Strolling through Shady Rest Cemetery, Buffy Summers was overcome with a feeling of melancholy as she slid her gaze to Xander Harris walking at her side. She had seen very little of her friend since they had graduated from/blown up Sunnydale High. Xander had not even considered following she and Willow to UC Sunnydale and instead he had spent his time working dead end jobs and creating a relationship with his odd and rather tactless, ex-demon girlfriend Anya.

Buffy, on the other hand, thrown herself into the life of a normal college co-ed, complete with the prerequisite normal boyfriend. Riley was a blond, blue eyed, all American, Iowa boy. The kind of guy, who saw the future as kids, mini-vans then his and her rocking chairs. He was the true poster boy for the normal life that everyone thought she should have; a normal life that she had tried and tried to convince herself that she wanted. And she sometimes succeeded in lying to herself when she wasn't too busy missing Angel and burying her feelings from her friends and family.

Day after day, Buffy played the dutiful girlfriend. Then, on top of that, she had to devote time to her slaying, training and researching, not to mention classes and studying. She barely saw Willow some days and Willow was her roommate. But all in all the hectic schedule did have its merits, she did not have any time left to think or more importantly to feel. She would do all the things expected of her and drop exhausted into bed at night. It was only in the privacy her dreams where Angel was allowed to appear and the coming of the morning like he would disappear into the smoke as had after her graduation months before.

Tonight was the first night in a long while when she was going to be alone and that had scared her. To be alone meant that she would have a chance to think, to feel and maybe even cry. It was not a night she was looking forward to. And the fact was that there was no one she could go to, to hide from herself. Giles was doing inventory at the Magic Box with Anya. Willow was out of town with Oz, whose band, Dingoes Ate My Baby, was playing at a party or something. Riley had something to do with his fraternity. Even her mom was working late at the gallery as always. All she can think was that even fate must have felt sorry for her to allow her to stumble across Xander also alone for the night.

She had run into Xander when she had stopped by the Espresso Pump to treat herself to a double mocha for not blowing her psychology test. On seeing him she had crossed room and sat down at his table without even bothering to ask. He had been very intent on the paperwork before him and was startled by her appearance. They had starred awkwardly at each other for a few moments trying to bridge the months that had somehow damaged their once easy friendship. Then Xander made a dumb joke and all the pieces fell back into place. They had spent about two hours catching up, before Buffy had looked regretfully at her watch and said that she had to patrol. It had been a complete shock to her when he had asked if he could come with her.

Buffy was more than happy to have the company. It was almost like old times when she and Xander, Cordelia, Willow and Oz had laughed and staked vampires as the Scooby gang struggled to keep the next apocalypse at bay. But, a tiny voice in the back of her mind told her; there was no going back. Tomorrow she and Xander would go back the strained friendship that they had shared for the last several months. Willow would continue to draw closer and closer to Oz and further away from Buffy. Giles would keep throwing all his energy into the Magic Box and encouraging Buffy to live her new and so much improved normal life. Don't worry Buffy, he would tell her; there will be signs of any impending doom, if it comes to that we will deal with it then. In the mean time just enjoy your life. Her mom would always delude herself into believing that the slayer thing no longer mattered and that Buffy was now just Miss Jane College with the adorable boyfriend and bright future. While Buffy would go back to hiding her true feelings behind a shield named Riley Finn. She would tell herself that she was happy and this was what she needed until she made herself believe it. And Angel would still be gone, living a life in Los Angeles that he did not want her to be a part of. She had not heard from him in months and was frightened that he had completely moved on without her. That he had forgotten her and that this love that she had for him, a love that would never die, would remain unrequited forever.

Xander watched Buffy out of the corner of his eye as they walked. They had not been very close for the last few months and he had missed her more than he had realized. The time that they had spent together at the coffee shop had been wonderful as well as enlightening. It made him realize something that made his heart ache for her.

Buffy was not happy. She smiled and laughed at his jokes. Her speech was still peppered with the same witty, sharp-tongued comments that were quintessentially Buffy. But there was dimness to the vibrant aura that surrounded her and in those big hazel eyes was, if anyone took the time to look, a pain that run all the way to her soul. Xander couldn't help but think that the source of the pain, or maybe more truthfully the remedy, was now residing in Los Angeles. Shaking off any thoughts about Angel, Xander glanced over at Buffy. She had moved on, he did not know why he was suddenly thinking about Buffy and Angel. She had a new man in her life, a normal guy who seemed to deal well enough with her being the Slayer. Angel was of the past and Xander would do well to keep him there. "So, Buff, How's Riley? You didn't say much about him while we were talking earlier."

The moment he asked the question Xander knew why he was thinking about Buffy and Angel. Because the question caused a shadow to pass over Buffy's expression that if he had not been looking at her he would have missed. To cover the sadness a bright smile appeared on her face, maybe a little to bright, as she began to answer. "He's great. I'm really lucky to have found him." She slid a look over at Xander, the false smile still in place. "You know this is the first night in weeks that we haven't been together. I mean it doesn't look like I have to worry about him going anywhere do I. And maybe with Riley I'll finally get the normal life I've always dreamed of." Xander winced at her tone, it was almost as if she were quoting a script. There was no emotion and her choice of words was very telling. She was holding on to Riley because he would not leave her. She also was not getting close enough to him that it would hurt that much if he did, Xander suspected. She also seemed to have it all planned out, if someone asks about Riley, tell him or her he is fine and he is normal and I am lucky. That will placate all the friends and family so they don't know that I am falling apart inside. And honestly if it hadn't been for this night Xander and the fact he had been away from Buffy for so long he may not have noticed. But he had a fresher perspective than Willow, Giles or even her mom who saw her all the time. They would have become used to or be better able to ignore the restless, melancholy vibes that she was giving off.

After a long silence as they wandered past the rows of headstone, both lost in their own thoughts, Buffy chuckled, but Xander could detect no humor in it. "You know what is really ironic though, you were so down on Angel. You hated him and asked me time and again how I could love him, how I could be with someone who had done the things that his demon had done. And now look at you, you've ended up with an ex-vengeance demon who has destroyed God knows how many lives in her thousand year history. And Willow, shy little Willow is dating a guy she has to lock in a cage three nights a month while he becomes one with his wolfy self." Buffy paused, and gave a graceless one-shoulder shrug, "I guess that just goes to show that any relationship can only have one supernatural freak. Maybe that's why ended up with an Iowa farm boy."

