Mo Anam Chara

Author: Angellover

DISCLAIMER: Doesn't belong to me. Everything belongs to Joss and Company.

SPOILERS: The timeline is around BTVS season six and Angel season three. Oh, I did change a few things. In this story Saint Cordelia never went to heaven, and Angel and Conner have managed to work through their problems.

Pairings: A/C, D/S, G/F, W/O, C/C, and finally A/B

Rating: NC-17 for adult language and sexual content.

Feedback: Would love it, but keep in mind this is the first time I've posted a story.

Distribution: Notify if archived.

Music: "I'm With You" by Avril Lavigne. "Hand Me Down" by Matchbox 20, and "If You're Not The One" by Daniel Beddington

Dedication: To my husband, Joey who finally convinced me to let someone besides him read my stories.


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PROLOGUE

"Is it done?"

"Yes." The male higher being answered the female as he moved into the room, and closed the distance to her. "But I do not understand why it had to be done this way."

"There is a purpose for everything, and you know what her purpose is."

"I do, but how can she do her purpose if she is full of hate and bitterness?"

"She was not happy here. You know that. It's a chance we must take, and the stars say... Well, you know what the stars say."

"Yes, I do. But I also know the stars can be changed. Hasn't she proved that? Hasn't he?"

"Yes, that is true, but they both will see the light in time."

"You know he will question her return. And what about his new lady warrior? He shares emotions with her."

"Not the kind he thinks. In time he will figure that out."

"And if he doesn't?"

"He will. It is written that he will."

"Hmm... Because the truth will be told."

"Yes, it shall. And it won't be easy when it is. There will be confusion, hurt, and pain. Lot's of pain."

"And more hate..."

"Yes, and they will have to overcome it all before they can find their way back to each other."

"And if they don't overcome? What then?"

"Then we are all doomed." The female higher being finally turned away from the flock of doves she had been petting to look at the male higher being. "And the world as we know it and the people that live in it are all doomed as well."

****

I wasn't even born when the girl with flaming red hair came to tell that she had died... again. I wasn't there to see him mourn her death, go away to Tibet for months to recover from it. But even after I did come along, I never knew about her. Sure, I knew that once a year he locked himself away in his room for a day, and brooded. But you have to understand that brooding came naturally to my father. In fact, I had gotten so used to it by the time we had worked through our problems I had quit questioning why he did it.

It's my understanding now that everyone refrained from speaking about her because they knew it would send my father into serious brood mode. That's the reason I never even knew she existed. But eventually I would find out about her. Eventually I would find out why everyone never spoke of her. Not even him. Eventually I would find out that his indifference to her wasn't really indifference at all. And eventually I would find out her true meaning to him. Not just to him, but to me as well. Eventually everyone would find out just how important she really was period. But until that time came, life went on. I got older, and joined the fight against evil. I joined the fight for my father's redemption, and I was by his side when he began to earn it. I was there to watch him see the sunlight for the first time in over two hundred and fifty some years. Rejoiced in it. Of course, my happiness at being by his side when it happened would fade the moment I learned his secret. But I'm jumping ahead of my story here, so let me go back a little.

I was there... By my father's side to watch him start to earn his redemption. I was there to watch the changes in him. We changed together. We became father and son instead of enemies. We became a family. And I soon began to think that he would eventually add to our family. Take a mate. He grew to love someone. Someone that and I and everyone else thought was the woman of his dreams. But like everything else I was eventually going to find out why he never would take the final step with her, and I was going to find it all out in the form of a gift. A gift from the powers.

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CHAPTER 1

Five years later...

"Conner? Son?" Conner suddenly jumped as a hand landed on his shoulder, but his eyes remained on the building across the street. "Conner, are you listening to me?"

"Mmm..."

"Okay then, what did I..." Angel peeked around the side of his son to find his eyes fastened on something outside the Hyperion lobby doors. "What are you looking at?"

Conner pointed straight ahead. "We have a new neighbor."

Angel came around to look at where his son was pointing to. "What happened to the Orange Julius that used to be there?"

"That's been gone for six months, Dad."

"It has?" Angel scratched his head. "How come no one told me?"

Conner shrugged, and still continued to keep his eyes trained on the building across the street. "Don't know. Maybe because you don't like orange juice."

"Right." Angel murmured and turned away from the front entrance doors to look at Conner. "So what's with the sudden interest in our new neighbor?"

"It's a girl."

"OH... Umm... Maybe now's a good time for us to talk."

"It's not necessary, Dad."

"Why not?"

"Because it's not what you think."

"It's not?"

"No. I've never even met her. Or even seen her for that matter."

"Then how do you know it's a girl?"

"She has breasts."

"W-What?" Angel blinked in surprise.

"Breasts. She has breasts, Dad. Nice ones from what I can tell. Their not as big as Cordelia's, but Gunn told me that more than a mouthful is a waste anyway."

"Okay, when did you look at Cordelia's... When did you and Gunn talk about..." Angel swept a hand through his hair. "Maybe we really should talk, Conner."

Conner finally glanced at his father. "Why? Did I say something wrong?"

"No. No. It's just we never... We never talked about what happens when a man and woman uhh... Well..."

"It's okay, Dad." Conner chuckled. "You can relax. I already know about all that."

"Y-You do?"

"Yeah." Conner's eyes returned to across the street. "Holtz told me. A-And I umm... I'm not exactly a virgin. I umm... While I was out there I umm... I've been with a woman, and you really can relax because I know the do's and don'ts that go along with it. Besides, it's like I told you before it's not like that with her."

Angel was still reeling from the news that his son had had sex, but he finally managed to relax somewhat. "Of course, it's not like that with her. You've never even seen her. And then there's the possibility that she could actually be a he dressed up like a she. We have alot of those in LA."

"Yeah, we do. But I know she's not one of them." Conner pointed to the form silhoutted in the shade of the first floor window. "Look at her. She moves like a woman. She has a womanly shape."

Angel glanced at the form Conner was pointing at. There was something vaguely familiar about the way she... he moved, but he quickly shook it off as a sharp pang of guilt began to overwhelm him. "Will you please stop staring at her, Conner. I feel like we're invading her... his privacy."

"The shade is drawn, and you can't see anything except her form. How then can we be invading her privacy?"

"Because it's uhh..." Angel suddenly forgot what he was about to say as he continued to watch the figure, and once again he fought the feeling that there was something vaguely familiar about her... him. "It's not nice to stare."

"I wasn't staring." Conner informed him. "I was watching her. You're the one that's staring."

"She's uhh... I'm not staring either, Conner. It's just... She's uhh... doing Tai Chi."

"Yeah." Conner murmured. "She does that alot."

"What do you mean..." Angel tore his gaze from the form again, and turned back to his son. "Just exactly how long have you been watching this person, Conner?"

"Two weeks."

"Two weeks!" Angel practically yelled. "Conner..."

Conner glanced over at his father. "I told you it's not like that, Dad. I've been watching her because I think she's a vampire."

"Why do you think that?"

"She never sleeps at night."

"That doesn't mean she's... he's a vampire, Conner. Maybe she... he works at night."

"I thought about that, but she never leaves during the day either. At least, if she does I don't see her."

"That still doesn't mean she's... he's a vampire, Conner."

"Okay, maybe she's not." Conner turned back to look at the building across the street. "But something is definitely off with her."

"Off? Off how?"

Conner wasn't about to tell his father that he was getting really weird vibes of their new neighbor. He knew if he did he would worry, so he kept his mouth shut. "I umm... I don't... I just..."

"You're attracted to her."

Conner glanced back over at his father and smiled. "So are you admitting you think she's a she, too?"

"No, I'm not doing any such thing, Conner. And don't change the subject. Are you attracted to umm... him... her?"

Conner's eyes returned to across the street. "I'm not really sure if you could call it attraction. It's more like I'm fascinated with her. I don't know. There's just something about her."

"Conner..." Angel started to say something, but he was interrupted. "There you two are." He turned around to greet the owner of the voice with a smile on his face. "Did you want something?"

"As a matter of fact, I did." Cordelia greeted him with a smile of her own, then handed him his jacket. "We have to go."

"Vision?"

She nodded. "Uh huh. Down on the docks. Looks like some vamp nest is inducting new members off some of the ships down there. I called the others. Their going to meet us there."

"Okay." Angel began to shrug on his coat as he turned back to Conner. "Conner?"

"What?" Conner asked, still not taking his eyes off the form across the street.

"Vision. Work. Are you coming or do you want to stay here?" Angel eyed his son's back in concern.

"I'm coming." He turned around to look at his father. "I could blow off some steam right about now."

And Conner did manage to blow off some steam. Especially when the team from AI had to split up to find the stragglers from the vampire nest they had raided earlier that night. The four he had given chase to had ended up eluding him until they had ducked into the alley behind his new neighbor's building. He didn't take time to ponder if it was just a coincidence or not. He simply gave chase after them, and it wasn't long after he had that he realized his mistake...

****

He was going to die... He knew it, and Conner silently cursed himself for being so stupid in the first place. He should have listened to his father. He should have never followed the four vamps into the alley. Angel had warned him there were too many places for a vampire to hide in such a place. Too many places to seek cover, and wait for the perfect opportunity to attack. And now here he was, shoved up against the brick wall of some building, waiting for the larger of the four vamps to finish him off while the other three stood and waited with smiles on there faces for the leftovers.

Conner prayed his father... any of his family... would find him before it was too late, but deep down he knew his prayers were in vain. No one would find him. Not alive anyway. And because they wouldn't eventually they would have to hunt him down the same way they had done the species he was about to become a member of.

It was a promise they had made to each other before he had ever entered their lives, and it was a promise they still kept now, and would always keep. They had vowed that if one of them should fall in the battle against evil the others would make sure he or she wouldn't come back as the enemy. That's what family was for. Especially his family. It was a bond they shared. A bond that made them even closer than other families.

Oh, God. He really was going to die, Conner thought to himself as he felt the fangs of the vampire sink into his neck, and his blood... his life's essence, slowly be drained from his body. But just when he felt everything began to fade around him he heard what sounded like a car engine, and lights... He saw lights, and then it was over. He watched in shock as the three other vamps were the first to disappear, and then the larger one, the one that had his fangs buried in his neck, was gone, too. Disappearing like dust in the wind, and left standing in his place was the most incredible woman he had ever seen.

His stunned eyes flew to her equally as stunned ones as he slid down the wall in relief and weakness, and then within seconds she was joining him, collapsing to the earth in front of him, and dropping the makeshift stake in her hands in the process.

They both sat there for what seemed like forever, both too shocked to do anything, but eventually he regained his senses enough to crawl over to her. He reached out to touch her, but she jerked away from him, but he wasn't sure if it was from fear or shock. "A-Are you okay?"

"I uhh..." The golden blonde shook her head as if to clear it. "I uhh..." And then suddenly she was touching him. "Y-You're bleeding."

Conner shrugged her hand away. Her touch... It felt funny. "It's nothing. Just a scratch."

She looked down at the blood on her hand. "I uhh... I think it's more than just a scratch. He w-was biting you." She frowned before looking back up at him. "I umm... w-where did they g-go? I s-stabbed them. I k-know I did. I-I felt it pierce..." She glanced back down at her bloody hand. "There's b-blood, but it isn't theirs. I-It's mine..." Cause it's always got to be blood, a voice whispered in her head. "B-Blood... It's just like mine. N-No! N-Not mine... I-It's n-not mine. It's yours." She must have spaced for a moment because the next thing she realized the stranger was gently touching her on the arm, jarring her back to reality. "I think you're in shock."

"Uh huh." She said, staring at him.

"You don't know what just happened, do you?"

She vigorously shook her head no, then turned away from him long enough to lose the contents of her stomach. When she turned back to him she was really pale, but still the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. "A-A drink." She pushed herself up off the ground on unsteady legs, and looked down at him. "I uhh... I n-need a drink. A-Are you coming?"

Ten minutes later the young woman had Conner's neck bandaged, and was now standing behind a kitchen island pouring Irish whiskey into two glasses. While she was doing that he took the opportunity to look around the room he was sitting in. It was large and open, and obviously under construction. But it wasn't the construction that caught his eye. It was the paintings leaned against one wall of the room. When he finally tore his gaze away from them and turned back to her, it was to find her eyeing him over the rim of her glass in great scrutiny. "It's Hell... The paintings. Their all of Hell." She pushed the other glass across the counter to him.

Conner looked down at the glass then back up at her. "You've been there." It was more of a statement than a question.

"I uhh... In my d-dreams I have." She sat her glass down, and pointed to the muriels. "The paintings are taken from my dreams. The umm... The dreams are so vivid sometimes. So vivid it seems real. So vivid it seems like I really have been there." She lifted her glass to her lips again and took a big gulp before sitting it down. "B-But if you think that's weird you're wrong. It g-gets weirder. I uhh... The really weird part is I managed to paint them in the exact image of my dreams. I mean identically."

"That's not so weird. It just means you really do have an artists'eye."

She let out a little laugh. "What if I told you that I'm not an artist. What if I told you I have no memory of ever being artistic before."

"Before?" Conner eyed her across the counter. "Before what?"

"Five years a-ago. I umm... I was hit by a car. I umm... I was in a coma for awhile. When I came to I umm... I don't remember anything. I mean, of my life before. I don't remember it, and no one seems to know who I am to tell me anything about it. Or at least that's what my Dad... my adoptive Dad tells me. No one seems to know who I am period. I don't exist. For the six months I was in my coma I was called Angel because apparently that's the only word that came out of my mouth the whole time."

Conner toyed with his glass. "Well, I guess that explains it."

She frowned. "Explains what?"

He locked eyes with her. "The weird vibes I've been getting off you. You're not a vampire. You're an angel."

She started laughing again, but quickly sobered and stared at him across the counter. "I-I'm sorry, b-but did you just say you thought I was a v-vampire?"

"Yeah." Conner nodded.

She started laughing again. "Th-That's funny. I-I mean, I th-thought I was a little loopy, b-but you... If someone heard you say that you would be in a psychiatric hospital before you could blink."

"Why do you say that?" Conner asked, a little confused.

"B-Because..." She laughed. "Everyone knows there's no such thing as vampire's, silly. There just folklore. M-Made up stories about incrediblely sexy males that enthrall the beautiful woman with their incredibly gorgeous, dark eyes."

Now it was Conner's turn to laugh. "Boy, if my father could hear you say that... Sure, to alot of women he may be sexy, and his eyes are dark, but I'm not so sure I would go as far as saying their incredibly gorgeous because I know for a fact their not when he morphs. Of course, no vampire is very pretty when in full vamp face, and that includes my father.

"Y-Your father?" She frowned again, and shook her head. "O-Okay, a-are you telling me... A-Are you saying th-that..."

"My father's a vampire?" Conner finished for her.

She nodded mutely.

"Yes. Well, he's part one anyway. And okay, you're staring at me. Why are you staring at me? Are you going to tell me that you were serious about thinking vampire's were folklore?"

"Uh huh..." She continued to stare at him in shock.

"But... If that's the case what did you..." Conner finally lifted his glass to his lips, and the dark liquid nearly burnt his throat up as it slid down it. "Outside..." He choked out as he sat his glass back down. "What do you think those guys were outside?"

"I umm... Guys. I mean, they looked like guys, but then..." She reached for her own glass again. "A-A blur. Everything's a blur. I-I remember pulling up in my car and seeing you fight with them, and then they umm... They surrrounded you... I don't know..." She finished off her drink and reached for the bottle to refill it. "I umm... I don't know. I just... I saw the biggest one shove you against the wall, a-and somehow... somehow I just knew he was going to kill you." Her hands were shaking as she refilled her glass. "E-Everything's a blur. I just... I barely remember jumping out of my car... There umm... There was some old chairs I had thrown out earlier in the day for the garbage truck to pick up. I-I remember snapping the leg off it, b-but..." She took another gulp of her drink. "A-A blur... Everything's a blur a-after that. He umm... H-He was biting you. I-I do remember that, but afterwards... A blur... Everything's a-a blur... But I-I do remember dust. One minute he was there and the n-next p-poof... Dust."

Conner chuckled. "The other three went poof before the one biting me did. And you were right about the dust. That's normally what you get when you stake a vampire through the heart."

"V-Vampire?"

"Yes." Conner locked eyes with her again. "Are you honestly going to tell me you didn't know what you killed?"

She jumped to her feet. "Hell yes, I'm telling you I didn't know what they uhh..." She began to pace back and forth in front of him. "A dream. This has to be a dream like all the others. I'm going to wake up. A-Any minute now I'm going to wake up."

It was during her pacing that Conner caught sight of something that sent him scrambling off his own barstool. "Sonofa..."

"Wh-What?" She spun around to look at him.

"Y-You're a..." He started to laugh, but quickly sobered and was yanking her across the counter before she could so much as blink. "I don't know who you are, demon but whoever you are I'm not falling for your tricks."

"Wh-What?" She repeated and her eyes welled up with tears as he yanked her head back by her hair.

"This..." Conner spat through gritted teeth, and touched her scar. The moment he did though, a shock wave went through him, causing him to abruptly let go of her and stumble back in both fear and stunned surprise. "Wh-Who are you?" He whispered, locking eyes with her.

"I don't know." She answered, her teary gaze connecting with him. "I-I don't know." And then she was crying. Sobbing was more like it, and God help him he couldn't take it. For some reason it was breaking his heart, and he didn't stop to question why. All he could think about was comforting her as he watched her fall to the floor in a crumbled heap...

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CHAPTER 2

"I'm sorry." She murmured a little while later. I normally don't get this emotional."

"Neither do I." Conner admitted to her. They were now sitting in the floor against the counter, her head laying on his shoulder. "I don't know what came over me."

"Y-You felt it, too." She sniffled, and raised her head to look at him.

"D-Didn't you?"

He nodded.

"Do uhh... Do we... I mean, d-do you know who I am? Wh-Who I really am?"

"No." He murmured. "But for some reason I feel like I should. Weird, huh?"

"N-No. I umm..." Another laugh erupted from her throat. "I don't think it's any weirder than what else has happened tonight."

Conner chuckled. "True."

Her laughter faded, but her smile stayed. "I'm Chara, by the way." She stuck out her hand. "Chara Williams."

Conner enveloped her hand, and he was once again overwhelmed with a storm of emotions. "Conner. Just Conner. And it's nice to meet you, Chara."

"You too, Conner." She rewarded him with another smile. "And now that the introductions are out of the way don't you think we should try and figure out what the hell is going on with us?"

"Why question it? I mean, it's pretty obvious that it was meant to be, us meeting, so maybe we should just take it as the blessing it is and go from there."

"Blessing, huh? You think it was a blessing that we met?"

"Of course." He smiled, and there was something vaguely familiar about it to Chara, but she didn't have a clue why. "If we hadn't I would be..."

"Dead..." She finished and shivered. "Yeah, I know. But I still don't really understand what happened. All I remember is pulling up in my car and seeing you... I've never seen anyone fight the way you do. You were doing some serious ass kicking, and then I remember seeing the other three come out of nowhere... I wanted to scream until I realized I was still sitting in my car and it wouldn't do any good if I did. Everything's kinda blurry after that. I saw them gang up on you, and somehow I just knew I couldn't sit by and do nothing. By the time I managed to get to you the bigger one was already uhh... biting you. I don't know how to explain it but it was almost like I could feel your pain, and I have never been so afraid in my life. N-Not for me, but f-for you. I-I was afraid for you. Really afraid. Now tell me that's not weird."

"Maybe to others, but... Well, the truth is the same happened to me when you started crying..." Conner murmured. " When you started crying I felt your pain. All of it. And I have to tell you now it was rather overwhelming."

"S-Sorry." She half-giggled, half-cried. "I umm... Th-The pain... I-It umm... It comes from five years of pain and n-not knowing."

"But there's happiness inside you, too." Conner reached for her hand. "I felt it. Tell me about it. Tell me about the last five years. Maybe it will help you, and in the process it will give me the chance to get to know you."

"Well, I umm..." She sighed. "You already know the first part of the story. I umm... After the accident I umm... I was in the coma for six months, and then one day I just woke up, and when I did I couldn't remember anything. Nothing. Not even my name. It was so hard... The not knowing. It still is, but having Kyle helps."

"Kyle? Who's Kyle? Is he your mate?"

Chara laughed. "I think you mean husband, and the answer is no." She quickly sobered, and looked down at her left hand. "Although I'm not ruling out the possibility that I have one out there somewhere." She held up her hand. "See this..." She showed him the ring on her left ring finger. "It's another part of my past life that I don't remember. It was the only thing on me when I was found, and after I was well enough I did some research. It's a..."

"Irish wedding ring..." Conner finished for her. "Yeah, I know. My father was... is originally from Galway, Ireland. He taught me everything there is to know about his people, including their traditions. But that ring... It doesn't have the same meaning as it used to when my Dad was growing up. It's not always given as a wedding ring nowdays. Nowdays it's mainly exchanged as a sign of friendship."

"I know that too, Conner." She murmured, looking down at the ring on her finger again. "And even Kyle has pointed it out to me because he doesn't want me to think the worst."

"The worst?"

"Yeah. That whoever he was... My husband... Kyle doesn't want me to think he didn't want me anymore. He umm... He doesn't want me to think that I couldn't make him happy... That I was incapable of loving or being loved by whoever he was, but it's too late... I've thought of nothing but that since the moment I found out the true meaning of my ring. How can I not when he's not here to tell and show me differently. There's no one. Not one single person from my past life has come looking for me, a-and because they haven't I can't help but wonder what kind of person I really was. Horrible. That's all I can think. I must have been a really horrible person. I mean, how else do you explain the fact that no one has missed me?"

She shook her head as if to clear it. "I'm sorry," She murmured. "Depressing. I must be depressing you. K-Kyle... Let's get back to Kyle. He's uhh... He's my adoptive Dad, n-not my real Dad. He umm... He was the police officer that investigated my a-accident. T-To say he got personally involved is an understatement. He said he fell in love with me the first moment he laid eyes on me, and he swore to take care of me no matter what, and he did. He umm... He did everything he could to find my true identity while I was in the hospital. He wanted to find my real family and bring them to me, but his search was futile. N-Nothing. He couldn't find anything. It was like I never existed, so when it turned out I might be facing life in a mental institution.... He umm... He couldn't take it. My being all alone, so he gave me a home, and his last name. I picked out the name Chara myself. I don't know why. I just... I don't know why but it just came to me one day in the hospital, and it felt right for some reason."

"You've mentioned a mental institution twice. We're you in one?"

"Y-Yes." She stood up, and walked over to the counter to pour herself another drink, and Conner knew whatever she was struggling with must be pretty bad. "It's okay, Chara. You can tell me anything. I promise I won't judge you."

"I umm... After I came out of the coma, things were so hard. My recuperation was long and drawn out because of the coma, and the injuries I sustained in the accident. I had surgery right after the accident to relieve the swelling on my brain, and to stop the internal bleeding... And I also had two other surgeries on my right leg while I was in the coma. It was severly broken. C-Compound fracture. I had to take hours and hours of physical therapy to regain my strength, and then the hospital gave me back my ring, and I couldn't help but wonder why no one had tried to find me. I don't know... Maybe it was all too much for me because I started having these nightmares. Nightmares about hell, demons, vampires, death and destruction, and blood... Lots and lots of blood. The images were so vivid I would wake up screaming my head off, and I also had this feeling like someone was watching me. I was always looking over my shoulder. I didn't sleep. I still don't sleep. But before... eventually everything just took it's toll on me physically and mentally." She let out a bitter laugh, and took a sip of her drink. "I cracked... I cracked under all the pressure so my doctor called in a psychiatrist to exam me, and when I told him about the nightmares and that I felt like I was being watched he came to the conclusion that I was crazy and had me committed to a mental institution." She shivered. "I was there thirty horrifying days before Kyle finally managed to get me out, and I 'm never going back. Never! I don't care how many people think I'm a freak. I'm not going back there. I'm not! Thankfully though, I'll never have to worry about it because Kyle has promised me he would never let anyone hurt me again."

Her experience was really bad. Not just that, she was hiding something. Conner could tell. That's why he didn't press her to talk about it further, maybe in time she would open up to him and tell him what she was hiding. Until then he would wait. "Kyle... You two are close, huh?"

"Uh huh..." She swiped at tears he couldn't see, and walked back over to sit beside him. "He never had kids of his own. His wife died ten years ago of cancer, and he pretty much devoted his life to being a cop until I came along and got him away from it. I umm... I hated it. Him being a cop. Everytime he left to go to work I would be on edge the whole time wondering if that particular night would be the night one of his fellow officers was going to arrive at our house bearing the news I feared the most. I stayed on him to retire for two years, and then last year something happened that enabled him to make my dream come true."

"What happened?"

"I-I hit the jackpot."She laid her head back down on his shoulder. "Vegas. We went to Vegas on vacation. He hadn't taken a vacation in years, and I finally talked him into going. Again, I don't know why, but for some reason I wanted to go there, and he took me. We were there three days when I hit the megabucks on a slot machine at the Desert Inn."

"When you say megabucks, exactly how many megabucks are we talking about, Chara?"

"You were eyeing my car outside earlier, Conner. How much money do you think it takes to buy a car like that?"

"I-I don't know. I don't even have my driver's liscense much less own a car. Now ease my curiosity and answer my question. Just how many megabucks did you win?"

She raised her head to look at him. "34.9 million after taxes."

Conner blinked in surprise. "You're kidding?"

"Nope, and I was just as shocked as you are. It took me a month before I realized I had more money than I could ever imagine, but it only took me one second after I did for me to know what I wanted to do with some of it. K-Kyle... I deposited a very nice sum into his retirement account, and then I went to him and asked him to retire. At first he said no, but when I told him how scared I was of losing him, he gave in and did as I asked."

"So he retired. What's he doing now?"

"He runs a community center downtown. He loves kids. He always has, and he's been volunteering for years. He doesn't like to see kids on the streets. Once I was well enough, I started volunteering myself. I teach Karate, Tai Chi, Gymnastics, Yoga, and Modern Dance. I love teaching. I majored in Physical Education at UCLA, and I just graduated six months ago. A Personal Trainer. I'm a Personal Trainer, and this place is going to be my gym once I'm done with it."

Conner looked around the wide open room, at the muriels on the wall. "This place is going to be a gym?"

Chara giggled. "A-Actually, this is going to be my apartment. The gym is going to be downstairs."

"So you're going to live here?"

"I already live here. I moved in two weeks ago. There's alot that needs to be done, and since I have really weird sleep habits, and work schedule I thought my staying here would allow me to work on those things when I'm not working or can't sleep. Kyle hated it, of course. My moving out on my own, I mean. But it was for the best. He's only forty nine years old, but he acts much older. Lives like a damn hermit when he's not volunteering, and I'm sick of it. He needs a life outside of me. Don't get me wrong though. I'm not trying to put distance between us. I still want him in my life. He's my Dad. But as long as I'm around he refuses to do anything without me, and it's not good for him. He needs the kind of female companionship I can't give him."

"You mean he needs a mate."

Chara laughed again. "Yeah, a mate. He needs a mate. Or at least he needs to date prospective ones anyway."

Conner locked eyes with her. "And you? What about you, Chara? What do you need? Do you need one as well?"

Chara turned away from him. "No. I don't need anything, Conner. I'm happy with the way my life is. Besides, I don't date, and I pretty much told you why, so let's just drop it, okay?"

"Chara..." Conner started to say, but she cut him off. "You know, I've been babbling about myself and I just realized that we haven't really talked about you o-or what happened o-outside." She glanced back over at him. "What did happen outside, Conner. I mean, really? Because from where I was standing either those guys were really ugly or they wasn't human, and I'm guessing by the way you fought them that you're not exactly normal boy either."

"I told you what those things were outside, Chara."

"S-So it's true?" She asked meekly.

"Yes." Conner nodded. "It's true. Vampires exist. As do demons and any other evil you could possibly imagine."

A half laugh, half sob escaped from her lips. "G-God, what I-I wouldn't have given to know you four and a half y-years ago before they put me i-in that place."

"Chara..."

She shook her head. "N-No, Conner. You don't have to apologize to me for what happened. You wasn't even there. I umm... It's just... It's overwhelming. All this is overwhelming. I-I just need some time to digest it is all." She stood up and moved to the kitchen island to pour herself another drink. "So... A-Are you?"

"Am I what?" Conner stared at her back in confusion.

"A-A vampire?" She turned back around to look at him. " Are you going to kill me? B-Because I seem to recall you mentioning earlier that your father is one, too."

"My father's different, Chara. And so am I."

"I would ask you to explain different, Conner. But right now I need you to answer my question. Are you going to kill me?"

"What do you think?"

Her eyes welled up with tears. "I-I don't know." She began to cry again. "I-I look at you and it feels as if I've known you forever. A-And then there's those things outside... They would have killed me. I know they would have killed me if they had gotten the chance."

Conner stood up. "Yes, they would have. Their cold blooded killers."

"But a-are they like you and y-your father?"

"No. I told you we're different, Chara. Neither one of us would ever hurt you, and you'll see that once I explain everything to you."

"Fine. Explain then. Start with your father first. Tell me how he's different from those things outside."

"He has a soul. Well, that and he's part human now, too."

"W-What?"

"Human, Chara. My Dad is part human." He saw her frown, and reach up to rub her temples. "Look, it's complicated, okay?"

"Uh huh. So complicated that it's already giving me a splitting headache."

"I'm sorry." He murmured. "But will you let me explain anyway?"

"Sure." She gestured to a stool, and then sat down in the one behind her.

"Be my guest."

Conner sat down. "Okay, where do you want me to start?"

"How about at the beginning." She reached for the bottle of Irish whiskey on the counter. "How did your Dad become a vampire?"

"He was sired by a female vampire in Galway, Ireland in 1753. Her name was Darla."

"So that umm... that would make him over two hundred and fifty years old, right?"

"Two hundred fifty three to be exact." Conner answered her. "And he was one of the evilest vampires to ever exist. That's why he was dubbed Angelus, The Scourge of Europe. He left a path of destruction... death... where ever he went."

"Okay, if that's the case, how can he be any different than those things outside? In fact, from what you're telling me it sounds like he should be the leader of the pack."

"The word is Master, and Dad probably would have been one if he had stayed on the path he was on. But the thing is he's not like that anymore. See, when a human is turned into a vampire there's nothing left of that person except it's body. There's nothing left inside whatsoever. No heart... No soul... All that's there is demon. Pure demon. That's how my Dad differs from other vampires. He's the only vampire to have a soul."

"So what you're saying is your Dad didn't have a soul at first, but now he does?" She asked as she raised her glass of whiskey to her lips.

"Yes."

"O-Kay, I get it. But I don't understand how he got it. His soul, I mean."

"He was cursed by Romany gypsies. They cursed him with his soul after he killed a beloved daughter of their clan. It took him almost eighty years to pull himself together enough to deal with the things he had done while he was Angelus, and now he fights his own kind to redeem himself. He's earning his humanity."

Chara shook her head. "I-I don't understand. H-How is that p-possible?"

"The powers. He's a warrior for the powers now, and his reward for helping them in their fight against evil is his humanity. He's slowly but surely earning it back little by little. There's even a prophecy about him. It tells of how the vampire with a soul will shanshu... earn his humanity... if he survives the end of days. But prophecies are sometimes very vague. As was the case in the one about my Dad. Instead of him earning his humanity all at once after the end of days like we thought, he's slowly earning it piece by piece instead. The best we can figure out is that the final step will be made if he does survive the end of days. I guess that explains why he never gets excited when a change occurs."

"S-So there have been ch-changes?"

"Yeah. First he lost his allergy to crosses and churches. Then the curse was fixed. The powers bound his soul to keep him from losing it and going all evil."

"Has that happened before? H-Him going all evil?"

"Yeah, twice. But I wasn't around to see it and he won't talk about it, so I have no idea what happened to cause it."

"It must h-have been bad." Cara murmured.

"Gathering Angelus' history I don't doubt that it was. That's why it was a big relief to the both of us that the powers bound his soul. He had made me promise that if he should ever lose his soul again I would kill him. But honestly, I'm not so sure I could have done it because they share the same body, the same face. My father's face."

There was something about this conversation that was vaguely familiar to Chara, but she didn't know why. And she wasn't about to try and figure it out. Not when her head was starting to feel like there was a entire drum line inside of it. "I umm... The changes... Have there been others?" Conner nodded. "Yeah. He can now eat real food. He still requires blood, but not everyday. And before you ask, because I know you're going to, Dad doesn't drink human blood. Pig's blood. He drinks pig's blood purchased at a butcher shop."

"Oh, I umm... So I guess you wasn't lying when you said he wouldn't hurt me. If he doesn't drink human blood that means he doesn't uhhh... bite. A-Am I right? He doesn't bite does he?"

"No." Conner fibbed. He wasn't about to tell her about the time his father bit his friend Kate. He didn't want to scare her or upset her. Not when he knew that's exactly what was going to happen when he broached the subject with her about the scar on her neck that he had noticed earlier. "And if you think that's weird than you're wrong. Try seeing a vampire go into sunlight and not go poof. The day that happened to my Dad I nearly freaked out."

"Sunlight? Y-Your Dad can go into the sunlight?"

"Yeah, that was the most dramatic, and recent change. It happened six months ago."

"A-And he's happy about it?"

"To a certain extent he is because of me... Us. He enjoys the fact that he and I can do things together outside in the daylight now, but I don't know... After it happened he withdrew into himself for weeks. Brooded as everyone calls it. And because he did, Cordelia got really pissed off. Why I don't know."

"C-Cordelia?" Chara frowned. Why the hell did that name seem sound so familiar?

"She's my Dad's girlfriend." Conner informed her.

"Oh... Umm... I-Is she a vampire, too?"

"No." Conner shook his head. "She's human. Well, part human. She gave up part of her humanity to become half demon."

"W-What? W-Why would she do such a thing?"

"She gets visions from the powers. They send them to her when someone is in trouble. That's how my Dad helps them, and with each individual that he helps he earns a little more of his redemption. Cordelia's been helping him since he moved here. Her and my Dad's other friends. It was one of my Dad's friends that passed the ability to have visions on to Cordelia. He was part demon so he could handle them, but when he died and passed that ability on to Cordelia her human body couldn't handle it. Getting the visions was killing her, so she became part demon to keep that from happening. She gave up part of her humanity so that she could continue to help my Dad."

"Is she uhh... Is she your m-mother?"

"No. My mother was... is Darla, my Dad's sire. I never knew her. She umm... She didn't have a soul like Dad, but she did get a heart in the end before she umm... She sacrificed her life to save mine."

"So what does that make you?"

"Human. I'm human." Conner looked across the counter at her. "And don't ask me how that's possible because I don't know. Know one does. In fact, know one knows how to explain the fact that my Dad got Darla pregnant in the first place. Vampires can't... Their dead... Their not supposed to be able to have children much less a completely human one. I'm the exception. And to make things even more complicated it turns out I'm not just an ordinary human. It turns out I'm sorta like you."

"M-Me? What do you mean you're like me, Conner? I-I'm not... I'm not like you."

"Yes, you are, Chara. You don't scar. You said so yourself. Neither do I. You're strong. Abnormally strong. So am I. And last but not least, you fight better than my Dad. I'm not quite there but in time I will be. You are not a normal human being, Chara. And neither am I. So I guess that makes us kindred."

"I umm..." She shook her head. "I didn't know about the super strength. The not scarring, yes. But the strength... I remember the first time it was b-brought to my attention. Gods, I don't think I'll ever be able to forget it. B-But that doesn't mean... I can hold back. I have been holding back. N-No one knows. N-Not even D-Daddy. I've hidden it for so long. U-Until tonight."

"You know, if I didn't know better I would almost swear you were a slayer."

"A-A slayer?" Chara frowned again. "W-What's a slayer?"

"The Chosen One. The one girl in the world chosen to defend it against the vampires and other evil that threaten it's existance."

"A-And you think I umm... D-Do you really think I may be one?"

"I really did think it was possible, but the more I do think about it, I kinda doubt it. There's only one slayer, and she's the only one until she umm... dies. Faith is the slayer now. She'll umm... She'll be the slayer until she dies, and another one is called to take her place."

"F-Faith?" Chara rubbed her temples as another name rang familiar in her head. "Y-You know this umm... You know the slayer?"

"Mmm... But not as good as my Dad. Their friends. They have been for awhile."

"Th-That's umm... That's a little weird, don't you think? A-A vampire being friends with a slayer?"

"No, not really. I told you my Dad was different, Chara. He kills evil to protect the innocent, and Faith does the same thing. They both fight to better the world. Someone has to do it. Especially since so many others fail to see what's really out there."

"I guess that explains about this then." She pointed to the scar on her neck. "I noticed a little while after I came out of the coma, and when I asked about it Kyle and my doctor told me it was there when I was found. The doctor told me he thought it was a wild animal bite, but I dreamt differently. I dreamt I was bitten by a vampire with no face, and when I told the doctor at the institution about it he centered my treatment around convincing me that there was no such thing as vampires therefore my scar couldn't have been caused by one." She let out a bitter laugh. "A-After I umm... got out of the institution I couldn't even look at it much less talk it about it. That's why when someone finally did ask me what happened to cause it I told them I was bitten by an adorable angry puppy. I thought the story was cute, and was much better than telling someone I was bitten by a wild animal or a-a... I never told anyone that I thought it was a vampire bite after I got out of the institution. I was afraid it would get me thrown back into it. Of course, now that I've met you and I know I'm not crazy..." She locked eyes with him and raised her hand to the scar again. "It isn't an angry puppy bite is it?"

Conner leaned across the counter to cover her hand. "No, I don't think it is. I'm pretty sure it's a vampire bite, but I won't swear to it because I've never seen any old bite marks. Just fresh one's like mine, and the only answer I have to why you're alive is that you evidently must have gotten lucky like I did tonight."

"By lucky you mean either I escaped or someone saved me?"

"Possibly. But then again..."He brushed her hand aside to touch the scar, and the minute he did he got the same shockwaves he had earlier. Shockwaves that had him drawing his hand back because of the intensity of them.

"B-But then again what?"

"N-Nothing..." Conner reached for his untouched glass of whiskey. "It's nothing."

Chara could tell there was something he wasn't telling her. It was written all over his face. "C-Conner..."

Conner took a big gulp of the whiskey before speaking to her "You know, My Dad told me alcohol was bad for you, and that it tasted horrible, but evidently he was fibbing because I happen to think this stuff isn't half bad."

She blinked in surprise. "You mean you've never drank before?"

"Nope. I guess I failed to mention the little part where he also told me he'd kill me if I did."

"Oh, God..." Chara reached across the counter and snatched the glass out of Conner's hand. "Kill me... Your Dad isn't going to kill you, he's going to kill me. "Oh, God..." She went to the sink to pour the glass of whiskey down it. "This is just great. He's going to go all *grr* on me for giving his baby whiskey, and he's going to kill me."

"He's not going to kill you, Chara. And just so you know, I am not a baby. I'm twenty two years old and If I'm not mistaken that makes me old enough to drink."

"Still doesn't matter..." She muttered. "To him you're still his baby, and if I were in his shoes and someone gave my baby liquor I would want to kill them, too." She turned around to look at him with sad eyes. "Your his only child, Conner. And you're still young. I should be setting an example since I'm older than you, and what do I go and do? I ply you with whiskey. Irish whiskey at that. This stuff is rock gut and I'm pretty sure your Dad knows that since he's from Ireland. That's probably why he told you alcohol was bad for you. It's because it's true. Horrible... I'm a horrible, horrible person."

"You're not a horrible person, Chara. You were in shock, and needed someone to have a drink with. And once again let me remind you that I am not a baby."

"Okay, maybe you're not, but you're still his baby. His only baby, Conner. That fact only makes a parent even more protective. Kill me... He'll kill me, and I'll let him because I deserve it."

"He won't kill you, Chara. My Dad's a pretty great guy once you get to know him."

"So you say, still..." She started around the counter. "Maybe you should go home." She halted in her tracks right before she reached him. "But then again maybe you shouldn't... He'll smell it. The alcohol is still fresh on your breath, and he'll smell it and demand to know where you were, and Oh, God..." Conner started laughing as he watched her go from worried to panicked, and at the same time shoot him a dirty look. "It's not funny, Conner! I don't want to fight anymore vampires! I abhorr violence of any kind. I don't even watch tv for christ's sake! I abhorr what this world is coming to. All the murdering going on! And now not only do I have to worry about dying at the hands of a human being, you up and tell me about vampires and demons and I have to worry about them, too!"

"You're getting upset again." Conner mumbled.

"Of course, I'm getting upset! I would like to live long enough to find out who I am, who I really am before I die again!"

"Again?" Conner asked in shock. "You died? When did you die?"

"Well duh, Conner! "She yelled. "When I was struck by that car! You do remember my telling you about that, don't you?"

"Yeah, but you never mentioned anything about dying, Chara."

"Oh..." She seemed to calm some. "W-Well, I umm... I did. For seven minutes to be exact, and then they brought me back." She felt her panic rising again. "Not that it matters now though, because I'm going to die again very soon. Only this time it'll be for real, and it'll be at the hands of your father of all things!"

"He's not going to kill you, Chara." Conner repeated. "I told you he doesn't even drink human blood, and then there's that soul of his... It does wonders for him. He's a really great guy, and I can almost guarantee you that he'll mellow out even more towards you once he finds out that you share something in common with him."

"Oh, really? And what exactly is it that we share in common, Conner?"

"Angel. You're both angels."

"W-What?" Chara asked, slightly confused.

"My Dad's name is Angel, Chara. And to make matters even better you're neighbors."

Chara's face paled as the name sliced through her. "A-Angel... Your Dad's name is A-Angel?" She began to feel lightheaded, and her legs felt really rubbery. "M-My neighbor... He's umm... A-Angel..." Conner shot to his feet the minute he saw her start to sway. "Chara? What is it? What's wrong?"

"I umm..." She reached for the counter to steady herself. "L-Lay d-down. I umm... I n-need to lay down." She brought her free hand to her throbbing temple. "H-Head... M-My head h-hurts."

Conner closed the distance to her, and slid his arm around her to support her. "Come on. I'll help you."

She nodded mutely, too much in pain to argue with him, and pointed in the direction of the sofa.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

CHAPTER 3

Conner entered the lobby of the Hyperion Hotel, and closed the distance to Cordelia, who was standing at the front desk looking at something on the computer. "Your Dad has been looking for you." She informed him without looking up. "He's pissed."

"It's not the first time he's been pissed, he'll get over it." He answered as he moved around the front desk, and plopped down in a chair.

Cordelia shut off the computer, and turned around to face him. "Okay, what the hell is up with you, Conner?"

"What do you mean?" He looked up at her and grinned.

"That!" She pointed at his face. "You've been way too happy for someone who has been sidelined from action by his father for the past month."

"That's because I found a better way to spend my down time." He tucked his hands behind his head. "A girl, Cordy. I met a girl. No, wait a minute. I take that back. A woman. I met a woman."

"W-What?" Cordelia stared at him in surprise.

"A woman, Cordelia. I met a woman."

"Y-You're in love?"

Conner frowned. "Well, n-no. I mean, I don't... Yeah." He broke into another grin. "Yeah, I guess I do love her."

"I umm... Wow... D-Does your father know?"

"No. Why would I tell him?"

"Well duh, Conner! He's your father. Oh yeah, and in case you didn't know it, he's been wracking his brain for weeks trying to figure out why you've been so distant with him lately. I mean, besides the fact that you're mad at him for sidelining you, that is. You should tell him. Ease his mind."

"You're just hoping I'll tell him about Chara so he'll tell you. Admit it, Cordelia."

"C-Chara? Her name is Cara? What the hell kind name is Chara?"

"A very nice one thank you very much. Not as nice as the woman herself, mind you. But nice nevertheless."

"Well, isn't that just sweet." She said sarcastically, and turned back to fool with something on the desk.

"Jesus, Cordelia. What evil crawled up your butt and rooted? You're the one that asked me about Chara, remember? I was just trying to be nice and tell you because Dad thinks we don't talk enough."

She sighed, and turned back around to face him. "I'm sorry, Conner. It's been a bad day. Go ahead and tell me all about Little Miss. Chara."

Another goofy grin appeared on Conner's face. "She's beautiful, Cordelia. Really tiny with golden blonde hair, and hazel eyes."

"She has golden blonde hair and hazel eyes?"

"Yeah." His eyes narrowed as he watched the play of emotions on Cordelia's face. "Why?"

"Nothing." She shook her head and turned away from him again. "It's nothing. I just... I'm surprised that's all. Darla had blonde hair and green eyes. What is it with men and blonde's with green eyes?"

Conner sat up. "What men? Who else has a thing for blonde's with hazel eyes? I mean, besides my Dad? And okay, you can strike Dad off the list because you and I both know that the thing with Darla really wasn't a thing."

"True, but Darla wasn't the only blonde in your father's life, Conner."

"There was someone else?" Conner stared at Cordelia's rigid back in shock. And he was shocked. He thought he knew everything about his father.

"Yes." Cordelia fiddled with a file. "She was blonde, and had hazel eyes. Tiny, too. Just a few inches over five feet. And her and your Dad... It was more than just a thing with them."

"Oh... " He murmured, realizing what Cordelia was saying. "He uhh... He loved her, didn't he?"

"Still does." She muttered. "Although he denies it."

"I umm... He loves you, Cordy. He's with you, isn't he?"

"Only because she's dead."

Her words stunned Conner again. "Dead? She umm... Stake?"

"Portal. And God, I can't believe I'm talking about her." She spun back around. "Talking about her is bad. Very, very bad. So let's not do it, okay? Let's talk about this Chara instead. Tell me everything there is to know about her."

"Everything?" Conner stared up at her.

"Uh huh." Cordelia gave him her best fake smile. "Now why don't you start with where you two met."

He grimaced, and Cordelia didn't miss it. "Uh oh. I don't like this. You have guilt face." She crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Why do you have guilt face, Conner?"

He shifted nervously in his chair. "Because I've sorta been keeping something from Dad. Everyone actually."

"You mean besides Chara herself?"

He nodded.

"What is it, Conner? What didn't you tell your Father? Everyone?"

"She saved my life." He braced himself for the explosion about to come.

"What! What do you mean she saved your life? What happened?"

"I got bit."

"You got bit again?" She asked in shock.

"No, Cordy. Not again. Only once."

"Wait a minute, Conner. Are you saying she was there that night?"

"Yes. And the truth is she was the one that killed the four vampires, not me."

"I don't believe this!" Cordelia came over and pulled him out of the chair by his arm. "Let's go."

"Uh uh, Cordy." Conner halted her in her tracks. "There is no way in hell I'm telling him. He was pissed off enough when I told him that I went into that alley by myself."

"You're telling him, Conner." She yanked him towards a closed office door. "If you don't, I will." She reached the door, and threw it open without bothering to knock.

"Cordy..." Angel shot to his feet. "What is it? Is something wrong?"

"Why don't you ask *Mr. I like to keep secrets* here." She muttered, letting go of Conner's arm, and plopping down in one of the chairs in front of Angel's desk.

"Conner?" Angel's eyes moved to his son. "Would you like to tell me what she's talking about?"

"He met a slayer." Cordelia answered before Conner got the chance. "And it wasn't Faith, either. This one has blonde hair and hazel eyes. Go figure. Like father like son."

Angel started to say something, but Conner spoke before he could get the words out. "She's not a slayer, Dad."

"Yeah, right!" Cordelia snorted. "If she's not a slayer then how do you explain that fact that she killed four vampires?"

Angel's eyes shot back to his son, who was nervously shifting on the balls of his feet. "She killed four vampires by herself?"

"Yeah, but she's not a slayer, Dad." Conner argued. "Okay, yes her fighting skills are incredible. Better than yours and mine actually. And yes, she's strong. Really, really strong to be so tiny. But she didn't even know what a slayer was when I brought it up."

"Okay, Conner let's back track for a moment. Who is this girl, and how exactly did you meet her?"

"Woman." Cordelia muttered to Angel. "He says she's a woman, Angel. Not a girl, and just wait until you hear the next part. You're going to love it."

"Cordy..." Angel's gaze shto to his girlfriend in warning. "Will you shut up and let him tell me?"

"Fine. I'm shutting up." She shot him a dirty look. One which he returned before moving his gaze back to Conner. "Conner?"

"See if I ever tell you anything else, Cordelia." Conner muttered before taking the seat beside her.

"I'm waiting, Conner." Angel said after sitting down in his own chair.

"Well, uhh..." Conner started. "D-Do you remember the night I was ambushed and bitten?"

"Of course, I do." Angel answered. "Why do you think you're sidelined right now? You were stupid and you know it."

"Yes, sir I was. I admit it. Just like I'm about to admit that I lied to you."

Angel's eyes narrowed as he stared at his son. "About that night?"

Conner nodded.

"Let me guess..." Angel said. "It was the girl that killed the vampires instead of you. Am I right?"

"Yes, sir." Conner looked down at his hands.

"But if you think that's news, Angel you're wrong." Cordelia added. "It gets better. He's dating little Miss. Slayer."

Angel's gaze moved back to his son. "Is that true? Are you dating this girl?"

"Woman." Conner corrected him. "Chara's a woman, Dad. And I uhh... I wouldn't exactly say I'm dating her. I umm... We're friends. Very good friends. And I umm... I love her."

Angel's only reaction to Conner's words was for him to sit forward in his desk chair. "No more lying, Conner. Everything. I want you to tell me everything you know about this gi... woman."

Conner nodded, and shifted in his seat. "Well, you uhh... you already know the part about me being ambushed and bitten, and now you know that it was Chara that killed the vampires instead of me. The truth is I never managed to escape at all once the biggest vamp got his fangs into me. I was... I knew I was going to die, and all I could think about was you guys. Here I was facing death in the form of a vampire, and then all of a sudden I watched the same four vampires disappear before they even knew what hit them, and left standing in there place was the most incredible woman I have ever seen. I swear, Dad if you could have seen her. She dusted those guys without breaking a sweat."

"And she says she's not a slayer."

"Well, at first I didn't actually get around to asking her if she was or not."

"Why not?"

"Because after she killed the vamps she sank to the ground, and all we could do at first was stare at each other. Both of us were too stunned to move, but eventually I came to my senses enough to crawl over and see if she was okay. When I reached her there was this look in her eyes... I don't know how to explain it, Dad but whatever it was it was real. I saw it, and then as quickly as it was there it was gone, and she noticed I was bleeding. My blood... She got some of it on her hands and I guess she freaked out. She started mumbling something about the blood not being theirs, that it always has to be blood, and it's just like hers."

"You mean yours." Cordelia corrected him.

"No, Cordy. She said just like mine. Her exact words were he was biting you. Where did they go? I stabbed them. I know I did. I felt it pierce... There's blood, but it isn't theirs. It's mine. 'Cause it's alway got to be blood. Blood. It's just like mine. No, not mine. It's not mine. It's yours."

"You remember every word she said?" Cordelia asked in disbelief.

"It was kind of hard not to, Cordelia. I mean, if you could have seen her. She was so different from the woman I saw killing those vampires minutes before that. She looked so helpless. So alone..."

"She was in shock." Angel murmured.

"Yeah, she was because the next thing she did was turn away from me to get sick, and when she turned back to me she told me she needed a drink, and then she stood up and asked me if I was coming."

"Where did you go?"

"I umm..." Conner looked down at his hands again to keep from meeting his father's eyes.

"Conner..."

"Across the street."

"What?" Angel eyed his son across his desk as Conner raised his gaze to him. "It turns out I was right, Dad. She is a she. Chara's our next door neighbor. I sort of fibbed about what alley I was attacked in. It was actually in the alley behind her building. But if you think the alley was a coincidence you're wrong."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I umm... She's turning the second floor of the building into her apartment, and that's where she took me after the attack. At first I didn't pay any attention to my surroundings because she kinda held my attention, but once she finished patching me up I got a chance to look around. There were several paintings leaned against one of the walls. Paintings of Hell. Really vivid paintings that chilled me to the bone. She caught me staring at them, and she confessed to me that they were exactly what I thought they were. She told me she painted the scenes from these dreams she kept having. But it was the next thing she said to me that was really weird. She umm... she said she had no recollection of ever being artistic before, and yet she still managed to paint the images exactly like the ones in her dreams."

"Interesting." Angel rubbed his chin in thought. "Did she say anything else?"

Conner nodded. "She doesn't know who she is."

This time it was Angel's turn to be surprised. "Come again, son?"

"She uhh... She told me the reason she has no memory of ever being artistic is because she has no memories at all. Well, no memories except for the ones of the last five years, that is. She was hit by a car. She was in a coma for six months, and when she woke up she couldn't remember anything. Not who she was, her life before the accident, nothing. She said that while she was in the coma she was given the name Angel because it was the only word that left her mouth from the moment she was found until she woke up from the coma."

"Did she say anything else?"

"No. Not right away because I jokingly made the comment that her being an angel was the reason my senses mistook her for a vampire."

"You felt something." Angel locked eyes with Conner.

"Yeah. I don't know how to describe it, Dad. It was this tingly kind of feeling. Strong. And for some reason my senses were really alert to her."

"And you're sure she's not a vampire?"

"I am now, but there was a point during the time that I was with her that I had a suspicion she might be, and I came really close to killing her because of the vibes I was getting off her."

"What happened to sway you from doing it?"

"I uhh... She had a pulse. She had a pulse right under the scar."

"What scar?"

"Here." Conner pointed to his neck. "She's been bitten. That's what tipped me off that maybe she was a vampire. I mean, I've never seen a vampire that still had their bite mark after they were turned and it confused me that she did, but I wasn't taking any chances. I was going to kill her before she had the chance to kill me. I grabbed her, and I was choking her. That's when I felt the pulse under the scar, but it wasn't just the pulse that confused me. The scar... when I touched it something went through me. A really powerful surge of feelings. It was like I was hurting a part of me, and I couldn't... I couldn't kill her, so I let go of her and I demanded she tell me who she was."

"What did she say?"

Conner swept a hand through his hair. "She started crying, and she told me she didn't know. She told me she didn't know who she was, and God, seeing her like that... For some reason it broke my heart. I couldn't take it, so I held her until she stopped crying."

Angel had so many questions, but he knew now wasn't the time. He needed to know everything about this girl before he could even begin to find the answers to his questions. "What happened after that, Conner?"

"She umm... afer she quit crying she apologized to me for being so emotional, and I did the same. I told her that I normally don't get like that. I haven't since..."

"Me." Angel finished for him.

Conner nodded and looked back down at his hands. "Yeah, but I didn't tell her about any of that. I didn't get the chance. Not that I would have even if I had go the chance."

"I'm assuming something else happened." Angel murmured.

"Yeah." Conner answered. "She umm... she felt it, too. Whatever it was I was feeling, she was feeling it, too and she wanted to know if I knew who she was. Who she really was. I told her no, but I felt like I should, and the really weird part was I really did feel like I should know. I still feel like that. The whole experience was so weird, and I asked her if she thought it was weird, too."

"What did she say?"

"No. She said no. She said she didn't think it was any weirder than what else had happened that night, and we talked about it a little more before we finally got around to introducing ourselves to each other. After the introductions we finally got back to what happened in the alley. She saved me, and I don't think it was a coincidence."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because not only did she save me, she felt my pain, too. When the biggest vamp bit me, Chara felt my pain. She told me, and the moment she did I admitted that I felt her pain as well. And I did. While she was crying I felt her pain, and it was really overwhelming. So much so I told her. She laughed at me when I did, and then she apologized to me. She told me the pain came from five years of not knowing, but I felt happiness, too. Not alot, but it was there, and I asked her about it. I asked her to tell me everything she could about herself, and she did. Her happiness comes from her father."

"Her father?" Angel sat up in his desk chair. "Wait a minute, Conner. I thought you said..."

"She was talking about her adoptive father, Dad." Conner cut him off. "He's not her real father. He adopted her after the accident. He was the police officer that was on the scene of her accident, and he became attached to her while she was in her coma. He searched for her true identity, but he couldn't find anything, so when she came out of her coma he gave her a home. He adopted her and gave her a home, and a name, and she loves him for what he did."

"What else did she tell you?"

"Kyle Williams. Her adoptive Dad's name is Kyle Williams, and when she first mentioned his name I thought maybe he was her mate. I even asked her if he was, and that's when she told me who he really was. But she also told me she's not ruling out the possibility that she has a mate... husband in her past life. When she was found there was a ring on her finger. It's a wedding ring. A Claddagh ring to be exact."

"So whoever she was before..." Angel frowned. "There's a good chance she's married."

"No." Conner shook his head. "You know as well as I do that Claddagh rings don't hold the same meaning now as they did back in your time, Dad. You even told me so."

"Figures he would tell you that." Cordelia muttered under her breath.

"W-What?" Conner looked over at Cordelia.

"Nothing." She mumbled, noting the scowl Angel was sending her way. "Nothing. I didn't say anything. Just tell us what happened next, Conner."

"Well, I umm... I told her the same thing Dad told me about the Claddagh ring, and she told me she already knew that. She said her father even told her the same thing, but she said the only reason he told her was because he didn't want her to think the worst."

"The worst." Angel asked. "What did she mean by that?"

"She umm... She said the only reason Kyle told her that the ring might not be a wedding ring is because he didn't want her to think that whoever it was that gave her the ring... the possible husband... He didn't want her to think that the reason their not around or hasn't tried to find her is because she couldn't make them happy and that they just didn't want her anymore. But she also told me it was too late. She said the moment she found out the true meaning of the ring she couldn't help but think she failed the person who gave it to her, and since their not there to prove her wrong she can't help but wonder what kind of person she was before the accident. Horrible. She thinks she was a horrible person before, and that's why no one has come looking for her."

"You felt sorry for her." Angel eyed Conner across his desk.

"I more than felt sorry for her, Dad. What she's been through... You have no idea what she's been through. What she's still going through because of the accident. It's left her doubting herself and her ability to love and be loved. And the dreams she's having doesn't help matters. She thinks she's a freak."

"These dreams she's having... You said they were about Hell?"

"Yeah." Conner nodded. "But there's others, too. She dreams of vampires, demons, death and destruction, and blood... Lots and lots of blood. She said they started after she came out of her coma, and they ended up causing her to get thrown in a mental institution because some doctor thought she was crazy. But if you think her bad experiences ended there, you're wrong. There are lingering effects from the accident. She suffers from migraines like Cordelia did because she sustained a severe head injury. There was also internal injuries, and her right leg had a compound fracture. She had to have four surgeries. One was to relieve the swelling of her brain, the other was to stop internal bleeding , and the last two were on her leg. After she came out of the coma between the grueling physical therapy and the wondering why no one had been trying to find her, she started having nightmares, and like I said before they ended up getting her thrown in a mental institution. She was there for thirty days, and from what little she's told me I gather the experience was pretty bad. She won't talk about it. Not even to her Dad. She's been through so much. So much. And she still suffers. The migraines... She said she's almost blind when she has them, and her brain... She says it feels like it's being squeezed out through her ears." He looked over at Cordelia. "Is that how it felt for you when you had them?"

"Yes, and boy am I so glad those days are over."

"Well, those days aren't over for her, and they might not ever be." Conner looked over at his father. "But she says she deals. She doesn't have a choice. And then there's Kyle... She said if she didn't have him she didn't know what she would do."

"She loves him." Angel murmured.

"Yes." Conner answered. "So much so she finally convinced him to retire from the police force after she won the money because she was afraid he would get killed. He works at a community center downtown now. He's always been involved in volunteer work with kids. He loves them and he hates to see them on the streets."

"You mentioned that she won some money." Cordelia sat up in her chair. "How much money did she win, Conner?"

"I umm... 34.9 million. She won it playing the slot machines in Vegas."

"34.9 million!" Cordelia blurted out. "You have got to be kidding me?"

Conner shook his head. "It's no joke, Cordelia. And that was what she had left after taxes."

Cordelia's eyes flew to Angel. "I don't believe it, Angel. Your son found a rich woman. Aren't you proud of him?"

Proud wasn't exactly what Angel was feeling right now, but before he could voice how he really was feeling he watched his son's eyes grow stormy and nail Cordelia. "I'm not interested in Chara because of her money, Cordelia. I happen to like her for her. I have fun when I'm with her. I can be me when I'm with her. She's a very incredible woman."

"An incredible woman with a mysterious past." Angel murmured.

"Dad..." Conner's gaze returned to his father.

"I know what you're about to say, Conner but I can't help but worry. I want to know everything else there is to know about her."

"Well, after she told me a little bit more about herself the conversation shifted back to what had happened outside earlier that night. She umm... She didn't quite comprehend that those guys were really vampires, and the reason why goes back to the mental instiution. It was pretty much drilled into her head that vampires or anything else evil didn't exist, so to find out it actually did... Let's just say she was a little overwhelmed by the news. But not overwhelmed enough to forget that I had mentioned you were a vampire earlier on in our conversation."

Angel blinked in surprise. "You told her I was a vampire?"

"I had to, Dad. I needed to make her understand what happened outside, and what those things were. But don't worry, I went on to explain how you were different from the others."

"Did she understand that I was different?"

"Yeah, but I had to go all the way back to when you were sired before I could."

"Jesus Christ, Conner! Did you have to tell her everything?"

"Pretty much. I even told her about Cordelia being part demon."

"Me? Why did you have to tell her about me?" Cordelia glanced over at Conner in disbelief.

"Because she wanted to know if you were my mother."

"So I'm guessing she knows about you, too." Angel cut in and asked Conner.

"I had to tell her, Dad. She saw me fighting, and once I broke the news to her about you and the vampires outside she wanted to know if I was a vampire too. I had to explain to her that I wasn't an ordinary human, that I was like her. And when I did it kinda threw her."

"Threw her how?"

"She umm... She didn't know about the abnormal strength. The not scarring, yes. But not the abnormal strength. Not a first. She found out somehow. She wouldn't tell me how, but I sense something happened to tip her off. She got scared when it happened. I felt her fear when she was talking about it, and whatever it was it scared her enough to where she's been hiding her strength. She told me she's been holding back since she found out. That know one knows about it, not even her father. That was until she saved me. She wasn't holding back that night, and what I saw... She could very easily be a slayer, Dad. She's that good. And I pointed that out to her. The part where she could be a slayer."

"What did she say, Conner? Did she seem to know what you were talking about?"

"No. She didn't have a clue what a slayer was, and I told her basically everything I knew about them. I even told her about Faith."

"Did she say anything after you did?"

"Not until after I told her I doubted she was a slayer. I mean, I explained how there's only one slayer, and since Faith is it there's no way she could be one, too."

"Oh, there's a way alright." Cordelia muttered.

"What?" Conner glanced over at Cordelia again.

"Nothing, Conner." Angel answered quickly, and shot Cordelia another dirty look. "It was nothing. Now let's get back to this girl... What did she say after you told her you doubted she was a slayer?"

"She asked me if I knew the slayer... Faith. I told her I did, but that I didn't know her as well as you did. I told her you two were friends, and to say it shocked her was an understatement. She couldn't quite comprehend that a vampire and slayer could be friends. But once I reminded her that you fight for the good side just like Faith she accepted the idea of the both of you being friends a little better. At least I think she accepted it. She never really got around to telling me whether she did or not because our conversation sort of steered back to her scar."

"What about it?"

"She umm... she said she dreamt a vampire bit her, but when she told the doctor he and Kyle both convinced her it wasn't a vampire bite. They told her it was a wild animal bite. Of course, she didn't like the idea of being bitten by either a vampire or a wild animal, so she made up a story of her own. Now when anyone asks her how she got the scar she tells them she was bitten by an angry puppy."

"What happened after she told you that?"

"She just came right out and asked me if it was really a vampire bite."

"And what did you tell her?"

"I told her I was pretty sure it was, but I couldn't say definitely because I had never seen an old vampire bite. Just fresh ones. And then I went on to tell her that if it was the only reason I could explain why she was still alive was that maybe she managed to get lucky the same way I did. It was either tell her that or me tell her what I was really thinking."

"What were you thinking?"

"That I'm just as confused as she is. She says she doesn't scar, yet there's this place on her neck. A place I'm pretty sure is a vampire bite. But then again I don't know... I just... I'm confused."

"Because of the vibes you're getting off her?"

Conner nodded.

"Well, I think I may have an answer for you, son." Angel sat forward in his chair again. "The reason she scarred and the reason you're getting weird vibes off her is because I think she was marked."

"M-Marked?" Conner stammered.

"Yes." Angel murmured. "It's a way for vampire's to establish their property. It's an old custom that usually only master vampires and older vampires know about and still practice. Younger vampires normally don't know anything about it unless their sire taught them."

"S-So you're telling me Chara belongs to a vampire?"

"I wouldn't rule it out, and just so you know, if that is the case she more than just belongs to this vampire, she's his mate. The mark she bears is a warning to all other vampires that she belongs to someone and that if anyone so much as attempts to look at her they'll pay the consequences. Taking a mate in the vampire world is rare, and because it is it's taken very seriously. Touching another's mate is forbidden, and the consequence if someone makes that mistake is death. Her being marked could also explain the dream she had about being bitten. Her subconscious could be trying to force her to remember."

"How do you know so much about marking?" Conner met his father's gaze. "Did you mark someone?"

"Your mo... Darla taught me the way of marking." Angel looked down at his hands. "And no, I haven't marked anyone. Part of the process requires you to drink the other person's blood, and I don't drink human or vampire blood. Not since I've gotten my soul back."

"Liar." Cordelia cleared her throat. "Have you forgotten about Kate, Angel? Oh, and let's not forget about the little golden blonde that went by the name Bu..."

"Cordelia..." Angel's head shot up, his dark gaze locking with her. "Don't."

"Don't what, Angel?" Cordelia spat. "Don't tell Conner the story or don't mention her name at all?"

"Enough, Cordy!" Angel growled. "Now drop it!"

"Fine!" Cordelia slumped back in her chair. "Considered it dropped."

"That's better." Angel murmured before returning his gaze to Conner, who was eyeing him across the desk. "What's going on, Dad?"

"Nothing, son. It's nothing. Now let's get back to this... Chara, was it?"

Conner nodded.

"You like her?"

"More than like her. I love her, Dad."

"Don't you think it's a little too soon to be thinking you're in love with her, Conner? You've only known her a month, and then there's the fact that you've never really been with any other women."

"Love is love, Dad. A person can experience it more than once in their lifetime and on several different levels. Love is also never bound to time. There's no certain time limit set for when a person is suppose to experience it, if they experience it at all. And there's also no certain time limit to when one ceases feeling it if their lucky enough to find it. Love is love, Dad. It can occur at several points in one's life, and fade quickly. Or it can happen instantly, and last forever and always. I'm not sure when exactly I reached the point of loving Chara. All I know is that I do, and there is nothing you can say or do to make me stop doing it."

"I'm not trying to make you stop..." Angel swept a hand through his hair. "Conner..."

"Uh uh. No way, Dad." Conner shot to his feet. "I know what you're about to ask me, and the answer is no. I am not bringing Chara over here for you to scare."

"I don't scare." Angel looked over at Cordelia. "Tell him I don't scare."

"You don't scare. But sometimes you do have a tendancy to be a little overprotective."

"And for good reason, Cordy. You two, Fred, Wesley, Gunn, and Lorne... You're all my family. I just want to make sure you don't get hurt, and that's exactly what I'm afraid is going to happen here. This girl can't be normal... Not if what Conner is telling us is true. You know that."

"Will you two please stop talking about me like I'm not even in the room." Conner muttered. "This is my life. Mine! And I love this girl. I don't want to lose her."

"Conner..." Angel started to say again.

"No, Dad. She's been through enough without having to deal with my overprotective father. Besides, we never discuss it. What I do. What we all do here. I wasn't lying when I said she was a little overwhelmed about it. That's why we avoid discussing it. But you know what, Dad? I'm okay with that because when I'm with her I don't want to think about anything but her. And I'm sorry if that hurts your feelings, but she's important to me, too. I won't lose her. I love her."

Angel sighed in defeat. "I understand."

Conner blinked in surprise. "Y-You do?"

"I do." Angel locked eyes with his son. "When you love someone you'll do anything for them. There's nothing wrong with you wanting her to have as normal a life as possible, Conner."

Conner shot a peek at Cordelia, who was staring at Angel with an unreadable expression on her face. "So does this mean we can put you meeting her on hold?" He turned back to Angel. "It's only until she comes to better terms with everything."

"Sure." Angel smiled faintly. "But I would eventually like to meet her. It's a parent thing you understand?"

"I understand." Conner grinned. "And I look forward to when you do meet her, because you're going to think she's just as incredible as I told you she was."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

CHAPTER 4

"Tell me about the nightmares." Kyle Williams replied to his daughter as he sat his container of Egg Fu Young down on the floor.

"W-What?" Chara looked up from her Sesame Chicken.

"I want you to tell me about the nightmares you've been having."

"Who says I've been..."

"I can tell you haven't been sleeping, Chara. And then there's this..." He gestured to the paintings leaned against one wall. "I know the nightmares are back, and I want you to tell me about them."

"Daddy..."

"Chara, you've got me worried, sweetie."

"You always worry, Daddy."

"Chara..."

She sighed in defeat. "There's only one. It starts out with me in a tunnel... I'm standing at one end of it, and on the other end there's this really bright light. There's something behind it. Something very important. I know it... Feel it... And I know that I have to reach it to find out what it is. I try... I try so hard, but just when I think I've made it... Just when it's just within my grasp the other end opens up into this big black hole that swallows me up into nothing. Only it's not nothing. There's this energy... It's really powerful, and it's draining me of my life's essence. I mean literally. And the pain... I can't take it." She sniffled. "The pain is so unbearable that I wake up, but it doesn't go away when I do. I feel like I'm lost... So lost... Like there's a piece of me missing. A really huge piece."

"Maybe you should call Dr. McGinn, Chara."

"No! No doctors, Daddy."

"Chara..."

"No. I'm not going back. I'm not." She pushed herself up off the floor, and took her barely touched food to the trash can. "You promised me I would never go back."

"And I intend to keep that promise, Chara. And so does Dr. McGinn. You know how bad he felt after you were sent to the other hospital. He made a mistake trusting that other doctor to help you, and he assured me it would never happen again. He assured me that from now on he would be the only one that takes care of you. And he will take care of you, sweetie. Just like before. He saved your life, Chara."

"You think I don't know that, Daddy?" She spun around to look at her father. "I know it. I do. Still... I don't want to go back to him. You have no idea what it's like. The memory loss... All I have are the memories of the last five years, and most of the first year is based on what you told me. I'm never going to remember. I don't care how optimistic Dr. McGinn is, it's just not going to happen, so I don't see the need in going back to him."

"What about the headaches, Chara? Are you having any headaches."

"No." She fibbed. "I haven't had any headaches."

"I still think you should make an appointment with him, sweetie. Just to be on the safe side."

"I'm not making an appointment with him, Daddy. I just want to forget. I'm sick of hospitals, and doctors. I just want to forget anything related to my accident. I just want to forget all of it. Do you understand?"

"Yes." He murmured, swallowing against the lump in his throat.

She gave him a weak smile. "Good. Then can we please just drop it, and talk about something else?"

He nodded. "Okay, tell me how Conner's doing?"

"He's fine. He's been busy. He uhh... work. He's been busy with work. I haven't seen him in a couple of days, but I talked to him this morning, and he said to tell you hello."

Kyle smiled. "I like that boy."

"So do I." Chara returned his smile.

"Is it serious?"

"W-What?"

"You and Conner, Chara. Are you two getting serious?"

"It's not like that with Conner, Daddy so don't go getting your hopes up on a wedding, or a house full of grandkids because it's not going to happen."

Kyle looked surprise. "But I thought..."

"You thought wrong." Chara walked over to the kitchen island to pour herself a drink. "Conner's special to me, Daddy. Really special, and I do love him. But it's not that kind of love. You know I don't believe in the fairy tale, happily ever after kind of love. It's all bullshit."

"So are you telling me that what I felt for Mary was bullshit?"

"No. I'm not saying that at all. I think a love like that is possible, you and Mary proved that, but times are different now then they were twenty years ago. People are different. I'm different. I don't think I'm capable of loving anyone the way you and Mary loved each other."

"I don't believe that, Chara." Kyle watched her drain the glass of liquor in her hands. "If you can love family... Friends... Then you're perfectly capable of loving a soulmate."

"I wish I could believe that, but I don't."

"I know." Kyle murmured. "But hypothetically just to ease my curiosity, if you could find a soulmate what would you want him to be like?"

"Hmm..." She refilled her glass while she thought about it. "I don't know. I guess he would have to complete me. You know? Two halves make a whole. Oh, and he would have to have chocolate eyes that I could drown in."

"Chocolate eyes? Doesn't Conner have chocolate eyes?"

"Uh huh, but as beautiful as they are, I don't drown in them." Chara peeked at her frowning father. "Don't ask, okay, Daddy. It's another reaccuring dream of mine. No face. Just pools of chocolate that I could drown in."

"Well, I for one hope that whoever he is , he has a face, a body, and a great big heart that will be completely full of love for my little girl. He has to be the best or he doesn't pass the test."

Chara rolled her eyes. "Now I know exactly why I've resigned myself to spending the rest of my life alone."

****

"Angel Investigations. We help the helpless, how may we help you?"

"Well see, here's the thing. I haven't seen my best friend in days and I was wondering if you could help me find him."

Hearing the voice on the other end of the line caused Conner's lips to spread into a huge grin. "Sorry, Miss uhh... Sorry, miss but we don't locate missing friends here at Angel Investigations unless their disappearance is demon related. Do you think your friend's disappearance is demon related?"

"Hmm... I'm not sure. Would the fact that he's a little devil be considered demon related?"

"Ha Ha. Very funny, Chara." Conner scowled.

Chara couldn't help but laugh. "W-What? What did I say?"

"I'm not a baby."

"I didn't say anything about you being a baby. My exact words were a little devil. Does that sound anything like the word baby?"

"Close enough."

"Okay, you're scowling. I can't see it, but I know you are, so I think we should change the subject. Why don't I start with saying hello. Hello, Conner. Now you say?"

"Hello, Chara."

"Good. Very good. Now I'm going to ask you what you're doing, and you do the same, okay?"

"Okay."

"Good. So... What are you doing?"

"Talking to you. You?"

"Painting. Or at least I was. I decided to paint the room that's going to be my bedroom, but once I was finished I despised the color I picked out. Too damn bright. So bright it actually made me want to pull my hair out."

"But you didn't, right? Please tell me you didn't because I happen to like your hair. You remind me of goldilocks." He waited for her comeback, but when he didn't get one he got worried. "Chara? Are you there?"

"W-What? I mean, yeah. I'm sorry, Conner. I guess I just spaced for a second."

"You know, that's a tell tell sign that you should get some sleep."

"Easier said than done, my friend. I'm hyped from all the painting."

"Are you happy with the new color?"

"Very. Black. I painted it black. And yes, I know it's not your typical bedroom color, but I like it. Black goes with everything. And it'll make my room look really really dark which might trick my brain into thinking it's time to go to sleep, and then I might actually sleep. What do you think? You think it'll work?"

"Don't know. But I can tell you that my Dad would definitely agree with you on black going with everything. Black happens to be his favorite color."

"You're kidding?"

"Nope." Conner chuckled. "But if you don't believe me I would be happy to let you take a peek in his closet. Most of his wardrobe is black."

"I think I'll have to pass on doing any snooping in your Dad's closet, Conner. I don't want to give him another reason to kill me."

"How many times do I have to tell you that he's not going to kill you, Chara?"

She sighed. "I'm sorry, Conner. I believe you. I do. I'm just... Take me dancing."

"W-What?"

"Dancing, Conner. Take me dancing. I need to take a break and unwind, and I haven't been dancing in months. Let's go. You and me. Tonight. What do you say?"

"I say no."

"Why?"

"Well, for starters I can't dance. And then there's the fact that I'm working all night tonight. Dad still has me manning phones. Everyone usually takes turns so they can have some sort of personal life, but I've been stuck with it until I can prove that I won't be stupid again."

"I see. So dancing is out, huh?"

"It wouldn't be in even if I could go, Chara. I told you I can't dance. "

"Okay, dancing is out. For now. But you will take me eventually. After I teach you, that is, then you have to promise me you'll take me. Do we have a deal?"

"Depends." Conner murmured.

"On what?"

"What I get in return."

"You get the honor of me teaching you how to dance."

"That's not enough. I'm a man, Chara. I have my dignity to consider here."

"Damn." She muttered. "You would have to go all macho on me."

"Of course, I do." He chuckled. "So what else do you have to offer me, Miss. Williams?"

"Hmm... How about I let you drive my car. I know you've been eyeing it every since we met, and it's pretty hot. Chicks dig men with hot cars. And driving it will do wonders for that macho image of yours."

"Sorry, that's no good. No license, remember? Try again."

"Okay then, how about I come over?"

Conner blinked in surprise, and laid the newspaper he was reading down. "Y-You want to come over?"

"Uh huh. I really think I should. I need to talk to your Father. I want him to explain to me why he hasn't taken the time to teach you how to dance or drive."

"Chara..."

"Does your Dad even own a car, Conner? I mean, considering he's two hundred and some years old does he still live in the dark ages or is he uhh... modernized?"

"He owns a car."

"Okay, what about a stereo? Because you need music to learn how to dance. Does he own a stereo?"

"He has a stereo, but it's in his room."

"What about you? Do you have one in your room?"

"No. I don't listen to music."

"Okay, that's it. Now I know I'm coming over to talk to your father. What kind of father doesn't introduce his child to music?"

"He doesn't let me watch tv either. He hates them. We don't even own one."

"Well, I can understand why he doesn't allow you to watch tv or even own one for that matter because tv is bad. Very bad. People waste alot of their lives sitting in front of a tv. They should spend more of their time doing other things. Important things. You know, like spend time with their family."

"Can't you spend time with your family and watch tv too?"

"Actually you can. You umm... I guess you could have a family night where you rent movies, pop some popcorn, and then sit around and joke about how stupid the special effects are in it or how that would never ever happen in real life."

"Sounds like fun."

"Yeah, it does." She murmured.

Conner blinked in surprise. "What? You mean you actually agree with me? I thought you hated tv, too?"

"I-I do. I mean, I do when it comes to the way every day life and world events are depicted on it. It's depressing, and that's why I avoid watching stuff like that. B-But it doesn't mean I wouldn't watch tv all together. I would. W-Watch it, I mean. Especially if I had a..." She suddenly stopped in mid-sentence, and Conner couldn't help but wonder why. "Chara? What is it? What were you about to say?"

"N-Nothing." She quickly replied. "It was nothing. I just... You know, you should do that. Have a family night, I mean. You have a big enough family, and it would give you more time to spend with your Dad."

"Yeah, but in case you've forgotten I don't have a tv, remember?"

"Right. No tv. No stereo. Now I know I really do need to have a talk with your father. Not letting you own a stereo is a sin. He of all people should know music is good for the soul."

"Joking about Dad's soul isn't a funny issue, Chara. So if I were you I would refrain from doing it when around him."

"I wasn't cracking jokes at your father's soul, Conner. I was being serious. Very serious. That's why you have to let me come over. I'm going to have it out with your father until he caves in and goes and buys you a stereo."

"Chara..."

"Okay, okay." She giggled. "I won't come over and have it out with him. It wouldn't be nice of me to put him on the spot like that. But I still want to come over."

"You were serious about that?"

"Would I have asked if I wasn't. It's about time, don't you think? You met my Dad, so it's only fair I meet yours, and the rest of your family."

"I'm sorry, Chara. I'm afraid Dad isn't here. He and Cordy are out for the evening."

"Oh... Well, uhh.. Th-That's okay. I uhh.. I can meet him...them some other time."

"Does that mean you still want to come over?"

"Yeah, why? Are you having second thoughts about having the pleasure of my company?"

"You know better. I haven't seen you in days. I've missed you."

"Then what's the problem? And don't say there's not one because I sense there is, Conner."

"You know, I really hate that you can read me so well."

"And I really hate when you try to change the subject. Now tell me why you don't want me to come over."

"It's not that I don't want you to come over, Chara because I do. It's just..."

"Just what?"

"I umm... I already have company."

"Oh. I umm... Is it a girl?"

"No. It's not a girl. It's Lorne."

"Lorne? Who's Lorne?"

"He uhh... He's a friend. A very good friend."

"A friend you're obviously hesitating about my meeting. Why? Don't you want me to meet him?"

"It's not that, Chara. I want you to meet him. I do."

"But? I'm sensing a but here, Conner. Come on now, spill. Why are you hesitating about my meeting your friend."

Conner braced himself. For what, he wasn't exactly sure. "He's uhh... He's a demon."

"A-A demon?"

"Yeah, but he's a good demon. Do you remember when I explained to you about those?"

"Uh huh."

"And he's a really great guy, Chara. I mean, once you get past the green skin, and red eyes that is."

"You don't have to sale me on this guy... demon... or whatever he is, Conner. I'll meet him."

"Y-You will?"

"S-Sure, I will. I mean, I was willing to meet your Dad, so I guess I can meet... I'm sorry, what was his name again?"

"Lorne."

"Lorne. Right. So okay, I'll meet this Lorne."

"Great." Conner relaxed in his chair again. "So how soon can you be here?"

"I umm... I have something I need to do first, and I'll be over right after that. Now say goodbye so I can go and get it done.

"Wait, Chara! Before you hang up I need to ask you something."

"What is it?"

"Have you had dinner?"

"Dinner? What's dinner?"

"It's the third and last meal of the day. You know, it comes after breakfast and lunch?"

"Breakfast and lunch? What's breakfast and lunch?"

Conner groaned. "When was the last time you ate, Chara?"

"Hmm... I think I recall eating an energy bar today. Or was that yesterday?"

Conner swore under his breath. "Damnit, Chara. Kyle's going to kill me. He made me promise that I would make sure you ate."

"Then feed me and you won't get in trouble."

"What do you want?"

"Junk Food."

"Junk food?" Conner frowned. "That's not real food."

"It is to me. Besides, you asked and I'm telling. I want junk food."

Conner muttered something else under his breath, and Chara didn't miss it. "I heard that."

"I worry about you, Chara. It's bad enough you don't sleep, and now you're not eating."

"I eat. I will eat. Or at least I will just as soon as you quit fussing at me, and let me go so I can get ready to come over and pig out on the junk you're going to feed me."

He sighed in defeat. "Fine. What kind of junk food does the lady want?"

"Cookie Dough Fudge Mint Chip ice cream, Waffle cones, Oreos, chocolate bars, and some peanut butter. Preferrably crunchy."

Conner couldn't help but laugh. "Is that all?"

"Yelp. Get me all those things and I'll love you forever."

"Then I'll do my best." He murmured.

"Great. I'll see you in an hour tops."

"Okay, bye."

"Bye, Conner."

Conner hung up the phone, and sat staring at it. "Okay, you little hell spawn. Who is she?" At the sound of the voice he snapped out of his reverie, and turned around to look at the owner. "How do you know it's a she?"

"You have that look. Now tell me about her."

"You mean Dad hasn't already told you about her?"

Lorne closed the distance to Conner. "No. Now spill. Who is this lady, and just exactly what does she mean to you?"

"Her name is Chara, and that's all I'm going to tell you."

"Why? Don't you want to tell me about her?"

"No. I'd rather you meet her instead. She'll be here in about an hour. Can you stay?"

"Sure I can, sweetie. And who knows, maybe I can get her to sing for me so I can find out all about her myself."

"No!" Conner nearly yelled. "You can't read her, Lorne."

"My. My. We're a tad protective of her, aren't we?"

"Because she's new to our world. She found out about last month when she rescued me from a vampire attack."

"Wait a minute, did you just say she rescued you from a vampire attack?

Conner nodded. "Dusted four vampires without breaking a sweat. You should have seen her, Lorne. She was incredible."

"Is she a slayer?"

"No, Lorne. She's just a girl. A girl who happens to want junk food for dinner, and it just so happens she would want something that's not in our industrial size refrigerator."

"Speaking of the refrigerator, do you want me to hide the bag of O pos in there?"

Conner shook his head. "No. She knows about Dad. I told her everything. I had too to make her understand what the difference was between him and the four vamps she dusted. I also explained about you a few minutes ago, and she wants to meet you. Can you stay?"

"Sure, I can, kiddo. And I'll even man the phones so you can go to the grocery store."

"H-How did you know I was going to a..."

Lorne smiled. "You mentioned that you didn't have what she wanted so I figured you would have to make a grocery run. You're the only one that knows what she wants. Now get out of here. Go buy your sweetie some sweets.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

CHAPTER 5

Okay, I can do this, Chara thought as she stood outside the Hyperion Hotel, and eyed the building warily. After taking several deep breaths she finally forced her feet into motion, and made her way through the front gates. She was on edge. She knew she was. She could feel the tension in her entire body, but she had to do this for Conner. He was her friend. Her best and only friend, and she owed it to him to try and learn more about his life. Get to know his family. When she reached the lobby doors she stopped just short of pushing through them to take a couple more deep, calming breaths to try and rein in her nervousness. Once she was in control she smoothed her hands over her deep purple and black cami, and black dress pants before pushing through the doors into the front lobby. She took the few steps down into the main part of the hotel, and looked around. "Hello? Conner?" She called out when she see anyone. "Hello?"

"Can I help you?"

Chara jumped at the sound of the male voice she didn't recognize, and when she turned around she instinctively took a step back as her eyes landed on the owner of the voice. Demon. Demon with red eyes that were watching her curiously. She finally squeezed her own eyes shut as she struggled to regain control of her fear ridden body. "Chara?" Her eyes flew open to find the demon smiling a real genuine smile at her. "Y-Yes."

"It's okay." He gave her a reassuring smile. "I'm Lorne."

"Oh, thank god." Chara's shoulders sagged. "I-I mean, H-Hello."

"You know, it's okay to be afraid." Lorne replied as he watched the golden beauty inch another step back.

"H-How did y-you know..."

"Conner told me what happened, and like I said before it's okay to be afraid. If I were in your shoes I would be a little scared myself, so I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to very slowly walk over and introduce myself, and then hopefully you'll do the same and we can shake hands, okay?"

"O-Okay."

Chara nervously watched as the demon moved towards her, and came to a stop a few feet from her. "Hello, Chara. My name is Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan of Pylea, but everyone here knows me better as Lorne, The Host and owner of Caritas, a demon karoke bar." Lorne extended his hand to Cara.

"I umm... Hello, Lorne. My name is Chara Elizabeth Williams. I'm Conner's best friend, and next door neighbor." She went to shake his hand, but the minute they made contact an electrical surge went through her that had her quickly pulling away. "W-Wow. I-I'm sorry. I-I didn't mean to shock you."

"I'm sure you didn't." Lorne murmured, a bit dazed.

"I uhh..." Chara turned to look around. "W-Where's Conner?"

"Conner. Right. He umm... He went to the grocery store to get you all that junk food you wanted."

"He did?" She spun back around to look at Lorne, who nodded. "Yes, he did, but I'm sure he'll be back soon."

"I'm sure he will, too. I just hope he doesn't get in a hurry and forget the Cookie Dough Fudge Mint Chip ice cream. It's my favorite."

"I know." Lorne murmured.

"W-What?" Chara stared at him, not quite sure she'd heard him right.

"I said I'm sure he won't." Lorned quickly covered.

"Let's hope not for his sake." She flashed him a smile before turning to look around the hotel lobby again. "You know, I knew this place looked big from the outside, but I had no idea it was this big. It's alot bigger than my building." She began to walk around. "God, what I wouldn't give for this floor space."

Lorne watched her as she moved around. "That's right, I just remembered that you mentioned being Conner's next door neighbor. Have you been there long?"

"No. Not long. Almost two months, and it'll be another couple of months before I actually have an apartment that looks like an apartment."

"You live there?"

"Mmm... On the second floor. The first floor is my gym of sorts. I'm a personal trainer. The gym is almost done, but I'm afraid my apartment is a different story. I've been doing the work on it myself, but for some reason no matter what I do to it it just doesn't feel like home."

"Maybe the reason it doesn't feel like home is because of your decorating choices. Black walls. How depressing is that to wake up to every morning."

Chara spun around at the sound of the voice, and a smile instantly lit up her face. "Hey, don't you dare make fun of my choice of bedroom colors, mister. I explained to you why I did that. Besides, I'm not a morning person so why the hell would I want to wake up to some bright, cheery ass color when I don't feel cheery?"

"If you had someone to wake up with I would almost bet you would wake up cheery."

"Oh no, I am so not going to take the bait, Conner so you might as well hang it up and get down here and say hello to me."

Fine." Conner stepped down into the lobby, and closed the distance to her. "Hey, you." He pulled her into a hug. "You're early. I was hoping I would get back before you got here. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. Not unless you forgot the ice cream."

"Don't worry I got the ice cream, and the oreos, and the waffle cones, and everything else on that list of yours."

"Hold up." Chara pulled away to look at him. "If you got everything on that list of mine how come your arms are empty?"

"My arms aren't empty. They have you in them."

"Conner!" Chara playfully slapped him. "I'm serious. I'm hungry. Where's my food?"

Suddenly there was a loud noise, and the sound of several objects crashing to the floor, followed by a very loud Oh dear lord.

"That would be your food." Conner announced as he pulled away from Chara, and turned around to look at the three people now down on the floor picking up what was obviously the groceries. "And that's Wesley, Gunn, and Fred. I'll introduce you just as soon as I help them."

"I've got it, Conner." Lorne quickly recovered from his shock, and hurried past the couple to help Wesley pick up the bag of groceries he had dropped. "Act normal."

Wesley's gaze nervously darted from Lorne to the woman standing beside Conner. "Y-You know?" Lorne nodded, and Wesley quickly shot another glance at the girl. "B-But h-how?"

"Don't know. All I know is it's her only she doesn't know it's her, and Conner... He doesn't have a clue either because as we all know he came after she uhh... after Angelface laid her to rest so to say. Now shut up and stand up to say hello. And for crying out loud don't forget to act normal until one of us can make a break for it, and put in a phone call to get Angel back here ASAP so he can figure out what the hell is going on."

"I umm... O-Okay." Gunn, Fred, and Wesley all stood up just as Conner brought Chara over to introduce them to her. Gunn reached for Fred's hand. "I uhh... Hello, Bu... C-Chara. I'm Charles Gunn, and this lovely lady is Fred Burckle, and the man beside her is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce."

"Hello." Chara smiled up at Conner's family. "It's nice to finally meet all of you."

"Likewise." Gunn murmured, and gestured to Lorne, who was fininshing picking up the groceries. "Sorry about this. It wasn't exactly the way we had planned on meeting you."

"Yeah, sorry." Fred mumbled. "Wesley is almost never a clutz, but the moment he stepped in the door he was all feet. Mine, Gunn's, and his.

"It's okay as long as he didn't ruin the ice cream." Chara eyed Wesley. "You didn't, did you? 'Cause if you did I just might have to kick your ass."

"It's okay, sweetie." Lorne said, standing up. "See." He held up the container of Cookie Dough Fudge Mint ice cream. "Not a drop missing."

Chara smiled. "Then it looks like you're off the hook, Wesley."

"Well, uhh..." Wesley nervously met her gaze. "Thank you, I appreciate that."

Conner slid his arm around Chara's waist, and looked back and forth at Lorne, Wesley, and Gunn. "What did I tell you, guys. Isn't she a real beauty just like I said?"

"Yes, she is. But as you know, Conner I'm very partial to brunettes. Especially one brunette in particular." Gunn slid his arm around Fred's waist. "Isn't that right, baby?"

"Uh huh." Fred giggled, and smiled down at Chara. "And look, he actually showed his incredibly sweet side to you which completely ruins that macho image of his I'm sure Conner told you about. Of course, I bet Conner also told you Wesley was stuffy like all Englishmen, but it's not true. He isn't stuffy at all, and it didn't take long for me to find that out after we met."

"You know, I had this image that Englishmen were stuffy, too." Chara frowned. "And why exactly I did is beyond me because I've never met anyone from England before today."

"Well, he's not stuffy." Lorne spoke up. "And I can attest to that myself. Wesley is so unstuffy he's actually sang Karoke. So has Gunn, and Fred. Now Conner on the other hand, he's a different story. But I'm not giving up." He smiled at Conner than returned his gaze to Chara. "What about you, sweetie? Do you sing?"

"Me?" Chara couldn't help but laugh. "Good heavens, no. I'm not the singing type. Well, except maybe in my car, and it's along with the radio. But that's as far as my talents go."

"I don't believe that." Lorne told her. "There must be something you're talented at."

She glanced over at Conner. "Well, I umm... Like I said before, I'm a personal trainer. I'm uhh... I'm an expert in martial arts, and gymnastics. And I also teach Yoga, aerobics, and some Tai Chi."

"And dancing..." Conner added. "Don't forget the dancing."

"Right." She smiled at him before looking at Conner. "I dance, too. I'm not exactly a professional, but I've been told I'm not bad. I umm... I've been taking lessons from a friend. He uhh.. Right now, he umm... He's teaching me how to belly dance."

"Belly dance?" Wesley blurted out. "Why in the world would you need to know how to belly dance?"

"Because Matt's perverted."

"Excuse me?"

"Look, Wesley. I umm... I'd really love to explain, but I'd rather not. It's kinda embarrassing. I can tell you this though. Believe it or not, belly dancing is actually a good way to burn calories, and to lose weight. That's why once I'm finished with my lessons I'm thinking about teaching it at the center and to my clients that want to learn." Chara answered, and rewarded him with a smile. "That's if my dad agrees to it. He uhh... Well, let's just say he's a little old fashioned, and I'm not sure that he'll like me doing it, much less teaching it. I'll just have to wait and see."

"Oh." Wesley murmured. "I mean, He doesn't know that you umm... that you're learning how?"

"No. I'm waiting for the right time to tell him. But I will eventually. Probably after his yearly physical, and I'm sure his heart is okay. Don't want to go giving him a heart attack or anything."Chara giggled again when she saw the look on Wesley's face. "Like I said before, Wesley. He's very old fashioned. He would most definitely have a heart attack if he saw some of the moves I'm learning."

"I bet Angelface would, too." Lorned murmured in a very audible voice.

Chara returned her gaze to Lorne. "Did you say something, Lorne?"

Lorne shifted nervously on his feet. "Uhh... Actually I did. I was just wondering if you would show us. A demonstration of your dancing, I mean."

Chara blushed. "Y-You want me to show you the belly dancing?"

Lorne actually blushed, too. "Oh no. No belly dancing. Just a regular dance. A regular dance would be fine."

"I wouldn't mind seeing the lady move myself." Gunn spoke out loud, and got rewarded with an elbow. "Charles..." Fred warned after jabbing him. "What?" Gunn grinned devishly. "You can't blame a man for trying."

"No, you can't." Fred muttered. "I just hope that man enjoys sleeping alone tonight."

"Okay. Okay." Chara laughed. "It looks like I've started something bad here, so why don't we reschedule my performing for you until some other time. And I promise there will be another time because I plan to give Conner dance lessons."

"Uh Uh, Chara." Conner shook his head. "I am not learning to belly dance."

"Who said anything about teaching you to belly dance?" Chara gave him an innocent look. "I said I plan to give you dance lessons, but I never said what kind. It doesn't matter though. You will learn. Any talents you can acquire will help you in the female compainonship department later on."

"Did you ever stop to think that maybe I don't want any female companionship, Chara?" Conner muttered.

"You can't be alone your entire life, Conner."

"But you can, right?"He pointed out.

Chara sighed. "Okay, I can see I've broached another sore subject, and since I don't want to argue with you why don't we change the subject to the presents I got you."

"What presents?"

"The ones in my car." Chara turned back to the others. "Gunn, would you and Wesley mind helping me unload them?"

"Jesus christ, Cara. What did you get me that requires both Gunn and Wesley to help you unload them? And why did you buy me something to start with? It's not my birthday."

"I know. Their unbirthday presents. And I'm not telling you what it is. You'll just have to wait and see." She smiled mysteriously. "Now go help Lorne and Fred unload the groceries, and meet us back here."

Conner raised an eyebrow. "My, my. We're a little bossy, aren't we?"

"You're damn right, I am. And you love it." She stuck her tongue out at him which caused Lorne to chuckle. "Now do as I say." With that said, she breezed past him, and out of the lobby with Wesley and Gunn on her heels.

Once she was gone, Conner came over and took the bag of groceries from Lorne with a grin on his face. "Now do you see why she's so special to me. Incredible. Isn't she the most incredible woman you've ever met?"

