What is Forever?

What is Forever?

By married_n_mich aka smiling
Author's Notes

The light of the day slowly faded around her. The sky took on the pink and orangish hues of dusk, bleeding into the dark blues and purples of night. She had been surrounded by darkness on the inside and now she was surrounded by it on the outside.

Buffy hadn't noticed exactly when the others had left. She just knew that they were gone now. She stood looking down at her mother’s grave, a small frown on her face.

It felt like a dream. A nightmare she couldn’t wake up from. How could her mother be down there alone in the dark? Parents didn't die before their kids grew up and didn't need them anymore. That was wrong, especially wrong for Buffy. Buffy was the Slayer. She shouldn’t have outlived her mother. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

She knew he was there before he said anything, but she didn’t have the strength to look at him. She didn’t think she had the energy to do much of anything. Her mom had been her strength.

“I'm sorry,” Angel said, coming up and standing next to her. He took her hand in his and squeezed it lightly. “I had to wait until it was dark.”

“I know.”

She couldn’t work up the will to turn her head. Her eyes remained fixated on the fresh grave. Her thoughts kept shooting in different directions, as if her memories were flashbulbs going off over and over again. If only this had been a night she was slaying, waiting for a newbie to rise.

The one here would never rise. She would be here forever. Alone. Ashes to ashes… Dust to dust.

Joyce.

Her mom.

Her strength.

Mommy.

Angel squeezed her hand again. “Let’s sit.” She barely felt the light tug on her hand.

They moved to the shelter of a tree not too far away from her mom. After he had taken off his coat and laid it on the ground, he guided Buffy to sit. As they rested their backs against the hard bark, Buffy curled her legs up under her. She didn’t want to be this close to the cool earth, the earth that cradled her mom in an entirely different way from the way that Angel was now cradling her.

Buffy’s eyes moved lazily and rested on the headstone, the image would be forever burned in her mind. Joyce Summers. Mother. Friend.

Angel led her head to his shoulder. She didn’t fight him, and she left it resting there. She began to speak before she even realized she was doing it. “The funeral was…” She sighed, trying to find her voice. “It was brutal, but it's tomorrow that I'm worried about.”

“What's tomorrow?”

She shook her head slowly. “That's exactly what I don't know. Up until now I’ve had a road map, things to do every minute having to do with mom and how she was doing and trying to help her out in any way that I could.”

“Tomorrow the stuff of everyday living resumes.”

“And everybody expects me to know how to do it, because I'm so strong.” She couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of her voice.

“You just need some time. I'm sure everybody understands that.”

“Time's not the issue. I can stick wood in vampires, but mom was the strong one in real life. She always knew how to make things better. She always knew what to say. What to do. I’m not strong enough. I can’t do it without her.”

“You’re stronger than you think. You'll find your way. I mean, not all at once, but…”

She shook her head from side to side, her vision becoming blurry. She couldn’t cry. If she started now she’d never stop. “I don't know. I keep thinking about it, when I found her… If I had just gotten there ten minutes earlier…”

“You said they told you it wouldn't have made a difference.”

“They said probably wouldn't have made a difference. The exact thing they said was probably. I haven't told that to anyone. I couldn’t admit that it was probably my fault.”

“It’s not your fault, Buffy. You couldn't have done anything different. You know that.”

She rolled her eyes. “I didn't even start CPR until they told me to. I fell apart. That's how good I am at being a grownup.”

“Buffy--”

“I can’t do this. It’d be okay if it was just me I had to worry about. But Dawn…”

“Look, its okay. I know you don't feel like it now, but you are strong, Buffy. You're going to figure this out. And you have people to help you. You don't have to do this alone.”

She didn’t have an answer for that, so they sat in silence; Angel’s arms around her, adding some comfort, the body heat she had was leaching into him and making him as warm as she was.

She wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but when she glanced up at the sky she noticed that it had begun to lighten up a little. “It's gonna be light soon.”

“I know. I can stay in town as long as you want me.”

“How's forever? Does forever work for you?” She turned and looked him in the eyes. “I’m sorry. That's a bad idea. I'm seriously needy right now.”

“Let me worry about the neediness. I can handle it.”

“I don’t know if I can.”

That’s when he looked at her the way he used to. It woke up all the butterflies in her stomach. Made them stretch their wings and dust off their cobwebs. She couldn’t help herself. She leaned in and kissed him softly. She needed to feel safe and loved. And if anyone could do that for her now, it would be Angel.

“Thank you,” she said, pulling her head back.

“For?”

“Being here. It helps.”

“I meant it when I said I’d stay.”

“I know, but I’m scared.”

“Scared of what?”

“What’ll happen when it’s time for you to go away again.”

“So they can’t have sex and enjoy orgasms together?”

“‘Enjoy’ being the key word in that sentence,” Xander told Anya as they lay in bed. “Angel, anyway.”

As soon as they had gotten back from Joyce’s funeral and every night thereafter, Anya had dragged Xander to the bedroom. The entire process of death and funerals had effected her a lot more than he would’ve thought possible after everything she had done and seen in her thousand-plus years.

“I still don’t understand any of this.” Her hand traced his brows. “And you punched a wall and you cried. You have muscles, and get sweaty, and help me have multiple orgasms, and yet you cry.”

“That’s what makes us human, Ahn.”

“I want to know one thing, Xander.”

“What?”

She placed her hand over her royal blue satin covered heart. “When will my chest stop feeling so heavy?”

“You’re feeling what is commonly referred to as grief.” He sat up and leaned against the headboard. “It’s different for people. They handle it different.”

“How?”

“Some people hit things. Some people cry all the time. Some people act like nothing’s happened. Some keep changing their clothes. Others drink. Some eat.” He glanced down at her. “Some people lose themselves in sex.”

“And some people do all of it.”

He nodded his head. “Yeah, some people do all of it.”

“Angel’s staying?” Spike asked Dawn. “Are you sure? Soul-boy's s’posed to be staying away from big sis, you know.”

“Like I don’t know that?” Dawn said. She had enough on her mind without getting into the petty rivalry of Spike and Angel. It wasn’t her fault that Buffy didn’t love Spike or want him around her.

She pulled another outfit out of her closet and stuffed it into her suitcase. She needed to hurry. She had already spent too much time in the house and it was starting to take its toll and if Buffy knew that she had invited Spike back into the house…

Her eyes were still red from crying, and she was having a hard time focusing due to lack of sleep and the puffiness that ensued, but she was glad Spike was with her.

Dawn didn’t like being at the house. If she listened really hard, she could still hear her mom in the kitchen humming while she was cooking or hear her feet on the stairs yelling for Dawn to help her put laundry away.

She rubbed at her eyes. “If it helps Buffy having him here… She’s so sad all the time. Maybe Angel will make her happy again. People need to be happy right now. In any way they can get it.”

“It’s not Buffy’s happy I’m worried about,” he muttered, rummaging through his pockets. He pulled a cigarette out.

“You’re not lighting that in here. Buffy’ll know you were in the house.”

“I know,” he said, shoving it in his mouth unlit. It didn’t stay there long, he yanked it back out and started fiddling with it with his long, pale fingers.

She looked at the sweater in her hand. It was Buffy’s and Dawn noticed, not for the first time, the small tear in the hem.

Leave it in your room, Dawn. I’ll sew it up and Buffy’ll never know. It’ll be our secret.

Dawn shook her head and threw the sweater on the floor. “I can’t do this.” Without warning, tears began to flood down her already tear-streaked cheeks. “She can’t be gone. What am I going to do?”

She didn’t see him, but she felt him. Spike rushed to her side and pulled her into a hug. “Shhh, Bit. It’ll get better.”

She pulled away from him. “I don’t even know how to sew. Monks can’t create a person who knows how to sew?” She kicked at the discarded sweater. “And why does everyone keep telling me everything will get better? They don’t know. How do they know? Maybe it won’t ever be any better. Maybe it’ll suck forever!”

“It won’t,” he said softly.

“How do you know?” The pained look in his eyes told her that maybe he did know. “I’m sorry.”

His lips quirked into a slight smile. “No need to apologize, Niblet. It is what it is.”

“Will you stay with me until I finish packing?”

He glanced out the window and then at the blanket that had been tossed haphazardly onto the bed. “As long as you need me, pet.”

This time she hugged him.

“I think it’s good that Angel’s staying,” Willow said as she folded Dawn’s sleeping bag. “Buffy’s been so stressed out lately. And with Joyce…” The cracking of her voice stopped her. Joyce had been more of a mom to her than her own mother was, and they all felt the same way. She couldn’t believe that it had been almost a week already.

“You’re right, sweetie.” Tara took the sleeping bag out of Willow’s hand and laid it on the bed. Willow’s lips tugged into a small smile. Tara could always make her feel better. Safer. Loved. As Tara took her hands in her own, Tara said, “When my mom died…”

“You didn’t have anyone.”

“Right.” Sadness flickered across Tara’s face, a sadness that broke Willow’s heart. “But Buffy has a lot of people who care about her, that love her, and will protect her. Especially Angel, from what I’ve heard. I think they know better than to, well, you know.”

“There’s no way Buffy would chance going back there again. Too much has happened.” When she thought of that time, Willow was overwrought with sadness, and she was afraid her tone might reflect that. But if it did, Tara made no mention.

“When is Dawn supposed to be back?”

“Spike’s with her. She was packing up some more clothes and then he’s bringing her back to the dorm since we have class.”

“Buffy still doesn’t know, does she?” Tara glanced out the window.

“Spike would pretty much do anything for Dawn. He’ll take care of her. And I hate to admit it, but it’s probably a good thing. With Buffy being…”

“It’ll get better,” Tara said.

“But when will it?”

“I don’t know, baby.”

Buffy couldn’t believe Angel had agreed to stay at the Sunnydale Motel. It was so beneath him. She just added the fact of his self-sacrifice to the list of things for her to feel bad about.

“It’s the not best place, but they don’t ask a lot of questions,” she said.

“I only sleep here. It isn’t so bad,” he said, unlocking the door. “This is where Faith stayed isn’t it?”

“For a while.” Buffy didn’t feel like getting into the entire Faith discussion. It was still a painful place for her, and she had enough pain to deal with at the moment.

