"I have to go back to LA."
"Connor, he's still there. He's not very stable."
"What was the point in coming here then?"
"It wasn't me."
"You're right, that's a bad excuse. I don't know what I was thinking. I do, not with my brain obviously."
"Don't you want to stay?"
"You know I do."
"No, see, that's the thing. I don't know. I don't know anything when it comes to you other than you confuse me. You come here, make me feel something for you even without the soul. I let you make love to me. Feed from me. God, Angel, I let you do things to me I didn't even know were possible. And now you're talking about leaving again." And that was saying a lot considering some of the things she and Spike had done.
He walked up behind her, wrapping his arms around her. She rested her head against his chest. God it hurt. She thought the last time had hurt, but it was nothing compared to this.
"What does that make me that I'm wishing for you to not have your soul again?"
"Nothing, Buffy, it means you're human and want to be with the man you love. Your mate."
"What kind of perverse trick is it that we are that? Mated? And can't be together?"
"I don't know. I'm having Wesley look into it."
"In his spare time researching The First with Giles, you mean?"
"Yes," he said. She didn't need to look at him to know he was grimacing. He nuzzled her neck and she tilted her head, granting him access. She was powerless to fight him. Talk about curses. It was worse than a curse. "I'll be back."
"You didn't tell me that part."
"You didn't give me the chance. I'm not sure how long it will take. This thing with Connor. It's a mess. I can't just leave him to roam the streets of LA. He's dangerous. To himself, to others. I'm not sure who I'm worried about most."
She turned in his arms, resting her hand against his cheek. "Don't ever be ashamed of feeling that way, Angel. He's your son. I'd be mad if you thought differently."
"I really want to stay here, though."
She took a deep breath, glad to hear him say it even if she knew he couldn't do it. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. I just wish I knew what we were going to do."
"What can we do?"
"I don't know, Buffy. I left because being with you isn't safe. But being away from you hasn't proven to be any safer. It's been a gradual decline, but I find myself tempted to forget about the soul."
"Would you do that?"
"I don't know. Sometimes it's so tempting, because everything in LA has turned to shit. Connor, Cordelia. The only good thing I've done there is Faith. And the jury's still out on that one. We'll see what she does now that she's out of prison."
"I think being here, helping me will help. She fought the Beast and won. We're a team, we'll work as a team. I think we'll be better this time."
"You think so?"
"I hope you're right. I don't know what it says about me that the best thing I've done with my existence is love you."
"Well, love is pretty powerful stuff."
"I know, and we can't give into it."
"If I knew why it happened."
"My soul returning. I don't get it. If Willow didn't do it. Those magics they're long gone. Willow's the only one as far as I know that knows the spell."
"Well, someone did us a favor."
"You think so?"
"Well, okay, I'll admit there's a part of me that isn't so sure."
"You'd stay with me?"
"If there was some way I could have the kinder, gentler, non-killing machine, yes."
"I don't think that's possible. Not for the long term."
"Spike was with Drusilla."
"Why does it bother you so much that I love you? I mean without the soul?"
He cupped her face and kissed her, a light taste, a sampling that nowhere near satisfied. He'd woken up a monster in her at the mansion. She wasn't quite sure how to put it away. "It didn't bother me so much this time. Last time, you made me feel too human. You made me forget what I was. My time with you, I was able to think that I had a chance."
"Not really. One day you'll die, Buffy, and then I'll be alone. Do you have any idea how much that scares me? Two hundred plus years of no love, no entanglements. I finally find it and it's not the eternal, immortal thing. It comes with an expiration date. Maybe it'll be eighty years from now. I don't know."
"So, rather than watch me die you left me altogether so we had no time together?"
"I guess I thought it was better just ripping the band aid off rather than pick at the scab."
"Yeah, doesn't really fit. But it does in a way."
"Our relationship is a sore?"
"Sometimes it feels that way."
"Way to sweet talk her, Angel."
"Spike, do you mind? This is a private conversation."
"You've got a phone call."
"I do? Everyone I know is here."
