Doesn't belong to me.

Chapter 1

"So, are you nervous?" Willow asked Buffy as they walked along the sidewalk.

Buffy shrugged. "Maybe a little. I'm not sure yet."

"Are you, Xander?" Willow asked, turning to look over her shoulder at their lagging friend.

"Am I what?" questioned the oblivious boy.

Willow turned back around and looked at Buffy. At the same time she and Buffy started laughing. "What's so funny?" Xander asked as he came alongside them.

"Nothing," the girls said simultaneously. Which only made them laugh harder. They were just calming down when Buffy stumbled and caught herself on Xander's arm.

"Are you okay?" Willow asked. Buffy seemed fine, by all appearances, but she was always so graceful and she never tripped or anything.

Buffy straightened slowly and then nodded. "Yeah, I just...I'm not sure what that was. It almost felt like...Never mind. I'm fine though. Really," she added at her friends' looks of disbelief.

Willow looked at Xander who shrugged. "Okay," she said, drawing out the word hesitantly. "If you're sure."

"I am." The trio kept walking and Xander asked excitedly, "So Cordy and I are going to the Bronze tonight. You guys in?"

"Yeah!" Willow exclaimed.

Buffy didn't respond immediately and the redhead asked worriedly, "Maybe not yeah?"

"Sorry," Buffy apologized. "I just suddenly feel really tired. To be honest I don't know about going dancing tonight. You guys should go without me. I'm fine with staying in."

Willow nodded and after a dramatic sigh replied, "Yeah, you're right." A grin split across her face and she added slyly, "You're not up for dancing, but maybe you're up for some time with a certain, handsome vampire we all know?"

Xander made a noise of disgust, which was ignored, and Buffy smiled. "Maybe. I don't know. I really do feel tired. I'll probably stay in tonight, just relax."

"Okay then," Willow said with a shrug.

Buffy's was the first house they got to and they all walked up to the door. She stood there watching with amusement as Xander insisted on walking Willow home and Willow insisted on spending the rest of the afternoon with him since they were going to see each other later anyway. Willow finally convinced Xander that instead of making another pointless stop she should just stay with him and hang out at his house until it was time for the Bronze.

Buffy went inside and looked around for her mother. "Mom?"

"In here, Sweetheart," Joyce called. Buffy entered the kitchen and her mother asked, "You're home. Can I make you a sandwich or something?"

"No thanks," Buffy replied. After making some small talk with her mother she went upstairs to her room. She pulled out her homework, but that was the last thing she wanted to do. Seeing Angel did sound appealing, but she had to wait until dark for that. So she flopped backward down onto her bed, bored out of her mind. Next thing she knew she was asleep and dreaming vividly. Yet when she woke up she couldn't remember a single thing she'd dreamt of. The only thing she was left with was a sense of...confusion, and something else, but she couldn't figure out what so she shrugged it off.

Buffy shook her head as she yawned and stretched. Then her eyes caught on the numbers shining from the alarm clock. She did a double take. It was almost one in the morning. She hadn't noticed how dark her room was; she couldn't believe that she'd slept that long. She listened carefully, trying to see if her mother sounded like she was still up and around, and then opened her door to check for lights. The house was dark and completely quiet.

She debated just going back to bed, but she suddenly felt restless, so went to her closet and grabbed her bag filled with stakes, crosses, holy water, etc. Buffy slipped out her window and jumped down to the ground. As she started walking toward the nearest cemetery she absently wondered why her mother hadn't woken her at some point. It seemed a little, well, neglectful for her mother not to have woken her. Now her stomach was growling and she hadn't thought to grab anything to eat; but she didn't want to head back now so she just kept walking.

The journey to the cemetery was uneventful, though she was there less than a minute before she caught sight of a new vampire crawling out of it's grave. Buffy fought and dispatched the thing fairly quickly; though during the fight her arm had abruptly spasmed, which was really weird and had unfortunately resulted in a very hard punch from her undead enemy. She rubbed her jaw gingerly and prayed it wouldn't swell. She held her arm up, twisted it around, ran her hand over it, but it seemed fine now so she figured it was nothing and chose to forget about it. It was probably just from not eating or something.

The urge to go see Angel arose once more and she absently looked down at her watch. It was just after two now and his place was in the opposite direction. She decided to hunt for a little while longer and then on her way to go see him she could stop at her house and get something to eat. Perfect. An hour later she was jumping up to and climbing back in her window. She crept downstairs and quietly began searching for food. In the fridge she found a plate with her name on it. Smiling at her mother's thoughtfulness she pulled it out and set it on the counter. Well, she tried to set it on the counter, but her arm spasmed again, the other one this time, and the plate fell from her grasp. It was only due to her superb reflexes that she caught the plate before it hit the floor and shattered.

That one would be fun to explain to her mother, as well as explaining why she was still dressed. And had her shoes on. The last time that happened she'd ended up grounded for some time. Despite her mother's knowledge of her Slayer duties she still wasn't thrilled about her daughter's extracurricular activities. Glaring at the offending arm, Buffy set the plate down, carefully, and began to clean up the spilled food. She'd saved the plate, but that was about it. She put all the food back on the plate and stared at it for a second before shrugging and pulling up a chair. Five second rule, right? Or thirty seconds or something like that. She hurriedly ate the chicken and peas and gulped down a glass of milk before heading back upstairs.

A glance at the clock on the wall as she walked down the hallway told her it was approaching four o'clock. The sun would rise in a few hours, which didn't leave her much time to spend with Angel, but nowadays she saw him so little anyway that she had learned to just take what she could get. Buffy deposited her bag back in her closet, keeping one stake tucked in her jacket, just in case. She grabbed her MP3 player and slid out her still open window and dropped to the grass below.

Buffy kept her eyes peeled for any trouble, specifically supernatural, as she headed for Restfield Cemetery which led to Angels' mansion. With her position as Slayer it was rather convenient that the mansion was so close to two different graveyards. It helped ease any guilt she might have felt in sacrificing Slayer time to go see Angel. This way she could do both.

Except her seeing Angel had caused so many problems with Giles and her friends. Not to mention the fact that she'd hidden his return and survival from them all; that had just made a bad situation worse. Things were...complicated right now. Giles was talking to her again, but it wasn't usually unless he had something Slayer-related to speak with her about. Even that sort of contact he made as minimal as possible and he had severely shortened her leash for, well, a lot of things.

Willow was more understanding, though she wasn't exactly thrilled either. Angel had threatened her and killed a friend of hers, after all. Buffy wasn't sure why, exactly, Willow was being understanding, but as curious as she was, she wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Part of the understanding probably came from Angel having saved her life. Again.

