***Part 7***

Buffy was not sure why she kissed him again. For years they had talked and their talks always ended up going full circle back to the beginning. She loved him and he loved her, there was never a question there. For some reason he did not think she was capable of making up her own mind. She had been in more danger from herself after returning from the dead than she ever had been when he was on the loose in Sunnydale without his soul.

So, she had decided she did not want to talk in circles anymore. She was not sure if she was ready for him yet. Her plan was to get her degree, get a job, buy herself a little house, and then worry about her personal life. Buffy did not believe in coincidences, too much of her life as a slayer seemed to be fated. Destined. Angel was her destiny as she was his. They both knew it.

She liked to believe that maybe, just maybe, someone knew long before Buffy's great great grandparents were even thought of. Maybe there was a reason Liam was turned and ensouled. Maybe there was a reason Whistler and The Powers That Be chose Buffy for Angel to be the slayer that he helped. There were certainly other slayers over the hundred years he had his soul that he could have helped. Robin's mother was one who could have used assistance.

It was a hope built on a lot of maybes but Buffy liked to think of it that way, which was part of the reason she had never been able to fully give of herself to Riley or Spike. She knew deep down that Angel was her one true love. The one love some people wait their whole lives to find.

She did not want to argue anymore and she realized that maybe fate was giving her a shove instead of letting her go at her own pace. When it got down to it maybe she would never believe she was ready. She certainly felt ready right now, ready for things she should not be thinking about. She was kissing him as honestly as she knew how, pouring every ounce of need and desire into this kiss that she could. She felt that he was hard when he drew her against his body and mewed softly into his mouth.

Alarm bells were going off in her head, but they were easily ignored. He felt so good, her hands caressing his body hungrily. She no longer wanted to put her plan for a successful life into action, she wanted to get to know him again here and now, today.

"Feel so good," she said, breaking the kiss so that she could move from his mouth to his chin, his jaw, and his ear. She wanted to taste every inch of him and judging by his reaction to her she could probably get away with it.

"Buffy," he murmured, his lips brushing along the top of her head sending shivers down her spine. He was always so gentle with her. His actions told her he loved her, no matter what he tried to tell her.

She drew away slightly, kissing his jaw lightly. "Hmm?" she asked, thinking she sounded drugged at the moment. She was, come to think of it, the Angel drug.

"We." She cut him off by kissing him again.

She knew he was going to say something logical and disrupt the moment. She did not want this to end. She did not want to think, he had done enough thinking for the both of them. "Shh," she murmured as she took a break from kissing him to breathe.

He resumed kissing her and Buffy felt tears forming in her eyes. She could not believe she was here, kissing him like this. The world was not ending, her friends had not recently turned on her and kicked her out of the house they lived in free of charge, and she was finally responsible for nothing and no one but herself. The tears slowly began making their way over her cheeks and she gasped, catching her breath as a loud cry escaped her mouth.

"Buffy, what's wrong?" he asked quietly, kissing her tears away. She realized on some base level that he was not kissing them away to be seductive. He got nourishment from tears, too.

"I can't believe I'm here, we're doing this."

He drew her closer against him still, his hands cradling her butt as if they were created to fit that part of her just so. "I can't either."

"I thought we'd never have this again."

"Me, too," he said. She heard a catch in his voice just then and realized while he was not physically crying he was as caught up in the moment as she was.

The smoke detector went off, startling them both. Apparently, Angel had not noticed the omelet burning to an inedible crisp either. "I'm sorry," he said as he turned off the stove.

"It's all right, really. Maybe later we can go get something to eat? Or, you can watch me eat. If not, I'll make something when I get home."

"Well, I was hoping you wouldn't have to do that. You deserve a bit of a break." He set the frying pan on a different burner and crossed his arms over his chest, regarding the burnt omelet.

"I don't mind. It's kind of nice being independent and not having someone to do stuff for me."

"I suppose," he said.

"Well, and when it wasn't somebody doing stuff for me, it was me having to save the world, manage a mortgage, train potentials, take care of crazy Spike."

