By Shakespeare's Girl

A/N: Ah, here we are again. Yet another fic for The Challenge. Despite the title (which by the by, is also the prompt used to inspire the fic) I'm afraid I've gone to the dark place again. I know, I know. Angst is my middle name . . . well, actually, my middle name is Helen. In any case, as I sit here, typing this author's note, I am pleased, because I went to the dark place again. And I like it here. It's nice. There are pretty boys to hurt . . . (I sound like Drusilla.) Spoilers for "Surprise" and "Innocence"

They lie there, and Angel can't help but bask in the feeling of being loved, of having made love with someone for the first time in a long time.

He's smiling, a big smile, happy, hearty, healthy, a smile he hasn't worn in a very long time. It's a good smile, one that looks good on him, one that Buffy's never seen, one that might make Giles think he'd lied about being good. He turns on his side and wraps an arm around his companion, the warmth of human skin radiating off his chest and heating them both.

He can't stop smiling, drifting back to run over their love-making in his mind.

He's so happy. He can't remember being this happy, not even before the soul, not even as a human. He keeps drifting, thinking about the past few years, thinking about how he'd gotten here.

"Buffy," he mumbles, feeling sleep overtake him, pull him down to where Buffy already dreams.

It's so peaceful here, in the quiet blackness. So tranquil. Like nothing will ever bother them again. Like there's nothing wrong with the world. All the voices that usually turn him into an insomniac are gone, and it's quiet and serene.

Angel's eyes snap open and he jerks upright. He's in bed, Buffy's lying beside him, still asleep. Something's wrong. It's him, something's wrong with him. He manages to stumble out of bed and pull on some pants, muttering little incoherent phrases, things even he doesn't understand.

Buffy! Buffy! Buffy!

Oh, something's wrong. His whole body hurts. He thinks maybe his hand is on his chest, maybe stopping something from ripping out--but then it's too much, too much, hurts, hurts, hurts! He's pulling away, pulling away, leaving his body.


"Hey," he can hear someone calling, nearby, but so far away, too far away. "You okay?" It's like he's underwater, he can't even place where the voice is coming from. "You want me to call nine one one?"

He's about to scream, but he can't, he can't answer the voice, he can't even take in the breath he needs to start screaming, to say something, but even as he fights to speak, he can hear himself answering, "No. The pain is gone."

He knows. He knows what's just happened, can feel himself floating away, and he has to hang on to something, has to remember--what?

What does he have to remember?

Buffy . . .