Everything We Do Matters

3rd Part of What We Do

Follows on from Nothing Matters

Author: Ares

Rating PG 13

Hugs to Jo.

Summary: Post NFA. Buffy and Angel are still fighting the good fight, and it looks like the end is in sight.

 

**

It had been weeks since that last big demon ambush in the city. Buffy and Angel had moved, exchanged one city for another, and surprise, they found themselves back where it had all started. The flood of demons that had stormed the city and rampaged across the continent had dwindled to a trickle. Europe and the United Kingdom were well on the road to recovery. America was taking the long road. It had been, after all, ground zero.

Buffy was flying. Legs bent, she landed lightly as a cat and, in a blur, knocked her opponents off their feet. Producing her stake, she lunged at them, finding her target with every blow. Ash flew in all directions, coating everything it touched. Her hair was going to feel like it was full of chimney soot by the time they were done.

“Great!” she complained, shaking her head. The cloud of ash her shake dislodged threatened to settle on her shoulders, but she was already moving on to her next target. “Thank the Powers we have hot water again.”

Angel didn’t answer. A metal lid from a trash can slammed into his head, and, with his ears still ringing, he staked the vampire who had wielded the lid.

“Am I talking to myself?” Buffy asked as the wood in her fist slid past the breastbone of a vampire.

“Busy here,” he said, and, snatching up the sword that had been knocked from his hand earlier, took the head of the vamp behind him.

When Angel called, “Catch,” Buffy’s fingers closed over the hilt of the sword he had thrown. Legs pumping, she raced after the demon that was trying to get away. Angel stayed behind, finishing off the last two vamps. Stepping through the drifting ash, Angel ventured into the filthy corner of the alley where a mountain of rubbish had collected, windblown, or tossed by the few residents left in the city.

“Are you alright, Miss?” he asked the woman hidden in the refuse. She had scuttled into hiding, trying to get away from the vampires who had thought to make a meal out of her and her child. The woman’s arms were wrapped defensively about her baby. He could see that she was shaking, terrified.

“You can come out now.”

The woman, dark-haired and dark-eyed, stared up at him in fear. Angel realised he was still showing his demon. He stepped back, slipping on his human face.

“You can go now. Just be careful. It’s dangerous out there.”

He turned his back on her and walked away, giving her the opportunity of running for her life. Her fading footsteps informed him she had.

Buffy reappeared at the top end of the alley, his sword now bloody in her hands.

“Are we done?” she asked him, looking about for something else to kill.

+++

Philomena’s feet barely made a sound as she raced out of the alley and onto the street. Clutching her baby to her breast, her heart pounding, she hurried away, fearing what her family would say when she caught up with them. She had been stupid, un-attentive for a few moments, and had been lagging behind her cousins when she had been snatched away. She knew that the men in her family were very protective of their women folk, and would be blaming themselves for her disappearance. They had been attending to one of the aunts, whose hip had been causing her pain and she had been limping, when Philomena had vanished. The men would be frantically searching, leaving no stone unturned, for their favourite girl. Philomena’s husband had died a few months back, and her cousins had assumed his role of protector. She could imagine their fierce eyes and angry countenance when she returned to them. She hoped their anger would be turned aside when she told them about her amazing rescue, and by a devil no less. Her family had a long history with vampires, they hated the demons with a passion, and one in particular had been causing some consternation among them. Philomena pulled her jacket aside to check on her baby girl once more as she made her way through the city to where her family had set up their temporary home.

***

Buffy blinked awake. She closed her eyes against the sunlight that warmed her face. She had begun to bask in its glow when her eyes flew open in panic.

“Angel?”

Heart pounding, Buffy turned her head to Angel’s side of the bed. He was nowhere to be seen and she hurriedly checked the sheets for ashes.

“Over here.”

Squinting against the sunlight, she sat upright to see Angel sitting in a shadowed corner of the room.

She blinked again. “What are you doing?”

“You look beautiful in the daylight.”

Buffy snorted. Her hands reached for her hair. “Yeah! Right! I have bed hair, and I think I have drool on my chin, and…”

“Still beautiful.”

She stopped fussing. Something was wrong.

“What’s the matter?”

“Can’t I give you a compliment without there being something wrong?”

Buffy climbed out of bed and twitched the curtains closed. They didn’t do small talk. They were all about the hunt now. Hardened and inured to the suffering they saw on a nightly basis, and exhausted beyond human strength, there hadn’t been much room for chit-chat. Each step along the way it had been kill, or be killed. Evade traps, set ambushes, and maybe save a few people in the process. It hadn’t mattered, the saving of people. It had been a consequence of what they did. Some of the people didn’t need saving to her way of thinking. She knew that Angel had come round to her point of view, too. Strange to think that she had lowered a creature of the night’s standards, but she had.

Angel’s skin was silk and steel under her fingers as she slid onto his lap. She laid her hands upon his bare chest and looked into his eyes. There was an old sadness lurking behind his solemn stare.

“What are you thinking?”

His reply was the barest whisper. “It’s almost over.”

Her heart lurched. “The war?” she asked, pretending to misunderstand.

He didn’t answer and that frightened her more than if he had.

Covering her fear, she asked, “Do you think it’s time we moved? We’ve been here longer than anywhere else.”

It was true. They hadn’t moved in weeks. People were arriving back, setting up house, trying to get their lives back. Trucks had been seen a few blocks down. Life was returning to the neighbourhood. It was business as unusual. The demon underworld was more under, a result of the Senior Partners’ apocalypse. Humankind was afraid of monsters, and with good reason. Before the world had gone to hell in a hand basket there were humans who had understood and dealt with demons in a friendly, or, at least, a wary kind of way. Now there were millions who had witnessed the carnage and horror that demons left in their wake. They weren’t too friendly towards the quieter and more integrated demon let alone a vampire with a soul. All demons were evil. The message couldn’t have been clearer.

And yet…

“We’ll give it another day or two,” Angel said in answer to her question.

“Come back to bed,” she insisted, kissing his chest before getting off his lap and pulling him towards the bed.

They lay there unable to sleep: Angel, with his arms wrapped about her, holding her close. Buffy knew he was awake. She could feel the tension rolling off him, even if his body appeared relaxed. She blinked at the wall. When had some form of normality returned to their lives? When had they started sleeping together, exhaustion no longer dropping them unconscious onto the mattress? And how was it that she hadn’t noticed?