Xander was the exact opposite of Willow, but there were multiple reasons for that. He'd never liked Angel, not from the beginning. That was mostly due to the fact that Xander had had a crush on Buffy and Buffy not only made it clear she wasn't interested, but took a liking a guy who turned out to be a vampire. In his eyes it was the worst choice she could have made. Xander had never approved of him and Buffy knew he never would. Of course, she had to have had the bad of luck of Xander being the one to find out Angel was still alive, and then on top of that to have him discover this on a night when she'd kissed Angel. Needless to say, he was less than pleased.

Cordelia sided with Xander, partly because he was her boyfriend, but Buffy knew that Cordelia mainly worried about Angel going bad again. Which made her worry about her life. Only hers. She didn't think about the fact that she and Buffy were only associated because of her relationship with Xander and that Angel was well aware that Buffy wasn't fond of her, so there was no reason for him to go after Cordy. Oz felt pretty much the same as Cordelia, except his concerns were just a smidge more valid.

Giles, well, that one was obvious. Not only had she kept really big secret from him, a really important, big one, but that secret meant harboring the man who had killed someone Giles loved very much. Even if it wasn't really Angel who did that, that didn't make it any less personal or painful. Giles felt hurt and betrayed and he had every right in the world to feel that way. It killed Buffy to see what Angel's return did to him, they all thought the Angel thing was over, and the look on his face at finding out she knew he was back all along made her hate herself. It was nice to have the secret out, but Buffy felt so guilty for keeping it in the first place. She'd known that no one would understand why she'd been helping him, let alone why she didn't kill him, so she thought it best just not to say anything at all. She still thought her reasons had been valid, but she also saw why it had been a bad idea to keep the secret.

Buffy's thoughts trailed off as Angel's mansion came into view. There were a few lights on on the lower floor, which meant he was there. Angel was still a little weak and so he rarely went anywhere, but on occasion he did go out. She slowly approached from the side entrance, the boarded up one, where she usually came in. Her leg had started to ache for some reason and she absently reached down to rub it.

Buffy straightened up and hesitated outside the entrance. She peeked in between a couple of boards; inside she could see Angel sitting on the couch in front of a fire, reading. He'd said something to her once about how bored he got, being alone so much with nothing to do. So when she got home that day she went upstairs into the attic and found several boxes filled with books. They'd been up there for a long time; they used to belong to her mother, but Joyce never read them, so she grabbed a bunch of random ones and stuck them into her backpack. The next time she went to see him she brought the books. Angel had been surprised but grateful.

It was hard to tell from distance, but it appeared that he was reading a romance novel. This thought amused her as that wasn't something she'd have expected him to pick up. Buffy quietly slipped inside and made her way toward him. Angel was absorbed in reading and didn't see or hear her.

"Romance, huh?" Buffy suddenly spoke up. "Didn't think that was your type."

Angel stood up quickly, dropping the book with a shocked look on his face. "Oh, uh, I didn't see you there."

"I noticed."

He bent down to pick up the book and said, "Well, um, it's not something I would've picked, but most of what you gave me was romance so..."

"Oh, sorry," Buffy said. Feeling immensely stupid and fighting a blush she ran her hands through her hair, then clasped them tightly behind her back and looked everywhere but at him. "I didn't even really look at the books when I grabbed them; they are my mom's and I just randomly picked some. I can get you some different ones..."

"No, no, it's fine. You've done so much for me's fine. Besides, it keeps me occupied," Angel said and shrugged.

"Okay, if you're sure. Just let me know when you need more. We have lots of books. Or I can get you something else," Buffy muttered.

Angel put his hand up to stop her. "Don't worry about it. I went a long time making do for myself, so don't worry about me."

With a sheepish grin she peeled off her leather jacket and went to sit down on the couch. Angel tossed his book down onto the coffee table and took a seat next to her. "So, how was your day?" he asked.

"Pretty uneventful," Buffy replied. "SAT's are done now, so there's not much left in the way of school, really. I mean, we still have to go to class and all, but it's not like we're going to learn anything new. There was point after lunch today where Cordelia was talking to this guy and Xander saw and completely freaked out. He thought she was flirting or something and then she said she wasn't and it turned into this whole big thing right in front of the entire school. They finally calmed down and then went off to...well, make-up." She shook her head. "It was quite the spectacle."

"I never understood those two. They are complete opposites, always fighting, and now they are together?"

"It started out as the occasional make-out session from what I know. And still is, or so they act. Yet, somehow, it seems to have evolved into more. I'm not sure when or how and I can guarantee no one else understands, but it'd appear that they actually have feelings for each other." Buffy chuckled, "It's just so weird to see it. Be glad you don't have to."

He made a face. "I have seen it. It was...sickening. Though, if anyone had taken the time to think about it, we'd probably have seen it coming."

"Why do you say that?"

"Well, you know what they say. There is a fine line between the love and hate; both are very passionate emotions. With all the fighting and bickering they did, it now seems kind of inevitable."

Buffy frowned, then shrugged. "I guess so. I never really thought of it that way."

"So, how was your day?" Then she grimaced. "Sorry, stupid question."

Angel smirked at her. "I slept and I read. And waited for you." She looked a little surprised and he explained, "I don't have much in the way of company, so I look forward to the nights when you can sneak away, even for just a little while." She smiled just as he said, "I didn't think I was going to see you tonight."

Buffy shrugged one shoulder. "I got home and was really tired, so I took a nap. I didn't wake up until after midnight. That's why I'm so late."

"I see."

"Come to think of it," Buffy continued, "I've felt really tired and kinda...out of it all afternoon."

"Maybe you're coming down with something?" Angel suggested.

"Maybe. I dunno."

Angel gestured to the MP3 player she'd set down on the coffee table. "What're you listening to?"

Buffy flushed slightly but tried to play it off. "Not much."

Angel smirked, intrigued by her unusual reaction. Buffy never blushed. Ever. "Really?" His tone was mischievous and Buffy knew something was up. She leaned forward and reached for the MP3 player, but he was faster and got to it first. He jumped off the couch and moved away from her, chuckling as he reached down for one of the dangling earbuds to put in. Buffy got up and followed him as he continued backing away from her.

"C'mon, Angel," she whined. "That's not fair. Or funny," she added as he laughed again. "I'm tired and I don't want to fight you for it."

"Works for me," he replied, pressing play. He was just far enough away that she couldn't reach him before the sound of the music did. His eyes widened and his expression morphed into shock at what greeted him. "Really? Haydn? The oh-so tough and fierce Vampire Slayer likes classical music? I can't believe it!"

