7/6/04

Disclaimer: Angel & Buffy belong to Joss and other people who are not me. They make much money, I have none. Jabber, jabber, jabber.

Spoilers: AU: Angel S5, post "Damage".

Relationship: B/A 'ship- 'cause what else is there?

Summary: Angel is coming to grips with the fact that Buffy might not trust him any longer, when the subject of his brooding walks in to address some long-standing issues.

This will be my second foray in Angel/Buffy fanfic. The idea for this has been gnawing at me for months, and so here it is. Hope you enjoy. Now, on with the show...

Going Down with the Ship

.

Even with the sun shining through the supernaturally created glass windows of his office, Angel still felt like the room was as dark as his mood. Just last night his good-will efforts to help Andrew, Rupert Giles' chosen Watcher representative had been blown to bits. He'd been asked to help locate a young woman named Dana, a slayer that had been missed by the reestablished council after they'd created hundreds of slayers instead of one, due to her being locked up in an asylum.

It was a simple enough thing, except he and his team had been used. While the Watcher's council was now under the control of Giles, obviously they were still willing to be more than a little underhanded in their tactics. Andrew had used Angel's resources, those of Wolfram and Hart, to locate the missing slayer. Then when Angel would have used his connections to help Dana become more mentally stable, Andrew and a half dozen new slayers showed up to take the girl.

When Angel had argued that he was capable of helping the psychopathic slayer, he'd been told that it wasn't his business any more, and that he wasn't trusted now. By anyone. Including Buffy. That statement had hurt more than he thought it could, and he didn't know what he'd done to make that change in trust happen.

Nothing during his last meeting with Buffy had indicated that there was any mistrust in his motives. On the contrary, the reception she'd given him had been much more enthusiastic than he'd expected. Then things had cooled when he brought up Spike...

Damn it though, he hadn't been the one that had backed off this time. He'd been ready to stay and fight. But she had sent him packing.

He didn't know what the hell had happened after he'd left, except for Spike's comments since his 'reappearance' among the living on the whole 'burning to a crisp' and Buffy's supposed 'declaration of love' that Spike had taken great pleasure in telling his Grandsire about. But how all of that could turn into his not being trusted, he didn't have a clue...

As he sat there and tried to puzzle out what might have occurred, the door to his office pushed open. Expecting one of his undead secretary's meddling announcements, Angel didn't even bother to lift his head.

"Harmony, this isn't a good time."

"I'm sure it isn't," said a voice that was decidedly not the blond vampire that sat outside his office. "Anyway, Harmony wasn't out there, she must be taking a blood break or something."

Angel's head snapped up the instant he heard her voice, his eyes needing the confirmation of what his nose, ears and gut were telling him. That this slayer, the twice risen from the dead, formerly his slayer was walking in his door. He wasn't sure how he'd missed sensing her come into the building, but as her five foot something frame walked in, he had no doubt about whom she was.

"Buffy."

"Angel."

It was a polite greeting, and Angel simply watched as Buffy slowly looked around his office, her shapely form clad in black slacks, high heeled sandals and a pale peach halter top keeping his attention. Then the reason for his brooding came back to him, and he hardened himself to the sight of her.

"What are you doing here?" he questioned, all business.

"Nice digs. I'm sorry I didn't call first. There really wasn't much time," she began as she slowly walked the perimeter of the office as she surveyed the space before she headed towards his desk. "I mean, once I heard what had happened, I just focused on getting to L.A. and well, I didn't want to try and use the plane phone. Too expensive, you know what I mean?"

"You came all the way to L.A. from Rome..." he asked as he turned in his chair to follow her path around the room.

"I didn't want to call," she tried to explain as she finally came up around the desk and looked closely at his wall of weaponry. "There seems to have been a misunderstanding, and I didn't want to make it worse by calling."

"Misunderstanding, how?" he asked as he stared at her back as she ran her hands across the red lacquered katana sheath.

"Giles told me about what happened with you and Andrew."

Suddenly it was all becoming clear. She was here because of the psychopathic slayer and Andrew's behavior. She was here to explain herself.

"So you know what he did," Angel began. "What he told me."

"Yes."

"I don't understand Buffy. Why would Andrew say that you didn't trust me?"