"That she is." Lorne murmured. And I happen to know someone else that used to think the same thing about her. I just wonder if after five years, her death, and a new girlfriend, he still feels the same way? ****

"So tell me again what Wesley said?" Cordelia asked Angel as he helped her out of the passenger side seat of his plymouth.

"He didn't say much of anything, Cordy. He just told me to get home as soon as possible, and to come through the garden doors instead of the front entrance to the lobby."

"Wonder what the hell that's all about?" Cordelia asked as Angel she waited for him to shut the car door.

"Don't know that either." Angel moved past her then stopped to stare at something. "The whole conversation was weird, and it's getting weirder."

"Why do you say that?" Cordelia stared at his back.

"I uhh... I've just got this weird feeling. And the fact that there's a hundred thousand dollar car parked right here only increases that feeling."

"Oooh." She moved up beside Angel to stare at the Ferrari Modena Spyder. "Maybe we've got a rich client, and Wesley's just serving them tea in the garden while they wait on us."

"Maybe. I guess there's only one way to find out." Angel muttered, and headed up the walkway to the hotel with her beside him. They had just reached the entrance to the garden doors when he suddenly came to halt again.

"Angel, what is it?" Cordelia laid her hand on his arm.

"I... Nothing." He shook his head, and entered the garden door.

"A-Angel..." Wesley stood up from the bench he was sitting on. "You're here."

"Of course, I'm here Wesley? You called me, remember?" He stepped further into the garden. "Now would you like to tell me why the hell I am here?"

"I uhh... We have company."

"I've already figured that out, Wesley. There's a hundred thousand dollar car sitting in front of the hotel. What I don't know is who it is or why you felt they were important enough for me and Cordy to have to cut our evening short."

Wesley saw how angry the half-vampire was, and shifted nervoulsy on his feet. "I uhh... You're mad. And because you are I'm thinking maybe it was a mistake for me to call you."

"Wesley..." Angel growled. "I'm waiting."

"I umm... maybe you and Cordelia should sit down first, Angel."

Angel's eyes narrowed. "Why?"

"I umm... Conner's girlfriend is here."

"And you wanted me to sit down so you could tell me that?"

"No. Not exactly. I umm... The reason I think you should sit down is because I umm... the girl isn't who she says she is."

"I knew it!" Angel spun around to look at Cordelia. "I told you. Didn't I tell you something wasn't right with her?" He turned back to look at Wesley. "Let me guess, she works for Wolfram and Hart, am I right?"

"No, she doesn't work for Wolfram and Hart, but there is a slight problem. The uhh... the girl is someone from your past... Our past actually. You, me, and Cordy's. But the thing is she doesn't remember it... Her past or us. But what really has me and everyone with the exception of Conner, who doesn't have a clue who she is by the way, completely stumped as to why or how it's even possible that it's her. And it is ineed her. Lorne says so, but that's all he does..."

"What the hell is wrong with you, Wesley?" Angel cut him off. "You're babbling and not making any sense, and because you are now you've got me worried because you never babble or not make sense. Will you just spit it out in clear and simple terms. Who the hell is this girl and what the hell does she have to do with us?"

"You, Angel. She affects you more than me or Cordy."

"Me? How does she affect me?"

Wesley opened his mouth to tell him, but just then music began to drift into the garden, and the sound of a familiar, yet not so familiar voice yelling at Conner and Gunn, telling them they'd better not turn the song off sent Angel spinning around to look through the glass of the garden doors.

"Oh my God..." Cordelia moaned, and to Angel she couldn't have said it any better as he stared at the ghost of his past through the glass. "No. No. That's not..." He took a few steps towards the doorway, and suddenly stopped. "I-It's not her."

"Angel..." Wesley murmured.

Angel couldn't take his eyes of the girl, who was sitting on top of the front desk. "W-What's she doing?"

"I think it's called singing."

"Well, there you have it." Angel spun back around to look at Wesley and Cordelia. "That tells you right there it's not Bu... her." God, he couldn 't even say her name. "Sh-She doesn't... She didn't sing. She hummed or whistled but she never sang."

"Yes, she did. Well, at least she did this one time that I know of. It was when Amy's Mom was wreaking havoc on the cheerleading squad. Buf... She kept singing *Macho Man*. Nearly drove us all crazy." Cordelia muttered.

"She was under a spell that day, Cordy." Angel argued. "I told you Bu... She didn't sing."He spun back around to look at the girl. "It's not her. Whoever that is... This isn't funny." He started for the door leading to the garden. "I'm going to kill them."

"Hold it right there, Angel." Wesley jumped in front of him to block his path. "Lorne said it was her. How he knew I don't know. I haven't had a chance to talk to him because of her being here."

"It's not her, Wesley. Whoever that is..." Angel swept a hand through his hair. "This isn't funny. It's not her. It can't be. She di..." Jesus, he couldn't even bring himself to say that word either.

"I know she did, Angel. All I can tell you is that she's not that way now. Lorne said it was her, and you and I both know if anyone would know it would be him because he has a link to the powers."

"No." Angel shook his head. "I still don't believe... It's not her."

"Are you sure about that, Angel?"Cordelia spoke up and asked. "Earlier you said you had this weird feeling. Maybe it was her. Maybe you sensed her."

"No." Angel spun back around to look at Cordelia. "Cordy, I..."

Cordelia locked eyes with him. "Just be honest to yourself for a moment, Angel. Is what you felt earlier what you used to feel whenever she was near? Is that girl in there Buffy? The truth. Tell me the truth."

"No... I don't know... Maybe..." He turned to look at the girl through the glass again, and slowly nodded. "Y-Yes... I-I think it is. Conner said she had a scar. I just... I need to be closer to her. Talk to her."

"Then I suggest you go do it." With that said, Cordelia turned away from him, and disappeared out of the garden.

"Angel..." Wesley started to say.

"Not now, Wesley." Angel waved him off. "I need to... I'm going to try and get a closer look."

"Fine. I'll just stay here and wait for Cordy." Wesley said as Angel moved past him.

****

Chara stood and worried her bottom lip as she watched Conner tear into the wrapping paper of the huge package sitting in the middle of the lobby floor.

"Chara..." Conner looked up at her after his eyes took in what was hidden under the wrapping paper of his unbirthday presents.

"Well? Do you like them?"

"I uhh... I don't know. I've never had any before." Conner answered honestly as his eyes returned to the now unwrapped entertainment system.

"I know. You told me earlier, remember? That's why I got them. I just... I thought you should be introduced to music. Like I said, it's good for your soul. And the tv and dvd player... Well, I hope you use those to start a family night like we talked about. Remember, Family is important. Very important. And it's important that you spend as much time with them as possible."

"Amen to that, sister." Lorne said from his seat on the sofa beside Conner. "And I'm sure Angelface will agree with you. And as for the stereo... I've been after him for years, telling him that he needed to teach the little bambino here about music, but he wouldn't because he said he hated the music today and didn't want his son to listen to it. "

"Well, I can understand his position, Lorne. But I also have to disagree with him."Chara replied. "Not all music or movies are distasteful. And even if they were it's not our place to tell a person what they can't listen to or watch. That's what is so great about living in the United States, having the freedom to say, do, watch, and listen to what we want. Of course, I really wasn't sure how Conner's dad would react to my gifts, so I played things safe and only bought CD's and dvd's that wasn't distasteful as he calls them." She looked down at Conner. "That's what is in the other package by the way. CD's and movies. Now it'll be up to you to decide exactly which ones are your favorite."

Conner stood up. "You didn't have to do this, Chara."

"I know." She gave him her best smile. "I wanted to. Besides, if you're going to learn how to dance so that you can take me dancing you need to be familiar with music. Hence the stereo. And I've already told you why I bought the tv and dvd player. Just put them to good use, okay?"

Conner chuckled. "I knew there was an ulterior motive behind this."

"That's because you know my so well." She reached up to brush a lock of hair of his forehead. "Now what do you say we get these suckers out of the box and test them out?"

He smiled. "Sure, why not?" Conner turned to Gunn. "Will you help me since I don't have a clue what I'm doing?"

"No problem, man." Gunn replied, and dropped a kiss on Fred's lips before leaving the sofa he'd been setting on.

Chara hoisted herself up on the front desk, and for the next fifteen minutes watched as Conner and Gunn set the stereo system up, and began to sample the huge collection of CD's she had also purchased. He had decided to wait on testing out the tv and dvd player until he could talk to his father about where a good place would be to set them up, and that was fine with Chara. She was just happy to see Conner so excited. He was like a kid at christmas time, and every now and then she would catch herself mouthing some of the words to the songs he was playing because it was the first time in a long time she had actually felt at peace. And she was at peace. Happy even. Even if Conner and Gunn were skipping through song after song instead of listening to each one completely through, she was just happy to sit and watch them. That was until they came across one of her favorite CD's in the entire collection. They were both continuing to quickly skip through track after track until they reached her favorite song on the entire album, and when they went to skip over it she couldn't help but yell at them to leave it. "I love this song." She told them.

"I don't." Gunn muttered. "It's depressing."

"Yes, it is." She agreed. "But that's what is so great about it. Instead of singing about all that bullshit happily ever after love stuff this girl sings about real life. I mean, listen to the words really closely and tell me that you haven't felt the exact same way she feels at some point in your life."

"I think I'll pass, thanks." Gunn said before returning to the stack of CD's he and Conner had been sorting through earlier. Conner also eventually went back to doing the same, and as Chara watched them she didn't even realize she had started singing out loud along with the song.

I'm standing on the bridge I'm waitin' in the dark I thought you'd be here By now

There's nothin' but the rain No footsteps on the ground I'm listening but there's no sound

Isn't anyone tryin' to find me? Won't somebody please take me home

It's a damn cold night Tryin' to figure out this life Won't you take me by the hand Take me somewhere new I don't know who you are but I I'm with you I'm with you

I'm lookin' for a place I'm searchin' for a face Is anybody here I know 'Cause nothin's going right And everything's a mess And no one likes to be alone

Isn't anyone tryin' to find me? Won't somebody come take me home

It's a damn cold night Tryin' to figure out this life Won't you take me by the hand Take me somewhere new I don't know who you are but I I'm with you I'm with you Ye ah

Oh, why is everything so confusing Maybe I'm just out of my mind Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah...

It's a damn cold night Tryin' to figure out this life Won't you take me by the hand Take me somewhere new I don't know who you are but I I'm with you I'm with you

Take me by the hand Take me somewhere new I don't know who you are but I'm with you I'm with you

Take me by the hand Take me somewhere new Don't know who you are but I I'm with you I'm with you I'm with you

When the song ended, Chara blinked out of her reverie to find everyone staring at her, and the way they were doing it was sending this tingly sensation up her spine. It was unnerving. So unnerving she finally had to say something. "C-Conner?" Her eyes flew to his. "W-Why is everyone staring at me?"

"Maybe because we didn't know you could sing." Conner smiled at her. "Chara, that was... Wow... You sounded just like an..."

"Angel..." Lorned cut Conner off and said as he came to his feet.

"Yeah right, Lorne." Chara rolled her eyes. "I in know way sounded like an angel."

"No, Cara. Not you. He meant..."

"Angel." Lorne cut Conner off again, and pointed behind Conner. "Your uhh... Conner's uhh... Dad. He's uhh... here."

Great. Chara silently muttered to herself as she felt the heat rush to her cheeks. It was embarrassing enough that everyone else had heard her sing, but for Conner's dad to hear her, too. Oh well, so much for making a good first impression. Bracing herself for the encounter, she slid off the front desk, and raised her gaze to her best friend's father.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

CHAPTER 6

It was her. Cordy had been right. He had sensed her before he'd ever walked into the hotel garden, but it had been so long since he'd had that feeling he had forgotten what it was like. The last time had been the night of her mother's funeral, and later on he would find out it would be the last time he would ever sense, touch, or see her again. Or so he thought. But now she was here. He could hear the blood flowing in her veins, hear her heart beating in her chest. She was alive. Buffy was alive, and just within touching distance, and God the urge to go to her, take her in his arms and never let her go again was so overwhelming he nearly did. That was until she started singing that stupid song while she sat on top of the front desk, and the words to it began to tear at his gut. He was halfway to her when he stopped. He couldn't hold her no matter how much he wanted to. She didn't know who he was. Who she was. And the last thing he wanted to do was frighten her. So he chose to drink her in instead. Let her sweet voice entrance him like it always did. Watch as she sang along with the stereo that Conner and Gunn were pretending to tamper with. So he waited... Waited for the moment she would raise her gaze to his. And he hoped... Hoped that when she finally did there would be some sort of recognization in her eyes. His hopes were selfish, he knew it. If everything she had told Conner was true then she had been through so much pain. Too much. And then there was the fact that she couldn't remember. He didn't know if the memory loss was from the accident or from her return. All he knew was that she had been cheated out of having the peace she deserved, and he intended to find out why.

Angel was so deep in thought that at first he didn't realize the music had stopped, and that she wasn't singing anymore. It was the sound of her voice that finally snapped him out of his reverie, and once again he was drinking her in and waiting... hoping.

"Conner? W-Why is everyone staring at me?"

"Maybe because we didn't know you could sing. Chara, that was... Wow...You sounded just like an..."

Angel watched as Lorne suddenly stood up, and their gazes locked. "Angel..."

"Yeah right, Lorne. I in no way sounded like an angel."

Angel wanted to chuckle because it was obvious she still had her dry sense of humor, but he never got the chance because Conner's attention turned to him, and he pointed at him. "No, Chara. Not you. He meant..."

"Angel." Lorne repeated. "Your uhh... Conner's uhh...Dad. He's uhh... here."

"Oh." Was all Angel heard her say before she turned red with embarrassment. She refused to look at him at first. She waited until she had jumped off the front desk top, and then he was holding a breath he didn't need as she finally raised her eyes to him, and there it was... Their connection... They not only connected with their eyes, but with their hearts, bodies, and souls as well, and for a moment he actually thought he had gotten his selfish wish. He thought he saw recognization in those emerald jewels of hers, but just as quickly as it came, it was gone, and she instinctively took a step towards Conner, who pulled her into his arms as he manuevered around her to face his father again.

To say he was jealous was an understatement. The powerful surge of jealousy that shot through Angel was making his inner demons cry out for him to close the distance to his son, and pull her away from him. His son... It was those two words that blew out the fire raging inside of him, but if he thought no one noticed he was wrong because his vampire hearing caught Lorne's muttered oh boy just before she spoke and regained his full attention. "Umm... H-Hello."

Gods, her voice was like music to his ears. Five years. It had been five very long years since he had heard it last, and his shocked and pained eyes softened as he continued to drink her in. "Hello, Bu...Chara."

She frowned. "H-How did you..."

"Chara..." Conner's hands came up to rest on her shoulders in reassurance. " I told Dad all about you. I figured since I had pretty much given you his life story I at least owed it to him to tell him a little bit about you. I hope that's okay?"

She tilted her head back to look at Conner, and that's when Angel saw it. His mark... And seeing it again didn't cause him any pain. Far from it actually. He was actually happy to see it. Happy that no matter what she would always belong to him. So happy that when he dared a peek at Lorne he found the anagogic demon grinning at him from ear to ear, but his gaze didn't hold Lorne's very long, and then he was immediately returning his attention to the goddess standing in front of his son. "I uhh... you told him e-everything?"

Conner nodded. "Yes."

Her panic gaze flew back to Angel. "Are y-you going to kill me?"

"W-What?" Angel took a step back in surprise.

"A-Are you going t-to kill me?" She repeated nervously. "Because I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to. If I were in your shoes I would want to kill m-me, too. But I swear to you I didn't know Conner had never drank before when I gave him that whiskey. I was kinda in shock at the time, and I didn't think to ask him if he drank or not. Not until the shock had worn off some, and by then it was too late because he'd already drank it when he admitted to me that you would kill him if he ever did drink. I-I'm really sorry. Honest. If I had known I wouldn't have given it to him in the first place. But the thing is I didn't know, and I'm really sorry. But if you want to kill me I'll understand."

Angel's surprised and confused gaze moved to Conner. "Did I understand her correctly? Did she give you liquor?"

"Yeah." Conner grinned. "But it was like she said, Dad. I sort of didn't tell her what you said until after the fact, and once I did she panicked like she's doing now, so will you please tell her you're not going to kill her and put her guilty conscience at ease? She's been worrying herself sick every since it happened."

Chara glanced back and forth at father and son as they discussed her as if she wasn't there until she finally couldn't take it anymore, and let her gaze settle on Conner. "I uhh... Why do I get the feeling you didn't tell him what I just told him?"

"Because I didn't. I told him everything but that."

"OH..." Her eyes widened in surprise and flew back to Angel. "So I umm... Are you uhh... Are you going to kill me?"

"I thought Conner explained to you that I don't kill people, Bu... Chara?"

"H-He did. And I get that. I get the whole vampire with a soul thing."

"Then why would you think that I would kill you?"

"B-Because you're his father, and I umm... I would w-want to kill me, too if I knew someone gave my baby something that could be bad for him."

"I'm not a baby, Chara." Conner muttered from behind her.

"Sorry, sweetie." Chara tilted her head back to look at Conner, and reached up to pat his cheek with one of her hands. "You know what I meant. Now quit scowling at me before your face sets that way permanently." With another pat to his cheek, she returned her gaze to Angel. "So umm... K-Kill me. Are you g-going to kill me?"

Angel swallowed another surge of jealousy after watching the exchange between her and Conner before finally managing to find his voice. "No. Like I said before, Chara, Conner explained to me what happened, and I understand that you were in shock. Besides, no matter what you've done I would never lay a finger on y... I don't hurt humans. But if you don't believe me, and you're still uncomfortable being around me, I could always..." He motioned to the stairs. "Go."

"No!" She nearly yelled. "I-I mean, no. You don't have to go. I'm uhh... I'm still getting used to the whole vampires a-and demons exist thingie, but I know the difference between y-you and them. The uhh... The ones I killed. I know the difference between y-you and them, and it's not just because Conner told me either. It's hard to explain, but somehow I sense it." She frowned again. "And how or why that's possible I'm not sure, but I do. So I don't guess it really matters how I do as long as I do, right?"

"Right." He smiled this incredibly sexy lopsided smile that took Chara's breath away for a moment, but she finally managed to catch it again and get her voice back. "Eat... I uhh... Conner has this deal with my Dad to see to it that I eat, and tonight he's going to feed me lots and lots of junk food. Would you uhh... Would you like to join us? All of us?"

Angel's gaze moved to his son. "If you have a deal with her uhh...father don't you think you should be feeding her real food instead of junk food?"

Conner opened his mouth to say something, but Chara beat him to the punch.

"Don't blame him, uhh... Angel. He said the same thing you did, but I didn't want real food. I was in the mood to eat all this really fattening stuff, and once I set my heart on something I won't take no for an answer."

"Ain't that the truth." Conner muttered.

"Hey!" She spun around to look at him. "Are you trying to tell me something, mister?"

"I..."Conner saw the look in her eyes, and knew if he said something he would be fighting a losing battle, so he sighed in defeat and shook his head no.

"That's what I thought."She spun back around to look at Angel, who was struggling to control his jealousy again. "So... Would you? Like to join us, I mean. Not that I have to invite you seeing as it's your kitchen, but I'm asking anyway." She smiled at him, and he felt himself melting all over again. "So would you?"

Angel returned her smile. "I'd love to."

"Great. Then it's settled. Let's eat." She reached for Conner's hand, and Angel felt another wave of jealousy rush through him. "I'm going to let you lead the way, Mr. Conner. Especially since I have no idea where I'm going."

"I'll give you the grand tour after we eat." Conner told her. "Now let's go do that." He began to lead her out of the room, but suddenly she stopped in her tracks. "Oh, just a little reminder, guys." She spun around to look at the rest of the group, including Angel. "Hands off the Cookie Dough Fudge Mint Chip ice cream. It's mine."

A sharp pain shot through Angel at her words. "Actually, you know what... Uhh, Conner... Why don't you take our guest and go on ahead. I just remembered that I need to discuss a possible case with Lorne. We'll catch up in a minute."

Chara looked a little hurt as her gaze traveled to Angel. "A-Are you sure? We could wait on you if you'd like."

Angel smiled at her again. "No, that's okay. Go on and eat. Lorne and I will be along shortly."

"Okay." She returned his smile, and let Conner lead her out of the lobby, followed by Gunn and Fred. Angel waited until he was absolutely sure the were out of hearing distance before he turned to Lorne. "What did you see, Lorne? I know you read her."

"All I could see was her true essence, Angelface. There were flashes of things... Faded images of you and her, but I couldn't see anything else because there's too much pain and confusion. She's hiding behind it, and for some reason she doesn't want to come out."

"That's it?" Angel asked angrily. "Come on, Lorne. There's got to be something else."

"Oh yeah, you big palucca. There's definitely something else. I saw it the moment you two made eye contact, and I curse myself for being such an idiot. For reading between the lines when I didn't have all the facts."

"What the hell are you talking about, Lorne?"

"I thought you and Cordy had kyerumption, Angelcakes. I even pushed for the two of you to get together, but it was a mistake. I see that now. Kyerumption... It's not even a speck of sand in that universe that's known as you and Buffy. What I just saw take place between the two of you... I've never seen anything like it, and I don't think I ever will again."

"I don't appreciate you reading me without my persmission, Lorne."

Lorne patted Angel's arm. "Then quit being so obvious."

Angel turned away from Lorne. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Liar. You were smirking, Angel. Smirking. And just so you know, the jealousy thing isn't necessary. She loves him, but not the way you think."

"It doesn't matter what I think, Lorne. I'm with Cordy now, remember? And Conner... He's my son."

"You know, I never realized just how much love could affect a person until today." Lorne murmured as he stared at Angel's back. "It must have been hard for you to love her that much, and lose her not once, but three times. I can't even begin to imagine what you must have been feeling, and might I add that you did a pretty good damn job of hiding it all, too. I can see now why you settled for this life. It's so much easier, isn't it? Not anywhere near as painful?"

"I'm not going to discuss this with you." Angel moved towards the garden doors. "I have to go find Cordelia."

"That's right, Angel. Run away."

"I'm not..." Angel stopped just inside the doorway. "I'm not running away, Lorne. I don't know what happened to her. Why she's here. All I know is that if she she needs my help I'll be there to help her anyway I can."

"Still sounds like you're running to me, Angelface. And who's to say that it's your help she needs. Maybe what she really needs from you is your love."

"Lorne..." Angel turned around to look at him.

"Chara. It's kinda ironic that she would pick the name Chara, don't you think? Chara... Mo anam chara. Do you see what I'm getting at here, Angel. Mo anam chara. You do remember what it means, don't you? And she is that. Even under all that pain and confusion that was something I had no trouble seeing, and that ring on her finger only confirms it. I just hope you realize it's true for yourself before it's too late."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

CHAPTER 7

Angel didn't go to the kitchen after talking to Lorne. He did exactly what he told Lorne he was going to do. He sought Cordelia out, and he just so happened to find her sitting on the front steps of the hotel. The minute he sat down beside her he knew she was pissed by the way she refused to look at him. "So... Did you see your beloved Buffy?"

He grimaced, and his reaction only angered her more. "I don't believe it. It's really her. God! Of course, it's really her! She's the only person that could ever get that kind of fucking reaction out of you!"

"Cordy, will you please calm down and let me explain."

"Explain what, Angel?" She asked, rising from the step. "That you're still in love with her? No thanks, I don't need you to explain that to me. Especially when deep down I've always known you never really did stop loving her. It just pisses me off that you didn't even stop to take my feelings into consideration before you took off to have that happy reunion with her."

"We didn't have a happy reunion, Cordy. She didn't even recognize me."

"So, it's true." She turned around to look at him. "The whole amnesia thing isn't an act? She really doesn't remember anything?"

"You thought it was an act?" Angel stared at her back in disbelief.

"Well duh, you idiot! It's Buffy! She's always been able to wind you around her little finger. I figured she came back, somehow found out about us and Conner, and decided to make your life a living hell just like she always has."

"I can't believe you would actually think that, Cordelia. Things with Buffy and I... If she knew about Conner she would never use him to hurt me. She would never intentionally hurt me period. Just like I would never intenionally hurt her if I could help it."

"I so do not want to hear this right now. It's bad enough that I know now that you marked her, and that you gave her a wedding ring..." She turned around to look at him. "Doesn't any of the last four years mean anything to you? Do I mean anything to you?"

"Of course, you do, Cordelia! Why do you think I'm here instead of..."

"Instead of what, Angel?" She locked eyes with him. "Do you want her back? She's rich, you know? Won all those millions in Vegas. The two of you could travel the world together. There's nothing to stop you from being with her now."

"There's you to stop me." Angel answered quickly. "But just for the record, Cordy if I did want her back, which I don't, it wouldn't be because of the money."

"But? I'm sensing another but here, Angel. You have butface."

"You're right. It's Buffy, Cordy. Buffy! She made me believe in myself. She taught me about love and friendship. She gave me a purpose, and whether you like it or not she will always be a part of my life."

Cordelia sat back down beside him in defeat. "You're going to help her, aren't you?"

"I have to, Cordelia. I owe her that much. You owe her that much. If it wasn't for her we wouldn't be here right now. She gave her life to save us and this world we live in, and now it's time to repay her for her sacrifice."

"So what happens now." She buried her face in her hands.

"I'm going to Sunnydale. I need answers, and since that's where she... That's the most logical place to start."

"And when you come back?" She raised her head to look over at him.

"I'm coming back to you. But it doesn't neccessarily mean that this will be over. I may not find the answers I'm looking for there, and if I don't then I plan to search until I do. We can't go on with our lives until I make sure she can go on with hers. And then there's Conner. He loves her, and I have no idea what I'm going to do about that..."

****

He didn't join them like he said he was going to do. Angel hadn't joined them for their junk food fest, and Chara had found out from Wesley later on that evening why. He had went home with Cordelia, is girlfriend, and for some reason the thought of him being with this Cordelia had made Chara sick at her stomach. So sick in fact, she had eventually bailed on the festivities herself and came home. And now here she was sitting in the bathroom floor doing her best to try and get her strength back enough to make it to her bed on the sofa. What the hell was wrong with her? First she flips for a vampire of all things, and now she was making herself sick with jealousy over the fact that he had a girlfriend. A girlfriend that he had been involved with for four years, and was obviously sleeping with. That meant it was serious. It had to be, and that meant she didn't have a chance in hell of snagging him. Snagging him? Now where the hell had that come from? She wasn't interested in snagging anyone. Especially Conner's dad of all people. And oh, God. Who the hell was she kidding? She was immediately and totally smitten with the dark and gorgeous vampire, and for a moment she could have sworn that he was equally as interested in her because of the way he was looking at her. It was almost like he had been looking into her soul. And that tingle... The one she thought had been nervousness from everyone staring at her, hadn't been that at all. It had been him. She'd figured that out the moment she turned around and locked eyes with him.

Chara groaned out loud, and pushed herself up off the floor. She was in trouble. Serious trouble. She'd managed to fall for someone she's only known for like five seconds. Someone she hadn't even had a decent conversation with. Someone that was already taken. But for some reason none of that seem to matter. For some reason no matter how wrong she kept telling herself falling for Angel really was, deep down inside of her something kept telling her it had never felt so right.

****

Angel pulled up in front of the house on Revello Drive, and sat staring at it for the longest time. His last visit here hadn't went very well. It was right after he had gotten back from Tibet. He had come to check on Dawn, and to visit Buffy's grave. To say goodbye... And what he found while he was here had not only scared him, it had sent him seeking Spike out in a blind rage. Apparantly Sunnydale had been attacked by Hellions who had found out that the hellmouth was slayerless. Well, not exactly slayerless. They had found out that the slayer wasn't real. That she was a robot. A Buffybot. And they had come to town to destroy it, and take over the hellmouth according to the Scooby gang, who had gathered at Buffy's house to explain to him about what had been going on the last couple of months and to tell him about the attack on Sunnydale the night before. That's when he had found out that Spike had paid some computer geek to design a robot that looked like Buffy to satisfy his obsession with her. That piece of news alone had enraged him beyond belief, and he had wanted to seek his Grand Childe out right then and there and end his miserable existence, but he had somehow managed to rein in his rage long enough to listen to Willow explain about the attack, and how the Scooby gang had finally managed to drive the Hellions out of Sunnydale with magic and their wits.

Once Willow was finished telling him, he had still set his rage aside long enough to talk to Buffy's little sister, who had been in her bedroom upstairs balling her eyes out over the fact that now that there wasn't a Buffybot anymore the truth about her sister's death was going to finally come out and she was going to have to go live with her father in LA when she didn't want to.

After he had listened to Dawn pour out her heart to him about the death of her sister, and what it was doing to her knowing she had to go live with a man she despised, his anger towards the scoobies had softened somewhat. He finally understood why they had used the Buffybot. They had simply been doing what they had promised Buffy they would do. They were taking care of her little sister, and he couldn't stay angry at them for that. He would have done the same thing had he been here.

Spike, on the other hand, was a different story. His rage for Spike only intensified, and eventually he managed to catch up with the peroxide blonde and beat him beyond recognization. He had even planned on staking the sorry sonofabitch's ass, but the look in his Grand Childe's eyes as he raised the stake to carry his plan out had stopped him. Love. Spike had really loved Buffy in his own sick twisted way, and Angel couldn't kill him for that. He couldn't kill him for loving the most incredible woman to ever exist, so he had chosen to walk away instead, and he hadn't been back since. But that didn't mean he had forgotten about the hellmouth and the people there either. In fact, as soon as he had gotten back to LA he had called Giles, who had moved back to England after Buffy's death, and told him about the attack and they both agreed the hellmouth couldn't be left unprotected. A couple of days later Faith had turned up to see him. Apparantly Giles had told the Watcher's Council what had happened and they in turn had put in a call to the US government and had somehow managed to arrange to have Faith released from prison so that she could resume her duties as slayer in Sunnydale.

Since that day five years ago he hadn't set foot back in Sunnydale, but he hadn't severed all his ties there either. He still kept in touch with both Willow and Faith, and he had even called on the entire Scooby gang to fight another Apocalypse in LA. Thankfully they had won, and there hadn't been any casualities. Faith and the Scoobies returned to Sunnydale after that while he had resumed his life in LA. That had been a year ago. He hadn't seen any of them since then, and now he was about to come barging back into their lives and turn their worlds upside down again.

Taking one final glance at the house, Angel climbed out of his car, and made his way up the walkway to the front door. He was just about to raise his hand to knock when the door suddenly opened up, and the person standing on the other side made him take a step back in surprise. "D-Dawnie?"

"You know, Buffy always said you would look good in sunlight." She leaned against the doorframe, and looked at him through sad eyes. "It's too bad she's not here to see just how good you really do look."

He flinched, but quickly recovered. "H-How did..."

"Well, I could say it was the fact that your standing here at nine o'clock on a beautiful sunny morning that gave it away, but I'd be lying. I already knew. Willow told me."

"Oh." Was all Angel could manage to say.

"I was on my way out to get you by the way."

"You knew I was here?"

"Yeah. I came out about thirty minutes ago to get the paper and saw you in your car in heavy brood mode. I figured I'd give you some time to sort through your emotional turmoil then I was coming to get you."

"I wasn't brooding, Dawn."

"Yeah, right." She rolled her eyes. "Believe it or not, Angel even though I didn't really exist when you dated my sister I do still have the memories of that time, and I remember very clearly that you brood. Especially about Buffy. Don't worry though, you'll be happy to know that she brooded over you, too. Even after you left. She tried to deny it, put the blame off on fish boy and his latest round of *I really don't get you 'cause you won't let me, Buffy* tantrum, but I knew better. She would always have that same face that she used to get whenever she was thinking of you. I called it Angelface."

"Dawnie, I can't..."

"Right. Sorry. I forgot you were never one for strolling down memory lane. Too much guilt..." She stepped aside, and motioned to him. "Come on in."

Angel moved into the house, and shed his leather duster. "What are you doing here, Dawn? I thought you were in LA?"

"That's funny, I thought you were in LA, too."

"Dawn..." Angel turned around to look at her. "Just answer my question, please."

"Fine." She turned to close the door before turning back to him. "I moved back here two weeks ago to be with Spike."

"Spike? Why the hell would you move back here to be with..." He never finished the question because the look on her face was all the answer he needed. "I'll kill him." He took a step towards the door, but she blocked his way. "Hold it right there, mister. No one... And I mean no one, messes with my boyfriend. Got it?"

"Jesus Christ, Dawn! What the hell are you thinking getting involved with Spike? He's a vampire!"

"The fact that you were a vampire didn't stop you and Buffy."

"And you see how it ended too, don't you, Dawn?"

"Oh, yeah. I see how it ended, Angel. I have the memories of that, too. And if you ask me, you're a fucking idiot. You should have listened to your heart instead of my Mother. You should have listened to Buffy and what she wanted as well, but because you didn't she died alone believing that there wasn't a damn thing in this world worth living for."

"What the hell are you talking about, Dawn?"

"Nothing. Forget I said anything." She shoved past him and went into the living room.

"No, Dawn. I want to know what you meant." Angel replied, following her.

"Why are you here?" She spun around to face him. "Because I know for a fact it's not to see me. If you had wanted to see me you would have made an effort to do so in LA. Something's up, right? That's why you're popping back into Sunnyhell after five years. There's some big bad coming that you can't handle on your own? That has to be it because that's the only time you come to Sunnydale. Unless, of course, Buffy's in danger. And since that's obviously not possible seeing as she's dead, it has to be the big bad, right?"

"Don't change the subject, Dawn."

"I'll do whatever the hell I damn well please, Angel. Open your eyes and take a good look at me. I am not a little girl anymore, but even if I was I wouldn't discuss my sister with you. You lost that right a long time ago."

Angel took in her firey eyes so like Buffy's. "You're angry with me." He murmured.

"No, Angel. I'm way past being angry with you. The truth is I pretty much hate you."

"Why?"

"Hmm..." Dawn stuck her finger to her chin in thought. "Let's see. I could say it's because in the last five years you never not once tried to contact me when you knew I was in the same city as you, but the truth is that would be a lie. The truth is the reason I hate you has nothing to do with me. It has to do with my sister. You fucked with her head... her heart... That last visit... It's bad enough she wasn't dealing with mom's death very well. Oh, no. You had to breeze back into her life and then leave just as quickly." Something between a laugh and a sob tore from Dawn's throat. "Your little visit here when mom died destroyed what little that was left of her. She just gave up after that. You wasn't there the day she died, but I was. I was standing right there with her. I saw the look on her face when she made the decision she made. I saw the look in her eyes. She wanted it. She wanted death, and I blame you for that, Angel. You were a coward, and because you were my sister gave up. I blame you for not being here to watch her back. I blame you for not being here to give her a reason to live. Oh, I tried. We all did. Even Spike. But she didn't want us. She didn't want a normal life. She wanted you. And I blame you for her dying because if you had just listened to her... Just been here to pick her up when she fell I wouldn't have to be spending the rest of my life knowing that I wasn't enough to give her a reason to live. And I hate you for that, Angel. God, how I hate you for that!"

His pained eyes met hers. "I'm sorry."

"Sorry? You're sorry?" Dawn began to laugh. "If you want to say you're sorry go say it to Cordelia, and your son because I'm sorry doesn't cut it with me, Angel. I'm sorry won't bring my sister back! She's dead! My sister is dead, and she's never coming back!" She began to cry. "Buffy's dead. She's dead, and she's never coming back."

"That's the thing, Dawn. She's not."

"W-What?" Dawn's head shot up, her tear filled eyes meeting his.

"She's alive, Dawnie. That's why I'm here. Buffy's alive. I've seen her. Talked to her. She's alive."

Dawn Summers' eyes widened in surprise, and then for the first time in her very short life, she fainted...

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

CHAPTER 8

Angel stood in the street outside the magic shop, and looked through the front door window at the people inside. "Maybe I should wait. I mean, it's like I told you, it's probably best we all keep our distance right now until we're absolutely sure what happened and what the repercussions are going to be."

"They love her, too. They should know." Dawn murmured from behind him. "Besides, Giles is in town. He especially should know. He maybe able to help you make sense of this."

He nodded. "Dawn..."

"I'm sorry, Angel." She blurted out, interrupting him. "I don't really hate you. It's just... like sister like sister. I have a tendancy to lash out at those closest to me. I uhh... I had been holding that in for so long. I blamed myself. I still blame myself."

He slowly turned around to face her. "Then I guess we're in the same boat."

Dawn gave him a weak smile, then nodded at the door. "So... Are we going in?"

"Yeah, I guess we are." He offered her his arm. "But you know if the going gets tough I want you to duck and run for cover."

"I know. But you also know I won't listen, right?"

"You know, you really are just like your sister." He grumbled.

"Thank you." She beamed. "I take that as the compliment I know you meant it to be."

"Just because I gave you a compliment doesn't mean you're off the hook, Dawn. You and I are still going to have a nice long talk."

"I look forward to it." She winked at him as they went through the front door, and stopped. "Hey, guys. Look who I found lurking outside my house."

Seven pair of eyes flew to Dawn and Angel.

"A-Angel. G-Good lord." Rupert Giles stood up from the table he was sitting at, and closed the distance to him. "Hello, Giles."

"R-Remarkable." Giles swept his hand through the beam of sunlight shining down on Angel through the front door window. "W-Willow told me about the prophecy, but hearing about it and actually seeing the results of it are two completely different things. A-Amazing... Simply amazing."

"Tell me about it." Angel smiled. "I'm still getting used to it."

"A-And there has been other changes as well?" Giles asked curiously.

"Yes. First I lost my allergy to churches and crosses. Next I got my appetite for real food back. I still require blood but not everyday. My body lets me know when I need it. And then there's this..." He held his hand out in the beam of sunlight. "It happened last year right after that last Apocalypse."

"Fascinating. The changes are like baby steps." Giles murmured.

"What's so fascinating about it G-man?" Xander Harris spoke up and asked from is seat at the table where Giles had been sitting moments before. "He's still dead and he still looks it." His gaze moved to Angel. "What's the matter, Deadboy? Does Cordy and the little one keep you so busy that you don't time have time to catch any rays? And speaking of the little missus, how is she?"

"I can definitely tell you that she has grown up a hell of a whole lot more than you have, Harris."

"And is she still part demon? Wait a minute, don't answer that because the way I see it she was pretty much part demon before she actually became part demon."

"And that's bad how?" Anya stared at her husband. "And keep in mind that not all demons are bad before you answer that, Xander."

"Sorry, honey. I didn't mean to offend you." Xander leaned over to kiss his wife. "And you're right. Not all demons are bad. Just Cordy and Deadboy's evil twin."

"That's enough, Harris. Zip it before I pulverize you." Faith threatened him before turning her attention to Angel. "Hey, A."

"Faith." Angel smiled. "How are things since we talked last?"

"Five by Five. What about with you?"

Angel shot a glance at Dawn. "Let's just say things have been rather surprising lately."

Faith raised an eyebrow. "Really? Surprising how?"

Angel started to say something, but Willow interrupted him. "Wait, guys. Can we hold off on shop talk for just a second." She moved around the table, and made her way over to Angel. "Hey, Angel. How have you been?"

"Fair. What about you?"

"Oh, umm... Good news actually." She smiled up at him. "Oz an I are going to have a baby. I'm pregnant."

"That's great, Willow." Angel hugged her then pulled away to look at the red head's spouse still sitting at the table. "Congratulations, Oz."

"Thanks, man." Oz smiled.

"So what really brings you to Sunnydale?" Willow asked, stepping back away from him.

"I'll tell you, but I think maybe I should speak to Giles alone first."

"M-Me?" Giles blurted out. "Angel, I'm not... Whatever it is you can discuss in front of the others. They pretty much handle things here now."

Dawn laid her hand on Angel's arm. "Go on. Tell them." She encouraged.

"Tell us what?" Giles asked, his gaze, returning to Angel.

"Well, uhh... Conner..." Angel began. "My son, Conner... He's uhh... He was ambushed by four vampires last month, and was bitten. He's fine. Alive. But only because someone saved him. A g-girl. She killed all four vampires."

"There's another slayer?" Faith asked in disbelief. "But that's impossible. I'm not..."

"I know." Angel murmured. "I was confused too, Faith. Especially when Conner explained to me that this girl wasn't a slayer even though she had the strength and fighting skill of one. But what was even more confusing was the fact that this girl nearly had a nervous breakdown after she killed the vamps. She didn't know they existed. Conner finally managed to explain everything to her, but because she was still obviously upset from everything that happened he didn't tell me the truth about what happened or her until last week. It seems he's uhh... He's in love with her. Their uhh... dating. At least I think they are. And of course, I wanted to meet her. He's my son, and something just didn't seem right. Then last night I found out why. Last night I got the shock of my existence because it turned out that I... We...know this girl. But what's even more shocking is that this girl... She umm... She died. She died, but she's not dead. Not anymore anyway. She's alive. Very alive. But she doesn't know who she really is or who I am. She doesn't remember anything."

"W-Who?" Giles spoke up and asked. "Who is this girl?"

Angel started to answer Giles, but Willow beat him to it. "B-Buffy." A sob tore from her throat. "Buffy. I-It's Buffy, isn't it?"

Angel nodded mutely. "Yes, b-but how..."

"It's her!" Willow yelled, and cut him off before spinning around to look at the others. "Did you hear that, guys? I knew it wasn't our imaginations. The spell worked. It worked! Sh-She's alive! Buffy's alive!"

"Willow?" Dawn's questioning eyes flew to the red head. "Y-You did it? You brought her back?"

Willow spun around to face Dawn. "Yes. Me, Xander, Tara, and Anya. We did a resurrection spell a couple of months after she died. The night those Hellions attacked Sunnydale. I couldn't stand the thought of her spending an eternity in some hell dimension being tortured forever, so I began researching right after she died. I did everything I could to get what was needed for the spell, and eventually all my hard work paid off. We had all we needed including the right alignment of the stars. It was on the night of the attack. We were halfway through the spell when it was interrupted. We didn't think we had completed enough of it to bring her back, but we found out differently later that night when we saw her. She was disoriented. In shock. She ran away from us, but we caught up with her. She was still in shock, and h-her hands were bleeding... We forgot... We forgot that by performing the spell we would bring her back where we left her. Sh-She umm... Aparantly she had to dig herself out of her own grave."

"Oh, God." Dawn began to cry.

"I'm sorry, D-Dawnie." Willow started crying even harder as her gaze moved to Angel. "I-I don't understand. She recognized us that night. I know she did. Sh-She saved us. W-We were attacked by the hellions, and she saved us. She was the one that took care of the Hellions, not my magic."

Angel nearly lost it as he digested what Willow was saying, and he had to turn away from everyone to keep them from seeing his tears. "Jesus, baby. What did they do to you?"

"I saved her!" Willow yelled." Can't you see that, Angel?" Willow's eyes shot back to Dawn. "D-Dawnie, I saved her. If it hadn't been for me she would still be in some hell dimension right now suffering."

"You stupid, little girl!" Angel spun back around, and when he did his face morphed. "You didn't save her. You tore her out of heaven!"

"W-What?" Willow's face paled as her eyes widened in shock.

"You heard me, Willow." Angel advanced her. "Buffy wasn't in hell. She was in heaven. Jesus Christ, you're supposed to have a brain, so why don't you use it? This is Buffy we're talking about. Buffy!" He stopped directly in front of her, and his amber eyes locked with hers. "She stopped six Apocalypses. Saved billions of lives, and sacrificed her own life to save this world and her sister. Do you honest to God believe the Powers would let their best warrior suffer an eternity in hell? No. NO! The most certainly would not. She was the epidemy of everything that was good in this world, and she was done! Finished! She was at peace! She was in heaven where there's nothing but love, happiness, and no pain, and you tore her out of there! You brought her back to a world of demons and darkness. Of complete and utter hate and chaos. To her this is hell! And you have the gall to stand here and pat yourself on the fucking back for saving her? You didn't save her, Willow. You destroyed her. You're the one that brought her back to this hell and condemned her to live in it, and I can't even stand ot look at you because of it." Angel backed away from her, and watched as she collapsed to the floor in a sobbing, crumbled heap. He didn't care about her pain though. He simply dismissed her with a look of disgust then morped back to his human face so that he could tend to Buffy's distraught sister. As he pulled Dawn into his arms, he met Giles' gaze over the top of her head. "Did you know about this?"

"D-Do you honestly think I would have let them do it if I had known?" Giles swept a hand through his hair. "So it's really her?"

"Yes, and I wasn't kidding when I said she doesn't remember. We need to talk. There's more I need to tell you, but not here. I can't... We need to talk, but not here. The mansion. I'll take Dawn home then meet you at the mansion."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

CHAPTER 9

Chara rolled over to stare at the black walls of her newly completed bedroom. She felt like shit. Her head hurt, and her throat was raw from throwing up, and on top of that she'd had the most vivid dream earlier. It had been about her and Angel... They were making love on a kitchen table, and had ended up breaking it. And, Oh God, it had seemed so real. So real in fact, she could still see every inch of his beautiful body, including a tattoo on his right shoulder. So real that she could actually remember what his hands and lips had felt like as they caressed her skin, and had woken up bathed in a sheen of sweat, her body still aching from need. She was going to have to stop fantasizing about the sexy half-vampire. She knew it. The only problem was she didn't have a clue how she was supposed to do that.

Just then, the telephone rang, jarring her out of her thoughts, and she rolled over to blindly reach for the phone on the nightstand beside her bed. "H-Hello?"

"Did anyone ever tell you that you are a very hard lady to reach?"

"C-Conner?"

"Now who else would it be? Unless, of course, you've managed to find a boyfriend since I saw you last."

"Yeah, right. What's the odds of that happening?" She mumbled. "A zillion to one? And for your information I thought it might be my Dad calling to check up on me. I've sort of had the phone unplugged."

"Well, that explains why I haven't been able to reach you. I was beginning to get worried. I even came over last night, but I didn't get an answer when I knocked. Was you home?"

"Uh huh. I was in the bathroom floor."

"What the hell were you doing in the bathroom floor, Chara?"

"I umm... Pukingmygutsout."

"Come again?"

"I was throwing up, Conner. That's why I didn't answer the door. I heard you. I just couldn't seem to stop throwing up long enough to do anything else much less answer the door."

"You have another migraine, don't you?"

"Uhh huh." She rolled onto her back.

"Damnit, Chara. Why didn't you call me?"

"Because I just told you that I couldn't seem to stop hugging the toilet long enough to do much of anything including call you, Conner."

"I'm sorry, Chara. I didn't think. Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Yeah, you could get me a new head."

"You know I would if I could." He answered softly.

"I know."

"So what are you doing for it?"

"Taking my medicine like a good little girl. I took two pills at the onset like I was supposed to then I've taken two more every six hours since then."

"Is it working?"

"Nope. It won't either as long as I continue to puke the medication back up."

"Why don't you let me call Kyle, Chara. Maybe you should go to the hospital."

"Uh uh. Now way, Conner. I would rather do the next thing on my list before going to the hospital."

"And what is the next thing on your list?"

"I get to stick myself."

"Stick yourself?"

"Give myself a shot." She muttered. "And trust me it's not easy for me considering I hate needles just about as much as I hate doctors, and hospitals. It takes forever for me to pump myself up enough to give myself one, and usually by the time I do the pain is so intense I'm at the point that I think the back of my head is going to blow off. There is some good news to all this though. I have an auto injector. All I do is load it with the syringe, push a button, and walah. Relief. Relief, that is, if I can see to push the button."

"And if you can't see to push the button?"

"Then I move on to the next step. I simply find my thigh, and keep fooling with the auto injector until it fires."

"Your thigh? Why your thigh?"

"Easy access. More fat. The only really bad part about the whole deal is I can only have two shots in a forty eight hour period, so if those two don't work I'm pretty much hospital bound because there could be more going on other than just the migraine."

"What do you mean by more going on, Chara?"

"N-Nothing. L-Look, Conner. A-As much as I love talking to you, I just can't right now. I really need to get off here, and try to nip this thing in the bud. Not just for my sake but for the staff at the hospital as well. They really don't care for me too much."

"Chara..."

"Conner, please... Look, I'll take you to lunch tomorrow to prove to you I'm still alive. I'll pick you up at 1:30, okay? Now say bye, and hang up."

"Alright. But if it gets any worse..."

"I'll call." She finished. "Now say bye."

"Bye, Chara." Conner hung up the phone, and stared at it.

"Is something wrong?"

He jumped at the sound of the voice, and looked up to find it's owner standing in front of his desk. "Jesus, Dad. You're really going to have to stop doing that."

"Sorry." Angel murmured, sitting down on the edge of Conner's desk.

"It's okay. I forgive you." Conner sat back in his chair. "So how was Sunnydale?"

"How did you..."

"Wesley told me you went to see Faith. How is she?"

"She's uhh... She's good. I saw Spike, too."

"And how is he doing?"

"He's not going to be doing much of anything for a while. I beat the shit out of him."

"That's nothing new." Conner chuckled. "So what did he do this time?"

"It's a long story. One I'd rather not go into. Besides, I doubt it did any good. It doesn't matter how much I beat him he just keeps coming back for more. He's sick and twisted."

"There seems to be alot of that going on." Conner's gaze returned to the phone. "The sick part, I mean. Chara's sick, too."

"Bu... Chara's sick?" Angel stood up. "What's wrong with her?"

"Migraine. Pretty bad, too. I could hear it in her voice. She's been in bed with it since she left here the other night, and I can't help but worry after what she just told me. She takes medication for them, but if it does't work she has to switch to shots. The thing is she's only allowed to give herself two shots in a forty eight hour period, and if those don't work she's supposed to go to the hospital. But that's not what really has me worried. She let it slip that if the shots didn't work there was a good chance that there could be more going on in her head than just the migraine, and knowing her the way I do if things are that bad I doubt she would go to the hospital in the first place. She hates hospitals. She also hates needles, but she would rather deal with them than deal with a hospital and their staff. She really shouldn't be alone right now. She can barely move when she's like this much less drive herself to the hospital if she has to go."

Angel agreed with his son, and as much as he hated to do it, he swallowed his jealousy and made the suggestion anyway. "Maybe you should go over there, Conner."

"Believe me, Dad. I would love nothing more than to go over there, but she made it plain and clear she doesn't want me to. She has one hell of a temper to be so tiny, and the last thing I want to do is upset her. She doesn't need it right now."

"That's true." Angel murmured, and looked around the lobby. "I told Cordy to take the night off. Did she listen to me?"

"Yeah, if you can believe it or not, she did."

"What about the others?"

"Patrol. It looks like it's just you and me."

"No, it's just you. I think I'll go uhh... patrol myself. Get some air. I may just make a night of it. If you need me you can reach me on my cell."

"I know the drill, Dad."

"Good. I'm glad you do." Angel headed towards the lobby doors. "That means you know not to call me unless it's absolutely necessary."

****

Chara thought the sofa would be a change of scenery from the rumpled bed she had spent the last two days in, but she quickly found out all it was was a huge mistake. The pain in her head had intensified to the point she felt like the pressure was going to send what was left her brain oozing out of her ears at any moment. And to make matters worse her shot was sitting on the nightstand in her bedroom, and she really wasn't up for a return trip down the hallway to retrieve it. She wasn't moving period. Not until the pain in her head had completely vanished. But she should have known nothing ever went her way, and the proof came in the form of the doorbell her dad had installed the day she moved into the building. The sound of it sliced through her head, intensifying the pain beyond belief. She was going to kill whoever it was she vowed. That was if she lived long enough to make it to the door to carry out her threat.

It took her four attempts to get to her feet, and even longer to make the trek across the room to the door, and the person on the other side of the door evidently thought she was taking too long because they chose the exact same moment she reached the door knob to ring the doorbell again, and by the time it stopped she was on her knees in agony. She really, truly, honestly wanted to cry, but she knew it would only make matters worse for her if she did. Biting her bottom lip to smother the sobs threatening, she blindly reached up to open the door, and found him standing on the other side when she did. And it was him. She didn't have to see him to know it. She could feel him all the way to her bones.

"Invite me in, Chara."

"W-What?" She asked as she stared at the black blob that was evidently his shoed feet. "I-I mean, n-no." She mumbled, closing her eyes against the bright light that was coming from the street light in front of her building. "L-Look, Angel. If this is about the entertainment system I bought Conner it was a unbirthday present, and I don't want it back. Now will you p-please just g-go away."

Angel knelt down in front of her. "This isn't about the entertainment system Bu...Chara. I'm here to help you, and I can't do that unless you invite me in."

"N-No. J-Just go away." She muttered. "I don't want ahhh..." Suddenly she grabbed her head with both hands. "Th-This is all y-your fault."

"My fault?" Angel blinked in surprise. "How is your migraine my fault?"

"Doorbell, noise, l-light, m-movement, h-hurts."

"I'm sorry. I didn't think." He murmured softly. "But I promise you if you invite me in I'll make it all better."

"Y-You c-can't make it all better." She raised back up. "N-Not unless y-you're some k-kind of miracle w-worker."

"Maybe I am, but you'll never know unless you let me in. Now will you please invite me in?"

If she didn't do something soon she was going to die anyway, so Chara figured what the hell. Seeing his face, even if it was blurry, right before she died wouldn't be such a bad thing. "F-Fine. C-Come in." The moment the words were out of her mouth he was across the threshhold, scooping her up in his arms.

"OWWW!" She cried out, her pain filled eyes flying up to meet his. "W-What the hell are y-you trying to do, kill me? P-Put me down."

He ignored her. "Where's your bedroom?"

"W-What?" She stared at his blurry face.

"The bedroom. Where's the bedroom, Chara? You should be laying down."

"I-I w-was laying down u-until you sh-showed up a-and made th-things worse."

"You're grouchy." He murmured, looking down at her.

"Of course, I'm g-grouchy, d-dumb ass. Y-You'd be grouchy too if y-your brain was b-being squeezed out through your e-ears."

"I tod you I'm going to fix that just as soon as you tell me where your bedroom is."

"I uhh... ahhh..." Her hands went to her head again. "D-Down h-hall. F-First door on r-right."

Angel moved across the darkened room, and down the hallway without a word. "I-It hurts." She groaned giving into the pain, and sagging against him.

"Shh... I know." He murmured in a soothing voice. "I'm going to help. I promise." He finally reached her room, and he was surprised to find it done completely in black, including the walls, but he really didn't have time to take in anything else because she was his main concern. Reaching the bed, he gently laid her back on the bed pillows, then leaned over to switch on the lamp on the nightstand. "Bright light." He warned her, then reached to pull something from his leather duster pocket before shedding it and laying it on the back of the chair across from her bed. "Conner said you take shots. Have you taken any today?"

"No. I-I hate needles, a-and doctors, a-and hospitals."

"I know." Was all he said as he turned to her with a styrofoam cup in his hand. "I need you to sit up and drink this. I'm sorry. I know it's going to hurt, but you have to anyway. Come on, I'll help you." He slid his free hand up under her back, and if it had been any other time she would have relished in the feelings his cool touch was stirring up in her. He finally managed to get her to a sitting position, and brought the cup to her lips. "Drink."

Drink me. A voice whispered back in her head, and she froze.

"Bu... Chara?" Angel's voice snapped her out of her reverie. "Come on, drink it."

"I-It s-stinks." She groaned. "S-Sick."

"It'll help the nausea, too. Now drink."

"Wh-What is it?" She tried to focus on the contents in the cup.

"It's migraine tea. It's made from Rosemary, Peppermint, Lemon Balm, Sweet Violet, Feverflow, and Sweet Violet flowers. Trust me, it works. Now drink."

Chara took a sip of the lukewarm cococction and was surprised to find it wasn't half bad, so she took another sip, and another, and another until it was all gone. Once it was, he lowered her back on the pillows again, and pulled the bed covers up over her. "There's one more thing I need to do, but I need some hot water."

"B-Bathroom." She blindly pointed in the direction of her bathroom before closing her eyes. Within moments she heard running water, and then he reappeared at her side to place a warm wash clothe on her forehead. "Mmm..." She murmured. "N-Nice."

"It's Lavender. It's also good for migraines."

"Wh-Why are you d-doing th-this?" Her eyes fluttered open to find him kneeling beside her.

"Maybe I like you." He smiled that sexy lopsided smile of his, and it would have taken her breath away it hadn't been for the fact that there was something vaguely familiar about this conversation. It was almost like she'd had it with him before, and for some reason she knew exactly what she was supposed to say back to him. "M-Maybe?" The minute the word was out of her mouth a sharp pain shot through her head, causing her to cry out in pain.

"Bu... Chara, are you all right?"

"T-Tired..." She closed her eyes. "S-So tired."

"Then sleep. It'll be all better when you wake up. I promise." He murmured, and then she could have sworn she felt his lips graze her forehead, but she finally managed to convince herself it must have been her imagination as she drifted off to sleep.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

CHAPTER 10

Angel had just entered the living room, and turned on the light when the door to Chara's apartment came open, and a gray-headed man stepped inside, bringing them face to face. "Who the hell are you, and what the hell are you doing here?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing." Angel replied, staring the older man down.

"C-Chara..." The older man's gaze flew around the room in panic. "Where's Chara? So help me God if you've hurt her you sonofabitch, I'll kill you."

"I would never hurt her. Not in a million years. She's resting. Sleeping off a migraine. And while she is sleeping I think you and I should talk because I happen to know for a fact that Chara isn't her real name and that she isn't your daughter, and I would really love to know why exactly you've been passing her off as such."

Kyle Williams' eyes rounded in shock. "Y-You know wh-who she is? Wh-Who she really is?"

"Yes." Angel murmured. "The question is do you know who she is? Who she really is, I mean?"

"No." Kyle shook his head.

"Then I suggest you and I go someplace private to discuss this because I happen to know for a fact that she doesn't have a clue who she is either."

"Follow me." Kyle moved past Angel, and Angel followed him to the back of the apartment where there was a flight of stairs leading to the first floor of the building. A few minutes later they were sitting in some chairs in the middle of a gym. "You know, when I found out she was alive and that there was someone passing themself off as her father I was worried there was something fishy going on, but now... You really do love her like she's your real daughter, don't you?"

"I love her more. Besides my late wife, she's the best thing that ever happened to me." Kyle answered honestly. "Now it's your turn. Who are you and how do you know who she is?"

"We were uhh... involved once. For three years to be exact. She was young, and I wanted more for her... Better... So I left. We only saw each other four times in the two years after that. The last time was right before she..." Angel swept a hand through his hair. "I was told she died."

"Died. Died how?" Kyle stared at Angel.

"It's a long story." Angel looked down at his hands. "One I'm not sure you could possibly comprehend."

"Oh. One of those." Kyle muttered. "Well, let me take a stab at it anyway. You thought she was killed by vampires, right?"

Angel's head shot up. "You know that vampires exist?"

Kyle chuckled. "Yeah, I know. I've never actually met one before, but I know their out there. I was a police officer for the LAPD for twenty five years, and it didn't take me long to figure out that all those dead bodies that kept turning up with two puncture wounds to their juglar vein and not a drop of blood to be found in their bodies wasn't wild animal attacks like everyone claimed. I also knew the moment I saw Cara's neck that she had been bitten by one. I just didn't understand how she was alive, but I almost bet you can tell me why Mr..."

"Angel. My name is Angel."

"Angel." Suddenly Kyle's eyes lit up with recognition. "Well, I'll be damned."

"What?" Angel searched his face. "Have you heard of me?"

"You could say that. I was one of the police officers at the scene when your old building exploded."

"You were there?"

"Yeah, but I never actually saw your face because Kate Lockley was too busy interrogating you. But that's not the only reason I recognized your name. Unfortunately I didn't make the connection at the time. Chara... She was there five years ago."

"What do you mean she was there?"

"She was struck by a car in front of it. That's how she came to be with me, but before I tell you anymore I'd like for you to start at the beginning and tell me who she really is."

"Buffy. Her name is Buffy Anne Summers. She was born here in LA, and lived here until she was fifteen..." Angel went on to tell Kyle everything he knew about Buffy, and once he was done he sat back in his chair to give Kyle time to digest it all.

"L-Let me get this straight. Chara... Buffy... She was a vampire slayer, and you were... are a vampire. The only vampire with a soul, and the two of you were lovers until you left. Three years later she died, went to heaven, then was resurrected by a real live witch, and now she's your next door neighbor and friends with your son Conner, who by the way is human even though both you and his mother were... are vampires?"

"Yes, sir." Angel murmured. "That pretty much sums it up."

"A-And the scar on Chara...Buffy's neck, you gave that to her because you were dying and she forced you to drink from her because slayer's blood was the only thing that could save you?"

Angel nodded. "Yes, and the wound would have healed without scarring if it hadn't been for the fact that the demon inside me recognized her as my mate and marked her as such."

"I see. Did she know that?"

"No. I never told her. It would have made my leaving even harder."

"I suppose you're right." Kyle murmured, and sat quietly in thought for a few moments. "There's one thing I don't understand. Why didn't anyone look for her? Her friends? You?"

"I didn't know her friends had performed the resurrection spell until yesterday, and it's my understanding they did try and find her, but when they didn't find any trace of her they put it off as a consequence of the spell. Now all I need to know is how she ended up with you."

"It was October seventh, two thousand and one. I got a call on my police radio from my captain asking me to go by and check on a rookie cop who was on the scene of a accident. When I got there I found out that a pedestrian had been struck by a car."

"Buffy..." Angel answered.

Kyle nodded. "Yes, and her chances of living weren't very good according to the rookie cop. When I asked him to tell me what the driver of the car had told him in her statement he pointed behind me and told me that the pedestrian... Buffy came from the place behind me, and stepped off the sidewalk into the path of the car. The place behind me that he was pointing to was your old building or what was left of it anyway."

"She was looking for me." Angel said in a pained voice.

"I would almost bet she was, but I can't really say for sure seeing as she has no memory of the accident or anything before it, and I never made the connection between the two of you at the time. I mean, I remembered the case, but for the life of me I couldn't remember your name. There wasn't any I.D on her either, and she was filthy, so the rookie and I just assumed she was a homeless person that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The driver said she did everything she could to keep from hitting her, and there were no witnesses except Chara... Buffy and since she had no memory of what happened we couldn't charge her with anything. It was an open and shut case, so I told the rookie cop to finish getting the statement from the driver while I checked on the pedestrian's condition. Like I said before, the news wasn't good. Among the list of her injuries was a massive head injury, a compound fracture to the right leg, her left arm was broken, she had several broken ribs, and she was bleeding internally. The paramedics doubted she would even live long enough to get her to the hospital, and I don't know why, but I remember the rookie cop telling me how beautiful she was and what a shame it would be if she... I don't know why, but I suddenly had this need to see her, and I will never forget the first moment I did. God, the rookie was right. She was beautiful. And tiny... she was so tiny, and for the first time in my career as a cop I became emotionally involved in a case. All I could think about was how lost and alone she looked, and then the paramedic working on her showed me the scar and seeing it only made me want to protect her even more. I was completely smitten with her, and I couldn't help but wonder how anyone could let her go and not wonder where she was...not miss her. Anyway, I must have spoken my thoughts out loud. I remember asking her who she belonged to, and I damn near jumped out of my skin when she answered me."

"She woke up?"

"No." Kyle shook his head. "She was still unconscious, but didn't have any problem making out what she said."

"What was it?"

"Angel." Kyle locked eyes with Angel. "She said Angel twice, and then she stopped breathing."

Angel blinked back tears. "So she really did die again?"

"Yes. She was gone for over seven minutes before the paramedics were able to revive her, and I stayed with her the entire time, but once they had her stabilized I didn't waste anytime getting out of the ambulance so that they could get her to the hospital. I followed them in my police cruiser, and I've been with her every since even though the classified her as a Jane Doe and she became a ward of the state. I was there when they operated to relieve the pressure on her brain from the swelling, and to stop the internal bleeding, and I was there the six months she was comatose."

"What happened after she came out of the coma?"

"Things didn't get any better for her that's for sure. She didn't have a clue who she was or where she was from. She couldn't even tell you any dates or who the President of the United States was. Her entire mind was a blank, and then when the doctors and I told her we didn't know who she was either it nearly broke her. She cried for over a week. And then one day she just stopped, and never mentioned it again. She focused on her recovery, and she was doing so good. That was until the hospital up and decided to return the ring that was found on her after the accident. It was important. She told me it was. Even though she couldn't remember anything about it, she said she just had this feeling that it was." Kyle looked over at Angel. "The ring. It's a claddagh ring. Did you give it to her?"

"Yes."

"She did some research on it once she was able, and she found out... Is it what she thinks it is?"

Angel nodded. "I uhh... It's not a legal marriage. Not by today's laws, but I didn't need... In my heart I took her as my wife the night I gave it to her, but I didn't tell her. I wanted to. God, how I wanted to. But I never got the chance. Things went so horribly wrong after that night. I lost my soul, and she had to send me to hell... After I came back things were so hard between us. I couldn't tell her then. Not when I couldn't be with her the way I wanted. And then there was a point where she thought she had lost it. I don't know how she got it back. I thought it was still at the mansion somewhere...I didn't know...And it doesn't matter now... She uhh... Her identity... Conner mentioned that you did try to find out her true identity, but you never had any luck."

"That's right. And now I know why. She uhh... When a person passes away all records of them are completely erased to prevent fraud, and the time she got in trouble when she was a juvenile, those records are handled by the court and are automatically sealed after the ruling."

"I understand. But I don't understand about...Conner said she was in a mental institution. I uhh... What happened? I thought you said she was doing good after she came out of the coma?"

"She did do good at first just like I told you, but then the ring was returned to her, and it wasn't long before she started asking questions. She just couldn't understand why no one had tried to find her. That's when I started putting an extra effort into finding out who she really was. I really did want to help her find her family, but while I was doing it the nightmares started."

"The ones about Hell, vampires, demons and darkness, death and destruction, and blood... lots and lots of blood. "

"You know about them?"

"Conner mentioned them to me."

"They terrified her. So much so she would wake up screaming in such a way she scared the nursing staff. They were so bad that eventually they not only took a mental toll on her, they took a physical toll as well. She gave up trying to sleep, and eating was out of the question because she stayed nauseated from her nerves, and she also swore that she was being watched by someone. Things got so bad Dr. McGinn, her neurologist, decided to bring in a pyschiatrist to talk to her about the dreams, and to this day he regrets it because the stupid sonofabitch ruled her insane and recommended she be moved to a psychiatric hospital. I couldn't do anything. She was a ward of the state, and there was nothing I could do to stop her from being sent there. It nearly killed me the day they transferred her. Especially when I knew what she was dreaming actually existed. But I couldn't say anything. If I had I would have ended up in there with her and that wouldn't have helped her any."

"So what happened? How did she get out?"

"I got her out. I went to a judge friend of mine, and pettioned for guardianship of her. There was a thirty day waiting period while the court tried to locate her real family, but they too came up with nothing. After the thirty days were up I was finally granted custody of her, and the minute I had the papers in my hands I went to get her the hell out of there."

"And? How was she?"

"Not good. She lost a month of much needed physical therapy, and she was weak from that and the medication the bastard had her on. It took months to get her straightened out, but the moment Dr. McGinn did he started her back in physical therapy. A couple of months after that I filed papers to adopt her."

"Did anyone question your decision to do that?"

"No. I'm an only child, and so was my wife, who died ten years ago of cancer. Neither one of us had any living relatives. And once she was gone all that was left was me. Me and my friends. All who happen to be cops. When I adopted Chara... Buffy... they supported me one hundred percent, and I'll tell you why. See, cops... most of us know we have short life spans, so family and friends are the most important things in the world to us. The bond is so tight between us that when something happens to one of us the rest of us devote ourselves to the loved ones that are left behind. The same will hold true for Chara... Buffy... even though she wasn't born into the family she was adopted into it the day I adopted her. My friends... my family... they all loved her from day one, and they will always love her because they know how much I love her myself. And I do love her, Angel. She's everything to me. She is and always will be my daughter, and I don't need blood or a piece of paper to tell me that."

Once again Angel felt tears prickle his eyelids. "And she's been happy? I mean, since you took her in and gave her a home and family?"

"To a certain extent she has been. She has lingering effects from the accident. Migraines. But usually she doesn't have those unless she has a nightmare."

"So she's still having the nightmares?"

Kyle nodded.

"What else? I want to know everything that's happened to her the last five years."

"She also has lingering effects from the mental institution. Something happened there. I know it did. She won't talk about her time there at all, and she was very withdrawn after I go her out. At first I thought it was from all the medication, but Dr. McGinn noticed it as well during her visits to him. He had to practically sedate her to examine her, and he also noticed during her physical therapy sessions that she didn't like to be touched, and avoided physical contact with others as much as she possibly could. I think part of it is me. She's protecting me. I think she's afraid if she tells me what happened there the cop in me will kick in, and I'll try to do something and end up getting hurt."

"Did you try talking to her about it?"

"Yes, but she got so upset she made herself sick. Once she had calmed down enough she told me she just wanted to forget her time there, and then she made me promise her that I would make sure she never had to go back."

"What else?"

"For the first year and a half after I got her out of the hospital I didn't let her do anything except volunteer at the community center I run. That's where we began to discover more of her true self. She was incredible in martial arts and gymnastics. We already knew she didn't scar, and that she healed really fast. That came out in the hospital, and drew the interest of several doctors, but thanks to Dr. McGinn no one was allowed to touch her to find out why exactly she didn't. Once all that came out she realized she was different. She thinks she's a freak. She withdrew into herself even more. Like I said before she avoids any physical contact as much as possible even though she teaches. Don't get me wrong. She lets me hug and kiss her, and Conner... She lets him touch her, but anyone else... She avoids physical contact with others. Why I don't know, but I'm pretty sure it has to do with the mental institution. And then there's always the fact that she can't remember anything about herself or her life before hanging over her head. She doesn't push to remember anymore. She gave up trying to remember anything about who she was after the adoption was final, but the ring on her hand is a different story... It's caused some problems."

"What do you mean? What kind of problems?"

"She's convinced herself that she uhh... that she was married and that her uhh... husband left her. And because she has convinced herself of that she's pretty much came to the conclusion that it must have been her fault. That she's incapable of loving or being loved. That's why she doesn't date. She said she doesn't believe in the happily ever after, soulmates kinda love. Not in her case anyway."

"You said she doesn't date, but if that's the case then what's going on with her and Conner?"

"Not a thing." At Angel's confused look, Kyle went on to explain. "Don't get me wrong, Angel. She adores him. But she's made it perfectly clear to me, and I quote *Conner and I are just friends, Daddy. Best friends. So don't go hoping for a wedding or a house full of grandkids because it's not going to happen*"

"What about college? She was uhh... before she was going to college."

"You'll be happy to know she went back. UCLA. Got her four year degree in three, and made the Dean's List to boot. She majored in physical education. Of course, by then she'd already won the money..." Kyle stopped and eyed Angel warily. "You do know about the money, don't you?"

"Yes, sir. And I can tell you now that's not why I'm here. I could care less about how much money she has."

Kyle seemed to relax. "As I was saying, she graduated from UCLA this past May, and by then she had won the money, so she took a little break. It was just until she figured out what she wanted to do with her life. She'd already told me she wasn't going to let it make her fat and lazy. The break lasted all of two months, and then one day she comes home and tells me she's bought a building across from the old Hyperion Hotel. She said she had made up her mind to be a personal trainer, and that she's going to live on the second floor of the building, and open a gym on the first floor for her clients. She is so talented. I mean besides the martial arts, and gymnastics she also teaches yoga, aerobics, Tai chi, and modern dance. Of course, her love for dance is fairly new, and she has Matt to thank for it."

"Matt?" Angel swallowed another wave of jealousy. "Who's Matt? I thought you said she didn't date."

"She doesn't. And she wouldn't date Matt even if she was in the market for a man."

"He's gay?"

Kyle chuckled. "No. But Chara probably wishes he were at times. She met him in physical therapy. He's a professional dancer, and he's been giving her lessons the last three and a half years. Why he bothers he says he doesn't know. Swears she's ten times better than him, and doesn't need lessons, but if you ask Chara she'll tell you he does it so he can spend the entire lesson checking her out, and begging her to run away with him. That boy is a modern day Don Juan, and Chara knows it. She would never go out with him even if she did date."

"So she really doesn't date?"

"No. Not once in the five years she's been with me, and it's not like men haven't tried. Hell, even some of the single officers in my old department tried to snag her, but she would simply tell them her heart already belonged to someone else. A mystery man." Kyle sat back in his chair, and eyed Angel. "You know, I actually got her to tell me hypothetically what she would want in a soulmate if she could have one, and do you know what she told me?"

"What?" Angel murmured.

"She told me that whoever he was he would have to complete her. Like two halves make a whole. Then she went on to tell me that he would have to have chocolate eyes that she could drown in. She said she kept seeing these eyes in another reaccuring dream of hers. No face. Just pools of chocolate." His eyes locked with Angel's. "When she told me that I pointed out to her that Conner has chocolate eyes as she calls them, but she was quick to tell me that she didn't drown in them, and now I know why..."

"Mr. Williams..."

"Daddy?"

Both Angel and Kyle's eyes flew to the flight of stairs, and the golden blonde standing on them in her blue, satin pajamas. Kyle stood up and closed the distance to her, leaning over to kiss her on the forehead once he reached her. "Hey, sweetie."

Chara pulled back to look at him. "Daddy, what are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be at the center?"

"I got worried when you didn't answer the phone." He wagged a finger at her. "Do not, and I repeat, do not ever leave the phone of the hook again, Chara. I was scared to death something had happened to you." He turned around to look at Angel. "Even more so when I found this young man here."

"Oh, umm... right."Chara pointed to Angel. "Daddy this is..."

Kyle took her hand. "It's okay, Chara. Angel and I have already gotten acquainted." His gaze locked with Angel's. "I should have known when I saw him that he was related to Conner. They look like brothers."

"Brothers. Right. We look like brothers because we are brothers." Angel stood up, his eyes returning to Chara. "Hey. How are you feeling?"

She smiled. "Much better thanks. Even my stomach's calmed. I guess you really must be a miracle worker."

"It was the peppermint, not me."

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, great. Another one of those."

"Another one of those what?" Angel asked, confused.

Kyle chuckled. "Person's that doesn't like to take credit where credit is deserved. It's okay, she says I'm the same way." He returned his attention to his daughter. "How are you really?"

"I'm fine, Daddy. Honest."

He searched her face. "It's been awhile since you've had a migraine. How long did this one last?"

"I umm..." She couldn't quite meet his gaze. "Two days."

"Two days! Chara..."

"Will you please stop yelling at me, Daddy. I'm fine."

"If you had a migraine for two days you're not fine, Chara." His hands went to her hair. "Did you bump your head on something? Maybe we should call Dr. McGinn."

"No. No. And No! I don't have a case of the bumpies, and you are not calling Dr. McGinn." She swatted at his hand. "And will you leave my hair alone, for christ's sake! It already looks like a damn cat nested in it." She ducked under his arm, and moved away from him .

"Chara..." Kyle turned around to look at her. "Sweetie, you know what Dr. McGinn said."

"Yeah, yeah. I know." She muttered as she moved towards Angel. "Serious headache means serious brain problems." She spun back around to look at him. "But hey..." She pointed to her ears. "Take a look. See. No brain oozige here."

"That's not funny, Chara." Kyle frowned.

"It wasn't supposed to be." She muttered. "Now can we just drop it?" She pointed to Angel. "We have company."

"I'll drop it if you'll tell me what you think set it off."

"I umm..." Chara avoided both Kyle's and Angel's eyes as she took a seat in the chair Kyle had vacated. "I don't know. It might have been that dream I was telling you about last week."

"Dream?" Angel's eyes shot to Kyle then back to Cara. "What dream?"

"Oh, it's just this umm... I'm in a tunnel with a really bright light then get sucked into a big black hole and completely drained of my life's essence kinda dream. It's no biggie, really."

Kyle moved towards her. "Don't say it's no biggie, Chara. You told me the pain was still there when you wake up."

"Daddy, I'm pretty sure Angel doesn't want to hear about some silly little dream." She raised her gaze to Angel. "Isn't that right, Angel?"

"Well, actually..."

"See..." She stood up. "He really doesn't. End of story. Now let's talk about something else."

"Bu... Chara..." Angel took a step towards her.

"You know what?" She backed away from him. "I completely forgot my manners, Angel. Would you like a tour of the place? It's not as nice as yours, not yet anyway, but I'd be happy to show you around. Or better yet how about you let me get you something to drink or eat to repay you for your kindness? You name it. I've got it. Just tell me what you want."

"I uhh... nothing. I don't want anything. Thanks anyway." His gaze locked with hers. "And as for that tour you want to give me, I think it should wait for another time. You still look tired, and because you do I think I should go. Let you rest." He glanced over at Kyle worriedly. "Besides, I've been out of town, and just got back. I need to check in with the gang. Talk to Cordelia."

Chara spun away from Angel, and Kyle didn't miss the hurt look on her face. "Who's Cordelia?"

"Angel's lover, Daddy." She mumbled.

"Oh..." Was all Kyle could say.

Once again Angel's attention returned to Chara, and he reached out to lay a hand on her arm. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"I'm just peachy. Thanks for asking." She moved away from him. "I'll go get your coat."

"Chara, that's not really..."

"I said I'll get it." She tossed over her shoulder before she disappeared up the steps.

Kyle waited until she was completely out of site before he spoke. "You're worried too. Why?"

"I don't like the fact that she can still feel pain after the dream is over. I have a friend... I'll talk to him about it, and see if he can figure out what's going on." He withdrew a business card from his pocket, and handed it to Kyle. "I need her medical records. All of them. Fax them to that number on the card as soon as you can."

"Would you do the same for me?" Kyle said as he also withdrew his own business card and handed it to Angel. "If you find out anything, I mean. My home number, community center number, and cellphone number is on there."

Angel stared at the card. "It may take a few days."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"Good. Stick close to her. If anything changes I want to know."

"You're not going to be around?"

Angel's eyes moved to the stairs. "I'll be around. Lurking. But for now I think it's best I keep my distance."

"Best for who? You or her?" Kyle asked as he looked back and forth at Angel, and the young woman coming back down the stairs.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


CHAPTER 11


Cordelia answered her apartment door to find Angel standing on the other side. "Hey."

"Hey." He dropped a kiss on her cheek to her dismay, and stepped inside. "Are the others here?" He asked as he shed his coat, then turned back around to face her.

"Their in the kitchen." She mumbled and took his coat to hang it on the coat rack before motioning to him to follow her. Angel entered the kitchen behind her a few seconds later to find Wesley, Gunn, and Fred sitting at the kitchen table. "Hey, guys. Thanks for coming. I know it's late and all of you are tired, but I needed your help on this right away."

"You needed our help on what?" Fred asked, eyeing Angel as he took the chair across from her.

"Buffy..."

"I don't believe this!" Cordelia yelled from behind Angel. "You brought everyone together at my apartment to discuss your ex-girlfriend?"

Angel swept a hand through his hair. "She's going to need our help, Cordelia."

"Our help or yours, Angel?" Cordelia spat.

"Will you please sit down and listen to what I have to say, Cordy."

"No, I will not sit down, Angel. This is my apartment. Mine! Just say what you have to say and get the hell out!"

He sighed. "This could take awhile, so you may want to change your mind about sitting down."

"Did you find out anything, Angel?" Wesley cut in to try and ease the tension in the room.

"I found out everything." Angel muttered. "It turns out that Wiccan Witch Willow and the rest of the gang did a little resurrection spell five years ago, and brought Buffy back."

"A resurrection spell." Wesley murmured. "Fascinating. I've read about those, but I've never known one to be successful. Usually the person resurrected is some sort of zombie."

"This spell was different, Wesley. Willow dipped into black magic. Really strong black magic. The type that could have consequences."

"Wait a minute." Fred spoke up. "You said Buffy's friend did the spell five years ago. How come no one told you?"

"Because it turns out the night Buffy was resurrected Hellions attacked Sunnydale. They interrupted Willow in the middle of the spell, and her and the others had to flee. They...She didn't think the spell had been completed enough to bring Buffy back..." Angel went on to tell his friends everything, including the part about Buffy being in Heaven, and having to dig herself out of her grave.

"Dear lord..." Wesley whispered when Angel was done. "That poor girl. She must have been terrified."

"More than." Angel murmured. "I can remember what it was like for me, but for her the experience was entirely different. She needed air where I didn't. I uhh... She had to be more than just terrified, and to make matters worse it turns out she really was hit by a car, and it happened right here in LA."

"How do you know this, Angel?" Gunn asked, sitting back in his chair.

"I went to see her earlier, and I met the man who has been taking care of her the last five years."

"You what?" Cordelia yelled, coming around Angel's chair. "I don't believe this, Angel! It's one thing to put up with you running all over the state of California for her, but to actually spend time with her is another!"

"She had a migraine, Cordy. Conner was worried about her. I didn't think it would hurt to try and help her for his sake. I took her some migraine tea concoccted up by the Transuding Furies. It works, and she needed something else that would besides the shots she has to take. She hates needles."

"You didn't think it would hurt to try and help her for Conner's sake? Yeah right, Angel! Who the hell are you trying to kid here, me or you?" Cordelia stared down at him with angry eyes, and the fact that he didn't stare her back down gave her all the answer she needed. Without another word she turned and disappeared out of the kitchen.

"Umm, Angel... Maybe you should go after her." Wesley suggested.

"I am not going to explain myself to her, Wesley. I shouldn't have to. Now can I please finish?"

"Yes. You said you went to see her, that she had a migraine."

"Yes, and when I got her taken care of and tucked away to sleep it off I met the man who has been her adoptive father for the last five years. He and I sat down and swapped stories, and eventually pieced everything together."

"I know you said she really was in a accident, but how exactly did she end up with him?"

"Kyle... Mr. Williams was one of the police officers at the scene when our old office building exploded, and he he was also one of the police officers investigating a accident in front of that same office building five years ago."

"It was Buffy."

Angel nodded. "Mr. Williams never made the connection between Buffy and I until last night. The best we can figure out is that Buffy came to LA looking for me, but all she found was a burned out office building. Mr. Williams... He said she had a massive head injury amongst other injuries. She stopped breathing. She was gone for over seven minutes before the paramedics finally revived her. Once they got her to the hospital she underwent surgery to relieve the pressure on her brain, and to stop internal bleeding. She was in a coma for six months. When she came out of the coma she couldn't remember anything. Mr. Williams said that she began to accept the memory loss and focus on her recovery, but then suddenly she started having nightmares and felt like she was being watched by someone all the time. Eventually the stress of it all took it's toll on her physically as well as mentally. Some asshole doctor was called in to help her, but the only thing he did for her was commit her to a mental institution for thirty days, and Mr. Williams couldn't take it. He filed for guardianship of her and won. The minute he got the guardianship papers he went to the hospital and checked her out. Eventually he petitioned to adopt her, and she's been with him since."

"Jeepers." Fred murmured. "And here I thought my time in Pylea was hell, but it sounds to me like she's been to hell and back about fifty million times."

"In a way she's still in hell, Fred. That's why I wanted to meet with you guys this morning. Besides the migraines she's still having nightmares, and there's this one particular nightmare that has me concerned because she's feeling pain from it even after she wakes up."

Wesley sat up in his chair. "Do you know what it's about?"

"From what Mr. Williams and I could get out of her it has something to do with a tunnel and a bright light. She says at some point in the dream the tunnel opens up into a big, black hole and sucks her inside it where she can feel her life's essence being drained from her. Kyle was the one the let it slip that she was still feeling intense pain even after she woke up."

"It sounds to me like she's remembering the jump into the portal."

"I was thinking the same thing, Wesley. But I don't understand the pain part after she wakes up. That's not... What's going on?"

"This could be one of those consequences you were talking about, Angel. But I really can't say for sure. It would help if I could take a look at the resurrection spell."

"Giles is going to fax it to me in the morning. I needed to make sure I was there in case Conner was around. And Chara... Buffy... until we can figure out what's going on with her I think we all should avoid as much contact with her as possible."

"You know..." Fred spoke up. "Not changing the subject or anything, but you can't rule out that this pain she's experiencing could be mental. If she's remembering the jump through the portal she could be remembering other things as well. Things more painful than the jump itself. If that's the case her brain acts as sort of a electrical fence, and everytime she gets close to this painful memory it could be shocking her away from it. The brain... It's pretty much unchartered territory. Alot goes on in there. Stuff that no one really knows about."

"Yeah, but what could be more painful than your own death?"

"Don't know..." Fred locked eyes with Angel. "If that is the case, only Buffy can tell us.

"The paintings." A voice replied from behind Angel. He turned around to see Cordelia standing in the doorway. "What?"

"The paintings. The ones Conner said she painted of hell. Maybe they can give you an idea of what's really going on in her head. The images supposedly came from her dreams."

"That's right. And she used to have dreams. Prophetic sort of dreams."

"But she was never artistic. That was... is your speciality." Cordelia stepped further into the room. "And Conner also said that she was able to paint those images when she had no recollection of ever being artisitic. Maybe there is something in the paintings. Maybe deep down she's trying to tell someone something. Maybe deep down she really does want help."

"Cordy, you're incredible." Angel smiled at her.

"No, I'm not. I'm just someone who wants her boyfriend and her life back, and I know I'm not going to get it until you help her." Once again she turned and disappeared out of the room, and for a moment the room was quiet. Quiet, that is, until the tense silence became too much for Fred. "Umm, Angel... I have a question."

"What is it, Fred?" Angel turned back around in his chair to look at her.

"Well, how are you supposed to help her if you keep distance between the two of you?"

"I don't know, Fred. But I do know we still need to do that. All of us. I don't want anyone to expose her to anything that might trigger her memories until we're absolutely sure of what's going on with her. I won't risk her getting hurt anymore than she already has."

Wesley nervously cleared his throat. "Angel, have you stopped to think that maybe the reason she doesn't remember and is feeling this pain is from the trauma to her head."

"Yes, and even Kyle is concerned about that possibility, but getting her to a doctor is another story. Buffy always hated hospitals. It goes back to her childhood. Add that to what has happened to her as Chara Williams, and the odds of getting her near another hospital or doctor is a million to one. That's why I asked Kyle to get me her medical records. We need to know just how extensive the damage to her head really was. We can't leave any stone unturned, but we've also got to keep in mind that Lorne said Buffy's true essence was inside of her, and that for some reason she didn't want to come out. I have to believe Lorne. He has a link to the powers."

"Or maybe this is her normal life." Gunn added. "Maybe she finally got that normal life you wanted her to have, and she just doesn't want to remember her old life at all."

"And if I find out that's the case then I'll let it go. I'll let her go to live it, I just... I have to be sure, Gunn. This is Buffy. I have to be sure she'll be okay. I owe her that."

"Are you sure that's the real reason, Angel. Because from where I'm sitting I could almost swear you're still in love with her."

"I won't lie and say I don't have feelings for her, Gunn. I always have, and I always will. But I thought she was dead, and life went on. I'm with Cordy now. I have been for four years, and I will continue to be. But I'm not going to walk away from Buffy and leave her alone to deal with whatever it is that's going on with her, either. Like I said before I owe her. If our places were reversed she would do the same for me."

Gunn sighed. "Okay, so what exactly do you propose we do now?"

"For now we keep our distance. We don't want to take the chance of triggering any of her memories until we can find out what exactly remembering them could do to her."

"I agree, Dog. But how exactly do you propose we keep our distance when she's dating Conner? Maybe we should tell him who she really is. If we do this he's not going to understand why we don't want her around and neither will she."

"I know that, Gunn." Angel muttered. "But right now it's the only way I know to keep her from getting hurt."

****

She dreamt about him again. For the second night in a row Chara had dreamt about Angel and just like the one the night before, this one left her aching for him, too. God, the ache... The ache between her legs was unbearable. Trouble... She was in serious trouble. There was no denying it anymore, she had the hots for Conner's half vampire father. And the two very vivid, very x-rated dreams that she had had about him the last two nights had left her aching for him even after she woke up. And just like the dream from the night before this dream seemed so real. She could still see the images of them locked together in her mind. Feel the way his lips and hands had felt as the traveled over her skin. And taste... Holy fucking shit she could still taste him. "Oh, God..." She moaned out loud, and threw a pillow over her head. The ache between her legs was a zillion times worse than the migraines she'd beening having the last five years, and unfortunately Angel wasn't here to fix it the way he had the migraine last night. Unfortunately, he would never be able to fix it because he already had a girlfriend. Cordelia... What the hell kind of name was Cordelia anyway? And okay, Chara. You shouldn't be dwelling on it. Having x-rated thoughts about Angel was bad. Very, Very bad. And as if to prove her right, the phone chose that exact moment to ring and when she rolled over to answer it she discovered it was her best friend, and son of the man she'd just been thinking about. "Hello."

"Chara, it's Conner."

"C-Conner? I-I uhh... What's up?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing. You sound like I just woke you."

"Don't worry, you didn't. I've been up for a few minutes. I was just about to get up and shower to meet you for lunch."

"You missed lunch, Chara. That's why I called. I got worried when you didn't show."

"I missed lunch?" Cara frowned.

"Uh huh. It's three thirty. What's going on, Chara? Do you still have a migraine? Is that why you're still in bed?"

"N-No. The migraine's gone. I-I guess I just zonked last night. God, I can't believe I slept nearly sixteen hours. I've never been able to sleep more than two... three hours at the most. And the nightmares... I didn't have any nightmares." She ran a hand over her face. "Jesus, I wonder what the hell he put in that tea?"

"What the hell did who put in what tea?" Conner asked from the other end of the phone.

"I uhh... Migraine tea. I uhh... Daddy, stopped at this herbal shop last night, and got me some. He figured he'd get me to try it since I hate needles so much." She sat up in the bed. "I am so sorry about lunch, Conner."

"It's okay."

"No, it's not. I promised you lunch, and I bet you have to work tonight so us doing something together then is out, right?"

"Right."

"Damn." She muttered. "I screwed everything up."

"You didn't screw anything up, Chara. You can't help it that you were sick. I'm just glad you're feeling better. You are feeling better, aren't you?"

"Mmm... Much. So I'll tell you what. Why don't we do something together before you go to work, then instead of lunch, we'll have dinner."

"That sounds good."

"Great, 'cause it just so happens that there's something I've been thinking about doing for awhile, and you can go with me."

"Oh, God. You're being cryptic like Dad which scares me."

Cara laughed. "What's wrong with being cryptic? Cryptic's fun. Keeps you guessing."

"Oh, God." Conner groaned. "Now you really do sound like Dad. I have a feeling you're going to be the death of me."

"I'm not going to do anything that's going to get you killed, Conner. Now me on the other hand... that's a different story."

"What the hell are you up to, Chara?"

"You'll see. Now should I pick you up or what?"

"Yeah, if you don't mind. I have some errands to run before you get here."

"Fine. The Hyperion it is then. Say in about an hour and a half?"

"Sounds good. I'll see you then."

"See you then. Bye, Conner."


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

CHAPTER 12


Chara entered the Hyperion Hotel at exactly five pm, and stepped down into the lobby. At first she didn't see anyone as she closed the distance to the front desk, and then suddenly a woman popped up from behind it, nearly scaring her half out of her wits. So much so, that at first all she could do was stare at the beautiful woman, and then there was the fact that the woman was looking at her like she wished she were dead or worse. "I umm... Hello. I umm... I'm looking for Conner."

The woman turned away from her. "He's not here."

"I know. I umm... I'm supposed to meet him here, so if it's okay I'd like to wait."

"Whatever."

Chara stared at the woman's back. "I umm... I'm sorry I umm... I don't think we've met. I'm..."

The woman turned back to look at her. "I know who you are."

"Oh. I mean..." Chara frowned. "I'm sorry, but who are you?"

"Cordelia, do you know where the..." Chara's eyes flew from the woman to Angel, who had just stepped out of his office, and he stopped in his tracks the moment her eyes landed on him. "Bu... Chara."

Chara shifted nervously on her feet. "Angel... Hey, I was just..." Her gaze flew back to the woman, who was now shooting her *I hate you* looks. "You're Cordelia?"

"That's right." Cordelia replied coolly as she moved over to stand beside Angel, and dismissed Chara at the same time. "Did you want something, darling?" She added sugarly as she placed her hand on Angel's arm.

Chara felt a sharp stab of pain shoot through her at the display of affection, but it passed as Angel cleared his throat, and immediately drew her attention again. ""Yes, but it can wait, Cordy. We have company." His eyes returned to Chara.

"I uhh... It's okay, Angel. I can see that your uhh... Conner... I was supposed to meet Conner for dinner, and since it appears I'm keeping you two away from something I'll just uhh..." She motioned to the door. "Go. I-I mean, I'll just wait outside for him." Her eyes returned to Cordelia. "It uhh... It was nice to meet you, Cordelia."

"You too, Carla." Cordelia replied a little too sweetly. "Bye now."

"Umm... Bye." Chara snuck another peek at Angel. "Bye, A-Angel." Without another word she turned and practically ran out of the hotel, and the minute the lobby doors shut Angel spun around to nail Cordelia with angry eyes. "That was totally uncalled for, Cordy."

"What was totally uncalled for?" Cordelia asked innocently as she walked back over to the front desk.

"Carla? You've never had problems with names before, Cordelia. And the way you acted... You were rude."

"No more than I normally would be with her."

"That was before, Cordelia. You are not the Cordelia I used to know, and she is definitely not Buffy anymore."

"That's funny, Angel because she sure as hell looks like Buffy to me." Cordelia picked up a file and began to leaf through it. "And you're still making googly eyes at her like you always did."

"I was not..."

It was Cordelia's turn to pin him to the spot with her angry eyes, and she didn't waste anytime spinning around to do it. "Do not... And I repeat... Do not lie to me, Angel. You're not good at it. Besides, you've never lied to me before, so why start now?"

Angel sighed. "I'm worried about her, Cordelia. I can't help it. You have no idea what she's been through."

"What she's been through! WHAT SHE'S BEEN THROUGH, ANGEL! What about me? Do you have any idea what I'm going through right now? Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to stand here and watch you two make fuck me eyes at each other in front of me?"

"Cordelia..." Angel took a step towards her, but she backed away from him. "No, Angel. I don't want to hear it. I'm going home. You need time to sort through your feelings for me and your feelings for her because I'm sick of this. You need to make up your mind whether it's me you want or her. It has to be your choice, but I can tell you now that I won't lose you to her, too. Not without a fight!"

***

"Is something wrong with your food?"

Chara looked up from her plate to find Conner staring at her with a worried look on his face. "No, I uhh... I'm just not hungry I guess."

"Liar." He murmured. "Come on, Chara. There's something bothering you. I can tell."

"Y-You can? I-I mean, of course, you can."

"Chara..."

"Oh, okay." She pushed her plate away. "M-My dad brought something to my attention recently, and it's been bothering me."

"What is it?"

"Well, he uhh..." She looked away. "He uhh... sort of thought we were... You and I were a..."

Conner's eyes narrowed as he looked at her. "You and I were what?"

"A couple." She mumbled.

"Oh." His eyes widened in surprise.

"Oh? Is that all you can say, Conner?"

"What do you want me to say?"

"WeIl, for starters you could start by telling me how you really feel about me."

"Why?" He sat back in the diner booth, and crossed his arms in front of his chest.

"Conner..." Her eyes pleaded with him.

"Fine." He sighed. "I love you."

"B-But?" She continued to hold his gaze. "Th-There is a but, right?"

He nodded. "But it's not the way a man loves a woman."

She breathed a big sigh of relief. "Oh thank, God. I-I mean, I-I love you, too. But it's not the way a woman loves a man. I uhh... I don't know what we have... but it's special. You're special to me, and I don't want to lose you."

Conner leaned forward to reach across the table, and take her hand. "You're not going to lose me, Chara."

"A-Are you sure?" She felt her eyes well up with tears, and she cursed herself for being so hormonal.

He frowned. "Okay, I'm sensing there's more to this than just the fact that your dad thought we were a couple. Come on, talk to me, Chara. What's going on?"

"I umm..." She looked down at their clasped hands. "Y-Your family... Their uhh... Their important to you, aren't they?"

"Of course, they are. They mean as much to me as your dad means to you. Maybe more. Things wasn't always good between us. I uhh... I didn't always love them. In fact, I hated them. All of them. But out of all of them I hated my dad the most."

"W-What?" Chara blinked in surprise. "W-Why?"

"Do you remember the night we meet, and I asked you if you had been to hell because of your paintings of it?"

She nodded.

"Well, the truth is I have been there. Hell, I mean. A hell dimension to be exact. I grew up there, and it's everything your paintings depicted."

