Rating:You all can read it.
Disclaimer:Everything belongs to Joss, nothing belongs to me.
Spoilers:Okay, not sure here. Well, I'd say season 3 in general. Anyhow - (1) Cordy and Xander had never broken up, (2) Faith is NOT evil. She's just Faith, (3) everything that has happened since "Becoming 2" in my story HASN'T happened, (4) no Ascension, no mayor, no Spike coming back (k, so maybe he did come back...I haven't decided yet...), and...(5) Joyce will always be Joyce...
Summary: A sequel to "A Broken Angel", which was a sequel to "Remember Me". You kinda have to read the first two fics to really get the plot (or I think you have to...:)). The synopsis is pretty much - Buffy saved Angel from Hell, and he's human. Take it from here. Anyway, this fic concentrates on tying loose ends or so to speak with the Sunnydale gang (and mommy Joyce...).
Note: Even long after the physical wounds had healed, the mental ones hadn't. Not by a long shot. Now, they both have to face their past, and this is the real trial. I guess you'll just see what's coming then...............:)
"God, Angel, this is amazing!" Buffy exclaimed after Angel brought the last of their begs into their new house.
"You already said that," Angel beamed and wrapped his arms around her waist, pressing her back against his chest.
Buffy gazed around the room. Just like the back and front yards, the inside of the house really was beautiful. Buffy and Angel had furnished it prior to moving in, so it already held within it the cozy and warm aspect of a home, when they arrived with the last begs from the old apartment. It was their dream house. Not too big, and not too small. Just enough for the two of them and their kids...*Kids*. Buffy beamed to the thought of the infant growing inside of her. Angel's child.
It had been almost six months since Angel had come back from Hell. His body had completely recovered by now, which was good, mainly because he'd taken over the slaying ever since they had discovered Buffy was expecting, which was almost two months ago. *Probably happened on the night of my eighteenth birthday, when we first made love after he'd returned,* she smiled dreamily at that memory. Waking up in his loving arms after making love to him on her birthday, and finding him smiling at her, was the best gift she'd ever received.
Later, finding out she was pregnant was the biggest and the best surprise of both her and Angel's lives, because they both had thought Angel was infertile. Buffy knew he surmised he couldn't have children. She knew ever since that time he'd imparted her about it while she had been doing her egg-project. She also knew he was agonized by it. He could have made a wonderful father, she'd thought so many times. It hurt her every time to see him tormenting himself over this, and not only because he himself couldn't have kids, but mostly because he felt guilty for robbing Buffy of the chance to ever have any.
Buffy had started crying too when she saw the tears of happiness twinkle in his soft eyes when she told him she was pregnant. She'd very rarely seen Angel cry, and THIS was the first time she saw him cry from pure happiness. It was priceless. When she lay in his arms later that night, the last thing he whispered in her ear before kissing her good night, was that she made his dreams come true.
Becoming human from some reason hadn't cost him his vampiric strength, and Buffy was glad it was so. She knew he wouldn't stand the fact of not being capable to protect his family. But although he was alright physically, his mental state was another issue. He was perfectly fine on the outside, but what was happening inside of him... He'd never told Buffy about his undergoing in Hell, and she'd never pressed him to tell. She knew he would, when he'd feel he can talk about it, and she could wait for him to open up when he's ready.
Angel wasn't as brooding as before, and not as guilt ridden. He tended to smile and to laugh more often, he was more open to new things and to new people, and more at peace with himself, and with the world. It wasn't really a surprise though, because after living with Buffy for half a year, he was finally convinced he truly deserved it all. He learned to accept this happiness, after centuries of anguish, instead of pushing it away and declining it. He was happy. No, he didn't just was, but he also allowed himself to be. He was happy with the only woman he loved.
And Buffy...well, she couldn't have asked for more. After months of grief, woe and loneliness, her life knew happiness once more. The man she loved more than anything came back from the dead, to be with her forever. She was eaten with guilt after Angel had died, because she was blaming herself for his death. The experience of going to Hell and saving him, granted her a small, but a substantial amount of peace of mind. She had done something good for him after all. After being the one to send him to Hell, she was the one who had saved him. It was a small console, because after she spent months in helping him to recover, and seeing what they had turned him into and how they bruised him, she wanted to kill herself for putting him through this, but as much as it was small, it was large. Together with his tight embrace, it allowed her to sleep at night.
They got married legally not later than a week after her eighteenth birthday. A week afterwards, Angel pulled some strings (Buffy didn't even know he knew people, and especially people with authority and power, but Angel only explained that he had managed to set up a circle of acquaintances in his years), and after having to do various tests and catching up, Buffy enrolled into a high school in LA, to finish the seven months or so that remained until the end of the year, and graduate properly.
A couple of months later, they bought this house. Buffy still didn't understand how Angel could ever afford it, considering neither one of them was working. They subsisted only on the money Angel had collected in his days as Angelus, seemingly in every possible bank in Europe, some even in US, and some buried or hidden in numerous places around the world only he knew of. Angel had once told Buffy that Angelus was very sagacious whenever it came to do with funds. Having money always and everywhere, he never lacked anything. Now, it was paying off. The house alone was a proof of that.
The feeling of his warm lips nibbling her neck brought her back from her reverie. "What are you thinking about?" he whispered in her ear.
She rotated to face him, but remained in his strong arms. "You," she smiled, and he kissed the tip of her nose. "Me, us, our baby...everything that's been going on. Everything's finally falling into place. I guess I just can't believe this is real." She giggled suddenly. "Jesus, Angel, you actually bought us a house with a picked fence!"
Angel grinned. "I thought it suited us," he explained. "You know," he lifted her up in his arms, carrying her up the stairs into their new bedroom, "It just screamed for me to buy it."
She chuckled. "Did it?"
"Oh, yeah," he nodded and kissed her, gingerly reposing her down on the bed, "and we really need to inaugurate it too."
Buffy beamed, encircling her arms around his neck and lowering his head. "We really do," she whispered hoarsely before kissing him gently.
Angel heard a knock on the door, while reading in the living room. He glanced at his watch. *Probably Buffy's back from school...she has her key, though,* with that thought still in his head, he headed towards the door.
Angel froze on the spot, just as the person whom he had opened the door for. Both of them were wordless, too shocked to say anything or do anything.
Eventually, Angel averted his eyes in pain, and began quickly retreating into the bedroom, leaving the front door open for the other person to come in.
When Angel laid his hand on the knob of the bedroom's door, he stiffened for a second, but still didn't dare to look at the man. He opened the door and swiftly shut it behind him, locking it from the inside.
The other man walked into the main room and looked around. His eyes halted on a few strewn ultrasound pictures. *No, I'm sure I didn't see right...* He picked them from the table they lay on and flipped through them. No, he wasn't wrong. His eyes widened in astonishment as he went on riffling through them. Then, his gaze proceeded to a set of framed pictures on the mantelpiece. He took one of them, and stared at it with an even blunter amazement than before, not believing his eyes. It was a photograph of Buffy and Angel, holding each other and smiling happily. On the beach. In the sun.
"Honey?" Buffy called as she entered the house and locked the front door. "Angel, I'm home!" she called for him again, but received no answer.
Buffy shrugged and took off her large sweater, remaining only in a short blue summery dress that hardly reached her knees in length, and hanged on lean straps from her shoulders. Now, her gravid abdomen was out in the open. She was already five months along pregnant. When she wasn't wearing the giant clothes she usually wore to school, her belly was more than a little noticeable. She stretched while pacing further into the living room and tossed her school bag on one of the couches, perching down on another.
Buffy held an envelope in her hand, turning and bending it, but not opening. From some inexplicable reason, it arrived with a three months' delay, but it was finally here. She leaned back on the cushions, gently rubbing her round abdomen. "See," she spoke to the baby inside of her in a soft voice, "your daddy decided to go somewhere. Today, when I finally brought my SAT's scores, and thought we could open them together. And now I'm gonna have to wait," she added in a more upset tone, but still playfully, "cuz I don't have the guts to open it alone." Then she smiled and put both of her palms on her belly, looking down at it, not at all aware of somebody standing behind her. "But after we open it, daddy will bake us this yummy cake he knows we love so much," she grinned even wider, caressing her stomach. "Isn't it gonna be great? You know, cuz with needing to feed you too, mommy is starving. And you know what we're gonna do tomorrow? Daddy will take us to the beach..." Buffy muted abruptly, hearing a familiar voice saying her name.
She turned around, to face the owner of the voice. "Oh, God," her eyes grew larger, until they nearly jumped out of her head. She stood up slowly, holding to her abdomen. As she walked around the sofa to face him, his eyes lay on her pregnancy. Buffy wrapped her arms protectively around her belly. "Giles," she hissed his name.
