Title: Halfway

Author: Carrie *aka Buffychick*

Summary: The Buffy/Angel meeting that Joss denied us after Flooded and Carpe Noctem. Both Buffy's and Angel's POV.

Rating: PG-13ish

Timeline: Again, after Flooded and Carpe Noctem

Visit my website for other fiction of the Buffy/Angelverse! http://www.angelfire.com/mo3/fanfic/SMGMain.html

Feedback: Yes please! Review here or send to: cbt377@yahoo.com

*~*~*~*

In a few minutes I'm going to see her and I have no idea what I'm going to say. It was so urgent…that need, that instinct to go to her, to look upon her with my own eyes, to know that she's okay. And now I have no idea what I'm going to tell her…I have no idea what I needed to say that was so important I insisted she leave right then and drive an hour to meet me.

She's here, on this Earth. Breathing, human, alive. I keep replaying it over and over in my mind…obsessing over the memories of the last few months.

There's no place like…Willow. My jubilation turned to gut-wrenching fear.

What's--? Cordelia's confusion until it hits her.

It's Buffy. That's all I can manage.

And then…Willow's on the phone. She's alive, Buffy's alive!

I spent an entire summer trying to comprehend what had happened…trying to get over her, only to have all my feelings for her come rushing back, completely indifferent to what my heart might be ready for.

I don't even remember what happened…I was talking to Fred and then…then I was talking to Willow…then I was calling Buffy.

Hello?

Her voice came over the line like a punch in the gut, almost halving me at the waist from the impact.

Hello?

I need to answer her, but I can't…I can't speak.

There's dead air while she sits, waiting for me to say something. Then…Angel?

She knows. She knows it's me.

Buffy…I manage.

Angel, it's me…are you okay?

She's back from the dead and asking about me. The thought of that makes me smile now. I—I need to see you. I—I heard about…Willow called…

She's quiet for just a second. Oh…okay…when?

Now. I say a little too aggressively. So I soften it with Please.

Of course…I'll leave right now. I'll come to the hotel.

No…write this down. There's a place, a cabin, halfway between LA and Sunnydale. If that's okay.

I hear the rustling of paper. Fine…I'm ready.

We hung up and I called over my shoulder to Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn that I'd be back.

Wait, what? Where you going? Gunn asks, standing up and walking towards me.

Cordy stops him with a gentle touch to his arm. She knows.

When will you be back? she asks softly.

I turn around and face her. I don't know. And that's it.

Fred was in her room…poor kid. Every time I think I'm back, I have to leave again. Oh well, they'll tell her. I glance down at the speedometer…better slow down. I don't need some bored cop pulling me over. All I know is that I have to get to her.

And now I'm on the coastal highway, top down, wind rushing through my hair. I'm sure it's a beautiful night, the moon's full…but I hardly notice the climate. Ninety-miles an hour. I'm either rushing like a bat out of hell towards her, or I'm sluggishly walking away from her. There's never a halfway with us.

***

He needs to see me, so I'm going. I never gave it a second thought…I left Giles and Dawn sitting in my living room, left them to work out all the house-stuff, the life-stuff, that I'm not ready to deal with.

I've got a car now…I spent so many years begging mom to let me drive and now, I wish more than anything else that she was here telling me "When you're older, more responsible." But…the car's mine now. After taking a split second to deal with that I shoved it to the back of my mind and jumped in, speeding up the highway, rushing to him.

I don't know how long I'll be gone, I don't really care. I didn't bring a single thing with me…no clothes but what's on my back, no food, just a bottle of water, the road and me.

All heading to Angel.

Like my life isn't complicated enough.

I'm nervous. He sounded so…relieved, but there was something else. Not happy, not sad. Just concerned.

Hello?

No one.

Hello?

I'm about to hang up, thinking it's a prank call, when…this feeling comes over me. A warmth, like someone wrapped a blanket around me, but it starts from the inside, in my belly, and works its way up.

