Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of Joss Whedon. The original plot is the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Summary:

AU (No Connor, no Buffy/Spike), Buffy/Angel, post 'Not Fade Away' and 'Chosen'.

The city of Los Angeles is in ruins, and Angel is nowhere to be found. When Buffy finds his ring in a deserted alley behind the Hyperion, she knows that all hope is lost. She moves to Ireland to feel closer to the only man she ever loved and slowly but surely sinks into depression.

On Halloween, Buffy performs a spell in one last attempt to see Angel, knowing that she would only have one night with him before she would have to say goodbye forever.


A Lover's Soul

Los Angeles, June 2004.

Los Angeles was still standing. A small miracle.

Buffy stood in the deserted alley at the back of what used to be the Hyperion Hotel. It was now a huge crater, surrounded by piles of rubble and debris. She hadn't known what to expect when she came here to see what was left of the former City of Angels. Half of it was in ruins, and the place where she now stood seemed to be the one that took the most damage.

Buffy took a deep breath, willing away the lump in her throat. She felt lost and hurt, but that wasn't anything new. In the thirteen months that had passed since The First was defeated, she had to keep herself busy beyond thought, because whenever she allowed her mind to wander, all she could think about was him. When Spike had shown up in Rome back in May, asking for her help, she made a beeline to the states. She didn't stop to think about it, to wonder or hesitate. But it was too late; by the time she set foot on American soil, L.A was already burning.

Newscasts speculated that a meteorite falling from the sky, a powerful earthquake, or a terrorist attack—that would have put Nine Eleven to shame if it were proven true—were responsible for causing so much damage to the city. However, Buffy knew demon-related destruction when she saw it, and what happened to Los Angeles was definitely caused by supernatural beings.

Buffy walked among the ruins, looking for any clue as to the fate of those who she knew had fought there. Wesley, Fred, Gunn… She tried not to think his name, desperately clinging to the last vestiges of her defenses.

It was pointless. She knew he was gone. Hadn't she felt her heart tear inside her during her flight over the Atlantic? Her soul had sensed the exact moment when its mate had been torn from this plane, but Buffy refused to accept it until she absolutely had to.

There would be no body left for her to find, no ashes—for they would have already been spread by the wind—but she kept searching.

It had taken her close to three weeks to bypass the authorities and make her way from LA's international airport to where she now stood. After the city had been attacked, it was declared a closed military zone. No one was coming in or out unless they were wearing fatigues or had the right badge to flash.

For three weeks, she had lied, bribed, cheated, and stole her way through. She had to come here. Even though she knew that there would be nothing she could do to change what her heart was telling her, she had to come.

Now she was finally here, and the devastation around her reflected her shattered soul perfectly. She had to see this place with her own eyes, had to come here to find…something. She felt the tears well up in her eyes but held them at bay as she walked between the concrete remains of what was once his home. The sun was setting, and Buffy knew that she should start making her way back unless she wanted to spend the night in the middle of the rubble.

There was nothing left, she thought, looking around at the splintered wood and uprooted trees that littered the concrete. This was worse than how Sunnydale High had looked like after it was blown up, the demon-turned Mayor being destroyed along with the building.

Buffy was just about to turn around to leave when something caught her eye. A small twinkle of light reflected from the rays of the setting sun. When she bent down to see what it was, she knew she had found the proof she had been looking for. It was a Claddagh ring. His Claddagh ring.

Holding the ring between her fingers, Buffy crumpled to the ground, allowing herself to cry for the first time in months. All the grief and pain she had been holding back burst out like a raging river.

- ALS -

Buffy returned to Rome only to pack whatever was left there before she caught a flight to London. She thought that it would be a safe place to come back to. She would have all of her friends there to distract her. Willow moved to London in order to work with a Wiccan coven. Giles moved there when he was appointed as the head of the new Watcher's Council. Dawn had turned eighteen recently and was going to attend Oxford University the next fall. Xander had become an official member of the Watcher's Council; after his experience on the Hell-mouth, he was a fountain of knowledge and a great help to Giles, so when the new council was formed, Xander became Giles's right hand. They were all there, and Buffy knew she could count on her friends.

However, several weeks into her stay in London, she realized that this was not the place for her. She just didn't fit into the lives of her friends anymore. Her former Watcher was much too preoccupied with his new responsibilities, and Buffy could see that Xander was looking at her sister in a way he hadn't looked at anyone before. Buffy doubted that Dawn was aware that Xander's emotions ran deeper than simple friendship, but Buffy could see it clear as day. Dawn had found a new protector; she didn't need her big sister around anymore.

Quietly, Buffy packed her bags once again and said her goodbyes to her friends. The excuse she used was that she needed some time away to rest. Telling them that she felt she no longer belonged with them would have hurt them too much.

Therefore, around early October, Buffy found herself buying a small cottage in Clare, Ireland. The cottage was situated on a hill, separated from the main road by a small gravel driveway. It was a two-story building with a small back yard overgrown with weeds. The weather was cold, especially for the California girl that was used to basking in the sunlight almost all year round, but she felt that she'd finally found the place where she was supposed to be.

It wasn't by chance that she chose Ireland as her destination. With Sunnydale obliterated and L.A. lying in ruins, Ireland was the only place left where she was able to feel close to Angel. He was born in Galway, and while he had thought himself a demon, Buffy had always seen him as a man. A man she still loved and would forever. A man who had flaws, but a man who would have given his own life to save others. He'd proved as much in LA.

Buffy learned that she enjoyed spending her evenings in front of the fireplace in the small living room on the first floor of her cottage. She would make herself a cup of hot chocolate, wrap a warm blanket around her body, and watch the flames. More often than not, she found herself falling asleep to the sound of the crackling flames and waking up in the middle of the night to move to her second-story bedroom.

During her sitting hours in front of the fire, she would often let her mind wander and imagine the human Liam walking in the vast fields of green outside her house. She imagined him taking walks on the shore, watching the angry sea and savoring the salty air.

