Written for ba_rosebuds . Five ficlets, each a different prompt.


1. Rigid

It's been years since their last joint effort, nearly a decade since they first met. And they've moved on, she with her mission and he with his own, and that which had always kept them apart has continued to do so.

And then she disappears, and he mourns but isn't surprised, not after this many years, leaving the search to her slayer companions. He doesn't want to be close to an investigation on her, doesn't want to be close to her and the pain it's always brought him. He can't bear to find her lifeless body on the floor.

One time was far too many.

So he continues on with his life, and it's just a bit emptier than before, his promised reward not nearly as tantalizing now that there's no one to share it with. He checks with his informants in her system for news, and hears only that their hope is beginning to fade, and that the searches are dying down. When they finally stop, it's nearly six months since her disappearance, and there's a memorial service he attends, stony-faced, at which not one person dares to approach him.

He hunts that night instead of patrolling, wiping out demon after demon with relentless energy and fury. He doesn't know whom he's angry at, but he takes it all out on other creatures of the night until he's so exhausted that he collapses in his bed, minutes before the sun begins to lighten the horizon.

He doesn't even notice that there's someone lying beside him until he wakes up four hours later, still exhausted and worn out.

She's lying still, unmoving in the way that only a corpse can be, and her eyes are open and solemn as she regards him. He jumps away, snatching a shirt to cover his torso from her tired gaze, and she doesn't react at all.

Finally, she whispers, "I still have it."

"You…" He doesn't know what to say, or how to react, not when her lifeless body is spread before him, completely at his mercy. She's dressed in a simple white shift, the kind Drusilla once wore when she strove to seem weak and pure, but on the woman in front of him, it still feels like a sham. Strange, since she's always been the epitome of goodness to him.

"I still have it," she repeats, and he notices suddenly that her eyes are red with tears. "I didn't think I did at first. I hurt…I drank…" She swallows, sitting up and wrapping her arms around her knees. "I didn't think I had it." She pats her breast vaguely, rubbing against her heart, not noticing herself the way her fingers are clawing through delicate material.

He means to pull away her hand before she hurts herself, but he's frozen in place with horror and fear. "Oh...oh, dammit! Buffy?"

She stares blankly at him. "Willow found me yesterday. She tried to…oh, god!" There's blood running down the inside of her dress, staining the front a dark red.

"Buffy." He takes a step forward, reaching for her again, revulsion and dismay pushed aside in favor of keeping her safe from herself. He pries her hands off of her breast. They're dripping with blood. "What happened?"

She's rigid against him, her shaking arms the only clue to her distress. "She tried to give me one. And I…I had mine all along! I didn't know! My god, I didn't know!" And she's crying again, and he wonders now if it's for her misdeeds or for her tarnished soul.

2. Hold Me

They're leaning against the wall, his arms around hers as they rock together. Her fangs are buried deep in his neck, and she's trembling.

It's been nearly a week since he found her, undead and souled, lying in his bed, and he has yet to explain to his friends why he spends most of his time in his room now. They think he's brooding alone, lamenting past losses, and Gunn and Illyria and Gwen don't come to bother him. He doesn't correct them. Buffy doesn't want to be found right now.

She's a killer now, one who couldn't differentiate between a soul and a lack of one. He knows he's being unfair, too informed by his own experiences with a drastically different alter ego, but he can't help but feel some trepidation about a girl who can kill and never know that it's supposed to be wrong.

"I did know," she says quietly, pulling out of him. "I felt it every time I hurt someone. But I thought that it was how it was supposed to feel, and I was so hungry…it never occurred to me that I wasn't supposed to be killing. I was a vam…a vamp…you know." She can't say the word. He understands that, at least.

She opens up the wounds on his neck that are already closing to take another slow pull of his blood. He glances over at the untouched blood bags on the dresser. He leaves them for her every day, but she won't touch them, and he doesn't have the heart to fight with her. Not now.

"You never really knew me," she says quietly, putting a hand on his before he can recoil. "No. Stop, Angel. Hear me out."

He grinds his teeth together, annoyed. "I never knew you? Buffy, I've known you since you were fifteen."