He looked down. "Hello, Buffy."
Suddenly, a thought materialized in her head. *Angel.* "Where is he?" she inquired, her tone troubled.
Giles was more than A LITTLE hurt by that question. *Is THAT what she cares about now?* "Depends who we are talking about." He didn't mean to sound mocking, nor mad, but he did.
Buffy wasn't in the mood for fun. The only thing she could think about was Angel and Giles in the same house. She knew how Angel was deploring over what he had done as Angelus, and especially what he had done to Giles. That was one of the things that tormented him the most, because he respected and looked up to Giles. He despised himself for what his demon had done to this man. "No more games," she said sharply.
"I'm not here to play any," was his flat response.
"Good," she folded her arms on her chest. It was so NOT the way she pictured seeing Giles again, but the only one she was concerned for right now, was not Giles. "That makes two of us. Why are you here?"
He groaned. "I've been looking for you. I've been doing it ever since I realized you weren't going to come back."
"And when was that exactly?"
"Right after you left."
Buffy returned to the presently significant matter. They'd have time to catch up afterwards. She really hoped nothing had happened between Giles and Angel while she wasn't home. There was no way of knowing how her husband would react to seeing Giles again. She had been working so hard, trying to make him forget all about these formidable times. *What will he do now, that everything is back in full force?* "Where is he?"
"In the bedroom," Giles replied involuntarily, "he locked himself in there the moment he saw me and hasn't come out ever since."
She started treading in the direction of the room.
"Buffy, we need to talk."
She attempted to open the door, but it wasn't giving in. "You need to talk," she answered, "I need to see if my husband is okay. It's A LITTLE more important to me now, if you excuse me." She tried to open the door again. "Angel? Sweetie, please open the door for me," she spoke softly, "Angel, open the door, it's just me. It's okay. Honey, let me in."
There was no moving heard from inside the room.
Buffy sighed. She paced towards the front door and removed a knot of keys from a hook. When she returned to the door, she stuck one of the keys into the keyhole and turned it. The door opened, and she silently stepped into the dusky room, leaving Giles outside.
Buffy reached her hand to turn the lights on, but at the last minute, changed her mind. She made her way to the large bed, and sat down. She crept up to Angel and reposed her hand gently on his shoulder. "Honey?" she rocked him slightly, as if in an attempt to wake him up. "Angel?"
He didn't react, but once Buffy wrapped her arms around his lying frame, he suddenly stood up and walked towards the large window, sitting down on its sill seat.
Buffy rose from the bed and walked after him. She put her palm on his cheek and turned his face to her. "Did he tell you anything?" she asked.
Angel sighed, and only shook his head 'no'.
"Did he do anything?"
He shook his head again.
Buffy peered him deep in the eye, tenderly brushing her palm over his cheek. "Angel, it's okay."
He finally spoke, his voice fractured. "I can't go out there."
She took his hands in hers. "Angel, you have to."
"I don't," he said unequivocally.
"Angel, maybe not today, but in the end," she sighed, "you have to. It's inevitable."
"I don't HAVE TO do anything," he persisted.
He freed his hands from hers and strode to the opposite end of the room. "I can't," he tried to explain.
Buffy walked after him. "Sweetheart, this is Giles. He won't do anything to you. Your demon did all those things, not you. You always have to remember that. And he understands it, I'm sure he does."
Angel only smirked in return.
"This is the kind of person he is. He DOESN'T hate you."
He sniggered grievously. "You don't understand, do you? This is NOT Giles who's out there. Out there, is a man who was tormented up to enormous pain, and who lost the woman he loved. Do you know WHY he was tortured? Because I tortured him! Do you know WHY he lost the woman he loved? Because I murdered her!" His voice cracked again, and he spoke more quietly. "Even if he doesn't do anything to me, I can't look into his eyes."
Buffy beheld him with compassion, and put her hand on his arm. "Angel, listen to me..."
"No, you listen. You don't understand. This is the one thing you CAN'T understand. You have no idea how it's like to kill, how it's like to murder someone, and then see before your eyes the face of that person for the rest of your life, and the faces of the people who were left behind. To bear in mind the dread and the despair in their eyes, as you take their..." Angel suddenly stifled and peered at Buffy, "life," he whispered. *Oh, my God, how could I?*
Buffy stood there, her eyes fixed to the floor, her lower lip trembling, as she was doing all she could to hinder the imminent tears from erupting.
Angel approached her. "God, I'm sorry," he gathered her shaking frame into his loving embrace. "My love, I'm so sorry."
She clung to him, crying into his chest.
He kissed her head gently. "Please, forgive me, Buffy. I can't believe I said this...I'm so sorry," the tears started in his eyes as well. *How could I say this to her?!*
Buffy freed herself from his arms, and reached her hand up to his cheek, gazing into his deep brown eyes. She smiled sadly through her tears. "In this department, Angel, you will NEVER be more experienced than I am." She removed her palm from his cheek and took his hand in hers, pulling him towards the bed and sitting down.
Angel sat too, saying nothing, but awaiting for her to speak.
Buffy inhaled a deep breath, and put both her hands on his shoulders. "Me and Giles are in a way, very much alike," she started softly, looking him straight in the eye. "We both...lost someone we loved. I don't know how much Giles really loved Jenny, but I know that when I lost you...I lost everything. I know how he felt, maybe feels now, because I went through the same. I still do, sometimes. You asked me once, more than once, what was the real reason why I ran away, and I never gave a full or a genuine answer. Well...I guess now I have to." She brushed the tears from her eyes and moved closer to Angel, taking his hand in hers, as he put his other arm around her shoulders. She gazed up at him. "You know what it was for me? Had been, for the six months after you left and before I brought you back? Ever since I drove that sword through you, I told you to close your eyes...because I was too much of a coward to face the unspeakable amount of the hurt and the treachery in them. Ever since then, I couldn't let go of that picture. I was replaying it over and over and over in my head, and God knows it wasn't because I wanted to, it was because I had to. Your eyes, and your hand reaching out for me, pleading for me to save you...I felt it was almost touching me, and I prayed that it'd grab me and take me with you. And you saying you love me, you saying my name, it echoes I my ears until now, and it won't let go. As I was reliving that morning again and again, as I was killing you in my head again and again, I was killing myself. From the inside. You meant the world to me. I loved you more than anything, and it took so little...so little, to lose you." The tears broke out again, and Buffy leaned into his arms, as Angel was mildly stroking her back, cuddling her close. "I wanted, just as Giles, to destroy the person who's responsible. That's why I left. I thought that if I walked away from everything and everyone I knew, I'd be able to destroy myself. Not literally of course, cuz I would never have the spunk it takes to commit suicide. I'm too weak even for that," she giggled bitterly. "Only God knows I wanted to die after what I had done to you, and I deserved to die. When I said 'destroy myself', I meant that I wanted to shun from it all, destroy this part in me that loved you, the part that ached and grieved, the part that was me. This was what he felt. He wanted to destroy you. From the very same reason I wanted to destroy myself. But unlike me, he didn't take the easy way out. While I ran away, he stayed. He stayed where I couldn't, to fight his demons. I guess he still does. I know sometimes I am. But here comes the difference, Angel. Now, he's still alone, but I am not. I have you. Every time I recollect that horror, I open my eyes, and I find you sleeping next to me, with your arms around me, and all of a sudden, as far as I care, this has never happened. I know I have you back, and I have you forever, and this is all I care about." She reposed her head against his beating heart. "I know I can feel you again," she whispered, "I know I can love you again. And I know that nothing will ever take you away from me again and nothing will ever ruin what we have, because..."
"We won't let it," he completed her, tenderly stroking her blond hair.
She looked up at him and beamed, as his thumbs were mildly wiping the tears away from her face. "I won't pressure you," she stroked his cheek lightly, "I know exactly how you feel, Angel. I know guiltiness, and I know betrayal. Not because I experienced them, but because I created them. It's gonna be you who'll decide when you want to face everything. I know you'll do it, I just...I want you to know, that whenever it happens, I'll always be there for you." She hugged him and kissed his lips softly.
Angel smiled. "I know."
Buffy stood up, heading towards the door.
"Where are you going?" he asked her.
She grinned bitterly. "I don't have the luxury of waiting. I have to face him now." She took a few steps back towards Angel, kissed him one more time and caressed his cheek. "Don't worry," she smiled, "it'll be okay." Then Buffy closed the door on Angel.
He sat down on the bed, and propped his head on his hands, his eyes staring vacantly at the floor.