Sleep eluded him. Angel was worried, and he could feel Buffy’s concern nestled between his arms. A chink in their armour was developing. The walls that were essential to hold back the horror they encountered on a nightly basis were developing a crack. Oh yes, they hunted still, but the enemy were fewer now. They had broken the back of the demon horde, they, and the slayers, and humans everywhere. Demons, too, had lent a hand against their own kind and the human monsters that preyed on the weak.

Angel was wondering what happened next. He knew that with the world settling back into some sort of order, he and Buffy would no longer be the battle-weary warriors that they were. There would be time to relax, to take a breather, and to enjoy one another’s company. Angel had overcome the axe hanging over his head, the axe that was edged with perfect happiness. How could he find such a thing in a world of full of torment? Perfect happiness could once more be a consideration, he feared, now that that the chaos and brutality of the world was giving way to normality. Could he risk the world’s safety, Buffy’s safety, by staying with her? Could joy sneak up to him on stealthy feet and steal away his soul once more? It was preying on his mind more and more, and one day soon he would have to make a decision.

+++

Mrs Sanders and her adult son, Joey, had been one of the few to stay in the city when the creatures of hell had come to town. They had kept their heads down, scavenged for food, and had survived. There was no way that Linda Sanders was going to give up her home. When her good-for-nothing husband had left her and their baby all those years ago, Linda had scrimped and saved and worked several jobs just to keep them fed, with a roof over their heads. She couldn’t have done it without the help of some of her neighbours. Most of those neighbours had fled, and some of those that hadn’t could be found in the basements of the surrounding buildings. A few of those neighbours were different from ordinary folk, and yet they were still her friends. Linda knew that they weren’t human, but there was no way she would even consider them kin to the rampaging monsters that had wreaked havoc in Los Angeles. She knew these people. They were her neighbours. That made them family.

Joey had worked as an electrician with a construction company once upon a time. The company had moved away, and the new building Joey and his fellow workers had been working on had been hit with rocket-fire, no doubt sent by their friendly government forces. Joey lived with his mother. He had been unable to persuade her to move to safety, and he wouldn’t leave her behind. So he stayed and did his best to provide food and clothing for the both of them. It wasn’t long before they found others surviving in much the same way. A network had formed; it became the neighbourhood watch. Be they human or demon, neighbours were friends and woe to any who dared to hurt one of their own. There wasn’t much they could do armed with knives and baseball bats against a monster but they were prepared to do battle if it came to that. Joey carried a pistol with him. He hadn’t killed anyone with it. It had been handy in frightening off a few desperate people intent on inflicting harm on his small band of friends. Vigilantes were the worst. They targeted any one they thought looked and acted suspicious, and they didn’t care if the person or persons ended up dead in the process. Joey and his friends kept out of sight when they were about.

The first few months following the hell demons arrival had been harrowing ones. People died. A lot of people died. It was war. Humans verses demons. The military couldn’t be everywhere at once, and the monsters seemed to be. Bloodsuckers were the worst because they looked human until they fed. Joey thought vampires were impossible to kill. They were inhumanly fast, and bullets didn’t kill them. If you got close enough to stake one, it was likely the vampire made you its meal. The number of monsters had been terrifying to behold. At first, people had had no hope in fighting them, and all they could do was hide. Buildings, homes, businesses, and hospitals were torn down, becoming rubble in the battle for L.A. Pockets of the city were left untouched and that wasn’t in any way fortunate for those living there. The looters and the desperate overran those small havens in the hopes of finding food and supplies. Not a few people learned how to wield a weapon, hold a gun, in valiant efforts to defend their loved ones. More people died. The monsters eventually moved on, and with them, the army and the vigilantes intent on retribution.

Rumours filtered through the underground about girls with supernatural strength fighting the monsters, and sometimes winning. It had to be the madness talking. A girl couldn’t do much against the things that Joey and his mother had seen. Still, things were slowly becoming less fraught with danger. The bands of marauding demons had all but disappeared, and it seemed that there were only stragglers left. On the other hand, attacks from vampires had escalated. Their food source had begun to dwindle and vampires were always hungry.

A few weeks previously, Joey noticed that one of the apartments in his building had taken in new residents. He had to admit the new squatters were careful. There wasn’t a light to be seen from the hallway or from the windows facing the street. Linda and her son hadn’t spoken to their new neighbours, but they knew who they were. Linda and Joey had arrived back at their building one day - laden with bags of scavenged tinned food - when a tall young man and his golden-haired girlfriend stepped out from the entrance way. The sun had just set, and didn’t the couple know how dangerous it was after dark? The pair had walked away into the night with casual ease. This set the neighbourhood tongues wagging when Linda asked her friends about the couple. Were they refugees like many that passed through? Who were they, what was their business, and were they going to settle permanently?

With no one in the neighbourhood understanding the why of it, vampire attacks became less frequent all of a sudden, and soon there wasn’t even a monster roaming the streets. Was it coincidence? Did the two strangers have something to do with it? How? Barry and Felix mentioned that they hadn’t seen a mean-son-of-a-bitch vigilante striding down the streets, either, which pleased them no end. Barry and Felix were different, and were very good at hiding. The army came and went, setting up a depot nearby where supplies could be had, a small contingent of soldiers remaining behind, guarding it. Joey’s block was now considered safe and he knew it wasn’t because of the military.

Joey was fixing a junction box in Felix’s building. Power had been restored in piecemeal fashion throughout L.A. There were many areas of the city without electricity, and in some places it would be a very long time before it saw the lights back on. Fortunately for his neighbours, Joey had the expertise to provide them with the comforts of modern living. He finished up and turned to his friends standing behind him.

“All done, and be careful with the lights,”he advised knowing that his words were unnecessary. His friends were always careful.

“Thanks, Joey. Deesays she misses the microwave.”

Joey smiled at Felix. His friend resembled a man, but close up one could see the double eyelids and the unnatural pigmentation in his irises. Not quite human, but enough to fool anyone at first glance. His gaze moved to include his other friend, Barry. He was more unusual than Felix in appearance. His eyebrows were feathered and his hair was a soft down, as was the hair on the back of his arms and legs. Barry’s nose was hooked, beak-like and as tough as bone, although the nose was flesh-coloured and looked like any other nose. Barry wore a hat when out in public, and the thick frame of his glasses hid his eyebrows.

“You’d better go and help her with the meal, then,” he said, and turned to go. “Talking of, I’d better go…” he broke off when Lena, Barry’s sister, poked her head round the door to say, “Soldiers out front.”