Buffy glared at him and crossed her arms. Her expression put out she defended, "It's soothing. And heaven knows I need it. Don't judge." She frowned, though she wasn't really mad at him. Maybe a bit, but at the moment he was acting so lighthearted, which something she so rarely saw from him these days. She just hoped it would continue for awhile longer.

"Not judging," Angel said, pulling out the earbud. "I'm just surprised. It's not what I would have expected to find you listening to. Not at all."

"Well, what would you have expected?"

"Something a little more along the lines of rock and roll, probably."

Dark spots suddenly appeared in her vision and she swayed slightly. Angel was at her side in a second. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I just got a little light-headed."

"Maybe you really are coming down with something," he said, his tone laced with concern.

She shrugged casually and sat back down. "I'm sure it's nothing."

He sat back down next to her with a sigh and replaced her MP3 player. Buffy curled up in the corner of the couch, turned slightly to face him. She gestured to the MP3 player and said, "So, yeah, I'm good at that. Surprising people. Yet, you knew exactly what it was as soon as it came on."

"Well, I have been around a lot longer, and there was a time when the majority of what a lot of people listened to was classical, or the like. I'm familiar with a lot of that sort of thing." They fell silent again for a few moments. "Have you picked a college yet?" he asked. His tone sounded almost reluctant, like he didn't really want to know and was only asking to make conversation.

Buffy carefully watched his face as she replied, though she took her time in doing so. "Um, still not sure. My mother isn't pushing me all the way across the country anymore, be honest, college and getting away has it's appeals; I just feel like things are really changing and it's happening pretty fast. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do."

"Did you ever consider that maybe you should stop thinking about your Slayer duties and what's best for other people, what you feel you should do, and just go for what you want? I mean, you got such great test scores you could easily go anywhere. Is there anywhere in particular that you want to go, anything you want to see?"

Buffy rested her head on her fist and stared at the fire. "I'm not sure. I mean, before the whole Slayer thing, my biggest concerns were cheerleading and boys and parties. Afterward it became fighting vampires and, well, everything else while simultaneously trying to protect the people I care about and not let my secret out. It's a full time job, and I've gotten so used to doing that all the time. Things have changed a lot in the last couple of years; it's been awhile since I've had the opportunity to do anything for me. I haven't really thought about what I want."

"You should," Angel whispered. "You deserve to be able to do something for yourself after everything you've done for everyone else." In a lighter tone he added, "How many times have you saved the world now?"

Buffy laughed. "I have no idea. I think I lost count somewhere around two hundred."

Angel made a move to reach for something, but stopped when he saw her shudder slightly out of the corner of his eye. Buffy noticed him staring and asked, "What?"

He didn't answer, just leaned over and placed a hand on her forehead. "You feel a little warm. Are you sure you're okay?" He was sounding more and more concerned and it had her torn somewhere between feeling irritated and feeling touched.

She rubbed a hand over her forehead and shrugged again. "You could be right and I'm coming down with something, but it doesn't feel too bad right now. If I wake up sick tomorrow I'll just skip school and try to rest." At his worried frown she lowered her voice and soothed, "I swear, Angel. I won't overdue it and land myself in the hospital or something."

He seemed temporarily appeased, but only slightly. Buffy tried to think of a way to distract him, but her brain felt fuzzy and once more all she wanted to do was sleep. Her eyes drooped and as she fought to keep them open she was barely aware of Angel scooting over and wrapping his arms around her.

"You need to wake up, Sleeping Beauty. Buffy, come on."

The last vestiges of whatever dream she'd been having slipped away as Buffy was slowly roused by the sound of Angel's voice. She opened her eyes and couldn't stop the smile that spread across her face when his face filled her vision. He was no longer holding her, but kneeling in front of the couch, one hand on her shoulder.

"It's almost morning and you need to get home before your mother realizes you're gone."

She sat up and slowly stretched. She ran a hand through her hair and grimaced at the tangles she could feel grabbing at her fingers. Buffy remembered the hairband on her wrist and was suddenly grateful she'd forgotten to remove it earlier. She slid it off and pulled her messy hair into a ponytail. Angel just sat on the coffee table, silently watching her. He did that a lot. Watched her, that is. Sometimes she'd catch him staring, his face unreadable.

"Will I see you tonight?" he asked.

"Um, I don't know. I'm not sure if everybody will want to go Bronzing tonight or if Giles will want me to patrol or my mother will tell me I'm away too much and make me stay in. She seems to think I don't want to spend time with her anymore, so at random times she makes me stay in." Buffy stood up and grabbed her jacket. "I'll see if I can get away, okay?"

Angel nodded and handed her her MP3 player. She accepted it and smiled at him before slipping outside where the predawn light was already spreading over the ground. There was a bit of fog and some dew on the ground, so she made sure to keep her eyes on where she was going.

Even hurrying as much as possible to get home before her mother, it was a close one. Buffy had just climbed through her window and discarded her jacket when he mother knocked on her door. "Buffy? Are you up yet?"

"Yeah, Mom," Buffy called back.

Joyce opened the door and poked her head in. "Are you feeling okay? I came to get you for dinner last night and you were sound asleep. I tried to wake you up, but you seemed to pretty out."

Buffy nodded and said, "Yeah. I was just tired and thought I'd take a nap. I didn't realize just how tired I was, I guess. But I'm fine," she hastily assured her mother. "In fact, I'm well rested and I was thinking that a nice, hot shower sounded really good right about now."

"Well, okay, if you're sure. I don't want you to go to school, though, if you feel sick at all. I won't be mad if you just want to skip."

"I think I'll be fine. Really. I just need to get that shower and maybe eat something."

"Alright, well, while you shower I can make you something. Anything in particular you're craving?"

Buffy shook her head. "Whatever's fine." Mentally she willed her mother to just leave already.

Joyce nodded and ducked back out. Buffy sighed and let her body relax. Joyce was not aware of Angel's return just yet and this was not the way for her to find out. Her mother was still pretty clueless about what had happened when Angel lost his soul, especially when it came to the details, but she knew enough that she feared Angel. Buffy didn't know how to explain things, so for the time being she said nothing. She forced herself to stop worrying about her mother and Angel; Joyce could come back at any time looking for her, so she grabbed a clean outfit and headed for the bathroom to get her shower.

