Disclaimer: Buffy belongs to people who are not me (all characters belong to Joss Wheadon and the WB). They made much money, I have none. Yadda Yadda Yadda. The song is "My Immortal" by EVANESCENCE.

Pairing: B/A - `cause what else is there?

Distribution: for example: take it but tell me where it's going.

Spoilers/Timeline: S7 - AU mid "Dirty Girls" - before the big `fight'. Angel S3 AU after "Orpheus" - with a quick resolution to The Beast and no Cordy birth.

Summary: Buffy's past comes back to haunt her as she prepares for the oncoming battle.

Feedback: Feedback is always nice

Author's Notes: Somehow this never made its way - it was my first foray in Buffy fanfic. Enjoy.


The potentials were in bed, having been drained by another day of tricks and scams by The First and Faiths entrance. Buffy Summers sighed as she dropped down on the steps of her back porch, looking out onto the darkness enveloping Sunnydale.

She never thought that shed be overjoyed and relieved to see the prodigal Slayer. But another Slayer was something The First wasn't expecting, and perhaps between the two of them, and the rest of the potentials and the team, some of them could actually survive.

However, she wasn't sure is winning was an option. Survival through was the focus. She was responsible for so many now, the Scoobies, Wood, the potentials, Spike... It was so much, maybe too much. But she had no choice.

The choice had been made for her all those years ago when shed been Called, rather than someone else. When shed come to Sunnydale, the Hellmouth. When shed been brought back not once, but twice to keep fighting.

Just like she continued to fight tonight.

Her patrol had gone well. There wasn't much out there truthfully. Other than what The First was sending after them. The real problem was that it seemed like this was just practice for what was still to come.

Shifting her weight, she turned to note the front door opening and Faith coming in from her own patrol. Buffy heard the steps creak as her sister Slayer went up the steps to the room they were now both sharing. It seemed only appropriate, since they shared the same powers and responsibility again.

Turning back to the darkness of the grass and tree covered yard, Buffy took note of the boom box someone had left out on the patio. Obviously they had brought it out for the last workout session and not taken it back.

Why the hell did Giles have to let the girls bring the damn radio out here anyway, she thought bitterly.

Reaching for it, she ended up hitting the power button rather than catching the handle. Sound blasted from it, luckily not loud enough to wake the neighbors or even the occupants inside, but it was enough to freeze Buffy in her tracks.

Soft, soulful words poured from the speakers, nailing her in place and wrapping around her battered heart, hitting her in the one place that still was wounded, and had never healed.

//I'm so tired of being here

suppressed by all of my childish fears

and if you have to leave

I wish that you would just leave

because your presence still lingers here

and it won't leave me alone//

Her eyes burned. Damn, she thought, why is it that she could never move on? Would she always be haunted by the man she loved forever, above all others? Shed spent so many hours, days, years waiting for the day when the simplest of things wouldn't remind her of him.

She was still waiting for that day.

Of course, there were too many memories in the house, in Sunnydale that kept her from escaping him.

//these wounds won't seem to heal

this pain is just too real

there's just too much that time cannot erase//

When Faith had walked in the door with Willow, Buffy had had a flash of jealousy course through her. She obviously had been in L.A. with him, for her to have heard from Will what was going down and decide to join up.

The idea of Faith being able to be near him and not her tore at her. Why was it that what everyone else could have what she was always denied. Darla and Faith and Cordy all could be near him, but she couldnt. The one who loved him more than her own life.

Yet he had left her and hurt her and let her die alone and she still loved him. Still tossed and turned on her double bed for weeks and months after her return because she was alone again. Heaven had been completion. Heaven had been like being with him. Coming back to the world she only felt emptiness an empty bed, empty arms and an empty heart.

She never was going to be able to not need him. It was times like now she realized that she was never going to be free.

//when you cried I'd wipe away all of your tears

when you'd scream I'd fight away all of your fears

and I've held your hand through all of these years//

They could have fought, they could have tried. Somehow, some prophecy still to be uncovered, a spell Will could have unearthed, they could have made it work, fixed the loophole. Force him to accept that he was worthy of being happy.

Instead he had put as much distance between them as he could. Had tried to give up, kill himself, and her in the process. He had never understood that his worth was directly connected to her desire to fight. To stay alive.

But after everything, the blood, the pain, the sacrifices, he still left in the smoke and the dark.

//but you still have all of me//

And he had taken part of her soul him.

That was what had kept her from moving on. She was incomplete, her heart and body ached daily they tried to compensate for the hole in her self that made it harder to care. Made it easier to give up. Day after day, year after year, though Riley, her moms death, Glory and Dawn, heaven and Spike and everything, that missing part of her still left a gaping, open tear in her self that made her think that going down swinging against The First might be her best shot at getting all of her back again.