"He was confused," she stated, finally settling in one of the chairs flanking Angel's impressive desk as she tried to keep this meeting business- like. She was not going to let herself get overly emotional, even as she took in his still stunning dark looks, complemented by the black dress shirt and what probably were matching pants.

That was not why she was here. Really, it wasn't...

It was about making sure that there wasn't any damage that couldn't be repaired; cleaning up Andrew's mistakes with her personal assurance. She'd gotten on the first plane to L.A. after Andrew had bragged to Giles and Willow about his coup in getting Dana, bringing her back, and how he had used Angel's crew to help find her. Of course, he didn't expect the news of how he'd told Angel that he wasn't trusted by her to get back to the 'de- facto' head of the new Slayer/Watcher organization in Rome so quickly.

Her conversation with Giles over the matter was brief – make sure that Andrew knew he had stepped out of line and that she was going to do some damage control with their L.A. allies...

"I said some things in London before I left for Rome that gave him the wrong impression of the situation."

"What exactly could you have said that he could misinterpret into 'I don't trust Angel' Buffy?" Angel nearly growled. To have her here, and listen to this was just too much. "I never thought that after everything that we've been through over the years and especially with The First just six months ago that you'd ever think that I wouldn't be on the right side of things. I could have not brought you the amulet, or the information I got from Wolfram and Hart when you were fighting The First. Would that have been better?"

She glared at him from her seat and placed her hands firmly on the arms of the chair. He had no idea...

"No, it wouldn't. And it's not all about you," Buffy threw back at him.

"Oh really? You could have fooled me. I got the word from the new Council's representative that I wasn't trusted."

"What I said about trust wasn't about my not trusting you Angel," she began, very carefully. "It was this place. It's evil. You know it and so do I. And yes, you're trying to change things, and I respect that. But there are people who don't want it to change. People that would happily undermine every good deed you do, because that's not what Wolfram and Hart are about, are they?"

He paused at that, and lowered his head in thought.

"I have a responsibility to the slayers," Buffy continued, trying to make clear her distinction between Angel and Wolfram and Hart. "Taking care of Dana is our duty, not yours. And who knows what might have happened if you had turned to Wolfram and Hart's resources to try to help Dana..."

That brought Angel up short. Could his plan to bring Dana into Wolfram and Hart's care given others without his pure motives access to her? Would they have found a way to turn her into a weapon, or make her worse rather than better without his knowledge?

He didn't like to think of the new hypothesis Buffy's statement had created in his mind, but he realized that there was no guarantee that what Buffy was thinking couldn't happen. They'd made an extensive effort to weed out potential troublemakers when they first took over Wolfram and Hart, but there wasn't any assurance that some of the employees might be tempted to take an offer to help their own bosses, even if they weren't evil at heart. Maybe the mistrust Giles and Buffy had in regards to Wolfram and Hart was well placed after all, seen from that viewpoint.

"Alright, I understand where you're coming from about this place, but why did Giles send Andrew? Why not Faith or Willow or even Xander? Why not you?" he blurted out, and then wished he hadn't said anything.

"The others have important tasks that they couldn't leave. As for me... I didn't want to come here and see you," she admitted reluctantly.

"Why?" Angel questioned, confused at her behavior and avoidance.

Buffy sighed, and her hands gripped the arms of the chair a little too hard, and she felt the wood crack and split beneath her fingers. She really had hoped not to have to do this. That he'd take her apology at face value and not ask any questions.

But part of her knew that this was the real reason that she'd asked Giles to book her flight, using the Watcher's vast bank accounts to pay for it. So she could finally address everything with Angel that she'd denied since she'd stood with him in the cemetery before defeating The First. That she'd been denying since graduation night...

Except she was scared to death of finally uttering the truth that she'd come to accept after The First had been destroyed, and that she'd run off to Rome to try to escape.

"It's still too hard," she softly said, her head dipping as she studied his carpet.

"I don't understand..."

Suddenly she got up from the chair, and walked away from where Angel sat at his desk. As she got closer to the window, she sucked in a deep breath and prepared herself for what she had to do. Say it quick, and get it over and done with, she thought to herself.

"You know, no matter how hard I tried to convince myself that I didn't, I came to accept after Sunnydale went all cratery, that I still loved you..."

