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"What's wrong with him?"
"I'll give you three guesses. And the first two don't count."
"It's not Buffy," Angel said to Doyle and Cordelia as he tapped his pencil on his desktop blotter with almost breakneck speed. Of course it was Buffy. It always was and always would be, but he had left.
"Right," Cordelia said with a roll of her eyes that Angel knew she believed he could not see.
He slammed the pencil down on his desk and glared at them. "It is not Buffy."
"If you say so," Cordelia said and left his office. "Maybe you can talk some sense into him," she whispered to Doyle as she left the room. She apparently either forgot he had enhanced hearing or wanted him to hear her. Cordelia was blunt if she was anything so he imagined she just forgot.
"How bad is it?" Doyle asked after a moment or two of uncomfortable silence.
"Spike said she took up with a player."
"She deserves better than getting used."
"She does at that, but it's out of your hands now."
"Would you stop trying to handle me."
"I'm not. Just making conversation."
He wondered who the guy was. How had Buffy met him? She always did like a good time. How had he gotten her to give into him? Was she over him already? Was she working on replacing him with someone else? He closed his eyes. He could pull up her image from his memory with such ease. He remembered the first time he saw her. And the last. His heart broke into pieces at the look of loss on her face. He had no choice but to leave.
"Our work load is pretty light right now."
"What?" Angel asked, still stuck in his thoughts about Buffy. The high school was in shambles and the surrounding area was pure chaos, but he had known where she was without question. He had never had a bond so strong with someone until her.
"I was saying that our work load is next to nothing right now."
"And your point?"
"Maybe a road trip is in order."
"I can't go see her."
"But you could check on her. You know you want to."
Doyle was right he did want to. He wanted to kill the guy who had hurt her, too. It would not take that long and no one would have to know. What was one more dead guy in a town like Sunnydale? He shook his head. He could not revert to murdering the guys who earned a spot in Buffy's heart. Or her bed.
"I can't. I left her I have to trust she knows what she's doing."
"And if she doesn't?"
"She's a big girl, Doyle. She's the slayer for crying out loud."
"Being the slayer doesn't protect her from getting her heart dragged through the mud."
Angel turned around in his chair so his back was to Doyle as he looked outside. It would not be unreasonable. He did miss her, he missed their time together. That dance at her Prom had left him wanting to hold her in his arms forever. They had talked about forever once.
"Come on, Man, you know you're dying to know how she's doing."
He would always want to know how she was doing. Maybe moving to LA had been a bad plan. He was still close enough that he could entertain the thought of going to see her any time. He had been tempted before tonight to do just that but he had always been able to refrain.
Now he knew she had been with another guy. She had been hurt by another guy. Unless Spike was lying to him. It was possible, but he did not like the idea of Spike having free reign in Sunnydale either.
"I suppose I should find out if Spike went back there or not."
"It would be the gentlemanly thing to do." He turned to face Doyle again. "Well, you know, letting her know that she might have a pissed off vampire on her hands."
Angel stood from his chair and walked to his office door. "I'm going out. I won't be here tomorrow when you get here so don't bother looking for me."
He ignored the look that passed between Doyle and Cordelia as he grabbed his coat and his keys.
"Thank God," he heard Cordelia say. "I thought he was going to sit here and mope about her for days."
Buffy was on patrol alone tonight. She hated being alone these days because it gave her time to think of all the things she did wrong with Parker. She knew in her heart that he had played her and that she needed to put it behind her. But her head still tried to tell her if she did this or did that he would change his mind.
"College is not at all what I thought it would be," she murmured. She was not making with the friends as easily as she did in high school. And the friends that she did have were coupled off so she was stuck feeling like a third-wheel. There was always Xander or Giles but they were both busy doing their own thing. Away from the library, away from helping Buffy fight vampires and demons.
"Everybody has a life but Buffy." That should not strike her as anything new. The only time Buffy had a life was when Angel was here. He was gone and with him went her social life as she knew it.
She was trying to move on, she was trying to mend her heart but Parker did not help matters any. Her heart was already broken into pieces. She did not need those pieces made into smaller ones. "How could I be so stupid?" she asked.