"Yes, you did," she agrees. "But I never wanted to show you that part of me, the slayer part. You always thought I was so perfect, so good. I didn't want you to know about that dark, dirty part of me. The part that wanted to be like Faith used to be, the part that embraced the darkness…it's always there. And I thought I could finally give in to it, until Willow's spell forced me to realize that I'd never even had the choice. I was just weak." She swallows loudly, and he knows she's holding back tears.

"I never would have judged you," he whispers. "Didn't you see? I never judged Faith, and I loved you." She lets out a choked gasp at the past tense, and he shifts guiltily. He didn't mean to say it like that, but now that it's out there, he can't retract it, can't say the words he knows she's craving. Not when she's like this.

"I didn't want to become one of your projects," she says sharply, and pulls away from him. She's out the window before he can rise from the bed.

3. Truth

She's back again the next night, eyes flashing with anger and righteous fury. "You know what I think?" she snaps at him.

He leans back against the dresser, finding the freshest bag of blood and tossing it to her. She throws it down, looking disgusted. "I think you never loved me. You just liked the idea of the slayer, and you fell in love with that. And now I'm vamped and souled, and hey! Isn't that convenient? Two souled vampires left alive in the world. It's perfect! But I'm not good enough for you anymore, so you'd rather just get rid of me and wait until the next vamped slayer- one who isn't as in touch with her dark side as I am- comes along."

"Really?" He steps forward, pulling her to sit down on the bed. "That's what you think?"

"What else am I supposed to think?" she demands, and she's biting into his neck, gulping up blood. He wonders if she's feeding when he's not around. Probably not, since she's always so hungry. "I came to you because I thought you'd understand! I thought you'd get the bloodlust and the guilt! But instead, you just…you judge me!"

He wants to deny it, but it's a moot cause, not when he's still unnerved by her early dismissal of the soul and this so-called dark place she claims has always been there. "You never showed me your darkness," he says finally, seizing on the one thing he can contest. "If you had…if you'd let me love it…we wouldn't be here today."

A strangled laugh is torn from her throat. "Oh, really? You want to love my dark?" And she's tackling him, ripping off his clothes with savage force, yanking at him and clawing, and there's something fierce and primal in her eyes as she tears his skin to shreds and gnaws his neck into a bloody mess, something that makes him wild.

He never would have expected something like this- Buffy like this- to be so attractive, but here she is, naked before him in more ways than one, and he loves her so intensely for trusting him with her true self that he's caught up in her, intoxicated, and she's everything to him all over again.

He pushes her away, holds her in midair so that she can't reach him. "We can't," he croaks. "My soul…"

She smirks humorlessly. "Come on, Angel, you can't possibly think thatthis is going to lead to perfect happiness."

He stares at her for a moment, a plethora of emotions overwhelming him before he finally admits, "Buffy, being with you in any way will bring me to happiness."

She freezes, all expression gone from her face. "Angel?" she whispers, and he can hear the fear in her voice, the near-hysteria of a lost child.

He gathers her into his arms and lets her weep out her confusion.

4. Eternity

It's not easy.

That's the first thing he realizes, and it hits him fairly early, the moment Buffy runs from the street to hunker down in a corner to resist the bloodlust. It's not easy, and it probably never will be.

The second thing he realizes is that it doesn't matter. Her eyes on his as she finally samples the blood in the bags he's been bringing for her, her lips on his cheek after he claims her as his responsibility to both his and her friends, her soft smile after they manage to rescue a young woman in the streets…it all makes it worth it.

And for her…she doesn't hide herself from him, lays it all bare before him. And when he tells her he loves her regardless of it, she's glad. A month later, when he confesses that he loves her because of it, too, she's moved to tears, and she doesn't leave his side for days afterwards.

She's been poring over old newspapers for a few days before she finally comes to him with a list, this one of all the people she thinks she's killed. It's almost twenty people long, and he can feel her eyes on him, wary, awaiting judgment. He swallows and looks up. "What do you want to do?"

They go to their gravesites, and he holds Buffy's hand as she whispers her regrets to them. She stops by the homes of the ones she can find, watches children playing and adults mourning and she cries for the people who will never be with them again.