"H-Hell." She choked out. "You've grew up in a hell dimension? But I don't... A-Angel... Your dad..."

"I was taken from him when I was a baby. Wesley did it."

"Wesley! Wesley sent you to a hell dimension, and your father didn't kill him? I don't understand. How could anyone send a little tiny baby..." Chara could feel her blood start to boil. "Forget your Father. I'll kill him myself." She went to slide from the booth.

"Whoa there, you little spitfire." Conner stood up, and made her sit back down. "You didn't let me finish."

"There's more?" She asked weakly.

"Yeah." He murmured. "And you may not like what you hear, but I want you to understand why my family is so important to me, and the only way to do that is to tell you all of it."

"Tell me." She whispered, not quite sure she was going to be able to handle it. Whatever it was.

"I umm... My dad had an old enemy from his days as Angelus. This enemy's name was Holtz..." Conner went on to tell Chara everything, and once he was finished she was in tears. "Y-You were actually g-going to kill your father?"

"Yes, but you have to understand, Chara. Holtz raised me to hate my father. He made me believe that my father was this evil creature that didn't deserve to live. But my hate wasn't just for my dad, it was for all vampires and demons. My feelings changed though once I came back. I met my Dad, and he was nothing like what Holtz had told me. There was this connection between us that I couldn't explain."

"Like with us." She murmured.

"Yes."

"And Holtz knew there would be one. That was his ultimate revenge. He knew, so he s-set your father up. Made it look like it was him that killed him when it was actually this J-Justine."

"Yes, and I did exactly what Holtz knew I would do."

"You made your father suffer. You uhh... You put him in a-a coffin, and dropped him in the sea." Her pained gaze met his again. "Y-You left him there, Conner. H-How could you d-do that? Y-You should have known. Th-The connection... Y-You should have..."

"I know." He choked out. "And you don't know how sorry I was when I found out the truth. How much I hated myself. And that hate only intensified even more when dad... He uhh... He forgave me. He forgave me, and he told me he loved me, and God I hated myself. That's why I left when he told me to."

"H-He made you l-leave?" Chara swiped at her tears.

Conner nodded again, too choked up for words at first. "Yes, and it was probably the best thing he's ever done for me. That time alone made me see things so clearly. It made me see him and the world more clearly. That time alone helped me to discover the difference... The real difference between good and evil, and love and hate. That time alone showed me who my real father was... is... and it showed me how much he really did love me. And eventually that love lead me back to him, and he was there to welcome me with open arms." He met her teary gaze with his own. "We've been together every since, and I wouldn't trade a second of any of that time for anything. No matter how hard some of it has been somehow we always managed to weather through it, and come out even stronger than we were before. And that's why he's so important to me. Up until four years ago I never knew what a real family was. That's why not only is he important to me, but the rest of them, too."

Chara reached across the table for his hand again. "T-Teach me."

"W-What?" Conner blinked back the rest of his tears.

"I know this is going to sound stupid, but for the last three days I've gotten the impression your family doesn't like me very much. I don't why... I thought Fred, Gunn, and Wesley... I don't know why... Maybe it's because I don't know anything about the world you live in, but th-there's one thing I do know. I know I don't want to lose you and I'm afraid that's what's going to happen. Maybe if I... It's important to me that I fit in to your world. That's why I want you to teach me. Teach me everything you know about demons and vampires. Everything. I want you to teach me everything."

"Chara, you don't have to do that to fit into my world. You already fit without knowing all that. You fit perfectly."

"N-No. I-I don't think I do." She sniffled, and locked eyes with him. "P-Please, Conner. Teach me. It's important to me."

He sighed, and stood up again to offer his hand to her. "Okay, let's go."

She looked up at him. "Really?"

"Really." He smiled.

***

"Thanks for meeting me, Mr. Williams."

Kyle Williams unlocked the door to Chara's apartment then turned around to face Angel. "Please, Angel call me Kyle. And you don't have to thank me. I was going to call you anyway. I have those medical records you wanted. Besides, you know I'll do anything to help Chara... Buffy... And Jesus, I don't have a clue what to call her when I'm around you."

"Chara is fine, Kyle. Right now she is Chara, and she may always be Chara. It's not easy, I know. If caught myself... It's hard for me, too."

"I'll bet." Kyle murmured. "But that part about her always being Chara... Do you believe that? I mean, honestly? Because from where I'm standing I would say the answer is no."

"I'm here tonight because I want to help her, Kyle. And the only way for me to do that is to cover all the bases. But just in case... It will help if I know everything I can in case she gets her memory back."

"I understand." Kyle stepped into the apartment, and flipped on a light. "The paintings are in the room next to her bedroom. He lead the way down the hallway, and Angel followed him.

What Angel saw when Kyle opened up the door to the room, and flipped on the light froze him to the spot. "Jesus Christ..." He murmured as his eyes traveled over the familiar scenes.

"What is it?" Kyle turned around to look at an even paler Angel than before. "Angel?"

"Hell." Angel finally managed to make his feet move, and closed the distance to one particular image. "This uhh... She uhh... This is exactly what my hell looked like after she uhh..." He cleared his constricted throat. "I don't understand. This is what happened when she had to send me to hell... But I never... I never talked about my time there. Not to anyone. Not even to her. And yet... She's managed to paint it exactly the way I lived it."

"How is that possible?" Kyle moved up behind Angel.

Angel shook his head. "I-I don't know. We uhh... we always had this connection, but..." He tore his eyes away from the image, and moved to the next one. The scene was a faceless woman in a white dress being drowned by a vampire.

"And this?" Kyle moved up beside him. "Do you recognize this?"

Angel nodded again. "It was the first time she died. At the hands of the Master."

"And the next one?" Kyle pointed to the next painting, and Angel moved over to it. "I-I think it may be from the night she died the last time." He traced over the image with his fingertips. It was of a faceless woman being ripped to shreds by a field of white energy. "I wasn't there. I-I should have been, but I wasn't. I uhh... The faceless woman is definitely her, and the white energy... I think it was from the portal. It uhh... it must have drained her life force just like she dreamed it did." He moved to the last image, and the most frightening of all. It was a picture a group of demons ripping a baby from the womb of a faceless woman.

Kyle moved up beside Angel again. "She just finished this one. It gave me goose bumps when I saw it. I even tried to get her to throw it away, but she said she couldn't. Not wouldn't, but couldn't." He glanced over at Angel. "Do you know what it means?"

"No." Angel's eyes traveled over the image. "Did uhh... Did she dream this, too?"

Kyle shook his head yes. "She didn't tell me she did, but she didn't have to. She only paints what she sees in the nightmares."

"I don't understand." Angel whispered as he continued to stare at the image in front of him. "The others. They actually happened. Before... When she was Buffy, but this... I don't know what it means. But I think it's the answer. I think this is the reason she doesn't want to remember. The only problem is if it's this frightening to us then God only knows how terrifying it is to her."

"So what do we do?"

"I know what I have to do. I have to keep my distance from her just like I originally planned. Being around her is too risky. I don't want her exposed to anything that might trigger her memory."

"But you'll be around just in case she does start remembering, right?"

"Yes. I told you I'd be lurking. And you've got my number in case you need to get in touch with me. If anything changes I want to know. I don't care what time of day or night it is, understand?"

Kyle nodded.

"Good." Angel gave him a weak smile. "And see to it that you take good care of her because if you don't and I find out... Well, let's just put it this way. I can do a whole lot more damage than the demons in this picture could ever do if you don't take care of her."

***

"You know, I still don't think your family likes me very much." Chara muttered a week later as she and Conner entered the Hyperion lobby.

"They like you, Chara." He lead her over to his desk and helped her to sit down. "They've just been really busy lately."

"Maybe that is the case, but don't you think it's more than just a coincidence that they seem to disappear everytime I'm around?"

"No." Conner walked over to the front desk and picked up a stack of books. "It's not you. That's been going on for awhile. Cordy and Dad are off brooding somewhere, Fred and Gunn's off smooching, and Wesley's off studying God only knows what."

"Brooding?" Chara eyed Conner's back. "What are your father and Cordelia brooding about?"

"Don't know for sure. But I would almost bet they've had another fight. Cordy's been abnormally bitchy lately, and Dad... Well, I'm not sure what's up with him, but whatever it is it's definitely put him in serious brood mode."

"I umm... Does that happen alot? C-Cordelia and your Dad fighting, I mean. And okay, that is so not any of my business so don't answer me. Just know I'm sorry that their umm... fighting."

"Don't be." Conner returned to the desk where she was sitting. "I'm sure they'll kiss and make up, if they haven't already."

That piece of news didn't sit with Chara very well. Why she didn't know, but it just didn't. "So uhh... Your Dad broods alot?"

"More than. He's the champion of all brooders. Especially here lately like I said. But I don't want to bore you with the details." He pulled up a chair and sat down beside her. "It's study time now." He opened the book to the first page. "There are all sorts of demons, and not all of them come from this dimension. Unfortunately, the only info we have are about the demons here, but we are beginning to document info on the one's that cross over. In fact, we just received a fax from Faith in Sunnydale last night concerning a Scrugg demon. She found out the out the only way to kill it is to remove it's to hearts from it's chest."

Chara made a face. "Removing it's hearts from it's chest... That umm... That sounds messy."

Conner laughed. "It is. But you get used to it after awhile." He quickly sobered and pointed to the first page of the book. "Okay, let's get to work." He shifted closer to her. "As you already know, there are actually almost no pure demons left on earth. But in the demon dimensions there are thousands and thousands of species just waiting to get out. We're also beginning to see that there are some that are more pure than others. They war amongst themselves; They look down upon each other. But believe it or not some of them are actually okay. Like Lorne."

"A-And your D-Dad."

"Yes, but Angelus is... was a different story. Good thing he's not a threat anymore."

"Because of his soul?"

Conner nodded.

"I umm... Okay, but I have one question."

"What's that?"

"I umm... Is Angelus your Dad's r-real name?"

"No. That's the name he went by after he was turned. Darla gave him the name. It means "One with the angelic face."

"They got that right." Chara muttered under her breath.

"What?" Conner looked over at her.

"N-Nothing. I uhh... Please continue."

"Okay. As I was saying, Angelus was sired by Darla, and he was one of the most feared vampires in history, and because he was he was known as *The Scourge of Europe* as you know."

"And his r-real name before that? What was his real name?"

"Liam. His real name was Liam."

A sharp pain pierced Chara's head, but she ignored it and pointed to the first demon in the book. "W-What about this demon? Tell me about it?"

"Mischief demon."

"And this one?"

"A demon of gluttony. And this one is a demon of greed."

"W-Wow. There's one for everything, isn't there?"

Conner chuckled. "Yeah, I hadn't really thought about it, but I suppose there is." He flipped to the next page. "Shall we continue?"

Chara nodded, and for the next twenty minutes she tried to store everything Conner told her into her head. Of course, things changed the moment he turned to another page in the book, and her eyes fell on the first demon on the page. She'd seen it before. In a dream. And she felt the blood drain from her face. Conner just so happened to look over the moment it did, and he immediately went into worried mode. "Chara, what is it? What's wrong?"

"I umm.." She pointed to the demon. "Th-This demon... It uhh... What is it? The demon of jewels or something?"

"No." He pulled the book closer. "It says here it's a Mohra demon, and that it has regenerative properties in it's blood."

Chara frowned. "Have you uhh... H-Have you ever seen one before?" She asked as she reached up to rub her throbbing temples.

"No. Can't say that I have." He glanced back over at her, and saw that she was rubbing her temples. "Chara, are you sure..."

"What's going on?"

Chara's eyes flew open to land on the owner of the voice, and just like all the other times she had laid eyes on him she got that tingly feeling all over her body. God, he was so beautiful. A total hottie. But before she got the chance to slip into very naughty Angel thoughts Conner stood up. "Dad, I thought you were upstairs brooding."

"Brooding? I don't brood. I was with..." His gaze nervously shot to Chara then back to Conner. "...Cordelia."

"Oh, I uhh... Did you decide not to spend the night?"

Angel nervously shot Chara another look. "No. I uhh... I'd rather not discuss Cordelia right now, Conner."

"You know what..." Chara stood up beside Conner. "It's uhh... okay. If you'd rather I uhh... You go ahead. Talk, I mean." She reached for her purse. "I umm... I think I'll go get a glass of water."

She glanced over at Conner. "I'll be back in a few."

Conner nodded. "Do you remember how to get to the kitchen."

"I think so." She shot Angel another peek. "I umm... I'll yell if I get lost. I'm sure this place echoes so you'll hear me, and find me, right?"

Conner chuckled again. "You don't have to yell, Chara. I have overly sensitive hearing. Dad, too. If you get lost we'll find you. "

"Oh..." She glanced over at Angel then back at Conner. "I mean, I'm glad I won't have to scream my head off. I do enough of that after one of my nightmares. And okay, I can't believe I just brought that up, because doing it is bad. Very bad. So just forget I did." She glanced over at Angel to find him frowning at her, and the sight of it tore at her gut. "Go." She looked back over at Conner. "I uhh... I'll be back in a little bit." With that said, she moved around the desk and past Angel to disappear out of the room.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

CHAPTER 13


Chara did manage to find the kitchen, and was in the process of digging through her purse trying to find her pain pills when that tingly feeling returned, and she knew without having to turn around why it had.

"You have another headache."

"Mmm..." She mumbled, finally locating the bottle, and pulling it out of her purse. "It's a yucky side effect from the accident."

"Conner and your father told me about it. It was bad."

"Uh huh..." She finally managed to get the bottle open, and poured two pills into her hand. "Not only did I almost get my brains knocked out, I'm told I died, too. I guess I was lucky. The only thing I lost was my memory..."

"Chara..."

She spun away from him, and reached up into the cabinet for a glass. "I'm not crazy. At least I don't think I am."

"I didn't think you were. I mean, I don't think you are."

"Don't you?" She washed the pills down with a quick swallow of water, but she didn't turn around. "I uhh... I saw you. The way you were looking at me earlier when I mentioned my nightmares. You know, don't you?"

"You mean about the mental institution?"

"Y-Yes." Her hand trembled as she raised the glass to her lips again. "A-And like I said before, I'm not crazy. Just a freak."

"Bu... Chara..."

"A-Angel, I uhh..." She cut him off. "I uhh... I wanted to thank you for the night you brought me that migraine tea. It was really sweet of you."

"I wasn't trying to be sweet, Chara. I was just helping Conner out. He was worried about you, and he knew you would get mad if he came over."

"I-I see." She murmured. "Still, I uhh... Thank you."

Angel moved to the counter and leaned against it. "So... You and Conner... What were you doing when I came in?"

"Studying. He's teaching me all about demons and vampires."

"What?" Angel nearly yelled. "What the hell is he doing that for?"

"I want to learn, so I asked him to teach me."

"Well, you shouldn't have. You don't belong in this world, Chara. You don't belong in the darkness."

"Right." She let out a bitter laugh. "'Cause God knows I haven't been there the last five years."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean? Do you honestly think that the life you live is worse than the life me and my family live, Chara?"

Chara poured out the rest of her water, and stuck the dirty glass in the sink before spinning around to face him. "Hello, dumbass!" She waved a hand in front of his face. "Amnesia girl here, remember? I don't have a life! Yes, I have a man that took me in and loves me like I'm his real daughter, but it doesn't change the fact that somewhere out there is my real family, and that evidently I didn't mean didley squat to them or they would have tried to find me. Try living with that for five years, and see how fucking great your life is! Oh, and let's not forget the part where I'm haunted in what very little sleep I do get by the exact same world you say I don't belong to, and that it got me thrown into a mental institution where I ..." She clamped her mouth shut the moment she realized what she was about to say, but it wasn't fast enough for Angel not to see her face pale.

"Where you what?" He asked softly.

"N-Nothing. It was nothing." She tucked her purse up under her arm, and went to move past him. "I-I have to go."

Angel moved to block her path. "Not so fast, Bu... Chara. We're not finished talking about Conner tutoring you. I want it to stop. You may not think so, but I still believe that you don't belong in this world. People die here. Good people. I don't want to see that happen to you."

"I see." She raised her gaze to his. "You don't want to see it happen to me, but you would see it happen to your son? Real parental of you there, Angel."

Angel's own eyes flared. "Do not... And I repeat... Do not ever question me, on how I raise MY son, Bu... Chara. Besides, this has nothing to do with him."

"Doesn't it? In case you've forgotten I saved his life killing something that came from a world you don't want me being a part of."

"And like I said before, good people die. I don't want to see that happen to you."

"It's not your decision to make, it's mine, Angel. I am not going to sit by and pretend like I don't know what's out there. I refuse to be one of those people Conner told me about. So you might as well get used to seeing me around because I'm not going anywhere." She went to shove past him again, but he grabbed her arm, and jerked her up against him as he felt his temperature go up another couple of notches. "You listen, and you listen good, Bu... Chara. I meant what I said. I will not sit by and watch you put your life or the life of my son in in danger." He pulled her even closer as his eyes drilled into hers. "Do you understand?"

Lost. The moment he pulled her closer Chara was completely lost and none of what he said to her registered. "Ch-Chocolate..." She whispered.

"W-What?" Angel's eyes darkened even more as he realized how close she was.

"Chocolate... Y-Your eyes..." She reached up to trace her fingers around them. "I never noticed them before. Their like pools of chocolate. Their beautiful. S-So beautiful."

The contact of her warm flesh on his was like lightening striking Angel, and the shock of it was enough to push him into breaking away from her even though deep down that's the last thing he wanted to do. "Don't..." He growled as he turned away from her.

"I umm..." She stared at his rigid back. "I'm s-sorry. I don't know... I'm sorry." She choked out before she fled, and it took everything inside of Angel not to go tearing after her.

***

"I can't believe you did it, Chara. Your dad is going to freak when he finds out." Conner replied as they entered the Hyperion the next day.

Cordelia looked up from the computer as they approached the front desk. "Why is your dad going to freak? What did you do? Rob a bank or something?"

"No. I bungee jumped." Chara answered the brunette.

"Aren't you a little to old to be doing childish things like that?"

"Maybe, but at least I wasn't the oldest person to do it. The guy on the platform told me he once had an eighty seven year old man jump."

"You should have seen her, Cordelia." Conner threw his arm around Cara's shoulder. "One minute she was standing up there looking all scared, and the next she was doing this perfect swan dive off the thing like a professional diver."

"Who looked like a professional diver?" Angel asked, walking into the room, and coming to a stop when his eyes landed on Cara. "Bu... Chara."

"Angel..." Cara looked anywhere but at him.

"Chara and I were just telling Cordelia about her swan dive off a bungee platform earlier today, Dad." Conner replied from his spot beside Chara.

Angel's eyes grew stormy as the landed back on Chara. "You went bungee jumping? What the hell did you do that for? Are you crazy?"

"Yeah, I guess I am. Or evidently that's what you and alot of other people think." She snapped. "But you know what, Angel? It's my life, and I'll do whatever the hell I want. In fact, I'm thinking about getting a tattoo next. A really big tattoo. You do know what a tattoo is, don't you? Oh no, I forgot. You're a vampire, and everyone who's anyone knows that all vampires have a tendancy to still live in the century they were sired in. Which in your case would mean a long, long time before tattoos were invented. Am I right?

"Uhh, Chara..." Conner couldn't help but be a little stunned at Chara's outburst towards his father. "Actually Dad has a tattoo."

"W-What?" Chara's eyes finally met the vampire's. "Y-You have a tattoo?"

"Yes."

"W-Where?" She managed to choke out.

"My right shoulder blade. It's a Celtic Gryphon with the initial A between it's legs."

"A-A Gryphon? That's uhh... That's a winged thingie, right?"

He nodded, and started to say something else, that was until he saw the blood drain from her face. "Bu... Chara..." He started towards her, but Conner reached for her before he could get to her.

"Chara... What is it? What's wrong?"

"I uhh..." She shook her head. "N-Nothing. I just uhh..." She pointed to the door as she felt her stomach lurch. "G-Go. I-I have to go. A-A class. I forgot I promised m-my dad I would take a class for him at the center, a-and I'm late." She gave him a weak smile. "S-Sorry. I umm... I'll call you tomorrow, okay?" She didn't stick around to hear his answer. She couldn't. Not when she felt like she really was crazy at the moment.

***

The next two weeks were hell literally for Chara. What little time she did sleep her dreams were either plagued by Angel or the same nightmare she'd been having since she had met Conner. And it didn't help matters that now not only were Conner's friends going out of their way to avoid her, Angel was as well. Not that she could blame him. She was a wreck. She wasn't sleeping, and she was also puking her guts out on a regular basis now which pretty much made eating out of the question. And her head... God, it hurt to even think about the pain in her head. It hurt to think period, so she tried not to as much as possible. Crazy. She knew she was going crazy, but she didn't have a clue how to stop it. She was exhausted physically as well as mentally, and she couldn't help but wonder how long it would be before her worst nightmare became reality. That's why when her father called later that morning and suggested she spend the day with him at the center that she couldn't say no to him.

"What is that?" Kyle Williams asked his daughter as she entered his office.

"New painting." She mumbled as she shed her coat. "I wanted your opinion on it." She propped the painting up on the sofa, and removed the sheet that was covering it. "Well?"

Kyle walked over to take a look at it. It was of a demon with it's long talons imbedded in a faceless man, and it was trying to pull him away from a faceless woman that was obviously clinging to him for dear life. "I uhh... Did you dream this?"

Chara met his gaze. "Yes."

"Do you know what it means?"

"Yes." She turned away from him to cover the painting back up.

"Well?" Kyle stared at her back. "Are you going to tell me, or do I have to guess, Chara?"

"She loves him. The woman in the picture loves the man she's clinging to. More than anything. But it wasn't meant to be. Their love. He was seduced away from her with the promise of a better life. She wasn't enough for him, and neither was the love it was obvious she felt for him."

"I thought you didn't believe in love?"

"I don't." She turned around to look at him. "You told me to tell you about the dream, and I am. But even if I did believe in love I wouldn't after having that dream. It just showed me that I was right. That real love doesn't exist. I think the woman in the dream was me, and the man is h-him..." She looked down at the ring on her finger. "The man that gave me this ring. I think it was him, and it showed me... The dream showed me everything I already knew deep down. I wasn't enough for him. That's why he left. It wasn't him. It was me."

Kyle frowned as he searched his daughter's face. "Chara..."

"I'm not going to the doctor, Daddy."

"I think you should reconsider, sweetie. You look like you've been through World War III."

Chara shrugged. "Who cares. It's not like I'm trying to impress anyone."

"Maybe not, Chara. But what about me. You've got me worried. Please go."

"You know I love you, Daddy. But I'm not going." She closed the distance to him, and stood upon tiptoe to kiss his cheek. "Now quit frowning. The kids will think something's wrong with you." She stepped back out of the circle of his arms. "And speaking of the kids... I have a karate class to teach. How about I meet you back her in an hour for lunch?"

He nodded, knowing she had put an end to their discussion no matter how much he didn't like it. "Chinese?"

"Sounds yummy." She gave him a weak smile. "I'll see you then."

She disappeared out of his office, but he ended up seeing her sooner than an hour. It was only twenty minutes later actually. He was going over some paperwork when one of the girls that took Chara's karate class came running into the office to inform him that Chara was in the bathroom throwing up. The girl was obviously distressed, and when Kyle entered the bathroom to find his daughter trying to pick herself up off the bathroom floor he couldn't help but feel the same way. "Damnit, Chara." He kneeled down to help her up. "I don't care what you say. You're going to the hospital whether you like it or not."

"No!" She scrambled away from him to huddle in the corner of the bathroom stall. "It'll be a cold day in hell before I go back to another hospital."

"Chara... Honey, please. You're scaring me." He reached out his hand to her. "Please, sweetie. Let me take you to the doctor. I love you. If something were to happen to you I don't know what I would do."

Chara saw the pained look on his face, and burst into tears. "I c-can't go to the hospital, Daddy. I-I can't b-because I'm afraid I r-really am going c-crazy, and th-that they'll put me back in th-that place. I-I can't go b-back there. I-I c-can't."

"Chara, sweetie, you are not going crazy. You're sick, and wore out that's all."

"N-No. Y-You're w-wrong. I am. I'm r-really going crazy, D-Daddy." She buried her head in her lap as sobs began to hitch her body.

"Shh..." He crawled over to smooth her hair. "Tell me. Tell me why you think you're crazy. I'm right here, honey."

"M-My dreams. I'm having th-these r-really weird dreams... I-I mean besides th-the nightmares. A-And these dr-dreams... I see th-things, D-Daddy. Really vivid things... It's a-almost like their real. R-Really real."

"I see." He murmured as he smoothed her hair.

"Yeah, so do I." She sniffled.

"What do you mean, honey?"

"N-Nothing." She shook her head. "I told you I'm crazy. I'm so crazy that the doctor will lock me up for good this time, and I can't... I c-can't go back there." She raised her head to look at him with a tear stained face. "Daddy, if I have to go... P-Promise me... Promise me you'll send me anywhere b-but there. I-I can't go back there."

"Why don't you tell me about these dreams before you start making plans for your future, Chara." He wiped her tears away with his fingers. "Come on now. Tell me."

"O-Okay." She sniffled again. "Take for example this one dream I've been having. In this dream there's this guy. He uhh... H-He has a tattoo on his right shoulder. I saw it so clearly. Touched it. But in real life I never knew he had a tattoo. Never saw it. Then two weeks ago he told me about it. He described it to me, and it was exactly like in my dream, Daddy. The way he d-described it was exactly the way I saw it in my dream."

"And you're absolutely sure you never saw it before except in your dream?"

"Oh yeah." She swiped at some stray tears. "Trust me, Daddy if I had seen him... Any of him... I would never forget it."

"Oh." Suddenly Kyle's eyes widened. "OH... It was one of those dreams."

"Uh huh." She started crying again. "Completely x-rated with 3D serene surround sound. Wh-Which I know is b-bad. V-Very bad. Because h-he has a girlfriend. A-A very beautiful, well-proportioned in all the right places kinda girlfriend, wh-who I totally d-despise by the way."

Kyle chuckled, and Chara shot him a dirty look. "You're laughing at me! I just told you I-I'm going crazy, and you're laughing at me, Daddy?"

"I am not laughing at you,Chara. I'm laughing for you, sweetie. Because I'm happy to tell you that you are not going crazy."

"O-Okay, I'm n-not going crazy." She sniffled. "But if I'm not then what's wrong with me?"

"Love, honey. You're in love."

"W-What?" She blinked in surprise. "N-No."

"Oh yes, you are, sweetie. And that whole *I totally despise his significant other* is called jealousy with a capital J. You, my darling daughter, are in love."

"N-No." She shook her head in denial. "N-Not love. I-It's bullshit. N-Now lust... That sounds much much better, and I'll even admit it. I'm in lust with him. I mean, he is gorgeous. Very very gorgeous in an annoying sense of way... And those eyes of his are like chocolate. Pools of chocolate that I could..." She shook her head again to clear her thoughts. "N-No. N-Not love. I'm not in love w-with him."

Kyle stood up, and reached out to help her to her feet. "Okay, who is this guy you are not in love with?"

"Conner's da... brother." Chara mumbled.

Kyle almost lost his grip on Chara's hand. "Y-You're in love with Angel?"

"N-No. N-Not love." She started crying again. I told you i-it's lust. It h-has to be. Th-That's why I'm having all those x-rated dreams. L-Lust. I-It's lust."

"Sure it is, honey." Kyle murmured as he enveloped his daughter in his arms. "Sure it is."

***

"It looks bad." Conner reached over to touch the huge bruise on the side of Chara's face, and she jerked away from the contact. "I told you I'm fine, Conner. It doesn't even hurt."

"What do you think your dad will say about it?"

"I don't even want to think about what he'll say. I think I'll just avoid him until it goes away."

"Can you do that? I mean, what about when you teach your classes at the center? Won't you see him there?"

Chara spun away from him, and knelt down to fool with the Cd player in the floor. "Actually I'm uhh... I'm sort of not volunteering at the center anymore."

"What? When did this happen, and why didn't you tell me?"

"Yesterday. It happened yesterday, and I didn't tell you because it slipped my mind." She lied.

"Uh huh." Conner saw the tension in her shoulders and knew she was lying to him. "And why exactly did it happen to start with?"

"Don't know." She muttered. "All I know is he told me to take some time off."

Conner muttered something under his breath. "You're lying to me, Chara. It's the headaches isn't it? I mean, I should have known something was wrong with you. You look horrible. And knowing you the way I do I can almost bet your Dad came to the same conclusion, begged you to see a doctor, you refused, so therefore he sidelined you until you do agree, am I right?"

"Conner..." She opened her mouth to explain, but he cut her off. "I don't want to hear any excuses, Chara. You should have told me. If I had known I wouldn't have taken you on patrol last night."

She stood up and spun around to face him. "You said I was incredible last night. Do you remember that?"

"Yes. And I wasn't lying. You did look incredible. You fight as good if not better than Dad."

"Then what's the problem?"

"You know what the problem is, Chara. You're sick."

"No, I'm not. Do you know that I'm not even sore from last night. That damn vamp threw me into a dumpster, Conner. How many people could have even fought a vamp sick, much less come out of it with a bruise the size of mine, and not be sipping through a straw for the next six weeks?"

"How do I know that you're not lying to me about not being sore, Chara?"

"Because I'm here about to give you a dance lesson that's how? Do you honestly think I would be doing it if I wasn't able?"

"I don't know. I don't know what to think. Especially when you just lied to me not more than five minutes ago." He muttered.

"I'm sorry about that, okay? I just didn't want you to worry. I'm fine. Honest. So fine in fact, I'm beginning to think maybe I was meant to be a slayer. I mean, how else can you explain the super strength, and the fact that I heal really fast and don't scar?"

"I can't. Not unless you were meant to be a slayer and somehow missed your calling."

"Maybe I did." She grinned. "Maybe the phone rang while I was in my coma and I just didn't hear it."

"That's not funny, Chara." Conner scowled at her.

"O-Kay, you're scowling. And I hate it when you do it, so why don't we just drop this and move on to your dance lesson?"

"Screw the damn lesson, Chara. I could care less about learning to dance."

"You say that now, but I guarantee you'll be thanking me later on. Especially when you have a beautiful girl pressed up against you on the dance floor." She turned back around to kneel down to turn the cd player on, and then she was facing him again. "Now come here so I can show you what I mean."

"I'd rather not." Conner mumbled.

Chara sighed. "You know, Conner knowing how to dance isn't going to make you less studly. Why, I'll even bet you that if you ask your father he'll tell you he knows how to."

Conner's eyes narrowed as he stared at her. "You think my father is studly?"

"W-What?" Chara blinked in surprise.

"My father, Chara. Do you think he's studly?"

"Well, I umm... I didn't say that. I mean, of course he is. L-Look at you. You look just like him, but I umm... I wasn't saying that because I noticed or any... I was just using him as an example because of the whole broody thing he has going on. I just wanted you to see that even the most uhh... broody of men dance, and show you that there is nothing wrong with it." She motioned to him. "Now shut up and dance."

"Fine." He took the hand she offered him. "But I'm telling you now this is the first and only lesson I'm taking from you."

"We'll see." Was all she said as she placed his other hand on her hip. "Now watch my feet. And for christ's sake, relax. You're stiff as a board."

She walked him through the steps of the waltz until she was sure he had them, and then she instructed him to pull her closer. He did as she instructed, and soon her cheek was pressed up against his chest as they swayed back and forth to the music. "See..." She murmured and closed her eyes. "Tell me this isn't nice?"

"I can't." He replied, and closed his own eyes.

"Told you." She said rather smugly. "And it's even better when it's your lover you're dancing with. Much much better."

Conner pulled back to look down at her. "How do you know? You don't have a lover." He searched her face. "Or do you?"

"No." She shook her head. "No lover here. How can I have a lover when I don't believe in love?"

"Chara..."

"Shh..." Her finger came up to silence his reply. "No talking. O-Or arguing. Just dance."

Conner swallowed his retort, and did as she asked even though he didn't want to. He couldn't say no to her. Why he didn't have a clue, but if you were to ask the man standing outside the garden watching them, he could have told him exactly why he couldn't. He could tell him alot of things, including what he was feeling watching them at that very moment...

***

"You know, if Cordelia finds you here she's going to blow a gasket." A voice stated from behind Angel.

"Let her. I'm getting used to it." Angel muttered as he continued to focus on something in the garden.

"Would you like to know what she's thinking?" Lorne asked as he moved up beside him.

Angel finally tore his eyes away from the couple he'd been watching for several minutes to look over at Lorne. "That she loves him."

"Mmm..." Lorne glanced over at Angel. "She does. But it's not the kind of love you're thinking she feels for him."

"I'm not thinking anything." Angel denied. "I was just..." He looked back at the couple through the glass. "She looks at peace."

"She is at peace. For the moment, anyway. But he's only part of what's making her feel that way. The other part... The part that belongs to you is thinking of you right now. Only it... she doesn't know it's you. She just remembers feeling something, and as much as she denies it she wants to feel that way again."

"Maybe you're reading her wrong. Maybe it's not me she's thinking of at all. Maybe she's thinking of heaven. Or maybe she's thinking of Finn. She loved him, too. Probably more than she ever did me. Trusted him, too."

"That's right, Angelface..." Lorne glanced back over at Angel. "Keep denying it. Keep that battle with your inner demons going strong. Waste precious time." His eyes returned to the couple in the garden. "I just hope for her sake you don't waste it in a long drawn out battle, because in case you haven't noticed she's not looking so hot."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Angel's eyes flew back to Lorne, and Lorne just shook his head. "Nothing. It doesn't mean anything."

"No, Lorne. You know something. Something you're not telling me." He grabbed Lorne by the shoulders. "Is she sick?" He began to shake him. "Answer me, Lorne? What's wrong with her?"

Lorne opened his mouth to answer Angel, but before he got the chance the sound of Chara's raised voice drew Angel's attention from him back to the couple in the garden, who were now obviously in a heated argument. "Oh come on, Conner. Will you lighten up? I'm alive, aren't I?"

"There's nothing funny about death, Chara. Nothing."

"Jesus Christ, Conner." Chara pushed away from him. "I was just joking."

"And like I said before, it's not funny."

"Well, I'm sorry you don't find it funny." She walked over to turn off the cd player. "But it's either that or make myself sick trying to remember something... anything... about my life before, Conner. You have no idea what it's like to sit and wonder who you are. What you were like. But if you think that's hard, you're wrong. The hardest part of all is to sit and listen to a doctor tell you that you've been sexually active, and have no memory of the person or persons you got laid by."

"It's called making love, Chara." Conner muttered as he stared at her ridid back again. "Gods, I don't understand why you have to make it sound so cheap."

"Because to me it is cheap, Conner. It's kinda hard not to feel like a whore when a doctor asks you how many men you've been with and you can't tell him!"

"Did you tell him you had amnesia?"

"No." She answered. "It was easier for me just to let him test me for all those nice little diseases whores get. It's not like I can rule out the possibility that I was one in my past life anyway. But hey, at least there is an upside to all of it."

"And what exactly is that?"

"I'm disease free. At least now I can say that I was a safe whore."

"You wasn't a whore, Chara."

"How do you know, Conner? How can you know when I don't."

"Your ring. The ring on your finger tells me and you both that you wasn't a whore."

"It tells me nothing, Conner. Nothing except that I got fucked. And when it all boils down to it I really don't see much difference between the two."

"You are not a whore, Chara!"

"How do you know, Conner?" She stood up and spun around to face him again. "How many times do I have to say it to get it through your thick skull? I don't remember anything! Nothing! Nada! So who's to say that this ring actually came from a husband? Maybe it came from a trick instead. Maybe it wasn't him that fucked me! Maybe I fucked him instead, and he gave it to me to pay me for services rendered!"

"What the hell is going on?"

Chara froze on the spot at the sound of the voice. His voice.

"Chara and I were having a private conversation, Dad." Conner muttered to the man now standing behind him.

"Then I suggest you lower your voices because I could hear you two inside the lobby."

She spun around to face Angel. "You were eavesdropping."

"No. Vamp he... What the hell happened to your face?" Without a second's hesitation Angel closed the distance to her, and reached out to turn her head so that he could look at the bruise.

"I-It's n-nothing." She swatted his hand away, and shot a nervous glance at Conner, who was watching his father's sudden concern with amusement. "I umm... I ran into a door."

Angel's eyes narrowed as he studied the bruise. "Looks to me like you ran into more than just a door."

"Well then, you obviously need glasses because it was a door."

Conner chuckled, but quickly sobered when both Chara and his father shot him a dirty look.

"Did you see a doctor?" Angel's gaze returned to Chara.

"Don't need to. It doesn't even hurt. But even if it did I wouldn't see a doctor."

"Oh great." Angel muttered. "Here we go again."

"Again?" Conner's questioning eyes flew to his father. "What do you mean again?"

"I uhh..." Angel started to say something, but he was saved by another voice.

"Oh, here you are, Angelcakes. I've been looking for you everywhere. I just wanted to... Well, hello..."

"Lorne?" Conner closed the distance to his father's friend. "What are you doing here?"

"Wednesday night. Spaghetti night, remember? I always come for spaghetti night." Lorne patted Conner on the shoulder then closed the distance to Chara. "Hey, sweetie. How are..." He whistled as he got a good look at the bruise on her face. "My, my... Looks like someone's been playing ring around the rosie with a vamp and a dumpster."

"W-What?" Angel's gaze flew back to Chara. "I thought you said you ran into a door?"

"I-It was a door." She shot Lorne a suprised looked. "A-And you... What in the world would give you the idea it wasn't?"

"Lorne's a anagogic demon." Angel answered. "He reads auras." He turned to Lorne. "Isn't that right, Lorne?"

"Yeah, yeah." Lorne didn't miss the menacing tone of Angel's voice. "But I read your ma... I mean, Chara's all wrong. Which can happen without the singing as we all know. It was a door. She ran into a door. Isn't that right, sweetie?"

"Uh huh..." Her eyes narrowed as she stared at Lorne. "And I've already told Angel that. Now let's get back to you. You uhh... you read auras?"

"Yes." Lorne looked nervously at Angel then back at her.

"When people sing?"

"Yes. Well, most of the time anyway. But sometimes if a person is uhh... obvious with their emotions I can read them without the singing."

"I see." She murmured. "So do you think..."

"Dinner." Angel suddenly interrrupted her.

"W-What?" She looked over at him.

"Dinner. It's getting cold. We should eat."

"Right." Lorne quickly agreed with Angel. "Dinner. We should eat before it gets cold." He took Chara's hand. "And you should join us, sweetie. You and Conner. Angelface's spaghetti sauce is to just die for." He saw Chara flinch at his words. "Sorry, sweetie. Bad choice of words. Anyway, you know what I mean. So... Would you join us? Please."

Chara shot a glance at Angel, who was frowning. "No, I uhh..." She shook her head. "I don't think so, Lorne. Thanks anyway."

"Oh come on, Chara." Conner returned to her side, and threw an arm around her shoulder. "It'll be fun."

"I umm..." Shit. She saw the pleading look on Conner's face, and couldn't bring herself to say no. No matter how much all she wanted to do was turn and run in the opposite direction "Sure, why not?"

"Great." Lorne smiled at her. "Let's go then. I'm sure Cordelia and the other's are wondering where we're at."

Chara felt her stomach lurch at the mention of Cordelia's name, but it was too late to change her mind because Conner was already leading her towards the kitchen with Angel and Lorne following closely behind her. "You know, I think Lorne's a little in love with you."He whispered in her ear. "Dad, too."

"W-What?" She choked out.

"Dad. He loves you because I do."

"Right." She muttered. "H-He loves me because you do." But deep down she knew what Conner was saying wasn't true. Deep down she knew that Angel pretty much disliked her just as much as the rest of Conner's family. Hell... She had the funny feeling this dinner with them was going to be pure hell.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


CHAPTER 14


Chara had been right. Dinner had been hell. Worse than hell. First, Connner had decided to let her sit in his normal seat, which happened to be to Angel's right and directly across from Cordelia, who was sitting to his left. And that had left her wide open to being a spectator to Cordelia's numerous and nauseating PDA's towards Angel. Then there was the dinner conversation, or lack of one she should say. The atmosphere in the room was so tense she would have needed a chainsaw to cut through it, but if Conner had noticed he hadn't said anything. Lorne on the other hand had been a different story. He had noticed the tension. More than noticed, but any thoughts he'd had about squashing it had quickly been dashed when he had to up and ask her how her belly dancing lessons were going, earning her a very... hell, she still wasn't sure what kind of look she had gotten from Angel when Lorne had told him she was taking belly dancing lessons, but the look on his face had been enough to shut Lorne up completely and send her head down to stare at her untouched spaghetti for most of the meal. Hell... The dinner had been hell. So much so, that by the time it was over with she was so stressed out she'd had to make a run for the nearest bathroom to empty the contents of her stomach. Dying... God, she felt like she was dying. That's why when she came out of the bathroom a little while later the last person in the world she had wanted to see was Cordelia, leaning against the wall waiting for her. All she wanted to do was go to her apartment and crawl into bed, but unfortunately for her Cordelia had other plans. "What's the matter, Chara? Did Angel's spaghetti not agree with you?"

"What do you want, Cordelia?" Chara muttered, moving past her. "I mean, I'm pretty sure you're not here to do any friendly bonding or anything since you and I both know you pretty much hate me."

"I more than pretty much hate you, Bu...Chara. The truth is I pretty much despise you."

Chara spun around to face her. "I see. And why exactly is that, Cordelia?"

"Why? Why?" Cordelia spat. "Why else, Bu... Chara? Do you honestly think I don't see the way you look at Angel? Oh, I see, alright? And I'm here to tell you that whatever the little fantasy is you're having about the two of you, you might as well hang it up now. Angel is mine. Mine! Do you hear me?"

"I don't know what the hell you're talking about." Chara said. "And I don't have to stick around somewhere where it's obvious I'm not welcomed." She spun around to leave.

"What's the matter, Chara? Are you upset that I'm onto you? Of course, you are. I know how you work. I know you wanted your cake and to eat it, too. I wasn't enough for you to have Conner. Who is a great guy, by the way, and totally adores you. Oh no. You want his father, too. But like I said before, that's not going to happen. I'm onto you, sugar. And sooner or later Conner will be, too. Sooner or later Conner will figure out what I already know. That you're nothing but a manipulative bitch, and you don't belong here."

Chara stopped dead in her tracks again. "I don't belong here because you won't let me."

"That's right, I won't. And I never will. You're trouble with a capital T. You don't care who you hurt as long as you get what you want, and you will hurt Conner, Bu...Chara. But if you honestly think you're going to do Angel the same way you've got another thing coming. I won't let you get your hooks into him again. I won't watch you tear him to shreds like you did before."

"Again? Before?" Chara spun back around to face Cordelia. "What the hell are you talking about, Cordelia. I've never... And God!" She yelled. "Why am I even standing here doing this with you? What's the point? No matter what I say to defend myself your mind is already made up about me! No matter what I say you're going to still hate me! And as far as Angel is concerned... If you two love each other the way you claim then why are you so worried about me getting my quote, unquote, *hooks into him?* If you two really love each

other the way you claim then nothing or no one will ever be able to come between you two, and you would know that. But it appears you don't know that. It appears you have doubts, Cordelia. Alot of doubts, but I suggest before you start pointing a finger at me as the cause that you take a good look at yourself first. Maybe I'm not the problem. Maybe the real problem is you. Maybe you're not the right woman for Angel. Maybe you never were." With that said, Chara disappeared down the hallway, leaving a stunned Cordelia staring after her. She barely managed to make it down the steps, and across the lobby to the sofa where Conner was sitting, and apparently he could see there was something wrong with her because he shot to his feet before she reached him. "You don't look so hot."

"I uhh... I don't feel so hot." She answered him honestly. She glanced over her shoulder, and it was just in time to see Angel come into the lobby and send one of his world famous frowns her way. "I'm uhh... I'm going to go home." She leaned over to pick up her purse, doing her best to ignore the pain in her head as she did. "I'll uhh... I'll talk to you later, okay?"

Conner grabbed her hand. "Leave your car here, and let me walk you over."

She shook her head. "No. It's o-okay. I'll be fine." She squeezed his hand, and then she was gone. It wasn't until she reached the sanctuary of her car that she finally gave into the tears she'd been holding back since her confrontation with Cordelia, and once they started she couldn't stop. The pain was so unbearable that she was completely unaware of her surroundings or the watchful pair of eyes that stayed locked on her until she finally managed to compose herself enough to move her car away from the one place she knew she didn't belong.

***

"I've been thinking alot the past couple of days."

"About?"

Chara turned around on her vanity stool to look at Conner, who was sitting on her bed. "Lorne reads auras, right?"

"Yeah, why?"

"I want him to read mine."

"Chara..."

"I know what you're going to say, Conner. You're worried he'll tell me something that I might not want to hear, but the truth is whatever he does tell me couldn't be any worse than what I've been thinking. I need to know, Conner. Maybe he can tell me something... Anything... About my past... Who I am... My future. I guess I'm hoping that maybe he can tell me what my destiny is. A-And who knows, maybe he'll even tell me I really am a slayer. As you know, I've been wondering alot about it. Especially since we started patrolling together." She smiled at him. "Did we kick some serious demon ass tonight or what?"

Conner couldn't help but chuckle. "That we did."

She stood up, and moved to her closet. "Of course, I could have done without all the demon goo. It took forever to get that shit out of my hair. I'm beginning to find out that long hair has it's disadvantages. I'm thinking about cutting it." She grabbed an outfit from the closet rack, and turned back to face him. "Who knows, I might even get my hairdresser to shave it all off that way I won't have to worry about geting demon goo stuck in it ever again. Or better yet we both could get our heads shaved to match Gunn then everyone could call us the baldy triplets."

Conner picked up a pillow and threw it at her. "Shut up and get dressed, baldy."

She laughed. "So we're going to Caritas?"

"I guess we are. But before we do I should check in with Dad. Let him know patrol went well. Why don't you go ahead and get dressed, so that way we can just go once you're ready, okay?"

"Okay." She smiled and disappeared into the bathroom while Conner headed to the phone sitting on the nightstand beside her bed. He quickly dialed the number to Angel Investigations, and waited for someone to pick up. "Angel Investigations. We help the helpless, how may we help you?"

"Hey, Cordy. It's Conner. I just wanted to call and let Dad know patrol went smoothly. We.. I mean, I ran into a Kamodo demon that had a girl trapped in a alley, but I managed to dispose of it before it did any major damage."

"Are you on your way home then?"

"No. That's another reason I'm calling. I'm going to take Chara out for a night on the town."

"Oh. Where are you going?"

"That's none of your business, Cordelia."

"I need to know in case we need to get in touch with you."

"You can call me on that blasted invention called a cellphone if you need to get in touch with me, Cordelia."

"Your Dad is going to be pissed if you don't give him a place where you'll be, Conner. He may have reinstated you to active duty, but you know as well as I do that he's still leery."

"Fine." He muttered. "Caritas. I'm taking Chara to Caritas. She wants Lorne to read her. See if maybe he can help her remember something about her past."

"I don't think that's such a good idea..."

"All ready." A voice replied from behind Conner, and he turned around to look at the owner. "Uhh, Cordy.. Uhh, listen I gotta go. If you need me you know where to reach me."

"Conner! Conner!" Cordelia yelled into the receiver, but all she got was a dead line as Conner hung up on her. "Shit!" She muttered, and practically tore Angel's office door off trying to get inside it. The door flew back against the wall, bringing Angel and the man he was talking with to their feet. "Jesus Christ, Cordelia. What the..."

"A-Angel, We have a serious problem."

***

"Thanks for seeing me, Angel." Kyle Williams sat down in the chair in front of Angel's desk.

"I told you I wanted to know if anything changed, Kyle." Angel moved around his desk to sit down. "What happened?"

"She painted another painting. In this one there's a demon that has it's claws imbedded in a faceless man, and it's trying to pull him away from a faceless woman. I asked her if she got it from a dream like all the others."

"What did she say?"

"She said yes. Then she told me what she depictated from the dream. She said she loved him. The woman in the picture loved the man she was clinging to. More than anything. But it wasn't meant to be. Their love. He was seduced away from her with the promise of a better life. She wasn't enough for him, and neither was the love it was obvious she felt for him."

"What else did she say?"

"Do you really want to know? Because I hate to upset you here, Angel but I'm pretty sure the man in the painting is you and the woman is her. Their both identical to the man and woman in the other paintings."

"Just tell me what else she said, Kyle."

"Okay." Kyle sighed. "I went on to point out that I didn't think she believed in love to which her reply was I don't. Then she went on to tell me that even if she did believe in it she wouldn't after having the dream. She said it just showed her that real love didn't exist. Not for her anyway. She believes she wasn't enough for him... That's why he left. She said it wasn't him, it was her. She wasn't enough for him."

"Okay, maybe in a way she was reliving when I left Sunnydale. But I don't understand why she would get the impression that I left her because she wasn't enough for me. I never..." Angel looked down at his hands. "And what the hell does the demon have to do with it?"

"I don't know." Kyle murmured. "But the painting and the dream isn't the only reason I called you, Angel. She's getting worse. The same day she showed me the painting she nearly scared me to death as well."

Angel looked up. "What happened?"

"About twenty minutes into her Karate class one of the kids comes to get me and tells me she's in the bathroom throwing up. I knew it was bad because the child was terrified, but I didn't know how bad it really was until I got to her. She was trying to pick herself up off the floor, and when I told her that I was taking her to the hospital she scrambled away from me to huddle in the corner of the bathroom stall. She told me it would be a cold day in hell before she would go back to another hospital."

Angel couldn't help but chuckle even though he was just as concerned about Chara...Buffy as Kyle was. "That sounds just like her."

"There's more." Kyle told him. "When I told her she was scaring me, and that I couldn't bear the thought of losing her she burst into tears, apologized to me, then told me the last thing she wanted to do was hurt me but that she couldn't go to the hospital. She said she couldn't go because she was afraid she really was going crazy."

"She really told you that?"

Kyle nodded. "Yeah, and then she told me she was afraid that the doctor would put her back in the mental institution, and she couldn't go back there."

"What did you tell her?"

"I told her that she wasn't crazy. That she was just sick, and wore out. To which her reply was I was wrong. That she really was going crazy. And then she started crying even harder." Kyle swept a hand through his hair. "It kills me. It kills me when I see her cry."

"I know the feeling." Angel said in a barely audible voice.

"What?" Kyle stared at him.

"I umm..." Angel shifted in his chair. "Did you ever get her calmed down enough to find out why she thinks she's crazy?"

"She's remembering."

Angel sat up in his chair. "A-Are you sure?"

"Don't know for sure. Only you can tell me that."

"What do you mean?"

"She dreamt about seeing your tattoo. Only she swears up and down she had no idea you had one or even seen it for that matter, and then you up and tell her you do have one out of the blue, and describe it to a tee just like she saw it in her dream."

"And because she did now she thinks she's going crazy."

"Yeah. Now you tell me. Is she remembering or not?"

"I don't know, Kyle. I wish I could say one way or the other, but I can't. If she were remembering anything during her conscious state I would be overly concerned, but so far it's just been limited to her dreams. Well, except for the day she found out about my tattoo. I remember that day. How shook up she was. But it could have been a one time thing. Still, we can't take the risk. That's why everyone that's involved agrees it's best to keep our distance from her, and maybe if we do what happened before won't happen again."

"Who are you trying to kid here, Angel. Have you seen her? I mean really seen her? Something isn't right with her, and I don't think it's something physical."

"We don't know that, Kyle. Wesley and Fred took a look at her CAT SCAN, and they both told me that the injury to her brain was enough to have lingering effects even though she does have special healing abilities. You need to get her to a doctor as soon as possible."

"That's not going to happen, and you know it, Angel. Not until I can prove to her that she won't get sent back to the mental institution."

"I know." Angel sighed. "And I agree with you, whatever it was that happened there it was bad. She almost let it slip to me one day, but when I tried to push her to tell me she panicked."

"I thought you said you were keeping your distance from her?"

"I'm trying, Kyle. But it's not easy. Especially when she's here at the hotel with Conner."

"I uhh... I'm sorry, Angel. I understand. It's just..." Kyle shifted in his seat. "I'm worried about her. Besides the dreams, paintings, and the migraines, I've noticed other changes as well. She's not sleeping for one. There are circles under her eyes. And she doesn't eat. I can tell she's lost weight."

"I know. I've noticed." Angel murmured. And who the hell was he kidding? He had more than noticed. How could he not when he lurked?

"What about mood swings? Was Buffy moody? Because Chara was never moody, and she's been like an emotional rollercoaster the last two weeks. One minute she's all happy go lucky, and the next she's crying her eyes out. And grouchy... Jesus Christ the child is grouchy. I mean, she was never a morning person to start with, but I've just about given up calling her in the mornings here lately because when I do she bites my damn head off."

Angel couldn't help but chuckle again. "Now that definitely sounds like Buffy. She used to tell me she didn't get moody. She called it being hormonal. And the grouchy thing... You were right she was never a morning person. It was because of her night job, and trying to go to school at the same time. Just try plying her with three or four mocchachinos, and I can almost guarantee you she'll be a totally different woman."

"If you ask me I think she's already starting to be. The question is what's going to happen once the transformation is complete?"

"We don't know that she's remembering for sure, Kyle."

"And we don't know that she isn't either. And what if she is, Angel?" Kyle locked eyes with him. "What happens then?"

"We pray she doesn't remember anything too traumatizing. That's all we can..."

Suddenly the office door came flying open, crashing to the wall, and bringing both Kyle and Angel to their feet. "Jesus Christ, Cordelia! What the..."

"A-Angel, we have a serious problem..."

****

"Uhh, Conner..." Chara grabbed Conner's arm to stop him just outside the entrance to Caritas. "M-Maybe this isn't such a good idea after all. W-What if they don't want us here?"

"By they I take it you mean the other demons, and I'm very happy to tell you that this place is a sanctuary, Cara. The demons aside can't hurt us and we can't hurt them. And as far as them not wanting us here, who gives a damn. This is Lorne's place, and since he totally adores you I can guarantee you that no one is going to say anything. Now relax." Conner reached for her hand and pulled her inside the club, and could almost swear that every pair of eyes in the room turned to look at her. But all the others were completely forgotten when Lorne spotted them, and closed the distance to them. "Chara, Conner, what a pleasant surprise. What brings you to Caritas?"

"We want a drink and some advice." Conner shook Lorne's hand.

"Let me guess? That father of yours sent you here ot sing instead of him."

"A-Angel sings?" Chara blurted out.

Lorne laughed. "Yes, he does and not very good I'm afraid. Although, bless his heart he does try. Still, he could never hold a candle to you, my sweet."

"Stop it, Lorne." Chara playfully slapped him. "You're going to make me blush."

"I'm sorry, sweetie." Lorne laughed. "I was trying to sugarcoat you in the hopes that you would share that beautiful voice of yours with all my patrons tonight. Quite honestly, I would rather hear you than junior over here. If he's anywhere near as bad as his father." Lorne mock shivered. "Jeepers, I can't bear to even think about it."

"Gee thanks, Lorne." Conner muttered. "And you'll be happy to know that Chara is the one that's going to sing, and not me."

"Really?" Lorne's gaze moved back to Chara. "You're really going to sing?"

"Uh huh. I want you to read my aura."

"Why?"

"Because I'm all screwed up in the head, that's why."

"Chara..." Conner nearly growled, and Lorne sensed the tension. "Touchy subject?"

Chara nodded. "So instead of telling you about it and risking the chance of pissing him off I think I'll order a drink instead."

"Smart girl." Lorne chuckled. "So what will it be, sweetie."

"Irish whiskey. Make it a double."

"Conner?" Lorne's gaze moved to Conner. "What about you?"

"I'll have the same."

"Oh no, you won't, kiddo." Lorne informed him calmly. "You'll have the usual. I don't want Angelface ripping my head off for plying you with what he swears had a part in him getting sired. Now you two go grab a table while I get those drinks." He turned to walk away, but suddenly turned back to them. "Oh, and Chara there's a list of songs on the table. Just have a looksie and let me know what you want to sing when I get back with your drinks, okay?"

"Okay." Chara nodded, and let Conner lead her away. Lorne watched for a few moments then turned and headed for the bar. He had just placed Conner's and Chara's orders and was standing watching the Toga demon on stage sing *Celebration* by Kool and the Gang when all of a sudden he was yanked out the front exit of the club. "Jesus, Mary, and..." He spun around to come fact to face with the person that had done the yanking. "Damnit, Angel. Would you please refrain from trying to give me a heart attack!"

"Is she here?"

"She?" Lorne stared at the agitated vampire. "By she you wouldn't happen to be referring to a little golden blonde about yeah high?" He gestured Chara's height with his hands.

"So she is here?"

Lorne nodded. "She wants me to read her aura."

"You know you can't do that, Lorne."

"Oh, contraire mon frier. I've been reading her every since she walked into the place, and might I add that that girl is giving off some serious vibes."

"How serious?"

"Sorry. I can't tell you that, Angelface. You know that."

"God damnit, Lor..." Angel had to take a step back,and count until he managed to get his anger under control. "It's Buffy, Lorne. I need to know... What did you see?"

"Pain and confusion. Lots of it, too. It nearly ripped me to shreds just by making contact with her aura."

"What's causing it?"

"I don't know, Angel. It's too strong for me to get a pinpoint on. Maybe I'll be able to when she sings. I just don't know. Now, I've got to go. She's up after the Marvin Gaye wanna be, and I still need to get hers and Conner's drinks."

"You also know you can't tell her who she is, don't you, Lorne?"

"Yes, Angelface. I know. And I wasn't planning on it." Lorne turned to leave, but Angel grabbed his arm. "I'm staying."

"Kinda figured you would." He said without bothering to turn back around. "Grab a table in back. I'll join you in a few minutes." He stepped back inside the club and picked up Chara and Conner's drinks before making his way up to their table. "Here you go, kiddies." He sat Chara's drink down in front of her first then Conner's. "Chara, sweetie did you make up your mind what you wanted to sing?"

Chara nodded and pointed to a song on the list. Lorne smiled. "Okay, you're up next."

"S-So soon?" Cara looked up at him. "Couldn't I wait awhile? Like until after everyone's gone?"

Lorne laughed. "Uh uh, sweetie. If you wait until everyone's gone no one will get to hear that beautiful voice of yours." He patted her shoulder. "Don't worry. You'll do fine. Now take a big gulp of your drink for courage, and paint a pretty smile on your face. You're about to go on."

Chara took several big gulps of her drink, and watched as Lorne made his way up to the stage where Ralph, the Fyra demon, had just finished up his rendition of Marvin Gaye's sexual healing. "Thank you, Ralph for that soul inspiring rendition of Marvin Gaye. And now everyone please put your hands together for the most beautiful creature to grace Caritas in a very long time. Miss. Chara Williams. Chara come on up, sweetie."

Chara nervously made her way up to the stage, and sat down on the stool that Lorne had pulled out for her. He handed her the microphone then gave her shoulder another comforting squeeze then disappeared off the stage just as the music started. With a deep, calming breath, and a quick peek at a smiling Conner, she closed her eyes and let the music take her away.


Someday they'll find your small town world
On a big town avenue
Gonna make you like the way they talk
When they're talking to you Gonna make you break out of your shell
'Cause they tell you to
Gonna make you like the way they lie Better than the truth
They'll tell you everything
You wanted someone else to say
They're gonna break your heart, yeah


Lorne looked over at Angel, who was sitting beside him, his eyes locked on the girl on stage. "Beautiful. Just beautiful."

All Angel could do was nod, his eyes never leaving Chara.


From what I've seen You're just one more hand me down
'Cause no one's tried to give you
What you need
So lay all your troubles down I am with you now

Somebody oughta take you in
Try to make you love again
Try to make you like the way they feel When they're under your skin Never once do you think that they would lie When they're holding you Then you wonder why they haven't called
When they said they'd call you You'll start to wonder If you're ever gonna make it by
You'll start to think
You were born blind

From what I've seen
You're just one more hand me down
'Cause no one's tried to give you
What you need
So lay all your troubles down
I am with you now

I'm here for the hard times The straight to your heart times
When living ain't easy
You can stand up against me
And maybe rely on me
And cry on me, yeah
Oh no, no, no Someday they'll open up your world Shake you down to the drawing board
They'll do their best to change you They still can't erase you

(Chorus)

Lay them down on me
Oh yeah
You’re just one more hand me down
And all those nights Don't give you what you need
So lay all your troubles down

"Buffy..." Angel whispered in a pained voice that Lorne just barely managed to hear. And with that one word he managed to pick up a rollercoaster of emotions in the unknowing vampire, but nothing could have prepared him for the rush of emotions that overwhelmed him when he returned his gaze to the stage and found that Chara's eyes were now wide open and locked on the vampire in question.

On me

The whole room burst into applause, and Angel watched as Lorne left the table to make his way over to Chara, who was now being enveloped in Conner's arms. Another rush of jealousy shot through him, but he quickly stifled it as Chara, Lorne, and Conner turned and headed towards him. "Hey, Dad. Did you hear, Chara?" Conner grinned at the girl beside him. "Wasn't she incredible?"

"Very." He murmured, not able to take his eyes of the petite blonde.

"Thanks." She mumbled, blushing.

Lorne cleared his throat to relieve the sexual tension flowing between the vampire and his mate. "Umm, Conner. Sweetie, would you be so kind as to go and order me a Seabreeze will I talk to Chara?"

"Okay." Conner squeezed Chara's hand. "I'll be back."

"I'll be here." She smiled faintly.

After Conner walked away Lorned gestured to the chair beside Angel. "Chara, sweetie have a seat, and ignore Angelface over there. He's uhh... He's just here because he and I have some business to discuss after you and I are finished, okay?"

"O-Okay." Chara sat down. Thankful that she had remembered to grab her drink off the table she and Conner had been sitting at, because she had very funny feeling she was going to need it. Especially with Angel sitting so close to her. She raised the glass to her lips, and took a long swallow while Lorne took the seat across from her. "First off, Chara. Why don't you tell me why you chose that particular song?"

"I uhh... It seemed appropriate. The not knowing..."

"You have questions that can't be answered and because you do you feel like you're a hand me down." Lorne finished for her, and she nodded. "Yeah. I'm searching for someone to give me answers. That's all. Just answers. I don't want anything else."

"You mean you're not searching for love. Not the happily ever after, soulmates kind of love, I mean. Because you don't believe in it."

"Not when it comes to me, no."

"Why?"

Chara glanced nervously at Angel then back at Lorne. "You tell me."

"Okay, I'll take a stab at it. You think you're a freak. That you're incapable of loving or being loved. But the reason you believe that isn't just because of the fact that the person that gave you that ring on your finger isn't around to tell you differently is it, honey? It's kinda hard not to believe that when it was drilled into your head, or should I say electrocuted into your head in your case?"

"I-I don't know what your talking about." Chara reached for her drink again.

"Don't you, sweetie?" Lorne met her gaze with sad eyes. "You should have told someone what he did to you."

Angel sat up in his chair. "She should have told someone what who did to her, Lorne?"

"Angel..." Lorne murmured, his gaze never leaving Chara's. "Chara? Answer me. You wanted me to read you now tell me why you didn't tell someone what he did to you?"

Chara's hand began to tremble, so she sat her drink back down on the table. "I-I c-couldn't."

"Why?"

She blinked back tears. "B-Because I wasn't sure if it was r-real or j-just d-dreams."

"You're lying, Chara. You knew it was real then, just like you know it now."

"Don't..." Chara choked out.

"Why, honey? It wasn't your fault."

"W-Wasn't it?" Her eyes welled up again.

"No. You were protecting yourself. You didn't have a choice."

"That's not what..."

"That's not what, Chara? Not what he told you? Or should I say what he tried to convince you?"

"I-It was my fault. It was." Chara buried her face in her hands, and started crying.

Angel went to reach for her, but Lorne slapped his hands away. "Bu...Chara..."

"I don't w-want to t-talk a-about this anymore." Came her muffled reply.

"Why? Because you're afraid what he said is true?"

"It is true."

"No, it's not. You're not a freak, sweetie."

Chara raised her head to meet his gaze. "I beg to differ." She ground out. "And there is nothing... And I mean NOTHING, that you can say to me that will prove to me differently, so I suggest we move on."

"Fine." Lorne took a sip of his Seabreeze. "Let's move on then. Why don't you tell me about the dreams you've been having lately."

Chara's face paled. "Y-You know about those, too?"

"Mmm..." Lorne smiled. "But I just want to know about the nightmares. The other ones... The good ones... Those are for you and you alone, okay?"

"O-Okay." Chara swiped at her tears. "What do you want to know?"

"Are they painful?"

"Some of them."

"Can you tell me what happens?"

"Well, umm... In one of them I'm drained of my life's essence by this big black hole. A-And then there's this other one."

"And what's that one about?"

"Hell. And it's a long running mini series of sorts."

"Pretty scary, huh?"

"Sometimes. I deal though."

"By doing the paintings you mean. It's your therapy."

She nodded. "Keeps me out of the loony bin."

"Because you have a fear of going back. Not that I blame you considering... Well anyway, besides your fear of that you also have a fear of being alone, don't you?"

"No, I don't." Chara glanced over at Angel then back at Lorne. "I'm not afraid to be alone. I mean, I'm not going to lie and say that I don't get lonely because I do. But honestly, when it all boils down to it being alone is much much better than devoting all my time to someone else and having them eventually rip me to shreds."

"Ahh yes. Back to that. The love thing. You're afraid to love."

"Love, love, love." Chara reached for her drink. "What is love? Is it really fairy tales, soulmates, and happily ever after? No, I don't think so. At least not for me anyway, and for reasons I'd rather not discuss, thank you very much. Love... To me it's just a four letter word that anyone can say. Hell, even I can say it, but saying it and really meaning it are two completely different things. No, I'm not afraid to love. I'm just not capable of loving or being loved. But again I'm okay with that. I mean who wants it really? Who wants to love someone with all their heart, body, and soul when all it's going to result in is the other person finding some wrong in you and leaving you or finding someone else to fuck in your place. I just don't see why it's worth putting the effort into something that's not going to last anyway. I'd much rather be alone."

"That's kind of cold, don't you think?"

"Uh huh. That's me. Not only am I a freak. I'm a cold-hearted bitch to boot. Why do you think Conner and I have been disagreeing so much lately? You would think he was a girl instead of a guy with all his sappy beliefs about love. Always and Forever..." She snorted. "I tried to tell him those two words were a joke, but he still swears he'll hold out for them. That he wants them."

"Still, feeling the way you do about love you love him and you hope he gets exactly what he wants and deserves, am I right? "

"Yes. I said I didn't believe in the happily ever after kind of love, Lorne. I never said I couldn't or didn't love. I love Conner with all my heart. Besides my Dad he's all I've got, and because he is it's only logical that I would want the best for him."

"And that's why it's so important for you to fit into his life."

"Yes."

"Is that why you've been hunting with him?"

"What!" Angel shot up in his chair again. "What the hell do you mean she's been hunting..."

"Angelface..." Lorne pointed a finger at him "This is the last time I'm going to warn you. One more word and your out of here." He returned his gaze Chara, who was doing her best not to look at Angel. "Chara?"

"At first it was, but now I'm not so sure. He seems to think I'm a slayer who missed her calling, and I'm beginning to wonder if he's right. I mean, I do have a knack for killing vamps. And then there's the other unexplained things about me. I don't know, it just feels right when I'm out there with him helping him. Like it's my destiny. And I can tell you now doing it is alot more worthwhile than sitting on my ass for the rest of my life trying to live a normal life. Especailly when I already know that I'm no where normal, and that this world we live in is far from perfect."

"Slayers have short life spans, Chara. Do you want to die young?"

"I'm not afraid to die. In fact, I've been there and done it already."

"That's not what I asked you, sweetie. I asked you if you wanted to die?"

"It doesn't matter whether I want to die or not, Lorne."Chara looked over at Angel, who was watching her with those beautiful dark orbs of his. "I will die. It's a fact of life. And maybe I will sooner than others." She tore her gaze away to look back at Lorne. "All I can tell you is that I would rather spend the time I have doing something worthwhile instead of spending it wallowing in self-pity, and being blind to what's really out there."

"But how can you be happy if you're all alone, Chara?"

"I'm not alone. I have my Dad, and I have Conner."

"Yeah, but is it enough?"

She took a sip of her whiskey. "It'll have to be."

"Because you still believe you're a freak and that you're incapable of loving or being loved."

"I don't believe it. I know it."

Lorne reached across the table and patted her hand. "You are not a freak, and you are most definitely not incapable of loving or being loved, honey."

"How do you know?" Chara asked, sitting her drink back down on the table, and meeting his gaze.

"I know, sweetie. Your aura is full of love, but right now it's also confused and in lots of pain. You've forgotten how to feel. All you need to do is sort through all of the pain. Learn to feel again. Once you do that you'll see that what I'm telling you is true."

Chara reached for her drink, and finished it off. "So that's it? Is that all you have to tell me? There's nothing you can tell me about my past? About who I really am and what my destiny is?"

Lorne shook his head. "I'm sorry, sweetie. I'm not the one to help you with that, but there is one thing I can help you with. There is something about your past that I can tell you that might put you at ease somewhat when it comes to you thinking you're incapable of loving or being loved."

"And what exactly is that?"

"That ring on your finger was given in love, Chara." Lorne's gaze shot to Angel then back to her. "And he did love you, sweetie. He never fucked you."

Angel nearly choked on the drink of beer he had just taken. "Lorne, what the hell..."

"Angelface..." Lorne warned again, then returned his attention to the golden blonde. "It was love on both parts, Chara. Love beyond belief. The forever and always kind of love."

A sob tore from Chara's throat. "A-Are you s-sure?"

"Very." He beamed at her. "It wasn't you, sweetie. That's not why he left."

"B-But?"

"Shh..." Lorne leaned over to pat her hand. "There's no buts about it, sugar. It wasn't you. Now enough said. Go find Conner, and go home. You look exhausted."

"I umm..." Chara stood up, and shot another glance at Angel before leaning over to kiss Lorne on the cheek. "Th-Thank you." She choked out, in a very emotional voice.

"You're welcome, sweetie." Lorne reached up to wipe a stray tear from her cheek. "Come see me again soon, okay?"

She nodded, and straightened. "I-I will." She started to walk away, but Angel's voice halted her in her tracks. "Bu... Chara."

"What?" She turned around to look at him.

"I want it to stop." His eyes locked with hers. "The hunting with Conner. I told you before I won't sit by and watch you endanger your life or his. It stops tonight."

Her eyes flashed. "I am not on your payroll, Angel. What I do on my own time is my fucking business, not yours." Once again she started to leave, but before she could blink Angel was on his feet, grabbing her arm. "I'm serious, Bu... Chara. I want it to stop. I don't want to see you get hurt or worse. I don't think I could... I don't want to see you get hurt."

"Gee, Angel. That's really sweet of you. That you care so much about me, I mean. Especially when here lately I've been under the impression that you and the rest of Conner's family hated me, and could care less what happens to me."

"I don't hate you."

"Liar." She shook off his hand. "You hate me, Angel. You and the rest of Conner's family. I know it. Just like I know you all wish me dead." She leaned closer to him. "And who knows, Angel? Maybe in time you'll all get your wish. Especially since you and I both know I'm not going to listen to you. And just think, once it happens that means no more me coming around to fuck your life up EVER AGAIN. Now wouldn't that be a happy day? A TRULY HAPPY DAY for you?" With that final question ringing in his head, Chara shoved away from him and practically ran up to the bar to where Conner was standing. A few moments later Conner returned carrying Lorne's Seabreeze, minus her. "Dad, I'm going to ride home with Chara since I came with her, and I might stay at her place for awhile. That's unless you need me for something else tonight."

"As a matter of fact I do need you for something else." Angel took a sip of his beer, and counted off in his head for a few moments. "Ride home with her, but I want you back at the hotel in an hour."

"Okay." Conner slapped Lorne on the shoulder, as he moved past him. "Bye, Lorne."

"Bye, Conner." Lorne murmured in response, but his eyes were focused on the vampire sitting beside him, and stayed that way for a long time after Conner disappeared. "You know, you're going to have to calm down before you meet with him, Angelface."

"This doesn't concern you, Lorne." Angel glued his gaze to a spot on the wall. "Just tell me what you saw."

"Why bother? You heard it all." Lorne toyed with his glass. "Poor kid. She's a mess."

"What did he do to her?"

"Who?"

Angel's gaze flew to Lorne's. "Exactly. Who, Lorne? Who was it that hurt her and what did he do to her?"

"I don't know." Lorne reached for his drink.

"God damnit, Lorne!" Angel slammed his fist down, causing several heads to turn in the process. "Don't play dumb with me! Who hurt her?"

"I'm not playing dumb, Angelface. I honestly don't know. I couldn't see a face or get a name. All I know is that it was a man. And it was at the mental institution she was committed to."

"D-Did he uhh... Did he rape her?" Angel choked out.

"No. He did hurt her though. So did the help. It was pretty bad. She ended up killing someone trying to defend herself. I saw it all. But she doesn't believe it was self defense. She blames herself because whoever it was behind all of it convinced her she's a freak. That's why she's kept her strength a secret from her father, and that's why she refrains from touching others."

"She touched you tonight."

"Yeah, she did. A freak touched a freak. Go figure."

"Don't get smart with me, Lorne. Just tell me what else you saw."

"I'm sorry, Angelface. That's all I can tell you. The rest is a haze. All the drugs she was on. And then there's the pain... I could pinpoint one thing before I hit the road blocks though. Intense electrical shocks. Whoever he was he used shock therapy to try and make her forget the dreams she was having."

"Why?"

"I don't know. That's blocked by the pain and haze, too."

"I guess that explains why she wasn't for sure if what happened was real or not. The combination of drugs in her system, and the pain. I knew about the drugs. Her father... Mr. Williams told me, but he and I never figured they were used... He told me he suspected something happened there, that she just wouldn't tell him because she was afraid he would investigate, but neither he nor I one ever suspected that the drugs were used to... We thought the drugs were a form of her treatment, a sorry form, but a form nonetheless."

"I'm sorry, Angel. I wish I could tell you more."

"Me, too." Angel murmured. "Not that it matters. Whatever it is if she remembers it she'll handle it. She's strong. She's the strongest person I've ever known."

"Sure she is." Lorne reached for his drink.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean, Lorne?" Angel's gaze flew back to the demon.

"Even the strongest of people fall, Angelface. You of all people should know that. She needs you... Her soul is crying out for you. The question is are you going to come to your senses and help your Mo anam Chara through this."

"She's not my mate, Lorne. Not anymore. She hasn't been mine since the day I left Sunnydale. She moved on, and so did I."

"You know, Angel. I'm really getting sick of you feeding me that bullshit line. But hey, if you want to continue to do it go right ahead. I'm not the one you're hurting, it's her."


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

CHAPTER 15


"Hey."

"Did you get Chara tucked away?"

"Yes."

"Good. Have a seat. We need to talk."

"About?" Conner asked as he moved to one of the chairs in front of Angel's desk.

"I understand you've been taking her on patrol with you." Angel spun around in his desk chair to face his son. "Is it true?"

"Yes. I didn't see a problem with it. She's a natural. She dusted two vamps on her first outing, and just tonight she nailed a Kamoda demon that was trying to feed off a homeless person."

"I don't care if she's a natural or not, Conner. I want it to stop. I don't want her going on patrol with you anymore. In fact, I think it's best if you keep her as far away from AI, and what we do as possible."

"Why?"

"Because she's going to end up getting killed that's why, Conner. Is that what you want? Do you want her to die?"

"She fights better than any of us, Dad. Even you."

"I don't care if she does. She doesn't belong here, Conner and the others agree with me. Chara is not to be involved in anything we do. Do you understand?"

"No, I don't understand, Dad. That girl could be a slayer. Hell, for all I know she may have very well been one in her past life."

"Which would be all the more reason not to drag her back into this life now. You have no idea what slayers go through, Conner. Their life spans are very short. Bu... Chara has a normal life. She has a father that loves and adores her. A set future. A future, Conner. Don't take that away from her."

"I didn't force her into anything, Dad. She asked me to teach her about what we do. And you know as well as I do that we can always use the help."

"Do you love her, Conner?"

"You know I do."

"Then don't get her killed." Angel leaned forward in his desk chair. "Trust me, son. I know what it's like to lose someone you care about. The pain... And then there's the guilt. Tell me the guilt wouldn't eat you up if you got her killed. Tell me you could imagine life without her."

Conner looked down at his hands. "I can't."

"That's what I thought. Put a stop to it now before it's too late."

"How? What am I supposed to tell her?"

"The truth. Tell her that you love her, and that you don't want to see her get hurt."

"That's easier said than done, Dad. You don't know Chara. She's not going to understand."

"I know her better than you think, Conner. But if she doesn't understand, make her. The patrolling with her stopped tonight. I don't want her involved period. That means no patrolling, no researching, nothing."

****


Chara was in the middle of painting her living room walls the next morning when someone knocked on her apartment door, and when she finally reached it to open it she found Conner standing on the other side. "Hey you. I was just about to call you. I thought we could do lunch and discuss where to patrol tonight."

Conner stepped into the apartment and waited for her to shut the door. "Actually that's why I'm here, Chara. We need to talk."

"About?" She gestured to the sofa that she had pushed to the other side of the room earlier that morning.

"I uhh... I've been doing alot of thinking..." Conner took a seat on the sofa and waited for her to sit down beside him. "A-About you. And the truth is I don't think you should patrol with me anymore."

"I see." She met his gaze. "And what exactly brought on this sudden change of heart?"

"I realized you could get hurt or worse."

"I'm not going to get hurt, Conner. You said yourself that I could hold my own."

"And I still think you can, but the thing is I couldn't handle it if you did, Chara. And the talk I had with my Dad last night made me realize that it could happen."

"Your Dad?" Chara jumped up from the sofa. "This is Angel's doing?" She began to pace. "Of course, it's Angel's doing. He found out I was patrolling with you last night and to say he was pissed was an understatement."

"He was pissed at me, not you, Chara. He thought I had better sense." Conner stood up to stop her pacing. "He opened my eyes, Chara." He placed his hands on her shoulders. "You have a good life. One I don't want to see you throw away. Let me and my family worry about the monsters of this world. That's our job, just like looking out for your Dad and the kids at the center are yours."

Chara pushed away from him. "Get out."

"W-What?" He stared at her in surprise.

"You heard me, Conner. I want you to leave." She turned away from him.

"Chara..." He moved up behind her. "Look, this doesn't change things between us. I'm just trying to seperate my job from my personal life. I have no intention of severing our friendship. No matter what we will always be friends, and we can still do lots of things together."

"Friends?" A half laugh half sob tore from Chara's throat. "Friends?" She spun around to look at him. "Who the hell are we kidding here, Conner? We will never be friends. Not after today, anyway. A-And do you want to know why? Go ask your father why. C-Cordelia. All your family. They hate me. H-Hate me! W-Why I don't know, b-but they do. Everytime I've tried to g-get to know them they've given me the cold shoulder or this long drawn out speech about how I-I don't belong. And no matter how hard I-I've tried... N-No matter how hard I've tried to prove to Angel that I do belong, the harder he's pushed me away." She swiped at the tears now coursing down her cheeks. "He's right. Angel's right, Conner. I-I'll never belong in your world... His world. I'll never belong because he won't fucking let me!"

It didn't take Conner long to figure out the full meaning behind what she was saying, and once it did he felt like someone one had hit him with a sledgehammer. "You're in love with him."

"W-What?" She blinked back her tears in surprise.

"My father, Chara. You're in love with him."

"I am not in love with your father, Conner." She spun away from him.

"You're lying, Chara. If you wasn't you would be able to look me in the eye and tell me you wasn't." Conner swept a hand through his hair. "Jesus Christ, how could I have not seen it before."

"I am not in love with your father, Conner." Chara turned back around to look at him. "But even if I were it wouldn't matter. He has Cordelia, and he hates me. And now I see why. He and Cordelia are right. I don't belong in either one of your worlds. I'll never belong in a world where I'm not wanted."

"I want you, Chara. I love you." Conner stared at her with sad eyes.

"I know." She closed the distance to him, and reached up to caress his cheek with her hand. "A-And believe it or not I love you, too. That's why I have to do this." She stepped back away from him. "Our friendship is over, C-Conner.. I don't want to see you ever again after you leave here today. I won't come between you and your family. I know what they mean to you." She started crying again. "Besides, what would you want with a crazy mixed up freak like me anyway?" She leaned in to kiss his forehead. "Take care of yourself, and your family, baby. I wish you... all of you... the best." Without another word she walked away from him and disappeared out of the room, leaving him to battle his own tears.

****

Chara cried until she couldn't cry anymore, and once all her tears were shed she vowed she would never ever let anyone other than her father get close enough to hurt her again. With that decision made she took a shower and made plans to go on with her life. A little while later when she entered her bedroom to get dressed after showering she noticed her answering machine was flashing. She started once not to play the message for fear it would be Conner, but she eventually changed her once she realized it could be from her father. She had promised him she wouldn't worry him anymore, and she intended to keep that promise. "Hello, baby girl." The voice sounded through the room after she pushed the play button on the machine. "I hope you get this message in time. I know I put you out on extended vacation from the center, but I'm sort of in a bind and need your help. Robert is sick with the Flu. I took his classes last night, but I can't tonight due to the fact the girls shower room is flooded from a

"Damnit, Daddy." Chara grumbled as she rushed to get her workout clothes on. "You're the father of too many kids to count. You don't have time to be a plumber, too. Besides, it's not like we don't have the money to call a real plumber anyway." As she managed to get her clothes on, and was tying up her sneakers she couldn't help but smile at the man she called father even if she was a littled peeved at him. He was incredible. It didn't matter how busy he was he always had time for her, and she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would be there to help her get through this latest crisis in her life. With that thought, she grabbed up her car keys. Of course, she would take Robert's self defense classes. She needed to keep busy to keep her mind off things. Angel and Conner... She was going to forget all about the half-vampire with chocolate eyes and his son. She had to. And that's what she kept telling herself as she made the car trip across town to the community center, and while she was unlocking the back door to the building.

Once she was inside her Dad's office Chara laid her purse and keys down on his desk, and made her made down the hallway to the main part of the center. "Daddy!" She yelled. The center was quiet. A little too quiet for her liking. Yes, it was early. Too early for any volunteers or kids to be there for the eight o'clock classes, but there should have been some sort of noise coming from the place since her father was supposed to be working on the plumbing. "Daddy!" She yelled again. "How much you want to bet he's got the entire shower room tore apart." She muttered under her breath as she moved towards the shower room door.

She had just reached it, and was pushing through it when she was suddenly sent flying backwards into the wall behind her. Stars... Chara saw stars, and amidst those stars she saw someone she never imagined she'd see walk towards her and stop to aim a gun at her head. "Y-You..." She said horrified, but the only reply she got was the sound of a trigger being pulled. Dead... Chara knew she should have been dead after that, but instead of getting a bullet to the brain all she got was a loud click signifying an empty gun, and a muttered shit before the sound of running echoed through the center. A few moments later a door banged open or closed, she wasn't sure which one, and she wasn't about to go after him to find out. Not when all her horrified mind could think about was one thing... The door across from her and the man she prayed wasn't behind it...

"Daddy!" Chara cried out as she managed to shake the stars off and push herself to her feet. "Daddy!" She screamed again, and pushed through the door. She came to a hearstopping halt just inside as her eyes took in the scene before her.. "Oh God, no!" Everything after that was a red haze. Just like a horror movie in slow motion. She ran the remaining distance to the body. The body... Only it wasn't a body, it was her father. Her father. "D-Daddy!" She dropped to her knees beside him. "D-Daddy. No, no, no. You can't do this t-to me. I-I need you." Her arms went around him to pull him closer, not caring about the blood staining her clothes or hands. "D-Daddy..."

"C-Chara." Came a gurgled reply, and Kyle Williams' eyes fluttered open.

"Daddy. Oh God, D-Daddy." Chara began to rain kisses all over his face.

"C-Chara, h-honey. L-Listen. N-No t-time." He gasped.

"You're going to be f-fine, D-Daddy. I-I'll get help. I-I'll get help."

She gently laid him back down on the floor, and went to stand up but he reached out to stop her. "N-No, C-Chara. N-No t-time."

"N-No. N-No." Cara vigorously shook her head.

"C-Chara, h-honey. Listen. A-Angel. Go to A-Angel. H-He'll help you. Pro... Promise m-me." He reached up to touch her pale face. "I l-love y-you. Never forget that. N-No m-matter w-who you are. Never f-forget. N-Now promise me. G-Go to A-Angel. H-He'll help you. Y-You're in d-danger. He'll help y-you, and when it's over he'll help y-you get y-your life back."

"I have a life, D-Daddy. I-It's with you. I-I love you. P-Please d-don't leave me."

"M-My t-time h-here is done, C-Chara. A-And you're l-life is with A-Angel now. Go to him. Promise m-me."

"N-No. I-I can't. H-He hates me."

"No. N-No, he doesn't. L-Loves you. G-Go t-to him." Kyle gasped before his eyes fluttered shut.

"D-Daddy?" Chara began to shake him, but she didn't get any response. "Oh God, no. Daddy! Daddy, no! P-Please! Please! Please no! D-Don't leave m-me! I-I need you! I need you! DADDY!"

****


Conner entered the Hyperion later that night to find everyone in the lobby except his father. He couldn't even look at them as he moved past them. "Everyone, in Dad's office now!"

"Conner?" Cordelia stood up from the sofa she was sitting on. "What's wrong?"

"Dad's office, Cordelia. I'm only going to say what I have to say once." Without another word he moved around the front desk, and crashed into Angel's office. "Conner..." Angel stood up from his desk chair. "What the hell is..."

Conner calmly closed the distance to his father's desk. "You know, I really wanted to beat the shit out of you earlier, but I've been walking all day sorting through the hatred I was feeling towards you, and once I calmed down it all came to me so clearly." He leaned over the desk to come eye to eye with Angel. "All the signs were there the whole time and I just didn't see them."

"What are you talking about, Conner?" Angel met his gaze. "What signs?"

"Chara. She ended our friendship. But I think you knew she would or should I say hoped?"

"I knew it! I knew she would be trouble." Cordelia muttered from behind Conner.

"Oh, really?" Conner spun around to nail Cordelia with angry eyes. "Trouble for who? You or Dad, Cordelia? Because she wasn't trouble for me, and I sure as hell never told her she didn't belong here. But I understand you did. Would you care to elaborate on what else you said to her?"

Cordelia looked down at her feet. "I didn't tell her anything that wasn't the truth."

Angel's eyes shot to Cordelia. "Cordelia? You said something to... What did you say to her? "

Before Cordelia could open her mouth to answer him, Conner spun back around to look at his father. "Who is she?"

"W-What?" Angel blinked in surprise.

"Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about, Dad. I told you once I came to my senses everything became clear, and I began to piece things together. Take the vibes I was getting off her for example. The reason I felt so close to her. It sure as hell wasn't because I was attracted to her. It was because of you! The scar on her neck is your mark. She belongs to you. She more than belongs to you, she reeks of you. She's your mate, and I sensed it because I'm your son."

"N-No, Conner..." Angel denied.

Conner slammed his fists down on the desk top. "God damnit, Dad! Don't lie to me! You can lie to yourself all you want, but don't you dare lie to me. You love her! That's why you kept your distance, let her think you didn't like her. That's why you pushed her away. You love her and you were... are protecting her, and me. You know who she really is, and what happened to her and you're protecting the both of us from the truth. But I have news for you, Dad. Your plan backfired on you. The only thing you ended up doing was hurting her even more than she already was. See, she may not remember you in her head, but in her heart and soul it's a different story. They remember. They remember everything, and because they did she fell in love with you all over again. Don't worry though, you're safe. She doesn't have a clue about your real feelings. She'd rather believe you hate her and that she's the one responsible for this entire mess instead of blaming you. She'd rather believe that I need my real family more tha

"I never meant to hurt her." Angel murmured. "Or you, Conner. I just... You're right. I was protecting her." He sat down in his desk chair in defeat.

"She's the one, isn't she?" Conner stared at his father. "Last night. She's the one you told me about when you said you knew what it was like to lose someone you cared about. She's the one. And not just that, you blame yourself for what happened to her. That's why you worked so hard to protect her this time."

"Yes."

"Who is she?"

Angel looked down at his hands. "Her name is Buffy Anne Summers. She was the slayer before Faith."

Conner sat down in the chair behind him. "W-Was. Y-You mean she uhh..." He turned to look at Cordelia. "She's the one you told me about? The one that died?"

Cordelia nodded. "She uhh... A hell God named Glory attempted to open a portal that would have unleashed hell on earth. Buffy stopped it."

"Stopped it how?"

"She used her blood to close the portal." Angel added. "She jumped into it, and doing it killed her. She was dead a hundred and forty seven days."

"B-But how..." Conner couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"Buffy's best friend Willow did a resurrection spell to bring her back."

"I don't fucking believe this." Conner muttered.

"Your father's telling you the truth, Conner." Cordelia came forward, and took the seat beside him. "Tell him, Wesley."

"I'm afraid it's true, Conner. I know because I was once her watcher."

"But if Willow did the spell then how did she end up here as Chara?"

"She came looking for me." Angel answered. "Or at least that's what Kyle and I think."

"Kyle? Kyle knows who she is?"

"He does now. Because of me." Angel sat back in his chair. "Buffy and I were involved for three years, but I wanted more for her so I left. I came here to LA. I only saw her a couple of times before she uhh... I moved. We had another office building, but it was blown up. We moved here, but I never told her. When Willow brought her back... We think she came looking for me, but when she got to the old office building all she found was what was left of it. Kyle and I... We don't know what happened, but somehow she ended up getting hit by a car in front of it, and you pretty much know the rest of the story. Kyle tried to find out who she really was, but once I told him everything he explained to me that the reason he didn't turn up anything on her real identity is because all her records were either sealed or removed from computer records after her death. Not that it mattered, he had pretty much fell in love with her by then anyway, and had vowed to protect her and take care of her. And he did.... H

Conner slumped in his chair. "So it's true? Chara... She's really Buffy?"

"Yes."

Suddenly hysterical laughter erupted through the room, and every pair of eyes flew to the doorway, including Angel's. "Chara... Buffy..."


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

CHAPTER 16


Chara was cold. So cold... But she had to do what her father had made her promise to do even though she had never actually been able to tell him she would. She had to go to Angel... And that's exactly what she had done once she had made sure her father had been taken care of. But nothing could have prepared her for what she found out when she finally did get there. The whole day... She didn't think it could have gotten any more horrifying, but she had been wrong. And she had heard every word of that horror as she leaned against Angel's office doorway for support.

"So it's true? Chara... She's really Buffy?"

"Yes."

That one word tore through Chara's entire body. Crazy... It was crazy. Buffy Summers was dead. Dead just like her father. She'd heard Angel tell Conner that she was dead. That's why the whole ideal of her being alive was perposterous. Dead was dead. There was no coming back unless you were a vampire. Perposterous. The whole thing was perposterous. So much so she couldn't stop the half-crazed bubble of laughter that came flooding out of her mouth.

"Chara... Buffy..."

Chara's shocked gaze flew up and locked with Angel's equally as shocked dark orbs. "I umm..." She took a unsteady step back from the door, and smoothed her bloody hands over her equally as bloody clothes.

"You're hurt." Angel said in a panicked voice and stood up.

"N-No." She shook her head, and staggered back another step. "K-Kyle... Daddy. He umm... He's dead." A sob tore from her throat. "M-My daddy's dead. Someone sh-shot him a-at the center."

"Chara... Buffy..." Angel took a step around his desk.

"No!" She screamed, and halted him in his tracks. "I umm... He umm... H-He told me t-to come t-to you. Th-That y-you w-would h-help me, b-but y-you don't w-want t-to h-help me. Y-You want to h-hurt m-me."

"That's not true, baby." Angel began to slowly inch around his desk, his eyes never leaving hers. "I do want to help you."

"No! Y-You w-want t-to m-make m-me b-bleed. It a-always h-has t-to b-be blood t-to h-hurt. S-Spike s-says i-it a-always h-has t-to b-be b-blood." She frowned as the name slipped from her lips. "Spike? W-Who's S-Spike?" She grabbed her head.

"Chara... Buffy... Baby, listen to me. You're not yourself. You're in shock. Let me help you." Angel begged as he inched closer. "Come on now."

"N-No! I-I a-am m-me, s-see!" She held up her bloody hands. "I-It's n-not m-my b-blood. I-I a-already u-used m-my b-blood. Y-Yours, t-too. I-I k-killed y-you!" She shook her head. "N-No! No! Th-That's n-not r-right. M-Me. I-I k-killed m-me. N-No! Th-That's n-not r-right e-either. I-I d-didn't d-die! B-Buffy d-died, a-and I-I'm n-not h-her! I-I'm C-Chara. I-I'm C-Chara, a-and m-my d-dad... M-My d-daddy's d-dead. I-I f-found h-him. J-Just l-like m-my m-mommy. I-I f-found h-her, t-too. H-Her b-body. Sh-She w-was c-cold. S-So c-cold. A-And I-I t-tried t-to w-warm h-her, b-but I-I c-couldn't. I-I b-broke h-her. H-Her r-ribs. S-Snap... Th-They s-snapped, a-and I-I g-got s-sick. O-Oh G-God, I-I g-got s-sick."

"Buffy... Baby..." Angel was almost within touching distance, but she suddenly backed away again. "S-Stop c-calling m-me th-that! I-I'm n-not h-her! Y-You l-loved h-her. N-No! Y-You d-didn't l-love h-her e-either. L-Lies... A-All l-lies. Y-You l-lied t-to h-her. Y-You d-didn't l-love h-her, y-you h-hated h-her j-just l-like y-you h-hate m-me n-now."

"You think..." Angel stopped in his tracks again as his dark, stormy orbs met her pained gaze. "God, baby you are so wrong. I could never hate you. Never."

"LIAR!" She screamed at him before she turned around and took off running.

"BUFFY!" Angel wasn't far behind her, but he didn't get to her in time, and by the time he made it outside she was already in her car, tearing down the road. He turned back around thankful to find his family already there. "Cordy, I need you, Gunn, and Fred to get directions to the community center from Conner then go there and see what you can find out, but do it without drawing attention to yourself as much as possible." Angel turned to his son. "Conner, I need you and Wesley to cover any of the places in LA you think she might go."

"What about you?" Conner closed the distance to his father. "What are you going to do?"

Angel looked in the direction where Buffy's car had just disappeared. "I'm going to Sunnydale."

"Sunnydale? What's in Sunnydale?"

"Her grave."

****

Chara didn't have a clue how she had known to come here. It was like someone else had taken over her body the moment she left the Hyperion Hotel. During the whole trip she had ignored the fact that alot of the scenery was familiar just like she ignored the people at the twenty four hour department store where she had stopped to buy a shovel she didn't have a clue what she needed for. And then she was on her way again, letting the invisible force inside her guide her. It kept telling her she needed to know, but she refused to believe why it did. She was determined to prove it and everyone else wrong. She was determined to prove to it and everyone else that she wasn't Buffy Summers. Finally, after we seemed an eternity she stumbled upon the granite tombstone, and stood staring at it for the longest time. "Buffy Summers 1981 to 2001. Beloved Sister, and Friend. She saved the world alot." She read the words out loud. Five years. She had been dead a little over five years. No! Cara shook her head. Buffy had been dead five years, and she wasn't Buffy. She couldn't be, and she needed to prove that. Not just to herself, but to everyone else as well.

So without another thought she broke the earth with the shovel, and began to dig like a mad woman, ignoring the pain in her head that intensified with each ounce of dirt she unearthed. And when she couldn't use the shovel anymore, she dropped to her knees and used her hands to dig up the rest of the dirt. Rocks and hard soil tore at her hands until the bled, but she didn't care. She needed to prove them wrong... She needed to prove him wrong, but as she smoothed the last remnants of dirt away from the top doubt began to seep in. Holes... Several large holes were visible in the top, but it wasn't proof enough for her. She had to be a fucking idiot and pry open the coffin lid, and what she found when she did was enough to force a horrified scream from deep inside her...

****

It was after one o'clock in the morning when the pounding on the front door of the house at 1630 Revello Drive brought Dawn Summers down the stairs to answer it. She figured it was her lover, that's why she opened it with a smile on her face, but that smile quickly dispappeared when she saw who it was. "B-Buffy? Oh God, Buffy!"