Joey left his friends to scurry away to their hidey-holes. He slipped out the back door of the building and, in a circuitous route, made his way back to his street to peer around the corner. A jeep and a truck were parked down the road. Several military-garbed men were entering the abandoned stores at the end of the road, and others were busy pasting flyers on poles and on doors. A sheet of paper escaped and flapped by with the help of a stiffening breeze. He snatched at it and, reading the flyer, he let it go again with a snort. If the army thought that the neighbourhood would trust them they had another thing coming. It was a moment before he realised there was someone standing behind him.

He leaned back and turned his head. “What? Who are you?”

The blonde woman he had seen leaving his building was there. She had the flyer in her small hand and her hazel eyes were studying him.

“What do you think?” she asked him, holding the flyer up so he could see.

“I think they can go jump,” he said, staring at her eyes and not at the piece of paper.

“You don’t know what they want.”

“Don’t need to. I know the army are just trying to do their job, but the government hurt a lot of people and some of them were friends of mine.”

“The danger is…less,” she said, and he knew exactly what she meant.

“But still there.” He dared another quick peek round the corner before looking back at her. “Things will never be the same.”

She appeared to relax slightly. “No, they won’t.”

“It’s not that I’m not grateful. The monsters of doom had to be stopped. As I said, I don’t like their methods.”

The girl snickered. “Monsters of doom. You could say that.” She read the flyer again. “They advise that workmen and supplies will be coming soon.”

“And the other thing,” he finished.

“Mmm. We could find out what the other thing is about.” She tucked the paper into a pocket.

He squinted at her, at the sun in her hair, and the blush of pink the warmth painted on her skin. “They’d suspect,” he said.

Without saying a word the girl produced a scarf, wound it through her hair, and tied it at the back. Tucking in any stray curls, the girl produced a cap from a pocket and the scarf vanished beneath it. Sunglasses finished off the disguise.

“What do you think?” she asked him.

“They might not be fooled…”

“I can be your wife,” she said, and slipped off a ring she was wearing, silver, he noted, with an odd design, before sliding it on the finger of her left hand.

“What’s your name?”

“You can call me Anne.” She took hold of his hand, so small inside the palm of his, and she propelled him forward to brave the corner.

The soldiers guarding the vehicles straightened when they saw the man and woman approaching. They were the first people from the neighbourhood to do so. Fingers hovered near triggers while they assessed the newcomers.

Joey didn’t know what got into him, allowing this mere slip of a girl to endanger himself this way. He held up his hands, the right one’s fingers entwined with Anne’s, to show that he was unarmed. The girl showed her empty hand and pretended to lean against him a little. She wasn’t afraid, of that he was certain, and he decided he liked the way she smelled. There was only a hint of a fragrance and he wouldn’t have noticed if not for her being so near. It had been a long time since he had been close to a woman that wasn’t his mother. Joey risked a quick glance across the street. He could see Mr and Mrs Johnson’s faces at their window. He was sure that other neighbours were watching too.

“Saw your flyers,” Joey called out. “Is it true the city is getting back to normal?”

A soldier stepped forward and, except for the two men beside him, the rest of his men continued about their business.

“Yes, sir. There’ll be people coming back to the city, and they will need food, power, and places to live...”

“They’ll all be coming here?” Joey looked around at the buildings in his street. “What about the original owners? They’ll be returning too.”

“That they will, Mister…?”

“Joe Sanders.”

And when the soldier shifted his gaze to the woman at his side, Joey added, “This is my wife, Anne.”

Anne snuggled closer to her husband. The soldier couldn’t get a good look at her face and he assumed that she was like a lot of other civilians he had met over the last few months. The woman was afraid of everything that moved. He saw her whisper something to her husband.

The man asked him, “What are your men doing?”

“We’re assessing this block, and several others, for demon activity.”

“I thought you said the danger was over.”Joey Sanders was nervous. The army could discover his friends at any moment.

“It is, but we have to be sure. The reports we have indicate that demon attacks are on the decline and we don’t expect to find anything to counter that. There will be engineers and workmen moving in shortly and we want to be able to guarantee their safety.”

Anne whispered something to her husband.

“The neighbours are afraid of the army,” Joe said when he raised his head.

The soldier didn’t like the way Joe Sanders was staring at him. He knew that there had been a lot of civilian casualties, many caused by the military, and that the survivors wouldn’t take kindly to the army because of it. He couldn’t blame them, really.

“Can you ask your men to stop? They’re frightened enough as it is,” Sanders asked the soldier.

“We have to be sure…”

“There is no threat here…” Joey squinted at the silver bars on the man’s collar, “Lieutenant.”

“Taylor,” the lieutenant supplied.

A noise behind the lieutenant had Taylor and his men swing about, weapons ready. A handsome woman appeared at the top of the stairs to Joey’s apartment building. She was busy haranguing the poor unfortunates who had dared to step, uninvited, into her home. Joey grinned. It was his mother. The soldiers stood, uncertain on the steps.

“What is it?” Taylor called out.

“The woman pushed us out of her apartment, sir,” said one of the men.

“How dare you come into my home and push and pry at an old woman!” the woman shouted.

“I wouldn’t say you were old, Ma,” Joey laughed, having raised his voice for his mother to hear.

Linda Sanders’ head snapped up. She was surprised that her son was out in the street talking to soldiers. She was even more surprised to see a girl clinging to his arm.

“Joey?” she called back. “What are you…?”

“Anne and I were talking to Lieutenant Taylor, Ma, about people moving back to the neighbourhood.”

Linda nodded and, as if she knew who Anne was, she said, “Lunch is almost ready. I’ve set the table for three.” She gave the soldiers a glare before stomping back into the building. The soldiers followed her at a safe distance.

Joey looked back at the lieutenant. “As I was saying, folk have had enough to put up with without your men terrorizing them. There’s nothing dangerous lurking in this neighbourhood, I can vouch for it.”

Taylor didn’t want to upset the people in the neighbourhood any more than he had to, and was reluctant to start now. His orders were to ensure that each neighbourhood was safe for people to return to. That meant searching all buildings, basements, and sewers. Admittedly, the city blocks they had investigated had been the less damaged ones, and in those they found ordinary folk. Not a demon in sight. What he didn’t know, but suspected, was after his soldiers had pulled out the demons moved back in. There were going to be regular patrols about town for the foreseeable future. Be they demons, gang members, or vigilantes, order was going to be restored.

He looked at the row of buildings on either side of the street. Each one had a basement, four floors of apartments, with stairs to access the entrances. Occasionally, where one building ended and another began, an alley would separate the two like some dark snake that swallowed the sunlight as it ran between their high walls. On the corner of the street, both sides, empty stores stood. Both had been looted, the diner no longer in any shape to serve coffee or any other beverage, and the grocery store had only empty shelves, the food long gone, eaten by demons and humans alike.

