Dead Again and Loving it
 
Author: Vatrixsta Cruden
 
Email: trixieangelsomething@hotmail.com
 
Rating: PG-13
 
Classification: Angst, Romance, Romantic Angst 
 
Archive: If you have something of mine, consider this
blanket permission. If not, a note telling me where it's
going would be lovely.
 
Spoilers: Takes place after 'Crush' & 'The Thin Dead Line'
but before 'IWMTLY/The Body' and 'Reprise/Epiphany'.
 
Disclaimer: Joss, Tim, David and Marti are
Gods, Joss, Tim, David and Marti are Gods 
"Doctor! The programming is working! It's working!"
 
Summary: Buffy and Spike come to LA to hunt Drusilla as
Angel recovers from his madness (without benefit of getting
horizontal with anybody). Wacky angst ensues.
 
~
 
There was no escape.
 
*You could have a thousand soldiers, and still he'll come,
galloping, galloping, still he'll come . . . *
 
Wolfram & Hart had officially cut ties with her; even
Lindsay had turned his back. Drusilla had left, fled to
somewhere "the skies won't bleed." There was nothing left
for her, no hope, no way out, and no one to save her soul .
. .
 
Angel would never have done this to her. Never would have
systematically destroyed the world she was trying to build.
Yes, he would have stood in her path and kept her from
hurting people. Angel, so good, so true, so noble, would
have given his own life to protect the lives of his precious
humans.
 
But she was not dealing with Angel now.
 
Angelus, too, would never have hurt her this deeply.
Possessing cruelty far exceeding her own, he would have
reveled in her true return. They would have ruled over this
city together, just as it was meant to be before that
godforsaken gypsy curse.
 
Perhaps it would have been better if she'd kept that
heartbeat after all.
 
Her eyes shut tightly for a moment, and her desperate legs
stilled as an image assaulted her. The two of them,
peaceful, resigned, seated on her motel room bed. Angel had
been willing to die for her then; to give his life so that
she might have the second chance those lawyers had foisted
upon her. He had cared, like no one else in this pitiful
world ever could.
 
How nice it would have been, she admitted now, to take her
last breath with his beautiful face smiling down at her. He
might have mourned her, even thought of her fondly, instead
of as the woman who'd damned him.
 
Why did she care? Maybe vampires did have souls. Maybe the
so-called experts had it all wrong. Maybe she was just so
tired of running from him, so afraid of going back to hell
that she was willing to believe anything.
 
Heavy footsteps sounded from behind her. He was not running.
He was not desperate.
 
Her head turned, and she saw him, the Grim Reaper, long
black coat flapping in the wind, his scythe traded for a
broadsword. The fight left her body, and she sunk to the
ground as the skies opened up. God is weeping, she thought
hysterically.
 
The rain aggravated the lesions on her skin. He had made her
suffer. Gasoline, Dru's dancing flames . . . it was only a
prelude. They hadn't escaped that night, she knew now. He
had let them go. He wanted their suffering, their pain. Why?
Angel wasn't like this. Angel didn't hurt people . . . I'm
not people, though, she remembered, I'm a demon, and he hurt
demons, killed them . . .
 
"Angel," she sobbed, her voice catching on the second
syllable of his name.
 
His eyes were cold. He seemed unaffected by the rain. Death,
his purpose clear. Nothing would sway him, not even the
pleading of a woman he'd consorted with for a hundred and
forty years. Not even after he'd felt her heartbeat and her
warmth.
 
It wasn't the blade slicing through skin, bone and muscle
that she felt. It was that coldness, that uncaring look in
his eyes. He impaled her first. So that she couldn't run
away again, she guessed.
 
"Drusilla," she mumbled. "You'll never find her without me.
You'll never stop her." It was a pathetic attempt, one she
saw only succeeded in fortifying his resolve.
 
This thing that was and was not Angel leaned in toward her
face until their lips brushed, once, fleetingly. He'd
promised her a kiss once . . .
 
"Goodbye, Darla."
 
Those whispered words had barely left his mouth when he
savagely pulled the sword from her gut, and a stake appeared
in his other hand. Bits of wood assaulted her heart, and
this time, she felt no surprise in the betrayal.
 
Twice he'd sent her to hell now, but this second time . . .
this was different. The first time he'd killed her, he'd
done so to save his love. There had been altruism in that
action. This time . . .
 
This time he was truly damned.
 
~
 
One down.
 
There was only one place Drusilla would go, Angel knew, to
seek protection from what he had become. Her visions, insane
though they might be, were unerringly accurate. If the stars
told her Angel would stop at nothing until she was dust, he
could think of only one person she'd seek out to protect
her.
 
Spike.
 
The younger vampire worshipped his sire, and Drusilla had
loved him back, as much as she was able. But her insanity
made her unstable, and her love was transient. Angel had
been Drusilla's sire, and a very large part of her still
craved him, still desperately longed for her twisted family.
 
That had been her primary motivation in working with Wolfram
and Hart, he'd deduced. They'd offered her a long-gone
member of her family, her Grandmother, and she'd been unable
to refuse. While he hadn't been 'with' them, Angel had been
near, and the only missing piece was the vampire who'd stood
by Dru's side for nearly a hundred years.
 
She would seek Spike out, and unless she had finally burned
him for the last time, Spike would help her.
 
And Angel would kill the last of his immediate 'family.'
 
Once, he'd felt conflicted over having to kill the two of
them, the woman who'd made him, and the woman he'd made.
Guilt had colored his indecision a thousand shades of gray,
and he'd been rendered powerless.
 
There was no guilt in the action of death. Without caring,
without loving, there was clarity. Focus came with purpose,
but also with a lack of distraction. There were four people
on this earth he could say with all honesty that he loved,
that he cared about, that distracted him.
 
The first, he'd left a long time ago, his love had been so
strong. He'd ripped out both their hearts, left them
bleeding on the ground so she could have a life. He'd lived
for her, died for her; he'd even turned back time for her.
And by that very fact, she wasn't able to remember half of
it. Had no final, bittersweet memories to comfort her in the
night. By now, she'd probably convinced herself their
relationship was a high school fancy, her first love, put
away with Mr. Gordo and other childish things.
 
In all honesty, he was sure they were both better for it.
Maybe not happier, but better. Stronger. Besides, his
happiness only brought misery to the world.
 
When he'd tried to shut himself away, They had come.
Friends. True family. Doyle had said they were his
connection to the world, his insurance policy that one day
the bloodlust wouldn't grow too strong, the temptation too
great.
 
His hate grew until his love was overpowered by it. He hated
the creatures he hunted more than he loved the people who
fought with him. A part of Angel that still cared cried out
in anguished misery at what he had become. The warrior
pushed that cry aside, ignored it in favor of a greater
good.
 
People like Buffy and Cordelia fought and had a life at the
same time. They slayed and fought the good fight and left
enough time afterward for a drink at the Bronze and a dance
with a few friends.
 
