On the Road to Redemption
By Ralkana

Disclaimer I dont own them; Joss and Mutant Enemy and all the various other Powers That Be do. If I owned them, Im pretty sure they'd be much, much happier.

Comments and feedback to Ralkana47@yahoo.com would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Timeline Mid S4/S1, after IWRY but before This Year's Girl.

Author's Note Let's pretend Buffy told Riley about Angel a little bit earlier than she did in canon.

Spoilers Everything in general, nothing in particular. Oh, except maybe one for the end of Hero. That's all I can think of.

Website - http://www.ralkana.com

Thanks to Maquis Leader for the title.

 

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Buffy stripped off her jacket and tossed it on her bed, wincing as her sore shoulder protested at the movement. She glanced in the mirror, groaning at the image as she wiped ineffectually at the dried grime that coated the skin of her arms and face.

Orange is so not my color…”

She set about cleaning herself and her weapons up, but she stopped and raised her head when she felt a weird tingle deep in the pit of her stomach. It was a familiar feeling, but she hadnt felt it in months, not since

Pressing her lips in a thin line, she ignored the sensation. Not going there.

She went back to her clean-up effort, but she was distracted. She dropped the last stake in her trunk and shoved it back into its hiding spot, and she was just about to peel off her ruined clothes for a hot shower when there was a knock on the door.

With an aggravated sigh, she stalked over to the door. Whoever was there was about to get a faceful of Slayer exhaustion and frustration. Her pointed order to come back later died on her lips.

Angel stood there, hands shoved deep in the pockets of his familiar duster. His head was down and his shoulders were hunched as he tried impossibly to make himself blend into the background. His beautiful, soulful eyes held pain and uncertainty and something she couldnt quite read. Something she thought might be hope, but it had been a very long time since she had seen anything like that in his eyes.

He tried to smile and failed. He took in her appearance, and his eyes widened. He looked as if he was debating on asking her what had happened, but he appeared to decide against it, settling on a familiar greeting.

Buffy.

Angel, she replied flatly. His arrival and the maelstrom of emotions he brought with him, combined with her exhaustion from her earlier patrol, suddenly became too much. She sighed in annoyance. What are you doing here? I thought we decided—“

I know. But I had theres something I have to tell you something.

They stared at each other in silence for a moment. The moment stretched out. Finally, she rolled her eyes and nodded, motioning with a hand for him to speak.

So, tell.

His shoulders slumped even further as he dropped his eyes, and when he raised them again, his gaze darted from side to side, taking in the open dorm room doors and the students walking up and down the hall.

Its not exactly hallway conversation, he muttered.

With another frustrated sigh, she whirled around and stalked deep into the room, trying desperately to put some much needed space between them. She faced the window, closing her eyes as it reflected her, the room, the open door, and nothing else. When there was no sound or movement from behind her, she turned around to face him again. Her breath caught at the sight of him, still standing in the open doorway, head hanging in misery and humiliation.

Im sorry, she whispered, hoping desperately that he could tell she meant it. She hadnt intended to make him feel bad. Well, maybe she did for his sudden appearance, but not for what he was, who he was. Come in, Angel.

He stepped into the room, shutting the door softly behind him. Her anger suddenly flared at the sight of Angel in her dorm room, a sight she had so fiercely wanted to see, a wish she had cried over so often.

Well, what is it? Am I in danger? Theres a shocker. Did your little friend have another vision of damsel Buffy in distress? Hes certainly super helpful. Hope youre paying him enough.

Anger flickered in his eyes at the harsh tone of her words, but it transformed into grief at her last sentences.

Doyles dead, he said flatly, staring at the ground.

Buffys gut twisted in anguish at his pain, pain shed caused him. But the anger rose again, rage that he could still affect her so profoundly, so many months after hed walked away from her. She did her best to tamp it down.

Im sorry, she murmured. He seemed nice.

He was the first true friend Ive had in a very, very long time. Maybe ever, he amended. Before the pain of his words could set in, he raised his eyes to her. You know that your friendship wasis on a completely different level.

She crossed her arms over her chest, walling herself off and retreating madly from her feelings and that line of conversation.

So, no vision then…”

He shook his head. No. No vision. Well, actually thats not quite true. Buffy, somethings happened. I just I dont know what it means, if it even means anything at all. I just wanted I didnt want you to find out from Cordelia or someone else…”

He trailed off, staring down at his hands, and she felt like shaking him.