Being the slayer she had seen things that people believed only existed in fiction novels. It bothered her that she did not know how to spot a user. Willow did not seem to think there was anything wrong with Buffy not knowing, but it was not Willow's heart suffering so it was easy for her to say. Buffy knew her best friend meant well, but she should have known.
"I should have seen it coming. I'm destined to fail at relationships."
She stopped her senses on alert. It had been a slow night. It seemed since she had defeated Sunday vampire activity had dwindled down to a boring pace. Nights like tonight when she was in the mood for a bit of a scuffle there was no vampire in sight. "Until now," she whispered.
Buffy rolled her eyes when she realized it was only Harmony. "Hello, Harmony," Buffy said. She was unable to take Harmony as a serious threat. Giles would lecture her for it later, but it was just impossible to look at her and think the world was in danger. If anything Harmony was more of a danger to herself.
"You go here?"
"Harmony, you knew that already."
"Oh, right, I did."
"Where's Spike?" Buffy asked. The idea of Spike and Harmony together was a little weird but no weirder than Dru was.
"I don't know. He left."
"He what?" Buffy asked, surprised. No way could it have been that easy to get rid of him. "What happened?"
"It was that stupid ring."
"The Gem of Amara?"
"Yeah. He promised to take me to France, but he didn't mean any of that stuff."
"I'm sure he did, Harmony. He just gets focused."
"Oh and you think you know him so well?"
"Well," Buffy said with a shrug. How to explain it? She and Spike were not fast friends or anything, but she gained some understanding of him and the way he worked while he and Dru were in town. "I know him well enough, Harm."
"Yeah, well, I loved him. I would have done anything for him. I didn't really care about that stupid gem."
Was she really having a conversation with Harmony? Buffy was trying to wrap her mind around it when her senses went on alert again. They were not alone. There was another vampire nearby. She looked around the area as familiar sensations that were only brought about by one vampire in particular were running through her. "He's in LA," she whispered.
"What?" Harmony asked. "How did you know he went to LA?"
Buffy realized Harmony thought she had been talking to her. "No one's in LA, sorry."
"Have you seen Spike? Did he tell you he was going to LA?"
"Why on earth would Spike give me his itinerary, Harmony?" Why LA? Had he found out somehow that she had given the ring to Angel? She hoped not. She would have to call him tomorrow to find out.
"I don't know. I just didn't think he'd leave."
"Listen, Harmony, I'd love to stick around and talk about your fleeting love affair with Spike but I really do have things to do." Buffy began to walk away. The last thing she needed was to get in a position where Harmony thought she could cry on Buffy's shoulder. About Spike no less. She was pathetic.
"At least I can keep a man for a little while, Buffy."
Buffy spun around on her heels. "What did you say?"
"Spike told me all about it. Angel and the loser we saw you with at the frat party."
"Well, Harmony, don't be too proud of yourself. Spike stuck with Drusilla for over a century and dumped you after what a year?" The look on Harmony's face was priceless. Buffy's work here was done. That would teach her to try to spar with Buffy about the quality of men in their lives.
Parker was a mistake. A lesson learned. She was not going to stick her neck out or risk her heart again. Ever. She could be all about the slaying, all about the mission and fit in a little fun here and there when Willow had the time. Giles would probably freak out but would eventually love that she was as dedicated as he wanted her to be.
"Good night, Harmony," Buffy said with a light wave as she walked away unable to shake the feeling that she was being watched. He had left her. He was not coming back no matter how much she wanted him to. It was just her wounded pride wishing he had come back for her so she would not have to deal with dating.
"Grow up, Buffy," she said as she walked toward her dorm, pocketing the stake. She smiled and said hi to a couple of people she knew who were headed out. There was always something going on so it was hard to keep track of where people might be going.
She turned to scan the area behind her once more unable to shake the feeling that he was there watching her. She did not see him, though and chalked it up to her imagination running wild. It bothered her that the mere thought of him could affect her this way. It meant she was no where near over him. And she really wanted to be.