Angel quickly turned in his seat, taken aback at the words that had just come from Buffy's lips. He stared at the petite blond slayer from his every dream as she pressed her hands and head to the necromanced glass.

"I thought..." Angel remarked confused, "I mean I didn't realize you still... I mean, first you couldn't answer me straight about Spike, and then you had said it might be years before you were ready for a relationship when we saw each other last and that you weren't thinking of who you wanted to... I assumed that you..."

"I know. I didn't tell you this when we saw each other last time. Or the time before that, etcetera, etcetera. I was repressing. I convinced myself that I had to do certain things before I was ready. Of course, I had to find out the hard way that denying how I felt wasn't all it's cracked up to be," she remarked further, but with a little humor and an overflowing sense of pain, "but in the end, when I got off the plane in Rome, I realized that even if I didn't say it, well, I still felt it. Where's the sense in denying something when it's the one thing that makes sense?"

"I don't know," he responded honestly, trying to follow Buffy's flow of logic, which at best was complicated. Her announcement that she still was in love with him didn't help his confusion either.

Suddenly she turned and looked at him, the color of her eyes like the haze that hung over the city that he now claimed as his own. They were stormy and desperate, and he remembered many times they were focused on him like this, and the results of those events were never good.

"Look, I'm not trying to make your life harder," she continued, turning to Angel, her teeth gnawing on her lower lip. "I just needed to tell you the truth."

"Which is?" he asked with hesitation, his voice hushed and nervous.

"I'm in love with you," she said simply to the dark haired vampire, her tone almost grave, "and always will be."

Angel took a deep, unneeded breath and closed his eyes. He couldn't remember the last time she'd said those words to him, and hadn't realized just how much his soul needed to hear them from her. After Sunnydale, he had thought that he might never hear them again.

He'd thought, after her declaration in that cemetery months ago about her needing to be on her own, needing to 'finish baking' before she could think about being with someone was maybe just an excuse to let him down gently. Yet, before they'd parted, he questioned her on if she saw anyone in her life in the future. He'd been fishing for something to keep him going. Finally, she'd given him a sliver of hope about sometimes looking that far ahead, but it had been vague, nothing like this.

Today she had just bared everything to him, sharing her truth with him rather than trying to hide it from him and herself.

With a mental kick, he forced his mind to put aside the past so he could focus on her as she moved within his office. She was fidgeting, pacing along the length of the window, trying to not look at him. The fear and nervous energy coming off her in waves was making his vampire senses dizzy.

"I know I shouldn't have given you that damn cookie dough speech thing... but I didn't, couldn't deal with you and how I felt about you, how I was trying not to feel about you along with everything else that was going on at the time," she attempted to explain, her words halting and jumbled. "Plus, with the whole Spike thing and everything..."

"Buffy..."

"And I realize that maybe things could be different for you now. That maybe you found someone else," she pushed forward, ignoring him, thinking of the pain that Andrew's words, her relationships with Spike and Riley had caused Angel... Her unwillingness to admit to him the truth that last night when he'd all but asked her if they had a future. She had been too afraid to admit her true feelings, fearing that he might hate her for what she'd done, for turning him away. She knew she hated herself for it. "I'd understand if you weren't interested anymore."

Dismayed, Angel tried to move, to open his mouth, but found that he was seemingly rooted to the spot as Buffy poured out her heart to him.

"God knows after everything I've done it would make sense," she mumbled, thinking of her visit years ago when he'd reminded her that they were exes now. "I basically handed you your walking papers back in Sunnydale, and I could see how you might not be able to forgive me for that..."

"Stop it!" Angel finally burst out, surprising Buffy with the vehemence of his words.

Pushing himself from his chair, Angel realized that the miscommunication that was going on had little to do with Andrew, the Watcher's Council, or the new slayers and everything to do with his and Buffy's unresolved relationship.

A relationship that no matter what happened between them, or in their lives, wasn't ever going to be over. As much as he wanted for her to be able to move on, she hadn't. And he realized that he'd never been able too either because...

"I love you."

Angel's quiet but sincere words brought Buffy up short, and she turned slowly from her pacing to look at him, her mouth hanging slightly open as he slowly walked forward towards her.

"I know that when I left all those years ago that it hurt you. That you tried your best to move on, even if you couldn't... and afterwards, when we met, all it did was end up emphasizing what you'd lost by my leaving."

