Chapter 4, Forgiveness

Author’s Notes: This is pretty much AU. Or maybe it’s AR. It’s vampires and Slayers, and based on canon but totally different. What’s the genre for that?

Still writing this one for Pamela… for the writing encouragement, the site design (I know it’s going to be great!), not to mention making me laugh until my sides hurt! And, I made Riley a standup guy here because I know she’s a Riley/Marc Blucas fan.

Thanks again too for all of you that send me feedback on this story and my others!

Okay – I don’t know if Doyle would actually write a letter, but let’s pretend, ok? ūüėČ

Rating: Adult; explicit sex

Disclaimer: Own nothing. All belongs to Joss, ME, Fox, et.al.

Pairing: B/A; some references to B/R.

Distribution: My site, EverySixSeconds; sites currently with permission to host my fics; all others please ask.

Originally posted: Oct 21, 2002


 

Nearly two weeks later Angel knocked on Giles’s door.

“Rumor had it you were never coming back to Sunnydale.” His expression reserved, Giles opened the door. He recalled their brief conversation before Angel left weeks ago.

“I didn’t expect to.”

“Willow told you about the curse, did she?” Giles had mixed feelings when Willow had told him what she had done. He’d been angry that she’d done it without telling anyone – she could easily have made matters worse, but, at base, he understood her reason.¬† And he had to agree that it would appear to make the appearance of Angelus much less likely and much more predictable.¬† Still, he didn’t invite Angel in.

As Giles retreated back into the room, Angel stayed near the door, taking note of the cool welcome. “You’re angry.¬† About what happened with Buffy?”

“No. But I am concerned about your intentions now.” Giles narrowed his eyes as he looked at Angel directly.

“I’ve come to apologize. To make amends with her.”

Giles lifted his brows and tilted his head. He’d suspected as much.

“But I can’t find her.¬† She wasn’t at her dorm room or at home.” Angel shifted his stance.

“Well then, maybe that’s a sign that this – you’re coming back here – is not a good idea.”

“I know what I did wrong.” Quietly, Angel replied. “After what I’ve been through, after what I’ve put her through – it changes your perspective. When you’re given a second chance, it would be a mistake to waste it. To not even try.”

“Why should I think it would be any different this time?¬† You may decide tomorrow or next week or six months from now that she needs sunlight or a normal life with a normal guy.¬† Just because you can make love to her, don’t think everything has changed.”¬† Giles, his love for Buffy unconditional as a parent, didn’t forget the things she had told him, the reasons why Angel had left her.¬† How she devastated she had been, both times. He wasn’t sure he could survive seeing that same pain in her eyes again.¬† “What about children?”

“Because I’m not the same. I believe I can have a future now. And I want that future with Buffy. If she wants children, then we’ll adopt them or something. There are ways to make it work. I want Buffy to share my life, if she’ll have me.”

“She may not.” Giles wasn’t so certain, but at the same time he wasn’t about to make it easy for Angel. His protective instincts were fully functioning.

“Let me see her. At least talk to her.”

Giles softened a little. Angel seemed so sincere, not reserved as he often was or even superficially charming, as he could be.

“I’m serious. Utterly and completely. I’ve even brought a diamond ring to offer her, along with my heart and soul.” Angel smiled slightly. “Actually, I should probably keep that.” When Giles said nothing, Angel continued. “I’ll show you, if you like.”

“Yes, well, I’m not sure Buffy will be so easily swayed. She’s worked hard at forgetting you these last weeks.”

“Then I’ll have to remind her.”

“You may have to do more than that. I might even suggest that you will have to beg for forgiveness. Not about anything you *did* mind you, but because you left her again.”

“Then I’ll do that.” Angel murmured softly, understanding what Giles was telling him.

“Her friends rather resent your treatment of her. You may need to convince them as well.”

Angel considered that for a minute before he took a deep unneeded breath. “Then I’ll do that too.”

Giles looked down at the ground and almost smiled. Almost, but not quite. The thought of Angel making friends with Xander was laughable. “She’s probably out with Riley, so don’t just expect to walk in and take her away.”

“That’s not my intent.” Angel bristled at the thought that she was still seeing Riley.

“You’ll have to convince Buffy, not me. But I’d stay away from the Initiative boys, if I were you. Nasty lot, that.” Giles’s lip curled in distaste as he thought of the things he’d heard about the Initiative in the last weeks.

“They’re still in operation then?”

“Yes, although Buffy’s managed to get inside and has begun to investigate. Rumors about 314 seem to be scaring the demons in the area. And I do have to say, I don’t like Professor Walsh, not at all.” Giles stopped abruptly.

Angel didn’t like the idea that Buffy was involved with them, but he wouldn’t make the mistake of attempting to tell her what to do or not do. He could only try to help her, if she’d let him. He waited for Giles to elaborate, but he didn’t say anything else.

Finally, Angel spoke again. “I love her, you know.”

Giles glanced at Angel and this time he did smile. Those simple words convinced him that things might just be different with Angel and Buffy this time. “Yes, I believe that you do. Now I suggest you go find her.”

Just inside the door on his way out, Angel turned back. “Thank you.”

***

Buffy and Riley were just crossing the street near Buffy’s dorm, having been out on an early patrol. As they walked, they talked casually about their classes, about the demon they had been looking for that evening and a little bit about the Initiative. It was no different from the countless nights prior that they had been out together. That is, until Riley reached out and put his hands on Buffy’s shoulders, pulling her close. Bending low, he gently kissed her.

Buffy realized then that it had been weeks since she’d been kissed, since she’d felt a pair of strong arms around her. But she couldn’t give Riley what he wanted, no more than she could just flip on a switch and be happy again, so a moment later she pushed him gently away.

Riley had given Buffy plenty of distance after her ordeal with Angel, respecting her space and understanding that she needed time. It was only natural after what he had done to her. Not that she had ever said anything to him, but he came to his own conclusions. It wasn’t until recently that he had begun to think that she had put it behind her, that she was ready to resume their relationship again.

“I’m sorry.” Buffy whispered as she pulled away from him.

Once again, Riley damned Angel for what he had done to her, believing that it was the events of those hours that so traumatized Buffy that she now froze at the slightest intimate contact.

Running his hand through his hair, Riley stepped back. “No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have.”

Buffy wished she could care for Riley as much as he did her. He was so sweet, so gentle. Tears filled her eyes as she wondered when and if she’d ever be able to care for someone again. “No, Riley, no. It’s me. If I could love anyone again, I think it would be you. But-”

“You still love Angel.” Riley forced the disgust from his voice. He wanted to understand why, but he didn’t. He couldn’t.