"I need to get her warm..." Angel pushed past Dawn into the house, with his precious cargo in his arms. "She's cold. Shock. I need to get her warm."

"U-Upstairs." Dawn pointed, not able to take her eyes off the woman in Angel's arms. "T-Take her to her old room."

He was gone before Dawn had time to blink, and once he reached the bedroom he gently laid her down on the bed then turned around to face Dawn, who was just entering the room. "We need to get her cleaned up."

"Th-There's blood... I-Is it..." Dawn stared at the woman on the bed. "Th-There's blood."

"Not all of it's hers. I'll explain later." Angel turned back to look at Buffy. "Right now though, we need to get her cleaned up, and bandage her cuts."

Dawn nodded. "O-Okay. I'll get some water and a first aid kit then call Giles."

"Giles is still here?"

"Yeah, did you honestly think he would leave once he found out?"

"No. I guess not."

"He's on patrol with Faith and the others."

Angel finally tore his eyes from Buffy and turned around to look at her sister. "Nobody comes in here, but you and Giles. Understand?"

"Yes. I'll uhh... I'll be back as soon as I can." The only answer she got from him was him turning back to the bed...

Thirty minutes later he and Dawn had just finished getting Buffy cleaned up and situated in the bed when the door opened and Rupert Giles stepped inside, quietly shutting the door behind him as he did. His disbelieving eyes froze on the figure in the bed. "D-Dear lord... I uhh... W-What happened?"

Angel launched into telling them, and by the time he was finished Dawn was quietly crying on the other side of the bed. "I thought I would get to her in time. I wasn't far behind her, but my car ran out of gas, and I had to... I thought I would get to her in time, but I didn't."

"A-And she's been unconscious every since?" Giles asked, eyeing the unconscious girl again.

"Yes." Angel pulled up a chair and sat down beside the bed. "Wesley and Fred took a look at the films from her CAT Scan. The damage was extensive but the last films, which were taken a year ago showed alot of it had been repaired. Still... I started to take her to a hospital, but I couldn't do it..." He reached out to brush a lock of hair of Buffy's forehead. "She's been through so much already, and then there's the fact that she's terrified of hospitals... I didn't want to traumatize her anymore."

"I uhh... You did the right thing, Angel."

"Did I?" Angel looked over at Giles, who was standing at the window. "She should be awake Giles. Why isn't she awake?"

"I-I... I'm not sure. Th-The shock maybe... Exhaustion. Or... Let's uhh... Let's give it a while. See what happens. If she doesn't wake up then maybe we should consider moving her to a hospital."

"Take Dawn out for some air." Angel's eyes moved to Buffy's sister. "She needs time to digest all this."

"N-No." Dawn shook her head. "I'm s-staying."

"You can come back, Dawn. Plus, I need someone to call LA for me. Conner... The others... Their probably worried sick."

"Don't worry, Angel. We'll take care of everything." Giles closed the distance to Dawn, wrapped his arms around her, and lead her to the door. "If you need anything..."

"I'll let you know." Angel murmured, his eyes never leaving Buffy.

It wasn't five minutes after Giles and Dawn left that Buffy started talking in her sleep, and Angel was there hanging on to every word.

//Is there a problem, ma'am?

Yeah, there's a problem. Why are you following me?

I know what you're thinking, but don't worry. I don't bite.

Who are you?

Let's just say I'm a friend.

Well, maybe I don't want a friend

I didn't say I was yours.//

//The Harvest. That mean something to you? 'Cause I'm drawing a blank.

I'm not sure... Who told you this?

This guy... Dark, gorgeous in an annoying sort of way. I figured you were buds.//

//I'm sorry you had to wait. Look, if you're gonna be popping up with this cryptic wise man act on a regular basis, can you at least tell me your name?

Angel.

Angel. It's a pretty name.//

//You're cold.

You can take it.

I mean you look cold.//

//Of course, it would make things easier if I knew how to get in touch with you.

I'll be around.

Or who you were. Well, anyway, you can have your jacket back.

Looks better on you.

Oh, boy!//

//But it hasn't happened to you lately?

Not of late.

Not even for a dangerous, and mysterious older man who's jacket you're wearing right now?

It goes with the shoes.

Come on. You gotta admit Angel pushes some of your buttons. You know he does.

I suppose some girls might think he's goodlooking if they have eyes... All right, he's a honey. But he's never around, and when he is he only wants to talk about vampires. There's nothing there that's interesting in the sense of...

There he is...

Angel?//

//What about Angel?

Angel. Yeah, I can see him in a relationship. Hi, honey. You're in grave danger, see you next month.

He doesn't stay around much, it's true.

He disappears. Everytime. Tells me there's trouble then poof. Gone. But when he is around... It's like the lights dim everywhere else. You know how that happens with some guys?//

//So you weren't following me? I had this feeling you were.

Why would I do that?

You tell me. You're the mystery guy who appears out of nowhere... I'm not saying I'm not happy about it tonight... But if you are hanging around me I'd like to know why.

Maybe I like you.

Maybe?//

//Angel?

Hmm?

Do you snore?

I don't know. It's been a long time since anyone was in the position to let me know.//

//I did alot of thinking today. I can't really be around you because when I am...

Hey, no big. Water over the bridge.

...All I can think about is how badly I want to kiss you.

...It's under the bridge, over the dam... Kiss me?//

//No, no, no. No speaking up. That way leads to madness and sweaty palms. Okay, here's something I gotta know! When you kissed Angel, I mean before he turned into... How was it?

Unbelievable.//

//I just gotta... I gotta walk away from this.

I know.

It's just...

Painful, I know... I'll see you around?//

//You think I want something to happen to you? Do you think I could stand it? We just have to figure out a way...

I already have. I quit, remember. Pay attention.

Buffy, if the Master rises...

I don't care! I don't care. I'm sixteen years old, and I don't want to die.//

The woman on the bed was quietly crying, so Angel leaned forward to gently caress her cheek until the crying ceased. He had just sat back in his chair when the bedroom door opened once more. "Angel, how is she?" Dawn asked, quietly shutting the door behind her.

Angel's eyes returned to Buffy. "She's been talking in her sleep every since you and Giles left.

"Can you understand what she's saying?" Dawn asked as she pulled up another chair on the other side of the bed.

"Every word..." He murmured. And as if to prove his point, Buffy began to thrash around on the bed again.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

CHAPTER 17


//Is that it? Is that everything? 'Cause you woke me up from really nice dream.

Sorry. I'll go... I missed you.

I missed...//

//Is it 'cause I danced with him?

Danced with is a pretty loose term. Mated with might be a little closer.

Oh, you're shocking! One little dance and you know I just did it to make you crazy which by the way behold my success!//

//Sounds like he took it a little over the edge.

Love makes you do the wacky...

The what?

Crazy stuff...

Oh. Crazy like a 241 year old being jealous of a high school junior?

Are you fessing up?

I thought about it. Maybe he bothers me a little.

I don't love Xander.

But he's in your life. He gets to be there when I can't. Take your classes, eat your meals, hear your jokes and complaints. He gets to see you in sunlight.

I don't look all that great in direct light...//

//It'll be morning soon. I should probably...

...Yeah. I've got things to...

I could walk you home.//

//You dreamed about Angel again?

Third night in a row.

What did he do in the dream?

Stuff.

Ooh, stuff. Was it one of those vivid dreams where you could feel his lips and smell his hair?

It had surround sound. I'm just thinking about him so much lately.//

//I'm just trying to protect you. This could get out of control.

Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?

This isn't some fairy tale. When I kiss you you don't wake up from a deep sleep and live happily ever after.

No. When you kiss me I want to die.//

//Taa daa. Just little old 20th century me.

Are you sure you're okay?

I'll live.

I don't get it, Buffy. Why did you think I'd like you better dressed that way?

I-I just wanted to be a real girl, for once. The kind of fancy girl you liked when you were my age...What?

I hated the girls back then. Especially the noblewomen.

You did?

They were just incredibly dull. Simpering morons, the lot of them. I always wished I could meet someone... exciting. Interesting.

Really? Interesting - like how?

You know how.

Still, I've had a hard day and you should tell me.

I should.

Oh - definitely.//

//Angel... I don't mean you. You're the one freaky thing in my freaky world that makes sense to me. I just get messed sometimes... Wish we could be like regular kids.

I'll never be a kid.

Okay then. Just a regular kid and her 200 year old, creature of the night boyfriend.//

//Wait... Your eye is all... Let me... Come on. Don't be a baby. I won't hurt you.

It's not that... I-You shouldn't have to touch me when I'm like this.

Like what?

You know. When I'm...

Oh... I didn't even notice.//

//Look, you've got your priorities and I've got mine. Right now, they mesh. You gonna work with me or are you gonna get out of my way?

I am with you.

Good. 'Cause I've had it. Spike is going down. You can attack me, you can send assassins after me. That's just fine. But nobody messes with my boyfriend.

I-I can't care. Angel, when I try to look into the future all I can see... Is you.

Buffy...

And I don't have a choice. Don't you know that? If I could do the logic thing, you think I would be here? All I can see is you. All I want is you.

I know the feeling.//

//This is nice. I like seeing you first thing in the morning.

It's bedtime for me.

Well, then I like seeing you at bedtime. Um... Um... Y-You know what I mean.

I think so. What do you mean?

I like seeing you. And the part at the end of the night where we say goodbye... It's getting harder.//

//I have something for you. For your birthday. I-I was gonna give it to you earlier, but...

It's beautiful.

My people... Before I was changed... They exchanged this as a sign of devotion. It's a claddagh ring. The hands represent friendship, the crown represents loyalty... And the heart... Well, you know... Wear it with the heart pointing towards you it means you belong to somebody. Like this...//

//You almost went away today.

We both did.

Angel... I feel like if I lost you... You're right, though. We can't be sure of anything.

Shh... I...

You what?

I love you. I try not to, but I can't stop.

Me, me too. I can't stop either.

Buffy, maybe we shouldn't...

Don't. Just kiss me...//

//It *is* a big deal.

It's what? Bell's ringing, fireworks, a dulcet choir of pretty little birdies? Come on, Buffy. It's not like I've never been there before.

Don't touch me.

I should've known you wouldn't be able to handle it.

Angel! I love you.//

The woman on the bed was sobbing, and Angel didn't even realize he was crying himself until he felt a hand on his shoulder. "Angel, maybe you should step out for little while." Dawn suggested softly.

"No." He swiped at his tears. "I'm not leaving her."

"You know where this is headed, right?"

"I can handle it, Dawn. It's her I'm worried about. I think maybe you should go get Giles."

"Okay, but I'm coming back with him."

"That's fine. But no one else."

"I know." She headed for the door. "I'll be back."

Once Dawn was gone Angel's gaze returned to Buffy, who was now curled in a fetal position on the bed.

//I'm sorry I didn't have time to make you a real cake.

No. This is good.

But we're still going shopping on Saturday... So what did you do for your birthday?

I got older.

You look the same to me... Happy Birthday... I don't have to sing do I?

No.

Well, go on. Make a wish.

I'll just let it burn.//

//Buffy? What's going on? Where are we? I-I don't remember.

Angel?

You're hurt... Oh, Buffy... God. I... I feel like I haven't seen you in months... Oh, my god, everything's so muddled. I... oh, Buffy... What's happening?

Shh... Don't worry about it. I love you.

I love you.

Close your eyes.//

//How did you find me?

If I was blind, I would see you.

Stay with me.

Forever. That's the whole point. I'll never leave. Not even if you kill me.//

//I miss you.

I loved you.

Oh, God! Angel...

Go to Hell! I did.//

//What if... I told you that... I had a dream about Angel... and, umm... it brought up some questions.

I'd say it was to be expected. Must have been some dream. I didn't think you knew what a card index was for.

I dreamt he came back.

Of course. After Jenny was killed, I had dreams that she was s-still alive... that I saved her.

This was vivid, really vivid. Three-dimensional, sensurround, the hills are alive.

Do you think it was a prophecy?

No. I-I don't know. I-I guess it, just... it made me wonder. Is there a chance even? Could it happen?

Well, there's no record of anyone returning from a demon dimension once the... gate was closed. I-I-I can't imagine how it could happen or-or why.

Let's just pretend for a second that... Angel somehow found his way back to Sunnydale. What would he be like?

I really can't say. From what is known about that dimension, I- it would suggest a world of... brutal torment. And time moves quite differently there, it...

I remember, so he would've been down there for hundreds of years?

Yes.

Of torture?//

//Angel was cured.

I'm sorry?

When I killed him, Angel was cured. Your spell worked at the last minute, Will. I was about to take him out, and umm... Something went through him and and he was Angel again. He-he didn't remember anything that he'd done. He just held me. Um, but i-it was... it was too late, and I,I had to... So I, I told him that I loved him... and I kissed him... and I killed him... I don't know if that helps you with your spell or not, Giles.

Uh, yes. I,I believe it will.

I'm sorry.

It's okay. I've been holding on to that for so long. Felt good to get it out.//

//Buffy.

I didn't know you could do that.

I-I'm feeling better.

Angel... Let's... get you inside.

It's late. How'd you get away?

Aw, it was easy. Started a fire in the prison laundry room. Rode out on the garbage truck.//

//Uhh.. I gotta go. Big night for us slayer types. People to see, demons to kill. Better hurry before somebody figures out what we're doing.

What are we doing?

Training... And almost kissing.//

//The last time I looked in on you two, you were fighting to the death. Now you're back making googly eyes at each other like nothing happened. Makes me want to heave.

I don't know what you're talking about.

Oh, yeah. You're just friends.

That's right.

You're *not* friends. You'll never be friends. You'll be in love till it kills you both. You'll fight, and you'll shag, and you'll hate each other till it makes you quiver, but you'll never be friends. Love isn't brains, children. It's blood... blood screaming inside you to work it's will.//

//Am I a thing worth saving, huh? Am I a righteous man? The world wants me gone!

What about me? I love you so much..s And I tried to make you go away... I killed you and it didn't help. And I hate it! I hate that it's *so* hard... and that you can hurt me *so* much, I know everything you did, because you did it to me. Oh, God! I wish that I wished you dead. I don't. I can't.

Buffy, please. Just this once... Let me be strong.

Strong is fighting! It's painful, and it's everyday. It's what we have to do. And we can do it together.//

//I saw you before you became the slayer.

What?

I watched you, and I saw you called. It was a bright afternoon out in front of your school. You walked down the stairs... and... and I loved you.

Why?

'Cause I could see your heart. You held it before you for everyone to see. And I worried that it would be bruised or torn. And more than anything in my life I wanted to keep it safe... to warm it with my own.

That's beautiful. Or taken literally, incredibly gross.//

//I can't watch you die again.

I love you.

I love you.

Nothing can change that. Not even death.

Don't talk to me like that. You may be ready to go, but I am not ready to lose you. Okay, this is my fight, and if you won't do it my way, then you're...//

//Look, I know you only did what I asked. And we, we got what we wanted.

I never wanted it to go that far.

I know that. Its not even a question of that. It's just, after... I need a little bit of a break. Please.

You still my girl?

Always.//

//I've been thinking... about our future. And the more I do, the more I feel like us, you and me being together, is unfair to you.

Is this about what the mayor said? Because he was just trying to shake us up.

He was right.

No. No, he wasn't. He's the bad guy.

You deserve more. You deserve something outside of demons and darkness. You should be with someone who can take you into the light. Someone who can make love to you.

I don't care about that.

You will. And children.

Children? Can you say jumping the gun? I kill my goldfish.

Today. But you have no idea how fast it goes, Buffy. Before you know it, you'll want it all, a normal life.

I'll never have a normal life.

Right, you'll always be the slayer. But that's all the more reason why you should have a real relationship instead of this, this freak show... I didn't mean that.

I'm gonna go.

I'm sorry, Buffy, you know how much I love you. It kills me to say this.

Then don't. Who are you to tell me what's right for me? You think I haven't thought about this?

Have you rationally?

No. No, of course not. I'm just some swoony little school girl, right?

I'm trying to do what's right here, okay? I'm trying to think with my head instead of my heart.

Heart? You have a heart? It isn't even beating.

Don't.

Don't what? Don't love you? I'm sorry. You know what? I didn't know that I got a choice in that. I'm never gonna change. I can't change. I want my life to be with you.

I don't.

You don't want to be with me?... I can't believe you're breaking up with me.//

//I think horrible is still coming. Right now, it's worse. Right now, I'm trying to keep from dying.

Oh, Buffy.

I can't breathe, Will. I feel like I can't breathe.//

//Did you reach the council?

Yes. They, they couldn't help.

Couldn't?

Wouldn't. It's not council policy to cure vampires.

Did you explain that these were special circumstances?

Not under any circumstances. And yes, I did try to convince them.

Try again.

Buffy, they're very firm. We're talking about laws that have existed longer than civilization.

I'm talking about watching my lover die. I don't have a clue what you're talking about and I don't care.

Buffy, we'll find a cure.

The council's orders are to concentrate on...

Orders? I don't think I'll be taking any more orders. Not from you, not from them. Wesley, go back to your council and tell them until the next slayer comes along, they can close up shop. I'm not working for them anymore.//

//Angel, listen to me. Sit up. You're gonna live. You have to live.

What way.

Drink... Drink me.

No.

It's the only way.

No-get away.

It'll save you.

It'll kill you.

Maybe not. Not if you don't take it all.

You can't ask me to do that.

I won't let you die. I can't. Angel, the blood of a slayer is the only cure.

Faith...

I tried. I killed her.

Then it's over.

It's never over. I won't let you die. Drink!//


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This part is dedicated to everyone that has continued to support me. Hope you like it. Oh yeah, the disclaimer is still the same. It all belongs to evil Joss. Damn him for not giving us the ending we wanted! Still, I'm not giving up hope that B/A will have their happy reunion since Angel has been renewed for another season. Yippie! Another year of our dark and gorgeous vampire. Let's hope Dork Angel will be banished and our old Angel will be back!


CHAPTER 18


Buffy had been unconscious and talking in her sleep for hours, and Angel couldn't take anymore. Seeing her pain was unbearable. "How much longer can this go on, Giles?" He asked and glanced over at the man sitting beside him.

Giles removed his glasses, and rubbed his tired eyes. "I umm... I'm not rightly sure, Angel. I think it's going to play all the way through... To the uhh... Up until she uhh..."

"And what happens after that? Is this one of those consequences from Willow's spell?"

"I don't know. I honestly don't know, Angel. And I know this must be hard for you...

"Hard? Hard, Giles? No, this isn't hard. What's hard is seeing her like this! Listening to her relive the first year after I left. What the hell happened to her? The stuff I heard... That wasn't Buffy."

"I told you she changed, Angel." Dawn spoke up from her chair on the other side of the bed. "Even though I wasn't really here, I still have the memories. She shut herself off. Her heart... Riley... He uhh... He had her body, but her heart and soul... Nobody was able to touch those after you left, and eventually Riley figured out no one ever would be able to. That's why he left."

The girl chose that exact moment to begin thrashing around again, and three pair of eyes returned to her to watch and listen...

//So, lemme get this straight. You're Dracula? The guy. The Count.

I am.//

//You haven't been my Watcher for a while. I haven't been training...and I haven't really needed to come to you for help.

I agree.

And then this whole thing with Dracula... it made me face up to some stuff. Ever since we did that spell where we called on the first slayer... I've been going out a lot. Every night.

Patrolling?

Hunting. That's... what Dracula called it. And he was right. He understood my power better than I do. He saw darkness in it... I need to know more. About where I come from, about the other slayers. I mean, maybe if I could learn to control this thing, I could be stronger, I could be better. But... I'm scared. I know it's gonna be hard. And I can't do it... without you. I need your help. I need you to be my Watcher again.//

//What's happening to you?

I go back... let the government get whimsical with my innards again... They could do anything that-Best-case scenario, they turn me into Joe Normal, just... Just another guy.

And that's not enough for you?

It's not enough for *you*

Why would you say that?

Come on. Your last boyfriend wasn't exactly a civilian.

So that's what this is about? You're going to die all over a macho pissing contest.

It's not about him. It's about us. You're getting stronger every day, more powerful. I can't touch you.

Every day, you're just... a little further out of my reach.//

//Buffy?

Yeah?

What's wrong with mom?

I don't know.//

//Every day you wake up it's the same bloody question that haunts you: is today the day I die? Death is on your heels, baby, and sooner or later it's gonna catch you. And part of you wants it... not only to stop the fear and uncertainty, but because you're just a little bit in love with it. Death is your art. You make it with your hands, day after day. The final gasp. That look of peace. Part of you is desperate to know: What's it like? Where does it lead you? And now you see, that's the secret. Not the punch you didn't throw or the kicks you didn't land. Every Slayer... has a death wish. Even you. The only reson you've lasted as long as you have is you've got ties to the world...//

//Mom, what did they find?

A shadow. I've got a shadow. Somewhere... over there... he showed it to me, but, umm... they have to do a biopsy to find out exactly what it is. Doctor says it's too early to be concerned.

Right. No concern.

Just a shadow.//

//Do we have the results yet?

Let's, umm, sit down over here for a minute.

No! Excuse me, not, I... I don't mean to be rude, I just, I've been sitting for hours, I don't wanna sit. I just...tell me, please.

Your mother has... the term is low-grade glioma. It's a brain tumor.//

//You okay? You look pretty beat up.

Minimal damage of the fighting kind. It's all the other kind.

Come here. It's okay. Just let it out. I'm right here.

I can't. Not now. They need me. If I start now... I won't be able to stop.//

//You need to hear this.

Fine. Fine! Tell me about your whores! Tell me what on earth they were giving you that I can't.//

//The guy got himself bit by a vampire! He lied to me. He ran around behind my back and almost got himself killed! And now he tells me that he's leaving with some covert military operation at midnight unless I convince him not to. Now tell me that you understand because I sure as hell don't.//

"Whores?" Angel eyed Dawn across the bed. "Did I hear her correctly? Did that asshole of an ex-boyfriend pay vampire whores to suck him off? I'll kill him! I'll kill him f I ever get my hands on him."

"Hey! Don't look at me like it's my fault." Dawn said. "If you hadn't left none of it would have happened."

"You're right. And maybe I don't have a right to say or do anything, but I will anyway. This is Buffy. No one treats her that way. No one."

"Uh huh..." Dawn giggled. "Jealous much?" Before Angel got the chance to say anything in response the girl on the bed began mumbling again.

//You're Watchers. Without a Slayer you're pretty much just watchin' Masterpiece Theater. You can't stop Glory. You can't do anything with the information you have except publish it in the *Everyone thinks We're Insane-o's Home Journal*. So here's how it's gonna work. You're gonna tell me everything you know. Then you're gonna go away. You'll contact me if and when you have any further information about Glory. The Magic Shop will remain open. Mr. Giles will stay here as my Watcher reinstated at full salary.

Retroactive.

To be paid retroactively from the month he was fired. I will continue my work with the help of my friends...

Just tell me what kind of demon I'm fighting.

Well, that's the thing. You see, Glory isn't a demon.

What is she?

She's a God.

Oh.//

//Are you okay? Did she hurt you?

Why do you care?

Because I love you. You're my sister.

No, I'm not.

Yes, you are. Look, it's blood. It's Summers blood. It's just like mine. It doesn't matter where you came from or, or how you got here. You are my sister. There's no way you could annoy me so much if you weren't.//

//You have a crush on him.

No, I don't. It's just, he's got cool hair, and he wears cool leather coats and stuff. And he doesn't treat me like an alien.

He's a killer, Dawn. You cannot have a crush on something that is...dead, and, and evil, and a vampire.

Right, that's why you were never with Angel for three years.

Angel's different. He has a soul.//

//You can't tell me there isn't anything between you and me. I know you feel something.

It's called revulsion. And whatever it is you think you're feeling, it's not love. You can't love without a soul.

Just...give me something...a crumb...a barest smidgen...Tell me...Maybe someday, there's a chance.

Spike...The only chance you had with me was when I was unconscious.//

//911 emergency.

Hello?

Do you have...

My mom, she, she's not breathing. She's cold.

The body's cold?

No, my mom! Sh-Should I make her warm?//

//Hello?

Giles. You have to come.

Buffy?

She's at the house.//

//No. No. Don't. No, it's too late.

Joyce?

They're, they're coming for her. No, no, we're...

Joyce!

...We're not supposed to move the body!//

//It's gonna be light soon.

I can stay in town as long as you want me.

How's forever? Does forever work for you?//

//The robot is gone. The robot was gross and obscene.

It wasn't supposed to...

Don't. That... thing, it... it wasn't real. What you did for me, and Dawn... that was real. I won't forget it.//

//This was when I quit, Will.

You did?

Just for a second. I remember. I was in the Magic Shop. I put a book back for Giles. Nothing special about it. And then it just hit me.

What hit you?

I can't beat Glory.

You can't know that.

I didn't just know it. I felt it. Glory will beat me.//

//Um...Glory...plans ot open a...dimensional portal...by way of a ritual bloodletting.

Dawn's blood.

Yes. Once the blood is shed at a certain time and place...the fabric which seperates all realities will... be ripped apart. Dimensions will...pour into one another, uh, with no barriers to stop them. Reality as we know it will be destroyed, and...chaos will reign on earth.

So how do we stop it?

The portal will only close once the blood is stopped...and the way for that to happen is umm...Buffy, the only way is to kill Dawn.

Why blood? Why Dawn's blood? I mean, why couldn't it be like a, a lymph ritual?

'Cause it's always go to be blood.

We're not exactly discussing dinner right now.

Blood is life, lackbrain. Why do you think we eat it? It's what keeps you going. Makes you warm. Makes you hard. Makes you other than dead. Course it's her blood.

Pretty simple math here. We stop Glory before she can start the ritual. We still have a couple of hours, right?

If my calculations are right, But Buffy-

I don't wanna hear it.

I understand that-

No! No, you don't understand. We are not talking about this.

Yes, we bloody well are! If Glory begins the ritual...if we can't stop her...

Come on. Say it. We're bloody well talking about this. Tell me to kill my sister.

She's not your sister.

No. She's not. She's more than that. She's me. The monks made her out of me. I hold her...and I feel closer to her than...It's not just the memories they built. It's physical. Dawn...is a part of me. The only part that I-

We'll solve this. We will. Don't have another coma, okay?

If the ritual starts, then every living creature in this and every other dimension imaginable will suffer unbearable torment and death... including Dawn.

Then the last thing she'll see is me protecting her.

You'll fail. You'll die. We all will.

I'm sorry. I love you all... but I'm sorry.//

//I imagine you hate me right now...I love Dawn.

I know.

But I've sworn to protect this sorry world, and sometimes that means saying and doing...what other people can't. What they shouldn't have to.

You try and hurt her, and you know I'll stop you.

I know.

This is how many apocalypses for us now?

Oh, uh, well...six, at least. Feels like a hundred.

I've always stopped them. Always won.

Yes.

I sacrificed Angel to save the world. I loved him so much. But I knew...what was right. I don't have that in me anymore. I don't understand. I don't know how to live in this world if these are the choices. If everything just gets stripped away. I don't see the point. I just wish that... I just wish my mom was here...The spirit guide told me...that death is my gift. Guess that means a Slayer really is just a killer after all.

I think you're wrong about that.

It doesn't matter. If Dawn dies, I'm done with it. I'm quitting.//

//We're not all going to make it. You know that.

Yeah. Hey. Always knew I'd go down fightin'.

I'm counting on you...to protect her.//

*Author's note. (The next part is also taken from *The Gift* but I've added some to it. We didn't get to hear all of what Buffy had to say to Dawn, and I would like to think this is what she really did say.)

//I'm sorry.

It doesn't matter. What are you doing?

I have to jump. The energy.

It'll kill you.

I know. Buffy, I know about the ritual. I have to stop it.

No.

I have to. Look at what's happening. Buffy, you have to let me go. Blood starts it, and until the blood stops flowing, it'll never stop. You know you have to let me. It has to have the blood.

'Cause it's always got to be blood.

It's Summers blood. It's just like mine...She's me. The monks made her out of me.

Death is your gift.

Death...

...Is your gift.

Buffy, no.

Dawnie, I have to.

No!

Listen to me. Please, there's not a lot of time, listen. I love you. I will *always* love you. But this is the work I have to do. Tell Giles...tell Giles I figured it out. And, and I'm okay. And give my love to my friends. You have to take care of them now. You have to take care of each other. You have to be strong. And Angel... Oh, God, Dawnie... I still love him... Tell him...Tell him...No. Send Willow... I don't want him to find out over the phone or by some evil that decides to migrate to LA. Promise me, Dawnie... Oh, God... Dawn, the hardest thing in this world...is to live in it. Be brave...Live...For me...//

Buffy could feel herself falling, and the pain... The pain was so unbearable... So unbearable she couldn't take it, and as the darkness began to envelope her her last thoughts suddenly turned to the one thing that had ever made sense to her, and his name formed on her lips. She would never forget. She would never forget. "ANGEL!"

The agonizing scream tore through Angel's entire being, but he didn't let the pain stop him from reaching for the distraught woman now sitting up in the middle of the bed screaming for dear life.

"Buffy..." He pulled her into his arms, and held onto her like a lifeline. "A-Angel, i-it h-hurts. Oh God, it hurts."

"Shh... It's okay, baby. I'm right here. I'm right here."He said in a soothing voice as he rocked her in his arms.

Both Dawn and Giles were on their feet the moment Buffy shot up in the bed, but it was obvious to them that the one thing Buffy needed right now was already there holding her in his arms. They quietly slipped from the room, leaving Angel alone to attend to the woman clinging to him. "I-I died. A-Angel, I-I d-died, a-and I was th-there th-then I wasn't. A-And it w-was c-cold. S-So cold. A-And the p-pain... It h-hurts, A-Angel. I-It hurts."

Angel continued to murmur words of comfort in the distraught woman in his arms, but they obviously wasn't phasing her because she continued to sob. "M-My f-friends... Th-They... I-I c-couldn't b-breathe. And i-it was c-cold. S-So cold. A-And dark. H-Help me, A-Angel." Buffy buried her face in Angel's neck. "P-Please m-make it stop. Make th-the h-hurt stop."

"I will. Shh... I will... I promise. I will... Everythings going to be okay now, baby. Don't cry... I'll take it away. I'll take the hurt away. I promise." He murmured just before laying back on the bed, and pulling her down with him, and it wasn't until a long while later, just after he spooned his body around Buffy's and let his own exhaustion overtake him, did it finally occur to him what he had done to stop her pain.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

CHAPTER 19


He could smell him or rather her, before he ever appeared behind him and he wasn't sure how to feel about what was so obvious. Maybe that's why he chose to keep his mouth shut when the man in question finally opened the back door, and stepped out. "Hey. How come you're not sleeping like the others?"

"Couldn't." Conner looked up at Angel from the step he was sitting on. "How is she?"

"Sleeping." Angel sat down on the step beside Conner. "She remembered."

"I know. I umm... Mr. Giles told us when we got here, and so did her uhh... sister. Is she going to be okay?"

"I don't know." Angel answered honestly. "At least she's home."

"Right. At least she's home."

"Conner..."

"I don't understand. How come you never told me about her? How come no one ever talked about her? Did you just forget her after she died?"

"No. I didn't forget her, Conner. Never. I uhh... It's just after she... it was too hard to talk about her, and the others knew that, so they didn't talk about her either. And the reason I never told you about her is because I figured Holtz had told you, and you were just doing like all the others and keeping quiet."

"Holtz never said anything about her. Not one word. Which I find kinda weird considering he made me study everyone in your life. Going at you through the people you cared about was always a big objective to him, and eventually to me. I just don't get it. He had to have known about your relationship with her. He knew everything." He shook his head. "I don't know. It just looks to me like he would have made her the first person on that list of people for me to go after.

"I don't know why Holtz didn't tell you, and it doesn't really matter now, Conner. We've worked through all that, and now you know her... about her."

Conner looked back out at the trees in the backyard. "Yeah. And I had to learn it all from Cordelia and Wesley during a two hour car trip here. Do you have any idea how much that hurt, Dad? Gunn and Fred knew more than I did. They even knew about the true happiness clause in your curse when all this time I didn't. I mean, I knew there was a chance you could lose your soul, but I had no idea you could lose it like that, and to find out that not only could you, you did, and it was with her."

"Conner..."

"She sent you to hell."

"Yes."

"The paintings... The ones of hell. The man in them was you. She uhh... How?"

"I don't know. She and I always had this connection..."

"Like the one I share with her?"

"I don't know, Conner. I don't exactly know what you feel when you umm... share with her." Angel choked out.

Conner sensed the turmoil going on inside his father. "I never slept with her."

"W-What?" Angel blinked in surprise.

"I never slept with her if that's what you're wondering, Dad. But before you go doing a happy dance or something, I think I should clarify what I just said a little more. I didn't sleep with Chara... Buffy. I didn't because I don't love her the way a man loves a woman, but that doesn't mean I don't... I do love her. I love her alot. A whole whole lot. So much so that I would kill for her if anyone ever hurt her." He finally glanced over at Angel again. "Do you see where I'm headed with this?"

"Yes." Was all Angel said before looking away again.

"Good." Conner turned back to stare out at the trees again. "Then I suggest you figure out your feelings for her before you hurt her again."

"You would actually kill me for her." It was more of a statement than a question.

"You're god damn right I would." Conner muttered. "And don't think it's because I hate you, Dad. I don't hate you. I just hate what you're doing. Denial is such a strong emotional tool. It can tear a person up. Destroy lives. And that's what's going to end up happening here. You're in denial...You're denying you love her, and from everything Cordelia and Wesley told me I've figured out why. It's that fucking guilty conscience of yours. But I suggest before you let it get the best of you that you take one thing into consideration here. She found me. Out of all the people in the world she could have saved that night it was me. And I don't think it was a coincidence. I think it was a sign." He looked up at the sky. "I think someone up there was... is trying to tell YOU something. I think someone up there is giving you another chance with her. Don't be an idiot and blow it. Don't let her slip through your fingers again, because you and I both know she's not going to live forever...

****

She was cold. So cold. And Buffy knew without having to open her eyes why she felt that way. Angel wasn't beside her anymore, but he wasn't gone either. He was close by. She knew it.... Felt him all the way to her bones. But she felt something else, too. And it was that force that finally drove her into action. Up. She had to get up, and face the world no matter how much she really didn't want to. That's why she finally forced her eyes open only to quickly shut them again when bright sunlight caused a sharp stab of pain to shoot through her head. It took her several minutes to adjust to the bright light somewhat, and it was then that she finally managed to take in her surroundings. She was in her old room, and nothing had changed. It was like a shrine... A shrine to the dead, only she wasn't dead. She wasn't... But her father... No, not her father... Kyle. Kyle was dead, and with that realization a flood of new tears threatened to spill over. No. She wasn't going to cry. She was through crying. She'd done enough last night to last her a lifetime. Or was it three? Wasn't that the lifetime she was on now? Her third lifetime. God, what alot of other people would give to have the chance at life... lives that she'd been given, but she wasn't alot of people. She didn't want to be here because what she had to do wasn't living. Still, in a way she would live. If she did what she had to do she would live for a very very long time, and it was that final thought that finally forced her to drag her weary body out of bed, and bend down to retrieve the pajamas that had been quickly discarded last night when Angel... And okay, she wasn't going to go there. Or at least that's what she thought until she happened to look at the print on the pajamas, and she couldn't help but laugh bitterly as she took in the word Angel printed all over the material of the pajamas in bold black letters. Was it a coincidence? Oh, hell no! Someone was twisting a fucking knife in her gut, and was getting a really big kick out of it. She knew it. She knew this was her eternal punishment. To be reunited with her soulmate lifetime after lifetime, and never be able to share any of those lifetimes with him. Damnit, damnit, damnit! She shouldn't dwell on it. She didn't have time to dwell. But she couldn't help it. She looked around the room and the sight of it caused her head to ache even more than it already did. Clothes. Where the hell were her other clothes? After a quick search and no luck in finding them, she finally forced herself to put on the fucking pajamas and leave the shrine to the dead to make her way down the hallway to the stairs. A few feet from the landing her overly sensitive ears picked up voices, and one voice in particular sent her crashing against the wall to keep her wobbly legs from giving out from under her. Breathe. She kept reminding herself as she closed her eyes against the ever increasing pain in her head. Just breathe, damnit. "B-Buffy?"

Buffy's eyes flew open, and she stared at the young woman in front of her. "B-Buffy. Oh God, Buffy." Dawn started to step forward and embrace Buffy until she saw her flinch. The moment she did she backed away again. "I-I'm sorry, I umm... I was just coming to check on you. You really shouldn't be up. You may be weak from everything. I uhh... Would you like for me to help you back to bed?"

Buffy continued to stare at the young woman until she managed to find her voice. "D-Dawnie?"

"Y-Yes." Dawn choked out. "I-It's me."

"Y-You're umm... you're all g-grown up."

"I couldn't stay fourteen forever."

"I-I guess not." Buffy closed her eyes, and began to rub her temples again.

"Are you okay, Buffy?"

"No." Buffy answered honestly. "D-Dawn, where's umm... Angel? Where is he?"

Dawn shifted nervously on her feet. "He's downstairs. I umm... I'll tell you what, why don't you go on back to bed, and I'll got get him for you?"

"C-Cordelia's h-here." Buffy guessed.

"Well, yeah. But I'm sure Angel... I'll just go get him for you. Or Conner. Or both of them. I could get both of them."

"NO!" Buffy's eyes flew open. "I mean, n-no you don't have to get them. I-I'm fine. I just need to find my clothes and a phone book."

"A phone book? What do you need a phone book for?"

"M-My dad..." Buffy looked down at her feet. "K-Kyle... I umm... I need to call the place they t-took him to. Arrangements. I have to m-make arrangements."

"Buffy, maybe you should wait until Angel can help you."

"NO!" Buffy shook her head, and blinked back threatening tears. "I don't n-need him. Conner either. I can do this on my own!"

"I'm sorry." Dawn locked eyes with her.

"I don't need your fucking pity, Dawn." She snapped.

"I'm not pitying you, Buffy. I just... You can pretend all you want but I know how hard it really must be for you to see Angel with someone else. Especially Cordelia."

"He wanted better, he got it." Buffy looked away, doing her best to try and block out the images of the night before.

"Buffy..."

Buffy's angry gaze flew back to Dawn. "Will you just take me to a god damn phone and find me a phone book, Dawn?"

"There's still a phone in your room. Come on." Dawn lead the way back to Buffy's room, and waited around while Buffy was on the phone. Buffy ended up making a couple of phone calls, so she waited until she had hung up the phone for the last time before finally speaking.

"So..." She eyed her sister, who was now sitting in the chair beside the bed. "How have you been?"

"Dead." Buffy muttered, and the moment it left her mouth she regretted it when she saw the pained look on Dawn's face. "J-Jesus, D-Dawn... I umm... I'm sorry. I just... This isn't e-easy for me. You're uhh... you're all grown up."

"You've already said that."

"I-I have?"

"Yes." Dawn answered. "And because you have and don't remember I'm thinking maybe you should lay back down for awhile."

"N-No. I uhh..." Buffy looked down at the pajamas she had on again. "M-My clothes. Wh-Where did you say my clothes were?"

"I didn't."

"Oh, umm... Well, where are they?"

Dawn knew she couldn't avoid the subject anymore. "I'm sorry, Buffy. Angel and I trashed them."

"W-What? Why?"

"They umm... they were ruined. Stained with dirt and other uhh... stuff."

"S-Stuff?" Then it finally hit Buffy what Dawn meant, and the memory of last night rushed through her causing her stomach to lurch. "Oh, God. B-Blood. D-Daddy's b-blood... K-Kyle's..." She shot to her feet. "A-Air... I umm... I n-need..." And then she was running, not caring that Dawn was right behind her. Air. She just needed air. She felt like she couldn't breathe. She was down the stairs in a flash, and was heading for the door when she ran into something, and was spun around. "Woah there, Dawn..."

Willow's hands gripped the young woman's shoulders, and her eyes widened in shock when she realized it wasn't Dawn she had a hold of. "B-Buffy?" Her eyes welled up with tears. "Oh God, Buffy. L-Look at..."

Buffy took one look at Willow, and everything hit her in one giant rush. Air... She could feel the world going topsy turvy and she knew she needed to get that air really fast, so she shoved the red head away from her. "S-Stay a-away from me!" She spun on her heels without so much as a second glance, and darted out the front door. She just barely managed to make it to the edge of the porch before she gave into the nausea, and lost the contents of her stomach. She could hear several hushed voices just inside as she raised up to wipe her mouth once she was done, and then the front door opened and she heard footsteps behind her. "Buffy..."

"G-Go away." She muttered, even though she knew he wouldn't listen to her. And as if to prove her right even more she heard the door shut, and then he was there... right behind her. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought you here, but it was either here or the hospital, and I know how you feel about those."

"I'll just bet you do." She thought to herself, but evidently she must have said her thoughts out loud because within milliseconds she heard his voice through her pained fog.

"W-What?"

She shook her head. "N-Nothing. I umm... I just surprised y-you're still here, that's all."

"I'm here for as long as you want me, Buffy."

How about Forever. Does forever work for you? The voice inside her head silently asked, but she ignored it. "D-Daddy's dead. K-Kyle... He umm... he's dead."

"I know. Do you want to talk about it?"

"No, thanks. I d-don't need a shrink."

"That's not what I meant, Buffy. What happened?"

"I-I've already given a s-statement to the police. Talk to them."

"Why? Are you trying to hide something from me?"

"No." She lied.

"Then why won't you tell me what happened?"

"I-I told you a-already. W-Well, Chara told you. He w-was shot."

"Did you see who did it?"

"N-No." She lied again. "I umm... I got knocked out. The door. They came through the door, and umm... sent m-me flying back into a wall. Wh-When I c-came t-to I umm..."

"You what?"

"H-He was still a-alive. J-Just b-barely, b-but h-he was. I-I w-wanted to g-get h-help but h-he wouldn't l-let me. He umm... H-He t-told me he l-loved me, and th-that I w-would always b-be h-his daughter no matter wh-who I was, a-and then he told me to go to you. H-He said y-you would give m-me my life back, a-and whata you know, y-you did, because h-here I a-am."

"Buffy..." He laid his hands on her shoulders, but she shrugged them away.

"I umm...There's n-not going to be a visitation or funeral, s-so y-you don't have to stay. Cremated. I-I called and m-made arrangements to have him c-cremated. I-I couldn't put h-him in the g-ground. I-I couldn't... If I had known wh-what I know n-now I would have n-never d-done m-my mommy like that."

"You couldn't have known, Buffy. Your friends never should have... They should have left you alone."

"R-Right. 'Cause it w-would have b-been better f-for me. N-Not just me, all of you."

"Is that what you think? That you dy... That it was better without you?"

"W-Wasn't it?"

"No, never." Angel whispered.

"Th-That's f-funny 'cause the last c-couple of months... They've pretty much p-proved that I don't belong here, Angel."

"I... We should talk..."

"No. No talking." She shook her head. "There's nothing to talk about."

"Buffy, last night..."

"Don't..." She cut him off, silently thanking the heavens above that he couldn't see her threatening tears. "Just don't, okay? I can't... You don't... Just don't, okay?"

It took several moments for Angel to find his voice. "I know you've been through hell and back, Buffy. And I can't even begin to comprehend what it must have been like for you, but whether you believe it or not things will get better. Especially if you let the people inside help you through this. They love you, and they will do anything they can to help you through it."

"W-Wow. I umm... You umm... You don't want me to go back to LA, do you? You umm... I see where this is headed. This is your way of telling me t-to stay the h-hell away f-from C-Conner, am I right?"

Angel swiped a hand through his hair in frustration. "No, that's not what I'm saying at all, Buffy. I know you have a life in LA, and I know Conner is a part of that life. All I'm saying is that it wouldn't hurt to stay here for awhile. Spend some time with Dawn, and your friends. Get to know them again. They need you as much as you need them."

"I don't need them." She snapped. "And they sure as hell don't know me to need me. They knew and needed Buffy Summers, and she died five years ago. But they never needed her the way you think, Angel. The only thing they needed her for was to either save their high and mighty asses or to constantly remind her that she wasn't nothing but a god damn screw up. And as far as Chara Williams is concerned, she never really existed in the first place, so we might as well put her to rest with Kyle. And now all that's left is me. Me! This shell of a person that has no idea who she is. Now where she belongs... Where I belong is a different story. If there is one thing I know for sure in all this confusion, it's that you're wrong. About me belonging here. I don't. I don't belong here. But I will give you credit for being right about LA. You were right about that. I don't belong there either."

"I never meant that you didn't... I was trying to protect you, Buffy. That's why I did what I did. I didn't want to see you get hurt."

"Don't lie to me, Angel. You didn't want me in LA period. Not as Buffy, and not as Chara. You think I don't know that? I know. How can I not know? If I were in your shoes I wouldn't want you popping back up in my new life screwing everything up for me and my son either."

"I'm not going to do this with you, Buffy. I'm not going to fight with you."

"Why not? What's the matter, Angel? Are you afraid to tell me the..." She spun around to confront him, and the moment she did a pain so intense shot through her head she actually did think her brains was going to explode all over him and her. Ohgodohgodohgodohgod. He was standing in sunlight. Angel was standing in sunlight. She had forgotten. She had forgotten in all the confusion and pain that he was finally earning his redemption, and this was part of it. That slowly but surely he was earning his humanity back a little piece at a time. And seeing him standing there with the sunlight glistening down on his hair, shining on his beautiful face caused a whirlwind of emotions and memories to come rushing over her. Unbearable... As beautiful as he was... It was... It was also unbearable for her. So unbearable she could feel her world began to spin out of control, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

"Buffy..." Angel saw her face go completely white and he took a step towards her. "Baby, what's wrong? Are you okay?"

Buffy could have sworn she heard Angel call her baby, but it must have been her imagination. The wind rushing by as everything went black, and she felt herself began to sink into oblivion...

****

Three days. Angel had been in Sunnydale for three days, and in those three days Buffy had only ventured out of her room once, and that trip had ended with her fainting. Since then she had been sticking to her room and only left it long enough to shower. To say he was worried was an understatement. During the day it was like she was afraid to let him out of her sight, but at night it was a different story. As soon as the sun went down it was like she couldn't get rid of him fast enough. She would practically push him out the door, and he knew it wasn't because she wanted to try and sleep. She never slept. As soon as night fell all she did was stand at the bedroom window and stare outside for hours on end. Tonight was no different, and he knew the time was nearing when she would make him leave again, and he wasn't so sure he could do it. Seeing her like this was killing him. He couldn't take it anymore, and he finally decided to try and talk to her again. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Talk about what?" Buffy turned around to look at him.

"You know what, Buffy. I think you should talk about it. You need to deal with what happened."

"I have dealt with it." She turned back to the window. "I was dead, now I'm not. End of story.

"Buffy..." Angel stood up from the chair he had been sitting in. "Baby, you can't keep this up."

"Don't call me that."

"Don't call you what?" He asked confused.

"Baby." She turned back to look at him with cold eyes. "Don't call me baby. I'm not your baby, got it?"

"I'm sorry, it just..." His pained gaze met hers, and she couldn't take it. She couldn't look at him period. It was too hard. And because it was she chose to dismiss him and turn back to the window. After a few moments she heard him sigh.

"Okay, if you don't want to talk why don't we go downstairs instead? Everyone's here waiting to welcome you home."

"This isn't my home. Not anymore. I don't have a home."

"Buffy..."

"Wh-Where's Conner?"

"Conner?"

"Yes Conner, Angel. You know Conner? The junior version of you. And he is you. The only difference between the two of you is he likes me a little better than you do."

Angel had to swallow the argument boiling up inside of him. He wasn't going to argue with her. That was the last thing she needed right now. "The last time I saw him he was with Dawn. Do you want me to go get him for you?"

"N-No." She shook her head. "It's best I umm... keep my distance. I just... I just need to know if he's okay." She turned back to him. "Is he?"

Angel felt a sharp pain go through him as he took note of the love and concern in her eyes. "Other than the fact that he's worried sick about you he's fine, Buffy."

"Good. Good." She breathed a sigh of relief, and turned back to the window. "It'll be dark soon. Don't let him go out alone after dark, okay? During the day, either. It's not safe."

"What do you mean it's not safe?"

"N-Nothing. It's just... Just don't let him go out alone. Promise me, Angel."

"Buffy..."

"Okay, let's do it." She spun back around to face him.

"W-What?"

"Downstairs. Let's go downstairs."

"You want to go downstairs?"

"Isn't that what I just said?"

He eyed her warily. "Are you sure?"

"Hell no, but I might as well get it over with, right?"

He nodded. "Yes."

"Then I guess it's settled. I'm going downstairs." She moved past him, and headed for the door, praying the whole time that God would give her the strength to do this. She didn't say a word on the way down the stairs, she couldn't have spoken even if she had wanted to. Just having Angel near her was causing her utter chaos, and matters only got worse for her when they took the last step, and his hand went to the small of her back to lead her into the living room. Warm. Everytime he touched her she felt warm all over. Hell, when he touched her that was the only time she ever did feel warm. The rest of the time she was cold. So cold it was almost like she was dead again, and she knew once he was gone there wouldn't be any warmth ever again. She knew once he was gone she would die all over again, and he would leave because she planned to make him... them... just as soon as she got this farce of a reunion over with her... God, she couldn't even say the word because she didn't think of the people she was about to face as that anymore. She couldn't get over the fact that they had brought her back to this hell, and she didn't think she would ever be able to. Maybe that's why she wouldn't let any of them near her when she entered the room even though they tried. Especially Xander. He tried to give her a hug, but she backed away from him when she saw his intentions, and he quickly abandoned his plans as had the others when they saw her reluctance.

To say things were tense was an understatement. Every eye in the room was on her and Angel as he led her to an empty chair, and helped her sit down before moving to the sofa to take a seat beside Cordelia. The sight of that was almost enough to send Buffy back up the stairs, but she finally managed to pull herself together enough to focus on her hands instead.

Quiet... The room was so quiet you could hear a pin drop, and it stayed like that for over five minutes before Angel finally took the initiative to start some sort of conversation. "Buffy, I forgot to mention to you that Giles is now head of the Watcher's Council."

Buffy looked over at the man that used to be her Watcher and father figure, who was now leaning against the fireplace mantel. "Y-You are?"

"Y-Yes. Yes, I am. Quentin Trevors di... Quentin had cancer. He uhh... He's gone now, but apparantly he liked me more than I thought because he named me his successor before he uhh... Well, he named me his successor."

"W-Wow, that's umm... that's a-almost as shocking as Dawn and Spike... Well, you know?"

"Hey! I resent that!" Dawn muttered at her sister.

"Sorry, Dawn." Buffy looked over at her sister, who was sitting on the floor in front of the sofa. It had been a shock to find out about her sister and Spike, but she was getting used to the idea. Well, sorta anyway. "I just... the umm... the mental images just aren't pretty. B-But d-don't worry about me. I-I'll survive, and you... you're a big girl now so if Spike's what you want then I say g-go for it." She looked down at her hands again. "A-And don't you dare listen to w-what anyone else h-has to say about the two of you either. My advice to you is to tell whoever it is to mind their own fucking business."

"I must say, this comes as a shock." Dawn giggled. "Do you remember the last talk we had about Spike?"

"Do I ever." Buffy muttered, still staring at her hands. "I remember alot of things. And then there's ALOT of things I'd like to forget." The room grew quiet again the minute the words left her mouth, and it stayed that way until Xander got up the nerve to break the silence. "Hey, Buffster. Did Dawnie tell you that Anya and I got married?"

"No." She mumbled.

"W-Well, we did. Three years ago. And I'm now part owner of that construction company I was working for when you... I'm now part owner of that construction company I worked for five years ago. And An is part owner of the Magic Shop."

Buffy's gaze shot to Giles. "Y-You sold half the Magic Shop to Anya?"

"Well, uhh... A-Actually I sold all of it. W-Willow owns the other half."

"Oh." Buffy looked back down at her hands. There was no way in hell she was going to even attempt to look at the red head much less strike up a conversation with her. Of course, that didn't stop Willow from trying to talk to her. "Th-That's right, Buffy. I run half the Magic Shop, and I'm also a Watcher now. I'm Faith's Watcher actually. Oh, and O-Oz and I are back together. We're m-married. We have been for two years now. He still plays with Dingoes Ate My Baby, and on the side he runs a computer store with Tara. But that's not the best news I have to tell you. The best news is that I'm going to have a baby."

Buffy's head shot up. "W-What?"

"A baby, Buffy. I'm going to be a mommy." Willow smiled at her. "I'm three months pregnant."

"A-A baby? A b-baby?" A half laugh half sob tore from Buffy's throat, but the moment it did she quickly sobered and all her hate for the red head resurfaced full force. "You bitch."

"W-What?" Willow's eyes widened in shock.

"Buffy..." Angel started to stand up, but before he could get to his feet Buffy had already launched herself out of her chair and was attacking. "You bitch! I hate you! " She pummeled Willow blindly with her fists. "How dare you! How dare you rub your fucking great life in my face when you ruined mine. I hate you. Do you hear me? I hate you!"

"Buffy!" Angel shot off the sofa and tried to pull her away from Willow, but Buffy wasn't about to let up. She shoved him away, and continued to take all her pain out on the sobbing red head. "I hate you! I hate you! All of you, but you mostly. I hate you!"

"BUFFY!" Angel grabbed her again, and spun her around. He had no choice but to hit her. He knew it was the only way to snap her out of it, but once the blow landed he wasn't sure who had the most tears in their eyes, him or her. "A-Angel... Ohgodohgodohgod."

"Buffy..." Angel reached for her, but she staggered back away from him and straight into the arms of Conner. "Chara... Buffy..." At the sound of Conner's voice she spun around to look at him. "C-Conner, I uhh... I'm sorry. G-God, I'm so s-sorry, baby." She turned back to Angel. "A-Angel, I'm sorry. I-I'm so s-sorry..." Another sob tore from her throat, and then she was gone, shoving past Conner and disappearing up the stairs, leaving the living room in stunned silence except for the red head sobbing quietly in the corner.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

CHAPTER 20


Buffy knew Angel would give her time to sort things out before he sought her out. Not that she needed to sort. She already knew what she had to do. She'd known since the moment her memory had returned. Now all she had to do was put her plan into motion, and unfortunately it would start with him. Of course, she had hoped he would give her more time than he did so she wouldn't have to let go of him so soon, but as usual nothing ever turned out the way she wanted. He was here, just outside her door. She felt him and it took everything inside of her not to turn around and throw herself into his arms when he entered the room. "What happened?" He asked, moving up behind her.

"It was just some lingering aggression I needed to work through. Don't worry it's gone now, and you have my word it won't happen again."

"Buffy..."

"I told you it won't happen again, Angel. In fact, I've been thinking... You were right. I should stay here. I should try to fix things with my... with everyone. Get to know Dawnie again. I've even been thinking about going back to slaying again."

"NO!" Angel shook his head. "Absolutely not! I don't want you going back to slaying, Buffy."

"It's not your decision to make, Angel. It's mine."

"There's no reason for you to go back to slaying, Buffy. Faith is the slayer now. Let her worry about the bad guys, and you just enjoy life."

"Right. Just enjoy life."

"Buffy..."

"So..." Buffy cut him off again. "When do you leave?"

"I'm not."

"Yes, you are, Angel..." She continued to stare at the god damn tree outside her window. His tree. "I want you to leave."

"W-What?"

"You heard me, Angel. I want you to take Conner and the rest of your family and leave. I don't want or need you here. Any of you."

"Do you honestly think I can leave after what just happened downstairs, Buffy? You beat up your best friend. Your pregnant best friend. You could have seriously hurt her or the baby."

Buffy flinched at his words, but she still refused to turn around to look at him. She couldn't. She didn't want him to see the tears that were threatening to spill over. "And I've already told you it won't happen again, Angel. I give you my word. Now I want you to leave. Your job here is done. Take Conner, C-Cordelia, and the rest of your family and go home where you belong."

"Buffy..."

"Just do me a favor, okay, Angel?" She interrrupted whatever he was about to say. "C-Conner... I uhh... I umm... Cordelia... You should get her to finish his dance lessons. And you umm... you should finish teaching him how to drive. He should know how to dance and drive when he umm... when he starts dating. Oh, and there's also his umm... Tai Chi lessons. You should finish those, too. Which will probably be better for him considering you t-taught me."

Angel stared at her back. "You really do love him, don't you?"

"Don't you?"

"Yes, I do. But it's because he's my son, Buffy."

"Yes, he i-is." She said in a barely audible voice. "H-He's your son."

"Buffy..."

"There's umm... There's one more thing, Angel." Buffy cut him off again.

"What?"

"I want you to say goodbye this time."

"You know I can't do that, Buffy. Besides, it's not like we won't see each other again. You'll be back in LA before you know it, and Conner and .... I'm sure Conner will want to come and visit you whenever he can while you're here."

"I won't be coming back to LA, Angel. And Conner... I don't want him coming back here to visit. You either. That's why I want you to say goodbye. When you leave... the both of you, I don't want you coming back here ever. Now say it. Say goodbye, Angel."

"No." Angel's eyes welled up as he shook his head. "I won't do it. I won't say goodbye to you."

"Fine. I'll say it then." She finally turned around to look at him. "Goodbye, Angel. Go. Go sweep Cordy off her feet, and ride off into the sunset with her and your son. Go have the life I always knew you deserved. Be happy. Truly happy. And don't you dare ever look back on this hellhole and the time you spent here when you do. Don't you dare ever look back!" She disappeared out the window after that, but it was a long, long time before Angel was actually able to move himself.

****

Buffy took a long swallow out of the bottle of Irish whiskey she was nursing, and peeked over her shoulder at the trees several feet away from her. "You can come out, Conner. I know you're there."

Conner stepped out from behind one of the tress, and closed the distance to her. "How'd you know it was me?"

"Connection." She mumbled, staring at a tombstone in front of her. "And your not supposed to be here. I told your father not to let you out alone after dark."

"I haven't seen Dad for him to tell me much of anything." He sat down beside her. "Last time I saw him he was upstairs with you. Or at least he was upstairs with you until you slid down the tree outside the room you've been staying in."

"Saw that, did you?"

He looked over just in time to watch her take another drink from the half empty bottle in her hands. "Mmm... And if I had been any other guy I really would have enjoyed the view you gave coming down it, but the thing is I'm not just any guy, am I Cha... Buffy." He swept a hand a through his hair. "Gods, I have no idea what to call you now."

"Join the club." She muttered, and took another drink from the bottle. "So umm..." She swept her hand in front of her. "Wh-What do you think of this place? Nice, huh? It used to be an old hang out of mine... hers, so I figured what the hell. Why not come here and hang out, have a few drinks for old times sake. Seemed only appropriate that the dead hang out with the dead."

"Buffy..."

"I'll miss you." She cut him off.

"W-What?" He blinked in surprise.

"Tomorrow. When you leave. I want you to know I'll miss you, but I also want you to know it's best for everyone that you leave."

"I'm not leaving."

"Yes, you are." She said firmly, and stared straight ahead at the tombstone she'd been staring at a few moments before. "I told your father to pack you and the little missus up, and go home."

"And he didn't give you any arguments after what happened with Willow earlier?"

"I didn't say that."

"That's what I thought."

"He's still leaving, Conner. And so are you." She glanced over at him just in time to see him open his mouth to argue with her. "Don't." She pointed a finger at him. "Don't argue with me, Conner. You're not staying here. You don't belong here, and neither does your father or the rest of his family."

"I could belong... If you'd let me."

"You can't stay here, Conner. You belong in LA with your father. He needs you."

"And you don't?"

"No." She looked away from him. "I'm a big girl, Conner. I can take care of myself."

"That's not what I meant, Buffy..."

"I know what you meant, Conner and the answer is still no. You're not staying. You're going home with your father where you belong."

"What if we both stayed here?"

"Your father doesn't belong here anymore, Conner."

"Then come back to LA with us. Fight for him. He still loves you. I know it. Feel it. Even if he is having trouble admitting it."

"No." Buffy shook her head. "He doesn't love me. He loves Cordelia, Conner. Cordelia. And you need to accept that right now. He moved on. He has a great new life in LA with you and the others, and I will never be a part that. You might as well accept that right now as well."

"Fine. If you want to be as big a idiot as he is then go right ahead, Buffy. Don't fight for him. That's your choice. I just want you to know right now though that no matter what his or your decision is it won't affect mine. You are a part of my life, and you will always be a part of my life."

"No, I won't either. When you leave tomorrow what we have will end."

He blinked in surprise. "What are you saying, Buffy?"

"Exactly what I've been saying the last five minutes, Conner. I don't want you here. I want you to leave. I want you to go home with your father and family, and forget all about me."

"I can't do that, Buffy. I won't. Especially now that I know who you really are. Especially since I've spent the last three days listening to your sister tell me everything there is to know about you and Dad. I have so many questions. The paintings... I know the ones of hell are from when you sent Dad to hell, but the others... The baby..."

Buffy froze with the bottle of liquor halfway to her lips. "I painted that painting from a dream, Conner. A dream, that's all. What you saw in it wasn't real."

"You're lying, Buffy. I saw the other paintings too, remember."

"Don't, Conner."

"Don't what?" Conner asked innocently.

"You know what, Conner. Just let it go."

"Why? Dad said you two shared a connection, but unlike him I'm not willing to just let it go at that. I think there's more to it, and I think you can tell me what it is. The same holds true for the painting of the woman and baby. I think it was real, and I think you can tell me who the mother and child are. Who they really are."

"Stop it!" Buffy dropped the bottle in her hands and shot to her feet. "Just stop it right now, Conner."

"Why? Just tell me why, Buffy?"

"GOD DAMNIT, CONNER!" She screamed, spinning around to face him. "I said just let it go. It's in the past. Let it stay that way."

Conner stood up to face her. "Why, Buffy? Are you afraid I'll end up hating you because if you are I can tell you now that'll never happen. Never. I..."

Buffy's hand shot out to clamp over his mouth. "Don't! Don't you dare say it, Conner!" Her eyes welled up with tears. "Don't love me. Don't. Hate me instead. Hate me with everything that's inside of you. Do you hear me? Hate me with everything thats inside of you because in the end you're going to find out it was the best thing you could ever do." Both her hands came up to frame his face. "Now go home, baby. Go home with your real family where you belong." She leaned forward to brush a kiss across his forehead, and mumbled a quick I love you to him, and then she turned and ran into the night without a backwards glance.

****

Buffy watched Angel leave the next morning from the same window he used to come through to see her all those years ago, and watching him go was a million times worse than the first time she had watched him leave Sunnydale. Dead. She was truly dead now. Maybe not physically, but emotionally was a different story. All her hopes, and dreams had left with him. Him and his son. And now there was nothing left of her. Cold... She was so cold that all she wanted to do was crawl in a hole somewhere and let nature finish killing her, but unfortuantely she couldn't do that. She had to get out of here as soon as possible. That's why once Angel's plymouth had disappeared into the morning sun, she went straight to work doing what had to be done in order to accomplish her goal, and she was right in the middle of making out that list when Dawn came barging into the room a few minutes later with a breakfast tray in hand. "Good morning, Mary sun... What are you doing?"

Buffy quickly hid the list under a book lying on the desk top, and stood up to face her. "I umm... I was just familiarizing myself with everything again." She pointed to the tray in Dawn's hands. "W-What's that?"

Dawn smiled. "Breakfast. Now get back in bed so I can serve it to you."

Buffy walked over to look at the food on the breakfast tray, and felt her stomach lurch. "F-Forget the f-food, but the bed isn't looking so bad right now."

Dawn giggled as she watched Buffy move to the bed to lay down. "Ahh, what's the matter, sis? You have a hangover?"

"H-How... How d-did you know?" Buffy asked once she got situated back on the bed mattress.

"Kinda hard not to know." Dawn sat the breakfast tray down on the dresser, and came over to tuck her in. "Especially with the way you came in."She laid down beside her. "You know, you should try using the front door next time instead of the tree. I guess it's a good thing Angel happened by when he did or else you probably would have ended up breaking your bloody neck."

Buffy's eyes widened in surprise. "A-Angel w-was here when I umm... got home last night?"

"You mean when you got home this morning, and no, he wasn't here at first. He said he happened to be out for a walk, and found you trying to climb up the tree. You two woke me, and the entire neighborhood up with all your yelling. thankfully though, he managed to coax you down before you could fall and break your neck, and by the time he got you in the house you were out cold." Dawn giggled again as she saw her sister frown. "You don't remember, huh?"

"N-No." Buffy shook her head, and shut her eyes in attempt to try and remember anything about the night before. "S-So umm... We uhh... we woke you up with our arguing?"

"Uh huh. It was kinda hard to sleep with all the yelling. Don't worry though, your secret's still safe."

"W-What?" Buffy's eyes flew open. "W-What are you talking about, Dawn. W-What s-secret?"

"You know what secret, Buffy." Dawn rolled her eyes. "Any idiot can see that you still love him. Well, any idiot but the actual idiot himself. And the only reason he doesn't see it is because he's too busy trying to deny that he still feels the same way about you."

Buffy rolled onto her side away from Dawn. "I don't want to talk about him, Dawn. He's gone."

"And I guess you honestly think he left with a big 'ole smile on his face."

"I said I don't want to talk about him, Dawn."

"Fine!" Dawn flopped onto her stomach beside Buffy, causing Buffy to groan. "So... What do you want to talk about? Breakfast again, maybe? He made it for you by the way. Why do you think he was here? He could have left for LA from the mansion , but he didn't. He came over and made everyone pancakes, which were yummy by the way, and then he fixed you up the tray. It's not much. Just coffee, some weak tea, and toast. He knew you wouldn't be able to handle anything heavy. And believe it or not he even remembered the aspirin. And I think you should at least make an effort to touch it since he went to so much trouble."

"I'm not hungry." Buffy mumbled into her pillow. "And I really don't want to talk either, Dawn. I need to get up, shower, and go get my car."

"Your car's in the driveway, Buffy. Angel and I went and got it this morning." Dawn stared at Buffy's back. "And might I say wow to you while I'm at it. A Ferrari. My sis owns a Ferrari. And Angel... God, Buffy. If you could have seen him in it you would have flipped. He looked so hot driving it. More than hot, and I even told him so. I also told him that he should consider trading that tank of his in for something just like it. Angel is definitely a sports car kinda guy."

"Dawn, will you please shut up about Angel!" Buffy yelled then winced when a sharp pain shot through her head.

"Jeez, Buffy. I'm sorry." Dawn laid a hand on Buffy's back then quickly retracted it when she saw her flinch. "I'm sorry, I umm... I just... I-I've missed you, and every since you've been back you've pretty much been locked up in this room. I just..." A sob tore from her throat. "I-I missed you, th-that's all."

"Oh, D-Dawnie..." Buffy rolled over to look at her, and her own eyes welled up. "D-Don't cry. I umm... I'm sorry, I can't... I j-just can't do this right now. Th-There are things I j-just can't talk about and h-he's one of them. D-Do you understand?"

Dawn nodded mutely.

"Thank you." Buffy gave her a weak smile.

"So umm... Now that you don't have to go get your car, do you think that we could umm... talk?"

"S-Sure. W-Why not? I umm... There are some things I've been meaning to a-ask you anyway."

"What are they?" Dawn sniffled.

"Well, I umm... The house... How umm... How did you manage to keep it?"

"It wasn't my doing seeing as I was just fourteen when you umm... Giles. Giles bought it right after you umm... Thank Giles . He wanted me to have a place to come back to when I got old enough."

"So umm... you didn't stay here after..."

Dawn shook her head. "No. Giles wanted me to, but Dad..."

"H-Hank? You umm... You mean, he umm... You went to live with Hank?"

"Yes. And don't look so sad, Buffy. Believe it or not my going to live with him wasn't so bad. Actually it turned out pretty good. He straightened up after you umm... I guess losing you opened his eyes. He straightened up, and became the father I needed. He even took days off to attend my school functions."

"D-Did you manage to get a car out of him?"

Dawn smiled, and nodded. "I actually got two. One one my sixteenth, and another one a couple of months ago when I decided to move here to be with Spike. He wanted me to have reliable transportation since he wasn't going to be around."

"So umm... Does he know umm... Has he met Spike?"

"He doesn't know that Spike's a vampire if that's what you're trying to get at, Buffy. But he has met him. How could he not when Spike started coming to LA on a regular basis not more than a month after I moved back there?"

"Well, I umm... So umm... What does he think of him?"

"He likes him, believe it or not. And so will you when you see him again, Buffy. Spike has changed a whole lot since the last time you saw him. He's a working vamp now."

Buffy couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Y-You're kidding? S-Spike has a job?"

"Yeah, he bartends at the Bronze. It was the perfect job for him. Not just because of the 'grr' thing, but because he practically kept them and Willie's in business for years and knows everything there is to know about beer and liquor. Oh, and he also has an apartment, too." Dawn grinned. "But why he does I'll never know. He's here more than at his own place. Well, except for when Angel's in town that is."

"So umm... So umm... is that why he hasn't been uhh... around since I've been back? B-Because umm... Because he was here?"

"Uh huh. The hate between my lover and your... his grand sire is even stronger than before, and you can thank the Buffybot for that. Angel found out about it and Spike's little obsession with you when he came to town a couple of months after you umm... He found out and nearly beat Spike to dust, and now that he knows Spike took my virginity as well it's only made matters worse. He not only beat the shit out of Spike, he threatened to stake him the next time he saw him, so now Spike has to go into hiding when he comes to town."

"Oh. I umm... I'm sorry, Dawn. If I umm... If I had known I would have had a talk with him..."

"Don't be sorry, Buffy. It's not your fault. Besides, Angel may beat Spike senseless as much as he wants, but when it comes down to actually staking him he wouldn't do it for the simple reason that he knows Spike had your back when you fought umm... He knows and he not only appreciates it, he feels guilty because he believes he should have been here instead."

"Figures." Buffy mumbled under her breath. "Dumbass. Breaking up with me and leaving here was the best thing he could have ever done, and he's still letting that fucking guilty conscience of his get the best of him. That's why I couldn't tell him. I know I promised Kyle, but I couldn't do it. I didn't want Angel to feel obligated to me."

"What didn't you tell Angel. Buffy? And your Dad... Mr. Williams, what did you promise him?"

"N-Nothing..." Buffy shook her head to clear it, and looked over at her sister. "N-Nothing. It was nothing, Dawn . I umm... Let's g-get back to you. You umm... You're happy?"

"Yeah." Dawn smiled. "Even more so now that you're back." She quickly sobered when she saw Buffy look away. "B-But you're not are you, Buffy?"

"W-What?" Buffy blinked back threatening tears, and turned back to look at Dawn. "You. You're not happy, are you, Buffy?"

"N-No." Buffy choked out, refusing to cry. "But I don't want you to feel sorry for me, Dawn. We all have to deal with the hand we've been dealt, and that's exactly what I plan to do with mine..."

Mo Anam Chara

Author: Angellover

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I want to thank Hannahbee, Kendra, Laura May, Carolyn, Raven Raven, Mary, Kassie, Kolumbyne, and Rebecca for their feedback the last chapter. Thanks guys!


CHAPTER 21


"Buffy?"

"Huh?"

"Y-You said you needed to talk to me about something, but you're not talking."

"Oh... I umm... I-I'm sorry, Giles." Buffy turned away from her bedroom window to find him staring at her in concern. "Are you sure you're okay, Buffy?"

"I'm fine, Giles. I just... I don't know how to start this conversation, so I'm just goint to spit it out." She took a deep breath, and walked over to stand in front of him. "I want you to reinstate me."

"I-I'm sorry." Giles blinked in surprise. "C-Could you repeat that?"

"Reinstate me, Giles. I want you to reinstate me so I can go back to slaying."

"Faith's the Slayer now, Buffy. And believe it or not no matter what she has done in the past she has worked through that and is doing a wonderful job."

"This doesn't have anything to do with Faith, Giles." Buffy turned away from him. "I know you would have never let her go back to slaying if you didn't think she was able to do it."

"Then why do you want to do it?"

"Because it's my duty."

"N-No, it's not. Not anymore. You did your duty."

"I didn't do anything but die, Giles. And now I'm not dead so therefore I should pick up where I left off." She turned back to him. "Reinstate me."

"I'm sorry, Buffy. I can't do that. Your duty is done, and Angel agrees with me. That's why I officially retired you before he left."

"Angel!" Buffy began to pace. "God, I should have know he would pull this. I should have known he would..." She stopped to nail Giles with angry eyes. "How the hell could you listen to Angel and retire me, Giles? How the hell could you retire me without asking me what I wanted first? This is my life we're talking about in case you've forgotten. My life! Not his."

"That's right, it is your life, Buffy. That's exactly why I did it. You did your duty. More than did your duty. And Angel and I both agreed that because you had it was time to give you the credit you deserved. I retired you, and the Watcher's Council backed my decision to do it."

"You had no right. Neither did Angel, or the Watcher's Council. This is my life. Mine!" She slapped her chest with her hand. "I should be able to live it the way I want! I want to go back to slaying."

"N-No. As of last week you are officially retired, Buffy. So I suggest you get used to the idea of living a normal life."

"Normal?" Buffy let out a bitter laugh. "Who are we fucking kidding here, Giles? I'll never be normal."

"Angel seems to think differently, a-and I'm afraid I'm going to have to agree with him on this one."

"Angel is a fucking idiot and so are you!" Buffy yelled. "You are both idiots that had no right to stick your noses in my business. If you won't reinstate me then I'll just work on my own!"

"And if you do and I find out then I'll have to see to it that you are stripped of your powers."

Buffy staggered back as if she had been hit. "Y-You can't do that."

"I can and I will. Did you honestly think Angel and I didn't plan on you reacting this way, and not prepare for it." Giles took off his glasses and began to clean them. "As of last week you are officially retired from slaying, and you should be honored. You are the first slayer to ever achieve that honor and every slayer after you will know what you did to achieve it. You will be a role model to them, Buffy. They will look up to you and want the same. They will fight even harder than before to be just like you."

"Right. They'll look up to me. A poor defenseless normal girl who died at the hands of some vamp or demon because she was stripped of her powers. Some honor there, Giles."

"You won't be stripped of your powers unless you go against what has already been done, Buffy. I would never leave you totally defenseless unless I absolutely had to, and neither would Angel. That's why you are protected here in Sunnydale. You're protected by a protection spell. And not just that, we have also done a spell to erase your identity as the slayer from the memories of any of your old enemies that may still be left here on the hellmouth."

"Well, I guess that explains it." She muttered under her breath.

"Explains what?" Giles stared at her.

"N-Nothing. I umm... I just umm... I think it's really sweet of you both to think so kindly of me."

"We're not doing this to punish you, Buffy. We did this because we love you, and because we do we also tacked on a stipulation when it comes to you slaying. It's to protect you in case something happened, and someone found away around the spell. You will be allowed to keep your powers and will only be allowed to use them in the event that the need should arise for you to protect yourself. But that's the only way you will be allowed to use them. If I or anyone else that is close to you find out that you are out hunting just for the heck of it, you will be stripped of your powers without so much as a second thought." Giles returned his glasses to his face, and raised his gaze to hers. "Do you understand?"

"Perfectly." She muttered.

"Good." Giles gave her a weak smile. "So is that it? Is that all you needed to talk to me about?"

"No." She walked back over to look out the window. "There is something else. Something I've been giving alot of thought to, and seeing as you and Angel have pretty much decided my future it only seems logical that I go ahead and do it."

"What is it?" He stared at her.

"I'm not staying. In Sunnydale, I mean. I'm going to leave."

"You're going back to LA?"

"No. I mean, yes. But only for a little while. I umm... I have unfinished business there. Kyle... I have some loose ends I umm... need to tie up as far as he's concerned, and then after that..." She shrugged. "I'm not sure where I'll go. All I know is that I can't stay here. I don't belong here anymore, and I sure as hell don't belong in LA. I never did."

"Buffy..."

She spun back around to look at him. "I'm not l-leaving right away. I-In a few days. I umm... I'm going to make arrangements for Dawn. Set her up financially. I-I know it's not exactly what mom meant when she asked me to take care of her, but it's the only thing I can do. I-I'm just... Money is the only thing I have to give her. And I definitely have alot of it." She began to pace again. "I umm... I would like to pay you back for the house. F-For what you did to her, but I know you'll only say no so I won't even bother. And then there's uhhh... I need you to look after her. Make sure she's happy. You and Spike, a-and the others. You umm... You're all she's got besides umm... Hank." She stopped to look at him. "Do umm... can you do that for me? L-Look after her, I mean?"

All Giles could do was nod mutely.

"Good. Good." Buffy murmured. "Now umm... Now that that's out of the way there is some other business we need to discuss." She walked over to her desk to retrieve a stack of books, then returned to him, and knelt down to put them at his feet in the floor. "These are for you."

"What are they?" Giles asked, looking down at the stack of books at his feet.

"My slayer journals." She straightened. "I couldn't believe it when I found them in the closet yesterday. I figured that would be the first thing you would look for after I umm... I figured you would have taken them. But it's probably a good thing you didn't. Some of them wasn't completed, so I spent all day yesterday, and today updating them. The umm... The first five are for each year that I slayed, and the sixth one... The umm... The sixth one resumes were the fifth one left off and covers my five years in LA." She turned away from him and walked back to the window. "I umm... I think you should let you know now that the sixth one is missing parts. I umm... I couldn't talk about it... My time after I umm... I couldn't talk about any of that. The umm... The resurrection either. I-I'm sorry. I'm sure you and the Watcher's Council probably hoped I would, but I c-can't talk about it."

"I-I understand." Giles cleared his throat. "So umm... Have you told Dawn and the others that you're leaving yet?"

"N-No." She shook her head. "I'm planning on telling Dawn tomorrow, and the others... I umm... It's still too hard for me to be around them so I'm hoping she'll tell them for me." She turned back to him. "I d-don't know how I feel about them anymore. Hell, I'm not even sure if I feel period. B-But I umm... I know I don't wish them ill. You umm... You'll continue to look after them, right?"

"Right." He smiled. "But just until you work through all your problems, and come back here where you belong."

She nodded in agreement, but the only reason she did was because she didn't have the heart to tell him that she wouldn't be returning to Sunnydale ever again. Not alive anyway...

****

"She's doing it again." Dawn murmured into Spike's chest later that night.

"She misses the bloody poof and his pup." Spike muttered. "You know, I've been thinking about taking a little trip to LA just to look them up. I bet you a million bucks their both as miserable as she is. Especially Peaches."

"Probably. All I know is that she can't go on like this much longer, Spike. She barely eats, rarely sleeps, and she never leaves her room if Willow and the others stop by. I can't stand seeing her like this."

Spike ran his hands down Dawn's bare back. "Have you tried talking to her?"

"Yeah. She's not budging. She won't talk about what happened to her after she umm... after she came back. And Angel and Conner... She won't even say their names much less talk about them. It's like I told you before she's *Miss. Everything's Just Peachy in My World* during the day, but at night... The night is a different story. If she's not screaming her head off from the nightmares she's walking the floors. And on top of that I think she's still drinking."

"She's been through alot, little bit. I hate to say it, but she may never be the same Buffy we all once knew, and loved."

"She's writing in her diary again, too. Did I tell you that?" Dawn raised up to look at him. "She started the other day. And Giles... She talked to him tonight for over an hour. I don't know what was said, but I think maybe she told him everything in hopes she could put the past to rest."

Spike frowned. "I'm sure you're right."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Nothing." Spike shook his head, and leaned into kiss her. "So uhh... The bugger's ashes... I know you mentioned before that she got them, do you know what she did with them?"

"Nothing that I know of. She umm... She hasn't said anything. I tried to talk to her about it, and Dad... Hank... I think he should know she's uhh... back, but she disagrees. She doesn't want him to know, but I'm hoping she'll eventually come around." Dawn laid her head back down on Spike's chest, and the two of them laid quietly for awhile listening to the mutted pacing coming from next door. It went on for a several more minutes before Dawn finally reached her own breaking point, and scrambled off the bed to get dressed. "I can't take it anymore, Spike. We have to do something."

"We?" Spike propped up on his elbow to look at her. "What the hell do you mean we, Dawn? She's your bloody sister, not mine. Besides, I've sworn her off. I'm never going to look at her or go near her again. I can't. Not when her asshole of a mate has already beaten me to a bloody pulp over her once, and would gladly do so again... And her... Let's not forget about her. With the mood she's been in since she returned she would probably beat me up too just because I'm related to the fucking idiot that's the root of most her problems."

"Fine!" Dawn picked up her shirt from the floor where it had been quickly discarded in the heat of their lovemaking earlier, and yanked it on. "Don't help me then, but I'm telling you now that if you don't you'd better not even think about touching me for the next year."

"That's blackmail!" Spike yelled. "I barely see you as it is because of work, and now you're going to kick me to the curb because of your bloody sister?"

"Yes, I am. Because she's just that. My bloody sister, Spike! And if you really love me you'll help her because you know how important she is to me."

"I do love you, Dawn. What else do I have to do to prove that to you?"

"Help me, help my sister." She blew him a kiss. "Two minutes. You have two minutes to get your cute buns out in the hallway or don't bother to be here when I get back."

"Dawn!" Spike bellowed, and watched her head for the door.

"Two minutes, lover." She called over her shoulder as she disappeared out the door, and to her utter joy he was fully dressed and by her side when she knocked on Buffy's door less than a minute later.

"Just a second." Buffy called out, and stopped her nervous pacing as the knock sounded on her door. She quickly put the lid back on the bottle of liquor she was holding, and shoved it under a pillow before closing the distance to the door and opening it. "Dawn... Spike..." Buffy eyed the couple. "Did umm... Did you want something?"

"Yeah, I want something alright." Spike muttered as he glared at the golden blonde. "But apparantly you're little sis isn't going to give it to me for the next year unless I help you."

"W-What?" Buffy blinked in surprise.

"Spike." Dawn warned, and grabbed his arm to jerk him past her sister into the room.

Buffy closed the door, and turned around to look at her sister. "What's going on, Dawn?"

"You tell me, Buffy?"

"What?" Buffy stared at her sister. "What the hell do you mean you tell me, Dawn? In case you've forgotten you and tweedle dum here barged into my room, not the other way around."

"It's like this, Goldilocks." Spike answered for his young lover. "Your little sister seems to think you're going over the deep end, and now that I've seen you I think I'm going to have to agree with her. You look like shit."

"Go to hell, Spike. I didn't care what you think I look like." She shoved past him. "Now get out. The both of you. I'm tired, and I want to go to bed."

"Well, well, little bit. Whata you know, it looks like blondie still may have some spirit left after all." Spike grinned. "And you know what that means? That means she's not a lost cause."

"L-Lost cause?" Buffy spun back around to face both Dawn and Spike. "W-Who says I'm a lost cause?"

"Nobody, Buffy." Dawn eyed her sister. "It's just... I've known every since you've been back that you're not happy, and I want you to tell me..." She looked over at Spike then back at Buffy. "Us... What it's going to take to help you be that way."

"N-Nothing. There's nothing you can do, Dawn." Buffy turned back away from the couple and walked over to the window. "I umm... I wasn't going to tell you until tomorrow, but since you're here I might as well do it now."

"Tell me what?" Dawn stared at Buffy's back.

"I'm leaving, Dawn."

"W-What?"

"You heard me, Dawn. I'm leaving. I can't stay here. B-But don't think for a second that you're the reason why, because it's not you at all. I-It's umm... It's me. I just... I can't stay. I'm sorry. But the truth is I don't belong here anymore."

"B-But I thought... Is that what you talked to Giles about earlier tonight?"

"It was one of the things."

"And the others?"

"Not important."

"I see." Dawn murmured. "So umm... So when are you leaving?"

"N-Not for a couple of days. There umm... There is some stuff I need to take care of first."

"What stuff?"

Buffy turned back around to face her sister. "Well, for starters you and I are going to have to do something about this fucking shrine to the dead. We need to make it liveable in again." Buffy's eyes swept over the room. "All this stuff has to go. Either to the basement, a dumpster, or..." Her gaze landed on something hanging in the closet. "B-Back to it's original owner."

****

God, Buffy didn't think she could have felt any colder than she did after Angel and Conner left, but she had been wrong. In fact, the truth was she was past being cold now. She was numb. Completely dead inside and out. All she needed now was for whoever or whatever it was that wanted her dead to finish putting her body out of it's misery. And sooner or later they would... Not that she cared. She had gotten past her fear of dying a long time, and actually welcomed it. But what would happen afterwards was a different story. She didn't have a clue what the powers had in store for her, but she already knew that they definitely wouldn't be sending her back to this hell anymore. She already had put her plan into motion to see to that, and she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt the person she was going to give that responsibility to would do whatever it took to meet her wishes.

Almost done... Her unfinished business here in LA was almost done. Now all she had to do was see to it that the items in her car got to him... them... before she left. The only problem was she didn't have a fucking clue how to go about doing that. All she knew was that she couldn't do it, and the thought of having a delivery service do it felt even colder than she did.

Luckily though, Buffy found the answer to her problem when it... rather he... appeared before her eyes the moment she staggered out of the warehouse she had been in the last several hours. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Following you." Spike pushed away from the black and silver '57 Chevy he was leaning against. "I knew you was up to somethin' when you started putting your personal affairs in business. And then there was the late night workouts why everyone else was sleeping. It all triggered a silent alarm in my head." He threw the cigarette he was puffing on down on the ground and stamped it out with the toe of his boot. "Looks like my suspicions were right. Although, I will have to admit that you killing a human being took me totally by surprise. I knew you were cold, but I didn't think you were that cold. Not yet anyway."

"I didn't kill him." Buffy said coolly. "I can't kill anyone or anything. Giles and Angel seen to that when they officially retired me."

Spike waved his hand. "Yeah, yeah. I heard all 'bout that, but it looks to me like your found a way around it. You think your hands are clean, but their not, Goldilocks. Killing is killing, and you had a hand in it."

"Here’s a newsflash, Spike. Tonight's not the first time I've killed a human."

"Yeah, I heard about that, too. When I was lurking in Sunnyhell. I also heard it was self defense and that even though it was it still eats you up. So what do you think tonight is going to do to you? 'Cause I'm thinking it'll more than eat you up, Buffy. I'm thinking it'll probably destroy you."

"Let it!" She spat. "I don't care. He deserved to die. He deserved worse than death, but to his good fortune that's all I could give him. And why the hell I'm even bothering to explain this to you is beyond me. What I do with my life is my fucking business. Not yours or anyone else's." She went to move past him, but Spike grabbed her arm.

"Not so fast, blondie... You're not going anywhere in the shape you're in. You may not care what happens to yourself, but you have a little sis back in Sunnydale that does care, and it's her that I'm thinking about. I will not have her end up hating me because I stood by and let you bleed to death."

"Let go of me, Spike." Buffy growled, and nailed him with cold, angry eyes.

"Sorry, pet. Can't do that." Spike pulled her to his car, and opened the door to push her inside. "Like I said before, I'm not going to have Dawn end up hating me because I didn't help you." He shut the door on her string of obscentities, and moved around the car to climb in the driver's seat. "Now where to?" He asked starting up the engine. "The hospital or the place you've been staying since you got back in town?"

Buffy blinked in surprise, and clutched her hand to her bloody side as she tried to turn in the seat to look at him. "Just exactly how long have you been stalking me, Spike?"

"I've been following you since you left, Sunnyhell. Following, Buffy. Not stalking. So don't go thinkin' I got the hots for you again because you would be wrong. I love your sister, and I'm doing this for her." He stared out the only spot in his windshield that wasn't blackened out. "She loves you, and if something were to happen to you it would kill her. The last time you... she almost didn't make it the last time." He looked over at her. "Now where to?"

"Dad...Kyle's house." She mumbled and laid her head back against the seat. "Take me to Kyle's house." She must have fallen asleep or lost consciousness after that because the next thing she remembered was Spike slapping her face, and then helping her out of his car and into the house. Thirty minutes later, he raised up from her side to show her the bullet he had just removed. "Your lucky. The bullet wasn't deep. That means no organs were damaged which is good news."

"If you say so." She muttered, and took another long drink of the Irish whiskey he had given her to help numb the pain somewhat while he removed the bullet. He ignored her comment and resumed his doctoring on her.

"So are you ever going to tell me who the bloody hell your friend was, and why exactly you wanted him dead so badly?"

"He was the one that killed my fath... Kyle." Buffy answered with a hiss as he went about taping up her wound.

Spike looked up to meet her gaze. "Wait a minute, I thought you didn't see who killed the bugger. That you were knocked out. Or at least that's what Dawn said you told Angelus."

"I lied." She mumbled.

"Why?"

"Because I knew if I told Angel the truth he would go after him, and it wasn't his fight. His or Conner's. It was mine. And now it's over."

"Are you sure about that? Are you sure this guy, whoever he was, won't come back to haunt you, Buffy?"

"If he does I'll deal like I've always dealt with his haunting me."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean? You'll deal like you've always dealt with his haunting you?" Buffy looked away, and that's when it hit him what she was really saying. "Bloody hell! You knew him, didn't you? I mean, really really knew him."

"Yes." She whispered in a barely audible voice.

"Who? Who is... was he, Buffy?" He finished taping up her bandage and stood up to look down at her.

"No one important, Spike."Buffy struggled to sit up.

"You're lying, Buffy." He reached out to help her sit up. "Now tell me, because I'm not going to let it rest until you do."

"Let's just say he was a ghost from my... Chara's past."

"And?" He ignored the hiss of pain from her and sat down beside her on the sofa. "There's more to this, Buffy. I can tell."

Buffy sighed. "And you're right. He won't stop haunting me even though he's dead. Or at least his friends probably won't."

"Friends?"

"Yeah, friends. That man tonight was just a small piece of the puzzle, Spike." She laid her head back on the couch, and closed her eyes against the pain in her side. "I mean, that there is a bigger piece. He worked for someone. Someone that wants me dead. Dad... Kyle just got in the way of this guy doing his job, but obviously this guy said something before he shot Kyle because Kyle knew. He told me I was in danger and to go to Angel. That Angel could help me, and that when it was over he could give me my life back."

"Then why didn't you do as your pop asked you to?"

"Because I don't have a life, Spike." Buffy answered tiredly. "I haven't had Buffy Summers' life in over five years because she's dead. And my life after that was Chara's life. And me... Angel and Cordelia were right. I don't belong in this world and I sure as hell don't belong in Sunnydale with Dawn. She doesn't need me to take care of her anymore. She has you now and I know you'll protect her."

"And what about you, Buffy? Who'll protect you?"

"I don't need protecting."

"I bet if I went to Angelus right now and told him he would beg to differ." He saw her flinch. "Well, well. What do you know. It looks like you're not as completly frigid as I thought, pet. All I have to do is mention his name and I can feel the love for him pulsing through your veins. You still love the bloody poof."

"I don't want to talk about him, Spike."

"Why? Are you afraid I'll figure out what you two did back in Sunnyhell? Because if you are you're too late. I figured it out the night after it happened. Saw peaches out for a walk and picked up on your scent right away. Wish I could say the same about your other little secret. Now that I have to admit, kinda knocked me off my ass. I mean, I knew there was something strange about it. strange yet familiar. But I couldn't quite put a finger on what it was."

"What the hell are you talking about, Spike?"

"You know what I'm talking about, Buffy. The little secret you've been hiding from everyone. Only he's not so little anymore is he?"

Spike watched the blood drain from Buffy's already pale face, and her eyes flew open to meet his. "Y-You kn-know?"

"Oh yeah." Spike grinned. "It's like I told you, blondie. I knew there was something strange yet familiar about him, but I didn't figure out what it was until you came back to Sunnydale. I was lurking and picked up his scent. But it wasn't until I moved in to get a closer look that I figured what was so strange yet familiar about him. He's definitely Angelus' son. There's no doubt about that. He reeks of the bloody poof, but the really strange part is he doesn't reek of Darla. Hell, who am I kidding here. There's not a trace of her on him. No blood. No scent. Nothing. How can there be when he reeks of you? Of your blood. Your scent. He reeks of you. He belongs to you. You and the bloody poof. I know it. But what I don't know is how the hell that is possible or why you haven't told peaches. And before you ask, the reason I figured it out before Angelus is because he's too busy wallowing in too much guilt and battling his love for you to smell what's right under his nose. Oh yeah, and then there's his jealousy over you and the pup. Hilarious. Watching him battle it while he was in Sunnyhell was hilarious. I've never laughed so much in all my existence."

Buffy ignored the pain in her side and rose from the sofa. "I don't care how funny you find my situation, Spike. Laugh all you want. Just know that that's all you'd better be doing. Tell anyone... And I mean ANYONE, and I'll stake your sorry ass."

Spike eyed her warily. "And I don't doubt that for a second, blondie. But you know what? Leaving because you think the bloody idiot doesn't love you isn't the answer to your problems. Especially since any other bloody idiot that has eyes can see that he still loves you. He never stopped. Even the brod that calls herself his girlfriend sees it.”

"Her name is Cordelia, Spike. And he loves her, not me. And in case you've forgotten already that is not the reason I'm leaving. Now drop it. This discussion is over."

"Okay, blondie. Consider it dropped. So what shall we talk about now? Your death maybe? Because that's what's going to happen if you try to do this alone."

"And you think I don't already know that, Spike?" Buffy crossed her arms in front of her chest as she continued to meet his gaze. "I know. I know and I accept it. That's why you're going to do me a very big favor."

"What kind of favor?"

"I had some papers drawn up while I was here. A will... I'm going to give it to you for safe keeping, and when the time comes I need you to get it to Angel. Can you do that?"

"Yes, but Buffy..."

She held up a hand to stop his next words. "There's more, Spike. I also made financial arrangements for Dawn. She'll get a check once a month for as long as she lives. I needed to make sure she would be taken care of even though I know you'll see to that." She came back over to sit back down beside him. "Also I umm... There are a couple of things that I would like Conner and Angel to have now, and I wouldn't ask you take them for me, but I was thinking of having a delivery service do it and it just seems so..." She looked over at him. "Will you take them for me? It'll require you making a couple of trips, but it's umm... It's important to me that they get them."

Spike nodded, and Buffy smiled in relief. "Good. Good. And I trust you'll keep your mouth shut about everything we've discussed tonight when you do?"

"I will, but I don't like it, Buffy. Angelus and the pup should know. They can help you."

"No." Buffy shook her head. "Absolutely not, Spike. The last thing I want is for Angel to find out I'm not going to get that normal life he went to so much trouble to give me." She laid her head back on the sofa again, and shut her eyes. "Normal life." She said tiredly. "God, what a joke. He never did understand the fact that I would never have a normal life. But I understand now why he didn't, and I'm going to do everything in my power to see to it that the same doesn't hold true for him and Conner. I want the both of them to have a family. A real family that they both can love and that can love them in return. They both deserve that, and I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure they get it." She opened her eyes to look back over at Spike. "That's why I'm leaving. I'm leaving to protect them. I'm leaving to give them the life they deserve. And I plan to start by erasing any traces of me from their lives. Once they get what I want you to take to them I plan to see to it that they forget about my time in LA. I can't leave any traces of me. Not for them or for whoever it is that wants me dead. I will protect them no matter what, and if it takes dying to do that then so be it. I'll die. But I can tell you now there won't be any regrets. As long as their safe there won't be any regrets. Not this time."

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Thanks Kolumbyne, dragonqueen05, hannahbee, L.J, Rehatha, Susan, Chrissnoop, Mary, Al M, Laura May, Isis, Nikki, Ruthh, Raelynn, Karen H, and Kassie for the feedback. You guys are great!


CHAPTER 22


When Conner came down the steps of the Hyperion into the lobby later that night and made his way over to his desk, he did so without even attempting to greet the woman standing at the front desk sorting through a stack of files. "You're up early. What's wrong? Couldn't sleep?"

"No." He sat down in his desk chair. "I've been thinking alot about my... friend."

"Wow, that's a first. I didn't know you actually had any?" She turned around to look at him. "Just exactly how much did you have to pay this person to be your friend?"

"Her. My friend is a her, Cordelia. And for your information I didn't have to pay her a god damn thing. Unlike you she happens to actually care more about other people than herself. She's one exceptional lady, and I miss her very much."

"Miss? What did she do die?"

