A Face So Familiar

 

PART ONE

Angel:

It hurt to see Rain fading away the way she was. It had never been my intention to cause her so much pain because of my reluctance and continued uncertainty about which direction our relationship should go. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. Part of why I was so hesitant was because I didn't want to hurt her. The night when she had tried to draw me out, bring me closer to her -- closer, apparently, than I was ready to be -- I reacted poorly, to say the least. Rain let it go, of course she is, if nothing else, the 'Queen of Smiling at Really Unpleasant Things'. In the few years (?) we had known each other, she had never been anything less than completely supportive and understanding of all my little faults.

I tried to heal some of the damage I had caused I tried to reassure her that I wanted her that I valued her that I needed her in my life. But I obviously hadn't done enough. I could see in her eyes that I had wounded her deeply. She backed away from me perceptibly, and for the first time, I felt her closing herself off from me, instead of vice versa. She was casual and light about it, masking her pain with jokes and snide remarks, and getting out her frustrations by thoroughly kicking my ass every chance she got. But I knew what was going on with her. I could feel it in my bones.

I had now done exactly what I swore from the first moment I met her that I would never do: I had cut her soul wide open and left it to bleed.

At first, I tried to pursue her myself tried to coax her back out of the shell I could feel her crawling into. But she would have none of it. She would physically move away from me, and quickly change the subject when I tried to demonstrate my affections.

It had been hard when she clearly shared her feelings for me. Having her suddenly cease to do so was harder. She was slipping away from me, and it hurt like Hell.

But in time, I began to think that perhaps this distance was exactly what we needed. So Rain could concentrate on her training, and I could concentrate on finding out just who the Hell I was supposed to be in the Big Slayer Picture -- and subsequently, in Rain's life.

But I got increasingly worried about her well-being. Despite her trademark rapier wit, and her perfect cheerleader grin, it was hard to miss that she was losing weight getting pale, weak, and very obviously tired. Rain suddenly looked ill most of the time with a sickness that went far beyond the mild confusion and frustration that had marked so much of our relationship.

I suddenly felt like I was not only hurting her with my distance -- I was killing her. Watching her beautiful spirit fading before my eyes was a crushing pain in my soul.

And while all of this was going on between the two of us personally, I was also busy translating the D'Archit. The volume was predictably vague and cryptic once I managed to break through the language difficulties, but there were some facts that were immediately shown to be true.

Lowenthal was right about Rain not being just any Slayer. Nor had Buffy been. And the Whistler was also right about Buffy being reborn in Rain. But the D'Archit took those not-so-simple facts and compounded them into something straight out of old Pagan legend.

Kahtah was more than just a title -- more than just the name of a particular soul or bloodline of Slayers -- it was the name of an entire being in its own right. Literally, "The Three That Are One". Three human lifetimes of strength, experience, and wisdom, prophesied to ultimately combine into the warrior that would save the world. The book called Kahtah "The Sword of Light" -- the combined essence of every Slayer that had ever lived, manifested in an immortal soul that was first born in Buffy, and now was born a second time in Rain. A third in the line was supposed to rise in the Final Days, a woman who would be both of them, and yet again, someone completely new. Her power was said to be that which finally closed the gates of Hell forever.

Kahtah was one soul with many essences, reborn into a new vessel each time the last died. She was a Slayer within a Slayer. A goddess, come down to earth in a series of mortal bodies.

And my role Roger Lowenthal had told me I was part of these prophecies too - the Bo'Ten, Guardian of Kahtah. It was my sacred duty to defend each mortal vessel that housed the eternal spirit. My job to die in her name, if need be. The text was clear -- I would remain immortal until the last work of the Third was done until Hell was defeated, once and for all.

The vows I had taken to bind myself to Buffy's soul had done far more than make me her husband -- they had tied me to the ultimate fate of the world. The Anam Cara -- the Soul Vow -- bound us; so long as the Kahtah soul remained on this plane with mine, it was my duty to stand as her champion in all things. To love her and tend to her until her work was done.

For hundreds of years, my true purpose was hidden from me. I had learned, before Buffy and I were even reunited, that I would eventually earn my redemption and become human again. We had always hoped it would be while she lived, but

And now, for the first time, I knew exactly what that meant, and how it was supposed to happen. To live for Buffy's soul -- to love her in every possible way, in every one of her incarnations, until darkness was banished from this dimension forever -- was my ultimate Destiny.

I was my duty to love Rain.

As that single fact came clear, it clashed painfully with my very human doubts. I believed one thing to be true above all else from my life as a human being -- wedding vows to a woman meant loyalty, to that one woman, until the day I ceased to exist. Some part of me still understood and recognized Rain as another woman, and refused to pledge love and fealty to that other in the same manner as I had the first. Rain was her own person -- didn't she have the right to her own life's love? Didn't I owe Buffy at least eternity?

As always, there were facts, and then there was how I felt. It didn't seem to matter to the Powers That Be that I felt this mortal confusion and Catholic guilt over my immortal love. If I planned to fulfill my Destiny, I would, as Buffy would have said, just have to deal.

Ironically, in the end, it was Buffy herself that gave me the answer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rain:

When I thought of archives, I thought of little closet-like rooms with neat shelves full of nicely ordered file boxes. I most decidedly did not think of what I found.

The sub-basement of the public library was an entire building in itself. Ten cavernous rooms with twelve-foot ceilings, each wall to wall, and floor to roof with shelves and cabinets. Each one was piled high and packed full with boxes and books, bags and trunks hundreds of receptacles for hundreds of years worth of history. And none of it seemed to have any pattern I could figure out at all.

No wonder Roger Lowenthal didn't want me in there.

That first night, I wandered aimlessly from room to room, rifling through cabinets of weapons and boxes full of papers and photographs

Seven hours wasn't going to give me enough time to find what I needed. But at least I could take the time to figure out where to find stuff, and work from there. Sooner or later, I would find what I was really looking for.

By dawn, I was thoroughly exhausted, almost asleep on my feet. Creepy dreams or no, I was going to have to get some rest. I tried to put everything back exactly the way I had originally found it, including Roger Lowenthal's precious key collection, then dragged my pathetic ass toward home. Sometimes it really sucks to have a job that doesn't actually pay any money -- I didn't even have the cash for a cab.

What I had found so far (I'd explored seven out of the ten rooms) wasn't even exciting enough to write home to mom about. Not that I really wrote to my mom It was a lot of crap -- books about demons, some weapons manuals, dry histories of Slaying and various other glorified accounts of the battle against evil. This stuff didn't even seem worth locking up, if you asked me. (I did have to laugh at the little sign, "Don't speak Latin in front of the books" that hung on one shelf, though)

There were, however, some interesting containers filled with Slayers' personal effects: clothes and mementos and stuff, but nothing really personal. No letters, no journals. I hadn't found hide nor hair of the famed Watcher Diaries, and I hadn't seen even a hint of anything with Buffy's name on it.

Damn it. I was bound and determined to find out just what the Hell it was that tied me to this Slayer -- and by consequence, to Angel. My choices seemed to be limited: further research, or rubber room. And I was gonna avoid the latter if I possibly could.

On the long walk home, I found myself wandering past the neighborhood where I knew he lived. Can you believe I'd never been to his home? He'd never invited me, and frankly, I'd never thought about asking. But I'm a pretty smart woman -- I knew exactly where it was. I just never had the nerve to stop by. I mean, really, who knows what a vampire with a soul does during the day?

I stopped at the corner of his block and looked down, as if I expected to see him watching me. Duh it was just past dawn. Angel was probably just settling into bed.

I had an almost irresistible urge to go and talk to him. To really lay all of the things that were eating me up inside out on the line -- about the dreams, the mystery spirit woman, my feelings for him, all of it. To unburden myself to the only person in the world who might possibly understand, and who cared, sounded like a sweeter possibility to me than I had ever dreamed of, before. It felt like comfort and respite and peace lay waiting for me just up the block.

I stood there for a long time, imagining thinking remembering about a morning just like this one, when I had wakened from horrible nightmares about his death. I saw him open his front door, shirtless, and look down at me with unbearable tenderness and desire, and not a little bit of surprise. In a moment, all my fear was washed away by want as I gazed back at him, and when I told him about the nightmare about my terror of losing him he reassured me that we could handle it. He took me in his arms and kissed me until my knees were weak, and I never, never wanted to let him go

The vision faded, and I trembled violently. Now it was happening when I was wide- awake, too. I did an about face and practically ran the rest of the way home.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Angel:

There's a place I used to go when I was a boy one of those fairytale places with a glade and a bubbling brook, where the sun shone warm and bright all day long. Like a little Eden, just two miles from my less than idyllic home. I used to spend a lot of time there, swimming or thinking when I was young, andother things, as I got older.

I go there in my dreams, still. For many years, I brought Buffy there with me. We would swim and talk and make love in the plush carpet of Sweetgrass under the shade of a hundred blossoming cherry trees. It became her place, as much as it was mine.

Since I met Rain, Buffy has come less often to the dream glade. I'm not certain why whether it was my feelings for Rain, or my confusion about those feelings (Do I love Rain because she is Rain, or because she is Buffy?), I dont know. But more often than not, I was alone in the glade, now.

A few weeks after Rain's downward spiral had begun, I went and sat in the magic glade in my dreams, to calm my fears and gather my thoughts.

"I miss coming here," Buffy's voice said from behind me.

I turned to look at her, shading my eyes from the bright afternoon sun that surrounded her with a golden glow. The figure could have been either Buffy or Rain, at first glance. But my soul knew which this truly was. I had not yet seen Rain in the glade.