Cordelia had almost convinced him he could do the same.
Along with Wesley and Gunn, he'd finally felt like he
belonged somewhere. His whole life, both before and after he
was turned, he'd never felt at home anywhere. He'd come the
closest with Buffy, but even then, he'd still felt like an
outsider to her life.
 
But with the three of them, in this hotel . . . he'd truly
seen the light at the end of the tunnel. More than anything
in his life, he'd wanted to walk in that light again, to be
told that he deserved it.
 
Then Darla had come. Then Drusilla. And his mission was
clear: they had to die, by his hand. They were his
responsibility, but he couldn't fight them if he cared, if
he had ties to this world. If he didn't fight them, they
would swallow that world while Wolfram and Hart footed the
bill. He had to stop them all for a dozen reasons, but
nothing drove him more than a single, unclouded thought:
 
They made his family go away.
 
And for that, he would make them pay.
 
Some part of him was sorry he'd killed Darla so quickly.
He'd wanted her to understand exactly what she'd done to
him, but he doubted she ever would. Soul-less creatures
couldn't fathom the hell his existence was. It was hard
enough on the living.
 
Drusilla . . . Drusilla he would make suffer. There was
nowhere on earth she could hide from him, and she knew it.
He would inflict horrors upon her the likes of which she
couldn't imagine, and he would do it all in Darla's name . .
.
 
A sob caught in his throat, which he thought was odd,
considering he didn't breathe. He brought a hand to his
cheeks, and was genuinely shocked to find them wet. Before
he could rebuild walls he hadn't realized were crumbling, he
fell to his knees, clutching the edge of the sofa in the
lobby of the Hyperion Hotel.
 
Focus was deserting him. Detachment was fading. His soul was
waking up, was horrified at what he had become. The last
words Cordelia had spoken to him, when she'd come to him,
alone, trying one last time to save him from the darkness,
echoed through his mind.
 
"Are you what Doyle died for?"
 
Her voice had been betrayed, hurt, and disgusted all at
once, but he hadn't felt it then. Ice and determination had
formed a thick shell around his soul and nothing penetrated
it, not even her.
 
With Darla's death, his armor was cracking and there was
definite penetration to his icy, unbeating heart.
 
He'd been thinking about torturing Drusilla. Drusilla, whom
he'd driven mad, then turned, just so her torment would be
eternal. Drusilla, whose only crime had been her sight, her
devotion to her family. Drusilla, whose demon was somehow
more vicious than his own, who needed to die, but who had
suffered enough at his hands.
 
Leaning against the back of the couch, Angel pulled his
knees up to his chest, buried his face in his hands, and
sobbed.
 
~
 
"I don't think involving Angel is the wisest course of
action."
 
"Thus reaching our critical point of disagreement, Wes,
given that I think it's our =only= course of action."
 
"De, you said so yourself that the last time you saw him, he
wasn't even there. What makes you so sure he'd even care if
we did bring this to him?"
 
Cordelia considered Gunn for a moment, then looked back to
Wesley. Her words were directed at them both.
 
"I know Angel isn't the Angel we know anymore. But . . .
he's still Angel. And some things don't change. If this
involves Buffy, he'll care." Her eyes plead for
understanding. "It might be the only thing he =can= still
care about."
 
"No one wants to help Angel more than I do," Wesley sighed,
"but we must face facts. He has taken himself out of the
equation. When he fired us, he gave no thought to your
visions and what might happen--"
 
"We've been over this a thousand times, Wesley, and you're
right. You know I agree. Hello, I'm the one with the
head-splitting migraines. I get it."
 
"I don't believe that you do," Wesley countered. "Despite
all that we've accomplished without Angel's assistance, you
have made it clear you intend to rejoin him eventually--"
 
"You're the one that keeps trying to reach him," she cut
in."Every time we help someone, you write him letters you
know he won't read."
 
"That's hardly the same as harboring false hopes about his
ability to suddenly revert to form," Wesley maintained.
 
"Look, you don't even know how much he's given up for
Buffy." Cordelia held up a hand to forestall Wesley's
automatic objection. "And I'm not going to tell you, because
as tactless as I can be, even =I= know this isn't my place.
What I =do= know is that if there's anything Angel would
give up this obsession for, it's a certain bleach-blonde
slayer we all know and love." Cordelia shrugged. "And
besides, if we can't get through to him, at least she could
kick his ass."
 
"I say we go with that plan," Gunn agreed, at the mention of
ass kicking. He'd do it himself, if he wasn't sure Angel
could rip both his arms off without really trying. The Angel
he knew never would. This Angel, though, was unpredictable,
and Gunn was kind of fond of both his arms.
 
"It appears I am overruled," Wesley sighed.
 
"Call Giles," Cordelia ordered, holding out the phone. "Once
you get him on the line, immediately give me the phone. I'll
do the rest."
 
"Yes, ma'am," Wesley said sarcastically as he dialed the
other watcher's number.
~
 
"I need your help."
 
Buffy raised an eyebrow. "This is a new phase in our
relationship," she noted dryly, nonetheless stepping aside
to allow Spike entry to her home.
 
"You're gonna have to be a little more direct than that,
pet," Spike noted dryly.
 
Lips pursed, Buffy folded her arms over her chest. "No
sneaking into my house to steal pictures, articles of
clothing, or =anything= else?"
 
"Scout's honor," Spike swore, making an incorrect -- not to
mention rude -- hand gesture.
 
"You were so never a scout," Buffy scoffed.
 
"I ate one once. Does that count?"
 
Despite the bile rising in the back of her throat, Buffy
said, "come on in, Spike," and prayed that her instincts
weren't deserting her.
 
"Hello Spike," Joyce greeted civilly. "I'm just sitting down
to watch today's Passions. I don't know how I'd survive
without VCRs. Would you care to join me?"
 
"Thanks, Joyce, no, I need to speak with Buffy."
 
"We'll be in the kitchen," Buffy said, cutting off further
conversation between her mother and Spike.
 
"Is Niblet still pressing her ears to doors?" he asked as
they entered the kitchen.
 
"Dawn is at a friend's house." Buffy regarded him for a
moment. "What do you want, Spike?"
 
"I need you to come with me. To LA."
 
"Why?"
 
"Because I have to stake Dru."
 
"Again, going with, why?"
 
"I'm never gonna be free until I do."
 
Buffy measured Spike's sincerity once again. His voice
certainly sounded earnest, but that was one of his many
talents. He'd offered to stake Drusilla a few weeks ago, to
prove his "love" for Buffy. However serious he'd been then,
she certainly believed him now.
 
"You're free right now," she pointed out.
 
"I'm not. Not really. She has a hold over me. As my sire,
she always will. And . . . I don't think I'll really be able
to stake her, which is why I need you to do it."
 
