Cara Mia

Author: Sarah Chaya

Summary: Post-NFA futurefic. Takes place about a decade after NFA. Canon through Buffy s. 7 and Angel s. 5
Feedback: Yes, please to
Rating: NC-17
Author Notes: Cara comes from the latin meaning "Beloved.” Some ideas for the story come from a series of poems that a friend of mine wrote. No, I can't post them since she doesn't want them out. Sorry.
Disclaimer: Buffy and Angel belong to Fox, Joss, and Mutant Enemy. No copyright infringement intended. For entertainment use only.


"Brush properly, Cara. Don't make me come up there and check," called Buffy as she packed her daughter's pink lunch kit full of nutritious snacks.

"Okay, mom," answered Cara, her voice slightly distorted by the paste in her mouth.

Buffy shook her head as she placed a granny smith apple, Cara's favourite, alongside the apple juice box. Never in a million years would she have imagined herself a mother. And yet, here she was, making sure that her daughter was getting all her vitamins and minerals. Wasn't it about fifteen years ago that she was complaining to Angel that she had killed her fish and failed the egg-babysitting class project? Of course, that they had happened to be demon eggs hadn't had an impact on her failing grade. She sighed. Yeah, that was ages ago. A lifetime it seemed. Sunnydale. The only Chosen One. Angel. That Buffy was long gone. Dead and buried.

Today's Buffy lived in a cozy two-bedroom home in Seattle, owned a small bookshop/ teahouse that specialized in rare, occult, and hard-to-find books, was marginally involved in the Slayer business, and frequently employed Slayers in her store. That latter part was not her idea, of course, but Giles'. He had suggested that she keep in touch with Slayers somehow. She had almost no friends in her new city, and preferred it that way. She had parted ways awhile ago from her old friends after the battle of Sunnydale.

After Sunnydale's decimation, everyone had their own paths to follow. Giles had quickly re-established the new Watcher's council which sought to gather and train Slayers. Xander, reeling from Anya's death and needing to find something worthwhile to do, had decided on helping Giles in their new headquarters in London. Willow had also opted to return to England to get more training from the coven that initially had helped her when she became evil. After a few years in London, she and Kennedy moved to San Franciso where they currently lived. Faith had become the leader of the Slayers and had Robin to help her out, his experience as a school principal coming in handy. Always academic, Dawn was currently finishing her postdoctorate studies at the University of Ghent in Belgium.

Buffy had decided while looking at the crater formerly known as Sunnydale that she would take her life back, and retire from Slayage. It had been a decision no one had challenged. Hell, she deserved it. Yet, somehow, her life hadn't turned out exactly how she had imagined it would.

"Mommy, I can't find my Blues Clues socks!" yelled Cara in a panicked voice from upstairs, breaking into Buffy's reverie.

"They're in the top right drawer, sweetie," replied Buffy, zipping up the lunch kit.

"It's not there!" screeched Cara amid the noise of falling drawers.

"Yes, it is," replied Buffy as she raced up the stairs before her precocious child could destroy her bedroom. The said five-year old was rummaging through piles of clothes like a dog digging for a bone.

Buffy reached into the sole drawer that had not been upended onto the floor. "Cara, here it is." Her voice carried more than a hint of irritation. Just last night, Buffy had neatly arranged Cara's clothes into neat plies, and now there they were, scattered all around the floor.

Cara straightened, and took the pair of socks from her mom's hand. "Thanks, mommy," she said sweetly, putting on the coveted socks.

"You're welcome, Cara," answered Buffy. "And when you're done putting on your socks, you can clean this room up."


"You made a mess, you clean it up. Now, Cara."

Furious dark-brown eyes stared up at her.

"You can glare all you want, but you still have to do it." Buffy crossed her arms unperturbed. She was used to dealing with Cara's tantrums.

A frown fixed on her face, Cara started picking up her clothes.

Buffy watched her for several minutes to make sure that she was doing the work properly, and then went downstairs. She loved Cara with all her heart but sometimes she just made her want to pull her hair out by the roots. The mommy gig was definitely one of the biggest surprises of her life. She hadn't planned on getting pregnant. Especially not on a one-night stand with some stranger who she had never seen again.

Eight years ago, Buffy was in Italy. Rome, to be precise. She was madly infatuated with the Immortal at the time. So he wasn't exactly faithful nor was he a long-term type of guy, but in her situation, he was perfect. A Superbeing with no hang-ups about good or evil, "fighting the good fight," or atoning for evil. Okay, if she had been true to herself, she would have recognised that being with the Immortal was a knee-jerk reaction to her failed relationship with Angel. However, at that time, she was thoroughly enjoying a carefree life. The amazing sex was a definite bonus.

She was still living the vida loca when a young man tracked her down at the apartment she shared with Dawn. He said his name was Connor and that Angel was his father. Normally, she wouldn't have let him in, but there was something oddly familiar about him that persuaded her to do otherwise. Over several cups of tea, she had learned that Connor was indeed the son of Angel and Darla. The latter piece of information had stung but she really couldn't hold it against the nice young man. After all, he had come all that way from Los Angeles. Why had he trekked halfwayaround the world to have coffee? Well, turned out he was the bearer of bad news. Very bad news.

Angel was dead.




Buffy had received the news calmly at first, her mind staunchly refusing to accept the fact. Angel dead. It couldn't be. Wasn't she the one who was supposed to die first? Slayers died all the time. She had always expected him to outlive her, and not the other way around. Connor had waited patiently for her to speak again, compassion in his blue eyes. Blue eyes. That struck her. Angel did not have blue eyes. He must have gotten them from Darla. Again she had assumed that would anger her, but all she could feel was numbness. A small part of her reminded her that she had felt the same way when her mother had died in their Sunnydale living room.

"How?" she had asked, her mouth dry like the desert. She had no tears to shed. Connor then related a final apocalyptic battle where the offices of Wolfram & Hart had been located. He had been on site visiting his father. They had had a couple of hours to talk heart-to-heart before a powerful being had attacked Angel. Instead of accepting his help, Angel had told Connor to leave. So he had. News of a terrorist bomb explosion had been broadcast the following day, and Connor had returned to what was left of the Wolfram & Hart offices. There had been no survivors. Soot and smoke amid grey rubble was all he had seen. He had even crept through the yellow police lines to search for clues, anything. Nothing turned up. Connor had waited by the phone for a week, hoping for a call from his father. Maybe somehow Angel survived.

But the call never came. Angel was gone. With a heavy heart, he decided to fulfill his father's last request. That if anything untoward should happen, Connor would go to Italy and let the woman he loved know what had occurred. So there he was.

After a few more cups of tea, Buffy thanked Connor for giving her the news, and promised to keep in touch.

It was perhaps a week later that Angel's death finally hit her. She had been dreaming of walking with Angel in a snow-covered field. She had wanted to plant sunflowers but the ground was getting too hard, and then huge white flakes had blanketed both of them. She had woken up sobbing.

Days had passed, and then months, and Buffy had hoped that the hollowness in her heart would heal. But it didn't.

Sometimes while walking along the streets at night, she had spoken out loud, wishing to hear Angel's voice in return, to answer her thoughts and shake her to her senses. But it never did.

Then one night she had gone out on her own, had too much vino, and had ended up with a guy who resembled her Angel. Tall, broad-shouldered, mysterious, dark-hair, dark-eyes. Never mind that he could barely speak English.

She didn't even know his name.

Nine months later, Cara was born. Dark-haired, dark-eyed, and squalling. Buffy's heart melted the moment she held her newborn daughter. Cara mia, my dear one.

"Let's go, Cara," called Buffy. "We're going to be late." In one deft movement, she picked up her purse and Cara's lunch kit.

Loud stomping down the stairs was her reply. How a little five-year old could make so much noise was beyond her.

"Did you pick everything up?" asked Buffy as she helped Cara put on her scarf and coat.

"Yes, mommy," replied Cara petulantly. "I put them in two piles on my bed."

"Good enough, let's go then." Buffy herded Cara out the door.

"Hi, Buffy. Cara off to school okay?" asked a pretty raven-haired girl in her early twenties as Buffy walked into the cozy bookshop she owned. Buffy figured that Giles' influence had finally rubbed off on her. Odd, that.

"Hi, Jessica. The usual little tantrum this morning," answered Buffy wryly. "She seems to have one every morning. Maybe I should talk to her doctor about it."

"Nah," said Jessica, stacking two books high on the shelf. "She's just experiencing separation anxiety. That's all. That's why she's picking fights with you before going off to school."

Buffy raised an eyebrow. "I didn't know Slayer studies included psychology," she said coolly. Jessica had come to work for her a month ago right out of her Slayer training with Giles. Designated as Seattle's Slayer, Jessica also worked at Buffy's shop, as part of her duties. Neither was Buffy's idea. In fact, she was opposed to having any formal ties with the New and Improved Watcher's Council, or with slayers, for that matter. As far as she was concerned, that chapter of her life was over. She did not want to revisit it. All she wanted was to be left alone, and have a, relatively-speaking, normal life.

However, Giles did have valid points such as Seattle needing a full-time slayer, and her needing help around the shop, especially with Cara around. So, Buffy capitulated and allowed Giles to pick a Slayer who would take on both day and night jobs, provided a few rules were followed. Work at the shop must be done to the best of their ability, no meddling in Buffy's life, and no dragging Buffy into anything supernatural, thank you very much.

The terms were reasonable and so for the past four years or so, a slayer came, did a tour of duty that lasted about a year, and was replaced by another. A year was the longest a Slayer could stay. Buffy had decided that after a year, there was a chance that the Slayer might get too attached and be a liability, and so they had to leave once the year was up.

"They don't. I read about it in a paper in the Journal of Child Psychology last month," answered Jessica eagerly. "Would you like a cup of tea? I made a fresh pot of Earl Grey."

Buffy shook her head. "I'll get it myself, thanks." She watched Jessica shelve books for a few moments and then added. "You know, Jessica, you're a really bright girl. Shouldn't you be in college or university? I mean, it has to be more interesting than hanging out in this place."

Jessica shook her head, and grinned. "Are you kidding? I like working here, for you. You're like Elvis!"

"Fat and dead?"

"No way," replied Jessica chuckling. "You're like uber Slayer. Slayer One. The-First-before-thousands. Like the Dalai Lama of Slayerdom. Do you know how many Slayers want to be in my position? There was this whole competition..."

"Whoa there, cowboy. A competition? For what, to stack books and serve tea? That's really dumb. No, worse than that. Inanely stupid," said Buffy harshly. "I'm gonna have to talk to Giles about that." She strode past Jessica to her small office at the back of the store.

Annoyed from her conversation with Jessica, Buffy muttered under her breath. "Dalai Lama, Elvis... what the heck are they teaching there? Why can't they leave me the hell alone?"

She booted up her computer, and rifled through the mail while waiting. A phone bill, internet provider bill, a Cosmo magazine subscription offer (as if!), and a party invitation from Willow. Buffy sighed. She did not know why they kept sending her invitations when she never attended any event. Not that she did not like her friends; it was just too... wearisome to keep up. She liked her quiet uncomplicated life as it was. Her small shop provided more than enough money for her and Cara to live on. She worked for herself and no longer had to patrol or deal with the things-that-go-bump-in-the-night. Aside from fulfilling book orders, Buffy had no active role in dealing with demons, spells, and the occult. As a single mother, her main responsibility was taking care of Cara. She had virtually no friends in Seattle. She spent most evenings curled up with a book, long after Cara was asleep. And, she was not dating. The idea of seeing someone seemed wrong on all counts, almost repellent to her. Her life was... tediously normal. Boring some would say. And that's the way she wanted it to stay.

At twelve thirty-five, Buffy was at the door of Cara's kindergarten class.

"Hello Ms. Summers. Please come in," said a smiling sandy-haired young man reading to Cara in a small-carpeted area of the room.

"Hello, Mr. Pelletier. I'm sorry I'm late," said Buffy, returning the smile, and walking to them.

Cara reached out and hugged her mother tightly.

"That's okay," replied Mr. Pelletier. "Cara and I were revisiting the Brer Patch, weren't we, Cara?"

Cara nodded eagerly. "Yes. We were just at the good part too. Brer Rabbit's gonna be in trouble. He's playing a trick on his friends. Mommy, can we borrow this book and read it at home?"