"Evidently not everyone. Some bint. She's talking to Mini Me Watcher, but he told me to come get you."
"Maybe, not sure why she'd be calling here. We're not exactly on speaking terms."
"Well, you best go find out."
He kissed her, she suspected in part just to get to Spike. Those two were like kids sometimes with their competitiveness. Both of them here like this was a disaster waiting to happen, particularly with Spike's trigger not disarmed.
"You okay, Buffy?"
"Yeah," she said taking a seat on a step. "Since when has anything with Angel been easy or not full of heartbreaking potential."
"Maybe that's a hint that he's not the guy for you."
"I'd like to think that way, I really would. But I believe that is the way it's supposed to be. I could do without so much angst piled on all the time, but love's not supposed to be easy."
"What was I? A diversion?"
"You know where I was last year, Spike. I like to think we've gotten past that. That we're friends. There's no one I'd rather have at my back."
"You mean that?"
"I do. I'm going to send him back to LA."
"Until this is done. He needs to deal with his son. And Cordelia if he can. Running away doesn't solve problems and from what he says his son is close to going postal. And most of all, I want to know that if we fail, can't defeat this thing that he'll be there. A second wave."
"So that means I want you here with me. I want you training the girls. You're important to me, Spike, I'm not denying that. And I have no idea what will happen between now and when this is over." She shrugged casually. "I may not even be here to worry about it."
"Don't even go there, Slayer. You're not dying again on my watch."
She smiled at that. "As if you have anything to say about it, Spike. You have no more control over this thing than you did against Glory. But thank you."
"So you think he's going to go along with it? Him in LA while I'm here?"
"He doesn't have much choice. He's needed there, I'm needed here. Hellmouth and Buffy go hand in hand."
"Yeah, I know the rules."
"Any ideas on the soul?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why it was returned to him without Willow making with the magic?"
"No. I wish I did, love. I suppose it could be some cosmic laugh. Angelus got you to accept him so he had a chance of roaming free. No one wants that. One day he'd be as mean and nasty as he was, maybe not until you're gone."
"He was never like you, was he?"
"What do you mean?"
"Without the soul, he really wasn't capable of doing anything good."
"Capable? No, we're all capable. He just didn't want to. Until this time. So, I don't know."
"He knew I was in trouble. He was upset at being cut off from me."
"Understandable. And it's in our nature to protect what's ours."
"Why not before then?"
He placed a hand against her neck, brushing the scars there with the back of his hand. "Right there. That wasn't there before. He hadn't taken your blood, hadn't connected you to him in that way."
"So, I caused it?"
He shrugged. "I guess, I don't know. I've never loved anyone I fed from before. Not a human anyway. You have no idea how tempting it was, Buffy. I saw those scars, knew you'd taste so sweet. I wasn't sure if the chip would fire or not. And now, here we are. I do have a question for you."
"Would you do it for me?"
She smiled thinly, her lips pursed. Would she? "Yes. Yes, Spike, I would do the same for you."
"You had to think about it though."
"Not really. I mean, two years ago, no I wouldn't have. Now, yes. I couldn't let either of you die if I had the ability to save you. The world needs you, needs you both."
"That's what Cordelia says."
"What?" They both turned to regard Angel. Spike hadn't heard him come outside either evidently.
"Wesley relayed Cordelia's message."
"And what was it?"
"Evidently, all I ever needed to do is admit I'd give it up."
He sat on the other side of Buffy. It was a little overwhelming sitting between them. They both exuded power, confidence, strength, and even nobility in some ways. To think that she'd wormed a place into both their hearts.
"Without the soul I'd never shown the ability or desire to sacrifice. I never thought of anybody but myself, not even Darla really. But she was of the same cloth so it didn't really matter."
"So, what are you saying?"
"The Powers That Be were evidently not happy we pulled this stint. I didn't have to come running to Sunnydale. I could have gone anywhere. I don't know if Willow could do the spell from Sunnydale and have it work wherever I am or not. They need their champions to stay champions."