Buffy simply nodded her head slightly, agreeing to Angel's assessment of her reaction to his breaking up with her, and the times afterwards when they ended up having to work together or deal with each other.

"And I understand that. Because I didn't want to be there, to see you, knowing that all that I wanted in my life was what I couldn't have... you," Angel admitted emotionally, raking his hair with his hand. "So I stayed out of your life as much as I could, to keep from wanting you too much. And I guess that because of that, you thought that maybe, after Spike and your comments about not seeing anyone in your future you could think that I might have moved on..."

"So have you?" she asked nervously, seriously believing that her rebuff of him months ago might have closed him off permanently.

"I guess my earlier statement didn't sink in with you," he whispered, pulling her slowly to him and running his hand along the side of her face as he gazed into her softening eyes. "I'm in love with you Buffy, and I always will be."

A tremulous breath escaped Buffy as she realized that she hadn't lost him after all. After everything, he still loved her, truly wanted to be with her. She smiled up at him, only to find her smile returned to her with that lopsided grin of his she'd remembered and dreamed of for more years than she could count.

Then, giving into the same emotions that had bubbled up and possessed her when he'd shown up at the temple in Sunnydale, she reached up, pulled his face to hers and kissed him with every ounce of repressed passion and emotion she had for him. It took less than a heartbeat before he pulled her tightly to him and kissed her passionately back.

Unfortunately the supernatural abilities of being a slayer didn't include being able to ignore the need for air, and Buffy had to pull away to take in deep gulps to refill her aching lungs. Still, Angel didn't feel any need to let her go, as he held her tightly, not wanting to feel her slip from him again. He'd made enough mistakes in his life. Letting her go now, after finally finding their way back to one another wasn't one he was willing to make.

Licking her lips, she stared into his dark brown eyes and tried to comprehend what was happening. Hadn't she just planned on coming here, getting the apology and the truth out, and then leaving? How had it ended up becoming the greatest kiss of all time?

"I don't understand," she fought to get out. "Are you... are we... I mean, can we do this? Can you just put aside everything I've done? And there's the curse and all..."

Shit, he'd just about forgotten about that last issue. His romp with Eve not withstanding, there was still no guarantee that his last re-ensouling had been any different than before, even though he'd thought things had felt different afterwards, but it could still be that the curse was still an issue.

But at least now he had an entire building filled with psychics, mystical researchers, witches, demons and more. Wes had access to every book written. Ever. He could sing for Lorne, have him read the status of his soul, and if the loophole was still there, he'd have Wes start a group of researchers to solve the problem. Hell, he had the resources, why not use them? Besides, fixing his curse was a better use of Wolfram and Hart's money than the fleet of cars that was sitting in the basement.

"And if there wasn't a curse issue?" he asked with that half smile that made Buffy's heart pound against her ribcage harder.

"Do you really need an answer to that question?"

"No, yes... I need to be sure that you're sure that this is what you want. I let you go for so many reasons that still matter, but you need to decide now what's right for you. I won't make the decision for you again."

"That's all I've ever asked for... the chance to choose," she said softly.

It was at that moment Angel realized something he'd failed to recognize in his selflessness of letting her go so she could have a normal life all those years ago. Unlike the young women that had chosen to break the rule of only one slayer in a generation, giving the power to all potentials, when Buffy had been called, there was only one slayer, and there wasn't a way to choose that destiny. After that day, all her decisions had been taken from her. Including the one that had separated them, and that choice he'd taken from her.

If after all of that she wanted to be with him, he wasn't about to question or argue against. He was just overwhelmed that she still loved him. Still, he wanted to make sure she had considered everything...

"What about Europe? Dawn? Cookies?" Angel questioned finally, his hopes growing with every minute she stayed in his grasp.

"Rome's boring alone," Buffy grinned, "Dawn can decide where she wants to be; here, Rome or in England with Giles. And through I'm reasonably sure that I've baked a sufficient amount of time, deciding if cookies are done enough is entirely up to the cook and the cookie eater..."

Angel couldn't help but give her a leer at her choice of words as she trailed off, blushing nearly to her roots at her slightly provocative phrasing. Images of how to sample her 'cookie goodness' brought his mind back to the persistent problem with his having a relationship with Buffy – the curse.