"Of course, sweetie, but you'd have to ask Mr. Pelletier first. It's his book," answered Buffy.

"Mr. Pelletier, may I borrow your book? Please?" asked Cara.

"Yes, you may, Cara. Keep it for as long as you like."

"Thank you, Mr. Pelletier," said Cara, and she put the book under her arm.

"Okay, Cara. Pack your things now. I'm sure we've taken more than enough of Mr. Pelletier's time," said Buffy.

"Yes, mommy," said Cara obediently and she went to her cubbyhole.

Buffy turned to Cara's teacher. "Mr. Pelletier-"

"Please," he interrupted with a friendly smile, "call me Sean."

"Uh, okay, Sean," said Buffy. "Thank you again for watching over Cara. I'm really sorry that I was late. Things have just been so busy at my store. It's a little difficult to get away." Buffy ran her hand distractedly through her hair. Orders at the store had increased dramatically the past month, thanks in a large part to her new web site. Tracking down books and getting orders filled was taking a lot of her time. Soon, she'd have to ask Giles to send another Slayer to help out in the store. "I know, fourth time this month. Bad mommy. How could I repay you? I should bake cookies or something," she joked weakly.

"Or something." Sean's blue eyes twinkled with suppressed delight. "How about a movie? There's a new scary movie coming out this Friday. We could have dinner and then go see it."

Buffy's brows drew together in puzzlement. "Huh? A-are you asking me out on a date?"

Sean grinned. "Yes, I am. Ms. Summers, would you please go out on a date with me this Friday night?"

Buffy stared at him as if he had grown an extra head.

Which would have been a problem since he was definitely on the hunky side. Attractive, good with children, athletic. He seemed like the single mom's wet dream, and yet...

Date. Bad idea. She hadn't dated since.... "Uh, Sean. Thank you. You're really kind and a great teacher, but I don't think that would work out." Buffy avoided looking directly at him.

"Okay," said Sean, not to be dissuaded easily. "I can see, dinner and a movie, maybe too big a step. Got it. Coffee then? I know this really neat coffee shop, I mean you might not like coffee seeing as you have a tea house so, whaddya think?"

Buffy sighed. He seemed like such a nice guy. A little like Riley really, and remember what had happened to him. Riley did not turn out to be such a normal guy. She should have followed her first instincts. Not to get involved. It was doomed. It had been doomed from the start. "Sean," she started to say.

"Don't worry. I don't bite."

Probably the worst words to say to Buffy.

It took her back to an alley a lifetime ago. A mysterious stranger had stalked her. Hanging on to a steel bar, she had pulled herself up, had waited for the stranger to stop underneath her, and then she had knocked him down.

Had she known then what she knew now, she would have left him well alone.

A familiar coldness crept into her heart and she could not prevent it from showing on her face or being heard in her voice. "I can't,"she said taking a few backward steps, closing herself behind the walls of her impenetrable fortress. Where she was safe.

Sean's smile lost its shine. "Well, okay. Sometime though?" Though his voice was pleasant there was an underlying strain to it.

"Sometime," said Buffy though she did not plan on keeping it. She did not need any more complications in her life. She did not need anyone. She had Cara, and that was enough. It would be enough. "Thank you again, Mr. Pelletier. Good bye." She took Cara by the hand and briskly walked out.

Violent shaking woke him up. He hurt all over.

"Thank God, you're alive," said a raspy voice above him. "C'mon, son. Let's get you up and fixed."

Blinking harshly in the sunlight, he tried to focus his eyes on the person speaking to him. It was an old black man, grizzled and gaunt, dressed in rags. "They sure did a number on you, beating you up and taking your clothes," he said shaking his head. "My name is Jonas, by the way." He removed his tattered coat and draped it over his prone body. "Do you think you can walk? The Sisters of Mercy are just around the corner. C'mon, son. You can do it."

He was weak as a kitten, and slightly disoriented. Where was he? An alley. A filthy, piss-soaked alley. Somehow it seemed familiar, as if being in an alley was a common occurrence for him.

You couldn't go a round with a fruit fly.

I can show you places you've never seen before. Close your eyes.

Okay, what do I want?... Sorry! That's incorrect but you do get this lovely watch and a year's supply of Turtle Wax what I want is to be left alone.

Night. Pouring rain. A newborn baby protected held close from a man with a crossbow l levelled at them.

A dragon emerging from a blood soaked sky.

Wisps of memory clutched at him, only to fade away to nothing.

He was a big man so it took a lot of support from Jonas to bring them both to the door of the mission. A wimpled nun met them at the entranceway. "Jonas!"

"Good afternoon, Sister Rosario. I found him in the alleyway. Beaten up. Left for dead. Wounds and bruises all over, Sister. They stole his clothes on top of it all," said Jonas by way of explanation.

Instinctively, he flinched and drew back when the nun's cross swung towards him as she leaned in for a closer inspection.

"It's okay. We'll take care of you," Sister Rosario said kindly, and then to Jonas, "Put him down on the bed over there."

With some effort, Jonas placed his friend on the small cot in the infirmary. Sister Rosario followed them and then retrieved a small first aid kit from a shelf. "Let's get this off now." With brisk efficiency, she attempted to open the army coat.

Hand on her arm, Jonas stopped her. "With all respect Sister, he's not wearing any clothes under the coat."

Stern blue eyes fixed Jonas. "Now Jonas, I'm fifty-five years old and I have seen plenty in my day. A naked man is not going to shock me."

There was a moment of hesitation before Jonas let Sister Rosario peel back the coat. Despite her words to the contrary, what she saw made her start, and a "Dios Mio" escaped her lips. The poor man was covered in welts, bruises, and numerous wounds, some of which were still bleeding. There did not seem to be an inch of him left untouched. Unbidden tears filled her eyes. "You're going to be fine, my boy."

My boy, my darling boy.

Warily, he watched Sister Rosario clean his wounds with antiseptic and dress them with bandages. He was already in so much pain that the sting of the antiseptic barely registered on his radar. Every movement, however, was like a burning sword.

A sword through the gut.

While Sister Rosario ministered to his injuries, Jonas slipped out of the tiny room. It took close to half an hour for Sister Rosario to tend to every hurt. After she was done, she gently wrapped the blanket around him in some semblance of modesty. "It's the best that I could do. Those bruises will take some time to heal, but Praise the Lord you don't have any broken bones. I'll go find some clothes for you. Stay here." She left without another word.

A handful of minutes later, Jonas returned with a steaming bowl of stew, some bread, and a glass of milk. The smell of the food made his stomach growl loudly.

Pulling up a table and chair next to the cot, Jonas chuckled and set the food down. "Here you go, son."

He did not need any more encouragement. Greedily, he shovelled the food into his mouth. It seemed to him that he had not eaten in ages. The simple fare was delicious.

"Eat up. I can get you more," said Jonas good-naturedly, and watched him eat for several minutes. "Do you have a name, son?"

Troubled chocolate eyes looked up at Jonas.

Jonas waited for a response and continued when he noticed the uncertainty in his friend's eyes. "That's okay if you don't want to tell me. Lots of people keep their secrets."

He shook his head. "I-I don't remember," he whispered. His unused throat hurt as he spoke the words.

Jonas nodded thoughtfully. "Happens with blows to the head sometimes. You still need a name though. Mind if I give you one? For now, anyway. Gotta call you something."

He shrugged. One name seemed as good as any.

"Hmmn... How `bout Charlie? I had a good friend once called Charlie."

No one messes with my crew.

Again the memory eluded him. "No."

"No? Okay, fair enough. Let's try another one, something more for a guy like you.... William. Yeah, William. That's a strong name. Suits you."

Sod off, you poufter. Drama queen.

"No," he said vehemently. Distaste like ashes in his mouth.

"Hold on there, son. Didn't mean to get you upset. This name thing's kinda tough." Jonas sighed and studied him for several moments, and then, "Okay, got one. How `bout Eric? You can't not like Eric. There's lots of Erics around. It's a fine name."

He tried the word out, mouthing it tentatively . "Eric." Nothing. Not a tendril of memory reached out to him. Good. He nodded. "Eric."

Jonas grinned and stretched out his hand. "Nice to meet you, Eric. I'm Jonas."

Eric stared at the hand for a second, and then grasped it like a lifeline. "Hello Jonas. I'm Eric."

Eric hung around Jonas for a month or so, his silent shadow. Being with Jonas was simple and easy. Jonas had long been on the streets and knew a lot of tricks to survival. Which restaurants gave excess food away. Where you could plop yourself down and beg for change. How to avoid predators and find safe shelter at night. Jonas took good care of his friend, and worried when Eric started talking to himself, carrying out conversations with no one. The people changed frequently, and when Jonas asked Eric about them, Eric shut down and curled into a ball. Then one day, feeling a sudden restlessness that he could not explain, Eric left the city and Jonas' company. Compelled somehow to travel, and hopping on trains, he wandered from city to city. He walked the different streets, as if searching for something. But he never stayed in one place for long. During his travels, Eric did not make any friends as other itinerants avoided the man with troubled eyes who talked to himself out loud from time to time. Lips moving behind a dirty, brown beard. Audible mutterings to no one. To the entire world paying no attention.

Eventually, in the cold November rain, Eric found his way to Seattle.

It was raining.

It was raining and night time in Seattle.

It was raining and night time in Seattle and she was wide-awake in her king-sized bed.

She was having a difficult time going back to sleep. She had awoken two hours ago, jolted awake from her dreams of soft lips pressed to hers, of hips and knees tucked together like puzzle pieces. She did not know what had woken her up. Rain in Seattle was a normal occurrence and yet she felt that something had changed.

Buffy rolled on her side, gazed at the empty place in her bed, and listened to the rhythmic pitter patter on the window. It was only during the dead time of the night that she allowed herself to feel. To feel the grief that tore at her, the regret for her foolishness, for her pride.

What had the waiting been for? Why had she not decided to be with him that night in Sunnydale when he had brought the gaudy amulet? What had she said? Something about cookies and baking. What a crock. She wished that she could have taken it back, taken it all back, then perhaps he would not have worked for that evil law firm, and had battled with them to his death. Silently, Buffy got up from her bed and reached for a small box at the bottom of her left-hand dresser. It was an old photo, tattered and slightly bent. The well-dressed couple in it were smiling at the camera but telltale sadness showed in both their eyes. Prom night. Angel had worn a black tux. It was the first and only time that Buffy had seen him wear a tux and he had looked absolutely gorgeous in it. They had danced together that night, and she remembered never wanting it to end, never wanting his loving arms to leave her. Her cheeks wet with tears, Buffy moved to the window, and opened it, letting the cold drops fall on her face. She whispered a message to the wind. It called back to her in songs and whistles, carried over the sound of the rain.

Underneath a bridge, curled in a tight ball to preserve heat, Eric opened his eyes and shivered, feeling as if something had walked across his grave.

The sunny morning gave no hint of the previous night's pain. Wearing an apron, Buffy was expertly flipping pancakes, impressing her young daughter who sat on a high kitchen stool watching her.

"It's all in the wrist," said Buffy, smiling as she threw a pancake in the air towards Cara. The pancake landed smack in the middle of Cara's plate.

Cara's eyes widened. "Wow, mommy. That was amazing!"

Buffy repeated the movement. "Like I said, practice makes perfect. Two enough for now?"

Cara nodded and drowned her pancakes in maple syrup. "Mommy, when I become a Slayer, will I be able to do that too?"

Buffy felt as if ice had crept into her heart. She turned around, and struggled to keep her voice pleasant. "Slayer. Who told you about that?"

"Jessica," said Cara happily with a mouth full of pancakes.

Buffy was so furious that she wanted to strangle that Slayer right there and then. What business did she have telling her daughter all about Slayers and monsters? Cara was only five years old. Buffy had wanted to keep Cara innocent and carefree for as long as possible. Besides, having a Slayer for a mother did not automatically mean that you would become a Slayer. Buffy took several deep breaths in an effort to calm down.

"Cara, do you know what a Slayer is?" asked Buffy with a tight smile.

Cara nodded. "A girl who kills monsters and vampires. Jessica is one, and you are the best one, and maybe if I'm lucky, I'll get to be one too."