"What do you mean you can't do it? You're perfectly capable
of staking one loony-tunes, fickle vampire."
 
"It's not that bloody easy," he insisted. "You don't -- you
can't know how strong the bonds are. It's more than the
blood connection you have to your mum. It's basic, and it's
almost impossible to fight."
 
"Angel staked Darla in like, ten seconds flat. Are you gonna
tell me Angel's stronger than you?" Why she felt the need to
taunt him, Buffy didn't know, but this was ridiculous. She
was also very unwilling to go to LA.
 
"Oh, bugger all. I should've known better than to ask you
for help, you bloody harpy. I'm gone, I'll deal with this
myself." Spike turned on his heel, and stormed from the
house.
 
Buffy shrugged, and moved to the refrigerator to make
herself a sandwich.
 
She'd just finished spreading the mustard when the phone
rang.
 
It was Giles.
 
Buffy ate her sandwich on the way to Spike's crypt.
 
~
 
"You shouldn't be walking around this neighborhood all
alone, little girl."
 
Her hair was nearly black, with little red highlights. Not
from a bottle, but from time spent in the sun. He could
tell. He'd always liked girls with a little meat on their
bones, and this one looked like she worked out. Even before
he was turned, he'd always enjoyed the ones with a little
bulk. Made them so much tastier.
 
When he was human, his name had been Albert. There had been
nothing remarkable about him, nothing that set him apart
from every other stockbroker out there. Nothing that the
rest of the world saw, at any rate.
 
Albert always had a taste for little girls. The younger the
better, though sometimes they were perfectly ripe at
eighteen. This one looked a little bruised, a little riper
than he normally liked, but pickings had been slim in L.A.
for a long time, especially in this particular part of town.
 
"I'm talking to you," he called out when it appeared the
girl was ignoring him. Albert hated to be ignored. He'd been
turned in '92, and for the last nine years he'd done
anything and everything to distinguish himself in the
vampire community.
 
Unfortunately, other vampires were about as impressed with
him as other humans had been.
 
"And I'm ignoring you," the girl replied, spinning on her
heel to face him.
 
Fire flashed behind her eyes, and Albert smiled. This one
would be a great kill. Smooth and hot sliding down his
throat. The excitement nearly overwhelmed him.
 
"What's a lovely thing like you doing in this nasty part of
town?"
 
Something shifted behind her eyes, and if Albert had any
sense of self-preservation, he might have been nervous.
 
"Looking for an old friend," she replied after a moment.
"Lives somewhere called the Hyperion Hotel?"
 
"Angel," Albert all but hissed.
 
"His reputation precedes, I see," she remarked with a cocky
grin. There was a duffel swung over her arm he just now
noticed.
 
"I'd be careful going near that one," Albert cautioned,
inching closer to the girl. "Seems he's lost it lately.
Demons are steering clear, and his pet humans aren't coming
out to play with him anymore."
 
"Thanks for the four-one-one," she said sincerely. "Do you
know where the hotel is? Cause if you don't, you're just
wasting my time."
 
"Two blocks down that way," he said, indicating the
direction she'd been traveling in.
 
"Again, thanks." She turned on her heel and began to walk
away.
 
Albert sprung, one arm going around her chest, his hand
gripping her throat, the other securing her waist.
 
"Now, now, it's not nice to just walk away from someone,
little girl," he whispered into her ear, his face morphing,
fangs extending. "You haven't even told me your name."
 
Her foot came down on his, her elbow connected with his
mid-section, and before he could even think of regrouping, a
large piece of wood she'd snapped off a nearby tree was
protruding from his chest.
 
"Name's Faith," he heard her say flatly before he exploded
into dust, "the =other= vampire slayer."
 
~
 
The hotel was dark when Faith finally located it. Ancient
and foreboding, it looked like something from another time.
*Just like Angel.* Faith laughed at the thought. It felt
good to laugh. It felt even better to be genuinely out on
parole, free so long as she didn't kill anyone, or violate
the law in any way.
 
Faith could do that. One thing she had no desire to do was
=ever= go back to prison.
 
A few months back, before he'd stopped visiting or writing,
Angel had promised her a job. For awhile, she'd been scared
something had happened to him. Everyone in her life had
turned on Faith sooner or later, but Angel had been the one
she expected to ride it out with. He just cared way too much
to abandon her to the demons, both figurative and literal.
 
Which left the fear that something was desperately wrong at
Angel Investigations.
 
The front door was wide open, so Faith walked in, her duffel
thumping softly against the ground in the lobby. It was
spacious and welcoming, or would have been, if it weren't
for the stench of anger and hopelessness pervading it. Was
that odor detectable to non-supernatural beings, Faith
wondered, or were slayers just lucky that way?
 
Of all the sights she expected to greet her, Angel, hunched
on the floor in a wretched ball was definitely not one of
them.
 
"Angel?" she called out softly.
 
No response.
 
Approaching him like she would a wild animal, Faith slowly
crouched down onto the floor next to him, laying a gentle
hand against his shoulder. It was as though he didn't even
know she was there, for all the reaction he gave. That
scared her worse than anything else did. Angel was a finely
honed predator. He knew the moment someone crossed the
threshold of his lair. They never got close enough to touch
him.
 
"Angel," she said again, more firmly. "Angel, man, snap out
of it." She gave his shoulder a little shake.
 
With a snarl, his head shot up, and she instinctively fell
backwards, ending up on her ass, staring up at a very pissed
off vampire.
 
His eyes were golden, and she couldn't detect a trace of
sanity. Faith suspected he wasn't even aware of who she was,
or where =he= was.
 
"Angel, it's me," she tried, but before she could get any
further, his hand was around her throat, and she found
herself suspended a foot or so off the ground.
 
Struggling, she stared into his eyes, trying to find a shred
of the man she'd known before, the man whose hands she'd
willingly placed her life in. Disheartened by what she
found, Faith quickly checked 'reason with' off her list of
solutions. With a grunt, she struck out with her foot,
nailing him in the groin. His fist released her throat, and
she gasped for breath, tackling him at the same time.
 
He was stronger than she was, but his madness made his blows
ineffectual and easy for her to block. All the while, he
muttered, words she didn't understand, and some she
understood too well.
 
"I had to make them go away, made them all go away . . .
what I had to become I couldn't be with them here . . . They
made me do it . . . they made them go away."
 
"I killed her, again . . . there must be a place in hell
reserved for someone who kills the same woman twice . . ."
 
"It's too hard, it's so hard, and I can't, not anymore, the
screaming never stops, and I remember every single one of
them, the children . . ."
 
"He died for me, and it's not worth it, it should have been
me then, I should have been done, and he stole my
redemption, it should have been mine, he would have been
better here, with Cordy, she would have been better with him
than me . . ."
 
And then, finally:
 
"Just kill me. End it. It has to stop somewhere. Please,
Faith, do it."
 