"You should come more often," I told her. I missed her company, too, especially those times we would sit in companionable silence until the sun set and the frogs began to chirp like a little orchestra of nature's joy

She sat down beside me, all dreamlike in a pale chiffon sundress and tucked her knees up against her chest, cradled in her arms. Buffy rested her pretty chin on her knees and stared sadly out at the water.

"You never invite me anymore," she admonished, "And I can't enter unless I'm welcome. Or needed."

Not moving toward her, and barely able to look at her at all, I said, "You're always welcome here, Buffy. Always. You should know that."

"Seeing me makes you sad," she observed, "It never did before."

I sighed. "I miss you more, now."

"Because Rain reminds you of me."

I nodded.

"Okay I can understand that, I guess."

We sat in a silence that wasn't quite awkward, but wasn't entirely pleasant, either, and watched the dragonflies dance ripples across the smooth surface of the pond.

"After we first met, how many years did it take us to really get together?" she asked after a while.

"Nine years," I replied, "Six months, twenty-four days, thirteen hours, thirty-seven minutes and twelve seconds."

Buffy gave me a funny look, but smiled. "Figures you would know that. I bet if I asked you how long we were married"

"Eighty-one years, five months"

She laughed, and held her little hand up. "Okay, okay, I got it. You've got a pretty good handle on the time thing. But, Angel what about all those years we didn't get to spend together? Almost ten years"

"Yeah," was my only response. I'd spent entire months thinking about that right after Buffy died. I calculated all of the things we could have done and seen and said in all those millions of seconds we had kept ourselves separated.

"Do you regret them? The years we weren't together, I mean" she asked softly.

I looked into her eyes. Buffy's were a beautiful misty hazel sometimes green, and sometimes deep russet, where Rain's were almost always a perfect emerald. But they held an identical fire, and it was that which beckoned me to both.

"I don't know that I regret them," I told her honestly, "They were important growing years, for both of us. But I don't know if I would sacrifice that time with you again, if I had the chance to choose."

Buffy nodded sagely and stretched out on her back in the grass, sucking on a dandelion root, looking up at the perfect blue sky.

"Then I've got to wonder, why do you keep running away?" she asked, almost off-handedly, as if she wasn't speaking directly to me at all.

I sat where I was, looking down at her. "What do you mean?" I asked, afraid I might already know where she was going with this.

"Rain. Why do you keep pushing her away?"

The question cut me like a stake through the heart.

"I don't I don't know," I mumbled, looking away, "I just can't."

She chuckled.

"What's so funny?" I questioned, both buoyed by the tinkle of her laughter, and hurt that she would laugh at my discomfort.

"You. Five hundred years and you haven't changed a bit. You still just can't let yourself be happy. You can't just let love come to you. You have to make everything so complicated and melodramatic"

I stared down at her, saying nothing. What could I say? She was right.

Buffy leaned up on one perfect elbow and considered me carefully. "You know, Angel, you might live forever, but she won't. So I have to wonder, what are you waiting for? Why won't you be with her?"

I looked at her for a moment, golden and shining in the afternoon light, and felt my heart split wide open once more for missing her.

"I feel guilty."

She sat the rest of the way up, and tucked her little finger under my chin, raising my eyes to hers.

"Guilty? Why, Angel?"

Why? How could she ask me that?

"Because I love her," I replied in a whisper, still unable to meet her gaze.

She moved her head to chase my line of sight, and when she caught it, cocked a wry eyebrow at me. "Oh, that. Wow, yeah, no wonder you feel guilty. You terrible, horrible creature. You love someone. Definitely your worst crime yet."

I was instantly furious at her sarcastic mocking.

"She's not you, Buffy! I took vows to be faithful to you until the end of time! Loving someone else is an INSULT to that!" I cried.

Buffy's eyes welled up with tears, and she scooted closer, so we were face to face, and she looked deep into my eyes with all the pain and longing, all the love, I felt in my heart for her in that moment.

"I always thought you were so wise" she said gently, "Haven't you gotten it yet?"

I felt my own tears begin to spill, warm and salty, on my cheeks. In my dreams, I am always alive "Gotten what?"

"Angel" she sighed, "Beautiful Angelso good so giving so unselfish. Don't you know? Rain is me. I am her. We're the same, body, heart and soul. You took vows to love me, to bind our essences, through death and beyond, forever. Don't you see? This body -- the life it lived with you -- is gone. But all those moments we shared? They live on, in here," she laid her hand on her heart, "The essence of everything that we are is reborn, in her. It's time again, my love time for us to be together, like we were meant to be. Please don't waste that time pretending the vessel stands in the way"

I looked at her in wonder, hearing her words wash over me like a healing balm, and a deep resounding feeling of resolution began to flow in my veins.

"You love her for who she is, too," Buffy went on, "You know that this is right. You've felt it since the first moment you saw her. Don't rob her of her one chance to love you don't rob me of another lifetime by your side."

"It's so hard, Buffy! So hard" I said, barely able to make sounds through my tears. She wrapped her arms around me and held my head to her breast while I wept, swearing my undying love for her again and again, "I love you so much!"

"Then don't waste this, Angel My Sweet Love please don't waste all this time, when you can be with me now"

I woke alone in my bed, my pillows soaked through with tears. I could almost smell her warm, sweet scent lingering in the air as I watched the shadows of late afternoon drifting over the staircase to the garden patio, filled with a new resolution -- with a certainty like none I'd ever had before -- in my heart.

I wiped my eyes, and reached over to grab the phone. I wasn't wasting any more time.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rain:

Perfect. I went to meet with Roger Lowenthal the following evening, and he told me he had a meeting to attend, and then he would be out of town for the weekend on personal business. He said he would leave me to my own devices while he was gone. Whether he liked Angel or not, he said, he trusted the vampire to keep an eye on me, at least.

I'd managed to get some sleep, that day, and I was feeling decidedly sharper than I had in weeks. I didn't remember a single dream or ghostly visit. Maybe just knowing that I was so close to the answers I needed was enough to calm my nerves for a while.

And now my Watcher was practically handing me my opportunity on a silver platter.

"Okay," I told him offhandedly, "Maybe I'll catch up on some reading."

"Fine, fine," he said, clearly distracted, "And do address that nest on Third Street while Im gone, won't you? Take Angel along."

I frowned a little at the mention of his name, but agreed anyway.

Once Roger left, I waited a full hour and a half before taking the keys and heading back into the pits of the library again. I wanted to give him enough time to come back for all of the things I know he'd think he'd forgotten. I was going straight for the last door, tonight -- no more screwing around. I knew what I was looking for, and I knew that was where I was going to find it.

This door seemed more carefully built than the others, and when I opened it and snapped on the light, I found the room neatly organized and clean -- meticulously well kept, as opposed to the dusty chaos of the rest of the collection I'd seen.

I approached the shelves slowly, almost afraid. The first cabinet by the door contained a number of beautiful custom-made 20th century weapons -- a couple of small crossbows, a few knives, and a spectacular broadsword. I took the long blade out and held it, surprised to find that the heft was perfect, as if it were my sword. I peered carefully at the engravings on the blade, recognizing some Latin words for pride, honor, victory, duty, and love and one phrase in English that dominated the entire length of the blade:

'By Blood, Heart and Soul Are We Bound...'

I blinked at it. Something about the breathtaking weapon was so familiar the fine engravings, the ornate grip, the feeling of its weight in my hands I gave it a tentative swing, almost cleaving the cabinet in half. Breathing heavily, nervous now, I put the sword back and moved on to the first of the sealed bookshelves.

Hundreds of leather-bound volumes lined the shelves, each marked with two names -- ostensibly that of the Watcher and Slayer whose adventures were contained within -- and a set of dates. The Slayer's reign, maybe? They were too incredibly short to be lifetimes. Vowing to come right back to the Watcher Diaries, I moved onto the next set of shelves. They were covered with airtight containers almost fifty of them that I could see, arranged in neat rows, each bearing a clean, typed label.

This entire section all the containers from the point where I stood to the far wall bore the same inscription on the tag:

Buffy Anne Summers
1996 - 2090

I pulled the first one down and thanked the Powers That Be for whatever it was that had drawn Roger Lowenthal out of town for the weekend.

Angel:

Roger Lowenthal ordered a cup of tea, "preferably fresh", from the tired and worn old waitress at Christie's All-Night Diner. She gave him a nasty look with her sharp black eyes, and I found myself wondering if she had Gypsy blood.

"We have Tetley," she told him. Her name was Lois, her nametag said -- an old-fashioned diner waitress' name. I doubted it was the one she was given at birth She probably lived in some fantasy world of an idyllic time centuries ago, when television was black and white, when cars were the size of small houses, and her soulmate sat beside her on the couch and talked about nail polish.

Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure that last bit was my stuff.

Roger Lowenthal scowled at old Lois, "Please do put extra milk in then, could you? You do have milk, I assume? The sort that comes from a cow?"

Lois didn't reply, but tore the order slip from the top of her pad, slapped it angrily on the table between us, and waddled away.

The Watcher then turned his eyes to me.

"By your phone call, I can assume that this is a matter of some urgency," he snipped.

Any other night, I would have frowned at him, and desperately wished I hadn't asked him to meet me at all. But this was no ordinary night. This was the night in which my ultimate purpose -- my true Destiny -- was as clear to me as it could ever possibly be, for the first time. The eternal smile that was the core of my quest shone like a beacon in my mind, and I drove toward it with genuine, pure, perfect happiness in my ancient heart.

