What Am I To You

What Am I To You

By A2Zmom
Author's Notes

One evening Buffy opened her front door and Angel was standing there.

Later, it occurred to her that if this had been a chick flick, she would have leapt into his arms, they would have both exclaimed that they'd never let each other go, and years of regret, remorse and rancor would have vanished into thin air, followed by a mind blowing kiss. Her life, however, had nothing to do with the movies, unless it was one of those incomprehensible foreign ones where everybody dies at the end.

He didn't look any different, dressed completely in black as usual. It didn't matter; she couldn't be fooled. The clothes he had worn in Sunnydale had been about power and intimidation. Now he reminded her of the old Italian women she saw picking over fruit at the market stalls, supposedly mourning for forty-odd years, but in actuality wallowing in a type of living death. A sickly sweet smell, like gardenias past their prime, seemed to cling to him. His expression was blank, no begging, no pleading, not any appeal to what he had once been to her. In the end that was what decided her. If he had said anything, she would have slammed the door closed. Like this, she found it impossible to turn him away.

"Come in, Angel."

Her living room was decorated in sky blues and grassy greens. Photos of every shape and size littered every surface; there was even one of her mother from years ago that her father had been able to give her. The room was warm and lived in, dominated by a large window. She liked the image it presented. Now she felt off balance. Had those odd shadows in the corner always been present? "Why don't you sit," she said, pointing to the couch.

Angel still didn't speak and the silence stretched between them. The hush of a battlefield, the dead silently screaming. Buffy had no idea what to say. "I thought you were dust but you're not." "Why didn't you let me know you made it?' "Why didn't you call me before everything turned to shit in L.A.?" Finally she settled for, " I don't have anything for you to eat. I'll pick up something tomorrow." Angel hadn't moved once he sat down. His chest didn't rise with his habit of feigned breathing, there were no involuntary muscle twitches, even his eyes didn't blink. She turned away, barely able to repress a shudder.

The silence continued, thick and overwhelming. Buffy felt as if a weight was pressing on her, squeezing the air out of her body. She forced a light tone into her voice. "I was just on my way to patrol, so I'm going to head out. I'll be back later." She walked down to the door, calmly walked down the front steps, counted off thirty paces and then ran as fast as she could, her heart pounding.

When she returned hours later, she didn't spot him. Something akin to relief blossomed, until she saw that he was still on the couch, exactly where she had left him. "Angel?" She spoke slowly and softly, as if to a young child. "I've got a spare room." She touched his arm lightly and he got up and followed her. He shrugged out of his coat, leaving it on the chair. He sat on the bed and carefully took off his shoes. "Why don't you lie down and get comfortable? I'll be right back." She returned in a moment, carrying several bath towels with which she proceeded to cover the chintz curtains. Angel was lying under the covers, eyes closed. She had no idea whether he was actually asleep, but she was grateful that this way she didn't have to interact with him. She went into her own bedroom and closed her eyes, desperately trying to find oblivion.

The phone rang as she buttered a roll for breakfast. She picked it up and cheerfully spoke. "Hello, Giles."

"One of these days it will not be me on the other end and you will be properly mortified."

She rolled her eyes. "It's seven-thirty-two Giles. You always call at exactly seven-thirty-two. The only way it wouldn't be you was if you fell into an interdimensional ditch. Which, considering our line of work is not out of the realm of the never gonna happen, but even so, I'm confident that you would never foist Andrew on me at this hour of the morning."

"Yes, well."

"How's Dawn?"

"Splendid. She just started a class on identification of native Asian demons."

"Sounds fascinating."

"It is. The Gravlichs are one of the most…"

"Kidding. Totally completely kidding. Are you keeping an eye on her?"

"Buffy, Dawn is no longer a child."

"If she was a child there wouldn't be an issue. If the tweed brigade started hitting on her and she was a kid, that would be perverted."

"She is old enough to make her own choices. You may recall I didn't interfere with your dating habits."

"It would have worked out better if you had." The bitterness in her voice surprised even her.

"Is everything all right?"

She feigned a small chuckle. "Fine. I just ran out of milk and you know a Buffy without her morning caffeine is a danger to children, small animals and watchers."

"Quite." He paused and Buffy imagined him polishing his glasses. For a moment, she wanted to confess to the guest in her spare room, but she dismissed the thought as soon as it formed. Giles had made the appropriate sympathetic noises when Faith had finally returned from L.A. with no news, but she knew he wasn't particularly bothered by Angel's demise. She didn't think telling him that Angel was currently in her apartment would be a wise move. "The coven called yesterday," Giles stated.

"What do the witches of Eastwick want now? Wait, don't tell me, apocalypse, demon, death, destruction, yada, yada."

Giles' reaction was a sigh. "It seems a demon---"

"A demon! Fancy that. Is it one of those cute in an ugly way species, like a platypus, or just one of those butt-ugly types that are covered with pus, my-what-big-teeth-you- have teeth, and smell like Xander's refrigerator?"

"They haven't been able to discern very much."

"In other words, you've got nothing with a side of nothing."

"They've had a strong visual of purple fire. I've already started investigating."

"Purple fire? Are you sure they're not getting a preview of the Euro Disney fireworks show?"

"Buffy, they know that whatever this thing is, it's extremely dangerous and it's headed your way." He waited half a beat; Buffy could almost see his hand tighten around the phone. "Please be careful."

"You know me. Always look both ways before I skewer the monster." Her voice softened. "Don't worry so much. I always get my demon."

That evening, she switched on the small lamp on the night table and observed as it cast Angel's face and back in a swath of yellow glow. She remembered his sword slicing her arm all those years ago and again, the pain radiated through her body. With his eyes closed, she was reminded once again of how beautiful he was, his long lashes casting shadows across defined cheekbones, masculine lips parted ever so slightly, the defined muscles of his arms and upper body, the faint tracery of veins under his parchment white skin, the black and white contrast of the tattoo against his upper back. One hand was inches away from his face, the other lying next to his side. He had moved at least once during the night, because not only was he lying on his stomach, but the covers were now off, revealing his nude form. She could see the slightest hint of his penis, and the sight of him looking so vulnerable made her clench with desire.