"As a matter of fact she did. Three times to be exact, and one of those times she sacrificed her own life to save the world and her sister. And why the hell I'm even bothering to discuss her with you in the first place is totally beyond me. You wouldn't know the true meaning of sacrifice if it came up and bit you in the ass."

Cordelia snapped the file shut and spun around to face him. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Exactly what you thought it meant, Cordelia." Conner locked eyes with her. "He still loves her. He knows it. Fred, Gunn, and Wesley know it, I know it, and even you know it, but you refuse to admit it because your too fucking selfish to let go of him and let him be happy when you're obviously not."

"How dare you!" Cordelia stormed over to Conner's desk. "How dare you judge me when you know nothing about me, Conner? How dare you side with her when you don't have a clue of the hell she put him through?"

"I dare because he's my father and she's my..."

Cordelia raised an eyebrow as Conner refused to let what he was about to say slip out. "She's what, Conner? Your friend? The woman you love?"

"No. She's the woman he loves, and I see that everyday with my own eyes. I've seen it everyday since we got back from Sunnydale. He loves her and you know it. You even so much as admitted it not so long ago. So why hang onto something that doesn't really belong to you, Cordelia? Why hang on to him when you and I both know that what the two of you have isn't true happiness? And it's not true happiness is it, Cordelia? Even if there still was a curse Dad would never be at risk of losing his soul with you, and even if he was it wouldn't matter now. Especially since the two of you aren't even sharing a bed anymore, and haven't been since the day Buffy walked back into his life." Conner leaned closer to her. "And don't even try to deny that what I'm saying isn't true, Cordy. Vampire senses, remember? I could always smell you on Dad when you and he... And I haven't in a long, long time. Now her on the other hand... You know, if I'm not mistaken I clearly remember her scent being all over him the morning after she got her memory back."

"Why you little..." She drew back to hit Conner, but her blow never landed because he caught her fist in his hand before it did. "I wouldn't try that again if I were you, Cordelia. If you do I just might have to hit you back to try and knock some sense into that inflated head of yours."

"I hate you!" She spat.

Conner stood up, still holding her hand in his grasp as he did. "And I can assure the feeling is mutual."

"Well, well. What do you know?" A voice replied from behind them. "Looks to me like things aren't as happy on the Hyperion homefront as some would tend to believe."

Cordelia spun away from Conner, and both hers and Conner's eyes landed on the owner of the voice at the same time. "Spike..." Conner said coolly. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm in town visiting family, and I don't mean just you and peaches if you catch my drift, kiddo." Spike grinned.

Conner's eyes narrowed as he stared at the peroxide blonde, who was holding a box in his arms. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"That's what I'd like to know." Angel said, appearing out of nowhere and moving up beside his son.

"Now, now, Peaches... Don't go blowing a gasket or anything. I just meant I'm here for a reason."

"And that reason is?" Angel eyed Spike warily.

"Well, let's see if you can guess. She's about yeah high." Spike gestured with his hands. "Has golden blonde hair and goes by the name of Buffy. Ring any bells?"

That got Angel's attention. "What about Buffy? Is she... No, she's not..." He said more to himself than to Spike. Suddenly his panicked gaze flew back up to his. "Something's wrong. What is it? Is she okay?"

"Sure she is. Well, she's as okay as anyone that's been shot can be anyway."

"Shot? She was shot?" Angel's went even paler than it already was.

"Yeah. Dug the bullet out of her myself. And you better not beat the shit out of me for touching her. Somebody had to do it, and seeing as she wasn't going to the hospital and I was the only one around... Well, I think you pretty much have an idea of what would have happened if I hadn't helped her."

Angel glanced over at his son and saw that he looked just as sick as he felt. "In my office now..." He managed to choke out to Spike then grabbed Conner's arm and disappeared with him. He waited until he had Conner seated on the sofa in his office, and Spike had kicked the door shut before turning away from the wall that was holding him up. "What happened?"

"What are you deaf, you bloody poof? She was shot..."

Angel growled, and took a step towards Spike, but Conner jumped up from the sofa to block his father. "Spike, please. If you know something... Please... Just tell us if she's okay."

Spike saw the anguished look on the young man's face, and felt his heart strings tug. "Like I said before, kiddo she was shot. Took a bullet to her left side. Luckily though the bullet wasn't deep, and didn't hit any major organs. I removed it, and patched her up."

"How the hell could this have happened?" Angel asked in a pained voice. "Giles and I took precautions to see to it that she was protected."

"Yeah, I heard about that. But it was my understanding you only saw to it that she was protected on the hellmouth, and not here in LA."

"It happened here?" Angel asked in an even more pained voice.

Spike nodded. "And don't go blaming yourself, Angelus. You couldn't have known. Not when she lied to you and didn't tell you or the pup that she knew exactly who killed her pop."

"She knew?" Conner choked out.

"Yeah. I knew something wasn't right with her once you and your father left Sunnyhell, kiddo. And then she ups and tells her little sis and the watcher she's not staying and split a couple of days later, so I followed her. I've been trailing her for two weeks, but tonight I lost her in traffic, and when I finally caught up with her it was too late. She was coming out of this warehouse all bloody and I had no choice but to confront her about what she did."

"Confront her? Confront her about what, Spike? What did she do?"

"She took it upon herself to seek revenge on this fella, Conner. Found away around that stipulation your father and the watcher tacked onto her retirement and got herself shot in the process."

"What do you mean she found a way around the stipulation, Spike?" Angel moved to his desk, and sat down on the edge of it to keep his rubbery legs from giving out from under him.

"She used herself as a bait." Spike answered. "She knew this fella would come after her so she used herself as bait and lured him into a warehouse where she confronted him and waited for him to make the first move, and when he did she protected herself. But if you think she was the old Buffy you and I once knew and let him live you're wrong, Angelus. She didn't actually kill him herself, but she did have a hand in his death. Fed him to a gang of vamps she knew was nesting in the warehouse, and she watched the whole thing without any remorse."

Angel stood up. "Where is she now?"

"On a 747 bound for destination unknown." Spike answered. "She had me drop her off at the airport about two hours ago, and wouldn't let me go in with her."

"She left?" The question came from Conner, and Spike nodded in answer. "'Fraid so, kiddo. And I don't think she's coming back. Or at least that's what she told me. She said your old man and his lady love was right. She didn't belong here and she sure as hell didn't belong in Sunnydale."

"And you just let her go in the shape she was in?"

"It wasn't my place to stop her, Angelus. It was yours. She's your mate. Besides, I couldn't have stopped her even if I had wanted to. She had her mind fixed on leaving before you and the pup ever left Sunnydale. It was all part of a great big 'ole plan."

"What about Dawn, and the others... Didn't they..."

"Dawn tried, but Buffy just told her that she couldn't stay, and then later on tonight she ups and tells me she's seen to it that Dawn will be taken care of financially. Then she told me that I was going to have to take care of her now. And as far as the others... Well, she wouldn't leave her room whenever they were around, so I assume she just couldn't get over what they did enough to want to stay in Sunnyhell with them. She did eventually talk to Giles though. I don't know what exactly was said, but I can tell you that she wasn't a happy camper once it was over."

"Something's not right here." Angel murmured. "I feel it." His eyes returned to Spike. "Did she say anything else to you?"

"Yeah, but I'm afraid I can't let the cat out of the bag. She made me promise not to say anything, and I intend to keep that promise just like the other one I made to her."

"What other one?"

Spike raised the box in his arms to show Angel. "That I would see to it that you and the pup got this and the other things she left to you, and I did that." He walked over and handed Angel the box. "My duty's done, and now I'm heading home to be with my own mate." He turned, and went to leave but Angel's voice halted him in his tracks. "Hold it right there, Spike. If you honestly think I'm going to let you leave without forcing you to tell me what else you know about her, you've got another thing coming."

"And I've already told you I made a promise to the girl and I intend to keep that promise. So if you want to try and beat it out of me go right ahead, but I can tell you now it won't do a damn bit of good. Nope, I'm not the one that needs a good ass kickin. The person here that needs the ass kickin' is you, ANGEL." Spike turned back around to look at him. "She's your bloody mate, and you left her alone, hurtin', and defenseless. Can't say I have any respect for you for that, and I would almost bet Angelus wouldn't either if he were here. In fact, I think if he were here he would probably be the one kicking you in the seat of the pants, and ripping the heads of any fucker that dared to touch her. Pity you don't have the same balls as he does, and that you let that bloody guilty conscious stand in the way of being the man you should be because I sure as hell wouldn't want to be in your shoes if or when something happens to her. And I almost was once. In your shoes I mean. Got myself engaged to her."

"You what?" Angel roared.

"You heard me, Angel. I got myself engaged to the slayer. And don't go blowing a gasket or anything thinking I shagged her because it didn't happen. We kissed, that's it. And the only reason we did that was because we were under the influence of a fucked up spell done by red. Only lasted half a day, and then the watcher fixed it. Doesn't matter though, I know what it's like. How scared you can be at the thought of losing her. I know because I feel all that and more with Dawn. Couldn't imagine life without her. Can you? Imagine life without Buffy, I mean? 'Cause that may be just what happens, Angelus. And it won't be for five years this time. It'll be for forever." Spike opened up the door to leave. "Don't forget to open that box. It was important to her that you and the pup..." Just then there was a loud explosion, and the room began to quake. "What the hell..."Angel shot to his feet again, but just as quickly as he did Spike's words sent him leaning back on his desk again. "Don't worry, you bloody idiot. It's not another apacolypse. Just her seeing to it that there aren't any traces left of her time here. She wanted you to forget she was ever here, but if I were you I wouldn't forget. Not if you love her as much as I think you do. Because sooner or later you're going to find out that she loved you... both of you... more than you will ever know." Without another word Spike disapeared, leaving Angel and Conner alone to stare at the box in Angel's arms. "This is your fault." Conner finally managed to choke out after several tense minutes.

"Conner..."

"I wanted to stay, but she wouldn't let me." Conner cut Angel off. "She didn't need me." He raised his angry gaze to his father. "You... She needed you and you left her. You left her. Spike's right. You do need a good ass kicking, and if something happens to her you'll get it. You'll more than get it, Dad. If something happens to her I'll kill you." With that said, he walked over to pull off the envelope taped to the top of the box with his name on it. "I think I need to be alone now."

All Angel could do was nod and watch his son leave, but it took several heartbreaking minutes for him to take the box and envelope with his name own name on it around his desk to sit down and open them, and when he finally did he did so with shaking hands.


Angel,

I know I told you to leave Sunnydale and never look back, but just for a moment I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to do just that. It's for my sake. You see, even though I know you believe here in Sunnydale is where I belong, I've come to the conclusion you were wrong. I don't belong here in Sunnydale anymore, Angel. I'm not Buffy Summers anymore. Yes, maybe physically I still look like her, but inside... Inside that's a different story. And Chara... Even though I will always love Kyle for creating and loving her, I'm not her either, and because I'm not I know I don't belong in LA either. So what do I do now that I've come to these two conclusions you ask? I do the only logical thing I know to do. I'm going to leave California all together. I'm about to embark on a new journey that in my heart I know now is my destiny. But first, in order for me to move on with my life I need to lay Buffy and Chara's pasts to rest, and that's the reason I'm writing this letter to you.

I guess the best place to start is with Buffy's past and tell you what I've decided to do about Dawnie. But before I do I want you to know that I think you were wrong, Angel. So wrong. No, I won't deny that she did need Buffy, but she needed Buffy five years ago, not now. She's all grown up and has moved on from Buffy's death. She has a life of her own. She has Spike. And yes, I know that bugs the hell out of you, but all I can say to you is to get over it. Even though she only existed the year before Buffy died, she and I share memories of a life together before and during that time, and if there is one thing I can definitely say I remember very clearly about her it's that she had a good head on her shoulders. She still does. Do you honestly think she hasn't thought about what it means to love Spike, or the hardships she'll face doing it? She's thought about it, Angel. I'm sure she's thought about it alot, but she doesn't care. She knows and believes with all her heart that whatever may happen with them she'll get through it... That they'll get through it together. And as long as she believes that and is happy then that's all that matters. Now on a more personal note let me say this and then I'll wrap this part of my letter up. Don't think for a second that just because I can't be the same person that Dawn knew five years ago that I don't love her, Angel because God knows I do. And it's because I do that I've seen to it that she will always be taken care of financially. I know doing it wasn't exactly what Mom meant when she asked me to look after her, but it's the best I can do, and I believe with all my heart that Spike will cover all the other bases including protecting her. And he won't do it just because he loves and adores her, he'll do it because he made that promise to me a long time ago and kept it, and I don't doubt for a second that he will continue to keep it. Now with that said, let's move on.

While in the process of trying to lay my past to rest I cleaned out that fucking shrine to the dead that was once called my bedroom, and I came across some stuff I thought you might like to have back... First there's your leather jacket which has been all nice and whatever the hell the cleaners do to it when you take leather to them to clean, and then I'm also returning six of your black silk shirts. I know, I know. I'm only like seven years late returning them to you, but hey it's better late than never, right? Oh, and don't worry. According to the latest fashion magazines leather and silk are definitely going to be in this year so you'll still get alot of good use out of them. And okay, I'm starting to babble and get off subject now and I can't do that because time is a wasting and I don't want to bore you to tears.

After taking care of everything in Sunnyhell I came to LA to take care of the personal aspects of Kyle and Chara Williams' lives. I made arrangements for the building across the street from you and I'm pretty sure by now you know what kind of arrangements it was. I'm sorry if I scared you and Conner, but I just wanted you both to forget that I was ever there. And then there's the fact that I didn't want to risk you getting neighbors that were worse than me. Forget I was ever there, Angel. That's what I want you and Conner to do. That's also why I put Kyle's house up for sale. Thankfully though I didn't have to worry about the center because several old friends of Kyle's volunteered to take over running it. Their fellow retired police officers that volunteered there, and are already familiar with all the kids so I know they'll do a wonderful job.

You know, I really thought doing all that would be the hardest on me, and take the longest, but it turns out the hardest part came down to with the last two items I possessed. Don't get me wrong, I knew what I wanted to do with them right off, but I just wasn't sure if what I wanted was the right thing to do. I didn't...don't want to stir up any problems, and then there was the fact that I want you and Conner to forget I was ever there and I wasn't sure you could do that if I did what I wanted to do. But you know what, Angel? After a very very long night of battling my own inner demons I knew in my heart that my decision was the right one, and that's where you figure into this.

Dawnie was telling me about the day you drove my car. How hot you looked in it, and she said she tried to convince you to trade that tank of yours in for a sports car. But I know you, and it's because I do that I also know you'll never do that. Not that I blame you, mind you. Tank or not it's still a classic, right? And because it is you really shouldn't drive it that much. You should park it and preserve it. It'll be worth something someday, you know? The only problem is if you park it you'll need another vehicle, and boy oh boy do I have just the one for you. It's a Ferrari 360 Modena Spider. Black... Which I also happen to know is your favorite color. And it's also a convertible to boot, so you won't have to miss out on getting that tan you need so badly. The car I'm talking about is my car, Angel. And now it's yours. I'm giving it to you. I thought about giving it to Conner, but he's not ready for a car like that, so I gave him Kyle's truck instead. It's alot more suitable and safer for a young man his age, and by giving it to him that leaves my car for you. And don't think for a second that I don't know what you're thinking right now, mister. You're thinking you can't take it. But you know what I say? I say you can and you will. Besides the fact that I know you'll look hot in it, it's very important that you do this for me. I really really want you to have it, and if it pisses Cordelia off I really don't give a shit. Just take it as the gift it was intended to be, and enjoy it, okay?

Now on a final note. Also enclosed in the box you will find your keys and the title. I hope you don't mind the fact that I used your real name when I signed the title over to you. I did the same for Conner. I had to be sure everything was all legal so neither one of you would ever get accused of stealing your own vehicles.

Well, I think that about covers everything. She's now all yours Mr. Tall, Dark, and Gorgeous. Enjoy her, and your life. Be happy, Angel. I mean, truly truly happy. You deserve it.

Buffy


Angel folded up the letter and laid it aside before opening up the box and reaching inside to pull out another envelope that obviously contained the keys and title to the car Buffy had just given him, and when he poured the contents out on his desk top a sob tore from his throat as he reached for the gold key chain with his name engraved on it. "Buffy..." He clutched the key ring in his hand. "God, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, baby."


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I would like to give a special heads up to the following people for their feedback the last few chapters. Thanks to Raven Raven, Kassie Ray, Rebecca, Sylvie, Ruth, Susan, Laura May, Mary, Carolyn, dragonqueen05, Kolumbyne, Isis Blue, Kyria, Nathalie, Sobad97, Kathy, Emma, Christine, and Meghan.

Anita

The disclaimer is the same. It all belongs to evil Joss. Damn him for not giving us the ending we wanted. But hey, that's what fanfiction is for and there's always Season five of our sexy vampire. That's why I'll continue to have hope!

CHAPTER 23


"Hey. Are you okay? Your Dad told me."

"What do you care?" Conner muttered as Cordelia sat down on the brick wall beside him. "You got your wish. She's gone."

"I never wanted her to..." Cordelia started to say, but stopped and looked away when Conner glared at her with two-knowing eyes. "Okay. Okay." She sighed. "Maybe I did, but now..."

"But now what, Cordelia? You feel bad because Dad's hurting or better yet is the reason, the real reason, you feel bad because you wished her dead and she nearly did end up that way? That's it, isn't it? You wanted her dead all along, and you just wish to hell she would have stayed that way in the first place."

"That's really harsh, Conner." Cordelia blinked back tears. "What have I ever done to you to make you hate me so much except for love you? Why is it so easy for you to love her and not me? I've been here for you since the day you were born and she hasn't, and yet..."

"It wasn't her fault that she couldn't be here." Conner mumbled, and looked across the street at what was left of the building that once belonged to Buffy.

"W-What?" Cordelia stared at him, not quite sure of what he had said.

"Buffy's not being here wasn't her fault."

"So what are you saying? Are you saying it's mine? Because if you are I have news for you, Conner. Your Dad left her, and it was probably the best thing he could have ever done. And it was a hell of a long time before I ever entered the picture. At least it was a hell of long time before I entered the picture romantically anyway. And God, why am I even bothering to tell you this or be nice to you for that matter?" She threw up her hands. "I mean, it's pretty obvious even if I did offer you a shoulder to cry on you wouldn't take it."

"I don't need a mother, Cordelia. I have one."

"You HAD one, Conner. HAD. And for your information I am not trying to be a mother to you. I'm trying to be a friend. A friend! But you know what, I'm not going to try anymore because I finally get it. I finally get that you really do hate me. Still, even though I do know it, it won't change the way I feel about you. The way I really feel about you. I know I said earlier that I hated you, but the truth is I don't..." She turned and slid off the wall. "The truth is I love you, a-and if you ever decide to get over hating me and let me in I'll be there. I'll always be there." She started to leave, but his voice stopped her.

"Cordy?"

"W-What?"

"I don't hate you."

"Y-You don't?" She spun back around to look at him with tear filled eyes and met his equally as filled ones. "N-No. The truth is I actually kinda like you. I just..." Conner choked back a sob. "I-I don't understand... I don't understand why the powers would bring her here if she wasn't supposed to be a part of my life. I just don't... I have so many questions, Cordy. So many that need answers and I don't even know where to start looking for them."

"What are you talking about, Conner? What kinda questions? And what do they have to do with Buffy?"

Conner swiped at his tears. "Can I trust you, Cordelia?"

"W-What?" She asked confused.

"If I tell you something. Ask for your help. Can I trust you not to say anything? Not to anyone, including Dad. Because I really need someone I can trust right now." He choked back another sob. "You're all I've got. And I need to know that I can trust you on this." He started crying then, and Cordeia closed the distance to him, and pulled him into her arms as he began to sob uncontrollably. "It h-hurts, Cordy. It hurts so much." She stroked his hair as he buried his face in her chest and poured his heart out to her. "Shh... I know it does, baby. Just let it out. That's it. Just let it out. I'm here. I'm right here. You can trust me. I swear. You can trust me..."

****

Five weeks later...

Cordelia knocked on Angel's office door and stepped inside to find him in the midst of a mess. "Angel, you gotta second?"

"Can whatever it is wait till another time, Cordy? I'm kinda in the middle of something." Angel slammed a stack of files down on his desk. "I swear, your filing system always did suck, but it's gotten even worse lately. I can't make heads or tales out of anything in here." He turned back to the filing cabinet he had been rummaging through when she came in.

"Did you ever stop to think that maybe I filed those files wrong on purpose, Angel?" She replied as she stepped into the room and closed the door."

"Okay, you did it on purpose. Now would you like to tell me why?"

"Well, it sure as hell wasn't so you could make a whole new mess out of the one we already had that's for sure."

"Cordelia..."

"Fine." She huffed. "I did it in the hopes you would venture out of this room long enough to take note of some of the changes that's happened around here."

"Changes?" Angel stopped what he was doing to turn back around to look at her. "What changes?"

"Well, for one Fred and Gunn got engaged. Two weeks ago to be exact. And if you would quit being a fucking bear in permanent hibernation while the world around him goes on you would know that. And the world has went on, Angel. Life, too. That's why I decided to venture into this, your so called cave to talk to you since it's obvious you're not willing to come out of it or hibernation. It's time you and I done what we should have done months ago."

Angel's eyes narrowed as he stared at her. "What the hell are you talking about, Cordelia?"

Cordelia looked down at her feet. "You haven't been around much lately, Angel. Physically or emotionally. If you had been you not only would have noticed the changes with Fred and Gunn, you would have noticed the changes with us, too. Although, I'm pretty sure you already know there's been some changes with us considering you're the one that made them. And God, this isn't going at all like I had hoped it would."

"What isn't going at all like you hoped it would?"

"This!" She yelled and gestured with her hands. "Us! I wanted to talk to you about us, but I can't seem to get the words out of my mouth."

"Maybe you should just try spitting it out, Cordy. It works. Or at least Fred says it works."

"Fine then. I'll just spit it out." She looked back up at him. "We uhh... You and I, that is... We haven't been a couple for quite some time, Angel. In fact, now that I think back on the four and a half years that I've been with you I don't think we ever really were. A couple, I mean."

"Cordelia..." Angel started to say, but she raised her hand to cut him off. "No, Angel. Please just let me finish. We uhh... Just think about it. I mean really think about the last four and a half years and tell me that what we had was what you had with Buffy."

"I don't know what the hell brought this on, Cordelia. But I'm not going to fight with you about Buffy."

"I'm not trying to start a fight with you about Buffy, Angel."

"Then what do you call what you're doing right now?"

"I call it me trying to get you to admit what has been so fucking obvious since the day she walked back into our lives. I'm trying to get you to admit what deep down I always knew even before she reappeared in our lives. I'm trying to get you to admit that you are still so crazy in love with that girl you can't see straight, Angel. But most of all it's time I grew up and admitted to you and myself that I was being selfish holding on to you when you and I both know I never really had you to start with. I'm setting you free, Angel. Because you and I both know that you don't love me. That you never loved me." She moved across the room and came to a stop in front of him. "Look at me, Angel. I mean really look at me. Look into my eyes and tell me you don't love her. Tell me that the reason you've been locked away from the world outside for the last five weeks isn't because you can't imagine living in that world without her." She locked eyes with him. "Tell me."

Angel tried to hold her gaze for as long as he could, but eventually the tears welling in his eyes told her the story, and he looked away. "I can't... But it doesn't mean that I never..."

"...loved me?" She turned his face back to his. "I know. I know you loved me. That you still love me, and I love you, too. But you and I both know that the love we shared...share isn't the one of soulmates. It's the love of best friends who used each other as a support system in their times of need. And you know what else, Angel?"

"What?" He whispered.

"I don't regret a second of it because if it wasn't for you I wouldn't know what love is. What real love is. And I do know. I know now exactly how you feel about Buffy because I feel the same way about Conner."

"Conner!" Angel bellowed in shock and had to lean back against the filing cabinet for support. But shock was the only reason he had to lean against the cabinet because of her little announcement. Just shock. That was it. There was no pain, not like with... God, who was he kidding? There was still pain, and there would always be pain as long as he remained seperated from Buffy.

"Angel?" Cordelia stared at him in concern. "Are you..."

Angel shook the cobwebs out of his head, and returned his gaze to the woman in front of him. "Y-You're in love with Conner?"

"Uh huh..." Cordelia started to giggle like a teenager, her concern for him immediately flying out the window as she thought of the man she was in love with. "And it's shocking I know. And, and actually kind of sick if you think about it because of the whole I was sorta his surrogate mother and changed his diapers scenario. But I can't help the way I feel." She walked over and sat down on the corner of his desk. "When I look back on the times since his return I know now that I was in love with him even then, but I fought what I felt because of you... Because what we had felt so... safe. God, Angel. I have never been so afraid in all my life. I had all these powerful feelings whenever I was around him, and I tried so hard to fight them... And for awhile I even thought I was winning the battle. That was until Chara... Buffy entered the picture. Seeing him with her nearly killed me. So much so I became Queen C again to deal with my jealousy, and took it out on her... him... you. And I'm so sorry for that, Angel. I used you and your guilty conscience to keep you with me. It was my way of getting back at her for having the one thing I wanted more than anything in this world..."

"...Conner." Angel finished for her.

Cordelia nodded. "Yeah."

"So when did you figure all this out?"

"The night she left town. He and I exchanged words and he said some things that kinda woke me up and made me take a good look at myself. If he hadn't done that I'm not sure I would have ever realized how I felt about him. Of course, once I did realize it telling him how I felt... How I really felt was out out of the question. I thought he hated me. But I wasn't... I'm not giving up hope that maybe one day I will be able to tell him. That's another reason why I'm doing this. Letting you go, I mean. By doing this not only am I setting you free to be with the person you should be with, I'm also setting me free to do what I want to do. And what I want more than anything else in this world is to be free so I can love Conner. He needs someone to love him, Angel. And I believe with all my heart that I'm that person." She stood up. "And before you go and ask me because I know you will, I'm going to tell you now he doesn't love Buffy. Not the way you think anyway. He told me that he loves her with all his heart, but he's not in love with her."

"Yeah, I know. He told me what his real feelings for her were... are... in Sunnydale."

Cordelia slapped his arm. "And you didn't tell me?"

"Sorry. I was sorta busy." Angel gave her a weak smile before turning back to the filing cabinet to fiddle with some files.

"Yeah, I saw and heard. So..." Cordelia eyed his back. "You slept with her, huh?"

"W-What?" Angel froze on the spot. "I mean, no... I didn't sleep with her, Cordelia. I... She was hurting, and she needed someone to love her."

"And since you do. Love her, I mean. You made love to her." Cordelia finished for him, and Angel froze on the spot. "Cordelia..."

"Why didn't you stay? In Sunnydale, I mean. Why didn't you stay with her?" She cut him off and asked.

"I wanted to." Angel confessed in a barely audible voice. "God, I wanted to."

"Then why didn't you?"

"I couldn't." Was all he said as he went back to his filing.

"Jesus fucking christ, Angel! Don't tell me you're still going to use that she deserves a normal..."

"Cordelia..." Angel spun back around to look at her. "I'm not going to discuss this with you. Now drop it."

"Fine! I'll drop it for now. But only because you need time to digest everything I've just told you and talk to Conner. And you really do need to talk to him as soon as possible, Angel. Besides the fact that you two need to fix things from that argument you had over her when she left, you have to take into consideration that he misses her, too and needs to talk to someone about it. That someone should be you, his father, and the only other person that knows her the same way he does. Just remember though that once you two are done with your talk then it's our turn, okay?" She began to inch backwards to the door. "And now... Now I'm just gonna go." She motioned to the door. "Gotta get to work to earn that paycheck you pay me." She turned once she reached the door,and was about to open it to leave when his voice stopped her. "Cordy?"

"What?" She spun back around to face him.

"Has he umm... By any chance has he heard from her?"

"No." Cordelia answered him. "Not one word. That's another reason you need to talk to him. He thinks there's something wrong with her. Maybe you can ease his mind. Tell him not to worry."

"I'm not so sure I can do that, Cordelia."

"Why not?"

Angel turned back to look at her with a worried look of his own. "Because I'm worried sick, too. I can't seem to shake this feeling that there's something wrong with her, too. Something very wrong..."


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Thanks Chrissnoop, Laura, Ashione, Dragonqueen05, Raven Raven, Laura May, Karen, Al M, Rebecca, Karin, Susan, Kassie Raye, Mary, Carolyn, and Isis Blue! You guys are what keeps me going.

CHAPTER 24


Seven months later...

"Tell me again what you saw in your vision." Wesley asked Cordelia as they entered one of LA's hottest new hotspots, a dance club ironically called *Hell*.

"I umm... I'm not quite sure, Wesley." Cordelia's eyes scanned the crowded club. "All I saw was a crowd of people, and a flash of something either brown or gold maybe."

"Could it have been a stake?" Gunn yelled to her as the group pushed through the crowd.

"Don't know. And yes, I know it's not much to go on, and quite frankly I've never had a vision this vague, but it was a vision nonetheless. Now I suggest we get a table and grab a liquid beverage while we're at it because there's no telling how long we're going to be here. If you agree with me say aye."

"Aye." Came several replies. Who's exactly was hard to tell over the gyrating music pumping over the sound system, but it didn't matter since Cordelia had already spotted an empty table and was making a beeline for it anyway.

"There's alot of vampires here. More than would normally be here at one time. I sensed them before we walked in the door. And there's something else, too. Something I can't quite put my finger on."Conner told his father as he saddled up behind him at the tail end of the line.

"I know." Angel murmued in reply as he too scanned the crowd. "I'm getting the same vibes."

"So what do we do? Something is definitely up."

"We wait and see if their up together." Angel's gaze returned to Cordelia, who was now standing at the table she'd found. "Go on and have a seat with Cordy and the others. I'm going to have a look around. See if I can zero our friends out of the crowd."

Conner nodded. "Do you want something to drink?"

"Yeah. Irish Whiskey. Make it a double." He disappeared into the crowd then, and Conner went to join the others. After getting everyone's drink orders he and Cordelia made their way up to the bar, and it was there that Cordelia finally confronted him. "Okay, what the hell is going on, Conner?"

Conner met her gaze. "What do you mean?"

"You and your father have both been acting really weird since we walked in this place. Did you two have another fight that I don't know about?"

The fight Cordelia was referring to happened five months ago, and was still a touchy subject between Conner and his father even after all these months. That's why Conner grimaced at the mention of it. "No. We didn't have another fight, Cordy. We even spoke to each other earlier. Just barely, and about work, but it's okay. I can handle it."

"Conner..." Cordelia saw the pain on his face, and reached for his hand. "He's still an idiot, Cordy."

"And believe it or not, I agree with you." She interlaced fingers with him. "An idiot in love, and love makes you do the wacky. And he would know firsthand seeing as she's the one that told him that once."

"She did?" Conner seemed to perk up a little.

"Mmm..." Cordelia smiled. "It was right after this..." Her voice trailed off and suddenly she pushed away from the bar. "And okay, what the hell is going on?" Her gaze stayed trained on something behind Conner, and he spun around just in time to see a large group of people began to shove their way through the crowd towards the bar . "Vampires..."

"You sure?" He nodded and quickly turned back to her. "Dad and I sensed them when we came in. We also sensed something else. Don't know what, but whatever it was it was enough for Dad to want to take a look around. That's why he didn't sit down with us."

"Uh huh." She continued to stare at the scene behind Conner. "I can see now why he wanted to take a look around. Something's definitely up. Their looking for something or someone."

Conner turned back around to look at the vamp's coming towards them. "Yeah, but who?"

Suddenly there was a loud clump behind them, and a voice rang out to answer him and the group of vampires. "Looking for me?"

Conner would have recognized that voice anywhere, and he quickly swung around to look up at it's owner, who was standing on top of the bar, in shock. ""Buffy..." To his surprise her name was all he managed to get out before the end of a pool stick came out to knock him aside.

"Buffy, what the hell..." Cordelia looked up at her, but Buffy only acknowelged her long enough to say one thing. "Get Conner out of here now, Cordelia." And then she was doing a front flip off the bar to the floor to confront the group of vampires. "Fellas, fellas, fellas. You know, I'm really getting tired of you stalking me."

The leader of the group stepped forward. "Then quit running."

"I'm not running." Buffy said as she sized him up. "I'm right here, aren't I?"

"Yeah, and I see that you're alone. Where's Matt?"

"Dust in the wind. He was a very naughty boy. He touched me, and I I think you guys know by now I really don't like to be touched."

"You killed him?"

"No, I didn't kill him, you fucking idiot. He was already dead. And since he was let's just say I took care of his funeral arragements for him. And you, mister should be thanking me for what I did especially since it looks to me like you got a very big promotion from it."

"I did. And I am very thankful to you for that. Still, no matter how thankful I am to you for helping me move up the ladder I can't overlook the fact that you killed one of my own. I hope you understand..." The male vamp growled. "Now prepare to die."

"That's all I've been doing for the last seven months." She said coolly, and took a step forward. "But I think I should warn you first that I"ve been in this position before and look where it's lead me."

"Pity you won't be as lucky this time." The male vamp hissed.

Buffy went into her fighting stance. "How about you try me and see how lucky I really am?"

The new leader of the group motioned to another vampire, who immediately vamped out, causing the crowd to panic and began to clear the club, but Buffy could've cared less about the pandimonium because at that very same moment the vamp chose to attack. She quickly responsded and shoved him away, sending him flying into a wall. Upon seeing their collegue go down the other vamps attacked, and Buffy once again defended herself by immediately backhanding vamp number three, kicking vamp number four in the face, then proceeded to spin around and punch vamp number five as vamp number four tried to take her pool stick away from her. She punched vamp four in the face, regained her grip on the pool stick then proceeded to use it to stake vamp six behind her. She then hit vamp four in the face with the stick again, dusted vamp seven, punched vamp eight, and quickly dusted three more vamps with three quick jabs of the stick. She paused and faced down vamp two, and it was then that she caught sight of the new group moving across the club floor. It had been one thing to see Conner, but to see HIM, and with a look of... God, she wasn't even sure what kind of look it was. All she knew was that it threw her, but only for a second, and then she quickly recovered in time to stake vamp two just as he decided to come sailing over her head. And now with her greatest threat, or threats in her case, out of the way she spun back around in a flash, bringing the pool stick to the leader's and last vampire's throat. "Looks like I'm still the lucky one and you're not."

"I"m not afraid of you, slayer." The leader eyed her.

"That's ex-slayer to you." Buffy grounded out. "And you should be afraid. Very afraid. See, thanks to my ex-boyfriend there's this little stipulation in my retirement contract that allows me to protect myself should the need arise for me to do so, and I think this is one of those instances when the need does arise, don't you? Oh nope, wait a minute I forgot a little something." She broke the pool stick in half and tossed it over her shoulder. "Sorry about the hold up, but I had to even things out between us since said ex has now arrived and for some reason gets it in his head that I just kicked your friends' asses for the hell of it. I really don't want him to be going and making any phone calls that'll lead to my losing my ability to protect myself. Especially since you and I both know they'll be others after you." She motioned to him with her hands. "Okay, big boy. It's time you showed me what you got."

The male vamp laughed. "You must be crazy, Slayer. Do you honestly think I would fight you now?"

"Well, yeah." Buffy's eyes narrowed. "Unless of course, you're chicken."

"Chicken? No, I'm not chicken. Not of you anyway. Now him on the other hand..."

"Him? Him who?" Buffy looked around, pretending not to see the man now standing behind the vampire. "The only two people I see left standing from our fight are you and I."

"That's true. But I know for a fact that if I make my move now Angelus right behind me here will jump in to defend you, his mate, and there won't be anything left of me once he's finished."

"O-Kay. Let me get this straight uhh..." Buffy straightened, and looked at the vamp again. "I'm sorry, but I didn't get the chance to get your name earlier because of all the dusting and everything."

"I understand. Tyler. My name's Tyler."

"Tyler. Nice name. And you are so not going to believe this, Tyler but the truth is I actually used to date a guy named Tyler."

"Really?" The vampire smiled through his fangs.

"Mmm..." Buffy leaned closer to the vamp. "Turned out to be a real prick. Dumped me for what was then my best friend. A prick. He was a prick. But you want to know something that's even sadder than that, Tyler?'

The smile left the vampire's face. "What's that?"

"All men are pricks." She straightened and began to pace back and forth. "Well, at least all the men I ever dated were anyway. That's why I gave up dating about oh..." She stopped and stuck her finger to her chin in thought. "Jeepers, I don't know. Six, seven, maybe eight years ago. I'm not rightly sure exactly how many years it's been seeing as I sorta died and stayed dead for a couple of months during some of that time." She began to pace again. "Oh yeah, and then there was that whole deal where my old friend Wiccan Witch Willow brought me back from the dead with a resurrection spell, dying again, a coma, amnesia, and a mental institution straight from hell. But even in between all that little soap opera that was called my life I didn't date, and because I didn't that leads me back to just one very important question that I'm hoping you'll be nice enough to answer for me, Tyler."

"What is it?"

"What fucking idiot told you I was Angelus' mate?"

"Does it matter? The point is I know."

"Well duh, Tyler!" She screamed and spun back around to face him. "Of course, it matters. Especially since it isn't true!"

The vampire frowned. "It's not?"

"No."

"Then why do you bear his mark?"

"His mark?" Buffy looked confused for a moment, and then suddenly it dawned on her what he meant. "Oh. OH." She reached up to touch the scar on her neck. "You mean this?"

"Yes. Is that not his mark?"

"N-No. I mean, yes, he bit me I'll give you that, but evidently whoever told you wasn't aware of the fact that Dracula bit me as well. You do know who Dracula is don't you, Tyler? DRA-CU-LA. THE COUNT? Tall, dark, sexy, w-with hypnotic eyes, and that accent. And Oh God, that accent... even now when I think about it... Well, just take my word for it when I say that accent of Drac's is a real toe curler, Tyler. But it wasn't just the accent that won me over. There was also the part where he wooed me by telling me that whoever had bitten me before wasn't worthy of me, and that he had searched the whole world over for me and wanted to make me his instead, then pretty much did. Tragically though, I'm afraid our story doesn't have a happy ending. It's a real tear jerker actually. We were still basking in the darkness when I happened to find out that my new lover was actually sick and twisted. He had three other women locked up in the basement of his house, and since I'm not really into sharing I had no choice but to stake his sorry ass. Pricks... All mean are pricks. That's why I don't date." She started pacing again. "And that's exactly why I'm so upset about this new development you've brought to my attention. That's why I need you to tell me who told you that Angel, Angelus, or whatever the hell name he goes by nowdays, marked me, Tyler. Whoever they are they need to update their files. I mean, seri-ous-ly update their files, because not only did Angelus not mark me, last I heard he had managed to put a leash on that pesky soul of his and was fucking someone else. Besides the one time he fucked me, that is. But that's just our little secret okay, Tyler? I really wouldn't want it to get out that the almighty Angelus strayed from the little missus and fucked a freak. It might ruin his rep."

"Don't see how he could stray or get a bad rep from fucking his own mate, Slayer. And you are his mate. I figured that out the moment he arrived. You reek of him. Carry the same scent as he does. And that right there is enough to warn me that I would be crazy to even think about touching you. Not as long as he's this close anyway."

"I see..." She murmured. "And you're sure you won't change your mind?"

"Yes. I'd rather burn in hell for eternity than risk having to face a vampire protecting it's mate. Even more so now that I know the mate in question belongs to Angelus, The Scourge of Europe."

Buffy stopped her pacing to look at him again. "How about if I were to promise you that I would kill him if he were to try and interfere in our fight? Would you change your mind then, Tyler? Because I would do it. Don't doubt that. I've done it before. Did you know that? Or did whoever hired you to kill me fail to put that in their files, too?" The vampire started say something, but she held up her hand. "You know what, Tyler. How about you just take my word for it. I killed Angelus. Only it wasn't Angelus, it was his souled version. And as much as I would love to give you the really gorey details, I'm afraid I can't. Just take my word for it, and know that I'm not fucking with you when I say that I would gladly kill him again if he tried to interfere." She closed the distance to him. "So what do you say now, Tyler? Do we finish this or not? Because I really really need to find out who hired you to kill me and I pretty much already know that you're not going to tell me unless I beat the shit out of you. Am I right?"

"I wouldn't tell you even then."

"Why not?"

"Because telling you would mean my death no matter what the outcome of our fight would be."

"Then maybe you should reconsider fighting me then, Tyler."

"I don't think so." The vampire shook his head vigorously, and morphed back to his human face. "Like I said before, Slayer. I'd rather spend and eternity in hell than face Angelus."

"Fine." Buffy kicked out, and nailed the vampire with the pointed steel toe of her boot. "Then I guess I'll see you in hell." The moment her foot was back on the floor her cold eyes flew up to look at the stunned group standing several feet away from her. "Show's over people. Go home." With that said, she dismissed them by leaning over to dust the remnants of her fight from her clothes. "Nice boots."

"Thanks." Came her reply to the owner of the voice. "Now back off before I give you one as a departing gift just like I did Tyler."

She watched his own booted feet back away a few steps before she raised up to meet his very pissed off dark orbs. "What the hell is going on, Buffy?"

"You're the detective, Angel. Why don't you figure it out." She replied coolly and went to shove by him, but before she got the chance his hand shot out to grab her arm. "Not so fast, baby. You're not going anywhere until we talk."

"I don't have anything to say to you." She jerked her arm out to his grasp, and shoved by him. "God damnit, Buffy." Angel went after her, catching her a few short feet away and spinning her around again, but he quickly took a step back when he caught sight of the stake in her hand. "Buffy..." His questioning eyes returned to her cool ones. "Touch me again, and I'll kill you." She grounded out while cautiously backing away from him at the same time. "And I don't give a shit what your family or Giles do to me, got it?"

"Buffy..." Angel slowly began to inch towards her. "It's me. It's Angel, baby. Come on now. Give me the stake. The fight's over."

Buffy couldn't stop the bitter laugh that escaped her throat. "God, you are such a fucking idiot, Angel. That's if you really are Angel. Can't be too sure of anything these days or nights, or anytime for that matter." She began to back away from him again. "That's why if you come near me again I'm going to give you this stake, and it's not going to be the way you want it either."

Angel stopped in his tracks again, and his now confused gaze locked with hers. "What are you talking about if it's really me? Look at me, B..."

"Buffy!" Buffy's eyes flew from Angel to the young man coming up behind him. "Don't come any closer, Conner. I mean it."

Conner stopped right beside Angel. "Buffy..." His eyes took in the stake in her hands. "It's okay. Look at me. Look at Dad. It's us. We won't hurt you. Honest." He took a step towards her. "Come on now. Do as Dad asked. As I asked. Give us the stake."

"No. Stay away from me!" She yelled. "Stay away from me. It's not..." She raised the stake. "Just stay away from me. I mean it."

At her words Cordelia's hand shot out to grab Conner's arm. "Conner, baby, don't..."

"Cordy, it's okay..." Conner gently removed her hand from his arm. "She's just..." He turned back to Buffy, who was now staring at him with pained eyes. "Buffy..."

"Y-You let her call you baby?"

"It's not what you think, Buffy." Conner said softly. "If you'll just give me the stake then we can talk and I'll explain." He took another step towards her. "Come on now. Give me the stake."

"N-No!" Buffy took several step backs. "Y-You don't... I-I know... I-I mean, I understand." She looked down at something then back up at him. "G-Go. I umm... I have to go." She dropped the stake in her hand, and reached down to pull her gaping leather jacket closed. "F-Forget y-you saw me. I don't... G-Go. I have to go. I don't belong here. Forget I was ever here." And then she turned and shoved by the rest of the shocked group, leaving him and his father both staring after her.


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Okay, I know alot of you have been really upset with me wondering why Angel hasn't made his move and I think if you all seen the series finale of Buffy Tuesday night you'll finally understand why. That jealously thing is a real bitch, isn't it? Well anyway, if you don't understand you will soon. Read on.

Anita

CHAPTER 25


"Well?" Cordelia stared at Angel across his desk.

"Dawn didn't have a clue she was back." Angel hung up the phone. "She umm... She still hadn't heard a word from her since the last time I talked to her, and now that I've told her what Buffy's like she's even more upset than before. I mean, she's relieved that she's umm... She's relieved that she's back, but at the same time she's worried sick."

"I still don't see how you could think there was something wrong with her, Angel." Gunn replied from his seat on one of the sofa's in the lobby of the Hyperion. "Man, I heard she was good but good doesn't even begin to describe what I saw earlier tonight. That girl kicked some serious vampire ass."

"I agree that her fighting skills were impeccable, Gunn." Wesley added. "I'll even go as far as to say that she has improved incredibly since I was her Watcher, but no matter how good her skills are I'm afraid I'll have to agree with Angel when he says that her mental state is in jeopardy. Not just that, she looked tired. Really tired. And because she does she shouldn't even be slaying."

"She's not supposed to be slaying." Angel murmured, looking down at his hands. "She's supposed to be retired. Happy. Living a normal life."

"Oh great!" Cordelia snorted. "Here we go again. Jesus Christ, Angel! When are you going to get it through your idiotic skull that Buffy will never be normal? She hasn't had a normal life since she was fifteen years old, and I'm now I'm going to repeat for the last and final time that she will never ever have one again for as long as she lives."

"Cordy's right." Fred muttered. "That poor girl will never have a normal life. Especially now that someone's trying to kill her."

"W-What?" Angel's head snapped up. "What do you mean since someone's trying to kill her, Fred?"

"Just exactly that, Angel. At least, that's the impression I got from her anyway. A-And I don't think she knows who it is either. B-But I think that Tyler vamp knew even though he told her he didn't." She looked around nervously at the others. "And okay, I'm babbling and you guys are staring at me. Why are you guys staring at me? Do I have vampire dust on my face or something?"

"Your face is fine, Fred. I just..." Angel sat up in his desk chair. "What exactly tipped you off to the fact that somebody was trying to kill her?"

"She said it. Not in those exact words, but she still said it in a way that pretty much told me it was true." Fred looked around at the others again. "You mean you guys didn't hear her say it?"

"I didn't hear it." Gunn replied. "But I was too busy watching her kick ass to really pay attention to what she was saying."

"The same goes for me." Wesley replied.

"Cordy?" Fred looked over at Cordelia, who was sitting in a chair in front of Angel's desk. "Did you hear her say it?"

"No." Cordelia shook her head. "Sorry, Fred. I was too worried about Conner jumping in the fro or getting staked by her to really pay attention to what was being said." She looked across the desk at Angel. "Angel, are you honestly going to tell me that you missed hearing that your Beloved Buffy's life is in danger?"

"Actually I uhh... I pretty much stopped hearing anything after she started talking about Dracula biting her." Angel muttered. "And who the hell is he anyway? What right does he have to say I'm not worthy of her? He knows nothing about our history together. I loved that woman, and the only reason I left her was because I wanted her to have better than what I could give her. I didn't know... I didn't know her life was going to turn out the way it did. God, if I had known I would have never ever left her to start with, and she sure as hell wouldn't have been bitten by him. And talking about my not being worthy of her again... What about him? I know the sonofabitch and I can tell you now he is definitely not the guy for her. I used to run around with the loser. I taught him everything he knows. Alot of good it did. He was still a loser once I was done. That's why I eventually gave up on him, and quit hanging around with him. He made me look bad with the women. Of course, about fifty years after I did quit hanging with him he turned to Gypsy magic and started using it to nab the ladies. Became a fucking legend as a lover even though everyone knew he didn't have a chance in hell of ever getting laid if it wasn't for the magic. You can't tell me he didn't know. He had to have known Buffy belonged to me and bit her to get back at me for kicking him to the curb. Stupid Fucker. Wait until I get my hands on him. Buffy is my mate. Mine! And no one touches what's mine!"

"Then don't you think you should go get her before someone else decides to set their sights on her or worse, kills her?"

"W-What?" Angel shook his head to clear his thoughts, and met Cordelia's gaze.

"Buffy, Angel." Cordelia replied. "She's in danger. Your mate is in danger. Don't you think you should go get her, so you can protect her?"

Instead of answering Cordelia, Angel's gaze flew to Fred. "Tell me everything you overheard."

"O-Okay." Fred nodded. "It was right after she told that Tyler vamp that she uhh..." Fred fidgeted in her seat.

"It was right after she told the Tyler vamp what, Fred?" Angel urged her on.

"It was right after she told him she had k-killed you. She asked him if whoever had hired him to kill her had forgotten to put that in their files, too. Then she mentioned it again when she was trying to change his mind about fighting her. She said she needed them to fight because she really really needed to find out who hired him to kill her and she pretty much knew already that he wasn't going to tell her unless she beat the umm... you know what out of him."

"And you're absolutely sure that's what she said?"

Fred nodded again. "Yeah, I'm sure."

Angel sat back in his chair, deep in thought for a few moments. "You know, now that I think about it I do remember her saying some things that didn't make sense. Like when she said she didn't want to give me any reason to be making any phone calls to Giles that would put an end to her being able to protect herself. She said especially since you and I know they'll be others after you. And then there was the part when she was going to stake me. She umm... When she called me a fucking idiot. Then she said if you really are Angel. I can't be too sure of anything these days, nights, or anytime really." Angel frowned. "She's in trouble."

"Well, duh, you fucking idiot. Of course, she's in trouble." Cordelia piped in again. "Now don't you think you should do something? You know, like maybe go after her?"

Angel stared at Cordelia in disbelief. "Excuse me for asking this, Cordelia. But when exactly did you become a huge supporter of me and Buffy, and where exactly was I when it happened?"

"I'm not... What I mean to say is..." Cordelia stammered.

"It's okay, Cordy. Don't kill yourself trying to cover. I understand. That jealousy thing is a real bitch isn't it?"

"Right... Jealousy. It's a real bitch. Are you going to... What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to talk to Conner. Do you know where he is?"

"He's in the atrium. He was pretty upset."

"You know, you're worrying for nothing, Cordelia. He's not in love with her."

"I know, Angel. I do." She looked down at her hands. "I just... It's hard to accept sometimes. How close they really are."

"I know." Angel murmured as he remembered events from earlier that night.

"No." Cordelia shook her head. "You don't know, Angel. Just how close they really are, I mean."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean, Cordelia?"

"Nothing." She quickly stood up. "Nothing. It's that whole jealousy thing again. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. You should uhh... Talk to him. Conner, I mean. Right now as a matter of fact."

"Fine. I'll do that now." Angel stood up. "Do you think you guys could um... Could you start checking hotels and rental places for me. I need to find her."

"Sure." Cordelia stood up as well. "Just uhh... I know you two have been at odds for months, Angel. But you both need to talk. I mean really talk without losing your cool, okay?"

"I'll try and do my best, Cordy." Angel answered before he left the room in search of his son, and he found him exactly where Cordelia said he would be. He watched him for a few moments before entering the room, and he still wasn't quite sure what he was going to say to him even after he sat down on the bench beside him. Finally though, he managed to find his voice, but the words that came out didn't sound anything close to what he was feeling. "It's hard to believe she's back, huh?"

"Something's not right with her." Conner said, staring at anything and everything but the man beside him.

"I know." Angel leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees.

"Took you long enough to figure it out."

"Conner..."

"She's cold. So cold I barely recognized her." Conner cut him off. "I told you. I told you to go after her, but you wouldn't listen, and now... Now I can't help but wonder if she was right all along. About you never really loving her, I mean."

Conner's words cut through Angel like a knife. "What? When did she..." Angel looked over at Conner. "I love her, Conner. I have always loved her." He sighed and moved his gaze to the night blooming jasmine. "You're the first person I've admitted that to."

"And what? You think I'm supposed to be honored? Because I'm not, Dad. In fact, right now I'm not even liking you very much."

"Death... It changes people, Conner. It changed me after she... In all my existence, and that includes my time as a human and as a vampire I've only been in love with one woman. Her. She was... is everything to me. That's why I... I thought I was doing the right thing, and the only reason I did it is because I did... do love her. I love her more than life itself."

"So are you going after her?"

"Yes, but only because she needs help."

"I knew it! I fucking knew it!" Connner stood up, and reached up to yank a chain off his neck. "Here!" He threw the chain at Angel, and when Angel finally managed to get a grasp on it, his pained eyes flew back up to Conner's. "W-Where did you get this?"

"Where else?" Conner snapped at him. "She gave it to me. She enclosed it in her letter to me when she left town. Would you like to know what she said, Dad? It's not what you think. Far from it actually. She told me the story of how you gave it to her on her seventeenth birthday. Then she went on to tell me about she had left it at the mansion after you died, and that she had found it in your hands when you returned from hell. She never wore it again after she killed you. Not until the night she went to fight Glory. She went home to get some things for the battle and that's when she came across it... She knew... She umm... She knew she was going to die and she said that the thought of it broke her heart because she was still so crazy in love with you and she had made the mistake of not telling you the last time she saw you. She said she realized she would never get the chance to tell you or to say goodbye, and it was like dying a million deaths before she actually did die, but at the same time she said finding it again was what gave her the strength to do what had to be done. She said she slipped it on and the moment she did she felt that no matter what happened you would always be with her. And you were... All the way up until seven months ago. Even when she was Chara she knew... She knew how important that ring was. That's why she couldn't bring herself to take it off. She told me she couldn't bring herself to take it off because she knew the moment she did it meant her worst nightmare had come true. It meant that she really was incapable of loving or being loved, and that it had never really meant anything at all. And guess what, Dad? It came true. Her worst nightmare came true because there it is. There's her ring, and if you had known what I knew you would have saw what I saw tonight when I looked at her. You would have saw a woman that has convinced herself that she's not fucking worthy of anyone, and has shut herself off from the world because of it."

"I never..." Angel blinked back tears. "She gave it to you?"

"Yeah, Dad. She gave it to me. But only because it was too hard for her to give it back to you. She couldn't bear the thought that you might give it to someone else, so the only other logical answer was to give it to me. I am your son after all, and she knew in time you would have wanted to pass it down to me anyway. She knew you would want to keep up the family tradition I told her that was so important to you. But you know what, Dad? I don't want it. I don't want any part of a family tradition that ended up breaking someone's heart instead of filling it with love."

"I didn't mean to hurt her, Conner. God, that was the last thing I ever wanted to do. And this ring... You are both so wrong about this ring."

"Then prove us wrong. Go after her."

"I can't." Angel clutched the ring in his balled up fist.

"God damnit, Dad. Will you open your fucking eyes and take a really good look at her. She doesn't love me! Not the way you think. She loves you. You!"

"No." Angel shook his head. "You. She loves you, Conner. I saw it. I saw it in her eyes tonight. And she told me. In Sunnydale. She told me she loved you."

Conner started laughing, and once he started he couldn't stop.

"What?" Angel stared up at him "What the hell is so funny?"

"Y-You. God, you really are a fucking idiot, Dad. She's your mate for crying out loud. Of course, she loves me. I'm a part of you. But that's not the only reason she loves me. There's another one. But I'm not going to tell you what it is. You should hear it from her. Just know that the love she feels for me isn't the love she feels for you. You're her mate, Dad. And you always will be. Alive or Dead."

"Conner..."

"No, Dad. I'm done trying to talk to you." Conner's angry gaze nailed his father to the bench."I let you convince me that she was better off without me... us, and look what's happened to her. Not just that, I've wasted seven months. Seven months that I could have had with her. I'm through listening to you. If you don't want to be a part of her life then fine, don't be. But I'll be damned if I'm going to let you stop me from being a part of it. And while I'm at it let me say this to you. Stay away from her. She doesn't need your help. She doesn't need you period. I'll take care of her. I'll protect her and I'll love her. I mean it, Dad. Just stay the hell away from her. Don't you dare go anywhere near her again. Not unless you're ready to reclaim her as your mate. If you do, I'll kill you."


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

I would like to thank the following for their feedback the last couple of chapters: Glennierose, Carolyn, Mary, Kolumbyne, Kassie Raye, Dragonqueen05, Rebecca, Kyria, Emma, Karin, SoBad97, Christine, Isis Blue, Susan, Ruth, Michelle, QCAmy2002, hannahbee, Tonya, Meghan, Karen H, Tiff, Kim, and Raven Raven. Thanks guys! Your continued support means the world to me!

CHAPTER 26


Angel hadn't listened to Conner. Like he would anyway. Buffy was still in LA. He knew it. That's why he had been searching for her the last two weeks, day and night. She was still here. He felt her, but somehow she always managed to stay one step ahead of him, and none of his contacts were turning up anything either. Apparantly no one was talking. No one. Which only scared him more. It was unusual for word not to get around that someone had taken out a gang of local vampires, and even more unusual since that someone had been a slayer or ex-slayer in Buffy's case. The word Slayer was enough to put the fear of God into any known evil. Still, he hadn't given up hope, and just yesterday he thought his hopes of finding her had come true when he managed to recognize her handwriting under the name Anne Giles in a hotel sign-in book at one of the seedy hotels he had decided to check in the worst part of LA. Unfortunately though, he had missed her. She had checked out just minutes before that, and the desk clerk couldn't give him any clues as to where she was headed. He was almost at his wits end. That was until he had the dream or rather dreams. Only it wasn't just dreams. They were real. Very real. So real in fact, he woke up in bed gasping for air that he didn't need.

"Scary, huh?"

Angel's gaze sought out the owner of the voice, and he wasn't for sure if what he was seeing was real or not. "Don't worry, I'm real." The little girl told him as she stepped into the room. "Well, at least I hope I will be someday."

"Who are you?" Angel asked, eyeing the little girl warily.

"Let's just say I'm a...friend." The little girl said mysteriously. "Now back to my question. The dreams... The one's you just had of her. Were they scary?"

"She was there. The paintings of hell..." Angel stated as he continued to eye the little girl, who was now standing just inside the open balcony doors. "The reason she was able to paint them so vividly was because she was there."

"Mmm..."

"B-But how?"

"You're soulmates. You share a whole lot more than just each others hearts." Was all the little girl said. "Which probably explains the pain you're feeling now."

Angel's face paled. "Sh-She's not..."

"Oh no..." The little girl shook her head vigorously. "She's not dead. Just hurt. And pretty badly at that. But like I said before you already know that. You saw it. Not just that, you felt it... Her pain. You still feel it, don't you?"

"Yes." Angel choked out. "I need to..."

"Find her?" The little girl asked and watched Angel nod his head. "Why?"

"Excuse me?" Angel asked, not quite understanding.

"Why do you want to find her, Angel?" The little girl moved to the side of his bed. "Is it to help her, because if that's it I'm here to tell you now that it's not your help she needs. Yes, together you are strong, alone you are dead. But it's more than that. Why do you think the powers sent her back?"

"The powers?" Angel asked in shock. "But she was... Willow..."

"Was just an instrument to accomplish what needed to be done. And yes, Buffy was in heaven just like you always knew, but what you didn't... don't know is it wasn't her heaven, Angel. That's why they sent her back here."

"But..." Angel started to argue with the little girl, but the moment he did she reached out to silence him with a finger to his lips. "They sent her back to complete a mission that should have been completed a long, long time ago."

Angel brushed the little girl's finger away. "And what mission is that?"

"To reunite the two of you."

"Are you saying..."

The little girl smiled and nodded. "Yes, Angel. That's exactly what I'm saying. It was meant to be. The two of you. It was meant to be. But was is the key word here. You wasn't supposed to push her away."

"I was trying to protect her. I thought she was happy there. I didn't want to drag her back into the darkness. And then there's Conner... She's in love with him."

"So that's why you didn't go after her?"

Angel looked away. "I wanted to. God, you don't know how many times I started to, but...I didn't want to drag her back into the darkness. And then there's the fact that I can't exactly have a life with her if she's in love with someone else."

"Trust me, Angel. She's not in love with Conner. Oh, don't get me wrong. She loves him. She loves him as much as she loves you, but in a different way. In fact, she loves him as much as you do, but it's not the way you've been thinking since the moment she told you in Sunnydale. No, she's not in love with him. She's in love with you. Or at least she was..”

"Was?" Angel asked meekly. "There's that word again. Are you trying to tell me something? Is there someone else now?"

"No, Angel. There's not anyone else. She's just lost now. That darkness you didn't want to drag her back into... Well, let's just say she never left it. She's been lost in it for so long. Actually she started getting lost in before you ever left Sunnydale all those years ago, but now... There's so much pain inside of her. She loves you. Don't doubt that. She's just forgotten what it feels like to love you."

"So what do I do?"

The little girl locked eyes with him. "What do you want to do?"

"I want to love her the way she deserves to be loved. That's all I've ever wanted."

"Are you saying you think you can do that now?"

"You tell me?" Angel firmly held the little girl's gaze.

"You are her light, Angel. Only you. But I want to warn you right now that you may have to fight to bring her back to you... There are forces..."

"Isn't there always."Angel cut her off and said.

"Yes, but this is different, Angel."

"Don't worry." Angel swept back the covers on his bed, and left it. "I'm not going to lose. This is one battle I have no intention of losing. " He turned away from her and reached for his pants to pull them on. "I've been waiting for this moment since the day I saw her coming down the steps of her high school. I won't lose. I refuse to." He waited for a reply, and when he didn't get it he knew it was because she was gone. His angel... His very own guardian angel... And that's exactly what she had been. He was sure of it. Only an angel could have just bestowed the one gift on him that he had been waiting an eternity for...

****

Buffy knew she was being hunted again. That's why she had moved from the seedy hotel downtown yesterday to a nicer one on the opposite side of town. Tired... God, she was so tired of fighting. In the two and a half weeks since she had been back in LA there had been six attempts on her life. The last one being earlier tonight in the parking garage of the hotel she was now staying at, and the fact that they had nearly suceeded in their mission only clarified what she already knew. She was going to die again. Sooner than she thought, and before she was able to find out who it really was that wanted her that way. However, no matter how bad things looked for her there was an upside to all this. At least she would be the only one they would eliminate. If anything good was going to come out of her dying at least she had managed to keep Conner and Angel safe by staying one step ahead of them. Or that's what she thought until she arrived at her hotel room and found Conner standing outside it waiting for her. "Jesus Fucking Christ, Buffy!"

"Don't." Buffy held up her hand. "I don't want to hear it, Conner." She mumbled through her swollen lips, and collapsed against him. "J-Just help me inside, okay?"

Conner muttered something under his breath then took the hotel key from her that she offered him, and helped her inside. "H-How did you find me?"

"Our connection. And then there was the bad vibes." He mumbled, as he practically carried her to the bed. He gently helped her sit down, then stepped back to look at her. "I guess it's a good thing I don't have visions or anything because if I did and I had seen your face I would have really been horrified. You look like shit."

"A-And you..." She let her gaze lovingly travel over him. "You look b-bigger. I d-didn't really notice the last time I-I saw you. H-Have you been working out?"

"Don't change the subject, Buffy." He glared at her. "What the hell happened?"

"W-Would you believe I got hit by a bus?"

"Buffy..." Conner knelt down in front of her. "L-Later." She reached out to caress his cheek. "Right now I need y-you to fix me up, D-Doc."

Conner's eyes traveled over her, taking in every cut and bruise visible to him, and he couldn't help but shudder. "M-Me? You want me to fix you? How the hell am I supposed to do that when everything on you looks broken, Buffy?"

"Everything on me probably is broken." She half-heartedly joked then quickly grimaced as she caught the look on his face. "I'm not going to a hospital so you might as well forget even thinking about bringing the subject up, Conner. B-Besides, I want you to doctor me because I already know you're so good at it." She leaned over to pat the first aid kit on the nightstand beside her bed, doing her best to ignore the pain screaming out from every part of her body. "A-And l-look. I even have supplies already on hand f-for you."

Conner muttered something else under his breath, and snatched the first aid kit off the nightstand. "This is great. Just great. Your mate and I are already at each other's throats... If he finds out I hid the fact that I knew where you were and that you were hurt from him he really will kill me."

"M-Mate?" Buffy stared at him through swollen eyes. "I-I don't have a m-mate, so evidently you're not talking to me."

"You know who I'm talking about, Buffy." Conner began to dab antiseptic on her face. "And he'll more than kill me when he finds out about this, he'll eviserate me."

She hissed as he hit a particularly bad cut. "H-He won't have to because if you refer to him as m-my mate again I'll do it myself, got it?"

"What's wrong with me referring to him as your mate? Doesn't that scar on your neck prove he is?"

"It proves nothing, Conner. Nothing!" She spat. "You of all people should know that. A-And while were on the subject of you..." She slapped him upside the head. "What the hell do you think you're doing? I'm not the least bit surprised that your f-father would umm... share his lovers. Well okay, maybe I am surprised a little, more than a little actually, but I also know it's not unusual for vampires to do that sort of sick, twisted stuff. H-He did as umm... Angelus. B-But you... How could you umm... How c-could you, Conner?" She slapped him upside the head again. "I-I w-wanted better f-for you."

"I have better." Conner rubbed the spot on his head where she'd hit him twice. "She's the best." He murmured, meeting her gaze. "And she loves me as much as I love her."

"S-So what?" She laid back on the bed to try and ease the intense pain that washed through her. Intense pain that wasn't from her injuries either. "Y-You and your father play musical beds? Y-You get her one night and he gets her the..." She did her best not to think about what she was thinking. "N-Next?"

"No. She only shares my bed, Buffy. Mine. She's been mine in that sense for the last two months, and they... They haven't been together... not the way you're thinking... Since the moment he laid eyes on you again."

"W-What?" Buffy slowly sat up, clutching her midsection as she did.

"You heard me, Buffy. Dad and Cordy aren't a couple anymore. Not that they ever really were even before they did decide to end it. Your ghost was always there, and then you really did come back... Yes, they were together, but they wasn't together together. How could they be when he still loved... loves you, and always will?"

"I umm..." Buffy vigorously shook her head. "No. No. I can't do this. I can't hear this. He doesn't... I don't want him... I-I can't do this." She struggled to stand up. "Y-You have to go."

"What?" Conner blinked in surprise.

"Y-You heard me, Conner." She finally managed to get to her feet, and limped past him. "Y-You have to go. You've already been here w-way too long as it is."

Conner stood up. "If you're worried about Dad, Buffy I can tell you now he doesn't know I'm here."

"I wish it was just him I had to worry about." She muttered under her breath.

Conner stood up. "What did you say?"

"I said you have to leave, Conner." She reached the door and opened it. "Now."

"No, Buffy. I'm not leaving." Conner crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Not until you tell me what the hell is going on. Really going on."

"Don't do this, Conner." Her swollen eyes pleaded with him. "Just go."

"How can you ask me to leave when you're in the shape you're in?"

"I'll be fine. And the answer to your question is because I don't want you here. Now get out."

He locked eyes with her. "I'm not a child, Buffy. You think I don't know what the hell you're trying to do here?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." She looked away.

"Liar." He closed the distance to her. "You're forgetting our connection. I know... feel... those protective instincts of yours. That night at the club... Now... I feel it. It's hard not to considering their in overdrive right now. Now tell me. Tell me who you're trying to protect me from."

"I'm not..." She opened her mouth to deny, but his bellow cut her off. "God damnit, Buffy. Will you just cut the crap and tell me because I'm not leaving until you do."

"Fine." She raised her gaze back to his. "M-Me... I'm protecting you from me."

"W-What?"

"I'm protecting you from me, Conner." She ground out. "Me! I'm protecting you from me!"

"Why? You would never hurt me."

"No." She confessed. "N-Never. I-I would never hurt you, but my death would...will."

"Y-Your death?" He choked out. "B-But you're not dying. I would know, and I don't... You're hurt but you're not dying, so why would you think that you're going to..." Suddenly the truth behind what she was really saying hit him like a ton of bricks. "Someone's trying to kill you."

"No. Not just someone. Alot of someones. And sooner or later their going to succeed, Conner. That's why I don't want you here. I don't want you to see it. And I definitely don't want you to get hurt or worse, and that's exactly what could happen if you stay." Her eyes turned cold again. "Go."

"No." He vigorously shook his head. "No, I'm not... Dad... I'm going to call Dad, and he and I... It won't happen. You won't die."

"I'm not afraid to die, Conner. I'm a Slayer, and that's a slayer's destiny."

"Ex-Slayer. You're an Ex-Slayer, Buffy. You're retired. You're the exception to the rule!"

"No, I'm not. I've already died three times, Conner. Count them! 1, 2, 3! And retired or not I'm going to die again. There's nothing you, I, or anyone else can do to stop it. I will die. It's my fucking destiny, and I've accepted it!"

"So that's it?" He yelled. "You're just going to give up without a fight?"

"No, I'm not giving up without a fight. That's all I've done the last seven months is fight. But there comes a time when your body and your mind tells you that you're tired. Too tired to do it anymore. And I've reached that point, Conner. I'm tired of fighting. I just want to... I will die. I will. And I don't want you here when it happens." She shoved him to the open doorway. "Now go!"

"No. No." Conner reached out to grab her shoulders. "Mo...Buffy, please. Don't do this. Let me help you. I love you, and I don't want you to die. Not yet anyway. I want you to live. I want to see you grow old, and Dad... I'm sure Dad would tell you the same thing if he were here."

"Or he could fool you and say that I've finally gotten on his last vampire nerve, and for me to go ahead and die already."

Conner's eyes welled up with tears. "He would never say that."

She removed his hands from her shoulders. "I believe he would."

"Go ahead and believe what you want to believe, baby. It'll just make proving you wrong even sweeter."

Buffy's swollen eyes flew to the owner of the voice now standing behind Conner, while Conner spun around to face it. "D-Dad, how did..."

Angel ignored Conner, and nailed Buffy with his dark orbs. "And I will prove you wrong, Buffy. Just as soon as I turn you over my knee and beat you black and blue for ever thinking that I would wish you dead." He pushed past Conner and closed the distance to her. "On second thought, it looks like I'll have to forgo the beating you part for awhile since it's obvious someone has already done it for me, and just go straight to the proving you wrong part..." He reached out to touch her face, doing his best to hide his rage that someone had even dared to look at her much less do this to her, but she jerked away before he could make contact. "Get out." She spat through gritted teeth, and backed away from him a few steps.

"That's right, Conner..." He murmured, his eyes never leaving her. "Get out. Buffy and I need to have a long overdue talk ALONE."

"I wasn't talking to Conner, Angel. I was talking to you. Now get out. I don't want you here."

"Dad..." Conner's eyes flew to his father's back.

"Conner, do you remember what you and I discussed the last time we talked?" Angel replied rather calmly.

"Yes, sir." Conner answered.

"Well, I'm doing it now. And I will continue to do it from here on out without any interference from you. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir." Conner broke into a grin.

"Good. Now get out, and be sure to shut the door behind you."

Conner turned to leave, but Buffy's panicked voice halted him in his tracks. "Conner, No! Don't you dare leave me alone with him. If you do I'll never speak to you again."

"Dad..." Conner turned back around to look at his father with an equally as panicked look on his face.

"Conner..." Angel once again told his son what to do, but in less words this time, and Conner knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it would be the one and only warning he would ever get. That's why he turned and left without another word, pulling the door closed behind him, which only angered Buffy even more. "Get out!" She yelled just as soon the door clicked shut.

"I'm not going anywhere, Buffy."

"Fine. Then I guess I'll just have to throw you out."

"You could try it if you like, but I don't think you'll succeed. Especially with the shape you're in right now. " He turned away from her to shed his leather duster, and tossed it in the empty chair against the wall before turning back to look at her. "You look like shit, by the way."

"Thanks, I'm glad you like." She limped by him. "Although, I'll have to admit it really wasn't the look I was striving for it still makes my day to know that you like it so much."

"I didn't say anything about liking it, Buffy." Angel answered as he turned to watch her sit down on the bed.

"Oh. W-Well, I guess that's okay." She leaned over to grab the bottle of Irish Whiskey, and glass that was already sitting on the nightstand. "Maybe you'll like the next makeover I get. Dead... I'm actually going for that dead, there's no fucking way I'm coming back in any shape, fashion, or form this time, look." She filled her glass, and slowly straightened to sit up. "I'd say I'd call you and let you know when I decide to do it so I could get your opinion on how I look, but I'm afraid that'll be kinda hard to do considering I really will be dead and won't be able to get to a phone."

Angel felt his anger building, and did his best to push it down. "That's not funny, Buffy."

"Wasn't s'possed to be." She mumbled as she took a long drink of liquor then raised her cold eyes back to him. "So... To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?"

"You're in trouble."

She let out a bitter laugh. "Wow, you must be getting slow in your old age, Angel because Conner already figured that out. That's why he was here. Came here to offer me his help. But the truth is I don't want or need his help." She took another drink of her liquor before meeting his gaze again. "Yours either. So if that's reason why you're here you can hang it up. I'm not one of your fucking cases."

"You're right, you're not. You're my mate."

If he thought the words would phase her he was wrong. "I see..." She finished off her glass of liquor, and leaned over to place the empty glass on the nightstand. "And when exactly did you figure that out? Before or after you left Sunnydale?" Angel started to say something, but she held up her hand to stop him. "You know what, Angel? Don't bother to answer that, because it really isn't relevant. What's relevant here is that you did leave, and by doing so you relinquished any rights you think you have...had to me. But if that's not enough to convince you that I don't belong to you then I guess I'll have to remind you of that whole I died thing. If I'm not mistaken the vows taken when a couple marries says until death do you part, and since I did die that means that Dead Buffy equals widowed Angel therefore leaving our marriage contract null and void. Although, I really don't understand why in the world you could consider what we had a real marriage anyway. Sure, there was a ring, but I seem to recall you yourself saying that it didn't have the same meaning today as it did way back when. Oh yeah, and then there's another factor you need to take into consideration. You and I never ever lived together. In fact, If memory serves me correctly you didn't even want to share a drawer with me much less a home. Now the bed on the other hand... Sure, we shared a bed, but only to fuck on three seperate occassions over the last seven years, and I don't think that comes anywhere close to what married couples are supposed to do and share together, and I happen to know for a fact there's not a court of law around here that wouldn't agree with me. So... Again I ask you, Angel. Why in the world would you ever think of what we had as a marriage? Nothing. It was nothing but fucking. That's it."

If she wanted to provoke him with her words it worked. "We did not fuck, Buffy."

"Are you sure about that, Angel?" Her cold eyes baited him. "Because I seem to recall waking up alone all three times, and that's exactly what happens when a girl gets fucked. They wake up alone."

"God damnit, Buffy!" Angel yelled. "We did not fuck. We made love. Love, Buffy! Every time we were..." Suddenly it hit him what she had said, and his eyes flew back to hers, all the anger gone in them now and replaced with a mixture of emotions. "Three. You said three..."

"W-What?" Buffy asked confused.

"Three, Buffy. You said we made love on three separate occassions."

"No. I said we fucked on three..." And then it finally dawned on her what he was getting at, and even though she tried to cover up her slip she already knew it was too late. "T-Two... I meant two. I meant two seperate occassions, not th-three."

"No. You said three, Buffy. And you said it more than once. I heard you." The look of wonderment in his eyes as they locked with hers made her lose her breath. "You remember..."

Buffy finally managed to breathe, and looked away. "I-I don't know what you're talking about."

"You're lying, baby." He said as he slowly began to inch towards her. "You do remember. That's why your heart is racing right now. And that scent... That scent that is so purely you, the one that overwhelmed me the minute our hands touched in my kitchen that day. It's overwhelming me now. You remember. You remember every beautiful second of that day, don't you?"

"No. No. No." Buffy vigorously shook her head in denial. "I don't know what you're t-talking about. I-I don't remember anything about hands, o-or a k-kitchen table."

"I didn't say anything about a kitchen table, Buffy. I said kitchen." Angel's lips curled up in one of his trademark smiles. "You do remember."

"No! No! No! I don't remember anything. I don't even know what the hell you're talking about!'

"If that's the case why can't you look me in the eye and tell me you don't remember?" He murmured softly as he reached her and knelt down in front of her. "Because God knows I do, Buffy. I remember every second of that day and night. I remember what it felt like when we became one on my kitchen table with a passion and love so intense I thought I would combust from the sheer power of it. Which is probably explains why the table didn't survive our joining." His hands came up to rest on her thighs as he continued to look into her eyes. "And the second time... I remember how slow and sweet the second time was. Do you, baby? Do you remember how we savored it as much as the Cookie Dough Fudge Mint Chip ice cream, and chocolate and peanut butter afterwards? Or what about the third time? Tell me you don't remember that. Tell me you don't remember what it was like to hold each other and fall asleep in each other's arms. Incredible. Every second of the first three times was incredible. But you know what, my love? As incredible as those three times were I think it was the fourth time that nearly put and end to me." He leaned over to brush his lips across her ear. "Gods, I still remember ever beautiful second of it. It didn't matter that I had been beaten senseless. All that mattered was You and I. All that mattered was that I was so lost in you I wasn't sure where you began and I ended. Tell me you don't remember what it felt like, Buffy. Tell me you don't remember how we whispered each other's names over and over again, and promised to love each other always and forever..."

"S-Stop..." Buffy choked out as she began to see the same images in her head. "J-Just stop..."

"Why, sweetheart?" He whispered in her ear. "Are you afraid you'll remember what it feels like to love me as much as I love you? As much as I have always loved you?"

"You sonofabitch!" Buffy's fist shot out to connect with his face, and the next thing he knew he was sitting on the hotel room floor, and she was standing above him. "Don't you dare tell me you love me! You don't love me! You never loved me! And whatever fantasies you're having about some perfect day... Well, their evidently just that... Fantasies. Fantasies I suggest you get over right real fast because they will never come true. Never!" She walked over to the nightstand and reached for the bottle of Irish Whiskey again. "Now I suggest you get down to telling me the real reason you're here so we can take care of it, and I can get the hell out of here and as far away from you as possible."

"Buffy..." Angel stood up, and wiped the blood from his lip.

"I'm waiting, Angel." She turned back to him and raised her newly refreshed glass of liquor to her lips.

"Okay, if that's the way you want it, I'll talk." He began to pace. "I'm pissed at you. Actually I'm more than pissed, and I have been for over two weeks. I can't believe you didn't come to me. That you didn't trust me enough to tell me what was going on..." He spun back to find her facing him. "You're in trouble. I know it. Saw it. I just haven't figured out why or what exactly is going on, and that's why I'm here. Well, that's one of the reasons anyway. I want you to tell me, Buffy. I want you to tell me what kind of trouble you're in." He gestured to her. "Who the hell did this to you?"

"Oh, I see. So we're back to that, are we? You think I'm one of the helpless that needs your help, is that it, Angel?"

"God damnit, Buffy! You know it's more than that! I..." He struggled with his emotions for several moments before finally returning his gaze to her. "I'm not leaving you to face this alone. Whatever it is. I'm not leaving you to face it alone again. So either you can tell me or I keep bugging you until you do. And don't think you can lose me again, Buffy. Until you tell me I will be sticking to you like bees to honey." The look in his eyes told her he wasn't lying either. "Fine." She slowly sat back down on the bed. "Do you remember the Order of Traka?"

Angel nodded.

"Well, imagine them only like a hundred times worse."

"A-Assassins?" He felt his undead heart skip a beat. "Someone's trying to kill you?"

"Mmm..." She looked down at her hands. "Some were demons, and vampires like the one's you saw two weeks ago. There's even been some almost human and then some that were completely human. Oh, and then there are the ones tonight that make the order look like amateurs. There's also been witches, shapeshifters, and demons with the faces of people you know or once knew." She let out a small bitter laugh. "As if my dreams weren't haunted enough." She mumbled. "All I can tell you is that whoever it is behind it all really wants me dead, and won't stop at anything to see that it happens."

"So I'm taking it by the way you're talking that you don't know who is behind it?

"Nope, don't have a clue." Okay, it was a lie. But it was one she could live with. She had a pretty good idea who was behind it, even if no one had been willing to tell her. "All my would be assassins have been very very tight lipped. Apparantly my power of persuasion doesn't seem to scare them. No matter how convincing I've tried to be. Doesn't matter though. Even though they've all been tight lipped I've managed to figure a few things out on my own."

She shivered and Angel didn't miss it. "How long? How long has this been going on, Buffy?"

"I wish I could say it started the night Dad... Kyle died. But I think it goes back further than that."

"What do you mean?"

"The umm..." She took another big gulp of the liquor, and waited until the burning in her throat began to soothe her. "The umm... Mental institution. I've umm... I was sent there for a reason. N-Not to die. H-He didn't want to kill me. He was supposed to make me forget."

Angel walked back over to kneel down in front of her. "He who, Buffy? And what exactly did he want you to forget?"

Buffy reached up to touch her throbbing temples as memories began to wash over her. "Ri... D-Dr. F-Fredrick's. M-My d-doctor there. He umm..." Something between a laugh and a sob tore from her throat. "He umm... Everything. He t-tried to make me f-forget everything by f-frying what was left of my brain on a umm... nightly basis. A-And it w-worked. N-Not completely... The dreams. I-I still had the dreams of what h-he did, and of the umm... other stuff. I still had them but they were fuzzy. So fuzzy, that I wasn't sure if they were real or not. I guess that's why he let me live. D-Dreams... As long as it was just dreams it was okay for me to be alive. But then it got to the point I w-wasn't so sure anymore. I w-wasn't sure what was real and what wasn't. I-I still wasn't sure. Not even after I... Chara talked to Lorne. That was until the night Daddy... Kyle died."

"You remembered." Angel reached up to brush a lock of hair from her face, but her hand came up to block his. "Y-Yes." She watched the play of emotions on his face before he finally dropped his hand back down to his lap. "Th-The bullets were meant for me."

"How do you know?"

"Because I saw him." She began to tremble, and looked back down at her hands. "I saw who killed Kyle. I l-lied to you and C-Conner. Th-The police. I w-wasn't knocked out. J-Just stunned. He umm... I was hit by the door when he came out, and when I managed to clear the stars from my eyes he was there... A-Aiming a gun at me head, and I knew him. And Kyle... He knew him, too. Saw him... H-He was alive when I found him. J-Just barely. A-And he told me. He told me that I was in trouble. That I needed to come to you, and I did as he asked. I just... The shock was too much I guess. I don't know. I just know when I came to I had remembered everything, and that's when I began to piece it all together. Well, that and the fact that the day after I got my memory back I saw someone else watching the house."

"You said Kyle saw this guy. You saw him. That he was aiming a gun at your head. Who was he and what happened after that?"

"D-Dr. F-Fredricks' assistant. It was Ri...Dr. Fredricks' assistant. O-Only I know he wasn't...my guess now is that Dr. F-Fredricks really wasn't a doctor, and this guy. He thought he made me forget, and he did for a-awhile. I guess somehow he...they found out... That I was r-remembering bits and pieces, and decided to make sure that I didn't remember anything else." She let out a small hysterical laugh. "This guy he umm... He aimed the gun at my head, and pulled the trigger, but it didn't... There wasn't any bullets left. He had used them all up on Dad... Kyle."

Angel felt tears pricking the back of his eyes. "Why didn't you tell me, Buffy?"

"I... It wasn't your fight, Angel. Yours or Conner's. It was mine. It's still mine, and I'll handle it."

"Sure you will." He muttered.

Her head head shot up. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"You think that I don't know you, baby? Well, guess again. I know you. I know you better than you think. Oh, and let's not forget the fact that somebody beat the shit out of you sometime tonight. You are in no shape to face anything alone, Buffy. In fact, if you combine an emotionally drained Buffy with physically drained Buffy the end result will be dead Buffy, and I'm not going to let that happen. Do you understand? I am not going to watch you die again. You need me whether you want to admit it or not, and not just to help you. So you can forget the longwinded speech about how it's your fight and that you can handle it on your own, because it won't do you a damn bit of good. I'm here and I'm here to stay from this moment on."

Her eyes flared again. "Okay, I'll forget the long winded speech then, and just get straight to the point. It's not that I don't want your help, Angel. It's more like I don't want you here period. You don't belong in my life anymore and you're not responible for what will or won't happen to me. Now get out!"

"I told you I'm not leaving, Buffy. You are stuck with me from now on whether you like it or not." Angel stood up, and turned away from her. "Now tell me what happened earlier tonight."

"Why? I thought you said you dreamt it?"

"I did. But just images of you fighting and... the umm... pain. I need to know what your attackers looked like."

"Sorry, I can't help you seeing as I got the shit beat out of me and my previous case of amnesia has returned."

"Buffy..." He turned around to look at her with stormy eyes. "Don't try and withold information from me. Doing so will only make that beating I owe you alot worse."

"What? And you think that's supposed to scare me?" She let out another bitter laugh and raised her glass of liquor to her lips. "You're looking at a girl who's died three times and is about to die again, Angel. A little beating from you will only be a preshow compared to what my new friends have done to me and have in store for me. I will die. It's my destiny, and I've already accepted it."

"Well, I don't. I don't accept it. You are not going to die."

"I wouldn't wager the hotel on that if I were you." She mumbled as she finished off her second glass of liquor, and leaned over to refill her glass.

"God damnit, Buffy!" He stormed over to snatch the glass and the bottle of liquor out of her hands. "Just tell me what the hell happened!"

"Fine!" She snapped, as she watched him make his way to the open bathroom door and pour both the bottle of liquor and what was in the glass down the sink. "I was being followed again. I knew it, but I was stupid... I thought... Never mind what I thought. It doesn't matter. I let my guard down, and they attacked me in the parking garage. I umm... That's where my rental car is parked." She looked down at her hands. "I umm... Since I've been back the attacks have increased, but this one.. It was different."

"Different how?"

She looked back up to find him standing only a few inches away from her. "They umm... They were human, but unlike any humans I've ever seen. St-Strong. Really strong. Glory strong. But that wasn't the really weird part. They umm... There were six of them and the all looked the same. I mean identical. They also wore the same clothes. Uniforms of some sort. But unlike any uniforms I've ever seen."

"You said they were all identical in looks." Angel began to pace. "What did they look like?"

"Tall. Well over six feet close to seven maybe. They had long blonde hair that they wore in ponytails, and their eyes... I'm not sure. Blue maybe. It was dark, so it was hard to tell. A-And their bodies... Nice. Really nice. Hottie kinda nice. Wish I could say the same about their personalities. They wasn't any fun. They didn't want to play with me. All they wanted to do was complete their mission, so I had no choice but to fight them."

"You mean they just wanted to kill you and get it over with? That they didn't have any qualms about what they were there to do?"

"N-No. That's the thing. I don't think they wanted to kill me. I think they wanted to take me somewhere."

"Where?"

"I don't know, Angel. All they said was * You need to come with us, golden one. We must complete our mission and prepare you for our master."

Angel stopped in his tracks, and spun around to face her. "Prepare? You mean like in sacrifice?"

"Yeah, I guess. " She let out another bitter laugh. "You know the drill just as well as I do, Angel. Anytime I die I have to sacrifice something when I do. I mean besides blood that is. Don't worry though, I'm ready for it. Believe it or not I'm actually getting pretty good at it. So good in fact, I plan to do it alone this time. That way I can be absolutely sure no one will be fucking with my dead body once the deed is done."

"No one is going to be fucking with your body alive or dead, Buffy. No one's going to be fucking with any of you period. I'm going to see to that."

"W-What?" Her startled gaze flew up to his.

"Evidently you wasn't paying attention to what I said earlier, baby. You are my mate and no one messes with what is mine."

"I am not your mate!"

"Yes, you are, Buffy." His dark orbs drilled into hers. "And I'd really love to prove that fact to you right now, but that's kinda impossible with you being in the shape you're in, so for the time being you'll just have to take my word for it." He tore his gaze away from hers, and looked around the room. "Now where is your suitcase?"

"W-What?"

He looked back over at her. "Your suitcase, Buffy. Where is it?"

"Why?"

"Because I'm taking you home."

"I am not going back to Sunnydale." She went to try and stand up, and he walked over to gently push her back down on the bed. "I didn't say anything about Sunnydale. I said home, Buffy. Home as in home with me where you belong. Now where is your suitcase, I'm going to pack your things."

Buffy struggled to stand up again. "No! Absolutely not! There is no way in hell I'm staying with you! I don't even like you. In fact, I pretty much hate you."

"You can't hate me anymore than I already hate myself, baby." He knelt down in front of her again. "And I do hate myself, Buffy. I hate myself because I've been such a fucking idiot. I should have never left you to start with, and as much as I wish to God I could go back and change it, I can't. There is no going back. All we can do now is go forward. And that's exactly what I want us to do. I want us to have a life together. And we will, Buffy. I don't doubt that for a second. Just like I don't doubt for a second that you're going to make it difficult for me to make that happen. I know I'm going to have to fight every step of the way to make you love me again, and convince you that I want that life with you. But it's a fight I'm prepared to take on, and it's one that I don't plan on losing. I don't care how long it takes."

"It'll never happen!" She spat.

"Yes, it will." He leaned over to kiss the tip of her nose because it was the only part of her face that wasn't badly bruised, and then he straightened back up. "Now where's your suitcase?"

"I'm not staying with you!" Buffy screamed at him.

"Of course, you're not staying with me, my love. You're going to live with me, and share my home, and my life for a very very long time. But in order for that to happen I need to get you moved in and then we need to figure out who's behind all this. Now let's try this one more time. Where is your suitcase?"

Buffy started to open her mouth to tell him to go to hell, but the look in his eyes made her reconsider her decision. Tired. God, she was too tired to argue with him anymore, so she slowly lowered herself back on the mattress in defeat. "I don't have one. The only clothes I have is on my back. I didn't see the need in owning any since I'm going to die anyway."


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


I would like to say a special thanks to Ashley and Christine who have asked to post my story on their site "She Comes To Me. Also thanks to Emma, Inara, Rebecca, Lauren, Christine, Raven Raven, Mary, Kassie Raye, Isis Blue, Susan, Karen H., Al M., Laura May, Carolyn, Kolumbyne, Ashleigh, Briony, and Kristen for their continued support!

CHAPTER 27


"I can't believe you lied to me!"

"I didn't lie to you, Cordy." Conner moved to his desk and sat down. "I just refrained from telling you the truth."

"That's called lying, Conner. And you did it to me over her!" Cordelia glared at him.

"She has a name, Cordelia. And you might as well get used to saying it. Especially if you're going to be with me. Buffy is and will always be a part of my life whether you like it or not."

"God!" She yelled. "You sound just like your father."

"Maybe I do, but the circumstances are different here, and you know it, Cordy. You were there with me, remember? You, Cordelia." Conner left his chair, and closed the distance to her. "You were the one I trusted to help me find out the truth and you have no idea how much that means to me. How much it means to me that I have you in my life now. I love you, Cordelia. And I'm sorry I lied to you. I hated doing it. I still hate the fact that I did it. But I wasn't sure if what I had saw in the dream had happened yet." He wrapped his arms around her, and pulled her back against him. "I was protecting you. And then there was her... I love her so much, and when I saw... You didn't see her, Cordy. She looks like..."

"Shit..." Cordelia whispered, and pointed to the lobby doors where Buffy had just come limping through with a scowling Angel following closely behind her. "Buffy..." Conner started towards her, but she ignored him and headed for the stairs. Her steps were slow and obviously a chore for her, but she refused any help when she reached the steps to start up them and Angel appeared at her side. "Buffy, will you please let me help you..."

She shoved him away. "I don't need any help, Angel. Now tell me what room is going to be my prison so I can go lock myself up in it."

"God damnit, Buffy!"

She spun around to nail him with angry eyes. "Which room, Angel?"

"If I said mine... ours... would you lock yourself in it?" He looked down at her through hooded lashes.

"Sure, I would. Maybe when hell freezes over." She glared up at him through swollen eyes. "Now try again."

"Fine." He muttered. "The one next to it."

"That's where I'll be locked in at then." She turned and slowly made the trek up the stairs, and Angel didn't take his eyes off her until she was completely out of sight. Then and only then did he spin on his heels and close the distance to his son, grabbing him up by his shirt to pull him eye level with him. "If you ever go off like that again without calling me I will rip your fucking head off. Do you understand?"

"Y-Yes, sir." Conner stammered out.

"Good. Good." Angel let go of him only to pull him into a hug. "Don't ever put yourself or her in danger like that again." He pulled away to look at him. "If something had happened to either one of you..." He choked out. "Don't ever do it again." He broke away from him. "Now I need you to get to researching. We're looking for six identical males, all close to seven feet tall with long blonde hair, and wearing some kind of uniform." He looked over at Cordelia. "Cordy, I need you to call the others and tell them to get their asses in here on the double. And while you're at it call Lorne, too. Sometimes he has a heads up on things we don't know anything about." Without another word, he turned and made a beeline for his office, but Cordelia caught up with him before he could close the door. "Angel..."

"I'm fine, Cordelia." Angel refused to meet her gaze.

"Don't lie to me, Angel."

"Okay. I'm not fine. Is that what you wanted to hear, Cordelia?" He finally met her gaze. "How can I be fine when she looks a million times worse than what she did two weeks ago?"

"But I take it you two talked because... Well, she's here, isn't she?"

"The only reason she's here is because she's not in the shape to fight me on the issue at the moment. And I wouldn't exactly call what we did talking. Not the way I wanted anyway. We argued alot, talked, argued some more, and then I had to threaten her which resulted in her telling me she pretty much hates me."

"She doesn't hate you, Angel."

"I'm not so sure about that, Cordelia." Angel swept a hand through his hair. "She's so... cold."

"She's been through alot."

Angel couldn't help but smile at Cordelia's statement. "Why, Miss. Chase. Are you taking up for her?."

"No." Cordelia vigorously shook her head. "No. Definitely not. I would never do that because... Well, I would never do that. But... I won't deny that she's been through hell or that if I were the one in her shoes and I had just spent seven months of my life with death chasing me I would probably be in the same shape. And let's not forget that she already had alot of baggage before she ever left. Can you honestly tell me you wouldn't be in the same shape either?"

"No, I can't." He murmured. "I just... I'm not giving up. Don't think that I am. Not this time. I've come to my senses. I just know it's not going to be easy."

"When was anything ever easy with the two of you, Angel?" Cordelia patted his arm. "Just give her time."

"That's the problem, Cordy." Angel's gaze moved to the stairs where Buffy had disappeared minutes before. "I'm afraid that time may be something we don't have alot of."

****

"She's here?"

"Yes, she's upstairs." Angel murmured, not bothering to look up from the book he was looking through.

"In your room?"

"No, Lorne. She's locked herself up in the room next to mine and declared it her prison."

Lorne chuckled. "Her prison, huh?"

"It's not funny, Lorne." Angel looked up to scowl at him, and Lorne quickly sobered. "I'm sorry, Angelface. I wasn't laughing at you. Honest. It's just... And don't rip my head off for noticing, okay? But that little mate of yours is quite a show stopper, and I bet she's even more so when she's really angry. I can just see those green eyes of hers going all firey with fire now. Stunning. I bet she's absolutely stunning when she's like that."

"She is..." Angel murmured, and looked up. "Unless, of course, all that anger and hate happens to be directed at you, and then it's an entirely different story."

"Ahh..." Lorne walked over to perch himself on the edge of Angel's desk. "She told you she hated you."

"Yes." Angel looked back down at the book in front of him.

"And it's killing you."

"Pretty much. And don't you dare say I told you so because I really don't need anymore salt rubbed in my wound."

"I'm not salt rubbing, Angelface. I know this has to be hard on you. Especially now that you know she remembered the day you gave back."

Angel's head shot up. "God damnit, Lorne. I told you to quit reading me without my permission."

"And I told you I would quit reading you when you stop being so obvious with your emotions."

"I wasn't..."

"Yes, you were, Angelface. Your aura reeks of memories from that day. It's killing you that she remembered, and is acting like she doesn't."

"No. What's killing me is that she's cold, Lorne. She's cold inside and out, and I don't have a fucking clue how to warm her." Angel waved his hand through the air. "And then there's this new crisis to add to everything else she's having to deal with as a result of the last six years. The little girl said there were greater forces at play here, but I had no idea..." He sighed. "I'm scared to death I'm going to end up losing her before we get a chance... I want a life with her, Lorne. I want one so much, but I'm afraid I'm going to lose her before that can happen."

Lorne eyed Angel from underneath his lashes. "Are you giving up already?"

"No, Lorne. I'm not giving up already. I'm not giving up period. It's just..." Angel slammed the book in front ot him shut, and sat back in his chair.

"Your protective instincts have kicked in again." Lorne guessed. "You feel you need to protect her, and there's nothing wrong with that, Angel. There's not. But I and this mysterious guardian angel of yours have already told you that it's not your protecting she needs. She needs your love."

"She has it, and she knows it. I told her earlier tonight, and all it ended up getting me was a fist to my face, and a bloody lip."

"You know as well as I do that sometimes saying I love you isn't enough, Angel. That girl is hurting horribly, and sooner or later she's going to crack under all the pressure."