"Yes. It is," I told him.

He waited. When I added nothing further, he frowned.

"And this dire circumstance would be"

"Rain," I replied.

His testy frown turned to a look of concern. "What of her? She was fine when I left her earlier this evening"

I shook my head. "She looks fine. But she's not. She's dying."

Granted, it was melodramatic perhaps even an exaggeration. But it was also true -- the light in every living creature's eyes dimmed the way hers had lately, just as its life began to fade away.

Roger Lowenthal literally flinched at my words. It was a most inopportune moment for Lois to return with his milky tea, the little tag that boldly proclaimed "Tetley" dangling from the side of the cup.

He glared openly at her. She responded with a nasty smirk, and disappeared once more.

The Watcher leaned forward, practically lying on the table, toward me.

"What did you say?" he hissed.

I pulled the D'Archit out of my pocket. "I have it on good authority that you are wrong about my role in Rain's Destiny."

His beady eyes went suddenly wide. "I beg your pardon?"

I held his gaze squarely. "I am not just the Guardian of the Kahtah, Lowenthal. I am her consort -- her second. The Anam Cara isn't only a vow of unity and loyalty -- it is a vow of love and honor, as well. The Bo'Ten is far more than simply a soldier's title. I have taken an eternal oath of marriage -- my role is as her lover and husband, as well as her protector."

He stared at me for a very long time in open-mouthed silence.

"What exactly are you saying?" he asked finally.

"I am saying that I love Rain. She loves me. And that is the way it was fated from the beginning. It is that which will ultimately allow the Kahtah to triumph. And I have every intention of making sure that she understands that."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rain:

I can't describe how excited and terrified I was to have those containers in front of me -- an entire life all that remained of a whole human being, laid out like an exhibit before my eyes.

She was in there. Everything there ever was to know about Buffy Summers was right at my fingertips.

I went through the boxes in order, slowly, carefully. The sheer variety of things in them astounded me -- her clothes, some stuffed animals, journals, favorite books and CD's (a lot of which, I owned). I hardly knew where to begin.

So I began with the diaries, natch. They spanned decades from right before her calling at age 15, until only days before she died, almost one hundred years later.

I spent most of that night reading her thoughts getting to know what lay deepest inside of her. How she felt about life, about the world she lived in, about her Calling, about Good and Evil, about her friends and family

And about Angel. He appeared near the beginning of the very first diary, and there was hardly a page after on which his name didn't appear. In fact, I found many days where she wrote nothing on the paper but his name sometimes in a strong, loopy script, over and over again, and some where it was written only once, in enormous, ornately decorated letters.

