The sun had risen a few hours ago. Buffy hadn't left her spot on the floor just out of Angel's reach. She had dozed off briefly, but not for very long. She raked her fingers through her hair, wondering what she had been thinking last night. The sex was good, sure, but she was an idiot to let him waltz in to The Bronze and take her like that. She knew the possibility existed that he would lose his soul and yet she hadn't been in control enough to stop. What did that say about her?
"You're pathetic," she whispered.
"What was that?"
"Talking to myself."
"You're not pathetic."
"Thanks. You're awake I see."
"I've been watching you all night."
She knew that, felt him watching her even when her back was toward him. "It would have been done by now, right?"
"Yes. It was pretty immediate the first time."
"How can I be sure that you're not fooling me?"
"I guess you don't, Buffy, but you can't keep me chained up forever."
"Well, I could."
He chuckled then. "Now that would be kinky."
"Is that all you think about?"
"I think I did pretty outstanding for over three years doing my best not to think about it."
"It's true. You're beautiful, Buffy, and I fell in love with you the first time I saw you. As soon as I realized you returned my feelings I wanted you. I knew I shouldn't have, knew it would lead to no good. I just didn't know how much no good. And yet, last year, I still wanted you with every fiber of my being."
"But it could happen next time."
"I don't think so."
"The hell dimension."
"What about it?" He had to bring that up and make her feel guilty for sending him there all over again.
He cleared his throat and sat up, his back against the wall and arms resting on his knees. He looked so casual as if being chained to the wall was no big deal.
"They told me there was no more curse. Willow did something differently I guess, the magicks she used compared to what Jenny's clan had used initially. But as part of my punishment, they made sure it was permanent. They found it funny, you see, and wanted to be sure someone couldn't take pity on me and remove it again. Having a soul in a place like that."
"Don't, all right, I get it."
"No, it's okay, I just hate that I did that to you."
"You had no choice, Buffy."
"So, it's permanent?"
"I think so. They wanted to be sure I'd suffer, I was the only one with a soul. At least the only good person with a soul. If I lost the soul they would no longer be able to torment me."
"I'm so sorry," she whispered.
"It's okay, Buffy, really. I'm not trying to make you feel bad. I know you do, but I'm just telling you."
"Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"Because everything I'd done, even though it had become a more distant memory to me was still fresh in your mind. Your friends' minds. I couldn't try to have sex with you knowing Giles remembered freshly everything I'd done to him. I couldn't touch you knowing I had the blood of Jenny Calendar on my hands."
"I was trying to do what was right, Buffy."
"Who are you to decide what's right for me?"
"Your mom and the mayor, they both made me see."
"Wait a minute. What does my mother have to do with this?"
"Uh," he said softly.
"She came to see you?"
"I'm going to kill her."
"No, Buffy, she was only thinking of you. Wanting you not to get hurt again."
"As if you leaving me didn't hurt? You may as well have ripped my heart out with you bare hands, Angel. I've never been more hurt in my life. Sending you to the hell dimension, I had no choice, but you leaving. There was a choice. There was no life or death, no saving the world going on."
"I thought I was." He cradled his head in his hands, the sound of the chains loud and pronounced in the otherwise quiet house.
"My mom can't speak for me, Angel. She hasn't really dealt with the fact that I come with a limited life expectancy. Whatever she said to you, she was talking as a mother to a normal, run of the mill girl. I'm not that. I never will be, though I guess I was once upon a time. It seems so long ago, LA, Hemry, that I wonder if it wasn't another life."
"I know that."
"Then why did you leave?"
He peered at her, his eyes red and sad looking. "I don't know. I thought it was the right thing. I don't want to have to watch you die."
"So you left me because I'm not immortal."
"Said like that it sounds pretty shallow."
"I'd say so. Let's see." She stood then and began pacing. "You've loved one woman in over two hundred fifty years. A woman who was willing to give up her life so that you could live. And you willingly walk away from her because your life together may not be white puffy clouds and lollipops?"
"You're oversimplifying things."
"I am? I don't think so. You don't want to watch me die. So, instead you leave me high and dry. Did it ever occur to you that your leaving might contribute to my dying earlier?"
"Yeah, I guess not."
"Are you going to unchain me now?"