He'd known, she realized now, who she was from the
beginning. Then she understood exactly how far Angel had
fallen since the last time they'd spoken. He was drowning,
just as she had been, and he needed it to stop.
 
"I'll make it better," she whispered, her hands holding the
sides of his face at his temples.
 
This seemed to mollify him, and he stopped struggling with
her, complacently closing his eyes. Awaiting death? she
wondered.
 
"But not like you want me to," she added, a moment before
she smacked her forehead into his, rendering him
unconscious.
 
"Ow," she mumbled, absently rubbing her sore head as she
glanced around the lobby.
 
"Now where would you keep the chains . . ."
 
~
 
"Now remember, whatever we have to do to make him listen--"
 
"Yeah, yeah, beg, plead, maim -- anything goes, short of
staking." Cordelia blew out an annoyed puff of air. "I know
the drill, Wes. Who made you Boss, anyway?"
 
"In Angel's stead, I believe I'm the best qualified--"
 
A loud burst of laughter came from Gunn, interrupting
Wesley's flow of words.
 
"Shh," Cordelia said, waving her arms frantically,
indicating the front door to the Hyperion. "Angel never
leaves this door open."
 
Armed with only their mutual feelings of trepidation, the
trio entered the hotel, then promptly froze when they got a
look at the scene before them.
 
Angel was lying on the couch, his eyes wide open and staring
at the ceiling. That in and of itself wasn't strange; the
strange came into play when you took into account the chains
wrapped securely around his body, and the slayer seated at
his feet, eating a bowl of Frosted Flakes, watching cartoons
on the TV she'd brought downstairs from his bedroom.
 
Faith glanced up at the trio, then focused her attention
back to 'Spiderman.'
 
"Who's the chick?"
 
"When were you released from prison?"
 
"=What= are you =wearing=?"
 
Faith ignored Gunn and Wesley, but surprisingly, turned to
Cordelia and said, "hey, I've been incarcerated for a year
and change. Excuse the hell out of me for missing the latest
trends."
 
"That outfit wasn't in when you went up the river," Cordelia
insisted.
 
"Cordelia," Wesley snapped, moving toward Faith slowly.
"What happened to Angel?"
 
Faith shrugged. "He was acting weird so I kicked his ass and
chained him up."
 
"We should've thought of that," Cordelia murmured seriously.
 
"No, not inner-demons and darkness weird," Faith said, " he
lost his fucking mind for a minute there, weird."
 
"Huh?"
 
"He finally had a breakdown, Cordelia," Wesley explained
patiently.
 
"Well . . .that's good then, right?" Cordelia smiled a
little. "If he's all broke down, that means he's feeling
again, and if he's feeling again, we can pat him on the back
and send him off to Buffyland just like my vision told us
to."
 
"I fear Angel's condition is slightly more complicated than
that," Wesley insisted softly. "If he's had a genuine
psychological break it's going to take a lot more than a pat
on the back to return his mental and emotional health."
 
"You know, I am right here," came an irritated grumble from
the couch.
 
"You ready to be civil, Cujo?" Faith asked, glancing over
her shoulder at the vampire.
 
"I'm sorry," Angel told her quietly. "For whatever I said--"
 
"It's of the past," Faith said firmly. "Where I'm so hoping
your sanity doesn't also reside."
 
"It's touch and go," Angel replied, then looked over at
Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn. "Guys . . ." he began, then
trailed off. What was there, really, to say?
 
"Forgiven," Wesley said easily.
 
"What?!" Cordelia and Gunn cried in stereo.
 
"There is no room in our lives for pettiness," Wesley told
them quietly. "And personally, I have no more room in my
heart for grudges." His quiet words were directed at Faith
as much as they were at Angel, and the fallen slayer gave
her former watcher a bright smile.
 
"Whatever," Cordelia muttered, though everyone in the room
could sense her softening. "Angel, it doesn't really matter
whether we're still mad at you or not -- you've got a job to
do."
 
"What?" Angel asked, his body tensing for battle.
 
"Well . . . "
 
"Perhaps we should untie him for this," Wesley suggested.
 
"It has to do with Buffy?" Faith clarified. Cordelia nodded.
Faith shook her head. "Then I say we leave him like that
until he's had a chance to take in whatever it is. The last
thing we need is Psycho Protective Vamp breaking land and
speed laws to get to Goldilocks before he's had a chance to
formulate a decent plan."
 
The entire room stared at Faith with something akin to awe.
 
"What?" she said defensively. "I can't learn to plan ahead?"
 
~
 
"Could you watch the road less? You left one of my
unfinished thoughts a few miles back."
 
"Look, those of us who actually know how to drive can open
their gobs and blab all the way into the bloody city of
angels -- those of us who don't are to be quiet before my
last shred of sanity snaps."
 
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Over dramatic much?"
 
"Nobody asked you to come along," he muttered.
 
"Uh, excuse you, but I distinctly remember you coming to my
house -- after I specifically told you to =never= come near
me again -- and begging me to help you rope in your
ex-skank."
 
"Well I bloody changed my mind," he grumbled.
 
"Right. So you were just gonna leave town without a word--"
 
"You bloody told me to get out of town not a week ago--"
 
"Tell me you love me, then skip town. How like a man," Buffy
finished bitterly.
 
Spike stared out the window of his De Soto for a beat,
wondering at the bizarre nature of this conversation. Then,
he snapped.
 
"Slayer, are you in love with me?" he gritted out.
 
A scoffing noise came from the passenger seat. "No."
 
"Do you even really like me?" he persisted.
 
"No."
 
"Then sod off and save this bloody boring bitch-out for one
of the two guys who deserve it. We'll be in the vicinity of
Bachelor Number One in an hour."
 
~
 
They'd untied Angel and given him a pot of coffee to drink.
They weren't sure it would do much good, but at this point,
they were willing to try anything. Cordelia thought he
looked better. Not quite his old self again, but not the
scary thing he'd become for the past few weeks.
 
Faith seemed almost normal, she admitted grudgingly. The
other girl seemed very protective of Angel, sitting no more
than a foot from him at all times, usually touching him in
some way, his arm or his leg.
 
"Human connection," Wesley said softly from beside Cordelia,
causing her to jump.
 
"What?"
 
"Faith's enforcing a human connection with Angel," Wesley
explained. "By touching him, she's reinforcing that he's a
part of this world, and that he has someone who cares about
him." The former watcher looked down at the ground. "It's
something we should have been doing more of."
 
"It's not our fault, Wes," Cordelia said firmly. "We didn't
cause him to go all loco."
 
"No, but we're not entirely blameless for it, are we?"
Wesley countered. "True, we didn't do anything to
precipitate his fall . . . but we didn't really do anything
to prevent it, either."
 