"Can I get you something?" Buffy asked Giles once sitting in silence for about ten minutes made her too high strung.
"No, thank you," he replied diffidently, keeping his eyes on the wedding ring on her finger.
It started to badger Buffy. "Yes, Giles, I'm married. And pregnant too. Get on with it." She didn't mean to sound so hostile. For a moment it frightened even her.
"How could you?" he queried humbly. "How could you have married him?"
She chuckled. "Excuse me? I'm eighteen, incase I need to remind you, so I can pretty much do whatever I want. And yeah, you know, marrying the man that I love was probably one of those stupid decisions you do as a teen and later classify them as mistakes and learn from them." *In this point I was too sarcastic,* she pointed to herself.
"After everything he's done, Buffy? You seriously want to tell me that your.love, has survived through THAT?"
She grinned. "As you can see, it has." Then her grin vanished. "Was that what you came here for? Because if you're here to insult Angel, and in his own home, the door is over there," she pointed at the entrance.
Giles sighed. "I think you know well why I'm here. It has nothing to do with Angel, or at least, HAD nothing to do with him, until I found out he was not only alive, but also human, married to you, and expecting to be the father of your baby."
Buffy only nodded. "Okay. So, what do you wanna know?"
"All of it. How about you start from the very beginning?"
Buffy bit her lower lip and cast her eyes to the floor. Then she bent forward and picked a framed photograph of her and Angel's together from the table, the same one Giles had been looking at before. Then she started to speak, her eyes never leaving his face on the picture. "Okay. You wanna hear the beginning? Fine. Angel wasn't Angelus when I killed him that morning at the mansion. Willow must have tried the spell again, and.and he changed. It.it must have worked, because I.I killed Angel." A lone tear escaped her eye and her fingertips tenderly caressed his smiling face. She swallowed. "I wasn't able to deal with it. I wasn't able to deal with anything at the time. I just wanted to die. All I knew was that I killed my Angel." A small sob escaped her pursed lips, and more tears followed, but she brushed them away quickly. She felt she just couldn't talk about that without Angel being there, even if only to prove her once more that he's alive. She thought the picture would be enough, but she very soon realized nothing would compare to the feeling of his loving arms around her. "Do you need any more details regarding to why I left?" she inquired throatily.
"I'm so sorry," was all he could say.
"Yeah, right, you are. Whole of you, in fact, except for that one part that was probably screaming with joy once you found out Angel was dead," she smirked. "The least you can do, Giles, is not lie to me. You CAN'T be sorry. Anyway, it's done. I killed him, and I needed to live with that. So, I'm SORRY if slaying WASN'T my paramount concern, and I'm SORRY I didn't want to face any single one of you. I thought, if I ran away, it'd make it easier. I'm sorry if you're displeased."
"I.had no idea. Buffy, if only you told me.if only I knew."
"Don't feed me with this crap, Giles! You wouldn't care less, and we both know it!" she shouted at him, her tears still hadn't stopped.
Giles looked down. "I don't know how I would act in your place. I had no idea you needed to kill Angel."
She sighed. "Let's.not dwell in that, okay? Please."
"Alright. Then tell me how he'd returned. He couldn't have escaped Hell, for all I know. No one can. How did it happen?"
"I kinda.well, tried to leave behind me all that had anything to do with slaying. I.I never wanted to pick up a weapon again. But.a few months after I came to LA, there was this thing.this portal to Hell or something, that was opened, and there were these demons that were luring teenagers in there, to be their slaves..." she waved her hand, "anyway, it's not important. Who if not me had to come close it, of course. Which I did. Killed, slayed.you know the drill. What happened after that was that the nightmare I'd been living in since.I killed him, and the guilt, it only grew stronger. I felt I was practically going insane. I've been to Hell, now. I knew what a dreadful place it really was, and I KNEW, into what I sent Angel, and where he'd been for the past centuries. Several weeks after that incident, I met an old woman. She was all arcane and stuff, said she knew I had a problem, and.she knew how to help me. I didn't buy that at first, cuz I thought she was some crazy person or something, so I ignored her, until she mentioned Angel. Needless to say she caught me there. I struggled with the decision whether I'll go to her, but at the end.I just needed to get this out of my system. I needed someone to help me.to let go. I figured.this was one fight I couldn't win by myself."
"Was her name.Eliza?"
"Yeah, how did you?."
"Eliza is an ancient demon. Very ancient. She's a good demon. Most of the demons are destined to destroy the earth, but she's one of those few who are here to help. She comes across people only when they're in an indisputably desperate need for help. You were lucky she found you."
Buffy grinned. "Tell me about it. She helped me. She talked to me about Angel. She made me tell, and she wanted to listen too, and.only by that, she made it better. I never thought anyone would want to listen. Then she said something that didn't only make me feel better, but also gave me hope. She said I could change things, that I still had a chance to save Angel. I could do it, by returning to Hell and making him remember. Remember all we shared, all we've been through, how much we loved each other. She gave me five days. If I made him remember in five days, I'd be allowed to take him back with me," she took a deep breath. "It was horrible to be there, Giles. To see how they tortured him, and abused him, by any means, both conjecturable and not. They ruined him. They hurt him so much, that you can't imagine. It took me.three months to make him at least relatively better, and he's STILL not fully over it. I doubt he'll ever truly be. The most difficult part was.it was to see that they made him forget me, us. But what happened eventually was that I did it. I got him out of there, and I brought him back. Eliza also told us that by his torment in Hell, Angel made amends for his sins, and therefore deserved his redemption, so she awarded him with his humanity. Months have gone by since then. Angel and I were married a week after my eighteenth birthday, then Angel put me back in school so that I could graduate. We found out I was pregnant something like two months afterwards, and then we bought this house and moved in here. That's about the whole story. Anything I've missed?"
"This is the most.extraordinary thing I have ever heard," Giles recognized. "I have seen plenty of.odd events in my years, but this one.I have never heard of someone who's been able to return from Demons' Dimension, and still maintain his old self, still remain a person."
"Does it mean what I think it means?"
Giles gave her a questioning look.
"Do you finally see Angel as a person?"
"Let's not go there, Buffy," he averted his gaze.
"No, I think we must," she said resolutely. "Do you think he doesn't repent? Do you think he doesn't care? It eats him inside, I know that. God, he can't even look at you because he's so ashamed of something HE HASN'T DONE. He deserves your forgiveness. He earned it. Damn, he earned more. You can't possibly hurt him more than how he'd been hurt FOR CENTURIES in Hell, so don't even bother trying. Try to forgive him instead. Do it. At least, for my sake, if not for his. He needs it. You said it yourself once, that forgiveness is done not because people deserve it, but because they need it, that it's an act of compassion. Now, the question rises, whether you're man enough to back up your own words. Are you?"
"Buffy, you are not being fair. You can't ask me to forgive. It doesn't matter that he's human. It doesn't matter Angelus can never surface again. None of it all will ever erase the memory of being tortured, or will never allow me to regain Jenny. She's gone, Buffy. Forever. Because of him. You don't know how I feel."
"Oh, no. Not you too!" she yelled at him angrily. "You have no idea, Giles. I know more than you'd ever know! You may have lost Jenny, but you've never KILLED the person you loved more than life! But I have, so don't you dare to patronize me, you got that?! It wasn't him who killed her, and it wasn't him who tortured you, and you know it as much as I do, still, it's so easy to blame him, isn't it, Giles? It's so EASY to throw it all on his shoulders, cuz the demon isn't here so blame, so let's torment the soul, right, Giles?! You disgust me," she spat, then fixed her gaze on her Watcher. "HE didn't torture you. HE didn't kill her...but it also wasn't you. YOU didn't KILL the one you loved."
"You got him back, Buffy."
"So? Yes, I got him back, and yes, I would probably die if I didn't, but the bottom line is that it DOESN'T make a difference in this specific matter. I killed him. I took his life. This will NEVER change, and I will have to live with it forever, so don't make it as if you know the world, because you don't. FOR ONCE, I know better, and I ask you to forgive him," her voice softened, "because, if you don't, you can forget about me. It's a package deal, Giles. It's either both of us, or none of us. Take it or leave it. It's up to you to choose. I WON'T let you, or anyone, ever hurt him again." It was a very lucid ultimatum.
Giles averted his gaze. He knew that in a sense, she was right, he couldn't deny that. He also couldn't really abominate Angel. Giles was intelligent enough to see that he might have been wearing the face of a murderer, but he wasn't one. HE hadn't killed Jenny. HE hadn't tortured him. HE hadn't hurt a living creature in his entire life. The one who did it was now gone, for good. "What if I promised to treat him fairly?"