“No, I don’t.” Buffy sighed, wishing her words were true. “But it doesn’t matter. He’s gone and not planning to come back. Besides, he doesn’t-” Stopping abruptly, Buffy closed her eyes and fought for control of her emotions. “It doesn’t matter. Does it have to change anything?”

Riley stared at Buffy’s face for a minute. He knew then that he should say yes, that it mattered. It mattered a whole hell of a lot as a matter of fact. He was tired of being the backup guy, the rebound guy. If they couldn’t be more than friends, then it would be nothing at all. But he couldn’t do that either. As long as there was a possibility that Buffy might change her mind, he wasn’t going to give up.

“No, it doesn’t.” He smiled, attempting to restore their earlier accord.

“God, everything is so complicated.” Buffy turned slowly and started up the short walk to her dorm.

“Well, no one said life would be easy.” Riley replied, falling into step next to her.

“True. Maybe it’s time for some serious shoe shopping. I’m weeks over due. Besides, new shoes always make me happy.”

Riley chuckled as he opened the door for Buffy then wished her a good night. He didn’t try to kiss her goodnight, even on the cheek as he had done so many nights before. Instead he waved as he walked away.

When Buffy opened the door to her room she was surprised to find Willow there, laying on her bed reading.

“Hey. Thought you’d be at Oz’s again.” Buffy smiled as she sat her bag down.

“Band practice. No girls allowed.” Willow shrugged.

“Oh.” Buffy absently toyed with the cross necklace hanging off her mirror, her thoughts distracted. She had tried hard not to think of Angel these past few weeks, but the conversation with Riley had brought him clearly to mind.

Willow took note of the thing Buffy was staring at, and finally gave in to curiosity. It had been almost two weeks since she and Oz had gone to LA. Given that Angel had not appeared or called, Willow was beginning to believe that she was right in not telling Buffy about the change in the curse. “So, no word from Angel?”

“Huh? Oh. No.” Buffy dropped the necklace and hastily began to remove her other jewelry. She left the rest of her thoughts unspoken: But it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t want me in his life.

“Well this came for you today.” Willow handed Buffy the envelope that had been sitting on the nightstand near the bed.

“Yeah? What is it?” Buffy rummaged through her drawers, looking for something to wear to bed.

“A letter.” Willow had noted the return address of Angel Investigations, but she was reluctant to say anything.

Buffy looked curiously at the object in Willows hand, feeling suddenly unsteady on her feet as she recognized the stationary and the Angel Investigations logo.

Forcing a calm she didn’t feel, she walked over to Willow and took the letter. She sank down on the bed, and stared at it in her hand as if afraid to open it. For a brief moment, she was terrified of the contents – if Angel had written to her and the words were kind and caring, then she’d only open her heart again and get her hopes up; if the words were harsh and angry, they’d leave yet more scars on her already battered heart. Neither could be anything less than painful. Yet, it if were from Cordelia or Doyle – that could be far worse. Either way, she had to read it.

Taking a deep breath, Buffy tore open the envelope. She scanned the words on the neatly printed page as if the bad news would stand out, then began to read.

Buffy,

I know it’s not place to do this but I’ve been told more than once that I’m an interfering Irishman, so what can you expect?

As you know better than most, Angel keeps things pretty much to himself. That and he tends to overlook the good and focus on the bad. Maybe it comes from all those years of experience.

I know he believes that you hate him for what he’s done. Since I don’t know what happened between the two of you, I can’t say whether you do or should, or whether he deserves it or not. That’s personal and between the two of you, but I’m hoping that you don’t.

It’s hard to imagine that a guy who will face a nest of Tavora demons alone is afraid of a tiny girl – no insult intended – but I have to tell you that I think that’s what we’re looking at here. Which is why I’d like to ask you for a favor. Will you come to LA? I may only be guessing, but I think it might do you both good to talk.

Besides, I’d like to see you work things out. I’d like to get to know the woman that Angel loves. It’s not easy to steal the heart of the Irish.

Yours,
Doyle

Buffy traced her fingertips on the word loves. Did that mean that he still cared for her? That he – dare she say it – loved her? Every tear shed these past weeks somehow seemed irrelevant, all of her misgivings and uncertainties even her anger and resentment were somehow wiped away with a single word. She had hope for the future again, as if somehow she had found the road to paradise. Carefully she folded the letter and looked at Willow with a tremulous smile and watery eyes. “I’m going to LA.”

Buffy rushed to gather a few things as Willow called Oz. Buffy needed a ride and Oz was one of the few with an operational vehicle.

Oz heard Buffy’s shout in the background, “When can we leave? I want to leave as soon as possible. Can we go now?” along with the sound of drawers opening and closing as Buffy searched for just the right outfit.

Within half an hour the three of them were on the road to LA. It was just after midnight when they pulled up outside the office of Angel Investigations.

“Buffy, are you sure about this?” Willow noted the light on in the office in the building as they sat in the car outside.

“Yes. I mean, I think so.” Buffy gave Willow a little smile then a not so assured look as she hesitated. Earlier it seemed like such a good idea, now she wasn’t so sure. She checked her outfit again, wishing that she had chosen something less casual than the low-waist jeans and pale yellow t-shirt. The shirt was short enough that her trim waist was exposed, making it an incredibly sexy look – something she wasn’t completely aware of.

“We’ll wait here for you. Now go.” Willow smiled encouragingly, then gently pushed Buffy toward the door.

After a last look at Willow, Buffy made her way inside. When Buffy reached the office only to find no one there, her spirits plummeted. But she consoled herself with the fact that they were most likely out on a case, so she could wait. She made a quick journey back to the van where Oz and Willow waited and suggested that they go back to Sunnydale. Since she wasn’t sure when Angel would return, she didn’t want to keep them waiting. Besides, she could take the bus later.

Buffy waited impatiently on the couch in the lobby for the next half hour while Willow and Oz waited in the van, refusing to leave her alone. She sat upright quickly when she heard the sound of the office door opening. Groaning, she smoothed her hair, hoping that she looked presentable.

“What are you doing here?” When Buffy stood and turned around, she was face-to-face with Cordelia, who was not at all happy to see her from the sound of the greeting.

“Um, Hi Cordelia. I came to see Angel.” Buffy looked casually past Cordelia wondering if Angel would appear.

“He’s not here.” Cordelia refrained from saying that he hadn’t been at the office for several days, that he had gone to Sunnydale against her wishes and advice.