Angel?

I swear I heard him take in a breath, but he doesn't breathe, so…

Buffy…he chokes out.

Angel, it's me…are you okay? Is something wrong? Is he hurt?

I—I need to see you. I—I heard about…Willow called…he sounds lost, upset.

Oh…she called him. Gee, thanks Willow. Anything else you want to do for me? Oh…okay…when?

Now, he snaps. Then, Please, a little more gently.

Now…I turn the word over in my mind like it's the first time I've heard it…yes. Yes. Now is good. Now is perfect. Escape. Of course…I'll leave right now. I'll come to the hotel.

No…write this down. There's a place, a cabin, halfway between LA and Sunnydale. If that's okay.

I fumble for something to write with. Where the hell is mom's notepad? It was always right here on the counter. I guess that's another change that's been made since I was gone. There's a newspaper on the by the sink; I grab that.

Fine…I'm ready.

And then, Giles. Yes, of course. You'll leave for LA. tomorrow?

No, now. Doesn't anyone else get that? I have to go now. Angel's…safe. He won't make me deal with all this. We'll sit and we'll talk and he'll hold me and I won't have to endure all this.

I glance down at the directions I scrawled on the newspaper. Of course he knows someone with a cabin where we can go talk…Angel was always good at knowing just the right people, the people who could get you stuff. Two more exits and then turn off, rightio.

The exit appears and I turn off, taking the winding road until I see the dirt path and I make another turn. The road veers to the right and I take it slowly, wondering how far I have to drive in the pitch black when it happens. He's near. Even now, I know…I guess I brought that back with me, my ability to sense Angel, even when I can't see him.

And then the cabin is in front of me. The moonlight's shining down on him as he stands, leaning against his car,

waiting for me.

***

Naturally I feel her before I see the car, partially thanks to vamp senses, but…there's always been something more where Buffy's concerned. A moment later I hear the car, then see it as she gingerly makes her way up the drive and parks next to me. I started shifting my feet nervously as she gets out of the car and walks to me, slowly, unsure.

She stands before me, blond hair falling down her back, green eyes staring up at mine, her heart racing. I can hear it, the blood rushing, singing. Oh God…God she's here.

"Hi," she mumbles finally, embarrassed at my staring.

Her voice…even if all my senses hadn't been screaming that this was really Buffy, my Buffy…if I hadn't smelled her familiar scent, seen those perfect moss-green eyes, I knew in her voice. Without thinking I--

***

…reaches for me, pulling me into him, enveloping me in his arms. I hesitate for a single moment before throwing my arms around him and holding on for dear life. It's always so familiar with him. Years have gone by, but it's still familiar. We stand there forever, holding on to each other, like he knows that more than ever that's exactly what I needed.

"I can't…I can't believe it…God, Buffy…" he whispers and squeezes me harder, stroking my hair as I try to lose myself in him.

Eventually he leads me into the house and sits me on the couch, taking a seat to my left. The cabin looks like any other…wood everything, hunter green and burgundy décor, some moose stuff, some stuffed animal heads. It's nice.

Neither of us is talking. Finally I cough, just to make a sound. He hasn't let go of my hand.

"Thanks for coming," he says, fidgeting. I don't think I've ever seen him fidget.

"Sure…it's nice to…get away," I say lamely.

"How—how are you?" he asks sincerely.

I start to tell him my standard "Fine," or maybe "tired," when I look into his eyes. "I'm…I'm here."

He smiles sympathetically. "Yeah…"

"It's…strange. I'm so drained, and everything's…hard."

"Buffy…tell me about…Willow said she brought you back from a demon dimension, from Hell." He's gripping my hand. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Why does everyone think that's where I was? "Hell…yeah…"

He cocks his head. "What?"

"Nothing. Willow did a spell and brought me back. Now I'm here and—ow!" I hiss as his fingers brush over the cuts on my knuckles. He looks down and turns my hand over.