"Honey, I'm home," Buffy called out to the darkened room as she flipped on the light switch to reveal an empty room. She already knew Willow was gone. She was where any normal college girl would be, at her boyfriend's dorm room.
"Too bad Buffy's anything but normal," she said with a pout as she slid off her jacket, draping it over the back of her chair. She sat on her bed and stared at the phone on the nightstand. It was tempting to call LA and find out if Angel was there. If he was not that would mean he could be here and she was not imagining things. But if he was in LA that would mean he was not missing her like she was him. She did not want to know that. She liked believing that he was heartsick over his decision just like she was. She liked thinking he was nowhere close to being happy and in absolutely no danger of losing his soul again.
She let out a breath and sighed as she stood from the bed. She really could use some Willow conversation about now. She could take herself to Oz's room and impose or just sit here and deal with her depressing state of mind. She walked to the window and looked outside, leaning her forehead against the windowpane. She was bored and restless. She wanted to do something, but the patrol had resulted in nothing. Except for running into Harmony. It was still early she realized and her eyes fell to the phone just to her left.
"Xander. Hey it's Buffy. Are you busy?"
"Uh no, Buff," he said. "What's up?"
"I was thinking of hitting The Bronze."
"And you were looking for some company?"
"Yeah," she admitted, hating the fact she sounded so needy.
"I'll meet you there in twenty minutes?"
"Sounds good. And Xander?"
"Any time, you know that."
Buffy hung up feeling a little better. She would do something familiar to her with someone she could count on to make her feel better. She changed into a mini-dress and some boots both worthy of a night of dancing with ten minutes to get to The Bronze. For the first time that night she was pumped and ready to go. She did not need Parker or Angel to have a good time.
She paid the bouncer her fee and presented her fake ID. The turnover at The Bronze was something else so she did not have to worry about this guy remembering she was just in high school last year.
"Enjoy your night."
"Thanks," Buffy said as she pocketed her ID in her jacket. "I plan to." The bouncer really did not care if she had a good time but that was all right. She entered The Bronze and scanned the crowd for Xander. She saw a few Sunnydale students that were seniors this year. "Too bad they don't have a school to go to," she mumbled as she walked to the bar and got herself a Coke when she did not see him. He would not stand her up so she decided to look for an available table.
She found one just as she spotted Xander at the entrance. She waved him over after she'd set the cups containing their frosty beverages down.
"Wow, Buff, you look," he shrugged as he checked her out. "Well, buff. In a divine way."
"You don't look so bad yourself," she said. He had just gotten a haircut so his hair was well trimmed, the shirt he wore actually looked as if it had seen an iron recently, and the jeans he wore sported no holes or bleach marks.
"Thanks. I just got my haircut. I even bought a new razor. Feel how close and smooth that shave is?"
Buffy ran the palm of her hand against his jaw and had to admit it was impressively smooth given it was so late at night and she doubted he'd taken time to shave before coming here on a moment's notice.
"I have an interview."
"Yes. A caramel double latte, coming right up."
"Get out. You're applying at Starbuck's?"
"Yes. I tried the pizza parlor route and that wasn't good."
"I'd weigh a thousand pounds if I worked at a place like that. But Starbuck's. It's coffee. How can I go wrong with that? I'm hyper enough naturally, I won't need to overindulge on the tasty goodness that is their specially blended coffee."
"I wouldn't say that at the interview."
"I suppose you're right," he said with a chuckle.
"I'm sure you'll get it, Xander. They'd be crazy not to want Xander Harris touting their coffee."
"That's what I say!"
Buffy was sincere. She wanted Xander to be able to move out of his parents' house one day. Soon. She'd really never met them, but she'd seen them and seen how they treated Xander. But if Xander got a job, he like Willow would be one step closer to moving on from the drama and disaster that was Buffy's life and slaying.
"What's a matter, Buff? You look like someone just kicked your cat."
"I don't have a cat."
"Well, Mr. Gordo then."
"Hey, leave Mr. Gordo out of this!"