"...the molecular have to wait..." The teachers voice kept fading in and out and as hard as Buffy tried to concentrate she just couldn't seem to pay attention to what was going on around her. It was her first class of the day, she'd been at school for less than twenty minutes, and already she was thinking about ditching. She'd been a little sluggish this morning and because of it she was late to school. Because she was late and her friends were in other classes in this period, she had yet to see them.

Buffy had wanted to at least say hi, but her head was starting to hurt and she felt lightheaded, so she made up a lame excuse to the teacher and left. She'd promised Angel she'd ditch school if she felt bad, but she couldn't keep the second part of her promise. At least not about staying in and relaxing. Her mother had the day off work and if she went home her mother would want to know what was wrong. The only acceptable excuse would be that she was sick which meant that she'd be coddled and that was the last thing she wanted.

She really felt like she should lay down for a bit, but first she had to find somewhere to do that. She stumbled and caught herself on a low half wall. Her vision was swimming and it took a couple of minutes before her eyes cleared up enough for her to stand on her own. She really didn't feel good now, like she was going to vomit any second, and she had to lie down.

Once again Buffy remembered her conversation with Angel last night and her promise not to end up in the hospital. Then it occurred to her that she could go to Angel's. He wouldn't be happy to see her like this, but her mother wasn't there and she could lie down for awhile. If things got worse Angel could go for help when darkness fell.

On her way to his mansion she fell several times and even got so disoriented that she got turned around. Just before she reached his place she stumbled again, except this time she actually blacked out. Buffy could just see the faint path leading toward his house when she lost consciousness.

"Has anyone seen Buffy?" Willow practically screeched as she skidded to a stop in front of everyone.

Giles sighed, pulled his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Well, that's sort of why we're all here. No one has seen her in almost twenty-four hours."

Joyce whimpered quietly and asked Giles, "Do you know where she might be? Do you think something happened to her?"

"I don't know." Giles answered.

Xander, standing behind Joyce with Cordelia, piped up, "Maybe she ran away again?" Cordelia and Joyce both glared at him and Oz just stared in shock.

"She wouldn't do that. Would she?" Willow's brow creased and she frowned as she looked around worriedly at everyone else in the room.

It appeared that no one had an answer to that question. Willow suddenly realized that there was an extra person in the room. "Faith? What are you doing here?"

Giles spoke up before Faith could. "I asked Joyce to go get her and see if maybe she could help us find Buffy."

Faith started to add something to that when their conversation was abruptly interrupted by the slamming of the library doors against the walls. In walked a harried and anxious Angel. Carrying an unconscious Buffy in his arms.

"What did you do to her?" Faith yelled as she stormed up to him.

Angel glared at the Slayer and kept walking. "Nothing." He set Buffy down on the table after sweeping off it's contents with one long arm. He turned to Giles and said, "I need your help. There's something wrong with Buffy."

"What do you mean? What happened? Why is she unconscious?" Giles fired off the questions so fast that Angel didn't have the chance to answer.

Angel held up his hand to stop the torrent and then rubbed his forehead tiredly. "I, um, I think she's...I think she might be possessed."

"She's what?" Joyce yelled. "Oh no." She covered her face with her hands.

"Now, now, calm down. Possessions can be...fixed, so to speak. As long as she hasn't been possessed for too long," Giles tried to reassure the distraught woman.

"What does that mean?" Joyce demanded angrily.

"Well, the demons that have the power to do that sort of thing, possess another, usually find a body, a host so to speak, and go inside. Then, little by little, he starts to take control. Basically, he's slowly pushing Buffy out, and once he succeeds she dies and he has complete control of her body. And someone with Buffy's power and abilities to become possessed would be, well..."

"Catastrophic," Angel finished.

"Yes." In full librarian researcher mode now Giles began pacing, stopping near Angel briefly to ask what exactly had happened.

"She came to see me, but she seemed...different. The way she was talking and acting didn't seem quite right. Everything happened pretty quickly. One second we were talking about something and the next she was attacking me. It took me by surprise and through nothing other than pure luck I knocked her out. The problem is, I don't know what's possessing her so I don't know how to get it out. That's why I brought her here."

"I see. Well, she has been acting slightly distracted lately, from what I understand, so it appears that the demon has not been there long. Which means there's at least a part of Buffy in there somewhere and we can still save her." Giles looked over at the still-prone girl lying on the table and asked, "You said she attacked you?"


"Um, in which case I think it would be best if we restrained her so that when she wakes up we don't have a loose mad Buffy on our hands. Well, a loose mad demon in Buffy's body."

Angel immediately moved toward the area where he knew Giles kept weapons. He reappeared with chains and quickly set about restraining Buffy.

Willow finally found her voice and managed to ask, "So, if she's possessed, but unconscious how do we find out who's inside her? We can't get rid of a demon when we don't know who it is." She looked over at Angel who was looping the free end of the chains leading from Buffy's hands to a nearby pillar.

Joyce was also watching Angel and asked Giles desperately, "Is this really necessary?" She gestured to her now-chained up daughter.

"I'm afraid so. Buffy is no longer in control of her body and we must keep her contained until we can figure out how to help her."

There was a soft groan from Buffy's direction and everyone looked over at her. Buffy groaned again, louder this time, and her eyelids began to flutter. Everyone watched with bated breath to see what would happen. Slowly her glassy eyes opened and began looking around. They seemed unfocused and...different somehow.

Her eyes fell on Angel and instantly there was a spark in her eye. It was small, but enough to make her eyes flash yellow momentarily. The glassy look disappeared and Buffy frowned. "Angel?" she whispered quietly.

Angel slowly moved forward and knelt down next to her. He gently touched her face and whispered back, "I'm right here."

Buffy tossed her head back and forth a bit and whimpered, "Angel, please help me."

Before Angel had the chance to say anything her eyes flashed again and she snarled and suddenly lunged forward, teeth snapping. Angel jerked backwards out of her reach.

A voice came out of Buffy, one similar to hers, but distorted, and screamed, "I will kill you!" She looked back at the chains on her wrists and continued, "When I get myself out of here I will put my hands around your throat, and I will kill you!"

"Buffy..." Angel started, but he was interrupted by another bout of snarling as Buffy twisted and whipped her body around in an effort to get free. "Buffy you can fight it! Look at me, listen to my voice! You can fight this thing!"

Willow kept her eyes on Buffy as she said, "Giles?"

Buffy started yelling again, the majority of her words aimed at Angel. "You can't hold me! I am Validus, I'm more powerful than any other demon in the world and no one can stop me!"

"Oh dear," Giles said, wiping a hand over his brow.

Buffy quieted down briefly, though she didn't stop talking. "I know who you are, Angelus. I know all about you. From her memories."