Angel…”

He jumped, having been lost in thought.

Sorry. I I guess Ill have to tell you from the beginning. Last night, I was out hunting these demons that Cordy—“

There was a knock on the door. Buffy felt like screaming in frustration. She stomped over to the door and yanked it open.

What?! Oh, Riley, hi.

Hi. Saw your light on, thought Id come up and say hi. So, hi.

He leaned in to kiss her, and there was a brief war within her. Part of her a huge part wanted to fling him out and go back in to Angel. Part of her was rejoicing in his presence and in the kiss, but not for the reason she should be happy about it. Let Angel see. Let him see the normal life he wanted for you! Another part of her protested that it wasnt fair to any of them to use Rileys obvious affection for her to make Angel jealous. By the time she had decided to stop him, the short, sweet kiss was over. Riley pulled back to look at her, smiling happily. There was a tiny sound behind her, and she backed into the room. This is gonna be fun

Riley came in, stopping short at the sight of Angel standing awkwardly in the middle of the room.

Friend of Willows? he asked warily.

Riley, Angel. Angel, Riley.

Both mens eyes narrowed. Riley stepped closer and wrapped a possessive arm around Buffys waist, and to the surprise of them all, she allowed him to.

Hello, he muttered. Angel merely nodded in acknowledgement.

Buffy smiled brightly, idly wondering if Riley could tell how fake it was. Angel, she was sure, knew without a shadow of a doubt. She abruptly clamped the lid on that thought.

I should go.

No argument from me, Riley said tightly.

Riley, she warned as Angels hands twitched. She knew he was struggling to control himself, and she really didnt want to clean blood or dust out of the carpet. She took a deep breath.

Did you have something you wanted to tell me, Angel? Cos if you do, Id appreciate it if youd get to the point. Riley and I kinda have plans.

Her eyes widened at her own words. Where the hell did that come from?Apparently, the bitter part of her was in control tonight. She slowly looked at his face, steeling herself against the pain and the anger she knew would be swimming in his eyes. Angel might be a man of few words, but Buffy could see his every thought and feeling in his eyes.

There was no anger there. No ire and no bitterness and no jealousy. And certainly none of that tiny spark of hope she thought shed glimpsed earlier. There was only a horrible, bottomless despair.

Buffy felt tears spring to her own eyes, and Riley, perhaps sensing her precarious hold on her self-control, clutched her closer.

Im sorry, Angel finally said. His voice trembled slightly, and he cleared his throat. I wont bother you any longer. He stared at the couple for a long, interminable moment, and then he looked away. He fixed his eyes on her again, and she felt like she was drowning in those dark, despondent pools. He nodded once. Goodbye, Buffy.

And then, before she could even register his impending departure, the door was closing behind him. She sagged against Riley.

You okay? he asked, and she nodded, though she felt far from okay. What was he doing here?

Buffy was still staring at the closed door. He he said he had to tell me something. Guess it wasnt important, she finished with a shrug. Right. Thats why he came all the way from LA to tell you. With a frown, she shrugged off that thought. Riley swung around to face her, taking her hands in his.

So, he said with a hopeful grin. We have plans?

She grinned back, though it felt horribly wrong. We do now. Lets go out.

She had to get away from this room before she started thinking too much about Angels visit. Riley looked her up and down and chuckled.

You gonna hit the showers, champ, or are you trying to start a new fashion trend? Is orange in this season?

She stared down at herself, finally noticing that she was still covered in ick.

You dont like the new look? she teased, trying desperately to flirt with him, to act like everything was normal and Angels appearance hadnt once again ripped her foundations from beneath her.

On the contrary, I love it. You look beautiful even covered in demon goo, he said with a winning smile, but her answering smile faded as his words sank in.

Ill love you, even if youre covered with slime

I wont bother you any longer Goodbye, Buffy.

With a shaky gasp, she dropped Rileys hands. Oh my God!

Whats wrong? he asked, alarmed.

He said goodbye!

Now Riley just looked confused. I know. I was there. What does that—“

No, you dont understand! He never says goodbye!

Riley stared at her. Well, thats good, isnt it? I mean, maybe hes finally gonna—“

I have to find him.