Buffy quickly changed the subject, bringing up some of the things that happened in high school. She was going over all the good times that they had had while Xander turned over what she had just said in his head. The bit about the way he had treated Angel was a little bit hard to hear. It was also something that he could not deny. He had been jealous and Xander had said and done a lot of things that probably damaged the already fragile relationship Buffy had had with Angel. And the crack about Anya's past hit a little close to home, he had never made the comparison and now that the subject had been broached, he did not like what he saw. Because no matter how much he would like to deny it the comparison was clear. And this being the case what right did he have to say anything about Angel when the woman he loved bragged about the horrid things that she had done during her reign as a vengeance demon. In all the years that Xander at known Angel, the vampire had, with the exception of the time of Angelus' dramatic return, always suffered unimaginable guilt and pain for the things that the demon had done. Did that make Anya a lesser person since she did not feel badly for the lives she destroyed. Did it make him love her any less. The answer to that was clearly no and it made him look at Buffy and Angel's relationship in a whole different light.

And for the first time since Angel left, Xander Harris began to feel guilt and like somewhat of a hypocrite. He had rejoiced when Angel had left and thought that Buffy would be much better off. Everyone, who was not Buffy, had practically shoved him out the door. Xander would have even been willing to help him pack his bags at the time. It is also true, Angel did have his own reasons for leaving, but Xander began to wonder how much he, Willow, Giles and even Buffy's mother influenced his final decision. The man had more guilt he was carrying around than Xander could ever imagine and they had heaped more on him as they repeated over and over how bad he was for her. They had continually brought up the many ways he could hurt her. They fed his fear until he decided to go to LA without ever looking back, knowing that Buffy would get on with her life and she would not have to choose between her friends and family or him. But as Xander watched her he could see the light that made Buffy, Buffy slowly dying. She was building strong, high walls around herself so nothing could hurt her, so no one could touch her, and all the while she putting on a brave face so no one would know.

"Xander, look out!" Buffy's sharp cry startled him out of his reverie just in time to duck the vampire's attack. Buffy had already engaged another a few feet away. She was pummeling the creature, her slayer strength and speed overpowering the surprised vamp. These two morons had apparently thought they were just picking up a young couple stupid enough to take a short cut though one of Sunnydale's cemetery and not encountering the Slayer on her patrol. Xander dodged, kicked and punched trying to occupy the vamp while Buffy took care of the other. Soon he saw dust floating in the wind indicating that Buffy had staked the undead creep. Twisting out of the way, Xander allowed Buffy to take over the fight with a flying roundhouse kick the vampire's jaw. She began to pound on her new opponent.

Seeing that the tide was turning against him the vampire pulled out a wicked looking knife. The blade flashed in the moonlight as Buffy deftly dodged the slashing blade. When the opportunity arose she caught the vampire's wrist and pulled him savagely forward, using the vamp's own momentum to impale him on her awaiting stake.

The vampire exploded into a cloud of dust and the dagger fell; the sharp tip grazing Buffy's hand. As the blade touched her skin it seemed to glow red for just a moment before falling to ground with a thud. Xander watched Buffy look at the small wound on her palm and then shake her head as if she were trying to clear it. "Xander," was all she managed to say in a quiet voice before crumpling to the ground.

Scrambling across to where Buffy had fallen, he looked her over to assess what injuries that she had sustained. The only thing he could find was the small cut on her hand caused by the dagger. Knowing, from too many years of experience, that this was not a job for medical doctors Xander grabbed the dagger and put it in his jacket pocket then lifted Buffy. Her unconscious form draped over his arms like a broken flower. He had to get her to Giles.

Minutes that seemed like hours later he pulled his car in a spot in front of Giles' building. Xander just prayed that he was home from the Magic Box. Pounding desperately on the door he nearly hit Giles in the face when he suddenly jerked the door open. "Dear God, Xander what on earth is wrong." Not taking the time to answer he ran back to his car and lifted Buffy out of the passenger's seat. Running past a very confused Giles into the apartment, Xander laid her gently on the couch before addressing the Watcher.

Giles stood his eyes worried and frightened, as he looked at the pale, unconscious girl on his sofa. Pulling the dagger carefully from his pocket, Xander handed it to Giles, "She was cut with this and dropped like a rock. Giles it was one of the scariest thing I've ever seen and I've seen a lot of scary things."

Tearing his gaze away from the Slayer he looked at the dagger in his hand. It was a beautiful piece of weaponry. The shiny silver blade was perfectly honed, the balance exquisite. But it was the hilt that caught Giles' attention and flirted with something in his memory.

The grip was wrapped in red leather, that was soft and smooth to the touch, very high quality as well as very old. The pommel was highly engraved with unique, stylized hearts and a large ruby that sparkled even in his apartments dim light. "Where did this come from?"

"We were attacked by a couple of vamps. Buffy fought them and easily finished them off, but when she finished the last he dropped this as his dust floated off into the night. It grazed her hand, glowed red for a second and then we come to the part where she dropped like a rock." Xander told Giles.

"You said that it glowed as it cut her."

Xander nodded, "Yeah, spooky red."

Giles removed his glasses and run a hand over his face. Buffy was in a magical coma and he had to figure out how to bring her out of it. And the part that worried him most was that he didn't know how much time they had. "Xander, call Willow, Oz, and Anya, have them get here as quickly as possible. We have to find out what we can about this dagger; we need to know what we are up against. So we know how to fix this." Nodding Xander ran to the phone while Giles hurried to his books.

Two hours later the gang sat in Giles' living room pouring through books. Buffy's motionless form still occupied the sofa. Willow had called Riley and he sat gazing at the petite blond who appeared to be sleeping so peacefully. Spike had even shown up and was sitting in the corner sipping blood from a large coffee cup. Occasionally, he would throw out a sarcastic comment that would earn him a glare from the others. But all in all, even he was quiet, not really wanting to hamper their research into Buffy's cure.

Giles' sighed in relief as he reread the description in the book of mystical weaponry that he was studying and looked at the illustration that accompanied it. He had found what they were looking for, the Dagger of Venus. "I've found our mystery weapon." His voice surprisingly calm as he addressed the gang.

Willow squealed, relief pouring through her. "What is it Giles? How do we wake her up?"

Lifting the heavy tome he stood and paced as he read the description to the other. "The Dagger of Venus was created in the fourteenth century by a alchemist named Acadmus. It seems he had become obsessed with a young noble woman who did not return his regard. She was in love with another and was in fact betrothed to the young nobleman that held her affection. Which I must say was a rarity at the time."

"Jealous of the young nobleman that held the heart of the woman that he wanted, Acadmus drew on the dark arts and created a dagger that would test and he hoped destroy the love the couple shared. So, on the night of their betrothal he abducted the young woman and cut her with the dagger. This put her in a deep sleep."

"It didn't take her lover long to figure out what had become of her and he and several knights stormed the alchemist's home. There he found his lady in a deathlike sleep.