She doesn't leave their room for a long time after that, and when she finally does, it's to call Dawn. She's on the phone for hours, and he is content to watch the way her face lights up as she talks to her sister until she asks to speak to Giles. She doesn't say anything about Dawn's response, doesn't mention Giles's reaction to her new life, but it's all written across her face, and when they go patrolling that night, he lets her take on all the demons she wants single-handedly until she's pounded out all her frustrations.

She stands up and dusts off her hands. "I'm staying here with you forever," she decides, and he kisses her gladly.

They become a team, working together to wipe out the demon population of Los Angeles and even, on occasion, doing it in tandem with the slayers. He knows that Buffy secretly loves that more than anything, that the way her old friends are reluctant to spend much time with her anymore shatters her. But he can't solve that dilemma on his own, so he comforts her in her pain and tells her he loves her. It's all he can do, and it breaks his heart to see her so hurt.

Just like it breaks his heart to see her peering out at the sunrise every morning, to hear her talking in a low voice to her sister about Dawn's adventures across the world. She's never belonged to that world, he knows, but he can't help but curse those who would take it away from her, anyway.

It's not easy. And she doesn't deserve an eternity this painful.

5. Mortal

An apocalypse is upon them, the first one since he moved to Los Angeles. It's Buffy, of course; she attracts them, he teases her as they mobilize their forces. Even Giles and Willow and Xander have come in for this one, and while they're silent and awkward around Buffy, she's still happier than she's been in ages, glad to fight the good fight with her Scoobies again.

He's quiet and pensive, and he spends most of his time going through Wesley's old books, reading about the Shanshu. If it ever comes, it'll be now, now that he's finally with Buffy, now that they've finally managed something workable. It'll destroy everything.

Buffy comes upstairs to find him, and her nose wrinkles adorably at the picture he makes, surrounded by books and papers. "What are you doing?"

He can't tell her, not when his way out is her eternal loneliness, so he mumbles, "Research," and resumes his work.

"On what?" She frowns, peering over at the page. "Giles is right downstairs. Granted, he's never gonna talk to me, but if you're helping out, he might acknowledge that you exist."

"He's spoken to you," he says distractedly, tucking a paper under Wesley's notebook.

She snorts. "Yeah, he talks to me. Then he stares at me like I'm his newest experiment and pats the stake in his pocket. Have you noticed that he doesn't really trust vampires with souls? Especially the ones that kill a whole lot of people while they have them?"

"Buffy…" He sighs, putting down his books. "I'm sorry. But I'm not fighting in this one."

She laughs, but it fades when she sees his face. "You're serious." She narrows her eyes. "Is this about that Shoeshine thing?"

"How'd you-"

"Gunn told me." She folds her arms. "Angel, you're not giving up on your destiny because of me. And you're definitely not giving up on the world." He can see the determination on her face, the love and purity that he'd thought was long gone, and he nods reluctantly, following her from the room. She's finally whole again, even if it's taken an apocalypse to bring her back.

So they fight, and they win, and it's only when she's lying on the ground beside him, gasping for breath, that he remembers that there were two vampires with a soul, both champions of the Powers That Be. And now there is one.

"I'm…I'm human!" she marvels, and her eyes are shining with joy as she rises, as her friends run to her and she accepts them with the grace that comes of being so often betrayed. But her gaze never leaves Angel's as he stumbles to his feet, the tang of the worst kind of loss thick on his tongue.

Loss of destiny. Loss of hope. Loss of love. Loss of everything that's ever mattered to him.

He turns away to leave, and then Buffy's running to him, warm hands on his arm and tugging him back to her. "You're not getting away so easily," she murmurs into his ear. "Angel…I'm sorry."

"Don't be," he says gruffly. She deserves the sun, the life, the future. He can't deny that, even as it pains him to let her and his prophecy go. "I'll be fine."

She shakes her head. "I told you, you're not getting away like that."

"You're human now," he reminds her.

She grins, and it's bittersweet. "Yeah, and you're the only one who stood by me when I wasn't. You knew me. You know me." Her eyes are wide and pleading. "Don't leave me alone." He's never been able to turn her away before, and he can't now, either, so he nods reluctantly and follows her back toward her old friends and new life, their moving forms silhouetted against the slowly lightening sky.