"What is this?"

***

She pulls her hand away. "It's nothing. I cut myself."

I grab her arm back. "You tore your knuckles…and your palms…your fingernails…Buffy, what is this?" But I know. I know what this is from; I've seen it a hundred times. "You dug. You broke out of your coffin. They left you there?" I ask incredulously, anger bubbling beneath the surface.

She rips her hand out of mine and turns away from me.

I close my eyes to calm down. I don't want to ask these questions, but I need to know. "What happened…please, tell me," I plead.

A tear slips down her cheek, then another chases it. "They didn't know…it's okay. They didn't know I was there.

They didn't know the spell worked."

They didn't know the spell worked? They left her in her coffin, she woke up there, alone, afraid, and in the dark. I move closer to her on the couch, wrapping an arm around her and leaning us back, resting her on my chest.

"Angel…I don't want to be here…" she whispers.

"I-I'm sorry…I just needed to see…for myself," I stammer…God, I'm so stupid, dragging her out right after…

"No…here is good. Here's…quiet. I don't want to be in this world," she sniffles quietly.

"What do you mean? You'd rather be dead?" And then I know. My whole body stiffens and she senses it. "Where were you Buffy?" I ask, dreading the answer.

She's quiet, thinking of her answer. She knows that I won't accept sugarcoated answers. Finally, "I was…peaceful."

A cold anger runs through me as I sit there, the love of my life pressed to my chest, my fingers tangled in her hair, trying to comfort her. My eyes close as I shut it all out for a split-second. Willow…stupid, selfish Willow…and Xander…and the rest of them. Proud lot, aren't they? They didn't even consider for a moment that she might be at rest. Their focus was their pain, not hers.

She knows—

***

--he's upset. I told Spike, now I've told him. Guess this is information only for vampires. But it feels good, it feels right, to have told him. I know he'll understand.

"Don't blame them," I tell him. "They thought they were saving me."

"They're children playing with magic that they have no right in invoking," he growls, low and menacing.

I can't argue with that…it just takes too much energy.

We lay there, my heart thumping against his chest, his fingers stroking my back, in silence while he absorbs what

I've just laid out for him.

Then, "I'm so sorry, Buffy."

I shift my head up to look at him. "Sorry for what?"

His dark eyes search mine for forgiveness. "I wasn't there…to help you…I wasn't there to save you. I was off, doing my own thing, and you needed me."

"No, Angel…no. We lead separate lives now. I can't call you every time I have a problem, just like you can't call me every time Cordelia has a vision. I did my job…and I was paid for it by having a sense of peace for a little while."

"Which you were then torn from," he says, getting angry again.

"Well, I'm here now. Nothing I can do about it…though I wanted to. I climbed that steel tower and looked down. The light wasn't there anymore. My chance was gone."

***

I have no idea what she's talking about. "The light?"

She sighs and burrows closer to me. "When I jumped…the light was so bright, beautiful. It hurt, but only for a minute, and then…I was flying, Floating…higher and higher. And then…nothing. Just quiet, and peace.

And…warmth. That kind that's on the inside, when you're happy, when you feel loved. You know?"

I do. "Yeah," I whisper.

"I never saw anyone, that I remember…while I was there. But I…sensed them. That comfort feeling that I had when mom was here…I felt that. And that girlish free feeling I get with Willow and Xander, when we're just being normal and messing around…And love and hope from everyone else I've ever cared about. I took my feelings with me."

God…to be content, finally, after all her years of suffering and responsibility. And now, torn from it and thrown back to the lions. "I'm so sorry, Buffy," I tell her.

***

I snuggle closer to him, closing my eyes and just concentrate on being here, now…alone, without demands. "When I jumped…the light was so bright, beautiful. It hurt, but only for a minute," God how it had hurt "and then…I was flying. Floating…higher and higher. And then…nothing." Peace…blackness, comforting dark and velvety. "Just quiet, and peace. And…warmth. That kind that's on the inside, when you're happy, when you feel loved. You know?"