For hours they tortured the alchemist but he would not tell them how to reverse the effects. All that he would say was that if they did not find the answer that she would die with the dawn. The young nobleman left the alchemist to the knights opting to spend what time he could with his lady. It was then that he placed a kiss on her lips and the spell was broken. The last thing that was heard from Acadmus, before one of the knights plunged the dagger he had created into his heart, was his cry of outrage as he saw that the lady would live."

Willow looked up in awe, "So like Sleeping Beauty, she just needs to be awakened with a kiss."

Giles lay the book back on the table and removed his glasses. Polishing them with his handkerchief, he thought about the story of the dagger. "Yes, it would seem to be the case, and this could actually be the basis for the fairy tale. For as all of you know from your run in with Hansel and Gretel most of the tales have a much darker origin than Mother Goose ever eluded to."

Smiling brightly, Willow closed the book in front of her, "It's a good thing I called Riley. We can wake her up right now."

Riley rose from his chair and approached the sleeping form on the sofa. He was leaning forward to kiss her when Giles stopped him. "Before we go rushing into anything I think we need to double check our facts. I have a couple of other volumes that I am sure will make reference to the dagger. And now that we know what we are looking for it will be much easier to get information. I just want to make sure that there no other effects that we are not taking into consideration."

A few minutes later, Oz spoke up pointing at the book he had been reading. "It says in this one, that the only kiss that will reverse the effects of the Dagger of Venus is true love's kiss. For each kiss granted by one that is not the lady's true love an hour will be taken from her. If no kisses are granted then she will fade with the coming of the dawn."

Riley jumped up from his chair, "I love her. I will be able to wake her."

Willow beamed, "I was so worried. Buffy will be fine after Riley kisses her." She looked up at Giles relief brightening her gaze. "We have finally caught a break on one of these things. I mean it is several hours before dawn and we have already have the cure." Willow babbled.

Xander looked at Willow, really looked at her for the first time in a long time. He began to wonder how hard she had pushed Buffy into having this relationship with Riley. Had they all really thought that she would forget Angel, move on to someone like Riley and that would be that? Had they all believed that Buffy's heart so changeable that she would just give up on the man that she had loved so much that she could not even kill him when he was deliberately trying to drive her insane by killing and torturing her friends and family? It had only been a few months since Angel left, did they all really think that a love like that would just go away. Were they all that stupid?

Making a decision and knowing that he had to act fast because dawn was approaching and they were about to loose an hour when Riley kissed Buffy. Xander slipped from the room. He went into Giles' small kitchen and flipped open the small black book next to the phone. Dialing the number he found on the front page, he anxiously waited for someone on the other end to pick up the phone.

Finally, a familiar voice answered, "Angel Investigations, we help the helpless."

Biting back the sigh of relief Xander said, "I need to speak to Angel."

"He is in a meeting at the moment, can I take a message, have him call you back?"

"Cordy, please this is urgent."

There was a pause on the other end of the line, "Who is th . . . Xander?"

Huffing in frustration, Xander's response was a little sharper than he intended. "Yes, so please get Angel for me."

In true Cordelia form Xander heard the girl's voice grow cold and superior, "I don't think so, I don't care what the apocalypse is this time. He just stopped having Buffy face from her last visit and I am not about to have him mope and brood around here for another God knows how long."

Xander's already frayed nerves began to snap, "Well Cordy if you don't let me talk to him you may have to look at Buffy face for the rest of your natural life. That is if he lets you live after not telling him that . . ." Xander stopped and took a deep breath; the more upset he made Cordelia the more time this was going to take. Time he was not sure they had. "Please, Cordelia. I'm begging you please let me speak with Angel. Please Cordelia."

Xander was answered by dead silence on the other end and for a panicked moment he was not sure if he had been hung up on. Then he heard Cordelia's annoyed sigh as she said, "Hold on a minute. And you had better not make me regret this." There was a beep and hold music began to play in his ear.

Cordelia walked into Angel's office. Doyle and Wesley were there with Angel going over maps and books that were spread out across the room. They were trying to locate a nest of vampires that had been making things difficult around the city for the last month or so. The three men looked up when she entered. "Angel, you have a phone call."

Angel's brow furrowed, he really didn't want to be interrupted when they were finally making some headway. "Cordy, can't you take a message?"

A serious look crossed the pretty brunettes face. "Angel, I would but it's Xander Harris and he is begging, I mean begging, to speak with you."

Fear bloomed in Angel's chest, if Xander was calling to talk to him that means that something had to be seriously wrong. Something had to be seriously wrong with Buffy. Reaching for the phone on his desk Angel took a deep unneeded breath trying to gain some calm, and hit the speaker button. "Xander?"

"Yeah, De . . ." Angel's jaw tightened as he realized what the boy was about to say. "Yes Angel, it's me and I am calling because we need you to come back to Sunnydale." Eyes widened around the room as they all thought as one that hell must have finally frozen over.

Still in shock, Angel asked, "Why?"

There was a slight pause and when Xander answered his voice was a little shaky. "If you don't come back, Buffy will be dead before dawn. One hour before dawn to be exact."

His whole body tensing, Angel stared at the phone his brain not wanting to register the words that he just heard. Angel cleared his throat to remove the lump that had formed there, "What happened?"

"She was attacked by a couple of vamps tonight, just your run of the mill slayer stuff but one had a knife that Giles has identified as the Dagger of Venus. She was cut by it and has been unconscious ever since. According to our research if you don't show up by dawn she will never wake up.'

Angel glanced away as he noticed Wesley slipping from the room then turned his attention back to the phone. "Xander, what do I have to this?"

"The only thing that will wake her up is true loves kiss."

Bitterness washed through Angel as he remembered hearing about Buffy's new boyfriend. "Shouldn't her new boyfriend be the one to wake her? I mean if he is there then have him do it." Behind him he heard Cordelia mumble something and when he looked at her she was giving him a look that said men were just too stupid to live. Doyle just shook his head slightly looking at him with a bemused expression.

Xander had yet to reply and Angel could almost see the boy swallowing his pride. He had never liked Angel, hate may not be a strong enough term to describe what he felt, but he would do anything for Buffy. That is the only reason that Angel had put up with so much from him. "Listen Angel, you know better than anyone that I am the president, treasurer and chairman of the board of the I loathe Angel club."

A slight smile tipped up the corner of Angel mouth on hearing what Xander had just said. "I'm pretty much aware of that, Harris." Angel cut in.

"That being said, I know that you love Buffy more than anyone else on this crazy planet and I know that she feels the same." This statement truly surprised Angel. "And I also know that Riley can kiss her until the seven dwarfs show up complete with pick axes and buckets of diamonds and Snow White will remain in dreamland. Angel you're the only one that can undo this. Please I'm begging you, come and help Buffy."