"What were we supposed to do?" Cordelia whispered harshly,
tears stinging the backs of her eyes. "He never lets people
in. You don't think there were mornings I wanted to hug him
because he looked like someone had just killed his puppy? He
didn't like hugs. The only time he ever hugs people is when
they've almost died, or someone else has died, or he's
trying to keep them from dying . . ."
 
"He's always dead," Gunn said from behind them, and Cordelia
and Wesley turned to look at him. "If hugging him'll help
him from goin' all one-man-army again, I say we hug the dead
guy whenever we want, if death is the only clause."
 
Cordelia bee-lined for the couch, sat down beside Angel, and
put an arm around his shoulders. His startled gaze flew to
hers, and she smiled widely, squeezing him once, for
emphasis.
 
Then, he shocked the hell out of her by wrapping one of his
arms around her waist, and practically hauling her into his
embrace. His face was pressed against her neck, and she felt
him trying -- and failing -- to hold tears back.
 
"Shh," she murmured quietly, keeping one arm around his
back, the other pressed against his head, gently stroking
his hair. "It's okay."
 
He was mumbling "I'm sorry, Cordy, I'm so sorry," into her
skin, and Cordelia briefly reflected that nothing had ever
scared her more than Angel being this emotionally available.
 
"This is quite out of character for him," Wesley murmured
quietly.
 
Faith stood and stalked over to him, her eyes blazing. "So
what if it is? He isn't allowed to show a little human
weakness?"
 
"He ain't human," Gunn pointed out reasonably. "And since
he's always scowling--"
 
"How could you have let this happen to him?" Faith
continued, the nervous energy she had pulsing through her
causing her entire body to fidget. "Didn't you notice he was
slipping away?"
 
"Of course we noticed," Wesley snapped. "But in case you've
forgotten, Angel isn't exactly the share his feelings type.
And . . ." Wesley looked away, ashamed. "I never thought
he'd be . . ."
 
"Be what," Faith asked, her tone acid. "Please say it, Wes,
I really dare you."
 
"It never occurred to me he wouldn't be strong enough to
handle whatever the world deigned to throw at him," Wesley
said calmly.
 
"He's not like us," Cordelia said from the couch, startling
the others. Angel was still clutching her, but now she
wasn't playing the comforter; she was clutching him right
back, holding onto him for dear life. "He's not confused and
upset about his place in the world, his destiny. He's Angel,
and he doesn't get rattled or scared or go through
existential crisis stuff."
 
Angel pulled back from her to look at her face. Cordelia
stared right back.
 
"He doesn't need us," she continued, tears beginning to drip
down her cheeks. "I thought you didn't need us," she
whispered.
 
"I need you," he said strongly, his hands wrapped around her
shoulders. "All of you," he added, looking to where Faith,
Wesley and Gunn stood.
 
"No more broody I must destroy Darla tangents?" Cordelia
half asked, half ordered.
 
Angel winced, and became fascinated with the texture of the
couch.
 
"Angel," Wesley prompted quietly.
 
"I killed her tonight," Angel said tonelessly. "I staked my
sire for the second time in five years, and now it's done."
 
"You did =what=?"
 
Everyone turned at the loud exclamation, and it really
wouldn't be fair to say who was more surprised -- the LA
crew, or Buffy and Spike.
 
"Faith," Buffy said quietly, her entire being radiating
rage, hurt and shock.
 
"Spike!" Cordelia gasped, noticing how closely the vampire
was standing to Buffy. "What's Spike doing here?"
 
"Staked her good again, eh, Angelus?" Spike continued as he
sauntered into the room. "So what'd it feel like? Do you
miss her? Can you feel her not there anymore?"
 
"B," Faith began as Buffy stalked over to her.
 
"Shut your mouth," Buffy snapped. "I don't want to hear from
you, or talk to you, or about you, ever again. What'd you
do, Faith? Did you escape from prison?"
 
"Buffy," Angel cautioned, standing. She hadn't even looked
at him yet. That hurt Angel in a way he couldn't even
define, it was so painful.
 
"Don't you =dare= try to defend her to me," Buffy ordered,
steel entering her voice.
 
"I shouldn't have to," Angel snapped. "She's paid for what
she--"
 
"She's paid?!" Buffy cried, stepping closer to Angel,
righteous indignation giving fuel to her every movement. "A
year in jail is equal to taking a man's life? For turning
against all of us and trying to destroy the world? For
stealing my body, and sleeping with my boyfriend?"
 
"That's what you're really pissed off about, isn't it, B?"
Faith got in-between Buffy and Angel, turned her back on the
vampire to glare at the girl who'd been her closest friend
at one time. "You can't stand the idea that you were with
someone who couldn't tell the difference between you and
me."
 
"Faith," Angel began, but was stopped by the look in eyes of
the woman he still loved. Buffy's stance was rigid. She
stepped closer until she and Faith were nose to nose.
 
"This is not about Riley," Buffy gritted out.
 
"Then why do you hate me so much?"
 
"This is so getting us nowhere, and, hello, psycho who needs
to be killed on the loose?"
 
Angel turned to regard Cordelia. "You had a vision." It
wasn't a question.
 
"It's Drusilla," Wesley began.
 
"Yeah, that's why we're here," Spike cut in, moving to stand
possessively at Buffy's side.
 
"Spike," Angel growled softly. He'd noticed the other
vampire's presence, but the significance of it finally
became clear. "Why did you bring him?" This, he directed at
Buffy.
 
"Look, I'm thinking this edition of 'The Dead and the
Restless' can be put on hold until we get this loony vampire
chick taken care of," Gunn announced.
 
"Gunn's right," Angel muttered, still glaring at Spike.
"Cordy, where are we going?"
 
"Pretty Poppy petting zoo," Cordelia said with a straight
face.
 
~
 
They'd split up. Angel, Faith and Wesley had gone around the
back of the large barn that housed the petting zoo. Buffy,
Cordelia and Spike were going for the direct approach. Gunn
was driving Angel's car to a location fitting a strategic
retreat, should the need arise.
 
Angel, having sensed a vibe between Faith and Wesley, was
walking a few feet ahead of them, giving them a chance to
talk.
 
"So," Faith began, sneaking a cautious look at Wesley, "I
never really got to thank you. For your letters."
 
"No need," Wesley assured her. "Angel explained that he'd
been visiting you and you seemed truly determined to
change."
 
"But I hurt you," Faith said. "I sliced and diced without
caring that it hurt you. No, wait, that's wrong -- I cared
because I got off on it."
 
Wesley winced. "I can't say that I'm entirely comfortable
around you, Faith. Nor will I pretend that there aren't
still scars from our last encounter. Some that will never
completely heal." His tone spoke of emotional as well as
physical scarring.
 
"I'm so sorry," she whispered.
 
"So your letters said." He looked at her carefully, both of
them pausing. "I was your watcher, Faith. I failed in that
capacity. I failed you. Perhaps we've both got a fair amount
of atoning to do."
 
