"But it's my birthday..."

The quiver in her voice constricted his chest and pulled painfulyl on his heartstrings. Angel knew just how much it meant to her, especially after her father had abandoned her--now he was doing the same.

But he blocked out all those thought, he had to take the arm to keep her safe. That was all that mattered.

Buffy stood helpless and heartbroken at the events unfolding. For the very first time since she became the Slayer, her birthday was supposed to be completely and absolutely perfect. It was supposed to the have the perfect party, the perfect cake and no matter what the baddies threw at her, it was supposed to be just...perfect.

That could never happen if Angel wasn't there.

Everything blurred and suddenly they were on the docks, soaking in each other's presence. Buffy fought back tears and for all his resolve, she knew that Angel was in a similar condition. And that knowledge was enough to take just one more step.

One more step to leaving him.

Buffy bit her lip. Don't cry. Don't cry.

As if sensing she needed a distraction, Angel stopped and turned to face her. He fumbled in his pocket and brought out a ring.

"I wanted to give you this..." Angel revealed a claddagh ring in the dim dock lights. "The hands represent friendship, the crown represents loyalty, and the heart...well, you know."

Buffy smiled through her tears.

"Wear it with the heart pointing towards you, it means you belong to someone." He held out his own hand, "Like this."

Buffy put it on, doing everything she could to memorize the bittersweet moment. The emotions coursing through them cemented their bond and Buffy suddenly broke down all pretenses, jumping into Angel's arms, sobbing.

"How will I know I'll ever see you again? That you won't be killed? That we'll ever have the chance to..." she stopped realizing what she was about to say.

"...to what?" Angel asked gently.

She sniffled, "Well, if you haven't noticed, someone pretty much always wants us dead."

"Don't say that! You're a lot stronger than you give yourself credit for," Angel looked straight into her eyes. "You'll make it."

"But you don't know that! Wh--"

"--You never know your strength until you're tested. Don't forget that," Angel told her. At the frightened look that lingered on her face he sighed and pulled her against him.

"Don't worry, beloved. If you weren't strong, then how would we be together again?"

Buffy beamed up at him at the endearment and opened her mouth to reply, when suddenly, she felt half a dozen or so vampires.

At his love's frown, Angel was about to ask about it when he sensed them too. Not moving from their intimate position, they appeared as if they were unaware of the approach.

"I count six," Buffy whispered as they touched foreheads.

Angel's brow furrowed, ticking her own, "I think there's one more sulking in the back. Probably after the arm."

"Why don't you grab the arm, stow it, then come help me distract the remaining baddies?" Buffy suggested nuzzling up to his neck.

"Be careful," the vampire cautioned, kissing the top of her head, "Test that will to live, tonight."

She flashed him a confident smile, "Always.

One last, lingering kiss and Angel grabbed the box before darting on board the freighter. He staked a vamp that was loosening some ropes before safely storing the box under some floorboards.

Then he raced back to Buffy and the fight she was engaged in. She had three vampires remaining so she didn't notice one vamp with glasses that was slinking around the shadows.

But Angel did. He was about to pound some information out of the wimpy looking demon, when a yelp brought his attention back to his slayer who was now battling one less vampire than before. But the two had the upper hand and without a second thought to Glasses-Boy, he leapt into the fray, quickly taking out one, leaving the other to the more than capable hands of Buffy.

Realizing that now was the time to leave, Angel cast one last look at his love, gracefully battling the forces of darkness. If ever he had to choose, that would be the way he'd remember her. He stayed to watch from his position on board, just until he saw her dust her opponent. Then he ducked back under. "Goodbye," he whispered, and didn't turn back. It wasn't until after the sun had risen into the sky and the freighter was miles from the little town of Sunnydale did he remember about the slinking vampire watching the fight.

"Angel! Angel!"

Buffy was frantic. What if the other vampires had gotten to him? She remembered him yelling, pulled down by a vampire...

From the shadows Dalton watched with fascination, glad the Slayer was too distressed to notice or care about his presence.

He couldn't have died, could he? Angel wouldn't let a mere fledgling take him down, would he? But what other explanation could there be? Where else could he go? Enlightenment struck her like lightning. The ship.

Buffy closed her eyes and probed the ship. With a breath of relief she calmed down. She could feel him.

I have half a mind to go in and yell at him for making me worry so much! she thought furiously. But she wouldn't. She wouldn't because she knew it was his way of saying goodbye and he would soon be back.

"I'll miss you, Angel. Come back soon," she whispered into the night, then slowly made her way to a suddenly much less inviting party.

Dalton watched the Slayer leave with a number of things on his mind. He had just gotten some sinfully valuable news, but he doubted even that would save his life. So instead of reporting to Spike and getting severely torture before dying, he began to make his own plan.

"So Angel has departed I take it?"

Buffy looked up at her watcher and almost smiled at how completely out of place he looked against the backdrop of the Bronze.

"Yeah, that ship has sailed," she quipped unenthusiastically. "Happy birthday to me."

"Yeah! So, who wants some cake?" Xander asked, half of said cake already smeared on his face.

"Xander!" Willow hissed, jabbing him in the ribs.

"Ow!" he muttered rubbing his side. "What'd I say?"

His only response was a glare from both Cordelia and Willow.

Buffy looked around at the dying party and said, "Uh, no thanks guys, about the cake and everything. I, um, I think I'll just go home. It was a pretty tiring day, Angel and I took out half a dozen vamps on recon duty for the box. But thanks for the party, it meant a lot to me."

Everyone watched the birthday girl walk morosely out the door and into the night.

"Poor Buffy," Wilow murmured sadly.

"Y-yes, I can imagine what she's going through," Giles said, rubbing his glasses.

"I don't think you can."

And by the stage Ms. Calendar watched everything with guilt plastered all over her face.

So...what'd you guys think? I wasn't sure if I should do a one shot fic, it would be pretty long, hence my first chapter posted now. Already I'm at 4000 words or so and I haven't even reached the half way mark. What do you guys want? A loooooong fic in one sitting or in multiple chapters? I must warn you though, if you want one fic it'll be a little while longer, but I'm writing five, six pages every four days and I have a lot alreadywritten and typed. The 2nd chapter is actually ready to be posted, but I want to know what you all want first. So REVIEW the fic and tell me what you WANT!