"You know I'll be there. I'll leave as soon as we get off the phone."

"Thank you, Angel. I'll let you get ready to leave, but you need to hurry. Because as soon as Willow convinces Giles to let Riley kiss Buffy she looses and hour of the time she has left. Hurry." Angel just starred at the phone as he heard the click of Xander disconnecting. What did he mean she would loose an hour of the time she had left?

Wesley picked that moment to return to the room carrying a large and rather old book. He handed it to Angel and opened to the place he had marked. Reading the information about the Dagger of Venus and thinking about what Xander had said, Angel looked at his team and said, "Let's go. Now!"

Xander placed the phone back into its cradle and walked back into the living room with the others. Willow and Giles seemed to be having some kind of debate while Riley paced back and forth across the room. Oz, Anya and Spike just sat back and watched.

Not wanting to get in the middle of what was going on between Giles and Willow. Xander crossed to the side of the room far away them, he leaned up against the wall near where Spike sat.

Spike slid Xander a look, a smug grin tugging at his lips as he took a sip from his cup. "Called Peaches, didn't ya there, boy." Xander didn't answer; he just turned to glare at Spike. "Good show, I'm not a fan of the big poof but he's the only one that will make sure that the little slayer's nappy time isn't permanent." Xander nodded to Spike and turned back to the war waging between Willow and Giles.

"Why are we arguing about this? Let Riley kiss her and wake her up. Giles, geez, this should be a no brainer." Willow asked between clenched teeth.

"Willow, how sure are you of her feelings for this young man? If we are wrong all we have accomplished is costing ourselves valuable time. Time we could have used if we have try and find another way to help Buffy." Giles told the irate girl.

"Its not like I'm asking you to let Spike kiss her," The two arguing barely acknowledged the irate, hey, that rang out from across the room at Willow's comment. "Riley is her boyfriend. Who better to wake her up Giles?"

Giles removed his glasses and passed a hand over his tired eyes. It just felt wrong to have Riley try to wake Buffy. And he wasn't about to tell Willow, who seemed to be convinced that Riley was truly the love of Buffy's life, that he thought that it would be a effort in futility. In his heart Giles believed there was one person who would bring Buffy out of her magical slumber. Unfortunately, he along with many others in this room had a great hand in pushing him out of Sunnydale and out of Buffy's life altogether.

"Giles this will work. It has too." Willow turned away from Giles ending there debate and walked over to Riley. He stopped his restless pacing and spoke quietly with the redhead for a moment then he gave a sharp nod and crossed to the sofa where Buffy still lay. Kneeling beside her, he leaned forward and kissed her. Everyone one in the room held their breath waiting for Buffy to respond. As seconds passed the hope and confidence in Willow's eyes faded as she realized how utterly wrong she was. Riley was not the love of Buffy's life; no matter how much she smiled in his presence it never really reached her eyes. The radiance that used to surround her had been dim ever since Angel left. Willow had just cost her friend an hour of her life. Unable to hold back the tears, Willow threw herself into Oz's arms and began to sob. He just held her tightly, rocking her gently.

Anya in her normal tactless manner sighed with disgust. "I could have told you that that wouldn't work. You should have just called that Angel guy the moment you read about the silly dagger. Now even if you can get hold of him, he probably won't make it in time."

Giles knew the girl was right but her manner infuriated him and he turned to the ex-demon to tell her so, when Xander stopped him short. "I've already called Angel. He's on his way."

Willow gasped and pulled back from Oz a bit. "You called Angel?" Xander just shrugged in response.

Riley who was still smarting over the fact that he wasn't able to wake Buffy, looked at the others in the room. "Who's Angel?"

Giles and Willow's eyes widened as they realized that Buffy had not shared with Riley any of her past with Angel. Anya remained blessedly silent, as did Oz. Spike just crooked a brow at the farm boy. He smiled as he imagined the look Riley's face when Angel in all his brooding glory waltzed in and saved the lady fair. Xander was the only one in the room who did not seem to be surprised by Riley's cluelessness. He was the one to answer Riley. "He is the only man in this world we live in who can and will bring the Buffster back to us." After that everyone fell silent and did the hardest thing that they had done all night. They waited.

Dawn was swiftly approaching when there was a loud knock on the door of Giles' apartment. Rushing to answer, Giles had to swiftly step out of the way as Angel came barreling inside the moment the door opened and rounded the couch to were Buffy lay. He knelt beside her and looked at her lovely face. She looked peaceful and beautiful, his very own sleeping beauty.

Riley started to step forward, his possessiveness overtaking his common sense as he watched the large, dark haired man gently brush the hair back from Buffy's face. The tenderness in the action told him more than he really wanted to know about what was between Buffy and this man everyone called Angel.

Xander and Oz each grabbed one of Riley's arms and held him back. They were not going to let him get in the way as Angel cradled Buffy's face between his large hands and gently kissed her lips. Within seconds her eyelashes fluttered and she began to kiss Angel back, her arms lifted to hold him close to her. Everyone in the room let out the breaths they had been holding as the couple on the sofa continued their passionate embrace.

Finally, Giles cleared his throat loudly when it seemed like the couple was not going to stop the kiss they were engaged in without some prompting. Cordelia just rolled her eyes at the watcher. "Puhleez, it's going to take a fire hose to break those two apart.

Angel felt Buffy's smile as he continued to kiss her. And he pulled back slightly resting his forehead again hers. "Hey, there."

"Hey, yourself." She whispered, her fingers busy combing through his silky, dark hair. "So who or what do I owe for giving me the most extraordinary wake up call I think I've ever had?"

Riley sputtered in disbelief, "Owe, you almost died. You wouldn't wake up."

Buffy felt Angel tense in her arms and knew that he was about pull away. He was going to do the honorable thing and step aside so that he would not get in the way of her and Riley. But she was not about to let him leave her again. She was tired of pretending; it was time to fight for what she wanted and what she wanted was Angel. Buffy tilted her head until she found his lips with hers and kissed and teased until she felt him relax in her arms. Reluctantly, she broke the kiss and pulled back from him a little. "Well, if this is how I get to wake up from a near death experience, all I've got to say is almost kill me again."

Angel's eyes locked with Buffy's. "Don't even joke about that." He told her in a choked voice. His fear that he would not make it in time had nearly driven him mad on the drive from LA. He wasn't sure if Doyle, Wesley or Cordelia would ever get into a car with him again.

"Who's joking?" Buffy said with a petulant shrug. "If this is the only way I can get you back in my arms, I'll let every vamp in Sunnydale try to cut me to ribbons with that blasted blade. Especially, if you are here kissing me when I wake up." The look in Angel's eyes at her words made Buffy shiver deep down inside. He couldn't hide the love or the fire burning in his gaze. His defenses were too low due to all the worry and fear he had endured since receiving Xander's phone call, as result everything he felt was shining in the dark chocolate depths of his eyes.