Angel sighed. "I know. I mean, I thought she had already. I thought she had the night she got her memory back, but now I know she didn't. Now I know she was just being Buffy."

"Of course, she was. She was trying to be strong, Angelface. She let you warm her, and after that she let you see what you wanted to see. She wanted you to think that everything was just hunky dorey in that little world we know as Buffy because she wanted you to leave, and once she accomplished her goal she sealed herself off all over again."

"She was protecting me."

"Of course, she was, sweetie. She still is. But it wasn't...it isn't just about you anymore."

"Conner..." Angel guessed. "She's protecting Conner."

"Yes. And before you go thinking she's in love with him again, I'll just put a halt to that right now. She loves him. Don't doubt that, Angel. But it's not or never will be the same way that she loves you."

"That's what the... my guardian angel said, too. But I'm... Are you sure?" Angel asked meekly.

"Oh, yeah." Lorne grinned. "She more than loves you, Angelface. She's pretty much crazy about you. She's just having a little trouble believing it, and believing you feel the same way. Find a way to convince her of that, and be there to help her through that pain that's eating away at her and I guarantee you she'll tell you everything I just did, and a whole lot more."

Angel looked down at his hands. "And how the hell am I supposed to do that? Help her through her pain, I mean? How the hell do I help her when I don't have a clue what's causing it? "

"Don't know, Angelface. But I do know that eventually there will come a time when she'll break from all the pressure, and when she does I suggest you try to be there to catch her."

"I'm not going anywhere, Lorne. Besides the fact that I want her back there's also the fact that she's in danger."

"Right. Six hunky giants with super strength, and wearing uniforms. Conner told me about them. He also told me she took quite a beating from them. Is she okay?"

"I don't know, Lorne." Angel snapped. "I told you she's locked herself up in the room next to mine, and declared it her prison."

"And you mean to tell me you haven't tried to check on her? Come on, Angel. You're lagging behind on your duties as her mate. Don't you think you need to be upstairs nursing her wounds?"

"Are you crazy, Lorne? I'm not going anywhere near her until she calms down. She may be hurt, but there's not a doubt in my mind that she could still kick my ass if she wanted to."

"Sitting here isn't going to win the battle, Angelface." Lorne stood up. "She's only going to slip further away." He headed for the door. "I don't know anything about the new kids on the block, but if I hear of anything I'll let you know right away." He opened the door then turned back to Angel. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go check on that mate of yours and welcome her home." Without another word, he turned and disappeared, quietly shutting the door behind him as he did.

****

Lorne knocked on the door to the room where Buffy was staying, and stepped back to wait on her to answer it. It took several moments for him to get a response, and when she opened the door he could see why. "Jesus, sweetie..."

Buffy gripped the door knob, and stared at Lorne through her swollen eyes. "Let me guess, Angel called you and wants you to read my aura?"

"No. Actually he called me in the hopes I would know something about the fellas that did this to you."

"Well, that's good to know. Because if it had been the aura reading you would have been shit out of luck since I don't have one."

"Oh, I beg to differ, sugar. You have one. It maybe a little cold right now. Numb even. But you definitely have one."

"No, I don't. But even if I do I won't for long. You can't have an aura if you're dead."

Lorne raised an eyebrow. "Is that really what you want, Buffy? Because I can tell you now with that attitude you won't have any problems getting your wish." The only response he got from her was her gripping the door knob harder. "What do you want, Lorne? I mean, really? 'Cause I'm kinda busy right now and I really don't have time to play catchup with Buffy's aura with you."

"Busy, huh? Doing what, sweet cheeks? Strolling down memory lane about a certain day that wasn't like Angelface downstairs?"

Buffy's face paled under all the bruises on her face. "I-I don't know what you're t-talking about." She turned away from him, and limped back to the same chair she'd been sitting in when he had arrived.

"Sure you don't." Lorne said as he slipped into the room, and shut the door. "At least that's what you want him to think because you don't want him to know the truth. I have news for you though, sweetie. Keeping that little secret of yours from him and everyone else is only going to cause a great deal more pain once the truth really does come out. You of all people should know that."

"Stop!" She held up her hand. "What's in my heart... my soul... my head... It's mine, Lorne. Mine! Do you understand?"

"No wonder you didn't want to remember. It's eating you up."

"Let it!" She snarled. "I don't care. I don't want him or Conner to know. Not ever!"

"Buffy, about Conner..." Lorne closed the distance to her.

"I'm through talking to you about it, Lorne." She slowly but surely eased herself out of the chair, and made her way to the only window in the room.

"Angel loves you." Lorne said after a few moments of silence. "I know he does. Just like I know you doubt it, and that it's tearing you to pieces."

"He never loved me." Buffy muttered. "I get that now, and I don't hate him for it. I'd take the first free fuck offered to me too if I'd had a whore for a lover, and then suddenly had to go without for eighty years."

"He never fucked you, Buffy. And you never fucked him. Parker and Riley, yes. But not Angel. Never Angel."

Buffy spun around to look at him. "Shut up, Lorne." She spat through gritted teeth. "Just shut up."

"Why? Does the truth hurt, Buffy?"

Buffy let out a bitter laugh. "Truth? Do you honestly think that I believe anything you say, Lorne? I mean, you don't exactly have the greatest track record when it comes to love matches. Take Angel and Cordelia for example. You said they had kyerumption, and boy were you really dead on with that prediction. So dead on that's why she's left his bed and is now fucking his son. Or who knows, maybe she really is fucking them both, and Conner just doesn't want to hurt me by telling me the truth. Not that I would be hurt or even surprised by the news, mind you. She's Queen C after all, and Angel... Well, let's just say his sharing or fucking around doesn't come as a surprise considering he slipped up and fucked me the same time he was sharing a bed with her high and mightiness."

Lorne stared at her. "God, you really are cold."

It was Buffy's turn to raise an eyebrow. "Did you figure that out all on your own? Or did Angel tell you that. That's it, isn't it? He told you I was cold." She laughed again. "Of course, he did. Even though that pesky demon of his is in chains now doesn't mean he's still not there inside always sitting on the edge waiting to tell you the truth. And if there's one thing I do know about Angelus he would never miss an opportunity to tell me just how cold I really am."

"He's evil."

"Maybe he is, but at least he's honest. That's more than I can say for Angel."

"Hmm... Looks to me like someone's still carrying around alot of baggage."

"I'm not carrying around anything. To carry baggage you have to feel, and I don't. I don't feel anything."

"I think you're lying, Buffy. I think all that cold could be melted if you would let it, but just like that mate of yours, you're doing the protecting thing, and hiding behind that mask of yours to keep him... them safe. But you can't hide from me, honey. I see now. I see alot. And I have the powers to thank for the little eye opener."

"Ahh... That's right. You have a link to those greater powers of yours. I forgot. But now that you've been so kind to remind me that you do, I have a little message that I want you to give to them for me, Lorne. Tell them I said go fuck off. I'm through with them. My days of dealing with them on any basis is over. Now, if you don't mind I'd like you to leave. I'm really not in the mood for company."

"You know, sweetie. That's part of your problem. You've been alone far too long with those thoughts of yours. You're going to have to tell Angel the truth."

"I told you I'm through talking to you, Lorne." She limped past him. "I want you to leave." She reached the door. "Now!" She opened the door intending for him to leave just like she had ordered, but to her surprise she found Angel standing on the other side. "Hey." He gave her a weak smile to which she instantly responded to by slamming the door in his face before turning back to Lorne with a panicked look on her face. "On second thought, stay. Stay as long as you'd like."

"Buffy!" Lorne flew past her, and opened the door to find one very pissed off Angel standing on the other side. But before he got the chance to say anything Angel stormed past him and nailed Buffy to the floor with his dark gaze. "I don't appreciate having my own door slammed in my face, Buffy."

"What?" She turned away from him, and limped back over to the chair. "Did you honestly think I was going to fall at your feet just because you decided to take me prisoner, Angel?"

"I did not take you..." Angel started to yell, but changed his tune when he happened to look over and see Lorne vigorously shaking his head. He slowly began to count off in his head until he reigned in his temper, and then he returned his gaze back to the woman now sitting in the chair in front of him. "Are you hungry?"

"W-What?"

"Are you hungry, Buffy? I came up to see if you wanted me to fix you something to eat."

"Oh, that's right. I forgot you cook... And eat real food now."

He nodded. "That's right. And I haven't had the chance to have dinner yet so I was wondering if maybe I could fix us both something, and the two of us eat together."

"Gee, that's really sweet of you, Angel. I didn't know prisoners were allowed to eat with the warden."

"You are not..." Angel swept a hand through his hair in frustration. "Do you want something to eat or not, Buffy?"

"Not." She turned her head to look out the window. "What I want is to be left alone."

Angel shot another glance at Lorne for help, and Lorne didn't waste anytime giving it to him. He pointed to his leg then back at Buffy, and when Angel returned his gaze to her he noticed that she was indeed rubbing hers. "Does it hurt? Your leg, I mean."

"Yes, but it's no biggie."

"That's not what I asked you, Buffy."

"Yes." She spat, turning back to him. "It hurts like the god damn dickens, Angel. It's my bad leg. The one that got messed up in the accident. I must have wrenched it in the fight tonight. Happy now?"

"No. I won't be happy until you let me take a look at it."

"If you want to get in someone's pants then I suggest you go find Cordelia, Angel. Because you're not getting into mine even if it is just to take a look at my leg."

The muscle in Angel's jaw twitched, but instead of saying anything in reply he chose to close the distance to her instead and drop to his knees in front of her. Buffy struggled to stand up the moment she realized what he intended to do, but he simply pushed her back down in the chair and before she could blink, ripped her pants leg clear up to her thigh.

"You sonofabitch..." She kicked out at him with her good leg, but he caught it and held it firmly in one of his hands. "That's the only pair of pants I have!"

"The pants can be replaced." His angry eyes shot up to hers. "You can't. Now quit acting like a god damn baby and let me take a look at your leg." Knowing she was fighting a losing battle, she gave in and quit struggling, and the minute she did his gaze returned to her leg and the sight of it sent him into a new rage. "Jesus christ, Buffy! Why the hell didn't you say something to me before? It's black. Black! And swollen double it's size. I don't see how the hell you've been walking on it."

"Don't worry, I'll live. For now anyway." She was in the process of covering it up when he caught her hand. "Lift your shirt up."

"W-What?" She blinked in surprise.

"You heard me, Buffy. Lift your shirt up or I'll do it myself."

"No! I am not exposing..." Before the sentence could even leave her mouth he had jerked her shirt up. "Oh God..." His pained eyes shot up to hers. "Buffy..."

She couldn't meet his eyes, and chose to tug her shirt back down instead. "I-It's nothing. I'm f-fine."

"God damnit, Buffy. Don't lie to me." He pulled her shirt back up, and couldn't help but flinch as his fingers began to remove the bandages around her midsection. "Who?" He growled as his eyes traveled over the damage done to the skin of her abdomen. "Who did this to you? And don't tell me the attackers tonight did it all, because there are old wounds here, Buffy." When he didn't get a reply his amber gaze shot back up to hers. "Answer me, Buffy. Who did this to you?"

Buffy still couldn't meet his gaze. "Matt."

"Matt? The vampire at the club? The one you said touched..." Angel choked out, but quickly over came his turmoil as rage began to boil to the surface. "What did he do to you?"

Buffy still refused to look at him. "They used him."

"What?" Angel asked confused.

She finally turned to look at him. "I knew him. Before... Chara... They umm... They turned him... To use against me, and he wasn't the same Matt I once knew... He uhh... He got his revenge on me for the five years I refused to..." She looked away again. "I killed him before too much damage was done."

"He didn't..." Angel swallowed against the lump in his throat, and watched her shake her head no. "I told you I killed him before too much damage was done, Angel.

"Too much damage, Buffy?" Angel's gaze returned to the wounds on her abdomen. "Jesus Christ, why didn't you say anything that night. You must have been in agony." He reached out to touch the wounds and soon found out she was still in agony as his fingers brushed across a particulary bad knife wound, and a scream tore from her throat. That was all it took. One scream, and he was in agony himself and shot to his feet. "Okay, that's it. I'm taking you to a hospital." He swept her up in his arms before she even had a chance to react to what he was saying. "No. No! Absolutely not." Buffy started screaming, and struggling again. "I am not going to any hospital! Put me down. I mean it, Angel. Put me down before I kick your ass!"

His grip on her tightened. "Will you quit struggling before you hurt yourself even worse, Buffy!"

"No! Put me down!" She began to beat on his chest with her fists. "I am not going to a hospital. I'm not. I hate those fucking places."

"Okay, that's it." Angel's dark gaze locked with hers as his arms tightened their hold on her. "Either stop struggling or I'm going to kiss you until you're completely senseless and you submit, Buffy."

"You conceited bastard. If you think..."

"Oh no, baby. I don't think, I know. And I would just love for you to give me the chance to prove it."

Her last blow never landed, and he smirked at her. "I hate you." She spat at him.

Angel turned and headed for the door which was now being held open by a grinning Lorne. "And you're pushing it, sweetheart. This is the last time I'm going to warn you, and then I guarantee you that their won't be any talking, screaming, or struggling for a long long time."

Buffy started to open her mouth again, but the look in his eyes quickly sent it snapping shut once more. Trouble. The look in his eyes spelled trouble for her. Trouble with a capital T.

****

"Okay, Angel. You can turn around."

Angel turned away from the wall he had been staring at to find Fred and Cordelia moving away from an unconscious Buffy, who was now tucked in under the bed covers. He gave them a weak smile. "Thanks, guys. The last thing I wanted to do was upset her even further by undressing her myself."

Fred looked over her shoulder at Buffy. "She's really out of it. What did they give her? She hasn't moved since you laid her down."

"That's because they probably gave her enough sedatives to knock out an elephant." Angel's gaze moved to his mate. "They uhh... The doctors had to drain the fluid off her knee, and of course, she wasn't about to let that happen once she caught sight of the needle they were going to use to do it."

He grimaced. "It took me and several orderlies to hold her down, and she still managed to get her licks in before the sedative took affect. One doctor is sporting a black eye, and a couple of the orderlies will probably feel pretty battered and bruised when they wake up later today." He sighed. "All in all, let's just say the entire experience wasn't easy for any of us."

Cordelia eyed Angel. "What did the doctor say?"

"She has some torn ligaments and tendons in her knee, but the pin is still in place. She also has five broken ribs which should keep her in the bed for awhile, and then there's the knife wounds. They umm... They couldn't stitch them up because they umm... They were healed somewhat. They put her on an antibiotic just in case of infection. That's the most serious besides the contusions on her face and the rest of her body." His gaze returned to Buffy. "They uhh... They called in her neurologist at my request. I uhh... I remember Kyle telling my about the concerns to her brain, and I just needed to be sure there wasn't any trauma that could... He uhh... Even though the CAT Scan looked okay, he still wants to see her next week since he hasn't seen her in awhile. He's concerned about her mental state as well as her physical since it's obvious she uhh... I had to lie to him. I hated doing it, but I couldn't risk the police being called in. I told him she was attacked and is too scared to report it to the police. He wants to try and talk to her about it and her weight. She umm... Twenty pounds. She's lost twenty pounds, and he says that's too much for a person her size."

"What about her other problem?" Fred spoke up and asked. "Any sign of her friends?"

Angel shook his head no. "Did you guys find anything?"

"No." Cordelia answered. "Nothing. But we didn't exactly get alot done with Conner's pacing and all."

"I'll talk to him before you guys leave." Angel murmured as he continued to watch the sleeping woman.

"Before we leave? Where are we going?"

"Home." Angel moved his gaze back to Fred and Cordelia. "I want you guys to get some sleep. We'll start fresh later tonight."

"Well, if we're going home to get some sleep then you should try to get some too." Cordelia replied.

"That's easier said than done, Cordy."

"I know." She closed the distance to him. "But you'll try anyway, okay?"

"Okay." He gave her a weak smile. "I'll try."

"Good." She hugged him. "Now come downstairs and talk to your son so he and I can go get some shuteye."

Angel's eyes moved back to Buffy. "I'll be down in a minute... I umm... I just need to double check things first."

She nodded her head in understanding, and she and Fred left him alone so he could do just that. After making sure everything was locked up nice and tight, he made his way over to the bed and pulled the covers up around Buffy. "I won't sleep, you know?" He whispered to the sleeping woman. "Not until I'm absolutely sure you're out of danger." He leaned down to kiss her forehead. "I love you."

"Angel..." Buffy moaned in her sleep.

"Shh..." Angel sat down on the bed beside her, and caressed her face with his fingertips. "It's okay, baby. I'm here. I'm right here..."

****

Buffy shot up in the bed, sweat drenching her body, and buried her face in her hands. "A dream... It was just a dream. Just a dream..." She kept repeating to herself over and over again.

"Buffy!" Suddenly the door to her room came flying off some of it's hinges, and her panicked eyes flew up to meet Angel's equally as panicked one's. "I-It's okay. I umm... Nightmare... I had a n-nightmare."

Angel seemed to relax somewhat, but she could still see the tension in his body as he closed the distance to her. "Are you okay?"

"I-I'm fine, Angel. I told you it was just a nightmare." She ran her hands over her face again.

"Don't lie to me, Buffy." Angel sat down on the bed beside her. "I can tell it affected you more than you're telling me. And then there was the fact that you were screaming your head off for Conner. Is he in danger, too?"

"Of course, he is you dumbass!" She snapped as her firey eyes shot up to meet his. "Why the hell do you think I don't want him or anyone else near me?"

"So that's why you left. To protect everyone."

"No." She laid back on the bed, and rolled away from him to look out the window. "I left because my death seems to cause alot of fucking guilt trips, and that's the last thing I want to have to worry about when I die."

"You are not going to die, Buffy."

"Like I said before I wouldn't wager the hotel on that if I were you, Angel."

Angel knew what she was trying to do, and he did his best to not take the bait. "You're grouchy." He murmured as he reached out to brush her hair off her shoulder. "Do you want me to go to the coffee shop around the corner and get you a mocchachino to jumpstart you?"

"No, thanks. I gave them up about the same time I gave up men. They're not healthy, and almost as deadly."

"I see." He muttered. "And is food also on that not healthy and deadly list of yours too, Buffy? Because from where I'm sittinng, and from the fact that you're twenty pounds underweight I would have to say the answer is yes."

She sighed. "Let me guess? You talked to Dr. McGinn."

"Did you think I wouldn't?"

"I'm not going back. So you can go ahead and tear up that appointment card you have stuck in your pocket, Angel."

"You'll go if I have to drag you kicking and screaming again, Buffy."

"You can't drag someone kicking and screaming if their dead."

"God damnit, Buffy!" Angel shot to his feet. "You are not going to die! I won't let you!"

"I'm already dead."

"W-What?" He blinked in surprise.

"Dead, Angel." She rolled over to look at him. "I'm already dead. I've been dead for years."

"No, you're not, Buffy. You're alive. I hear your heart beating."

Buffy laughed bitterly. "God, you really are a fucking idiot, Angel. You of all people should know that just because you have a heart doesn't mean that you're alive."

"No." Angel vigoroulsy shook his head. "I don't believe that. This isn't how you're life was... is supposed to turn out."

"Oh, really? And how exactly did you expect my life to turn out, Angel? Did you honest to God really believe I was going to have that normal life you wanted... want me to have? I mean, come on, let's get real here for just a second. I will never ever be normal. NEVER, Angel. Retired or not I am a Slayer. I signed my contract to kick the bucket the moment I was called. My destiny was... is to die. Not to grow old, have a loving significant other, 2.5 kids, or a house with a fucking white picket fence!"

Angel swept a hand through his hair in frustration. "You're right. Gods, you're right. I know that now. Deep down I always knew a Slayer's destiny is to eventually die, but even though I do... did...I still couldn't help but hope. Hope that you would be the one to beat the odds, Buffy. And because I did... do... I couldn't let go of my desire for you to have the very best life had to offer in case my wish came true. That's why I left all those years ago. I left because I knew you deserved better than me."

"No, you left because you wanted better for yourself. It had nothing to do with me. You think I didn't figure that out a long time ago, Angel? I know why you left. I always knew, and I completely understand. I mean, why stay with a freak when you could have a queen? Oh, and let's not forget the kid. You even got that kid you wanted and thought you could never have out of the deal. No. No. You didn't want the best for me. You wanted it for yourself, and there's is nothing wrong with that. Hell, I'll even applaud you for getting it. Just a little warning though, Angel. I wouldn't take advantage of your great new life. You'd better enjoy every second of it because as long as you work for the almighty powers they'll eventually decide to fuck something up. That's why their called the powers, after all. They get their rocks off using that power to giveth and taketh away. They love the fact that they've got you by the balls, and that they have the ability to chew you up, spit you out, and start all over again. They promise you rewards for all your hard work while secretly their plotting to condem you to a life of hell." She rolled back over to look out the window. "Better. You said you wanted me to have better than what you had to offer, and I thought I had it, Angel. Heaven. I died and I thought I went to heaven. I always thought there was nothing better than that. I thought dying and going there was my reward from them, but I found out right real fast that it wasn't my reward, and it sure as hell wasn't heaven. There's no such thing. Hell... All there is is hell. A hell even more unimaginable than the one I sent you to. A hell that sooner or later you'll end up taking a trip to yourself. The only difference this time is I won't be the one sending you there. They'll be doing the sending next time, and you won't be coming back. There's not no coming back. Trust me, I know."

Angel stared at her back. "You thought I left you because you were a..."

"Okay, what happened to the door?" Lorne asked, strolling into the room. His eyes immediately went to the woman in the bed. "Did you lose your cool again, and do this, sweetie?"

"No." Buffy mumbled into her pillow, not bothering to roll over to look at him. "The fucking idiot over there did it, and now that you're here you can help him fix it before I take it as an invitation to leave this prison."

"This isn't a prison, Buffy. It's your home, and because it is you're free to come and go as you please."

Buffy sat up in the bed in surprise. "Did I just hear you right? Did you say I could come and go as I please?"

"You didn't let me finish, baby. I said you could come and go as you please, and you can..." Angel came over to gently push her back down on the pillows. "As soon as you're all better, and you don't leave the hotel or my sight."

"You don't own me, Angel. As soon as I'm well enough I'm leaving."

"You're right, Inouin." Angel leaned down to run his fingers across her cheek. "I don't own you, but you do belong to me, and by the time your well enough I'm going to have proven that to you in such a way you'll never ever want to leave my sight or my side again." He leaned even closer. "Mark my words, Buffy. By the time you're well you will be mine again in every way possible. Heart, body, and soul."

"That'll never happen." She spat. "Now fix my fucking cell door and get the hell out of my sight."

Angel straightened, and did his best to keep from losing his temper again. "Stay with her." He told Lorne as he spun on his heel, and headed for the door. "I'm going to get some tools."

Lorne nodded and watched him leave before turning back to the woman in the bed. "So... What did the fucking idiot as you call him do to the door?"

"I had a nightmare, and he heard me screaming." Buffy said before she rolled back over to look out the window again.

"Scared the daylights out of him, huh?"

"Something like that."

"So you're still having the nightmares?"

"They never went away, and I doubt they ever will."

"You're wrong, Buffy. Those demons of yours would quit haunting you if you would quit being such a coward and tell Angel the truth."

"Tell Angel the truth about what, Lorne?" She rolled back over to look at him.

"Don't play my amnesia suddenly returned girl with me, sweetie. You know what truth I'm talking about."

"No, I don't, Lorne. Now will you please just leave me alone. He's coming back, and I want him in and out of here as fast as possible, do you understand? I want him and Conner as far away from me as possible." As she predicted Angel reappeared a few moments later with tools in hand, and Lorne quietly went about him helping fix the bedroom door. But if he thought the tension in the room was heartwrenching, he was wrong. What was really heartwrenching was watching his friend constantly shoot worried glances at his mate while she lay quietly staring out the hotel window.

****

"Hey."

"Hey." Angel didn't bother to turn around to look at the person who had just entered the room. "Did you have a nice visit?"

"Not really." Dawn muttered, and moved to the kitchen table to sit down. "What about her problem? Have you found anything yet?"

"No, not a thing. We've checked every book we own, and still don't have a clue who these guys are. But that doesn't mean I'm giving up."

"In a hurry to get rid of her, huh?"

Angel sighed. "I take it she didn't tell you."

"Tell me what?" Dawn eyed Angel's back.

"Do umm... Do you remember when I bit her?"

"Yeah, and if this is the part where you tell me she forced you in order to save your life I can save you the trouble because as you can tell I already know. I heard her. The night she got her memory back. Giles did, too. What I don't understand is why you took the blame for it when there was nothing you could do to stop her."

Angel laid down the knife he was using, and turned around to look at Dawn. "Why do you think I took the blame for it Dawn?"

"Okay, I take back what I said. I know why you did it. You did it because you loved her and you wasn't sure what the others would think if they knew the truth."

"That's part of it." He leaned against the counter. "And then there was another reason. A reason she didn't know about until recently."

"And what exactly was that reason?"

"I marked her as my mate."

"Oh..." Dawn stared at him. "I uhh... I mean, Wow. A-And she didn't know that you had?"

Angel shook his head no. "I thought I was dying, and I wanted..." He looked down at his feet. "I used to dream about marrying her all the time back then, but my being a vampire and the whole allergy to churches kinda kept those dreams from coming true. And then suddenly reality came crashing in, and I knew it would never happen. I decided to leave so she could have a normal life... A normal boyfriend. One that could give her everything she deserved... That was until Faith shot me with that poison arrow. I thought I was dying, and I just wanted her to be mine. Even if it was just for a little while."

"But you survived."

"Yeah, and it was because of her I did." Angel murmured, and looked back up at Dawn. "I couldn't tell her Dawn. It was hard enough for me to deal with what I had done... to know she was mine but that I could never be with her the way I wanted. That's why I didn't tell her."

"You said she found out recently. How did she find out?"

"From one of her would be assassins. He wouldn't fight her once he realized she was my mate, and he went on to tell her he'd rather burn in hell than have to face me."

"How did she take the news?"

"Not good." Angel grimaced. "She swears up and down she's not. Sure, she doesn't deny that I bit her, but she told the guy that I lost any rights to her when I left town. Oh, and then there's the part where she also told him that Dracula came to town, bit her, and made her his after that."

"That's true. Dracula did bite her. But I suppose she failed to mention that he kept filling her head with all this air about how slaying had darkness to it, and that because it did she was just like him, and belonged in the darkness with him. He enthralled her with his gypsy magic, but only for about three days, and then she came to her senses and staked his sorry ass."

"So umm... So she didn't have a uhh... thing with him? Because she said she did until she found out he had the three sister's locked in his basement. She said she had to stake him then because she didn't like sharing."

Dawn laughed. "First off, Angel. Buffy didn't know anything about the three sister vamps in the basement until Riley mentioned coming across Giles having a good time with them. And Riley... God, You don't even want to get me started on that joker. I still to this day don't know what she saw in him."

"She loved him, Dawn."

"Loved him, my ass." Dawn snorted. "She never loved him, Angel. Jesus, why do you think he left? He finally figured out that he would never be anything but hot monkey sex to her. He finally figured out that she would never ever love anyone but you."

"I wish I could believe that." Angel muttered. "I told her when I went to get her that I was going to make her love me again. That we were going to have a life together, but if you think she was happy about it you're wrong. She was far from happy. She actually told me Hell would freeze over before that happened."

Dawn giggled again. "Figures she would make things difficult."

"Difficult, Dawn? You have no idea how hard she's really making things for me." Angel turned back to what he was working on when Dawn came in earlier. "Hell... The last three days have been hell. Worst than the time I actually spent there. A million times worse. She doesn't even want me near her, much less touching her."

"So what? Are you just going to give up?"

"No. I meant what I told her, Dawn." Angel turned back to look at her. "I'm through being a fucking idiot. I want our lives to be together, and I will fight anything or anyone that trys to get in the way of that happening, including her."

"But?" Dawn eyed him warily. "I'm sensing a but here, Angel."

"No, Dawn. There's no but's. I just... She's so cold, and I don't have a clue how to warm her."

"May I make a suggestion?"

Angel eyed Dawn across the table. "I'm open to any suggestion as long as it doesn't take her out of my sight or the hotel."

"Don't worry, it won't." Dawn smiled. "Besides, if she leaves your sight or the hotel how is that supposed to help you in your quest to win her back?"

"It won't."

"Exactly. And my suggestion is not only going to help you, it might just get her out of this grouchy ass mood she's in."

"I'm listening."

"Well, she's on the mend, and she's bitching because you're babying her. My suggestion is quit babying her, and give her something to do."

"I don't want her going back to slaying, Dawn. Slaying is the last thing she needs to be doing right now. And then there's the fact that she's in danger. I don't want her leaving the hotel. It's too risky. "

"I agree. And that wasn't my suggestion."

"Then what is it?"

"Can I ask you one question before I answer you?"

"Sure."

"Just how serious are you about wanting her back?"

"More than serious. She's here, isn't she?"

"Yeah, but she's sleeping in a seperate room from you, Angel. And then there's the fact that she thinks of this place as her prison."

"That's not my fault, Dawn. I've tried to tell her over and over again that this is her home."

"I'm sure you did. But instead of telling her, show her, Angel. And that's where my suggestion comes in. If you want to convince her that you're serious about this being her home then I suggest you make some changes around this place. Changes that will not only convince her that this is her home, but that will make her feel like it is too. And a good place to start would be that makeshift gym of yours downstairs. You know, the one Conner says contains equipment almost as old as you. The woman is a physical education major for christ's sake. And her Dad... Mr. Williams ran a community center she was very actively involved with. She needs a gym. Especially in the home. And especially now. She's on the mend. She needs a place to work out the kinks from her injuries. Oh, and it wouldn't hurt to throw in her own sound system, too. Conner also told me about her dancing, and even though she claims that was part of Chara's life I'm sure she has to miss it. And who knows, maybe in time and with your help she'll go back to it and her job as a personal trainer."

"How come you thought of all this and I didn't?" Angel couldn't help but ask his beloved's sister.

"Because you've pretty much been otherwise preoccupied. It's understandable though. You forget I know my sister and how she is when she's ill. It's a full time job just trying to keep up with her mood swings."

"You know, Dawn. If you wasn't taken by a certain asshole who shall remain nameless..."

"Yeah, yeah." Dawn snorted. "Don't give me that bullshit line, Angel. There's only one Summers woman for you and she's laying upstairs pouting as we speak. But hey, who knows? Maybe if you take my advice that reunion your jonesing for just might happen alot quicker. Oh, and in case I forget let me throw this suggestion in too while I'm thinking about it. I think maybe you could further your chances with her if you worked out with her sometimes. Of course, I would suggest skipping the slayer training sessions you two used to have, and try doing the Tai Chi thing. You really turned her on to it before you left Sunnydale, and I understand from Conner that it carried over to when she was Chara, but that she swore up and down that she was far from being an expert at it, meaning she could probably still use more lessons."

Angel chuckled. "I think I'm getting the picture here, Dawn."

"Good." She smiled. "Now don't be a fucking idiot and not use it to your advantage. I mean, it's obvious talking isn't doing any good. Maybe it's time you tried the physical approach. You know? Get physical with her without actually getting physical. Although, I don't know why you don't go ahead and do that, too. Especially now that you can."

"I don't believe this, Dawn." Angel's eyes quickly darkened. "Is that why you think I want her back? Because the curse isn't an issue anymore?"

"No, Angel. That's not what I think. I was simply making another suggestion, so don't go having a cow or anything. It just might work. Getting physical with her, I mean. And do you want to know why I think that? It's because I just spent two hours listening to her bitch about how you threatened to kiss her senseless."

Angel's eyes widened in surprise. "She told you about that?"

"Uh huh." Dawn grinned. "She also told me you were a conceited asshole because you actually had the gall to think she would share your bed with you. You got to her, Angel. And I know you probably don't believe that because of the things she said in reply, but that was just her fighting her feelings for you. She's scared to give into you for fear she'll be hurt again."

"You mean like I hurt her in Sunnydale last year?"

"Yeah." Dawn nodded sadly. "I uhh... Found out about that from that certain someone who shall remain nameless, and I didn't even bother to ask him how he knew because I don't think I care to know the answer. All I know is that he knew and the only thing I have to say in response to you is that sometimes we all get messed, and for some of us it takes longer than others to figure it all out. I'm just glad you figured it out before it was too late. Give her time. She'll figure it out, too and before you know it you'll be all kissy face again."

"You think?" Angel couldn't help but ask, and Dawn responded with a giggle. "No, Angel. I know. It goes back to that I may not have really existed thingy, but I do still have the memories. And if there is one thing I can honestly say it's that I definitely remember what it was like to watch the two of you whenever you got all kissy face. It was like everything else around you two just faded away. And her... I remember that she used to walk around with a dreamy look on her face for hours after that. She hasn't forgotten that, Angel. A girl doesn't forget those feelings no matter how hard she tries. Especially when she loves the man that makes her feel that way more than life itself."

"Trust me, Dawn. A man doesn't forget either."

"See. That's my point." Dawn stated. "It affected her. You threatening to get physical with her, I mean. It affected her, Angel. And because it did I don't think you trying to get that way with her again would be such a bad thing. Maybe saying I love you isn't enough anymore. Maybe she needs you to prove it to her with actions." She stood up. "And with that final word I'm off. I have a class this evening, and you need to get back to making her lunch."

"H-How did you..."

Dawn laughed again. "The carrots were a dead giveaway. Homemade chicken and stars, right?"

Angel nodded. "Yeah. I remembered that it's her favorite and that your mom used to make it for her whenever she was feeling lousy."

"Mom never made it homemade, Angel. She just opened a can, and heated it up."

"That's because your mom worked, and didn't have time, Dawn. I do have the time, and quite honestly I don't trust that stuff in a can. It's not real food, and Buffy needs real food. That rock gut she's been drinking isn't food. Trust me, I know. I lived on it myself back in the day. That's another reason why I'm trying to be so understanding about her mood swings. The withdrawal from it is hell. Worse than hell."

"You know, if you keep being as sweet as you are right now she just might keep you."

"God, I hope so."

"Me, too." Dawn moved around the table, and came over to kiss him on the cheek. "That's why I'm about to remind you not to forget to put flowers on her tray. If you really want to further your chances even more it wouldn't hurt to throw in flowers. She's a sucker for flowers." She told him as she headed for the door. "I'll see you tomorrow evening, but if you need me before then you can call me at home or on my cellphone. Good luck." She called over her shoulder as she disappeared.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


Happy Memorial Day everyone! I'm sorry it's taken so long to post another chapter. My server is going to be in out for the next several days so bare with me. I'll post whenever I can. Also, I would like to say a special thank you to the following for their continued support: Junjira, Carolyn, Kassie Raye, Mary S., Laura, Mary R., Karen H., Al M., Laura May, Raven Raven, Rose, Ashley, DragonQueen05, Meghan, Ryan, Priyanka, Susan, Briony, Isis Blue, and Rehatha. Thanks again, guys!

CHAPTER 28


It turned out that Angel was going to need more than luck to get Buffy back. In fact, after the disaster that was lunch he had to say the chances of that happening were even slimmer than before. They had gotten in an argument about his fussing over her so much which lead to her making a comment about his reason for doing it. She accused him of not wanting anything to happen to her because that meant he wouldn't get paid. A case! She actually believed that she was a fucking case to him, and when she had said it he had lost it. The homemade chicken and stars he'd made for her had ended up on the wall along with the three red roses he'd placed in a vase on the tray, and after that he had nearly shook her senseless trying to drill it into her head that he loved her and that's why he was helping her. Not that it did any good though. He let out a bitter laugh that echoed in his empty bedroom. Conner and Lorne had warned him, but he hadn't listened. They had told him that there was going to come a time when she would really need him and that if he wasn't there he just might end up losing her for good. And then there was his guardian angel... She had pretty much told him it could be too late, and now he was beginning to believe it. He was beginning to believe he'd lost Buffy altogether, or was pretty damn close to it.

Gods, it was killing him. Having her this close yet so far away. Maybe it was because of their fight, he really wasn't sure, but for some reason the need to be near her was even stronger tonight than usual. That's why after taking care of the nest of Toga demons earlier he had sent the others home, and was now standing outside the door to her room. He'd been standing here for ten minutes trying to get up the nerve to knock, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Not just because he was chicken. It was also because it was quiet on the other side. Eerily quiet, and that was unsual for this time of night. Usually she was pacing or doing something that would alert him to the fact that she wasn't sleeping, but tonight... Tonight there was nothing to alert him to the fact that she was there at all except his senses. And then it hit him... Maybe she really was sleeping. She rarely slept, so if that's what she was really doing it would explain why it was so quiet on the other side. If she really was sleeping that would also explain why he felt so attuned to her. It would mean that she was relaxed, and somewhat at rest, meaning he could relax and rest... And with that thought he turned and headed for his room.

Fifteen minutes later after showering and changing into a fresh pair of boxers, he moved to the wall between them, and leaned forward to listen for any sounds. Upon not hearing anything he was just about to turn and head for bed when his vampire hearing picked up her voice. "I know you're there. I feel you."

Angel turned back to the wall to stare at it, and couldn't help but wonder if she was talking to him. He moved closer and upon doing so heard her speak again. "It's okay, you know. He's not here. He's working, so you don't have to worry about him interfering. Come on now. Show your face. Let's finish this. Or should I say let's finish me?" He barely had time to move to react to what she was saying when he heard the loud crash. "Buffy!" He was out of his bedroom in a flash, and for the second time in less than a week burst through her bedroom door. Only this time the door didn't manage to survive the encounter, and the creature that was attacking her as he came erupting into the room didn't have a chance of surviving either. A roar tore from his lips as he caught sight of it's cloven hooves around her neck, and his face morphed as he sprung to his mate's defense. He was across the room before the creature even had a chance to try and defend itself, and was snapping it's neck and tossing it aside in his hurry to get to his beloved. "Buffy!"

She wasn't breathing. That was the first thing he discovered as he pulled her off the floor and into his arms, and he soon discovered why. There was some kind of clear substance in her mouth and it was obviously blocking her airway. He immediately raised one of his hands to her lips, and used his fingers to pry them open and dig the clear substance out. "Come on, baby. Breathe. Breathe, damnit." He kept saying as he finally managed to get the last remnants of the substance from her mouth. "Buffy!" He shook her . "Don't you dare die on me!" He yelled as he shook her. "Breathe, damnit!"

Suddenly Buffy gasped, and began to cough as she struggled to get back the air taken away from her, and Angel took a unneeded deep breath of relief as she did. "That's it. Come on, baby. Breathe."

Buffy's eyes flew open upon hearing his words, and her eyes welled up with tears as they met his. "W-Why?" She choked out. "W-Why didn't you just l-let me die?"

Angel's own eyes pooled up. "You may be ready to die, Buffy. But the thing is I'm not ready for you to. I need you, baby. I need you here with me." He buried his face in her neck as his tears began to fall. "I couldn't bare it if I lost you again. I nearly didn't make it the last time. Don't leave me. Please don't leave me, Buffy."

"I'm t-tired, Angel. S-So tired." She choked out.

He pulled away to look at her. "And you think I don't know that? Because you're wrong if you do, Buffy. I know it. I feel it. That's why I'm asking you to put your trust in me. Let me be the one to take care of you this time instead of the other way around." The only reply he got from her came in the form of silence. She wasn't going to cry. He could feel her battle to keep from doing so just like he felt her battle with herself to continue to keep him at arm's length. Still, he wasn't giving up. He was never giving up on her again. He would wait an eternity for her if he had to, and someday soon he would have her back in his arms where she belonged. That's why he let her go when she left his arms a few moments later, and watched as she struggled to her feet. Soon. Soon she would be his again. He swore as he watched her walk over to where the dead demon was now laying. "Do you know what it is?"

"Queller demon." She murmured. "It umm... It's summoned to kill crazy people."

"But you're not..." Angel stood up.

"I wouldn't be so sure about that?" She asked, not bothering to turn around to look at him.

"Buffy..." Angel moved up behind her to touch her, but she moved away. "I umm... The umm... The last one I saw was when my mom was sick. Ben... Glory's host for this dimension... He umm... He summoned one to clean up the mess she left behind after she sucked out alot of people's brains. I-It umm... It tried to kill my mom. It thought she was one of Glory's victim's because she umm... The tumor... She wasn't always coherent, and the Queller thought because she wasn't she was one of Glory's... It tried to kill her, but I managed to kill it before it succeeded."

Angel turned around to find her standing at what was an obviously closed window looking out. "It must have gotten in when me and the others left, but I don't understand how it got by Gunn. I had him stationed at your door."

"It was already here."

"W-What?" Angel blinked in surprise.

"I said it was already here before you left, Angel. I knew it. Sensed it. You umm... You probably would have too if you hadn't been so pissed at me."

"I still don't understand how it got by me... any of us, Buffy."

"I umm... It has the ability to climb like a spider, and it sticks to ceilings, walls, trees. It's also virtually silent when it moves, and the way it kills... Well, you saw the way it kills it's victims. This one came in through the heating ducts, and was just waiting until you and the others were gone before making it's move."

"Buffy..."

She spun around. "Don't." She cut him off. "I don't need a lecture, Angel. Just a shower." She pointed to her demon slimed pajamas. "This stuff may not be toxic but it smells like it. Could you umm... Do you mind getting rid of it? The Queller. Could you get rid of it while I shower?"

Angel nodded. "But first I want to make a quick sweep of the bathroom. Go ahead and get your things together. I won't be long." He disappeared into the bathroom and re-emerged five minutes later declaring it was safe for her to shower. Buffy simply shook her head and slipped into the bathroom, and when she re-emerged twenty minutes later it was to discover the dead Queller gone, and Angel still there. "You don't have to do that." She told Angel upon discovering him putting new sheets on her bed. "I can do it myself. Why don't you go on to bed?"

"I plan to." He said as he continued to make the bed. "Just as soon as I get my bed made."

"W-What?" She stared at him, not quite sure she's heard what he'd said.

Angel turned around to look at her. "I'm sleeping in here tonight."

"No! Absolutely not! You are not... I am not... I'm not sleeping with you."

Her reaction made Angel chuckle, and he stopped what he was doing to close the distance to her. "Calm down, my love. I said I would be sleeping in here tonight. Just me."

"OH. I-I mean-does this mean you're releasing me from my prison?"

"This isn't your prison, Buffy. It's your home. And because it is I took the liberty of moving you into our bedroom while you were showering."

"You what?"

"I moved you into our bedroom. I realized while you were showering that this room isn't the best room in the hotel. And since you are my mate and I want to give you the best I can it seemed only logical that I take the steps to do just that. Don't worry though. I know you're not ready for me to share it with you. It or our bed, so until you are I will be sleeping in here and you will be sleeping alone in our bedroom."

"That'll never happen. I will never ever share share anything with you, including your bedroom, Angel."

"You mean our bedroom." Angel corrected her. "And yes, you will, Buffy. Soon. Soon you and I will share everything together including a bed, and I guarantee you that when we do we will be doing alot more than just sleeping in it."

"I hate you."

"So you keep telling me. But I wonder who you're trying to convince of that, me or you, baby?"

"I am not sleeping in your room!"

"Our room." He corrected her again. "And yes, you are. Unless, of course, you're ready to share a bed with me now. If that's the case then you're more than welcome to sleep with me in here tonight, or better yet I could just go on to bed with you in our room. It's your choice, Buffy."

"I am not sleeping with you period!"

"Then it looks like you'll be sleeping in our room alone."

"Fine. Fine! I'll sleep in your room then."

"You mean our room."

"Whatever! Just walk me there, Angel. Because I already know you're not going to let me go alone."

"You know, it just makes my day that you know me so well, Buffy. So much so I think I should reward you."

"I don't want a reward or anything from you for that matter, Angel. All I want to do is go to bed."

"I tell you what, baby. Why don't you let me show you what it is before you make up your mind about whether you want it or not. It's in the basement."

He moved past her and went to the door to open it before turning back to her. "Are you coming or do I have to come and get you, Buffy?"

She growled and huffed past him. The walk down to the basement was quiet and filled with tension, at least it was on her end, and it had nothing to do with the fact that he was constantly looking around for signs of anymore Queller demons. It wasn't until they had finally reached the basement stairs that Buffy broke the silence between them. "Okay, what is it you wanted to show me?"

"This." Angel flipped on the basement light and stepped off the last stair to wait on her, and he couldn't help but smile as her eyes landed on what he had done earlier that day.

"Nice." She told him as she took in the view with appreciation. "Conner will be pleased that you got rid of that medieval workout equipment of yours and bought more modern stuff."

"This isn't for Conner, Buffy. I told you upstairs it was for you."

"W-What?" She spun around to look at him. "I-I mean why? W-Why did you do this for me?"

"You know why." He moved past her. "This is your home, Buffy. And I want you to think of it as such. "And then there's the fact that I know right now you're cooped up with nothing to do. You uhh... You're almost completely healed now, and I imagine you probably miss the things you did at the center even though you won't admit it. So I figured why not do this for you..." He moved to the stereo system and the CD's that he had placed on the shelves against the wall. "I even got you this if you ever decide you want to go back to dancing. Conner helped me pick out the music because he knew more about what you listen to now than I do."

"I umm... I don't want it." She blurted out.

"I understand." He murmured as he turned around to look at her. "But I want you to understand too that it'll be here whenever you decide you do."

"I'm not staying, Angel. So whatever fantasies you have in that head of yours you might as well hang them up now. I'm don't belong here."

"Yes, you do."

Buffy let out a bitter laugh. "That's funny. Because I seem to recall you telling me differently not so long ago. No just you. You and your girlfriend."

"Cordelia isn't my girlfriend, Buffy. In fact, she never really was."

"Doesn't matter if she was or not. She's been with you all along, and I haven't. So I think that pretty much tells you who belongs and who doesn't." Without so much as a backwards glance Buffy turned and disappeared up the stairs.

****

The next morning the rest of team AI filed into the kitchen for their traditional family breakfast to find a more than usual broody Angel, and they all knew not to say anything for the simple fact that his reason for brooding was upstairs. Everyone that is except for Conner. His curiosity as to how the Buffy/Angel saga was going was really getting the best of him. Even more so when his father finally turned away from the stove, and he noted how tired he looked, and that's what finally drove him to ask him. "You look tired." He replied to his father as he placed a plate down in front of him. "What's wrong? Did you have another fight with her?"

"You could say that." Angel continued to move around the table setting plates of food down in front of the others. "But that's not the only reason I lost sleep."

"Did you two... No. No." Cordelia shook her head as she dove into her scrambled eggs. "That's not the reason you lost sleep. If it was that you would have happy Buffy face, and you don't."

"Cordy..." Angel warned.

"What?" She asked innocently, not bothering to look over her shoulder at the man standing behind her.

"Lay off Buffy and I, okay? Trust me, you really don't want to go there today. I'm not in the mood." The tone in his voice made Cordelia turn around to look at him, and the look in his eyes also told her he wasn't kidding. But there was something else there, too. Something that made her uneasy. "Okay, what is it, Angel? There's something you're avoiding telling us, and I want to know why."

Angel nervously glanced at his son, and Conner was immediately on his feet. "Buffy..."

"She's okay, Conner." Angel moved towards him. "I got to her before... She's okay, I swear."

"What happened?" Conner's angry eyes met his father's. "And why the hell didn't you call me?"

"Us..." Cordelia corrected him, and looked back at Angel. "Why the hell didn't you call us, Angel?"

"I uhh..." Angel looked around the table to find five pair of eyes trained on him. "It happened so fast, and there was only one of them. A Queller demon, and I took care of it. It's dead."

"But?" Conner eyed his father warily. "What aren't you telling me, Dad?"

Angel looked away from the prying eyes. "She umm... She knew it was here before we left to go to work, and she umm... She was going to let it kill her."

"Sonofabitch." Conner went to shove past Angel, but Angel grabbed his arm. "She's okay, Conner. I swear. I mean, she's as okay as she can be considering. And I said some things that I hope got through to her."

"You hope!" Conner spat, and jerked his arm free. "You hope got through to her, Dad? And when exactly do you think you'll find out if it did or not? The next time something else comes after her, and she let's it kill her?"

"Conner..."

"Don't..." Conner shoved past Angel, and disappeared out of the room, and Angel started to go after him, but Cordelia stopped him. "Let him go, Angel. When it comes to her he's just like you. She's first priority. Once he sees that she's okay, he'll calm down and come back to talk to you." She pointed to Conner's empty chair. "Now sit down and tell us what happened."

Angel did as Cordelia told him to do, and it took him several moments to figure out what to say. "I umm... I thought she was sleeping after I sent Gunn home, so I decided to take a shower and let her sleep. After I came out of the shower things were still quiet on her side of the wall so I figured why not try to get some sleep while she was sleeping. I umm... I just had turned away when I heard her talking, and at first I thought she was talking to me."

"What did she say?" The question come from Gunn.

"She said I know you're there. I feel you. That's umm... That's why I thought she was talking to me... Our connection. I thought she sensed me, but I was wrong because the next thing she said alerted me to the fact that she wasn't alone."

"What was it?"

"She umm... She said it's okay. He's not here. He's working so he won't interfere. Come on now. Show your face. Let's finish this, or should I say let's finish me now, and before I could react there was a loud crashing noise. I umm... I just barely remember snapping it's neck in my rush to get to her. She wasn't breathing... When I pulled her into my arms she wasn't breathing. It umm... the Queller kills it's victim's by regurtating this sticky film in the victim's mouth that blocks there airway. I didn't know that at the time, but I did see the stuff in her mouth, and seeing as it was my only hope I umm... I dug it out. She umm... It worked. She umm... She started breathing after that."

"You said this Queller demon was here before you left, but that still doesn't explain to me how it got past us in the first place, Angel." Gunn pushed his plate away. "We've been taking turns checking the perimeter since you moved her in."

"Buffy's dealt with one before. It was during the time Glory... Buffy has dealt with one, and from everything she told me and the research I did after it was over, the reason it managed to get by us is because it has the ability to climb like a spider and move just as silently. This one got in through the heating duct and was hiding in the vent in the wall. That was the crashing noise I heard. It tore the vent of the wall in it's attempt to get to her." He went on to tell them everything else Buffy had told him about the Queller demon.

"So this umm... This demon is summoned to kill crazy people." Wesley spoke up and asked.

"Yes, and I know exactly what you're going to say next Wesley and the answer is no. Buffy isn't crazy therefore I'm not seeking psychiatric help for her."

"Angel..."

"No, Wesley. I agree that she needs help, but that's not the type of help she needs. She's tired of fighting, and because she is she's given up on having any kind of life. I just need to find a way to get through to her. To prove to her that I'm here and that I will always be here. I think once I do that she'll come around."

"Are you sure about that?"

"Yes, and there is also something else you should know. Like I said before, I did some of my own research after it was over, and I discovered that a Queller is usually a scavenger of sorts until they are summoned to make a kill which means they will pretty much do anything for a free meal."

"And whoever summoned this one was serving up Buffy as the main course." Gunn replied.

"Yes." Angel murmured. "And even though she isn't crazy, she is in turmoil. So much so the Queller was able to pick up on it."

"And you're sure it was the only one?"

Angel nodded. "I checked every inch of this place from top to bottom, and while I was at it I put in a phone call to the Furies. They came over early this morning and put a sanctuary spell over the hotel similiar to the one Lorne has at Caritas. It may not prevent a demon from getting in, but it will keep them from hurting her."

"You mean until whoever it is that's behind this finds away around it." Cordelia muttered.

"I hope I find them before that happens, Cordy." Angel muttered. "But if it doesn't they'd better believe I'll be more than prepared for them when it does."

"Then I suggest you eat." Cordelia told him. "You'll need your strength to get her and you through this."


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


Thanks to Kattie S., Ruth, Karen H., Raven Raven, Icecreamwm, Mary S., Susan, Kassie Raye, Mary R., Laura May, Carolyn, Kolumbyne, Isis Blue, Kyria, Briony, Christine, Ryan, and Tigerlily. You guys keep me going with your awesome feedback. Now hang on to your seats, things are about to get pretty damn bumpy.


CHAPTER 29


Buffy hadn't slept in a week and a half. Not that it was unusual for her not to sleep very much because it wasn't. No, it wasn't unusual for her not to sleep, the problem was she just couldn't blame her lack of it on nightmares or assassination attempts this time. There hadn't been any those in the last week and a half. That was the good news. The bad news was that she was even grumpier than before because of her most recent problem which just so happened to be staying in Angel's bedroom of all fucking things. He had stuck her in it over a week ago, and she still hadn't went anywhere near the bed. She couldn't sleep in it. Refused to. She was not about to sleep in the same bed where he and... God, she couldn't even say her name much less think about what he had done to her in it. Unbearable. The thought of sleeping in the same bed that he had shared with her was unbearable, and it had actually made her sick to her stomach on numerous occassions when she had managed to let her mind run away with her before she could get a tight rein on it. And arguing with him was out of the question. Every time she had even began to broach the subject of them switching rooms again he had refused, and she wasn't about to tell him the real reason why she didn't want to stay in his room, so eventually she had given up arguing with him, and opted for sleeping in the chair next to the bed instead. But she rarely slept then either. Being in his room, surrounded by his things was almost as unbearable as sleeping in his bed was, and her lack of sleep was beginning to take it's toll on her. She felt like a rubber band about to snap from the tension, and she knew that if something didn't change drastically very soon that was exactly what was going to happen.

She needed something to relieve her stress, and the gym downstairs was beckoning to her, but she hadn't used it. Using it meant going downstairs, and that meant risking seeing him. And she couldn't. Not when just catching a glimpse of him would leave her aching for him for hours on end. Using it also put her at risk of running into Conner. Conner... God, she didn't even want to think about him either, but there he was... always in her head... her heart... just like his father. And he was just like his father when it came to her. Every since the Queller demon attack he had pretty much stuck to the hotel. Even went as far as to camp out in the hallway outside her door in his determination to protect her, and arguing with him about it didn't do a damn bit of good. That's why she had went back to giving him the silent treatment. It worked. She knew it. Could tell by the look on his face that it did. Jesus, that hurt look on his face... It killed her to be the cause of it, but she didn't have a choice. She didn't belong here and she didn't want him or his father continuing to think she did. She would protect them with everything that was inside her, and she didn't care what it took to do it. She didn't care how much she had to hurt them to do it. All that mattered was that they were safe and happy, and continued to be that way. And God, who was she kidding? It was killing her. Every day that she was here she felt a little bitty piece of her die because watching them live their lives with their family... a family she wasn't a part of... was unbearable. That's another reason she had avoided the gym downstairs. They were probably downstairs right now having their traditional family breakfast with the rest of their happy little family, and she didn't think she could stomach it. Seeing them all together would only prove to her even more that she didn't belong here. That's why she had turned them both down when they had invited her to join them once she was well enough. That's why she had chosen to stay in her prison as she had dubbed it, and that was exactly what it was beginning to feel like one to her.

Crazy... If Angel didn't find out who was behind these attempts on her life soon she really was going to go crazy, and it was the thought of that really happening that finally drove her out of her cell in only the second time in two weeks. She could hear light talking and laughing as she made her way down the stairs into the lobby, but thankfully the voices didn't seem to be drawing any closer which meant she at least wouldn't have to worry about running into anyone on her trip down to the basement. She wasn't sure how long the group lingered after their meal so she made up her mind right off that she wouldn't excercise for long. She wanted to be done and back in her cell before she could risk running into any of them. She just needed to relieve her stress, and even though she knew she wouldn't be able to do that completely it would help her get through another day.

She launched into some stretching exercises just as soon as she stepped off the last step into the basement, and she could still feel the stiffness and strain in both her ribs and knee. Her entire body was stiff as a board, and she stretched until she was absolutely sure she had loosened up enough to risk suffering another injury. Once that was done she decided to try some Tai Chi, but she only managed to stick to the motions of it for a few minutes because for some reason her eyes kept straying to the cd collection on the shelves against the wall. And it didn't take her long to figure out why as she closed the distance to it. Kyle... There was a copy of Kyle's favorite cd in the collection, and as her shaking hands went to pick up she could feel her heart strings tug...

****

"Breakfast was great as usual, Dad." Conner told his father as they made their way to the lobby of the hotel. "Thanks, Conner." Angel murmured from his spot in front of him.

"Of course, it would have been better if Buffy had joined us." Angel didn't say anything. He just kept moving, but he only made it a few steps before Cordelia caught up with him and grabbed him by the arm to turn him around. "Okay, mister. What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong, Cordy. I'm fine." He started to turn to leave, but he caught the concerned looks of everyone as he did. "I'm fine, guys. Honest. I'm just..."

"Worried." Conner finished for him, and he nodded and looked away. "She doesn't sleep. She's not eating. She barely speaks to me. And on top of all that there's someone out there trying to kill her, and I don't have a fucking clue who it is."

"Do you want us to stay and help you do some more research, Angel?" The question came from Wesley.

"Would it do any good, Wesley?" Angel glanced back at him. "We haven't found anything on the attackers before the Queller demon, and since we don't have a clue who's behind it all there's no way we can research them. We're at a dead end here with only one way to go, and there is no way in hell I am going to go that route."

"We still haven't checked the books you have boxed up downstairs, Angel." Cordelia pointed out. "Maybe we'll find something on the six giants in them that will tip us off to who's behind all this. We could stay and start sorting through them this morning."

Angel swiped a hand through his hair. "Haven't you guys already done enough research?"

"Nope." Fred added. "I mean, I will admit that I'm a little blind from all the reading, but I think I can still see enough to help out. You are family after all, and I guess that makes her family, too. We'll stay."

"Guys, you really don't have..."

"We'll stay, Angel." Cordelia replied, looping her arm through his. "And while we're researching you are going upstairs for some much needed rest." She began to lead him down the hallway. "Cordy, I can't..."

"Yes, you can." She told him. "She'll be fine with us. Conner can check on her while you sleep. Isn't that right, honey?" She asked her boyfriend, who was trailing behind her.

"Yeah. But that's all I can do since she's not speaking to me either." He muttered.

Everyone became quiet after that, and stayed that way until the had almost reached the basement and Angel suddenly came to a screeching halt. Cordelia turned to look at him. "Angel? What is it?"

"Shh..." Angel stuck his finger to his lips. "Listen."

Conner moved up beside his father and broke into a grin. "I'll be damned, Dad. It worked."

"What worked?" Gunn spoke up and asked.

"There's music..." Angel moved closer to the basement door. "Dawn suggested I make some changes to the gym I sat up downstairs. She thought that if I done it it would give Buffy someplace to workout and dance, and make her feel more at home at the same time." He turned around to look at him. "Conner and I did it last week, but Buffy didn't seem to be very interested in it..." He turned back to the door. "Until now... There's music. Can you hear it? She's down there. I umm... I feel her. She came out of our room." He reached out to touch the door, but jerked his hand back before he made contact. "M-Maybe we should leave her alone."

"Are you kidding, Dad. She's been alone enough." Conner grabbed his father's arm. "Besides, you have to check her out. Her dancing, I mean. She's incredible"

"I've already seen her dancing thank you very much." Angel muttered. "And I can tell you now what she was doing wasn't what I call dancing."

“I could ask, but I won't." Conner said to his father. "But I will remind you that leaving her alone is only going to prolong the reunion you want with her. You should go down, check her dancing out then spend some time with her."

"I don't know, Conner... Maybe I should..."

"Shit..." The smile on Conner's face quickly disappeared.

"Conner?" Angel met his son's gaze. "What is it? What's wrong?"

"You have to go down there, Dad. Now." Conner pointed to the door. "Hear that? That was Kyle's favorite song. He umm... Every Friday night he let Chara... Buffy hold a dance at the center for the kids, and this was the only song he would dance to. He umm... He danced to it with her. The song it umm... It's special. I umm... The cd... I didn't realize I bought it when we..." His gaze met Angel's and held. "You have to go down there, Dad. If you don't I will."

Angel nodded in understanding, and then he was disappearing through the door, leaving his worried son staring after him.

It didn't take long for Angel to spot her as he quietly moved down the steps. He was drawn to her like a magnet. Drawn to her pain. And he stopped in his tracks to watch her as she stood like a statue, staring at the cd case in her hands.


I know there's times

you've been tormented by the questions in your mind

will our love last

or simply fade away as time begins to pass

your a complicated lady thats for sure

with a need for someone unafraid to make you feel secure

and if you wonder if i'm strong enough to be your man

yes i am

don't let yourself imagine its a lie

i'm not the kind to turn and say goodbye

even though you test my soul, and make yourself so hard to hold

i'm going to make you understand i'm strong enough to be your man

do you believe when i look in your eyes,

and swear i'll never leave

what will it take

to make you that what we have is here to stay

yes, i know that you've been loved and left before

but i promise you won't ever see me walking out that door

and if you wonder if i'm strong enough to be your man

yes i am

yes i am

yes i am

yes i am

I know there's times you've been tormented

by the questions in your mind


Buffy knew Angel was there. She'd known even before he had started down the stairs. Felt him. But the pain in her heart at the time was almost as strong as her connection to him. Still, even though her pain was intense, it was their connection that won out. No matter what she would always share that with him. That pull that always left her wide open to him. So much so she couldn't stop herself from being reeled in by it. She turned around to look at him. "This was his favorite song."

"I know." Angel moved down the remaining stairs. "Conner told me. He said you two used to dance to it."

"Uh huh. But that wasn't why it was his favorite song. He umm..." She ran her hand over the top of the cd case in her hand. "When he came to get me out of the mental institution I was going to leave. LA, I mean. I just wanted to go as far away from that place as possible. That was until I realized that I didn't have anywhere to go. I had no home, no family, no friends. No l-lover. It was just me..." She choked out. "Th-That was until D-Daddy... Kyle pointed out that that wasn't true. He told me that I had him. He told me he would be my man." She let out a half sob half laugh. "And then he sat me down and made me listen to this song, and after that he asked me to stay. He told me he would love me no matter what."

"And he did." Angel murmured as he took the last step, and closed the distance to her. "Do you doubt that?"

Buffy shook her head no. "I loved him, too. So much. T-To me he was my real father." She sniffled, and ran her hand over the cd case again. "But I shouldn't have. Loved him, I mean. It was my love that got him killed. I kill everything I love..."

"Buffy..." Angel reached for her, but she quickly shoved the cd case in his hands, and side-stepped him. "I uhh...I'm sorry. I shouldn't have dumped on... My cell... I think I'll just go back to my cell now." She very carefully inched past him without making eye contact and once she was free and clear, ran the rest of the way up the stairs and out the door. She was still running when a voice suddenly broke the tense silence by calling her name, but it wasn't the voice she had expected. It wasn't his voice... It wasn't the voice that could soothe her fears away. In fact, this voice actually caused even more fear than what she was already feeling. That's why it took her so long to turn around to face the owner of it. "R-Riley..."

"Buffy..." A older Riley Finn stepped down into the lobby, his eyes never leaving her. "Buffy. My God, Buffy..."

Before Buffy could get the chance to recover from her shock at seeing him, he closed the distance to her, and pulled her into a hug that lifted her feet off the ground. "They told me you were dead. They told me you were dead." He kept mumbling into her hair. "I saw your..." He sat her back down on the ground, but his arms didn't leave her. "You're alive... I ran into Willow the other day and she told me, but I didn't believe her. I couldn't. Not until I seen for myself." His came out to caress her face, and she flinched. "Buffy... You're alive. You're alive." Then once again he took her by surprise, by leaning down to take her cool lips with his, and wouldn't you know that the one person she didn't want to see it would happen to walk in at that exact same moment. "Get your hands off her."

Buffy shoved Riley away, and spun around to face one obviously pissed off, I'm ready to morph and snap your fucking neck, Angel. "A-Angel... I uhh..." She pointed to Riley because she couldn't quite find her voice. "I umm... Look, it's Riley."

"I see him, Buffy." Angel growled, his eyes never leaving Riley. "But for the life of me I can't figure out why exactly I am."

"I came to see my girl." Riley smiled at Buffy, who was just recovering from the pain his words caused, but her reaction went totally unnoticed by the seething vampire standing a few feet away. "She is not your girl."

"She'll always be my girl." Riley stated before turning his attention back to the golden blonde beside him. "God, Buffy. Look at you. You look..." He reached to take her hand in his. "Beautiful. You're beautiful."

Buffy jerked her hand away the moment her skin made contact with his and shot a nervous glance at Angel before returning her gaze back to Riley. "R-Riley... I umm... What are you doing here? H-How did you find me?"

"I told you, silly. I ran into Willow. I was in Sunnydale on business, and I was going to visit your uhh... I ran into her at the Magic Shop, and she told me that you were alive. What happened, Buffy? I thought you were dead? I saw your uhh..."

"You mean Willow didn't tell you what happened?"

"Well, no. She didn't get the chance to because her daughter started crying."

"D-Daughter?" Buffy felt the blood drain from her face, and suddenly she couldn't breathe much less find her voice to speak.

"Buffy!" Angel was immediately at her side, steadying her on her feet. "What is it, baby? What's wrong?"

"Baby?" Riley stared at the couple. "Buffy, are you two... Are you back with this...him?"

"N-No. No togetherness here." Buffy pulled away from Angel. "Th-That'll never happen."

"Don't listen to her, Finn." Angel pulled Buffy back to his side, and slid an arm around her waist. "We're back together. She's just having a little trouble admitting it."

Riley ignored Angel and focused on the woman beside him. "Is what he's saying true, Buffy?"

"Of course, it's true." Angel answered before Buffy could get the chance to.

"I don't believe this!" Riley's face turned blood red. "How could you, Buffy? He's a fucking vam..."

"Shut up..." Buffy finally managed to find her voice and choke out.

"What?" Riley's eyes widened in surprise.

"You heard me, Riley." Buffy managed to say a little louder, and then spun back to look at Angel. "A-And you... You shut up, too. And quit lying. We are not back together." She turned back to Riley. "And you... Who the hell do you think you are coming here and laying judgement on me...or Angel? First of all, this is Angel's home. His home, and If I were you I would respect the fact that he hasn't thrown you out on your ass yet. A-And second of all... Seven years, Riley. I haven't seen you in... Well, a long time, and if memory serves me correctly the last time I did see you you were fry... leaving town because I wouldn't bow to you the way your vampire whores would!"

"And god damnit, Angel..." She spun back to nail Angel with angry eyes. "Wipe that smirk off your face right now before I do it for you. You have nothing to smirk about. Nothing!"

"Buffy..." The smirk in question quickly disappeared when Angel realized her face was growing even paler. "Baby, will you please calm down. You look like you're about to fall out in the floor."

Buffy could feel her temperature going up a few more notches. "I am not your baby, Angel. I'm not anybody's baby, nor do I plan to be. Now go!"

"W-What?" This time it was Angel's turn to be surprised.

"You heard me, Angel." She pointed towards his office. "Go. Leave. I need to speak to Riley alone."

"No." Angel crossed his arms in front of his chest. "I am not leaving you alone with him, Buffy. I don't trust him."

"Me!" Riley exploded. "You don't trust me? What about you, Angelus, Scourge of Europe. You're a fucking demon for christ's sake!"

"That's right, boy." Angel's eyes turned amber. "I am. And it would be a good thing for you to remember that while you're here in MY HOME with MY MATE. MY MATE! " He took a step towards him. "Touch her again, and I won't be tossing you out on your ass, I'll be tossing you out in pieces."

"Mate!" Riley sputtered. "Buffy is not your mate."

"Oh, I beg to differ, boy. And my mark on her neck only goes to prove my point even further, so don't think for a second that I'll just step aside and let you have her like I did before. I'm not the same fucking idiot I was then. Buffy belongs to me. ME! And if you dare touch her again I will have no choice but to prove it to you." Angel took another step towards Riley. "Don't fuck with me, boy. It won't be pretty."

"Stop it!" Buffy jumped in between the two men, and sent them flying apart. "I said stop it, and I meant it. If you don't I'm going to be the one breaking the both of your fucking necks!" Both men backed off as she ordered, but neither one of them was ready to completely back down. Not until Angel saw just how upset the woman in front of him really was. She was trembling, and his eyes immediately softened as they locked with hers. "Buffy..."

"A-Angel, please..." She blinked back more tears. "Will you please listen to me just this once? I need to speak to Riley alone."

"I don't like it, Buffy." He swept a hand through his hair in frustration. "I don't. But I'll do if for you." He shot Riley another warning look before returning his gaze to Buffy. "I'll be in my office, but I'm leaving the door open."

"Fine. Do what you have to do." She muttered, and watched him disappear into his office before turning back to a frowning Riley. "Follow me."

****

"Are you two back together?"

"I've already told you no, Riley."

"Then what are you doing here?"

"You tell me."

"I don't understand, Buffy."

Buffy stopped her frantic pacing and spun around to face him. "Oh, cut the crap, Riley." She snapped. "I know. I KNOW! Or should I say I remember, DR. FREDRICKS?"

Riley's face paled. "You... H-How..."

"...Could I remember when you and your friends kept me so doped up all the time? Oh, and let's not forget you frying my brain on a nightly basis." Buffy cut him off and finished asking. "The answer's easy, Riley. Love. That's how I remembered. And I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about him. I loved him. I still love him. And it's because I did... do that I held onto him...Maybe not in my mind, but in my heart and soul... That's a different story. Now, would you like to explain to me why you did it? Why, Riley? Why did you do it?"

Riley's pained gaze met hers. "Because I wanted you back. I still loved you. I still love you."

"Love!" Buffy closed the distance to Riley. "You know nothing about love! You hurt me! You hurt me, and how in the hell you could think I would ever take you back after what you did is beyond me!"

"You wasn't supposed to remember. Any of it."

"And because I wasn't you thought that in time you could worm your way back into my life, and make me love you?"

"No. I mean, yes. That's part of it, but there's more, Buffy. I needed answers that you wasn't exactly willing to give me. You fought everything I did tooth and nail, and no matter what I did you sitll had the dreams. That's why when that man came to get you, I didn't try to stop him. I let you go hoping that in time the dreams would fade. I prayed he would give you a new life and you would forget completely, and just when I thought my prayers had been answered... Just when I planned to make my move, I got called away on a mission with the initiative. I was nearly killed, and it took me a year to recuperate enough to get back to the states."

"And when you got here you found the last thing you ever expected." Buffy guessed. "You found me living across the street from the love of my life. The same person you tried to make me forget, and when you saw that you blew a gasket because you knew it was too late. You knew I... Chara was already in love with him." Buffy guessed. "Am I right, Riley? You felt like you had lost me to him again, and it pissed you off. So much so you wanted revenge on him... me. That's what the last seven months have been about. You wanted revenge on Angel for having the one thing you could never have, and that's my love. And you wanted revenge on me for giving it to him."

"Revenge?" Riley asked confused. "The last seven months? What the hell are you talking..."

"Don't!" Buffy held up her hand to stop his words. "I told you to cut the crap, Riley. I don't want to hear it. All I want is for you to get the hell out of here now before I kill you myself."

"I never meant to hurt you, Buffy. Never."

"But you did."

"I did what I did because I loved you. I still love you. I didn't want to see you screw up your life with him. He had some kind of hold on you, and I just wanted to break it."

"You're right. He did... does have a hold on me, Riley and that hold is called love. LOVE, RILEY! I love him. I have always loved him, and I always will. HIM! Not you! I never loved you and I never will!"

"You're lying, Buffy. You felt something for me. I kept telling myself you didn't, but then I remembered all those times we made love..."

"First of all, let's get one thing straight, Riley. We did not make love. We never made love. In order to make love you have to love the person you're with, and I didn't... I didn't love you. I never ever loved you. NEVER! But you were right about my feeling something. I did feel something. I felt cold. Everytime I was with you a I felt a little colder than the time before because you wasn't the man I wanted to be with. The man I wanted to be with... The only man I will ever want to be with is Angel. Angel, Riley. Not you. Like I said before you may have washed my memories of him from my mind, but you never washed them away from my heart... my soul... Those two things will never forget him because they will always belong to him."

"You don't know what you're saying, Buffy. You need help." Riley stood up, and closed the distance to her. "Please let me help you. Let me love you the way you deserve to be loved."

"The only thing you can do for me, Riley is get the hell out of here."

"I'm sorry, Buffy. I'm so sorry I hurt you. I never meant to. God, you have no idea how much it hurt me to see you hurt." He reached out to caress her cheek, but she jerked away before he could make contact. "If only you had come after me the night I left Sunnydale. If you had've then I wouldn't have had to..."

"I did!"

"W-What?" Riley blinked in surprise.

"I came after you, Riley. I arrived just after you lifted off. I let Xander convince me that you deserved a second chance. I let him convince me that I was the one to blame for the mess that was us. But luckily for me I arrived too late. And I'm glad now. I'm glad that I didn't stop you. I'm glad because watching you leave made me realize alot of things. It made me realize you were right. It was Angel all along. My heart... My soul... They belonged to him. They have since the moment I met him, and I finally realized that. And you know what else, Riley? I cried. I cried after you left. But not because I was going to miss you... what we had. I cried because seeing you leave reminded me of the day he left. It made me realize how much I had lost the day he did. Me. I lost me the day he left. The day he left he took my heart and soul with him, and all that was left after that was just my body. That's why it was so easy for me to be with you. That's why I could never love you."

"Jesus, Buffy. Do you have any idea how much it hurts to hear you say that?"

"Turn around's fair play, don't you think, Ri?"

"I told you I never meant to hurt you, Buffy."

"You never meant to hurt me, but yet you did. Not Angel, Riley. Me. You hurt me. But don't think for a second that it wouldn't hurt Angel if he ever found out because it would. That's why I'm not going to tell him. I'm not going to tell him anything!" Buffy spat. "Now get the hell out of here!"

"He's not the one for you, Buffy."

"You'e right. He's not. It doesn't matter how much I love him. He's not the one." She choked out. "But I can tell you now that neither are you."

"Yes, I am. All I need is a chance to prove it to you, Buffy." And then he was kissing her, and God help her she tried to feel something... anything... but all she felt was cold. Even colder than she did the first time she had been with him. And it was the cold that finally forced her to tear her lips from his and shove him away. "Buffy..."

"Go." She choked out. "Just go, Riley."

"Come with me."

"No. I don't love you, Riley." Buffy locked eyes with him again. "In fact, I pretty much despise you. Could even kill you for what you did to Kyle..."

"Kyle? Buffy..."

"Just get the hell out of here, Riley!" She spat through gritted teeth. "And when you do leave take my advice and keep running. Run. Run far far away, Riley because if Angel ever finds out..." She backed away from him. "Well, let me just put it this way. He was exaggerating just a tad earlier. He won't tear you to pieces. Oh no, if he ever finds out what you did to me they'll be nothing left of you once he's done with you to tear to pieces."


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Just wanted to say thank you to Tiff, Emma, Kristin, Kyria, Sobad97, Christine, Ruth, LS McBride, Raven Raven, Christine Ho, Ashleigh, Kattie S. DragonQueen05, Susan, Kolumbyne, Laura, Ryan, Isis Blue, Carolyn, Kassie Raye, Karen H., Mary R., Laura May, Stephanie, and Anja for their wonderful feedback.
A soulmate is someone who has the locks to fit our keys, and the keys to fit our locks.
When we feel safe enough to open the locks, our truest selves step out and we can be completely and honestly who we are; We can be loved for who we are and not for who we're pretending to be.
Our soulmate is the one who makes life come to life.

Richard Bach


CHAPTER 30


To say he had been pissed was an understatement. Angel had been beyond pissed. He had been enraged. It was one thing to witness the first kiss between Buffy and that pansy of an ex-boyfriend of hers, but to witness the second one... Witnessing it had nearly drove him over the edge. Not only had he wanted to rip the boy to shreds, he had wanted to charge into the room, grab his mate up and cart her off to the very room he was now sitting in, and keep her prisoner until she admitted she loved him again. But as much as the demon inside of him was screaming for him to do that, he knew he couldn't. And believe it or not it was his beloved's kid sister that had given him the strength to push his jealousy aside and bring him to his senses. Dawn was right. Instead of telling Buffy how he felt and what he wanted it was time he showed her. But in order to do that there was something else he needed to do first. Something else that was going to hurt the both of them, and he knew there was a good chance that once it was over and done with he might lose her altogether, but it was a chance he had to take, and now that he had managed to get his temper under control he was ready for the battle. That's why he was sitting here in their bedroom now waiting for her. Part of his plan had been to catch her off guard, but as usual when it came to her nothing ever went as planned. NOTHING.

She was drunk. He knew that the moment she stepped into the room, but if he thought that little fact would be in his favor he was wrong. She may be drunk, but she wasn't that drunk, and the moment her firey eyes met his he knew she was more than prepared to face him. Still, he wasn't backing down. Not this time. "You're drunk."

"Uh huh..." Buffy leaned back against the door, not sure if she needed it to hold her up because she really was stinking drunk or if it was because of the rubbery legs she always got whenever she was around him. "And you're leaving."

"No, I'm not, Buffy. Not until we've talked." Angel didn't even bother to rise from the chair he was sitting in. "Now why don't you start things off by telling me where you got the liquor to get in the shape you're in. And so help me God, Buffy if you tell me you went out of this hotel I will turn you over my knee and spank you."

"Oh, pooh, Angel." Buffy waved a drunken hand at him. "You'll do no such thing. You think I don't know that? Threats... That's all it is. You're just threatening me with..." She tried to think of the words she was looking for, but for the life of her she couldn't get past the fog in her head.

"Idle threats." Angel finally found the words for her, and she took time to process the information. "Right." She pointed a finger at him. "Idle threats. You're just threatening me with idle threats. You would never hurt me. Not that way anyway. Now the other ways... That's a different story."

"What other ways, Buffy?"

"W-What?"

"What other ways have I hurt you? I need you to tell me specifically."

"Why?" Her eyes narrowed as she tried to focus on him.

"Because I want to take it away." His eyes met hers. "I want to take the pain I caused you away."

Buffy's eyes flared the moment the words left his mouth. "You can't fix me, Angel."

"That's what you keep telling me, Buffy. But you know what? I think I can."

"Oh, really? And how exactly do you plan to do that, Angel? Do you plan to do it by continuing to keep me prisoner here?"

"I am not keeping you a prisoner here, Buffy. This is your home. YOUR HOME!" Angel growled. "And as for my plan to help you... Well, let's just say I already know what I have to do." His gaze slowly traveled over her. "I know exactly what I have to do, and I will soon. " His dark orbs rose back up to meet her suddenly panicked one's. "Very, very soon."

The look in his eyes was enough to send Buffy crashing even further back against the bedroom door in panic. And that buzz she had... Well, she was buzzing all right, but in a totally different way now. That's why she had to get rid of him, and fast. "L-Look, Angel. Do you suppose we could skip the chit chat, and you just say what the hell it is you have to say so I can go to be... sleep?"

"Why the rush to get rid of me, Buffy? It's not like you'll go to be... sleep even after I do leave."

"W-What the hell are you talking about, Angel?"

"Our bed, baby. I know you haven't been sleeping in it, and I'd really love to know why."

"H-How did you..." She stared at him in shock.

"Vampire senses, remember? I know your scent, and there's no traces of you on the sheets or pillowcases, Buffy. Nothing. They're as clean as the night I put them on the bed for you, which tells me you haven't been sleeping in it." His eyes locked with hers. "What I don't know is why. Care to explain?"

"What's to explain?" Buffy said coolly as he started to broach a subject that she refused to broach with him. "It's pretty simple. It's your bed."

"Our bed." He corrected her. "It's our bed, Buffy."

"No, it's not! It will never be our bed. Never, Angel. I'd rather die than share that bed with you!"

"Fine." He mumbled before raising his gaze back to hers. "You have a problem with the bed. I get that. But just because it's my bed doesn't really tell me anything, Buffy. I need a clearer answer here. Why exactly do you have a problem sleeping in or sharing my bed with me? Is it Finn? Are you still in love with him? That's it, isn't it? You still love him. That's why you kissed him after I warned him not to touch you again."

"H-How did you..." Buffy was once again taken by surprise. "You were spying on us."

"No, not spying. I don't spy. I lurk, and the only reason I was lurking was because I got worried when I came out of my office, and you wasn't there. I told you I didn't trust him, and I needed to make sure you were okay so I came looking for you and that's when I stumbled upon the two of you in the garden...Are you?"

"Am I what?"

"In love with him, Buffy?" Angel couldn't help but growl as the jealousy demon inside of him started to take control again. "Is that why you kissed him again? Are you still in love with him?"

"No." She snapped. "Absolutely not! You can't still be in love with someone you never loved to start with! You can't be in love with someone that you despise!"

Angel couldn't help but be a little taken back by that piece of information. It was one thing to hear someone else tell him that she had never loved the boy, but to actually hear it from her was another. Still, no matter how startling the information was it was enough to answer all the questions he'd had. So much so he was able to push all his demons aside and regain his wits enough to spring into action. "But you told me..."

She shrugged. "What can I say? I lied. It was my revenge on you for hitting me over Faith all those years ago. I knew the fact that I was sleeping with joe normal and couldn't you would eat you up, and I was right, it did."

"And Conner? Was he part of your revenge on me as well, Buffy?"

"W-What?"

"Conner. Did you sleep with him to get revenge on me, Buffy?"

"You think I..." Buffy paled, and if it hadn't been for the door she was pretty sure her legs would have given out from under her. "I didn't... H-How could you... I never slept with Conner, Angel. And I never would or will. It's not like that with us."

"So you say. But how do I know you're telling me the truth, Buffy? Especially when you just admitted to me that you slept with Finn to get revenge on me."

"I would never sleep with Conner to get back at you, Angel. Never! And you should know that."

His dark orbs met hers. "Why? Why should I know that, Buffy? I mean, it's pretty obvious that I don't really know you at all, and because I don't God only knows what you're capable of. For all I know the past year and a half could have been another form of revenge on me. And what better way to get at me than through my son. By sleeping with my son. Turning him against me, and making him hate me. And he does hate me, Buffy. So much so he even told me he would kill me for you."

"Y-You think..." Buffy felt as if someone had stabbed her through the heart. Die. God, his words made her want to die. But not here. Not in front of him. She wasn't going to let him see her fall apart. That's why she spun around and reached for the door knob. All she wanted to do was leave and get as far as way as possible before she caused anymore damage, but he must have read her mind because before she could even get it open enough to escape, he was right behind her pushing it shut, and pinning her to it at the same time. "Uh uh, baby. There won't be any running away this time." He growled close to her ear. "Now answer me. Did you sleep with my son to get revenge on me for leaving you all those years ago?"

If his words before hadn't sobered her up, the ones that just left his mouth did. "You sonofabitch!" She spun around and nailed him across the face with her fist. "I would never use Conner to get back at you for anything. NEVER! God! How could you even think that I..."She began to cry. "I n-never slept with him. N-Never. B-But I knew. I knew showing up here as Chara caused problems between the two of you. Th-That's why I left. I-I knew. I knew I w-was tearing the two of you apart, a-and I didn't want that. He needs y-you and vice versa. Y-You both have a g-great life here. A-A family... A-And I didn't want to destroy it. Th-That's why I left. It wasn't a-about revenge. I sw-swear, A-Angel. I never slept with him. He's my... I would never ever do that to you. N-Never. A-And how you could ever think that I would..." Her tear filled eyes met his. "H-How could you?"

"What else am I supposed to think, Buffy?"

"You fucking idiot!" She hit him again. "You're not supposed to think. You're supposed to know!"

"How?" He asked with a stern voice. "How am I supposed to know?"

"Because y-you're supposed to know me." She sobbed. "B-But you don't. Evidently you d-don't know me at all. A-And because you don't that just goes to show me that you never... You don't know me. I was right. B-But just because I was right doesn't mean... I would never use Conner against you, A-Angel. Never. H-He's a part of m...you, a-and I-I love him. I love him j-just as much as I d-do YOU!"

The moment the words were out of her mouth her hand flew to her mouth in shock. She hadn't meant to say them, and she prayed he hadn't heard them, but she knew her prayers had went unanswered the moment her eyes shot back to his face. He'd heard all right, and the proof came in the form of his lips curling up in a cheschire cat smile of victory. "Ahh, now there's my girl. I've been waiting a long long time for you to show your face."

"I am not your girl!" Buffy screamed at him. "I don't even like you."

"Maybe not, but you do love me, Buffy. I heard you say it."

"I don't know what I'm saying. I'm drunk!" She argued. "A-And you... you tricked me into saying it."

"You're not that drunk, Buffy. And yes, I admit that maybe I tricked you into saying it, but I didn't have a choice. You've been lost, baby and you needed me to help you find your way home. And there's nothing wrong with that. There's not. You are the other half of me, after all. You needed me to help you face some things so we could be together again. So our two halves could make a whole again."

"You bastard. How dare you use my..." She hissed, but never quite got the chance to finish because he cut her off. "Now, Buffy is that anyway to talk to the man you love?"

"I don't love you!" She denied vehemently.

"Yes, you do. And very soon you'll be saying those words with your own lips, Buffy. In fact, I also predict that very soon not only will you be saying those words to me you'll also be calling me something else besides a bastard."

"Conceited Asshole?"

"No. Husband." He informed her as he raised his hand to show her the ring on his finger. "You'll call me husband, Buffy."

"No! That'll never happen. Never!" She argued even though the sight of his claddagh ring back on his finger was stirring up alot of things she didn't want stirred. "And for your information you conceited asshole I never loved you! Never!"

"Liar." Angel continued to stand his ground. "You loved me, Buffy. You still love me. That's why you didn't sleep with Conner. You didn't sleep with him because he's a part of me, and you love me." He grinned like a school boy again. "You love me. I know it. Just like I know that's exactly why you left. You left to give Conner and I a family. But it was more than that. You were protecting us. You left to keep from dragging us into the mess you were in. Not just because you were afraid whoever it was that was after you would go after us, but because you wanted the both of us to have some sort of normal life." Buffy opened her mouth to argue with him, but he simply cut her off. "And not just that. There's the little matter of my bed... our bed. I know now excactly why you haven't been sleeping in it. You haven't been sleeping in it is because you love me and the thought of sleeping in it without me is almost as unbearable to you as it to me to have to sleep in it without you." He closed the short distance to her. "You love me, Buffy. I know it just like I know the reason you can't sleep in our bed is because you can't bear the thought of sleeping in it unless I'm beside you. I know it, Buffy. I know because the thought of sleeping in our bed without you is just as unbearable for me as it is for you to have to sleep in it without me."

"No! No! You're wrong. That's not it at all! You don't know shit!"

Angel pulled her into his arms. "Okay, if that's not the reason you won't sleep in it then tell me why, Buffy." He gently shook her. "Answer me, baby. Why won't you sleep in my bed... our bed?"

"I won't sleep in it because it's not our bed. It's not. It's yours and Cordelia's and I won't sleep in the same bed that you fucked her in! I won't sleep in the same bed you fucked Darla in" The words left her mouth before she could stop them, and her hand flew up to cover it again, but the reason it did this time wasn't from shock. It was to try and stifle the sob that came tearing out of her. "Oh, God..." She shoved him away, and spun away from him.

"Buffy..." Angel's gaze grew pained as he stared at her rigid back. "Jesus, baby do you honestly think I would..." He took a step towards her. "I never shared that bed with Cordelia, Buffy. Never. I couldn't. Not when the only person I ever wanted to share it with was you. In the four and a half years I was with her I never shared my bed, my home, or my heart with her because you were the only person that I ever dreamed of sharing any of those things with. And as far as Darla is concerned... Fucking... That's all it was, Buffy. Fucking! It was a moment of deep dark despair. I never shared anything with her other than my despair."

"Yes, you did, Angel. You shared a hell of a whole lot more than you realize. Not that it matters." She swiped at her tears. "We were over a long time ago. That's why I will never ever share anything with you. Including that... that..." She gestured blindly to the bed. "THING!"

"O-Kay. I'm gathering you still have a problem with the bed. Well, I'll just fix that right now, Buffy." Before Buffy could blink Angel had spun on his heels, and headed for the bed, and within seconds she was watching as he started tearing it apart with his bare hands, sending pieces flying everywhere.

"W-What... W-What are you doing?"

"Getting rid of the bed." He growled as he sent the mattress flying across the bedroom to smash against the wall. "If you don't want to share it with me then we'll buy a new one. One we can share together. And we will share one together, Buffy because I'm not walking away from you this time. We will be together. I don't care how long it takes. You will love me again, and by the time you say those words to me I will have proven to you beyond a shadow of a doubt that I love you."

Buffy blinked in surprise as the boxspring went sailing across the room next. "Y-You're crazy."

Angel lowered his arms, and locked eyes with her. "That's right, baby. I am crazy. Crazy in love with you. So crazy in love with you I would do anything for you, including sleep on a cold, hard floor. Hell, I'd give up everything I own... the life I'm living now... in a second and go back to living in an alleyway and feeding off rats again if I knew you'd be by my side. And I'd be happy, Buffy. Truly Truly happy. Because that's all I've ever wanted. All I've ever wanted is to be with you. To be able to love you the way I want. The way you deserve. You, Buffy. I love you. I always have and I always will."

"Don't..." She looked away, but he closed the distance to her, and caught her chin to turn her face back to him. "Don't what, baby?" His chocolate orbs met hers. "Don't love you? I'm sorry. You know what? I didn't know that I got a choice in that. I'm never gonna change. I can't change. I want my life to be with you." He repeated the exact same words she said to him so long ago, and the moment he said them tears started coursing down in her cheeks. "I don't."

"I know." He murmured sadly. "And I'm sorry it took me awhile to figure that out. I'm sorry that I've been a fucking idiot and hurt you time after time. I thought you were better off with out me, and it took me awhile to figure out that I was wrong. It took me awhile to figure out that we belong together, and I'm sorry. I'm so sorry for hurting you... for taking so long to figure alot of things out. But I'm here now, Buffy. I'm here. And whether you want to believe it or not this is where I belong. With you... I belong with you, and I believe with all my heart that you belong with me." He reached up to cup her face with his hands. "That's why I'm about to do the only thing I know left to do. I'm going to prove to you once and for all that you are needed and loved. That I need you and love you so much..." And then his lips swooped down to claim hers, and it took everything inside of her to fight the rush of feelings he was stirring up inside of her. ""A-Angel, n-no." She panted as she tore her lips from his. "Y-You don't want me."

"You're right. I don't want you, Buffy. It's more like I need you." His lips dipped back down to skate across her jawline. " Mo Anam Chara, baby. You're my soulmate, and I need you to complete me. To make me whole again. And you need me to do the same for you. That's why I'm begging you not to fight it anymore. Don't keep us apart any longer. Let me love you. 'Cause God knows I do." He whispered in her ear. "I love you so much, Buffy and if you'll let me I'd like to show you. "

God, she wanted to say no. She did. But as much as she did she couldn't seem to find her voice to do it, and before she knew what she was doing she was pulling his head back down to hers. She fused her lips with his, and drank from him greedily. She drank and drank from him until tasting wasn't enough. More... She needed more... Him. He was right, she needed him. Heart, body, and soul. And it was that need that drove her to the point where she was tearing hungrily at his clothes, and evidently he hadn't been lying about his need for her either because he was making her clothes disappear just as quickly.

Soon they were flesh to flesh... Cool against hot... Sagging to the floor, and joining at the same time. Their reunion was hard and fast just like the way they had fallen for each other all those years ago. There wasn't any time for words, just actions, and when it was over they started all over again. Only this time it was slower... much much slower. They let their hands, mouths, and bodies take the time to reaquaint and tell the story of how they felt because there wasn't a doubt in either one of their minds that the emotions flowing between them was beyond words.

Worshiped her... Angel worshippped Buffy's body as if it were a temple. His every caress emanated his love for her and just how worthy she was to him. He poured heart, body, and soul into showing her how much he loved and needed her, and evidently he must have gotten through to her because by the time their second union was cresting the floodgates inside her opened up and she cried all the way through the afterglow of it. She cried until she cried herself into a deep sleep, and he was there with her through it all, holding her in his arms and whispering words of love even after she couldn't hear them anymore.

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God, I wish I had the time to email everyone for their wonderful feedback, but I don't so I will continue to thank each and everyone of you individually with each posting. Thanks Rose, Steph, Christine, Tiff, Kyria, Karin, Sobad97, Maureen, Wendy, Dragonqueen, Susan, Ryan, Mary R., Isis Blue, Kassie Raye, Karen H., Al M., Laura May, Raven Raven, Kolumbyne, Briony, and Romana. You guys are the greatest!

Anita

P.S. I think this is the chapter you've been waiting for. Hope you enjoy!

CHAPTER 31


Angel was still watching over Buffy when a knock on the bedroom door sounded in the pre-dawn hours, and he quietly left their makeshift bed on the floor to slide his black silk boxers on in the hopes that he could prevent whoever it was from waking her up. Luckily he was able to do just that, and before the person standing on the other side could open their mouth to say anything he was sticking a finger to his lips to silence them and stepping into the hallway to close the door.

"Did you hurt her?" Conner asked his father as he recalled what sounded like World War III coming from his father's room several hours before.

"No. I would never lay a finger on her. Well, not with the intent to hurt her anyway." Angel couldn't help but break into a grin, and his son soon followed suit. "So does this mean you finally got through to her?"

"I umm... I think so."

"What do you mean you think so, Dad? Didn't you talk to her before you two did uhh... Didn't you talk to her?"

"Yes, Conner I talked to her. I also yelled, and then there was the point where I let her take her own anger out on me before I ransacked our room. Oh, and after that there was kissing and lot's of other... stuff." He ran a hand through his hair. "And that kinda cut out the yelling, beating, and destroying and led to crying. Alot of crying. But she let me hold her afterwards, so I think that means she's accepted that we're back together." His eyes met Conner's again. "Don't you think that means she's accepted that we're back together?"

"I don't know, Dad. You know her. She's unpredictable. Maybe just to be on the safe side you should clarify it the next time you two do uhh... whatever it is you two do."

"You're right. And I think maybe I should go do that right now. Clarify it, I mean." Angel went to open the door to his room, but Conner's voice stopped him. "Wait a minute, Dad. I'm afraid it's going to have to wait."

"Why?" Angel turned back to him. "Did Cordelia have a vision?"

"No."

"Then it can't wait." He reached for the door again, and Conner grabbed his arm. "I said Cordy didn't have a vision, Dad. I didn't say there wasn't something that required your immediate attention, and this does. Lorne's downstairs. He needs to talk to you."

Angel frowned. "Can't this wait until later, Conner? Much much later?"

"'Fraid not." Conner said mysteriously. "Now get dressed." He turned to leave, but suddenly turned back to his father. "Oh, and to be on the safe side leave her up here." Without another word, he disappeared down the hallway, leaving Angel to stare after him. But only for a few moments and then he was quietly slipping back into his room, his eyes immediately returning to the floor, and the woman laying nestled in under the blankets on it. She was laying on her side facing him, her hand resting on the pillow where his head had been laying a few minutes before, and it took everything inside of him not to go to her and slide back in beside her. Sleep. He told himself over and over again as he pulled on his clothes. She needed sleep. There would be many many nights and days to come when he would be able to lay with her in his arms, but not right now. Right now she was exhausted and needed sleep, and he wasn't able to deny her of that. He had never been able to deny her much of anything...

Once he was dressed, Angel made his way over to the makeshift bed and knelt down to feather a kiss across Buffy's forehead then tucked the stray covers around her once more. After quickly taking care of something else he gave her one last lingering glance before he quietly slipped from the room. Good... Whatever the hell it was that Lorne wanted to talk to him about, it had better be good or he was going to snap his neck for dragging him away from the one place he'd dreamed of being for so long...

****

"What the hell?" Angel froze just inside his office doorway as his eyes landed on the person sitting on the sofa across from his desk while every pair of eyes in the room fell on him.

"Hey, Angelface." Lorne grinned. "I brought you a present."

"You brought me..." Angel tore his eyes away from the man, and moved his gaze to Lorne. "Why the hell would you bring him to me, Lorne? I don't want him. In fact, I don't want him anywhere near here."

"I know, Angelface. But I'm afraid he has to be here."

"Why?"Angel's gaze returned to the man. "And okay, it just hit me. How the hell do you even know who he is, Lorne?"

Lorne smiled again. "I didn't. Not at first anyway. But you yourself know how it is when someone decides to drown their sorrows in whiskey and song. They relax, making reading them so much more fun. And it is fun. Especially when they carry little secrets deep inside them that they don't want anyone to know about. And boy, does this fellow have a very big secret. And no, it's not that his singing is worse than yours."