"How about we put this on hold just a second..."

Using every ounce of willpower he had, Angel let himself release Buffy and swiftly moved to his desk. Buffy followed him, curious at what was going on. With a jab of his finger, he turned on the intercom.

"Harmony?"

"Yeah boss?" the blond vampire's irritatingly happy voice came through the box.

"Call Lorne and Wes to my office now. If you get their voice mail, call their cells and their pagers. I need them in here yesterday."

Removing his hand from the metal box, he glanced at his love as she stood there, her arms now crossed over her chest, looking perplexed.

"Okay, color me confused. I really didn't think our reunion needed chaperones or witnesses."

He was just about to make a witty comment about why they always seemed to need a chaperone in the past when the door to his office opened with an exaggerated force.

"Alright sugarlips, what's so important that I had to wrap up my conference call with Johnny Depp?" the green anagogic demon with the stunningly bizarre fashion sense announced as he walked in.

"Lorne, I need you to..." Angel began when Lorne stopped dead in his tracks and pointed at Buffy.

"Oh my god! That's your slayer!"

Following that pronouncement, Buffy swiftly looked at Angel with shock. What, did she have a big sign saying 'property of Angel' on her or something? And what exactly had Angel told this guy, demon, member of Wolfram and Hart that he knew who and what she was?

"Lorne, Buffy. Buffy, this is Lorne, he's one of my team from before we took over here. He's an anagogic demon, and he's going to do us a big favor."

"Oh big guy, you haven't fallen off the soulful cart, have you?" Lorne asked, mildly concerned at his boss' strident tone of voice.

"No, and I need to find out if I can anymore," Angel replied, giving a sidelong look at Buffy.

Just before Lorne opened his mouth to comment, Wes busted through the door.

"What's so urgent that you had Harmony pull me from... Buffy," Wes asked as he came through the door, but shopped short when he say his previous slayer charge standing beside Angel's desk.

"Seems that the boss and his little slayer may have patched things up."

Wes looked dubiously from Lorne to Angel, then to Buffy. Confused, he came into the office and moved to the seating area near the desk, noted silently the broken chair Buffy had been in recently, and chose another. Lorne followed, perching on the arm of the couch.

"Before we end up asking a lot irrelevant questions, how about you sum things up for us?" Wes requested, directing his words to Angel.

"Buffy and I have come to an... understanding of sorts," Angel explained, trying not to grin like an idiot. "So I asked Lorne in to listen to me sing and read whether my soul still has the clause or not. If it's still there, I need you to get a research team together to find a binding spell for it."

"But you suspect that your soul is no longer subject to the loophole in your curse, is that correct?"

Buffy stared at Angel. This was incredible. Angel seemed to think that the curse was no longer an issue, and from his certainty about it, he'd obviously been thinking about it for a while. But she wasn't sure how that could be. The last time he'd lost his soul, Willow had used the gypsy curse from the hospital in Sunnydale to give him his soul back before she sent him to hell.

"The shaman didn't use the curse to re-ensoul me, did he?"

"Not that I can remember. He used his own mystical arts to return your soul to your body," Wes stated, finally understanding Angel's logic. "So if the curse wasn't used, then it would be logical to assume the loophole was not included during the reintroduction of your soul."

"Oh my... if that's the case, you and your slayer can start relieving some of that tension..." Lorne began to remark with his trademark humor when he was interrupted.

"Whoa there! Okay, back up the truck, I'm really lost here," Buffy announced rather forcefully. "What do you mean re-ensouled?"

There were a lot of eyes darting away from the slayer, and Buffy started getting the feeling that something had happened that they didn't want to tell her about. What they were saying was that some shaman had given him his soul again... as she sifted through the comments they had made, piecing together what they were implying and what she knew would have to happen that would make him need to have his soul returned to him, she suddenly felt the blood rush from her face.

"You lost your soul?" she asked, stunned. "Who..."

"Actually, it was removed," Wes attempted to explain to the desolate slayer, and then hurriedly amended his comment before she could ask him what he meant. "We had a plan to get some information we needed from Angelus, so we caged Angel and had his soul removed magically, bringing Angelus forth. Once we had our information, we then had his soul put back."

"When was this?" she demanded, looking to Angel hopefully.

"Last year. Before I came to see you when you were battling The First."