“Do you know when he’ll be back?” Buffy hated taking the submissive role with Cordelia, but she wanted the information.

“No, and if I did I wouldn’t tell you.” Cordelia crossed her arms over her chest, prepared to tell Buffy off once and for all.

“Oh really? And just why is that?” Buffy squared her shoulders and tilted her head, her tone somewhat impudent.

“There are more reasons than either of us have time for, so I’ll just give you the highlights. You remind him of all the bad things he’s done, which makes him miserable. And, since he’s my friend and I don’t want him to be unhappy, I’ll ask you to stay away from him. Far, far away. It’s like taking a knife away from a baby so they don’t hurt themselves. Only you’re the much bigger knife-thing.”

“And Angel’s the baby? Does he know about your, uh, assessment of him?” Buffy’s expression was one of disbelief, even as she tried not to laugh. The insult to her was of little interest, but she couldn’t believe Angel would stand for that analogy under any circumstances.

Ignoring Buffy’s question, Cordelia continued. “Buffy, let me put this in words that you’ll understand. Angel doesn’t want to see you. He doesn’t want you in his office or his life. He’s moved on. I suggest that you take your pathetic little self back to Sunnydale and do the same.” Noting the slight hurt look in Buffy’s eyes, Cordelia continued her attack. “I don’t know why you think you can just come here now, but you’re not welcome.”

“Just tell me where he is or when he’ll be back.” Despite her reservations, Buffy continued. She was here. She’d see him.

“No.”

“Then I’ll just sit here and wait.” Buffy stubbornly held her ground.

“After the last incident in Sunnydale, I’m surprised you’d even show your face here. I would think you might be too embarrassed after your, shall we say, little performance.” Taking a total shot in the dark, Cordelia scored a dead hit. Buffy blanched, wondering just how much Angel had told the brunette about what had happened between them. Her earlier thoughts that he had been disappointed at best with her reaction to Angelus returned full-blown, loud and screaming. What had he told Cordelia?

“Doyle asked me to come. To talk to Angel.” Buffy forced her voice to a calm that she did not feel, anger and disappointment threatening to overcome any other feelings.

“Really?” Cordelia skeptically replied, her tone sarcastic. “I doubt that. Since you don’t know him, you probably misunderstood what Doyle meant. And even if *he* did mean for you to come here, that doesn’t mean *Angel* did. Get a clue, Buffy. Angel doesn’t want to see *you*. Maybe you should think of someone besides yourself for a change. Just go back to Sunnydale before you hurt him again.”

This time Cordelia’s words hit home. Though she had lashed out at him several times unthinkingly in arguments, Buffy didn’t want to hurt him. She never intentionally wanted to hurt him. Maybe Cordelia was right. Maybe it was best for everyone involved if she were to go home. Clearly he had Cordelia and perhaps even Kate still. He didn’t want or need her. What had she been thinking?

Buffy chided herself for being thousand times a fool and rushing to LA on the merest hint that Angel might care. Why should she believe that things might be different just because of a simple letter? Cordelia was right in that Buffy didn’t know Doyle, nor did she know if Angel would confide in Doyle.

Buffy said nothing, only walked slowly and calmly past Cordelia and out the door. Whatever Doyle’s motives were in writing to her, Angel was most likely not informed of them. Not that it would have made a difference. Had Angel wanted to talk to her, he could have called.

***

Willow and Oz were quiet as they drove back to Sunnydale, but they knew Buffy felt jilted. Having gotten her hopes up yet again, the pain of rejection was doubly hurtful. Buffy suppressed her tears with a supreme effort and resisted the urge to give in to self-pity. She’d wasted more tears on one man than all other events in her life combined. When would she learn?

***

Riley and his patrol team had just crossed the alley behind Buffy’s dorm when he heard a noise. Agreeing to split up and search, Riley went down the alley alone while Forrest and Graham circled around the building.

Only a few steps into the alley, Riley flicked on his flashlight and shone it in to the dark. He stopped on the back of a dark coat, a familiar figure. “Shit.”

“Riley Finn.” Turning, Angel met Riley’s stare. He wasn’t intimidated, despite Riley’s warning weeks ago.

“Angel. Thought I told you not to come back.” Riley sighed heavily, not looking forward to this confrontation.

“I don’t take orders real well.” Angel took a step toward Riley, intending to continue on his way back to Buffy’s dorm to wait for her.

“You didn’t by any chance go an lose that pesky soul again, did you?” Riley felt the anger rising at the thought of Buffy rushing to LA on a whim, just because of a stupid letter. She didn’t realize that the Initiative was watching her, therefore he knew every little thing that went on in her room. He’d vehemently objected to the video camera that Professor Walsh wanted to hide in her dorm, knowing that the other lecherous recruits would spend all their time watching the monitors hoping for glimpses of her, preferably naked. He’d been successful so far, so all they had was audio from wiretaps.

“Don’t push me, boy.” Angel growled, beginning to get annoyed.

“If you did, then Buffy must be disappointed with your performance, that’s all I’ve got to say. What did it take you? Ten minutes? Or did you do her in five?”

Still scowling, Angel attempted to walk around Riley. His purpose for returning to Sunnydale was to make peace with Buffy. Fighting with Riley wasn’t likely to be a good first step.

“That’d be between me and her.” Angel replied calmly, “Although I think you know better. Did all those screams of pleasure bother you, Finn? Did you get off listening to her? Wishing you had been there in my place?” Unable to resist the barb, Angel smirked.

“Haven’t you hurt her enough? Why don’t you just leave her alone,” Riley smiled tightly, “and get out of my way?”

“You think even if you could get her that you’d be able to keep her? I doubt you have the expertise,” Angel murmured, his meaning clear. “Or the stamina‚Ķ”

“I suggest you walk away, vampire, while you still can.”

“I’m not going to walk away from her again, Finn. Get used to the idea.” Angel said dismissively and started once more to walk around.

Stepping in front of Angel, Riley held his baton in his face. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Let’s not play fucking games. I am going to see her.” Angel stared back at Riley, suddenly hoping for a fight.

“Oh really? And you think I’m going to let that happen?” Riley too was spoiling for a good fight. His anger at Angel for the events of weeks ago coming to the forefront, he felt he owed the vampire a good thrashing for what he had done to Buffy.

“You think you’re going to stop me?” Challenge rang in every word.