For the first time since he arrived, she was immersed in what he had been to her. She remembered starting to come to terms with what she had done to him. She was never going to see him again; she had sent him to hell to save the world. And then, a miracle occurred. She had found him in the woods, completely by accident. Her emotions had been so intense, a mixture of bewilderment, panic, hope and anger. Running to the mansion so fast that her leg muscles had spasmed, she prayed that he wouldn't regain consciousness before she returned. Mercifully, he was still out when she came back with the items she needed – a pair of handcuffs, an old wheelbarrow that had been abandoned in the mansion's courtyard, and a pair of pants.

He had been gloriously nude, an animal unaware and unashamed of its body. That Night (even all these years later she still thought of it in those terms) she had been so shy and nervous that he had undressed under the covers and she had let him take the lead in everything. But that evening, she had stared for a long time and she could still recall every inch of skin. Hand trembling, she had reached out to touch him, and was immediately shocked and gratified to feel him harden and lengthen underneath her tentative stroke. She moved her hand more firmly along the smooth skin until she had been jolted back to reality upon hearing his low moan.

She never told him what she had done and she never touched him again.

Once upon a time she had loved him more than anything; he had been her light, her hope, a reward for being chosen. Try as she might, she couldn't recall what that felt like. She still cared. She didn't wish for anything evil to befall him, but beyond that, she couldn't say.

She backed out of the room, and rapped hard on the door. She heard him shifting on the bed and went in after giving him two minutes.

Not only was he redressed, but he had the covers pulled back up, hiding him from her view. "Angel, I brought you something to eat." He didn't move, just continued the seeing through her that he had done yesterday. She opened the lid, desperately trying to breathe in as little as possible. "Come on, you need to drink this." When he still didn't respond, she flashed back to the days when she had had to help him drink. The blood hadn't disgusted her then. Now it looked thick and syrupy, darker maroon eddies swirling through the crimson. She bit her lip and held it up to his mouth. Most of it wound up in his mouth, but little rivulets escaped down his chin, landing on her blanket. Her hand involuntarily tightened on the container, but she kept feeding him until it was empty. Then she turned and walked out, closing the door.

The next four days progressed in much the same fashion. At 7:32 each day Giles called her and each day the warning from the coven sounded ever more dire. There was still a lack of concrete information, just vague impressions of people dying and purple flames. She spent the day training slayers, increasingly worried that she would shortly be leading them into a dangerous battle that they weren't prepared for. Three times a day she would feed an unresponsive Angel. At night she would switch the bloody blanket, so she could clean it. And then she would escape to patrol. She would go looking for fights, needing some way to release all her mounting frustrations. And after patrol, she haunted demon hangouts and seedy bars, visited the less desirable parts of town all in hope of getting a smidgeon of information regarding the coming threat. She felt isolated; the Angel situation would have been more than enough to put her on edge, but as usual, there was always some grand evil on the horizon to deal with.

On the sixth day, Angel spoke to her. Well, not actually to her, that would be a gross misstatement. She had come around to the side of the bed like usual to give him his blood, when he started to talk.

“One time, we dealt with the scourge.”

He wasn’t even looking in her direction and she had no idea what he was talking about.

“They wanted to kill all the impure demons. They targeted a tribe of Brachen demons. Doyle saved them by dying.”

Brachen? She was fairly certain they were harmless. And who was this Doyle guy? She couldn’t tell if he was important to Angel because there were no emotions behind the words. Every word had sounded the same as every other word, spoken precisely, clipped and to the point. She had absolutely no context for what he was going on about. Could this have been the cause of the mess in L.A.?

Her musing caused her to have missed his next three sentences.

He kept talking, an endless drone about death, demons, destruction. She had never heard him say so much. In fact, up until this point, she was pretty sure that four sentences had been his all time personal best. Even during the best part of their relationship (and how long was that, she though bitterly, a day or two?), he had always presented a severely edited version of his life. Now she was learning all about the last four years of his life and her initial thought was to beg him to stop. She wondered if his game plan was simply to tip any remaining feelings she had for him into pity. It wasn't working; all she felt was numb, masking a deeper hurt.

He was now speaking about the days and nights that Darla had invaded his dreams. He wasn't going into specific detail, but she felt dirty anyway. If he was looking for her to be his confessor as he continued to recite his sins, real and imagined, he had seriously misjudged. Every Thursday, Winston Haverfield called her with the names of the newly minted slayers who were dead or grievously injured. No one knew about this little arrangement, not even Giles. She couldn’t begin to forgive herself; she certainly wasn’t going to absolve him of anything.

At around the twenty-minute mark, she wound up sliding down and sitting on the wood floor. It didn’t matter; he wasn’t looking for any sort of comfort from her. Not that she could have given it anyway.

It felt like she'd been walking in a cold rain for days; his words were chilling her to the bone. She couldn't even say for sure which revelation was the worst. The fact that he had a son? It was certainly a shock, but she understood his decisions regarding Connor. She had been willing to end all of existence rather than harm Dawn. If giving her a new life would keep her safe she would gladly do it, and damn those who would condemn her for it. At the same time, the thought of deliberately erasing herself from her sister's life was too painful to contemplate for very long. Was it that he had fallen in love with Cordelia? He hadn't said that but she had read between the lines. Truthfully, she had no business being upset about it. They had been apart for years. She couldn't expect him to permanently carry a torch for her.

Maybe it was simply the fact that everything he told her was news to her. That not only had she been completely in the dark about his life, but that she hadn't wondered about it until now. When had they become such complete strangers?

When she opened her eyes, all she could see was the swirl of fog. Ground, sky, even the air in front of her was reduced to pearl grey sea foam. She recognized the swish of his coat long before she could actually see him.

“Where are we?”

“Don’t rightly know. Does it matter?” His insouciance hadn’t changed.

“You’re dead.”

“Been dead a long time, pet.”

She wanted to tell him that wasn’t what she meant, but when she looked in his eyes she realized he had understood. “Why didn’t you come for me?”

“Got here as soon as I could.” His voice was bemused without a touch of defensiveness.