"Not unless you tell me what's wrong. I'm glad you called, but it doesn't take a genius to know that it was some sort of knee jerk reaction to something that happened tonight. Did you meet a particularly nasty vamp? Get hit on by some sleaze ball fraternity guy?"
"No, none of that. Aside from running into Harmony my patrol was uneventful."
"Harmony? She's still around?"
"Yes, evidently Spike bailed on her. Went to LA."
"You don't suppose he found out that's where that ring went?"
"More than likely. Natural assumption I guess, I'd give it to Angel."
"I'm going to go on record – again – as being opposed to that decision."
"So what's up then? You didn't let Harmony get you down did you?"
"No, well, maybe a little."
"Tell Xander all about it."
"There's nothing much to tell." He glared at her and she slumped her shoulders in response. "You promise you won't go all mopey on me?"
"I felt Angel."
"You felt Angel?"
"I don't get it."
"Like he's here."
Xander scanned The Bronze. "I don't see him."
"I know he's not here now. Earlier, while on patrol and in my dorm room."
"You can feel him?"
"Well, yeah, vampire slayer here, he's a vampire. But it's a different feeling when it's him."
"I'm going to vomit now."
"Xander, you promised."
"That wasn't moping!"
She laughed and shook her head. "I'm sure it's just my imagination getting the better of me. Harmony made a comment about my lack of love life."
"Who's she to talk? She was lucky to have a boyfriend last a week in high school. And Spike bails on her over a ring?"
"A ring that would let him walk in the sun and basically be unstoppable."
"Well, okay, but still. He stuck with that crazy Dru for years. Even made a pact with you to save her life even though she'd cast him aside," he stopped, obviously realizing what he was about to say.
"Thanks," she whispered. The circumstances surrounding Spike and Buffy's short lived pact were not openly discussed. There wasn't much point. Angel had his soul again and was living some place that wasn't Sunnydale. There was nothing to worry about.
"So, why would he be here?"
"I don't know," Buffy admitted. "That's what bugs me."
"Do you think he lost his soul again?"
"I'm not as confident as you, particularly with that ring on his hand."
"I just hate this feeling, you know? It's bad enough that I have this vampire radar, but it has to tune to specific vampires."
"Maybe it's someone that Angel sired."
She thought on that for a moment, sipping her Coke. She shook her head. "I don't think so. I never had this feeling with Dru around or Spike. It's just him."
"Great. So, he might be back to lurking."
"I hadn't thought of that. But why?"
"Loves you, can't have you."
Buffy couldn't be sure but thought she heard a tone of understanding in Xander's voice and felt a pang of guilt for talking about this with him. Buffy knew how he felt, about her and about Angel. He had asked, though, and offered to listen. "He left, he's in LA."
"It's not that far of a drive."
She sighed heavily, resting her head over her arms on the table. "I hate this."
"I hate it, too. I hate it that miles away he still gets to you. Come on, let's dance. The band isn't bad and some gyrating and sweating should work the kinks out of your system."
"Okay," she said. She was never one to turn down dancing and he was probably right. Sitting here moping and dwelling was not going to make things better. She needed to get back to being perky Buffy, the Buffy she was before Parker. She had still been hurting but on her way to healing. She just needed a little push to get her back to that point. The Bronze and dancing might just do the trick.
She looked fine. He wasn't sure why she was here at The Bronze with Xander instead of somewhere on campus. He wondered when he saw them head to the dance floor if they were on a date. Angel knew Xander wasn't enrolled at the university like Buffy and Willow were.
After a few more minutes of watching her from his shadowy vantage point he headed toward campus. It was time to find out what he could about the guy who'd taken advantage of her. He wasn't foolish enough to believe Buffy had been forced into anything by a human. He did know that she was a passionate person who no longer had an outlet for it.
He wasn't sure which bothered him more. Her taking up with a stranger or Harris. The stranger had hurt her, something Angel knew Xander would never do. At least with the other guy Angel had no face to put with a name. Yet. He would rectify that problem tonight. While he could not vamp out he could put the fear of God in the guy.