Cara's excited ramble scared Buffy. This was so not what she wanted for her daughter. A life full of danger and sacrifice. Buffy took the stool beside Cara, and ran a hand down her long dark hair. "Cara," said Buffy, her voice soft so as not to alarm her. "I don't want you to be talking to Jessica about this, okay?"

Puzzled eyes met hers. "Why, mommy?"

"It's just something more for grown-ups, okay?"

"Okay," answered Cara, more out of obedience than understanding.

"Good," said Buffy and hugged Cara tightly.


"Yes, sweetie?"

"Mommy, I think something's burning."

"Burning? Oh, shoot!" Buffy reached for her frying pan. Yup, a blackened pancake with acrid smoke billowing up. Quickly, she dumped the foul thing in the garbage bin. Too late. The smoke had registered on the ultra-sensitive smoke detector and the kitchen was filled with the shrill warning. "Cara, open the door," yelled Buffy over the din as she started opening the windows.

Minutes later when the hubbub had died down, Buffy and Cara sat together on the kitchen stools.

"Mommy, can I have some more pancakes?" asked Cara.

Buffy laughed. "Of course, Cara."

Eric pulled his tattered coat around him to keep warm. Seattle was colder than he had thought it would be. The damp and relentless rain chilled him to the bone, and no amount of bundling seemed to make a difference. It had been easier in Los Angeles with its more temperate weather. And yet, he did not feel the urge to leave this city. Eric wandered from alley to alley, sometimes finding food in the bins behind restaurants, and other times going to a shelter and hopefully get some food. It was never enough, of course. He was always hungry.

During the day, Eric plopped himself down at a corner, and waited for people to toss him the occasional quarter. Some days, people were generous and he could eventually scrounge up enough for a dinner at a cheap diner near the harbour. Most of the time, however, Eric got yelled at, or spat upon, or once, even beaten up. Those things bothered him little.

For Eric was more disturbed by the voices that spoke to him. They visited more frequently now, and demanded that he answer them. So he did.

"Like having conversations with yourself?" a rude voice in his head taunted him once. Eric had shouted out "No" and had startled passers-by, and they scattered like pigeons.

Nothing new there.

He was alone.

Buffy was at Cara's classroom door just as the dismissal bell rang. She did not want to be indebted to the kind handsome teacher. Promptly, she gathered Cara and left the school with a terse greeting to Mr. Pelletier.

They stopped at the European bakery a block away from Buffy's shop. While in Europe, Buffy had developed a taste for European pastries. She was only too happy to have a European bakery open so close to her shop.

Alternating between flicking water at each other and munching their goodies, Buffy and Cara chased each other on the sidewalk despite the pouring rain. Indulgently Buffy watched Cara jump and splash in puddles. It was one of life's simple pleasures that Buffy delighted in.

Together they giggled as they wet each other, mindless of their clothes or of other passers-by. They were so engrossed in their little game that Cara almost bowled over a grimy homeless man sitting in the corner. Yelling, Buffy managed to pull her away from the dirty stranger at the last minute. They recommenced their game a little toned down until they reached the small bookshop/teahouse that Buffy owned.

"What did you learn at school today?" Buffy asked Cara as they entered the shop, the small bell clanging behind them. She helped Cara remove her yellow raincoat and galoshes.

"Um, sharing," said Cara as she bit into her chocolate croissant.

"That's a good thing," said Buffy, hanging her coat on the wooden coat rack beside Cara's raincoat.

"Yeah. Mr. Pelletier said that we have to share with people who don't have anything. Even boys." Cara made a face.

"Well, even boys need things too, right?"

Cara shrugged. "Yeah, I guess."

"Hi Buffy! Hi Cara!" said Jessica, bounding up to them after serving a pot of Darjeeling Tea to a customer. Aside from the old gentleman, the shop was empty as usual. Most of their book customers came from Internet and phone orders while the tea drinkers tended to come in later on in the day.

"Hi Jessica," answered Cara with a grin. Cara liked the cheerful Slayer who occasionally served as her babysitter. "I have an extra chocolate croissant here, and I got you a mille feuille."

"Mille feuille? My favourite! Thanks, Cara," said Jessica, hugging the little girl and twirling her around in the small shop. Cara burst out laughing.

"Careful, Jessica," warned Buffy as she walked to her office, businesslike as usual. "Try not to break anything."

"No problem," quipped Jessica as she whirled Cara in a circle. "Slayer moves."

The last remark stopped Buffy in her tracks. "Jessica, in my office now," she said tersely. "Cara, why don't you sit down and finish your croissant."

Noticing that something was wrong, Jessica gently put Cara down and swiftly obeyed the command.

After a quick glance to make sure Cara had sat down, Buffy shut the door behind her. She fixed Jessica with a stern look. "I'll get to the point. I don't want you to be talking to Cara about Slayer stuff at all. No monsters, demons, vampires, Slayer history, or my personal history. Nothing. I won't keep you around if you do. Is that understood?"

Jessica's eyes were wide as she answered. Buffy had been cool to her presence but never this cold. "Yes, Buffy. I won't talk to her about it."

"Nothing," said Buffy firmly. "Even if she asks."

"Even if she asks," echoed Jessica quietly.

"Good. I'm glad we understand each other," replied Buffy and she re-entered the store proper.

Sitting on the bay window seat, Cara stared outside intently, chocolate croissant half-eaten in her hand.

Buffy took a moment to marvel at her daughter, at how sometimes Cara reminded her of-- Buffy immediately brushed the thought aside. That kind of thinking was reserved for the peaceful time of night when every one was asleep.

"What's wrong, sweetie?" she said, joining her on the seat, and pulling her into her lap.

"I was just thinking," said Cara as seriously as a five-year old could sound.

"About what?" asked Buffy, giving Cara her full attention.

Her dark brown eyes met Buffy's hazel ones. "Mr. Pelletier said we have to share our stuff with people who don't have anything, with boys too. And you said that it was a good thing."

Buffy nodded, encouraging her daughter to continue.

"I have an extra chocolate croissant that I don't really need and I can't finish mine. Can I give it to that homeless man I almost knocked over in the street?"

For several silent moments Buffy studied Cara. Her little daughter regularly astounded her with her contemplative nature. Buffy could not recall being so observant or pensive when she was that age. She had already forgotten about the man on the corner. "Sweetie, I don't think that's a good idea."

"Why not?"

"Well-" began Buffy at a loss for words.

"He's just over there." Cara pointed out the window. "He sits there everyday. Since two weeks ago. He looks hungry. Please, mommy, can I give him a croissant?"

Buffy peered out the window and spotted the vagrant on the corner. As with most people, he had not registered on her radar. She had probably passed him on the street countless times. Now that Cara had pointed him out, she felt a little bad about not noticing him earlier. Just a little, but not enough to disrupt her world. "Cara, I have work to do. I can't just keep on going in and out of the store."

Cara pouted. "It'll only take a minute, and I can go by myself. He's right there."

Buffy frowned at her. "I don't think so. You're not going out there by yourself."

"Okay, then come with me. Please."

Buffy sighed again. Once Cara got an idea in her mind, she rarely let it go. Unfortunately, she had inherited her mother's stubborn streak. She took another fleeting look out the window. He DID look cold and hungry. "Fine, but we'll do it quickly," she said relenting, and not liking it one bit. Allowing herself to feel compassion for a stranger bothered her greatly. She had figured that she had done enough for the world by saving it countless times. She had earned the right to be selfish. "And then, we're coming back here, and you're going to play and stay in your little alcove for at least an hour so mommy can work, okay?"

Cara gave Buffy a fierce hug. "Thank you mommy," she said and ran to put on her galoshes and raincoat.

The homeless man sitting at the corner was filthy, and wore a stained and torn army jacket. A foul smelling odour emanated from him that made Buffy want to cover her nose. It was hard to tell his age, given the dirt and wild growth of facial hair. He was oblivious to everything around him, muttering at no one in particular, and tapping the sidewalk with a finger at intervals.

Standing right in front of the man, Buffy clutched Cara's small hand in hers. Though still not keen on the idea, she gently squeezed Cara's hand to get her to start talking.

Cara momentary looked up at her, and then looked directly at the man. In his sitting position, Cara was eye-level to him. "E-Excuse me, Mister," she said hesitantly.

The man ignored her, more interested in a small puddle of rainwater that had collected at his feet.

"Excuse me, Mister," she repeated more strongly. Letting go of her mother's hand, Cara took a step forward.

That got his attention, and he gazed at Cara with an intensity that frightened Buffy. There was something about him that bothered her, and it was not because he was a homeless guy. There was something else.

Cara, on the other hand, was unaffected. She smiled at him. "Hi. I'm Cara."

There was a momentary hesitation, and then he said, "Eric." His voice soft and shy.

"Hi Eric," said Cara, and she held out a white paper bag to him. "It's a chocolate croissant."

Eric's brows drew together in puzzlement and he made no move to take it.

Cara came closer, much to Buffy's dismay. "Please. It's for you."

Slowly, Eric took the bag in his soiled hands. "Thank you," he whispered.

"You're welcome. See you later," replied Cara with another smile. Then she took her mother's hand and walked away.

At the men's shelter, Eric lay on a cot. The temperature had dropped to freezing levels and he knew how lucky he was that there was space at the overcrowded shelter. He had also gotten a hot dinner. It certainly was his lucky day, and a strange one too, mused Eric.

He had been sitting as usual at his street corner, empty coffee container in front of him with several quarters in it, and there had been voices speaking. No, it had been a voice. A female voice, tremulous and full of heartbreak. She had been repeating a phrase. What had it been? Oh, yes, I won't forget. He had tried to remember what it was that she would not forget. It was probably important.

Then a little girl with dark hair and eyes like his own had approached him and had given him food. It had been months since he had spoken to a living soul. Wearing the brightest yellow raincoat with matching rain boots, the little girl... what was her name? Catie? Cassie? Cara, that was it. Cara had spoken to him and had not been afraid. She had smiled at him, and had given him the most delicious food he had ever eaten. Eric smiled at the recollection, and drifted off to a pleasant sleep.

"So, how's Cara's adopted puppy?" Jessica asked Buffy by way of greeting. She had been dusting the bookshelves when Buffy entered the store that morning after dropping Cara off at school.

Buffy frowned. "Puppy? What puppy? We didn't get a puppy."

"Eric. Cara's homeless guy," replied Jessica, indicating outside with the feather duster. "He wasn't there yet when I opened up this morning."

"Oh. Eric. He's okay, I guess. I mean, I didn't talk to him when I passed. Not really," said Buffy, a little embarrassed, and covered for it by pretending to be busy straightening the window display.

"Cara's really adopted him, eh? She's so excited to see him and give him something," remarked Jessica.

"Yeah, two weeks now. Ever since the day she gave him her croissant. She told Mr. Pelletier what she had done and she became the most popular kid in her class. Now, Mr. Pelletier has a daily good deeds chart and you know who is up there," said Buffy. Though she was proud of her daughter, she felt uneasy about Eric. So uneasy that she pretended not to see him whenever she passed, weaving through the flock of johns and janes, with their blinders on.

"She'd better be careful though. Eric may just develop a sweet tooth," joked Jessica.

"No danger there," replied Buffy. She hoped that Cara would find something else more interesting soon than that stranger. Uncharitable as it was, Buffy wanted nothing to do with Eric. Changing the subject abruptly, Buffy said, "Are we still okay for babysitting tonight? I have to deal with a few customers and suppliers that have strange hours."

Jessica nodded. "No problemo. I'll take Cara home from here and stay until you come home. Don't worry about her."

"I won't. Thanks, Jessica," said Buffy and she walked away.

Many hours later, after the shop was closed, Buffy sat at the bay window, hot mug of tea in her hands. She had just finished making an important deal with a sorcerer for a rare tome in ancient Sumarian, The Chronicles of The Bazyhrith, that an eccentric millionaire had ordered. It had taken over two hours, but it was done. Money in the bank. Lots of money in the bank. Buffy smiled contentedly. She would be able to buy Cara that new bike that she wanted. Ah, Cara. There was nothing she wouldn't do for Cara. Buffy looked outside the window at the empty streets, and no wonder. It was horrible outside. There was a heavy rainfall warning with a chance of snow forecast, and the temperature was supposed to drop below freezing levels. Already, the sleet was changing to snow, becoming fat and full before her eyes. Her sight ticked to a dark huddled figure. Eric. He was out there. He would freeze to death. Damn, muttered Buffy under her breath, and she grabbed her coat and ran outside. She kept her eyes on him as she ran on the icy sidewalk, risking a turned ankle. At his corner, Eric was sitting patiently as usual. Waiting, his hands reaching out, palms looking towards heaven, mindless of the snow collecting on him. Buffy slowed as she approached. She did not want to startle him. Who knew what he would do then? "Eric," she said softly, and bent down to his level.

