Buffy rested her head against the plastic pane of the airplane window and stared out at the endless expanse of sky. The ball of anxiety in her stomach was growing with each passing minute. The closer she got to LA the more she wondered if she was doing the right thing. Maybe he wouldn't want to see her. It had been a long time, and the last word he'd had from her had come through a third party and hadn't been friendly. News flash--nobody in our camp trusts you anymore.
Maybe he'd finally given up on her, on them. Could he do that? God knows over the past five years she'd tried. Again and again she tried, wanting nothing more than to stop loving him, stop loving this man, this vampire, who'd held her heart since she was seventeen. But trying not to love Angel was like trying not to be a Slayer. She wasn't built like that.
When she'd heard he was working for Wolfram and Hart she felt gutted. She didn't know why he'd switched sides, just that he had. He'd given up all they'd ever fought for and she'd hated him for it. And she'd hated herself because underneath her hate and anger a part of her still loved him.
Now all she felt was guilt. Ever since the phone call from Willow she was strangled by it. Well...it sort of looks like our assumptions about the side-switchy-ness were kind of...wrong. How could she have doubted him? How could she have thought that Angel would give up the good fight? That he could join with the enemy. She'd once thought that Angel was the one man who she'd always be able to trust. Now she wondered when she'd lost her faith. Had the betrayals in her life been so many and so serious that she could slip into doubting him so easily?
She could blame it all on Xander or Willow or Dawn or Giles. All of them had been more than ready to believe that Angel had embraced darkness. But it was more, it was deeper than that. Somewhere along the line, as she moved from the girl who'd first met Angel to the woman she was now, she'd lost her belief in absolutes. The idea that something was unchanging now seemed laughably naive.
Maybe it was a natural part of growing older, just another life stage. Maybe she was just losing her innocence – God I didn't think I had any more innocence to lose – learning to negotiate the gray spaces in life. Maybe she was better for it. Maybe she was safer. But it pained her, and it probably pained him, to realize that she'd lost faith. And now, finding out she'd been wrong just made it all that much worse.
She thought back to the phone call from Willow that had come the day before.
"Willow? Hey! How are you? How's LA?"
"I'm okay, LA's good, sort of. It's nice to be somewhere Kennedy and I never spent much time."
"How are you doing with the breakup?"
"Eh. I think it's really for the best. It's not a funfest, but hey, healthiest end to a relationship in Willow history. Go me."
"How 'bout you Buff, are things going well with the Immortal? And are you ever going to tell me his real name?"
Buffy laughed. "Nope, can't. I promised him I'd never tell. And we're not together anymore."
"Don't be. It's not like there was a huge emotional connection there. We never pretended that it was about great love."
"Just great sex?"
Buffy grinned. "Really, really great sex."
"Hey speaking of great love."
"Were we speaking of great love?"
"Kind of...it's a segue Buffy, go with it."
"Um...I kind of ran into Angel the other day."
"Angel?" Buffy cursed herself for the hopeful breathless way his name left her lips.
"Yeah Angel. It was way weird, but also kind of nice. We ended up having coffee."
"How is Mr. Abandon-the-good-fight?"
"Well...it sort of looks like our assumptions about the side-switchy-ness were kind of...wrong."
Oh God. "What do you mean Wills?"
"Maybe you should sit down."
Buffy's heart stopped. She sat as instructed and listened as Willow relayed snippets of her conversation with Angel. He'd updated Willow on the events of his year starting with Spike's reappearance. Angel had been surprised by Willow's utter lack of shock at the news of Spike's resumed unlife. The two had shared a laugh at Andrew's pathetic failure to keep things secret. He'd slipped and confided in one of the Slayers in Training. Within twenty-four hours everyone knew.
That laugh was the only light moment of their conversation. By the time Willow was finished relaying the events of Angel's year both she and Buffy were near tears.
"Oh God, Willow, he must be a mess."
"He's trying to be brave, but it's obvious he's hurting. He's even broodier than usual, and he's working non-stop."
"What kind of work could be left?"
"Trying to make it difficult for the Senior Partners to set up a new group to do their work on earth, trying to fill the power vacuum with some good people so it's not all evil. And trying at the same time to get back to his original mission, help the hopeless and all that."
"Yeah. He's kind of manic and broody at the same time. It's hard to describe. Even Spike's worried, and you know how much joy he usually gets from Angel's suffering." Oh God, Spike. Buffy was distracted for a moment by thoughts of her former lover. That's something else I'll need to deal with. First things first though.
After Buffy hung up the phone part of her wanted to crawl into bed and never come out. She wanted to sink into her guilt and let the bad feelings immobilize her so she never had to deal with them. She wanted to make the situation all about her, because that was comfortable, that was easy. But she couldn't, because he was hurting, and he would have come to her if the situation was reversed. He was always so damn willing to apologize, so damn big about whatever had gone wrong. And he was always ready to be a support when she really needed it. He couldn't always stay as long as she wanted –How's forever? Does forever work for you?– but he always came.