UC Sunnydale's campus was not that big. At the bar the campus offered Angel hit pay dirt. It had been surprisingly easy. He had overheard a few guys talking about the latest notches they added to their bedposts. The mug of beer Angel held shattered under the pressure of his grasp the more he heard the punk talk about Buffy. Intimate things that no one had the right to know about her.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I don't know what happened."
"It must have been a faulty mug. I'll get you another one. On the house."
"I'm fine, really."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," Angel said, suddenly missing Willy. This guy was probably worried about getting sued. "Who are those guys?"
"Just a bunch of no good punks. They're in here every weekend talking about their conquests. They are good, though, just watch, there goes one of them now," he indicated as the one talking about Buffy approached a table with a group of girls. "He seems to be the most successful of the group."
"What's his name?"
"Patrick, Parker, something like that. I think it's Parker, it's something not so common. You sure you don't want another drink?"
"I'm positive," Angel said, setting some money on the bar as he prepared to follow Parker and his latest target outside. They ended up at a fraternity house Angel realized with distaste. He followed them inside. Did Buffy participate in these things? She was one for a good time, but this was trouble waiting to happen. Despite her calling she was still relatively naïve when it came to things, like guys who would prey on a broken hearted freshman.
"Hey Parker," Angel called out after hearing a few people greet him.
"Do I know you?"
"I've seen you around. I saw you at the bar tonight. Didn't I see you here with Buffy?"
"You know Buffy?"
Angel smiled and called on some of his mannerisms without his soul to pull this off. "No, but you could say that I want to. I thought you were, you know, with her." He was cocky, sure of himself, a rival for Parker to get nervous about.
"Nah, she was just a whim, but if you go for the clingy type she'd be all right."
"Clingy?" Angel asked, guiding Parker into the privacy of one of the house's hallways.
"Yeah, she seemed like she was cool with just having a good time, but it was worth the aggravation. She's a wildcat in the sack. I could barely walk the next day."
That was all he could take. Quicker than a blink of an eye his hand was at Parker's throat and he was pinned against the wall.
"Hey man," he said before Angel squeezed tighter.
"You're going to stop talking about Buffy. Anyone you've already spoken to about her if they ask again you're going to say you were exaggerating. And then you're going to apologize to Buffy. After that, you're not to look at or even think about her again. If I hear that you've said one word about her beyond the fact that she's a nice girl who you had fun with I will come back."
Parker's eyes were wide with fear and Angel relished the sensation. He could get off on this. It would be easy to just keep squeezing until he could no longer breathe. How many times had he gotten off on the sensation of feeling a victim's body lose consciousness and then the passing of life altogether? It had not been that long anymore since he'd given into the baser side of being a vampire so it was still fresh in his mind. The taste of fresh blood. The thrill of the hunt. The euphoria after a kill. Angel loosened his grip around Parker's neck. "Do we have an understanding?"
Parker nodded, his hands reaching for his throat.
"And I will know if you do or say anything I've just instructed you not to do."
He nodded again and Angel released him. "Who are you?"
"It doesn't matter," he stepped back and thought of one last detail. "Buffy doesn't know we had this little talk. Enjoy your party," he said and left a billow of leather and rage surrounding him. He wasn't sure at that moment which was more tangible.
He stopped at her dorm only to find she wasn't at home, not that he'd expected her to be. A glance at his watch told him it was still early, it hadn't taken him nearly as long to hunt the bastard down as he thought. He rested his hand against her door, accepting the small token of comfort he received from knowing she had touched it, too.
"Get a grip," he whispered.
It wasn't too much later he returned to The Bronze. His mood as it was he neglected to worry about being discreet or stealthy in his approach. Now that he had seen and touched the guy, knew that Spike had been telling the truth, his emotions were in control. She and Xander and a few other people he did not know were sitting at the same table she picked out earlier.
He heard her laugh as he approached. He felt a jolt of regret and anguish coarse through his body as her eyes met his. He saw shock there. He offered her his hand, which she took without hesitation and he helped her stand.
"Angel's here. Buffy you were right. Great."
"Xander, mind your business," Angel said with a low growl and escorted Buffy from the table, through the crowd and out the door.