Buffy paused to think about when this would have been, and came up with some ideas she wasn't sure she liked.

"Around the time that Willow had to run off to help a friend. That would be you."

Angel nodded, and finally slumped into his chair, too emotionally drained to stand any longer. Buffy quickly moved to sit on his desk, trying to watch him, Wes and Lorne at the same time.

"But you said that the shaman guy put your soul back, not Willow. Why'd she have to come up here if not to re-curse you?"

"Someone stole his soul," Wes carefully spoke, not wanting to open up more wounds than necessary. "We asked Willow to come help us locate it, and if need be, re-curse Angelus. However, once she found Angel's soul, we had the shaman who removed it put it back. It was just about then that Faith left with Willow to help you with The First."

"Someone stole..." Buffy started, and then turned to Angel to see the pain etched on his face. "I wish you'd said something."

"You had other things going on. And other people to worry about," he said as he recalled Angelus' words and actions while he'd been loose, and the final results of those dark days – Cordy in a coma, Conner gone, finding out about Buffy and Spike...

At his words, Buffy sighed and reached over to catch his hand in hers. It didn't take a rocket scientist to know he wasn't referring to the Scoobies or the potentials. He meant Spike.

"I would have come if you'd asked. There wasn't anything or anyone more important that you, and you know that," she admonished lightly.

Nodding his head, Angel let go of the jealousy he had regarding Spike. He knew she had shared something with Spike that he wished she hadn't, but even by her own words back in the cemetery, she never loved Spike like she loved him.

"So, you're voluntarily going to sing?" Lorne chimed in.

"Not much choice. I need verification that my soul is stuck in place, and with the Oracles gone, there aren't too many options."

"But, could he be wrong?" Buffy asked carefully, unclear on how the whole soul reading thing worked.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence there sweetheart," Lorne mock complained, and then continued, "it's rare that I don't get the honest truth out of a soul when they sing. Usually it only happens when some kind of magical force misdirects me. But there's none of that going on here."

"Uh, hello! Evil law firm. Don't you think that they might have wards or something that might distort the readings to shake their way?"

Wes, Lorne and Angel all looked at each other. They'd never given the idea that the offices could have been enchanted so that some of the employees that the Senior Partners wanted to keep around wouldn't have been purged when Angel took over. Lorne seemed to go a bit pale under his evergreen coloring.

"We just assumed that..." Wes stammered, feeling a bit unnerved by Buffy's obvious observation that he and the rest of AI had neglected to address.

"I'm not sure that there is such an enchantment in place here, but I think researching it would be a good idea. Wes," Angel said, looking to his right hand man to make sure that Wes did not think Angel held him responsible for potentially missing something. "In the meantime, we need a neutral place where Lorne's reading can work, with no question of interference. I don't want to wait on this while we check the building."

"Sure big guy. I know the club got trashed, but I still have a friend of mine, Trinka, she's a Mygatt demon, with a place that will do. Just, well, its sort of an after hours place, if you know what I mean."

"That's fine Lorne. Just make sure that your friend doesn't mind us coming by and using the facilities. Give me the address and I'll make sure we get there after dark."

"In the meantime, it's probably best that I go," Buffy announced suddenly, bringing everyone's attention to her again.

Angel's face darkened at the thought of her leaving him, and started to get up to close some of the distance between them as he attempted to talk her out of it. Before he could get two inches out of his chair, she gave him a look that pinned him in place.

"Until we're sure, I don't want us to have any temptation, which my being here would cause. You and I both know that."

Reluctantly he nodded, realizing that truly all he had wanted to do since kissing her was take her downstairs to his apartment and make love to her until morning. Wes and Lorne seemed relived that Angel had come to the understanding about the Buffy temptation without them having to say anything.

"What are you going to do for the next six hours then?"

With that, the slayer shrugged. She hadn't planned on anything after seeing Angel and telling him what she'd already said. The only thing she knew was that she needed to cancel her flight back to Rome.

"I have to call Giles and Dawn and let them know what's up. I'm sure there will be lots of yelling and complaining, but if I'm staying put, I've got to take care of stuff."

"We do have a spare office Angel," Wes suggested happily. "The one between Gunn's and mine. She could use that to make her calls and you can take care of business here."