His gaze returned to the young couple before him. “I’m sorry, sir, but I have to insist.”

Joey sighed, and after a nudge from his wife, said, “The man and woman you’re interested in...”

“Do you have information, sir?”

Joey shook his head. “It says on the flyer that you need to contact them. Are they people we need to be afraid of? Are they dangerous?”

Taylor repeated the answer he had given a hundred times before.

“It’s the young woman we are interested in. A friend of hers – some one with clout – has asked if she can be located. We have a message for her.”

Mr Sanders’ wife whispered another query and her husband repeated it. “And the man? What do you want with him?”

“I’m afraid that I am not at liberty to say, but I do assure you that it is to the couple’s benefit.”

The tilt of her head indicated that the woman didn’t believe him, but without the benefit of seeing her eyes he wasn’t sure. Taylorwas about to ask her to remove her glasses when Joey Sanders excused himself and his wife: they had a lunch date.

“Mothers,” he said with a lift of his shoulders, and both he and his wife disappeared into the building.

Once inside, Joey felt Anne’s fingers leave his arm, but before she could get away, he said, “We’re the second door on the left.”

“I know,” Anne smiled at him. “Where are you going?”

“Into the basement where I can get down to the sewers. I have to make sure my friends are safe.”

Anne nodded, a wry smile on her lips, and as if making up her mind, she said, “We’re on the floor above. Number 13, in case the soldiers ask where we live.”

It was his turn to smile, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “I know. I didn’t think it was a good idea to live with my mother.” He turned to go.

“Thank you, and thank your Mom for me.”

He turned back to face her. “The offer of lunch still stands if you’re hungry.”

“Thanks, I might just do that, but before I do there’s something I have to take care of…”

“I know,” Joey said, and left to hurry along the hall to the stairs that led to the basement.

Buffy smiled at his retreating back before running up the stairs to the floor above. She was in time to see two soldiers step inside her dwelling. The door could be locked from the inside only, because they didn’t have a key. Angel must have left the door unlocked for her, either that, or he had slipped away when he heard the army arrive. Buffy ran to catch up, worried about Angel.

“Excuse me?” she asked, announcing herself to the trigger-happy men inside. There was no sign of her vampire when she looked about. She didn’t know if that was a good sign or not.

“Is this your home, miss?” asked the rugged-looking soldier exiting the master bedroom.

“Yes it is,” she replied, keeping an eye on his partner who was opening the bathroom door. She saw him glance inside before closing the door. The soldier moved on to the next room.

“Do you live alone?”

“What?” Buffy turned back to his companion. There was a large black shirt in his hands. “No. My husband lives here. Joey Sanders. We were talking to your lieutenant downstairs.”

“Alright.” The soldier handed her the shirt. “Sorry to bother you, ma’am.”

The two men left her standing there, closing the door quietly behind them. Buffy rushed to the bathroom and flung open the door. Peering around the door she spotted her boyfriend standing in the shower cubicle.

“That was a clever trick,” she cried, grinning at him.

Angel shrugged his wide shoulders and stepped out of the tiled area. Buffy had noticed the mirrored door to the medicine cabinet stood slightly ajar, and the soldier had merely looked into the glass to see if the bathroom was empty.

“Where else could I hide but in plain sight,” he said as he followed her out to the living area. The blinds were drawn as always and it was safe for him to move about. The army boys hadn’t found it odd. Everyone kept their curtains closed, day and night.

Angel sat on the couch. He scrubbed at his eyes with a sigh. He had been asleep when the soldiers had turned up in the street. When he glanced up, Buffy was sitting across from him, a worried look on her face.

“What?”

“They’re looking for us.” She patted her pockets, found the flyer and handed it across.

He stared at her when he had finished reading.

“What do you want to do?” he asked after a long moment.

“I don’t know. What do you think?” Buffy got up to pace.

Angel was the one who usually paced. He watched her step to and fro. He didn’t know what to say. This was her decision.

She stopped for a moment. “Angel?”

“Is it a trap?” he suggested.

She sat. “The Senior Partners?”

He thought about it. “It could be.”

“Or the authorities.” She looked at him, a faint gleam of mischief in her eyes. “We may be wanted by the law.”

He smirked at her. “We are the law.”

“Not any longer. We have done some…damage.”

“Mmm. They don’t know that.”

Buffy put a fingernail in her mouth and worried at it. Her long painted nails were a thing of the past.

“It may be Giles,” she said, Angel sounding so Giles-like reminding her.

“Maybe. Do you want to find out?” Angel could see that Buffy was tempted.

“The lieutenant downstairs seems nice and friendly.”

“And your husband Joey.”

She snorted. “Are you jealous?”

He didn’t reply. Angel looked away. He was jealous in a way. Envious of the fact that Joe Sanders could stand out in the light with Buffy. He no longer wanted to be human, not really. He wouldn’t be able to fight alongside Buffy, protect her, as he could as a vampire. To be human was to be food. And yet, who was he kidding? A part of him wanted it still. He felt the heat of her hand on his leg.

“I’m sorry.” Buffy’s eyes were huge in the gloom.

He forced a smile. “Don’t be. What do you want to do?”

“Talk to the lieutenant. If he’s around tonight.”

He nodded. “We’d better pack.”

“That will take all of ten minutes,” she said, dismissing their small bundle of belongings. She could see how tired he was. They had tracked a demon half-way across the city, killed it in its lair – three human corpses hanging from the ceiling like meat in a larder - and, when they had returned, Angel had patrolled the neighbourhood long after Buffy had gone to bed.

“Go back to bed.”

“I’m fine,” he said, stubborn as usual.

Buffy got to her feet. “I’ve got a lunch date with the Sanders. You go back to sleep.”

“Buffy?”

Angel’s eyes were dark and full of sadness. She saw the question written there.

Lifting her chin, resolute, she announced,“We’ll find a way, Angel.”

Coming back to where he was sitting, she leaned over, kissed him on the lips, and was out the door before he could say another word.

Angel was worried. What was the message the army had to give to Buffy? Who was the person trying to contact her? Giles? Or some one they didn’t know? Was it all a ruse perpetrated by Wolfram and Hart?

Angel got to his feet and began to pace, his thoughts racing from one question to another. Whoever wanted to speak to Buffy knew who she was, and what Angel was. He hoped it was Giles, and hoped that the Englishman had good news for Buffy. The last year or so had been hard on them both, but particularly hard on Buffy. She was a slayer, one of many, and it hadn’t been a picnic for any of the Chosen Few. Buffy needn’t have carried out her duties by his side. She could have been one of many fighting the demon hordes, and with the support of Giles and whatever authority he had to have mustered in the dark months behind them, Buffy would have had help and, at the least, better living conditions.