Maybe dying again would free her from the pain that still suffused her being and gnawed at her purpose. Made her do what she hated just to survive.

//you used to captivate me

by your resonating light

but now I'm bound by the life you left behind

your face it haunts my once pleasant dreams

your voice it chased away all the sanity in me//

God, Spike had been a huge mistake. The depths of her self-loathing had known no bounds. It was just impossible for her to wrap her mind around it. Even now, she could still remember the gaping nothingness that was herself the months after her resurrection.

She was so desperate for something to fill that hole, she had refused to accept the thought that the true reason for it was miles away and trying to continue to stay true to his word. To give her the chance to live her life in the light.

And no matter how many times she had begged and pleaded, screamed and yelled to convince him, he could never believe that her light, her sanctuary, her home was him. He was determined that they were best kept apart. No matter how much she needed the part of her soul back that had left with him.

So she had taken any understanding, any comfort where she could. She had turned to Spike and let herself fall deeper into the despair that consumed her. That had been eating away at her since graduation.

//these wounds won't seem to heal

this pain is just too real

there's just too much that time cannot erase//

Rubbing her tired eyes, she noted that the stinging had eased, and the reason became obvious as wetness dampened her fingertips. Silent tears coated her cheeks, releasing the pain inside that she refused to let anyone, even herself see as her soul tried to scream out its pain and anguish.

Now, with all her excuses stripped away and the end so potentially near, there was nowhere left to hide, nowhere to run to escape the truth.

//when you cried I'd wipe away all of your tears

when you'd scream I'd fight away all of your fears

and I've held your hand through all of these years

but you still have all of me//

She had needed him all this time. No matter how much things had changed, no matter how they had grown apart, there was still too much of her that wasn't here with her, because it was with him.

//I've tried so hard to tell myself that you're gone

but though you're still with me//

Buffy glanced at the deep blackness that had turned the trees into shadows and the grass to blood and felt the hole shed fought to fill, to bury under everything, anything else, gape even more within her as the last of her illusions were ripped away. It left her with the final conclusion that she had done everything but face.

He wasn't here, and he wasn't coming back and she was damned because she couldn't let him go.

She had been afraid of this moment, because she didn't know what she would do or what it would mean when she could no longer feel even a little sense of him somewhere in the world. Somewhere inside of her.

Doing her best not to let out a bitter laugh, Buffy let herself finally understand that even with her desire to hold him to her, keep his love, his soul with her that for the last four years she had been truly, utterly...

//I've been alone all along//

"Yup Buffy, that's you all right," she muttered to the radio and the air and the heavens that she'd been drug out of. "And that's a Slayer's life. You live alone, fight alone, die alone. It's always been like that, you just never wanted to admit it."

With that she let herself sag to the patio floor, her body unwilling or unable to hold her up anymore as the finality of her words seeped into her.

Suddenly a voice came from behind her, freezing her in place with its familiar tone and affection as it said quietly, "You're never alone."

Her breathing picked up, her emotions at war with her head. Panic and fear mixed with hope and desire. Maybe, she thought with a pang of anxiousness. She couldn't turn, couldn't disappoint herself with the empty space she knew would be there.

So she found that part of her that she'd closed off because she couldn't handle the pain and reached out with her soul for the tingle, the connection that was always just out of reach. That was miles down the coast and wasn't where she needed it to be.

But instead of the dull, faint feel of something, a twisting, solid connection rocked her body, nearly making her shake, sending her head into her hands as she bent forward into a ball on the porch step.

"Angel?" she whispered into her body in her usual tone, her voice rusty as the familiar but unused word passed her lips.

//when you cried I'd wipe away all of your tears

when you'd scream I'd fight away all of your fears

and I've held your hand through all of these years//

The presence behind her moved, and she uncurled a bit to focus better. She realized he was coming from inside the house and had stood in the open kitchen doorframe. Like the cloud of smoke he'd left in all those years ago, he swiftly settled around her as he crouched behind her, his fingertips mere inches from her shoulders.

"Buffy," he replied, his voice catching on her name just like he always had.

Slowly she turned her face and body to look at him. The faint light from inside the house backlit his spiked hair and his imposing form. But the sliver of moonlight that had cast the shadows in the yard allowed her to see the planes of his face and his eyes, which glowed, even though they were brown rather than gold.

"What are you doing here?" she asked meekly, scared of chasing away the apparition before her.

"Willow said you guys were in trouble. She mentioned The First. I couldn't decide what to do when she left with Faith. It wasn't until a few hours ago that I felt I had to come back."