Buffy!

Riley, he came here tonight to tell me something. He could have just called, but he drove all the way here. Somethings up, and I need to know what it is. I have to talk to him. Ill Ill call you later! she said, grabbing a jacket and pulling her emergency stake out of her bedside table. Can you please lock the door on your way out? she called as she flew out the door, leaving an astonished Riley behind.

She burst out the front doors of Stevenson Hall and stopped abruptly. She had no idea where to go. For all she knew, he was on the freeway back to LA. But the tingle in her stomach was too strong, and that told her he was still in Sunnydale. And there was only once place she could think of where hed be. She hoped to God she was right.

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Angel didnt even look up as Buffy came through the mansions front door. He simply went on dumping things into piles on the dusty couch.

Well, thats one plus to being human, I guess,he said harshly. You can barge into someones home whether or not youre welcome.

Buffy recoiled slightly at his words but went on staring at him. What are you doing?

He glared at her. Baking a cake. What does it look like Im doing? he growled before heading back into the bedroom and grabbing another handful of possessions. Im packing. Or finishing packing. I should have taken all this stuff months ago, he finished as he came back into the room.

Why didnt you? she asked, moving closer.

He glanced at her, and she caught yet another glimpse of his unbearably desolate eyes. He sighed and looked away, continuing his sorting.

I dont know. I guess I left it here in case I wanted needed to come back here one day. But its clear to me now that theres absolutely no reason for me to come back to Sunnydale, so I figured Id take it all with me. Why are you here? I thought you had plans.

Why did you come here, Angel?

What does it matter?

It matters, dammit! You came here to drop some huge bomb on me, and I wanna know what it was!

Just go. Go keep your date with Riley.

Oh no. You dont get to sound all wounded, Angel. Not when youre the one who left me so that I could have a normal life. Riley is that normal life—“

Dont you think I know that? he said, staring defiantly at her. You think knowing Im responsible makes it hurt any less? Just go, Buffy! he snarled, heading for the bedroom again.

Oh, right. I forgot. You left for my own good, cos little Buffy wasnt adult enough to make her own decisions. You know, I guess thats the difference between the two of you. Riley wont run out when things get tough! He loves me and hes willing to give everything to this relationship.

Angel stopped, his back still to her. Finally! she thought. Finally shed found something that pissed him off enough to keep him from retreating. Now, theyd get it all out. It would probably hurt like hell, and she knew that what shed said had to have hurt him, but she needed to know why he was here.

Get out, he hissed. Her eyes widened. Okay, this isnt how its supposed to happen.

Angel—“

You have no idea how much I love you, Buffy, what Ive given just leave.

His shoulders were shaking, and she couldnt tell if it was from tears or from rage, but his words didnt sound like they had been spoken around a mouthful of fangs. If it was rage that was affecting him so much, hed have vamped out. She came closer and warily put a hand on his shoulder.

Angel exploded with a growl, whipping around and shoving her hand away from him. The low light glinted off the tears coursing down his pale cheeks.

GET OUT! he roared.

His beautiful features blurred in the tears that suddenly filled her eyes, and she fled.

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Buffy practically ran down the street for several minutes, breath hitching as the tears tore from her. After a while, she calmed down and stopped, gripping the stake in her hand as she peered around. She didnt really expect anything to attack her this far from Sunnydales various cemeteries, but there was no way to tell for sure how the Hellmouth would make the uglies act.

No, dammit, she muttered to herself. Thats not how its gonna end. If hes not gonna tell me, Ill find out some other way.

At the next major cross street, she turned, trying to think of where she could go. The bus station loomed before her, and she smiled. It was perfect. Well lit, and busy enough so that her conversation wouldnt stand out and draw attention, and yet not crowded enough to worry about people overhearing her. Shoving the stake into her jacket, she made her way to a bank of pay phones. Silently thanking her mother for giving her the calling card she hadnt yet used, she dialed the number shed memorized long ago but had never before called.

Angel Investigations, a male voice said in a clipped, British accent. Buffys brow furrowed. The voice sounded familiar

Wesley?

Yes, Wesley Wyndham-Price here. Whos calling, please?

Its Buffy. What are you never mind. Can I speak to Cordelia?

Ah, Buffy. Hello. I assume Angel—“

His voice abruptly cut off and Buffy could hear a brief scuffle over the line. Then, another familiar voice spoke.