Moving back to the bedroom and the unmade bed, Angel stripped off his clothes and slid under the covers. Perhaps it was time, he thought, to stop running, time to take stock, which meant, time to let go. Angel sighed, and, turning to his side, fixed his stare on the sliver of light that peeped from under the curtain of the window. For a creature that was eternal, he never thought time would be in short supply. Until he had met Buffy. Now it was all he could think about.

+++

Knocking on the Sanders’ door, Buffy heard Joey’s mother call out, “Come in, it’s open.”

Buffy stepped through the door and into a different world. Mrs Sanders had a love of cats. There were felines everywhere in the ornaments that adorned the room. The real McCoy slunk away to hide behind the couch, its tortoiseshell colourings blending well with the tan and black material covering the settee. Buffy could see that despite the clutter the place was clean and it smelled pretty good.

She found Joey’s mother in the kitchen.

“I might have been the army,” she said.

“They wouldn’t have knocked,” Linda Sanders shot back without looking up. She was slicing up bread. It looked home baked. Buffy’s mouth watered. When was the last time she had had freshly baked bread?

“Sorry, I haven’t got any spread. Will peanut butter do? I have some tinned tuna, if you prefer, or creamed corn?” Linda raised her head, and her eyebrows.

“Where did you get the bread?” Buffy asked.“And peanut butter will be fine, thank you. Do you have any jelly?”

The woman laughed. “I do, and I make my own bread. My name’s Linda.”

“I’m…”

“Anne. I know.” Linda lifted a brow at her.“You live upstairs. Sit.”

She indicated a chair at the table, and Buffy sat. She fingered the ceramic cat that sat proudly in the centre of the table. “I guess you like cats.”

“What makes you say that?” Linda’s smile crinkled the skin around her eyes.

Buffy’s smile matched hers. “Oh, I don’t know. Just a guess. Uh…thank you for what you did outside.”

“You’re welcome, honey. You’re part of the neighbourhood. One of ours. Besides, we don’t trust the government so easily after...”

Buffy nodded, and accepted the plate of sandwiches. She took a bite and closed her eyes in pleasure. The bread practically melted in her mouth.

“Mmm…”

“You look like you haven’t had much in the way of food of late.”

Buffy’s eyes snapped open. Linda sat on the other side of the table with a sandwich of her own, two glasses filled with water between the two of them.

“Hasn’t everybody?” she said, taking another bite and chewing.

“I suppose Joey has gone to see to his friends,” Linda said, changing the subject.

“He was headed for the basement last time I saw him.” Buffy finished her first sandwich and, taking a chance, said, “His friends aren’t quite human, are they?”

Linda stared at Buffy, her hazel eyes on Buffy’s own, her face troubled. “Do you have a problem with that?”

A laugh escaped her lips. Buffy said, “If you only knew, and, no, I don’t.”

The woman’s face relaxed back into a smile. Taking a breath, Buffy asked, “Would you do something for me?”

+++

The warmth that radiated from the surrounding buildings – the sun’s heat trapped inside their concrete walls – lent the air a balmy feel, almost summer, when that season had departed weeks ago. Lieutenant Taylor and two of his men waited at the end of the street, heat seeping into their backs as they leaned against the shop’s wall. The lieutenant and his men weren’t fools. They seemed to be less than alert, but appearances were deceiving. They were always on guard. They didn’t want to appear threatening. They were here to meet the girl described on the pamphlet and they didn’t want to frighten her away. Taylor shifted his feet and adjusted his shoulders, before settling back against the wall. This was first contact, and his captain would have his balls if he screwed this up. A voice in his ear told him the rest of his men were in position. He resisted the urge to tap the miniature radio inserted there. Quietly, he told them to stay alert.

His men, Bradley and Mathers, lounged either side of him, hands off the weapons hanging from their belts. Taylor had been surprised that his men were allowed, with weapons, at this meeting. He had been even more surprised when one of the tenants of the building had informed him that the woman in question was prepared to meet him that evening. He looked at his watch for the umpteenth time, sighed, and let his arm fall. They had been here thirty minutes and she hadn’t showed. Taylorwas beginning to have doubts. Perhaps this was a ruse of some kind, or a way to make him look stupid. He turned his head to tell his men it was a waste of time when a movement out of the corner of his eye made his head snap round. He felt his men straighten, their hands now resting on their weapons.

A tiny woman, a girl, really, stood there, her blonde hair tied back emphasizing the fine bones of her face. She was quite the beauty even though dressed in the basic street uniform of jeans and a sweatshirt.

“I hear you have a message for me,” she said, her eyes never leaving Taylor’s.

He expected her to look about nervously. She didn’t, her stance was easy and relaxed.

“Buffy Summers?” he asked her. He frowned. There was something familiar about her. Something…

“The message?”

Taylor and his men quickly eyed the night surrounding them. They couldn’t see anyone nearby, but then, they wouldn’t. He hoped the men he had out there were able to give him a warning if…

“Do you have a message, or do I walk away?”She turned her shoulder to him.

“Wait, Miss Summers.”

Buffy paused, and looked back.

“Mr Giles is the one looking for you.”

She frowned, turning back. What influence did Giles have with the army?

“Giles?”

“One of the things he asks is, are you well?”

Buffy spread her arms out wide with a snort of derision. “You can tell him I’m alive. Is that all? Is that it?”

“He wants to know when you’re coming home.”

“Home?” Buffy realised she was sounding like Angel, repeating every last word. “How do I contact him? The phones haven’t been working.”

“Ours do.” Taylor dared a step forward. Buffy stayed where she was. She wasn’t worried about the soldiers although she could sense they were about her. Good!

“How did Giles get the army to do this for him?”

“He knows our commander, Riley Finn.”

“He got promoted? That’s nice for him. His wife too?”

The Lieutenant had been told to use his commander’s name. He was surprised to hear that Miss Summers knew the commander well enough to know that he was married.

“He and his men have experience with demons. He got the job.”

“Sam?”

“She’s on leave. They are expecting their first baby.”

Buffy’s smile disappeared, a stab of regret slicing into her heart. Not that she and…Buffy gathered her thoughts. Of course Riley would want a family. He came from good old Iowa farm stock: they were big on families.

Taylor changed the subject, aware that something he’d said was troubling her.

“You’ve had experience with demons.”

She stared at him, ignoring the men beside Taylor who were looking on with interest. “You could say that.”