"Yeah," he whispers, running a hand down my back.

"I never saw anyone, that I remember…while I was there. But I…sensed them. That comfort feeling that I had when mom was here…I felt that." God I miss you, mom. "And that girlish free feeling I get with Willow and Xander, when we're just being normal and messing around." It's been a long while since I've felt that. "And love and hope from everyone else I've ever cared about. I took my feelings with me." That fatherly affection from Giles…Riley's boyish charm, Dawn's brilliant smile, Angel's passionate eyes.

"I'm so sorry, Buffy," he says softly.

"I know, Angel…it's not your fault. I made my choice."

"You did what you had to do. But you didn't make the choice to come back. Willow had no right…none of them did."

I know that too…but it's done. "Willow didn't act alone. And Giles, Dawn…Spike, they weren't in on the plan."

***

Let's not bring Spike into this. We're quiet for a moment before she sits up and looks me in the eye. "I'll be okay."

I nod. "I know you will."

She smiles softly but her eyes are troubled.

"I'm glad you came," I tell her.

"Me too. Seeing you…it makes it easier. Everyone's so busy wanting me to be okay, they don't take a minute to realize that I will be…in time. Not like a girl comes back from the dead everyday," she jokes.

"You're strong. Not just because you're the Slayer…there's strength in just Buffy."

She stares at me with solemn eyes. "How do you know that? You've never known me when I wasn't the Slayer."

I squeeze her hand. "Because I know you. Being the Slayer isn't all that you are. You're strong in your own right, just as you're intelligent…capable…resourceful…beautiful…loving…"

She looks up at me, tears welling in her moss green eyes, hope and disbelief mingling in them.

"Buffy," I say, reaching up to stroke her face with my hand.

***

His fingers stroke my cheek lovingly. "I can see it in you…it's in your smile, in your eyes. Your heart is a very big place. You're going to be fine."

"What if I'm not?" I can feel the panic bubbling up. "You don't know…Angel…it's more than just coming back. Mom's gone. I'm Dawn's mother now, and her sister…and the Slayer. There'll be bills and financial stuff…and college! What about Dawn and college? I don't even know if mom had a college fund set up for her. And what about me, and my school? What do I do now?" I say, considering all the stuff I've yet to really think about.

He grabs my arms gently. "Hey…it'll be fine. We'll work it all out. I'm not going anywhere."

"You can't be with me all the time, Angel. I have to learn to take care of myself…but I'm afraid I don't know how.

There was always mom…and Giles. I still have Giles but…he's not my dad…much as I've come to think of his that way, he's not. He has a life that doesn't include me. I can't ask him to stick around and deal with my stuff."

"Buffy," he says, holding both my hands now. "I didn't mean to upset you…"

"I'm upsetable right now, okay? I mean…I'm back from the dead and everything's so hard! And I don't have anyone who can listen to me except for Spike and God knows I don't want to spend anymore time talking to him than I have to…and you…but you're far away…you've got your own life now. I'm tired of depending on other people, but I don't know how else to do things! Sure, I can slay demons blindfolded but I can't even go to the grocery store without an itemized list!"

I can feel myself bubbling over…the tears are streaming now…this is so not how I saw us meeting.

***

This isn't how I saw this going between us. I feel helpless… so I do the only thing I can think of and pull her to me. Rocking her while she bawls openly, unashamed, I know that each tear that drops helps ease the pain just a little.

Kissing her forehead I stroke her hair and mumble words of comfort as she cries. And when it finally seems like she might be done, the sniffling's down a bit, I lie back, laying her next to me, wrapping her in my arms. Her head rests on my chest as I just hold her, hoping to take some of her pain into myself.

"God, I'm sorry," she whispers later. "I don't know where that came from."