Youre welcome.

Huh? Cordelia, Angel—“

Youre welcome. Im the one who convinced Angel to go see youand all of a sudden, its pretty clear youre not calling to thank me. What happened? she demanded.

Thats my question. Angel came here to tell me something, but he didnt we had can you please just tell me whats been going on?

Well, considering that the only reason he went to Sunnydale was to tell you and youve obviously seen him and he hasnt told you, Im guessing things didnt go according to plan. What did you say to him, Buffy?

Cordelia—“

When he left here he was the happiest and most hopeful Ive ever seen him. Well, post-evil-Angel, anyway. So if you did something to change that, if you hurt him, youre gonna have to deal with me. Got it?

Buffy stared at the phone in shock. Cordelia Chase was playing mama bear? To Angel?

What did you say to him?

We had an argument. Look, Cordy—“

Oh great. It figures. I dont know why I even bothered to convince him to go to you. I bet you didnt even give him a chance to talk, did you? You probably just went and rubbed his nose in your perfect, normal life and—“

Dammit, Cordelia, just tell me what the hell is going on!

There was silence on the other end of the line. Then, Cordelia said in a haughty voice, I dont think its my place to say.

Cordelia, if you dont tell me what happened to Angel, I swear to God Ill—“

Youll what? You gonna come up here and beat it out of me, Little Miss Violent?

There was another brief fight, and Buffy heard Wesleys voice growing closer. “—ve me the phone! Buffy? How is Angel?

Not that great. Hes upset. So am I. I might be able to do something to fix things if I knew what was going on! And what are you doing there, anyway?

Im working with Angel and Cordelia now. As for whats happened, I, like Cordelia, am not sure its my place to say, but Ill tell you nonetheless.

Thank you, she muttered, rolling her eyes.

Last night, after Angel returned home from fighting several demons Cordelia saw in a vision—“

What? Cordelia had a vision? Since when does Cordy see anything more than the pages of the latest issue of Cosmo?

Doyle somehow passed them to her before his death.

Okay…”

As I said, after Angel returned home, Cordelia had a second vision, and it appeared that the Oracles were summoning Angel.

The who?

Oracles. Voices for the Powers that Be.

You lost me.

Angel is a warrior for good. The Powers that Be are the beings in charge of well, everything.

God, she said skeptically.

Well, yes.

Right. So these Oreos—”

Oracles.

Whatever. Whatd they tell Angel?

I gathered, from what he said in his rather stunned state, that they informed him that he is on the path to redemption. That along the way to his ultimate reward, hell be granted certain gifts in return for his valiant fight for the cause of good. And one of those gifts was given to him last night.

Redemption? Ultimate reward? What gift?

He didnt say much about the ultimate reward. Im not certain if they didnt tell him anything more or if he just didnt share it with us. As for the gift he was given last night, well, it appears his soul is bound.

Buffy slumped against the wall. What?

His soul. It appears to be permanent.

The curse…”

No longer applies.

Oh my God…”

Buffy—“

I have to go. Thank you, Wesley, she said, dazedly hanging up the phone. Now what? she whispered.

Angel had come to her to share with her what was undoubtedly the most momentous news in his life, and shed done nothing but cause him grief and pain. Shed taunted him, insulted him, and belittled his words, his deeds, his sacrifices, everything he did and was. And then, shed thrown Riley in his face. No wonder he didnt want to talk to her.

She felt tears threaten again, and she raised a hand, covering her face as she leaned against the wall. For several moments, she was motionless. Then she felt a presence nearby and she tensed, hastily wiping away the remnants of her tears.

Miss? Is everything okay?

It was a police officer. Young, probably not yet used to the horrors of Sunnydale at night. No seasoned officer on the Sunnydale force would approach anyone after dark unless something violent was going on. And even then, it was likely theyd stay away.

Im fine, she murmured, giving the officer a smile. He glanced at her suspiciously and she realized she was still coated in orange demon blood. "Um... accident with orange sherbet and an ice cream maker, boy when they say use with parental supervision only, they aren't kidding," she laughed nervously.

He stared hard at her for a second, unamused, and then he nodded and moved on. Maybe he's not that new to the force after all... She left the bus station, pulling out her stake, and broke into a run. She had to get to the mansion. She had to talk to him before he left for LA. If she didnt, she was sure shed never see him again.