“They say you are a slayer.” He looked her up and down. Daring to be flippant, he said, “Not very big for a demon-fighting machine.”

A chuckle escaped her lips. “That’s not the first time I’ve heard that. And don’t you know? It’s not the size that matters…”

“It’s what you do with it,” he finished with a laugh. He liked this girl.

“So…what happens now? You give me a cell phone, I call, and voila?” A hand went up, and the soldiers tensed. Buffy smiled grimly, and smoothed the loose strand of hair that fell into her eyes.

“What’s with the twitchy? I thought we were friends now?”

Taylor cleared his throat. “Sorry, but we heard…you’re super strong, fast, and not averse… to hurting people.” His eyes shifted about before coming to rest back on her. “And, you’re not alone.”

It was Buffy’s turn to stiffen. She narrowed her eyes. “Is this what this is all about?”

“Being careful? Yes. Nothing else is on our agenda, believe me.”

The evening seemed to cool suddenly. The atmosphere took on a chilly air, and it was perhaps in the way that Miss Summers’ body was held. This was a slayer. Sweat beaded the back of Taylor’s neck. They knew what she was capable of, or at least, they thought they knew.

“You’re going to let us walk away?”

“If you wish. I promise you, no harm will come to you and your…friend.” Taylorfound his lips had gone dry.

Buffy Summers’ voice took on a hard edge.

“Why don’t I believe you?”

“My orders are to pass on the message, and for you to use our equipment. You have safe passage, you and your friend.”

“Lover,” she corrected, to shock him. She succeeded. By the light of the soldiers’ lamp she could see his eyes widen. She continued.

“What about the rest of your army? Have they the same orders? What about the next town, the next state?”

The lieutenant’s mind was reeling with her previous statement. He tried to muster his thoughts. “We can give you safe escort to wherever you want to go.”

Her arm shot out, hand palm up. “The phone please?”

Taylor nodded at Mathers. The man reached down, unclipped the radio from his belt, and handed it across to his lieutenant. Taylor held it out to the slayer. With quick steps she advanced and, plucking the phone out of his hand, stepped away.

“How do I use it?”

“Ask for the operator, he’ll put you through to Mr Giles.”

Buffy nodded and retreated into the dark.

Her voice floated back to them. “I’ll bring it back.”

Taylor spoke softly into his microphone. “Waters, are you there? Dixon? Ainsworth?”

Ever alert, one of his men asked, “You want us to go check on them, sir?”

A voice, soft and full of menace, floated out of the darkness. The hairs raised on the back of the men’s necks.

“They’re fine. Stay there until Buffy comes back.”

“What? Who…?” Taylor started to say. He quietened for a moment. He knew who was out there. What was out there.

“How do I know you haven’t killed my men?”he said, instead.

“You don’t.”

The lieutenant put out a hand to stop Bradley’s sudden move towards the disembodied voice. He shook his head at his men. His words were as quiet as the ones that came out of the dark. “We stay here.”

“Sir!” his men protested.

He shook his head again, and they desisted. He had to trust the girl, and that meant trusting the thing they feared lurking in the dark.

+++

After waiting through umpteen operators and people looking to track down Rupert Giles, Buffy finally had her friend on the phone.

“Buffy? Is that really you? My God, Buffy, we thought…I thought…”

She heard Giles swallow several times and clear this throat. She thought for a moment he had put down the receiver and was cleaning his glasses. Her own throat had a lump of its own, and she blinked back a sudden wetness in her eyes.

“Me too,” she said quietly when she could.“How’s Europe?”

“A mess, but the worst is over. How about you? The colonies are still standing, I hear.”

Buffy choked out a laugh. It was the same old Giles with his dry British wit.

“What can I say?” she said, shrugging, even though he couldn’t see.

“Buffy, I know you took the brunt of it…”

She shrugged that off, too. “What can I say?” she repeated.

“You shouldn’t have done it on your own.”

She almost sighed. Is this what the phone call was going to be about?

“I didn’t.”

Giles’ next words were child-like. Petulant. He regretted them the moment they left his mouth.

“He started it.”

“No, he didn’t.” She rephrased that. “Well, yes, in a way he did. This had been brewing for a thousand years and Angel just tipped the balance. You can thank him for that. It would have been a lot worse if he hadn’t. I don’t think the world would have survived.”

There was silence at the other end. Buffy could practically hear the wheels turning inside Giles’ head. She wondered if he knew what she was talking about. Did he even know about the prophecy? Things had been pretty hairy of late. Had Giles had time to research? Had he known where to start?

“Buffy, I’m sorry. I guess I was…am worried about you.”

“I’m sorry too, Giles. We…we’ve had to keep a low profile. There hasn’t been much opportunity to call.” She attempted a joke. It sounded kind of lame. “Of course, if there had actually been a phone to be found anywhere...”

“It wouldn’t have been working,” he finished, letting her off the hook. Buffy could have found a way to contact him. He knew that, and she knew it too. He cleared his throat.

Knowing it was a stupid question, he said,“Has it been terrible for you?”

He had read the reports, had seen the photos, and it wasn’t as if their side of the Atlantichadn’t suffered their share of woes. Buffy had arrived in Los Angeles only days after the initial onslaught. She hadn’t contacted him to say that she had found the vampire, but there had been sightings and rumours of the two of them. The new slayers had had orders to collect any information they could of the pair, and those that did never saw the slayer and her vampire lover, and their sources of information had been through the carnage the pair had left behind them and anyone left alive to tell the tale.

Buffy nodded into the phone, and blinking back more tears, her words said otherwise. “It hasn’t been so bad. There’s Angel keeping me alive, and sane, and…”

Tiptoeing around what he really wanted to say, he said, “Are you being careful?”

“Careful?” It took Buffy a moment to understand what Giles was saying.

She was incredulous, and angry, that Giles would even ask. “You think there’s a chance for perfect happiness to occur? Now? After all that we’ve been through?” Buffy lowered her voice after realising she had raised it. She stifled a sob. “Don’t worry, Giles, any day now Angel is going to leave me. After all, things are getting back to normal.”

“I’m sorry, Buffy. Of course you of all people know the risks.” He hurried to say, “And Angel too.”

He took a breath. There was something he had to tell to Buffy and he didn’t know how to begin. She had suffered enough, and now with Angel’s imminent departure, he didn’t know if Buffy would be able to cope. Still, he owed it to her to tell her. She wouldn’t forgive him if he took the coward’s way out.

“Perhaps Angel could stay a while with you. You’ve both managed so far, and with success. I’m sure he could be persuaded.”