"He can be a handful."

"Tell me about it," she said with a huff. Their eyes met and they both laughed.

"Who would have thought we'd have that in common."

"Never in a million years," Buffy said and dropped her gaze. She was a little embarrassed talking to Angel about Spike. She had no reason to be, but she was. Riley was different, Angel did not know him and he was not one of the monsters.

"If it means anything, I'm glad he was there for you when I couldn't be. It tears me up inside that it was him and I know I don't even want to begin to know what happened between you."

"No," she said softly, "you don't."

Buffy was surprised when he took her into his arms again. She was expecting rejection from him now that they had begun talking about Spike and her relationship with him. He had no idea how right on he was when he said he did not want to know. Buffy hated remembering sometimes, she hated who she had been during that dark, bleak time of her life.

She was afraid to look into his eyes, afraid she would see something there she did not want to see but she saw nothing but love in them. She smiled widely, relief flooding through her. She was glad that he really was okay with her past. If he could be okay with it than she could be, too.

He slid his hands to either side of her neck, his thumbs grazing her jaw while the tips of his fingers traced gentle circles at the nape of her neck. He lowered his mouth to hers for another earth shattering kiss. It felt as if a dam was breaking, flooding the walls they had built up to protect their hearts, their souls since he left Sunnydale.

"Nobody kisses me like this," she whispered.

"I should hope not," he said with a low growl. "I want you," he whispered, placing a kiss at her ear.

She moaned softly, enjoying his attention more than she should be. She remembered the last time he had kissed her like this, thoroughly yet hesitantly at the same time as if he did not want to break her. Suddenly, the alarm bells grew louder and she realized what she was forgetting. How could she forget? Angelus. The soul. "Angel," she said as she tried to draw away. His hold on her was too secure for her to just step away and she grew a little frightened. Was he Angelus again already? "Angel," she said again, her voice laced with panic.

"It's okay, Buff," he whispered against her ear, taking her lobe in between his lips and swirling it with his tongue. She pressed herself closer against him, wanting more of him. She closed her eyes, letting the moment take possession of her, she wanted to ride this wave until it died down.

He worked a button on her cashmere sweater and then another, the alarm bells clanged again and she stepped away from him forcefully. "Angel. We can't do this. Your soul."

"It's not a problem."

"Maybe to you it's not, but I don't feel like having to drive a stake through your heart and kill you for good this time."

"It's not a problem," he repeated and sounded far too confident. She looked into his eyes, looking for some sign that he was still Angel. She could not tell, she had not really been able to tell back then either. He was the same man with and without the soul. Spike had taught her that the soul did not make the man.

"Why not?"

"It's permanent now."

"And I should believe that why?"

"Because I wouldn't lie to you."


"The last battle we fought, the one I wanted your help with."

"Yes," she said, needing no reminder of that.

"I signed away my Shanshu rights as part of my plan to bring the Circle of the Black Thorn down."

"The who? What's this Shazam thing?"

"It's not important," he said dismissively and that bothered her. If it was something he had to sign away it sounded pretty important. "My soul is permanent."

If Buffy was looking for any further sign that they were supposed to be together, that Angel was her destiny she did not have to look any further. The soul, and the curse surrounding it, was the biggest thing keeping them apart. "Really?"

"The Powers That Be thought I deserved something for taking on the senior partners at Wolfram & Hart."

"I agree."

"So, we can be together, Buffy, really be together."

"I needed the past two years. I needed to discover Buffy Summers, the woman, and couldn't have done that if I was knee deep in apocalypses and helping the helpless."

"Does that mean you want to be with me? To join my team?"

"I want to do more than that." She draped her arms over his shoulders and kissed him lightly. "I want you, Angel, all of you. Everything that comes with it."

"You'd have to be the slayer again."

"I know," she said softly. "I can't run from who and what I am, Angel. I just wanted a break."

"Would you be willing to come out at The Neon House?"

"Why?" she asked, confused.

"If our killer is human, and I think he is, he might approach you if he knows you're the slayer. He might think you'll like what he's doing."