"I'd say that's your choice. If that's all you're up to, I'm very sorry for you."
"Look. I obviously can't convince you to do the right thing. So, let's just skip that part, okay? As long as you don't hurt him, IN ANY WAY, it's fine by me."
"Alright," Giles settled, "is he.is he going to ever come out?"
"He'll come out, the moment he'll feel he's ready. Your present attitude, however, doesn't support it to be anytime soon."
"You're not changing sides, are you?"
"I don't think it's called taking sides. It isn't a game. I choose who to defend."
"And your choice isn't at all surprising."
"Let it be. I can't really say I care that much whether you find it surprising or not."
"Your blind attitude hasn't had good repercussions in the previous events, if I recall correctly."
"Once again, my problem. MINE. Not yours. He is my husband, the man I love, and I will NOT permit you to trash him. Are we clear?"
Giles looked away. He wasn't going to get into a fight, definitely not on the first time he saw her in over a year.
"Now, about me returning to Sunnydale," Buffy spoke again, and he peered at her, "that's not gonna happen."
"Buffy, you have to," he tried to demur.
"I don't HAVE TO do anything." *Where did I hear that before?* she grinned inwardly.
"Buffy, you are not an ordinary person, in case you've forgotten. You have obligations, duties, destiny."
"I fulfill my destiny. Here. At least, I was, until I got pregnant and Angel took over. And believe it or not, there are demons and vampires hanging around here too, and believe it or not, I'm five months pregnant. I'm NOT going to come back to slay vampires and fight demons. And as far as my obligations go, my first one is to Angel. Even if for some reason I wanted to go back, and which I don't, I would NEVER do the mistake of exposing him to the past in such an early stage. And yes, it IS early. Inference - we both stay here."
"Buffy, you can't do that."
"Watch me," Buffy grinned, "and just out of curiosity, how're you gonna stop me?"
"I found you once, I'll do it again."
Buffy laughed. "It took you over a year to find me the first time, and you're threatening me you'll do it again? When? Next year? Sorry to blow your bubble, Giles, but I know how to give you a hard time finding me when I don't wanna be found. I actually thought I've proved that to you by now."
"Buffy, for once use your logic. You are needed home."
"First, don't call that place 'home'. It ISN'T my home. My home is here. And I use my logic. Right now, I have someone a lot more important who needs me here."
"More important than your own mother?"
Buffy nodded. "You can say that."
"She's been going through Hell, Buffy. We all have been, in fact. You haven't been back for such a long time, everyone started believing you're dead. It was an a lot more explicable rationale than having you simply not calling or writing for a year because you didn't want to."
Buffy shook her head. "Maybe it was for the best. I'm not coming back, Giles. Never. So you might as well think I'm dead. My life isn't on the Hellmouth any more. My life isn't ruled by destiny anymore. It's with my husband, and our future family, and it's not gonna change, not as long as I have a say about it. I'm sorry if it's not the answer you expected to hear, but that's the only answer you're gonna get. And my mother.God, Giles, MY MOTHER kicked me out. She kicked me out because she couldn't understand me. No, you know what? My mistake. She DIDN'T WANT to understand me. She didn't even try. So don't tell me she's suffering, cuz if I remember correctly, SHE threw ME out on the streets, NOT the other way around. She has never been there for me. HE, on the other hand, has been my shoulder, my family, my everything, in three years now, more than my mom has been in almost nineteen. I don't need to tell you who's the first person on my mind."
Giles contemplated for a second. "Have you asked him if he wants you to make such a sacrifice for him? Has he told you what HE wants to do, or have you just assumed?"
"Why bother? He'll do the noble thing and lie about what he feels and what he wants if I ask him. But luckily, I know without asking."
At that moment, the bedroom door upstairs opened, and Angel paced hesitantly downstairs, his eyes locked with the floor the entire time. He sat down next to Buffy and she reassuringly clasped his hand. She leaned towards his ear and whispered "It's okay," into it.
He obviously disregarded that, because he clung to her like a scared baby. She protectively wrapped one arm around him.
"Hello, Angel," Giles said, somewhat awkwardly.
Angel bit his lip, but didn't respond. Only clasped Buffy's hand.
"Giles wants us to return to Sunnydale," Buffy shared the topic of their discussion with Angel.
He halted his breath, feeling even more restless. Buffy could sense it instantaneously. She could almost hear his heart racing.
"And I told him we wouldn't," she allayed him.
Angel's breath of relief could be sounded throughout the entire house, but after a moment, he acted as was predicted. "We should go back," he finally spoke, quietly, still looking away from Giles.
Buffy instantly shot Giles an 'I told you so' glare.
Giles felt flustered.
"You've been away for too long, honey," he looked up at his wife, "it isn't fair towards Giles, your mother, and your friends. At least.you have to let them know you're alright," he smiled.
She stroked his cheek. "But what about you? You're not ready to go back yet, and I don't want you to."
"I'll have to do this.eventually. I might as well do it now. Anyway, it'd be easier if we did it together."
Buffy cuddled herself in his arms. "What do you think my mom's gonna say.and my friends? If I just show up all of a sudden?" she murmured.
"I'll be with you," he gently stroked her hair, "I'll be there for you. You're not gonna face them alone," he kissed her brow, "I give you my word."
"You're gonna have a Hell of a job, then," she pointed out.
Angel smiled and kissed her crown. "I'll deal."
Buffy gazed at him. "You think I'll deal?"
"I know you will," he smiled again.
Buffy turned back to Giles. "Well, you obviously got your wish. It seems you got a yen to ruin my life as soon as possible." She stood up, and Angel did the same, still clasping her hand. "I hope you don't have anything against me and Angel going to bed. The weekend starts tomorrow, so I don't have school. We can leave tomorrow noon, NOT before. Where are you staying?"
"Nowhere. I wasn't counting on actually locating you this time. I assumed I'd be home by tonight."
Buffy and Angel started walking up the stairs, with Giles in their wake.
She pointed towards the doors on the second floor. "This is our bedroom," she explained the first one, "that's the nursery, and the next two are guest rooms. You can stay in one of them. There's a bathroom right behind the corner, and one next to our bedroom. The kitchen is downstairs, if you're hungry. If you need anything else, you know where to find us."
"Despite what you're thinking, I'm not on a quest to ruin your life. I want the best for you. I want you to come back to the people who love you."
Buffy stared at him with stupefaction, and embraced Angel's waist, as he did the same to her. "I AM with the people who love me," she declared. There was a trace of animosity in her voice. "Good night, Giles."
With that, she and Angel disappeared behind the door of their bedroom.
AN - Xander lovers, please don't hate me!!! I'm not really gonna make him that evil. The guy's just confused, he's not really like that:), (but I admit it that the original purpose of it all was my personal vengeance gig against him for 'Becoming' and the bastard he was (not only, but mainly then)).
AN2 - Xander and Cordy never broke up, and Faith (who in my world arrived to Sunnydale months later) isn't evil. Willow and Oz are together too, and no Spike.
And you are asleep
I can hear you breathe now
Your breath is deep
But before I go
I look at you one last time
I can hear a heartbeat
Is it yours, or is it mine?
"It brings back memories, doesn't it?" Buffy asked Angel, swaying in his arms to the mellow sounds of the song.
"It does, my love," he kissed her head, "especially this song."
She pulled back just enough to look into his eyes. "You remembered it," she observed with a happy smile.
He smiled too. "I remember every second I spend with you as if it has transpired just now."
She inclined against his chest and they encompassed their arms around each other. "I know. I do too."
He stroked her hair. "But there are some I remember in particular. This one is one of them. You know, I had lived for two hundred and forty years. I've seen and been through things you can't even imagine. I thought I knew everything...until that night. It was when my heart broke for the first time."
They both concurrently tightened their embraces around each other. "I couldn't get the taste of your lips out of my memory. It haunted me...it sounds stupid, but I just couldn't forget," Buffy whispered. "The way you kiss me...Angel, no one can ever kiss me like that. Every time your lips touch mine, I feel like I'm flying. I forget everything. Nothing else exists for me, except for me, you, and your lips on mine."
"I know the feeling," he murmured into her hair.
"I cried myself to sleep that night," she avowed, "I just couldn't accept the fact that that kiss was our last one."
"I know," he paused momentarily before speaking again. "I was outside your window, on the roof, and I...I heard you crying. God, how I wanted to take you into my arms and never let you go," he clinched her to him.
"I felt you," she reminisced, "I felt your presence. I sensed you were there, but I...I thought it was only my imagination, that because I was so upset...I started imagining you, like it was my only comfort. I even dreamed about you kissing me again. And that kiss...it was so gentle, so real."