Buffy’s suspicions were suddenly aroused. Giles suggesting that Angel stay?

“What’s wrong?” She gripped the phone with slayer strength. The plastic threatened to crack under the strain. Buffy felt the coils of dread slither into the pit of her belly. “Did something happen to Willow? To Xander? Are they alright?”

Giles’ reassurances weren’t reassuring to Buffy’s ears. “Willowand Xander are fine, Buffy. Willowhas been busy with her magicks. Her healing spells have been a Godsend in the fight, but I’m afraid she has worn herself out. Perhaps that is why she hasn’t been able to find you with any of her locator spells.”

“We’ve got some mojo working to hide us from locator spells. Sorry,” Buffy pulled a face, “we didn’t want the Senior Partners to know where we were, though that didn’t stop them from finding us a few times.”

Giles continued on as if he hadn’t heard her. “Xander has been in a scrape or two. He broke an arm fighting beside Vivienne, one of the new slayers. He will become quite the Watcher, I think, when we’ve had a chance to regroup.”

Giles fell silent, and the dread inside Buffy turned to panic.

“Has something happened to Dawn? Giles, is Dawn alright? She hasn’t been injured, has she? ‘Cause if she has, I’ll come over there and…”

Giles’ quiet voice interrupted her. “Buffy, Dawn is gone.”

“Gone?” she almost shrieked the word. “What do you mean, gone?”

A hand settled on her shoulder. She looked up. Angel was there, worried; she could see it in his dark eyes. Buffy reached for his hand and held on tight.

She barely heard Giles say, “I’m sorry, Buffy.”

“Is she…is she…?” Buffy closed her eyes, waiting for the blow.

“She closed the portal that let Wolfram and Hart’s demons into our world.”

“What do you mean she closed the portal?”Buffy snapped.

“Dawn crossed to the dimension that was bleeding into ours. The portal needed to be closed from that side.”

“Closed,” she repeated. She stared up at Angel. Angel knew what Giles was about to tell her. She could see it in his face. He looked scared and Angel was never scared. He was frightened for her. Giles was going to utter the words she didn’t want to hear. Angel’s hand left her shoulder and his arm drew her close. A sob escaped from her mouth.

“Tell me,” she croaked.

“Willow was with her at the end. Dawn pushed Willowthough at the last minute. Buffy, Dawn isn’t dead, she became…”

“A green ball of energy.”

Buffy let the phone drop. Angel’s quick reflexes caught it before it hit the road. He gathered her into the comfort of his arms and held her. Buffy stood frozen, wondering if she was dead because it felt like she had died, so why were there tears sliding down her cheeks? She was puzzled. She choked out a strangled cry. A sob followed, and another. Why was she crying? She had been through Hell and back, this was such a little thing. Her sister wasn’t dead, she was…changed. Dawn was no longer human, and it wasn’t as if she began that way. She was the Key, and now she had closed the door and turned the lock. It was what she was created for. Buffy shook with the force of her tears. She stood there, locked in her grief, unaware of what was happening around her.

Giles’ heart broke at the muted sounds. It was Buffy he could hear. He waited for the line to go dead. Instead, Angel spoke into the phone.

“Giles?”

“Is she going to be alright, Angel? I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news.” He seemed to be doing that a lot lately, Giles thought. Too many slayers dead. Too many people along with them. He wiped at the moisture gathering in his eyes.

Angel’s voice was barely a whisper. “When?”

“Six months ago.”

“About the time the tide turned.”

“You noticed that?”

“Yeah.”

“Angel, I know this is hardly the time to discuss Buffy’s future so could you get her to ring me tomorrow? Or whenever she is ready. Does this pose a problem for you?”

“No.”

Giles gritted his teeth. The vampire was being as taciturn as ever. He tried again.

“You’ll get her to call?”

“That’s up to her.”

“I know you love her, Angel. Please make sure she’s…”

“I will.”

Giles listened as the vampire terminated the call. He let out a breath, gently laying his phone on the desk. Pinching his spectacles off his nose and, leaning back in his chair, Giles closed his eyes. He had wept tears six months ago when Dawn had succeeded in her task. The tears that threatened now were for her sister. He wouldn’t allow it. Instead, he straightened and picked up the phone again.

When he had the operator on the line he asked to speak to Captain Finn. Riley would be a great help if Buffy decided to come home.

+++

All of a sudden Buffy gave Angel a hard shove. He staggered back a step and Buffy took off at a run down the road. Angel dropped the phone and sped off after her.

The lieutenant and his men waited, eyes and ears straining at every little sound and movement. It wasn’t the fair-haired woman who returned with the phone, it was Joe Sanders from up the street.

Joey had been waiting and watching as well, hidden, he thought, in the dark. His mother had informed him of Buffy’s request, and, out of curiosity, he had gone to find out what was going on. He had hidden himself, lying flat behind an abandoned car. Voices carried at night and with the city so quiet he should be able to hear every word. What he didn’t hear was Buffy’s boyfriend taking care of the lieutenant’s men. The soldiers had been placed in strategic positions to watch the lieutenant’s back and the men beside him. A couple of his men were on the roof across the road, and another two on the building next to Joe. It wasn’t until a dark shape glided by, a pale hand indicating he should stay put, that Joey realised there was someone else on the street. The black-clad form had shown himself on purpose to Joey. He wanted the man to stay where he was.

He didn’t hear the quiet voice that greetedTaylor, but he heard Taylor’s response, and figured that the shape that had passed him by was the same man he had seen with Anne…Buffy Summers. He lay still and watched while Miss Summers wandered off to use the army’s phone. She disappeared into the night’s open arms, and he waited. Although he couldn’t hear what was being said he could hear the sound of her voice, and then Joe heard the clatter of the phone hitting the road.

+++

Angel caught up with Buffy a couple of streets away. He dared not call out, that was dangerous, attracting unwanted attention. Instead, Angel grabbed at her arm. Buffy turned and lashed out at him when she felt his touch.

Her fist missed its mark, Angel’s arm blocking the blow. This enraged her and she hit out again. And again. Angel continued to block her punches, never once hitting back.

Buffy was oblivious. She continued to lash out with her fists and then she began to use words to inflict injury. The long months of living in an emotional wilderness overwhelmed her. Grief leant her words that stung.

“This is all your fault,” she sobbed, making a liar out of her previous conversation with Giles. “I knew you couldn’t be trusted working for Wolfram and Hart. If you hadn’t pissed off the Senior Partners Dawn wouldn’t have had to die!”