I smile. "It's okay. I'd imagine that felt pretty good."

She sniffles and wipes at her tear-stained cheeks. "Yeah, it did."

We lay there in silence. Her heart is thumping on my chest…if I close my eyes, for just a moment I can pretend it's my heart beating that I hear.

"Why did you need to see me so quickly?" she asks quietly.

I…I just did. "I don't know…I wanted to know that it was really you."

"Afraid I came back wrong?" she teases.

I chuckle. "No…well, maybe a little. Covered in warts or scales or something," I joke back.

She slaps playfully at me. "Not a wart or a scale on me. But you should try getting your hair feeling all soft and unstraw-like after being dead for five months. Dawn must have deep-conditioned my hair for an hour."

I take a strand of her hair and inspect it. "Looks okay to me. Longer than I remembered."

"Yeah…" A moment later she asks, "Angel? Did you come to my funeral? Did I even have one?"

I close my eyes. They didn't even tell her about this?

"And I know what you're thinking…but…I couldn't ask them. I want you to tell me," she says, reading my mind

again.

I stare at the fireplace in front of me. It's dark and empty, a few charred logs still sitting in there.

"Angel?" she asks again.

"Um…no, I didn't come to your funeral," I admit. "We were…we were in another dimension. Cordelia…she got sucked in and we had to rescue her. When we finally got home…Willow was there when we walked in."

She's quiet. "Oh," she says after a moment.

***

So he didn't come to my funeral. He was at my mom's…or sorta, anyway. I know he would have been there if he could have.

"I came to your grave though," he says a minute later.

"You did?"

He nods, hugging me to him as if he needs me, my strength, just to tell me about this.

***

"Yeah…I left immediately after Willow told us what happened. I brought her back to Sunnydale, then I went to the cemetery." It was awful. I've brought death to people before, hundreds of people. I've been to funerals…I've said the words of condolence that don't really help at all. It's different when you're the one who needs comforting.

Her grave was set apart from others, nearly underneath a tree, which I thought was nice…about three months later when I could think about it again without hurtling into a deep depression. Buffy Anne Summers…She Saved The World A Lot. I would love to know who picked that. It stinks of Xander.

Seeing her grave…it made it more real, but not as real as if I'd been able to actually say goodbye to her, to look upon her face one more time.

I had walked through that cemetery a thousand times…out on patrol with Buffy, midnight strolling by myself, hunting in my stint as Angelus…I had never once spared a glance at the names on the stones. They were of no importance to me, just etching on a piece of granite or marble. Now as I walked I was about to be confronted with a name that is not only familiar, but that belongs intricately entwined with mine. Buffy and Angel.

When I reached it I looked down at the recently planted grass, at the gray headstone that bore the name of the woman I loved…and I fell to the ground. I've never felt such utter pain in my life. This pain came from the inside.

My soul screamed at the loss of its mate, my heart crumbled. My hope died. Hope that someday, somehow, it would have been possible for us.

And then the anger set in.

Now, here in my arms, she stirs beneath me and I feel her gaze on my face. "You okay?"

I turn my head to look onto hers. "Yeah…I am," I tell her, hugging her more closely to me. I don't want to let her go. We're safe here, together, alone. I can protect her here.

"Angel…what's wrong?" she asks again as I drift off into my own thoughts.. "Where are you in there?"

She's reading me again. "I was just remembering…after…"

"Willow said you went on a trip."

"Yeah…I went soul-searching I guess."

"How did it go?"

I sigh. "It went okay. I came back…better than I had been. Not great, but better."

She's staring at me now. "What is it? Something's wrong."

I can't look at her.

"Angel, you can tell me."

***

"I missed you," he says simply, his voice breaking.

A soft smile plays on my lips, joy rings in my heart. "I'm here now."

***

"But you shouldn't be," I tell her…she should be in heaven, wings and a halo and a harp, the whole deal.