“I surely do.” Riley swung the baton and hit Angel squarely in the cheek and the fight was on. Several blows were exchanged before Angel was able to force Riley to his knees. From there, Angel slammed a knee into Riley’s face then threw him against the dumpster near the building wall. Despite the painful blow, Riley still managed to scramble to his feet and grab his baton, taking another swing at Angel. Angel deftly stepped aside, then punched Riley in the face and knocked the baton out of his hand. Several more blows were exchanged before Riley reached into his jacket and pulled out his taser. Aiming it directly at Angel’s chest, he fired sending Angel stumbling backward into the building with the force of the shock.

Growling and extremely pissed off now, Angel turned back to face Riley with his vampire face. Riley paused, flashes of the brutal fight of Angelus and the Akadian demon appearing in his mind, giving Angel time to grab Riley’s wrist. Twisting his arm hard, Riley let out a brief squeak and dropped the taser. Punching him hard in the stomach, Angel heard Riley’s ribs crack under the force of the blow. Angel then tossed Riley hard against the side of the building and watched as he fell to the ground, unconscious.

Angel paused briefly before he fled up the side of the building, narrowly missing being spotted by Forrest and Graham who had just raced up the alley upon hearing the commotion.

***

Angel walked quietly into Buffy’s dorm, noting the early – or rather late – hour. He was still surprised however, when he nearly ran into a young girl with dark hair in the hallway.

“You stay here?” She looked him over carefully, her interest obvious.

“No, I’m visiting.” Angel felt a bit uncomfortable, the girl looking as if she might devour him.

“You have friends here?” She smacked her gum and twirled her hair, leaning closer.

“Yes.”

“Who?” Janet was known to be both promiscuous and nosy, a reputation that was not without merit.

Debating briefly whether his visit required secrecy, Angel finally decided that it didn’t. “Buffy. Buffy Summers.”

“Oh.” Clearly disappointed, Janet knew the perky little blond. “Figures. But you don’t look much like those commando boys that she’s usually with. Or that other guy.”

“No.” Angel was growing more agitated, both at the earlier fight with Riley and with the continued reminders of her involvement with him and the Initiative. And who was this ‘other guy’? Xander?

“If she ain’t around – or welcoming – I’m on the 2nd floor – third door down.” Janet smiled at him lingeringly, then moved off down the hall.

Angel continued down the hall to Buffy’s room lost in disconcerting thoughts. What if she wasn’t welcoming? What if she wouldn’t see him? He was personally capable of coping with the pain – he’d perfected that skill over the years – but this was one that he didn’t want to have to live with.

Willow and Oz were just leaving when they too, ran into Angel in the darkened hallway. “Angel?”

“Willow?”

“What are you doing here?” Willow couldn’t keep the anger out of her voice.

“I came to see Buffy.” Angel looked at her then at Oz curiously. Why were they out and about at almost 4 am? What kind of hours did the people in this dorm keep, anyway?

“I doubt she’ll talk to you. She’s been upset since we got back from LA. Did you follow us here or something?”

Angel was visibly surprised. “LA? What was she doing there? Did something happen with her dad-?”

“No. She was looking for you.” Willow replied with irritation. “But Cordelia made sure to let her know how very interested you were in not seeing her.”

“She really went to LA?” At Willows small nod, Angel continued. “I didn’t know, I swear.” His earlier fears evaporated. She had come to see him. Surely that was a good sign. “And we can deal with Cordelia later. Right now I just want to see Buffy.”

“She’s in our room.” Willow stared at Angel. “Remember, what I said – I *will* stake you if-if, well, just if you leave her all upset and crying and stuff again.”

Angel nodded and smiled slightly; Buffy’s friends obviously loved her. But then, so did he.

Angel knocked softly, then winced at the loud sound in the quiet hall. Too hard, too loud.

“Riley?” Buffy’s voice from behind the door surprised him. His jealously surged at the sound of her voice. Was she used to Riley visiting her in the middle of the night? The door opened and he almost jumped in surprise, so distracted he had been by his thoughts.

“Angel.” Buffy always had a way of saying his name in that little breathy voice that just made his heart stop – had it been beating.

“Hi. Can I come in?”

“I guess.” Buffy’s voice was soft, revealing the hurt that she earlier felt even though she tried hard to hide it.

“Uh, I need a little more than that.” Angel waited patiently, uncomfortable with the reminder of his vampire existence.

“Oh. Um, come in.”

When Buffy closed the door, Angel turned to face her. It was the first sight she had of him in weeks, yet the first thing she noticed was the blood on his split lip. “You’re hurt.” When he said nothing, Buffy spoke again. “You want to tell me who ran your face into that doorknob?”

“Not really. It’s not world-in-peril stuff.” Angel was staring at her, reminded of the first time he had crept into her room at night and watched her sleep years ago. She was wearing the same kind of tiny white tank top and shorts now as she had then. Her revealing clothing did nothing to dampen the green-eyed monster of jealously growing. Had Riley seen her like this? Had they been intimate since he had left?

“Then what do you want?” Buffy’s voice was cool, though he emotions were topsy-turvy. Had he followed her from LA?

Her next thought was interrupted by the sound of the door slamming against the wall as Riley burst into the room. Aiming his gun at Angel, Riley stopped and leaned heavily on Willow’s desk near the wall. “I told you, you weren’t coming near her.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. This is why you came?” Buffy glared at Angel angrily, wondering what was going on.

“No. This was accident.” Angel was sincere.

“Running a car into a tree is an accident! Running your fist into somebody’s face is a plan! Please, explain this to me!” Her emotions high, Buffy exploded furiously.

Calmly Angel looked at Buffy, then at Riley before deciding on a course of action. “Put that gun down.”

“It’s pretty much all I got left, so I’m thinking not.” Riley wasn’t ready to give in, not yet any way.

“He won’t hurt anybody.” Buffy turned to Angel insistently, “Tell him.”

“Might hurt you.” Angel growled, stepping toward Riley.

“Please try.” Riley stepped forward as well, clutching his hurt side when he stepped away from the wall.

“Ha! Some threat. You can barely stand.” Angel nearly laughed, male chauvinistic pride clearly on display.

“Trigger finger feels okay.” Riley still wasn’t sure what Angel was doing here and what he wanted from Buffy. Until he found out, he wasn’t going to back down.

“Did you actually sleep with this guy?” His jealously roaring in his ears, Angel turned to Buffy.

Taking exception to Angel’s words and tone to Buffy, Riley threw a right hook and punched Angel squarely in the face. Angel quickly retaliated.