“I know the house would be more comfortable for you, but…” She figured having him staying at the house would be a really, really bad idea, especially with Dawn not being there much anymore. Buffy wanted him there for more reasons than she could count, but she didn’t really want to be there anymore either. How could she blame Dawn?

“It’s fine,” he said.

“It was either this or Spike’s crypt and I figured that would be an even worse idea.”

“This is fine, Buffy,” he said. “You’ve felt guilty about this for almost a week. Don’t worry about it.”

She saw her own concern and pain reflecting in Angel's eyes. There were no words for how much she'd missed him or how much she needed him there. He'd stayed. That fact warmed her for a moment, but then her grief crept back in to cover her like a shroud. “I’d appreciate it if you hugged me right now.” Was that tiny voice really her?

He pulled her into his arms and she rested her head against his strong chest. The lack of a heartbeat registered briefly. Her mom’s heart wasn’t beating anymore. She wiped a lone tear from her eye and then pulled away.

“I should probably go.”

“Dawn?”

She shook her head. “No. She’s staying with Tara and Willow still. Home isn’t so homey anymore. Too many memories.”

“You shouldn’t be alone.”

“I’m fine. I’ll go and get some sleep,” she said, although she knew that it was a lie. A teeny-tiny lie, but a lie nonetheless.

“In time, you'll have some good memories and they won’t hurt so much.”

“So I’ve been told.” She glanced toward the door. “Guess I should go.”

He feathered kisses across her eyes, and then her lips. “You know where I am if you need me. Are you sure you don’t want me to walk you home?”

She tipped her head toward the ratty green curtains that covered the lone window. The sun had begun to peek around the edges. “Not thinking it’d be a good idea.”

He followed her gaze. “Right. Try to get some sleep.”

“That’s me. I’m all about the sleep.”

“I haven’t seen her,” Dawn said as she dusted the shelves at the Magic Box for what felt like the hundredth time.

“What do you mean you haven’t seen her?” Giles asked.

“I haven’t been back to… I haven’t seen her. Not like she shows up around here anymore.” She didn’t have the energy to talk about Buffy. It had been almost a week since she'd seen her sister with all the avoidiness going around. Buffy never showed up at the Magic Box, and if Dawn wasn’t at the shop, she was at Spike’s crypt. Not like Buffy would ever go there looking for her.

Giles pushed his glasses further up his nose. “When are Tara and Willow supposed to be here for you?”

“You mean my babysitters?” She stopped dusting. “After class. I think Willow’s gets out around 9:00 o’clock. I’m not sure about Tara.”

“No!” Anya said, coming out from behind the counter, a book in her hand. “You must keep dusting. Dirty merchandise is bad. It won’t sell. Selling is good.” She showed Dawn the book she had in her hand. “This one on witchcraft is old, but it’s not dusty and I’m sure it will sell for a lot of money. Willow found it most enjoyable.” She looked at Giles. “I can’t believe you let her look at it without purchasing it first.”

Dawn rolled her eyes. “I’ve been dusting for over an hour, Anya. I don’t think there’s anything left for me to dust.”

Anya took the duster out of her hand, tossed the book on the counter, and then ran into the back room. Dawn looked at Giles and gave him a ‘What was that all about?’ look. He shrugged his shoulders.

Anya showed up not a minute later with a broom in her hand.

“Then sweep. Keeping you busy is good. Then you won’t be tempted into indulging in underage sex or alcohol.”

“What!” Dawn was beginning to think everyone had gone crazy.

“That’s what Xander told me. People who are grieving should be kept busy. If they aren’t busy, they drink too much and have too much sex – not that those are bad things under the right circumstances – but I think you’re too young.”

Dawn grabbed the broom out of her hand. “I don’t drink and I don’t have sex. But apparently I’m addicted to cleaning!”

“Dawn, Anya is only trying to help, er, in her own way.”

“Everyone is trying to help in their own way,” Dawn said, walking over to the ladder that led to the second level, climbing with the broom in one hand. “The only thing that could help me with my grief right now would be my mom and I don’t see that happening anytime soon.” She glared down at Giles and Anya. “I’ll be up here - sweeping!” And with that, she disappeared over the edge.

All Buffy could think about was her mom. The things they had done, but most of all the things they would never get to do.

When Buffy forced herself to think of something else, her thoughts would rest on the guilt she had about Dawn. She should be spending more time with her. But what could she do if Dawn refused to come back to the house? The house that shouldn’t be left empty, because Mom wouldn’t have wanted it that way.

And Angel. Thank god he hadn’t left. She wasn’t ready to be alone. She wanted her mom and she doubted that would change anytime soon. Her life had become a series of movements. She barely paid attention to anything going on around her. Sleep would have been a nice reprieve, but that didn’t seem to be happening too easily lately. She could probably count on one hand on many hours she had slept since her mom had. Since her mom had…

God, she couldn’t even think it, let alone say it. Whenever she thought beyond the current moment, she felt nothing but a hole in her gut and a weight on her chest. Not having her mom in her life? How was she going to manage that? Whenever she thought about the next minute she’d have to face without her, she knew she couldn't make it. Then that next moment would come, and emptiness would greet her once more. The bitter circle went around and around. It all needed to stop and let her off the hellish ride.

Buffy is that you?

Her mom’s voice echoed as a not too distant memory as Buffy walked in the front door of 1630 Revello Drive.

“It’s me,” Buffy whispered. “I’m home, Mom.” Why can’t you be here too?

Buffy stood in the foyer, not knowing where to go. She glanced in the direction of the dimly lit front room. If she stared really hard at the couch, she could see her mom lying there.

Mom? Mom? Mommy?

Tears began to freely flow down her cheeks.

“I’m very sorry for your loss. There’s nothing you could have done.”

Buffy collapsed to the floor.

Angel sat in a battered brown, fabric-covered chair in his dingy motel room staring at a blank television screen. The motel wouldn’t have been his first choice, but it was the closest motel to Buffy’s house and that’s what was the most important to him.

And he had lied when he told her that all he did was sleep there. He hadn’t slept at all out of worry about his girl. She tried to act strong, but he knew better. They'd patrolled together enough since he’d come back to show that her reflexes were off, and on more than one occasion he'd had to cover her back because she hadn’t been aware of the immediate threat around her. It scared him, and the thought of what could’ve happened if he hadn’t been there was keeping him awake at night - in a matter of speaking. No way he’d be leaving anytime soon.

He glanced around the dilapidated room. It was hard to miss all the smells that lingered: sex, blood, old booze, some he couldn’t quite name, and others he didn’t want to.

The long and short of it? He’d feel better if he was with her, but he also knew what could happen if they spent that much time together, under the same roof, alone.

He was jarred from his thoughts by a soft knock on his door.

“What?” he called out. Not wanting to sacrifice himself to the rays of sunlight.

“It’s Giles, Angel. I was wondering if I could have a moment?”

“It’s open.”

Giles walked into the room and the Watcher's discomfort showed in every line of his body. Things had never been great between them, and Angel didn’t expect that to change anytime soon. Thing was, he couldn’t blame Giles.

“Sorry to bother you,” Giles said. “But I’m concerned about Buffy’s welfare.”

“That makes two of us.” Angel motioned for the even more worn out chair that sat opposite him.

“Thank you.” Giles sat down. “Joyce is, um, was a wonderful woman.” He cleared his throat before he continued. “And we all miss her terribly. My main concern now is for Buffy’s state of mind and Dawn’s safety. Unfortunately, they’re both in jeopardy if Buffy is not in top form. Glory has been quiet, but that’s not bound to last.” He took a deep breath. “It’s sad to say, but I’ve seen it happen before. Death in a family can separate the surviving family members. It appears that Buffy and Dawn are growing apart and they’re creating their own individual support systems in the process. This is not good for either of them.”

“I'm not going anywhere. Buffy will be safe as long as she’s with me.”

“Thank you. Of that I have no doubt. My only remaining concern would be…” He stopped talking and stared into Angel’s eyes. “How safe are you from her?”

“Safe?”

“Are you capable of perfect happiness, Angel?”

Angel flashed back to the last couple of months: Darla, Dru, Wolfram and Hart, Holland Manners, working for Wes, and right then and there he realized something he should have known all along. “Even if… You’d all be safe and so would the soul.”

“I hate to press matters, but what makes you so sure?”

“I'm too far away from the one moment of true happiness, too much has happened. Happiness, true or otherwise, is no longer in my vernacular.” Besides, Buffy was going through too much. How could he achieve ultimate happiness while she was grieving? She was emotionally vulnerable and Angel wouldn’t do anything to make it worse. He couldn’t do that to her.

Giles studied his face for a moment. What exactly he was looking for, Angel wasn’t sure. “Has it been that bad?”

“Worse.”

“Anything I can do to help?”

Angel shook his head, surprised at the offer of help. It was the last thing he’d expect from the Watcher. “I can handle it. Besides, you have enough to worry about.”

Giles heaved another long, drawn out sigh. “That would be an accurate statement.” He looked around the room. “I thought this place was bad when Faith stayed here. I believe it's even more deplorable now.”

“I’ve seen worse.”

“Why are you staying here? I would assume you could afford something better.”

“I wanted to be close to Buffy.”

Giles tilted his head in acknowledgment. “As you are well aware, Dawn is having trouble going back to her home and Buffy has been staying there alone. I do not think that is in her best interest.”

“I was thinking along those same lines.”

“If you agree, and I can’t see a reason why you wouldn’t, I would like you to move into Buffy’s house with her. This is no time for her to be alone.” Giles stood and began pacing, not meeting Angel’s eyes.

After a moment, and in a tone that was almost a whisper, Giles said, “I believe you are the reason why Buffy hasn’t totally withdrawn from life in general. She needs time to deal with her grief and her loss. She needs your help and protection to do that.”

It wasn’t until that moment that Angel realized he had been waiting for the Watcher’s approval all along.

“I’ll be out of here as soon as I can,” he said.

Angel waited until nightfall, but it felt longer. He cursed the presence of the sun, as he often did, but this time it meant more. It was keeping him from somewhere he really needed to be. From the only person he’d ever loved.

The little he had brought to Sunnydale was already packed. His car had been left abandoned since he had driven into town and it was waiting where he had left it. Angel wanted to surround Buffy with the familiar, so they hadn’t driven anywhere.

Throwing one last look at the room to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything, he slammed the door shut. As it rattled in its frame, he vowed never to set foot in the crappy, rundown motel again for any reason.