Buffy shook her head, not sure she was seeing him here, not believing what she was hearing. Maybe she was dead, and this was just another of the comforting visions that had surrounded her there. Being with Angel was heaven, so she had to be dead. Or she was going crazy...

"I'm... I don't understand," she mumbled, her head turning away from her Angel hallucination. Maybe she was finally losing it.

"You don't understand what?"

That simple questioning comment snapped her back to reality. Angel in her dreams, in heaven always knew what she meant. That meant this was real. He was real. And real meant pain and leaving.

"Why did you decide to come? I thought you'd decided we didn't live in each other's world anymore," she said bitterly.

"I know," Angel replied chagrined, but stayed focused on his task and Buffy's seemingly erratic state of mind. "But I felt I had to come back. If The First is here, then I need to help send it back where it came from. I can't let you face it alone. You fought it for me last time, the least I can do is help fight it with you now."

Finally hazel-green eyes lifted from where they'd been fixed to a spot on the wood porch floor and turned to meet the chocolate pools that had been waiting for her to do so since he'd walked into the Summers home. They were weary, nervous and afraid. But beneath it all there seemed to be a small spark of hope at his words.

Then it seemed doused as she frowned, reality and history reigning in her that little optimistic glint that had been there.

"And when it's over?"

The simple words cut through him like a ray of sunlight, setting his insides on fire. He realized what she was really asking. She wanted to force him to admit that he was leaving again. That he was going to do what he had been doing for the last four years; coming to save the day and then ride off again, leaving her behind with nothing but false promises and bitter memories. His throat tightened as he realized just how much he'd hurt her.

But no more.

//but you still have all of me//

"I'm here till you want or need me to leave," he stated sincerely, solidly, "and I promise you this time that if you say you need me to stay forever, I'll stay."

Looking into his eyes, she could see that he really believed what he was saying. This time, she thought for a moment, maybe he really would stay. Except it was probably too late, and she half sobbed, half laughed at their continued run of bad timing.

"I don't know if I have forever to give you Angel," she replied simply, tiredly.

"I don't understand. Why?" he asked, and the defeat in her eyes gave him the answer. "The First?"

She nodded, the straight blonde hair dipping slightly as she looked away towards the floor again. His hand reached up to bring her face back to his view, making first contact with her since his arrival at her side. The shock of his cool hands on her skin burned her more than any fire ever could. More than Riley or Spike ever had.

"You beat it before, when it was just you fighting it. This time you have Faith, the potentials, Giles and the rest. And you have me."

"And even if we do win, you'll change your mind and leave, won't you?" she asked numbly, afraid to open her heart and hope, certain that this was a sweet lie just to tempt her into caring again.

"No," Angel swore angrily, his own pain and guilt coloring his voice. "I can't leave you again Buffy. I can't not be by your side through this apocalypse or the ones that might come afterwards. I can't pass the hours just waiting for the day when Willow or Giles or Xander show up in L.A. and tell me you're gone. Again. And not coming back this time."

There was a long pause. Did he really mean that, she thought. When she'd come back from heaven this last time, he'd called up, needing to see her. But he had left all the same. What was to say that he wouldn't again? And if he was telling the truth, why? He'd been so adamant about her living a normal life, even when they'd seen each other last year after she'd come back. What was different now?

"So you've changed your mind then? You've realized that I don't need sunshine or picnics or someone to grow old with? Have you've figured out some way that we can be with each other without making you too happy? Suddenly you're okay with us being us again?" she pushed, her tone getting sharp and defensive.

His head turned from her, so she saw only his profile in shadow. She swore she could see conflicting emotions cross his face, even deep in darkness. Of course, maybe it was her soul seeing his rather than her seeing his face.

"I know we can't have some of those things right now, because of what I am. But there might be a possibility of all of them, someday. And don't ask, we can talk about it later," he said, hushing her with his tone alone, his eyes now turning to pierce hers. "But I want us to be us again. And about my being happy, about the curse... Buffy, the curse is gone."

Silence settled between them as she fought to comprehend his words. There was possibly something that would let them be together in the sun, grow old... she was confused, but he said he'd explain. Okay, not great but okay. She had some time, not a lot, but after four years she could have a little patience.

But the news about the curse...

"How?" she asked suddenly, her tone changed to soft, nearly pleading in her desire to hear how one of her fondest dreams had come true.

Angel shifted in place again, this time finally giving up and sitting on the porch. Once he was seated, he reached out to her, and waited for what he thought was an eternity before she allowed him to guide her closer to him. With little hesitation, he was able to pull her directly across from him, her hands in his and her face mere inches from his. With a sigh, he resigned himself to the task of explaining what he knew would anger her. Yet he hoped the final reaction to his story would be happiness.