At first, when her mind started conjuring up images from her memories or from her dreams, Buffy would banish them away. But as time passed, weeks turning into months, winter spilling into spring, she found comfort in the memories. The memories were bittersweet, each happy one laced with undercurrents of sadness, but they were better than trying to forget him. Buffy knew that forgetting was never an option, neither was moving on.

- ALS -

On May twentieth, unaware of the significance of the date—the first anniversary of Angel's death—Willow showed up on Buffy's doorstep with shocking news: Spike had turned up in the States. He was human.

Buffy stared at Willow as though she was speaking a different language altogether while her friend tried to explain how it was possible. It involved words like "Shanshu prophecy", "redemption", and "souled vampire". Most of what Willow said barely registered in Buffy's mind, but what little she had understood hurt more than she thought she could bear.

"I…need a few minutes," Buffy whispered, taking a step back.

Willows suddenly noticed Buffy's shocked eyes and the tears that formed there. Stupid, stupid, stupid! She made a step toward Buffy, but her friend raised her palm up to stop her.

"I'll be right back."

Willow watched as Buffy all but ran up the stairs and listened as one of the doors on the second floor opened and shut. Then, she heard the sobs. The sounds were muffled, but Willow could still hear the heartbreak in them, the agony.

She had been so shocked by the news that she teleported to Ireland to share it with Buffy before she had a chance to consider what impact the information might have on the Slayer. Spike had returned from the dead. Literally. But others didn't, couldn't.

Buffy had lost friends that day when LA fell, Willow thought. She'd lost…

"Idiot!" she hissed. It was the twentieth of May, exactly one year since LA fell. Could she have blundered things more?

Buffy didn't come back down until the following morning, and when she finally did, she plastered a cool expression on her face. But Willow watched her friend carefully, for the first time taking note of how thin Buffy was, of the dark circles under her eyes that she'd tried to hide with makeup.

Unlike what she and everyone else in London were assuming, Buffy was not healing. She was sinking.

Willow watched as Buffy played with what little food she had on her plate, noticing that she hadn't eaten more than two bites of the scrambled eggs. She tried to engage Buffy in conversation but found herself doing most of the talking. Later, she offered to help Buffy with the dishes, but she refused, saying she could do them later.

"How long are you able to stay?" Buffy asked quietly, wrapping her hands around a mug of tea.

"I can stay as long as I like," Willow said quickly, trying to smile. "You can show me what you've got to do around here."

Buffy could see that the smile was forced, but she returned it with one that was equally as artificial. "There really is nothing to do but walk on the beach or go to the local pub. It's a small town. I'm sure Giles needs you in London."

It was true. Giles would need Willow's help in researching the new threat in Venezuela. She'd left them in the middle of research when she'd teleported.

Seeing that she was right, Buffy said, "It's okay, Willow. I was just taken by surprise."

She was not okay, Willow thought, but there was little she could do right now.

- ALS -

Willow left shortly after breakfast. She hated leaving like that, but she was determined to do something about her friend's condition. Buffy was skinnier than ever, her eyes had lost their spark, and Willow knew that the deep shadows she saw under the Slayer's eyes were not the result of just one sleepless night.

Once the crisis in Venezuela was resolved, Willow told Giles about her concerns for Buffy.

"You didn't see her, Giles," she said. "She's not getting over this. She's hardly eating. She's hardly sleeping, and I don't think she's been going out of that cottage of hers much."

Giles sighed. "I didn't know things were that bad."

"Neither did I," Willow said. "I knew she was grieving for Angel, but it's not like they were still together…"

Even though Giles knew the significance of Angel's mark on Buffy's neck, he'd chosen to ignore it. It was easier for him if he believed that Buffy was over Angel, that it was just a high school affair. He had almost been able to convince himself of this. He couldn't keep the illusion any more.

"I'm afraid it doesn't matter," he said quietly.

Willow looked up at him, surprise and bewilderment coloring her expression.

Giles sat down across from her and took off his glasses. "I didn't want to mention this, for several reasons, some of which are very selfish, but I think it's time I told you. Have you ever noticed a mark on Buffy's neck?"

Willow nodded, knowing where the mark had come from and when it had been placed there—when Angel had been poisoned by Faith and almost died.

"Do you know its meaning?"

She shook her head.

Giles picked up the tail of his shirt and began polishing his glasses. "It means that Angel's demon staked a claim on Buffy. There are different kinds of markings in the vampire world, most of them are temporary and fade with time. Except for one—the mating mark."

"Mating?" Willow felt her cheeks warm up a little.

"When the bond between a vampire and his chosen mate is eternal, the scar never fades." From either of the partners, Giles thought. He'd never asked Buffy if she returned Angel's marking, but since her scar never faded, he assumed that she had. "This kind of bond is everlasting. If one of the two were to die, the remaining partner would avenge his bonded mate and then seek a way to join him."

Willow's eyes widened as comprehension dawned on her.

"I had hoped that because Buffy was human, and more than that, a Slayer, she would be exempt." Giles placed his glasses back on and looked at Willow. "She seemed to be recovering after Angel left. With Riley, I thought that she was moving on. Now, though, I'm not so sure."

"She was able to continue living as long as she knew that Angel was alive," Willow said. "Now that he's dead…" She didn't dare finish.

"I'm afraid so."

"We have to do something."

Giles looked at her wearily. "Willow, I know you want to help Buffy, but—"

"I know," she said quickly. Willow remembered the repercussions of handling such powerful magic. Bringing Buffy back from the dead had nearly killed her. "But I know that we can't just let her die, Giles."

"We won't," he promised.

- ALS -

As May turned into June and June into July, Willow continued her search for answers. She didn't know what she was looking for, but she knew that she would know it once she found it. Together with Giles, they had decided not to tell anyone else about their concerns. There was little that the others could do but worry, and there was plenty of that going on with just the two of them.

The former Watcher was ashamed to learn how much he had missed and overlooked. Buffy, who was like a daughter to him, was not healing as he had deluded himself into thinking; she was not getting any better. He went to visit her, coming up with some excuse, and was shocked to see just how bad she really was. Buffy was fading away before his very eyes.