"That should work. Besides, I don't want you too far off, so that when we're ready to go, there's no delays," Angel announced stiffly, a bit anxious to have this over and done with.

"I'll call you before Trinka's opens," Lorne said, then got up to leave. "I'll see you two lovebirds later."

Before either Angel or Buffy could protest to Lorne's wording, he was out the door, cell phone in hand. Sighing, Buffy got up from her space on Angel's desk and started to move to where Wes was sitting so he could lead her to the empty office. She hadn't gotten more than two steps before Angel's hand grasped her by the arm.

"Wes, I know the office you mean. I'll escort Buffy over there in a minute."

Giving Angel a look of concern and resignation, Wes nodded his head and got up and headed out of the office, leaving them alone.

"What was that about?" Buffy asked, slightly miffed at her once and future lover going all caveman on her.

"You said something I wanted to talk to you about before you call Giles," Angel said, guiding Buffy back to his desk, sitting her on his lap though. "You said staying put. I'm assuming that means with me, right?"

Perched as she was across his legs, she had to turn her head to look at him. What he saw there was nervousness and embarrassment. Angel furrowed his brow at the expression on her face.

"What?"

"I didn't plan this very well," she finally answered, fidgeting on his lap in a very arousing way. "I just had Giles book the flight and went to the airport. Since I expected this, really, to be just a business meeting, I wasn't staying very long, so I didn't book a place to stay or tell Dawn when I'd be back..."

"Wait, you weren't planning on being here for more than a few hours? Does that mean you didn't bring any clothes?" Angel asked, confused and slightly pleased.

"Like I said earlier, I just had Giles book me a flight to L.A., got off the phone with him and headed for the airport. I told him it was a business meeting, and that I'd call when I got everything straightened out."

"So, no clothes because you weren't staying more than a few hours, and no hotel for the same reason. But you have a plane ticket for Rome in your pocket?"

"It leaves in five hours."

"And you're not using it," Angel half stated, half asked, his tone of voice slightly unsure.

"Of course not!"

"I mean, I could understand that you needed to go back, pack, or even, since we don't know the status of my soul wait there to hear if we could..." he stumbled. He didn't want her to leave, but her realized not only was this a sudden decision to be back together again, but the temptation of being in the same apartment when the curse was still an issue might cause them both too much stress.

"Hey! None of that now. I made a decision I've been really wanting to since I was 18, so no trying to ship me off to the continent and all that if things are complicated. If you're still all cursey, we'll just have to use separate rooms, or have a chaperone or I'll have to get an apartment in town or something."

"Wolfram and Hart have some corporate apartments you could use, if we have to."

"Let's not worry about that until we know what we're dealing with. If we decide I should go back while you do some mojo, then we'll figure it out later. Right now, I need to call Giles."

Jumping up, Buffy placed her hands on her hips, a classic pose that Angel recognized as the end of the conversation. Pushing up from the chair, he placed a hand to her lower back and walked them out of his office and across the main lobby of Wolfram and Hart. Nearly all the employees they passed stared, noting the vampire with the blond woman whom most of them had no clue was his former love. Angel glared at them with a look that told them to mind their own business.

Finally, they made their way past the 'interested' employees to the office next to Wes'. It was standard high-end office – dark wood varnished desk, matching chairs and an executive armchair. The window looked out onto the L.A. landscape.

"This okay?"

"It's more than okay. Look, just go about your business like I wasn't here, and later, we'll do the karaoke thing."

With a dismissing wave of her hand, Buffy finally scooted Angel out of the office, and then waited for him to close the door. Whipping out her wallet, she pulled her international calling card out and picked up the phone.

"I'd like to make a calling card call to London, England please," she stated to the operator on the line, and then rattled off the number and her card number before they put the call through.

As the buzz of the trans-Atlantic call preceded each ring, Buffy tried to do the math in her head of what time it was in England, but gave up. Hopefully whatever god-awful time it was, Giles would forgiver her. Finally, after five rings, she heard a familiar voice pick up.

"Hello?" said a somewhat tired voice, and Buffy slightly winced at the sound of it.

"Hi Giles, It's me."

"Buffy...good."

"So, I made it okay, obviously, since I'm calling and all."

"How did your discussion with Angel go?"

"I explained things. Remind me to beat the shit out of Andrew the next time I see him."