She sits up and looks at me. "I know…" she says slowly, as if she's not sure what I'm getting at.

But now I'm not even paying attention to her, my thoughts are flowing. "You shouldn't be here. It's not right. She had no right, they had no right. What was Willow thinking? What if the spell had gone wrong? And now, you're back. And you're still the Slayer and you have all this to deal with. And…I was getting over you, or I thought I was, and now you're back. Thrust back into my life."

"What?" I dimly hear her say as she pushes herself up and off the couch.

I sit up, my words just tumbling out of my mouth. "We all spent months getting over you…Cordelia cried, even, I'll have you know, and Dawn…God, Dawn! How much did this take out of her, especially after…"

"I'm sorry it's so terrible having me back. Would you prefer I stayed dead?" she asks sharply. "Sorry I'm such a chore for you, Angel."

"That's not what I meant, Buffy."

"Yeah? Well, what do you mean then, Angel?" she asks, condescendingly. "You know, I was eager to come up here to see you. I was happy about it, excited. You were the one person I thought would understand, having been dead a few times in your life, and having been in Hell."

"I didn't--"

***

I thrust a finger in his face. "No, don't. You didn't mean to, but you did. It's not hard enough on me that I was pulled out of the one place that I was truly happy, other than in your arms, and thrown back into this world, but Jesus! Could you make me feel worse? Here's a news flash for you, you did!"

A tear slips down my face and I wipe angrily at it.

"Buf--"

"I'm not finished!" I screech. "Do you know? Do you have any idea what it's like for me? My life has never been easy, Angel, but I deal. I try. I save the world and then we party. That's how it goes. But not this time. This time I died…I was finished, I was complete and I was happy. And then my best friend, with all good intentions, takes me out of that happy place and puts me smack-dab back in the middle of all this. I know you've been to Hell, Angel, but I'm imagining it's a lot like Sunnydale. It's hard here, and it's every day. Remember that? But we do it. Well, you know what? I don't want to do it. I don't want to be here. But I don't have a choice. And thank you very much for reminding me of not only the pain that I am currently going through, but also the pain that my very presence is causing you and all the others. Just what I needed."

He's staring at me, open-mouthed. He doesn't say anything. A beat, and he still doesn't say anything. With a frustrated growl I grab my jacket and stride to the door. "Forget this. I don't need this. I guess Spike is the only one who I can talk to now," I mumble.

***

What the hell did she just say?

***

Before I can open the door to do my dramatic burst-through-the-door-run-into-the-night thing, he grabs my arm and whirls me around.

"Spike?" he growls.

***

Her chin comes up. "Yeah, Spike."

"You talk to Spike now?"

She arches an eyebrow arrogantly. "Yes."

"Can I ask why?"

She cocks her head to the side. "No," she says innocently, and turns to the door again. My arm comes up and grabs her again.

"What do you tell him?" I can hear the jealously in my voice and I'm hating it, but there's nothing I can do about it.

She smirks. "The things I'd tell you if you were here."

That's a low blow and she knows it. But instead of hanging my head in shame I choose to butt it with hers.

"Nice…guess since Army brat left you went back to the dark side."

Wrong thing to say. Her eyes widen and before I know what's happening she's smacked me so hard my ears are ringing like church bells.

Ok, I deserved that.

She whirls again to the door and once again I grab her.

"Stop doing that!" she shouts, pushing my hand off of her. "I'm leaving!"

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean that," I tell her sincerely.

She glares at me. "Whatever. Thanks, Angel, really. You've made it perfectly clear that I really shouldn't be here. I wasn't already feeling it enough before, that outsider, freak-thing wasn't really working for me enough, but you…you've just capped it all. I make people miserable when I'm alive, I make them miserable when I'm dead."

"Buffy, really…I don't want to fight with you. About Spike or anything. I didn't mean to imply that I'm not completely happy about you being back. I am. I'm so ecstatic, I'm afraid I'm going to lose my soul."