Now it was her turn to apologize. And her turn to go to him. It was time to suck it up, swallow her guilt and worry and just be there for him. Make it about him. For once let it be all about him. Because he needed her.
Angel was dreaming. A dragon, sliced open by a broadsword, lay at his feet. He moved forward to fight demon after demon never taking moment to check on his comrades in arms. He knew, with every fiber of his being, that he would die, that they would all die. He didn't see it when Gunn fell, just heard his anguished scream. Then Spike and Illyria were next to him, they stood shoulder to shoulder hacking their way through demon armies. Angel was covered in blood, dripping with it. His whole body ached. He wanted nothing more than to lay down his sword. But still he fought on.
Then the scene changed and he was standing inside a ring of flame. Through the fire he could see Connor, Lorne, Cordelia, Wes, Fred, Gunn and Doyle. They stood on the outside trying to reach him, struggling against invisible obstacles in their efforts to help him. There was darkness coming from behind threatening to consume them. He tried to call out, tell them to look out, to protect themselves, to leave him. But Angel was only able to make Connor leave. The rest stayed, struggling to help him as they were battered by invisible foes. Eventually Lorne grew tired and limped away but the others continued to fight to help their champion.
One by one the darkness consumed them. They were struck down by their devotion to him. Torn from life as they tried to aid him. The last to go was Cordelia. He heard her call out her love for him and her promise to fight by his side always. And then she was gone.
He fell to the ground weeping. A stream of passers-by mocked him. Everyone he'd ever fought came to watch and laugh as he mourned. He was a failure and he knew it. The final insult was when Buffy walked up, arm in arm with the Immortal. She kissed Angel's enemy deeply and then looked at Angel with scorn. "See darling, I told you he was worthless."
As she walked away the fire surrounding Angel began to move in closer. As the flame began to connect with his flesh he awoke gasping. If I never slept again it would really be alright with me.
Angel lay in bed staring at the ceiling trying to calm himself after his dream when his thoughts were interrupted by a knocking at the door. Damnit Spike, I am not in the mood. Snarling he pulled on a pair of boxers and made his way to the door.
"What." he growled, throwing the door open.
"Hey." Buffy stood before him, fingers twisting anxiously, weight shifting from one foot to another.
Angel just stared. Not now Buffy, I can't deal with you now.
"Um, can I come in?"
After a moment's hesitation he stepped aside and motioned her into his apartment.
"So...I was gonna bring a card but Hallmark was all out of 'Congratulations on sticking it to the Senior Partners and taking out an evil secret society' cards." Her laugh was hollow and he didn't join in. Maybe I should have rethought the whole 'opening with a joke' idea.
Angel grunted and moved towards his room. "Take a seat, I'm just going to go put some clothes on."
When he returned she was curled in the corner of one of his leather couches. Her limbs were all tucked in tight and her gaze was fixed on her hands. She looked up when he walked in and he could see the nervousness in her eyes. Good.
"Why are you here Buffy?"
She shivered at his tone. "I just thought, maybe, you could use someone to talk to. Maybe you needed some support." Get it together Buffy, be supporto-girl not crazy-group-therapy-girl.
"I would have thought you'd be too busy screwing the Immortal to make time in your busy schedule to see me."
She flinched. "Post-apocalypse Angel doesn't pull any punches."
"Post-apocalypse Angel has realized that the lives of the humans around him are too short to waste time not saying what needs to be said."
She looked down. "Gotta say, I kinda miss the cryptic" she mumbled and then she looked back up at him. "I didn't know about your history with him when we started."
"Would it have stopped you from seeing him?"
"I don't know, maybe not."
"Wonderful, it's nice to know you care." he spat striding toward the kitchen.
Damnit. I suck at supporto-girl. She got up to follow him. "Would you rather I lied Angel? Said I would never have been with someone who you wouldn't have approved of? We both know that isn't true. I was with Spike for months. And hell maybe knowing the Immortal was your enemy would have made me want him more!" She was yelling by the time she finished and she shuddered when he turned to look at her with a coldness she hadn't seen since Angelus.
"Get out." I'm not in the mood for your bullshit Buffy.
"I was mad at you Angel." She said softly, "I thought you'd changed sides, I thought you'd betrayed everything I stood for, everything you stood for. I thought you'd become something that I, or one of the other girls, would eventually have to kill. I thought you'd been seduced by power and forgot about good."
"A lot of people thought that."
"I never thought you'd be one of them."
"I didn't think so either," she whispered. "I'm so sorry Angel."
He took a deep breath turned towards his cabinets. He grabbed two mugs and turned back. "Cocoa?"
She laughed, "You really have been spending time with Spike haven't you?"