"So, will I need to inform him to start running now, or will he have quite a while to prepare for his whipping?" Giles asked with a slightly optimistic tone to his voice.

Intuitive watcher, she thought.

"If I didn't know better, I'd swear I'd been set up."

"Willow, Faith and Xander seemed to think that this trip might have more to do with unresolved issues than Andrew's presumptiveness."

Buffy took in that piece of information and told herself she'd have to thank them. Still, she had news of her own...

"Angel thinks his soul is bound."

There was shocked silence on the other end of the line.

"Giles, are you still there? Did I lose you?"

"No, I'm sorry Buffy, I was just taken by surprise. How did this all come about?"

"Well, it's all long and complicated; Willow actually might be better prepared to explain than me, since she was all principal figure and all."

"Willow fixed Angel's curse?" Giles asked in surprise, mostly from the fact that she hadn't mentioned such a thing.

"Not exactly, she just sorta helped. Anyway, we talked and all this kinda came out, and the next thing I knew I was saying I still loved him and he was saying he still loved me... it was a big dramatic scene."

"So you're staying?"

"Yeah. We're finally both ready to try and make this work."

"I'm truly happy for you Buffy. With everything you have gone through, a little happiness isn't too much to ask for, is it?"

"Nope. So we have a meeting with an anagogic demon..." Buffy trailed off as she tried to make sure she had the demon name right.

"Soul readers. Well, that would make sense," remarked Giles, and Buffy smiled on her end.

"Anyways, Lorne, the demon guy is a friend of Angel's and is gonna check and make sure that Angelus is all sealed up before we do anything. But Angel seems pretty convinced that he's good to go."

"And if not?"

"Wes is here, and according to Angel they've got like books and researchers galore here. Maybe after this is all over we could work out some kind of exchange program – they provide us research we can't do and we loan them a slayer or two?"

"Perhaps. But either way it sounds like you're staying for the long term."

"I'm going down with the ship Giles," Buffy smirked, thinking of just how long she'd been doing that.

"Uh, yes, well, you know I'm still not much on pop culture references, so I'll assume that means you're going to stay with Angel for good now. If that is the case, what do you plan to do about Dawn?" questioned Giles.

"I thought I'd call her and let her choose. I mean, she could come to L.A. and stay with me or with Dad..."

Even on another continent, Rupert Giles could hear the unspoken thoughts of the young woman whom he had been blessed to have been asked to be watcher to. She was as much daughter as slayer, and Dawn was part of that family that she'd brought into his life. And while Buffy hadn't asked, he knew she'd like to give Dawn one more option besides Los Angeles.

"Yes Buffy, if Dawn likes, she can stay with Willow or me. I don't think that after all this time of helping take care of her either of us would turn her away."

"Thanks Giles. I wouldn't ask..."

"You didn't."

"I still have to cancel my ticket back to Rome though..."

"Don't worry about it Buffy. It's a refundable ticket, and I'll have Willow call when she gets into the office."

"Thanks Giles. What would I do without you?"

"I should hope we don't find out for a while Buffy. However, it is quite early, so perhaps you can call me when it's all settled so we know if things worked out or not?"

"Gotcha. Thanks Giles. I'll call soon."

With that, Buffy hung up, and then picked up the phone again, following the same procedure. This time when the phone picked up, it was her answering machine. For a moment, Buffy panicked, but then thought of how many mornings Dawn refused to get up for anything, let alone to answer the phone.

"Dawn, it's me. Well, I talked with Angel and, after taking things out, I decided that I'm staying. I'll call you so we can talk about if you want to come out here to stay with me and Angel or dad, or maybe Giles... Anyhow, love you and take care, okay? Oh, the phone number here is 310-555-1000."

Buffy finished the message and then hung up, turning in the luxurious leather seat to look out the window. It wasn't as impressive a view as Angel's office had been, but it was nice. The steady noise of people walking past the closed door and talking was relatively silent. She hadn't heard peace and quiet for a while. With a yawn, she stretched in the chair and realized that she hadn't slept in like over 24 hours. She would normally have been asleep in Italy, but instead it was late afternoon in L.A.

Another yawn fought its way up, and Buffy covered her mouth to try and stifle it. In doing so, she left her eyes close, and before she knew it, she felt herself falling asleep.

-end chapter 1-