Eric's deep brown eyes focused on her and Buffy felt a pang, a painful memory stirred. It was the first time that she had noticed. His eyes were just like Angel's. "Eric," she repeated. "Do you know who I am?"

Eric nodded. "Yes. You're Cara's mother." He smiled, or at least Buffy thought that he smiled. It was difficult to tell with the stained scarf blocking half of his face. "She's a good girl. You're lucky to have her."

"Yes, thank you," said Buffy. "Listen, Eric, I need you to come with me, okay?"

A pause. "Where?"

"Back to my store. Look, you can't stay here. It's past midnight. You're gonna freeze to death if you stay here. Please come with me. You can sleep in my shop overnight, okay?"

Eric just looked at her silently with those eyes that pierced her heart. Buffy couldn't stand it any longer. She reached forward and took his cold hand in hers and pulled him up. It wasn't difficult. She still had her Slayer strength and he was weak, as she had suspected. She was surprised however at how tall he was. Probably over six feet, but gaunt over his large frame.

"I'm Buffy, by the way," she said as she tugged him reluctantly along.

"Buffy," he repeated softly, trying the name out. He had learned that some names contained voices. He tried it again. Nope. Nothing. No voice called out to him. Nonetheless he felt a sense of familiarity with her. Holding her hand didn't seem new at all, but something from way back.

Once inside the store, Buffy was all purpose-driven as she prepared an area in her back office for him to sleep in. A few pillows and blankets later on, the small alcove seemed more habitable than the play/ rest area that Cara used.

She handed Eric a mug of hot chocolate and a plate of buttery scones. "I'm sorry this is all I have here. Please feel free to help yourself, if you want some more hot chocolate, or tea, or whatever. The bathroom is over there. There are a few supplies under the sink. You can wash up later if you want to. I have to lock you in the shop but I'll be back early in the morning, okay?" Buffy spoke to him in kind tones but kept herself busy, her eyes averted. She couldn't bear to see those eyes again.

"Okay," replied Eric as he sat on the makeshift bed. He had noticed that Buffy avoided looking at him, but he couldn't blame her. He knew that he was disgusting and smelly, hair ratty and encrusted. It was a miracle that she even let him in her store, a filthy vagrant like him. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," said Buffy and she turned on her heel. Hurriedly, she locked up the store, and left.

Though it was Sunday, Buffy was back at the store early the next morning as promised. She still could not figure out what had compelled her to invite a stranger to stay at her store, but she decided not to give it another thought. What was done was done.

So she let someone in her little fortress. Big deal. It was not like she had to let him stay there forever. A few days tops. And all those clothes that she was bringing... well, she couldn't let him continue wearing those dirty torn ones he had. Just practical, that's all.

She felt more alert than she thought she would have been, given the little sleep that she had gotten, not to mention that strange dream. She had dreamt that she had planted sunflowers in a field blanketed in snow, amid huge white flakes. Where did that come from?

Buffy had arranged for Jessica to take care of Cara once again for the day. She felt a little guilty monopolizing the Slayer's time doing non-slayer stuff, but not enough not to do it. Besides, Seattle had very little vampire activity. Something about the rain put them off. In any case, she figured she'd have to phone Giles to send another Slayer. Jessica couldn't do both the babysitting and the store by herself. Besides, who could she trust more than another Slayer?

"Hello? Eric?" Buffy called out as she disarmed the door alarm. "I brought some clothes for you. Also some-"

Whatever Buffy had to say was lost because at that moment Eric walked out of the office, He had cleaned himself up, and had somehow trimmed his hair and removed his facial hair.

He looked exactly like Angel.

Her Angel.

Who had died years ago. Dusted in a battle.

Buffy felt as if all the air had left her in one go, and hot stinging tears welled up in her eyes. She took a step backwards, shaking her head.

"Buffy?" Concerned, Eric approached Buffy. He did not know what he had done to make her upset.

And his voice. So like Angel's too. Buffy closed her eyes and felt Eric's hands on her arms. Eric, she reminded herself, Eric, not Angel. Angel was gone.

"Is everything okay?"

Buffy shook him off and turned away from him, wiping away her tears. "Yeah. I-I... You just reminded me of someone."

"I'm sorry."

"No. Don't be. It's not your fault," said Buffy, facing him again. He was beautiful. If only.... "Um, did you sleep okay?"

"Yes, thank you."

He smiled and again Buffy felt a knife pierce her heart, but she forced herself to seem cool, calm and collected. "Good. Uh, I brought some clothes for you. Maybe you'd like to change..."

Eric nodded, took the clothes and headed to the bathroom.

While Eric was in the bathroom, Buffy prepared another mug of hot chocolate for him, and a plate of muffins and fruits. She berated herself for acting like an idiot when she had seen the resemblance. The poor guy had enough problems already without her heaping hers on him. She should get it together. Imagine what would have happened if Cara had seen that. Total disaster. Your mom wiggin out on you.

Buffy sighed and picked up the mug with the intention of bringing it to Eric and checking up on him. The door to the bathroom was partially opened and Buffy couldn't help but glance inside. Barefoot, Eric had the new pair of pants on but his torso was unclothed. He was bent over the sink, scrubbing away at his chest and neck, and his back was to Buffy. On it was a tattoo. A Celtic design of an A and a winged lion.

The mug shattered where it hit the floor, its contents spilling everywhere.

"No," Buffy whimpered, shaking her head, tears welling up once again in her eyes. She backed away into a corner and curled up in a foetal position, rocking and whimpering, "No."

Startled by the noise, Eric whirled around and saw Buffy in distress. He immediately went to her side. "Buffy. Buffy, what's wrong?"

Buffy touched her small trembling hand to his bare chest, felt the pounding of his heart, racing blood through live veins. "Angel?" she whispered, with eternal hopeful eyes. "A-are you Angel?"

His heart went out to her, and he held her tiny hand in his. "I don't know who I am," he said softly, wanting her tears to stop. He tried the name, mouthing it slowly. "Angel."

The cacophony of the voices deafened him, hit him like a cannonball, and he fell to his knees, clutching his head. "Angel," they cried, a multitude of voices. "Angel," they screamed in a whirlpool that was swallowing him whole. Slowly, they subsided and there was only one voice that remained saying his name.

Buffy was crouched over him, worry marring her pretty face. "Angel?"

He met her gaze. "I think I'm Angel."

"D-do you remember anything?"

"No... not really."

Buffy turned away to hide her disappointment. It wasn't his fault. Whatever happened here wasn't his fault. She had her Angel back. That should be enough. No matter what he remembered, no matter what had happened. He was here.

"It's alright." she tried to sound nonchalant, but failed miserably. "At least you know your name." She dug a kleenex out of her pants' pocket, hastily wiped her face, and stood. "I'm sorry I scared you like that. It's... It's a long story. I'm sure you don't want to hear some stranger's problems."

He shook his head. "You're not a stranger." He paused as if trying to find the words. "I don't know much... But I do know ... that I know you... that I would know you anywhere.... And that you are important to me" Several heartbeats passed and then, "Were we lovers?"

Buffy faced him with a sad wistful smile. "A long time ago."

He nodded, mulling it over.

"Do you want to be called Eric or Angel?"

He thought it over. "Angel. It's my name, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is."

He smiled. "Then Angel it is."

Buffy didn't think that she had seen anything as beautiful as that smile, and she was momentarily mesmerized.

"Buffy, are you okay?"

"What? Oh, yeah, I'm fine," she said, catching herself. Even if this was her Angel, he did not remember their time together. She would frighten him if she pushed. Yesterday, he barely registered on her radar. Today, he was the love of her life incarnate... only he did not remember any of it. Buffy forced herself to pull back, and walled herself off, if only slightly. "Look, Angel. I'm gonna help you find out what happened. We'll work together on this. Okay?"

"Okay." Angel smiled again and Buffy's heart skipped a beat.

They went to breakfast at a cozy restaurant nearby. Over coffee and the breakfast special, Angel related how he had woken up in an alley several months ago with no clothes and no recollection of past events, of how his friend Jonas had helped him out, of how he had wandered aimlessly from town to town, and of course, of the voices. Angel was somewhat surprised that Buffy had not been alarmed by his hearing voices. He had been apprehensive that she would think him truly crazy. But she wasn't. In fact, she had acted like it was all normal. Angel surmised that there was something more to Buffy than met the eye. Surreptitiously, he watched her eat. She was definitely beautiful. But then again, he had noticed that from the very first day that Cara had come to him. Sitting in a booth with her was positively enchanting. The way the sunlight caught her long blond hair. Everything about her was captivating, and Angel regretted that he could not remember exactly what she was to him. As he listened to her speak, he noticed that her hazel eyes were full of concern and wariness. Secrets hidden, painful and deep, and had to do with him, Angel surmised, if that scene at the shop was any indication. Pondering all this, Angel hit upon a personal revelation. He did feel for her. No, that wasn't precisely it... he felt her. As sure as his heart beat in his chest, he could feel her presence, like they were connected somehow. It was strange. But then again, everything that had happened to him was out of the ordinary. He was certain though, sitting across from her, sipping his coffee, that he didn't want to leave her.

Against her sense of self-preservation, Buffy took Angel home. She couldn't bear to leave him to fend for himself on the streets and then to return to her shop at night. No, she couldn't do that. She wouldn't do that.

The sudden cold spell meant that the snow that had fallen the night before had not melted, and Buffy was reminded of a night in Sunnydale when it had snowed, and they had walked hand-in-hand. But not now of course. They were practically strangers. The walk to her house was done mostly in silence, but Buffy was fine with that. Long ago in Sunnydale, when she and Angel had patrolled the streets, Angel had rarely talked. Instead, Buffy the teenager had prattled on incessantly. What on earth could she have rattled on about? Now, she found herself with not much to say.

Giggling hysterically, Cara and Jessica were making snow angels on the front lawn when Buffy and Angel arrived.

"Hi, Cara, Jessica," said Buffy, coming up the path.

"Mommy!" yelled Cara as she launched herself at Buffy. "We made snow angels! See? That's mine and that's Jessica's and we're going to make a snowman and a snow fort!"

Buffy kissed Cara's overheated cheek and hugged her tight. After the morning's events, the tight embrace soothed her nerves immensely.

"Mommy, who's that?" asked Cara, finally noticing Angel. He stood apart, silently watching them.

"Oh. You remember Eric, don't you?" asked Buffy.

"That's not Eric," replied Jessica, pulling herself up, and brushing the snow off of her pants. "Eric's kinda gross, smelly, and sits in his-"

"Of course it's Eric, you doufus pants," said Cara. "He's just cleaner."

"Did you call me a doufus pants?" asked Jessica in mock annoyance.

"You bet I did. DOU-FUS pants! Dou-fus pants. Jessica is a dou-fus pants," sang Cara, and she stuck her tongue out.

"Oooh, you're gonna get a snow bath for that," said Jessica, stalking her.

Cara's face scrunched up in cute puzzlement. "What's a snow bath?" Then she screamed as Jessica stuffed a handful of snow down her jacket. In retaliation, Cara chased Jessica around unsuccessfully lobbing handfuls of snow at her.

Buffy let them go at it for a minute or two before calling out. "Girls, please, come here." She had to repeat herself a few times to get their attention. They were out of breath, and red-cheeked once they stood in front of her.

"Cara, Jessica, this is Eric," began Buffy. "Rather, this was Eric. His name is really Angel, and he's staying with us for awhile." Buffy studied Cara as she spoke. She did not know how Cara would react to having a strange man live with them. She had never brought anyone home, and what few visitors they had were family or friends.

Cara, on her part, was unperturbed. "Okay. Hi, Angel. Do you want to help make a snowman with me?"