She pulled her hands close to her body in a gesture of self-preservation. "Not now. Then, after Sunnydale." She looked away from him, trying to discern shapes in the nothingness that surrounded them. "Did you stop loving me?" She hated the plaintive note in her voice, but she couldn't help it.

"You're still the one. You'll always be the one. Thought you'd be better off without me. " His voice was pained, his momentary bravado all gone. "Wanted you to remember me like a hero. Maybe you'd think of me kindly once in awhile."

"And you came to that conclusion because when I came back from the dead everyone told me it would have been a lot more noble if I'd stayed moldering in the ground."

"Does sound a bit daft, I suppose."

"Daft, stupid, crazy, idiotic, loony…"

"No need to get personal." He was grinning at her, head cocked in that familiar gesture.

She took a step toward him. "I missed you so much. I love you," she whispered and then they were in each other's arms, kissing they way they once fought; delight in the sheer physicality of who they were. They couldn't stop touching each other, their hands flitting over each other's bodies, skin touching skin with no space between. "Spike," she cried out.

The next morning she dragged herself out of bed, her emotions jumbled and raw. She was just about to make an egg for herself, when Angel was there, seemingly conjured out of the air. The egg flew out of her hand, the slimy interior coating the kitchen floor, the yellow yolk an ugly smear on the cabinets. She tried to pass Angel to get some towel paper, but he blocked her exit. In the small kitchen, he appeared to take up every inch of available space, sucking the very air out the room. His eyes were no longer the flat black discs of the other day; instead they seemed to absorb all the light in the room, a black hole of dark intent.

"Did you care when you thought I was gone?"

Her breath hitched for the briefest of seconds. "Don't be stupid, Angel."

"Would you be happier right now if it had been Spike that had been standing at your door?"

“Did the wrong girl come back from the dead?” she shot back. As soon as the words spilled out of her mouth, she felt ill. She looked at him, but if they affected him it was impossible to say. She wondered if he was undisturbed because it wasn’t a new sentiment. She pushed past him into the morning sun.

Evening fell hard. One moment, the world seemed to have a false gaiety, the next, the gray that was always just underneath the surface became apparent. When she got to the cemetery, a grim anticipation took hold of her. She had heard rumors of violent events in the vicinity; maybe it would be that demon the coven was so hyped about. She smelled something in the air, a vague odor of rot that dissipated even as she tried to get a handle on it. The grounds were poorly maintained, bare patches of earth were visible everywhere she looked. A brief glimpse of movement made her turn her head, and then she was surrounded by five vampires. Adrenaline coursed through her, making her skin tingle. She didn't bother saying anything; her Italian wasn't that good. Instead she gave a lazy smile and lashed out with a punch to the jaw.

Side kick, tucked roll, uppercut, stake to the heart, leg sweep. She laughed at one point. Pure instinct took over, her body fully engaged, all senses heightened. That one was moving in –punch, this one was taking a step back – kick, keep this one in the game. She was death in a yellow tank top and black cotton pants and this was when she was most alive.

She dusted the last one and leaned over, her hands on her knees. She could feel the sweat tracing a path underneath her shirt and she shivered. She was slightly underdressed for the cool night air, but had suspected she was in for a long fight and she hadn't wanted to get overheated. Her breathing was still erratic, she had fought for a good twenty minutes, partly because the vampires had been fairly organized and had kept her at bay, partly because she hadn't wanted it to be over. This was a chance for her to just exist and ignore her all too confusing life.

Her insides twisted, making her clench her hands involuntarily. She should have known better than to eat pasta and cheese for lunch when she had some major slayage scheduled. Her guts fluttered again, and that's when she belatedly realized it wasn't lunch, just the only vampire who had ever set off her internal alarm system.

He was standing only a few yards away from her, his body so large and imposing that it was the only thing in her line of vision. When she had first known him, he had always had his shoulders hunched, always trying to make himself smaller, always afraid of overpowering others. She had forgotten just how big he actually was. The moon glinted off his face, giving him a wan, ghostly look. Appropriate, since he was the ghost of someone she had once loved. This man she didn't know at all.

He was staring at her in a way that raised goose bumps on her arms even as long forgotten memory started to flicker to life. She recognized that look. Angelus had been terrorizing Sunnydale for weeks. The two of them had already had multiple skirmishes, way more than she reported to Giles because she hadn't wanted to unduly worry her watcher. Mostly they traded a few blows and then broke apart, scurrying off to their separate existences. It was as if both of them wanted to save themselves for the final reckoning between them. One night, however, he had gotten the upper hand and they had fallen to the ground, his vastly superior weight pinning her to the ground. She had been terrified, thoughts of failing everyone flooding her mind, shallow panicked rabbit's breaths the only thing she was capable of.

She waited for his fangs to slice into her neck; instead his lips were on hers, his tongue forcing its way into her mouth. Angel had kissed her hundreds of times but never anything close to this. This was pure lust as his teeth clinked against her, his tongue desperately sliding against her, lips bruising against hers. His right hand had engulfed her breast, rubbing the nipple in time with his thrusting tongue. She had moaned into his mouth, hips rolling forward against his.

And then he twisted her nipple hard, the pain shocking her back to herself, even as the action had caused a sudden flash of heat and damp between her legs. Even years later she wasn't sure whether she had pushed him off or whether he had let her go. All she knew was that he was standing a few yards away from her, face completely impassive, except for his eyes which blazed with passion.

"I could teach you things, little girl," he had whispered.

"I'm not a little girl," she had growled back, hands on hips, legs apart in a stance of strength and defiance. He had laughed then, but the laugh wasn't filled with the cruel mocking she had expected. Instead it was a laugh of surprised delight. The way Angel's laugh would have sounded if he had ever laughed. And that's when she had known that they were one and the same, there was no Angel and Angelus, there was only Angel and she had run terrified, knowing she loved him still.

And now he stood, looking at her the way he had looked at her all those years ago.

"I'm not a little girl any more." If he remembered that incident from long ago, his face gave no indication of it. She could walk out of the cemetery and he wouldn't follow her, she knew that. He had been right to laugh at her original statement; she had been a stupid child, nothing more. But that had been burned out of her a million different painful ways and now all that was left was muscle and sinew stretched tight over bone.

