A/N: Takes place right after NFA, Buffy and Dawn are living in Rome while the rest of the Scoobies are living/working at the slayer compound/training facility they created just outisde the city.

Disclaimer: Anything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel is not mine, but belongs to the creators of the show.

Reviews are appreciated! Enjoy!

-sailor's delight


Healing

Buffy almost laughed as she thought that this was the perfect cliché for an "everything can change in a moment" scenario. Almost laughed. Laughing was pretty much impossible after seeing him like that. She didn't think that vampires could bleed that much, or that someone could even walk, let alone make their way from LA to Rome in that condition. She had been enjoying a quiet night in, just watching a movie with some less than healthy junk food. Buffy had learned to savor the few peaceful moments she got. Sure, she was basically a retired slayer, but there was still the slayer compound just outside the city that she regularly visited, not to mention living with her sister and, for some strange reason beyond Buffy's comprehension, Andrew. The nerd in question was actually out with some "acquaintances" as he called them. Italy was definitely treating him well. Dawn was starting off her summer vacation by spending a week or so at the slayer compound to visit everyone and help out there for a while. The horror movie Buffy was watching was just starting to get good so she nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard the faint knock on the door. She grumbled a little to herself about Andrew locking himself out again and paused the DVD to get up and open the door.

He was just standing there, looking down, and holding himself up against the doorframe. Buffy whispered "My God," under her breath before he started to collapse against the doorframe. She reached out to hold him up and he looked into her face with eyes so desperate and pleading and full of pain that Buffy almost let out a sob. No, stay strong, she thought to herself. He can't see you like that, not now. He just looked into her eyes and her name slipped out of his lips in a plea. A cry for help. She didn't need to say anything, just led him into the apartment by an unspoken agreement between them. She took off his torn jacket on their way to her bedroom, almost wishing that she didn't when she saw how much blood soaked his shirt. She was pretty sure that it wasn't all his either.

She led him into her bedroom and sat him down on the bed. She silently took off his shoes and shirt, carefully removing the blood stained wife-beater underneath. She stared in shock for a moment at the wounds marring his chest before his pained groan brought her back to reality. She got up and went to her bathroom and got out the first aid kit along with a small tub of warm water and a washcloth. She tenderly cleaned his wounds and patched up each one the best she could. She would have to get Giles or a doctor from the compound to come here in the morning and get a better look at him, but right now he just needed sleep. With some difficulty, but as gently as she could Buffy managed to get him under the covers. She was about to stand up when she felt his hand grab her arm in a weak grasp and he murmured "Stay," under his breath.

Buffy could feel the tears stinging at her eyes as she said quietly, "I'll be right back, I promise." She then got up and made sure that the blinds and curtains were closed tightly and slipped out of the room. She grabbed the cordless phone from the table and dialed the familiar number to Giles' room at the slayer compound. Barely glancing at the long-forgotten movie, she headed back to her bedroom and leaned against her doorframe, noticing that the vampire in her bed was fast asleep.

When there was no answer at Giles' place, she figured he was asleep so she tried his cell phone, hoping that would wake him up. After what seemed like forever, a very awake Giles answered the phone.

"Hello?"

"Giles it's me, listen, I don't know what happened but-"

"Buffy? I'm terribly sorry I can barely hear you; things are a little crazy here at the moment. Spike just arrived from LA. The apocalypse just occurred there-"

"Yeah I know, Angel just showed up at my place. Spike's there though? Anyone else come with him?" Buffy asked, cutting Giles off.

"Just him and that demon-god Angel told us about, Illyria." Buffy struggled to hear him because of all the commotion in the background.

"What about…" Buffy asked, afraid to get her answer.

"Wesley and Gunn didn't make it," Giles told her.

Buffy stood in silence for a moment, trying to comprehend what was happening. "Giles, I'm…I'm scared. I've never seen him like this. I don't know what'll happen to him…" Buffy trailed off, unable to finish. She looked at Angel sleeping in her dark room, watching as he squeezed his eyelids closed tight, as if fighting off nightmares. Buffy couldn't imagine the horrors he could be dreaming about.

"Buffy, he's strong, and with you there I'm sure he'll pull through." Giles said, trying to soothe her. "I'll make my way over there with a doctor when things are under control here. In an hour or so hopefully."

"Okay, thank you." Giles and her said goodbye and she hung up the phone.

Giles showed up two hours later with a doctor who was trained to take care of the battered vampire. Buffy and Giles waited in her living room as the doctor tended to Angel in the bedroom. Buffy paced the living room as Giles sat on the couch and talked on the phone with Willow back at the compound as she tried to piece together what happened in LA.

"Yes….yes okay. Thank you Willow, I'll call you again soon," Giles said as he ended the phone call. Buffy stopped her pacing for a moment to look at Giles expectantly. "Willow said that the members of the coven picked up an incredible outpouring of demonic activity coming from LA. From what they can determine, the Circle of the Black Thorn has been completely destroyed."

"The circle of the what?" Buffy asked, confused.