Reading 90 years of a woman's life -- especially this woman -- was God, I can't possibly find a word to describe how it felt. I was so immediately connected to her I recognized and agreed with almost every opinion she expressed. I understood every emotion she described. Every word, every scene felt familiar, as if I had written it -- lived it -- myself.

~~~~INSERT DRAMATIC PAUSE HERE~~~~

I wasn't going mad. I wasn't living some twisted fantasy existence in my dreams -- I was remembering Buffy's life. The one that she had actually lived. I was dreaming her memories.

But was that more, or less disturbing than the idea that I might be going insane?

By the time I put down that last journal, written in September 2090 -- two hundred years before -- I was in love. In love with her, in love with them, in love with him, like nothing I'd ever experienced before. No wonder Angel was still smitten so many years later. No wonder he was so loyal so confused so lost, without her. She was wonderful.

Suddenly, for the first time, I knew. I understood. Deep in my soul -- that part of me I didn't even believe in until a couple of years ago -- I felt sure.

I told you I couldn't express what I felt. It was profound and heartbreaking, and it wasn't long before I collapsed onto the soft pelt of a little stuffed pig from one of the boxes, and wept. I cried for everything wonderful she had been and had cried for all of its loss. I cried for Angel for all of his horrible pain and guilt for all his deeds, both heroic, and not so heroic for all the many years he spent alone, tortured I wept for the victims of his demon, and I wept for all of their beloved, long-dead family and friends.

Most of all, I wept for Buffy's dream -- her deepest desire -- for Angel to be human again. She'd never gotten to see it happen, and though she never seemed unhappy in the years they spent together because of it, it still came up, every now and again. As did the mention of the single day he had been human, that they had spent together.

I sobbed until my eyes were nearly swollen shut and my head hurt like I had been beaten with a stick.

What had I found, here? What had falling in love with Angel unleashed inside of me? And why me, at all? Why was she so much a part of me? Why was he? Why did I know Buffy and Angel and all that I had just read, so intimately?

I tried to catch my breath, clutching the stuffed pig to my chest. I picked up a single piece of parchment paper, covered with fine, masculine, old-fashioned script... words and letters written with passion, and tears.

The Vampire - Charles Baudelaire

Thou who abruptly as a knife
Didst come into my heart; thou who,
A demon hoarde into my life,
Didst enter, wildly dancing through

The doorways of my sense unlatched
To make my spirit thy domain --
Harlot to whom I am attached
As convicts to the ball and chain,

As gamblers to wheel's bright spell,
As drunkards to their raging thirst,
As corpses to their worms -- accurst
Be thou! Oh, be thou damned to hell!

I have entreated the swift sword
To strike, that I at once be freed;
The poisoned phial I have implored
To plot with me a ruthless deed.

Alas! The phial and the blade
Do cry aloud and laugh at me:
"Thou are not worthy of our aid;
Thou are not worthy to be free.

Though one of us should be the tool
To save thee from thy wretched fate,
Thy kisses would resuscitate
The body of thy vampire, fool!"

I blinked at the scrawling "A" on the bottom of the page.

Angel

Suddenly, I found it almost impossible to breathe. I didn't know what it was that suddenly started eating at me, yet, but there was something in me that felt like it was expanding growing. All of this new knowledge was filling me like a dry sponge, to the point that I was choking on it, overflowing. I felt a sudden wave of dread, and I found my eyes drawn to a box marked "Photographs". I reached a trembling hand out to open the container I tore off the lid with a single jerk, and plunged my hand inside, withdrawing it again, full of shiny color pictures.

The first one was a wedding photograph. I stared at it, and my heart stopped.

There was Angel, resplendent in a black morning suit and bow tie, a single sterling rose pinned to the lapel. His face was graced with a smile of utter peace and joy of unimaginable love and contentment. His brown eyes shown as he gazed adoringly down at his bride, holding her fine hands in his own like he never wanted to let them go.

The woman he was looking at beautiful Buffy, who inspired such devotion and loyalty in all who knew her who Angel looked upon like he was looking at the most precious gift from heaven who smiled up at him like that was the happiest moment of her life

Was me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Angel:

I sent Roger Lowenthal home that night with a great deal of food for thought. After my initial announcement, which, I admit, was more childish than I'd intended, I had explained myself, my feelings, my concerns, and what I had found to him with perfect diplomatic candor. I told him my beliefs and my intentions. I told him about Buffy and about Rain. I was open and honest about precisely what I expected to happen next.

In the broadest terms, I told the Watcher that I would stand by my oath. I would fulfill my Destiny. I would stand by his Slayer's side as I had her ancestor before her, and I would guard her with my life, until her work on earth was done.

In more immediate terms, I explained to him as I paid for our drinks and rose to leave, I would go home and call Rain and invite her to come to my home for the first time. I would tell her everything I had never told her, and hope that she would understand. And then I was going to ask her to stay. Forever.

It was a pretty sweeping, romantic speech. And I think Roger Lowenthal was actually impressed. He looked at me with what I suppose passed for respect, on him, and said:

"I imagine that would be wise, under the circumstances."

I liked a man who could gracefully, if not explicitly, admit when he was wrong.

So I went home. I had never had a single living human being in my house, and I don't think I'd ever given much thought to how it might appear to one. Especially a woman. Especially a woman like Rain.

I can't tell you why I'd never had Rain to my home. Maybe because it was my only refuge; my place; the hole where I had hidden from the world, with my ghosts and my demons, for two hundred years. Maybe I didn't want her to see the way I lived or didn't live.

I stopped and bought fresh flowers from a Moonie on State Street. I bought boxes of candles from a Witchcraft supply store I knew that catered to those who walked the night -- either by preference or by nature. I wondered whether my sheets were clean, and if I still owned a bottle opener for the wine I purchased.

I was getting way ahead of myself, I know. But right then, it felt so right I felt light, free, and I didn't care. I remembered Buffy's words to me about chances and wasted time. I had wasted enough. And it was long past time for me to start taking chances.

I whistled as I walked toward my future.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rain:

I thought nothing. But boy, did I feel. As I looked with growing horror through hundreds upon hundreds of pictures of my face my body my expressions my smile, everything became perfectly, painfully clear. The knowledge was like a ragged shard of glass that tore me open from the inside.

Buffy Summers was me. I was her. I didn't need to read anybody's theories or explanations about reincarnation to fully understand. I just knew.

My entire existence made perfect, horrible sense, in that moment. And everything I now knew made everything I'd ever known before completely obsolete. Nothing about my life -- this life -- was even remotely related to what I thought was the truth.

I was someone else, entirely.

That thought settled on my brain settled right in like the final piece missing from a jigsaw puzzle.

And I felt rage course through me. I felt betrayed. I felt hatred and resentment explode forth from the now dissolving me I had always thought I'd been.

I jumped from my seat and began throwing items from Buffy's collection into my canvas tote bag. I grabbed sketchpads that Angel had filled with only pictures of Buffy. I grabbed a book of poetry he'd given her. I grabbed reams of pictures and stacks of letters and piles of her diaries, and threw them all in the bag.

And as I crashed out of the archive room, I grabbed the ornate broadsword from the cabinet by the door the one I knew that Angel owned the exact twin of, because I had bought it for him in Ireland for our 20th wedding anniversary.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Angel:

She didn't knock. In fact, Rain kicked in my front door and stood, seething, glaring at me with a giant bag in one hand, and a sword in the other. For a moment, I wasn't certain whether I should offer to help, or run.

I jumped up off the couch, completely startled by her entrance. Her face was a red mask of rage, and I quickly felt dread clench my gut as her anger inundated the room like a searing fog.

She was panting, her eyes bloodshot and swollen from crying, and she held the sword across her chest like a warrior Goddess straight out of Celtic myth.

I saw the inscription on the sword, "By Blood, Heart and Soul Are We Bound", and I knew. I looked into her eyes.

"Rain"

"Sit down," she hissed.

I obeyed. Rain stood, shaking with fury, seemingly unwilling to come any further through the door. I was frozen in my seat, unable to speak, unable to move. Soft blues floated in the background the room was dimly lit by the hundreds of candles I had purchased.

The ambiance now seemed painfully ironic.

"You son of a bitch," Rain snarled, and finally took a single step into the room, "You lousy, no good, lying BASTARD!" Each word spat forth from her perfect mouth and struck me like a blow, "How could you DO this to me?"

The words didn't hurt as much as her tone. Far more than a woman scorned, she was a woman possessed utterly by a feeling of betrayal. Somehow, she had found out.  Everything that I had hidden from her was now in her possession... the evidence stuffed furiously into her bag.

"I can explain" I offered.

Rain dropped the bag to the floor with a thump. Still clutching the sword, she reached in with her free hand and pulled out a handful of photographs. A frigid, cruel smile played across her lips.

"You can explain," she echoed, her tone mocking my words, "You can EXPLAIN??? YOU HAVE AN EXPLANATION FOR WHY THE FUCK YOU DIDN'T SEE FIT TO TELL ME ABOUT ANY OF THIS???"

My ears rang with the sound of her screeching as she gestured at me with the pictures. I didn't need to look any closer at them to know who they were of.

"Yes, I can," I said, trying to stay calm.

Her eyes narrowed to slits, and she flung the pile of pictures at me. They fluttered through the air like a colorful snow, coming to rest in disordered piles on the floor. She took another step forward, dragging the bag with her. I wondered what else was inside. She reached in once more and pulled out something large and heavy, and brandished it at me like a weapon. It was a beast of a book, old and cracked with a leather cover. Six inches thick, and ten pounds if it was an ounce. A Watchers' Diary. Probably one of Rupert's.

She threw that at me, also. "DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS SAYS!!!?" she screamed over the book thumping to the floor. She snorted bitterly, "What am I saying, OF COURSE YOU DO!!! YOU KNEW ALL OF THIS!!!" Rain threw another pile of pictures, "AND THIS!" she launched a bundle of letters, "AND ALL OF THESE, AS WELL! YOU ROTTEN, FILTHY STINKING LIAR!!!" Like a rain of fury, she pulled items from the bag and threw them across the room at me. Some of them struck me others just fluttered or thumped to the floor until it looked like a cyclone had hit my home.

When the bag was empty, and I was surrounded by memories of my life with Buffy, Rain was suddenly calm again. But she never once put down the sword.

"I thought you cared about me," she said, her voice flat.

I rose from my seat once more, determined to do something to reassure her to stop what she must be thinking. "Rain, I do. I love you. With all of my heart."

Her eyes locked on me, and I shivered. I've been to Hell. I have looked into the eyes of pure, unadulterated evil and hatred. But nothing I'd ever seen before that moment inspired the kind of shuddering dread in me that her expression did. I almost expected her to take my head clean off my shoulders with the broadsword. And right then, I almost wanted her to.

"Don't you FUCKING come near me!" she barked, "If you TOUCH ME, I SWEAR TO GOD, I WILL KILL YOU!"

I stopped and stood, staring at her from several feet, and a million miles, away.