Angel looked at her blankly and then gave her a small smile, "okay."

Cara beamed. "C'mon," she said grabbing his hand and pulling him along.

"Angel? Wasn't Angel-" Jessica's jaw dropped as understanding dawned on her. "Ohmigod, he's your Angel. The one you..." Jessica's voice trailed off as she became aware of the unfriendly look that Buffy gave her.

"Jessica," said Buffy coldly. "What Angel and I do-"

"Yeah, I know. Is none of my business," finished Jessica with a tiny moue. "I'll just keep an eye on Cara."

"Good. I'll be inside making a few calls," said Buffy over her shoulder.

Andrew answered on the third ring. "Hello, Watcher Supreme Andrew at your service," he said with a fake British accent. Even a decade afterwards, he was the ultimate nerd.

"Shut up, Andrew, and get Giles," said Buffy tersely. She had run out of patience with the annoying twerp in Italy long ago. It was Andrew who had wrongly informed Angel and Spike about her "relationship" with the Immortal. He had not even had the sense to tell her that Angel and Spike had visited, not until after Angel had died in that battle.

"At once, First Slayer Buffy," he intoned, oblivious to her scorn.

"Buffy? Anything wrong?" came Giles' worried voice scant minutes later. It was uncommon for Buffy to be phoning. Aside from birthdays and special occasions, their correspondence was generally limited to emailing, or letters by post.

"Hi, Giles," answered Buffy lightly. Though she refused to admit it, she missed Giles a lot. She saw him rarely, perhaps once a year when he came to visit his little granddaughter. "Don't worry. Everything's fine."

Giles did not buy it for a minute. "Well, since it's not Christmas, and it's not my birthday, something is afoot. You might as well tell me."

Buffy sighed. "I need you to come to Seattle right away." She paused momentarily, and then. "Angel's back. E-Except he's human and he doesn't remember anything." There was a long silence on the other end, and Buffy imagined Giles had taken to polishing his glasses. A sure sign that he was concerned.

"Buffy, are you sure this man is Angel?"

"Surer than the sunset. Giles, I-I need your help. I want to help him remember. Please."

Giles' voice was soft when he answered. He knew how much Angel meant to Buffy. He had seen Buffy withdraw more and more in the years that followed Angel's death. He would have been a lot more concerned were it not for Cara. Giles believed that Cara was what kept Buffy in the world. "Of course, Buffy. I'll take the first flight out."

"Thank you. Uh, Giles. Could you not tell anyone about it? Not yet anyway. I want to keep this to myself."

"I understand. Goodbye, Buffy. See you soon."

Angel spent the rest of the day with Buffy, Cara, and Jessica. It was a pleasant day for him, a real change from his usual sitting on the street corner, and talking to voices. What a difference a day had made. The morning's activities consisted of making snowmen, a snow fort and having a snowball fight. He sensed he had never done that before. He had an inkling that the life that he could not remember was not one full of sunlight and joy. He took simple pleasure in the cheerful and somewhat naughty nature of Cara, and the exuberance of Jessica. Only twice did the voices intrude, and he managed to shut himself off from them, busying himself with making the perfect snowman. After lunch, Jessica had departed saying something about making sure she was well rested for work tonight. That puzzled him a little. Surely Buffy's shop was not open on a Sunday evening. Yet he did not feel that he had the right to ask so he didn't. It was a small miracle that he was readily accepted into their company, and Angel was grateful for it. Buffy was busy with various chores around the house during the afternoon, and Angel had taken it upon himself to baby-sit Cara. Not that she truly needed constant watching. Cara was quite the independent little thing, and again she demonstrated no reservations about his presence in the house. It was she who helped him settle into the guestroom, took him on a tour of the house, and begged him to read to her. Angel had read to her on the couch while they sat side by side. Eventually, Cara had drifted off into sleep and Angel did not have the heart to wake her. Instead, he cradled her gently in his arms and placed her on her bed. Buffy had been still occupied with various business calls and feeling restless, Angel had decided to take a walk around the quiet neighbourhood. At once, the voices returned with a vengeance forcing Angel to find a secluded path near the park.

It's all right. Make a scene.

I was to be married that week, but then, as I recall, you knew that.

You let him take me away. You let him get me. You let him get me.

I want my life to be with you.

How am I supposed to go on with my life, knowing what we had, what we could have had?

That last one shook him to the core, as he lay slumped against a snow-covered tree, covering his ears, whimpering. To whom did these voices belong? Why were they bothering him?

Hours later, when Angel returned to Buffy's house, there was an older man at the dinner table. He hesitated in the doorway, watching the family scene. Cara appeared to have everyone's attention as she excitedly related the snowball fight that they had had that morning. "And I got Jessica! Right in the face! Isn't that crazy?"

The older man smiled indulgently. "That's excellent, Cara, especially since Jessica is a Slayer-"

"Giles," said Buffy, the mild irritation in her voice preventing any attempt to move the convesation in that direction.

"All I said was..." started Giles.

From his position, Angel frowned slightly. What was a Slayer? It sounded dangerous, like a killer. Angel had a hard time believing that the young woman he met that morning could be a killer. Not wanting to intrude on the family scene, Angel took a small quiet step backward, but not quiet enough.

Buffy's hazel eyes lit upon him first, turning from mild irritation to a mixture of wonder and sadness that Angel didn't understand. "Angel," she said, almost in a reverent whisper. She dropped her eyes momentarily and when she looked at him again, she had a sad smile on her face, like one puts on after a good cry. "Angel, please come in. You must be hungry. Did you have a good walk?"

Angel nodded. "Yes, thank you." He took a few tentative steps towards them, his dark eyes warily focused on the new guest who was watching him with more than a little interest. Angel felt like a butterfly on a pin under the man's scrutiny.

The man stood up and approached him. "Hello, Angel. I'm Giles," said the man politely, and he extended a hand.

A vampire in love with a Slayer. It's rather poetic, in a maudlin sort of way.

To be blunt, the last time you became complacent about your existence, it turned out rather badly.

The voice in his head carried so much pain and blame that Angel flinched inwardly, and fought the urge to flee. Angel stared at Giles, uncomfortable with his proximity. Though the man's body language appeared open, Angel could sense a certain disapproval and apprehension underlying it all.

"Hi Angel. That's my grandfather," said Cara, suddenly by his side as if noticing the tension. She slipped her tiny hand in his, and tugged him towards the table, and away from Giles. "Sit beside me here." She tapped the seat of the chair, at a place that had been set, presumably for him. "I'll get you your soup."

"No, you won't," said Buffy, getting up. "You'll drop it. I'll get it." She left for the kitchen.

"Angel, how have you been?" asked Giles, coming round slowly and sitting at his previous place at the table.

Angel shrugged. "Fine, I guess."

"Buffy tells me that you've come here from Los Angeles."

Angel nodded, reticent about sharing his past. He understood that as Buffy's dad, Giles would want to know about the stranger that she had brought home. Yet it did not make him feel any better. "Among other places," answered Angel elusively.

"Giles is here to help bring your memories back. He has a few... resources that he can use," said Buffy by way of explanation, as she brought out a hot bowl of soup and a plate full of roast chicken, potatoes, and a few vegetables on the side.

Angel's eyes widened at the sight of all the food. It was a veritable feast. Just yesterday, he was starving on the streets.

"Oh. I kinda went crazy," said Buffy sheepishly, noticing his reaction. Actually, she had gone overboard purposely. She noted how gaunt he looked and wanted to remedy the situation immediately. "I can cook now too so you don't have to worry." Buffy joked lamely then she stopped, gazing into Angel's eyes. It hurt. It hurt each time she gazed into those chocolate brown eyes. All she wanted was for him to draw her into his arms and never let go. "I-I'm sorry. I forgot that you don't.... You know, I forgot something upstairs. I'll be back in a minute. Please, help yourself." Buffy quickly left the table.

"Buffy, are you certain that this is what you want to do?" asked Giles softly. They were sitting in her cozy living room, sharing a late pot of chamomile tea. Upstairs, Cara and Angel lay in their respective rooms sound asleep.

Buffy walked to the fireplace and stared into the crackling flames as if they contained the answer to her questions. She remembered how once she had clasped Spike's burning hand, and told him that she loved him. Where was Spike now? Was he wandering the streets, another madman with lost memories? She laughed bitterly. What a reward for great sacrifices. They were just expendable warriors in the neverending battle between good and evil. You live. You fight. You die. Or you live again, but this time, as a crazy homeless person.

Behind her, Giles watched, a worried expression on his face. As the years had passed, he had seen Buffy retreat further and further away into herself. Her only real human link to others was Cara. Giles worried that Angel's presence would force Buffy into even more reservation. "Perhaps it would be better to leave him this way," he ventured. "His memories as Angelus could be detrimental. Angel suffered daily for Angelus' sins. It might be... kinder."

Buffy shook her head, still turned away from him. Could she allow herself to be this selfish? Damn right she could. How many times had Angel made decisions for her own benefit, without consulting her? "I want him to remember," she whispered.

Giles' visit lasted a fortnight, staying as long as the Council could manage without his presence. During that time, he unsuccessfully tried myriad spells of remembrance, summonings, and even flirted with some demonic bargaining. All to no avail. Whatever he tried did not penetrate the web of forgetfulness cast on Angel. Nothing worked. Not even a little.

Finally, Giles concluded that Angel's "amnesia" had a more physical than supernatural basis, and that only time would tell if his memories would return.

Angel found a modicum of relief in Giles' words. Though he willingly went along with whatever Giles had come up with, Angel had his own unspoken reservations. He was unsure whether he wanted his memories back. From what Giles had told him about his past, those memories were bound to be violent, and most likely, full of blood and death.

He used to be a vampire with a soul who fought for the side of good. Apparently, he had saved countless lives, fighting the apocalypse.

But he also used to be Angelus, Scourge of Europe. One of the most vicious creatures to roam the earth.

Now, those memories Angel could easily do without.

Of course, learning that one had happened to be a vampire was not easily believed. At first, Angel thought that Giles was suffering from senility, granted, early in his case, and that Buffy and Jessica were also somewhat deluded, soft in the head. So he played along. After all, he was the one who heard voices.

Then one night, he had gladly accompanied Jessica and Buffy on patrol. They had gone to Stoneham Cemetary and were wandering the quiet paths along freshly dug graves when a vampire came out right from one. Angel stood frozen, dumbfounded that the stuff of nightmares was true as the snarling savage beast made a beeline for him, and was promptly slain by Buffy, exploding into fine dust. Angel had needed several moments to gather himself afterwards, and to accept that all those things that went bump in the night really did go bump in the night.

Oh, he had learned a lot of things that night. About monsters, demons, vampires, witches, prophecies, werewolves and so on.

Did he really want to remember his role in all that craziness?

"I'm truly sorry that I wasn't able to help you, Angel," said Giles as he packed away the musty books and bottled herbs. "I'll do some research when I return to Headquarters. Maybe something will turn up."

"Thanks," replied Angel though his gaze was set on Buffy, who tried to hide her disappointment.

"Research, who knows what turns up there," said Buffy with a half-hearted smile. "We've done what we could here. Maybe it's for the best anyway." She stood up from her position on the chair. "I'll make us some tea. There's still a couple of hours before you have to be at the airport."

Angel stared at her retreating form, wanting desperately to ease whatever it was that bothered her. Whatever it was, it had to do with him.

Yes, for her he wanted those memories back.

Because she was in them.

Buffy had set her alarm for three in the morning. Her shady demon supplier had odd hours and she needed to contact him for a number of rare tomes that could only be obtained through the pan-dimensional black market. Normally, she wouldn't have gone through the effort, but Giles had asked for them when he left and that had been almost three weeks ago. She could put off ordering for only so long.

Buffy quickly turned off her alarm so that it would not disturb Cara and Angel who were sound asleep, and quietly crept downstairs to her study.

The light of her desk lamp seemed too bright in the dimness of the room, but several seconds later, her eyes adjusted well enough for her to work. She punched in the number of her supplier on the phone. It rang three times, and then, "gklliggg nluk cln gllick," came over the speaker.

Oh great, she got the Khaislarian receptionist. Buffy's Khaislarii was shoddy at best. It sounded like a bunch of cracking consonants to her. She sighed inwardly, and said, "kli kli gguh ngnit Buf-fy."