"The Black Thorn. They are, um, were a secret society that carried out the Senior Partners of Wolfram and Hart's wishes and commands on this dimension."

"Oh God, he took them on…" Buffy said more to herself than Giles as she glanced at her closed bedroom door.

"And he succeeded," Giles said.

Buffy thought about all the friends he lost, everything he went through, what kind of shape he was in now… "No he didn't," Buffy said quietly.

The next night, Angel was still at Buffy's and had remained sleeping for most of the day, only briefly regaining consciousness when Buffy checked on his wounds and forced him to drink some pig's blood. She was deep in thought as she walked from her bedroom into the kitchen dressed in a tank top and cotton shorts to sleep in and opened the fridge and took out a container of the blood. She poured some into a mug and placed it in the microwave to warm it. She leaned her elbows on the counter and pressed the palms of her hands into her closed eyes, taking a deep breath. She didn't mind taking care of Angel and giving him a place to stay while he recovered, but having him somewhat back in her life really did make things complicated. She thought that she could move on; get over him. But seeing him at her door silently pleading for her, a slayer, to save him, a vampire, made her realize that she would do anything for this man. That he still owned a piece of her heart and no matter how much she tried to ignore it, she would never be over him.

Buffy was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn't realize her sister come into the kitchen. When Dawn sat down loudly on one of the stools in front of the island, Buffy gave a little jump and quickly turned around to face her younger sister.

"Dawn, you scared me," Buffy said looking at her before turning back to the microwave to take out the mug.

Dawn ignored what Buffy said and just asked disbelievingly, "You're sleeping with him?!"

Buffy stared at Dawn with a slight look of shock on her face. "So what?" Dawn gave Buffy an incredulous look. "Okay, don't answer that. But just because we're sleeping in the same bed doesn't mean we're having sex, Dawn." The slayer's sister continued to give her the look. "Dawn, he can barely talk. Sex is probably the farthest thing from his mind right now."

Dawn just rolled her eyes and snorted. "Whatever," she said dismissively before getting off the stool and walking out of the kitchen. Buffy sighed and took the mug into her bedroom and closed the door behind her. She noticed Angel slowly stir awake and open his eyes as she sat on the edge of the bed.

"Hey sleepyhead. How are you feeling?" she asked, trying to smile for him. He just shrugged and Buffy continued by asking, "Can you sit up? I brought you something to drink." She didn't have to tell him it was blood; he would know what she meant. Angel slowly moved to sit up with a pained look on his face as he did so. He reluctantly took the mug from her and stared at it for a moment before taking a sip. "You know if you ever want to talk about what…happened, I'm always right here."

Angel responded by slowly giving a barely perceivable nod and said hoarsely, "I know."

Buffy stood up and made her way to the other side of the bed as Angel placed the mug on the table next to the bed and nestled himself into the pillows again, hoping to drift off to sleep. Buffy lay awake for a while, staring at Angel's sleeping face. She couldn't help but feel a little frustrated at him for not telling her what was on his mind. His thoughts and memories about what happened would only destroy him slowly if he kept them bottled up like this. As much as she liked to think that he would make a full recovery, some part of her knew that Angel would never be the same again.

The next morning, Buffy picked up the phone to call the slayer compound again, but this time she dialed Willow's number.

"Hello?" the redhead said as she answered the phone.

"Hey Will, it's me," Buffy responded.

"Oh hey Buffy!" Willow greeted excitedly.

"Hey, um I was calling to see how Spike and uh, Illyria were doing."

"Spike's doing a lot better; he was up walking around today. I think he can't wait to get out of here; we've been keeping him in the hospital wing. And Illyria, she… doesn't say much. Really doesn't leave her room at all even though I'm pretty sure she's well enough to. But how's Angel doing? I heard he came right to your place."

"Yeah, um honestly? I really don't know how he's doing," Buffy said with a sigh. "He sleeps most of the time and barely talks. I think he needs to talk about it, Will. It's not healthy to keep this stuff inside. He made a very large, very dangerous decision in LA and you don't walk away from something like that without some serious long-term baggage."

"Just give him time Buffy, he's not going to want to jump right into a detailed account of the thing. He'll talk when he's ready; he knows he can go to you."

"Yeah you're right, he just needs some time."

"You know maybe this isn't about the battle in LA. Maybe it's about that whole prophecy thing about him. You remember, the Shanshu or something?"

Buffy racked her brain in search of what Willow was talking about and it all came back to her in a rush. A prophecy about Angel, surviving some apocalypses, surviving the apocalypse, becoming human. Alive. Giles had told her that this was very possibly the granddaddy of apocalypses, so why was Angel still without a pulse?

"Shouldn't the prophecy have been fulfilled? I bet that's what's making him Mr. Depressed. The prophecy never pulled through," Buffy concluded. "So does that mean this wasn't the apocalypse? There's still more? Or maybe it wasn't clear for a while weather Angel would actually survive this one. I mean he did make it here, but things were pretty iffy for a while. Or maybe he-"

"Buffy. I could have just…not been about him. Or a phony," Willow said with some sadness in her voice.