Shoving them apart, Buffy shouted. “Okay, stop it!” Riley hit Willow’s desk with a solid thud and Angel landed on Willow’s bed, Buffy’s strength formidable – particularly when pissed off. “Okay, that’s enough! I see one more display of testosterone poisoning and I will personally put you both in the hospital!” Buffy looked between them, feeling as if she were down to her last nerve. It had been an exhausting day. It was late and she was tired, Angel showing up at her door had sent her emotions in a tailspin – she just didn’t want to deal with any more. “Anybody think I’m exaggerating?”

“He started-” Angel glanced at Buffy, tilting his head toward Riley. Buffy only shot him a quick look before she turned to Riley.

“Riley.” Her voice soft, Buffy glanced at the gun Riley still held in his hand.

“I’m sorry. Just wanted to know that you were safe.” Riley had finally figured out how he needed to resolve this. He put his gun down as he looked at Buffy’s face. “Look, I need to talk to Angel for a minute.”

Buffy was startled. “What?”

“I’ll be back just as soon as Angel and I settle a few things.” Riley glanced at Angel who was still sitting on the bed, his elbows resting on his knees. After a moment’s consideration, Angel stood and followed Riley out the door leaving Buffy staring after them in stunned surprise.

The two men stood face to face in the dark hallway, just as they had squared off earlier.

“Do you love her?” Riley asked bluntly, breaking the long silence and watching Angel’s face intently as if he would be able to ascertain the truth of his answer from his expression.

“Do you?” Angel stared back at Riley, his voice sharp.

“I asked first.” Riley, despite the earlier beating, still wasn’t intimidated. “And no offense, but your answer matters more than mine.”

“Why? You’re the one that’s been with her for these past weeks.” Still jealous, Angel sought to determine the depth of Riley’s involvement with Buffy since he had been gone.

“Why? Because for reasons I can’t fathom or even begin to understand, she loves you.” Riley hated to admit it, but he knew it was true. And he knew he cared more about Buffy being happy than he wanted to admit.

“What else do you know about Buffy, Finn?” Angel felt that irrational jealousy surge again at the thought of Buffy turning to Riley for comfort these past few weeks.

“What the hell are you implying?” Riley shifted his stance, wondering if they were going to come to blows again.

“I’m implying that you’ve been trying to get into her pants.”

“You’re an idiot.” Riley murmured resentfully. “Do you think I’d bother talking to you if I thought I had a chance with her? I’d call the Initiative team, lock you up and forget I ever saw you. So answer me. Do you love her?”

“That’s none of your business.” Angel glared. He doubted Riley’s ability to carry out his threats, but he knew the younger man was determined.

“I’m making it my business.” Riley’s tone was curt.

“I knew you wanted her.” Angel spat resentfully.

“Yeah? Well, she turned me down.” Riley sighed. “Believe me, I don’t have any friendly feelings toward you whatsoever, but I do care about Buffy. I just don’t want to see you hurt her again.”

Angel studied Riley for a long moment, carefully considering his words and expression before he finally spoke. “She’s easy to love, isn’t she?”

“Yes, that she is. You don’t know how much I envy you.” Riley looked away with disappointment. But, satisfied that he’d gotten the answer he suspected, Riley turned to leave. He’d only gone a few steps down the hall, when he turned back. “And Angel? Don’t fuck up again. I won’t be so generous next time.”

Angel smiled in the dark, then glanced at Buffy’s door.

Buffy paced the floor in her room wondering what death match might be taking place outside her door. Restlessly, she looked out the window into the dark then at the clock. It would be dawn soon.

Impatiently, she straightened the room, as if it’s cleanliness would somehow restore order to her chaotic life. Soothing her hair in the mirror, she sighed. Damn men, anyway. What was she doing here, waiting while they discussed things, discussed her like some commodity? With a sudden impatient anger, Buffy yanked open the door. Angel stood there alone.

“Where’s Riley?” She snapped, glancing left and right as if she might still see him but the hallway was dark and silent.

“Gone. Why? Are you worried?”

“Of course I’m worried. You’re not very trustworthy – among other things.”

“Does he always come to your room at 4 in the morning? When you’re wearing – that?”

Buffy surveyed him, her chin lifted as she took in his appearance. They hadn’t come to blows again, at least. Although that didn’t explain why Riley left. “That’s none of your business. Actually, nothing I do is any of your business. You’ve made that plain a number of times now. So, what are you doing here?”

She was angry, which he’d expected. What he hadn’t expected was his own inability to control his jealousy. “I hear you went to LA.”

Buffy didn’t answer. Instead, she turned and went back into her room. After a moment, Angel followed. After he closed the door behind him, he stopped near her dresser and picked up the letter that lay on top.

“Did Doyle write to you?” Recognizing the writing, Angel looked at the letter.

“It doesn’t matter.” Buffy sat on the bed, just wanting to get this painful confrontation over with.

“I didn’t know you were coming. I’m sorry I wasn’t there.” Angel sat the letter down and turned back to face her.

“I’m sorry I went.” Buffy replied sharply, her confrontation with Cordelia fresh in her mind. They’d never gotten along, and it seemed to get worse with the years. And with Cordelia’s growing attraction to Angel.

Angel studied her small form on the bed, noting the tension and closed expression. So far nothing had gone the way he had hoped or planned.

“I owe you an apology. Several, as a matter of fact.” Finally Angel spoke, slowly walking to stand in front of her.

“Yes.” Buffy refused to look at him, bracing herself for the pain that she knew was coming.

“The reason I came to Sunnydale was to apologize to you. I’m sorry for anything and everything I’ve done to hurt you. There’s no excuse, but I wanted you to know I was truly sorry.”

“And?” Buffy shifted on the bed.

“You’re not making this easy.”

“Yeah? Well maybe that’s because last time we were together I was too easy.”

Angel’s mouth quirked into a smile, the innuendo in her words bringing to mind their hours in the army bunker.

Buffy shot him a dirty look. “The sex thing with you was never a problem. Well, okay, except for the curse part of it. I’m actually talking about trusting another person, about being able to believe what someone says. I’m talking about you leaving me – twice – without so much as a goodbye. Each time you’ve left, you’ve never bothered to call or write – weeks go by without a word from you. I get it, Angel, you don’t want me in your life.” Buffy stood and continued her tirade, “I always trust you and I always get hurt. Every time I think things will be different, they stay the same. When you disappeared after graduation and I didn’t hear anything from you, I thought the worst. It wasn’t until Harmony passed along the word that you were with Cordelia in LA, that I found you. That I found out you hadn’t died. Do you know how much it hurt to think you were with her? But then, you never really cared what I thought, did you? You always decided what was best for me, since I couldn’t do that for myself. So you can see why I might not be in the mood to make things easy for you. In fact, I’d enjoy it if-”

“Can you, uh, put something else on?” Angel’s voice was tight.