"We had some problems with a demon in L.A. Angelus supposedly had some dealings with him but I couldn't remember. So we lifted my soul."

"You WHAT?!?" she yelled and Angel winced at the shrillness of her near scream.

He'd hoped her reaction wouldn't have been so loud. Then she was trying to pull her hands from his as she attempted to stand and storm off. Instead of letting her go, he held on tight, anchoring her to the spot and ensuring that she'd hear him out.

"Hey, I'm here, me, not Angelus," he pointed out, gripping her hands until her eyes came back into line with his. A few moments later, lucidity seemed to return to her gaze.

"Sorry, just you without a soul is like my worst Buffy nightmare," she remarked, and he nodded his head in understanding. "So what happened?"

"Willow actually. Things got screwed up. Someone stole my soul from the safe we were keeping it in. So they called Willow and she did a locator spell, freeing it so it could come back to my body. And in doing so, the spell she used to put it back didn't have the clause."

"So, happy Angel now," Buffy replied, appreciatively.

The self-conscious grin that slowly crept across his features jump started her heart. His raised eyebrow at her, and she realized he must have noticed.

"Yeah. I haven't had the chance to test it, but before she left Willow assured me that it was nailed in tight."

He let the implication hang that he was here, and only now was he even considering testing the cemented status of his soul. In fact, once he'd gotten his head on straight about The First and Buffy, all he could think about as he'd been throwing weapons and clothes into bags and on the drive to Sunnydale was how many ways he and Buffy could test drive his new soulfulness.

Now he was wondering if she wanted that anymore.

Until he noted the blush staining her cheeks and her lips being whetted by her tongue. His enhanced predator hearing caught her heart rate quicken again and her breath start to come faster. Finally, the smell of an increasingly aroused Buffy was something he couldn't fail to notice, not after so many years of dreaming and remembering the perfume of it. Okay, he thought smugly, she can't be reacting like that because she isn't interested.

"We sort of have a full house anyhow," Buffy demurred, trying to skirt the issue of how much she wanted to just forget the last few years and toss Angel to the patio and have her way with him.

"I noticed. There's always my place," he suggested with a velvet tone.

"Isn't L.A. a bit far, considering the fact we may have the big battle any hour?"

Angel smirked at her, sending tight tendrils of want through her belly. How was she supposed to think rationally when he was looking at her like that?

"I was thinking more like the mansion. Close to impending doom but private enough for us to talk some more."

"Or do more than talk?" she supplied dumbly, her face nearly cracking as the weight of the pain she'd been carrying all this time seemed to melt from her shoulders as he gave her a look that said talking much more wasn't on his agenda.

And hell, it really wasn't on the top of her list of things to do either. The world was in peril again, another potential apocalypse was ahead, all the girls to protect and she wasn't going to waste another minute being away from him now that she could truly be with him.

"I didn't want to assume..." Angel began, even though he really had been assuming that his change in attitude and his soulful status would make a difference in their relationship.

"Come on Angel," she tossed back with a growing smile as the reality of it really started to hit her. "You had to know that no matter what, I would always want you in my life. I love you. I always have, always will. I've just been waiting for you to get your head out of your ass and realize it too."

"Realize what?" he asked with a gravelly voice that made Buffy feel light headed. "That I love you? Buffy, I meant what I said when I told you that in 250 years I've loved only one woman, and it was you. I just couldn't let you be with me. But after losing you a second time, and having been given another chance I didn't deserve, I can't imagine a future apart from you."

The threat of tears from her eyes brought Angel's hand up to cup her face, and she leaned into it like she always had. Like it was her salvation from the weight of the world. This time the true meaning of that simple action wasn't lost on Angel.

There wasn't anything left to say anymore. They finally had what they wanted, all they had to do was take hold and not let go or talk themselves out of it.

"Let me turn off the radio, get some clothes and leave a note for Giles."

"I think clothes are optional, really," Angel spoke up, pulling her close for a teasing kiss that had her pulse racing and him being thankful that he didn't need to breathe, because she would have caused him to stop otherwise.

"Okay then," she murmured when their lips parted, "radio, note and out of here."

With that, she got up, pulling Angel up with her, their hands still tightly clasped together. With deliberate motions she deftly turned off the radio, leaving it sit on the patio and ushered them into the house where she left a note with Angel's cell phone number on the kitchen counter. Leaving him being out of the option, they threaded their way through the sleeping girls to the front door.

Carefully Buffy closed the door behind them, and they walked down the path to his car. While the battle with The First still loomed ahead of them, they finally had what they had always needed - each other.