They had been building toward this since he had shown up at her door. Maybe they had been moving toward this since he had shown up in her life up those years ago, back when they pretended they could be other than vampire and slayer. She wanted him. She wanted him to fuck her hard, hard enough that he'd fuck himself out of her heart, out of her body, out of her life.

She stared at him across the few feet that separated him. She knew her expression gave away nothing, she had learned that blankness from him. Slowly she moved her hands to the hem of her top and with aching deliberateness, pulled it over her head. She could feel her skin prickle as the cool air brushed past her.

Before the shirt had even hit the ground, he was in front of her, large hands grabbing her sports bra. It took a bit of effort, but he ripped it in half and it now hung loosely from her shoulders. He stepped back, scanning her body with clinical detachment. His eyes were blacker than the night sky, empty of feeling.

She quickly shucked her pants and underwear, not wishing to have them shredded also. Before she had finished standing back up, he was directly in front of her once more, spinning her so that her back rested against his chest as he pinned her arms to the side with an iron grip. His stare might have been indifferent, but his body told a different story as he pressed her against him. Angel shifted so that one of his legs was now between hers and as he twisted, she found herself falling to the ground. Slayer reflexes prevented her from getting hurt, her weight now on her forearms and knees. Angel had followed her down, his chest still pressed into her back.

Her senses were heightened to everything around her, the faint whispering rustle of the leaves, the scratch of Angel's sweater against her skin, the tickling itch of an ant running across her hand, the smell of dirt and decay and dead things. The metallic hiss of a zipper being slowly opened drove every other thought from her mind.

The chill present in the night air had immediately hardened her nipples. Cupping her right breast his touch was so light it might just as well have been air moving over her flesh. One long finger began to slide over her flesh, each stroke bringing him a little closer to her nipple. No calluses, no scars, no imperfections, just perfect, smooth, cool skin washing over her body. She hated the fact that even in this situation, she reacted so strongly to him. His finger continued to tease her and desire slowly curled inside her belly. Her sole hunger was the need for his finger to move the tiniest bit higher. His hand lifted off her body while he pushed his fingernail hard into her swollen nipple.

Her body reacted instantly, the prior slow burn now a pounding need. Already she was wet and swollen between her legs without him touching her there. She bit her lip to prevent herself from making any sound.

His palm was stroking her entire breast now, pleasure ratcheting through her body. She pushed back onto him, coating his length with her fluids. He didn't make any sounds either, but his other hand tightened hard enough on her hip to leave bruises. His hand slid down her belly, past her coarse hair, until he was sliding into her slippery center, stroking her clit and causing her to shudder. She shifted her body, sinking down hard on his cock and she could feel his body shake also. Sensations rippled across her body, each stroke of fingers and cock pushing her closer to the edge. She gasped but still said nothing as he pumped ever faster; she could feel his balls against her ass each time he imbedded himself. He pushed again, this time deep enough that the small shock of pain mixed with pleasure sent her over the edge, her skin flushing as she pulsed around him.

Even before her breathing evened out, he was slowly stroking in and out again, his fingers lightly rubbing the wet, swollen lips. He withdrew his hand, placing both arms along the sides of her body so that he was braced above her, still connected by his cock inside of her. He bent his head down, slowly leaving a wet trail across her back, up on her neck, onto her shoulder. He lingered there, his tongue licking the skin and making her tremble. Too late, she realized his face was shifting against her shoulder. The pain was needle sharp and unexpected; she screamed and tears sprang to her eyes.

Seconds later, the timbre of her scream changed to something lower pitched, a moan of pleasure. Each time his cock slid inside, she could feel her blood being sucked from her body, his mouth and his dick both attacking her, both sending an overload of ecstasy through her body. She could feel circles of euphoria spreading out from her cunt and shoulder, and as the sensations intensified, her limbs went rigid. White light was exploding behind her eyelids and she heard Angel groan in her ear, "Fuck, harder." as his weight pushed her body into the grass. She was almost convulsing, clenching hard around him when a small part of her realized her vision was going black. She might have laughed at the irony of dying this way, but everything ended then.

Angel was, of course, gone from the apartment. Running from her was one of the only things he was exceptional at. At least this way there was no awkward morning after talk and she could just get dressed and get to work.

She mentally squared her shoulders before marching into the dingy storefront. Smells assaulted her, sweat, old beer, unwashed bodies. When she had finally woken up, not only was she tucked between her blankets, but also a container of orange juice had been placed into a bucket of ice by the side of the bed. The sight had irritated her. Now she was glad she hadn't had any juice; the place made her stomach twist.

She glanced around, seeing a few demons and humans huddled in the corner, arguing about something, complete with extravagant arm gestures. She didn't want to know what they were talking about, but she knew the place dealt in illegal gambling. One of them noticed her, and within seconds most of them were giving her the once over, saying things in Italian and making obscene gestures. She wished Faith was with her; she knew putdowns in every language ever invented. Instead Buffy simply gave them a death glare until they got the hint and went back to arguing.

This place was her last hope for information regarding the demon. The latest update from Giles hadn't provided any more concrete information, but the coven had had a vision of someone dying. They couldn't even tell her how, just the impression of a long, painful death. And so far, she hadn't found out anything useful, not on patrols, not via informants, even the newspapers hadn't reported any violent deaths that were more suspicious than usual. She wondered if the coven had accidentally tuned into the vision rerun station and were sending reports of a threat that had been vanquished by a different slayer long ago. Until such time that was confirmed however, she would continue trying to find out what she could. Even though this place made her skin crawl and she had never found anything here that she hadn't previously discovered someplace else, there was always a first time.

She strode up the counter and with false heartiness addressed the small, sallow complexioned creature behind it. "Bigsby, how are you?"

Bigsby looked sullenly away from her. "I don't have anything to say. You're going to scare the customers."

"Is that any way to treat a friend? Bigs, I'm really hoping you have something to tell me. You're kind of my last resort at this point, so why don't we skip over the part where I hit you. Unless you enjoy it? Because I'm in a mood where I could go for it."

He had lifted his head and was unexpectedly perusing her, his orange, iris-less eyes staring straight at her.