The drive to Buffy’s didn’t take him long. He grabbed his bag, walked up the front walk, and knocked on the door. “Buffy?” No answer. He knocked a little louder. “Buffy?”

When he still didn’t get a response and he didn’t hear any noises coming from inside the house, he tried the door handle and found that it opened easily. There were worse things in the night than uninvited vampires. He couldn’t believe that she hadn’t locked the door, but then again, it shouldn’t have surprised him.

He hoped that his invitation hadn’t been revoked somewhere along the line. He pushed the door the rest of the way open and walked into the darkened house without any resistance.

It was too quiet. He didn’t call out her name this time. She was here. He could smell her.

He dropped his bag and ran up the stairs. Her scent was everywhere so he was having a hard time pinpointing exactly where she was. All the doors were open, their interiors dark, except one. One door was closed.

“Buffy?” he whispered. He turned the knob slowly and walked into Joyce’s room.

The soft glow of a nightlight barely illuminated her delicate features. Buffy was sitting on the bed, holding a pillow tight to her chest.

His hand fluttered over the light switch, but he knew the effect it would have on them if the room were suddenly bathed in light. He dropped his hand.

She had a distant look in her eyes, and didn’t move when he came into the room. Next to her on the bed was a picture of her with Dawn, and Joyce in happier times.

“Have you slept?” he asked. She shook her head. He put his fingers on the fringe of the pillow and started to pull it out of her hands. She resisted at first, and then let it go. He tossed it over her head where it landed with a soft thud by the headboard.

“Come on.” He entwined her fingers in his and guided her up.

Her eyes met his and she whispered, “I don’t know what to do.”

“That’s why I’m here.” He scooped her up in his arms and she fell against his chest. As he made his way out of her mom’s room, Buffy’s arms snaked up around his shoulders and then he felt her hands clasp together behind his neck.

Her hair was in the same ponytail it had been in the night before, though it was messier now. And it didn’t take much for him to realize that she was wearing the same clothes. The black circles under her eyes were now even more pronounced, if that were possible.

He carried her into her own room and laid her softly down on the bed. He went to the windows and yanked the curtains closed. Once the window was secured, he started going through her dresser drawers looking for something she could sleep in.

He handed her an oversized t-shirt he had found. She wouldn’t take it.

“I need to patrol,” she said.

“You don’t.” He pushed the garment towards her again.

“I do,” she said wearily. “That’s what I do. I save strangers. I can’t save my mom, but I can save everyone else.”

Angel sat down on the bed next to her. “She’s gone, Buffy. You can’t bring her back and she’s not coming back. She would want you to go on.”

It began with a little quiver in her bottom lip. She dropped her head into her hands, trying to stifle her sobs. “I can’t.”

“You can.”

“I’m lost.”

“I’ll help you find yourself again.”

“I’m scared.”

He held her close. “I know you are, but you’ll make it through this.”

He felt her lips move against his chest. “I love you. I always have,” she whispered.

“I love you, too, Buffy. Nothing will ever change that.” He put his fingers under her chin and tilted her face towards his. “Nothing.”

She offered no resistance as Angel helped her get undressed. He tossed her soiled clothes to a corner and then pulled back the covers. She eased herself between the sheets and laid her head down on the pillow.

“Stay,” she said.

“I’m not going anywhere.” He eased himself next to her. Her head found his shoulder, and her arm went around his waist, holding onto him tightly.

Somewhere in between the pain and the tears, he watched as she slowly drifted off to sleep.

“Are you sure you didn’t sell it?” Giles asked as he flipped through the inventory. “Or misplace it perhaps?”

“Yes, I’m sure, and I do not misplace merchandise. We sell it, we get money for it. There is no record of that book being sold,” Anya insisted.

“How can you be sure?”

She reached behind the counter and pulled out a ledger he had never seen before.

“Here,” she said, shoving it at him.

He began skimming the pages. “You keep track of everything sold and how much we received for it in your own ledger?”

Anya nodded her head enthusiastically. “It helps me.”

“Helps you how?”

“It helps me keep track better. My ledger is subdivided by item type. Not sales date. I can go to one page and see all the books we’ve sold, when they sold, and how much they sold for. It helps me when I order new merchandise. And once the new stock comes in, the more we’ve sold, the more I know I can increase the price the next time.” She smiled. “It’s helping our income steadily increase.”

Giles was amazed. He knew Anya was a tremendous help around the shop, but he had never realized just how much of a retailer she had turned into.

“Excellent work, Anya. Truly. I’m impressed.”

She smiled radiantly. “I don’t think I’d be lying if I said I like making money more than I ever liked being a vengeance demon.”

He laughed. “And for that we all are thankful.”

She grabbed the book out of his hands and then licked her finger. She began turning the pages rapidly. “Now, if you look at the page titled Books on Witchcraft, you’ll notice that the History of Witchcraft, Volume 2,225 is not listed. This can only mean one thing.”

“It was stolen.”

“Yes. Someone has stolen a means to our greater revenue.”

“But who?”

“If I knew that I might be tempted to wreak a little vengeance.” She put the book back under the counter. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten how.”

“Spike!” Dawn yelled, walking into his crypt. It had become habit. If she wasn’t at the Magic Box and if Tara and Willow were in class, she’d tell Giles she was hanging out at the dorm. Then she’d come and see Spike instead. “I need your help.”

Dusting and sweeping at the Magic Box hadn’t been a total loss. Anya was right in her own used-to-be-a-vengeance-demon kind of way. Being there had begun to alleviate Dawn’s grief, but not in the way Giles and Anya thought it would.

“With?” He was sitting in his chair, reading a book – shirtless – again.

She wondered if the only time he wore a shirt was when he wasn’t in the stupid crypt. She walked up to him, grabbed the book out of his hand, and then dropped the one Anya had left haphazardly on the counter at the Magic Shop on his lap. “This.”

The History of Witchcraft? What would I want this for? In case you haven’t noticed, Bit. I’m a vampire. Not into the mumbo-jumbo.”

“A half-naked vampire,” she muttered, pointing at the old and worn leather bound book. “Go to the page I bookmarked.”

“I’m in my home - I’m allowed to be half-naked.” He began flipping through the yellow-tinged weathered pages, stopping at the bunny bookmark. He looked at it and then at her, smirking. “Nice bunny.”

She rolled her eyes. “Never mind the bunny. Read.”

She watched as he skimmed the pages. His eyes widened when he came to the part she was waiting for him to read.

No way, Bit.”

“I can’t do it alone. I need your help.”

“You don’t know what you’re messing with.”

“Pretty simple if you ask me. One little spell and everything goes back to normal.” She crossed her arms in front of her. “It’s Sunnydale. Why wouldn’t it work?”

“That’s your argument? Forget it. It is Sunnydale and that’s exactly why it won’t work.” He slammed the book closed. “I can’t help you with this.”

“I’m going to do it with or without your help, Spike. If you’re not going to help me…” She waited a beat. “Do you know where I can find a Ghora egg?”

He got up and walked toward her. “You’re not going to listen to me are you?”

She shook her head adamantly. “Only if you tell me where to get the egg.”

“You don’t know what you’ll get back, Bit.”

“Yes I do. Now are you going to help me or not?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“There’re always choices, Spike.” She grabbed the book out of his hands. “So what’s yours?”

“Buffy!” Angel cried, and then she hit the ground hard, landing on her back.

The ringing in her ears made it hard for her to hear much, but his voice, no matter how distant, always seemed to reach her.

When she turned her head, she saw a flurry of movement steadily getting closer to her. A stake… One, two, three, four vampires dusted, their remains floating down around her, blurring her vision, their ashes landing in her mouth.

She began to cough and spit, and when she was pretty sure she had gotten the foul tasting vampire remains out of her mouth, she wiped her lips with the back of her hand. A stick, or maybe even her lost stake, was painfully digging into her back.

“Are you all right?” Angel asked.

“Just dandy.” She reached out for him. “Help me up.” He took her hand and hauled her to her feet. “Did you get the number of that bus?” When he didn’t respond, she said, “Joke.”

“I’m not doing this anymore.”

“Not doing what anymore?”

He dropped her hand. “Watching you try to get yourself killed.” He turned and stalked away.

Ignoring the pounding in her head and the ache in her shoulder, she caught up to him. “What in the hell are you talking about? I was blindsided.”

“Buffy, you’ve been blindsided or almost blindsided every night this week. You’re distracted. I’m not saying I don’t understand, but you keep this up and you'll--”

“And I’ll what? End up just like my mother? Is that what you were going to say?”

He shook his head. “No. That’s not what I was going to say.”

“Then what?”

“Then you’ll get yourself hurt. Not dead. Hurt. I won’t let you die. Ever.”

His eyes softened and her anger deflated as quickly as a pin-pricked balloon. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“Don’t apologize,” he said. “Just be careful.”

She saluted him, and a small smile toyed at her lips. “Honest! I’m all about the careful. My middle name is careful. Careful Buffy. That’s me.”

“Then it’d be your first name.” He shook his head and smiled. “What now, Careful?”

She looked around the cemetery. The newbies were gone and there didn’t seem to be much more of anything else around. “Another sweep of downtown and then call it a night?”

“Sure.” He grabbed her hand again. “Let’s go.”

“Where did that Doc guy say it was again?” Dawn asked. The memory of visiting the creepy old guy with the tail and black eyes was something she wanted to forget.

Her eyes kept darting around the darkened tunnel. She had every reason to be jumpy, but she hated the feeling. And the goose bumps that had taken residence on her arms weren’t too comforting either.

“Oh, right, sorry. There’s a sewer entrance near Tracy Street. From what he said, the opening's not hard to miss,” Spike said. “Wait.” He stopped in front of a spot where the wall looked all slimy and gross.

Spike was in front of her with an axe in his hands. Not like he’d let anything happen to her. Maybe she was goose-bumpy because it was a lot cooler than she thought it would be in the sewers. She should’ve packed a warmer jacket the last time she had been home. She could just about kick herself. That had to be it. She was just cold. Her chills had nothing to do with where she was or what she was about to do.

“Is that it?” she asked.

He peeked into the hole. “I believe it is, Bit.” He turned and looked at her. “You better let me snatch this egg thing on my own.”

“No way. I'm going.” She was not waiting alone. Besides, it was her idea and she wanted to help.