A series of loud clicks punctuated by a high-pitched screech followed, and then the unmistakable slamming of a phone.

"Great, just great," muttered Buffy and tossed her pen down in frustration. How was she going to get her order completed? Giles will be so disappointed after waiting so long and after all her promises.

"Didn't sound like they liked you," came a voice from the doorway.

Startled, Buffy whirled around to spy Angel leaning against the doorjamb.

Angel. Hair touseled, barefoot, and wearing the black silk pajama bottoms that she had recently purchased for him on a whim. Perfection in the flesh. The past few weeks of healthy eating combined with steady workouts showed in his sculpted abs and chisled chest.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to scare you," he said in a deep sleep-touched voice. "I was just getting a glass of water. I saw the light on. You look busy. I'd better-" He made as if to leave.

"No, please stay," said Buffy, finally coming to her senses. She was a little embarassed to be gawking at Angel. Then again, given his present state of undress, who wouldn't be gawking at him? "I was just trying to put in an order."

Angel smirked. The small gesture reminded Buffy of how Angel was when she had first met him, way back when, playful and coy. "Really? That's not what you said."

Buffy raised an eyebrow. "You speak Khaislarii?"

"Is that what that was?" He gave a graceful lift of his shoulders. "Whatever it is, I can understand it, and I think that I can speak it too."

Buffy passed him the phone and punched in the numbers. "Be my guest."

Some fifteen minutes later the order was filled and the guarantee that the tomes would be delivered by the next Terran full moon was made.

"Wow, that was amazing," she said. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Angel smiled, looking pleased with himself. "Happy to be of service."

Buffy returned his smile, calmly resisting the urge to kiss him. He was so gorgeous and sexy, and damnit, oblivious. "Angel, what do you think of working for me, as my assistant? You seem to have retained some of the knowledge. I could really use someone who...."

"My pleasure."

Buffy peered through the door left slightly ajar. She was supposed to be working, but the mere presence of Angel in the next room was enough to distract her. Ever since he had started working in her shop, she had noticed her formerly disciplined work habits decline gradually.

Angel was serving tea to a young lady and making small talk. A young pretty little thing who was giggling at him. Buffy felt a hot streak of jealousy flare up, and she clutched her pencil so tightly that it snapped in two.

Take your hands off my boyfriend, was the first thought in her head, immediately followed by, he's not my boyfriend. As soon as the surge of jealousy flared up it died only to be replaced by a sense of longing and sadness.

"God, Buffy, get a hold of yourself. Hormonal much," she muttered to herself angrily, and was about to turn back to her work when Angel, as if noticing her gaze on him, looked up, smiled and winked at her.

He winked.

Buffy could not process the action, and continued staring, mouth agape.

Angel winked. Her mind could not wrap itself around the image. Then eventually catching herself, she gave him a weak smile and pretended to be busy jotting down notes on her ledger. Moments later, she felt him behind her.

"Buffy, is everything okay?"

No, nothing's okay. You were dead and now you're back and human, and dammit I don't know what to do about it. But what she said was, "Peachy," and she continued writing as if he wasn't there, paces behind her. She heard him inhale and then exhale deeply.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"What?" She swivelled in her chair to face him.

He ducked his head. "I'm sorry I upset you. I shouldn't have winked at you. You're my boss and-"

"No, Angel." Buffy shook her head. "I-It's not that... I-I'm just not used to seeing you smile," she explained slowly.

Angel blinked at her, puzzled. "I didn't used to smile."

"Not usually."

"What did I do then?"

"Brood, mostly."

"Ah." Angel chewed on this bit of information. "So I shouldn't smile now." Part question.

"No. Yes." Buffy sighed, frustrated with herself. Leave it to her to complicate matters. She gave him a long considering look. Then she stood and gently put her hand on his. "Please, smile. You have a beautiful smile."

"Thank you." The broad grin he then gave her was enough to make her heart stop.

Four months later, Angel's lost memories had not returned, but he was... content. He continued living with Buffy in the spare guestroom down the hall from hers, and worked steadily at her shop. He was very helpful as he had found out that he knew a number of demon languages and was an expert in weaponry, demon dimensions, and tea, much to everyone's surprise.

His presence at the shop not only enabled the business to grow. The cozy tea house was almost always full of customers that Buffy was considering expanding and having more Slayers come work for her. In addition, word-of-mouth spread about the occult side and orders tripled in the past month or so.

Angel was definitely a catalyst for change. But changes did not only happen in the shop

He also effected more than a few changes in Buffy.

"I'm glad that you're here," piped up Cara as she coloured a picture of a princess in a castle with a knight on horseback outside the drawbridge out of her giant colouring book.

"Hmmn?" Angel tore his attention away from the newspaper and watched the pink crayon move up and down the paper. It was a school holiday and Angel was spending the day at home with Cara instead of working at the shop with Buffy. He didn't mind at all since he enjoyed the time he spent with the little girl. "I'm sorry, Cara. I didn't hear you."

"I'm glad you're here," she repeated, matter of factly. She took the yellow crayon and coloured the princess' long hair.

Angel smiled. Cara was such a sweetie, welcoming from the very beginning. She had done an excellent job making him feel at home. "Thanks, Cara. I'm glad that I'm here too. It's a good day to be at home with my favourite girl in the world."

Cara giggled and shook her head. "No, silly."

"No?" Angel pretended to scowl.

"Nope." Cara let out an exaggerated sigh of exasperation. "I meant that I'm glad that you're here with me and mommy because mommy's happier now," explained Cara simply.

Angel remained silent for a few minutes and watched Cara finish colouring the princess' hair and pick up the brown crayon to colour the knight's hair. "How do you know?"

A tiny shrug of the shoulders. "Easy. She smiles a lot more, and talks to people, and laughs more, and she doesn't look sad sometimes in the mornings."

"Does your mommy look sad in the mornings?"

"She used to. Not always, just sometimes." Cara's crayon stopped moving over the paper, and she gestured to Angel to come closer. He did.

"I think she used to cry at night," whispered Cara in Angel's ear, even though there was no one else in the house. "Don't tell, okay? Promise?"

"Promise," answered Angel solemnly.

"Cross your heart and hope to die?" prompted Cara.

A sudden flash of a long sword being shoved into him.

Angel pushed the disturbing image aside and finished the children's rhyme. "Stick a needle in my eye."

It was still too cold to be sitting outside, the early spring evening not holding any of the day's warmth, but that didn't make a difference to Buffy. Swaddled in a warm quilt, she curled on a soft-cushioned chair, listening to the stillness of the night.

Years as a Slayer had made the night her time, and instinctively, she still felt drawn to it. Darkness calling to darkness, she mused idly, not really believing it, despite her knowledge to the contrary. She closed her eyes, going over her deep breathing exercises. Lately with all the chaos in her world, the scant minutes spent meditating on the patio was all she could spare.

Soft treads on the lawn drew her attention and alerted her senses like blood in the water to sharks in the vicinity. Retired or not, she remained a predator, only she didn't like to think about it. She focused on the shadowed figure approaching, and sensing him, relaxed.

"You shouldn't be skulking like that," she chided gently. "A Slayer might mix you up with something else."

"I don't think they'll get me confused," he said, voice soft as the night. He stepped on the patio and waited, watching Buffy in the little light there was.

Like a tableau they were, gazing at each other, and yet saying nothing, the minutes stretched between them.

It was Angel who broke the silence. "I've been thinking a lot about you. Brooding," he said slowly with a note of self-mockery. "And I've been thinking... about us. I know there's some," he paused searching for the right word. "history between us. Not all of it good. But I don't think that it is enough to stop..." He paused again, and then, "I don't know what it is, or how it is, but I know that I'm supposed to be with you because the alternative is not acceptable. Only I don't know where to begin." He came closer, close enough to reach out and touch her. "Buffy, would you like to have dinner with me this Friday, maybe a movie afterwards? I'm told that this is what people do on dates."

His question and his straighforwardness took her by surprise. The old Angel would have been cryptic and elusive, and she didn't know how to answer. She was torn with indecision.

She wanted to be with him, but knew that it would be disastrous. That it would end up in pain and suffering like it always had done, doomed from the beginning. Every ounce of self-preservation prompted her to leave it. Walk away. Her life was already good as it was. She didn't need more hellish torment...

But this was Angel.

The love of her life.

The only one who made her feel whole.

Should she risk the heartache and loss once more?

He took her prolonged silence as refusal. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have presumed," he said, turning towards the door. "Good night."

He had walked a few steps away when he heard, "Wait." Buffy's voice was so quiet that if Angel had not been so attuned to it, he would have missed it.

He turned around to face her, and was moved by what he saw. Buffy's eyes glistening with tears, one making its way down her cheek. Her hand trembled as she reached up to wipe it away. Immediately, he was beside her.

He cupped her face in his large hands, and looked into her eyes searchingly. He felt terrible remorse, a profound sadness from deep within, and then, images cascading through his mind lightning-quick.

A darkened club, music around but the only thing he hears is 'I know, ever be anything. For one thing you're like two hundred and twenty-four years older than I am.'

A cemetery late at night, again her voice 'When I try to look into the future, all I can see is you.'

A bedroom, dimly lit, 'there must be some part of you that remembers who you are.'

A mansion at dawn, 'I love you... Close your eyes.'

A jasmine filled-garden. 'What I want from you I can never have.'

A parking lot amidst firetrucks, her face... Buffy's face, full of sadness and resignation.

A room, the clock in the corner ticking all too loudly, 'I'll never forget.'

Angel understood, if only slightly. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "For everything I have done to you in the past. Please, let me make it up to you."

His words brought great sobs to the fore and Angel drew Buffy close. He held her, rocking her gently, making soothing noises in her ear until eventually she stilled and calmed in his arms. They sat that way, wrapped in each other, speaking little, and fell asleep under the night sky.

"So, how did the date go last night?" asked Jessica slyly as she helped Buffy stock supplies behind the tea counter. The shop was empty as it was still early in the day.

"Here, please put the honey sticks in the new ceramic bee mugs I just bought," replied Buffy, passing Jessica an unopened bag. Buffy knew that Jessica was dying to know details of her recent date with Angel. Having Jessica babysit Cara while she and Angel were out was convenient, but it did make things rather awkward the next day. "Make sure the stick ends are up and not the honey part so that they don't get crushed. Did the cleaners drop off the table cloths? Oh, and is Laura coming in this morning?"

Jessica supressed a grin. "Yes, they're in the back, no, Laura was tired from last night's patrol and said she'd come in after lunch, and how did the date go? Did you kiss? Did he sleep in your-"

"Jessica, that's none of your business," said Buffy gravely, giving her a look that would make demons take pause.

"Angel slept in his own room. Where else would he sleep?" piped up Cara, a small frown on her face. "Mommy, can I have some hot chocolate please?"

"May," corrected Buffy automatically.

"May I have some hot chocolate, please?" repeated Cara.

"Yes, you may. Did you want a muffin with that too?"

Cara nodded. "Yes, please. Banana." She tugged Jessica's sleeve. "Where would Angel sleep?" When Cara got something on her mind, she rarely let it go.

Jessica met Buffy's eyes, read the implicit warning there, and then smiled at Cara. "Don't worry about it. I was being silly. Hey, do you want to help me put out the utensils? I'll give you a piggyback ride if you do."

Cara snorted. "Your piggyback rides aren't as good as Angel's. HE's much bigger. Besides, he doesn't ASK me to do something for it. He just does. So there, I don't need your stinkin' rides," she said haughtily, her ponytail bobbing up and down.

"Cara Summers, that was very rude. Apologize at once, " reprimanded Buffy, a little shocked that the usually polite Cara would say such a thing.

Cara gave her a dirty look as best as a five-year old could and then mumbled a quick apology to Jessica.

"No harm done, squirt," said Jessica, yanking Cara's ponytail playfully. She handed the utensils to the little girl. "Here, make yourself useful. Better than running off your mouth."

Cara glared at Jessica but took the spoons and dutifully went to the tables to set them.

"Well, well, well... she's definitely becoming Angel's girl," remarked Jessica to Buffy as they both watched Cara set the tables. "So, how was the date? Are you and Angel together now?"