"Wesley has the impression that my soul is mine. For keeps. The Powers That Be don't want anyone extracting it again. The next time it might turn out differently. And something's coming in the pipeline they don't want to take that chance."
"Something bigger than the First?"
"Evidently. I'm needed in LA."
"I don't want to go, but Connor and whatever. Wait. Did you say you know?"
"I did. I understand. Hopefully when this is all over, for both of us."
"We can be together. But it's different now. I'll come here, you can come there."
"Buffy." Dawn called from inside the house.
Buffy felt elated by Angel's words. The distance would be tough, but she was under heavy fire here by the First. She could handle the separation by keeping busy.
"Phone's for you."
"Okay. I'll be right back." She stopped at the door and looked back at them. "No fighting."
"Oh come on, Buffy," Spike said.
"I can't help it he's an easy target," Angel said.
She glared at them.
"Fine," they both said.
It took her a minute to process the voice. She recognized it without question, but the fact he was calling her. "Riley? Is it really you?"
"Uh, yeah, sorry it's been a while. If I interrupted anything."
"No, nothing special."
"Good. Listen, we've received some reports that things are picking up your way."
"You could say that."
"We're willing to send in a team to help you out."
"Okay." She glanced through the kitchen, out the door to where Angel and Spike sat. They were talking, seemed to be anyway, but she couldn't hear what they were saying. "Actually, I think we're going to be okay. I don't think guns are going to win this one for us. But you could meet Angel in LA."
"Why would I want to do that?"
"Because if I fail, all hell's going to break loose. And those things guns can fight."
"Well, why don't we do this?"
"Let me give you a couple of phone numbers. You give a copy of them to Angel. If you or he need us, call and we'll be there within a few hours."
"How many of you?"
"As many as you think you need."
"Why are you doing this?"
"Because you're not going to die again. Not if I can help it."
"I don't know what to say. Does Sam know you're doing this?"
"Not that she'd stop me from doing it anyway, but yes, yes she does. And ‘thank you' would suffice."
"You're welcome. And I hope neither of you have to call, but if one of you do I'd rather it be you."
"Me, too." She meant it, because if Angel was the one to call him it would mean she failed. It was on the tip of her tongue to mention about Angel and her. Then she didn't know what to tell him exactly. What were they doing? She cradled her head in the palm of her hand, feeling a headache coming on. Her mind was on overload. Riley calling didn't help.
"We'll be on standby. One of the two numbers are manned at all times, so you'll get someone."
"Thanks, Riley. I really appreciate it."
"Hey, the US Government isn't going to turn its back on a civilian in need."
"Right," she said with a roll of her eyes.
"Okay, that was a little thick. Take care, Buffy, and be careful."
"Thanks for your help with Spike."
"You don't have to thank me. It goes against my better judgment, but I know you weren't making the request blind."
"No, no I wasn't."
"Fair enough, then we're square."
"Night, Riley." She hung up the phone, wondering where he was in the world. Was it night or day for him? There were times she missed him. But, hey, if they were still on speaking terms enough for him to offer help she wasn't going to complain.
"What's with the face, Buffy?"
"You look like someone punched you in the gut."
"Oh well, that was Riley."
"What did Soldier Boy want?"
"Not much to help with at the moment."
"That's what I told him, but he gave me numbers to call in case I change my mind." She handed the slip of paper to Angel. She didn't bother copying it onto another sheet. If she needed to call Riley it would be over before he got there anyway.
"Why do I want his numbers? I'm not going to call him."
"Because if I fail, you'll need him. An army of government soldiers isn't going to stop the First, but they might be able to stop the after effect if the First gets free."
"You'll do it, Buffy."
"I haven't failed yet, but there's always a first time. He'll help, Angel, he said he would, and he knows if you call it's because my plan didn't work."
"Do you have a plan?"
"I'm working on it," she said.
"She's working on it," Angel said. Buffy felt her temper rising when she noticed he was looking at Spike when he spoke. What were they best friends now?
"I've never failed to now, I don't think it's going to happen this time. But since you need to be in LA anyway." She shrugged casually, as if they were not talking about life and death situations.