"I believed you. I believed every word you ever said to me. Every time you LIED TO MY FACE, I BELIEVED YOU!" She took another step toward me a menacing step, and I had to fight the sudden urge to flee. A natural response of a vampire to an enraged Slayer, I suppose. I could feel my heart shattering in my chest. "YOU DON'T LOVE *ME*!!! DON'T YOU DARE SAY YOU LOVE ME! YOU LOVE SOMEONE WHO DIED TWO HUNDRED YEARS AGO!!! YOU DON'T EVEN FUCKING KNOW WHO I AM!!!!"

Silence fell like a pile of stones on the room. Each painful echo of her heartbeat cut me like a knife.

"That's not true. I do know who you are," I said softly, "I know you better than I know myself. And you know me better than you know yourself. That's the way it's always been."

Her furious scowl was pure Buffy.

"SHUT UP! Don't you fucking EVER say that! You don't even SEE me, Angel! Every time you look at me, you only see HER! You call yourself my friend? You're not my friend!!! You don't give two SHITS about me! All you care about is that I wear your precious BUFFY'S FACE! GOD DAMN YOU! I TRUSTED YOU! I LOVED YOU!"

She was shaking harder, now tears had begun to pour down her cheeks. I took a sharp breath, and another tentative step toward her. I had to stop this. I had to make her understand.

"Rain, listen, please"

Rain took the rest of the distance between us in a single stride, and swung the sword point straight up between us until I could feel its tip prick my chin. I pulled my head back involuntarily.

"No. You listen, vampire. Don't ever come near me again. Don't FOLLOW me, don't CALL me, and don't lurk in the SHADOWS. You can't hide from me, and if you try, I will KNOW you are there. If I catch you, you are DUST. Do you understand me? Am I making myself clear?"

I didn't move. I didn't say anything, at first. I just stood there, the scent of my blood running down my neck mixing with the tang of her rage and the sweet smell of vanilla from her hair.

"I'm sorry, Rain. It may not mean much now, but I give you my word, I never meant to hurt you. I wanted to tell you all of this. And I do love you, just as much, if not more, for who you are now, as for who you once were. I swear on my soul that is the truth."

She literally snarled. "The truth? FUCK YOU, ANGEL! YOU DON'T KNOW A FUCKING THING ABOUT THE TRUTH!" she screeched, then turned on her heel and stomped out of my house.

Sarah McLachlan sang "It's a long way down to the place where we started from", as Rain disappeared back into the night with hatred in her heart, and Buffy's broadsword in her hand.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rain:

To say that I was devastated was like saying the Titanic was an unfortunate boating accident.

I can't honestly remember what I did right after I threw my hissy fit at Angel's house. Other than sob hysterically, that is. I had found answers -- all the answers I thought I was looking for. And boy, were they not answers that I wanted.

In one single night, nothing I thought I knew was intact, anymore. I wasn't even the person I thought I was. My life, my Calling didn't even mean what I thought they meant. I was left with a big, fat goose egg of self-knowledge.

But worst of all was Angel. I thought he loved me I thought he was so damned noble to remain true to his life's only love for centuries. I thought it was an honor that he had let me in to his heart as far as he had.

But now? Now every word Angel had ever said to me every moment we spent together tasted like a lie. Like a betrayal so deep, I didn't see any way that I could ever forgive him. And he felt like a monster to me for the very first time -- a monster that kissed me with nothing but deception on his lips.

Angel never gave a damn about me. He didn't have some deep sense of duty to protect me that had, somewhere along the line, blossomed into something more. He followed me around because he saw me as someone else -- that same someone who I could feel now invading my being -- erasing who I once was. I felt like Buffy was taking me over taking away everything I had ever believed to be true, and moving herself right in. She took me she took my best friend. And I hated her for it.

I couldn't stand the pain. I couldn't stand the hysterical tears that forced me to stop every few feet and lean on the sword -- her sword, which I was barely even aware I was holding anymore -- to keep from collapsing to the sidewalk.

What was I going to do now? Who was I? What did all this mean? How could Angel DO this to me? To hide my Calling and his nature from me was one thing there were legitimate reasons for that which I could understand but this?

I was so blinded by fury, a couple of times I considered just turning around, going back, and killing Angel. I wanted to feel his dust settle on my skin like I had felt the remains of a hundred vampires before. I wanted him to hurt the way he'd hurt me with his lies. I wanted him to be gone, so he could never hurt me again, and I could just forget he'd ever existed.

In those moments, I despised him. I wished I'd never laid eyes on that beautiful face wished he'd never held me in those strong arms, or kissed me with those cool, tender lips. I wished he'd never made all those dramatic, romantic promises to be by my side. My side! HA!

Most of me just wished that I'd never been born at all.

I couldn't even grieve or rage like a normal person. All my own memories were suddenly jumbled up with a whole other person's life, filled with moments a hundred times as tender, as heartbreaking, as any Angel and I had ever shared. Remembering their life together made everything in mine seem shallow and dull by comparison.

But, if I was her, hadn't *I* shared them with him, too? Didn't that life belong to me, as well as her?

NO! Whatever stupid mystical bullshit that tied me to Angel and Buffy, it was still not my life. *I* wasn't wearing a wedding ring! *I* didnt have his mark on my throat! *I* never vowed anything to him!

"Rain, wait!"

I barely heard him through my sobbing, and even when I did, I didn't stop. I kept plunging forward like a zombie on auto-pilot, my body hitching and lurching with almost unbearable devastation.

I was pretty upset.

Angel finally caught up with me when I was forced to stop. I was crying so hard I couldn't keep myself upright anymore, and I fell to the grass on one side of the sidewalk. Clutching the sword to me like a teddy bear, I curled up on the ground and wept for all I was worth. Looking back? It was pretty damned pathetic. But right then, I felt like the earth had suddenly dropped out from beneath my feet, and I was quickly sinking right into the pits of Hell.

Hysterical thoughts jumbled in my head, fighting simultaneously for my attention. Questions screamed to be answered. I didn't understand any of what was happening, and I didn't even know how to begin to.

I felt Angel crouch down beside me in the grass.

"Get*sob* a*hitch*...way from *choke* ME!"

"Rain, please Don't leave like this. Let me explain."

I struggled to sit up. Angel reached out to help, but I yanked my arm away.

"ISAID DON'T TOUCH ME, DAMN YOU!"

He pulled his hand back.

I sat there, crying, and he sat there, watching me. After a few minutes like that, he said:

"You have to believe me. I never meant for things to get this far. I was just confused. I didn't understand what it all meant. So how could I tell you?"

My head snapped up, and I glared at him. (At least, I assume I was glaring) "LOOK AT MY FACE! You mean to tell me you didn't understand that I was her the first minute you saw me? Please, Angel! How stupid do you think I am?"

His eyes darted away from mine to stare down at the grass. He frowned.

"I don't think you're stupid, Rain. I just didn't want to see you get hurt."

I laughed bitterly. "Oh, but finding out the truth the hard waythat doesn't hurt at all! NO SIR!" Finding my anger, and with it, my strength, once more, I used the sword to help me stand. Angel rose slowly with me, ready to assist, but not touching. I looked at him. He couldn't meet my gaze. "I can't believe you would do this to me. I thought you loved me."

He finally looked into my eyes, and I could see that his were filled with tears with longing, with sorrow, pain and regret.

"Rain, I do. I always have." He finally reached out to touch me, laying his hand gently on my arm. This time, I didn't pull away. I hated him, but I loved him with an equal vehemence. "Please. Come back to the house. It's cold, and you don't even have a coat on."

I just stood there, shaking, totally unable to move. He was right. It was cold. And I was coming apart at the seams from confusion and anger. I didn't respond at all as he gently took the sword from my hand (smart Angel) and guided me back toward his house with his hand on the small of my back like a gentleman escorting a lady across the street.

Walking back into the chaos I had left strewn all over his floor, I noticed the ambiance for the first time. All the candles the soft music the bottle of wine, open on the bar. What had he been planning for tonight? After a moment, I realized, and started to cry again. Talk about irony

Angel set the sword down next to the door and helped me carefully to the couch, as if I was wounded. I sunk down, staring at the pictures on the floor. I looked at her facemy face the part of me that wasn't blazing with jealous hatred was practically dancing with joy.

I couldn't hate Angel. Who the hell was I trying to kid? I'd loved him forever, with all of my being with all of the depth of devotion in her heart, as well as mine. All that had once been inside her was now inside me. And I knew there had been times when Buffy tried to hate him, too. When she hated him for the demon that shared his beautiful body when she resented his attempts to be noble, to protect her as though she was a small child

But I also knew that even through all that through Angelus Faithhis leaving she still loved him with every breath she took, to her very last.

I didn't realize he'd walked out of the room until he returned with a glass of ice water in his hand. Still unable to look at him directly, I took it and sipped at it half-heartedly. Angel sat down beside me.

"I know you're angry with me, Rain. You have every right to be. But, I beg you, please try to understand how hard this has been for me," he said softly.

I looked up at him, totally incredulous, "Hard for you? Are you kidding? I don't even know who I am, anymore!"

He blanched, and shame flowed across his features. "You're still you," he whispered, "You're still exactly who you've always been. She's always been a part of you. You just didn't recognize it, until now. I guess maybe I did I should have told you, I know. But I didn't know how to accept it myself. Or, really, how to explain it."

I thought about what he was saying, for a moment. And despite my lingering anger, I knew that he was right. I realized that my soul had begun to open and remember on that very first night (was it only two years ago, now?) that I spied him outside the club, watching me from the edge of the crowd.

I recalled that feeling I'd had when I first saw his face -- that sensation of connection, of deep, complete familiarity, and I recalled every time it had washed over me, since. I knew who he was, all along. I just didn't know that I knew.

"I didn't know how to tell you," he went on, "Or even if it would do you any good at all if I did. I struggled over this, Rain every moment we spent together. I wanted to tell you. But there are ties between us that I am only just beginning to understand. Ties that go far beyond our souls"

The tears that had been welling up in his beautiful brown eyes began to trickle down his cheeks, and sparkled in the soft light that filled the room. So much sadness... so much pain centuries, believing he would walk the earth alone until the end of time. And then he met me. I almost forgot my confusion and anger in the sudden flash of compassion I felt for him.

Sure, I had a right to be upset. I should be confused and angry. But the longer I sat there, looking at him in the flickering shadows, the less it seemed to matter.

I understood him. I was furious, still, but I understood. Would I have done any differently, in his place? All of Buffy's life, Angel fought to shelter her to give her the best things she could have under the circumstances. Sometimes his decisions were faulty, but they were always based on love, pure and true. And didn't every human being have a right to make mistakes? And whatever else he might be, Angel's heart and soul, at least, were human. Could I really fault him for wanting to keep me safe make me happy?

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, they say. And there we were, marching toward it for a second lifetime, hand in prideful hand.

I sighed.

"Listen, Angel. I can't tell you that Im not really, really angry with you. But" I took his hand, and he raised his teary eyes to mine, "I love you. With all of my heart. And I know you only did what you thought was best for me. That's all you've ever done. She knew it, and I know it, too."