Purposely shifting her attention, before she attacked Angel right here on Giles' couch, she addressed her watcher. "I take it whatever happened was because of the weird dagger the vamp had."

Giles was almost weak from relief that Buffy was awake and speaking. "Yes, the Dagger of Venus, only true love's kiss could wake you."

"Good, thing I had already found mine, huh. Or you'd have had to start calling me Sleeping Buffy." She smiled brightly at Angel who was just staring at her.

Willow came toward the couple and stared at her friend curiously. Buffy noticed her regard, "What Will?"

The redhead shook her head, "Your smile." Buffy waited for Willow to continue not understanding what she meant. "This is the first time in months that when you smile I can see it in your eyes." Shaking her head sadly the redhead blinked back the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes. "You've been sad for so long haven't you Buffy?" Willow asked sadly, "And I didn't or wouldn't understand. I'm sorry Buffy, I really am."

Buffy held out one hand to Willow: who looked completely dejected and guilt ridden all of a sudden. Still holding onto Angel with the other arm, she gave her friend's hand a reassuring squeeze. "It's Okay Will. I tried really hard to make everyone think I was fine."

"No, Buffy I've been a really crappy friend and I'm sorry. I promise I'll do better in the future."

"Buffy, what's she talking about?" Angel asked, concern shadowing his beautiful, dark eyes.

"Angel, I love you. I can't stop and I don't want to stop." She told him stroking his cheek lovingly. "I've tried to be normal, to do normal things these last few months and I've been completely miserable. I've been hiding behind fake smiles, while I've built more and more walls around myself. I can't live like this Angel. I can't live without you." When he opened his mouth to argue, she placed a finger over his lips to shush him. "I know we have a lot to work out. I'm not asking you to come back to Sunnydale because I know that you have important work to do in LA." Buffy stared deeply into his wonderful, dark eyes, a sweet smile curving her mouth. "Angel, I've heard what you have been doing and I am so proud of you." She felt Angel's gasp against the tip of her finger. "I'm just asking that you let me back into your life. That's all I want Angel, just to be able to be near you every once in a while."

The sincerity and love in Buffy's voice left Angel speechless. Everything he had done since the moment they had met had been done in an attempt to make himself worthy of Buffy. And here she was telling him that she was proud of him. It was almost more than his un-beating heart could take. He swept her up from the sofa into his arms and then sat down with her in his lap, holding her tightly. After a moment he was finally able to find his voice. "You are my life, baby. I have been dying without you." Buffy smiled as she snuggled closer to Angel, laying her head in a spot in the crook of his neck that seemed to made especially for her to rest.

Riley just stood there and watched his girlfriend, declare her undying love to another man. A man whom he had not even known existed. The softness in her eyes had never been there when she looked at him. Her whole being seemed to glow in Angel's presence. It was as if without him she was missing part of herself. A part that when returned to her made her more rare and vibrant than he could have ever imagined. He had always found her beautiful, but he now saw that she was truly breathtaking.

And even Riley could not deny that Angel looked at Buffy as if she were the only thing in his universe. In those dark eyes he saw the look of a man who had found heaven in the guise of a petite blond and could not be happier about it. He knew that no matter how much he felt he loved Buffy, he could never look at her the way Angel did. As if she were his reason for being. So, Riley Finn quietly slipped out of Giles' apartment and then later that morning out of Sunnydale. He wondered if anyone realized he was gone.

Cordelia walked across the room to where Xander stood, "That was a great thing you did tonight, Xander Harris. I mean, it probably took a lot for you to call Angel on your own and ask his help." Xander just shrugged. "You may just grow up after all."

The corner of Xander's mouth tipped up in a crooked smile, "Yeah, growing up I think is the next thing on my to-do list, Cor." She laughed and then to his surprise hugged him. It was forgiveness and friendship, the things that he really wanted from her. There would be no rekindling of the high school romance, but if he could get his old friend and quarreling buddy back that would be more than enough.

Giles looked at the room full of young people and not so young people, since some of them had a century or two on everyone else, and couldn't believe his fortune at being allowed be a part of this group. There was so much intelligence, heart, goodness and love within this group that he felt it to be more of a family than any of flesh and blood could ever hope to be. Tonight he had almost lost the girl that was in all but name his daughter. That daughter had been saved by a man who worships her and loves her as no one else ever could. Even with so many obstacles in the way, with people pushing from all sides to keep them apart Angel and Buffy cannot let each other go.

Giles had made many mistakes in his life but he was starting to believe that his resentment of Angel was one of the biggest. He had been so adamant in his belief that Buffy would be better off without her vampire lover that he had not stopped to see the damage that really was being done to the girl. Without Angel in her life one of the brightest lights in the world was slowly being extinguished.

Catching Wesley's eye he motioned for the ex-watcher to join him in the kitchen. When they were away from the others, Giles got straight to the point. He told Wesley that he wanted to find a way to bind Angel's soul so that there would be no more excuses for them to be denied happiness.

Wesley was wholeheartedly behind the idea. "Giles, I must say when I first heard of the relationship between the slayer and a vampire I was appalled to say the least. It went against everything that I had ever been taught. But Angel is one of the best people I know. And the connection between those two is more rare and more profound than anything I've ever witnessed. So, whatever you need of me I am here to help."

Giles smiled, apparently the annoying little man had matured. He could now possibly be someone that he could work with without wanting to maim in some fashion. "I appreciate that greatly. I love Buffy as if she were my own. And I owe Angel a great deal. I've blamed him for so many things that aren't his fault. And I've stood in the way of both his and Buffy's happiness."

"I don't believe Angel thinks you owe him anything." Wesley said.

Giles chuckled, "Of course he doesn't, Wesley. The guilt he carries won't allow him to believe that he deserves anything better than the pettiness and meanness that we've shown him. Only Buffy has ever really seen him for what he truly is, a good, kind, and loving man. A man that I have come to realize wants nothing more than to treat her like a princess, love her completely and protect her from all that will hurt her, even if that is himself."

Wesley regarded the older Watcher; he had always respected Giles but now more than ever. To wish to help Angel, to say that he had wronged him were signs of the strength of Giles' character. In Angelus' last rampage the man had lost the woman he loved. Wesley could not even fathom what it must have been like to look into Angel's face knowing what the demon that inhabited his body had been responsible.

Separating the man from the demon was not an easy task and most failed miserable. The only one who seemed truly capable of that was a certain blond slayer. Buffy never looked at Angel any differently in what she called his "game face" than when he was in human appearance. To her it seemed not to matter or more to the point it was just another part of Angel and she accepted Angel for all that he was. When she looked at him no matter his appearance she only saw the man she loved.