"That's assuming he knows what a slayer is, Angel. Giles and I came up against a werewolf hunter when you were," she lowered her gaze. She hated bringing up that time because she knew he felt bad for the things he had done. "When you didn't have your soul. He didn't seem to have a clue who or what I was."

"That's where I come in handy."

She frowned, confused. "Huh?"

"A drunk vampire cursing at the manager, the bartender, and whoever else will listen as to the injustice of a bar catering to demons employing the slayer."

"So you're going to out me."

"Yes, and hopefully our killer will approach you."

"Assuming he's there that night."

"Assuming," Angel said with a shrug of his shoulders.

"I won't have a job afterward. Xybler's not going to keep me on when he finds out I lied to him."

"Then we'll find you another job, Buffy. I understand about the money, but there are things like student loans that you can take out."

"I know, Angel, but after flipping burgers at DoubleMeat, earning so much money has its appeal."

"You could fix up that third bedroom of yours and rent it out. There's nothing that says you have to live in that house all by yourself, Buffy."

"That's a possibility," she said. "I don't know, Angel. It's more complicated than getting a roommate. And what roommate is going to understand the hours I keep if I do start slaying again? And hello? Slaying brings danger with it. I can't tell you how many times Mom's house got trashed."

"You have a point."

"But the rent isn't that expensive. I mean, I needed the money I was earning to furnish the place the way I wanted it more than anything."

"All right, so maybe you can sit down and figure out exactly how much you need to make to live how you want to live. As far as a job, assume Xybler does fire you, which he might not. If you insist on stripping, there are other clubs you could work at. If not, between the two of us we can come up with something for you that pays more than minimum wage. I'd offer to pay you for working with us, but I haven't had the heart to charge anyone in quite some time. I'm not helping people to make a profit."

"Of course not," Buffy said.

"But if you keep stripping, you're going to have to deal with me being there while you dance and when you come and go from the club."


"You can tell them I'm your bodyguard for all I care, but I want people to know that you're off limits."


"Yes," he said with an ease that surprised her. Once upon a time he would have denied that was how he felt. She wondered what else about him had changed since he left Sunnydale. He certainly seemed less of a loner, he had friends. She was happy for him, it was not easy to do the right thing day in and day out with no one to help keep you grounded.

Xander had asked her once how she had gotten through having no Angel in her life and she had told him that she got through it by having him and Willow. It was true. She believed that the reason she had survived as long as she had was because of her friends and her family.

She let her hand make a light pace along his face, touching him, still unable to believe she was this close to getting another chance with him. "You had the harder path than I did, didn't you?"

"What?" he asked.

"You left to give me the chance for a normal life. I thought it was easy for you to just turn your back on me, on Sunnydale, on us but you had nobody when you came here. I never thought about what you sacrificed to give me that chance." Tears formed in her eyes again as she thought on what he had given up. Had he stayed it would have been hard for them, the attraction they had would have made it difficult but Buffy had believed then that they were strong enough to go without sex.

"It was the hardest thing I've ever done, Buffy. Don't ever believe it wasn't or that I wanted to. I thought it was the best thing, I honestly believed it was." He rested his forehead against the top of her head, tears of his own falling from his eyes onto her.

"It was," she assured him, placing a gentle kiss against his cheek, tasting the saltiness of his tears. "It was, Angel. I believe that just as firmly as I believe there was a reason we ran into one another now. We belong together, Angel, I've never been surer of anything in my life."

"I want to believe that."

"Angel, why else would they have made your soul permanent?" she asked, and she could tell that was sinking in. "You've, I mean, you've been with people since me. I'd be stupid to think you haven't."


"And you didn't lose your soul with them."

"No, I've only been completely happy that once, with you."

"If they didn't want us together would they have done that for you?"

"No," he whispered and both of them let their tears fall freely then. Whether it was out of happiness or sadness at the time that they could not get back since his soul was made permanent Buffy did not know. She just knew that it felt good to hold and be held and to finally have the one thing she wanted in her life.

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