After returning to London, Giles threw himself into research, postponing and delegating everything that didn't need his immediate attention. He would not fail Buffy, not again.

In the meantime, unaware of her friends' efforts, Buffy found herself dreaming of a day that never was. It was both a curse and a blessing, for Buffy knew that she would never be able to have that dream, and yet it felt as real as the prophetic dreams she used to have while living in Sunnydale.

It was a dream conjured by her deepest desires. Angel was with her, kissing her, making love to her, holding her, being with her. In her dream, Angel was human. He had been granted his own biggest wish. She had never seen him smile like he did in her dream.

As wonderful as the dream was while she was experiencing it, the grim light of day brought with it the realization that it could only ever be a dream. Angel was gone. He was not coming back, and he was never going to be human again.

Sometimes, Buffy wondered if the dream meant that Angel's soul was calling her, pleading for her to find him.

She didn't know where Angel was. She was honestly afraid to ask Willow to check. As long as she didn't know for certain, she could believe his soul was in heaven, where it belonged.

- ALS -

Dawn's birthday in September gave Willow an excuse to drag Buffy out of her cottage. Planning a surprise party for Dawn brought Buffy to London for a while and forced her to take part in life. Willow could see that the Slayer had to fake it most of the time, but at least she was close enough that Giles and Willow could keep an eye on her.

Neither of them had found anything useful yet. They'd both dedicated as much time as they could to the project, but between handling the new Council for Giles and working with the Wiccan coven sisters for Willow, they had very little time to spare.

Buffy understood that her friends were trying to lift her spirits up. Impossible as it was, she did her best to conceal it from them. When the night of the party arrived—Dawn had been completely surprised—Buffy found that she was having more fun than she thought she would. She wasn't crazy on birthdays, especially considering how badly hers had turned out to be ever since she'd been called to duty. But she was determined to do everything she could for Dawn.

Spike made an appearance later in the evening. Seeing him still brought a pang of hurt to Buffy. As far as she was aware, they still didn't know how or why Spike had been able to come back from the dead, and even more so, to do so as a human once again. Honestly, she wasn't sure that she wanted to know. The answers might hurt her even more.

Spike was still as witty as he'd been as a vampire, and he was still as completely inappropriate after several drinks. The lighthearted atmosphere his arrival created was welcome, though, and Buffy was happy to see that he was fitting in with the gang just as he had before.

She was on the fringes. Like Angel, she thought and sighed. Memories ran through her mind then, Angel appearing in the Bronze, watching her from the shadows. She understood him better now. Like him, she now felt out of sync with the others, not quite belonging.

Buffy smiled genuinely when Dawn opened her gifts with bucket-loads of enthusiasm. It felt good to see her little sister so happy.

- ALS -

Returning to Clare was both easy and hard. Being alone in her cottage again was something the Buffy was looking forward to after spending close to two weeks in London, but it also brought over memories. So many, in fact, that she felt a little overwhelmed.

Later that night, she finally decided that the best way to handle the flow of images would be to write them down as they came. So she picked up a notebook and began to write.

It was hard. Some memories were so painful that Buffy could barely see her own handwriting through the flowing tears. Even the good memories, the ones that dated back to before her seventeenth birthday, were hard to recall. After hours of writing, she felt exhausted but some of the heaviness was gone.

The next day, as she curled up in front of the fire, she brought the notebook with her and continued to write.

Buffy had never written so much in her life as she had during that month. Once that first notebook was full, she bought three more and filled their pages as well.

Sometimes, her entries were letters to Angel, telling him of her life without him. At other times, she simply depicted what she did that particular day, which usually didn't amount to much. Ireland was not Sunnydale, and Buffy was no longer the only Slayer in the world. Thanks to Willow's spell, more Slayers had been called, helping the world with the never-ending fight against evil.

Suddenly, Buffy found that she no longer had patrols or research or demon-fighting to fill her days. Instead, she took long strolls in the fields behind her cottage or went for runs on the beach. Both activities served to keep her in shape as well as to fill her mind with more memories to be later written into the diary.

During the long nights of the autumn, Buffy continued to dream about Angel. Her written words in her diaries would come to life in the dream world her mind created. She was handling it better, Buffy thought. She wasn't healing, because she didn't think one could heal after one's soul had been torn apart, but she was learning to live until she could reunite with Angel.

- ALS -

Willow stared at the words in the book she was reading with growing dread. She'd found the book in, oddly enough, an estate sale. One of her coven sister had heard that the sale might contain some interesting items and Willow decided to go along with her. When she saw the box containing old books, she immediately sensed the power in them. It was whispering to her in the same way some of the books in Giles' collection had. Having no idea of the value of the books, the owner of the estate had sold the entire box for five quid and was extremely happy to be rid of them.

"What have you got there?" Giles asked, walking into the room.

Willow jumped, startled.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."

"Giles…"

"You've found something," he said, "and from the look on your face, it's not something good."

"That's just it," said. "I don't know if it's good or not. Here, take a look yourself."

Giles took the book from her hand and focused on the paragraph she pointed out to him. He made several humming noises as he read. "I see."

"Time is running out, Giles. I can feel it." Willow plopped down on her chair. "We're losing her."

"Don't say that. She seemed to be doing better at Dawn's party."

Willow shook her head. "She is not doing better. I can see it in her eyes."

Giles sighed. "The best you can do is offer this to her, Willow. We have been unable to find anything else so far, and maybe a proper goodbye is what she needs to be able to move on."

"Maybe." Willow did not looking too hopeful.

- ALS -

"Hold on, pause, rewind. What did you just say?" Buffy stared at Willow in pure shock. Her friend had arrived a few minutes earlier, unexpectedly, and dropped a bomb on her.

"I found a spell that could bring someone from wherever they are to this world, for a short period of time, if they'd died an unnatural death." Willow wriggled her fingers, nervously shuffling in her seat. "The spell can bring Angel back,"

"Angel," Buffy whispered. "But, technically, he's been dead for a couple of hundred years." Afraid to hope, Buffy struggled to find the flaws with this plan. "He'd come here as a human. He won't recognize me."