"Maybe because it wasn't a dream," Angel divulged softly. "After you'd fallen asleep, I stayed in your room almost until sunrise. I just couldn't leave. I knew I would never see you again, so I wanted to savor those few hours I had. And then just before I left...I couldn't hold it in anymore, and I kissed you. I told you once, that whenever I'm with you, all I can think about is how much I want to kiss you. You will never know just how true it is. So, I kissed you again. I just needed to feel your lips on mine...one last time."
I look at your lips
I know how soft they can be
Did they know what they wanted
The times they kissed me?
Buffy felt how one of Angel's hands left her back and rose up to his face. She knew he was wiping tears. She detached from him and gazed up into his teary eyes. Hers were wet as well.
"I'm sorry," he said as a reply to her gaze, "I didn't mean to stir up those memories."
Buffy caressed his face and brushed his tears away at the same time. "These memories are us, Angel, they're who we are, they made us who we are today. True, some of them are painful, but if it weren't for them, we wouldn't be here now, dancing to this song. The last time we heard it, was the time of our first goodbye. And now," she beamed, and Angel did too, gently stroking her long hair, "now, we're dancing to it as a happily married husband and wife." They both peered down at her belly once she put her palm on it. "And our little baby," she smiled up at him again. "We made it, my love. We made it after all."
Angel smiled. "We did," he kissed her lips.
Buffy snuggled in his arms. "You know, I think it was a good idea to come here before we start facing everything and everyone. I know it might sound funny, but I missed the Bronze. All in all, it's such a huge part of our history," she giggled at her own choice of words, "I kinda missed it."
"It doesn't sound funny. A lot has happened here." He chuckled suddenly. "Like our first date...or our first attempt to date, I think that's a little more accurate exposition. And I still insist that your hair looked fine," he remarked playfully.
Buffy laughed against his chest. "Oh, God, don't remind me. That's something to tell the grandchildren about."
Angel laughed too. "No, beloved, what you did AFTERWARDS is something to tell the grandchildren about, and you can be sure I'm going to. I STILL can't believe you dressed up like an eighteenth century noble woman, cuz you thought I'd like you better that way."
Buffy giggled and hit his chest impishly, but nestled right back against it. "It leads us to an ultimate conclusion."
"Which is, love?"
"That we do better in dating in cemeteries than in a nightclub." She suddenly looked up at Angel with a waggish grin sparkling in her large green orbs, and he already knew what was coming up next. "Unless of course, SOMEONE is sick with jealousy at the time."
Angel beamed. "Well, after that little DANCE you did with Xander, I think I had every right."
She sighed. "Okay, you had. But how could you EVER conceive I wanted Xander, and especially that I chose him over you? I still don't get it. And anyway," she beamed at Angel, "I promise you from now on, only to perform that dance with my husband."
He grinned. "But then I'll start being jealous of him. Why don't I ever get a dance like that?"
Buffy stood on her tiptoes and kissed him. "Because you get more," she whispered charmingly.
He returned her kiss hungrily, hugging her body closer to his.
And your hands
That I held in mine
Now they're reposing on the pillow
Will they ever miss me sometime?
Willow, Xander, Cordelia and Oz were sitting in the Bronze, holding a conference over their not so prosperous attempts to replace the Slayer.
"But still, we almost got him last night," Xander denoted.
"Yeah, and it'd make him the...yep, twenty third, I THINK, vampire we've managed to take down in something like a year and a half. And since we DIDN'T slay him, our count returns right back to twenty two, which is...well, lame," Oz noted.
"I see your point, man. By the way, as long as we're talking slaying, the new Slayer? God, that girl's hot."
Xander immediately received a nudge from Cordelia. "Shut up, Romeo!"
"You know you're the only one for me, honey," he grinned innocently at her.
"Yeah, right," she smiled with a fake skepticism.
"I wish Buffy were here," Willow said longingly.
All of their faces became solemn and turned to the redhead.
"I thought we weren't using the B-word anymore," Xander reminded somberly.
"But I wish...Xander, I miss her. She was my best friend. While you're sitting here in denial, well, I just can't do that. I want my best friend back," Willow was close to tears. She knew what caused it, it was this song, it stirred memories.
"Yeah, Will, she was some best friend leaving us all like that and running away."
"You don't know that, Xander. Maybe something happened there. We know nothing about it."
"Yeah, mostly cuz SOMEONE didn't even bother to show up and tell us, Will."
"You don't know what happened there, Xander. The spell might have worked. We don't know what befell with Angel too, remember that. They both have been gone ever since that morning, maybe there's more to that story than we think."
"Exactly. I absolutely agree with Willow. Buffy killed her demon lover. It was a terrible experience for her freakness..."
"Cordy, honey, please don't help," Xander smirked at her, "it's the end of it, Willow. There is NO Buffy. We don't know or have never known a Buffy. And I don't want to hear that name ever again." His eyes were pleading for her to understand. He was hurting too. Only unlike Willow, who coped with it through mercy, he dealt through anger.
"Hey guys!" they heard a familiar, but not so loved voice.
Everyone raised his or her head to greet the new person.
"Hi, Faith. What's up?" Xander asked dryly. His mood was unquestionably ruined for this evening, at least.
"What's with the long faces, everyone? Who died?" she inquired crudely and perched on a chair, straddling its back with her legs.
Willow choked back her tears to Faith's choice of words. "Nobody."
"So, what's up?"
Faith just shrugged, gazing blankly in the direction of the dance floor. "What's with this town and sad songs? Why can't they put on something happy for a change? You know, something you actually feel like dancing to its sound instead of dying to it? This song just screams 'last kiss', know what I mean? It's like in these dull movies, you're with a guy, and you're breaking up with him and kissing him one last time or something? Man, it's so depressing..." suddenly, she grinned with realization, but then grimaced at it, "hey, I never thought I had a romantic soul...Hell, it stinks, I SO need to find myself another circle of friends..." she pondered to herself, while after her former phrase came out, no one was paying any attention to her.
Willow couldn't hold the tears in any longer. The distant memory of a certain night, when this song was a background sound to a very special last kiss, played in her head again. Oz put his arm around her shoulders, not really knowing what she was reminiscing about, but feeling her pain nonetheless, and Xander shared her shattered gaze. He remembered too, she could see it in his eyes. He may have been trying to suppress his memories of her, but they both knew he never could. Her stamp was too deep in both of their hearts. She was their best friend.
I'll remember you
You will be there in my heart
I'll remember you
And that is all that I can do
But I'll remember
"Hey, check these two out," Faith drew their attention to the dance floor. "This chick is at least four months pregnant and the guy she dances with is at least seven years older than she. I bet he knocked her up as a minor. Man, just the way I like it!" she grinned.
"Oh, my God," escaped from Willow and Cordelia's lips at the same time.
"Oh, tell me I'm wrong. Please, tell me I don't see what I see," Xander implored honestly, turning his eyes away from the snuggling dancing couple.
"No, man, you see just that," Oz corroborated. His eyes were also disbelievingly focused on Buffy and Angel.
"It can't be," Willow muttered.
Faith scrutinized all of them. "What, the lovebirds?"
"Buffy," Xander whispered.
"Oh, Buffy! That's the B-word, right? What, that's the famous Buffy? And I thought she was dead...so, who's the stud with her?"
"Angel," Willow said with stupefaction, "it's Angel," she repeated, mostly for herself than for anyone else.
"Don't know any Angels...oh, fuck, the vampire? Oh, the guy's so dust," Faith started rising from her seat, while retrieving her stake from her jacket pocket.
"Sit down, will you?" Cordelia lay a firm hand on her shoulder, and seated her back on the chair. Then she stood up and resolutely paced towards the couple.
The Slayer heard a familiar voice saying her name and opened her eyes, removing her head from its resting place on her love's chest, stopping their slow dance. She and Angel both gawked at Cordelia.
"And Angel," the brunette added, "you're alive." She cast down her eyes and then looked back at Buffy. "And so are you," there were almost tears in her eyes.
"Cordelia," Buffy whispered the name.
But Cordelia didn't answer. She only started walking away. Buffy and Angel followed her, not releasing one another's hands.
That always make me shiver
Now they are closed
They just sometimes twitch a little
And your body
I could hold for an hour
It sent me to Heaven
With its heat and power
When they reached the others, a neurotic muteness came over them. Cordelia silently retook her former place next to Xander. Angel saw there were no empty seats, so he hastened to bring his wife a chair, helping her sit down, and standing behind her, his hands lying firmly on both of her shoulders.
"Are you alright, honey?" he queried after he saw she wasn't saying a word for a few minutes.