Buffy tried to think of a test he could put him through, but she couldn't think of anything. Angel without the soul was the same person as with the soul, so everything one knew the other did. She had stopped thinking of them as two separate people just before he'd been sent back to Sunnydale from the hell dimension. She had tried to tell herself that wasn't the case during the time he was without his soul.
If she was wrong, Giles and Xander would never forgive her. The last time, Angel hadn't been able to hold a conversation with her this nicely. She took that as a good sign. That, and, she believed him and hated herself even more for sending him to the hell dimension. He must have suffered immense amounts of pain and torture, mental on top of physical. It made her want to wretch.
One thing she knew for certain, good sex last night or not, she would hunt him down and see the mission is accomplished this time if he was somehow acting. She would not go through that again. She could not go through it again. She went out into the garden where she'd hidden the key the night before and came back.
Her hand shook as she brought it to the shackle enclosed around his left wrist. She missed the keyhole not once but twice.
"Trust is difficult isn't it?"
"Yes," she said with a soft laugh, glad he understood. Or seemed to anyway. She undid his left wrist and then his right. She stood back as he rubbed his wrists. "Do you remember my putting you in them when you came back?"
"Vaguely. The first thing I had conscious thought of remembering was knowing you were in trouble."
"Yes. I saved you remember?"
"I do," she whispered. And she did. She had never been happier to see him than at that moment.
"I don't remember much before that. Bits and pieces, fleeting images that stay in the background."
"How did you know I was in trouble?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. Your mine, my mate."
"Why didn't that work for me?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why didn't I know you were still alive somewhere instead of thinking you were dead?"
"I was in another dimension for one. That's the only thing I can say. Other than, it's in my nature to protect what's mine. You're not a predator. I am."
"Thanks for the visual."
"You asked the question, Buffy. Not everything in life is flowery words."
"And I suppose the trauma of everything you'd been through. Too, you thought I was dead, I'm not sure your mind would have been open to the possibility. And what could you have done about it?"
"I could have tried to find you." He smiled and she realized it sounded so simple. Too simple.
"I suspect a part of you might have known. You said I came back after you'd left your ring here."
"I always thought it was too much of a coincidence to not be connected. As if The Powers That Be wanted me back, wanted you over me to a point but not quite."
"What do you mean?"
"I think they needed to know you could make it on your own. A test. You passed. You were willing to put me behind you and move on. But I don't think that's what was supposed to happen."
"You've thought of this a lot."
"You have no idea how much, Buffy. I believe there was a reason that I was returned then. I don't think you're supposed to do this alone."
"Is that why you're staying?"
"No, I'm staying because I love you and want to be with you. Knowing you'd moved on hurt more than I could have imagined. And hearing it from Spike no less."
"I hadn't really moved on."
He scoffed. "Enough to sleep with a guy you barely knew."
"I didn't say I wasn't trying."
"I'll give you that." He glanced outside and then at her again. "Don't you have classes this morning?"
"I don't want you missing them on account of me."
"I kind of like the idea of celebrating your being back."
"We have time for that later."
"You're sure? You're not going to disappear on me?"
"It's not like I have anywhere to go when the sun's out. You need to live your life, Buffy, if my coming back is going to stop you from doing that I should go back."
"No, that's not it, but geez, give me time to get used to you being back."
He took her into his arms and kissed the top of her head. "I'm not trying to get rid of you, but you can't blow off classes for me."
"I know," she said with a pout. He chuckled then and kissed her lower lip which made her giggle. Her hands rested against his chest she sighed. "All right, I'll go. You'll be here when I'm done."
"I'll be waiting."
"I like the sound of that."
She stepped out of his embrace, their fingertips touching and then the contact was gone. She hated it, leaving him. "I love you."
"I love you, too, Buffy. Now go."
She left the mansion, making a mental list of all she'd have to do that day besides classes. Talking to Giles was tops on her list, her watcher would not be happy but no shock there. He was never happy with her. She had Angel back. Her months of moping and being depressed had been for nothing. Well, not for nothing, she knew now that she wanted him. She'd been a part of the college scene and while she would study like she was supposed to, she wasn't cut out for the rest of it. She wanted the security of a relationship with Angel. She needed that to keep her grounded, to keep her alive. Without him she was good, capable, but with him watching her back she believed she was unbeatable.
"Look out bad guys," she murmured as she strode down the street toward campus.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com