Buffy rolled her eyes in disbelief. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m yelling at you for all the awful things you’ve done to me and you’re getting a hard-on?”

“I’m sorry.” Angel smiled slightly. “But you’re practically naked – and looking incredible as usual.”

“And you can’t carry on a conversation because all the blood that was formerly in your brain is now in your cock.” Buffy stalked over to the dresser behind him, pulled out her robe and put it on. Turning back around, she crossed her arms and glared at him.

“No, Buffy. Look, I came to Sunnydale because I wanted to ask your forgiveness and because, well, because I wanted to ask you to marry me.” He’d hoped to put her in a better mood before popping the question, but that was obviously failing, so he resulted to the blunt truth.

“Marry you?” Buffy echoed dumbly, Angel’s words stopping her short.

“Yes.” Angel watched her quietly, his nerves taut and on edge waiting for her response.

“But-” Buffy’s own thoughts were whirling. Marry? Did she hear that correctly? Her heart was pounding as she looked at him, a slight smile now playing across her lips. Could he really be serious? “Have you lost your mind?”

“No.”

“What about the normal life and the sunlight. And what about-” Buffy whirled around, unsure how to ask him about his feelings, his disappointment in her behavior with Angelus. She didn’t even dare mention sex, or the curse.

“We’ll have a normal life. As normal as a vampire and a slayer can, that is. I can’t take you into the sunlight, that hasn’t changed. But maybe some day‚Ķ There’s this little thing called Shanshu that I haven’t talked to you about.” Angel was ready to refute her every objection. Taking a deep unneeded breath, Angel looked down at the floor, his face filled with shame. “I know what I did to you – when I lost my soul this last time – I know it was terrible. I would give anything if I could take back the pain I caused you. I know it’s not nearly enough to apologize for rape, so I’ll understand if you-”

Buffy turned back to face him, his words triggering a thought as her mind jumped to that day at his little house outside Sunnydale. How he had first apologized and then wouldn’t look at her. As if he were – ashamed? Was it possible that he hadn’t been disgusted or disappointed in her? That instead, he had been upset at himself? And she, wallowing in her own dismay, had simply believed otherwise? Could this all be a – misunderstanding? Is that why Doyle meant when he wrote that Angel thought she hated him for what he had done?

“Wait. Are you saying that you- that you weren’t – disappointed in me, in my response to you that day?” Buffy’s voice was nearly a whisper.

“What are you talking about Buffy? How could I be disappointed in you, of all things? I hurt you, I fed off you – it’s inexcusable.” Angel looked back at Buffy in confusion.

“What if-” Buffy cleared her throat. “What if I said you didn’t hurt me? What if I said, that I actually, um, enjoyed it?”

“But-” Angel searched his memory for that day. Her tiny, lithe body pressed against him. Her warmth surrounding him. Her soft cries echoing in his ear. Could it be, that he hadn’t hurt her? That he had given her pleasure? “What are you saying?”

“I’m, er, uh, saying-” Buffy stopped, searching her mind for the best way to continue. “I wanted you. A lot. I couldn’t stop wanting you, no matter how I tried. I thought that you-” looking away from him, she paused, “I thought that you thought horrible things about me because I wanted you. Because I wanted you as Angelus.” Her last words came out in a rush.

“How could you think that Buffy? It was all my fault- I could never be disappointed with you.” Angel slowly reached the same conclusion that Buffy had drawn earlier. Willow’s words also came to mind – “That you’re disappointed with her – or worse.” He couldn’t quite believe that he hadn’t hurt her, but he could see how they perpetuated each other’s thoughts by not communicating openly. Nor was it the first time this had happened between them.

“Gee, what a surprise, we’ve just had another colossal miscommunication.” Buffy smiled slightly, “I wouldn’t call what you did – what *we* did rape, Angel. Admittedly, there was a force aspect to it with the handcuffs and all, but for some people that’s just, uh, part of the fun. Or, so I’m told. I, uh, don’t know myself‚Ķ” Buffy trailed off, feeling a little embarrassed. “Okay, I’ll just stop talking now.”

Angel watched her with interest, his eyes noting the heightened color in her cheeks. He could sense the warmth of her skin increasing, either with embarrassment or desire. She captivated him, in every sense of the word. He was reminded too, that now he could love her without restriction.

“So, you don’t need to come here to ask me to marry you because you feel guilty.”

“Guilty? You think that’s why I’m here? Why I want to marry you?” Angel stepped toward her. “If so, then you’re wrong. I want to marry you because I love you. Because I haven’t stopped loving you. Because my life is empty without you in it. It just took me awhile to figure that all out. And for that, I’m sorry too.” Now that he stood directly in front of her, he lifted her chin with his hand so he could see her eyes.

Buffy smiled slightly as she looked up at him. “Angel. You know I love you. That hasn’t changed.” His words were a balm to her bruised heart, but she was mature enough to know that it wasn’t enough. Not anymore. “Which is why this is doubly hard to say, but I can’t marry you. I couldn’t be around you without wanting to, uh-” Blushing Buffy paused. “make love. You were right when you said that one day it would matter. I can’t be around you – I’m afraid I don’t have the willpower to say no – or to let you say no – and there’s still the curse and-”

Angel stopped Buffy’s words with a kiss, pulling her into his arms. Buffy returned his kiss wholeheartedly, then reluctantly pulled away, sighing heavily, her eyes closed. “See? No willpower. Bad Buffy.”

“No, very good Buffy.” His hand was moving along the lapel of her robe idly just before he tugged her back to him. “One thing that has changed‚Ķ” His fingertips reached inside, stroking the inner curve of her breast as his lips brushed against her ear. “is the curse.”

“What are you talking about?” Buffy’s eyes flew open even as she pressed close to him. Her body’s reaction to him was instinctive, that was something else that hadn’t changed.

“Willow told me that she changed the curse. I can have all the perfect happiness I want, as long as that doesn’t include pickles.” Nuzzling her ear, then her neck his other arm slipped around behind her. “Which, I don’t think will be too much of a problem.”

“Willow changed the curse and didn’t tell me?” Buffy closed her eyes again and arched her neck, giving him easier access. Her hands came up and rested lightly on his arms.

“Yes. I asked her to let me tell you.” Angel lifted his head and looked down at Buffy’s face, hoping to determine her mood.