Buffy shook her head. "No. It's about him, I know it. He deserves this Will, more than anything. It has to come true, it just has to." Buffy hadn't realized that she had been holding on to the hope this prophecy carried with it. That maybe, just maybe, someday, Angel would be human and they could have the life she dreamed about, that they deserved.

About a week after that conversation Buffy had with Willow, Angel's physical wounds were almost healed, but he had deeper mental wounds that would stay with him forever. It happened when they were both sitting on the couch, watching some TV show in silence, trying to ignore the thick tension in the air.

"Gunn went down so quick." He said it so quietly Buffy wasn't sure he had said anything at all. When she looked over at him, he was just staring blankly at something in front of him. "He knew he wasn't going to walk out of that alley. We all knew it." Buffy looked at him in silence, allowing him to say whatever he needed to say. "God, I should have never done it. What was I doing? Thinking I could take them down…"

"But you did," Buffy said quietly, taking his hand in hers. He flinched a little when she touched his skin, but didn't pull away. She just rubbed her thumb across the back of his hand soothingly.

"Not without a price," he replied.

"You should have called."

"And risk you too?" he said, looking at her. "Not that. Anything but that."

"But still, we could have helped, we have resources here that-"

"It doesn't matter, it's done now." Angel saw a flicker of hurt pass across Buffy's face and he sighed and gave her hand a squeeze. "I'm sorry, I know that I've been-"

"You don't need to apologize Angel. It's okay." Silence engulfed them again for a few moments before Buffy asked what was really on her mind. "Does this have anything to do with your Shanshu, or lack of one?" He looked up at her sharply, question in his dark eyes. "Maybe it was translated wrong, or it-"

"I signed it away."

Buffy looked at him in disbelief. "What? Why would you…" A part of her wanted to scream at him. How could he do this?! Completely give up their one, tiny shot at having a normal life. But the larger part of her took over and decided to hear him out. He told her about the Circle of the Black Thorn and how he had to trick his friends into thinking he had turned evil and how he had to join the Circle to destroy them from the inside out. He told them how the Circle asked him to sign away the Shanshu to prove his loyalty.

"I didn't want to do it Buffy," he told her. "I really had hope in this, but some part of me knew it was a false hope. That this wasn't the apocalypse, that it might not even be about me. I was convinced I wasn't even going to survive. I might as well just give it up." They sat in silence for a few moments before Angel spoke again. "I'm sorry. You know that if it did come true, you'd be the first person to know."

Buffy nodded and said, "I understand," quietly. And then it hit her; hard. So much had changed between them over the years. She wasn't some high school girl making out with her boyfriend in the cemetery anymore. The things she had to worry most about weren't the upcoming chemistry exam, or what she was going to wear to Homecoming. It was demons, it was the lives of hundreds of young girls that she was responsible for. She realized that she and Angel could never be the innocent couple that they once were. They had seen too much, they knew too much, and there was the fact that they could never be happy; perfectly happy, now that Angel signed away the Shanshu. "Okay look, I just need to say this, so hear me out," Buffy heard herself say. Angel looked at her expectantly, waiting for her to continue. I still love you, Buffy thought, and before she could stop herself, she heard herself saying it. "I still love you." Angel still just looked at her, and for the first time she was unable to read his emotions. 

Shit. Way to go, Summers, Buffy thought when she heard what she said. "Okay? There I said it. I still love you and I think I always will. I tricked myself into thinking I loved Riley but he just …wasn't you. And Spike, I really didn't want to go there, but I was at a really low place in my life, and I just didn't care. Look, I know that things might never be the same between us; we've seen too much. Done too much. I'm not the same sixteen-year-old girl that you fell in love with Angel. I've changed, and I know that you have too, and I respect that. But I just can't let this go. I can't live my life wondering what could have happened. I really meant it when I said that I thought that far ahead." Buffy let out a breath when she finished, and looked at her hands in her lap, unable to look at Angel; afraid at what he would say.

Angel stared at her for a long moment before reaching over with his own hand and taking hers in it. "I love you too, Buffy." She looked up at him, with watery eyes. "And I know that you've changed. You've turned into an amazing person, and I don't want to let this go either. But right now, I don't even know where I stand in the world; what I'm supposed to be doing with myself. I feel kind of…lost, and I need to take care of that by myself. I just don't think I can jump into this right away." Buffy looked down at their intertwined hands, sadness creeping its way into her heart. Angel placed his fingers under her chin, tilting her head up to look at him. "Hey, I want to be with you so bad, you know I do. But you also know we can't-"

"We can," Buffy said desperately, cutting him off. "Willow made hundreds of slayers Angel; I think she can fix a little Gypsy curse loophole. We can make it work this time, I know it." Angel nodded, and cupped her face in his hand, using his thumb to wipe away the tears that were starting to fall. "When you're ready," Buffy added and Angel nodded again. "When you're ready, I'm done. Then we can have some cookies," Buffy said with a teary smile.

Angel flashed her a brilliant smile, probably his first in a very long time; one that only Buffy could bring out and said, "I'll save my appetite."


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