He seemed to stop breathing for a moment as he looked so deeply into my face, I could swear he was reading my thoughts.

"I know I'm a fool," he said, "But I do love you, Rain. No matter what else, you have to believe that is true. And I know that I love you as much for the woman you are now as for the woman you once were. Maybe more, because you're both."

Believe it or not, I believed him. My mind was filled with a million shining, beautiful moments of exquisite joy and crushing pain that we had shared a lifetime ago. They were my memories, too. I knew that now. I could feel every emotion that played through them, in my bones in my heart. Maybe I still didn't get it fully but seeing the truth dancing in Angel's eyes wiped away a good deal of my doubt.

More than anything else I had gained that night from Buffy, I knew that a life without Angel was a very lonely, very cold, very empty life. And I wasn't about to go through that pain again, no matter how mad I might be at him right now.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Angel:

I didn't know what the Hell I was doing. After Rain left, I just stood there, in the wreck of my living room, and felt my heart collapsing with shame and grief.

Was I always doomed to do this? To cut her so deeply? The First once told me that I was born to hurt her, and in that moment, I had believed it was true. I believed it again that night, while I could still scent Rain's confusion and rage in the air. I felt like Hell's best weapon against the Slayer -- I didn't have to kill her, I could just crush her heart and her spirit again and again, disabling her like no sword ever could.

I wanted to die. I wished Rain had just beheaded me, and I could have been done with this existence, once and for all.

But then I remembered remembered almost a hundred years of joy with my wife. Through struggle and pain, yes, but still with more happiness than a monster like me deserved. I remembered Rain's grace in the face of so many earth-shattering things that had torn into her life over the past few years how she accepted who and what I was with perfect understanding. I remembered what I had learned from the D'Archit about our eternally entwined destinies. I thought of the sword she carried in her hand.

And I couldn't let her go.

When I caught up with Rain, five blocks away, her anger pounded against me her confusion and sorrow burned my heart like holy water as I talked her into coming back to the house.

I tried to explain myself, but every word sounded lame and trite to my ears. There were no words to express what I felt for her... or what tied us together. There were no legitimate excuses for my silence. All I could do was reassure her that I loved her, and I had only done what I'd done because of that love.

How many lifetimes would I spend having to apologize to her? When I would I stop doing things that I had to apologize for? I was full of the same guilt and shame that I had always felt in her pure and glorious presence. I wasn't worthy of her love or her forgiveness, no matter how much I wanted it.

But she gave it to me, anyway. Her hand in mine was so like a blessing, I was finally overcome by the tears that had threatened all night. She was my redemption. By loving her, by serving her, that was how I was to earn my forgiveness. In another lifetime to come, she would defeat Hell -- and I would stand by her side. My confusion and pain, my deep shame and remorse for a million things that I had done, were nothing when compared to how important Rain was to the world. And how much I adored her.

It was my honor my duty, to push my own selfish feelings aside and accept whatever sweet pain sharing another mortal lifetime with her might bring.

I saw and felt Buffy in her, but I knew she was more she was her own human being, and I loved that person, also. Maybe my love was doubled, because both of their spirits shone from her eyes. I don't know. But I tried to tell her, anyway.

A new peace seemed to settle over her, after a time. And as it did, it crossed the small distance between us, and settled over me, too. I was no longer confused. I felt badly that I had hurt her, but that deep, wrenching pain was gone, leaving me free to think clearly once more.

Rain blessed me with a tentative little smile, and I knew that she was sharing her calm with me. A certainty flowed in the air a truce, between us. We would figure this out, together -- the way we always had.

"Would you um would you like a glass of wine?" I asked her like an idiot. There was only so much we could solve in one night, so we might as well try to recapture normalcy as best we could.

Rain chuckled. "Very smooth transition," she teased. The light tone of her voice was genuine. "Sure. I'd love some."

I walked slowly over to the bar, still feeling stunned, almost numb from the gamut of emotions I'd been through, that night. I was drained, and exhausted, but I could feel some small measure of my earlier resolution returning, too.

Rain was right. I had always only done the best that I could -- what I thought would keep her, and Buffy before her, safe and happy. A little more of my pain seeped away, and was replaced by a little more joy. I handed her a glass and thought, 'How did I get so lucky?'

But it wasn't luck. It was Destiny.

"To eternity," Rain said with a smile.

"To eternity," I agreed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Rain:

I was dizzy, sitting there next to him in the candlelight, as if we hadn't been so close in years.

Of course, in a way, we hadn't. At least, that part of me that was Buffy hadn't. I wanted to laugh and cry and dance and punch him and jump his bones all at the same time. A million things she had wanted to do and share with him, along with a billion things never said came crowding into my mind, fighting to materialize.

Unfinished business sure could give a girl a headache.

After we toasted Eternity, we sat there, quietly sipping our wine and staring at the blazing fireplace. I knew his mind was jammed full of as many overwhelming sensations as mine was. I wondered if this was what he felt like all the time, being around me. No wonder he was so reluctant to ever come closer. I'd never been so confused, and yet so completely sure, before in my life. As stopped fighting all my new knowledgeas I allowed it to fill me, it gave me a greater perception of more things than I ever thought possible. It was like I could touch the universe for the first time.

I glanced at Angel out of the corner of my eye. His brow was scrunched in deep thought, but for once, I couldn't feel that aura of pain that usually hung around him like a storm cloud about to break. In fact, the corners of his perfect lips were now turned up in the barest hint of a happy smile. The firelight danced over his broad cheekbones, and sparkled in his deep brown eyes. He was more beautiful in that moment than I had ever seen him before, and my last vestige of anger toward him just melted away.

I was so busy being reborn, so busy reveling in his abject magnificence, I had almost forgotten the atmosphere he had so meticulously created in the room. Hell, I barely remembered the room, before now.

"So, what's the occasion?" I asked.

Angel's head snapped up as my sudden words broke his apparently happy reverie.

"Hmm? Oh" he chuckled softly, "Well, it's uh kind of a long story."

I grinned at him. "I'm not going anywhere." It felt good to really let go of all that anger and confusion. To just be there, letting it all come back to me, allowing his presence to wash over me I could feel how much she had missed him, and her unadulterated elation at being near him once more.

A brilliant smile lit his face, and made me want to burst into tears again. "No, you're not," he confirmed.

I moved a little closer, and as I did, my body seemed to almost seize up with pure joy. God, how I wanted to touch him. Just take him in my arms and kiss every smooth inch of his cool skin. The bond between us was burning and pulsing like a living thing, and his sheer beauty left me absolutely breathless. Angel seemed unable to look at me as I settled in beside him, tucked into his side on the couch.

After a long moment, he finally looked at me, and I saw his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed, hard. I almost laughed -- was he nervous? Well, gee. How could that possibly be? I'd only threatened to cut his head off awhile ago.

"How did you I mean what happened?" he asked.

I took a deep breath. "Well, that's kind of a long story, too. Tell you what. I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours."

He nodded, his smile never fading. "Deal. But before that"

Angel reached one cool, strong hand up, and laid it tenderly on my cheek as his face moved slowly closer. His eyes seemed to search mine, then move over the rest of my features like a soft caress, finally coming to rest on my lips.

I watched him come, and there was that sensation again of falling, of flying, of complete comfort and safety that I now knew must come from Buffy, plus all the brand-new electric thrill of knowing he was mine that we were about to make our very own perfect connection. All the rest just stopped mattering in the warmth of the love that flowed between us.

"I love you, Rain," he whispered into my lips, "I love you with all of my being. I'm sorry I hurt you."

I sighed and tried not to faint. "I know," I whispered back, and hoped that it was enough.

Then, I kissed him. Feeling the familiarity of our bodies burning of our souls melding and meeting for the first time in hundreds of years. I tangled my hands in his thick hair and pulled him as close to me as our skin would allow.

It was all coming back to me every moment we'd shared, forever. A million whispers of love, a billion tears, promises and cries of passion and pain. I felt like my whole being was expanding, floating, mixing with his and filling the air until I couldn't breathe anymore. His sadness became mine, as did his ancient, soul-deep love one kiss was all it took -- one long, deep, heavenly kiss, to make us truly, finally, and completely, one.

He pulled away, and there were tears streaming down his pale cheeks once more.

"Rain, I"

"Sh," I murmured, giving him a little smile that I hoped conveyed everything that was rushing through me at that moment, "There's plenty of time for talk after."

And I kissed him again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Angel:

It was more than I had ever hoped for. Having her in my arms like that, her soft, warm lips on mine, for the first time, but for the thousandth It was beautiful.

There was still so much to say so many mysteries to untangle and questions to answer. But as I buried myself in her scent in the warmth of her skin as I lost myself in her long-remembered touch, none of those mundane details seemed to matter anymore.

I couldn't taste her couldn't feel her, enough. I didn't have enough hands or enough mouths I wished I were two men, instead of only one. I wished our clothes, and the furniture, and the laws of physics didn't keep so much of her from me.

I was lost. Lost in her love, and in mine. Lost in the flawless completion of that single moment. I wanted her. I wanted to devour her, take her inside me and never allow us to be separate again.

It was amazing magnificent. A moment of pure, perfect, bittersweet joy as I moved over every inch of her within my reach her lips, her face, her throat, her chest. If I could have died and turned to dust in that golden, candle-lit moment, I might have. But there was that all-consuming desire to keep touching her that kept me firmly anchored to life.

"Rain" I whispered her name, over and over felt its magick flow from me and over her, making her sigh and croon with bliss.

I suddenly couldn't remember why I had waited so long to hold her. I forgot all the reasons that I hadn't done this a hundred times already. Why I hadn't slipped off her blouse as I did now, revealing all the magick of her creamy skin, beneath. Why I hadn't worshipped her perfect breasts or kissed my adoration into the skin over her heart every day for years.

I didn't know, anymore, what kept us apart. When Rain took off my shirt, and pulled me against her when our skins met -- hot against cold, and her strong hands traced the lines of my back like she'd been doing it forever, I forgot everything I ever knew, before. No questions, no uncertainty, no guilt only the mind-bending feeling of completion.

Perfect happiness, once my curse, was now my ultimate reward.

Rain and I made love right there on the floor, until long after dawn. Then we slowly made our way up to the bedroom, and the rest of that day passed like flowing silk as we touched, and melded, and rejoined over and over again until we collapsed, laughing, in one another's arms, long past the following nightfall.