Angel's mouth opened slightly as he stared at her.

Buffy's face twisted in fury. "She thinks about you. All the time. I can see you in her head; you're important to her. She is...fond of you. Because of this, I will kill you first. She rails at me in her mind, trying to get out. To save you. Yes, she likes you very much indeed. She will be silent soon. Soon."

"What the hell is she talking about?" Joyce asked, also staring fixedly at Buffy.

"That isn't Buffy," Giles told her. "That is the demon inside her." Pacing once again he continued, "But when she first woke up and spoke to Angel, that was Buffy. She pushed the demon down long enough to reach out to him. Which is a good sign. It means she's still in there somewhere and still has some strength left. She's still fighting. But it's a losing battle. Buffy is strong willed, which is how she's even still alive, let alone maintaining some control, but it's not going to be enough. With each minute that passes he grows stronger and she grows weaker. He already has quite the control over her."

They all looked back over at the thrashing Buffy. Worried, Giles turned to face Angel, who couldn't seem to remove his eyes from Buffy. "Angel. Angel!" The distraught vampire finally turned to face the librarian, his eyes dark and sad, though determined. He stepped forward and said, "He said his name was Validus. I've heard of him before, though only a bit. He's known as Validus Malum, which, roughly translated, means 'powerful evil'. He's is one of the oldest and most powerful demons to ever exist."

"Yes, he is," Giles took over. "He was known for wreaking havoc everywhere he went just for the fun of it and no one could stop him. Several thousand years ago many people banded together, all powerful beings, and managed to destroy his body. However, his soul escaped. They tried to trap it, but there was no way for them to tell if they had been successful. When Validus didn't try to take on a new body it was assumed that the spell had worked. He was trapped, but somehow he must have gotten free. He went looking for a new body and found Buffy." Giles paused and sighed. "With a strong body that can sustain him properly he will rise once more. Stopping him will be next to impossible and it will be far too late for Buffy."

Willow shook her head in disbelief and Joyce appeared to be fighting tears once again. Cordelia clung to a shocked Xander, cringing away from Buffy. An irritated Faith crossed her arms and glared at Angel. "For all we know you're the reason she's possessed. Been playing around with some black magic, big boy?"

Angel's lips pursed in anger, but he chose to ignore her. He spoke up again, "We have to move fast. Buffy doesn't have much time."

"Yes, yes." Giles adjusted his glasses and went for a stack of books nearby. He pulled one out and began thumbing through it. "First and foremost, we must remove the demon from Buffy. She won't last long enough for us to try and get rid of the demon first."

"What do we do when the demon's soul is out?" Angel questioned.

Giles turned to Willow and said gravely, "I'll need your help. I can prepare everything, Angel can remove the demon, and then we'll need you to be ready to trap his soul once Angel finishes his part."

"And what if it doesn't work? What if you can't trap him?" Cordelia cried. "Then what? I don't want to be possessed by some ugly demon guy."

Everyone simply chose to ignore her, as always. Giles began pulling out more books and giving instructions to Xander, Willow, Faith, Cordelia, Oz, and Angel. Willow, Faith and Oz were sent to get oils and candles and anything else needed for the spells they were about to do. Cordelia and Xander were to look through the books with careful and very specific instructions on what they needed to look for and Angel was to help Giles in searching for some other information they needed. Then the two of them and Willow would set everything up. Ten minutes later the others were all back with the supplies they'd been told to get.

Everything was set out on the table and Giles was checking to make sure that they had all they needed. Just as he was arranging things for the spell he was knocked roughly to the ground. Everyone was so absorbed in what they were doing that no one noticed how quiet and still Buffy had become. Somehow she'd gotten free of her chains and now she was out to stop them from performing the spell. Jumping up off the stunned Giles Buffy grabbed Willow,who was the closest, by the arm and threw her into a wall. With those two down for the count Buffy went for Angel next.

Angel seemed a little hesitant to do anything, for fear of hurting her, and she used this to her advantage. She kicked him in the face and then spun him around into a wall. Not giving him a chance to retaliate she slammed her heel into the back of his knee, bringing him to the ground. She grabbed at him again, but Faith, though she hated Angel and probably wouldn't mind seeing him get beat up, especially by Buffy, didn't let her get any farther than that.

She charged from behind and with a flying kick sent Buffy sprawling. Buffy propped herself up on her hands and turned to glare at Faith. Her eyes were now completely yellow and she snarled like a wild animal. Buffy was up in a flash and stalked back towards the other girl. But Faith was ready and caught her leg between her hands when it came at her; she used it to throw Buffy off balance and then kicked her in the stomach. Faith came back for another attack before Buffy could recover, but Buffy was too fast. She met her head on, blocking several punches and then landing a few of her own. She slammed the side of her stiff hand into Faith's throat and dropped her flat. She turned her eyes towards the remaining four people now cowering in a corner, but she never got the chance to go for them.

Angel came up behind her and wrapped an arm around her neck. He locked his arms together to keep her from pulling away, but she made up for that by trying to toss him over her shoulder. Angel managed to hold on, to keep his feet on the ground, but it was obvious he was losing her. He called out to Faith who was still on the ground gasping for breath. "Hold her!"

Faith gathered herself enough to grasp the struggling girl's flailing feet and keep her from throwing Angel. Angel tightened his grip on Buffy and slowly her struggles calmed until she was limp in his arms. He carried her back to the pillar and re-chained her, wrapping the chain around her entire body this time and keeping her flush with the pillar so she had no room to move around.

Faith, along with Oz, was trying to rouse Willow. Angel finished with Buffy and went to check on Giles. The librarian was stunned, though fine. It took a minute, but Willow woke up too. She was groggy and kept one hand on her head, even though she claimed she was fine.

Angel kept a close eye on Buffy as they went back to setting everything up for the spells. Angel read over the words he was to say and Giles showed Willow her passage. There were five candles set up on the floor for trapping the demon's spirit and more spread out around everybody. "I have a question," Willow said to Giles. "What makes this demon so powerful?"

"Oh, well..." Giles faltered for a second and then responded, "That's a good question. See, this demon, when he had a body, was easily recognizable for the three horns on his head. Everyone knew he had them; they were a symbol of fear."

"His power came from his horns," Angel chimed in.

Giles nodded. "Correct. Three horns meant triple the power." To Angel he said, "You've been around for a couple hundred years, so I would imagine you would know quite a bit about this guy."

"Yes," Angel nodded, meeting the other man's eyes. "I know he's very dangerous and that we only have one chance to do this. We screw up and he escapes...well, we're pretty much dead."