“No you are not. We don't know what's down there.”

“You need me, Spike. Somebody's gotta get the egg while you distract the Ghora. Now come on.” She didn’t wait for him to answer. She pushed past him and walked into the hole that was more a stony-arched, moss and vine covered doorway than anything else.

“Well, what do you know? I got a Bitty Buffy on my hands,” he mumbled.

Dawn heard what he said and glared at him over her shoulder. But she turned away from him quickly. She needed to focus on the stairs in front of her. No way she wanted to trip and fall down. Not here. Not ever. She tried to stay away from the vine-covered stone walls. She didn’t even want to think about what could be hiding behind all that darkened greenery.

About halfway down the stone stairs she heard growling. She stopped walking. It had to be the Ghora demon, but Spike urged her forward with his hand on the small of her back.

Once they reached the bottom of the stairs, she couldn’t see the demon. Spike tipped her chin up. The huge lizardy thing was sleeping on a pile of rocks. It wasn’t growling, it was snoring. Dawn heaved a sigh of relief. He tugged on her hand and guided her to a wall, where they both ducked behind the vines. Okay, now she knew what was behind the vines: she and Spike -- and some other things she didn’t want to acknowledge that kept skittering around her head.

“Doesn't look so bad,” she whispered.

“Humph,” Spike said. “Wait till it wakes up. That's usually when the bad starts.” He pointed to a spot beyond the demon.

Dawn followed his finger and saw the nest. There were several eggs in it, about the size and shape of footballs, but pink with purple spots. “I can't get to those eggs unless it moves. No way,” she said. “I can’t do it.”

Spike grinned wickedly. “I'll make it move. You just be ready.”

He moved past her and strode toward the demon, raising his axe high in the air. “Hey! Ghora! Heads up!”

The demon startled and three heads shot up. They looked like those lizards from the old movies Spike liked to watch once in a while. Too bad this one was real.

His eyes grew wide. “Right then. Heads it is.”

Dawn took a step toward the nest and at the same time Spike hit one of the heads with his axe. The demon roared loudly and the head in the back struck out at him.

Dawn rushed toward the nest and tried to grab an egg, but the demon’s tail lashed out at her. She jumped back, and just missed being hit. The demon turned and was now glaring at her.

“Hey! Get away from her!” Spike yelled as he hit the demon once more with the axe, recapturing its attention.

That gave Dawn the break she was looking for. She rushed to the nest again, grabbed an egg, and ran back to the base of the stairs. “Spike! Come on! I got it!”

“That's it. It’s been fun,” Spike said, giving the demon one last thrust. He buried the axe in one of its necks and then rejoined Dawn at the bottom of the stairs.

Dawn rushed up the stairs. She wanted to get away from the loud, wailing demon behind her. It didn’t take long for her to trip over a loose vine and lose her balance. It felt like slow motion. She stumbled and then she saw the egg falling from her hand. Before she could reach out to grab it, it hit the hard stairs with a cracky-splatty sound. The egg burst open and bright blue, icky, oozy stuff started dripping down the stairs and on top of her shoes.

“Leave it, Dawn,” Spike said, coming up behind her.

“I can't.” There was no way she came this far to quit now.

“It’s too dangerous and I haven't got-”

She ignored him. Her focus was entirely on getting a new egg. She ran around him and rushed back toward the nest.

“—a weapon,” Spike finished.

Using her remaining energy, Dawn began screaming at the top of her lungs. One of the demon’s heads was now inches from her face. A stone came whirling past her ear. She risked a glance behind her and saw Spike throwing rocks at the demon's head. It turned to strike out at Spike with its tail. There was contact and Spike was knocked off his feet.

Seeing her chance, Dawn raced past the demon and grabbed another egg. She was just about to yell at Spike when the demon bit him in the stomach and he cried out in pain. He shoved the demon off, jumped up, and backed away quickly.

“Now, that's it,” Spike shouted, holding his side with one hand. The other hand grabbed the axe from the demon’s neck. He slammed the blue bloodied axe into the demon’s chest. The demon screamed and blue blood started dripping out if its gaping wound. Spike tried to get the axe back, but Dawn knew they had to get out of there while they had the chance.

“Spike!” she yelled.

He looked at her, at the axe, at the demon, and then back at her again. Shrugging his shoulders, he ran and joined her at the stairs.

“Sorry,” she said, looking at his stomach wound.

“Did you get it?”

He had ignored her apology, but she held up the egg anyway.

“Don't be sorry then.” He tipped his head at her and smiled.

She met his smile and then followed him up the stairs. As they neared the top, the wailing of the demon grew more distant and Dawn’s heartbeat slowly began to return to its normal state.

Buffy opened the door of the Magic Box and jumped when the bell chimed. She’d never get used to that stupid thing.

Giles looked up from behind the counter and smiled. “Buffy!” he said, walking toward her. “You haven’t been in here in--”

“A while,” Angel finished for him.

Buffy smiled weakly. “I’m the getting-back-in-the-saddle girl. Where’s my bike?” She knew how hollow her words sounded. She just hoped that Giles would know she was trying and let it go.

Giles squeezed her arm lightly. “I’m happy to see you.”

This time she thought the smile might’ve actually touched her eyes. “I’m happy to see you, too.” And she meant it. It seemed like forever since she had last been here. She looked around. “Is Dawn here?”

“No. She’s with Willow and Tara. Is that why you’re here? For Dawn?” he asked, taking off his glasses.

“No. I just wondered. Why are you still here?”

Walking to the counter, he said, “I’ve been working on some inventory. It appears we have been the target of some thievery; an ancient tome to be exact. And with Anya’s exemplary recordkeeping skills I might be able to determine if anything else has been taken. You just missed her and Xander by the way.”

“You actually got Anya to leave?” Buffy asked, amazed. Anya didn’t love anything more than working at the Magic Box. Well, except for that one thing.

“It had nothing to do with me actually,” Giles said. “Xander whispered something in her ear, her cheeks turned a wonderful shade of pink, and then they ran out the front door.”

“Young love - or even lust. It’s all good,” Buffy said, forgetting that Angel was there for a moment. She quickly amended her statement. “Or bad. Very, very bad. People shouldn’t even think about it, let alone dream about it.” She shook her head quickly from side-to-side.

“We’re here,” Angel said, smiling at her and then turning his attention to Giles, “to use the training room.”

“Ah!” Giles said. “Don’t let me interrupt then.”

A strange look passed between the two men and it bugged Buffy that she didn’t know what it meant, but she was too tired to ask. Maybe she’d get it out of Angel later if she tried really hard.

“When did you two get so civil?” she asked Angel as they walked to the training room.

“What do you mean?”

She decided to drop it. It was probably nothing. Not like her instincts were in top form. “Nothing.” She tossed her coat into a corner and kicked off her shoes. “You’ve never seen this room have you?” she said, switching on the light. “They made it especially for me.”

“It’s nice. Like the dummy.”

She smiled. “Xander made it for me.” She caught the look on Angel’s face. “Be nice.”

“I’m nice!” He put his hands up in mock surrender.

“I need to change my clothes. I’ll be right back.”

When she returned a few minutes later, clad in a tight white cotton tank top and a pair of black sweatpants, she stopped dead in her tracks when she realized that Angel had ditched everything but his pants. He was sparring with the dummy, his bare feet pounding soundlessly against the mats. He looked fresh as a daisy. Stupid vampires and the no sweating thing. She knew she’d look a mess in less time than it took to say, ‘Hey sexy-man-with-the-bare-feet’.

She cleared her throat and he stopped. She tossed her bag into the corner where it landed on top of her shoes and coat. “Didn’t take you long,” she said.

“It’s a guy thing.”

“You think?” She stretched her arms over her head. “T’ai Chi? I need to stretch out.”

“Do you remember?”

Memories of the mansion, in a previous life for them both, came rushing back: her choppy movements and his smooth ones. “I remember.”

She motioned for him to join her in the middle of the room. She wanted to make sure they had plenty of space for their movements.

“Ready?” he asked.

“Yes.” She took a deep breath and brought her arms up, and then down to her sides – like a small child who was pretending to be flying, but slower. And then she moved both arms in front of her, her left arm crossing over her right one. She looked at Angel out of the corner of her eye and saw that he was making the same moves.

In no time at all, her muscles began to relax. The motions felt fluid to her, like liquefied butter. She slowly moved her arms back up above her head, and then back down one at a time, palms up. She drew them together again and then crossed her left arm over her right one. She and Angel were in sync and remained in constant motion.

Not missing a beat, her arms stretched back over the top of her head and when she brought them down this time, she swept her right one and then the left one out in front of her stomach. As the motions were repeated, Buffy felt more relaxed than she had in days. She could actually feel the tension in her back start to drain away.

She turned her head and looked at Angel. The last time they had worked on these moves had been a lifetime ago.

He caught her looking at him; she refused to say she was staring, although that’s exactly what she was doing. She couldn’t help herself. She loved to watch his elegant movements and she had missed this, missed him.

They were elbow to elbow and she wasn’t sure who moved first. One minute they’d been standing and in the next they were against each other. Bodies entangled, arms guiding exploring hands, and kissing. The kind of kissing that made you lose your breath. The kind of kissing that you felt all the way down to your toes. The kind of kissing that usually led to…

She pulled away.

“What?” he asked.

“Soul.” One word said it all.

He put his hands on his hips and looked up at the ceiling. “Intact.”

“How can you be sure it’ll stay that way?”

He lowered his head and looked into her eyes. For a second she didn’t think he was going to respond, but then he did. “Perfect happiness? I don’t think that’s possible for either of us.”

His words struck home. He was right. Too much had changed over the years: the naiveté of youth no longer existed, the awareness of the curse did, life in general. There wasn’t any such thing as perfect happiness anymore was there?

“When did everything go so wrong?” she asked. “When did we become so alone?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know.” He took a step toward her. “I’ve never felt alone when I’m with you, Buffy. And I know I never will.”

“But you went away,” she said, her voice shaking.

“It was for the best. You know that.”

“What about this time?”

“I’ll go away again.”

She wrapped her arms around herself. “I knew that.” And she did know it, even though she didn’t want to believe it. One morning she’d wake up and realize that it was the day that he wasn’t around anymore.

“I know you did.”

“What now?”