"They do deserve more than they have been allowed. I can not imagine why the fates would bind them as soul mates and then make it so utterly impossible for them to be together." Wesley told Giles.

"The Fates have a way of playing with peoples lives in ways that only they understand." Said an Irish brogue from the doorway of Giles' kitchen. "But there is usually a method to the madness, so to speak." Doyle strolled into the room.

Wesley looked at the demi-demon, "What do you mean?"

"Angel had been avoiding his destiny for more than a hundred years. He was supposed to be a warrior for the light but instead he had become a thing that avoided contact with all creatures living and dead. That is until Whistler put him in the path of the little slayer out there. One look and he found his purpose, but he could not fulfill his own destiny if he stayed in the shadow of the slayer." Doyle told the two Brits who looked at him with rather stunned expressions on their faces. "And the slayer could not come to her full strength if she was entirely dependent on Angel covering her back. Her skills and power would not need to completely develop. The only thing that the Powers underestimated was the part that their hearts played in their strength. They were not as effective as they should been once they parted, they were holding onto too much pain." Doyle shook his head, "Especially the little slayer, she was slowly encasing herself in ice. That is why the PTBs allowed the Dagger of Venus to be found. They knew that it would make its way back to Sunnyhell and help fix part of what was broken."

Giles looked at the Irishman incredulously, "Are you saying we were all set up by the Powers? That they risked Buffy's life in some mystical matchmaking scheme?"

Doyle leaned against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest and considered Giles words. "I would say that is a pretty accurate description of what has gone down here tonight."

Wesley looked at his colleague suspiciously, "Doyle, how long have you known all of this."

"Only about fifteen minutes, Wes man. I would never hide something like this from Angel. This had to play out as it did with everyone doing their part."

"Yes, we had to move about like bloody pawns on a chess board," Giles said with a snort. He still did not like the idea that they had been played with in such a manner.

"Well, hey at least we weren't put into check. We seem to have won the game." Doyle told the watcher. "And as to what you were discussing about Angel's soul, I suggest that you look a little more into the history of the Dagger of Venus. According to my latest headache inducing vision there is another property of the blade that might come in handy." Doyle held up his hand to cut of the two Brits before they could ask. "I don't know what it is. I was just told that is where we need to start looking."

Giles looked at the others. "Well, to the books then." Wesley nodded and the left the room. Doyle remained a moment, rubbing his hand over his aching forehead. These visions did not get any easier. "There is a bottle of good Scotch beneath the counter. You look like you could use a bit." Giles told the Irishman as he popped his head back into the kitchen a moment after he had left.

"Mr. Giles you are definitely a good man. I believe I'll take you up on that offer." Giles smiled and returned to the living room and his research. Doyle took the bottle from the cabinet and poured a generous shot in a glass. Saluting the slayer's watcher with his glass he tossed back the whiskey then went to join the team in the other room.

Everyone with the exception of Angel and Buffy, who were still sitting on the sofa wrapped in each other's arms, began searching for any information they could find out about the Dagger of Venus. The night wore on until the rays of the dawn started to paint the sky. Giles stopped his research just long enough to pull the drapes so that the two vampires would be protected. Then he once again buried himself in his books.

Angel remained on the sofa holding Buffy tightly, she was still weak from the ordeal no matter what she claimed; he could feel it. So, he comforted her, stroking her hair as she dozed against his chest. His heart and mind could barely deal with the fact that tonight he could have lost her forever.

It had been almost impossible for him to walk away from her when he had thought that it was the best thing for everyone. He had stayed away so that she could have a somewhat normal life. He had told himself over and over that he had left for Buffy's sake and that he did not speak with her or visit to avoid hurting her. But in truth, maybe it was more due to the fact that he did not trust himself when it came to Buffy.

When Xander had told him how close to death she was, all his reasons had suddenly felt cowardly. He had wasted so much time with her and he suddenly realized that time may be a thing that she did not have a lot of. Buffy had already died once, how many chances did she get? How many nights would she patrol until something happened and she would not even be in the world. There would be nothing left for him to fight for, no reason to search for redemption.

"Buffy." Angel said. She raised her head from where it rested against his chest and looked into his deep brown eyes. "I love you and more than anything in this world I want to be with you. I'm so sorry that I've stupidly put us both through hell these last months." Buffy's only response was a slight gasp that escaped from between her lips. "I can't make up for the time that we lost nor can I even ask you to forgive me for the many ways that I hurt you, but I can promise to be here from now on to help you or to hold you, whatever you need.

Tears began to stream from Buffy's eyes. Maybe she wasn't awake just yet. Maybe she was still dreaming. "Angel, you truly mean that? You want to be with me? You still love me?"

Angel brushed the tears from her cheeks with his thumb. "In my entire long life you are the only one I have ever or will ever love, Buffy. And I truly never wanted to leave you, I was just afraid." He smiled gently at her, "I have a hard time resisting you and I knew if I remained around you that I would eventually weaken. I couldn't risk hurting you again. So, I ran from the temptation. I took the coward's way out."

"Angel, I want you too. There were times it took everything in me not reach out and touch you. I wanted to show you in every way how much I loved you, but I knew we couldn't. Still, as long as I had you to hold me, to talk to me, to help me I was okay. I have to admit that it hurt a lot to think that you didn't feel that the rest of our relationship was important enough to fight for just because we couldn't make love."

"Buffy," Angel said, closing his eyes tightly and leaned his head back against the sofa. He would spend the rest of his life proving his love to her if she would let him. He would do everything he could to heal the hurt he had caused, starting right this moment. Angel raised his head and gazed into her pretty hazel eyes. "I love you." He told her as he cupped her face between his palms and lowered his lips to hers. It was a kiss of promise, of hope and regret for time wasted that soon turned to one of passion and longing. God, how had he survived without feeling her like this? How had he stayed away from her as long as he did without going insane?

Buffy held him tightly as he tasted her, breathed her in, his hands sliding back to tangle in her blond hair. This is where she had longed to be all these months. This is what she had missed, who she had missed; being with Angel, showing him how much she loved him, feeling his love in return. No one else could ever make her feel this way. She wanted to hold him to her forever. She knew that he was the only man that she would ever truly love.

Pulling back from Buffy, Angel smiled a small crooked grin that made her heart miss a beat, "Wow."

"Yep, that was pretty high on the wow scale. Off the chart, I believe." Buffy told Angel smiling brightly.

"I have missed you so much Buffy."

Tears gathered in her eyes. "I've been right here Angel, missing you every day."

Angel pressed a kiss against her forehead. "I promise, I will never do anything as stupid as leave you again. I can't loose you. And I don't think I would survive receiving another call like the one I got tonight. We will find a way to make this work."