"I already reworked the spell to summon the vampire, not the human. Both died at the hands of a supernatural being. Buffy, it'll be for a short period of time. Very short."

"How long?"

"One night, a little less. And we don't have much time."

"Of course." Buffy smiled a bitter smile. "There's never much time."

"The spell can only be cast on the night before a new moon. Because of the supernatural twist I had to include, it would only work if we cast it on Halloween. Luckily, this year the two nights align perfectly, but it won't happen again for at least ten years." Willow smiled sheepishly. "Sorry."

"Don't worry about it. We still have two weeks until Halloween."

"Two weeks is very little time, and there's more…" Willow looked down at her fingers. "Even if cast properly and on time, the spell might still fail. There's little record of it ever working, and no one has ever tired it on a vampire." She paused. "Buffy, I want you to be ready for this possibility."

"I understand. I'm ready. Let's do it." Seeing Willow hesitate again, Buffy groaned. "What?"

"I can't do the spell."

"What? No, of course you can. You're a powerful—"

"You have to do it."

That stopped Buffy's flow of words. "Me?"

Willow nodded rapidly. "The spell is meant to be used to summon someone the spell-caster loves deeply, someone who was already connected to the one being summoned."

First prickles of doubt began to rise in Buffy. She was no witch. Willow was the strong one. Taking a deep breath to steady herself and push those thought away, Buffy asked, "Tell me what I need to do."

- ALS -

Having arranged all of the herbs Buffy would need, Willow took out the candles that Buffy would need to engrave under the full moon later that night.

"Wow, do we really need that many?" Buffy asked, staring at the bundle of thin candles.

"No." Willow smiled sheepishly. "I brought extra just in case."

"In case of what?"

"Once the sun sets and the moon rises, we will perform a cleansing ritual for your cottage. After that, you will engrave the candles."

"Oh." Buffy looked at the bundle again. "Are you sure that will be enough?"

"I have two more in my bag."

"Meanie!"

Willow laughed, happy to see some of Buffy's old personality shine through again.

- ALS -

Buffy forgot how fun she and Willow could have. If she let herself put aside the possible consequences, she enjoyed spending the afternoon—and a good part of the night—with her best friend.

The next day, they went over the incantation several times together. Pronunciation was important, and they were both determined to get things right.

"I think I got it, Will," Buffy said at the end of the day. "As long as I don't have to memorize it, I will be okay."

"Good. Now, for the last ingredient of the spell." Willow took a deep breath. She had been dreading this part the most in the past two days. Buffy had begun to smile, and she hated that her next words would bring the shadows back to her eyes. "We will need to obtain something of Angel's."

Buffy froze.

"It won't be damaged during the spell," Willow assured quickly.

Silently, still unable to find her voice, Buffy reached for the necklace she wore around her neck. Ever since returning from Los Angeles, she never took down the thin golden chain. "Will this do?"

Willow looked at the large ring hanging from the chain. She knew about the ring Angel had given Buffy almost eight years ago on her birthday, but Buffy had never gone into details about it because of all the repercussions that followed, so Willow didn't know Angel also wore one.

"Yes," Willow said. "Do you still have your own?"

Buffy smiled sadly. "I do. It's pretty mangled, but…"

Willow understood. Buffy would never have thrown away something Angel had given her, especially that ring. "It doesn't matter. Use both rings in the spell."

"Okay," Buffy said quietly.

"That's pretty much it." Willow watched Buffy carefully, hating that the sadness was once again etched into her features. "Would you like me to stay with you until Halloween?"

"No, there's no need, Will." Buffy did her best to put on a smile on her face. "Besides, I'm pretty sure Giles and your coven sisters are going to need you soon."

You need me more, Willow wanted to say, but she knew Buffy wouldn't budge. "You're right. But promise me you'll call if you have any questions."

"I will. Promise."

"Good, and I'll send you a text when it's time to start the ritual."

"Thank you, Will." Buffy leaned over to hug her friend. "You're the best."

- ALS -

Halloween, October 31, 2005

Two weeks of preparations, of worrying herself sick, of nightmares had finally come to an end. It was just a little before sunset on the last day of October, and Buffy felt her nerves finally fade away. This was it: the do or die moment, and boy, she'd had her share of those before.

She stood barefoot on the carpet in the middle of her bedroom, wearing a plain white dress she'd bought as per Willow's instructions. It had to be new, made of only natural fibers, and worn on a clean body. The shower she'd taken earlier that night also had special instructions, which Buffy followed precisely, using the soap she and Willow had made.

The fire in the hearth was burning, casting shadows but keeping Buffy warm in her thin attire.

Her cell phone beeped.

It's time, Willow wrote.

Buffy glanced at her window. It was dark, and the moon was barely visible in the vast blackness of the sky. Texting a quick thank you to Willow, Buffy turned her phone off. There would be no more interruptions tonight.

She began the spell slowly, enunciating each word carefully. The language she was speaking had been dead for several hundreds of years, but somehow, the foreign words felt familiar.

Buffy lit up the first circle of candles, all white, for purity and eternity.

Looking at the printed words transcribed on the paper, Buffy continued reading aloud. Her voice was quiet but steady as she proceeded to light each of the following circles of candles: green for life, blue for peace, red for courage, and yellow for wisdom. As she lit the candles, Buffy felt the rhythm of the incantation begin to pulse in the air.

As the final candle in the fifth circle was lit, the rhythm was a steady staccato. It filled Buffy's every sense, and she could see the flames of both the candles and the hearth respond to it, crackling at even intervals.

Buffy touched the candle she still held in her hand to the crystal bowl containing the herbs and set them on fire. They burned in colorful licks of fire, changing from white to green, from green to blue, and finally settling on a bright purple flame that continued to burn even when there was nothing left in the bowl.

Kneeling next to the magical fire, Buffy picked up a silver dagger and cut a thin line across her palm. She closed her fingers into a tight fist and let her blood drip into the fire as she reached the final part of the spell, which had been added by Willow and was in English.