“Now?” He moved a step closer to her. “I’m going to kiss you again.”

Much to Giles’ pleasure, History of Witchcraft, Volume 2,225 was the only major item missing. There were a few others that could not be accounted for: incense, candles, a small cauldron, conjuring powders, a vial or two, but his inability to locate those items did not cause any additional distress. What Giles did not need in his life right now was something else to worry about. He could handle one missing tome.

“I liked listening to his take on it.”

Giles looked up as the bell on the door rang. Tara and Willow walked into the Magic Box hand-in-hand.

“How can you say you liked listening to him babble, Tara?” Willow asked. She turned toward Giles and waved, quickly turning her attention back to Tara. “The man knows nothing about witchcraft and magic.”

“So why didn’t you correct him?”

Willow smiled. “I didn’t want to make him look bad.”

“That seems to be quite the interesting conversation you two are having,” Giles said, closing his ledger. Their timing couldn’t have been better. He was done with his audit, and it was time to close the shop for the night.

“Our professor was discussing that book on the history of witchcraft,” Willow said. “I read it and I liked it.” She shrugged her shoulders. “He didn’t explain it very well, and he had a lot of his facts wrong.”

“His lecture was purely subjective,” Tara added.

“I think it should’ve been more objective,” Willow said. “Hello, college course.”

Tara looked at Giles. “But Willow wouldn’t question him.” She turned back to face Willow. “Sweetie, you’re smart and you know your stuff. You could’ve called him on it and the entire class would’ve been on your side. How could they not be?”

Willow beamed. “You put it that way…”

Giles cleared his throat. “You don’t happen to still have that book in your possession by chance?”

“The history book?” Willows asked, shaking her head. “No, I left it on the table.”

“It was a long shot,” Giles said, heaving a sigh. “Well then, what brings you two here today? Stocking up? Need anything?”

“Oh, no. Nothing like that. We’re here to pick up Dawn.”

“Dawn?” Giles asked, the confusion he was feeling blatantly obvious in the tone of his voice. “Dawn isn’t here. I thought she was at the dorm with the two of you.”

Willow’s eyes grew wide in shock. “No. She told us that she’d be hanging out here since we had a late class. She didn’t want to be at the dorm alone after dark.”

“Where could she be?” Tara asked. “Spike? Maybe she’s at Spike’s?”

“Dawn has specific instructions not to go to Spike’s crypt day or night,” Giles said. “She knows full well that she is to either be here or at the dorm with the two of you.”

What he had said began to sink in. How could he have been so blind? “Good lord, she’s gone to Spike’s,” Giles said, taking off his glasses.

“We need to find Buffy,” Willow said.

“That will be relatively easy since she is here.” Seeing the confused look that resided on both witches faces he added, “In the training room with Angel.”

“Finally! Some good news. Wait here. I’ll go get them,” Willow said.

“Buffy’s not going to be happy,” Tara said as Willow left the room.

“It’s not Buffy I’m worried about,” Giles said, glancing nervously in the direction of the training room.

†  

Angel’s hands were holding Buffy’s hips. In one swift motion, he lifted her up and she wrapped her legs around his waist.

Lost in the sensations of his kisses and caresses, she uttered an audible, “Oomph,” when she found herself sitting on top of the pommel horse, her butt firmly planted in between the two handgrips that she immediately grabbed onto.

The thought of Giles being in the next room flitted briefly through her mind, but was quickly dispensed with when she felt Angel’s hands moving gradually up her scantily clad inner thighs. A quick pass over the part of her that was currently the most sensitive made her breath catch in her throat.

His fingers lingered briefly and her breathing began to speed up. The somewhat familiar feeling, that wasn’t at all unpleasant, began slowly in the pit of her stomach.

“Angel.” She held onto the grips even more tightly as his hand dipped under her waistband, leisurely making its way toward the spot he had vacated for what felt like too long to her already. “Please.”

He pulled her head back to his lips. Kissing her roughly, tongues entwined. She met his kisses with her own, hers being beyond greedy and all-consuming. But once his hand found her, waiting eagerly for his touch, she pulled away from his mouth. His free arm tightened around her, securing her in place atop the leather seat.

After teasing her mercilessly, he began to rub her clit more intensely. Each rub was followed by a quick, little squeeze and a slight thrust into her with his thumb. Her hips bucked on the first squeeze and thrust, she moaned on the second, she whimpered, “Shit,” on the third, and then she came on the fourth.

She closed her eyes and bit her lip so she wouldn’t cry out. Even in the moment of her quick release, she knew that they weren’t alone and that there were ears not too far away from them. That didn't stop her hands from working loose the button of Angel's pants.

“Buffy!” Willow shouted running into the room and stopping dead in her tracks. “Um, I’m sorry to interrupt, but something has, um, come, um, up. We figured you might want to know ASAP and all.” Willow seemed to be studying every weapon mounted along the walls.

Buffy took a deep breath to try to steady her breathing. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to complete a coherent thought let alone a sentence. Angel lifted her down, setting her on the ground. Her legs were still shaky, so she leaned against him.

“Who’s we? And what?” Buffy asked, her embarrassment taking the back seat to the red flag that hoisted up in her head. She knew her best friend, and Willow was radiating worry like a beacon.

“We being Giles, Tara and me. The what is…” She took a deep breath. “He still has his soul, right?” Her voice shook as she asked.

“What?” Buffy asked, pushing her hair out of her face. “Yes. It’s fine. Now what’s going on?”

“Dawn is missing.”

Unsteadiness forgotten, she ran toward Willow. “What do you mean she’s missing?”

Willow took a step back. “She’s not missing-missing. We’re just not sure where she is.”

“Where is she supposed to be?” Angel asked, stepping up along Buffy.

“Here,” Willow began. “Well, if you ask Tara or me, it’d be here. If you ask Giles it would be with me and Tara. With us, where we were supposed to be before we came here.”

“Come on.” Without waiting for a reply, Buffy brushed past Willow and walked into the other room, grabbing her shoes, bag, and coat on the way.

“Buffy,” Giles began.

She didn’t let him finish. “We'll split up to find her. There aren’t many places she’d go without any of us. She’s not dumb. I don’t want to hear from anyone until she’s found. Understand? If Glory’s…” She felt Angel’s hand on her elbow. “Let’s just find her.”

“What do you suggest, Buffy?” Tara asked.

Buffy took a deep breath. “Tara, Willow? Go back to the dorm and wait to see if she shows up there. Try a locator spell or something. Giles, stay here. She’s gotta show up someplace familiar sooner or later.” She looked at Angel. “Can you check Spike’s crypt for me?”

“Not a problem,” he said.

“If she’s not there and he is, ask him where she could be.” She hated to admit it let alone say it, but she had no choice. “Maybe Spike knows something we don’t.”

“Got it.”

“I’m going back to the house. Maybe she’s found that home is the best place for her to be after all.” She glanced at Angel. “We need to find her.”

“We will.”

“Osiris, giver of darkness.”

Dawn checked the book once more. When she was satisfied that she understood what she had to do, she spread the white sheet out in the middle of her bedroom floor, surrounded it with candles, and then placed the borrowed cauldron from the Magic Box in the middle of it all. Once everything was in position, she began to light the candles that were also borrowed from the Magic Box.

Once they were lit, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the vial she had been hiding all day. The Gohra egg she and Spike had stolen was the key ingredient to the spell she was about to cast, and she wouldn’t have been able to do it if it weren't for the stinky thing.

She owed Spike a lot and she’d never forget what he did to help her. She’d always be grateful that he had stood by her, and that he hadn’t forgotten about her like some people had. He was probably going to be really mad at her for doing the spell without him. She had promised that she wouldn’t do it alone, but this was something she needed to by herself.

She popped open the vial and poured some of the sticky substance into her hands. Once they were covered with the blue goop, she began drawing a circle around the cauldron.

“Taker of life. God of gods. Accept my offering. Bone. Flesh. Breath.” She completed the circle. “Yours eternally.”

She picked up the picture of her mom that she had set aside. After a quick kiss, she placed it next to the cauldron. “Bone. Flesh. Breath. I beg of you.” The only light in the room was the flickering of the candles, but she hardly noticed the impending darkness. “Return to me.”

“Dawn!” Angel shouted, storming into Spike’s crypt.

“What in the bloody hell?” Spike asked as he dropped a bottle he had in his hand. It crashed to the floor, leaving a puddle at his feet. “I was just about to have a nip, you dolt.”

“Where’s Dawn?”

“Not here. Which come to think of it, you'd have figured out on your own if you would’ve opened your eyes.”

“Where is she?”

“How should I know?”

“From what I hear you’ve been spending a lot of time with her. Why in the hell are you hanging around with a fourteen year old girl, Spike?”

Spike laughed and arched a brow. “And how old was the Slayer when you two started hanging out together, Angelus?”

“That’s different.”

Spike shook his head. “Why is it different?” He clapped his hands together. “Oh, I know. It’s because it’s you, isn’t that right?”

“I don’t have time for this. Have you seen Dawn or not?”

“No.” A flash of concern fleeted across his face. “Is she missing?”

“No, Spike. She’s not missing. I just came here so we could carry on this idiotic conversation.”

“Well, we need to find her.”

“You think?”

“Have you checked the witches’ place?” He glanced around as if looking for something and then he snapped his fingers. “The Magic Box?”

“They’re covered. Where else?”

“What about the house?” Spike asked.

“Buffy’s on it.” Angel’s patience was beginning to run as thin as an ice-covered pond on a warm spring day. “Where else?” he repeated.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“Like I said you bloody pouf, I don’t know.”

“Dawn?” Buffy called out as she walked in the front door of her house. “Are you here?” She was greeted by silence.

She couldn’t really blame Dawn for spending a lot of time at Willow and Tara’s or at the Magic Box for that matter. But taking off and not telling anyone where she was going again was stupid, no matter what Buffy had said to the others, and Dawn knew better than this. Buffy tilted her head toward the stairs. She thought she had heard something coming from Dawn’s bedroom. After tossing her coat on the railing, she headed up the stairs.

“Dawnie?” she asked, walking to Dawn’s door. “Are you in there?” When she still didn’t get an answer, she opened the door and looked inside. Dawn was sitting on the floor with a cauldron and a spell book.

“Bone. Flesh. Breath. I beg of you. Return to me.”