Her eyes are still angry, but doubt is also present. Taking her face, her beautiful face, in my hands, I continue.

"When I heard you were gone…I lost it. I lost myself, my other half. I had to take a trip to find me again and even when I came back, I still wasn't whole. I should have been with you, I should have been there, fighting at your side, but I wasn't. And I know we lead separate lives now," I put in quickly when she's about to object, "but that doesn't mean that our lives aren't still linked. I loved you. I…I love you now. The first emotion that filled my heart when Cordelia told me about you…I can't even describe it. There wasn't just one in here," I say, touching her hand to my chest, "there were a hundred…love, joy, bliss, happiness, delight, ecstasy, elation…I can't pick just one. I couldn't wait to get my eyes on you, to touch you with my own hands, to know that you were real, that you were here. And now that you are…I feel guilty for having tried to get over you all those months, and I'm so, so sorry that you aren't in heaven where you belong. But I never got over you, not since I've left Sunnydale, not since you died. I will never, ever be sorry that you're on this planet, that I can see you…and smell you…and touch you."

She's looking up at me, here eyes are huge and shiny, tears brimming on the edges.

***

"I will never, ever be sorry that you're on this planet, that I can see you…" His hands are on my face, but now one finger traces my jaw. "…and smell you…" He moves in closer. "…and touch you." His face is inches from mine and I look up into his eyes, willing myself not to cry.

This…this is what I needed.

The electricity is flying, humming in my blood and in his, buzzing in the air around us. And before I know what's happening he brings his lips down to mine, slowly, unsure. And then the sparks really begin to fly. It starts off slowly, testing, and then, when we both acknowledge that this was going to happen, we both knew it was inevitable, the kiss deepens. His arms come up and around me, lifting me off my feet and bringing me back to that couch where he held me just moments before. Gingerly he sets me down, making sure our lips never unlock, and covers my body with his. They meld as I always remembered they did, fitting together perfectly as his hands dive into my hair, as mine race over his back.

God…this is much, much better than the last kiss we shared…a kiss under the moon, sitting beneath a giant oak, in the cemetery, where half our kisses ever took place.

***

And like coming home, she's back in my arms, doing what we always did best—loving each other. We lay there for

hours, kissing, touching, remembering, and when the first light of dawn starts peeking through the window she gets

up and pulls shut all the curtains for me. She has always completely accepted what I am. That thought may make me love her more.

"Sunrise," she murmurs a minute later, after she's snuggled back in my arms. "We can't leave just yet."

I smile. "Nope."

She yawns. "Good."

Snuggling down she closes her eyes, I close mine, and we sleep.

***

I woke up hours later…it was late afternoon but the sun was still bright in the sky. He had moved me to the bedroom sometime in the night, I have no idea when, and was now lying next to me, propped up on an elbow, watching me.

"It's been a long time since I've woken up to find you looking at me. Although usually it was from my bedroom window."

He smiles down at me. "You just haven't seen me these last few times."

I smirk and look down, playing with the button of his shirt. "You're not as stealthy as you think."

He looks surprised. "You knew I was there?"

My eyes meet his. "I always know when you're around. My own personal stalker."

He gives me a chagrined smile. "I just like to check up on you. I haven't been able to in a long time…even before

you…"

"Died. You can say it."

He hesitates. "Even while you were gone. Things before that were busy. But I came to your window one night…after your mom…"

"I knew it…I knew you were there. I didn't see you, but I was going to bed and I walked by the window, to my closet…"

He grins. "And you took out your peach robe and put it on, then you sat down and brushed your hair, knocking over your jewelry box. I heard a few four-letter words that night that you've picked up on since I left."

I smile back. "Yeah…I knew you were there. I think that's what made me knock over the box."

"Sorry."

"It's okay. But next time? Just come in the window like always."

"Sure thing."

***

I roll over and look towards the windows. "It'll be dark soon."