"He and Illyria come by, try to get me to talk to them. Well Spike tries to get me to talk to him, Illyria mostly just watches me. She's grieving for Wesley and that confuses her, so she's trying to study how Spike and I manifest grief."
When the cocoa was done Angel led her back into the living room. They sat at opposite ends of the couch sipping in silence.
"Are you grieving?"
He looked at her. "Of course! How can you ask me that? Over the past year I've lost nearly everyone I've ever loved, do you really think I'd be so cold as to not grieve?"
"No. I know you hurt Angel. I just mean, are you dealing with it? Processing it or whatever. Are you letting yourself grieve? Have you cried? Screamed? Pounded pillows? Have you been pissed at the universe and the Powers that Be? Have you let yourself break down or really been anything but a super productive, incredibly stoic, overly broody vampire?"
"Falling apart won't bring them back."
"No, nothing will bring them back. Nothing should bring them back, trust me on that." She let out a small laugh. "But letting it out will help you get through it. Have you even talked to anyone about what happened? All of it, not just the highlights reel you gave Willow?"
Angel looked down.
"You have to talk about it, otherwise it'll eat you up."
"There are plenty of things I haven't talked about in my life Buffy. Plenty of burdens that I bear alone. This is nothing new."
"But it doesn't have to be like that Angel. You don't have to be alone in your misery, you don't have to be the only one who sees the things that pain you. Tell me. Let me be strong for you. You've done it for me so many times, let me repay you. Tell me. All the things you think you have to carry alone. All the secrets that eat you up. Let me take some of the weight."
Angel laughed, harsh and low as flashes of Connor, Shanshu and the forgotten day filled his mind. "You have no idea what you are asking for Buffy. No idea."
"Then why don't you give me an idea."
Angel was silent for so long Buffy began to wonder if he'd even heard her request.
"What are you thinking?"
"Cost benefit analysis." He quirked a smile.
"Trying to figure out if the benefits of telling you outweigh the costs."
"Can I help with that?"
"I don't know. Are there things I could tell you that would make you walk out of my life forever?" Please say no.
Buffy sighed. "I don't know. I used to think that there was no way. Nothing that could keep me away from you forever. But then, I used to think that I would never doubt your goodness and I've spent the better part of a year believing you'd moved to the dark side. I'm beginning to think there is nothing in this world that is unchangeable.
Except, maybe, deep love. There are people in this world I will always love. Willow, Xander, Giles, Dawn. I love them when they are wonderful and I love them when they are awful. I can't imagine not loving them. And you Angel."
Angel inhaled sharply. Me?
"I will always love you. I've loved you from the moment I saw you. I loved you when you were Angelus, I loved you when you left me. I loved you when I saw you after I came back, in that stupid motel between LA and Sunnydale when it was so awkward I wanted to kill one of us just to make it stop. I loved you when I loved Riley, and when I was with Spike, I loved you when you loved Cordelia. I love you now. Nothing can change that.
I can't say for sure that nothing you tell me will make me walk away. Cause I don't know what you are going to say. But even if I walk away know that it will kill me a little because I love you and I can't ever stop."
Angel was silent and Buffy's eyes stung. Why is there so much pain in this love of ours Angel? Why can't we ever be together without tears?
"Why did you really come here Buffy?"
She looked at her hands, "Do you wish I hadn't?"
"No. But I wonder why you did."
"I told you…you needed someone, you've always been there for me, I wanted to do the same for you."
"Is that all? Just because you feel like you owe me?"
"No Angel. It wasn't about owing you, it was about loving you and you needing someone. And…"
"And I realized something when Willow told me what happened."
He looked at her, waiting.
She smiled as her eyes filled and threatened to overflow. "I could have lost you Angel. You could have died and I would never have been able to see you, to touch you again."
She reached out and began tracing the planes of his face with her fingertips. "I realized that I could lose you at any time. We lead such dangerous lives. One of us could go at any moment. And I would never get to touch this face again. Never get to hold your hand. Never get to..." her fingers rested on his lips.
Slowly she leaned in and touched her lips to his. For a moment they stared at each other in wide eyed amazement. Neither had really expected this, neither knew quite what to make of it. Then they both gave in and let their lips move together. It was a soft kiss, a kiss of familiarity, comfort, and love.
When they parted he was smiling.
"So does this mean you're done baking?"
"No, but I don't think anyone ever really is."
He nodded and they moved to opposite ends of the couch and were silent again.
Angel took a deep breath. "I think I'm ready to tell you some things."
She sat facing him, holding his hand as he began. He started with the battle, made it through describing Gunn's death before he began to break. She pulled him down so his head was in her lap and she gently stroked his temples as he worked backward through time. She cried with him over Wesley, over Fred and over Cordelia. She was proud that she was only a little jealous of the love Angel felt for his lost seer. After all she hadn't lived a life free of love in her time without him.