She laughed a little nervously. "Do I have something on my face?"

"You don't have to put on a big show," he said conspiratorially. "I know a few places where," he tapped the side of his neck, "well, you know. I know one that's very reputable, clean, good clientele."

Suck houses. A picture of Riley floated up, moaning as a vampire latched on to his wrist. "I don't have any interest in that." Her face contorted in disgust even as her hand flew up to the puncture marks at the side of her neck. When she had looked in the mirror this morning there had been a small tender bruise, the color of a faded coffee stain. And two perfect holes in her shoulder, already scab encrusted "I'm the slayer, some vampire got lucky. Then he got unlucky when I dusted him."

She swore he was smirking at her, but it was hard to tell with that many teeth. "If you have something to say to me, then say it. I don't appreciate demons acting like I'm not telling the truth."

"I'm sure you are," he sputtered nervously. "It's just that normally vampire bites leave big bruises, the skin's torn right off. That was done carefully, just two tiny holes. Holes like that usually mean the person got off on it."

"That wasn't the case," she hissed.

After her seventeenth birthday, she had spent days, weeks, likely months reliving every moment of the one time they had made love until it had reached mythic proportions in her mind. No one could ever love her as perfectly as he had, no one could ever make her body sing the way he had. She couldn't even say whether it was because it had been as perfect as she thought or because she wouldn't let anyone else close enough to allow it. And now it was just more thing in her life that had inevitably led to ugliness.

She grabbed Bigsby's shirt and half dragged him over the counter. "I'm feeling even less charitable than when I first came in here, so how about telling me if you've gotten wind of anything strange happening. New guy, uses purple fire, mean and nasty."

He shuddered in her grasp. "There's been some chatter about some weird stuff going on the newer section of the city. That's all I know."

"It's a start. Pleasure doing business."

On the corner was a small café, men and women drinking espresso or having a glass of wine. The men in their linen jackets, the women looking chic with scarves tied at the neckline, everybody smoking as if it was a movie from the thirties. It was still fairly early; the sun had only set about forty minutes ago.

She had gone home after her little chat in hopes that Giles could finally tell her something helpful. But the coven was still only getting the vaguest of visions and she wondered if she'd have better luck talking to Latoya over at the psychic friends network. They had once again seen purple fire but nothing more specific. Giles had researched all the major texts; purple fire wasn't mentioned in any of them as a demon characteristic. He was now going through his more arcane books.

Based on Bigsby's info, she had headed out to the more modern portion of the city. She rarely headed in this direction because there wasn't a lot of demon activity to be found there. Vampires tended to congregate where the tourists were, easier eating. But this was the only tip she had ferreted out so far and hopefully, it would lead somewhere.

She decided to walk in and see if there was a table available. Maybe she could overhear something that would be helpful. Or even better, she could spot a demon trying to pass and she could squeeze him for some useful information.

Quickly ordering a cappuccino, she glanced over the room and that’s when she saw him. Impossible, like some poorly written sitcom, but there was no mistaking him.

He was in the far right corner, as physically far away from her as it was possible to be, facing away from her. Impossibly broad back encased in leather, slightly hunched shoulders always tense with expectation, too large alabaster hand resting on a tablecloth nearly as white.

His chair was too close to his companion’s, their heads bowed together in intimate conversation. The woman was small and blonde and pretty. If she hadn’t known about Cordelia and her thick chestnut hair, Buffy would have concluded that he had never loved her, had never seen her for who she was. Instead she was one of a long line of tiny blonde girls that he used and abused and then moved on to the next. Or more likely, that was true and the fact that Cordelia didn’t fit that category meant that he had truly loved Cordy.

Way to be uber depressing, Buffy, she thought.

At that exact moment, he turned, almost as if she had called to him. Even across the tables that separated them, his eyes seemed depthless.

She had no interest in being there any longer. She called the waitress back over and cancelled her order. She then stood up to leave.

Five minutes later she could hear him behind her. She didn't bother speeding up; even without preternatural speed, his legs were twice as long as hers. And the simple fact that she could hear him meant that he wasn't planning on letting her get away. She decided to simply stop.

“I figured you’d be on another continent by now.” Her arms were crossed over her chest and her voice was cool.

“I wasn’t planning on still being here.” If he was at all embarrassed by that admission, it was impossible for Buffy to tell. I went walking after I left your apartment and sort of ran into Carol. She needed my help.”

"Glad to see what you didn't waste any time."

“I have no idea what you're talking about.”

But she knew he did know, since he didn't exactly sound confused and she could see the muscle in his jaw twitch.

“You two seemed awfully cozy, that's all.” She shrugged nonchalantly as she saw his gaze narrow a tiny bit. She knew there wasn't anything going on. Angel might have nothing but hostility toward her, but she still knew certain things about him. He didn't take advantage of people in distress.

“She’s a client.” His voice was curt. “I offered my services that’s all.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet.”

“You might recall I used to do this sort of thing in L.A. on a regular basis? This is what I do, Buffy, I try to help people.”

"I just find it amusing that the person you chose to help has Dolly Parton sized attributes, that's all."

Cold fury shone from his eyes. "I don't sleep with---". He abruptly stopped talking, his eyes widening. A look that Buffy had once privately dubbed as "guilty look number 53" overtook his features. Just as quickly, it disappeared, leaving behind a mask of nothingness. "This isn't any of your business," he gritted out.

"No, it really isn't," she quietly agreed. She was momentarily tempted to ask if the client he had just basically admitted to sleeping with had also been a blond. She briefly wondered when it had happened. After he had finally scoured her out of his heart and before he had fallen in love with Cordelia, she supposed. She was a fool. Why did she think she had any idea of what he cared about, what he wanted?

She turned to walk away when out of the corner of her eye, she saw him lift his hand. She stood stock still, mesmerized by its motion, but instead of reaching out for her, his hand instead continued its downward arc, resting limply at his side. Finally, Angel cleared his throat. "Know where there's a library or bookstore nearby?"

Instantly, she shifted into slayer mode, everything else pushed aside. “What’s the details.”