“Dawn! What are you doing?”

She didn’t answer. Instead she got up and ran past Buffy, heading down the stairs.

Buffy saw a picture of her mom sitting next to the cauldron. A spell. Her mother. “Oh god.” She picked up the picture and raced down the stairs after her sister.

Dawn was standing at the bottom of the stairs. Buffy had come to a crashing halt so she wouldn’t ram her.

“She’s coming! She's coming home,” Dawn cried as she turned to face Buffy.

“You have no idea what you're messing with!”

“Yes I do!” Defiance shown in her eyes. “I-I know. It'll be her.”

“People come back wrong. You can’t change stuff like this. It won’t do any good. You have to stop it. Reverse it.” Buffy grabbed her arm. “How do you stop it?”

Images of decomposed corpses with pale flesh and sunken eyes kept asserting themselves in Buffy’s mind. The image of her mom looking at rest in the pale blue dress kept getting replaced by images Buffy didn’t want to think of it. The thought of her mom coming back zombie-like horrified her. She felt sick to her stomach.

“No!” Dawn wrenched free and grabbed the picture out of Buffy’s hand, running into the front room.

Buffy followed her. She lowered her voice and said, “Dawn, you know this is wrong. You know you can't let this happen. Not to Mom.”

Dawn’s voice was barely above a whisper. “But I need her. I don't care if she… I'm not like you, Buffy. I don't have anybody.”

“What? Of course you do. You have Willow, and Tara, and Xander, and even Anya. And don’t forget Giles! And you have me!”

“I don't have you. You won't even look at me. It's so obvious you don't want me around.”

Buffy took a step backwards. “That's not true.”

The sorrow in Dawn’s voice was quickly replaced by anger. “Yes it is. Mom died, and it's like you don't even care about anything. Especially me.”

Buffy was shocked, tears blurred her vision. “Of course I care. How can you even think that?”

“How can I not? I never see you, and you haven't even cried. You've just been running around like it's been some big chore and that you’ve got mom’s mess to clean up.”

“Dawn. I’m so sorry.” Dawn glared at her. “I’ve been… I've been busy, because I have to--”

Hide. She almost said. She had to lose herself. What if Buffy failed Dawn in the way she had failed their mom? What if Glory won? Buffy could then bury her sister right alongside their mother. It was too much. And with Angel being there, taking away her pain… taking away her focus.

Buffy’s hands began to shake. How could she tell Dawn what she’d been going through? How could she tell her the truth? It wouldn’t be fair. Dawn had been through enough and it wasn’t even close to being over yet.

“No! You've been avoiding me and spending all your time with Angel. Does he still have his soul or did you slut it up so he’d lose it again?”

Buffy’s hand shot out before she even knew it, and she slapped her sister, hard, across the face. When she realized what she had done, she brought her hand back and covered her mouth in horror.

Images of the training room flashed before Buffy’s eyes. Dawn’s words stung, but Buffy had to make her see how wrong she was being, and that they weren’t true.

“I'm not avoiding you!” Buffy said in a hushed voice. “I have to do these things, and Angel’s helping with the slayage and I need to keep moving, 'cause… 'cause when I stop, then… she's really gone. And with Glory…” Her shoulders slumped in defeat. Her sister had made her admit something she would never allow herself to think too hard about. She scrubbed at her eyes, hoping it would make the tears that threatened to spill go away. “I'm trying Dawn. I am really trying to take care of things, but I don't even know what I'm doing. Mom was the one that always knew. Not me.”

Dawn’s palm rested where Buffy had slapped her. “Nobody's asking you to be Mom.”

Buffy’s voice cracked. “Well, who's gonna be if I'm not? Huh, Dawn? Have you even thought about that? Who's gonna make things better?” She didn’t know if Dawn could understand what she was saying. Tears of sorrow and frustration that Buffy had held in check around her sister couldn’t be restrained any longer. Openly crying now, she asked, “Who's gonna take care of us?”

“Buffy…”

Why did life keep getting harder? Buffy tried to will the emotions away, but they had a mind of their own and it only made her cry harder. “I didn't mean to push you away, I didn't. I just, I couldn't let you see me. Oh god, Dawnie, I don't know what I’m gonna do. I'm so scared.”

“Buffy…”

There was a knock on the front door. “Mommy?” Buffy asked in a small voice, turning towards the sound.

Maybe it would be okay. Maybe the spell would work and their mom would be standing there. Mom would come back home and Buffy wouldn’t be in so much pain anymore. She wouldn’t need to be responsible for everything. Everything would go back to the way it was, the way it should be, and she and Dawn would have their mom back. And then Buffy could send them both away and keep them safe. Keep them safe from Glory…

Buffy put her hand on the door knob.

“Buffy! No!” Dawn screamed.

Buffy didn’t hear her younger sister shout a warning. All Buffy could hear was the warmth of her mother’s voice in her mind. Of days gone past when they all were here and a family. Her mom was a blessing. What kind of God would bring her back wrong?

Buffy opened the door.

“How does she plan on doing it?” Angel asked.

“She had some old spell book.”

“The missing book Giles was talking about,” Angel said more to himself.

“What?”

“Someone used their five-fingered discount and swiped a book from the Magic Box. Must’ve been Dawn.”

“I didn’t ask where she got it.”

“I can’t believe you agreed to help her resurrect Joyce.”

“She was hurtin’.” Spike shrugged on his long, black leather duster.

Angel turned and walked out of the crypt. “Some things you don’t mess with, Spike. You know that. There’s always a price.”

“Maybe the price wouldn’t have been too high.” He fell into step next to Angel.

“The price is always too high,” Angel said.

“And I didn’t really think she’d go ahead and do it, especially without me there to back her up."

“What do you mean ‘back her up’?”

“That’s what I do. I back up the Bit. No one else seems to care what she’s been doing lately.”

Angel spun on his heels, lowering his face inches from Spike’s. “What in the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Spike only laughed. “You and the Slayer been too busy slaying,” he mocked, complete with air quotes. “I can smell her all over you. Still have your soul I see. Figured the Slayer would be a might fine lay. Or maybe it’s because you’ve lost your touch somewhere along that path of redemption you’re on.”

Angel wasn't aware of moving, but Spike had gone from standing in front of him to being sprawled out flat on his back. Angel rubbed his fist. “You’re an idiot and you have no idea what in the hell you’re talking about.”

Angel didn’t get two steps before Spike shoved him from behind, hard. Angel flew headfirst into an old tombstone. It crumbled to pieces.

“I’m the idiot? That’s a laugh,” Spike said.

Angel jumped to his feet, oblivious to the dust covering his black trench coat. He was going to kick Spike’s ass once and for all, but before he could get a word out Spike was in his face.

“There’s a hell god that can kick the Slayer’s ass running around trying to get her hands on the Bit,” Spike shouted, his voice rising. “Dawn hasn’t seen big sis in over a week. And you’re busy getting the Slayer off. Who’s the idiot, Angel? It’s not me. Maybe you should take a look in the mirror, you git! There’s a lot going on here and you’re a bloody distraction. Distract the Slayer enough and either she or the Niblet will end up dead. That what you want to happen?”

Angel’s first instinct was to tell Spike how full of shit he was. Other retorts tumbled through Angel’s brain like leaves on a windy day, but he couldn’t grab onto one of them. He didn’t owe Spike an explanation. He didn’t need to justify his actions to the younger vampire.

Angel hadn’t done anything wrong. As he stormed toward his car, justifying his actions in his own head, he briefly wondered why he was justifying them at all.

Angel rattled the front door of the Magic Box, and cursed when it wouldn’t open. “Is he even in there?”

Spike pushed him out of the way and peered in the glass door. “Light’s on. Rupert’s there. Come on.”

Spike led Angel around the side of the building and stopped when they reached the alley. He tried the side door and when he found that it was locked, he moved on.

“Man’s gotta have ways,” Spike said as he heaved himself up on a dumpster and pushed open an upper window above the training room. “‘S never locked.” He climbed through and dropped to the floor.

Memories of earlier in the evening played through Spike's mind.  Envy had coursed through his veins when he had first seen them together. Angel treading the waters that Spike wanted to swim.  Seeing her wrapped around him…  

"You weren't here earlier, were you?" Angel asked as he dropped down next to Spike.  

"What makes you ask that?"  

Spike had imagined time and time again the way she’d look when she came. Watching her with Angel had been too much, so he adjusted his pants that had grown a litter bit tighter, and then he had left. There was no way he was going to stay for the big ending. "I wasn't anywhere near here."  He had headed back to the cemetery, walking slowly, envisioning the Slayer in his mind. He kept putting himself in the picture -- the Slayer holding onto him, her looking into his eyes while she climaxed, his hands all over her, and how it would feel for it not to be a dream, for her to love him. That's what had inspired the drink, until Angel had barged in.  

"No reason," Angel said.

“Rupert!” Spike shouted as they walked out of the training room.

Giles’ popped his head over the railing of the upper level. “What on earth? Have you found Dawn?”

“No,” Angel said. “But we have a good idea on what she’s planning to do.”

“What?” Giles asked as he descended the ladder. “What is she up to?”

“Bringing Joyce back.”

“Oh, dear.” He stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes going wide at the shock.

“You heard ‘im,” Spike said. “Seems the Bit got her hands on a certain spell book--”

“History of Witchcraft,” Giles said.

“That would be the one,” Angel said.

“I should’ve known,” Giles said.

“We need your help,” Angel said. “We’re not sure where she is or even if she’s begun the spell, but we need to know how to--”

“Stop her,” Spike said. He felt bad. What had he been thinking? If anyone could’ve talked the Bit out of doing something so stupid, it would’ve been him.

“I’m not familiar with the spell,” Giles said as he took off his glasses, placing them on the counter. “And without the tome…” His words trailed off.

“What?” Angel asked.

“What he said,” Spike said, tipping his head toward Angel.

“Willow,” Giles said.

“Willow?” Spike asked.

“She’s read the book for one of her classes. If anyone knows, it would be she.”

Spike walked to the counter and pushed the phone toward the Watcher. “Call her.”

“Willow said the only way to break the resurrection spell that required the Gohra egg would be to rip up the picture used to summon the, uh, the dead one,” Giles said.

“That’s if Dawn followed the spell to the letter. Right?” Angel asked, making a sharp turn. He squealed the car’s tires. He made another turn and the tires squealed again. “Sorry.”