"You really mean that?"

"Yes love, more than anything."

Across the room, Anya dozed against Xander's shoulder. Cordelia lay on the floor her head in Doyle's lap as she too slept. Spike was sitting in a chair that he had leaned back on two legs, asleep his head against the wall. The others, Xander, Oz, Willow, Giles, Doyle and Wesley flipped through book after book trying to find what Doyle's vision had referred to. They had almost exhausted every book in Giles' library and they had even checked the web and had yet to have any luck. The group was beginning to get discouraged.

Wesley was just about to toss the book before him across the room. He could barely keep his eyes open. No one had found anything and frankly after the games the Powers been playing he was beginning to doubt that they would. It was just too much to ask that they be able to help their friends that had already been put through so much. Flipping the page of the book in front of him he tried to focus on the words, but there was little use. He closed the book and grabbed another, hoping to better be able to concentrate. As he opened the book it fell open to a section, not on the dagger but on soul mates. Something inside him clicked. Maybe they had been looking at this in the wrong way. Slightly renewed he scanned the section and finally found the answer.

Wide-awake Wesley turned to Giles who was tiredly rubbing his eyes. The watcher looked completely done in. "I believe I've found what we've been looking for." The Watcher shoved his glasses back on his face and took the book from Wesley.

Scanning the text, Wesley watched the animation spark back into Giles eyes. "You are right. We were looking in the wrong place."

Willow had picked up on the conversation between the two Englishmen. "What do you mean?"

"We were looking for information specifically about the dagger. Apparently we should have been looking for information on soul mates."

Xander nodded. "Soul mates? Are you saying that those two are really stuck with each other like that? That the whole soul mate concept isn't just a bad plot in romantic comedies?"

"I'm afraid, Xander, that that is exactly what I am saying." Giles told the young man. Xander nodded, not liking the guilt he felt over getting between Angel and Buffy so many times. A slayer was just not supposed to love a vampire. It was just creepy.

Oz closed the large, dusty tome he had been reading, "So, what do we do now?"

Giles picked up the Dagger of Venus and walked across to the sofa where the lovers sat. "We fuse the blood of the soul mates and it should bind his soul."

Willow's brow scrunched up in confusion. "Huh?"

"We cut Angel with the dagger, place his cut against the one the dagger gave Buffy, they kiss and hopefully live as happily ever after as anyone on a hell mouth can ever hope to." Wesley said. Working so closely with Cordelia he had learned how to break prophesies down into their barest components.

Wesley's comment finally drew Buffy and Angel's attention away from each other. Angel looked at Wesley, "Wes, what did you just say?"

Giles handed Angel the book he was holding in one hand while he held the dagger in the other. "The dagger has the properties that should override the curse. It is much stronger magic." Angel's eyes widened as he read the passage Giles indicated to him.

By a cut of the Dagger those whose souls have found its mate shall be forever bound. Once bonded the mated souls will with their bodies remain until destiny has reached its end. Blood to blood they shall never be separated. Breath to Breath they shall live as one. When destiny's course has been extinguished for one who is bound, the soul may not cross over without the other, but shall continue as a specter awaiting its mate.

Angel reread the passage. The dagger would bind his soul to his body, but to what expense to Buffy. He could gain everything with this and after her death she would be doomed to remain as a ghost until he ended up on the wrong end of a stake. Handing the book back to Giles, Angel began to think about all the implications of bonding with Buffy this way.

Buffy on the other hand was thinking of nothing but finally having a life with Angel. Whatever sacrifices she had to make, in her mind, would be well worth it. "So, Giles what do we do and how quickly can we do it?" She asked her watcher.

"Buffy," Angel said. She could see in his eyes that he was slipping into deep brooding mode.

"What Angel? The dagger can anchor your soul. We can be together."

Angel nodded, "Yes, but there are other consequences that really need to be considered."

Buffy began to struggle out of Angel's arms. "I see. Everything you've said over the last few hours was a lie. Either that or you are cruel and heartless and wanted to make it hurt even more when you once again walked out of my life with some lame excuse about what was best for me."

Angel tightened his hold, not allowing her to get free. The others had withdrawn a few feet to give the couple a chance to talk at least somewhat privately. "Everything I have said to you tonight is the absolute truth. I love you more than anything and I want to be with so much that it hurts, Buffy." Angel's voice was hoarse as he continued. He had once again managed to make her doubt him. "I would never intentionally hurt you and I am not trying to be cruel. I just don't want to make of mess of your life. I want you to think about this before you bind yourself to me for all eternity."

With an impatient sigh Buffy stopped fighting against Angel. "Angel, I'm already bound to you. And my life is more of a mess without you than it could ever possibly be with you in it."

"Buffy I just want you to be happy. To have some chance at a life that doesn't totally around darkness."

"I'm not happy, Angel. I haven't been happy since the day you left." Buffy lifted her hand and traced Angel's face lightly with her fingertips. "I would get down on my knees and beg you to stay with me. But I can't force you to want me. I can't force you to be with me. So, if you don't want to take this chance, all I can ask is that you leave tonight as soon as the sun sets and never come back." Tears formed in her eyes, there was so much pain in Angel's dark eyes. What she had just said had hurt him deeply but she had to be strong, because the other choice was to slowly die from the pain in her own heart. "Because if I saw you again after knowing we had this opportunity and you didn't want it, I would break in ways that couldn't be fixed. Angel, the pain would kill me."

Tears streaked Angel's lean, handsome face. "I want to spend every minute of my life with you, Buffy. If this is what you really want then it will make me the happiest man on earth. I will finally be able to be with you without being afraid that I will hurt you." Angel kissed her lightly on the lips. She was so sweet. He could hold her, kiss her forever and not get tired of it, the light vanilla scent of her skin surrounding him.

His mind still fought against him. He kept thinking that he couldn't let her sacrifice her entire future. He knew he wasn't worthy of even being in the same room with her, let alone being bound to her forever. But his heart, that long dead organ, was swelling with joy at the prospect of no longer being separated from Buffy. He would be able to make love to her, wake up with her, fight beside her. He would protect her from the demons she had to face and love her when this life that was forced on her got to be too much for her to handle. For once Angel decided it was time to follow his heart and not his head because in the past following his head had only left both of them lonely and hurting.

"Giles, please bring the dagger and the text over." Angel asked looking into Buffy's hazel eyes. He was taken aback by the pure joy that seemed to suddenly beam from her at his words. This was truly what she wanted. She wanted it as much as he did. Silently he thanked whatever powers were listening for bringing her into his long lonely life.

Giles rejoined the couple. Wordlessly, he reached for Buffy's injured hand. The cut had already begun to heal so he applied some pressure until it reopened. A thin stream of blood trickled across the slayer's palm.