Joyce was staring at Angel. "A couple hundred years?" Apparently Buffy hadn't ever actually mentioned his age.

Angel looked like he didn't know what to say. "Yes," he finally answered.

"We need to get moving," Giles interjected.

Angel looked over at Buffy one last time before slowly reciting the words in front of him. "EGO dico vos continuo, malum phasmatis. Licentia is somes." He began to repeat this and after the third time Buffy began thrashing around again. Yet she wasn't awake. Her body threw itself around as much as the chains would allow, her back arching and her mouth open as if in a silent scream. It almost looked like something was trying to get out of her.

Angel continued chanting and slowly this white mist formed above Buffy. Then she stopped thrashing, her body slumping in the chains. "It worked," Giles breathed in awe as he stared at the mist. He gestured to Willow and she began to recite her words.

"Malum phasmatis, malum phasmatis, vos es non exspectata hic. In aer EGO transporto vos qua vos vadum exsisto reus pro totus infinitio." As she recited her words again the mist around Buffy began to drift towards the candles. The process was slow, the spirit wasn't going down without a fight, and everyone could see that it was taking a toll on Willow. Just as it appeared that she might collapse the mist was completely within the circle of candles and she was able to stop chanting. The mist moved about as if trying to escape, but every time it approached the edge of the circle it bounced back like it had encountered a solid wall.

"You did it Willow!" Giles exclaimed excitedly, staring fixedly at the trapped spirit.

Xander went over to Buffy and started working to free her from the chains. Once done he held her and gently shook her while calling her name, but he received no response. He looked at Giles and Angel and said, "She's not waking up. Were we too late?"

Giles began to sweat and he stuttered nervously, "I-I don't k-k-know. I wouldn't think so."

Angel knelt down next to Buffy and pressed two fingers against her neck. He turned towards Giles as he said, "She has a pulse, but it's weak."

Joyce began to cry again and Faith put her arms around her and tried to comfort her. There was sudden commotion from the center of the room and they turned to see that the captured mist appeared to be solidifying and taking form. "Is it supposed to do that?" a weakened Willow asked from the chair she was slumped in.

"It can take on it's own form," Giles said. "However, without an actual body it's too weak and cannot sustain a form for very long."

The mist coalesced in the ugliest demon Willow had ever seen. It was over seven feet tall, at least, had huge, clawed feet, dirty brown scales covering it's muscled body, clawed hands, long, sharp teeth and glowing yellow eyes. On top of it's head sat one fat horn, joined on either side by long curving horns that had to be at least three feet long each.

Everyone unconsciously took at least one step back as it appeared. Angel rose from his position next to Buffy and carefully watched the demon trapped in front of them. The demon was yelling, saying a lot of the same stuff he'd been yelling from inside Buffy, while simultaneously trying to free itself. Angel took a few steps forward, his movements slow, fluid, almost cat-like. He stared at the demon, almost looking like he was studying it, waiting for it to do something.

Without any warning the demon's arm somehow broke through the barrier and letting out a triumphant roar he began to push the rest of his body through. Angel stepped back, but kept his eyes on the enraged demon.

"Shouldn't this be the part where he turns back to mist?" Willow yelled.

It only took a few seconds for the monster to break free; and he immediately went for Angel. Angel successfully dodged him, but the demon was huge and fast and Angel could do little else except dodge. While the demon was distracted Giles ushered everyone up into the stacks for temporary safety. Except for Faith, who ran to help Angel. She jumped up and slammed both feet into the demon's back, but it only sent her flying backwards. The demon barely budged. With a malicious grin he turned to face this new opponent. Angel came from behind and tried to knock him down. He managed to bring him down part way, but the demon reached behind him, plucked Angel off him like a doll and threw him at least ten feet, sending him crashing through a window.

From the ground Faith aimed a kick at his face, but he blocked easily. He wrapped one clawed hand around her ankle and sent her flying just like he'd done to Angel.

"This could be a problem," Giles muttered as the demon caught sight of them behind the stacks. He'd moved everyone back there for safety, but obviously this 'safety' would be temporary.

Validus regained his footing and began to come towards them. Angel was coming back through the window behind him, but they could tell that he'd been injured. Once again no one was paying attention to Buffy.

This was something the now conscious girl took advantage of. From the side she ran, jumped and flew through the air to land a solid kick to the side of the demon's head. It was enough force to knock him sideways. Buffy landed in a crouch and as she stood up, her hands in a defensive posture, she yelled out, "Hey stupid! Down here!"

The demon focused on her and snarled. "Yeah, that's right," Buffy said, her tone turning taunting. "Still alive and kicking. Which is what I'm about to do to your sorry ass. You took over my body and attacked my friends. So now I'm afraid I have to kill you."

Validus charged her with a yell and just as he got close enough to grab her, Buffy slid out of his way and stuck her foot out. The demon didn't even see it and went sliding across the tile floor.

"The bigger they are, the harder they fall," Buffy said. "Works every time."

Now even more angry than before the demon got back up and faced Buffy. "I am going to kill you and feast on your flesh," he roared.

"Lovely," Buffy replied, crinkling her nose as if she smelled something bad.

The demon came at her again and she braced herself. While she had been possessed she'd lost pretty much all control of her body, but despite that, if she fought hard enough at least she could still see and hear what was going on around her. She'd heard Giles and Angel talking and knew that demon's power resided in it's huge horns. Which then became obvious as mid-charge he bent his head down like a bull and shot lightning from them. Buffy dived and felt the bolts singe the skin on her legs as they passed. The bolts hit the wall and caused a huge chunk to crumble and fall to the ground.

"Well, that one's going to be hard to explain," Buffy muttered, looking at the damage. With a glare at her attacker she bit out, "And I think you just ruined my new pants. Now I'm gonna kill you, and I'm gonna be sure to make it hurt."

She rose to her feet in time to see Angel jump up from behind the demon and stab him in the neck with Giles' sword. The demon screamed in pain and jerked his head around. One of the horns clipped Angel and sent him back to the floor. Buffy took advantage of the new distraction to get behind the demon and scramble up his back. She held on tight so his thrashing didn't throw her too, and made it within reach of his horns. She latched onto the nearest one and held on with all her might as the demon began trying to get her off. His arms were just barely too short to reach her so he just tried to throw her.