Buffy sighed. She was reluctant to talk about her newish relationship with Angel. The last thing she wanted was it to be fodder for the Slayer gossip mill. Then again, it probably already was. Might as well have the truth out there. It had only been one date. "You're not going to let this go, are you?"


"Fine, but this is the last that you'll hear about it from me. Got that?"

Jessica smiled slyly. "Sure."

"The date went well. Dinner was delicious. The movie was actually funny."

"And?" prompted Jessica.

"And, I guess we are together..."

At this Jessica let out an excited hoot

"But we're taking it slowly. Very slowly. Now, shoo, get back to work. I have orders to fill."

"Yes, ma'am. Don't worry about Cara's hot chocolate and muffin. I'll be happy to get it for her," replied Jessica with a saucy little smile. "If you need me at anytime to babysit-"

"I know, I'll call you," said Buffy walking away. Then she paused and turned around. "Thanks, by the way."

Jessica's smile broadened. "You're welcome. Like I said, anytime. Hey, I'll even take Cara overnight, if you know what I mean."

"Uh-huh. Thanks again. Get back to work, Jessica."

Buffy fished out her keys and unlocked the front door to let Angel in. He was carrying a sleeping Cara in his arms. They were returning from watching the musical "Annie." Cara had been so excited to see it that she hadn't slept properly the night before and was all aglow during the evening performance. She promptly fell asleep in the cab afterwards.

Angel helped Buffy get Cara in bed and in less than half an hour, they were in the living room, sitting on the couch side by side.

"So, great show," started Buffy, feeling an awkward moment of silence between them. Strange how when they were working, she had lots of things to say, and now, when they were all alone, she felt like an untried teenager. Slowly, a mantra she repeated in her head, take it slowly.

"It was," agreed Angel, watching her intently. "The little girl who played Annie had incredible stage presence for her age. The sets were amazing. "

"Yes," said Buffy, slightly relieved that they were talking about something to fill the silence. "The dance numbers were good too."

"That they were."

Again a few moments of silence.

Buffy felt nervous and stood up. "Um, do you want some tea? I could easily brew us a pot." she asked.

"No," he replied with a lazy smile that made Buffy's heart pound a little faster. He reached out, took her hand, and tugged her closer. "I don't want tea."

"What do you want then?"

He gave her a long, measured look, all the while moving his thumb over her hand in slow circles, a gentle caress that made Buffy's breath quicken. Gradually, he drew her hand to his lips, and planted kisses on her knuckles in a gentlemanly fashion. He turned it over, palm facing up and he planted a succession of slow tantalizing kisses along its surface.

His soft lips, a hint of tongue. That shouldn't feel so good, Buffy told herself, despite feeling a telltale wetness on her underwear.

Then he took a finger in his mouth, licking, drawing it in and out, and repeated the action with the others, until Buffy's hand had been completely loved.

"Angel." It came out a breathy moan. She wanted to tell him to wait, that it was too soon, that it might not be the right thing...

He stopped, looked into her eyes searchingly. Her mouth parted, and her tongue snaked out to wet her lips, trying desperately to find the words.

Then his lips were on hers, and she responded eagerly, pressing herself to him, pulling him closer as if she couldn't get enough. Her hands nimbly undid the buttons of his shirt and she caressed the firm flesh underneath. He felt familiar, only the temperature was different. Hot. He was hot.

Angel groaned as he felt her hands on him. The feel of Buffy in his arms, touching him was driving him crazy. He wanted more of her. If he never got his memories back, this would be fine. He continued kissing her, working his way down to her nape, finding a scar, his scar, she had told him and instinctively bit at it slightly causing Buffy to moan his name again. "Angel." That damn near undid him. He impatiently yanked on her blouse, needing to feel her skin. The buttons flew everywhere. Then his hands were on her breasts, cupping them and then caressing her nipple, his mouth was on the other, licking, nipping. He slowly pushed her down to the couch.

"Mama!" squeaked a bear doll from underneath her, making them freeze in place, and bringing Buffy back to the present, where they were. In the living room. Where an inquisitive five-year old could stumble upon them inadvertently.

"Oh god," murmured Buffy. Embarassed, she covered her eyes with her hands.

"Do you want me to stop?" asked Angel huskily, his hand was still on her thigh and slowly moving up, up, up. He insinuated a finger underneath her soaked panties, found her clit, and caressed her lightly, moving in circles.

"Yes... No," breathed Buffy between moans. "No. Not here. Upstairs."

He gazed into her eyes, his hunger for her causing her to shiver. He gave her a hard kiss on the lips, and then he scooped her up, ascended the stairs as quickly as he could and carried her to her bedroom. It was a miracle he had managed to climb the stairs without falling. Unceremoniously, he dumped her onto the bed, and they fell on each other, needing to feel skin on skin. Their clothes were quickly removed, bits and pieces flung across the room. They spent little time getting to know each other. Driven by the need to be flesh within flesh.

When he finally thrust within her, Buffy keened, a cry of soulmates finding each other. It didn't take long for her orgasm to overcome her. "Angel," she wailed, forgetting everything but him at that moment.

He came soon after he felt the fluttering of her sheath, clamping hard on him. "Buffy," he groaned.

Minutes later, they lay in each others arms, content to hold and be held.

"Here you go, freshly baked scones with Devonshire clotted cream and homemade raspberry jam," said Angel as he served two customers. "Please, if there's anything else you need, let me know."

"Why, thank you," replied the twenty-something woman with a sexy smile. "We'll be sure to ask."

"Enjoy. For now." Angel smiled flirtatiously. He picked up a few dirty cups from the table next and headed for the counter whistling jauntily.

"Someone had a good time last night," teased Jessica, as she brewed a few pots of tea for another table.

"Don't know what you're talking about," replied Angel, busily loading the dishwasher and wiping down the counter.

"Uh-huh, and that goofy grin you're wearing means nothing," pressed Jessica.


"Oh, c'mon, Angel, you're a terrible liar. You got lucky last night. With Buffy."

"A gentleman never tells," intoned Angel with a wink.

Jessica shrieked. "Woohoo! Ohmigod, that's great. I mean, you guys are like predestined and finally. I mean finally you're together again. It's amazing. Like Romeo and Juliet but better because you're both not dead!"

Angel glared at her. "Customers," he said pointedly.

"Oh, sorry." Jessica tried for repentant but failed. "I'm just... hey, I'm happy for both of you. You deserve it. It's like that Sting song, 'We're starting up a brand new day,'" sang Jessica.

Angel stared, slightly puzzled. "I don't get it."

"Nevermind." Jessica grinned. "Hey, now I'll be able to write a paper on the two of you for inclusion to the Slayer Watcher Journals. I'll be the most popular Slayer. Thank you so much!"

"Knock yourself out," replied Angel good-naturedly, "only not literally." His good mood was going to be impossible to dampen. Not even a busybody like Jessica could ruin it.

It was a Saturday night and Angel was on his back on the kitchen floor inspecting a leak in the sink. Buffy was out of town, rather in a different dimension, meeting with a special supplier and leaving Angel in charge of the domestic activities. He and Buffy had been together officially for over two months so it was not too strange for Buffy to leave Cara in his care. Cara didn't mind it either. She was excited about having a DVD night with Angel. In the course of the half a year, Angel had become like a father to her.

The initial plan had been vegging on the couch to a few DVDs with lots of theatre butter popcorn and rootbeer in real pewter mugs, but the leak in the sink was getting worse and Angel did not want to leave it for another night. Already, it had filled a bucket in less than an hour.

"Angel, were you a plumber before?" asked Cara innocently, watching his progress atop one of the kitchen stools.

"Hey, I have talents we all don't know yet," he joked lightly, taking a wrench to the pipes. "Now, I think that if I twist this here, it will tighten it and the leak will be fixed."

Angel grunted as he twisted the wrench. The leak stopped for a moment, and then, water sprayed everywhere from another spot. "Damn!"

"Angel," said Cara, a little shocked. "You're not supposed to say that."

"Sorry, Cara, it's just...." another spray of water joined the other and water started seeping to the floor. "Could you hand me a few rags there. I'll just tie it up and work on.. Darn!."

Cara dutifully handed him a couple of rags. "I think you're supposed to turn off the main valve. That's what the last plumber did first."

Angel scowled, irritated at himself and at having a five-year old be wiser than he was. Of course, you're supposed to turn of the main water valve. What was he thinking?

Quickly, Angel tied the rags on the leaks, temporarily stopping their spray. "Cara, do you know where the main valve is?"

Cara nodded. "It's in the basement. Do you want me to show you where?"

"No, that's fine. I'll find it," said Angel as he moved to the basement door. "Could you try wiping the water on the floor? Use those paper towels."

"Okay," said Cara. She hopped off of the stool and proceeded to mop up the water.

Muttering angrily to himself, Angel descended the stairscase.

Angel had not been gone for more than a minute when the doorbell rang.

Cara ignored it, figuring Angel would answer it, but he didn't come up from the basement. She continued mopping up the puddles on the kitchen floor.

The doorbell rang again, and still no answer from Angel. He must still be looking for the valve.

"I'll get it!" said Cara, putting down the towels and running to the door. Angel would think her such a big girl now that she could be helpful without having to be told. She was going to be six next month and six was bigger than five.

A tall woman with long dark hair and alabaster skin stood at the doorway. She was one of the prettiest ladies that Cara had ever seen. "Hello, Cara," said the lady in a soft sing-song voice. "Is Buffy home?"

Cara shook her head. "No, she isn't. She's in a different dimension for a special order," offered Cara proudly. She had been paying attention when mommy had explained to Angel why she was leaving for the weekend. "Are you her friend?"

"The Slayer and I know each other from a long time ago," replied the lady with a smile. "Is Daddy home then?"

"Oh, Angel's not my Daddy," said Cara returning the smile with one of her own. She liked it when people confused Angel for her Daddy. "But, yeah, he's in the basement. I'll go get him." Then she noticed the lady sway slightly on her feet, almost falling. "Are you tired? Maybe you can come in and rest on the couch while I get Angel."

"Thank you, Cara," said the lady stepping into the house. "You are such a sweet little girl. There's nothing better than sweet little girls. So adorable I can just eat you up right now."

Cara smiled politely, taking the strange words to be a compliment. She led the lady to the couch. "Here, please have a seat."

"No, I'll come with you. I like to surprise daddy. Would you please hold my hand?"

Cara looked at her puzzled, but took her hand anyway. She did say that she knew mommy from before. She led them both to the top of the basement steps.

The basement was poorly lit and Cara could barely make out Angel from the shadows. He was facing a wall, a tool in hand twisting it on a knob. "Angel, there was someone at the door," she yelled. Cara glanced at the lady who held a finger up to her lips and winked. Oh , a surprise.

"Who was it?" asks Angel amidst grunts.

"She said that she's a friend of yours. She was tired so I told her to rest on the couch."

"Where is she?" asked Angel slowly. He didn't remember having many friends, especially not women. He started up the stairs.

At this point, the lady drew Cara into the living room. Cara was slightly confused. Why was the lady going back to the room? Why was she holding on so tightly? But Cara didn't want to show bad manners so she obediently went with the lady. They were on the couch, Cara sitting on the lady's lap when Angel got to the kitchen. "Cara?"

The lady squeezed her hand, prompting her to speak. "We're here, Angel."

Angel walked into the living room.

"Hello, Daddy. How are you? I missed you lots," crooned the lady. Then, she started stroking Cara's face like one would stroke a fond kitten. "But I can see that little girls still have a hold on your heart."

Cara looked at Angel. She was getting frightened by the strange lady, but she couldn't get away. The lady had a tight grasp around her waist, and didn't seem like she was going to let go.

Angel froze when he saw Cara in the stranger's grasp. He did not recognize the woman but she seemed to know him, quite well in fact. "Hello-"

She gave him a spiteful, angry look. "Dru," she spat. "Daddy does not remember his own. Bad Daddy! Bad bad Daddy!" She shook Cara violently with each word.

Dru. The name opened up a torrent of memories that threatened to sweep Angel away from the sheer horror of it. He had made Dru into what she was, a mad vampire. Oh God.

Angel rushed forward, intent on taking Cara away from Dru. Showing her vampire visage, Dru put a hand out, and grasped Cara more tightly to her. "Stop right there, daddy, or you will have two little girls."