"In blood we are born, in blood we die. In blood I call thee, who holds my heart in his ties."

The fire in the bowl was red now, the flames continuing to crackle in a steady song only Buffy could hear. She unclasped the necklace she wore and took Angel's ring from the chain. Picking up her own mangled one, she held both rings in her palm and sent a silent prayer for this to work.

"Parted by death, our love lasts. On this holy night, bring the mate to my soul, the soul to my mate."

Buffy closed her eyes and allowed herself to drop the defenses she had held in place for years. She brought up Angel's image in her mind, concentrating on remembering as many details as she could about him. His warm brown eyes, and the way they would sparkle when he gave her a loving smile. She recalled the softness of his hair as she threaded her fingers through it, the coldness of his skin and mouth as they touched. Even after all this time, she was still able to envision him perfectly.

A rush of energy swept through her, followed by a gust of wind that blew out the candles and the magical fire. Drained, Buffy collapsed on the carpet.

- ALS -

The sound of her name spoken in his voice woke her up with a start.

"Buffy?" His voice was barely above whisper.

"Angel?" Her voice wasn't any better. She could hardly believe her ears. When her eyes focused on him, she realized that she wasn't truly prepared for the sight of him.

He looked terrible.

Covered in what looked like blood, both human and demon, dirt, and god-knows what else, Angel was leaning against the doorway, barely able to hold himself upright. He stared at her, blinking several times as though trying to bring her image to focus.

"Angel!" she cried out and threw herself across the room.

Angel practically collapsed on her. His eyes were unfocused, and she could tell that he was in pain. From what she had picked up since Spike's return, their final battle was a brutal one and included a dragon, which, naturally, Angel had chosen to tackle on his own.

She wanted to touch him, feel his body with her fingers and make sure that he was real, but it was obvious that there were several things that had to take priority to it. He was badly injured, and the smell coming off him was far from pleasant.

Angel swung on his feet. Disoriented, he murmured, "Where…am I?"

Buffy looked up at his face, marveling at how beautiful he was despite the filth. "What is the last thing you remember?"

"Hordes of…demons. Dragon. Gunn…falling. Shouting. Then...nothing." Angel tried to shrug but found that the action brought even more pain to his already abused body, so he concentrated on placing one foot in front of the other. "Where…?"

Speaking was hard for him, Buffy noted as her mind swirled with more questions. It was obvious that Angel's last memory was of the battle, so where had he been in the past eighteen months? Why did the spell bring him back so weak? Was she dreaming? She tried not to think about that option. No, the spell worked, she told herself. It had to have worked.

"You're in Clare, Ireland. It's been eighteen months since…" She decided not to finish that sentence. "Let's get you out of these filthy clothes and cleaned up. Taking the brunt of his weight, Buffy began to steer Angel toward the bathroom. And definitely several pints of blood would do him well, she thought.

He seemed to focus on walking until they reached the adjoined bathroom. Once there, Buffy helped him sit on the closed lit of the toilet seat and turned to start filling the tub.

"What are you doing in Ireland?"

She didn't look at him as she answered. "I needed a change. It seemed like the right place to be."

"Oh." He could sense that it wasn't the truth, not entirely, but he was too drained to insist.

Buffy turned to look at him at the same time as he began to lift his hands to unbutton his shirt. It seemed as though it used to be a deep burgundy color, but there was so much grime covering it that Buffy couldn't be too sure.

After opening one button, Angel's hands fell to his sides, and he sighed. He was too week to hold them up any longer.

"Let me," Buffy murmured and reached for the buttons on his shirt, working them out of their loops quickly. Once the shirt was opened, Buffy pushed it off Angel's shoulders and saw him wince as he took it off. "Sorry."

The t-shirt under the button-down was in even worse shape, and Buffy gasped his name when she realized that much of the staining on it was Angel's own blood.

"It looks worse…"

"Don't start with me." She knew that he was about to say it looked worse than it was, and she knew it would be a blunt lie. She didn't want to hear lies from him, not ever again.

Angel began to lift his hands again to let Buffy remove his t-shirt, but he froze when a jolt of pain shot down from his shoulder.

Buffy's heart contorted in her chest at the sound of his pain-filled groan, and her fingers shook a little when she grabbed the neckline of the shirt. It was beyond repair with the amount of blood and filth it had soaked up, not to mention the nasty tear in one side, where Buffy could clearly tell it had been sliced. Before Angel had time to ask what she was doing, the shirt was torn down the middle. Two more tugs freed his shoulders, and the scrapes fell down on the tiled floor around him.

She wanted to cry when she saw just how badly injured he really was. His chest was covered in ugly bruises, cuts, and gashes that hadn't even started to heal. One of the cuts was beginning to bleed, apparently re-opened in one of Angel's movements.

Keeping her mind focused on the task at hand, Buffy reached inside a drawer beneath the sink and took out a sharp dagger.

Angel's lips curved slightly in a smile. "Why am I not surprised…"

"I might be retired," Buffy said, "but I'm still armed and dangerous."

"You definitely are."

Buffy was caught momentarily in the beauty of his smile and the spark in his eyes. How long has it been since she'd last seen him smile like that, look at her like that? Too long.

She sliced the grimed laces of his shoes with the dagger. There was no way she would have been able to untie them. Placing the dagger aside, she helped Angel pull the boots and socks off his feet.

One he was barefoot, Buffy helped Angel stand up and reached for his belt buckle. She had a hard time not blushing. His skin was colder than she'd remembered, but the warmth that spread through her as she made contact with Angel was the same. Fumbling with the buckle, she cursed under her breath. Why was she acting like a schoolgirl again? She'd been with Angel, seen him naked. All right, it had been years ago, but she was no blushing virgin anymore, for crying out load.

Angel hadn't failed to notice the gentle reddening of Buffy's cheeks and felt something inside him stir. She was so beautiful and still so innocent, despite everything. He had no illusions that he was the only one she'd shared her bed with, but it looked like there hadn't been many after him.