Next, he took Angel's hand and made a cut with the dagger. When blood began to flow from the small injury, Giles placed the lover's now bleeding hands, palm to palm. He looked at the couple, which had not taken their eyes off one another and stepped back. The rest was up to them.

Buffy's hand felt warm where it pressed against Angel's. "I love you, Angel. Forever."

Angel too felt the heat, the magic that was beginning to generate between their clasped palms. He smiled gently at the love of his life. "I love you, Buffy. Beyond forever." Then he leaned over and kissed her.

The occupants of the room watched as red glow began to envelope the couple. It grew brighter and brighter until there was a flash. Everyone awake was temporarily blinded. Those that were sleeping awoke with a start.

Wesley approached the pair that had not yet broken from their kiss. "Angel." The ex-watcher said. After not getting a response after a moment, he chuckled lightly and said his friend's name again. "Angel."

Reluctantly pulling away from Buffy, Angel turned toward Wesley. "What Wesley?"

Wesley had to stop himself from outright laughing at the pout that adorned Buffy's face at the moment. "We need to know how you feel? Do you think it worked? Do you feel any differently?"

Closing his eyes, Angel began to search within himself for any changes. He did feel different. He felt strong and he also felt wonderfully alone in his own skin. The demon was not making comments constantly in his head. The silence after so many years was a little disconcerting.

As a matter of fact he could barely feel the demon at all. There was no battle of wills taking place within him. He didn't feel the push to act against what he knew was right. He did not feel the blood lust. He knew he was still a vampire but the demon inside him was just a thing that gave him the power and strength to help protect Buffy and anyone else that needed him. It was as if the demon had been pushed down into a small dark corner of Angel from which it could never escape or even cause trouble. He was finally be able to be with Buffy without the fear that he would destroy everything that she held dear.

Opening his eyes he looked up at his friend. "I feel great. I can barely feel that Angelus still exists within me. I'm free, Wesley." Angel's said in an awe filled voice.

The former watcher smiled and cast a glance in Buffy's direction. Her direct hazel eyes were shiny with tears but full of mischief. Her entire being seemed to suddenly light from within, she was practically glowing in her happiness. "Oh no Angel, you are so not free."

Angel's head turned sharply in Buffy's direction. Her eyes were dancing. "I'm not?" He said a hint of teasing in his voice.


"What ever do you mean?"

Buffy launched herself at him, straddling his lap and wrapping her arms around his neck. "You're mine. And if you ever try to run away from me again, I'm going with you."

At that Angel laughed. The rich vibrant sound filled the room and caught the attention of everyone. As long as they had known the man, no one could remember if they had ever heard that sound. "It would defeat the purpose of me running away if you went with me."

"Yep, it would be totally pointless." She said smiling. Buffy bent forward slightly and nibbled at Angel's lower lip. She smiled more broadly when she heard the small moan Angel couldn't hold back.

Angel pulled back from Buffy slightly. He had to get her out of this place before he gave all his and her friends a show that they would never forget. "I guess that means I just have to stay with you." He said brushing a kiss across her lips.

Actually, Angel returned to LA after a few blissful days in Sunnydale at Buffy's insistence. She was truly proud of what he was doing and did not want him to give up agency that he had struggled to build. She knew that there were many people he still needed to help. So, he continued to run Angel Investigations appeasing the Powers that had made sure the Dagger of Venus appeared in his life. Each weekend he returned to Sunnydale to be with Buffy.

Buffy continued her classes and slaying in Sunnydale. The weeks when the hellmouth was surprisingly quiet she would sneak away after class and make the two-hour trip to LA for a night or two. When she would disappear, Willow would just smile and tell everyone that Buffy would be unavailable for a day or so if she were asked. No one that knew Buffy complained nor did they misunderstand where the slayer had gone.
Giles was amazed at the improvement in both Buffy's schoolwork and her slaying skills after her reconcilement with Angel. In each fight, Buffy fought with a grace and power that shocked him. She was truly a force to be reckoned with. The Watcher also saw that when she fought side by side with Angel, they were virtually untouchable. And they were together for all major battles that occurred in the cities they protected.

The Powers were pleased in the weapon that they had in the team. A team that they had allowed to be broken apart at one point so that it would be much stronger later. As an apology for the time that Angel and Buffy had fought alone and as a reward for the time they had fought together against the forces of darkness the Powers granted Buffy and Angel the ultimate gift five years after the Dagger of Venus had been put in their path.

It was Buffy's birthday. Willow and Xander insisted that there be a party, but Buffy was a little leery. She had not had much luck in the past with celebrating on that particular day. Still, she did not want to upset her friends, so she allowed them to decorate the living room of the house she shared with Angel when he was in town and bring in a big cake. The crew from Angel Investigations came in for the night with their boss, who would not have missed the party for anything.

The night went wonderfully. Old and new friends spent hours laughing and talking. Buffy sat for much of the night wrapped in Angel's strong arms. She watched Cordy and Xander bicker. Giles and Wesley sat around talked shop. Willow, who was newly married to Oz, began telling stories about Buffy while Doyle did the same about Angel. Even Spike stopped in for a while to wish the slayer a happy day. He ended up staying and adding his own unique spin to the Buffy and Angel stories.

Finally, as the hour grew late and everyone was near exhaustion from laughing so much in one night, Angel suggested Buffy open her gifts. When she had opened all the gifts from her friends she noticed a strange card. The heavy cream envelope merely said Buffy on the outside. No one in the room knew where it came from. A little worried, she cautiously opened the flap and removed the card. Flipping it opened she was more confused after it she read it. In gold lettering the card read, "To you a blessing and a gift for all your struggles".

Suddenly, the card began to glow with a warm golden light. It spread through the room, leaving everyone gaping at Buffy still holding the card. When the light disappeared nothing seemed different. "That was weird." She said as she slipped the card back into the envelope and laid it with the rest of the gifts.

She glanced around the room taking in the stunned looks of all of her friends. Finally her gaze finally landed on Angel. He had a dazed look in his eyes. Crossing quickly to him. "Angel, are you Okay?" She asked reaching for him.

Angel nodded and took her hand in his. His hand was shaking as he pressed Buffy's palm to his chest. "I'm just fine Buffy." He said with a broad smile.

Buffy just stared wide-eyed at her love. Beneath her palm she could feel the steady thump, thump of a heartbeat. "Angel?"

"Buffy." He said simply, still smiling.

"I can feel your heart beat." She told him. Everyone in the room gasped when they heard her quiet comment.

Angel nodded, "Yes, and it beats for you Buffy. Happy birthday."

Tears leaked from the slayers eyes as she smiled at her love, "I finally got what I always wanted." She said as she threw herself into Angel's arms and kissed him.