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She arrived just as Angel was closing the trunk of a long, black convertible. Despite the situation, she smiled wryly. Angel had to be the only vampire in the world whod choose a convertible.

Nice car, she said weakly. He just glared at her.

I thought I told you to get out.

Im out. Witness me, outside.

Buffy—“

Look, you and I both know I dont follow orders. Were having this conversation, Angel. Deal.

Why? So you can tell me again how much Riley loves you? How much hes willing to sacrifice for you? I heard the first time. Go home.

I talked to Cordy. I know why youre here.

So you know. Then why are you still standing here?

Dammit, Angel, Im sorry. I said some awful things to you, I know that. But you cant just waltz back in here and expect everything to just be perfect!

Do you think thats what I expected? Do you know how long it took Cordy to convince me to come back here? To tell you at all? I didnt expect you to throw me a welcome back party, Buffy, but I was hoping maybe we could talk. For five minutes. That I could tell you this without all the acid.

Angel, I—“

I didnt come here to ask you to give me another chance, Buffy, and even if I had, I can see now that it wouldve been pointless. I only came because she convinced me that you deserved to know the truth, and I knew that if you found out from her or someone else, youd never forgive me.

Why not?she yelled. When she saw the confusion in his eyes, she sighed and threw out her arms. God, Angel! Why arent you here to give us another chance? This changes everything!

He stared at her in shock. After several moments of silence, he said in a low voice, This changes nothing, Buffy. Im still a vampire. I cant give you—“

And youve still never asked me what I want, Angel! I dont want sunshine or children or corn-fed All-American boys! I want darkness and passion and and love bites! Dammit, I want you! she said, poking him in the chest with a finger. When he didnt answer, still dazed, she asked shakily, Why did you leave me, Angel?

He blinked a couple of times. Wha I you just told me everything I said when I left. Sounds to me like you know why—“

No. Those are the excuses. I want to know the reason. I dont believe that you did it out of nobility, or for my own good, or any of that crap. You ran away, Angel. And I wanna know why.

Angel stared at her for a long time. He was wrestling with his thoughts, she could tell, and she stared back with determination on her face. He was going to tell her, whatever it took. Finally, he looked at the ground, shoving his hands into the pockets of his duster.

Because, he murmured. Because every moment that I stayed here, at your side, every single moment, I was putting at risk the only thing in my long, disastrous life that has ever meant anything. And I was terrified.

She gaped at him. That was not what she had expected him to say. She wasnt sure what she had expected him to say, actually. He shook his head, giving her a sad smile.

Dont you understand, Buffy? My life, none of it not as Liam, or Angelus, or the wretch I was before I became the Angel you know meant anything until the day I hid in the shadows and watched you walk down those steps in the sunlight. Id gone through all of it my birth, my death at Darlas hands, my rebirth at the hands of the Kalderash for the sole purpose of protecting you.

Buffy blinked back tears at his words. From another man, from anyone else, they might have sounded overly emotional and melodramatic, but she knew that Angel meant them with everything in him. The last of his words sank in, and she laughed. It was a sharp, harsh laugh.

Well, youre sure doing a bang-up job protecting me from LA.

His anger flared. You dont understand. You havent understood a single word Ive said. I couldnt stay, Buffy, knowing that with every second I was here, I was running the risk of not only being unable to protect you, but becoming the one to destroy you.

So you left me because you didnt think you could control your hormones. Do vampires have hormones? You have more in common with other men than you think, Angel.

Dammit, its not about the hormones! Its not about sex! Why does everybody think its about sex?!

Angel, calm down.

Do you think Im some teenager, some boy who cant control himself? Every time I held you in my arms, Buffy, I was happy. Do you know where the line is between happiness and true happiness? Huh? Can you show it to me? Because I dont know where it is. Do you know what it was like, every time you touched me, every time you smiled at me, to feel such joy and then to think What if this is it? What if thats the line? To know that one more kiss from you might be the thing that would unleash the monster that would kill everyone you cared about, everyone I cared about?

Buffy leaned weakly against the side of Angels car. They had rarely talked about his demon, and they had certainly never talked in depth about what had triggered his release. And he had never let her see how much the idea of Angelus reappearance frightened him. His fear was almost tangible. It radiated from every tense line in his body.