Quickly, desperately forcing her blush away, Buffy unbuttoned his pants, lowered the zipper, and pulled the fabric down until it pooled around his legs. There was one last item of clothing left on Angel, a pair of dark blue boxer briefs that clung to his body like a second skin. There was nothing she could do about her blush when she realized Angel was at least partially aroused and that he wouldn't be able to finish undressing on his own.

Angel wanted to laugh at how red Buffy's cheeks were, but he was certain that that would not be a good idea. And not only because his bruised ribs would hurt even worse than they already did. He closed his eyes when he felt her delicate fingers slide around his waist and tried to think about anything other than Buffy undressing him.

Buffy nearly moaned when her palm made contact with Angel's skin. She could have used just two fingers to hike the underwear down, but she couldn't resist the temptation of touching Angel. She gently pushed the fabric down his long legs, luxuriating over the growing warmth spreading from her hands to her spine. All thoughts of the pleasurable sensations that only Angel had ever brought her were halted when her fingers brushed against more bruises and more barely-healed cuts. Damn it, no wonder he was barely standing.

Glancing toward the tub, Buffy was grateful to see that it was full enough for Angel to climb inside. She leaned away to turn off the flow of water and straightened again.

"Lean on me. I'll help you inside the tub."

Watching his face, Buffy could see that he was in pain as he stepped over the side and into the warm water.

"Soak in. I'm going to go bring you something to drink."

- ALS -

Buffy trotted down the stairs and into her kitchen. One of the things she'd purchased as preparation for the ritual was fresh pig's blood. She knew that there was a chance the spell wouldn't work, and she knew the if it worked, she would have very few hours with Angel, but something inside her urged her to make sure she has supplies, just in case. She couldn't think of a case that would require it back then, but now she was glad she had listened to her instincts. Something told her that Angel would not have easily agreed to drink from her, despite his current condition.

She placed the cup with the pig's blood in the microwave and turned it on to warm it up.

As the seconds ticked away on the screen, Buffy allowed herself to take a deep breath and sigh. He was here. He was with her. She might have precious few hours with him, but he was here.

For now.

The microwave beeped, startling Buffy out of her thoughts. She took the cup out and walked back upstairs. She would not think about how little time she had with Angel, and she would definitely not allow herself to wallow in the fact that, come dawn, he would be gone forever.

- ALS -

Angel could smell the blood as soon as Buffy took the cup out of the microwave. In his current state, even the usually foul scent of pig's blood was sweet. He was starving, he realized suddenly as his face shifted without his conscious decision to do so. He tried to force his demon back inside, but it was no use. It was all he could do to stop himself from growling at Buffy when she walked into the bathroom with the cup of warm blood.

Amazing him, Buffy seemed not to notice the metamorphosis of his face. She calmly walked next to the tub, kneeled, and helped him sit up. Wordlessly, she brought the cup to his lips and helped him drink.

Angel hated that she had to see him this way, hated that he was too weak to protect her from the sight of him feeding. He closed his eyes as he drank. When the cup was empty, Angel couldn't hold back the growl of disapproval that escaped his throat. His demon wanted more blood.

The spike in Buffy's temperature told Angel he'd embarrassed her, but a moment later, when she stood up, he caught a different scent that caused his body to harden.

"I'll get you another," she said before disappearing through the door.

Angel leaned back, feeling marginally stronger, and let himself ponder over what he'd just discovered.

When Buffy brought up the second cup, he was able to hold it himself, but he watched her carefully from the corner of his eye as he drank. His demon was softly growling, and this time Angel let the sound escape him. He was grateful for the mug that helped conceal his smile. She was definitely aroused by his growls.

"You look better already," Buffy said quietly after Angel handed her the cup.

The fresh blood brought some of the color back to his cheeks, she noted, and she could see that some of the bruises were already fading.

"The pain is receding, too."

"Good. Now all you need is a good scrubbing, and you'll be right as rain."

Angel watched wearily as Buffy picked up a washcloth and poured some soap on it.

"That's going to make me smell like a girl."

"Smelling like a girl is better than smelling like demon goo," she retorted.

"Good point." The soap definitely smelled better than he did at the moment, even if it was distinctly feminine.

Kneeling again, this time on the opposite side of the tub, Buffy ordered, "Lean back and give me your foot."

"Bossy." Angel smirked. He was feeling better, and he was now able to appreciate her presence in other ways as well. "I like that."

Buffy blushed, making him chuckle. Not looking up from his feet, Buffy allowed herself a small smile. It was wonderful to hear his laughter. It had been much too long.

Angel closed his eyes and leaned his head back on the tub. The sensation of Buffy's fingers on his skin was amazing. She massaged the tight muscles and leathered the skin in long, stroking motions that threw his mind straight to the gutter. His body was deprived of her for so long that every patch of skin she touched nearly sang. As it was, Angel had to fight hard not to moan aloud at the way she pressed the heel of her palm against the curve of his foot. He knew that the way she massaged the muscles of his calves and swirled her fingers around his knee was meant to be relaxing, but while it might have worked with his legs, there was one part of his anatomy that grew stiffer with each moment.

It had been so long since anyone touched him this way. Worse, it had been ages since Buffy touched him like that.

Buffy decided that Angel looked a lot like a lazy cheetah resting up the tree branches after a good meal. His eyes were partially closed, his body relaxed, and there was a sound coming from him that she'd never heard before. It took her several moments to realize what the sound reminded her. She began to giggle.

"What's so funny?" Angel asked, without opening his eyes.

"You're purring." The giggle turned into a hearty laughter. "I've turned you into a kitten."

"Kitten?" He raised one brow as he peered at her through half-closed eyes.

Buffy stood up and walked over to kneel behind him. "Okay, so you're a bit bigger than the average kitten," she said. "I still think you're at least part feline."

A lazy smile stretched across Angel's lips. It was not the first time he'd begun to purr for Buffy. He didn't know if she was aware of the meaning behind it—he doubted she was—but to a vampire, it was a clear sign that he'd found his mate. Buffy was the perfect match to every part of him, soul and demon. He'd grown to accept that over the years that they'd been separated. No amount of time or distance would sever the tie between them.