“Getting there in one piece would be very nice indeed,” Giles said. “Perhaps I should have driven.”

Spike laughed. “I’ve seen you drive, Rupert.”

“I have gotten quite used to the new car, Spike.”

“What are you two talking about?” Angel asked.

“Rupert’s mid-life crisis. A shiny-red li'l German thing,” Spike said.

“He’s got a girl?” Angel asked, not really paying attention to the conversation, his thoughts foremost on getting to Buffy’s house.

“Blast! It’s a car, not a girl… that is to say, a woman. I got a new car. And it’s not that new, Spike. I’ve had her for a few months now and I’m adjusting quite nicely, I might add.”

“What if they’re not here?” Angel asked as he turned onto Revello drive.

“The location spell wasn’t needed. Buffy and Dawn will be there,” Giles said. “In order for the spell to work Dawn must perform it near the location where…”

“Joyce died,” Spike said

“Just pray we’re not too late,” Giles added.

The shadows in her mind were replaced by an array of colors that emanated from her hand as it returned to her side.

Understanding was just out of her line of sight. It was there, but she couldn’t see it clearly. Her memory was smoke, and as soon as she turned to look at it, it drifted from view.

…very little pain.

The darkness in front of her was suddenly replaced by a bright light.

“Mommy?”

Shadows.

“Mom?”

She shook her head trying to clear her thoughts. “I’m not supposed to be here,” she said. The knowledge burst to the forefront of her mind like an explosion. She didn’t know where she was supposed to be, but here felt very wrong.

They guided her into the light and she covered her eyes.

“You’re back. You’re home.”

She lifted her hand and ran her fingers down the dark haired girl’s cheek. They were wet. She brought her own fingers up to her cheek and found that her face was not.

“I don’t know why I’m here,” she said. Her thoughts were cloaked in shadows and the fog.

“I brought you back.”

“Where have I been?” she asked. She wasn’t aware of the confusion that marred her otherwise pristine and pale face. “I’m not supposed to be here.”

Was she conscious?

“Says who? You have every right to be here. You should be here. What happened… it shouldn’t have happened.”

“I don’t remember,” she said, trying to peer into the darkness of her mind. To open more doors that she no longer had access to.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “You’re home and that’s what counts.

She's not... mine, is she?

When she tried to focus on one thing it made her head ache. An ache that was familiar and not at all welcome.

…brain tumor, but she had an operation and she's fine now.

She raised her hand to her head. “My head hurts,” she said.

“Come sit down.” The one with the light-colored hair spoke for the first time.

She looked around as she was into pulled into another room. “I don’t want to be here.” She pulled her hand away and walked back toward the first room.

Sh-should I make her warm?

She bypassed that and went into the next one.

“I don’t feel well,” she said.

The dark-haired one pulled out something hard and she sat down on it.

“What’s wrong, Mom? Does your head still hurt?”

…she's important. To the world. Precious. As precious as you are to me.

“You are precious.” Shaking her head she added, “But I feel… wrong.”

“It’ll pass.”

“Dawn.”

“It’s got to pass, Buffy.”

Buffy, uh, I'm gonna ask you something… if I'm being crazy you just tell me, okay?

“What happens if it doesn’t, Dawn?”

Oh, my sweet brave Buffy. What would I do without you?

“Do you know where I’m supposed to be?”

“Yes,” Buffy said in a whisper. “I have a pretty good idea.”

“Can you send me back there?”

“I don’t know how,” Buffy confessed.

“I do,” Dawn said. “But I don’t want to.”

The coroner's office will come by and take her in…

“I miss you, Mom,” Dawn said.

“I don’t think I can do it, Mom,” Buffy whispered.

I'm bagging her.

She wanted to rest. She wanted to lay her head down, close her eyes, and rest.

We're gonna incubate.

“Help me go back.”

She's cold, man.

She stood slowly, and rested her hand on the table. It no longer exhibited the colors it had earlier.

I'm sorry, but I have to tell you that… your mother's dead.

“Send me back.”

Dawn looked at a picture she had been holding in her hand. “We need to do it with this.”

“This is me.”

“Yes. If it gets torn up…”

I found her…

She handed the picture to Buffy. “You have to do this.”

“I can’t.” Buffy began shaking her head back and forth. Tears flowed freely down her cheeks.

That you'll love her like I love you.

“I love both my girls.”

“I love you, Mom,” Buffy said.

She grabbed Buffy’s other hand. “But you need to let me go back. Please. Let me go. It’s okay. It’s what I want.”

“Mom…”

“Please.”

Buffy tore the picture.

The door stood wide open.

“This can’t be good,” Angel said, slamming the car door shut behind him.

“Buffy?” Giles said, walking in the front door. “Are you here?”

Spike was torn over what to do. As far as Buffy was concerned, his invitation had been revoked, and if the Bit had indeed gone and done what he feared she had, she’d be in enough trouble without adding him to the mix.

Angel and Giles looked over their shoulders when he stopped just outside the opened front door.

“Bloke needs an invitation,” he said, having made his decision, although staying outside was killing him.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Giles said, disappearing into the house.

Angel looked at Spike, his hand on the door knob. Instead of slamming it in his face like Spike suspected he would, Angel nodded in his direction and followed Giles.

Just because Spike wouldn’t go into the house, didn’t mean he couldn’t hear what was going on. If the drapes hadn’t been drawn, he could’ve seen as well.

“Buffy are you okay?” Angel said.

She whispered so softly, it was hard distinguish what she had said.

“Dear Lord,” Giles said. “What exactly happened, Dawn?”

Spike was beginning to think that staying outside wasn’t such a good idea after all. And as his inner debate raged on, Dawn came running out of the house screaming, “I’m sorry!”

He tried to grab onto her arm, but she was too quick and scooted past him.

“Dawn!” Buffy yelled, coming out of the house, Angel and Giles on her heels.

“I’ll get her, love. Don’t worry.” Spike didn’t wait for an answer. He took off after the Bit, no longer concerned about whether or not he would ever be permitted in the Summers’ house again.

Buffy’s first thought was to tell Giles and Angel that the spell hadn’t worked. That it hadn’t worked or that Dawn had decided not to go through with it. But as she looked into the eyes of the two most important men in her life, she realized she couldn’t lie.

Her mom had been right. The living room wasn’t all that comfortable anymore.

“The spell worked,” Buffy said in a small voice, walking into the dining room. “Mom came back.” She sat down at the table and Angel crouched down by her, taking her hand in his.

“Oh, Buffy,” Giles said, sitting in the chair next to her.

She put up her other hand to stop whatever it was he was going to say. She felt numb on the inside, and if she had to listen to one more ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘Oh, Buffy’ she was going to implode.

“I didn’t get back in time,” she continued. “Dawn had already finished the spell by the time I got here.” She couldn’t look at Angel. She didn’t need to say what she was thinking. She had no doubt that he would be able to put two and two together and figure exactly when Dawn had cast the spell.

“She smelled like a baby,” she said offhandedly. “You know, the powder moms use on their babies?” She cleared her throat, unable to go on for a moment. She felt a tear sneak past her defenses, but she ignored it. “She was very pale and she was so confused. I wanted her back so badly, but once she was here, it was wrong. She knew it. She didn’t want to be here with us. She wanted to go back.”

“The picture was destroyed?” Giles asked.

Buffy pointed to the scattered remains on the floor. “It was the only way.” She looked up and met his eyes. “She asked me to do it. She told us she loved us and then asked me to do it. Why did she ask me to do it?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know why, Buffy,” Giles said.

“It wasn’t your fault, Buffy,” Angel said.

“Wasn’t it?” she asked. “I don’t know anything anymore.”

“It wasn’t,” Giles confirmed.

She leaned back and closed her eyes, trying to get the pictures out of her head. She wanted to remember her mom the way she had been, not as a body and not as something that had come back from the grave.

“Nothing makes sense anymore,” she said. “She was fine. Clean bill of health and then she died.” She opened her eyes and looked at Giles. “Why does that happen?” He shook his head. She didn’t expect him to have an answer. “It has helped me realize some things, though.”

“Such as?” Giles asked.

“I need to focus on what’s important. I need to take care of things that are within my ability. I need to protect and love my sister. I need to figure out exactly what Glory’s up to and how to stop her.” She took a deep breath. “And I need to accept the fact that Mom is gone and she’s not coming back. And with everything that’s going on…”

She took a deep breath and continued, “Life is hard, Giles. And it doesn’t seem to be getting easier.” Standing up she said, “Now I’m going to find my sister and make sure she’s all right.”

Turning and walking away, she knew she hadn’t given either man time to say much of anything. That was the way she wanted it. She just couldn’t listen or explain anything anymore.

“Leave me alone!” Dawn cried, pushing him away. She began to run faster.

“Bit, I’m not leaving you alone,” Spike said, jumping in front of her, forcing her to stop. “You really need to stop running off like this. ‘S not safe, not with Glory around.”

Dawn heaved a sigh. “I’m so tired, Spike.”

“You’re too young to be this tired.” He put his hand on her arm and guided her back toward her house.

“I’m really old, remember?”

“You know what I mean,” he said. He didn’t want to bring up anymore pain for her, but he had to know. “Did the spell work?”

Dawn met his eyes for the first time. “It worked, but she didn’t want to be here.” Her shoulders slumped. “I think wherever she was before she came back was a lot better than this place.”

“And that surprised you?”

“I still miss her.”

“So do I,” he said. “She was a fine woman. And so are you.”

She beamed. “A woman?”

“You’re old, remember?”

She laughed at that. “Thank you.”

“For?”

“Everything.”

“Can you do me a favor?”

“What?” she eyed him suspiciously.

“Don’t tell big sis that I helped you. I don’t feel like getting staked anytime soon.”

She rolled her eyes. “I would never tell her Spike.”

“One more thing?”

“What?”

“Take away my invitation into your house.”

Her eyes went wide with shock. “Why?”

“Buffy doesn’t want me there and the last thing I want to do is upset her more than she already is.”

She nodded her head. “I’ll have Willow and Tara help me.”

“Thanks, Bit.” He put his arm around her shoulders. “Now let’s get you home where it’s safe.”

“I’m always safe with you, Spike.”

“Shhh! Not so bloody loud!” He glanced around worriedly making sure no one was within earshot.