“Hmpf. Some friend.” Buffy was momentarily disgruntled. “And you – you knew all this time and you didn’t tell me?”

“I just found out recently. Willow wanted to be sure first. And, of course, I thought it might be best‚Ķ” Angel’s husky whisper once again brushed her ear, “If I showed you.”

“Angel.” Buffy’s voice was a soft sigh as her arms crept up around his neck, her fingertips toying with the short hairs at his nape. “I’m not sure I’ve forgiven you yet.”

Lifting her slightly against him, he threaded his fingers in her hair as his mouth met hers hungrily. Several hot and eager kisses later, she pulled away to catch her breath and she whispered. “Still not sure‚Ķ”

“I’ll keep working on it until you are sure…” He smiled against her lips, just before his tongue traced the soft swell of her bottom lip. He teased her lips briefly, before he slipped his tongue into her mouth again.

“Really?” Buffy smiled when his lips moved back to her neck after quite a few more greedy kisses, his hands untying her robe and pushing it back over her shoulders.

“Yes.” He kissed her lips softly, tentatively. As she wrapped her arms around his neck and rose up on her toes, he pulled her closer and deepened the kiss before finally lifting her in his arms and carrying her to the small bed. When he reached the bed, he sat her down and shrugged out of his coat, tossing it on Willow’s bed.

“You left me.” Buffy shivered as Angel leaned down and nibbled on her earlobe.

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t stay. Every day it was harder and harder to be around you and not be able to make love to you. I know now how much you mean to me. I’d still be here today, even if Willow hadn’t changed the curse. I’d rather have you in my life – any way possible – than be without you.” Angel lifted his head to look down at her face, his expression serious. “I won’t leave you again, sweetheart. I want you to be with me. To be my wife.”

Buffy looked into his eyes, searching for the truth. Could she trust him this time? If she chose to believe him, she was jettisoning all her scruples and reservations – but promising herself that it would be for the last time. She knew that if he hurt her again, she would never recover. “If you leave me again, mister, I’ll hunt you down and stake you.”

“Fair enough.” He sat down on the bed next to her and lifted her into his lap, facing away from him. Lifting her hair, he began to plant kisses along the nape of her neck.

She sighed. “I missed you.” Buffy tilted her head, giving him better access to her neck. He was licking delicately at the slight pulsing of her vein.

“I missed you too. More than you know.” His words a soft murmur against her skin, he hugged her close. Pulling her back against his chest, he ran his hands lightly over her thighs, hips and stomach. Leaning her head back against him, Buffy closed her eyes. Reaching up, she wrapped her arms around his neck.

“Willow?” Angel’s hand stilled on her stomach, his fingers splayed as he resumed his gentle kisses and nibbles on her neck. One hand drifted upward to cup her breast, his thumb lazily drawing circles around her cotton covered nipple.

“Mmmm‚Ķ With Oz.” Buffy opened her eyes and glanced at the window noting the faint gray of the sky as it was nearing dawn. Pushing away from him, she stood and closed the blinds then walked over and locked the door. “But, just in case‚Ķ” Smiling she returned and straddled his lap, pressing her mouth against the coolness of his neck.

Pulling her top over her head, he tossed it aside. One arm circled her waist and the other slid around to rest on her behind as he pulled her tight against him. Against her lips, he murmured, “Then we’re alone?”

“Yess..” With her palms flat, Buffy’s slid her hands up his chest, tracing the muscles through the soft cashmere of his sweater. As her hands reached his shoulders, she scooted forward to fit her nearly nude body against his fully clothed one. Feeling the ridge of his erection between her legs, she opened her legs wider to press even closer.

“Angel? Are you sure‚Ķabout the curse?” Buffy sighed and leaned forward to kiss him again, opening her mouth as his tongue gently traced her lips before probing inside. Slanting her head, she invited his tongue deeper into her mouth, sucking it softly.

“Willow seemed to be sure.” His reply was a soft murmur against her lips.

“Maybe we should call her, just in case.” Buffy took a calming breath then reached for the phone. Squirming in Angel’s lap to tease him, Buffy smiled as she waited for Willow to answer. Angel was stroking her waist, her back, his hands coming nearer to her bare breasts with each movement.

“Oz? Hey, sorry to wake you. Is Willow there.”‚Ķ “Hi Will. Yes… No, he’s still here.” ‚Ķ “Yes.” Buffy grinned at Angel as she answered Willow’s questions. “I’ll tell you later. Right now-” ‚Ķ “Yes, how did you know?” Buffy laughed, as Willow easily guessed why she was calling now that she knew Buffy and Angel seemed to be reconciled. “So are you sure?” Grabbing his wrist, Buffy stopped Angel’s hand that was now cupping her breast from reaching her nipple. She needed to concentrate. “Well, how sure?” ‚Ķ “Uh-huh? Well, maybe you could have everything ready for the ritual, just in case? That way, we can be really sure‚Ķ” Buffy looked at Angel as she listened to Willow. “Will it do any harm if you perform it and he still has his soul?” ‚Ķ “How about this then? If I don’t call you in say – 20 minutes?” Buffy looked at Angel who had raised his eyebrow at her time assessment. “An hour?” With her question directed at Angel rather than Willow, he gave her another raised eyebrow, making Buffy giggle. “If I don’t call you by, oh-” Looking at the clock, Buffy noted the time. “Say, ten o’clock, then you should go ahead with the ritual.” There – that gave them over three hours – surely even Angel would think that would be enough time and would prove out the curse. “Yes, I will.” Buffy laughed again at Willow’s lewd suggestion. “Thanks, Will.” Still smiling, she hung up the phone.

Without hesitation, Angel pulled her head down to his and kissed her. Finally breaking the kiss, she sighed against his lips, “You have too many clothes on.”

Unwrapping her arms from his neck, he flipped her around and lowered her to the bed, kissing her heatedly en route. “I’ve still got some *apologizing* to do.” Stripping her shorts down her legs, he pushed her gently back on the bed. He stopped for a moment just to look at her, to let his eyes wander over the lush beauty of her naked body, taking in the pointed dusky pink nipples, the taut abdomen and the soft, neatly trimmed curls hiding the highly sensitive spot between her legs.

Buffy lay back and watched as Angel pulled his sweater over his head, then kicked off his shoes and socks. She licked her lips unconsciously at the sight of Angel’s sexy, half-naked body. He never failed to stir feelings of arousal within her.