"I didn't mean that, you know," she said. "About getting the
short end of the mentor stick. I was fucked up way before
you hit the scene."
 
"Guys."
 
They both looked to where Angel had stopped up ahead. About
fifty feet ahead of them, past a cluster of trees, stood
Drusilla.
 
Cooing to a chicken.
 
~
 
"Dear God," Spike muttered.
 
Buffy was torn between hysterical laughter and horror. "She
. . . vamped . . . a chicken?"
 
"Chickens, pet," Spike corrected. "Half a dozen of them."
 
"I don't even know where a chicken's heart is," Buffy
muttered, grabbing one by its feet, trying to avoid being
bitten by the clucking, biting menace.
 
"Wow," Cordelia commented, "talk about irony." At everyone's
looks, she continued, "We've been eating chicken for how
long?"
 
"I tell ya, it stops today," Buffy vowed, giving a little
cry of triumph as she turned the chicken in her hands to
dust.
 
"There she is," Spike murmured, catching sight of the woman
who'd once been his entire world; the woman who'd changed
his entire world.
 
"How are we gonna do this?" Cordelia whispered.
 
Buffy held up a stake. "In, out, repeat as needed?"
 
"Let me go in first," Spike suggested. "Find out if she's
got any tricks up her sleeve."
 
"You mean besides the psycho killer demon chickens,"
Cordelia snapped.
 
"Yeah," Spike answered seriously, heading toward his dark
goddess.
 
"I've got a bad feeling about this," Buffy muttered.
 
"I'm worried about Angel," Cordelia confided.
 
"Why?" Buffy asked. "He can handle himself."
 
"It's been hard for him lately. I'm just glad Faith's here
now," Cordelia continued absently. She'd almost forgotten
Buffy was there as she voiced her thoughts out loud. "She
understands him. Having her around is already helping him
out."
 
Buffy frowned, but didn't say anything further. The slayer
in her focused on Spike and Drusilla and whatever twisted
reunion they were about to have.
 
~
 
"My Spike," Drusilla called happily. "You've come to save
me."
 
"Save you from what, pet?" Spike asked, moving closer to his
princess.
 
"He's all gone," she confided, squeezing the chicken in her
lap tighter, "the King has taken off his head and there's no
more cake to eat."
 
"Angel," Spike guessed.
 
"Why have you come, my lamb? You're still all covered in
her. No disease, no death, no blood . . . you smell of
sunshine."
 
"I suppose I'm here to say goodbye," he said.
 
"Goodbye," she said, her voice confused.
 
"I dream about you," he confessed. "Every bleedin' night.
You, then the slayer, sometimes you and the slayer at the
same time. I can't take it anymore. I'm losing my mind. I
have to end one of you, and it can't be her."
 
Drusilla's lower lip trembled. "Why did she have to ruin our
happy home? Why does she always have to destroy my family!"
Throwing the chicken from her lap, Drusilla began to stalk
the length of barn, pulling at her hair angrily. "I'm going
to kill her. I'm going to destroy them all. I want my family
back, Spike."
 
"I know, love," Spike began, but was prevented from saying
anything further by Angel's presence.
 
"Daddy," Drusilla said dreamily, then frowned. "No. Not
Daddy. You've come back, but there's no tea at the party."
 
"It's over, Dru," Angel said quietly. "I'm sorry for what I
did to you. And I'm even sorrier I didn't put an end to it
decades ago."
 
"She did this," Drusilla hissed. "The sun has stolen my
family, and I'll eat her heart as my breakfast."
 
"Not gonna happen," a voice announced from the shadows.
 
Drusilla opened her mouth to speak, but was prevented from
doing so when her body began to crumble to dust. Behind her,
stood Faith, stake held in a firm grasp.
 
Faith quirked a smile at Angel. "You slay my inner demons, I
slay your outer ones."
 
~
 
"You realize that was totally dishonorable, right?"
 
They'd gathered back at the Hyperion. Buffy had been quiet
the entire way, jealousy and rage filling her with every
mile that passed. Faith and Angel were so buddy-buddy, I
feel your pain, secret hand-shakey that she'd wanted to
barf. Spike had been withdrawn and sullen, following them in
the De Soto. Buffy suspected the only reason he bothered
with them at all was because Angel's hotel would provide
ample shelter from the coming dawn.
 
Buffy's control had snapped as soon as they hit the lobby.
Faith had mock-punched Angel in the shoulder for something
he'd said, and he'd jokingly cuffed her back.
 
Faith's eyes were like ice as she turned toward Buffy.
"Excuse me?"
 
"You let two vampires distract her while you staked her in
the back," Buffy continued. "And what happened to the plan?
Spike was going to see if she had anything ready to jump out
at us from the woodwork."
 
"I didn't know anything about a plan," Faith snapped.
"Besides, Angel did a sweep, didn't smell anything off the
charts happening. It was smooth, B, and now it's done."
 
"It was irresponsible," Buffy insisted. "You always do the
irresponsible--"
 
"Buffy, lay off," Angel snapped, stepping between the two
slayers.
 
"Don't even get me started on you," Buffy told him. "We
wouldn't even be here if you hadn't made the loon-ball in
the first place." Buffy knew she was being harsh, but she
couldn't care. Didn't they see? Couldn't they understand how
unfair this all was?
 
"Weren't you the one always preaching about how the demon
and the soul were different beings?" Faith asked, stepping
around Angel's shoulder to look at her fellow slayer.
 
Spike hovered just beyond Buffy's shoulder, and she glanced
at him, wondering if he was about to come unhinged. She
watched as Angel took in the glance.
 
"Not so different," Spike said. "Angelus is a bloody evil
bastard, but everything in him still comes from peaches'
soul."
 
"I've had enough of you," Angel muttered to Spike. "Why did
you even come to us?"
 
Buffy felt her whole world starting to crumble. Once again,
here was Angel, defending Faith. Worse, here was Faith,
defending Angel. To Buffy. She'd stood in front of the
vampire like she'd been afraid for him. And Angel had let
her. Just stood there like he was fragile or something and
=let= her. Buffy was scared, confused, hurt, and about as
far away from okay as it was humanly impossible to get.
Given her current emotional state, she took the only option
available to her.
 
She lied like Anya to the Watcher's Council.
 
"He's with me," she said icily, making sure there was just
enough implication in her words for Angel's sake.
 
For what it was worth, it worked just like Buffy thought it
would. Why she thought it would be a good idea was beyond
anyone present, but that was neither here nor there.
 
"What?" Angel barked out, nearly laughing, if only he'd
found anything remotely funny about the idea of Buffy being
=with= Spike.
 
"That's right, ducks," Spike said easily, slinging an arm
over the blonde slayer's shoulders, "me and Buffy are a
duo."
 
"You've got to be kidding me," Angel muttered, every ounce
of his attention focused on Buffy.
 