"I was over near—" He abruptly stopped talking, looked away from a moment and then smoothly picked up again. "I heard a scream. I saw something big and purple. I got Carol out of the way, but by then the thing was gone. She said there had been a man there, but he was gone too. Eaten. Or maybe melted, from what she said."

"Purple fire?" Buffy said expectantly.

"No," he said slowly, obviously pulling up memories of that night. "Definitely no fire."

“Damn it.” She scrubbed at her forehead for a second. “There a coven in Devon that gets vague premonitions that they pass on to Giles. Sort of like if your cable company is getting interference, you get a fuzzy image? Anyway, they’ve been getting visions for weeks of a maybe apocalypse starring a demon that deals in extinguishing people with purple fire.”

“And you think they've gotten their signals crossed and this is the demon they've been seeing,” he stated.

"Bingo. Or maybe bocce ball since we’re in Italy. Thanks for the info." She turned and briskly started walking away.

"Where do you think you're going?"

"Research, obviously."

"I asked where I could find books. Nothing more." Angel had his arms folded across his chest, the effect somehow making him look even larger than he was.

"Like I said, thanks for the information, but I'll take it from here. This is slayer business. "

"This is my case."

"I don't feel like arguing with you."

"So don't. You can't outrun me."

Briefly she thought of telling him that she was heading someplace that he'd have to be invited into and she simply wouldn't, but she didn't. It was a lie for one thing, but more than that, she didn't want to throw that in his face. She wasn't even sure why. Instead, she simply marched off in a huff, not bothering to check whether he was following her.

Once they arrived at the training school, Buffy headed to the small room that was used as a library.

She had seriously underestimated the number of books that Giles had sent when the school first started. It was closer to forty instead of the ten she thought the school owned. She had never bothered even opening them before now; Giles could do any research needed a lot more efficiently. Grabbing one stack, she walked into the meeting room and divided the stack in two, placing each set in front of a chair.

"You don't need to stay, you know. I'm sure there are plenty of women out there who are in desperate need of saving." Angel slated his eyes toward her for a second. Pursing his lips, he flipped open a book and began reading.

She plopped herself in front of a stack and grabbing a book, let it drop in front of her with a resounding thud. She could see irritation cross his features, but she ignored it. “I figure purple goo demons aren’t that common so this shouldn’t take long.” Buffy pulled her chair in and started to examine “Snodgrass’s Demon Compendium”. Five minutes later she realized that most of the book wasn't written in English. She kept staring at different pages, trying to pick out words and finally, she pushed the book over to Angel. "Can you read this?"

"Yes, " he smirked. "Lucky thing I'm here."

A half hour later she wished she hadn’t been so damned sanctimonious. She hated researching and she desperately wished she was outside tracking something nasty down. It didn’t help matters that at least one third of the books were written in languages she couldn’t read. Each time she passed a book over to Angel, she wound up feeling stupid. Even worse, her body was pinging from being so close to him. She surreptitiously glanced at him thoroughly engrossed in some book even older than he was. She wasn’t sure why the fact that she had no visible effect on him angered her.

Another twenty minutes dragged by and Buffy decided that she was going on patrol, no matter what she had announced earlier about this being slayer business. Just before she said something, Angel sat back with a satisfied look. “I’m pretty sure I found it.”

She looked over at the book he held open. It was written with a strange alphabet, sensuous curves and small harsh lines within the larger rounded shapes. “What’s it say?”

“That’s slightly more problematic,” he said, his expression fading back to neutral.

“If you can’t read it, how do you know if it says anything useful?”

“That’s not what I said. It’s in a demon language I’m not entirely fluent in. Plus this is the archaic form of it. It’s like trying to read Beowulf in the original old English. Most words are the same, some words, the meaning has completely changed over the years, and some words, you wind up making an educated guess.”

“We could call Giles.”

Angel immediately stiffened. “No.”

Remembering that Giles didn’t have any idea that Angel wasn’t dust, she decided that she’d rather not bring him into this either. “Can you read enough to understand it?”

“I think so. I’ll write the translation as I go. I can go back and fill in if I need to after.”

She placed her elbows on the table, head cradled in her hands, the very picture of boredom. But she no longer was bored; instead she watched as Angel carefully wrote down words, dark head nodding between paper and manuscript. She'd forgotten his intensity, the way he threw himself completely into the task as hand.

"What are you looking at?" He startled her.

You, she wanted to say. I want to forget you but you keep forcing me to remember. "Your handwriting. It's like that fancy writing you see on wedding invitations."

He shrugged, obviously unimpressed. "I'm pretty sure I was able to piece this all together. It's a Xan'qrtor and it only manifests when it feeds."

"It's incorporeal?" she said, surprised. He quirked an eyebrow and she glared back. "I do know some big words, you know." A ghost of a smile flitted over Angel's face. She almost grinned back, but immediately his expression shifted back to cold and distant. "At least that explains why all that trolling in demon playgrounds didn't turn up anything. It wasn't on the streets very much.

"Well, tell me how to take it down and we can get out of here."

Angel frowned. "Rushing off with a weapon isn't always the way to get the job done."

His words stung her. "Are you implying I'm not a good enough slayer to kill this thing?"

"You're twisting my words."

"There was no twisting. The line from A to B was so straight that Hansel and Gretel would have found their way back." His face got a funny look on it and she realized belatedly that he was thinking about years ago when two demons pretending to be modern versions of the infamous fairy tale children had almost succeeded in getting her burned at the stake. Almost as quickly, the look disappeared.

"All I'm saying, Buffy, is the text describes a way to get rid of this demon. It would be nice if you listened before interrupting."

"Fine."

Angel briefly glared and continued. "There's a description here about the demon but I couldn't translate most of it. I think the most important thing is that conventional weapons can't harm it."

"No weapon forged," Buffy murmured. "Where's a rocket launcher when you need one?" she joked. She immediately wished the earth would open up. There were topics that were simply off limits to the both of them. Angel's little trip to hell was one. The exact nature of his relationship with Spike. The exact nature of her relationship with Spike. And number one with a bullet, the period of time he had spent torturing her after he lost his soul.

He became quiet and still, looking back down at his translation. Anyone else looking at him would have thought there was nothing wrong; after all, he wasn’t exactly a demonstrative type under the best of circumstances. But she knew he was angry at himself for hurting her. Maybe that was the real problem between them. Neither of them knew how to forgive themselves.