Buffy placed one of her hands on one of his on her shoulder, but still said nothing. She was beholding the people she hadn't seen in over a year. There was one new face too, but Buffy didn't know her. They, on the other hand, couldn't take their eyes off the wedding rings on her and Angel's left hands.
"Well," Xander spoke ultimately. "Look who's back in town. What's the occasion, Buff? What made us finally worthy of your presence? And I see you brought your little monster-pet with you."
Willow wanted to smack him just for that, but nobody but him seemed to be able to move, or in Faith's case, wanted to. The brunette Slayer's eyes were evilly focused on the ex-vampire standing behind Buffy. She hadn't missed the rings, though. Now, she was thinking twice whether it was worth to hurt a vampire whose wife was a Slayer. She heard a lot about Buffy. She didn't feel like standing against her in a combat. On top of everything, Buffy had been a Slayer for much longer than she, and was a lot more adept. Faith doubted if it all was worth it. She had to admit it to herself though, this Angel guy was more than a little hot. She wanted him. Badly.
"Come on, Buff, I can hardly believe you're speechless. Don't you have some stories to tell us? Say...why is this murdered walking alive when he should be long dead and rotting in Hell? Who gave you the right to keep him alive in the first place? How could you have hidden him from us? How could you have married that...fiend? Hell, even more importantly, how could you have impregnated with his child? What's it gonna be? 'The Scourge of Europe' the next generation? What, there aren't enough demons in the world, you gave him a happy again so that we could have one more?"
Buffy started to cry. She wanted to kill Xander, but she felt she was glued to her seat. She felt Angel's hands loosening on her shoulders, and she knew he wouldn't be able to take much more of that. She hated herself now more than ever for dragging him here. She should have NEVER done that. She hated Giles for ever finding her, and she hated Xander. Oh, how she hated Xander...
"You have no idea how I wish you were dead," he shoved in Angel's face, "I wish you putrefied in Hell for eternity and never came back! I wish you were finally punished for your existence alone and everything you have done! You ruined her life, you don't deserve her, you never did! You're nothing but a murderous bloodsucking fiend! You're nothing! This is ALL your fault! You destroyed her, you destroyed everything. She would have been so much better if she had never met you, we all would have been! And then, you took her away from us, from everything, for over a year! I wish you had never existed! Why won't you just go to Hell, where you belong!? And you know what?" he turned to Buffy. "On second thought, you can join your vampire lover! You have nothing to do here!" After he finally finished, he himself couldn't believe he had said those words, only that it was way too late to take any of them back.
Buffy stared at him. Her eyes wide open, tears flowing from them like falls. Willow was sobbing in Oz's lap, and Cordelia was sitting beside Xander, her eyes incredulously gaping at her boyfriend. Faith seemed to be enjoying the show. As far as she cared, this vampire deserved everything and more. She had read about Angelus. She'd read enough to know who and what he was. Even the tears that started forming in his own eyes didn't bother her, only made everything a lot more amusing.
Buffy couldn't see the expression on her husband's face because her entire body froze to Xander's words and she wasn't even able to turn around. But she understood that it was only a matter of time until Angel would break. And the time came.
"Beloved, I...I think...maybe, I'd better wait in the car for you," he stuttered hoarsely. Then she felt his hands leaving her shoulders and the next thing she knew, he was gone. And suddenly, she was able to move again. And surprising herself, Xander was the last thing on her mind. He ceased to exist for her. She stood up, without a word to anyone, and ran after Angel. Everyone's eyes followed her.
They saw how she ultimately reached him on the dance floor, and how she put her palm on his arm to turn him around, and how he jerked away from her instead and kept walking. Then how she called after him and he finally stopped and faced her. That was when they first noticed the tears in his soft eyes. They watched how Buffy approached him and gently wiped those tears away, and took him into her arms, and how he hugged her to him, one of his palms covering his face behind her back, while the other was stroking her blonde hair.
It was the last time they saw them.
I'll remember you
You will be there in my heart
I'll remember you
And that is all that I can do
But I'll remember
Angel was just about to open the door when his sharp ears caught some nervous hissing on the other side.
"I'll talk. You won't say a word, you got that? You said enough. More than enough, even. I'll talk to him, and then you'll go and apologize for everything you said, and if you don't, I will personally kill you."
Angel recognized the voice. It was Willow. He reached his hand the rest of the way to the doorknob and opened it, just as she was about to knock. Angel gazed at the four people standing outside his house.
Eight eyes stared at him awkwardly, no one said a single word.
Oz was the first one to notice Angel wasn't aflame despite the shining sun. He pointed it out forthwith, in the so habitual Oz-manner. "You're human, man. Cool," he nodded in recognition.
The others' gazes were now even more puzzled. Willow finally spoke. "Angel," she faltered, "hi. Nice.it's nice to see you," she took a deep breath. "Angel, we.we're sorry, all of us.for the way.for the way Xander spoke to you and for that none of us stopped him. You.you didn't deserve it, and we're very sorry," she glanced at Xander, "all of us." She looked back at Angel. "I.we.we were wondering.maybe we could talk. Umm.Giles.he gave us the address, so.we came, and.we were wondering if we could talk.to you, and.and to Buffy. Can we come in?" When after a second he still hadn't answered her, she reworded her question. "Well, I.I'll understand if.if you don't want us in your house. It's okay. Because after we," she looked down in shamefacedness, and then looked back up, "but we'd still like to talk to you, and to Buffy, because we owe her an apology too. But.we can do it outside.you know, you could meet us somewhere, or.is that okay?"
Angel swallowed. He was too perplexed to do anything but. He opened his mouth to say something, but only closed it right back.
Willow spoke again. "Maybe, you know.maybe we should come back.I see you were about to go out anyway, so." she pointed towards the jacket in his right hand.
Angel suddenly shook his head. "No. No, come in," he made one step back and waited as they proceeded past him into the house.
He led them into the living room and gestured towards the two couches. "Have a seat," he offered. "Would you.would you like anything? To drink, maybe?"
They all sat down stiffly, and shook their heads. As predictably, saving Cordelia. "A soda for me," she said, "preferably diet."
They all shot her looks.
"What?" she asked ingenuously. "He asked. I answered. Gees," she rolled her eyes.
"Um.we don't keep soda," Angel replied, "I don't really like it, and.Buffy's pregnant, so."
"Okay, so water," Cordelia accepted, "you do have water, right?" she asked to be sure.
Angel beamed. It was a new smile. New to them, at least. It was real. It seemed to have lightened the entire room.
Willow and Cordelia blushed slightly, seeing how gorgeous he was, especially when he smiled like that.
"Yes, Cordelia, we have," Angel replied, "I'll be right back." With that he disappeared into the kitchen.
He came back after a minute with a glass of water for Cordelia, and handed her the drink.
"Thanks," she said, and sipped at it.
"Are you sure you wouldn't want anything else? The ride from Sunnydale is long, are you sure you're not hungry or something?"
"No, we're fine. Thanks, Angel," Willow assured.
He turned to Oz and Xander. "What about you two?"
"I'm cool," Oz said plainly.
Angel looked at Xander, and after a while the boy raised his eyes from the floor to meet the ex-vampire's. He pursed his lips and turned to Willow as if for an affirmance. Angel had to suppress a snigger, seeing Willow's 'shut up or I hit you' glare. Xander only shook his head 'no'.
"Since when are these?" Willow inquired, gesticulating towards the assemblage of photographs on the mantelpiece. They all showed Buffy and Angel in different poses on the beach, with the ocean as a backdrop. In one of them they were kissing, in another Angel was swinging Buffy in his arms with her arms enclosed around his neck and they're both smiling. In another, they were holding each other close and smiling cheek to cheek. There was also a picture of Angel sitting on the sand and Buffy snuggled in the gap between his legs, with her back against his chest, his arms tightly wrapped around her and his chin resting on her head. In the last picture, Angel was simply standing behind Buffy, with his arms around her waist. Her head was tilted backwards with a bright smile on her face, as he was kissing her neck.
"We made those on the beach five months ago. We went with a friend of Buffy's, Kelly, and she took pictures of us," he couldn't help but smile at the memory of that day. Like so many others, it was just perfect.
"They're beautiful," Willow observed, tracing her fingertips over each one. "Do you have some more?" she asked, then shrugged. "That is, if you want to show them."
"Sure," Angel nodded, and paced towards a cabinet, retrieving two large photo-albums from there. "These are from the last three months. If you want the old ones," he looked in the cabinet again and pulled out three more albums. "Here," he handed them to Willow, "these start six, or seven months ago. I'm not really sure."