She nods. "Yeah…my sleep pattern's going to be all screwed up." Sighing she sits up and pats down her hair. "Oh well…I'll be wide awake for patrolling tonight."

"You're patrolling already?"

She nods again. "I don't really have anything else to do. School's…not in session, for me anyway. I guess I'll have to work it all out with Giles…what I'm going to do."

"You'll be fine," I say, offering her a gentle smile. "And I'm always here."

She reaches out and strokes my cheek. "I wish you were…always there."

My smile fades. "It's just not a good idea."

She smiles. "I know…I didn't mean to get all up with the Buffy/Angel dilemma again. We're good, I promise. But…it would be nice…someday."

"Yeah…someday." I kiss her gently and then get up off the bed. "Hungry?" I ask, extending her a hand.

She smiles brightly and takes it.

***

It's time to go. Dark just fell and we both need to be getting back. And neither of us really wants to go.

"Wow…a whole night without demons," I remark. "A girl could get used to this."

He chuckles. "We could just run away, join the circus."

"Do people really do that?" she asks, that lovely innocence coming out in her, the innocence that made me love her

from the beginning. "I mean, you don't hear about runaways becoming the next big acrobat star…you just hear about them in the stuff after-school specials are made of."

I just grin at her as we walk to our cars. She takes out her keys and the awkward silence from when she first pulled

up is back in full force.

"So…" she says.

"So…" I say.

"I'm glad you called. I needed this."

"Sure," I snort. "You needed me yelling at you and making you feel worse."

She smiles at swats at my shoulder playfully. "No…although maybe that was good for both of us, to get it all out.

And…it was really nice to see you. We haven't since my mom's…"

"Yeah…I remember." That seems like an eternity ago.

***

I don't want to leave. He's here…it's all simple. We could. We could just run away and join the circus. We're both strong and we're pretty graceful, most of the time. We'll form and act and change our names and become circus freaks instead of regular freaks.

"Will you call me soon?" he asks softly, shuffling his feet.

I nod. "And you'll call me…no more of this going months without speaking, okay? And I promise to try not to die."

He grins. "Me too."

"Okay then."

We stare at each other, then the ground, then each other.

"Well…bye," he says, reaching for me.

I reach back and we hug for forever. Neither of us wants to let go. Finally I pull away slowly and bring my lips to his. "Thank you," I tell him.

He rests his forehead on mine. "I'm always here, Buffy…even when it seems like I'm not."

"I know," I tell him, my heart and my voice cracking. God, why is this always so hard?

He takes a finger and lifts my chin, and I see that his eyes are teary too. "I maybe shouldn't tell you this…but I love you, Buffy."

I smile through my tears. "I know you do. I don't need the words, but they're nice to hear. I love you too."

He kisses me gently, sending shivers from my head to my toes, and I want to die all over again, with this as my last, perfect memory.

***

We pull apart and she opens her car door, flashing me a grin before she gets in and straps on her seat belt.

"Can we leave at the same time?" she asks me, rolling down the window.

"Sure…" I tell her, a little confused.

"It's easier if I don't have to watch you standing here in the rearview. Then again, you don't have a

reflection...but...I'll know."

Ah. Sure.

***

He gets in his car and starts it.

***

Her Jeep lurches forward and she glances up at me, a sheepish smile on her face.

***

I release the damn emergency brake.

***

And I pull away, driving down the dirt path.

***

I follow him a few feet back until we get to the highway.

***

With a glance in the mirror I smile at her, forgetting for a moment that she can't see me. Turning instead to look out of the window I wave and she waves back, wiggling her fingers, and I see her wiping a tear from her cheek. My hearts breaks as I turn left onto the highway.

***

I turn right, heading back to Sunnydale…maybe more exhausted than when I left the night before. Angel and I will forever be complicated.

Sighing, I think that maybe fried chicken might make everyone happy tonight.

***

Ice cream sounds good.