Buffy's fingers ached with her efforts to stay put and she was concentrating so hard on not falling that she almost missed the cracking sound. Apparently she was holding on so tight that she managed to crack the base of the horn she was holding. Feeling a surge of hope she fought to gain enough control of her swinging body to bring her feet forward to brace on the demon. Straining her arms she pulled on the horn in her grasp, ignoring the burning she could feel on her palms and in her shoulders. With a sudden ripping sound the horn came free and Buffy was tossed behind the front desk. She ignored the throbbing in her head due to her recent meeting with the file cabinet behind her and forced herself to her feet. When she did so she caught sight of the gaping hole on his head now billowing black smoke.

Validus was really mad now. Still roaring in pain it made for Buffy again. Buffy jumped over the counter and took off in the opposite direction. Faith was nearby and stirring, but it was obvious she was out of this fight after the last hit she had taken. Buffy stopped near the library doors and waited for the demon. Yet again he was stopped by Angel who, instead of attacking the demon straight on like before, threw the sword at his head. The perfectly aimed strike sliced right through the horn on the other side, though it didn't remove it completely. Angel saw this and quickly followed up on the strike by mimicking Buffy's move and jumping up on the demon's head to tear the horn off the rest of the way.

Angel landed next to Buffy as he discarded the useless body part he held. "The third horn," was all he said.

"Together," she replied.

Moving in tandem they got away from the doors and approached the pain riddled demon from opposite sides. Despite the pain the demon was watching them and at their advance moved to attack. But he could only move one direction at once and when it took a half second to decide who to go for. Angel scooped up the sword again and Buffy met Angel's eyes briefly before scaling the demon's back. Buffy had gripped near the bottom of the horn, because it was softer near the flesh. Fighting to keep her footing despite the thrashing monster she stood on she pulled as hard as she could toward herself. Angel, for his part, was trying to keep the monster's attention on him, by attacking various spots all over his body that seemed slightly more vulnerable than others.

Just when it seemed that she wouldn't be able to hang on any longer the horn began to give. She dug her fingers in deeper and pulled harder. Their combined efforts finally seemed to be working; and then the horn broke. Angel was sent back to meet the wall again just as Buffy's head connected with the hard floor when she lost her footing. With blurry vision she saw the screaming demon rear his head back as his body began to shake uncontrollably. The last thing she saw was the demon exploding before her vision went black.

Buffy heard the sound of Angel's smooth voice in her ears and struggled to wake up, wanting to open her eyes and see him, see that he was okay.

When her eyes finally did open she saw several faces above her, Angel's among them. She fought to sit up and Angel, who was seated behind her, his legs under her head, helped prop her up. Once her head stopped spinning she caught sight of the huge black mark on the floor behind Willow. "The demon...?"

"Is dead," Angel said. "You killed him," he said, the slightest hint of pride showing through in his tone.

"I sorta had help," Buffy replied as she turned her head to give him a grateful smile.

"Only a little," he said with that familiar smirk gracing his features.

Buffy turned back around to look at the others. "Is everybody else okay?"

She specifically aimed the question at Faith, who was nearby, but keeping her distance. With a cocky smile the dark haired girl said, "It's nothing that won't heal. It'll take more than that to get rid of me."

Buffy smiled and then jerked in surprise when her mother knelt down and practically crawled into her lap. "Oh Buffy, I was so scared. Are you okay?"

Giles decided to make his presence known then as he spoke from behind Angel, "Yes, Buffy, you've been through a lot today, and that was quite a fall you took."

"I know." She rubbed her head ruefully. "I'm tired and have a wicked headache at the moment, but I'll be fine. Speaking of headaches," Buffy turned her eyes to her best friend, "how is your head? I am so sorry..."

"It's fine, really," Willow assured her. "Don't sweat it. It wasn't really you anyway."

Buffy turned back to Angel then. "And you...I can't believe you knocked me over the head with that statue and then choked me!"

"Sorry," he said with a small shrug. "You didn't leave me much choice; I mean, you sort of attacked me. I wouldn't have done it if I didn't have to."

Faith scoffed loudly and Xander chose that point to jump in, "Sure you wouldn't have. Like you've never wanted to hurt Buffy before."

Everyone went quiet and Buffy glared so fiercely at him that he stepped back and even moved slightly so that he was standing behind Cordelia. Angel's jaw was tight, but he'd always tried to ignore Xander and that was what he did now. He stood up and slowly helped Buffy to her feet.

Buffy cautiously, carefully, as she was still a little unsure on her feet, walked over to Faith and embraced her. "Thank you for your help. I'm sorry I attacked you too."

"Well, in that case...what Willow said," Faith said nonchalantly. "'Sides, it's not like that's a first either."

Buffy rolled her eyes at Faith's mention of their fight a few weeks ago because of her efforts to kill Angel and Buffy's efforts to stop her.

Giles had already started cleaning up and one by one the others began to help him. As she worked Willow struck up a conversation with Giles. "So, what exactly happened? I thought he couldn't sustain a form for very long? What did we do wrong?"

Giles straightened from where he'd been bending over, picking up books. He pulled his glasses off and pinched the bridge of nose like he usually did when he was thinking. "I'm not entirely sure. These were highly unusual circumstances, but that doesn't mean anyone did something wrong. Maybe our binding spell wasn't strong enough; that's how he got loose. I don't know why he was able to keep his form. It could have been anything, really."

Angel stopped what he was doing and joined the conversation. "If I may, I have a theory on that." Giles gestured for him to continue. "Well, like you said, there are many possibilities, but there's one in particular that comes to mind. Not having a body won't kill him, but it does weaken him. In order to even start trying to get his strength back, he has to have a host. The problem is, most are too weak to sustain him for any length of time, and all he ends up doing in killing that person. For all we know he's had other hosts. It makes sense; why wouldn't he be looking for a new body? But all the ones he finds are too weak and his efforts are useless. He was lucky to find someone like Buffy, someone who was already stronger than your average human and powerful in her own right.

"All those other bodies did him no good, but because Buffy had the ability to sustain him, he was able to start regaining strength. He had to have been in there for more than just one day in order to have taken such complete control. My theory is, he regained just enough strength to maintain a form outside of a human host. He wasn't at full strength, but it was enough to break through the spell of an amateur witch." He turned to Willow and made an apologetic face.

"No, it's okay," she assured him. "That actually makes sense. And I know I am an amateur."

Giles nodded in agreement and said, "Yes, that would explain it. If he absorbed enough of Buffy's energy as his own he would be able to keep a form and use his magic again. He wasn't at full strength though. If he had been you two probably wouldn't have been able to take him down."

Buffy made a face at Angel. Giles always made it sound like what she'd done had been an easy feat. Angel smirked in recognition of her Watcher's flippancy. Everyone went back to work then, absorbed in cleaning the mess up.