"Buffy, you've beaten the odds a couple times along the way."
"Yeah, I have, because I've had help. You, Xander, Spike, Willow, Giles, Dawn, Anya. Need I go on? And I have help now, too. But what good are you and your team going to do here? If I fail, we all die, and then no one can get a hold of Riley to tell him."
"You're putting a lot of stock into getting help from your ex."
"Like you weren't my ex when we defeated Mayor Wilkins? Like you weren't my ex when my mom died?"
"That was different."
"You weren't dating anyone else."
"First of all, I don't even know what we're doing. Second, if I don't know, Riley doesn't know. And, can you get over being jealous? This isn't about Riley being my ex. This is about possibly needing world-saving help. He's offering an army unit. But it has to start with you, not here."
"And you think he'll come?"
"He said he would. You're telling me if he called you and asked for help you'd say no?"
"Well, I don't think that's likely to happen."
"If he did?"
"Of course I'd help him. It's what I do."
"Okay then. See? This isn't about Buffy's social life. It's about saving the world. I'm not going to turn my back on someone's offer of help."
"But you did."
She growled, throwing her hands up over her head. Could she not get through to him? "I'll say it again. There is nothing here anyone can fight. Not yet. But if the First gets free, there will be plenty of things to kill. I'm trying to prevent it going beyond Southern California, Angel. I'm trying to make sure there's more than just one wave of defense. Since you're going back anyway."
He walked up the steps, taking her into his arms. "I'm not questioning you, Buffy. I just want you to be sure you want to do it this way. It's not my place to argue with you, because you're right you haven't lost yet." He kissed the top of her head. "When this is done, you're coming to LA, right?"
"I hope so."
"You hope so?"
"Well, I don't know what's going to happen. I'll make a promise, that as soon as I can I'll be in LA."
"I guess that's all I can ask."
"That's all I can give right now."
He brushed her hair back at the side of her face. She relished the contact, but drew away aware that Spike was still there. "I know," he whispered and drew away.
"When are you leaving?"
"As soon as we can. Cordy needs us I think, and if her visions are saying I need to be there then I guess I do."
"Can you trust her? Didn't you say it was her who let you out?"
"I don't know, Buffy, but all the more reason for me to go and find out. If she's switched sides, we're in trouble. Those visions, they don't have to be put to use to help people."
"Right, I see your point. I still have a problem with Cordelia being all connected like that."
"She's still Cordelia."
"Well, yeah, she is, but there are more layers to her now. She'll still knock you down to get to the pair of shoes she wants, but if you're really in trouble she's one of the ones you want in your corner."
"It'll be fine."
"You'll let me know if you need help?"
"Like you don't have your hands full here?"
"Well, all right, I do."
"When you're done and you have a few days, come visit. We'll work it out then."
"Are you staying tonight?"
"Yeah, I'll go tomorrow."
"Good," she said, dropping her hand into his. She led him in the house and up to her room.
"Am I putting someone out of a bed?"
"Just Dawn and Faith, but I just want to sleep anyway."
"What if I don't?"
"You have to wait."
"I've waited. Do I have to remind you how long I've waited?"
"House full of people."
"Oh all right."
"Yeah, I know. We were good, weren't we?"
"If that was just good, Buffy."
She smirked at that. "I was trying to avoid giving you a big head."
"Oh well, okay then."
"Besides, if you think there is room to improve you won't get too content."
"Like content is a word that exists in our vocabulary. I'd love to have one thing in my life that I can be content with."
"It looks like you might be getting your wish. I am going to have Giles or Wesley look into this soul thing, though. Do you mind?"
"No, it makes sense."
"Especially since we don't know what exactly Cordelia's up to."
"Right, I wasn't even thinking."
"No worries. I suppose you don't have jammies?"
"No. I've slept in my clothes before."
"Okay. I'm going to let Dawn and Faith know they can come up. Why don't you lie down and wait for me? Keep the bed warm? I'll see you in a bit." She bent over to kiss him, lingering just a moment. "I love you."
"I love you, too."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com