"Lorne..." Angel was losing his patience.

"Okay, okay, Angelface." Lorne laughed then quickly sobered as he slid from the top of Angel's desk. "It turns out that he's the one that sent those uniformed giants after your beloved."

"What?" Angel's gaze flew back to the demon. "You have got to be kidding me? He..." He started to laugh.

"I know. I know. The idea sounds perposterous, and is funny as hell, but it's true, Angel. I read him, remember? And the moment I did I knew you would want to deal with him so I slipped him a mickey, and walah... Here we are. But hey, if you still think I'm joking you can ask him yourself. I think that guilty conscience of his has finally managed to get the best of him. Well, that and the fact that he's a lovesick fool for your mate."

Angel took one look at Lorne and knew he wasn't kidding, and the moment he did know his enraged gaze flew back to the man on the sofa. "Is what he's saying true, boy? Did you send those men after Buffy?"

The man nodded, and before anyone could blink Angel was on him. "You sonofabitch! Do you have any idea what they did to her? I'll kill you!" He growled as he choked the life from the man. "I'll kill you!"

The rest of the AI crew reacted just as quickly and tried to pry Angel's hands from the man's throat, but Angel wasn't about to let go. That was until Lorne's voice cut into his enraged fog. "Let go, Angelface. You can't kill him. if you do you'll never know why he did it. Come on now, let go. Let go for her."

It took a few moments for Angel to do as Lorne asked, but neither his hold on Riley Finn nor his saffron gold eyes ever left him. Not even when he jerked the tape that was keeping Riley from talking from his mouth. "Tell me, boy. I want to know why you sent those men after my mate."

"Sh-She's not your mate." Riley managed to choke out once the tape was removed from his mouth.

"Yes, she is. She bears my mark, Finn." Angel growled. "Mine. And that in itself proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that she's mine. Buffy is my mate, and you have committed a terrible crime against her. A crime that is punishable by death, and unless you give me a very good explaination as to why you did it I'm going to carry through with your punishment. Now answer me. Why did you send those men after my mate?"

Riley took one look at Angel and knew he wasn't kidding. "T-To retrieve her. I never wanted to hurt her. Never. They were ordered to retrieve her and deliver her to me, but their was a flaw in their programs?"

"Programs?" Angel's eyes narrowed as they stared at Riley. "Are you telling me those things were robots like the one Spike... Those things were robots?"

"No. Not robots. They're not robots." Riley answered quickly. "They're more advanced than robots. They're cyborgs. To the human eye they look just like any other human, but underneath their human skin lies a machine unlike anything in this world. A machine programed to be a soldier. That's why there was a flaw in their program. They were ordered to retrieve Buffy without harming her, but they were also programed to never back down from a fight either."

"And as soldiers when she chose to fight them their first instinct was to defend themselves thereby causing a flaw in their program." Angel guessed.

Riley nodded. "Yes, and it broke my heart when I found out what they had done to her. I never wanted to hurt her. I just wanted them to bring her to me so I could get back what was rightfully mine."

Angel growled again. "I told you she doesn't belong to you, boy. Buffy is mine. Mine!"

Riley's eyes grew just as stormy. "Maybe Buffy is yours, but my child isn't."

"Ch-Child?" Angel's grip on Riley loosened, and he took a step back in shock. "But Buffy isn't... N-No. No. She isn't pregnant. I would know. I would... She hasn't seen you in seven years so how could she be pregnant with your..."

Riley shifted nervously on the sofa. "She's not pregnant now, but before... I never knew. Not until recently. I stumbled on this prophecy that told of her return and how she would rejoin with her child. The only thing I can figure out is that she was pregnant before I left her in Sunnydale, and she didn't tell me or didn't know until after I left. There was so much going on then. Her mom... I don't know why she never told me or what happened to the baby. I umm..." He raised his gaze to Angel. "I just want my child back and in order for me to accomplish that I need to find out what she knows."

"You're lying, boy." Angel grabbed Riley by his shirt. "Admit it. Admit that the child isn't the only thing you wanted. Admit that you wanted her, too. That's why you're really here. I think you've been watching her for awhile. Waiting for the perfect moment when you could snatch her up. The only problem is you knew you didn't have a fighting chance in hell as long as I was in the picture. I can almost bet that you've been watching and waiting for that perfect opportunity for a long, long time. But you never expected me to show up or for her to disappear on you. And I think that's what happened. I think you lost track of her for awhile so you went to Sunnydale and waited for her to return. I'll even bet you were ecstatic when you found out she was back. That was until you found out she was in the same city as me. As soon as you found that out you panicked. You knew then that you were going to have to do something or you was going to lose her, so you sent your men after her and when they screwed up you didn't have a choice. You knew then you would have to show your face. That's why you showed up here yesterday. Showing up here yesterday was your last ditch effort to keep her away from me, and to try and win her for yourself." He jerked Riley up. "Admit it, Finn. Tell me that what I'm saying isn't true. I dare you."

"I can't!" Riley spat. "You're right. I wanted her back. I've thought of nothing but her for the last seven years, and I actually thought I had a chance after..." Riley looked away from him. "I actually thought I had a chance until yesterday. She told me you two weren't back together. That you would never be back together. But you'll also be happy to know that she pretty much told me she hated my guts, and then she went on to prove it to me by letting me kiss her. Cold. She was as cold as you are dead, and it nearly killed me that she was telling me the truth. That was until I remembered our child. She may have never loved me, but if there is one thing I do know I know that she loved it. The proof of that love was in the painting she destroyed before she left here last year. She loved our child. I know it. And I think if the two of us can find that child and be the parents I know we can be to it, maybe just maybe in time she'll grow to love me the way I want. Maybe just maybe if we can find our child the three of us can be a real family. I just... I need to know why she never told me she was pregnant in the first place, and I need to know if she knows what happened to the baby."

"The picture..." Angel murmured as he remembered the picture Riley was referring to. "Jesus... No wonder she didn't want to remember. The baby..."

"Isn't dead." Riley stated matter of factly. "I know it's not dead. Our child isn't dead. I know it, and I intend to find it with what answers I get from her, and the help of the government. I can give Buffy back the child that she so badly craves and misses, but I won't do it as long as you're in the picture. There is no way in hell I will ever let you be a father to my child, and I think the government will agree with me. The question now is are you willing to step out of the way and allow me to give Buffy back her child? Do you really love her enough to step out of the way and allow me to give her what she really needs. Because that's the only way she will ever get it. The only way I will ever let her have anything to do with our child is if you're out of the picture. I won't share our child with you. I won't."

"Angelface..." Lorne approached Angel, and laid a hand on his arm. "Not now, Lorne..." Angel shoved his hand away.

"Buffy..." Lorne said without bothering to turn around to look at the figure standing in the office doorway. "Sweetie, are you going to stand there and let this ruse go on forever or are you finally going to let go of all that fear and pain and tell Angel the truth?"

"I umm..." Buffy's tear filled gaze flew to Angel's as he spun around to face her. "I-I didn't want you to k-know."

"Why, Buffy?" Angel's equally as pained eyes met hers. "Were you afraid I couldn't love your child the way I love Conner. Because if that's the reason you're wrong. I would... I will love it the same way if not more simply because it's a part of you. Because I love you."

"N-No..." Buffy vigorously shook her head as tears started to stream down her face. "I didn't w-want you to k-know because... because..." Her gaze flew back to Riley. "I-Is that why you d-did what you did to me? Because you wanted my..." She backed away. "Th-There is no baby. There is no baby. You did it all for nothing."

Riley's searched her face. "You're lying, Buffy."

"N-No." Buffy vigorously shook her head again. "I'm not. I'm not lying."

"Yes, you are." A voice said from behind Angel, and then the owner of that voice moved up beside him, his own eyes never leaving Buffy's. "C-Conner..."

"I know, Buffy. I told you before if you wouldn't give me the answers I wanted then I would find someone else that would. I know everything and now it's time everyone else knew. " The moment the words left Conner's mouth Buffy's eyes grew panicked at what he was suggesting. "Conner, no..."

"Everything's going to be okay, Buffy." He cut her off and said.

"You don't know that." She choked out.

"Yes, I do. Now stop protecting me and do it." Conner's eyes welled up. "I can't take seeing you in this much pain anymore. It's killing me. Please just tell Dad the truth."

"The truth about what?"Angel's questioning eyes flew to Buffy. "Buffy?"

Buffy opened her mouth to say something, but Riley beat her to it. "Sonofabitch! That's what you were hiding from me at the insitution? That whole time... That whole time I thought... You wasn't hiding my child from me. You were hiding...You bitch!"

A growl erupted from Angel and before anyone could react to stop him he was all over Riley again. "Do not... And I repeat, boy... Do not ever call my mate that word..." Suddenly Angel's hands dropped to his side. "Wait a minute... How the hell did you..." The answer to his own question finally hit Angel full in the face and he slowly turned around to look at Buffy. "He was the one... He's the one that hurt you..."

"Angel..." The look on Buffy's face was all the answer Angel needed. The demon inside of him screamed out in rage and he felt his face morph in reaction, but before he could turn around to accomplish his goal Buffy was launching herself into his arms. "ANGEL, NO!"

"Buffy..." Angel growled. "Baby, let go."

"No. No." Buffy looked up at him through a flood of tears. "Th-This is what he wants." She buried her head in his chest as sobs began to hitch her body. "He wants to destroy you... us... and it will... i-if you kill him you'll have to live with that the rest of your existence. It'll b-be another death to a-add to that guilty conscience of yours. Another death to add to my guilty conscience. I-I just w-want it to stop. I want the killing to stop."

Angel was still enraged. So much so, that he couldn't bring himself to wrap his arms around Buffy to comfort her even though a part of him wanted to do nothing more. "He hurt you, Buffy." He finally managed to choke out as he continued to nail Riley with his amber orbs over the top of her head.

"It had to b-be me. It had to be." Buffy raised her head up to look at him. "Don't you s-see that, A-Angel? It w-was either me o-or you a-and our son."

"What?" That got Angel's attention, and his eyes snapped back to hers. "Buffy, baby what are you talking about? You and I don't..."

Buffy started sobbing even harder and pushed away from him. "I didn't want you to know. Y-You or C-Conner. I didn't want you to know. N-Not just because I-I was trying to pr-protect you, but because of m-me..."

"What are you saying, Buffy?"

"Jesus! How dense are you, Dad? " Conner yelled at his father. "She's trying to tell you that she's my mother. That I belong to you and her."

"W-What?" Angel turned to look at his son. "C-Conner... Son, I know you love Buffy, and she loves you, but she's not your mother. Darla's your mother."

"He's right." Buffy choked out, as her gaze flew back to Conner. "Listen to your father, baby. I'm not your mother. Darla's your mother. She's the one that carried you for nine months. She's the one that sacrificed her life to give you yours. Not me. N-Not me. I'm not your mother. I'm not. All I am is just the person that helped to create you. That's all I'll ever be. I wasn't good enough to give you life or to be your mother. I'm wasn't worthy. I'm not worthy."

"Buffy..." Angel's questioning eyes flew to hers. "What..."

"I told you I didn't want you to know." Sobs began to hitch Buffy's body again and she wrapped her arms around herself. "I told y-you. I told you I wasn't worthy, but you wouldn't listen. Even the powers know it's t-true. Th-That's why they took him back. Th-They took him b-back j-just like th-that day."

"That day? What are you saying, Buffy? Are you saying that you and I... That Conner is ours?"

"Of course, I'm yours and hers, you dumbass!" Conner yelled at his father again. "Just look at me. I mean, really look at me, Dad. Tell me you don't see what I see. What Spike sees."

Angel did as his son ordered. He honed all his senses... everything inside of him on his son and mate, and the moment he did it all became so clear. He saw everything Conner saw. "Oh, God..." His eyes filled with tears as they shot back to Buffy. "Buffy..."

"I didn't want you to know..." Buffy began to sob harder.

"Why?" He choked out.

"I w-was afraid you would hate me. Th-That you would think I wasn't worthy just like the powers. I didn't want you to know th-they took him back just like th-that day. Th-That's why I pretended I didn't remember the night you came to get me. I didn't want you to end up hating me. I r-remembered. I remembered everything when I died. A-And then they told me about him... How th-they kept h-him a secret from me... f-from you... I never knew. Not until I was in... That's when th-they told me." She swiped at her tears. " Then th-they told me th-that they had sent h-him back to you. Th-They said y-you needed him, so they s-sent him back. Th-They used D-Darla to give him life. A-And I hated them for that. God, how I-I hated them for that. Wh-When they told me wh-what they had done all I could think was that th-they were right. I r-really was incapable of loving or being loved. Th-They proved to me then that I-I wasn't worthy of you... of being a mother to our son. They proved that t-to me when they chose to let Darla give our son life instead of m-me! A-And God, how I hated them for that. I still hate them for that! Conner is a part of m-me... o-of us...And I love him. I love him so much, but you were right, A-Angel. I'm not his mother. I knew that the moment the powers told me everything. A-And I hate them for that. I hate myself for that. I'm not worthy of him. Of y-you. And I-I tried to tell you that... the both of you that... b-but you wouldn't listen. You w-wouldn't listen." She collapsed in a muddled heap in the middle of the floor, and Angel was immediately at her side. "Buffy..." His hands went to her face. "Baby, look at me."

"I-I can't..." She shook his hands off. "I-I don't think I can b-bare to see how much you hate m-me now."

"Hate you?"Angel couldn't believe what he was hearing, but at least now he understood. "Jesus, Buffy..." His hand reached out to stroke her hair. "I could never hate you. Never. I love you, and I thought I had finally proven that to you last night."

"Y-You did." She sobbed as she wrapped her arms around herself again, and began to rock back and forth. "B-But that was b-before..."

"Before what?" He choked out as his own tears finally began to fall. "Before I found out that the only person I have ever loved and dreamed about having babies with has given me a son?"

"N-No." She shook her head again. "I didn't..."

"Yes, you did, baby. You gave me a son. You. Out of all the women I've ever been with you were the one to give me the greatest gift bestowed to man. You, Buffy. And that in itself should prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are worthy of being his mother, and I'm sure he'll tell you that once things settle down. But if you still have doubts and want to lay the blame on someone than I suggest you take a good look at me before you point a finger at yourself. If anyone one should hate anyone here, you should hate me. I am the one to blame, after all. I'm the one that gave that day back, remember?"

"No!" Buffy's head shot up to meet his pained gaze. "You're not to b-blame, Angel. You're not. You did it to save me. I know th-that now. I knew that then. And I-I also know you just didn't do it for me, you did it to save the world, too. And I don't hate you for that. I don't. You're not to blame. You're not. If anyone's to blame it's me. You did it for me. It's all my fault." Her tears began to fall even harder. "Don't you see, Angel. I'm not worthy of you or Conner. The powers proved that when they wouldn't let me give him life. I'm not worthy of him... of you. That's why I don't want you to love me. E-Either one of you. I'm not worth loving. P-Please don't love me. I don't want you to love me."

"Well, you're about ten years too late because I do love you. I never stopped, and I never will. I will always love you, Buffy. And as far as you not being worthy... I don't give a damn what the powers say because I happen to know for a fact that you are. If it wasn't for you..." He reached for her and pulled her into his lap. "You are the reason I can love, baby. You. If it wasn't for you I wouldn't have a family to love. And I don't mean just my friends. I mean you and me, and now..." Angel buried his face in her hair. "We have a son, Buffy. A son. A part of you and me, and you may not think you are worthy of being his mother, but I think differently." He pulled back to look at her tear streaked face. "Love, baby. Our son was created in love, and there isn't a person or higher being that can tell me differently. What we shared that day... I remember every second of it and there isn't a doubt in my mind that we loved unlike anyone else in this world." His hands came up to frame her face again. "Love, Buffy. We made Conner in love. I loved you, and I still love you. And Conner... I know he feels the same way about you, and like I said before once things settle down I can guarantee you that he'll tell you that. We love you, baby. And we need you. We need you here with us always. I need you here with me always. I love you, and Conner loves you." He gently shook her. "Do you understand? We need you, baby. We love you, and you are worthy of us. There isn't a doubt in our minds of that."

His words on brought more tears. On both parts this time. And the couple clinging to each other was totally oblivious of anyone else but themselves. So oblivious they didn't even notice when Lorne finally composed himself enough to usher everyone, including one very unhappy Riley Finn, from the room.


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CHAPTER 32


When Angel and Buffy re-emerged from his office a little while later Angel made a beeline straight for Riley Finn again, and just like before he didn't care that he had to shove a few people aside to get to him. "This prophecy you found... I want to know exactly what it said, Finn."

"Angel..." Buffy finally caught up with him, and laid a hand on his arm. "Let go of him. It's over."

"No, it's not over, Buffy. You're still in danger, and I'll be damned if I'll lose you again. That's why I need to talk to him. Talk, Buffy. That's it." Angel nailed Riley with his dark orbs. "The sonofabitch is working with someone. I know it. He's too damn stupid to have come up with this plan all on his own. And then there's the other attacks... I want to know why he wanted to kill you when he said he loved you."

"Kill you?" Riley's eyes flew to Buffy. "So what you said yesterday... Someone really is trying to kill you?"

Buffy's gaze moved from Angel to Riley. "Yes. And Angel thinks you're that someone because... Because your assistant... He was one of them. He killed my fa... Kyle, so I killed him."

To say Riley was shocked was an understatement, but he quickly recovered and returned his gaze to hers."And because he was involved you think I'm responsible. Is that what you're saying, Buffy? You think I'm behind all this, too?"

"I don't know, Riley. I thought I knew you, but after everything you did... And then there's those Adam wannabe's... You sent them after me. Why? The truth, Riley. I want the truth."

"I told you the truth, Buffy. There was you and the prophecy. My child... I just wanted my child."

"And revenge on Angel." Buffy finished for him. "You wanted revenge on Angel too, Riley. That was the biggest factor in all this. Admit it."

"OKAY! I admit it!" He yelled. "But not like that! I would never try to hurt you, Buffy. Never! I love you for crying out loud. I would never hurt you!"

"But you did. When you finally figured out you wasn't going to get what you wanted you did hurt me, Riley."

"I said I was sorry about that, Buffy. And if you'll let me explain I think you'll..."

Buffy held up her hand to cut him off. "You hate Angel, Riley. I mean really hate him, and you and I both know that. I also know from experience what hate can do to a person. It eats at you until there's a point you start doing things you never ever thought you were capable of doing if you were in the right frame of mind."

"I see. And you think my hate for him has reached the point that I would actually think of killing the only woman I've ever loved just to keep him from having her."

"You said it, not me."

"I would never hurt you, Buffy!" Riley yelled. "I don't care how much I hate him." Riley struggled against the ropes that had him bound. "Jesus christ, Buffy. do you have any idea how much it hurt me to do what I... And then there's my men... It nearly killed me! I never ever... I would NEVER hurt you that way! NEVER, Buffy! You've got to believe me."

"If that's true then I suggest you tell Angel what he wants to know so he can find out who really does want to hurt me. And if I were you I wouldn't hesitate on telling him, Riley because if you don't he's going to do exactly what he planned on doing earlier and I won't be able to stop him."

Riley glanced over at the man standing beside Buffy, and knew by the menacing look in his eyes that she wasn't lying. "And so it shall be that the golden slayer that sacrificed her own life to save the key and humanity shall return from the heavens above. And upon her return she shall be reunited with her child. But a blessed reunion with the child isn't all that lies in store for the golden warrior. Something far greater also awaits her, and can only take place when and if she should reunite with the mo anam chara and complete the circle that should have never been broken."

Something between a laugh and a sob tore from Buffy's lips, but just as quickly as it did she sobered and nailed Riley with her eyes. "What does it mean, Riley?"

"What?" Riley blinked in confusion.

"Mo anam Chara. What does it mean?"

"It means father."

Buffy couldn't help it. Laughter bubbled up inside her and once it escaped she couldn't stop. She laughed until she cried, and everyone in the room, including Angel, couldn't help but stare at the rare sight. "What's so funny, Buffy?" Riley asked as he stared at her.

"N-Nothing..." Buffy swiped at her tears. "I-It's just... Did you even look it up? The translation, I mean?"

"No. I just assumed..."

"Well, you assumed wrong. Mo anam chara doesn't mean father." Buffy turned around to look at Angel. "Angel, would you like to do the honors of telling Riley what it means? It is your native tongue after all."

"With pleasure." Angel rewarded Buffy with one one of his million dollar lopsided smiles, and moved up in front of Riley. " Mo anam Chara is Gaelic for my soulmate."

"And you're not..." Buffy stated as she met Riley's gaze. "You're not my soulmate, Riley. And you were never anywhere near being him."

"You also told me that you and Angel wasn't back together. That you would never be back together, but from where I'm standing something's drastically changed, Buffy." Riley's gaze swept over Angel's shirt and boxers that Buffy was wearing. "You slept with him, and I don't understand how that's possible. I thought..."

"My soul is bound." Angel cut Riley off. "And not that it's any of your business, but Buffy and I actually did a hell of a whole lot more than sleep last night."

"Angel..." Buffy glanced over at him.

"What?" He asked innocently. "It's the truth. Are you can going to tell me you've already forgotten, Buffy? Because if you have maybe I should just cart you back upstairs right now and refresh that memory of yours. Besides, what do we have to be ashamed of? That's what soulmates do when they reunite. Am I right?"

"We are not..." Buffy opened her mouth to argue, but immediately snapped it shut when she saw the stormy look in Angel's eyes. "L-Later. We'll discuss this later, Angel."

"We most certainly will, baby." He smirked.

Buffy actually blushed, and Riley didn't miss it. "What the hell are you doing, Buffy? He's a fucking vampire for christ's sake! He can't give you a normal life."

"He can't give me a normal life?" Buffy's firey gaze flew back to Riley. "God, Riley! You so don't get that I'll never ever be normal. You so don't get that the only time I ever did... do feel normal is when I'm with him. Him, Riley! Not you. And as for the vampire thing. Here's a little newsflash for you. Besides the fact that Angel's soul is now bound, he's also slowly but surely earning his humanity back. It's his reward for fighting. His shanshu. And even though I know it may not happen to him in my lifetime, it doesn't matter to me. It never did. I fell in love with Angel, the only vampire with a soul. Not Angel the human, Riley."

"What about other children, Buffy? Don't you want more children? I mean, if I'm understanding everything I've heard correctly it was Angel the human that got you pregnant, and not Angel the vampire. And then there's the fact that you missed out on your son's life. Tell me that fact alone doesn't make you want more children? Children that Angel the vampire can't give you."

"That's right, Riley. Angel the vampire can't give me children, but I already knew that. I knew it a long time ago. And I accepted it. Besides, it was never about that. Never. All I ever wanted was Angel. That's it. And the fact that we were lucky enough to have Conner... He's a miracle. A miracle I will always treasure. And yes, the fact that I missed out on everything with him does make me wish I could have more miracles like him. I won't deny that. But having him in my life period is something I want more. And God! Why am I even standing here bothering to explain any of this with you. It's my life. Mine. And you aren't a part of it. You never were. You know it and I know it, Riley." She walked over to untie him. "Go."

"What the hell are you doing, Buffy?" Angel bellowed as Buffy spun back around to look at him. "Letting him go. It's over."

"Are you crazy, Buffy? Those things are still out there, and let's not forget about the other..." Buffy cut him off by kissing him, taking him totally by surprise, and leaving him completely stunned long enough to give her time to turn back to Riley. "Go, Riley. And make it fast because when he catches up with you it'll be just like I told you it would be."

Riley didn't waste anytime doing as he was ordered, and Buffy did watch him leave this time because she knew it would be the last time she would ever see him, and when she finally did turn back to Angel it was to find him very close to blowing his top. "You know I'm going after him."

"Uh huh." She gave him a weak smile. "Just try and remember what I said earlier, okay?"

Angel closed the distance to her, and pulled her into his arms to kiss her. "I need for you to stay here."

She nodded. "I know. And don't worry I'll be here when you get back."

He searched her face. "Promise?"

"Yes, warden. The prisoner promises to still be locked in her cell."

He opened his mouth to say something, but at the last minute he changed his mind and kissed her instead. "I'll be back soon, and we'll talk."

"Talk. Right." She clutched his shirt and looked up at him under hooded lashes. "You'll be careful?"

"You can count on it." He leaned down to kiss her again, but the sound of someone clearing their throat put a stop to any other thoughts he may have had. "Uhh... Excuse me, Dad... Bu... Mom. I really hate to break up your reunion, but in case you haven't noticed the bad guy is getting away."

Angel pulled away from Buffy with a growl, and headed for the weapons cabinet, and Buffy silently stood by and watched as he and the others got everything they needed together before saying anything. "A-Angel, I-I don't know if this helps, but Adam, he uhh... He had a chip here." She pointed to her heart. "It was his power source. If these guys are similiar to him the only way to take them down is to remove it."

He nodded, and with one long last glance at her, headed for the door. "Lorne, stay with her." And then he was gone, disappearing in a billow of coat tails.


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I would like to personally thank Kolumbyne, Raven Raven, Christine, Nicole, Mary R., Laura May, Al M., Kyria, Emma, Karen H., Kassie Ray, Isis Blue, Carolyn, Ryan, Karin, Heather, LS McBride, Wendy, Briony, and Kendra for their feeback on Chapter 32. Thanks guys!


CHAPTER 33


"Here you go, sweetie."

"W-What?" Buffy tore her gaze away from the lobby doors, and looked up to find Lorne standing in front of her.

"I fixed you some chamomille tea to help calm your nerves, and I added some peppermint to help with the nausea."

"H-How did you..."

"Honey, it's written all over your face." He handed her the cup of tea then sat down beside her. "Boy, it's been a pretty hectic twenty four hours, huh?"

Buffy nodded again, and her eyes immediately returned to the lobby doors. "They're going to be okay."

She glanced back at Lorne. "Did the powers tell you that?"

"No, they don't have to tell me. I just know."

"You don't understand, Lorne. Things with Angel and I... Alot of things were left unsaid, and usually when that happens something terrible always happens. And then when you add Conner to the equation..."

Lorne patted her leg. "He loves you, and it's that love that's going to bring him back to you, Buffy. Him and Conner. You just have to have faith and believe that."

"Faith?" Buffy turned back to look at him again. "The word faith doesn't exist in my vocabulary, Lorne. Not when I've been up against these guys and know what they're capable of. It's been too long. They've been gone too long. They should have been back by now." She stood up. "I'm going to find them."

"Are you crazy, Buffy?" Lorne stood up to block her path. "Do you have any idea what Angel will do to me if I let you go?"

"Do you have any idea what I'll do to you if you don't?"

"Buffy... Sweetie... You're not thinking rationally. You have to think of other important things."

"Other important things! What other important things, Lorne? There aren't any other important things to me but Angel and Conner. They're my everything!"

"I think maybe you might want to rephrase that statement, sweetie."

"W-What?"

Lorne wrung his hands nervously. " I umm... Damnit, I wasn't going to tell you because I wanted it to be a surprise for you and Angelface, but you've left me no choice. You're pregnant, sweetie. You're pregnant with another little miracle. That's why you can't go after Angel and Conner."

"I'm sorry." Buffy stared at him, not quite sure if she'd heard him correctly. "Could you repeat that?"

"Pregnant. You're pregnant with Angel's baby."

A half laugh, half sob escaped from Buffy's throat, but she quickly sobered and nailed Lorne with firey eyes. "If this is your idea of a joke it's not funny, Lorne."

"It's no joke, sweetie. You definitely have a bun in the oven, and the reason I'm telling you is because I'm trying to see to the safety of both it and you because I know it's what Angel would want if he knew."

"B-But that's not... H-He's a vampire."

"Half vampire." Lorne corrected her. "He's part human now, too. And from the predicament your in I'd have to say he's a little more human than we thought. Or who knows, maybe this a little miracle just like your other little miracle."

"B-But..." Buffy's hands went to her stomach. "H-How do you know? I m-mean, He and I... We umm... Last night..."

Lorne chuckled. "You forget I'm anagogic, and that I read aura's, Buffy. And let me tell you now that that is one powerful aura you're carrying there. It's no wonder though considering the two people that created it. I mean, look at Conner. Man, that's some kid there. Really strong physically and aura wise just like his parents, and this new baby will be the same way."

Buffy blinked back more tears. "Y-You're sure? Angel and I... You're sure?"

"Positive." Lorne smiled. "Now do you see why you can't go after the rest of your family?"

"N-No." Buffy shook her head. "No, I don't see. If anything this baby is all the more reason for me to go after them. I won't have another child being raised by just one parent. And then there's it's brother... It'll need it's brother, too. I'm going after them. I have to."

"But..." Lorne wrung his hands again. "You can't go. You don't have a car. How are you supposed to go after them without a car?"

"Easy." Buffy answered. "Angel took the Plymouth because he took the whole crew with him. That leaves me the Ferrari."

"A Ferrari he has the keys to."

"I don't need the keys. I know how to hotwire a car, and don't ask me how because I don't have time to explain. Now get out of my way, Lorne."

"You still can't go, Buffy. You don't even know where they went. This is a big city. How are you supposed to find them?"

"Easy. Our connection. I'll use our connection. It may take me awhile, but I'll find them."

"Buffy, please..."

"You're wasting time, Lorne. Time I could be using to find them." Buffy pushed him aside, and headed for the stairs. "Do me a favor and dig me out a spare sword, and a couple of stakes while I'm changing. And hurry. I'll only be a second."

"Kill me..." Lorne muttered after she disappeared, and he moved to the weapons cabinet. "Angelface is going to kill me. He'll rip my head off and make sure I never ever get put back together again."

"And why exactly am I going to treat you like Humpty Dumpty?"

Lorne jumped and spun around to face the man he had just been muttering about. "B-Because of y-your m-mate..."

"What about..." Angel's eyes grew just as panicked as Lorne's. "Where is she?"

"Upstairs..." Lorne pointed towards the stairs where Buffy had just disappeared moments before. "H-Hurry. She umm... She was coming to find you and Conner."

"The hell she was. Go home, Lorne. " Was all Angel said as he too disappeared up the stairs.

****

"Damn you, Angel!" Buffy muttered as she looked around the chaos that was Angel's room for her clothes, or rather the clothes Dawn had been nice enough to loan her. "What the hell did you do with my clothes?"

"I hid them because I couldn't take the risk of you running away again. And why are you so upset? It's not like you're going to need them anytime soon anyway."

Buffy spun around to find the owner of the voice leaning against the open bedroom doorway. "I can't run around here without clothes, Angel."

"Why not? Could be fun. Especially if I'm naked right along with you." He smirked.

"Angel..." Buffy glared at him. "Can I have please have my clothes back? Or rather Dawn's clothes back. She was nice enough to let me borrow them and I really don't want anything to happen to them."

The smirk left Angel's face as he locked eyes with her again. "Nothing will, but you're still not getting them back. Why wear hand me downs when you have a whole closet full of new clothes that I bought you myself?"

"You bought me some clothes?"

"Mmm... They're in the closet along with mine. Oh, and the stuff that couldn't be hung up I stuck in the dresser drawers over there."

Buffy felt her eyes pool up. "W-When did you..."

"Yesterday after Finn came to see you. Dawn was right. The only way I was ever going to convince you that this is your home was to make some changes around here, so I started by giving you some closet space and a some drawers. I know it's not much, but I was sort of pressed for time. Don't worry though. I plan to give you free reign of the place, and let you make any changes you want to it just as soon as you give me what I want. What I've always wanted."

"A-And what exactly is it that?"

"You... With me always." He answered honestly before pushing away from the door to close the distance to her. "And I do want you with me, Buffy. From this moment on as a matter of fact. I think we've wasted enough time being apart, don't you?"

"I..." A sob tore from Buffy's throat, and she buried her head in his chest as the tears began to flow. "A-Angel..."

"Hey. Hey." He began to soothe her back. "What's this?"

"I-I love you."

The surge of feelings shooting through Angel upon hearing her words was indescribable, and he actually could have done a little happy dance if he hadn't been feeling her distress at the same time. "And that's a bad thing how?"

A half laugh half sob tore from Buffy's lips. "I-It's not a bad thing. W-Well, except maybe for you. In case you've forgotten I have a tendancy to kill the people I love. And that's what I was afraid was going to happen here." She pulled back to look at him with a tear streaked face. "I-I was afraid you would end up getting killed and that I would never get the chance to say those words to you. And I wouldn't have been able to live with myself because it would have been my fault."

"Buffy..."

"I'm sorry." She swiped at her tears and pushed away from him. "I shouldn't have said that. I umm... That was emotional wreck Buffy letting go for a second. It won't happen again." She went to turn away from him, but he grabbed her arm. "Damnit, Buffy, don't you dare shut yourself off from me again."

"You could have died. C-Conner, too.."

"But I didn't. He didn't. We're fine, Buffy. But even if something had happened it wouldn't have been your fault." Angel reached out to tilt her face up to his. "You couldn't have stopped me from going, baby. I love you. You're my mate, and as such it's my duty to protect you."

Buffy opened her mouth to argue with him, but he cut her off before the first word could ever leave her mouth. "Don't. Don't you dare say you're not my mate, Buffy because you are whether you want to believe it or not. And like I said before, as such it's my duty to protect you. You're life was in danger, and I did what I had to do to keep you safe. And as for Conner... Well, what can I say... He's definitely my son. He loves and adores you just as much as I do, and it's because he does that he went with me. You couldn't have stopped him even if you had tried."

"It wasn't your fight, Angel. It was mine. That's why I... I didn't want you involved. I could have lost you. The both of you."

Angel's eyes softened as he looked at her. "And we could have lost you." He pulled her back into his arms. "And while we're on the subject of that, Buffy... If you ever..." He tightened his hold on her. "And I mean ever... think about coming after us while your life is in danger I will turn you over my knee and spank you. Undersood?"

"Idle threats again?" She sniffled.

"It's not a threat, Buffy. I'm serious. I really would spank you."He growled before breaking into a grin. "But then I would kiss it and make it all better afterwards."

"Ahhh! Liam Angelus O'Conner!" Buffy playfully slapped him. "When did you get a dirty mind?"

When Angel didn't answer her right away, Buffy finally noticed the look on his face. "A-Angel?" Her hands began to travel over his upper body. "What's wrong? Are you hurt?"

"N-No. It's just... I think we should talk. But before we do there's something I need to ask you first, Buffy."

"What is it?" She stopped her inspection of his upper body to look up at him.

"My name, Buffy. How do you know my real name? We never talked about my past before... How did you know it? And then there's earlier. You knew Gaelic was my native tongue. How? I know you knew I was from Ireland before but I never told you what language...Did Conner tell you?"

"Y-Yes, b-but... Damnit!" She left the circle of his arms, and walked over to look out the balcony doors. "Me and my big mouth. I umm..." Angel could tell by the tension in her back she was struggling with something. "Buffy..." He closed the distance to her, and slid his arms around her to pull her back against him. "Come on, baby. Talk to me. Whatever it is you can tell me."

"I-I know. I just... Oh, God. It's not that I don't want to tell you. It's just... I really was in heaven."

"I know. I knew all along."He murmured. "But what does that..."

"I umm... I wasn't alone." She cut him off. "I mean, I wasn't alone there."

"Your mother was with you." He guessed and she nodded. "B-But not just my M-Mom. There umm.. There was others, too. F-Father... Umm... God... I wasn't happy. After the umm... After I remembered that day and the Powers told me about Conner, I wasn't happy... So umm... Father... God... He sent others to be with me. He umm... He thought it would help me through my pain."

"Who?" Angel asked in a choked voice. "Who did he send to you, Buffy?"

"It umm..." She slowly turned around to look at him. "It w-was your real family, Angel."

"M-My real family? You were with... Oh, God.." He took a step back away from her. "I-It's okay, Angel. They umm... They forgave you a long time ago, and they love you. Probably more now than ever. A-And your father... He umm... He's so sorry he was hard on you back then. H-He said he forgot what it was like to be young. H-He's so sorry Angel, and I can tell you now that he's really proud of you. He umm... He knows it wasn't you that umm... He knows and he knows you're fighting to redeem yourself and he's so proud of you. They all are. Your mom, Kathy, Doyle... They're so proud of you. And Conner... He umm... Even though he doesn't remember his time there, he was with them before the decision to send him back was made, and they adore him. M-Mom, too. They're the doting grandparents, Aunt, and Uncle. Oh, a-and your family likes me, too. Even though I was sort of mopey Buffy they told me they consider me family because of umm... because I gave them Conner."

"That's not the only reason they like you is it, Buffy? They told you, didn't they? They told you everything."

"W-What?"

"My parents... My family... They're the one's that told you my real name. They're the one's that told you what Mo anam Chara means. And they're the one's that told you about this..." Angel held up his left hand again, and showed Buffy the other ring beside nestled on his pinky finger. "They're the ones that told you what this ring symbolized, didn't they, Buffy? That's how you knew even when you were Chara. They told you and somehow you carrried that memory with you even after you returned. Am I right?"

"I-I... Y-Yes. But it doesn't mean..." Another sob tore from Buffy's throat. "I-I mean, I-I understand that it doesn't have the same m-meaning as it did when you..."

"Oh, I beg to differ. It means exactly what it's supposed to mean, baby. And I knew that when I gave it to you. The thing was...is... it only has that meaning with you. No one else, Buffy. You are and always will be mine. Just you. And my family knows that. If they didn't they wouldn't have went to so much trouble to teach you all it about it and mo anam chara." He reached for her, and pulled her back into his arms. "You know, Lorne kept reminding me that it wasn't just a coincidence that you chose the name Chara, but at the time I was in this huge battle with denial and guilt to really think about it. Don't get me wrong, I knew I still loved you. I never stopped. But as usual my need to protect you seemed more important than anything at the time. And then there was Cordy... I loved her. I still love her. But not the way I love you. The way I will always love you. The love I felt...feel for her is one of friendship. I knew it the moment you stepped back into my life, but as usual I let my guilty conscience get in the way. I didn't want to hurt her, but in the whole process I never not once stopped to realize that I was hurting the most precious thing in this world to me even more. I never realized how much I was hurting you until it was too late." He held up his finger again. "The day Conner gave this back to me and told me what you said in your letter... God, I think that's the closest I've ever came to dying since the day I actually did die. It was like you were telling me you didn't belong to me anymore. It made losing you seem so final, and it nearly tore me to shreds. But then you came back again, and I had that vision... I felt everything you felt. Saw everything you did. And it scared the shit out of me. I was so afraid I was going to lose you before I could get the chance to tell you I loved you and wanted a life with you. And I do, Buffy. I love you so much, and if you'll let me I'd like to spend the rest of my existance proving that to you." He locked eyes with her. "So what do you say, baby? Will you live with me, and share my life with me? Will you let me put this ring back on your finger where it belongs?"

Buffy's eyes welled up with fresh tears, and she shook her head. "I-I can't..."

A hurt look flashed across Angel's face, and he abruptly stepped back away from her. "I see. So you're telling me you really don't want to be with me?"

"N-No." She choked out. "Th-That's n-not what I-I'm saying at all, A-Angel."

"Then what the hell are you saying, Buffy? You just told me you loved me. Was that a lie?"

"No! It w-wasn't a lie. I-I do love you."

"Then why don't you want to be with me? And don't give me that bullshit about not being worthy of me because that's exactly what it is. It's bullshit, Buffy!"

"I-It's not... I-It's just..." Her pained gaze met his. "It's not that I don't want to be with you, Angel. 'Cause God knows I do. I w-want that more than anything, but I want you to be sure this i-is really what you want."

"I am sure. All I've ever wanted is to have a life with you, Buffy."

"You said earlier that you didn't know me, and the truth is you were right, Angel. The truth is I'm not the same p-person you once k-knew."

"Yes, you are, Buffy. Inside... Inside you are still the same Buffy I have always known and loved. Okay yes, I agree you've changed. We both have. We didn't have a choice. We've had to change to adapt to the things that's happened to us. From our seperation. We grew shells on the outside to protect ourselves, but inside... Inside you I still see all the beauty I saw inside you the first time I ever laid eyes on you. Nothing's changed, Buffy. Nothing. I still love you now just as much as I did then. More even."

"You don't understand, Angel." She began to sob even harder, and spun away from him. "I... I've done things. Th-Things I'm not proud of. Th-Things I'm not sure I want you to know. A-And then there's you... Y-You're different. A-And I'm not saying that in a bad way. F-Far from it actually. I just... You were h-happy... before Chara... I w-went and messed things u-up. Y-You were happy. Th-The happiest I've ever s-seen you, a-and I don't know if I... Y-You were happy before I-I came back. Th-The happiest I-I've ever s-seen y-you."

"You think..." He stared at her in stunned silence for a moment. "I wasn't happy, Buffy. I just settled."

"W-What?" She turned around to look at him.

"You heard me, Buffy. I wasn't happy. Not truly happy. I settled." He closed the distance to her again. "When you died, I wanted to die, too. I nearly did. But then Cordelia had this talk with me about how you wouldn't have wanted me to give up. That you would have wanted me to keep fighting, and after her talk I remembered what Willow said to me the day she came to tell me you were gone. She told me you said you wanted those you loved to live for you. And that's what I did, Buffy. I lived. I fought for you. And yes, I was even happy at times. But not truly happy. I settled for a comfortable life. One that made everyone truly happy. Everyone that is... except me. How could I be truly happy when the only person that could ever make me feel that way was gone. You, baby. You were... are the only person that can make me truly happy. And I'm not just talking about when we make love, Buffy. I'm talking about all the times I'm just in your presence. Why do you think I left all those years ago? Just being near you... Seeing your face everyday... Loving you with every unneeded breath I took was true happiness to me, and because it was it was a risk to my soul. It was a risk of bringing Angelus back, and I couldn't do that to you. Not again. I had already hurt you enough." He reached for her, and pulled her back in his arms. "You are my true happiness, Buffy. You. Only you. And as far as the things you've done, and you thinking I won't understand, you're wrong about that, too. I will understand. I do understand. Not only that, I will be here to help you deal with it and help get you through it because I love you, and I know you would do the same for me. You already have."

"B-But..." Buffy started to say, but he cut her off with a chaste kiss. "No buts, baby. I will understand. You'll see." He moved around her, shed his jacket on the way, then headed for their bed. Once he reached it he turned around to look at her. "Are you coming?"

"W-What?" She blinked in surpise.

"To bed, Buffy. Are you coming to bed?"

"Y-You want to go to bed?"

He nodded, and sat down on the blankets that was substituting for their bed at the moment, then scooted over to pat the space beside him. "I want to hold you while you unload all your pain on me."

"A-Angel..." Buffy felt a new flood of tears coming on, but before they had time to break free he wiggled his finger at her. "Uh uh, baby. No more tears until you've completely poured out your heart to me. Now come here." He opened his arms to her, and she took the invitation without hesitation, and as soon as Angel had her settled in his arms he kissed her shoulder then tucked his face against hers. "I love you no matter what. Don't forget that. Now talk to me. Tell me everything."

"I umm... I don't know where to start."

"Why don't we start with when you sent me to hell, because I think you and I both know that you haven't been the same person since then."

"A-Angel..."

"You sent me there. You had to, Buffy. You didn't have a choice. And I don't hate you for that. I never did." Angel cut her off and said firmly. "The only person I ever hated was myself. And I still do. Even more so now that I know the truth."

"Th-The truth?" Buffy rolled over to look at him. "W-What truth?"

"You know what truth, Buffy." He reached up to caress her cheek before locking eyes with her. "Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you tell me that when you sent me to hell you went with me? And don't lie to me and tell me you didn't because Kyle showed me the paintings, Buffy. There is no way you could have recreated it exactly like I saw it unless you were there with me.And then there was the dream I had a couple of weeks ago... You were there, Buffy. I know you were. Maybe not physically, but you didn't have to be. Our connection... We're soulmates. You saw what I saw. Felt what I felt." His eyes welled up. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"B-Because I'd hurt you enough." She choked out.

"Me? Me, Buffy? What about you? You haven't been the same since it happened. You think I don't know that. I mean, I didn't know about the hell part until recently, but I knew you were different after I came back. We both were. But you more than me, and now I know why. Now I know why you were there to start with. You were the one that lead me out of there, but in the process you somehow lost yourself, and you've been lost every since. Dead even."

A sob tore from Buffy's throat. "A-Angel..."

"Tell me." He reached up to catch her tears. "Tell me what happened to you after it happened, Buffy. You'll never heal, and we'll never be able to put the past behind us until you do." His gaze met hers again. "Please tell me, Buffy."

She nodded in understanding. "I umm... I ran away. That summer... I couldn't... The thought of staying there after I umm... The thought of staying there after what I did to you was unbearable so I ran away."

"Where did you go?"

"Here..." She choked out. "The City of Angels. I thought... I thought that maybe it would help me be closer to you somehow. Turns out I was close all right. Just not the kinda close I wanted to be. The dreams... visions... whatever they were they started the first night I was here." She shivered, and he instinctively pulled her closer. "I saw everything. What they did to you from the moment you arrived."

"You felt it too, didn't you?" He whispered into her hair, and she nodded. "I didn't sleep for weeks after that, but eventually my exhaustion caught up with me and I slipped off to nightmare land before I could stop myself. I think... I umm not sure how they knew, but somehow they sensed I was there and they umm... They used me to torture you. Horrible... The second time was worst than the first... When I umm... When I finally managed to wake up I swore I was never ever going back to sleep, but after a couple of more weeks once again my exhaustion caught up with me and that's how it went for the rest of the summer. I would go there, see you... see and feel what they did to you, and everytime I did I would feel a part of me die because you were dying. Not physically, but mentally... Mentally they were breaking you. I knew it. Saw it. Felt it. And it was killing me."

"Buffy..." Angel choked out and pulled back to look at her.

"Do you remember any of it?" She cut him off and searched his face.

Angel shook his head no. "Nothing. I just... I saw some of it in a dream a couple of weeks ago. That's how I found out about you, but that's all I do remember."

"Good." Buffy breathed a sigh of relief. "Good."

"Buffy..." Angel started to say, but she cut him off with a finger to his lips. "I don't want to talk about it anymore, Angel." Her eyes welled up. "Please. I just... It's in the past. All that matters is that you came back. You came back."

"Yes, I did. Because of you, Buffy. But in the end I ended up leaving again. In the end I ended up hurting you again."

"I understand why you did what you did, Angel."

"Do you?" This time he was the one searching her face.

"Yes." She leaned in to brush his lips with hers. "Now let it go."

"I will as soon as you do." He stated and wrapped his arms back around her.

Buffy nodded in understanding. "I umm... After you left Sunnydale I spent the entire summer at home. I didn't go anywhere except out on patrol. I thought things would get easier once school started, but I was wrong. It was horrible. Really horrible. Some gang of vamps took all my stuff and went through it. And the leader... She umm... She kicked my ass and broke the award I got at Prom. Then I got a roommate from hell that tried to suck my life force out of me. Willow and Oz were always off doing things with the older college crowd that they met when Oz and the Dingoes did campus parties back in high school, or they were just off doing other... stuff. Xander was working one dead end job after another, and I rarely seen him. It was horrible, Angel. School. My life. I didn't fit in anywhere, and I m-missed you so much. But I knew... I knew you wasn't coming back, and it tore at me. I hated myself for not being what you needed. That's why when I met... His name was Parker Abrams, and he was the first normal guy to come along. Or so I thought. I actually became a little obsessed with him. Practically fell at his feet. I wanted to get back at you for leaving, so I slept with him after our first date. When I woke up the next morning he wasn't there, and it was like... I was all alone with nothing but my thoughts, and it didn't take me long to figure out that all I did was fuck him. Especially after his true self popped up in the middle of our night after talk. He made me realize it was just fucking on both our parts. It wasn't love. I wasn't... I missed you. So much. And the pain... God, it hurt. So much. So much I think what was left of me started dying. I completely shut myself off from everyone after that. Giles... My mom... My friends. I became a total bitch to keep the pain away. That's why when I met Riley it was so easy to be with him. I didn't have a heart or soul anymore. You were right. I umm... I think my soul went to hell with you, and my heart left with you when you left Sunnydale. And I didn't want them back. I didn't want to feel anything anymore. That's why it was so easy to give myself to Riley. M-My body, I mean. I fucked him just like I did Parker. The only difference was that unlike Parker, he stuck around for more. A whole year's worth of more. But I never loved him. I never made love to him. Never."

"So you did lie to me when you told me you loved him and trusted him."

A sob tore from Buffy's throat. "Y-Yes. What I said... I told you th-that was angry, hurt, and jealous Buffy trying to get back at you for the whole Faith fiasco. I came here and saw that you had this great new life, and I was so hurt because you were having it without me. And it didn't help matters that you sided with her. That hurt me more than fucking Riley ever did."

"I didn't side with her, Buffy. I was giving her the same chance you gave me."

"I know that now, A-Angel." Buffy sniffled. "I do. I just... I told you I shut myself off. I was like that up until Riley left. I wouldn't let him share anything with me. When my mom got sick I wouldn't even let him hold me to comfort me. I couldn't even cry on his shoulder, and it didn't take him long to figure out why, and once he did he confronted me with it. Gave me an ultimatium of sorts. He wanted me to let go of you, and even though I denied that you were the reason I didn't love him...the reason I could never love him, he knew better. That's why he left. Still, even after he did leave I wasn't able to find myself. I was far from it actually. And it didn't help matters that my life was falling to pieces all around me. Mom was sick. I had just found out that Dawn was this great big ball of energy instead of my sister, and then there was Glory. I was all alone, and trying to carry it all on my shoulders. I was falling apart, but instead of asking for help... Instead of calling you like I wanted to... I just shut myself off even more. That was until you came to Sunnydale the night of mom's funeral." She met his beautiful orbs. "Do you remember what I asked you that night?"

Angel nodded, and reached up to smooth a lock of hair from her face.

"Well, I umm... I meant it. I-I wanted you to stay. I-I did. Just having you there for that little while made me happier than I had been since before you... I sent you to hell. Just having you there was enough for me to feel me again. I felt complete. But even though I did I couldn't ask you to stay. I knew the moment the words left my mouth it was selfish of me to even think of asking you. You w-were doing good here. Fulfilling your destiny, and I didn't want to take that away from you. Especially when I knew what I knew."

"You mean especially when you knew you were going to die?"

"Yes, but how..."

"You talked alot in Sunnydale... while you were unconscious." He pulled her closer. "So you knew. Why didn't you tell me that night?"

"Because I didn't want you there trying to play hero. I didn't want you seeing it when it happened, and it would have happened, Angel. Even if you had been there there was nothing you could have done to stop it. Besides, I told you. I didn't want to mess up your new life. And asking you to stay would have done that. I couldn't ask you to stay and walk away from everything you worked for to stay and start something with me that you and I both know we never would have been able to finish. It would have made things even harder on you."

"Is that the truth? Or is there something you don't want me to know. Like maybe you really did want to die?"

"I..." She opened her mouth to deny his accusation, but the look in his eyes was enough to urge her towards the truth. "O-Okay, I-I admit it. M-Maybe I did want to die. I was tired, Angel. So tired. I was tired of fighting for something that I felt was wasn't worth fighting for anymore. I mean, I knew... I knew you were out there... Alive. But it wasn't enough for me. I didn't have the strength left to fight anymore because it seemed like no matter how hard I fought the end result was always the same. In the end I never really won. It wasn't like I got the spoils like other victors. All I got was death. Yours... And then there was Dawnie's looming in the distance. Maybe I did want to die, but even if I hadn't wanted to there was nothing I could have done to stop it. It would have happened anyway. I knew that. I'd known for awhile. And I didn't find out in a dream like with The Master. It was just this gut feeling that came to me one day, and when the time came for it to happen I accepted it because it was inevitable."

"So the night of your Mom's funeral when you said what you said then took it back and told me to leave you were doing it to protect me more or less."

"Yes." Buffy buried her face in his chest to keep him from seeing her tears. "And when we kissed... Wh-When we kissed that was me saying goodbye because I knew I would never see you again."

"Buffy..." His own voice was laced with tears.

"No, Angel." She pulled away to look at him. "I need to tell you this." She swiped at her tears, and met his gaze again. "I umm... Spike once told me that every slayer has a death wish. He was right. There's no maybe to it anymore. I wanted to die. I was so tired of the pain, and I hoped that once I... I thought there might be something better out there. So that night... When we kissed... I took that time with you and I savored it. I said goodbye to you, and, and after you left... I don't know... If I wasn't already dead emotionally by then I think watching you leave again finally finished killing me. I kept telling myself that there was something wrong with me. I convinced myself that I sucked at the love thing. I mean, if I didn't why did everyone end up leaving me? I was a mess. A total mess, and Giles knew it. That's why he decided to send me on a quest to see my spirit guide. He thought it would help me regain my focus, but the truth is the only thing it did was seal the fate I already knew was coming. M-My spirit guide told me death was my gift, and it wasn't a very good thing to tell me at the time because it was exactly what I'd been thinking since Dracula came to town. I had convinced myself that all I did was bring death to those I loved. That when it came down to it, all I was was just a killer after all. And once I convinced myself to that fact I didn't want to slay anymore. I couldn't. Of course, I found out later on that I misinterpreted what my spirit guide meant. What she really meant when she said death was my gift was that the only way to receive that gift was by dying. And I did receive it, Angel. When I jumped into that portal... As I was falling to my death, and my life's essence was being drained out of me, I remembered. Th-That day... The day you were human. I remembered everything about it, and you were right. It was beautiful. So beautiful. It was the happiest day of my life. But as happy as I was to remember it, at the same time remembering it was bittersweet, too. I just... I was so devestated that the powers waited until then to let me remember. God, I was so bitter at them. I even hated them. And that hate and bitterness carried over into heaven."

"You wasn't happy there."

"Nope." She let out a bitter laugh. "I wanted something better, and if I couldn't have...I always thought heaven was the best anyone could ever get. Turns out I was wrong. Turns out heaven wasn't my heaven, and Father... God... He knew it. That's why he sent the powers to me to tell me about Conner. A-And don't for a second think that I wasn't happy about him. I was. It was a dream come true. You and me making a baby together. But at the same time it hurt me so much. I hated them even more for taking that day back... You... Conner. It made me feel unworthy of the both of you." Her eyes welled up with tears again. "I hated them, Angel. God, I hated them for making me feel that way. I felt like I was dying all over again. I have never in all my life felt such hate and bitterness, and I guess my pain radiated from me. They umm... They were almost distraught over it... me... and they tried to take it all away, but nothing worked. Nothing. I just drew even deeper into myself. So much so, that I don't remember anything after meeting your family... Seeing Mom... I think I actually did die again, because the next thing I remember is waking up in my grave... I umm... It took me awhile to figure out what had happened, but once I did all I could think about w-was getting to you." She started to sob even harder. "I knew if I c-could just get to you and tell you everything you would make it all better. B-But when I g-got there all I found was a burnt up building. I umm... I couldn't feel you. I-I thought you were dead. I c-couldn't feel you, and all that hate for the powers... God... It resurfaced. I was cold... so cold, Angel... And you wasn't there to warm me. I thought... I-I thought you were dead, and all I wanted was to die, too."

Angel's hands had been soothing her back, but upon hearing her words they stilled. "The car... The one that hit you. It didn't hit you by accident, did it, Buffy?"

"I don't know. I-I don't know." She buried her head in his chest as her tears began to flow even harder. "I don't r-remember. All I remember is thinking I wanted to die, and then n-nothing. E-Everything went black, and the next thing I r-remember after that is waking up in the hospital with Kyle sitting by my bed. But it doesn't stop there, Angel. You think y-you know the rest, but you don't. You don't. I've done some horrible things since Kyle's death. N-Not just to you and C-Conner, but to the others as well. A-And then there's the fact that I umm... I've killed someone. Two someones, Angel. I killed two humans. A-And I'm sorry, I'm s-so s-so sorry. I wasn't as strong as you. L-Losing you, and C-Conner... I didn't care. I really did want to die after that. I've practically welcomed death the last seven months. I didn't see the point in living anymore. I didn't want to live if it meant living without you. I just wanted to die. A-And I'm sorry. I wasn't as strong as you. I'm still not. That's why I want you to be sure..." She pulled back to look at him again. "I-It's not that I don't love you. I d-do. I love you so much, Angel. A-And I want to be with you more than anything, but I want you to be sure that it's what you want. That I'm what you want. I need to know that you can be happy with the person I am now before I can let you commit to me. I don't want you to end up being disappointed in me, or worse... hating me."

Angel reached up to cup her hands in her face. "I'm already comitted to you, Buffy. I have been since the moment I laid eyes on you the very first time coming down those stairs in front of your school. And I could never be disappointed in you. It doesn't matter to me who you are or what you've done. I can't judge you. I won't. Not when my past is a hell of a whole lot more checkered than yours. I love you. You, baby. And I could never hate you. Never. You're Buffy. My Buffy. And nothing will ever change that. Nothing."

"Oh, A-Angel..." Buffy started crying again.

"That's it. Let it out, Inouin." Angel pulled her back into his arms. "Let all that pain out. I'm right here. I'm right here, and I'm not going anywhere. You're stuck with with me." His own tears began to fall along with hers, and they clung to each other until the subsided. Then and only then did he pull away to look at her. "Feel better?"

"Yes, but..."

"Shh..." His lips inched towards hers. "No buts, remember? We're together now and that's all that matters." And then he was kissing her, and he was right. Nothing else did matter as his healing hands began to bring her back to life. Angel loved Buffy with his heart, body, and soul. And by the time he became one with her there wasn't a doubt in her mind that by his side was where she truly belonged.

Their eyes locked and held as he filled her in one smooth stroke, and God it felt incredible. Beyond incredible Angel thought as he began to slowly move in and out of her. Heaven... This woman was his heaven... His everything... And he didn't hesitate to show her that. He made slow, sweet, tender love to her, and she gave everything she received back to him. She whispered words of love in his ear that if were possible would have made his dead heart explode in his chest, and drove him nearly to the edge. "Buffy... Gods, baby. I love you... I love you..." He cried out and told her over and over again as he went flying, soaring over the edge of ecstasy, and took her along with him...


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I would like to thank Heather, Lou, Wendy, Briony, Kendra, Emma, Raven Raven, Carolyn, Linda, Christine, Hannahbee, Karin, Nikki, Isis Blue, Kolumbyne, Laura May, Al M., Emma, Kristen, Dragon Queen, Linda K., and Sylvie for their feedback on chapters 32 and 33. Thanks guys! This chapter is for all of you!


CHAPTER 34


"You didn't hurt him very badly, did you?" Buffy asked Angel a little while later as they lay in the afterglow of their lovemaking.

"I could have very easily killed him, but I didn't, Buffy."

"And his friends?"

"Destroyed. You were right. Their power source was in their chests. It wasn't hard to take them down once we knew that for sure."

Buffy couldn't help but shiver at the thought that her nightmare still wasn't over. That there was still someone out there that wanted to kill her. She didn't want to die. Not anymore.

Angel felt her tremble, and his arms tightened around her in reassurance. "Tell me what you're thinking."

"I just..." She wanted to tell him. She did, but she felt now wasn't the time. "I umm... It's just hard to believe he turned out the way he did."

"I know." Angel murmured, and placed a kiss to her shoulder before spooning up against her even more.

"A-Are you sure he's gone?"

"Yes, baby. I'm sure. He won't be bothering you again and neither will his friends." It wasn't exactly the truth, but that's all Angel could think to tell her. There was no way in hell he was about to tell her that the boy wouldn't be going anywhere for a long long time because he really had nearly killed him for what he had done to her. That if it hadn't been for Conner he probably would have finished off the little prick. But he had been telling her the truth when he had told her that Finn wouldn't be bothering her again because there was no doubt in his mind that that was true. The boy now knew what would happen to him if he ever tried to so much as look at her again.

"I umm... Speaking of his friends. How did he... Did you find out where they came from? Is he still in the initiative? Are they in on this, too?"

"No. Well, at least he swears they're not. Apparantly he was still obsessed with being superhuman guy, but since he couldn't risk experimenting on himself for fear something would go wrong..."

"He built another Adam." Buffy concluded. "Or a more advanced version of Adam six times over, I should say."

"That's right. And once he found out that he could do it he didn't stop. His plans were to develop a whole new race of soldiers for the United States government, but he hadn't revealed his plans to anyone yet because he was waiting until he had used them to get you back before he did."

"I knew... That he was mixed up, I mean. Look at what he did..."

"What did he do, Buffy? I mean, really?"

"I-I told you what he did, Angel." She whispered.

"No, you didn't either." His arms tightened around her. "You told me what was necessary. That's it, Buffy. Now I want to know the rest."

"I don't know all of it, Angel. I don't know how he knew I was here or how he managed to get into the hospital under a different identity. The government, maybe. I don't know. All I know is that once he talked to me and realized I was remembering he had me moved to the institution."

"What happened once you got there?"

"I-I don't remember alot of it. The sh-shock therapy...the drugs... God, I don't even know what the hell he thought he was going to accomplish from it. He said he just wanted me back, but I don't know how in the hell he thought that would ever happen after what he did to me. I guess he figured I wouldn't remember that he was there...what he did... and was just waiting for the right moment to worm his way back into my life."

"And when you ended up back here in the same city as me he knew that right moment wasn't going to happen. He panicked. That's why he sent those... whatever the hell they were... after you. He didn't want you anywhere near me. Stupid fucker..."

"It didn't work, Angel." Buffy stroked his arm in reassurance. "I'm here, aren't I?"

"Yes. And here is where you belong. But it kills me..." He buried his face in her hair. "What he did to you."

"I know." She murmured. "Why do you think I tried to keep you from finding out. Love makes you do the wacky, and you have a tendancy to get pretty wacked when it comes to me."

"And when exactly did you figure that out, and where was I when you did?"

"I've always known." She rolled over to face him. "I Just couldn't let you know that I knew because of the whole protecting you thing."

"You don't have to protect me, Buffy. I'm a big boy. I can take care of myself."

"Then I guess that means that I can protect myself. That I don't need you protecting me."

"What I'm doing's a little different, Buffy."

"How?" She met his gaze. "How is it any different than what I did?"

"He hurt you."

"He was trying to hurt you." She quickly pointed out. "He wanted to make me forget you all together, and then he planned to rub that and me in your face. But it didn't work, Angel. And it was because of you that it didn't. It was because I loved you that it didn't. But it doesn't matter. None of it matters now. Especially now that I know what else he was looking for. I would have gladly let him suck the life out of me before I would have ever told him about that day. About Conner. Do you have any idea what he might have done if he'd ever found out the truth?"

"Do you have any idea what I would have done to him I've I'd found out?"

"Yeah." She nodded. "Why do you think I stopped you earlier tonight? Like I said before, you have a tendancy to get a little wacky when it comes to me."

"Can't help it." Angel growled, and gently rolled her over to face him. "You're my woman and no one messes with my woman." His lips curled up in a smile as he looked down at her. "But then again, in a way I can sympathize with him."

"Y-You can?" She asked, searching his face for a clue as to why he was saying what he was saying.

"Mmm..." He slowly ran his finger down the valley between her breasts before raising his dark orbs to hers again. "I happen to know firsthand just how insane you really can drive a person."

"AHH!" Buffy punched him in the chest. "I so do not believe you just said that, Angel! And if that was your idea of a joke it wasn't the least bit funny, so I suggest you go another two hundred and fifty years before you try it again." She rolled away from him, and her reaction made Angel chuckle. "Buffy... Baby, I didn't mean it the way it sounded. There wasn't any pun intended, I swear."

"I'll just bet there wasn't." She mumbled into her pillow.

"There wasn't..." He scooted up against her. "When I said that I could sympathize with him I meant that I know what it's like to love you and not be able to touch you. Crazy... It can drive a person crazy, Buffy. It drove me crazy."

"You can't go crazy from not having sex, Angel."

"You're right. You can't go crazy from not having sex. But you can go crazy from not being able to show the woman you love that you love her." He ground his erection up against her. "And I nearly did go crazy before I left Sunnydale, Buffy. When I was with you all I could think about was how much I wanted to touch you... love you... God, all I could think about was how much I wanted to lose myself in you." One of his hands moved to her moist center to re-awaken the sensitive nub hidden there. "And these last two weeks have been even worse for me because you were so close and yet so far away." He continued to languidly stroke her, building a fire inside her that she thought she would combust from. "Crazy, baby. I thought I would go crazy from wanting you, and I'm sure Riley probably felt the same way."

"A-Angel?" Buffy gasped, and her hand came around to clutch the back of his head as she arched into his ministrations. "Yes, sweetheart?" He whispered in her ear, sending shivers down her spine. "C-Could we not talk about Riley right now."

"Why? Do you have something else you want to do instead?"

"Uh huh..." She said a little breathlessly.

"What is it? Tell me." He dipped a finger inside her wet core."Tell me what you want, baby."

"Love me." She whimpered. "I w-want you to l-love me."

"I do." He murmured as he brought one of her legs back and planted it around his hip before leaning her forward to open her up to him. "I love you so much, Buffy." As the words slipped from his lips he slowly filled her, joining them heart, body, and soul. And then he went about showing her just how much he really did love her all over again.

****

It was a dream come true. The fact that she woke up in his arms the next morning. More than a dream come true. And that was the whole problem. That's why she couldn't open her eyes to look at him. What if it really was a dream, or in her case a nightmare? Or worse... What if it was... She shivered as her train of thoughts hit her, and before she could stop them, they started. Tears. She was crying. Again... And that was finally what alerted him to the fact that she was awake. If she really was awake. God, please let her be awake. Please Please let this be real she silently prayed as she felt his body coccoon hers. "Shh..." He whispered as he reached up to catch her tears. "Don't cry, baby. It's real, I promise you. Just open and your eyes and look at me. I'm real, and I'm right here. I'll always be here. Forever, remember? That's the whole point. Come on now. Open your eyes and look at me."

"I can't..." Buffy sobbed. "I-I'm scared, Angel. I-I'm so scared. I-I'm so a-afraid that this is a d-dream. M-My being here w-with you. I'm s-so afraid it's a d-dream and I-I'm going to w-wake up any minute now, a-and I'll be alone again. O-Or worse... H-Hell... I'm so afraid that this h-hell. M-My hell. A-And that this is their idea of torture for m-me. G-Giving me the things I want more than anything in this world, only to take them away from me again. Th-That's why I-I'm so scared of this... You, m-me... Conner. I-I'm afraid it's not real."

"Buffy..." Angel pulled away enough to look at her. "Baby, I swear to you this is real. I'm real. And I'm not going anywhere. You're stuck with me."

"O-Okay..." She sobbed. "It's real... You're real. B-But what if..."

"Shh..." He brought his finger up to her lips to silence her. "No but's, remember?" He pulled her back into his arms. "We're going to make it this time, Buffy. There's not a doubt in my mind we will. But I won't lie to you either. I know it won't always be easy for us. I know there'll be trials and tribulations, but I believe with all my heart that we'll get through them, and we'll do it together. No one or nothing is going to stand in our way this time, Ionuin. I won't let them. I'm not giving up on us. Not again."

His words only brought more tears from her, and he simply soothed them away by making love to her again. And just before they both reached their points of true happiness did he finally manage to coax her to open her eyes, and the love she saw radiating from his was enough to convince her that it was real. That he was real, and was with her now. That he would always be with her from this moment on. And that in itself was enough to send them both soaring over the edge into ecstasy. Heaven... It was heaven plain and simple. And his words while he held her in the afterglow only confirmed it. Her Angel... Her dear, sweet Angel was here, and he was never letting her go again. "You know, I knew. That you were in heaven, I mean. I knew all along, and I assumed that everyone else knew, too." His hands caressed her naked back. "That's why when I found out what Willow had done I came close to killing her for being such an idiot to even think that you were in the process you somehow lost yourself, and you've been lost every since. Dead even."

A sob tore from Buffy's throat. "A-Angel..."

"Tell me." He reached up to catch her tears. "Tell me what happened to you after it happened, Buffy. You'll never heal, and we'll never be able to put the past behind us until you do." His gaze met hers again. "Please tell me, Buffy."

She nodded in understanding. "I umm... I ran away. That summer... I couldn't... The thought of staying there after I umm... The thought of staying there after what I did to you was unbearable so I ran away."

"Where did you go?"

"Here..." She choked out. "The City of Angels. I thought... I thought that maybe it would help me be closer to you somehow. Turns out I was close all right. Just not the kinda close I wanted to be. The dreams... visions... whatever they were they started the first night I was here." She shivered, and he instinctively pulled her closer. "I saw everything. What they did to you from the moment you arrived."

"You felt it too, didn't you?" He whispered into her hair, and she nodded. "I didn't sleep for weeks after that, but eventually my exhaustion caught up with me and I slipped off to nightmare land before I could stop myself. I think... I umm not sure how they knew, but somehow they sensed I was there and they umm... They used me to torture you. Horrible... The second time was worst than the first... When I umm... When I finally managed to wake up I swore I was never ever going back to sleep, but after a couple of more weeks once again my exhaustion caught up with me and that's how it went for the rest of the summer. I would go there, see you... see and feel what they did to you, and everytime I did I would feel a part of me die because you were dying. Not physically, but mentally... Mentally they were breaking you. I knew it. Saw it. Felt it. And it was killing me."

"Buffy..." Angel choked out and pulled back to look at her.

"Do you remember any of it?" She cut him off and searched his face.

Angel shook his head no. "Nothing. I just... I saw some of it in a dream a couple of weeks ago. That's how I found out about you, but that's all I do remember."

"Good." Buffy breathed a sigh of relief. "Good."

"Buffy..." Angel started to say, but she cut him off with a finger to his lips. "I don't want to talk about it anymore, Angel." Her eyes welled up. "Please. I just... It's in the past. All that matters is that you came back. You came back."

"Yes, I did. Because of you, Buffy. But in the end I ended up leaving again. In the end I ended up hurting you again."

"I understand why you did what you did, Angel."

"Do you?" This time he was the one searching her face.

"Yes." She leaned in to brush his lips with hers. "Now let it go."

"I will as soon as you do." He stated and wrapped his arms back around her.

Buffy nodded in understanding. "I umm... After you left Sunnydale I spent the entire summer at home. I didn't go anywhere except out on patrol. I thought things would get easier once school started, but I was wrong. It was horrible. Really horrible. Some gang of vamps took all my stuff and went through it. And the leader... She umm... She kicked my ass and broke the award I got at Prom. Then I got a roommate from hell that tried to suck my life force out of me. Willow and Oz were always off doing things with the older college crowd that they met when Oz and the Dingoes did campus parties back in high school, or they were just off doing other... stuff. Xander was working one dead end job after another, and I rarely seen him. It was horrible, Angel. School. My life. I didn't fit in anywhere, and I m-missed you so much. But I knew... I knew you wasn't coming back, and it tore at me. I hated myself for not being what you needed. That's why when I met... His name was Parker Abrams, and he was the first normal guy to come along. Or so I thought. I actually became a little obsessed with him. Practically fell at his feet. I wanted to get back at you for leaving, so I slept with him after our first date. When I woke up the next morning he wasn't there, and it was like... I was all alone with nothing but my thoughts, and it didn't take me long to figure out that all I did was fuck him. Especially after his true self popped up in the middle of our night after talk. He made me realize it was just fucking on both our parts. It wasn't love. I wasn't... I missed you. So much. And the pain... God, it hurt. So much. So much I think what was left of me started dying. I completely shut myself off from everyone after that. Giles... My mom... My friends. I became a total bitch to keep the pain away. That's why when I met Riley it was so easy to be with him. I didn't have a heart or soul anymore. You were right. I umm... I think my soul went to hell with you, and my heart left with you when you left Sunnydale. And I didn't want them back. I didn't want to feel anything anymore. That's why it was so easy to give myself to Riley. M-My body, I mean. I fucked him just like I did Parker. The only difference was that unlike Parker, he stuck around for more. A whole year's worth of more. But I never loved him. I never made love to him. Never."

"So you did lie to me when you told me you loved him and trusted him."

A sob tore from Buffy's throat. "Y-Yes. What I said... I told you th-that was angry, hurt, and jealous Buffy trying to get back at you for the whole Faith fiasco. I came here and saw that you had this great new life, and I was so hurt because you were having it without me. And it didn't help matters that you sided with her. That hurt me more than fucking Riley ever did."

"I didn't side with her, Buffy. I was giving her the same chance you gave me."

"I know that now, A-Angel." Buffy sniffled. "I do. I just... I told you I shut myself off. I was like that up until Riley left. I wouldn't let him share anything with me. When my mom got sick I wouldn't even let him hold me to comfort me. I couldn't even cry on his shoulder, and it didn't take him long to figure out why, and once he did he confronted me with it. Gave me an ultimatium of sorts. He wanted me to let go of you, and even though I denied that you were the reason I didn't love him...the reason I could never love him, he knew better. That's why he left. Still, even after he did leave I wasn't able to find myself. I was far from it actually. And it didn't help matters that my life was falling to pieces all around me. Mom was sick. I had just found out that Dawn was this great big ball of energy instead of my sister, and then there was Glory. I was all alone, and trying to carry it all on my shoulders. I was falling apart, but instead of asking for help... Instead of calling you like I wanted to... I just shut myself off even more. That was until you came to Sunnydale the night of mom's funeral." She met his beautiful orbs. "Do you remember what I asked you that night?"

Angel nodded, and reached up to smooth a lock of hair from her face.

"Well, I umm... I meant it. I-I wanted you to stay. I-I did. Just having you there for that little while made me happier than I had been since before you... I sent you to hell. Just having you there was enough for me to feel me again. I felt complete. But even though I did I couldn't ask you to stay. I knew the moment the words left my mouth it was selfish of me to even think of asking you. You w-were doing good here. Fulfilling your destiny, and I didn't want to take that away from you. Especially when I knew what I knew."

"You mean especially when you knew you were going to die?"

"Yes, but how..."

"You talked alot in Sunnydale... while you were unconscious." He pulled her closer. "So you knew. Why didn't you tell me that night?"

"Because I didn't want you there trying to play hero. I didn't want you seeing it when it happened, and it would have happened, Angel. Even if you had been there there was nothing you could have done to stop it. Besides, I told you. I didn't want to mess up your new life. And asking you to stay would have done that. I couldn't ask you to stay and walk away from everything you worked for to stay and start something with me that you and I both know we never would have been able to finish. It would have made things even harder on you."

"Is that the truth? Or is there something you don't want me to know. Like maybe you really did want to die?"

"I..." She opened her mouth to deny his accusation, but the look in his eyes was enough to urge her towards the truth. "O-Okay, I-I admit it. M-Maybe I did want to die. I was tired, Angel. So tired. I was tired of fighting for something that I felt was wasn't worth fighting for anymore. I mean, I knew... I knew you were out there... Alive. But it wasn't enough for me. I didn't have the strength left to fight anymore because it seemed like no matter how hard I fought the end result was always the same. In the end I never really won. It wasn't like I got the spoils like other victors. All I got was death. Yours... And then there was Dawnie's looming in the distance. Maybe I did want to die, but even if I hadn't wanted to there was nothing I could have done to stop it. It would have happened anyway. I knew that. I'd known for awhile. And I didn't find out in a dream like with The Master. It was just this gut feeling that came to me one day, and when the time came for it to happen I accepted it because it was inevitable."

"So the night of your Mom's funeral when you said what you said then took it back and told me to leave you were doing it to protect me more or less."

"Yes." Buffy buried her face in his chest to keep him from seeing her tears. "And when we kissed... Wh-When we kissed that was me saying goodbye because I knew I would never see you again."

"Buffy..." His own voice was laced with tears.

"No, Angel." She pulled away to look at him. "I need to tell you this." She swiped at her tears, and met his gaze again. "I umm... Spike once told me that every slayer has a death wish. He was right. There's no maybe to it anymore. I wanted to die. I was so tired of the pain, and I hoped that once I... I thought there might be something better out there. So that night... When we kissed... I took that time with you and I savored it. I said goodbye to you, and, and after you left... I don't know... If I wasn't already dead emotionally by then I think watching you leave again finally finished killing me. I kept telling myself that there was something wrong with me. I convinced myself that I sucked at the love thing. I mean, if I didn't why did everyone end up leaving me? I was a mess. A total mess, and Giles knew it. That's why he decided to send me on a quest to see my spirit guide. He thought it would help me regain my focus, but the truth is the only thing it did was seal the fate I already knew was coming. M-My spirit guide told me death was my gift, and it wasn't a very good thing to tell me at the time because it was exactly what I'd been thinking since Dracula came to town. I had convinced myself that all I did was bring death to those I loved. That when it came down to it, all I was was just a killer after all. And once I convinced myself to that fact I didn't want to slay anymore. I couldn't. Of course, I found out later on that I misinterpreted what my spirit guide meant. What she really meant when she said death was my gift was that the only way to receive that gift was by dying. And I did receive it, Angel. When I jumped into that portal... As I was falling to my death, and my life's essence was being drained out of me, I remembered. Th-That day... The day you were human. I remembered everything about it, and you were right. It was beautiful. So beautiful. It was the happiest day of my life. But as happy as I was to remember it, at the same time remembering it was bittersweet, too. I just... I was so devestated that the powers waited until then to let me remember. God, I was so bitter at them. I even hated them. And that hate and bitterness carried over into heaven."

"You wasn't happy there."

"Nope." She let out a bitter laugh. "I wanted something better, and if I couldn't have...I always thought heaven was the best anyone could ever get. Turns out I was wrong. Turns out heaven wasn't my heaven, and Father... God... He knew it. That's why he sent the powers to me to tell me about Conner. A-And don't for a second think that I wasn't happy about him. I was. It was a dream come true. You and me making a baby together. But at the same time it hurt me so much. I hated them even more for taking that day back... You... Conner. It made me feel unworthy of the both of you." Her eyes welled up with tears again. "I hated them, Angel. God, I hated them for making me feel that way. I felt like I was dying all over again. I have never in all my life felt such hate and bitterness, and I guess my pain radiated from me. They umm... They were almost distraught over it... me... and they tried to take it all away, but nothing worked. Nothing. I just drew even deeper into myself. So much so, that I don't remember anything after meeting your family... Seeing Mom... I think I actually did die again, because the next thing I remember is waking up in my grave... I umm... It took me awhile to figure out what had happened, but once I did all I could think about w-was getting to you." She started to sob even harder. "I knew if I c-could just get to you and tell you everything you would make it all better. B-But when I g-got there all I found was a burnt up building. I umm... I couldn't feel you. I-I thought you were dead. I c-couldn't feel you, and all that hate for the powers... God... It resurfaced. I was cold... so cold, Angel... And you wasn't there to warm me. I thought... I-I thought you were dead, and all I wanted was to die, too."

Angel's hands had been soothing her back, but upon hearing her words they stilled. "The car... The one that hit you. It didn't hit you by accident, did it, Buffy?"

"I don't know. I-I don't know." She buried her head in his chest as her tears began to flow even harder. "I don't r-remember. All I remember is thinking I wanted to die, and then n-nothing. E-Everything went black, and the next thing I r-remember after that is waking up in the hospital with Kyle sitting by my bed. But it doesn't stop there, Angel. You think y-you know the rest, but you don't. You don't. I've done some horrible things since Kyle's death. N-Not just to you and C-Conner, but to the others as well. A-And then there's the fact that I umm... I've killed someone. Two someones, Angel. I killed two humans. A-And I'm sorry, I'm s-so s-so sorry. I wasn't as strong as you. L-Losing you, and C-Conner... I didn't care. I really did want to die after that. I've practically welcomed death the last seven months. I didn't see the point in living anymore. I didn't want to live if it meant living without you. I just wanted to die. A-And I'm sorry. I wasn't as strong as you. I'm still not. That's why I want you to be sure..." She pulled back to look at him again. "I-It's not that I don't love you. I d-do. I love you so much, Angel. A-And I want to be with you more than anything, but I want you to be sure that it's what you want. That I'm what you want. I need to know that you can be happy with the person I am now before I can let you commit to me. I don't want you to end up being disappointed in me, or worse... hating me."

Angel reached up to cup her hands in her face. "I'm already comitted to you, Buffy. I have been since the moment I laid eyes on you the very first time coming down those stairs in front of your school. And I could never be disappointed in you. It doesn't matter to me who you are or what you've done. I can't judge you. I won't. Not when my past is a hell of a whole lot more checkered than yours. I love you. You, baby. And I could never hate you. Never. You're Buffy. My Buffy. And nothing will ever change that. Nothing."

"Oh, A-Angel..." Buffy started crying again.

"That's it. Let it out, Inouin." Angel pulled her back into his arms. "Let all that pain out. I'm right here. I'm right here, and I'm not going anywhere. You're stuck with with me." His own tears began to fall along with hers, and they clung to each other until the subsided. Then and only then did he pull away to look at her. "Feel better?"

"Yes, but..."

"Shh..." His lips inched towards hers. "No buts, remember? We're together now and that's all that matters." And then he was kissing her, and he was right. Nothing else did matter as his healing hands began to bring her back to life. Angel loved Buffy with his heart, body, and soul. And by the time he became one with her there wasn't a doubt in her mind that by his side was where she truly belonged.

Their eyes locked and held as he filled her in one smooth stroke, and God it felt incredible. Beyond incredible Angel thought as he began to slowly move in and out of her. Heaven... This woman was his heaven... His everything... And he didn't hesitate to show her that. He made slow, sweet, tender love to her, and she gave everything she received back to him. She whispered words of love in his ear that if were possible would have made his dead heart explode in his chest, and drove him nearly to the edge. "Buffy... Gods, baby. I love you... I love you..." He cried out and told her over and over again as he went flying, soaring over the edge of ecstasy, and took her along with him...


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I would like to thank Heather, Lou, Wendy, Briony, Kendra, Emma, Raven Raven, Carolyn, Linda, Christine, Hannahbee, Karin, Nikki, Isis Blue, Kolumbyne, Laura May, Al M., Emma, Kristen, Dragon Queen, Linda K., and Sylvie for their feedback on chapters 32 and 33. Thanks guys! This chapter is for all of you!


CHAPTER 34


"You didn't hurt him very badly, did you?" Buffy asked Angel a little while later as they lay in the afterglow of their lovemaking.

"I could have very easily killed him, but I didn't, Buffy."

"And his friends?"

"Destroyed. You were right. Their power source was in their chests. It wasn't hard to take them down once we knew that for sure."

Buffy couldn't help but shiver at the thought that her nightmare still wasn't over. That there was still someone out there that wanted to kill her. She didn't want to die. Not anymore.

Angel felt her tremble, and his arms tightened around her in reassurance. "Tell me what you're thinking."

"I just..." She wanted to tell him. She did, but she felt now wasn't the time. "I umm... It's just hard to believe he turned out the way he did."

"I know." Angel murmured, and placed a kiss to her shoulder before spooning up against her even more.

"A-Are you sure he's gone?"

"Yes, baby. I'm sure. He won't be bothering you again and neither will his friends." It wasn't exactly the truth, but that's all Angel could think to tell her. There was no way in hell he was about to tell her that the boy wouldn't be going anywhere for a long long time because he really had nearly killed him for what he had done to her. That if it hadn't been for Conner he probably would have finished off the little prick. But he had been telling her the truth when he had told her that Finn wouldn't be bothering her again because there was no doubt in his mind that that was true. The boy now knew what would happen to him if he ever tried to so much as look at her again.

"I umm... Speaking of his friends. How did he... Did you find out where they came from? Is he still in the initiative? Are they in on this, too?"

"No. Well, at least he swears they're not. Apparantly he was still obsessed with being superhuman guy, but since he couldn't risk experimenting on himself for fear something would go wrong..."

"He built another Adam." Buffy concluded. "Or a more advanced version of Adam six times over, I should say."

"That's right. And once he found out that he could do it he didn't stop. His plans were to develop a whole new race of soldiers for the United States government, but he hadn't revealed his plans to anyone yet because he was waiting until he had used them to get you back before he did."

"I knew... That he was mixed up, I mean. Look at what he did..."

"What did he do, Buffy? I mean, really?"

"I-I told you what he did, Angel." She whispered.

"No, you didn't either." His arms tightened around her. "You told me what was necessary. That's it, Buffy. Now I want to know the rest."

"I don't know all of it, Angel. I don't know how he knew I was here or how he managed to get into the hospital under a different identity. The government, maybe. I don't know. All I know is that once he talked to me and realized I was remembering he had me moved to the institution."

"What happened once you got there?"

"I-I don't remember alot of it. The sh-shock therapy...the drugs... God, I don't even know what the hell he thought he was going to accomplish from it. He said he just wanted me back, but I don't know how in the hell he thought that would ever happen after what he did to me. I guess he figured I wouldn't remember that he was there...what he did... and was just waiting for the right moment to worm his way back into my life."

"And when you ended up back here in the same city as me he knew that right moment wasn't going to happen. He panicked. That's why he sent those... whatever the hell they were... after you. He didn't want you anywhere near me. Stupid fucker..."

"It didn't work, Angel." Buffy stroked his arm in reassurance. "I'm here, aren't I?"

"Yes. And here is where you belong. But it kills me..." He buried his face in her hair. "What he did to you."

"I know." She murmured. "Why do you think I tried to keep you from finding out. Love makes you do the wacky, and you have a tendancy to get pretty wacked when it comes to me."

"And when exactly did you figure that out, and where was I when you did?"

"I've always known." She rolled over to face him. "I Just couldn't let you know that I knew because of the whole protecting you thing."

"You don't have to protect me, Buffy. I'm a big boy. I can take care of myself."

"Then I guess that means that I can protect myself. That I don't need you protecting me."

"What I'm doing's a little different, Buffy."

"How?" She met his gaze. "How is it any different than what I did?"

"He hurt you."

"He was trying to hurt you." She quickly pointed out. "He wanted to make me forget you all together, and then he planned to rub that and me in your face. But it didn't work, Angel. And it was because of you that it didn't. It was because I loved you that it didn't. But it doesn't matter. None of it matters now. Especially now that I know what else he was looking for. I would have gladly let him suck the life out of me before I would have ever told him about that day. About Conner. Do you have any idea what he might have done if he'd ever found out the truth?"

"Do you have any idea what I would have done to him I've I'd found out?"

"Yeah." She nodded. "Why do you think I stopped you earlier tonight? Like I said before, you have a tendancy to get a little wacky when it comes to me."

"Can't help it." Angel growled, and gently rolled her over to face him. "You're my woman and no one messes with my woman." His lips curled up in a smile as he looked down at her. "But then again, in a way I can sympathize with him."

"Y-You can?" She asked, searching his face for a clue as to why he was saying what he was saying.

"Mmm..." He slowly ran his finger down the valley between her breasts before raising his dark orbs to hers again. "I happen to know firsthand just how insane you really can drive a person."

"AHH!" Buffy punched him in the chest. "I so do not believe you just said that, Angel! And if that was your idea of a joke it wasn't the least bit funny, so I suggest you go another two hundred and fifty years before you try it again." She rolled away from him, and her reaction made Angel chuckle. "Buffy... Baby, I didn't mean it the way it sounded. There wasn't any pun intended, I swear."

"I'll just bet there wasn't." She mumbled into her pillow.

"There wasn't..." He scooted up against her. "When I said that I could sympathize with him I meant that I know what it's like to love you and not be able to touch you. Crazy... It can drive a person crazy, Buffy. It drove me crazy."

"You can't go crazy from not having sex, Angel."

"You're right. You can't go crazy from not having sex. But you can go crazy from not being able to show the woman you love that you love her." He ground his erection up against her. "And I nearly did go crazy before I left Sunnydale, Buffy. When I was with you all I could think about was how much I wanted to touch you... love you... God, all I could think about was how much I wanted to lose myself in you." One of his hands moved to her moist center to re-awaken the sensitive nub hidden there. "And these last two weeks have been even worse for me because you were so close and yet so far away." He continued to languidly stroke her, building a fire inside her that she thought she would combust from. "Crazy, baby. I thought I would go crazy from wanting you, and I'm sure Riley probably felt the same way."

"A-Angel?" Buffy gasped, and her hand came around to clutch the back of his head as she arched into his ministrations. "Yes, sweetheart?" He whispered in her ear, sending shivers down her spine. "C-Could we not talk about Riley right now."

"Why? Do you have something else you want to do instead?"

"Uh huh..." She said a little breathlessly.

"What is it? Tell me." He dipped a finger inside her wet core."Tell me what you want, baby."

"Love me." She whimpered. "I w-want you to l-love me."

"I do." He murmured as he brought one of her legs back and planted it around his hip before leaning her forward to open her up to him. "I love you so much, Buffy." As the words slipped from his lips he slowly filled her, joining them heart, body, and soul. And then he went about showing her just how much he really did love her all over again.

****

It was a dream come true. The fact that she woke up in his arms the next morning. More than a dream come true. And that was the whole problem. That's why she couldn't open her eyes to look at him. What if it really was a dream, or in her case a nightmare? Or worse... What if it was... She shivered as her train of thoughts hit her, and before she could stop them, they started. Tears. She was crying. Again... And that was finally what alerted him to the fact that she was awake. If she really was awake. God, please let her be awake. Please Please let this be real she silently prayed as she felt his body coccoon hers. "Shh..." He whispered as he reached up to catch her tears. "Don't cry, baby. It's real, I promise you. Just open and your eyes and look at me. I'm real, and I'm right here. I'll always be here. Forever, remember? That's the whole point. Come on now. Open your eyes and look at me."

"I can't..." Buffy sobbed. "I-I'm scared, Angel. I-I'm so scared. I-I'm so a-afraid that this is a d-dream. M-My being here w-with you. I'm s-so afraid it's a d-dream and I-I'm going to w-wake up any minute now, a-and I'll be alone again. O-Or worse... H-Hell... I'm so afraid that this h-hell. M-My hell. A-And that this is their idea of torture for m-me. G-Giving me the things I want more than anything in this world, only to take them away from me again. Th-That's why I-I'm so scared of this... You, m-me... Conner. I-I'm afraid it's not real."

"Buffy..." Angel pulled away enough to look at her. "Baby, I swear to you this is real. I'm real. And I'm not going anywhere. You're stuck with me."

"O-Okay..." She sobbed. "It's real... You're real. B-But what if..."

"Shh..." He brought his finger up to her lips to silence her. "No but's, remember?" He pulled her back into his arms. "We're going to make it this time, Buffy. There's not a doubt in my mind we will. But I won't lie to you either. I know it won't always be easy for us. I know there'll be trials and tribulations, but I believe with all my heart that we'll get through them, and we'll do it together. No one or nothing is going to stand in our way this time, Ionuin. I won't let them. I'm not giving up on us. Not again."

His words only brought more tears from her, and he simply soothed them away by making love to her again. And just before they both reached their points of true happiness did he finally manage to coax her to open her eyes, and the love she saw radiating from his was enough to convince her that it was real. That he was real, and was with her now. That he would always be with her from this moment on. And that in itself was enough to send them both soaring over the edge into ecstasy. Heaven... It was heaven plain and simple. And his words while he held her in the afterglow only confirmed it. Her Angel... Her dear, sweet Angel was here, and he was never letting her go again. "You know, I knew. That you were in heaven, I mean. I knew all along, and I assumed that everyone else knew, too." His hands caressed her naked back. "That's why when I found out what Willow had done I came close to killing her for being such an idiot to even think that you were in hell. I hated her. Because I knew that the only hell you were in was the one she brought you back to. But you know something, Buffy? I can't hate her anymore because she was only doing what was supposed to be done.."

"W-What?" Buffy pulled away to look at him. "What do you mean she was doing what was supposed to be done, Angel?"

"I'd tell you, but I don't think you're ready to hear it, Buffy." When Buffy opened her mouth to argue with him, he simply kissed the argument away. "You're not ready to hear it, baby. Not yet. Just trust me when I tell you that there was other powers at work than just her, and that this is where you you're supposed to be. I mean, just think about it, Buffy. Out of all the people in the world you could have saved in that alley that night you saved our son. Our son. He told me he didn't think it was a coincidence and now there's not a doubt in my mind that he was right. There's not a doubt in my mind that someone up there was trying to knock some sense into my head, and finally after months of being a fucking idiot they finally did. It was meant for you to find him... us... again. And I know it's hard for you to believe that right now. That it's hard for you to believe that this is real... That it's not hell... But in time I hope you'll see it... your being here, the way I see it. The way our son sees it. You were meant to be with us, Buffy. I believe that with all my heart... Know it... And if it takes me forever to convince you of that then so be it. I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to prove to you that this is real. That what we have is real, and someday I'm even going to make you happy again. Truly happy." His words only brought more tears from her, and he held her through the entire storm, and was still holding her when she finally managed to find her voice again. "A-Angel?"

"Yes, beloved?" He kissed the top of her head.

"Y-You did good with him. C-Conner, I mean. Y-You raised him right."

Angel swallowed against the lump in his throat, and tightened his arms around her. "It wasn't always easy."

"I know." She sniffled. "H-He told me. And I'm sorry I wasn't there for you. It must have hurt like hell when you thought you had lost him."

"It did. It was like losing you all over again."

She pulled back to look at him. "B-But you made it through it."

"He came back." Angel lifted her hand to his lips and kissed the inside of her palm. "And so did you. And now we're together, the three of us, and that's all that matters."

"A-Angel..." Buffy's eyes welled up with tears again.

"Shh..." He silenced her with a tender kiss. "We're going to make it through this. We're going to find out who's after you, and we're going to put a stop to it so that you and I, and Conner, can have that life you and I always wanted." He threaded his hands through her hair. "And you know what we'll do first? We'll start that new life with you and I doing all those things we couldn't do before. We'll go on picnics in the park, and make love in the sunlight." He leaned down to feather a kiss across her lips. "And we'll take Conner to Disney World so he can throw up on the roller coaster..."

Buffy couldn't help but giggle. "Uhh, honey... D-Don't you think he's a little too old to go to Disney World? I-I mean, he's uhh... He's having sex now, and with umm... He's having sex."

Angel's eyes locked with hers. "It bothers you, doesn't it? The fact that he's with Cordelia, I mean."

"It's not any of m-my business who he umm..." She mumbled, and looked away. "It's not any of my business."

"Yes, it is, Buffy. You're his mother."

"I-I'm not..." She started to say, but he cut her off by turning her around to face him again.

"Don't..." He locked dark orbs with hers. "You are his mother, Buffy. Just ask him, and he'll tell you. In fact, he pretty much did last night when he called you Mom." He reached up to cup her face in his hands. "You are his mother, baby. If he didn't believe that he wouldn't have called you that last night. He was never able to call Darla that, and now that I... we... know why, it explains alot. It explains why he loves you just as much as I do. The connection between the two of you. And if you're worried you'll lose him, don't. He may have another woman in his life, but no matter what you will always be the most important thing to him. He made that plain and clear to Cordelia from day one, and she has accepted it. So have I."

Buffy broke into a smile. A real geniune smile, for the first time in God knew how long, and it took Angel's unneeded breath away. "You really thought I was in love with him, didn't you?"

"You didn't exactly give me a reason to think otherwise."

"Uh huh..." She started giggling again. "Must have been a real bitch to think about me and him... Well, you know?"

"Worse." Angel muttered, and buried his face in her hair "Hell... It was hell, Buffy."

Buffy pulled him closer, and wrapped her arms around him. "My poor, poor baby." She started giggling again, and stroked his shoulders. "You never were good at the jealousy thing."

"It's not funny, Buffy. If you knew how many nights I laid awake thinking... Hell, it was hell. Worse than hell." Came his muffled response.

"Then we're even." She pulled back to look at him. "Because it was hell for me, too. Thinking about you and Cordelia..."

"But I didn't... I mean, Cordy and I haven't... Not since I laid eyes on you again. And then in Sunnydale..." His own eyes welled up again. "You don't know, Buffy. How hard it was for me to leave you that morning after I woke up with you in my arms. It was a dream come true, but at the same time..."

"You felt guilty about it." She finished for him. "You thought you had taken advantage of me because of the condition I was in, and it didn't help matters that I just blew it off like nothing had happened."

He nodded, too choked up to speak at first. "I made love to you that night. It wasn't..."

"I know." She cut him off. "I just... I was hurting. I woke up alone, and then there was the fact that I had pretty much pieced everything together, and figured out I was in trouble. I needed to get you and Conner as far away from me as possible so I pretended that it didn't mean anything." She reached up to caress his cheek. "I'm sorry, I hurt you. Can you forgive me?"

He caught her hand and brought it to his lips. "I think the question here is can you forgive me? For being such a fucking idiot, I mean. For saying the things I said. For leaving you..."