"Fortunately, the book has a different method for getting rid of this thing," he said quietly. "A circle had to be drawn at the spot where the demon manifests. It needs to be filled in with salt and a few herbs crushed in. One person chants while standing outside of the circle. The demon manifests inside the circle. The ixlthuim is inside the circle and also chants something. Apparently that kills the thing."

"What's a yixiyum?"

"Ixlthuim," he corrected. "Don't know but that's the part I'll do."

Buffy had walked around the table and was now peering over his shoulder. "Is this the stuff that gets said outside the circle?"

"Yes, and this is the bit that gets chanted inside."

"We're going to have to switch places. If you rehearse with me, I guess I'll be able to get through five words, but there's no way I'd ever be able to say a page and a half of this stuff."

His expression darkened considerably, but he reluctantly nodded.

"There's just one more problem. We don't know where the demon materializes."

Amazingly, Angel's expression got even blacker. "I do."

They had been walking for fifteen minutes and with every step, Buffy's guts began to twist tighter. Finally, she simply stopped. "Where are we headed?" Angel made no move to answer her and simply kept walking.

"I said, where are we going?"

He looked furious as he turned toward her, but his tone was bleak. “You know where.”

And she did. The graveyard. The sickly sweet smell, the odd patches where the grass was gone, it all fell into place. She had probably missed the demon by seconds. The very last place on earth she wanted to go. She could feel him, his hands, his teeth, his cock bruising her, marking her, treating her like a thing. And she had been complaisant in her own brutalization, because she didn’t want anything else from him.

Even as she walked, her mind frantically searched for an alternative. Juliet may have been a fairly newly minted slayer, but she showed lots of promise. Or, even better, she could call Gianna, the slayer who patrolled the Italian countryside. She didn’t think it would be that hard to convince Angel to let her do this with the help of another slayer. She could guilt him into acquiescing if all else failed.

She watched him walking, near enough that she wouldn’t lose sight of him but far enough away that they were not exactly together. His posture was tense and she knew he wanted to be here even less than she did.

"Angel, " she called out, her voice sounding abnormally loud in the nighttime hush. He turned, grim determination evident. That's when she realized there was one thing she did know about him, one thing that would never change.

In general she had come to dislike patrolling with others; it tended to interfere with taking down bad guys. Even those who should have been a perfect match for her – Spike, Faith, even Riley to an extent – had never been a completely comfortable fit. Riley with all his gadgetry had never meshed with how she worked. And both Spike and Faith suffered from a rashness that left her feeling exposed more often than not.

Angel had been the only one that that had never been an issue. Even that time The Three had attacked, they had worked together in unspoken concert, anticipating each other's moves. She hadn't even known he was a vampire at that point. There was no one she would ever trust more in a fight. He would always have her back.

"We're almost there, right?" He nodded. "Good, I just want this over." He didn't answer, just walked away from her again.

The salt crunched under her boots, making her wistfully think of California beaches. They had arrived at the cemetery just a few minutes ago, Angel carefully spreading a large salt circle. Maybe it was appropriate that they should end things here. After all, this was the kind of place they had spent most of their time together. She had already decided to be a grown-up for once. As soon as this was over, she would wish him well, and make it clear that she was always available if he needed help. She knew he would never ask for any, but she would make the offer.

"You ready?" She jumped; she hadn't realized how close he was to her. She nodded and stepped into the protective circle. She turned to look at him and he seemed incredibly sad and tired. And then it was gone, and she thought she must have imagined it.

She closed her eyes for a second, letting Angel's voice sweep over her. She had no idea what he was saying, but the sound was soothing nonetheless. She opened her eyes just in time to see the perimeter of the circle burst into flames. Since when did demon killing need to compete with Siegfried and Roy?. A moment later, a demon dripping with Barney colored slime appeared a foot away from her. She quickly chanted her piece, paying attention to the sounds that Angel had painstakingly taught her. Nothing happened. No demon going poof, and the flames were definitely getting hotter.

Barney had finally noticed Buffy and took a menacing step toward her. Maybe weapons couldn't hurt it, but a hard kick to the gut might give it some pause. She started in with a back spin and stopped with a centimeter to spare between her foot and a broad, dripping chest. Some blue mucous had dripped on the ground and sizzled, the grass burnt away. Some kind of acid. The man that had been killed had indeed been disappeared, in a liquidy sort of way.

She wasn't panicking. So far she had been able to keep her distance. That wasn't going to be an option much longer; both the fire and the demon were slowly closing in. If she broke the circle, she'd be able to escape, but so would the demon. It would now be in a permanent physical form, ready to wreak havoc on innocent people. She didn't see how any of this was going to kill it, but the ancient text had said it would and she would have to trust it. She took another step back, and felt the flames uncomfortably heating her skin. She would have to move to avoid getting burned, but there really wasn't any place to go. That's when she realized purple dude was about to hug her and she braced herself for the pain.

It didn't happen. Angel had leapt into the circle. Hands around the demon's neck, he was keeping the front of it in the fire, stepping back so that he himself didn't catch. The demon began to bellow, but it was Angel's screams of pain that chilled her. His flesh was melting where he gripped it. At that moment, an ember flared in his hair. It sparked to life, a flame that would kill him faster than any demon. She yelled incoherently, stamping it out with her hand, not caring about the small burn she suffered. They had to get out of there.

"Angel! Let go, the demon is dying, let go." She wrapped her hands around his neck and drove her nails in, the shock surprising him and causing him to release his hold. She didn't waste a moment and barreled into him, throwing him outside of the circle of fire, allowing her momentum to also carry her. She rolled on the ground with him, the dirt and his clothes helping to extinguish any sparks. The demon was still visible, a half melted pile of sludge.

She couldn't stop shaking. She had almost died with no way to defend herself and Angel had saved her life. He had come close to dying in the process. She had almost seen him turn to ash. She had spent weeks imaging that very fate when no one had found any sign of him in L.A.