"What do you care?" Buffy countered, trying not to lie to
Angel outright. She'd made that mistake the last time she'd
been in this godforsaken city. "You =left= me, remember? I'm
allowed to screw the whole UC Sunnydale basketball team!"
 
"Which would be preferable to this!" Angel snapped. "I left
so you could have a normal life. Not so you could fuck some
evil vampire. If I'd known that was all you wanted out of
your life, I might've stuck around. Who knows, maybe you'd
get along better with the unsouled version of me this time
around."
 
The smack Buffy delivered to Angel's cheek resounded through
the room. Everyone was afraid to move, afraid to breathe,
with the exception of Spike, who looked about ready to lunge
himself at Angel if the other vampire made a move to
retaliate at Buffy.
 
Buffy watched as Faith put a hand on Angel's shoulder. A
gesture meant to calm him. The sight nearly caused Buffy to
lose her lunch. The thought of him taking comfort from
someone else, of knowing someone else the way he'd known
her, made her violently ill.
 
And she wasn't going to be sorry for hitting him. The
bastard had deserved it. That look in his eyes, however . .
. that spoke volumes.
 
"I'm sorry," he said at last. "That was completely out of
line."
 
Buffy was about to open her mouth, to agree with him
wholeheartedly, when his next words left her cold:
 
"But no more unforgivable than the way you've been behaving
toward me, Faith, my crew, and anyone else that crossed your
path from the second you stepped into this building." He
took a final look at her, then turned and walked away.
 
Realizing she'd been dismissed, Buffy turned on shaky legs;
barely made it to the couch before they gave out. Numbly,
she sat and listened to Cordelia bitch her out for being
mean to Angel; noticed Spike look at her, concerned, before
he, too, stalked off in the opposite direction Angel had
gone.
 
Ironically, it was Faith that came to Buffy's rescue.
 
"Put a sock in it, Prom Queen," she snapped. "It's been
tense. Everybody needs some alone time. Racers, to your
neutral corners."
 
Gunn, Cordelia and Wesley moved off together, and Faith went
upstairs to find a room to occupy on a permanent basis.
 
Buffy sat on the couch for a long while, thinking of the
last time she'd come here, how unwelcome she'd felt from the
moment she'd stepped foot in Angel's life again. Maybe she
had been defensive this time around. But that was only
because last time, when she'd come with the best of
intentions, she'd gotten her heart stomped on.
 
With a sigh, she stood and went to look for Spike. The
sooner they got out of this damned city, the better.
 
~
 
"Sorry to rain on your parade, slayer, but if you hadn't
noticed, I'd need sun block ten billion to go out right
now."
 
"The windows are blacked out," Buffy pointed out reasonably.
 
"I haven't repainted in ages, and the paint is all chipped.
Sorry, not taking the risk so you can run away from soul
boy."
 
"I'm not running from him," Buffy denied automatically.
 
Spike snorted. "Sure, pet, whatever you want to believe."
 
"Why does everyone think they know so much about how I'm
feeling?" Buffy snapped. "Angel says I want a normal life,
that he can't give me, so he leaves. Riley says he's too
normal for me, and I don't need him, so he leaves. Mom says
I need to go to college, so she signs me up, and makes me
leave. My father periodically forgets I'm alive and I'm
probably going to die sometime in the next few years,
proving just how normal I'm not." Tirade at an end, Buffy
wrapped both arms around her middle, trying to still their
shaking.
 
"And I think, with mom being sick, and the whole Dawn thing,
piled up on top of everything else . . . I think I'm having
a breakdown," she confided quietly.
 
They were both quiet for a moment, then Spike began to
speak.
 
"I won't go into your Romeo and Juliet thing with Peaches.
I've spoken my mind on that quite nicely before." He cleared
his throat, moved a little closer to her. "Had a little
conversation with your boy, Riley," he told her. "I said he
had a good deal. That anything of you, being able to feel
you, touch you, taste you, would be worth dealing withthe
unimaginable sorrow of your not loving him back." His
fingers were playing with the hair around her face as he
spoke. "And it would have."
 
He stepped away from her abruptly.
 
"Spike . . .?"
 
"For him," he clarified. "The wanker never could've loved
you the way you needed him to. It wasn't your fault he was
as bland as the day is long. So don't go feeling all guilty
over whatever he said, and don't be sorry he's gone, because
you're better off. He didn't have it in him to love you in
an eternal way. Not like I do. Anything of you should've
been enough for him, cause it would be more than he
deserved. But nothing less than all of you would ever
satisfy me." He shook his head, absolutely blown away at
what he was saying. It probably would have disgusted him, if
he'd thought about it too much. "And even if you were so
inclined, I couldn't have all of you, could I, pet?"
 
"No," she whispered, as though the answer had just dawned on
her.
 
"Why is it," he asked, moving toward her again, "I can see
everything about your love life, yet you see bloody
nothing?"
 
Her shoulders straightened, she jutted her chin out at him,
and he felt an immeasurable sort of pride clench at his
chest. He'd always known he'd never have a chance with her,
though at the time he honestly hadn't believed Angel would
end up being the reason.
 
"I see," she assured him. "I've always seen. It's everyone
else around me who've been so sure a silly little girl
couldn't possibly know her own mind, her own heart, at
seventeen." A little smile pulled at her lips. "I've always
known where I belonged. Who I belonged to."
 
"Bloody hell," he cursed.
 
"What?"
 
"'Til right then, I thought I might still have a chance," he
admitted with a rueful grin.
 
Buffy smiled at him, in a way she never had before. It made
him feel good, and he nearly cringed at the thought. Slowly,
she walked towards him, stood on her toes, and pressed a
lingering kiss to his cheek.
 
"You aren't beneath me, Spike," she said at last. She turned
to walk away, then paused, giving him a measuring look. "And
I really hope you don't make me kill you one day," she
added, before once again turning, leaving him alone to
wallow in his misery.
 
~
 
"Can I come in?"
 
Buffy stood in Angel's doorway, poised to enter.
 
He shrugged. "You don't need an invitation."
 
As she entered, her gaze took in the design of his room, the
things he kept around.
 
"I figured I'd save one of us a trip to clear the air," she
said lightly.
 
"Buffy," he began warningly, but she held up a hand to
forestall his words.
 
"I owe you the apology this time," she said flatly. "Hell, I
owe you an apology every time. You're just the only one of
us big enough to admit they're sorry.
 
"I have been unfair to you from the moment I saw you again,"
she confessed. "I've acted like a bitch, and I'm sorry, I
really am."
 
"Buffy--"
 
"I'm talking here, and I'd really appreciate it if you'd let
me finish."
 
Her voice was so calm, but he sensed something rising
beneath the surface, emotion he craved from her. He wanted
her love, her joy, her pleasure, but even her pain, rage and
sorrow felt like gifts. He'd told her once that it felt
amazing just to feel, and it was true. After Darla's death,
he'd begun to wake up again. His awakening was hastened by
Buffy's arrival.
 