"What happened to you there?" Willow's question regarded the eldest photographs. She couldn't understand why Angel looked so thin and pale in them. Nor could she understand the dark circles beneath his eyes and his enervated mien, albeit the smile.
Angel suddenly looked down, as if her question hurt him, and the smile faded from his face. "It was.it was two months after," he stuttered, "after."
"After he came back from Hell," they all heard Buffy's voice from the doorway. It was cold, colder than she had intended it to be.
Xander glanced up at Angel for a moment only, but his expression was enough for the boy to start hating himself for the rest of his life for what he had said and done.
Buffy put down her schoolbag, strode over to her husband, who still hadn't looked up from the floor, and hugged him.
Angel returned her embrace. When he pulled back, only Buffy could still detect that the memories from the past were still haunting his now again smiling eyes. "How are you feeling, honey?" he asked his wife, putting a concerned hand on her bulging abdomen, also happy to change the subject. "Was everything okay in school?"
She nodded, and smiled too, giving him a quick kiss.
None of their guests was smiling after her reply to Willow's question, however.
"I'm so sorry," Willow was the first one to speak. "Angel, God, I'm so sorry. It must have been awful, all these centuries and." she stopped at the powerless look on his face. That look almost scared her.
"Willow, stop," he whispered, "please."
"I'm sorry," the redhead apologized.
Angel nodded. He evidently felt relief that talking about it seemed to be over. The last thing he needed was something to stir these memories up again.
But of course, there was Cordelia. "Yeah, I mean, just think about it. Thousands of years being tortured in Hell. That must have been something to remember."
"Yeah," he breathed out, and before anyone else could even move, was gone up the stairs.
"Was it necessary?" Buffy asked after a while. "Haven't you hurt him enough already? You had to start with THIS?" Her voice wasn't cold this time, it was serene, and disgruntled.
She followed Angel into their bedroom.
"We're doing great, guys," Willow stated sarcastically when she was gone.
Buffy found him sitting on the bed in the dark. She sat down next to him and took his hand. "Are you okay?" she wanted to know.
He nodded. "I am. Don't worry, I just.I need to gather myself again. Go back to your friends," he smiled reassuringly, "I'll be okay. I'll be down in a minute."
She hugged him. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
Angel kissed her head. "It's alright. I told you, don't worry, I'll live, I always do in the end. It's a waste of time for me to think I could ever fully leave it behind me. Who knows, maybe one day I can even hear the word Hell without having shudder running through my bones," he chuckled distressfully, then grinned at Buffy again. "Go, sweetheart, you all need to talk." He kissed her brow. "I'll be right down, I promise."
Buffy hugged him again. "I love you so much," she whispered.
"I love you too," he pressed a gentle kiss to the crook of her neck. "Go."
She released him, and stood up. "Okay."
Buffy reentered the sitting room, meeting her friends' regretful gazes.
"I'm sorry, Buffy," Willow said, while Buffy was sitting down. "How is he?"
"How do you think?" Buffy shot back. "You survive that, and then ask yourself."
"I'm sorry," she repeated nevertheless.
"Yeah, and you showed it more than perfectly two days ago," Buffy retorted. "How dare you to even show your face here?" she asked Xander.
He looked away. "I'm sorry, Buff, I didn't know..." he murmured.
"What is this?!" she exclaimed. "Some new word you learned? You're all SORRY all of a sudden?! Like I care! It's not ME you need to apologized before, or don't you get it?! I actually thought you knew better than to treat him like that! God, have you people no shame?!" she threw her hands up.
"We're sorry," Cordelia mumbled.
"It doesn't cut it!" Buffy yelled. "Hell, me you can treat however you want, I even deserve most of it. I mean, yeah, I ran away and yeah, I haven't been home in over a year, and yeah I MAYBE acted in a childish way, which you can say only if you don't know the whole and the real story, and which you don't. But him? Why? Hasn't he had enough already? WITHOUT you adding more?"
"Buffy, try to understand our side too. I mean, I know we were wrong, but."
"There is no but, Willow. You were wrong, period."
"The last memory we have of him, is one of Angelus. How do you expect us to react when we find out he's alive?" Xander asked in whisper.
"If I hear ONE more word coming from you, especially when it's to defend yourself, I'll hurt you so much you'll forget your own name!" Buffy hissed at him.
Xander only averted his gaze.
"Can we just.talk, Buffy?" Willow queried.
"Alright," the redhead took a deep breath. She pointed towards a picture from Buffy and Angel's wedding, "let's talk about this," she suggested, then she gestured towards the photos from the shore, "or this." Then at the ultrasound baby pictures, "or we might as well start with this. You have kept so much from us, an entire life.that we know nothing about. You disappear one morning, and we still don't know why, and then you reappear out of the blue a year and a half later. You're happy, you're married, you're expecting your first child.God, it seems like you have been living in Heaven that whole time while we thought." Willow paused, "and all that time, not a letter, not a phone call, nothing. Not what, where, when, why."
"I killed Angel," Buffy cut in.
"Have you tried the curse again, Willow?" for some reason, Buffy forgot her talk to Eliza almost a year before. "That night, have you tried to recurse him?"
Willow gaped at Xander, he flushed red, then back at Buffy. "Yes."
"Well, congratulations. It worked. It was Angel who I had to kill then at the mansion, not Angelus. That's the reason why I ran away."
"Oh, my God, Buffy," Willow gasped, then everybody except for Buffy faced Xander. "You bastard," she hissed, "how could you? How could you, damn you?!"
"Willow, what are you talking about?" Buffy asked. "Why are you yelling at him?"
"He had to tell you," Willow explained in a calmer voice, "I asked him to tell you.so that maybe you could stall."
Buffy gaped at Xander, tears started falling from her eyes. "Do you know.what you've done? Do you.do you have any idea?" she questioned hoarsely. She felt as if the room was twirling all of a sudden, she couldn't hold herself standing anymore. "I killed him.because of." she murmured. "For months.months, I had lived, existed.wanting to die. For centuries.he had been tormented in Hell.because of you." she felt like she was falling, and together with that, a sudden pain in her abdomen.
Fortunately, two strong arms got to her just in time. Angel seated her down on the sofa, and embraced her tightly, stroking her back as she sobbed in his chest.
"Why did you do that?" Angel abruptly asked Xander, his voice both calm and tense. "What was in it for you? Why did you do that? Why anyone would want to do that? If a payback on my expence was what you wanted, trust me, you got it. But why did you have to hurt her? Do you realize the half of what you put her through?"
Xander didn't answer.
Suddenly, Buffy spoke. "Angel, could you take me to our room, please?" she asked hoarsely, still in the cuddle of his arms.
He glanced at the others. "Are you sure? Maybe you should talk, and."
"I'm sure," she asserted, her voice weak, "I don't feel so good."
Angel instantly peered down on her abdomen, where her hand lay, his eyes filling with almost panic. He stood up, holding Buffy gingerly in his arms, and led her upstairs into their bedroom.
After five minutes, he was back.
Nobody spoke for a few seconds.
"You want us to go, right?" Willow asked, hoping he didn't. She breathed with relief when he shook his head negatively.
"If anything happens to her," he glared at Xander, in a look that could kill, "or to the baby, I won't be responsible for my actions." Then he looked at the others, his gaze changing. "No. I meant it when I said you should talk. She's upset right now, so the group talk isn't gonna work out, but maybe if Willow spoke to her alone."
Willow beamed. "You think so?"
Angel smiled. "You were her best friend. You ARE her best friend. You have no idea how much she misses you. She always talks about what you used to do together and what a great time you two had. Don't judge her, please. It wasn't her fault she hadn't come back.you know what I mean by that," he took a deep breath. "She wanted to, she just.didn't know how. At first, it was the guilt.and everything that had happened with me. Then, it was I coming back, and she was taking care of me. If she weren't with me 24/7, I would have never recovered. I needed her, and she was there, you don't know how hard it had been for her. It took so much of her, that I still don't know how she did it. After that, it was when she finally started putting her life back together, and everything was working out for her, and she was afraid, that if she came back, she would for some reason lose it all. So she cut herself off. Don't judge her," he now spoke to everyone, "for her sake, just don't. She doesn't deserve it. She had to deal with so much more than you could ever imagine, and I have no idea how she coped everything. Just.try to be friends again. I know it's gonna be hard. It should be, but.she needs that now."
Willow nodded. "You want me.can I go up now?"
He grinned. "Sure. I'll show you the way," he started in the direction of the stairs leading to the second floor, then abruptly stopped and turned to Willow. "Try not to...say something that can upset her. Okay?"
She nodded in understanding. "I'll be careful. I promise."
"What about the rest of us?" Xander asked.