But Angel it wasnt a kiss that released him. It was sex.

I know. I know that. I knew that. But I also knew that I would never have that kind of perfection with you, ever again, because of that fact. So whos to say that now a kiss isnt the trigger? That, knowing what I cant have, getting what I can have isnt enough to let him out?

He had pushed away from the car, and he was pacing now. Tight, worried circles in front of where she leaned against the fender.

I remember, Buffy; God, I remember everything. I remember every vicious thought, every taunt, every punch and kick I aimed at you. And I remember every tear you cried and every bruise I gave you. And I remember the joy I felt at the thought of your destruction. The elation I felt at the thought of wrapping my hands around your throat, of torturing you and watching you die slowly, in more agony than you can imagine. And I remember all the minutely detailed plans I had of turning you, of watching you rise, of making you a monster. A monster like me. Oh God!

His voice broke, and that smashed through the horror of his words. Before she realized what she was doing, he was wrapped in her arms and she was cradling his head on her shoulder, trying to soothe him. She ran her fingers through his thick, soft hair, rocking him as he trembled. She wasnt sure if he was crying, but he was definitely not in a good way, emotionally speaking.

I cant, he whispered. I c-cant Im sorry, Buffy…”

Shh shh, Angel, its okay. Its okay. Hes gone. He cant ever come back now. Angel, the demon cant ever come back. Your soul is yours now. Angelus can never hurt me or you again.

Gradually, he calmed, and she whispered once more, Hes gone now, Angel. For good.

He raised his head slowly, and the look he gave her was so full of wonder that she had to chuckle softly.

It hadnt really hit you yet, had it?

He shook his head, and she smiled, taking his hand. The familiar feeling of his large, cool fingers solidly entwined with her small, warm ones was nearly enough to make her lose the last of her own self-control.

Didnt think it had. Come on, lets finish this inside. Its a good thing you dont have any close neighbors. We havent exactly been very quiet about this.

Buffy, I—“

Please, Angel?

He nodded and followed her inside, sitting beside her on the now empty couch. She glanced at it and gave him a worried grin.

I got here just in time, didnt I? When he nodded, she huffed out a breath. Well, Cordelia wasnt exactly Miss 411 when I asked her what was going on.

Angel gave her the ghost of a grin. Shes just trying to look out for me.

I know, and that was a hell of a shock. She saw his hurt look and hurried to explain. No, Angel, no. Not because I dont think anyone could care for you on the contrary. If anyone can bring out the good in Cordy, its you. Its just its Cordy, you know? I wish I wish you could see what a good man you are, Angel. Its so easy for me to see it, for anyone who knows you to see it.

He gave a soft snort, and she sighed. Anyone who really knows you, who can look past the ridges and the fangs of Angelus to see the Angel underneath. Cordy can see you. I can see you. Doyle could, Im sure. And if Wesley cant yet, he will soon. Youre amazing, she whispered, cupping his cool cheek in her hand. She saw his eyes change, just slightly, and she knew that a tiny bit of self-loathing had just withered and died within him. She smiled. So what is Wesley Watcher-Priss doing in your office, anyway?

Angel chuckled at the nickname, and then he sobered. The Council let him go. Hes been hunting demons on his own. He showed up in my office when we were working on the same case, and he just stayed. Hes lonely; he was drifting. I know how it feels.

She snuggled into him, laying her head on his chest, and he stiffened, but he didnt push her away. She closed her eyes but didnt move.

Angel…” she murmured, and he didnt reply. Angel, I know that what you told me out there thats the real reason you left me. But the demons gone now—“

Hes not gone, Angel interrupted in a quiet, resigned voice, and she stared up at him.

What?

Hes not gone. Hes still here inside me. I can feel him and hear him. Hes just I dunno locked up, I guess.

In a tiny, unbreakable box. That doesnt have a key. Hes there for good, Angel. Same thing as being gone.

He just stared at her, but she could see the muscle in his jaw tighten. Easy for you to say, he said roughly. You dont have—“

“—to live with him. Or listen to him. God, Angel, Im sorry. Im sure its not easy. But hes not getting out, Angel. Ever. So your reason for leaving me just went poof. You dont have to stay away anymore. She tried to keep the tremor out of her voice, but she wasnt entirely successful, and she knew he heard it. He raised a hand to stroke his fingers through her unruly hair, looking surprised at himself for doing so.