The first time he'd seen her, Angel's entire being had sang.
It was like a choir of angels proclaiming from the heavens
that this was It. Her. The One person in the entire world
that from this moment forward would represent the physical
manifestation of his journey through life. That choir never
completely stopped singing, even after he'd left Sunnydale.
Sometimes, in the stillness of the night, he had been able
to hear it softly crooning him to sleep.
 
That song had been dormant over the last few months, and at
this moment, in her presence, it was reasserting itself in
spades.
 
"Say whatever you need to," he answered her quietly, giving
taciturn permission for her to vent anything she liked.
 
Buffy was quiet for a moment. "Gee, being given the
permission to speak sure does clam a girl up," she quipped.
 
"You really don't have to say anything," he assured her
softly.
 
"I want to," she said in a sure, steady voice. "I need you
to know."
 
The quiet spread over them for a time, until Buffy took a
deep breath and began to speak from her heart.
 
"I shut down after you left. It hurt so badly to be without
you that I re-invented myself. I found Riley, because Iím
terrified of loneliness. You told me once it's the scariest
thing there is, and you're right. Some part of me doesn't
feel complete unless I have a boyfriend, and that's bad, and
it's something I'm officially working on.
 
"Riley left me. And in my mind, it was like you leaving all
over again. Not because I loved him like I loved you, and
not even because he left this huge, gaping wound in me like
you did. He was a nice guy, you know? But I never gave
myself a chance to love him because I knew I couldn't. Not
the way he deserved. And ever since I realized that, I've
been thinking . . . it's all hopeless. I'm never going to be
able to give myself to someone else, because you have me, a
permanent lock on everything that makes me Buffy.
 
"I was really angry with you," she continued. "Because, I
mean, how fair is that? I can't be with you, but I love you
so much that I can't be with anyone else, either? But then
even that didn't upset me as much, because I thought, hey,
you're in the same boat, right? Only your boat isn't little
like mine, it's a big ship, cause of the curse. It's not
because you love me that much, or because you gave yourself
to me and no one can touch your heart. Your curse is the
only thing stopping you from moving on.
 
"When I got here, I saw you with Faith . . . and every
insecurity I've ever had came to the forefront. She
understands you, she knows you in a way I never have. You
never shared yourself with me. You never trusted me with all
the bad parts that you seem to give to her so willingly."
 
"It's not that," he said quietly, his heart gently breaking
for her as he stood, moved closer to her. "I never wanted
you to know," he confessed. "I never wanted you to see the
monster inside me. And then after you'd seen it more clearly
than anyone had . . . I didn't know how to approach it. You
never seemed to want to talk about any of it, when I was
evil, hell, you shied away from even the hint of it."
 
"We couldn't fix it," she stated, tears clogging her voice.
"When you came back, after I got passed the shock, all I
wanted was to lie down in that big bed of yours, to pull you
inside me so you could never leave. I wanted to make love to
you . . . you told me you wanted to take comfort in me, but
you never seemed to get that it was the same for me."
 
"Of course I got it," he snapped. "That's why I left. I
wanted you to have sex like a normal girl. I wanted you to
be able to express that passionate, beautiful nature of
yours with someone who could explore it with you."
 
"You don't understand," she sighed. "I didn't want to make
love. I wanted to make love =to you=." A tear slipped down
her cheek. "It doesn't matter now, anyway. But it's all part
of why I've been acting how I have since I got here, and I
wanted . . . I wanted you to know so that maybe you wouldn't
hate me."
 
Part of Angel's brain was still stuck on -- and in perfect
agreement with -- 'I wanted to make love to you.' The rest
of his mind concentrated on the conversation at hand.
 
"I could never hate you," he promised her. "Even when I'm
too angry to move, even when I think what I'm feeling is
hate . . . I remember what it feels like to love you, and to
be loved by you, and it fades. It never disappears, but it
fades into an ache that I'm used to carrying around so long
as you're not with me." He looked down for a moment, then
back at her face. "It's still better, though," he confided.
"Being without you is still easier than seeing you every day
and not being able to touch you."
 
"I have to go now," she said abruptly. "Because if I don't,
I won't be able to leave at all."
 
"I know the feeling," he assured her, his voice just as
hushed.
 
"I won't die without you," she murmured defiantly. "I won't
forget how to breathe, I won't wallow in misery." That smile
of hers, the one halfway between a sob and a sin asserted
itself. "But I'm gonna miss you forever."
 
He broke a promise to himself then, and pulled her to him,
his arms holding her as close as they'd longed to from the
moment he saw her again. She returned his embrace, her
liquid eyes pressed to the side of his neck, her tears
burning his flesh more thoroughly than holy water.
 
"While we're making confessions," he whispered into her
shoulder, "know just how selfish I am, Buffy. I want you to
miss me. I want you to remember me, always."
 
"Always," she promised, the single word imbuing a thousand
meanings and vows.
 
"But that doesn't mean I want you to sacrifice your life to
my memory," he added, remembering his place. They ended
their desperate embrace, but did not step away from one
another. Their bodies barely brushed as they gazed intently
into each other's eyes. "It could be a century before my
life changes enough to be with you again," he said, wording
things carefully. Wesley had told Giles about the prophecy
concerning the vampire with a soul, but Angel wasn't sure if
Giles had passed it on to Buffy. "I don't want you to waste
your life waiting for something that may never come to be."
 
"Waiting for you could never be a waste," she assured him in
a strong, sure voice he'd never heard from her. This was not
the girl he'd left in a sewer before her senior prom. This
was a woman who knew her mind, and he felt carefully
controlled joy flare in his heart. He didn't have to watch
over her the way he once had. He didn't have to be sure she
wasn't operating out of some girlish idealism. Angel could
finally trust her to mean and understand exactly what she
was saying.
 
"Just promise me you won't turn away from love out of some
misguided sense of loyalty to me."
 
"I promise," she said with a sigh, "but--"
 
"And promise that you'll always love me best." He grinned,
and whatever she'd been about to say was abandoned in favor
of a grin of her own.
 
They were quiet for a moment, both of them finally
satisfied, for once, with one of their partings. Angel
refused to think of it as 'goodbye.' He still couldn't bear
to say goodbye to her. Then, Buffy spoke:
 
"You wanna go for ice cream?"
 
Angel looked at her for a long moment. "I could go for some
rocky road."
 
"I was thinking cookie dough fudge mint chip myself," she
tossed over her shoulder casually.
 
Angel smiled at the bittersweet memory. It didn't bring as
much pain as it once had, and he thought about telling her
of it, one day, maybe, when the pain wasn't as fresh, the
wounds as raw.
 
"That sounds perfect," he said aloud, and they walked out
the door, side by side, to hunt and stalk a Baskin Robbins
open at 7 AM, with sewer access.
 



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