"Umm.well, we have two guest rooms upstairs. I'll show you. Can the four of you manage with them?" Angel inquired hopefully.
They all nodded.
"Okay, then. Come on," he led the way to the second floor.
"Buffy?" he peeped into the dusky bedroom. "Honey, are you asleep?"
"No," she rotated in bed and faced him. Her eyes instantly captured Willow behind him. She faced away again.
Angel sighed and paced into the room, turning on the lamp on the nightstand and sitting down on the bed. "Honey, look at me," he requested softly.
"Angel, I meant it. I don't wanna see them. Just tell them to go."
"But you know you do. You'll wake up tomorrow and realize what a mistake you made, but then it'll be too late. You know you have to sort things out, and you'll be friends again."
"We'll never be friends after what they did to me," she faced him again. "God, Angel, you know what? Rewind that. Not to me, okay? To you. They hurt you even more than they hurt me, how can you want us to be friends again?"
He smiled and stroked her cheek. "Honey, what you'll do with Xander, is entirely up to you. I will never forgive him, I'm sorry, I just can't. But I will also never stop you from being friends, if that is what you want in the end. It's your choice. But Willow has done nothing wrong. If anything, she helped us. Things could have been so different if it weren't for her. She has never hurt neither you, nor me, you know that. She's your best friend," he smiled. "Talk to her? For me? You know you'll thank me later."
Buffy smiled. "I love you. Do you have any idea how wonderful you are?"
He kissed her gently. "I love you too, sweetheart. I'll leave you two alone now, you have a lot to talk about." He motioned for Willow to come in, and she did.
Buffy sat up and beamed at her best friend. Willow smiled back.
Angel kissed Buffy again, and then left the two girls alone.
"So.you wanna go first?" Willow asked, while perching down on the bed next to Buffy.
"I probably should," Buffy grinned feebly. "I'm sorry. Is it a good start?"
"It's an unnecessary start. You're not the one who should be sorry. What you did," the redhead breathed in deeply, "I was so mad at you at first. I thought.what kind of a selfish person was she to go and do something this immature? If you only told me, Buffy, if you only talked to me. Have you actually thought I wouldn't listen? That I wouldn't understand? You know that I have always known just how much you loved Angel. How could you think I wouldn't understand? I'm not mad at you now. I can't be.after I found out the why. I'm only disappointed you didn't share it with me, and decided to instead hold it in. I wish you wouldn't have. I could have helped you. Gosh, I could have done something. I could have found a spell, I could have.something. I don't even want to imagine what you must have been going through."
"Then don't," Buffy smiled. "I was wrong. I guess I should have come to you. You.you were right when you said.I really thought you wouldn't understand. I thought no one would. It was one of the reasons why I ran away in the first place."
"What was the other one?"
"My mom kicked me out," Buffy shrugged, "but I wouldn't have really ran away cuz of that. We could have talked, and.well, you know. It wasn't that."
"I know," Willow touched her hand. "Well, the important thing is that now we know you're okay, and where you are."
"I'm not coming back," Buffy pointed out, "if you thought I was.I'm not. I'm sorry."
"I know you're not. I wasn't expecting you to. I mean, why would you ever? You have a disparate life here. You have a home, a dreamy husband who you love and who loves you back, and you're expecting your first baby. Why would you want to come back to the Hellmouth? God, you have a house with a picket fence," Willow laughed through the last sentence.
Buffy beamed. "I'm glad you understand that. I missed you, guys. You know, Xander is."
"Xander is someone you're gonna have to talk to without me. What he did.well, I heard Angel. If I were you.Buffy, for now, I don't know if I can forgive him myself. I know I will eventually, but if I were you.I don't know. Let's not talk about Xander, okay?"
"Okay. Let's talk about other stuff."
Willow beamed. "Okay.well, how're you doing in school? Sorry, stupid first question, I know."
Buffy giggled. "It's okay. I'm doing great, actually. The only bummer is that my senior prom is in two weeks, and I'm gonna miss it, cuz there's no way I'll be able to fit into the dress. But Angel promised to make it up to me." Both of the girls smiled knowingly. If it was Angel, it was going to be a making up to remember. "The commencement is soon too, and I don't know if I'm going. Angel says I should, but I really don't know," Buffy waved her hand and grinned. "On the other hand, I think I'm gonna show. I want Angel to see me graduate. I wish you could come too, but you're probably gonna have your own and..."
"Who knows? Maybe we can make it," Willow beamed, "and maybe you can make it to ours."
Buffy smiled, and sighed. "They know in school that I'm pregnant. I mean, I think they know, they gotta be pretty dumb not to. I know the teachers know. The school counselor talked to me a few weeks ago. Man, that was a laugh," Buffy grinned, and threw her head backwards, caressing her round belly. "She tried to help me and all, you know with institutes and stuff, anyway, I told her I didn't want to. So she asked me if I knew who the father was and if he said he'd support me, so." she chuckled, "Will, you should have seen her face when I told her that the father was my husband. Anyway, Angel came to school the next day, and got everything settled, so she got off my back, cuz I'm technically not underage, so I can be married and pregnant for as long as I like. Now that she knows I'm not some broken home slut, everything's suddenly cool. Oh, you know that I got my SAT's scores, and I'm in the top ten in my class? Angel's so proud of me, and he's been so much help, especially when I was doing my make up exams and after months without school, knew absolutely nothing. You know, I wonder sometimes where he stores all that knowledge."
"I'm proud of you too," Willow beamed.
"So, when did you get married? And why so early, not that I'm against or anything, cuz after all, it is Angel. I couldn't ever think of someone better for you anyway."
"Thanks. It was kinda out of the blue thingie actually. We weren't really rushing into marriage, or anything. It's just.well, on my eighteenth birthday, Angel told me the whole story of the Claddagh ring."
"Oh, I know. The one he gave you on your seventeenth birthday, right?"
"What is it with you, Angel and birthdays anyway?" Willow grinned.
Buffy smiled. "Don't know. It's he who picks the time. Anyway, so he told me that in Ireland this ring was considered as a wedding ring. So technically, I have been his wife ever since he gave it to me, and I accepted. So, to make a long story short - a week later, we found ourselves in a church, standing in front of the priest saying our vows."
"Cool. How did you afford the house, by the way?"
"Angel. You're gonna have to talk to him about that if you want. I don't know much, cuz I never really cared enough to ask. I just know that he has A LOT of money right about everywhere in the world, from his 'wild days', so now we use it."
"Oh. So...where's the dog coming?"
"Yeah, you know, it's like, every perfect family needs her own dog."
"Oh!" Buffy beamed. "Well, I'll talk to Angel about it, and you'll be the first one to know when we'll decide on a dog. Tell me about you now, something must have happened in Sunnydale while I was away."
"Okay.umm.lots of stuff have happened actually. But let's start with something I'm sure you'd wanna know. Remember that brunette girl that you saw with us in the Bronze?"
"Yeah. What about her?"
"She's a Slayer."
A couple of hours later, Willow came downstairs, to find Angel reading on the couch.
"Hey," she greeted him.
"Hey," he looked up from the book, "how'd it go?"
"You and Buffy need a dog," she smiled.
"Ha?" he raised his eyebrows in misapprehension.
"She'll fill you in on the details."
He grinned. "Okay. You want me to make you some coffee, or are you going to bed?"
"I think I could use some coffee. You don't mind, do you?"
"Not at all," he stood up and headed towards the kitchen, with Willow after him.
"So.you and Buffy. You're taking care of her. I'm glad she has you," Willow said, on a cup of coffee.
"Thank you. I do my best."
"You're doing great," she grinned thankfully, "she's in the best hands."
Angel smiled. "Well? How was the talk? Friends again?"
Willow smiled. "Yeah. Thanks for talking sense into her."
"My pleasure. So, are you staying with us for a while or are you going back tomorrow? I know you have school and all, but you did come today, so I thought."
"No, we can't stay. I'd love to though. I guess we'll be back on the weekend. At least, I know I will. You know, you and Buffy can also come visit sometimes."
"We will. She still has to talk to her mom," he said the last part with a slight distress in his tone. "I hope that's gonna go smoothly, although I somehow doubt it."
"You think Joyce's gonna make trouble?"
"If you found out that your runaway and supposedly dead daughter was actually alive, and not only alive, but pregnant and married to an ex-vampire, wouldn't you?"
She grinned. "You have a point."
"I know it'll be difficult, and the worst thing is that this stress is the exact thing Buffy DOESN'T need right now. Not in her condition."
"You're right. I hope it's gonna be fine."
"You and me both," he smiled hopefully.
On to Part Seven