow," Kelly voiced her thoughts.

"Yeah, it's like, nobody had ever said anything like that to the moron before. It took guts," Valerie agreed.

Angel chuckled.

Buffy gazed up at him, with love shining in her eyes, and snaked her arms around his waist. Angel put one arm around her shoulders and she clung to his side, her body looking even smaller, in contrast to his broad manly frame.

"Nice bodyguard you have there, Buff," Valerie commented with a grin, then she turned to Angel. "How long have you two been dating? I haven't seen you around before."

"For two years," Buffy replied.

"I was away for a while," Angel explained.

"On business," Buffy added. "Well, so I'm off. As you probably saw, my bodyguard has just got me fired," she said, smiling, meeting Angel's lips in a kiss.

"Get a room, you two!" Kelly exclaimed playfully.

"Okay." Buffy whispered, as her palm slowly roamed into the back pocket of Angel's slacks. She suddenly thought again of how wonderful it felt to make love to him on her seventeenth birthday. She longed to experience that feeling again.

He grinned at her devilishly, obviously reading her thoughts, as she felt his other arm also closing around her waist.

"See you later, gals," Buffy smiled at the two as she and Angel left.

"Life isn't fair," Valerie sighed, staring longingly at the two of them.

Kelly only laughed.

On to Closing Chapters