"There's nothing to forgive. All is right with the world now." She smiled at him. "You love me and I love you, and we have our son. And soon we'll have..." She realized what she was about to say, and stopped. But if she thought he was too focused on her to catch her slip, she was wrong. "And soon we'll have what?"

"N-Nothing. It was nothing." The smile faded from Buffy's face, and Angel didn't miss that either. "Buffy? What is it? What aren't you telling me?"

"I told you it was nothing, Angel." She sat up in the bed, clutching the bed covers to her naked chest as she did.

"You're lying, Buffy." He sat up beside her. "There is something. Something you obviously don't want me to know, and I told you before that there isn't anything you can't tell me. Come on now. Talk to me. The last thing we need is to start our new lives off with more secrets between us."

God, she wanted to tell him, but she couldn't. How could she tell him she was pregnant when she was too afraid to believe it herself? And then there was the fact that this latest crisis was looming over their heads. She couldn't tell him. If something happened... She couldn't tell him. Not yet anyway. Not until she was sure it was true, and everything was going to be okay. "I umm... I just... it's hard." She glanced over her shoulder at him. "To look forward to a future when you're not sure you're going to have one."

"Everything's going to be okay, baby. I promise you. Do you believe that?"

"I umm..." She looked away from him again. "I want to."

"Then believe it." He scooted closer to her, and rested his chin on her shoulder. "Believe that I love you, and that I'm not going to let anything happen to you. We are going to have a future together, and I'm going to make you happy. So happy." He placed a kiss to her shoulder then stood up in all his glory. "Now get up."

"W-What?" Buffy looked up at him in surprise.

"Up, Buffy. Get up." Angel reached for his pants. "We're about to start our future together, and we have alot to do to get started. But first, before we do, you and I both need to eat."

Buffy opened her mouth to tell him she wasn't hungry, but the look in his eyes sent her snapping it shut. "Don't. Don't you dare tell me you're not hungry because I know better, Buffy. You've hardly eaten anything since you've been here, and you need to eat. You're too damn skinny."

"Well, you wasn't complaining last night about my being too damn skinny. Unless, of course, you just didn't say anything." She met his gaze again. "Is that it?. Is that why you're in such a rush to fatten me up? Did I not..."

Angel had only managed to get one leg in his pants when his eyes shot back up to meet hers. "Buffy, baby. I spent the entire night making love to you. Now does that sound like you don't do anything for me?"

"I don't know." She worried her bottom lip. "You tell me?"

"I did not fuck you last night, Buffy. I made love to you. And there is a difference between the two. A very big difference. All you have to do is look at me and I want you with everything that's inside of me. One look, Buffy. That's all it takes. And I want you completely. Heart, body, and soul." He leaned down to feather a kiss across her lips then pulled away. "I wasn't kidding the other night when I told you I'm crazy about you. I am, baby." He locked eyes with her. "So crazy that it makes me happy just to be able to watch you eat and sleep. And it does make me happy to watch you do those things because I know, Buffy. I know those simple everday things that other people take for granted aren't so simple for you. I know they've been a chore for you since the day you were called. That's why I want to do this. Cook for you. Watch you eat. I don't want it to be a chore anymore. I want it to be a part of our everyday lives. A part I intend to enjoy every second of. Now get up."

Buffy laid back on the floor. "I'll get up just as soon as you come and get me."

"Do you think I won't?" He smirked.

"Actually..." She threw back the blankets to completely expose her naked form to him. "I'm counting on it. Especially now after all those sweet things you just said to me. It kind makes me all warm and tingly inside."

"Buffy..." Angel's eyes darkened as his gaze traveled over her before returning to her face. "Breakfast..."

"Later... I'll eat later, but right now I just want to be with you. You yourself said that this was the first day of the rest of our lives together. Don't you think we should spend it catching up?" She patted the space beside her, and grinned up at him seductively. "Well?"

"See. This is what I meant when I said you drive me crazy." He muttered. "How am I supposed to refuse you when you're laying there looking at me like that?"

"You don't." She wiggled a finger at him. "Now come back to bed, lover. Let me finish driving you crazy."

That was all the invitation Angel needed. With a growl he returned to the makeshift bed, and Buffy very happily proceeded to do exactly what she said she we do. She drove him crazy. Beyond crazy...

****

"Come on, baby. Just one more bite. Please."

"No."

"Pretty please..."

"No, Angel. If I do I swear I'll explode."

"Oh, God! I knew it!" A voice groaned from the kitchen doorway. "I knew when they got back together this would happen. Their having sex, Conner. Sex in the kitchen, and it's probably on the table where we eat!"

"Their not having sex, Cordy." Conner laughed as he stared at the couple in question over the top of Cordelia's head.

"Are you sure?" Cordelia asked as she peeked up at him.

"Yes, he's sure, Cordelia." Angel muttered. "Buffy and I are having a late breakfast, and if you want some you'd better get your tail in here and get it because I'm not making anymore."

Cordelia slowly turned around to find Angel sitting at the kitchen table with Buffy in his lap. "Question. If you're not having sex then why is she sitting in your lap?"

"I don't think that's any of your business, Cordelia." Buffy replied coolly as she took the plate in Angel's hands, and left his lap to put it in the kitchen sink.

"O-Kay. I'm sensing the artic air your blowing is aimed at me, Buffy." Cordelia stated. "And the only thing I can say to you is get over it."

"Cordy..." Conner grabbed her arm.

"No, Conner." Cordelia shook his hand off, and dared a peek at Angel before returning her gaze to Buffy's stiff back. "I am not going to explain anything to her. I don't give a shit if she is your mother. What happened happened, and if anything good came out of it it's that Angel and I both came out of it even stronger people than what we were before. We both came out of it still friends... Best friends... And we came out of it knowing that we could never love each other the way we love the people we're with now." She sighed. "He loves you, Buffy. You, not me. He's always loved you and he always will. You're his true soulmate, and me..." She turned around to look at Conner. "I'm your son's soulmate." She turned back to Buffy. "I love Conner very much. I'm his soulmate, and if I'm not mistaken I think that makes us family, so I suggest you get over whatever resentment you have towards me because I'm not going anywhere."

"Oh, great!" Buffy muttered, and turned around to look at her. "It's my worst nightmare come true. Cordelia Chase and I are family."

"Oh, you love it and you know it." Cordelia smirked.

"Oh no, no loving here."Buffy vigorously shook her head. "I don't love you. In fact, I don't even like you." She said. That was until she caught a glimpse of Conner's face, and then she was quickly trying to fix things. "B-But I'll try. T-To like you, I mean. M-Maybe just a little. F-For C-Conner and A-Angel's sake."

"Right. For Conner and Angel's sake." Cordelia repeated. "And who knows maybe in time you'll like me enough to let me help you spend all that money you have."

"Cordelia..." Conner groaned.

"What?" She turned around to look at him. "What did I say? The girl has bukoos of money, and it's not like she can spend all of it in this lifetime. Besides, I know she used to love to shop just as much as I did... do. What's wrong with my inviting myself along to shop with her. You know I never pass up a chance to shop." She turned around and headed for the stove. "Or eat free food either."

"That still doesn't mean that you should go and invite yourself along or to suggest that Buffy... M..."

"Rodeo Drive?" Buffy suddenly cut Conner off and asked.

"What?" Cordelia spun away from the stove to look at her.

"Do you want to hit Rodeo Drive first, Cordelia? On this shopping spree we're going on..." She shot a peek at Angel, and even though she couldn't see all his face she could tell he was scowling. "W-When I'm outta danger and the warden gives me a get out of prison free card, that is?"

"God damnit, Buffy!" Angel slammed a hand down on the table. "How many times do I have to drill it into your thick head that this is not a prison. It's your home." He jumped up and spun around to look at her. "Your home, Buffy!"

"I was joking, Angel." Buffy stated as she calmly leaned back against the sink.

"W-What?" He blinked in surprise as he stared at her.

"What I said was a joke." She locked eyes with him. "You know, as in ha ha very funny."

"You were joking." Angel's face softened. "Really?"

"Really." She met his gaze again. "My home is wherever you are, and since that's here I guess that makes this home. O-Or at least it will be home just as soon as we buy a bed. Sleeping on the floor with you is nice, but I don't think my back can take long term. In case you haven't noticed I'm not as young as I used to be. I need a nice comfy bed. Preferrably king size since you're a bed hog."

"I am not a bed hog." Angel denied. "You're the bed hog. And it's probably a good thing we were in the floor the last two nights because that's where I would have ended up anyway."

Buffy opened her mouth to retort to his comment, but Conner cut her off before she got the chance. "Excuse me for interrupting, guys but I can't help but ask what happened to the bed in Dad's... your room? Especially since the last time I was in there there was a bed. And okay, I can't believe I just asked that. Never mind. I really don't want to know what happened to it. It's not any of my business." He moved to the kitchen table to sit down. "I'm just glad to see the two of you joking with each other instead of yelling at each other like you hate each other. I really didn't want to be the product of a messy divorce." He looked up to find his parents both turned around and now staring at him. "So does this mean what I think it means? Are you two back together? Because from where I'm sitting I would have to say no even though the vibes I'm getting from the two of you say differently."

"Oh, come on, Conner." Cordelia turned away from the stove with a plate of scrambled eggs and toast in hand. "Of course, they're back together. She was sitting in his lap in his shirt when we walked in, and let's not forget the fact that they just spent the last two nights together boning like there's no tomorrow. If that doesn't prove to you that their back together then I don't know what will."

"They're not back together, Cordy." Conner stated, turning in his chair to look at her.

"I beg to differ. Just open your eyes, and take a good look. See what I see, Conner." Cordelia came over to sit down beside him. "Trust me. They're back together, and pretty soon they'll be just as nauseating as they were back in the old days before you ever existed."

"They're not back together, Cordelia. If they were she would be wearing her ring, and she's not."

Buffy, who had been standing, listening to the entire conversation, suddenly lifted her hand and waved. "Hello? The she in question is standing right here. And so is the other party involved. Ever thought of asking them if they're back together?"

"I did, remember?" Conner turned to look at Buffy. "And the she in question didn't answer me so I assume she's still not speaking to me."

"Conner..." Buffy took a step towards him. "Baby, I'm not..." She suddenly halted in her tracks when she saw him flinch at her words. "Jesus, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have... I forgot you don't like for me... I'm sorry. I had no right." She spun away from him and collided with Angel, but she refused to look at him, not even after Conner's voice broke the tense silence. "Dad..." He met Angel's gaze over the top of Buffy's head, and Angel nodded in understanding. "Get your plate and let's go, Cordy."

"What?" Cordelia's asked through a mouthful of eggs.

"I said get your plate and let's go. Conner and Buffy need to talk. Alone."

"Talk. Right." Cordelia looked back and forth at Buffy and Conner before grabbing her plate and standing up. "You two should talk. Alone. And Angel and I will just go... talk ourselves. Isn't that right, Angel?"

Angel nodded and looked down at the woman standing in front of him. "Buffy..." When she still refused to look up at him, he used his index finger to tilt her face up to his. "Remember what I said. Just listen to him, Okay?"

"But..." She looked up at him through pained eyes. "Shh... No buts, remember?" Angel leaned down to kiss her. "I'll be in my office if you need me." He brushed another kiss across her lips and then he was gone, leaving her alone with their son. "So..." Conner murmured.

Buffy took a deep breath for courage then turned around to face him. "So..."

"You never answered my question." He met her gaze. "Are you and Dad back together?"

"We're back together as much as we can be back together at this moment."

"What do you mean by as much as you can be at this moment?"

"In case you've forgotten I sorta have death hovering over my head right now, Conner."

"You're not going to..."

"Don't, Conner..." Buffy held up her hand to cut him off. "Just listen, okay?"

He nodded, and watched as she came over to sit down in the chair across the table from him. "You're such a strong person, Conner. And I don't just mean physically. I mean emotionally, too. You took that after your father. And you have no idea how thankful I am that you did. That you took that after him and not..." She looked down at her hands. "I'm so thankful that you took that after him. And that in ways you're even stronger than he is. That's why I'm about to say this to you as much as it pains me to. I need you to be the strong person in this family, Conner. I need you to do it for me and for your father." She looked back up at him. "As you know my track record with death isn't very good, and the odds that I'll survive this latest round with death are very slim. So slim that I'd rather stall your father and tell him that the reason we can't be together the way he wants right now is because I want him to be absolutely positive it's what he really wants instead of coming out and telling him that the real reason is because I'm afraid I'm going to die and leave him. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying your father is a dumbass for not knowing that. He knows. Deep down he knows there's a good chance I might not make it, but while he does rather than have to deal with the pain he may be facing if it should happen he would rather live in denial that it won't and take what time we have left and make the most of it. That's my Angel. That's what I love so much about him. Always taking care of me physically and emotionally no matter what it's toll is on him. But as much as I do love him for it, I know it's not very realistic. That's why I won't commit to him. I can't let him put his ring back on my finger because I know when the time comes he won't be able to take it back off. And he would have to, Conner. He would have to because I would want him to give it to you. I would want you to have it so you can carry on the family tradition."

"And Dad wouldn't be able to do as you asked because it would kill him. To have to see someone else wear it even if it was his own son's soulmate? Because it would be a reminder of what he lost."

Buffy nodded through her tears. "I know I told you in my letter that the reason I was giving you the ring was because I couldn't stand the thought of him giving it to anyone else, but the truth is I knew... I knew he would never do that. The truth is I thought I wasn't coming back. Not alive anyway, and I couldn't bare the thought of hurting him by giving the ring back to him when I knew... I wanted you to have it. So you could continue the family tradition, and I did it because I know he's not as strong as everyone thinks he is. That's why I'm telling you this now. If something does happen to me... He'll need you, and as much as it kills me to ask you to do it, I'm going to ask you to anyway. I need you to be the one to look after him. I worry that he might... I worry. I need you to be strong for him... for me... because I need soemone to see to it that he reaches me in the afterworld. I need you to see to it that he reaches me because you're the only one that really understands how important it is to me that he does. Do you understand?"

Conner nodded through his tears. "You want always and forever."

"Yeah, I do." She murmured, getting a far away look in her eyes. "That would be nice. Better than nice. Heaven... That would be my heaven." She snapped out of her reverie to lock eyes with him. "With you included, of course."

"Of course..." Conner smiled sadly, and the sight of it caused Buffy's eyes to pool again. "Conner..." She reached across the table to take his hand. "I do love you. So much. Do you believe that?"

"Yes." He choked out. "That's why I don't understand."

"Understand what?"

"Why you can love me like I'm your child, but you won't let me love you like you're my mother. Is it the age thing?"

"W-What?"

"The age thing? Does it bother you that your child is only a few years younger than you? Are you ashamed of the whole situation? Of being called a freak? Or are you just ashamed of me period?"

"God, no. Conner..." Buffy swiped at her tears. "That is not it at all, baby." When she saw him flinch again, she squeezed his hand. "I love you, Conner. More than I think you'll ever really know. You're my life. You and you're father. And he wasn't lying the other night when he said you were created in love. You were. Love beyond belief. And when I found out about you... that your father and I had created you from our love... G-God, you have no idea how happy I was. How much I wanted to see you and hold you. How much I wanted to be..."

"My mother." He finished for her.

"Y-Yes." Buffy started sobbing, and pulled her hand away. "G-God help me, yes. I wanted to be your mother. I-I did. I wanted that more than anything. I still want that."

"Then do it." Conner urged her. "Be my mother, Buffy."

"No. No." She buried her face in her arms on the table as sobs began to wrack her body. "I can't. I don't deserve to be your mother. I couldn't even give you life."

At her words Conner rose from his seat and came around to squat down beside her chair. "So what, Buffy... Mom... You didn't give me life. Big fucking deal. There are lots of women in this world that have to get other women to carry a child for them because they can't give that child life themselves. Do you honestly think that just because they did they love that child any less? Do you love me any less just because Darla carried me?"

"N-No." She raised her tear stained face to look at him. "I never got the chance to see you before they umm... I never saw you, but I didn't have to. I knew I loved you no matter what. It was me... I hated myself. I still hate myself, and you should hate me, too."

Conner reached up to brush a lock of hair from her forehead. "Well, I'm sorry, but I can't hate you. Especially now." His own eyes welled up again. "Jesus, Buffy... Mom... Do you have any idea what it was like for me? To know and be told that you were the product of dark despair. And trust me when I say that that's what I've felt like all these years. Don't get me wrong, I know now that Dad loved me from the beginning. But it took me a long time to figure that out, and part of the reason is what I just told you. I thought I was the product of Dad's darkest despair. That there wasn't any love whatsoever. That he was incapable of loving. Hell, Holtz raised me to believe that demons weren't capable of love, and you have no idea what him telling me that done to me. But now..." He swiped at his tears with the back of his hand. "Now it's different. Now I know better. Now I know that I was created in love. A love beyond belief. And that the other person that helped create me with that love is here and alive and that not only is she my mother she's my best friend, too..." He raised his own tear streaked face to hers. "I love you, Buffy... Mom... I love you And I don't care if you don't think you're worthy to be my mother or not. All that matters is what I think. And I happen to think you make me one hell of a mom, and from now on that's what I plan to call you."

"Oh, C-Conner..." Buffy began to sob even harder, and Conner couldn't take seeing her like that so he pulled her into his arms. "Shh..." He began to stroke her hair. "Don't cry, Mom. It's not good for you. You or the baby..."

"W-What?" Buffy pulled away to look at him. "I-I mean, h-how did..."

Conner broke into a grin. "Earlier when you called me baby I was picking up something from you. A sound... One that seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn't quite figure out why I was or what it was. And just a second ago when you called me baby again it was the same thing. I was picking up on it again, and then suddenly it just clicked. I remembered. Why the sound I was picking up from you seemed so familiar. It was the sound of a heartbeat. My heartbeat. I remember what it sounded like listening to my own heartbeat in Darla's womb, and I knew then that what I was picking up from you was the same thing. A baby. You're going to have a baby. You're pregnant. I can hear the life inside of you. It's only a couple of days old. Which explains why it's heartbeat is so faint. Still, it's strong. Really strong. You're pregnant, Mom. I know it. But what I don't know is how you knew. Isn't it a little earlier yet for you to know?"

"Lorne told me. He picked up on it's aura like you did it's... Your father... He doesn't... didn't..." She quickly dashed the tears on her cheeks away. "H-Her? H-How do you know... How come you heard umm... How come you heard and your father hasn't?"

"Because he only sees the possible."

"Huh?" Buffy's confusion made Conner chuckle. "When Dad looks at you he sees a future with you, but not that kind of future. He thinks that as long as he's a vampire the possibility of having children with you is impossible. Therefore he doesn't see what's in right in front of his face."

"Okay, I get what you're saying..." Buffy eyed him warily. "But then again I don't. Yes, he's a vampire, and we all know vampires can't father children, but what about his vampire senses? Shouldn't he be able to pick up on what you picked up on?"

"How do you know he didn't or hasn't?"

"Because if he had he and I would be in Vegas right about now." She muttered.

"Huh?" This time it was Conner's turn to be confused.

"Wake up, Conner. Your father has made a solemn vow that I will belong to him again in everyway. Do you honestly think that if he knew he had knocked me up again I would still be standing here? His family was Irish catholic for christ's sake! They didn't... don't believe in divorce and they sure as hell don't believe in making a baby outside the marriage bed."

"So? Dad hasn't practiced his religion in a long time."

"That wouldn't stop him from suddenly finding it again if he were to know a certain little piece of information if you catch my drift."

"Hence you two being in Vegas right about now."

"Exactly, and we're not which tells me he doesn't know."

"Maybe he knows and just can't do anything about it." Conner pointed out. "In case you've forgotten Dad's been dead for well over two hundred years, Mom."

"Conner this is your father we're talking about. Trust me, if he knew that I was... that this was his way to get what he wanted he would find away around the fact that he's been dead for well over two hundred years."

"Okay, he doesn't know."

"No, he doesn't know." Buffy repeated as she worried her bottom lip.

"But that doesn't mean he won't find out." Conner added. "Especially in about nine months when you go to give birth."

Buffy slapped Conner's arm. "God damnit, Conner. This isn't the time to be making jokes."

"I wasn't..." Conner rubbed his arm. "I take it you don't want him to know?"

"You take it right. Especially now."

"Because death is looming over your head." Conner guessed. "You know what it'll do to him if he loses you and the baby, too."

"Uh huh..." She looked over at him. "That's why you can't tell him."

"Do you have any idea what he'll do to me if he finds out that l knew and didn't tell him, Mom? I mean, it's gonna be bad enough if he finds out you told me before him, but if he finds out that I didn't tell him on top of that..." Conner shivered. "Have you ever seen him mad? I mean, really mad. Do you know what he's capable of?"

"Of course, I do, Conner. Why do you think I'm asking you not to say anything? If something happened to me... me or the baby he just might go over the deep end, and then it's Angelus all over again. Only this time I won't be here to stop him."

"It was that bad?" Conner couldn't help but ask. He knew the story now, but hearing about it and actually living it were two different things.

"Worse. I'd rather die myself than have to..." She looked away. "I'd rather die myself."

Conner couldn't see Buffy's face, but he could feel her pain and that was enough. "Okay..." He sighed. "I won't tell him."

She turned back to him with tear filled eyes. "Thank you."

"I wouldn't go thanking me just yet, Mom. You're right. Dad's still half vampire. There may come a time when he figures out your little secret all on his own without my having to tell him. He was around Darla when she was pregnant and he picked up alot of things with me, including the fact that I had a soul."

"But you said... You told me he was only around her the couple of days before she gave birth. Of course, he would have picked up on your heartbeat by then. You were alive."

"This baby's alive, too." Conner's hand went to her stomach. "I heard it again. I heard her heartbeat. If she wasn't alive she wouldn't have one." He looked up to meet her eyes. "She's going to be beautiful, you know? Just like you."

"Conner..." Buffy moved his hand. "Don't, okay? I don't want you to get your hopes up about having a baby brother or sister."

"Sister. She's definitely going to be a sister."

"Conner..."

"You're scared." He stated, meeting her gaze again.

"Terrified." Buffy said in a barely audible voice. "Now imagine that only like a zillion times worse and that'll pretty much be your father if I'm not out of danger when he does find out."

****

"So how do you think it's going?" Cordelia turned away from Angel's office door to look at him.

"Obviously better than it's going in here." He answered without looking up from his sketch pad. "Will you sit down. You're making me nervous just hearing you."

"I'm sorry, Angel but I can't help it." Cordelia moved over to sit down in the chair in front of Angel's desk. "What if she hurts him?"

"She won't." He murmured, as he studied the drawing in his hands.

"She has before."

"That wasn't intentional, Cordelia. She was protecting him. That's what mothers do."

"Mother... God, I still can't get over the fact that she's his mother." Cordelia muttered. "I mean, I've known for months so you would think I would have had time to get used to it, but the truth is I'm not. The truth is I'm not sure if I'll ever get over the fact that she's his mother."

"Months?" Angel's head shot up. "What do you mean you've known for months, Cordelia? How could you have known for months when Conner and I just found out a couple of days ago?"

"Did I say months?" Cordelia shifted nervously in her chair. "I didn't mean months I meant days."

"Cordelia..." Angel pinned her to the spot with his dark gaze. "You said months, and I'm pretty damn sure you meant months. Which leads me to my next question. Exactly how the hell did you know Conner was mine and Buffy's child when Conner and I didn't have a clue?"

"Well, I uhh..." She shifted in her chair again. "Here's the thing, Angel. Conner did uhh... have a clue."

"What?"Angel couldn't believe what he was hearing. "He knew?"

"No." Cordelia shook her head. "Not at first. At first he just had his suspicions. He started getting them in Sunnydale after he found out the full story about you two, but he couldn't figure out how it was possible. Especially with Darla giving birth to him and everything. He had so many questions. Questions that apparantly you or she wasn't willing to answer. She umm... She told him to come back to LA with his real family and forget about her, and then she told him to hate her with everything that was inside of him because he would find in the end that it was the best thing he could ever do. He said the moment she said those words to him he just knew. That she was his mother, but that for some reason she didn't want him to know. He didn't let that stop him though. He needed answers, and he wasn't giving up until he had them."

"So he came to you." Angel guessed.

"No. Actually it was more like I came to him. I umm... I offered him a shoulder to cry on the night she left on that 747 bound for nowhere, and he umm... he eventually he spilled his guts. Told me everything and asked me for my help." She raised her gaze to his. "I gotta tell you, Angel. I was reeling when he told me his supsicions. I didn't want to believe it was true. It was actually kinda hard to believe period since I witnessed his birth, but alot of it made sense to me. Their connection... Her being sent back here and saving him of all people. And then there was that day... The day that you had the Oracles take back."

"You knew about it before the other night?"

Cordelia nodded again. "When umm... When Doyle died he just didn't pass the visions on to me. He passed his memories of his time with us on to me too. I saw you... In your office the day you told him what you had done, and I've carried that memory with me all these years along with the others. That's why when Conner told me his suspicions about Buffy being his mother I couldn't rule out that it really might be true. I mean, if someone has the power to take away a whole day... completely wash it away from everyone's memories but yours then I couldn't rule out that possibility that you and Buffy created a child together and that Darla was just used as a vessel to give him life. Sounded farfetched I know, but this was you and her we were talking about. You two have a history of farfetched occurances."

"Why didn't you tell me, Cordy?"

"Easy. Conner asked me not to." She answered honestly. "I loved him, and I would have done anything for him. Still will. Oh, and then there was the little part where I promised him I wouldn't tell you. He didn't want you to know in case it turned out she wasn't."

"But evidently he found out. The other night... The things he said to her. He called her mom." Angel locked eyes with her. "How? How did he find out?"

"Well, it sure as hell wasn't from our friends the powers that's for sure. He umm... We searched for a way to talk to them for four months, but we couldn't find our way in the door, and then one day he remembered Spike's visit here the night she left. There was some things he said that tipped Conner off, so Conner went to see him... Talked to him... And Spike told him it was true. That Buffy was his mother. How it was possible he didn't have a clue either, but there wasn't a doubt in his mind she was. He said she as much as admitted it to him after he said some things to her. He told her always knew there was something familar about Conner, but he couldn't quite put a finger on it. Not until he was lurking in a certain graveyard in Sunnydale one night and saw the two of them together then it all became clear. He said Conner just didn't reek of your blood, he reeked of her's too. And he also pointed out that if you hadn't been so ate up with jealousy over the fact that you thought she was in love with him you probably would have figured it out all on your own."

"He's right." Angel laid the sketch pad down and sat back in his chair. "All the signs were there I just didn't want to see them. Their connection... The way she interacted with him... And then there's him... God, I'll never forget the day he was born. My very first thought as I held him in my arms was how I wished Buffy could be there to see him. I even thought he sort of looked like her. Especially as he started to grow. The way he would look at me sometimes was the exact way she used to look at me. And his nose... He used to crinkle up his nose just like she did...does. And now I know why. It's because he has her nose." Angel raised his gaze back up to her. "All the signs were there, and I just didn't see them. The day I lost him. It was like losing her all over again, and in a way I did."

"Yeah, you did. But he came back, and so did she." Cordelia answered him. "And now you have both of them back in your life. Don't you think you should be happy? Because you sure don't look happy from where I'm sitting."

"I'm happy." Angel told her, but the look on her face told him he wasn't convincing enough. "I am happy, Cordy." He repeated again. "I just... That's why he pushed so hard for me to go after her the last couple of months before she came back. He wanted us back together."

"What child doesn't want to see their parents together, Angel? And yes, I know Conner's not a child anymore, but the doesn't stop him from wanting a family. A real family. You of all people should know that. The fact that he grew up without a mother probably doubled that wanting, and then add the fact that he knew you and she still loved each other and I think you'll understand why he wanted the two of you together so badly."

"No wonder he wanted to kill." Angel looked down at his hands. "I wasted so much time."

"You've wasted so much time on what?" A voice asked from the doorway, and Angel looked up to find the exact same person of his thoughts, standing there. "Buffy..." He stood up. "Hey..."

"Hey, yourself." She rewarded him with a smile. "Am I interrupting something?"

"No, nothing." Cordelia stood up and answered for Angel as she turned around to look at Buffy. "Angel and I were just disussing how much time he's wasted on Wolfram and Hart."

"Wolfram and Hart?" Buffy asked curiously as she stepped further into the office. "Who's Wolfram and Hart?"

"You mean Conner didn't tell you about them?"

"Uh uh. Was he supposed to?"

"No!" Angel blurted out. "He wasn't supposed to because there's nothing to talk about. Isn't that right, Cordelia?" He asked as his gaze moved to his friend in silent warning.

"Oh, yeah. Right." Cordelia took a step back as she got the meaning behind Angel's dark look. "Conner didn't say anything because there's nothing to talk about. In fact, I really don't know why I'm still standing here talking to either one of you right now. Especially when I could be off with Conner somewhere." She turned back to Buffy. "Where is he, by the way?"

"Upstairs showering." Buffy told her even though her gaze never left Angel.

"Showering? Why is he showering?" Cordelia's eyes narrowed as she stared at Buffy. "You didn't hurt him did you? Is that why he's showering? Is he showering off the blood from your battle?"

Her words got Buffy's attention, and Buffy tore her gaze away from Angel to nail her. "I didn't hurt him, Cordelia . I would never lift a finger to him unless it was to protect him. He's taking a shower because he mentioned something about wanting to be clean and fresh when he spent the day with you. Something about a picnic on the beach."

"He's taking me to the beach?"

"That's what he said." Buffy dismissed Cordelia and returned her gaze to Angel, who was being even quieter than usual. "Now don't you think you should go find him? You know men. They hate to be kept waiting."

"Ain't that the truth." Cordelia snorted. "And Conner's even worse. He's just like his father..." Suddenly Cordelia's voice trailed off as she noticed that neither Buffy nor Angel were paying any attention to her because they were too busy making what she called fuck me eyes at each other in. "Okay, I think that's my cue to get out of here before I throw up." She turned and headed for the door. "See you guys in a couple of weeks!"

"Bye." Buffy tossed over her shoulder without so much as a thought.

"What?" Angel raised an eyebrow and asked once Cordelia was gone.

"You." Buffy eyed him warily. "You're hiding something from me. Like who Wolfram and Hart are for one."

"I'm not hiding anything from you, Buffy." He turned and headed for his desk. "It just doesn't concern you."

"I see. So this is the way it's going to be?""

"So is this the way what's going to be?" Angel asked as he took a seat at his desk.

"Our lives together, Angel. You'll share everything with me, but your work? Because if it is I'm leaving right now before we dig ourselves an even deeper grave than what we already have."

She saw him flinch at her words, and immediately felt bad. "Angel... God, I'm..." She closed the distance to him, and reached out to cup his face in her hand. "Honey, I'm not normal. I'll never be normal, so don't try and give me a normal life. Don't keep me shut out of this world. All it'll do is end up tearing us apart again."

"I know." He turned his face to kiss the inside of her palm before taking that hand in his. "I do. I just... You're in danger."

"And because I am you feel you have to protect me from everything including the world we live in."

"I love you."

"I know. I love you, too." Buffy answered as she slid into his lap, and straddled him so that she was facing him "Does that help?"

"Mmm..." He wrapped his arms around her, and buried his face in her hair. "But it doesn't take the fear away. I just got you back. I don't want to lose you. Not again. Not ever."

"How do you know I'm the one that's going to die first?"

"W-What?" Angel pulled away to look at her.

"You've sworn to protect me, Angel and I believe you will. And it's because I do that I'm asking you why you think I'm going to be the one to go first? What about you? You're not invincible, you know? You still have an allergy to stakes, and your job puts you in danger of getting one in the heart all the time. And what about the shanshuie thing? Who's to say you won't get it in my time? You could, and then you would be even more vulnerable to death. You would be human, and as such for all we know you could go out to the coffee shop around the corner one morning to get me a mocchachino and get hit by a bus, leaving me a widow to raise our childr...child alone."

Angel snapped at her words. "Jesus, Buffy! How can you joke about this? It's not funny. I'm trying to tell you how I feel,and you're..."

Buffy leaned down to smother his anger with a kiss, and at first Angel refused to kiss her back. He was too angry with her, but eventually the feeling of her lips on his, and having her body pressed up against him so intimately dissolved his anger and lead to intense desire and want, and the moment Buffy felt his body relax that's when she finally tore her lips from his. "I should spank you for that." He panted.

"What is it with you wanting to spank me?" She asked just as breathlessly

"Buffy..."

"What?" She asked innocently.

"Don't change the subject. Why did you do that?"

"You were mad. I wanted to cool you down. Did it work?"

"NO." He muttered. "I'm still hot, only in a different way now. That's why I should spank you."

"Later." She grinned at him. "Maybe later I'll let you do more than spank me."

"You are not going to joke your way out of this or use making love as the answer to it either, Buffy."

"I wasn't trying to..." This time it was Buffy's turn to lose her cool. "God damnit, Angel!" She slid off his lap and once her feet touched the floor she began to pace. "I am going to die!"

"No." Angel shook his head. "No, you're not. Not if I can help it."

"That's not what I meant, Angel." She spun around to nail him with her firey eyes. "I meant I'm going to die eventually. I'm human. Dying is a part of the cycle of life. It's the end of that cycle, and it will happen to me. It will, and there won't be anything you can do to stop it. That means I won't be coming back, Angel. I won't, and I expect you to see to it that I don't. It's part of your uhh... I expect you to see to it that I don't. You're the only one I trust to see to it. You. And for your information I was not trying to joke about dying. But even if I was, big deal. I'm not afraid to die. Not anymore. My biggest fear now is you leaving me! And you could, Angel! You are not invincible. You could die before me, and the thought of that scares the shit out of me even knowing what I know. Even knowing that you'll be in a better place doesn't help me. I'm scared shitless that I won't have the strength to go on without you! Look at the past seven months! Look at what happened after I was brought back! Wake up, god damnit! I'm not as fucking strong as you think I am." She began to cry. "I'm terrified, too. More than terrified."

"Jesus, Buffy..." Angel reached for her, and pulled her back into his lap. "I'm sorry, baby. I'm so sorry." He pulled her closer. "I just... you've been through so much, and alot of that is my doing... I can't help it. I'm sorry. It kills me to see you hurt. So much so that I would do anything to prevent it from happening." He kissed the crown of her forehead. "I love you, and as usual my need to protect you kicked into overdrive. The fact that you're still in danger only intensifies that need."

"And you think I don't know that?" Buffy reached for his hand and interlaced their fingers. "Trust me, Angel. I know what it's like to want to protect the people you love. But not talking about what could or couldn't happen and what could cause it doesn't or won't help matters."

"You're right. I know you are. And we should talk about it. We should talk about alot of things."

"But?" She looked up at him. "You have butface, Angel."

Those dark beautiful orbs she loved so much locked with hers. "No, not butface."

"Then what?"

"The truth?"

She nodded as he shifted her on his lap. "I really don't want or feel like talking right now. Well, actually for the next couple of days if possible. For the next couple of days I just want it to be you and me with no interference from the outside world."

"Can you do that? Take a couple of days off from work, I mean?"

"Barring that Cordy doesn't have a vision, yeah. I'm the boss, remember? I can do anything I want. And right now all I want is to spend the next couple of days with you."

"Just the next couple of days?"

"No." His eyes met hers again. "I want to spend however long time will allow us to have together, but unfortunately there is work, and... other things that have to be taken care of, so right now all we get is a couple of days."

"Kinda like a vacation." She couldn't help but smile. "Sounds nice.

"Honeymoon sounds better." He grinned at her.

"Angel..." Before she could get anything else out of her mouth Angel was readjusting her on his lap again. "Shh... No more talking. We've only got a couple of days..." He murmured just before his lips closed over hers, and then there wasn't for a long, long time.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


I would like to thank Ryan, Angelbaby99, Ruth, Kolumbyne, Al M., Laura May, Mary R., Karen H., Kassie Raye, Carolyn, Dragon Queen, Raven Raven, Isis Blue, Susan, Christine, Kattie S., and Wendy. Thanks you guys. You're the greatest!

CHAPTER 35


Actually they would only have one night. Buffy knew that the moment she pulled the file out of the filing cabinet in Angel's office later that night and began reading through it. Damnit, damnit, damnit. She knew the trail led back to LA, but she never expected that it would lead back to... "What are you doing?"

Buffy shoved the file back in the drawer and shut it before turning around to face the exact same person she had just been thinking about. "A-Angel... What are you doing up?"

"I woke up and you wasn't there." Angel informed her as he stepped further into the office. "Now would you like to explain to me why exactly I found you here instead of there where I wanted you to be?"

"I couldn't sleep, and I didn't want to wake you. I still get antsy at night even though I am officially retired." Buffy fibbed. Well, sorta. She really hadn't been able to sleep, and her slayer instincts were in overdrive, but the reason wasn't for lack of stimulation. The real reason had just been shoved back into his filing cabinet.

"Is that the truth?" Angel's eyes narrowed as he stared at her. "Or is there something you're not telling me, Buffy? Did you have another nightmare?"

"No, Angel. I didn't have another nightmare. Trust me, if I had you would have known with all the screaming and everything."

"Buffy..." Angel took a step towards her.

"It's getting better." She quickly told him in reassurance as he closed the distance to her and pulled her into his arms. "I'm trying to let go of all of it."

"I know." He kissed the crown of her head. "It's just going to take time."

"Time. Right. It's just going to take time." She murmured into his chest sadly.

"Hey." Angel pulled back to look at her. "Why the long face? Is there something else bothering you? Something you want to talk about?"

Buffy shook her head. "Nope. No talking, remember? This is our h...vacation. It's just supposed to be us... Just you and me... with no interference from the outside world."

Angel couldn't help but smile. "So is this your way of telling me you want to go back to bed?"

"It would be if we had a bed to go back to." She told him as she looped her arms around his neck.

"Okay, I get the hint." He chuckled. "And because I do how would you feel about my springing you from this place tomorrow and you and I going bed shopping?"

"Angel, about the bed... I'm really sorry I overreacted the way I did. You don't have to buy a..." He smothered her argument with a tender kiss before pulling back to look at her. "Yes, I do. I want a bed that belongs to us. Not me. Not you. Not anyone else. Just us. One that we can buy together and share together for the the rest of our lives."

Buffy felt her eyes pool up. "I love you. Have I told you that?"

"Mmm..." He pulled her closer. "And I love you, too. Even plan on showing you how much in just a few minutes, but first I need an answer to the question I asked you. Do you want to go bed shopping in the morning or not?"

"I do." She nodded through her tears. "I want that more than anything." And she did. The only problem was she wasn't going to be there in the morning, or the next morning, or the one after that for that matter. That's why when Angel took her back to bed like he had told her he planned to do she burned every little detail of their lovemaking into her mind along with every little detail since they had reunited. She needed those memories to give her the strength to do what she was planning to do...

****

The ringing of the telephone the next morning jarred Conner from his deep sleep, and it took several moments and several rings for him to comprehend what it was, but once he did he quickly rolled over to answer it. "'Lo."

"Hey, sleepyhead. I know it's early, and I really hated to call you and wake you up, but I kinda needed to talk to you."

Conner's eyes flew open. "Buffy? Mom? Is something wrong?"

"You could say that."

"What is it? Did you and Dad have a fight? Did he hurt you?"

"No. And you know better, Conner. Your father would never hurt me. Not physically or any other way if he could help it."

"Then what's wrong? And don't say nothing, Mom because I can tell by the tone of your voice that something is definitely wrong."

There was a long pause on the other end of the phone. "I figured it out."

"Figured what out?"

"Who's trying to kill me. I know who it is."

Conner sat up in the bed. "Who?"

"Can't tell you."

"Why not?"

"Because you'll come after me?"

"What the hell do you mean..." Suddenly it hit him what she was saying, and he felt his heart stop. "You're going after them."

"Yes."

"Is Dad with you?" Conner asked even though he already knew the answer.

"No. Too risky."

"Mom..."

"Just listen, okay, Conner. I love you. Don't forget that. Don't ever forget that I love you and your father more than anything. That's why I have to do this."

"Mom, please." Conner swung his legs over the side of the bed. "Just tell me where you're at and I'll come and get you. We'll take care of this together. Me, you, and Dad."

"No. I told you it was too risky, Conner. Now say goodbye. I've got to go."

"No." Conner could feel panic start to seize him. "I won't say goodbye. Just tell me where you're at, Mom."

"No can do. I love you. Don't forget that. And don't forget about what we talked about the other day. He'll need you, baby. You have to take care of him for me. Promise me."

"Mom..." Tears began to slide down Conner's cheeks.

"Promise me, Conner."

"I promise." He choked out. "But not now. Now's not the time."

"Yes, it is." Buffy murmured. "I love you." The line went dead after that, and the moment it did Conner went into a full blown panic. "Wake up, Cordy." He practically yelled as he jumped from the bed.

"Huh? What?" Cordelia raised up in the middle of the bed to look at him. "Conner? What is it? What's wrong?"

"Mom..." Conner began to pull on his pants. "She's in trouble. We have to get, Dad..."

****

"Tell me again, what she said." Angel demanded as he paced back in forth in front of his son, who was now sitting on a sofa in the lobby of the Hyperion.

"I've already told you what she said, Dad. And what the hell are we still doing here? We should be out looking for her."

"We can't find her if we don't have a clue where to look, Conner."

"Our connection. We can use our connection."

"LA's a big city, son. Even if we did use our connection it would still take hours to find her. We have to think. There has to be something that was said... did... that will tip us off to where she might be."

"To hell with thinking." Conner stood up from the sofa. "We're wasting time standing here. I'm going to look for her." He went to leave, but Angel grabbed his arm. "Conner..."

"No, Dad!" Conner shook his hand off. "I'm going and you can't stop me. She's my mother, and I don't want to lose her."

"And you think I do?" Angel finally snapped from all the pressure. "I've already lost her twice. Twice, Conner! Do you actually think I could stand the thought of losing her again. Especially when I just got her back. She's my life. You and her... If anything happened to either one of you I don't think I could take it."

"Then let's go find her. Together. Because it's not just you, me, and her anymore, Dad. There's another life at stake here, too."

"What the hell are you talking about, Conner? What other life?

"She's pregnant." Conner locked eyes with his father. "Mom's pregnant, Dad."

"P-Pregnant?" Angel stared at Conner in shock. "But that's..."

"Impossible." Conner finished for him, and Angel nodded. "Yeah, maybe so. But the way I heard it nothing"s ever impossible with the two of you."

"P-Pregnant?" Angel was still having a hard time believing what Conner was telling him. That's why he started pacing again, but as soon as he did he spun back around to face him "Pregnant? You're sure?"

Conner nodded. "It was confirmed by Lorne, and then I pretty much figured it out myself, and I'd really love to tell you the whole story, but not now. We have to find her."

Angel's eyes grew pained. "Why didn't she tell me?"

"You know why. Now can we just get out of here and go find her before it ends up coming true?"

"We still don't know where to look, Conner." Angel was starting to feel desperate now, that was until someone cleared their throat behind him. "Then I guess it's a good thing I showed up when I did, huh?"

"Spike." Angel muttered and spun around to face the peroxide blonde that was literally smoking just inside the lobby doors. "Why is it that everytime my mate is in trouble you show up?"

"It's not because I got her in the bloody mess, that's for sure."

"Then what the hell are you doing here, Spike?"

Spike tossed the smoking blanket over his head aside, and stepped further into the lobby. "Well, it's the damndest thing really. There I was in Sunnyhell, cuddling with my own mate when this little girl appears before me and tells me it's time I let the cat out of the bag. Or in this case the pig."

"What the hell are you talking about, Spike?" Angel growled. "And don't you dare start talking in riddles again. My mate is in danger, and if you waste anymore time... time that I could be looking for her, and something happens to her... Well, I think you know what will happen to you if something happens to her."

"Yeah, I know exactly what will happen to me, you bloody poof. I know very good and well. Why do you think I risked getting baked to a crisp to get here? And for your information, I wasn't talking in riddles." Spike reached in his jacket and pulled something out to toss to Angel.

Angel caught the object, and his eyes immediately flew back to Spike. "Where did you get this?"

"She gave it to me for safe keeping. Told me to get it to you if something happened to her, but obviously someone upstairs wanted you to have it before then." Spike nodded his head towards the object. "Go ahead. Open it up. She sewed a secret suprise inside of him for you."

Angel clutched the stuffed pig in his hands. No, it wasn't just a stuffed pig. This was Mr. Gordo, Buffy's favorite stuffed animal. She used to love the thing so much she wouldn't let anyone touch it except for him because she was always afraid something would happen to it. That's why he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that whatever this secret surprise that was inside it had to be pretty damn important. She used to hate the thought of the thing getting dirty much less torn up. And the thought of parting with it... That was even more inconceivable to her. Or at least it used to be. That was until now. Important... Whatever it was sewn inside it was important to her. More than important. He knew it. That's why he didn't waste anymore time. He tore into the chest of the stuffed pig, and was surprised to discover what looked like a legal document. But if he thought that was the real shocker, he was wrong. The real shocker came when he opened the legal document and began to read it. "Sonofabitch..."

"Dad? What is it? What's wrong?" Conner took a step towards Angel, but quickly backed away when he saw him morph into vamp mode.

"I know where she's at." Angel growled as he quickly stuck the stuffed pig and the legal document inside his leather duster. "And so help me God if there is one hair harmed on her head they"ll wish to hell they had never heard the name Angelus, Scourge of Europe..."

****

"Miss. Morgan, Miss. Williams is here to see you." Lilah Morgan's secretary announced to her as she entered the room followed by Buffy.

"Ahh, Miss. Williams. What a surprise. It's been awhile." Lilah Morgan said as she stood up and came around her desk.

Buffy didn't say anything in response. Not until the secretary had left the room, and shut the door. The moment that happened she spun back around to nail Lilah with firey eyes. "You can cut the crap, Miss. Morgan. I'm pretty sure you know who I am, WHO I REALLY AM, but the thing is I haven't quite figured out why a big time law firm such as the one you work for would want me dead."

"I must say, Buffy. I honestly didn't think you would figure it out." Was all Lilah said as she sat down on the corner of her desk.

"Oh, yeah. Sorry about the slowness of that." Buffy moved further into the room. "I've been kinda busy defending my life and the lives of those I love against the slime you've been sending my way. Now would you like to tell me why you have been sending the slime my way. Is it because of Angel?"

"Actually it was Angel. Or at least it was Angel at first. We could have cared less about you. Of course, all that changed when you had to up and ruin everything by returning. We had plans for him, but you had to go and ruin them by playing on that guilty conscience of his. Really pissed the Senior Partners off. So much so they wanted my head on a platter. However, I'm happy to say I've managed to delay my execution for awhile thanks to my past track record for having the knack to tie up loose ends. Now all I have to do is tie up this one."

"So you are the one that's been trying to kill me." Buffy eyed the leggy brunette.

"Oh no, sweetie. Not me. I hate to get my hands dirty. Now my lackey's on the other hand... Well, let's just say they don't have a problem getting their hands dirty, and I have several on standby right now waiting to do just that."

"So that's the reason I had to wait so long to see you. You were getting them ready to finish the job?"

"Yes."

"You know I won't go down without a fight, and the one's I don't take out Angel will finish off. In fact, once he's done with them they'll wish they'd never been born."

"That might be true, but they'll be others. There always is. The main thing is that you... our little problem... Will be taken care of, leaving him alone to go back to his true soulmate, Cordelia Chase."

"Cordelia isn't Angel's soulmate. I am."

"Oh, I beg to differ, sweetie. He forgot all about you before and he will again. He'll love her in a way he never loved you. But hey, if you don't believe me I'd be more than happy to prove it to you. I have tapes. Lots of tapes of them together. And I do mean TOGETHER. Would you like to see them?"

"No." Buffy choked out as she felt nausea rise to her throat.

"What about Darla?" Lilah grinned. "Would you like to see the tapes from when they... Well, you know? Would you like to see how happy she really did make him? Or better yet, Buffy. How about the tape of the day Conner was born. Would you like to see it? Would you like to see how happy Angel was that she had given him a son?"

"Conner is my son."

"So you say. But I didn't see you sacrificing your life to give him his like she did. Now that's what I call a true mother."

"Go to hell."

"Hell... Hmm... Now that's another subject I'd really like to discuss with you. For someone that claims to love Angel as much as you claim to love him, you sure did't have any qualms about sending him there. Why is that?"

Buffy opened her mouth to say something, but Lilah held up her hand to cut her off. "You know what, Buffy forget answering that because I already know the answer. It's like I said before, you're not his true soulmate. If you were he would have never left you to start with. No, if he had really loved you he would have stayed. Found a way around the curse. But he didn't. He walked away without a backwards glance which goes to show you and everyone else that you are not his true soulmate. Cordelia is his true soulmate. She's the one he clung to at night. She's the one he shared his life with. Cordelia. Not you, Buffy. The only thing he shares with you is a guilty conscience. He feels guilty about what happened to you, and it's that guilt that's keeping him with you. Of course, all that will change once Wolfram and Hart does him the favor of getting rid of you. Once you're dead his guilt trip will be over thereby leaving him free to be with his true soulmate."

"Miss. Morgan, did anyone ever tell you that you're a spiteful bitch?"

"Maybe I am, but I'm spiteful bitch that tells the truth."

"Truth? You don't know the meaning of the word."

"Yes, I do, Buffy. It's you that doesn't know the meaning of the word. If you did you wouldn't be holding onto Angel. If you did you would let him go to be with the person he truly belongs with."

"If I were you I would shut my mouth, before I permanently shut it for you, Miss. Morgan."

"Now, now, Buffy. You and I both know you won't kill a human. Well, not a defenseless one anyway."

"You're right, Lilah. She won't. Be me on the other hand..." A voice growled from behind Buffy that sent her spinning around to face it. "A-Angel..."

Angel's gaze softened somewhat as they moved to Buffy. "Hey, baby. Sorry, I'm late." He closed the distance to her, and leaned down to brush his lips across hers. "We got held up downstairs."

"W-We?" Buffy frowned at him as he pulled away. "Angel, what are you... You're not supposed to be here."

"Tough, I am anyway." He reached up to cup her cheek as his eyes searched her face. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Yeah." She nodded. "I'm fine. But, Angel..."

"Later..." He gave her a chaste kiss. "We'll discuss this later, Buffy. But for now..." He pulled away from her. "Conner..."

"Yeah, Dad." Conner asked walking into the room.

"Take your mother out of here now." Angel ordered before turning back to nail Lilah with amber eyes. "And if anyone tries to stop you kill them."

"Yes, sir." Conner said as he closed the distance to Buffy and grabbed her hand. "Come on, Mom."

"What? C-Conner...No. NO!" She tried to pull her hand away from Conner's. "A-Angel..."

"Go with Conner, Buffy." Angel ordered without taking his eyes off Lilah.

"No. Absolutely not, Angel. I am not leaving without you."

"Fine." He muttered. "Stay then." His gaze returned to Lilah. "Lilah..."

"Angel..." Lilah pushed away from her desk. "It's been awhile."

"It has. Pity it couldn't have been longer."

Lilah shrugged. "What can I say? You know how miserable we enjoy making your life."

"Yeah, I do, Lilah. But I'm afraid you used the wrong person to do it this time. It's one thing to go after me through my friends and my son, but it's a totally different story when you try to go at me through my mate."

"She's not your mate. And I think she's pretty much starting to realize that." Lilah's eyes moved to Buffy. "Am I right, Buffy?"

"Well, I uhh..." Buffy started to say, but Angel's angry voice cut her off. "Lilah, Lilah, Lilah. When are you going to learn to quit fucking with me?"

"When hell freezes over." Lilah smirked at him.

"Wrong answer, Lilah." Before Lilah could blink Angel was across the room, grabbing her by the throat. "NOW! You'll stop fucking with me now. And you want to know why, Lilah? It's because of what I said before. It's one thing to go at me through my son and friends, but it's a totally different story to go at me through my mate. Death... The consequence of doing that is death. And Buffy is my mate, Lilah. I know it, and she knows it even if you have planted more doubts in that beautiful head of hers. Buffy is my mate. MINE! She bears my mark, shares my home, my bed, and my life. She is my mate, Lilah and as much as you deny it you still know it's true. If you didn't you wouldn't have went to so much trouble to worm your way into her life, am I right?" His hands tightened around her throat.

"I-I don't know what you're talking about." Lilah sputtered. "And even if I did I wouldn't tell you. Y-You don't scare me. You're just like her. You won't kill a human."

"Won't I, Lilah?" Angel growled. "Remember that little party Holland had at his house several years back?" He yanked her over to the big picture windows. "Death, Lilah. The consequence of hurting a vampire's mate is death, and I have no qualms about killing you. In fact, I could do it right now. I could throw you out this very window without blinking an eye. I've done it before. In this very building as a matter of fact. I sent a client of yours flying out a window just a couple of doors down. But unlike him you won't turn to dust or even fly for that matter. No, if I send you crashing out this window all you're going to do is fall a very, very long way and splatter your brains all over the sidewalk below. How about it, Lilah? Would you like to fall and go splat?"

"I told you that you don't scare me, Angel."

"Are you sure about that, Lilah?" Angel slammed her up against the glass of the window. "Just think about it for a second. With just the right amount of pressure I could send you spiraling to your death." And as if to prove his point he applied enough pressure to her body until the glass behind her began to crack. "OKAY! OKAY!" Lilah choked out as loudly as she could. "What do you want from me? Anything... I'll tell you anything you want to know."

"That's better." Angel relaxed his hold on her, but didn't let go. "Buffy... What does Wolfram and Hart want with her?"

"The only thing we wanted with her was her dead." Lilah calmly informed him without batting an eyelash.

"Why?"Angel growled. "Why kill her? Did you think it would push me over the edge enough to bring Angelus back?"

"This has nothing to do with Angelus. It never did."

"If that's the case then why go after Buffy?"

"Because we had to stop her."

"Stop her from what?" Angel growled, and tightened his hands around her neck again.

"H-Her true destiny." Lilah gasped. "We had to stop her from fulfilling her true destiny."

"And what exactly is her true destiny?"

"T-To give you children. And not just any children either. The children she will give you are destined to be a long line of warriors. Warriors that will protect and rule the earth someday."

"So that's why you really wanted Conner? It wasn't because he was the son of two vampires, it was because he was the son of a vampire and a vampire slayer, and destined to be a great warrior."

"No. No." Lilah shook her head. "That's the real stunner here. We actually did think that Conner was yours and Darla's. We found out about his true parentage the same time you did. It turns out the prophecy that foretold of his birth was false. The book we found it in was planted by the powers to throw us off the trail."

"Then how do you know about Buffy's true destiny?"

"In a book that Vocah took from the Oracles when he killed them. It foretold of her death, and of her sacrifice. It also stated that she would be rewarded for it with a gift. A gift that would hopefully reunite the two of you upon her return."

"And that worried you." Angel guessed. "So much so you decided to kill her before it could happen."

"Y-Yes."

"Oh God..." Buffy gasped from behind Angel. "You mean, that car... That was you?"

"N-No." Lilah struggled to breathe. "I told you I don't get my hands dirty. It was one of our... my lackey's. We knew once she came back the first person she would head to was you, and we couldn't let that happen."

"But you didn't succeed. Buffy didn't die, so why didn't you finish the job, Lilah? You could have very easily done so. She was in a coma for six months."

"Exactly. She was in a coma, Angel. As long as she was there was no need to kill her. No one knew who she was. You didn't even know she was alive. I didn't see the need in killing her, so I made the decision to put things on hold."

"And after she woke up? Why didn't you kill her then?"

"Because her ex-boyfriend saw to it that she didn't remember anything, most importantly you. So again I didn't see the need."

"So Finn was involved?"

"No. No. Not at first." Lilah shook her head. "We were watching her all the time, even while she was in her coma, and one night he just showed up out of the blue to see her. I could tell by the look on his face that she meant something to him, so I made the decision to approach him and find out just exactly what his interest in her really was. Once we swapped stories I made the decision to let him have control of her. I didn't see where it would hurt. He was getting what he wanted and so was I. We were keeping you two apart. Life was good. That is until she up and saved your brat in that alley that night. I actually panicked when that happened. Even more so when the two of you came face to face, but all that changed when I saw that she didn't remember you and that you were going to let that guilty conscience of yours keep the two of you apart. I decided to back off and leave her alone again, but no sooner than I did she started remembering. To say the Senior Partners were pissed is an understatement. They wanted my head on a platter, and would have gotten it if I hadn't convinced them that I would take care of the problem."

"And your way of taking care of the problem was to put a hit out on her."

"Y-Yes." Lilah nodded.

"And Kyle... Her father... Did you plan to kill him, too?"

"No. He just got in the way. He recognized the man I sent after her, and once he did we didn't have a choice but to kill him. He wasn't lying when he told you he loved her. He fought for her all the way up to the end. Stupid old man."

"Oh, God..." Buffy started crying. "You killed Kyle?"

"Yes. Finn, too. It turns out he was hiding the second prophecy from us. He found it will on a mission with the Initiative. Stupid boy. He actually thought... Well, you know what he thought. But the thing is he got even stupider after that. He figured out that we were the ones behind the attempts on your life, and decided to try and take us all on by himself. It was his last ditch effort to be your knight in shining armor."

"Oh, God..." Buffy started crying even harder, and the sound of it nearly broke Angel's heart.

"Conner, get your mother out of here now." Angel growled. "And remember what I said. Kill anyone that tries to stop you."

"Yes, sir." Conner wrapped a arm around Buffy and lead her from the room, leaving his father alone with Lilah.

"Cancel the hit on Buffy, Lilah. Call off your lackeys and tell the Senior Partners it's over."

Lilah locked eyes with him. "It'll never really be over, Angel. You know that."

"You're right, Lilah. It won't be. But fucking with my mate is. Tell the Senior Partners that if one hair on her head or our children's heads is ever harmed they will pay the consequences. Tell them that if my family suffers so will theirs. People will start dropping like flies left and right, and that's not a threat, Lilah. It's a promise." Angel let go of her, and backed away.

"I don't believe it." Lilah muttered, and rubbed her neck. "Angelus, The Scourge of Europe has fallen from grace all because of one woman."

"Trust me, Lilah. He's not complaining." Angel flashed her his best smile. "Far from it actually. Who do you think marked her? He recognizes Buffy as his mate, too. And I suggest you inform the Senior Partners of that little tidbit while you're filling them in on everything else. Tell them that when it comes to her it won't be just me they'll have to deal with. Tell them that they'll have to deal with him as well, and squashing a few little files doesn't even begin to describe what he's capable of doing when someone fucks with our property." With that said, he turned to leave, but suddenly stopped in his tracks.

"Oh, and Lilah... There's one more thing."

"What?"

"You owe me."

"E-Excuse me?" Lilah blinked in surprise.

"You owe me, Lilah." Angel turned around to look at her. "For letting you live."

"I see. And what is it exactly that you think I owe you, Angel?"

"I don't think. I know. You owe me for letting you live, and you're going to pay me back for my kindness. If you don't I'll be coming back to see you and the next time you won't be as lucky. Do you understand?"

"Perfectly." She muttered. "Now quit beating around the bush, and tell me exactly what it is you want."

"Actually there's a couple of things I want. First, I want my identity. I want you to make me exist. I'm talking birth certificate, social security card, driver's liscense, the whole nine yards. And don't tell me you can't do it because I know you can, Lilah."

"Oh, I can do it. Don't doubt that. But I'm curious... Why the sudden need to exist? You've been around for over two hundred years and have never shown an interest in it before. Why is it so important now?"

"Why else?" Angel locked eyes with her.

"Buffy!" Lilah spat as she saw the answer in his chocolate pools.

"Yeah, Buffy." Angel grinned again. "I'm going to marry that girl. And I'm going to do it courtesy of Wolfram and Hart. You're going to pay for the wedding and honeymoon of her dreams. My dreams. And you'll start by paying for her engagement ring. I'm thinking anywhere between four... maybe five karats will do nicely. And it has to be unique. Something no one else has. You can send a couple of jewellers to the hotel around noon tomorrow. And just so you know now, Lilah. You won't be invited to the wedding. You or anyone else at Wolfram and Hart. I want our day to be a happy day, so don't even think about messing it up. Like I said before, nobody messes with my mate in any shape, fashion, or form. If they do they'll pay the consequences." He walked past Lilah, and leaned down to write something on a notepad on her desk. "This is the fax number I want you to send those documents to. And if I were you I would get them to me as fast as possible. You'd really hate for me to pay you another visit. Won't be pretty if I do."

"Anything else?" Lilah muttered.

"Just one more thing."

"And what's that?"

"Replace the pig. I don't care what it takes. Just do it." With that said, he turned and disappeared in a billow of coattails, leaving Lilah glaring after him. "God, I hate that vampire."


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


Okay, I know I'm a very bad girl. My postings have been few and far between this week, and I apologize. It can't be helped. I've been pulling double shifts, and it looks like there's not an end of them in sight so bare with me until I get through it. Now, let me say thank you to Sarah, Emma, Amy, Al M., Ruth, Deb, Little Angel, Carolyn, Christine, Raven Raven, Ashleigh, Kay, Kyria, Kristin, Dragon Queen, Tiff, Kattie S., Laura May, Susan, Meghan, Isis Blue, Stephanie, Kassie Raye, Karen H., Karin, Kolumbyne, Amanda, Kristin M., and Meghan for their continuing support. I love you guys!

CHAPTER 36


Angel had given Buffy until later that evening to sort through things in her head before he finally sought her out to talk to her, and he wasn't the least bit surprised to find her on the rooftop of the hotel, staring out at the LA night skyline. "It's beautiful up here." She murmured as he sat down beside her on the brick wall she was sitting on. "Reminds me of our hillside in Sunnydale."

He knew what she was trying to do, and he wasn't about to let her do it. "Buffy..."

"Have you ever seen the movie *Love Story*?" She cut him off and ask without turning to look at him.

"No. I read the book though." He gazed at the side of her face. "Why?"

She finally looked over at him. "Do you remember when Jenny told Oliver that love means never having to say you're sorry?" Angel nodded which prompted her to ask her next question. "Do you believe that?"

"No. I believe that if you're not human enough to say you're sorry than you're not really human at all, and you're definitely not human enough to love."

"M-Me, too." She turned back to look at the LA night so that he couldn't see her tears. "I mean, I believe that now, but at first I didn't. To be honest, at first I didn't get it, so it was hard to believe in something you didn't get. But now... I get it and I believe it. That's what I've been doing up here all night. Getting and realizing alot of stuff. And you want to know what the really big realization was for me tonight?"

"What?" Angel murmured, and tucked a stray hair behind her ear.

She turned back to look at him again. "I realized that in all the years we've known each other, and after all the arguments we've had you were... are always the one to say I'm sorry. Even if the argument was my fault you still took the blame for it and apologized, and once I realized that I finally realized that it was time I grew up and took some of the blame here. I realized it was time I was the one to say I'm sorry for being such a fucking idiot for a change. And I have been one, Angel. All this time all I could think about was my own pain, and I never not once stopped to think about yours. You suffered, too. After you left Sunnydale. And I never stopped to think about that. I never stopped to think about how much it must have hurt you to know I was with other men, and yet I've been quick to point out that you've been with other women. I hurt you. I realize that now. I realize alot of things now, and I'm sorry." She swiped at her tears. "I'm so sorry, Angel."

"What did she say to you that had you doubting my love for you, Buffy?"

"She didn't make me doubt you, Angel. You or your love. She had me doubting me. She had me doubting if I was the right person for you. Your real soulmate. Like I didn't already have enough doubts as it was." Buffy sniffled and shook her head. "God, I'm sorry for this. I've hurt you enough today. I've hurt you enough period. Besides, it doesn't matter what she said. I figured out what she was trying to do once I calmed down, and I want you to know I'm sorry, Angel. Not just for today and lately, but for all the times you swallowed your pride and let your love for me say you were sorry even when it wasn't your fault. I'm so sorry, Angel. I've been such a fucking idiot." She started crying again. "Can you forgive me?"

"Of course, I can." Angel reached up to catch Buffy's tears with the pads of his thumbs, and wipe them away. "I love you, you fucking idiot."

"G-Gee, honey." Buffy half laughed, half sobbed. "You really know how to make me feel so much better."

"I do?" He searched her face.

"You do." She reached up to caress his cheek in reassurance "And it only makes me love you more. I know I get messed sometimes... Well, alot lately actually, but I swear no matter how messed I get again I will never ever doubt your love for me.

"I'm glad to hear that." He leaned over to feather a kiss across her lips. "Because it's my love for you that's forcing me to do what I'm about to do."

"And what's that?" Her eyes narrowed as he pulled away from her.

"It's time we talked."

"I thought we just did that?"

"We did. But now it's time we talked about Kyle... And Riley."

"What about them?" She tensed and looked away.

"You didn't get them killed, Buffy."

"I never said I got Riley killed, Angel. I know he was a big boy who could make his own decisions. He dug his own grave and now he has to lay in it."

"And Kyle... What about Kyle?"

"He's in a better place." She whispered. "He's safe. At peace. Loved..."

"But even though you know he is you still feel guilty about how he got where he's at. You blame yourself for what happened to him."

Buffy flinched. "And your point is?"

"He's dead, baby. He was killed, but it wasn't your fault."

"So you say."

"It wasn't, Buffy. And it was time you accepted that. It was time you mourned his death."

"I did mourn."

Angel watched the play of emotions on her face. "Who are you trying to convince of that, Buffy? Me or you?"

"Don't you dare try to psychoanalyze me, Angel!" Buffy turned her head to nail him with angry eyes. "He got... He died. I cremated him. End of story."

"I don't think it is the end of the story, Buffy. I don't think you mourned his death. And as for his ashes... After you had him cremated what did you do with them?"

"W-What?" Buffy blinked in surprise.

"His ashes, Buffy. What did you do with his ashes?"

"Why? What does what I did with his ashes..."

"It has everything to do with it. You didn't keep them. I know that. You didn't keep anything from your past as Chara or Buffy. Well, except maybe one thing, and we'll discuss that later, but first... Kyle's ashes... I want you to tell me what you did with them. Did you scatter them somewhere? Did you bury them? What did you do with them? Tell me."

"Why?"

"Because I'm asking you to."

Buffy sighed and looked back at the LA night. She knew she was going to have to tell him. That he wouldn't give up until she did. "Galway Bay. I scattered them over Galway Bay."

This time it was Angel's turn to be surprised. "You went to Ireland?"

"Mmm..." Buffy looked down at her hands. "I-I didn't stay. I just went long enough to... I guess I must have a thing for Irish men because Kyle... He uhh... His great grandmother was from Galway. He never met her because his mother came to the states before he was born and she died before... He umm... He always wanted to go there, and even talked about the two of us going someday, but I could never... I didn't want to go. At the time I didn't know why, but now... I always wanted to go, but only with you. Just you... And then he... I went. But just for the day. I figured it was the least I could do. I owed him so much."

"And when you got there?"

"There wasn't a demon or vampire within miles. Even the ones that were after me at the time didn't make a move. It was like the beauty of it kept them at bay. That's why I umm... It felt like the safest place to leave him so I scattered his ashes there, and then I left."

"While you were doing it..." Angel swallowed against the lump in his throat. "Scattering his ashes over the bay... Did you cry?"

"No."

"Why?"

"Because I didn't have the right to. If it hadn't been for me..."

"It wasn't your fault, Buffy."

"You keep telling me that, but I don't believe it."

"Okay, tell me this then. If it had been him... In your place, and he had been the one in danger, would you have done what he did to protect you?"

Buffy looked up at him with fresh tears in her eyes. "Without thought."

"Then how can you blame yourself? He did exactly what you would have done, baby. That man love and adored you. I never thought anyone could feel that way about you except for me, but I was wrong. I knew that the first moment I met him. Talked to him. He loved you with every breath he took, and it was because he did that he sacrificed his own life for you. He loved you, Buffy. And do you honestly believe that after everything you've been through... After being in heaven yourself... That he is there now and at peace? Happy? I don't think so. He will never be happy or at peace as long as he knows you blame yourself for what happened to him." He reached out to smoothe her hair away from her face. "That's why you have to let it go, baby. That's why you have to quit blaming yourself. He wanted you to be happy, and I don't doubt for a second that you want the same for him."

"A-Angel..." Buffy choked out, but he cut her off by pulling away to look at her. "Say it, Buffy."

"It's not my fault."

"Good." He grabbed her shoulders and locked eyes with her. "Now say it again. Only this time say it like you mean it."

"It's not my fault!" She choked out.

"Again!" Angel shook her. "Say it again, Buffy. Hell, scream it if you have to."

"It's not my fault!" She said a little louder. "It's not!" A sob tore from her throat. "It's not. It's not my fault, Angel!" She started sobbing even harder, and he couldn't take it. He pulled her into his arms and held her as the sobs wracked her body. "I-It's not my fault. It's n-not. I-It's not." And he continued to hold her even after all her tears were gone, and all that was left were her hiccups. She was emotionally drained after that. That's why he didn't even attempt to broach the other subject on his mind. His main concern was her right now, and he wasted no time seeing to her needs. Sleep... She needed sleep, and it wasn't until she was in his arms and doing just that that he finally let go of his own emotional turmoil caused by the events from earlier that day.

****

"I will. And thanks again, Giles. I'll see you when you get here."

Angel hung up the telephone, but didn't bother to turn around in his desk chair to look at the woman he knew was standing in his office doorway. He could feel her with everything that was inside of him, but for the life of him he couldn't bring himself to turn around to look at her. Not until he could get his swirling emotions under control. "You know, don't you?" Okay, so much for getting his emotions under control. All he could do now was see what happened. "Yes."

"Did she tell you?"

"No. She wouldn't tell me anything that would make me happy."

"And are you?" Buffy stared at the back of his desk chair. "Happy, I mean?"

"I think the question is are you, Buffy?" He finally spun around in his chair to face her. "Happy, I mean?"

Buffy shifted nervously on her feet. "I wanna be."

"But?"

"It all goes back to that I'm having trouble believing it's real thingy. And then there's the fact that there's this crazy law firm that has it in for me a-and you." She looked up to meet his gaze. "And why is that, by the way? I've figured out that they're not your normal run of the mill law firm, but I haven't figured out what exactly they want with you, and your files wasn't exactly informative when it came to that little tidbit."

Angel avoided her question by asking one of his own. "So that's what you were doing down here the other night, reading my files on Wolfram and Hart?"

"I uhh..." Buffy was able to explain to him, but the look on his face changed her mind. "You're mad. I mean, I figured you would be, but I didn't think I would be around to actually see it."

"Didn't think or hoped?"

Buffy flinched. "I did what I had to do, Angel. I was protecting you."

"Protecting me, Buffy? How were you protecting me? Did you even stop to think about what it would have done to me if something had happened to you? To our unborn child?"

"Of course, I thought about it, Angel! And when it came down to making a decision on whether it should be me, or you and Conner, the choice wasn't hard. Everything I've done the last seven and a half months I've done for the two of you. I want you to live to get your Shanshu, and Conner... I may not have been able to give him life, but that doesn't mean I won't do everything within my power to see to it that at least he has one. That includes sacrificing my life and the life of our unborn child. And I'm sorry, Angel. I'm sorry if that sounds cold... if you think I'm cold... But it's who I am. The person I am. It's what being the slayer has done to me, and right now I don't know how to be anything else. And then there's you..." She stormed over to his desk. "I couldn't tell you, and I'm sorry. But I knew. I knew if you found out that they were the ones behind this that fucking guilty conscience of yours would get in the way. I knew if you found out you would panic, and send me packing." She leaned over the desk to lock eyes with him. "And I was right, wasn't I, Angel? You and Giles have made another decision about my life without me." She crossed her arms in front of her chest. "So where am I going? Are you at least going to say goodbye to me this time? Because it will be goodbye, Angel. I mean it. I won't be coming back. If you push me away this time we're finished!"

God, she was beautiful. That was the first thing Angel thought as he stared up at her. Not that she wasn't always beautiful because she was. It was just now... She was pregnant. He knew that beyond a shadow of a doubt now, and the fact that she was carrying his child inside of her only made her even more beautiful in his eyes. It made his chest swell up with pride. And he was proud. Proud to say she was his. Okay, maybe she wasn't his. Not completely. Not yet. But soon she would belong to him in every possible way including in the eyes of the law. And it was that little fact that prompted him to finally say something in response, but it wasn't exactly the one she was thinking he would give her. "We'll never be finished, baby. Never. And for your information you're not going anywhere."

Buffy's eyes pooled. "I-I'm not?"

"No."

"Th-Then why did you call, Giles?"

The second the words left her mouth Angel knew the moment of truth was at hand. "I called him to invite him to our wedding. Oh..." He dug in his pant's pocket for something. "And then there was this... I had to talk to him about this, too." He tossed something on his desk, but Buffy was completely oblivious to whatever it was because she couldn't quite get past the first part of what he said. "Y-You called to invite h-him to w-what?"

"Our wedding, Buffy. I called to invite him to our wedding."

"B-But we're not getting married."

"Yes, we are. On your birthday as a matter of fact."

"M-My... But that's only..." She began to pace. "No! Absolutely not! We are not getting married on my birthday, Angel."

Angel watched her pace back and forth in front of his desk. "Why not? You married me on your birthday before?"

"I did not marry you..." Buffy started to say as she spun around to face him, but the moment she saw the look on his face she changed her tune. "You don't want to marry me, Angel."

The scowl on Angel's face disappeared as he leaned forward in his desk chair. "Oh, I beg to differ, baby. Marrying you is all I've ever wanted. Dreamed about actually. And now my dream is going to come true."

"We are not getting married, Angel!"

"Yes, we are, Buffy. We will be married exactly two months from today even if I have to drag you down the aisle kicking and screaming."

"Y-You wouldn't." She sputtered.

"Try me." He smirked.

"You're making a big mistake."

"Being shackled to you for the rest of my life? Hmm..." He got a dreamy look in his eyes. "Yeah, I can see where that would be a big mistake."

"A-Angel..."

Angel shook himself out of his reverie and met her frowning gaze. "We're getting married and that's final, Buffy. No more wasting time. You're lucky you're getting two months. I came very close to carting you off to Vegas last night, but I changed my mind. You deserve better than a quickie wedding. And then there's this problem you're having. I know all this doesn't seem real to you. That's why I'm giving you two months... Us two months... For the next two months I'm going to do everything I can to prove to you that this is real. We're real... And once those two months are up we'll get married, have a couple dozen kids, and live happily ever after."

"There's no such thing as happily ever after, Angel. You of all people should know that."

Angel sighed. "Okay, you're right. There's no such thing as happily ever after, Buffy." He locked eyes with her. "But I do believe with all my heart that what we'll have will be pretty damn close to it."

Buffy felt herself go weak in the knees, but she quickly recovered. "If you're trying to butter me up it's not working."

Angel frowned again. "It's not?"

"No." She shook her. "I still don't want to marry you."

"Why not, Buffy? Don't you love me?"

"Of course, I love you, Angel! It's not even a question of that."

"Then what is it a question of?"

"Sharing. In order for two people to share a life together that have to share. Everything, Angel. And you don't. You don't share everything with me."

"I've given you my heart, body, and soul, Buffy. What more do you want?"

"I want all of you." She stated, and met his gaze. "The good and the bad." She turned to leave. "I want to be your equal not just someone you feel you need to protect. When you're ready to give me what I want that's the day I'll let you put your ring back on my finger, Angel." She headed for the office doorway, but didn't quite make it there. "Buffy..."

"What?" She stopped in her tracks, but didn't turn around to look at him.

"You might not like what you hear. What then?"

His words caused a cold chill to shoot up her spine. "I-It's that bad, huh?" She tried to joke half-heartedly, but when she didn't get an answer she knew the answer. "A-Angel..." She spun around to look at him. "Who are they? I mean, really? And what do they want with you?"

"Come here." Angel motioned to her, and Buffy didn't hesitate. She knew whatever he had to tell her was going to be difficult and that he needed her closeness just as much as she needed his. She closed the distance to him, and slid onto his lap. Once she was situated he rested his temple against hers. "They're human. Most of them anyway."

"A-And the rest?"

"Do you remember when Lilah mentioned the Senior Partners?"

Buffy nodded. "She's scared of them. I sensed her fear. And I take it from the way you mentioned them seperately that they're not in the human category, so what are they?"

"No one really knows for sure."

"O-Kay, then let me rephrase the question then. What do you think they are?"

"Demons of some sort, but unlike any you and I have ever faced. Really old and really powerful. I've been told that they've been here since the beginning of time. Adjusted with the times, and changes, and always come out on top. They live in the lap of luxury and use humans to do their dirty work."

"So Lilah's one of their lap dogs."

"No, she's more than that, Buffy. I think she actually wants to become one of them. That's why you should never underestimate her... them."

"I won't. Not again." She assured him. "Now tell me the rest. What do they want with you?"

Once again she was answered with silence, and she knew whatever it was it really was bad. "Angel..." She sat up, and turned on his lap to face him. "No more trying to protect me, I want to be your equal, remember? I want the good and the bad. Now tell me. How do you figure into their plans?"

"I don't."

Okay, forget the good and the bad Buffy thought as she realized what he was saying. This wasn't good or bad. This was her worst nightmare. "Oh, God."

"Buffy..." Angel went to wrap his arms around her, but she was off his lap before he could get the chance. "A-Angelus... They want Angelus?"

Angel nodded. "Yes."

"B-But your soul... I-It's bound now."

"They'll eventually find a way around that, Buffy."

"N-No. No." She began to pace. "I won't let that happen. I-It won't happen."

"Buffy..." Angel stood up, but she backed away from him. "No, Angel! I won't let it happen. I won't!"

"You won't be able to stop them, Buffy. Lilah was right. It'll never be over."

"The hell it won't! Do you know who you're talking to. I'm Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I defeated a hell god for christ's sake! I think I can bring down a couple of demons who have a taste for the high life. And speaking of those rich, slimy bastards, what would they want with Angelus anyway? We both know all he's good for is bringing about the end of the..."

"World..." Angel finished for her, and flinched as he watched her face contort in pain. "Oh, God..."

"Buffy..." Angel took a step towards her, but she took another step back away from him. "That's what they want him for?"

"Yes." Angel answered as he held her gaze. "It turns out there's another prophecy about me that predicts that I'll be a key player in the end of days, and unfortunately there's a good chance I could be fighting on their side."

"No! NO! I won't let that happen, Angel!"

"Buffy..."

"No, Angel!" She rushed to him, and threw her arms around him. "I won't let that happen. I won't. And neither will our children. Besides, we can't be sure about this. We can't. You know yourself that prophecies are tricky. Th-There's all this fine p-print and ancient mumbo jumbo. It won't happen. It won't."

"Buffy..." Angel tried to pry her hands from around his neck. "Come on, baby. You wanted to hear this... Look at me. Let me finish telling you."

"No. No." She said in a muffled voice against his neck. "I don't want to hear anymore. I don't want to because it's not going to happen. You have your shanshu to fight for. A-And then there's Conner and the baby... You have so much to live for. That's why I know you won't let it happen."

"And you..." Angel kissed the crown of her head. "Most importantly I have you, Buffy. And as long as I do I will do my damndest to see to it that it doesn't happen, but just in case it does..."

"NO!" She almost yelled. "Don't! Don't you dare ask me what I think you're going to ask me, Angel. I won't do it. I won't. I don't give a damn if you and the others did make the promise to each other. I've already been there and done that, and I won't do it again. I'd rather die first."

"You don't mean that, Buffy."

"D-Don't I?" She pulled back to look at him with tear filled eyes. "Do you have any idea what I went through the last time? Do you, Angel?"

"You know I do, Buffy."

"N-No." She shook her head vigorously, and backed out of the circle of his arms. "I d-don't think you do. I-If you did you wouldn't be asking me to do it again."

Angel's own eyes welled up. "You may not have a choice, baby."

"Oh yeah, I-I have a choice, and I've already made it. Faith... Faith can do it. She's the Slayer now."

"You're right. She is the Slayer now. But she's not you, Buffy. She doesn't know Angelus the way you do. She doesn't have what it takes to defeat him. You do."

"Defeat?" Buffy let out a bitter laugh. "Let's get one thing straight here, Angel. I did not defeat Angelus. I killed you! You! And I won't do it again."

"Buffy... Baby, please just listen to me. It won't be me. Not like before. And you know yourself what Angelus is capable of doing. You know he'll come after you first. That's why I'm telling you this. I want you to be prepared. Someone will have to stop him, and you're the only person that can do it."

"I don't care if I am the only one that can do it. I won't do it. I don't care what Angelus is capable of doing. Whether you like it or not he's a part of you, Angel and if I kill him I'm killing you. I won't do it. I won't. If it happens then he'll have to kill me because I won't lift a finger to him. I won't!" She turned to leave but Angel's voice halted her in her tracks before she could reach the door. "He loves you, Buffy. In his own sick twisted way he loves you."

"Then why are you so worried?" She turned around to look at him. "If he loves me he won't kill me."

"You're right. He won't kill you, baby." Angel's eyes locked with hers. "He'll drink you dry and make you his eternally, and I can't bear the thought of that."

"Why? At least we'll be together."

"It won't be me and you know it, Buffy. We're not the same two people."

"You're right. You're not the same two people. But you do share the same body... The same face... When I look at him, I see you. If I kill him, I kill you." She shook her head as her tears started up again. "No! I won't do it. I-I can't. I-I'm sorry." A sob tore from her throat. "I c-can't do it. I-I can't do this. You j-just don't k-know... I-I'm sorry." And then she was gone. She turned a fled from the room without another word, and left him standing there in just as much despair as she was in.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


I'm back! I finally got a day off! I'm going to work really hard to try and got the remaining chapters done today. I've had to lock the kids up in the closet in order to do it, so pray they don't pick the lock!

Thanks Laura May, Heather, Ryan, Kolumbyne, Isis Blue, Carlina, Raven Raven, Al M., Mary R., Karen H., Kassie Raye, Carolyn B., AngelBuffy99, J. Williams, Jessica, Susan C., Emma, Wendy, Deb, Nikki, Ruth, Christine, Rose, Scully4123, and Shortcake159 for your feedback and emails.

Anita

CHAPTER 37


The Sunnydale gang arrived early the next morning, and Angel was there to greet them without Buffy. His excuse to everyone when they asked about her absence between pleasantries and snide remarks was that she was resting, but the real truth was she didn't even have a clue they were coming. He never actually got around to telling her, or preparing her for their visit because she had locked herself up in their bedroom last night and he hadn't seen her since then. He knew she needed time to sort through everything that he had dumped on her, and even though staying away from her had killed him he had given her that time. He had stayed in the room next to theirs, but he hadn't slept. He couldn't. As long as she was distressed he would be distressed. And to make matters worse there was still all this stuff with Wolfram and Hart he had to deal with. That's the reason behind the Sunnydale gang's visit. They were here to help him protect Buffy, and he knew they wouldn't leave until they were absolutely sure that they had done everything they could do. They loved her. He knew that. And it didn't matter to them that right now she was having trouble believing that. Of course, no matter how much they did love her, he could tell that they were all nervous about seeing her again because of what happened the last time they saw her. And they were nervous. He could tell by the way they were all acting. And then there was the red head standing by the lobby doors, holding a sleeping baby in her arms. She was the most nervous of all. He could tell that right away. That's why he chose to try and ease her nervousness by making his way over to her in the hopes he could draw her further into the hotel. "Willow..." Angel came to a stop in front of her. "How are you?"

"I'm good. It uhh... Talking to you last night helped me alot." She gave him a weak smile. "What about you? Have you umm... calmed down some?"

"A little." Angel murmured and glanced at the bundle in her arms. "May I?"

Willow nodded and pulled the blankets back off the sleeping baby's face. "Angel, I'd like you to meet Elizabeth Anne Osbourne, or better known to everyone as just Annie."

"Hello, Annie." Angel reached out to smooth the red tuft of hair on the little girl's head before looking back up at Willow. "She's beautiful, Willow. Just like her namesake."

"Oh yeah. About that, Angel. I umm... If I had known you and Buffy were going to have a baby... Well, two babies of your own I wouldn't have used the name. It's just... She was my best friend, and even though she's not anymore..." Willow's eyes welled up. "I love her and I just wanted my daughter to know how important she is to me."

"She's still your best friend, Willow." Angel informed her. "And Annie will know that. Not just that, she'll know and love her just as much as we do. You'll see."

"A-Angel, are you saying... Do you think..."

Angel rewarded her with a weak smile of his own. "Just give her time, okay?"

"Okay." Willow nodded and shifted the bundle in her arms. "Now how about you tell me the real reason she's not by your side. Is she okay? Is the..."

"She's fine. Well, as fine as she can be under the circumstances. And the baby is, too. Although she wouldn't tell you that if you were to ask. She's uhh... She's having trouble comprehending that it's real. All of this. Her and I... The baby..."

"Oh." Willow looked away. "I umm... I never thought about that. She umm... She must be a mess."

"She's more than a mess." Angel muttered. "And I have myself to thank for that. I kinda added to the despair she's in and because I did she's now the mess I told you she was."

Willow's eyes flew back to him. "Wh-What happened? Did you two have a fight?"

"No." Angel was the one to look away this time. "I wouldn't exactly call it a fight. I just..." He returned his gaze to her. "Later... I'll tell you about it later. All of you. But first I think you need to lay Annie down and get settled in. I put you in the room across from mine and Buffy's. It was the only other room in the hotel besides ours that's big enough to accomodate Conner's baby bed."

"Conner's baby bed... Angel, you didn't have to..."

"I know. I wanted to." Angel cut her off and said. "Besides, I figured I might as well get it out of the attic anyway. I wanted to show it to Buffy and let her decide if she wanted to use it with the new baby or buy a whole new bed all together."

"I'm sure she'll want to use it considering it was uhh... Conner's. A-And God, I still can't believe that she's uhh... his mother."

"Tell me about it. I'm still in shock myself. But it explains alot."

"You were jealous, weren't you?"

"I don't think jealous quite describes what I felt, Willow."

Willow giggled. "Figures."

"Couldn't help it." Angel muttered. "And then when Finn showed up... Let's just say I didn't handle that well either. Every since I found out she was back I've said and done things I know hurt her, but at the time I didn't know what else to do. I made so many mistakes, and because I did I almost lost her all together."

"But you didn't, Angel. And I'm sure Buffy knows why you did what you did. She knows did out of love for her, and I'm sure she loves you for it even more. And she does love you, Angel. Don't doubt that. She always has and always will. I always knew that. That's why I believe that whatever it is going on between the two of you now you'll get through it. You just need to give her time. Isn't that what you told me?"

"Yes." I just hope to God we get that time. He added silently.

****

"You know it'll kill him if you do what you're thinking of doing."

"No, it won't. Conner..."

"Promised you he wouldn't let that happen, and he'll do everything in his power to see to it that it doesn't, but unfortunately it won't be enough. It'll happen and there's nothing he'll be able to do to stop it."

"Is that why you're here? Did they send you to show me the future? To try and scare me?"

"So you know who I am."

"Yes, and you didn't answer my question. Did they send you here to try and scare me?"

"No. They sent me here to remind you that together you are strong, alone you are dead."

"And he'll die? You're sure?"

"Yes. But not just him. All of them. That's why they sent you back. To prevent it. To fulfill your true destiny."

"What do you mean they sent..." Buffy finally spun away from the balcony doors she had been staring out of since last night.

The little girl sitting in the middle of Angel and Buffy's makeshift bed raised an eyebrow at Buffy. "What? Did you honestly believe..." She startled to giggle, but quickly changed her mind. Giggling wasn't the answer to this problem. That's why she quickly sobered and met Buffy's questioning gaze. "You were in heaven, Buffy. Heaven. It's the one place that evil can't touch, and it's ruled by the highest of all powers. Do you honestly think that Father would have let a mere witch tear you from there if he didn't want you to leave?" She started to giggle again. "Yeah, I'd really like to see that happen."

Buffy stared at the little girl in shock. "A-Are you saying... The powers... They sent me back? It wasn't..."

"Willow was the vessel. The one the powers chose to see to it that you made it back to this plane. But if you think that's the real shocker, you're wrong. The real shocker is that the decision to send you back wasn't made by the powers at all. It was made by the almighty himself. He just left it up to the powers under him to see to it that you were returned safely. Of course, after everything that's happened he's a little upset that he didn't see to things himself. As usual evil forces were... are at work trying to screw things up. That's why I'm here. He sent me to tell you that it's time to let go of all your fears and be the warrior he knows you can be. He wants you to know that the victors do get the spoils, and you will get yours. In fact, you already have. You got what you always wanted."

"Angel..." Buffy answered without thought. "But if that's the case then why did he..."

"Seperate the two of you to start with?" The little girl cut her off and finished asking the question.

Buffy nodded.

"The answer's simple really. It wasn't time. The two of you needed the seperation to become stronger people and warriors. If Angel had stayed in Sunnydale he would have forever stayed in your shadow, and gladly at that. That wasn't his destiny. His destiny was... is to be your equal. The two of you are the circle that should have never been broken, Buffy. And your true destiny as equals is to add to that circle and form an unbreakable ring just like the rings the two of you will slip on each others fingers the day you bound your souls to each other eternally. In fact, as you now know you've already started to fill that circle. You started with Conner and then there is..."

"You..." Buffy finished for the little girl.

"Yes. There's me. But there's a good chance that I may not even be born. Especially if you do what you were thinking of doing before and when I arrived. You can't do that, Buffy. If you do you and I aren't the only ones that will be lost. If you die the world as we know it will not survive what is coming. You are the one that it is needed to help form the circle of warriors that it will take to defeat it. You. No one else in existance is capable of being Angel's equal. His Mo Anam Chara..."

"B-But..." Buffy's eyes welled up. "What about Wolfram and Hart... Angel..."

"Together you are strong, alone you are dead." The little girl simply said.

"Okay." Buffy sniffled. "I get that now. But that still doesn't answer my question. How can we defeat them if we don't know what we're dealing with? And then there's the fact that they always seem to be one step ahead of us."

"That's true. And all I can tell you is if you want to put a stop to it you'll have to learn to hear what they hear. Learn to see what they see. And as for defeating them... You can't win a war without an army, and believe it or not you do have an army of warriors just waiting to be lead into battle, Buffy. So why not go lead them? You and Angel. Go fight for the life you deserve."

God, Buffy wanted to. She wanted to do that more than anything, but at the same time she still had fears and doubts. "B-But what if... What if I've already lost him... He umm... I wasn't exactly the understanding Buffy I told him I'd be last night. I said things... I freaked..."

"Love is a never ending battle, Buffy. You of all people should know that. Still, even though it is don't you think it's worth fighting for instead of running away from? Especially when all that running does is lead you back to him. I think that with in itself should show you that the two of you belong together.

Buffy's eyes welled up again. "H-How did you get to be so smart?"

The little girl broke into a smile that was very familiar to Buffy, and just as heartwarming. "You tell me..." She quickly sobered again. "And while you're doing that I have a few other things to tell you. Things I think will help in the battle."

****

"A-And you're sure she's okay?"

"I told you on the phone last night she was fine, Giles. And physically she is fine. She hasn't had any migraines lately. I think Fred was right."

"Me?" Fred looked up from Angel from her seat at the table. "What was I right about?"

"That theory you had about Buffy not wanting to remember before. How whatever it was that she didn't want to remember may be too painful and because it was her brain acted as sort of an electrical fence and kept shocking her back whenever she got close to that painful memory. I think you were right. Not completely, but you were on the right track. It wasn't that she didn't want to remember. I believe she did. I just think she didn't want anyone else to know what it was she was trying to remember."

"Or more like who." Giles murmured and looked over at Conner. "Even then she was trying to protect him. Because of what you told me last night."

Angel nodded. "And then add the fact that underneath all that she felt like she wasn't worthy of being Conner's mother and I think you get the picture. Mentally and emotionally she was a wreck, and we all know that when she's in that shape she doesn't eat. Combine all those factors to the head injury she suffered and all of them can add up to her migraines from hell. I think once the truth came out about Conner and she was able to deal with some of the baggage she was carrying around that helped her alot. Thus ending a large amount of the stress she was feeling. And she's eating now as well. I see to that myself, and I think it's those factors that have put an end to her migraines."

"But you don't think that'll last, do you?"

"I don't know, Giles." Angel sighed. "Like I said, physically she's fine, but emotionally... Emotionally... That's a different story." He stood up from the table to take his empty plate to the sink. "Emotionally she's a wreck. I shouldn't have told her about Wolfram and Hart and what they had planned for Angelus." He placed his plate in the sink before turning back around to look at the group gathered around the kitchen table. "And I sure as hell should have never asked her to be the one to destroy him if he should return."

"I umm... I-I gather she didn't take to the idea very well." Giles asked before nervously removing his glasses to clean them.

"She didn't take to it at all, Giles. And I shouldn't have expected her to."

"Maybe you shouldn't have, Angel. But everyone that was involved during Angelus' last tour of destruction know as well as you and I do that she is the only one capable of bringing him down."

"Man..." Gunn murmured from his seat beside Fred. "I heard she was good. Even saw some of that goodness with my own eyes, but I never could have imagined she was that good."

"W-Well, she is." Giles informed Gunn as he slid his glasses back on his face and turned to look at him. "Or at least she was... Before Buffy jumped through that portal she was in my opinion one of the greatest, if not the greatest, slayers to ever live. God only knows what she would have been capable of accomplishing if she had reached her full potential."

"You mean..." Wesley looked over at Giles. "You don't think she had?"

"No." Giles calmly informed Wesley. "And like I said before, God only knows what she would have been capable of accomplishing if she had."

"Damn!" Gunn sat up in his chair. "Now that's my kind of woman."

"Umm, honey?" Fred tapped on Gunn's shoulder. "In case you've forgotten Fiancee' and future wife over here, remember?"

"And me." Angel chimed in by growling. "Don't forget about me, Gunn. It would pay for you to remember that Buffy is my mate. My pregnant mate."

"That means no looking, no touching... Hell, who am I kidding?" Spike chimed in, and looked over at Gunn. "That means you don't even think about the girl in any way, Charlie boy. I know from experience what the bloody wanker will do to you if you even think bad thoughts about that mate of his, and now that she's pregnant with a wee one... Well, let's just say that that only triples his protectiveness of her. Oh, and don't forget to add the fact that he's also the only vampire in existance to reproduce..." He shivered. "Not good... The odds that you'll survive what he'll do to you is like a kazillion to one."

"Thanks for the warning, Spike." Gunn muttered.

"Don't mention it." Spike tipped a finger to Gunn then returned his gaze to his Grand Sire. "Okay, Peaches the floor's all yours again."

"As I was saying..." Angel ignored Spike and returned his gaze to Giles. "I umm... I think Wolfram and Hart will back off for now, but that doesn't mean they'll abandon their goal. They'll be back just as soon as they devise up another plan to make my life a living hell. Add that to the fact that the truth is out now about Conner's true parentage and this new prophecy, and I think you all know what we're facing..."

"So what do we do about it?" Conner finally spoke up and asked.

"We'll do what we did before... What we'll still do to protect you, Conner. You, your mother, and your sist... the new baby."

"And you."

"Yes, and me." Angel answered.

"Yeah, but how do you propose we do that, Dad?"

Angel crossed his arms in front of his chest and leaned back against the sink. "We use any means possible to us. That's why all of you are here."

"No. Not all of us are here. And I'm really pissed off about that. Shame on you, Angel." Suddenly a body came slidding across the kitchen floor followed by one very livid golden blonde. She crossed the room in quick strides, stepping over the over the unconscious man in the process, and then proceeded to nail Angel to the floor with her firey eyes. "I can see that talk I had with you last night about us sharing everything and being equals didn't exactly sink into that thick skull of yours."

"I can explain, Buffy." Angel pushed away from the sink.

"If I were you I wouldn't even attempt it, Angel." She spat. "I told you I was pissed at you."

"I can see that, Buffy." He looked down at the unconscious man laying at his feet. "But did you have to go and kill one of my potential clients just because you are?"

Buffy rolled her eyes. "God, Angel! Are you sure you have vampire hearing? Last time I checked the man still had a heartbeat!"

Angel's eyes narrowed as he realized she was right. "Okay, you didn't kill him, but it still doesn't explain to me why you beat him up in the first place, Buffy."

"I didn't beat him up." Buffy held what she was holding in her hands up for Angel to see. "I simply hit him upside the head with this and knocked his sorry ass out. And for your information he is not a potential client. He works for Wolfram and Hart. But if you think I was shocked about that you're wrong. Oh no, the real shocker came when he told me that they sent him here at