Buffy, I what about Riley?

She took a deep breath. Riley is hes great,she said, not looking at him, but she could feel him tense beneath her. He could give me everything you wanted me to have, and then some. Hes normal well, except for the part where hes a chemically enhanced demon hunter who works for a secret branch of the US military.

What?

She laughed softly. See, Angel, even my normal isnt normal. I dont want normal. I dont want Riley. I dont love Riley, and its not fair of me to pretend that I do. Angel, whether I did it consciously or not, I chose Riley because hes everything youre not, everything you told me you wanted for me. Or at least, it seemed that way. But I could never love him, and it was beyond unfair the way I treated him tonight, using him to hurt you and make you jealous.

Buffy, you know that everything I told you last year I believed it. I couldnt still cant give you everything I wanted to give you, everything I thought you needed—“

I know. And maybe, if youd been talking to the Buffy Summers who existed all those years ago, the one who walked down the steps at Hemery, youd have been right. But you werent. Im not her. And I dont need the things she needed. I need you. So tell me straight. Are you gonna stay?

He looked away, and she felt a spike of dread. Buffy I cant just drop everything I have in LA and come back to Sunnydale Im needed there. I have…”

A cause, she said with a grin, relaxing. I heard. So Im not just in love with a vamp with a soul, Im in love with a warrior for the good, huh?

He glanced down at her, unable to hide the spark of joy that lit his eyes at her words. Something like that.

You gonna tell me what else these Oracles dropped on you? I seem to remember something about an ultimate reward.

He fidgeted uneasily, shifting under her. Thats not that important.

Angel, the words ultimate and reward sound kinda newsworthy to me.

Buffy, I dont know when its going to happen. Theres no point—“

Angel.

He sighed. They told me that when Ive achieved my redemption, Ill be free. Free to have the life and death of a mortal man.

Human?

Buffy—“

Angel, youre gonna be human?

I dont know when its gonna be, Buffy. Could be decades centuries from now. I dont really want to think about it. But I do know that I cant stop what Im doing in LA, or it will never happen.

I wasnt gonna ask you to stop doing your work, Angel. That would be asking you to stop being you. If anyone understands the words sacred destiny, its yours truly. But that doesnt mean Im about to let you walk out of my life again. We can email, talk on the phone. You can come down and see me on slow, evil-free nights, and I can come up and see you on the days when I dont have classes. We will make this work, Angel.

Angels arms wrapped around her, and he held her tightly to his chest. His lips sought hers in an ardent kiss. He nipped and lapped and suckled at her lower lip until she moaned softly and opened to him. His tongue stole in, unbearably cool in the hot cavern of her mouth, to play and mate and tangle with her own, and she slid her hands up to wrap around his neck and toy with the short, soft hairs at the nape of his neck. He shivered underneath her, increasing the ferocity of the kiss, claiming her, and it was her turn to shiver as a hungry, purring growl rumbled up from deep within his chest. Finally, she moved her hands to his shoulders, pushing away from him before she passed out.

I take it thats an aye vote? she laughed, panting to catch her breath.

He smiled then, the familiar little half-grin she remembered so well, and she couldnt help but smile back. Aye, he murmured. I love you…”

Buffy closed her eyes. God, Ive missed you. I love you so much, Angel.

He looked down, resting his forehead against hers. Im sor—“

Feeling her warm fingers against his lips, he stopped. Shh. No more apologies. She tilted his chin up with a finger, and he was stunned by the mischief sparkling in her hazel eyes. So…” she said speculatively, running a finger down his chest. That soul of yours is superglued pretty firmly in this gorgeous body, hmm?

Thats what they tell me, and I dont think anyone who calls them liars has much quality of life afterwards—“

He cut off his words, startled, as she shifted suddenly, swinging her leg over his body to straddle him. Her hot little hands stole up underneath his shirt, caressing the firmly muscled planes of his chest and belly, and she grinned evilly as a moan tore from his throat.

Well then, lets see about this so-called control you were yelling so much about earlier…” she whispered into his neck.

Oh, God…”

Buffy chuckled, and the low, husky sound made him arch beneath her and whisper her name. This is gonna be so much fun…”

 

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