The purr grew louder when Buffy began to wash his chest, working the dirt and grime off his skin with the washcloth and her fingers. He drowned in her scent, in her touch. She was his small piece of heaven. She made all the pain, all the guilt, all the hardship worth it. Everything was worth this one moment with her.

His mood dampened as he thought about how short this moment would have to be. He was under no illusion that it had been anything less than very powerful magic that brought him to her, and he knew that this kind of power always had a price.

Buffy found the sound of his purring oddly comforting. It was as though the vibrations were caressing her in a ghostly touch, surrounding her body in a phantom embrace that felt almost as good as a real Angel hug. She vividly recalled the first time she'd heard him make that sound. It was on the best night of her life, a night that ended abruptly in the worst morning of her life. Before the bad memories could take over her thoughts, she pushed them away. This was not the time to think about such things.

With slow strokes, she lathered his back and wide shoulders once again, washing away the last traces of the battle. She might have taken longer than she had to, but touching him was a luxury that had been denied from her for much too long.

She reached for the bottle of shampoo and poured some into her cupped palm. It was not the same brand she's used back when she was in Sunnydale. After Los Angeles, she'd searched for anything that would remind her of Angel, and this brand smelled a lot like Angel's choice of soap. It wasn't exactly the same, but it was close enough that she continued to buy it.

Angel didn't comment on the scent. It was not similar to the flowery, feminine scents that he remembered Buffy to favor. He did groan softly when she began to scrape his scalp with her fingernails. It instantly reminded him of the way her fingers dug into his skin when they'd made love, and tingles of pleasure shot throughout his body. Her scent, the softness of her touch, the heat that radiated from her, they were like an aphrodisiac to his long starved body.

Buffy closed her eyes and bit down on her lip to stop herself from moaning. Even with most of his body hidden in the now-murky water, Angel was irresistible. And she had him all to herself.

She turned on the water again and rinsed his hair and upper body, her gaze pausing on the taut muscles of his chest. She was very much close to jumping him, she realized.

"I'm going to get you a chance of clothes," she said and almost ran out of the room.

Another moment of touching him, of looking at his body and knowing he was stark naked, and she would have jumped into the tub with him. She cursed her hormones under her breath as she pulled the change of clothes for him out of her closet. Another purchase made on impulse.

She listened to the water running, and when she heard a pause, she called, "I'm leaving the clothes out on the bed. Come downstairs when you're ready. I'll have another mug warmed up."

- ALS -

Angel finished rinsing the soap off his body and stepped out of the tub. He reached for a towel and made a mental check of his body. The cuts and bruises had healed nicely, and while he still felt weaker than usual, he no longer felt as though he was about to fall flat on his face at the first breeze.

Walking to the bedroom, he was almost disappointed to find it empty. His ears told him that she was on the floor below, but he found himself hoping they were deceiving him. He found a white button-up shirt laid out on the bed, a pair of black slacks beside it. There was even a bag with new boxer briefs inside. His first reaction was fury. It was quickly followed with pain. Had she had a man living her? Was there a new man in her life?

He knew that he should have been happy for her, that he should feel better that she'd found someone, but he couldn't. His instincts were much too close to the surface, and he couldn't care less for something as noble as being happy that his mate found another. She was his.

Before he could stop himself, he was in front of her closet, the door open. In the next moment, he realized that he was wrong, and relief spread through him. There were only women's clothes in there, the colorful array of fabrics that he knew Buffy to favor.

He looked at the clothes on the bed and saw that each piece was brand new, the tags still attached.

She hadn't replaced him.

He dressed with quick, practiced motions, leaving the shirttails un-tucked.

The absence of men's clothing in her wardrobe didn't mean that she was still his girl, Angel told himself, but there was an odd sense of hopefulness inside him.

- ALS -

Buffy greeted Angel with a smile when he walked into the kitchen. "I'm glad to see everything fits. I wasn't sure I got the size right."

Angel took the mug she offered, but he couldn't look away as he gulped down the content.

"Thank you," he said when he was finished.

Before, his mind had been shrouded with pain and disorientation. Now there was nothing that could take his mind off her. She'd changed, he noticed. Her eyes were older than what he remembered. She'd grown a little bit, or it could have been his imagination. She was every bit as beautiful, though, every bit as breathtaking as ever.

Buffy was too busy ogling him herself to notice him staring. His hair was damp and untamed, begging for her to put her fingers through it. His shoulders were wider than she'd remembered them to be, and the black pants hugged his thighs in the most delicious way.

He noticed where her gaze went and hoped that the tails of the shirt were enough to hide his body's reaction to her.

For several moments, they stood in her kitchen and took in each other's presence, savoring it. Unconsciously, they closed the distance between them as if there were something physically pulling them toward the other. The first step was hesitant and slow, but in the next moment, there was no more than a breath between them.

"Angel."

"Buffy."

Buffy threw her arms around his shoulder at the same moment as he wrapped his arms around her waist. She buried her head in the crook of his neck and began to cry, deep, heart-wrenching sobs shook her small frame.

He gathered her to him, placing one hand behind her knees to lift her up, and carried her to the armchair in front of the fire.

"I've missed you so much," she mumbled into his skin and dug deeper into his embrace. She felt so good to be held by him, to be comforted and cared for that she felt warmer in his arms than she had in the past eighteen months, despite the cold temperature of his skin. She was finally complete.

He kissed the top of her head, murmuring, "I've missed you, too."

He wanted to cry himself. He'd been so cold inside for so long. What a fool I'd been, he thought. There was no warmth without her, and he should have learned that a long time ago. She was his light, his sun, his everything. When he forced himself to walk away from her, he tore his very soul into pieces. In the time that had passed since then, he had been able to do little more than patch up the wound and stop the bleeding. He was never as whole as he had been when he was with her.

"God, I love you so much," he whispered against her hair.