If I had ever thought Destiny was a painful thing, I certainly didn't anymore. For the first time in two hundred years, I held my Sacred Duty to me, wrapped safely in my arms, and was glad to be exactly who I was. Where I was. When I was.

She was right. There was plenty of time for talk. After all, we had eternity.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rain:

As I've said before, I'm no virgin by any stretch of the imagination. I'm a woman totally blissed out by sensation: smell, taste, touch... I'm comfortable with sex, and I love using my body as an instrument of pleasure. Plus, I love men.

In other words, I'd had my share of lovers, over the years. Not too many... but just enough to know ecstasy when I felt it.

But being with Angel that night (and the next morning... and afternoon... and night again... *laugh*) was like nothing I'd ever experienced, before. Calling it "sex", or even "making love" -- lumping it in the same category with every other tryst I'd ever had -- seems almost like an insult, and most certainly, an understatement. What I had been doing before was playing Chutes & Ladders with little boys. What I encountered with Angel was more like playing world class chess with the Grand Master.

Okay, I know. Dumb metaphor. But you get my point. And believe me, I'm tempted to spew out even more dumb metaphors, because regular words just don't do justice when it comes to what it felt like to be in his embrace. He was amazing. Hell, we were amazing! Angel's body is so big and hard and smooth... he's so strong, and yet, so gentle. And he knows well (from being around for 500 years, I imagine) how to use every muscle, tendon and bone to express his desire. I'd never felt so loved before... so adored... so worshipped... so beautiful. I was in Heaven, pure and simple.

And being with him... really with him, so close, as if we shared one body, one heartbeat, one breath... opened something inside of me that I never knew was there before, even with all my "experience". I was utterly helpless in his arms, turned to a quivering, purring, crying puddle of mush by his certain touch. Every motion, every kiss, every whispered word of tender passion was so familiar, and yet... each moment that ticked softly by seemed to sparkle with the shining newness of treasure, discovered. It was like the first time, all over again. But better.

Jesus. I should write for Romance Weekly, or something.

It didn't matter at all that Angel was making love with Buffy, as much as he was with me. Maybe it should have... I mean, if I was the same Rain as I was two years (hell, two weeks) before, I might have been horrified and insulted, thinking that Angel was being unfaithful to me while it was my body singing his praises. But the fact was, I didn't think about whether it was Buffy or me he was with, because there was no line between us. We were the same, she and I, and we had every right to love Angel exactly the way we did. It was natural and easy and earth-shattering, as if there was no longer any line between he and I anymore, either.

It was glorious, being with him, and I couldn't seem to get enough. My longing mixed with hers, and with his, and warmed the air around us with more heat than the slowly dying fireplace ever could.

I'd never laid eyes on a square inch of his house before. It was big, and grand, and meticulously, elegantly decorated, and we christened every inch of it that night. The couch, the floor, the dining room table (which was, thankfully, made of a sturdy, old-fashioned oak. We didn't end up tumbling into a crashing, moaning heap of steel and Formica and flesh on the floor, like we had one afternoon I could remember from long ago.), the shower, the stairs, the bathtub, the garden patio.. and finally, close to 24 hours later, in his soft, king-sized bed.

Angel fell asleep first. HA! I wore that vampire out! But I guess that's kind of what Slayers are built for, huh? He tumbled into dreamland clutching me so tight to him, it took me a good five minutes to escape without waking him. Not that I didn't want to just totally lose consciousness in the safety of his embrace, but... a girl's gotta use the bathroom, right?

So I pried myself loose and tiptoed out of the room, uncertain if it was day or night until I saw the full moon shining in through his office window. I wondered why he left the curtains open like that... talk about tempting fate...

I did what I needed to do, and then stood, staring at my reflection in the mirror. I looked beat... totally exhausted, but so incredibly happy. I gazed at the woman in the glass for a long time, and wondered if I was still me. My eyes were still the same color -- a color Angel equated with spring grass after a storm. My skin was still the same shade... he said, like peaches and cream. My hair, though admittedly a total rat's nest, was still the same golden-blonde hair I'd been battling with for 23 years... I clearly still looked like me...

But was I? It was like I was more than me, now. I couldn't really see it, but I knew. I could feel her inside me, as though discovering her and our connection through the mirror of Angel's eyes, Angel's touch... had opened me fully to her. Her life was now in my heart, and I could feel her in my soul.

As it turns out, I was pretty damned glad about it, too, because the more I knew her, the more I liked that long-dead Slayer, who I used to think was somehow my rival.

Angel had his arms around me, and his face buried in my hair before I even realized he was behind me. Damned vampire stealth and lack of reflection! I almost had a heart attack! And I was a little embarrassed that he had caught me staring at myself.

"You're still ravishing," he assured me, nibbling softly on my earlobe.

I craned my head to look up at him. "Why thank you, kind sir. I wasn't really thinking that sleeping with you would turn me into a troll..."

He chuckled. "You're the best damned looking troll I've ever seen..." his voice was so happy... so light, I almost burst into tears at the sound. "Come back to bed," he murmured, instantly sending an uncomfortably tantalizing shiver down my tired spine, "I miss you."

I turned around so our bodies were pressed breast to breast once more.

"I missed you, Angel..." I told him, smiling up into his eyes. I don't know if I was talking about the 20 minutes I'd been in the bathroom, or the 200 years since our souls had last occupied the same space.

Either way, it seemed to make him happy. He pulled me closer and lay his head on top of mine, and I could feel his breath in my hair. He sighed deeply, and my heart just sang.

God, how much I loved him. I'd loved him forever... and I imagined I always would. The rest of it was just details.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Angel:

After another very long time, Rain finally fell asleep. Even Buffy hadn't been such a sure and eager lover... she had been soft and submissive, where Rain was strong and forward. Perhaps it was their combined essences joining. Or maybe Buffy's sexuality had been irreparably damaged by the horrible aftermath of her first time.

I don't think I've ever forgiven myself for doing that to her. I spent so many years trying to erase those memories. Spent hours upon hours showing her... telling her how beautiful and desirable she was... how incredible it felt to be a part of her body... how honored I felt that she chose to share it with me, the lowliest of creatures...

I watched Rain sleeping that night... the end of the second night she'd spent in my arms and thought, maybe one of the gifts of her rebirth had been the dissolution of those old fears. That part of Rain that had lain with me for the first time, that night, wasn't afraid. She might have remembered, but that old pain just wasn't a part of her. I was glad she could be above or beneath me with the abandon of pure delight... It was all new, for her. The way it should be.

It was ancient, to me. A love and passion that existed before either of our bodies were born onto this plane, and yet... this woman filled me with a whole new sense of wonder, as well.

I watched her smile in her dreams... watched her butterfly lashes flutter, focusing on the images that filled her sleep, and I thought about souls, once again. About Destinies, and Sacred Duties. Here I was, a man long-dead, lying bathed once more in the living warmth and stunning power of the woman whose purpose it was to rid the world of my kind. I found my life once again inextricably bound to hers, and the irony almost made me weep.

I thought about the prophecies in the D'Archit... that I was fated to love this woman until the last shadow of evil was banished from this dimension. I believe in free will. I believe in a being's right and responsibility to think for themselves, and act on their beliefs and knowledge. I always felt that every journey to Destiny had more than one road, and I had always chosen, as Frost said, 'the one less traveled by' -- for good or ill. Sometimes I made those choices based on cold, calculated logic, sometimes on the bold cry of my heart. But always, I had made a choice, and had to exist with the consequences.

But my love for the soul of this woman was never about choice. It was about the very stuff that I was made of... Rain was stitched into my cells, from the moment I was born, centuries before her. It was the ultimate in predestination -- the Powers had chosen us for one another, and we never had any say in the matter at all. When it came to loving Buffy... and now Rain... I was a man without will. I was her servant. Her adoring and perfectly willing slave.

And I didn't care. If being truly free meant being without her, then I would much rather be Fate's helpless plaything. I kissed her forehead softly, and thanked those infernal Powers for returning her to me once more as I fell into a blissful, contented sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rain:

Lying in his arms, I dreamed again. The same sunlit meadow, the same gauzy white dress and stupid sunhat, the same wildflowers, the same cliff, the same birdsong...

But now I knew that the cliff overlooked the town of Sunnydale, where Angel and Buffy had spent their entire lives together. And the meadow lay outside a magnificent mansion of stone and marble where Angel once lived.

Kahtah was there, waiting for me. She stood in the middle of the densest part of the field, absolutely stunning in a long, blood red gown. She looked like she was ready for an evening at the opera, instead of standing there in the sunshine with bees buzzing about her golden hair as though she was the sweetest flower of them all.

I approached her slowly, almost frightened, but not quite. I'd never actually seen her, before. I was pretty weirded out when I saw her smile as I got close. My smile...

My fairy godmother was Buffy.

"Hi," I said. Not my most clever opening line, but...

"Hi," she replied in that voice that was more than just one voice, but still all her... or... us?

I looked her up and down. "Nice threads."

Her smile grew. "Thanks," she said, "I got promoted."

Okay color me confused again. "You're an angel or something?"

She laughed and took my hand. You can't possibly imagine how completely eerie it is to hold your own hand. (And no, holding your right with your left doesn't count, smart-ass!)

"Not exactly," her brow scrunched a little, "At least I dont think so." After a moment, she shrugged, and her smile quickly returned. Buffy turned toward the mansion at the bottom of the hill, and led me, strolling hand-in-hand through the tall grass. "I'm just somewhere else, I guess. It's kind of hard to explain. Another dimension, maybe? I don't know. We haven't figured it out yet."

I looked at her as we walked. "We?"

Her smile grew yet more. Wow. She really was beautiful. "Me and Giles and sometimes Wesley. Sometimes Willow, too, although I suspect she enjoys Einstein's company more than any of ours."

"Oh," was all I could think of to say.

"But I'm tied to this dimension, too to you and Angel. I'm inside of you, you know?"

I sighed. "Yeah, I know." Boy, did I know.

Buffy stopped and looked at me. "I know all of this is a lot, Rain. It was hard for me to buy it all at first, too. I mean, when They told me about you, I have to admit I was kind of pissed."

That made me laugh. "No way. Really?"

She snorted, "Well, yeah. I mean, Angel and I had to go through so much to be together, you know? And then I died -- can I tell you how bad that sucked? -- and then I was just supposed to hand him over to someone else with a smile and a blessing? Please."

"Yeah. I can totally understand that," I told her.

"Well, it helps that you're me," she said with a smile, "He's great, isn't he?" she asked, her ethereal voice wistful as it so often was when she talked about him.

My heart leapt. "Yeah. He is."