She rocked him as he told her about Connor and Holtz and his choice to give Connor a new life. She smiled as he told her about Connor's accomplishments. He was the picture of the proud Papa in that moment.
After talking about Connor they again lapsed into silence. This time it was Buffy who broke it.
"You said that you've had many burdens to bear alone."
"Tell me more? Let me hold more weight for you, take more pressure off."
After another long silence Angel sat up and moved away from Buffy. Now or never Angel, put it all out there or lock it up forever. "I don't know if I can be touching you when I tell you these next things."
She nodded and waited for him to begin.
He sat straight, unmoving, eyes fixed on the middle distance and began to tell her about the day that was taken back. He couldn't look at her but he heard her soft sighs and whimpers and knew when he was finished that she was crying. "I'm so sorry Buffy."
He looked down. This was a mistake.
She turned his face so he was looking at her. "No. Don't apologize. I won't lie and say it doesn't throw me to learn about all this but please, don't think I'm angry at you. You have no reason to be sorry Angel. I'm sorry. You sacrificed everything you've ever wanted to keep me safe, to keep the world safe. And then you were alone with the memories. I'm sorry I couldn't keep my promise; I'm sorry I forgot."
She reached out for his hands and held them tight as she looked at him hoping her eyes would convey her sincerity.
He smiled sadly. "Technically you didn't break any promises. You can't forget something that never happened."
She squeezed his hand. "Is there more we should talk about?"
He nodded. "There was this prophecy..."
After he'd explained Shanshu she threw her arms around him. "Oh God Angel! That's so amazing! Do you know when it'll happen?"
He untangled himself from her embrace and stood. "It won't."
She stared at him in confusion, "but you said..."
"I know. But it won't happen. I had to...sign it away... sign away my right to it. It was the only way the Circle would trust me."
She stood up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. "Oh Angel."
She felt him tremble and she maneuvered them back their positions on the couch. He buried his head in her shoulder. She held him and murmured comforting words while he clung to her.
When he was calm she got up to get them some water. When she came back into the room he looked nervous.
"When you said no one was ever really done baking...did you mean you wanted to be with me?"
"Do you still want to, now that you know everything?"
"More than ever."
"Why at all, or why more than ever?"
"Because I feel like you trust me enough to help you, just like I've always trusted you enough to help me. When we were together you were always the one trying to make the hard choices, do the hard things, be the grownup. And that made sense; I was seventeen. But if we are going to do this now I need you to see me more as your equal. And all that you just trusted me with makes me think that maybe you do see me that way."
"There are still things that need to be discussed."
"I know. But first...do you still want to be with me?"
In answer he pulled her to him and leaned down to claim her mouth. When they broke apart they were both panting.
"So is that a yes?"
He laughed. "Yes."
Her fingers danced across his chest, "we can have Willow look for a spell to fix the curse...if she imbued all the potentials with slayer power, changed Amy back from being a rat, and once almost ended the world she can probably fix it so you can get a happy."
He began kissing her neck, "I'd like that."
"Mmmm," she said. "Me too."
The lost themselves in gentle kisses and touches. Their hands explored each other noting the many differences since they'd last been together. Angel was stronger, broader, he was no longer that gaunt, self-hating, half starved vampire he'd been when they'd met. Buffy had lost the soft curves of her youth. Time and trials had hardened the lines of her body.
Their caresses, though heated as ever, were distinctly different than the ones they'd shared years ago. He no longer had the desperation of one who'd been denied touch for a century, and she was no longer shy and inexperienced. Both were more comfortable and familiar with using their bodies as instruments of pleasure, and both felt an intense joy at being able to share that pleasure with each other.
Their passion grew and grew until finally, the insistent reminder of Angel's arousal poking into her thigh signaled to Buffy that they should stop.
"Wow," she said as she pulled away.
"Are we gonna be able to keep that under control until we can find a way around the curse?"
"We'll have to. We're both used to sacrifice, we've both done harder things."
They retreated to opposite ends of the couch.
"There are still things to talk about," she said. "The issues that broke us up years ago are still there."
He nodded. "I can't take you into the sunlight or give you children."
She smiled. "Too much sun is bad for the skin. And if we decide we want children we can always adopt." She paused. "Someday I'll be old and unattractive. Will you still want me then?"
"It's not your body I love Buffy."
"My friends won't understand."
"Spike will be pissed."
"Dawn'll be mad when I move here."
"You're going to move here?"
"Duh. You can't leave, and I'm so not gonna do the long distance thing."
"Wow. I haven't seen you smile like that...well...ever."
"I'm not usually this happy."
"So do you think this can work?"
"I know it."
She grinned and kissed him again. This kiss was more restrained. Neither had any desire to tempt fate, but it was a kiss full of promise and hope. The had found each other again and neither had any intention of letting go.