Her words, like a knife, sliced into his heart. It was true. His actions had initiated the demon holocaust. He didn’t know how many were dead and he didn’t want to dwell. The only death he cared about right now was Dawn’s, and Buffy’s state of mind.

Buffy’s rant continued. “I should have been looking after Dawn in Europe, keeping her safe instead of being here, mopping up yourmess.”

Her blows were getting sloppy and she was running out of steam. Angel caught her up in his arms and held her tight. All the fight went out of her and she sagged into his arms, crying.

“Why, Angel? Why Dawn?” she asked, her words muffled against his chest.

“I don’t know, Buffy,” he whispered, his heart sore. “Maybe it was her turn to save her sister and the world.”

“It didn’t have to be this way,” she moaned.

“You didn’t have to jump off that scaffolding, either.”

“It is my job. I’m the slayer…” her voice hitched and she fell silent.

“I’m sorry, Buffy. I’m sorry that my meddling has brought you this. I’m sorry that Dawn has left you. If I…” He fell silent. There were no words to convey how sorry he was. He held her tight, his spirit low. He would stay to comfort Buffy, but he knew the time had come to go. Now, more than ever, he needed to be gone from her life. He only brought grief and despair to everyone he loved.

+++

Buffy retreated into herself and stayed there for a day. Angel tiptoed round her, letting her come to terms in her own way. He was there if she needed to talk, it was all he could do. Buffy would never get over the death of her sister but she would learn to accept it, and then, when she decided to go back to England to see her friends, Angel would slip away.

Angel was sitting, his legs dangling over the edge of the roof, brooding about the last few years of his unlife. He had made a mess of everything, despite his good intentions. Hell is full of good intentions or desires, wasn’t that the old saying? He wondered if St Bernard knew first-hand how true his words were.

Movement below caught his eye, and he looked at the soldiers going about their business. Lieutenant Taylor was waiting about, no doubt, for Buffy to contact him again. Buffy hadn’t been in any state to see anyone. He thought about Rupert Giles waiting for her to call. In the evening’s gloom he spied four people approach his building and slip inside. One of the men he recognised as Joey Sanders. He thought the woman looked familiar. Perhaps she was one of the neighbours he had seen about the last few weeks.

Taking a deep unneeded breath, he sighed, and, pulling his legs up, swung around till his feet touched the roof. He should get back to Buffy. She had been asleep when he had escaped the confines of the apartment and he didn’t want her to awaken with him gone. He turned back for one last look at the night sky. The stars were bright without smog clogging the L.A. air. They stared down at him, cold and brilliant, unconcerned at the fate of the world. He wondered if the Powers That Be were watching and if they even cared. The only vision he had had, had been about the Circle of the Black Thorn. He thought he had been doing the right thing. He had a mission. He was the Power’s champion. He had to keep on believing that but he was finding it hard to do of late.

Movement behind him had him facing towards the door to the roof. Buffy stood there, Sanders with her, two men and a woman with them. He recognised the woman from a few nights ago. She and her child had been cowering in fear from the group of vampires he and Buffy had dusted. The men beside her were not frightened of him, but they were wary. They knew what he was. He sensed that.

“These people want to speak to you,” Buffy said quietly, stepping away from the strangers and joining him at the roof’s edge. Her hand found his and her grip was almost enough to break his bones.

Angel could hear wonder and excitement colouring her voice. Whatever it was these people wanted with him, Buffy was privy to it, and she had put aside her grief for the moment.

“Angelus.”

The slayer felt the sudden tension in her lover’s body. She narrowed her eyes at the silver-haired man who had spoken. She had informed them of her boyfriend’s name and yet he dared…she squeezed his hand a little harder.

“I’m here on behalf of the Kalderash clan.”

Angel had known the minute the man had opened his mouth. There was the faintest trace of an accent. One he was familiar with. He nodded. Joey Sanders just stood there, looking perplexed.

“My name is Xavier and this is Mircea. We are brothers. Philomena is our cousin. You saved her life and that of her baby. For that we are grateful.”

Angel inclined his head. He knew that it was a difficult thing for them to do, thanking a vampire, and not just any vampire, but Angelus who was the cursed one.

Xavier went on. “We know that it isn’t only Philomena you have saved. There have been many more. It’s time for old grudges to be laid to rest. The world is no longer what it was. We have spoken to our wise women on your behalf. Your soul is yours.”

If Angel’s heart could beat it would be pounding. He had thought the majicks used in his curse had been lost to the Kalderash. Thoughts of the whys and wherefores flew from his mind when he realised what this could mean for the both of them. They had managed in all the chaos to survive, to find comfort in one another. The gift of a permanent soul meant he was free to really feel, to embrace the joy he found in loving Buffy. He had wondered if it was too late, if Buffy’s anger and grief barred him from her heart, but with Buffy clutching his hand in her slayer grip, he no longer had any doubt. Having no words, he could only nod his thanks, and the trio withdrew, Philomena looking once over her shoulder at him with the smallest of smiles.

Joey Sanders could hear the words but he did not understand what was being said. Kalderash? Who were they? What was all this talk about grudges and souls? Turning, he left the mystery with the two beings behind him, and followed the strangers down the stairs.

Buffy stared up at Angel, her eyes shining bright. If he looked closely he could see the stars reflected in them, he thought.

“Angel…about what I said…”

He shook his head at her, but she went on, anyway. “Can you forgive me? I hurt you…badly. I wish I could take back the mean things I said. It wasn’t your fault. I know that. There are always consequences to our actions. I should know. Been there, done that!” She laughed a little nervously.

“But there is no excuse…”

Angel cut in, finally finding his voice. Two miracles had happened in the space of a few minutes. One day his soul could be his own and he might be allowed true happiness, and it might happen in the near future. Buffy had forgiven him She still loved him. “Buffy, you don’t have to explain. You lost your sister. I understand. It’s alright.”

“But it’s not alright, Angel,” she said with a cry. “I should have my lips sewn shut. That way I might think before I speak. You have been the only thing that has mattered to me over these long horrible months. You’ve kept me alive. You’ve kept me sane. And what do I do? I tear you apart like a good loving girlfriend isn’t supposed to do…”

Grabbing her face, Angel leaned down and stopped her with a kiss. When they parted, both were panting. He said, “I thought I’d lost you.”

Pulling his face down for another kiss, she whispered, “Never. Isn’t that the whole point?”

His reply was lost beneath her lips.

The End.

November 2007

Author’s notes

Many people attribute the saying The road to Hell is paved with good intentions to Samuel Johnson but he hadn’t said that at all. Here is a link to further explain the quote.

http://www.samueljohnson.com/road.html