We were almost to the garden doors of the mansion, now. I could see inside, and it was Angel's bedroom and there we were, in his giant bed, all tangled up in each other's arms, sleeping peacefully.

Buffy watched too, and smiled sadly.

"He'll never leave you. He'll never lie to you. He'll give you everything he has until the day you die. That's just the way he's built," she promised me, a single tear rolling down her cheek.

I felt bad for her. And yet, not I gave her hand a squeeze. Imagine me, comforting an angel.

"I know," I answered.

She turned to look at me again. "Don't ever think that he loves me more than you, Rain. Forget all that stuff. Don't even let it into your head. There's no difference between you and me, really. What, who he loves is who we both are. It was the reason why he was born. Why he died. Why he survived Hell and came back. And why he found you again. For both of us. And for the Third."

Now she was going all cryptic-freaky-mystical on me again. "The Third?"

"Don't worry about it," she advised me, "It'll all make sense eventually. But right now? Just live your life. You're the luckiest woman on the planet, you know. You don't have to pay the kind of price we did to be together. But you still get to be together."

I remembered. "But maybe that makes it sweeter the pain, I mean."

She gave me a funny look. "Are you kidding?"

"Well would you do it all over again? If you had the chance?"

She gazed at our sleeping Angel for a long time, and then looked back at me. Her smile burst forth. "Hell yeah, I would."

"Well, there you go," I said.

She walked me to the door.

"This is where I get off," she declared.

I grabbed her and hugged her as tightly as I could. "Thank you, Buffy." I was crying, now.

She pulled back, and shrugged nonchalantly. "Hey, that's what they pay me the big bucks for," she joked, and turned to walk away.

I didn't want to watch her go, so I turned around, looking in the door at myself, wrapped warm and safe and tight in Angel's arms. I couldn't wait to wake up and see him again.

"Rain?" I heard her call, and I turned back. She was a long way off, now, but I could still hear her like she was standing right next to me.

"Yeah?"

"Take good care of him. He loves us. And he's so important so very special."

I glanced at him, sleeping peacefully, one arm stuffed under his pillow, and the other wound possessively around me.

"I will," I promised.

But when I turned around, Buffy was gone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Angel:

It was, undoubtedly, the best two days of my entire life, bar none. To be with her again like that? Ah why bother with words? Any I could choose would most certainly fall short of describing how it really felt.

I can conjure up perfectly complete sensory memories of every single moment we spent together. It wasn't all sighs and moans of pleasure, or words of love and devotion, either. At some point, we came out of our sensual haze, and Rain was peering down at me with pain in her eyes. I almost forgot, for a while, what all of this remembering had done to her life.. to her conception of who she was, and who I was. I forgot, in the stunning warmth of her arms that there were 23 years of her life that she hadn't known... when she had thought that she was, simply Rain, and nothing more.

"I'm sorry," I told her for the millionth time.

Rain took a deep breath and studied my face closely. She was so small, leaning there on my chest so vulnerable, like a little girl lost.

"I'm still kind of pissed at you," she admitted.

I had to smile, a little. "I know."

"Do you know why?"

I hesitated. I wasn't really expecting to be tested, at this point.  Just like Buffy... making me recite the moral of the story.

"Because I didn't tell you that you once were Buffy," I quoted dutifully, "I promise, Rain. I will never lie to you again."

She looked me straight in the eye. "You know, Im going against my own policy here. It should be Three Big Lies and You're Out."

I frowned, a little stab of fear ticking in my gut.

"But"

Rain gave a little shrug, "But the fact is, you never really lied, exactly. You just avoided specifics on particular subjects. Not really a moral transgression of the highest order, especially considering your intentions. So fourth chance."

I was so happy and grateful to hear it, I almost started to cry anew.

I kissed her deeply, instead. When I pulled away once more, I vowed to her, "I won't need another one."

She laughed, and we didn't exchange coherent words again for a long time.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rain:

AYYYYEEEEE!!!

That was me screaming, by the way. I was just drowning. Too many things going on inside me all at once. Too many emotions, sensations. Buffy's essence seemed just as deeply sensitive as mine, and the two together made me just translucent, to him. Totally open. Completely vulnerable.

Whole.

But it was a lot. A whole lot to have to digest at once. Two years ago, I was Normal Jane. Now now I'd gained a Sacred Calling, a husband, and a hundred years of memories, almost in an instant. I grew up a lot, really fast.

And Angel he was a lot all by himself. Since I'd met him, he'd been holding so much back, hiding behind his past, wallowing in the safe distance of two hundred years of memories and loneliness. He kept me out, and didn't let much of his innermost self show, at all.

Suddenly, he was all Angel. All of him, all at once. He opened his soul like a floodgate, and everything inside him came spilling out and washed over me. He was someone who'd known me for a great deal longer than I'd known him. He'd spent 280 years with me, in life, and in his memory. I'd only spent 2 with him, and not really with him, then.

Angel's love was overwhelming. The way he smiled, the way he cried, the way he murmured softly in Gaelic as we made love

Did I already say it was a lot?

I'm not complaining, of course. Gods, no! I've never even dreamed of being so loved or feeling so content. I could close my eyes, and almost feel it in the air a tumult of emotions like nothing I'd ever even dreamed of, before.

Sunday afternoon, we laid there on the couch, watching antique horror movies and drinking Tang, trying not to remember that Roger Lowenthal would be coming back that night, and we would have to make some attempt to go back to our lives. When I did, finally, start to think about it, I got very, very tired.

I turned over so Angel and I were chest to chest and face to face again. He was so engrossed in 'Scream', that he didn't notice right away. I got to watch him, his big brown eyes nailed wide to the screen, his hand reaching out and absently shoving handfuls of popcorn into his perfect mouth. Good thing he was a vampire, I tell you, or those lips might very well have been badly bruised, by then.

After a moment, his next helping of popcorn stopped halfway to his face, and his eyes turned to me.

"What?" he asked with a little smile.

"I think we should probably talk now," I told him, hoping my voice conveyed just how much I really didn't want to. I wanted to stay just like that forever, laying on the couch with nothing on but one of his silk shirts, his arm around me I wanted to pretend that none of the rest of it our lives, my duty existed at all.

But, you know Denial won't save the world. That was our job.

Angel shifted, and I got up so we could sit in Talking Position. He stopped the VCR and turned off the TV, and looked at me seriously. I could swear he was afraid, and I don't think I'd ever seen him scared of anything, before.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but in my day, those were pretty ominous words to say to your lover," he said.

I shook my head. "No, not ominous, exactly"

Angel's eyes searched my face. "Then, what?"

I sighed and looked away. "There are a lot of things we have to think about I mean, our relationship has never been easy, and I don't think getting naked is going to automatically make it any easier..."

His expression became wounded, and his tone sounded hurt, "'Getting naked'? Is that all this was to you?"

I scowled at him, hard. "You know that's not what I meant, Angel."

He nodded slowly. "You're right. I do." He took my hand.

"But there's more to this than meets the eye, you know? You're not just Some Guy, and I'm not just Some Chick there's a reason why all of this happened why I was reincarnated. There has to be."

Now it was his turn to look away, but he said nothing. I tucked my hand under his chin and turn him back to face me.

"You know, don't you? You know what all of this means."

Again, he nodded, as if it hurt. But he still didn't say anything.

"Angel you promised. No more secrets, remember?" I reminded him.

Angel looked deeply into my eyes. It never ceased to amaze me how a dead man a demon could hold so much wisdom and knowledge and unfathomable sadness in his gaze.

Without a word, he rose and left the room. If he hadn't returned a moment later with a fat book in his hand, I might very well have freaked out. He sat back down and handed me the ancient volume.

"This is the D'Archit," he explained, "It chronicles the core purpose of the Sisterhood, from its inception to the End of Days."

I stared at it. It looked just like one of Roger Lowenthal's millions of dusty tomes, to me. Ancient and cracked and written in languages I'd never even heard of before, never mind understand.

"What does it say about me?" I asked. Call me self-centered, but I really didn't give a shit what it said about Cave Slayer or Victorian Slayer or whatever.

"A great deal," he told me, "Over half the book is about the Kahtah -- the Triumvirate of which you and Buffy are the first two."

Kahtah the word set off all kinds of alarms in my subconscious.

"Ohhhhh" I said with dawning realization. That was why she'd had me call her that. It hadn't just been Buffy in my dreams it had been all of us. This Triumvirate. I realized too, what she had been talking about when she mentioned the Third.

I felt a little pang of jealousy. No way did I want to die and leave Angel to some other chick that hadn't even been born yet!

I laughed. Buffy had said almost exactly the same thing.

Angel frowned. "Okay, I missed something"

"Yeah," I told him with a smile, "Inside joke." Inside me.

He shrugged it off and went on, "This describes the battle against evil, and your ultimate victory. It talks about the special cycle of rebirth you came from, and the way your essence originates in, and adds to, what the Kahtah will eventually become."

I blinked. "Oh. Okay," I said, "And what does it have to say about you?"

He looked at me intensely for a long moment, then took the book from my hand and set it on the coffee table. He faced me squarely, looking into my eyes.

"By blood, heart, and soul are we bound" he quoted in response.

Part of our wedding vows. The engraving on the sword. (I'd stopped trying to differentiate between myself and Buffy -- it was too confusing.)

"Uh huh," I said, "And that answers my question how, exactly?"

He smiled. "I'm your Bo'Ten -- your consort. Your champion, if you will."

"My knight in shining armor?" I grinned, "Like Sir Lancelot?"

Angel growled a little, and pulled me into his arms once more, "But there's no King Arthur," he corrected me, "You're all mine."

I snuggled against his chest, and played with the plain silver ring that hung on a chain around his neck.

"So this belongs to me, then," I ventured softly. I admired the tiny, delicate letters of the engraving on the inside. "Always

He held me closer, and rested his head on top of mine. "It does," he whispered.

I pulled away enough to look into his eyes. "Then, can I have it back?"

He shook his head, "Not without a proper ceremony."

I cocked an eyebrow at him. So formal, so old-fashioned, even now. "So is there going to be one?"

You know, I always hated all those pathetic women who spent their whole lives scrambling around, desperate to find a husband, litmus testing every guy they dated or slept with for suitability. Now I almost felt like I was becoming one. Of course, I really wasn't. Angel had been my husband since before I was even born. I was just looking to take back what was mine.

He shrugged, trying to be casual. "Do you want there to be one?"

Oh, okay so he wanted to play games. Fine. I could handle that.

"Um I don't think there's ever been any question of what *I* wanted, here" I reminded him.

Angel smiled and narrowed his eyes in mock irritation. "Are you trying to weasel a proposal out of me, Summers?"

I snorted. "Hell no! Im asking you if you want to marry me. Again."

He seemed to stop and think about that for awhile. Then his smile snuck back up on him again.

"Sure, why not?" he said, "It wasn't so bad the first time"

I laughed and jumped him, forgetting all about Roger Lowenthal and my Sacred Duty for another few sweet, fleshy couple of hours.

 



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