"Please, don't hurt her." He stopped in his tracks.

"Good," said Dru, flashing her fangs in a parody of a smile. Then she pouted. "But the picnic is all spoiled and no bears will be in the woods."

Cara glanced up at the woman holding her and started to scream when she realized she was in the grip of a vampire.

"Hush, child, or I will have your tasty tongue."

Her words were enough to silence Cara into muted sobs.

Angel didn't know what to do. He needed a plan. At times like these he wished he had his memory. He used to be a warrior. Where were his abilities now? "Please, Dru," he begged. "Let Cara go."

"Let Cara go, Cara, Cara, Cara, Cara," sang Dru, closing her eyes and sway as if listening to unheard music. She yanked a terrified Cara along in her mad dance.

While Dru swayed, Angel quickly glanced about the living room, in search of something to repell a vampire. The weapons chest was upstairs, but there were a few weapons hanging on the walls. The sword. Decapitation would work. But, the sword was on the far wall. There was that African spear in the corner, only a few steps from him. And then there were those decorative multi-coloured stoppered vases that happened to be filled with holy water on the sideboard. The stairs weren't that far either. Angel saw a plan beginning to develop. If only he could distract her....

"Dru, listen to me. Listen to your Daddy," said Angel forcefully, trying to get her attention. If he took on Angelus' persona, maybe Dru would listen to him.

"Daddy?" said Dru inquiringly. Then she frowned and tsked at him. "Daddy's not here. You smell... human."

Desperately Angel tried another tack. "You're right. I am human now. But, you can make Daddy come back, like you made Grandma come back."

Dru looked at him with the first indication of sanity he had seen since she arrived. "Yes, I did that," she said proudly. "I was Mummy to Grandma. I brought her back."

"And you can bring Daddy back. I'll go with you, just let Cara go. You don't need her now. You can give her as a present to Daddy and he'll be pleased. Doesn't Daddy love little girls?" As he spoke the words, Angel prayed that he wasn't doing too much harm to Cara. Then again, some damage was better than dying.

Dru smiled broadly and nodded. "Yes, Daddy loves little girls. He will be so happy with me."

"He will," said Angel and he inched closer. "See? I'm coming to you, Dru. Give her to me, and you can hold me instead."

Dru relaxed her grip on Cara. "Go now, little girl, but not too far."

Freed, Cara ran to Angel. "Up. Run, mommy's room." he said as he pushed her towards the stairs. She ran as fast as she could.

"Your turn, Angel," crooned Dru, as she opened her arms wide as if to embrace him.

Angel nodded. "Yes, my turn." He pivoted sharply, grabbed two of the vases and threw them at Dru.

The bottles broke on her face and body, splashing water everywhere, soaking her dress. There was an awful smell of burning flesh and the sound of meat sizzling. Dru screamed.

Angel took the opportunity to pull the spear from its holder and plunged it through the vampire. He waited for the explosion of dust.

But there wasn't any. Instead, there was a howl of pain and anger.

He missed the heart. The spear was lodged in her chest, but about two inches from its target. Damn. Quickly he ran upstairs to Buffy's room.

Cara was huddled on the floor behind the bed, clutching a stake when he got there. Immediately, Angel locked the door, and with some effort, pushed the chest of drawers to bar any further entry. He could still hear shrieks coming from the vampire downstairs. Then silence. Long silence.

He didn't think she would have left them alone. She had taken some effort to track him down, and had waited until Buffy was gone to another dimension. Dru obviously wanted something. What was it then?

Not leaving his spot at the door, he looked at Cara. "Are you okay?"

"Y- yes," answered Cara. Her face was wet with tears, but she still put on a brave face.

"That's my girl," said Angel. "We'll be fine. I promise. She won't get you,"

Cara nodded.

The sound of singing caught Angel's attention and he listened carefully, trying to make out the words. He heard "bad Angel" sung a number of times, and an odd sound. Concentrating hard, he closed his eyes. Was that water being thrown about? No, that doesn't make sense.

Suddenly, Dru's voice came from right outside the door. "Angel doesn't remember how pretty the flames were, but he will." Then laughter, and she was gone.

Angel's gaze ticked back to Cara who was still obviously terrified. "It's okay, Cara," he said, trying to soothe her. He took whatever furniture was left and used it to barracade the door. Vampire strength being as it was, he didn't trust a simple chest of drawers to stop Dru's entry.

Satisfied that the door was secure, he went to the weapons chest and drew out a couple of stakes, and a sword. During his training bouts with Buffy, he had found out that he was skilled at the sword. It was bound to come in handy in close distance with a vampire.

Weapons at hand, he scooped Cara up and kissed and hugged her tightly. "You're a very brave girl, Cara. I'm proud of you," he whispered into her hair. "Not too long from now, okay? Remember to do what I tell you."

"O-okay," said Cara.

"Good girl. I'll go check the door again. Stay here."

Taking his weapons, Angel walked to the door. He still couldn't hear anything. The house was silent as the grave. He leaned closer to the door, and placed a hand on it. It was hot, very hot. Alarmed, Angel looked down. Smoke was coming in through the crack in the door. Dru was burning them up. The liquid must've been gasoline she was pouring. Then the memory of setting Dru and Darla on fire came to him. That's where she must have gotten the idea. Payback, that's what she came for.

He checked the floor. Yes, that too was hot. The entire house must be on fire. They had to get out of there. But what if she was waiting outside? Damn. It was a chance they'd have to take. Then, the door frame caught fire, and black smoke poured in the room. They couldn't leave through that door. Soon, the fire would be in the room.

"Cara, listen to me," said Angel, away from the door."There's a fire in the house. We have to get out. We can't get out the---"

"ANGEL! CARA!" a female voice yelled from outside.

Cara ran to the window. "It's Jessica! "

It was indeed Jessica yelling their names.

Jessica had come by, taking a break mid-patrol to see parts of the movie and hopefully score some snacks. When she arrived at the house, parts of it were in flames. She immediately called 911 on her cell, and rushed the front door, intent on getting the occupants out. But before she could get in the door, a female vampire charged her from the side. By the time she succeded in dusting the vampire, it was too late. The ground level of the house was completely engulfed by roaring flames. Even a Slayer couldn't get past that. Frantically, she called their names.

Angel opened the window. "Jessica, we're here!"

"Angel, ohmigod! Is Cara?"

"Cara's okay. She's with me," answered Angel. "Be careful, there's a vampire-"

"Done and dusted. Angel, you both have to get out of there now. The firetrucks are on their way, but I can see the fire's already on the second floor."

"I know," said Angel. He surveyed the room, saw fingers of flames eating up the door, looked in Cara's wide frightened eyes and made a decision. "Cara, come here. Hold me tight, as tight as you can okay, and don't let go. Close your eyes."

He stood on the window sill and jumped, wrapping himself around Cara's small body, protecting her from the impact of the fall.

Pain. Terrible pain. He hurt everywhere, especially in his chest. He could hardly open his eyes. "Cara?" he managed to say.

"I'm okay," said a small voice beside him, amidst the blaring of sirens.

He tried to move his head to see her, but it felt too heavy.

"Angel, Cara's alright," said another voice closeby. "You did... good. I'll tell Buffy."

Angel nodded the best he could. "Buffy," he whispered.

Then darkness enveloped him

He was in Ireland.

That was the only way to explain the familiar cloud-capped mountains, and miles of bog and moor land all around him. Was heaven Ireland then?

"Never the quick one, huh?" came a male voice from behind him. "This ain't heaven. Just something to make you feel more at home. For now, anyways."

He turned to face the ill-dressed man wearing a neon green shirt, bowler hat, and striped blue pants. "Whistler."

Whistler grinned. "Hey, nice to know you haven't forgotten me."

Angel stared at him, unimpressed. The last time he had seen Whistler was more than a decade ago when he had found Angel in an alley. Before everything. Before Buffy. Oh God, Buffy. He needed to get back to her. "What am I doing here?"

Whistler shook his head. "You don't remember, huh?" Then he laughed suddenly, earning him a dark look from Angel. "Sorry 'bout that. It just seems kinda ironic."

"What does? Me being in Ireland talking to a demon, or me about to beat you to a pulp?" said Angel at the end of his patience. "How's that for funny?"

Whistler put his hands up in surrender. "Whoa there, big guy. Meant no harm." He shrugged. "But what can you expect. Nobody understands me. My curse, remember?"

"Stop saying that," said Angel irritably. "I think I've done my share of forgetting and remembering."

"Fair enough." Whistler started walking along a dirt path that had suddenly appeared in the meadow.

"Wait," said Angel, and he went after him. "What's going on here?"

Whister regarded him silently for a moment, then, "At the risk of getting my head torn off, what exactly do you remember?"

Angel glared at him, but thought it over. "I-I remember everything. I think. Me a vampire, Angelus, a gypsy curse, you. Want me go on?"

Whislter nodded.

Angel snorted impatiently. "Buffy. Sunnydale. L.A. Wolfram and Hart.... an apocalyse?" He stopped, thinking hard. "Then I was a homeless man and everything until... until the fire..." He trailed off, a little lost. "Am I dead?"

"Not quite," said Whistler, bending down, and plucking a blade of grass. He cupped his hands around it and blew. It made a funny noise, and then, tiring of his game, he let it go. "Heh, I've always wanted to do that."

Finally, he faced Angel. "Seems that we can't take the warrior out of you. Homeless man with no memory. Vampire with a soul. It's all the same to you."

"I don't understand," said Angel. "What happened after Wolfram and Hart? What happened between that and homeless bum?"

"Basically, you did your job. You beat the bad guys. Earned a new life. Emphasis on new, no past memories, AND human, fully human. Figured you could handle what happened afterwards. But what do you do? You find her. You could have done everything else, but somehow, you find her. And then you're back to your hero self." Whistler shook his head. "Not only do you find her, you save her kid. Heroically, to boot. Some weren't counting on that, but you made others win big time."

Angel frowned. Was this a game, or worse, a bet? "What-"

"Ah, ah, ah. Can't tell you that. Against the rules, you know," said Whistler with a sly wink. "In any case, you earned a choice, my friend. You can go home, to wherever you think home is. You'll be done, finished at this point. No more fighting. No more struggles. Just home. Peace. Or," he paused dramatically. "You can go back, to her, but with all your memories, including that of Angelus, and all his crimes, and there's no guarantee at the end of that.." Whistler put his hands out, palms up, moving it up and down, in imitation of a scale. "So what'll it be?"

Like puffy white clouds passing through a clear blue sky, a smile slowly made its way across Angel's face.

It was the bleachy antiseptic smell that got his attention when he woke up. Ireland was far gone.

He blinked a few times to adjust his vision in the almost blinding light that streamed through the windows. He hurt, felt exhausted, and there was this thing sticking up his nose. He knew then that he was back.

Angel glanced down at the sleeping figure curled up beside him on the hospital bed. She had been crying, trails of tears evident on her cheeks. Even then, she was beautiful, and Angel was content to watch her sleep.

As if feeling someone watching her, Buffy stirred, slowly opened her eyes, and saw him watching her. "Angel," she said. "Ohmigod, Angel." She kissed him on lips, not letting the oxygen tube in his nose stop her. "I thought I had lost you again," she said, as she pulled away, eyes glistening with tears.

Angel caressed her cheek. "You won't lose me this time. I'm staying forever. Isn't that the point?"

Buffy looked at him with an expression of shock. He sounded as if-

"I remember," he said, and he drew her closer for another kiss.

Underneath a wide-brimmed hat, Buffy stared at the tall, handsome man emerging from the turquoise sea. The waves lapped gently around his strong thighs and the water beading on his sculpted chest glinted on his well-defined chest and firm abs. The sight was enough to make Buffy's mouth water. Oh, the things she could do to him. She giggled, thinking such naughty thoughts.

Angel was suddenly tackled from behind by Cara, pulling him down into the shallow water. Peals of laughter emanated from both as they floundered in the water, splashing each other.

Buffy smiled contentedly as she watched them play. It was hard to believe that it was only a year ago that she had found Angel, starving and mad, on the cold rainy streets of Seattle. She gave a silent prayer to whomever was out there, thanking them for bringing them together again. How different her life was now, more full of joy and hope than there was in the previous decade. And it was not over yet.



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