“Sorry.” She raised her voice. “You’re the big bad, Spike.”

He tried to ignore the amusement in her voice, but he couldn’t, so he smiled in return.

Buffy was too tired to be angry, and when she met Spike at the end of her driveway with Dawn in tow the only thing she could say to him was, “Thank you.” She had no sarcastic barb for him.

“My pleasure,” he said as he turned and walked away.

“I’m sorry, Buffy,” Dawn said.

Putting her arm around her sister, she pulled her close. “So am I.”

Dawn pulled away and met her eyes. “You’re not mad at me?”

Smiling weakly, Buffy said, “No. I can’t be. Part of it was my fault. I shouldn’t have left you alone so much.”

“I think she’s happy,” Dawn said, walking in the front door.

“I think she is, too.” And Buffy meant it. Maybe where her mother was now was a lot better than Sunnydale. Buffy sighed. She suspected anywhere would be a lot better than Sunnydale.

“Are you all right?” Giles asked.

“Yes,” Dawn said. “But I’m very tired.”

“Are you going to stay here tonight or do you want me to call Willow?” Buffy asked.

“I’m home, Buffy. That’s where I should be.” She threw her arms around her and then ran upstairs. “I need to clean up my room and then go to bed.”

Buffy suddenly remembered what was in Dawn’s room. “Do you want me to do it?”

Dawn stopped halfway up the stairs. Turning to Buffy she said, “No. I can do it.” And then she was gone.

Buffy heaved a sigh and looked at Giles. “I’m tired.”

“As well you should be,” he said. He hugged her and Buffy felt loved. “I shall go. You know where I am if you need me. I’ll inform Willow and Tara on what has happened.”

“Thank you.”

“Angel,” Giles said, extending his hand. “Thank you.”

Angel had been quiet up to that point and it didn’t change. He simple shook Giles’ hand and nodded his head.

“I will talk to you both tomorrow,” Giles said, and then he closed the door behind him.

“Are you okay?” Angel asked.

“As okay as I can be,” she answered honestly.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Stay.”

“That, I can do.”

As they lay in bed, Angel took her face in his hands and gently pushed the hair away from her cheeks. Their noses barely touching, he looked deep into her eyes and said, “I love you.”

She pulled him close. After placing a chaste kiss on his lips, she said, “I love you.” And she began to run her hands down his chest, feeling his sinewy muscles.

“Buffy…”

It had been too long and there was no doubt in her mind that she needed him. She was alive and she needed to feel that way. Just being able to touch him was more than she could take. She trailed her fingers over his stomach, and then down to his hips.

“Just promise me you won’t get too happy,” she said, almost in a whisper.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“Then I promise.”

She pressed him onto his back, moving on top of him. Grabbing the nightshirt she had been wearing, she pulled it over her head.

As soon as the cooler air touched her warm body, her nipples went hard. He brushed a thumb over one of them, and she groaned softly in pleasure.

After rubbing the palm of her hand over his penis, she smiled inwardly. Angel had emitted a little moan that was almost too quiet to hear.

“What?” she asked when she saw an amused expression on his face. Of all the expressions she expected to see, amused sure wasn’t one of them.

“You’re older now.”

Understanding what he meant, she smiled wider. “Yes I am.”

“More experienced.”

Shaking her head she said, “But not in a slutty way.”

“Of course not.” Sitting up, he enfolded her into his arms. “I forgot how good you feel.”

Burying her head in his chest, it felt as though he was all around her, his chest, his shoulders, his arms, his stomach, his eyes, and his mouth. She drank it all in. Sighing quietly as his hands began to trace small patterns over her body.

Closing her eyes enhanced the sensation of just being near him. She memorized the feel of him; from the coolness of his skin to the tautness of his muscles. As he trailed kisses down her neck, his arms tighten around her waist.

“Someone’s happy to see me,” she said, as she squiggled a little in his lap.

“You have no idea,” he said, a husky-tone seeping into his voice.

His fingers ran through her hair, and then wafted down her back, leaving goose bumps in their wake. Touching her skin with his cool hands made her shudder in anticipation. “That feels good.”

“It’s supposed to.”

“God," she whispered, and she tightened her legs against his thighs. His fingers traced her lips and she darted her tongue out to taste him.

Moving up a little when she felt his penis twitch beneath her, she let him slip partly into her warmth. The feel of him made her breath catch in her throat, and if she wasn’t careful, she would come too soon.

She didn’t want him all the way inside yet, she wanted the moment to last, but she still wanted to feel as much of him as she could. She began sliding up and down his hard shaft. Small shudders began to run through her body as his hardness slid across her clit.

She met his eyes as his hand clamped onto her wrist. He began moving her back and forth faster, harder. There was no missing the want and passion there.

After taking a deep breath, she leaned down and whispered in his ear, “Do it.” And then she bit the side of his neck, and ran her tongue over where his pulse point would have been.

They were in constant motion, and now he was grinding a little harder against her, seeking out her warmth. He slid inside her just a little and his hands cupped her ass, lifting her up.

He guided her as she began to lower herself down, gasping as she felt him fill her. Taking control, she slowed their union just as part of her screamed out to take him all at once. God, it had been way too long since she had been with him.

“Touch me,” she said.

He began stroking, squeezing, making her squirm. Pushing harder against his hand, she gasped as he rubbed at the same tempo she was now riding him. They were fully connected now and he was rubbing and squeezing the swell of her ass and rubbing and squeezing her clit in perfect rhythm.

She was overcome by uncontrollable shuddering, lost in the senses of how good it felt. Little currents started shooting out from the center of her body and she rode him harder. His rubbing continued and her breath burst out in shorter gasps.

“So good,” he moaned. Who knew those two words could be so hot?

"Angel,” she said, closing her eyes and focusing on the feel of him.

"Do you like this?" he asked huskily.

Using that tone made her even wetter. She tightened around his stiff member, smiling when she heard the moan that escaped his lips. She couldn’t hold back any longer. Crying out his name as she came, Angel continually fingered her. Thinking it wasn’t possible she felt another wave start to rush in. “No! I can’t!”

“You can.”

“Only with you,” she said, breathily, grabbing his wrists and holding them down as she rode him. His thrusting hips met hers eagerly.

"Fuck." He lifted her up and down, over and over again. "You feel so good," he moaned, moving faster with each thrust.

The shorter the strokes were, the more intense they became. Clenching onto him with everything she had, each thrust built her up even higher.

Coming again, all feeling and control left her body, she went as limp as an over-cooked piece of pasta. If it weren’t for the fact that Angel was still holding onto her and thrusting into her powerfully, Buffy would’ve passed out.

With a sudden “Shit,” he came fast and hard.

His head fell back against the pillow, and Buffy collapsed on top of him, praying that the moment would last as long as it could. The tension that had invaded her body and had taken up residence had been kicked to the curb, if only temporarily, and she was enjoying a feeling of contentment that she hadn’t felt in a long time.

Contentment. Happiness.

Pushing herself up on her elbows, she looked him dead in the eyes and asked, “You still with me?” She examined his face, and when a look of confusion and then understanding fluttered briefly across it, she knew Angel was still with her. She planted a kiss on his lips. “Just checking.”

“One can never be too careful.”

Snuggling up next to him she knew it wasn’t the right time, but then again, there would never be a right time.

“Thank you for staying,” she said. “But you know you need to go back to LA, right?”

“I kind of knew that was coming.”

“It’s not really a goodbye,” she said, wrapping her arms tighter around him, needing to keep her tears at bay. Crying would only make it that much harder. “It’s an ‘I’ll see you soon.’” After everything that had happened the thought of losing him…

“I know.” He heaved a sigh. “I kinda got used to being around, though.”

“I got used to you being around. But you’ll still be around, just not right here by me,” she said. “And we’re only a couple hours apart. And they do have that phone thing we can use. Besides, once I focus and figure out what to do… I mean how long can it take me to smack down a hell god with really bad hair?”

“I could stay and help, you know,” he said.

“It’s not forever. I’m trying to be optimistic girl here. Everything has been so crappy lately… I’m going with the odds. How much worse can it get?”

Epilogue

They decided not to stay for a drink at Caritas. The general consensus among Angel, Wesley, Gunn, and Cordelia was a desire to get back to the Hyperion. Fred wasn’t really sure what she wanted after being stuck in an alternate dimension for five years. Angel was just happy that the team was back together. It had been a long road… in more ways than one.

He pushed to the front of the crowd as they entered the garden court of the hotel. He was in a hurry to get back inside so he could call Buffy and tell her everything was fine, that they were all back now, and that they were going to get some rest.

"Trust me.  Tacos everywhere and… soap!" Cordelia said to Fred.

“I could get used to that,” Fred said. “Enchiladas, too. Right?”

“Ones not made out of tree bark,” Angel chimed in.

"Yo, that portal jumping is a fun ride.  We sell it to a theme park we could get paid!" Gunn said.

“Not using my car you won’t!” Angel was happy that his car had come through without a scratch. Who would’ve thought it would be possible to portal jump in a sedan?

Smiling, Angel said, “Okay.  Can I say it?  I wanna say it.” He was unable to keep the happiness out of his voice and he didn’t really care.

“Say what?" Wesley asked with a slight smirk on his face.

Angel pushed the double doors wide open and walked into the lobby. “There's no place like…”

Willow was sitting hunched up on one of the chairs in the lobby, looking like she'd just lost her best…

Angel was no longer smiling. “Willow?”

“What's…?" Cordelia asked.

Willow slowly got up, never taking her eyes from Angel. "It's Buffy."

The End

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Author's Notes:
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Buffy’s having a hard time since her mother’s death and only one person can help her through it.
Notes: Fic takes place in S5 of BtVS – a different take on Forever and what could’ve happened if Angel had stayed. Direct episode quoteage taken from www.Buffyworld.com. If something sounds/looks really, really familiar that would be the why.
Fic takes place in S5 of BtVS – a different take on Forever and what could’ve happened if Angel had stayed.
Direct episode quoteage taken from www.Buffyworld.com. If something sounds/looks really, really familiar that would be the why.
Thanks to the best betas anyone could ask for. If you enjoy this fic, you can thank Mommanerd and Spiralleds they made it so much more than it was. Oh, and if you don’t like it, well that’s because I didn’t take all their advice.

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