"What are you doing here?" She stared at him as if not quite believing he was there, which made Angel smile. "You were watching me earlier."
"I needed to see you."
"And your plan was for me not to see you?"
"What changed your mind?"
"Your choice in dates."
"Oh come on, you're not jealous of Xander."
"Not that date."
She frowned. "I'm not here on a date, Angel. If I was what business is it of yours?"
He growled, allowing his human visage to slip away. He tugged her to him and kissed her until she was breathless. He slid his mouth along her jaw and neck, his fangs worrying the scar there. He had made that scar. It was his mark. She was his forever. He would know her anywhere, could find her no matter what. He licked the scar once, twice, sinking his fangs in with the third swipe of his tongue.
She gasped in surprise but made no move to get away. Her arms slid around him, drawing him closer not that it was possible for him to sink any deeper into her. She rocked her lithe body against him so he could feel every curve, every muscle. She welcomed him, accepted him for the monster he was and still he drank.
His hand slid in between their bodies to her thigh. His hand pushed her skirt up and her panties aside, allowing him to enter her. She gripped his finger hard as he slid in and out of her. He tasted her blood in his mouth and felt her feminine essence with his fingers. It wasn't enough. It would never be enough.
"Angel," she whispered and he knew he had to stop. He withdrew his fangs, swiped the holes with his tongue sampling the last of the sweet nectar that was slayer blood. His slayer's blood. But he wasn't done with her. He needed her to know she was not going to cast his memory off so easily.
She remained pressed against him, a finger resting deep within her joined by another. His mouth found hers and it was euphoria. The idea that someone else had been with her and didn't appreciate the gift he had been given was beyond him. How could someone not want forever with Buffy?
He felt her hand against the front of his pants searching for the button and zipper. He wasn't sure what had overcome him. It went far beyond jealousy. He needed to possess her, for her to know that she would always be his. There would be no substitute, no other man for her. Just as there would be no other for him.
She freed him, cupped his erection with her hand and stroked him to heightened arousal. "Should we be doing this?" she asked, wrapping her legs around his waist. It was too late, he was too far gone to care.
"I don't know. I think it's okay," he whispered with honest uncertainty. Cupping her bottom, he guided her onto him and let out a howl in release of his pent up emotions and arousal. This was home to him, here in her arms and inside of her. Their first time he had been gentle and careful, mindful she had never been with a man. Tonight, thoughts of her experience or lack of it were far from the forefront of his mind. What was he that he needed to control her so deeply? Possess her to her very core? He knew the answer. He was an animal, a monster, a freak in love with the very person he should be at war with.
"I love you," she whispered as she fell over the edge shortly before his release. There would be no misunderstanding this tryst for making love, but it was much more than just a fuck.
"Did I hurt you?"
She laughed softly and it lightened his mood. "Hardly." She unwrapped her legs from around him and he released her once her feet were firmly planted on the ground. "What was that all about?"
"You were with another guy."
"Uh, yeah," she said. "You left me."
"Not to take up with the first college guy that sweet talked you out of your pants."
"As if that's any of your business."
"You are my business, Buffy. You could get pregnant or get a disease."
"No, you see, that's where you're wrong. And, hello, used protection, not that it's any of your business."
"I just made it my business. No more."
"No more what?"
"No more frat guys. No more guys period."
"Excuse me? Have you lost your mind?" Her eyes widened. "Your soul."
"Still here on both counts." He ran a finger along the fresh mark on her neck. It wasn't exactly even with the scar she had there before, so her neck was going to look pretty freakish after this. He felt her shiver at his touch and smiled. "The first time I did this I didn't know what I was doing. You made me and the need to survive outweighed anything else."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm not letting you go. This mark proves it."
She threw her arms up and stalked away from him. "You need to make up your mind. How do you know what I am doing?"
"You mean who you're doing?"
"Whatever. How did you know?"
She rolled her eyes and let out a sharp exhaled breath. "Of course, Spike, I should have known he was going to blab everything to you. Did he get the ring?"