Buffy pulled Angel aside as soon as she got the chance. "Hey. Uh, I just wanted to see if you're okay. I know you've been doing better, but you are still kind of weak, so..."

Angel halted her with a finger against her lips. "It's okay. I think we're both gonna be pretty sore for the next few days, but it's nothing too serious." With a raised eyebrow he reached down, grasped her hands and pulled them up, palms facing upwards. Buffy made a face when she saw her reddened and shredded palms. She hadn't even hardly noticed that before.

"You need to clean and bandage these," he whispered softly.

"I know," she whispered back. Buffy looked up and inadvertently began to lose herself in his dark eyes, but the moment was interrupted by the sound of Willow's voice calling out her name. She moved away from him and called back, "I'm over here."

Willow came around the corner smiling, but it disappeared when she saw the two of them. "Oh, sorry. Am I interrupting something? 'Cause I can go..." she said nervously.

"No, it's fine," Buffy assured her. She was equal parts frustrated and grateful for Willow's interruption. "Um, what did you need?"

"Well, your mom was looking for you. She just wants to know where you are."

"Oh, well, I was just talking to Angel. But he should go," she said as she looked over at him. Angel looked mildly offended at her abrupt dismissal until she added, "And he was hurt and really shouldn't go alone. So would you mind telling her that I'm walking him home and will see her later?"

Willow looked nervous at delivering this news to Joyce, but nodded anyway.

As soon as she was gone Buffy turned back to Angel. "Is that alright with you? If I walk you home, that is."

With another small smirk Angel nodded. "I'd like that."

Trying to hide her smile she walked ahead of him, leading the way out of the school building. The walk back to where Angel had been staying, or hiding, as he put it, was quiet and uneventful. But for the first time in a long time the silence between them wasn't tense or uncomfortable. In fact it was quite the opposite.

Angel brought her inside and instructed her to sit down on the sofa in front of the fire. He disappeared for a moment and when he reappeared he had a small first aid kit in his hands. Wordlessly he knelt down on the floor in front of her. He grabbed her hands and pulled them towards him, turning them so they rested on her lap, palms facing towards him.

Buffy watched he spread ointment over her skin, his touch so light and gentle she barely felt it. Then he covered them with gauze and carefully wrapped each one in medical tape. "Is that too tight?" he asked.

She shook her head. Angel hadn't let go of her hand and his thumb was slowly tracing her knuckles. Their eyes met, that intensity that had always been between them springing to the surface yet again. Buffy knew she should look away, she knew she had to get home soon, but she didn't want to. It was a fight between her hormones, her feelings, and sensibility, what her brain was telling her.

Because of this she was thankful when Angel pulled away. Buffy picked up the first aid kit and motioned for him to turn around. He complied, pulling off his shirt as he moved. Buffy had to take deep breaths and force herself to concentrate on what she was doing. She and Angel weren't together anymore and she told herself, and everyone else, that she was over him, but deep down she knew she was lying. So instead of looking at his back she looked at the wounds on him. Most seemed fairly superficial, but a few would need some attention. It seemed that the demon had banged him up pretty good.

Buffy gently applied bandages to what needed it and tried not to think about how his skin felt under her hands. Angel must have gotten tired of the silence, and the tension, because he suddenly commented, "Your friend doesn't seem to like me very much."

With a snort Buffy replied, "Which one?"

"The one who tried to kill me."

"Faith. Yeah, she's..." Not sure what to add to that Buffy just trailed off with a shake of her head.

"I'd never met her until that night when I tried to destroy the glove. She's a Slayer so of course she'd want to kill me, but she seemed particularly vicious about it. I was just curious as to why."

Buffy sighed. "It's complicated."

"Try me."

"Faith is generally pretty fierce anyway. And not just when it comes to Slaying. Believe me, there is nothing abnormal about that. She'd heard about what happened with you and pretty much just formed her own opinions."

"Yet she wasn't there when...things happened."

"No." Buffy set the container down on the floor. "She wasn't, but her Watcher was killed by a really mean vampire and it...changed her. She'd heard about you and what she heard, I think, reminded her of the vampire who killed her Watcher. It sorta struck home and she reacted; she just really, really doesn't like vampires."

"I don't blame her," Angel said, his voice so quiet Buffy almost didn't hear him.

"She's not the only one," Buffy said, looking at her hands. "I mean, Xander never liked you, you know that. And the others...they aren't so mad at me anymore, but they don't understand why I want to spend time with you."

Angel turned around to look at her and questioned, "Why do you want to spend time with me? After what happened you should have killed me the second you saw me. Why didn't you?"

Buffy looked at him for a moment. "I don't know," she whispered. That was something she had yet to figure out.

"Your mom is going to wonder where you are, especially after everything she saw tonight. You should go."

"I should." Buffy didn't move.

Angel stood up and she followed. They were standing really close together and it wouldn't take much to touch him. "Buffy..."


"You should go. And, um..."

"What is it?"

"I don't think you should come back."

Stunned, Buffy felt her knees buckle. The only reason she didn't fall back into the chair was because of sheer willpower. "W-why?"

Angel frowned and shook his head. "Because...I can't. Not anymore."

"You can't what?"

"I like having your company, but it's really hard. All I can think about...all I want..."

"Is what?" Buffy asked quietly.

"I want to..." Angel then gave up trying to verbalize his feelings. He reached out, cupped her face in his hands and kissed her firmly.

Buffy was surprised by the sudden movement and didn't react initially. When her senses returned to her she kissed him back. She raised her hands and ran them over his chest, his arms, his back. She shoved them into his hair so she could grip it tightly and angle his head towards hers. She relaxed against him and reveled in the feeling of his body against hers, of his arms holding her tightly to him.

As quickly as it had started it was over. They were a couple of feet apart, both breathing heavily, gasping for air, even though one of them didn't actually need it.

"I'm sorry, Buffy," Angel whispered. "Just...please go. This whole friends thing isn't working. Spike was right, as much as it pains me to say it. We're either together or we're not; there's no in between." He paused and then added, "I'm tired of trying to fight this. I love you and that will never change. Until you know what you want I think it's best if we not see each other at all.

Fighting the sudden urge to cry Buffy nodded once and turned to leave. She stopped at the door and looked over her shoulder at him. She was going to say something, but her mouth snapped shut when she saw him sitting on the couch, elbows on his knees, head in his hands. Instead she just left.

A/N: This is my first Buffy story so please review, but be gentle. Any suggestions and critics are welcome.