She started crying and it quickly turned into loud sobs. Her tears were soaking his shirt as her breath kept hitching. She could feel her nose running. She forced the words out between shudders. "I thought you were dead." She cried even harder as she repeated it. It wasn't until the next day that she realized he must have been in agonizing pain but he never flinched, just held her with his burnt hands as best he could.

They were right back to when he had shown up on her doorstep. Except things were different, she mused, at least from her perspective. For one thing, his blood no longer bothered her. She wasn't sure whether it was because she had gotten used to it or there was something more at play there. She walked into the guest room and carefully set the container down. "How are the hands doing?" Angel merely shrugged. "Talkative as always, I see." She carefully unwrapped the bandages and inspected the burnt skin. "Healing nicely. I'll bet you'll be fine in a day or so." That was the other thing that was different on her part. She talked to him. She had fallen out of the habit of sharing herself with people. As time had gone on, she found herself more and more isolated emotionally.

Now she found herself babbling to Angel, almost as much as she had once done in a much more innocent time. During his second day of confinement, she had ranted about one of the newbie slayers recklessly charging into a fight unprepared and how she had endangered another girl. Angel had calmly suggested that maybe the girl had acted more out of fear than foolhardiness. She had left the room silently mulling over his words. Angel was likely right, and it was good to get a second opinion from someone who completely understood. Knowing that he been listening to her made her feel warm.

She was in the kitchen, deciding what to do about breakfast. Five days had passed since Angel had saved her life. She felt his presence even before she turned around and her face lit up when she saw him. "Your hands are almost healed!" He had removed the bandages. The skin was still raw looking, but by the end of the day even that evidence of his wounds would be gone. "Here, sit, I'll heat you up some blood."

"Buffy." He sounded upset.

"What is it?"

"I'm sorry."

She could see the familiar guilt in his eyes. "Angel?"

"I almost got you killed. I misinterpreted the book. I assumed that ixlthuim meant person. The word means sacrifice. That chant you said was a prayer asking God's blessing before your death."

"So?" She hurried on when she realized Angel wasn't exactly pleased with that response. "It wouldn’t have changed anything. I still would have been standing inside the circle. I guess we would have been a bit more cautious, that's all." She grinned mischievously. "Maybe you would have worn asbestos gloves." Her expression sobered as she said, "I'm the slayer. Maybe I'm not usually going to be eaten and barbequed – or would that be barbequed and eaten? – but most of the time, life isn't a walk in the park. It tends to be a fight in a graveyard."

"That doesn't mean you should be put in danger because of what I do."

"I get it, Angel." She touched his arm lightly. "Do you remember when I told you to go back to L.A. when you brought me that amulet?"

"Yes," he said scowling. "You wanted Spike."

"That was part of it. I wanted Spike to know that I trusted him. I hadn't for a long time, and I wanted him to know that. But there were other reasons too. I couldn't bear having you get hurt or killed in my battle. "

"That's just…" His voice had increased in volume and then immediately gained a sheepish tone. "That's just what I do too."

"I know. We're quite a pair." A pair. She felt giddy suddenly until she looked at his face. She recognized his expression and knew what he was going to say. He had said it often enough.

"I don't want you to leave." The vehemence of her statement didn't surprise only Angel. Until she actually said it, she hadn't realized just how strongly she felt.

"I'm only going to wind up hurting you."

Her hand crept up to where he had recently bitten her. "Probably. And there'll be times that I'll hurt you. That's what happens." She smiled at him. "And then we can have great make-up sex."

"Damn it Buffy, I'm trying to be serious here. I'm not even – "

"Human? You know, I figured that out the first time you kissed me and went fangy instead of trying to cop a feel. I'm not saying things are going to be easy. I'm going to have to learn to keep my mouth shut when you get a case and you're going to have to follow my lead when it comes to slayer business. Who knows? Maybe we'll find out that we can't stand being together. But I want to know. I want to try."

She looked into his eyes and all she saw were the same fears and doubts she'd always seen. She turned her head away. She couldn’t do this anymore. Her voice was amazingly steady. "I told you once that we both needed to forget. But that's never going to happen. I know that. But at least don't keep giving me more to remember. Do that much, at least."

He pulled away from her and she thought that she shouldn't care. She'd had more than enough practice with him leaving.

"How would you like your eggs?"

"Eggs?" she said weakly. She opened her eyes and turned. He was standing in the middle of her kitchen, randomly opening up cabinets.

"Omelets are my specialty."

"How would you know how to make eggs?" She tried to make sense of what she was seeing. Any second, he'd tell her he'd be leaving this evening.

He tossed off a small grin. "Late forties I was a grill cook at an all night diner." He paused, thinking it over. "It's actually kind of funny. I'll tell you over breakfast."

Even in the happy days of their early relationship, he had never willingly spoken about his past. She stood next to him and touched his cheek. The guilt and the fear and the pain were still there. But she could see his love for her shining through also.

"I have a request, if that's all right," she said as she took a step toward him

His brow furrowed. "If you have a waffle iron I could make that. I've been told my waffles are exceptionally light and fluffy."

She almost laughed at his earnestness. It had been a long tine since anyone had wanted to take care of her like this and it was nice. "I was thinking more personal. Maybe a kiss?" Her voice had gotten a bit husky.

"Oh! Oh. I think that could be arranged," as he pulled her into his arms.

For a second she felt like a weak-kneed 16 year old all over again but that immediately passed. What she really felt like was a 24 year old who had way too many regrets, but had finally come to the conclusion that some of those choices could not only could be forgiven, but could turn into something better. That was her last coherent thought for a very long time.

The End

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Author's Notes:
Rating: NC-17
Summary: When Angel unexpectedtly shows up at Buffy's door, she realizes how little she knows him and wonders if she ever did.
Notes: 1. Characters owned by ME, Joss Whedon and a bunch of people who aren't me. Commas and semi-colons owned by my lovely beta, TKP. As always she whipped this story into something a whole lot better.Angst owned by me.
2. Title comes from a song title meme I did a while ago. It's by Norah Jones and was suggested by midnightsjane. Hope you like the story you inspired.
3. A lot of people say that Angel and Buffy have gorown so far apart that there's no way realistically for them to be togther. I wanted to write something that dealt with that; this is what resulted.

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