"No, I destroyed it." He watched her as she gracefully pulled a stake out of her purse. "What are you doing?"
"Are you going to go all soulless on me? We had sex."
He shook his head. "I don't think so. I know about the curse this time and I don't want to lose my soul."
"Then you won't mind if I take you back to the mansion and use those shackles?"
"I never knew you were into kink, Buffy."
"I can't let you leave here until I know for sure."
"I'm not leaving."
"I thought you'd be happy."
"I'm not overly happy about you waltzing in here and taking over my life as if you own me."
"Don't I own your heart? And let me enlighten you in case you missed it, that was mind blowing sex."
There was just the hint of a pause on her part but it was enough. She said she loved him there was no taking that back or denying it. "I'm not sure my heart is what I should be thinking with."
He slid his hand into hers and began walking out of the alley. "Is Xander going to be all right getting home?"
"Yeah, he met me here. Where are we going?"
"I don't have much choice do I? I just had the best quickie ever I'm not ready to get into a fistfight with you."
He wasn't sure if she was thanking him for the compliment about the sex or his not wanting to get into a fight with her. "So, what do you tell people about that scar?"
Her fingers went to her neck where she rubbed the new mark first and then the older one. "That I was attacked by a dog."
He laughed. "And they believe that?" People were so gullible.
"Of course they believe it. I suppose if I wasn't doing my job and they knew there were vampires running rampant in Sunnydale they might not."
"Do you need to tell anyone where you're going?"
"No. Willow is with Oz and there's no one else. Xander might wonder, but he'll figure it out I guess. I told him I thought you might be here."
"I guessed you sensed me."
"Why did you come?"
"I needed to see you. I was getting nothing accomplished in LA after Spike left. I kept thinking about you hurting and taken advantage of."
"No one took advantage of me."
"I saw the guy, Buffy. Come on. You're way out of his league anyway."
"You were just an easy mark."
"Thanks a lot."
"It wasn't meant as an insult. You were vulnerable, men like him sense that."
"I just don't get what it is about me that makes men go away."
"I'm not leaving again, Buffy."
"You say that now."
"I mean it."
"What about our freak show? What about my chance at normalcy?"
"I decided I like freaky. And what's normal?" He felt her eyes on him, intense and judgmental. He glanced at her and shrugged. "I can't stand the thought of you with someone else. That alone should tell me I can't let you go."
"I don't want you with me because you're jealous, Angel."
"It wasn't jealousy, Buffy. I wish I could explain it. I told you once I wanted to protect you, your heart, and while I hate the fact I hurt you and broke your heart I can't stand by and allow others to do the same. They don't know you, they don't know how special you are."
"So just like that, you're back?"
"It's not like I need to file a change of address with the post office. Mayor Wilkens scored some hits with his speech about his wife, Buffy. I won't deny that. But I realized the past few days that I'm miserable sitting there wondering if you're okay. If you have to die, I'd rather it be with me then alone."
"Depressing much? I think you need to bone up on the post-coital conversation tips."
He chuckled. "I'll research that immediately."
"You know what, I take that back. Your soul stays intact and I give you freedom to discuss whatever you want."
"Deal." He really didn't think it was going to be a problem. He would never let his guard down like that night again. Had he known that night what was happening he might have been able to stop it, to fight for possession of his soul. Once the soul was gone the desire to fight for it left with it. He'd had no chance. This time he knew better, though he wasn't sure Buffy's friends and mother would see it that way.
"Giles needs to know, Angel. It's no one else's business really, but he needs to know."
He had nothing to say to that, his mind trying to imagine just how that conversation would play out. The mansion was just ahead of them. "I don't suppose I could talk you into?"
"No," she said quickly, cutting him off. "No more sex for you. You know, after Parker I'd pretty much decided to give up on sex. I just don't get the hoopla. You have sex, you feel good for a while, and then the whole world comes crashing down."
"Not this time," he whispered at the mansion door. He cupped her face, tilting it up so he could kiss her. "The whole world will be here for you tomorrow welcoming you, Buffy. I promise."
"I hope you can keep your promise, Angel, for all our sakes."
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