Laying next to her on the bed and leaning over her, Angel once more pressed his lips to hers. When he exerted a gentle pressure on her lips, she opened her mouth and let his tongue once more explore, tasting the faint minty taste of her mouth. He teased her with his tongue in a lazy probing pattern under her breathing changed and she clutched his shoulders.

Using his hands to stroke her breasts casually, he cupped them in his large palms. When he squeezed her nipple with his fingertips, Buffy gasped, the small sound acutely increasing his desire for her. Gently he kissed them, licking tenderly at the erect nipples. When his mouth closed over one peak, sucking gently then more firmly, Buffy felt the spiraling heat through her body, adding to the wetness already evident between her legs. His hands reached under her back to lift her to him as he increased the pressure of his mouth on the taut bud, sucking hard. After he had paid equal homage to her other breast, Angel moved down on the bed and knelt at Buffy’s feet.

Gently he lifted her foot, kissing her toes and biting the pads gently. Wrapping a hand around each calf, he slid his hands upward, caressing and massaging gently. His lips followed his hands, leaving a trail of kisses along each calf and shin. Slowly he stroked her thighs, inching upward toward her as he parted her legs. Angel’s tongue followed his hands, licking a slow, wet path up her thighs as he lay on the bed. Buffy stirred restlessly, her hips rising in invitation as his hands and mouth drew closer to her wet sex. “I love you how look, Sweetheart. So wet and pink.” His fingers lightly traced the swollen opening, sliding easily through the wetness as she parted her legs further for him. “Beautiful.”

“That’s it baby. Open wide for me.” His tongue touched her clit, flicked softly and withdrew. Buffy whimpered softly, as Angel’s tongue licked across her wet flesh again, the leisurely pace intended to prolong the exquisite sensations.

Buffy expelled the breath she had been holding and whined softly, “Please‚ĶAngeeelll‚Ķ” Lifting her hips, she arched toward him desperately craving more. Sliding her fingers into his hair, she attempted to tug him closer.

Exploring her first with his fingers, then his tongue, he nibbled at her wet cleft, licking gently. Using his fingers, he stroked the sensitive numb of her clit firmly before sucking it into his mouth. At the first tugging pressure of his mouth, Buffy felt beginnings of her orgasm, the sensations exploding within her. Releasing her grip on his hair, she collapsed back against the bed, her breath coming in short pants.

With deft fingers and necessary sped, Angel stripped off his pants and boxers, returning to Buffy on the bed. She opened her eyes as she felt Angel’s lips gently pressing kisses to her stomach. He smiled up at her, before returning his attention to her navel. Angel continued his journey upward, kissing the plump swell of her breasts where they met her rib cage, before kissing each nipple again, followed by the curve of her shoulder, the scar on her neck, and finally the corner of her mouth. Settling between her legs, he positioned the head of his erection at the pulsing wet opening between her legs. Slowing he slid his inside her, stretching her, filling her. Buffy placed her hand on his chest to momentarily slow him as she adjusted to his size. When he was finally fully sheathed, his eyes closed, absorbing the exquisite sensation of her warmth around him. Her erect nipples teased the hardness of his chest, her breasts moving against him as she reached up to pull herself closer and to stroke his back. Just a few short weeks ago he thought he would never feel her again.

Attempting force the pace, Buffy pushed her hips adamantly against his. “Harder‚Ķ”

Angel moved then, with controlled proficient strokes. She followed him easily, her hips rocking insistently in rhythm to his thrusts. Kissing a wet path up his neck, Buffy reached his ear and whispered huskily, “More‚Ķ”

Angel groaned, a low deep sound of pleasure as he plunged into her slick passage. When he murmured soft love words against her ear, Buffy bucked against him and whimpered. Reaching between then, his fingers glided across her aroused flesh then pressed against her mons. With only a few strokes, Buffy was feverish beneath him and frantically near climax, her breathing ragged. Making sure that she was with him, Angel then slid his arms under her bottom and pulled her into him. When she felt the first shudder of release, she pulled his head down to her so that she could taste him again, wanting to feel him against her from head to toe. And when she screamed at the last, the sound muffled against his lips, Angel joined her in intense, shattering climax, the ferocity of his release staggering.

He was ravenous the next times he made love to her, powerful, frenzied, uncontrollable. And she welcomed him with equal fervor, out of control and passionate beyond his memory. With her last climax, Buffy dropped her head back and tugged his head to her neck. “Please‚Ķ Angel‚Ķ Bite‚Ķ” Angel’s eyes flew open in startled surprise, even as he felt a surge of lust bolt through him straight to his cock. She refused to release him when he attempted to pull back, and instead voiced her plea again as her hips continued to gyrate against his in a bewitching rhythm. Still uncertain and yet Angel could not prevent the changing of his features at her suggestion. I shouldn’t, he thought even as overwhelming desire inundated his senses. Buffy smiled in pleasure and arched against him, pressing his lips firmly to her neck. When he finally relented and sank his fangs gently into the soft flesh of her neck, she cried out, not even aware of her high keening scream that echoed through the room. The world seemed to dissolve as she exploded in earth-shattering orgasm.

Angel met her breathless release with his own explosive climax, pouring into her with a fevered convulsion as the rich taste of her blood filled his mouth. He collapsed on her for a brief moment before he rolled, taking her with him not wanting to crush her with his weight. They dozed, sated and content.

Buffy and Angel were curled together in the bed, limbs intertwined when the phone began ringing just after ten. Buffy reached over and answered it, her voice slightly husky. “Hello? Hey, Will. Oh, god, I’m so sorry – no, no, everything is fine.” Buffy glanced at Angel, relaxing next to her, his arms behind his head and his chest exposed as the blankets had slid to his waist. “Really, really, fine.”

She listened for a few more minutes before saying goodbye and hanging up the phone. Curling up again next to Angel, Buffy smiled contentedly. “Soul still intact?”

“Yes.” Angel kissed the top of Buffy’s head, smiling slightly in return. He pulled the covers up over he shoulders and leaned his cheek against the softness of her hair.

“Good.” Snuggling into his chest, Buffy closed her eyes. “We still have to talk, you know. About how all this will work.”

Angel closed his eyes, content as Buffy nestled close. “Yes.” He knew she hadn’t really answered his question yet, about marriage. But he was confident he’d convince her to see things his way.

“Angel?” Buffy opened her eyes suddenly; a new worry crossing her mind. “You’ll still be here when I wake up, right?”

“Yes, sweetheart. I won’t leave you again.” Angel shifted her more tightly against him, his arm around her back. “I promise.”

She smiled sleepily against his chest. She believed him, this time.