Buffy stilled. She'd long since stopped crying, but she loathed the thought of moving from Angel's embrace. His words, however, caused her to straighten and look up. She was suddenly afraid she'd heard wrong. "What did you just say?"

He looked into her eyes. Framed by wet lashes, there was a shine of happiness in them. "I love you, Buffy."

It was the simple, basic truth. He knew that it would always be true. There was nothing and no one that could change that. He'd walked the earth for countless years, and never had a woman taken up residence in his heart the way Buffy had. In Angel's eyes, he'd married Buffy on the night of her seventeenth birthday. He couldn't have made love to her without that symbol, his ring on her finger. He never said anything to her since the tradition he'd followed was about as old as he was, and he knew she wouldn't have been ready to hear it. For him, she was his ever since, even if he knew that he had no right to claim her as such.

"I love you too, Angel," Buffy said. "With all my heart and soul, I love you."

He kissed her then, unable to look at her, to hold her so close and not taste her. Her lips were soft and pliant beneath his. Her tongue met him in a loving caress, and he savored her like one would savor a vintage wine.

Buffy melted in his arms. Angel's kisses always had that effect on her, but having learned what it was like to exist without him, the effect was so much stronger.

Their mouths were speaking syllables of love and devotion that theirs souls wished to communicated to one another. They promised to never part again, to never leave the other. Everything around them was suddenly forgotten, fading into the background. There was nothing but the two of them.

Angel's hands felt familiar as they roamed Buffy's back and pressed her into his body. Her much smaller hands pressed him to her with all her might, until there was not even air between them.

When Angel left her lips, allowing her to catch her breath, he continued to place small kisses all over her face. He couldn't get enough of her. The sudden hunger that had awakened inside him would not be satiated with a simple embrace or a chaste kiss. The curve of her jaw was bathed in kisses, and Buffy let her head fall back, exposing her neck to him.

Angel growled with satisfaction as his gaze fell on the faint scar at the base of her throat. He kissed it with reverence, making love to the spot as his chest continued to vibrate in a continuous growl. The scar was another mark, one more permanent than a ring, that told the world she was his. It could be said that the soul marked her with the ring and the demon with the bite, but Angel began to think that both of his sides were involved in each marking.

"Oh, Angel," Buffy sighed. "That feels so good."

Angel almost didn't notice when the kisses had turned into small nibbles, but he was now being more aggressive as he began to push the fabric of her dress off her shoulder. "How long do we have?"

"Until dawn." She hated to think about how little time they had. He was holding her, kissing her in a way no ever had but him. She knew that he would be forced to leave soon. There was always something that was making him leave, that was tearing them apart. She may have understood his reasons for leaving her better now than when she'd been eighteen years old and forced to watch as his figure disappeared into the shadows, but that didn't make it any less painful.

Buffy had tried to be normal, tried to have what Angel told her that she should—a boyfriend who took her to picnics in the sun, who could potentially give her children. It didn't work. She wasn't normal, and she didn't want normal. What Buffy wanted, then and now and forever, was the one things that could never be hers while at the same time would belong to her for eternity—Angel.

"We can't…" She tried to protest as his hands shifted her to straddle him. Before they got carried away, they had to stop. There were things that she wanted, needed to tell him. She'd forgotten everything when he kissed her; it was always like that.

"I have so little time to spend with you." Angel's mouth hovered over her lips, his eyes boring into hers. "I want to spend it making love to you."

She deserved that much at least, Buffy thought. Before he would be taken away from her forever, she deserved one more night. She was owed that if nothing else. As a reply, she closed the distance between them and pressed her body firmly against his.

They continued to kiss, but it was no longer reverent. It was hungry, lustful, demanding. There was no fight for control, just the simple hunger for the other. Angel thought that she was no longer the naïve girl that had gifted him her innocence. She was a woman.

For one brief moment, Angel's mind brought up memories from the day that never was, a day spent in the sunlight, making love to her. It was a day when it seemed that all of his dreams had come true, only to be proven wrong in the most painful way imaginable.

His thoughts scattered when she moved against him, a wanton moan escaping her lips. He dropped his hands to her thighs and pressed her down on his erection. She moaned again, the sound igniting even more flames of passion in him.

Buffy loved the feel of his strong hands on her thighs, of his hardness against her core, but it was not enough. She wanted more. The layers of fabric between them were a hindrance, and she couldn't get rid of them fast enough.

Angel slid his hands under the hem of her dress and pushed the fabric upward to her waist. Buffy went to unbutton his shirt at the same time, so he paused and let her finish before he pushed the dress all the way off her. As soon as it was off, he reached to cup her breasts. They fit perfectly into his palms, but he noticed that she'd lost weight. The past couple of years had been hard on her, he thought, especially the recent months. He couldn't change the past or the future, but he could and would make the present magical for her. She deserved to be worshiped, and that was exactly what he intended to do.

Buffy pushed his shirt off his shoulders, forcing yet another break in contact between them. As soon as he was as bare-chested as her, they reach for each other again. His hands caressed the sides of her body as she explored his chest. They both sighed at the contact, and Buffy began to gently rock on top of him.

"Angel." She groaned when his fingers gently tugged at her nipples. "Yes, please. Right there."

Angel smirked. He loved knowing that he could make her respond to him like that. He lowered his head and engulfed one of her breasts almost completely into his mouth, suckling on the supple flesh.

Buffy gasped and shuddered. His mouth was slightly warmer from their kisses, but it was still much cooler than her overheated body. The contrasts caused goose bumps to spread all over her skin.

Angel moaned around her soft skin. He listened for her litany of moans when he began to suckle on her supple breasts, lapping and massaging them.

Buffy arched toward him, her hands grasping his head pressed closer to her. She was offering herself to him without the need for words. Angel closed his eyes and basked in the pleasure of loving her.

Buffy whimpered, panting for breath, and was amazed at how much pleasure his mouth alone could bring her. Every tug of Angel's fingers on her nipples, every suckling motion of his mouth, every flick of his tongue on her skin was making the coil of pleasure tighten inside her. She cried out when he switched sides again and began chanting his name, completely unaware she was doing so aloud.

After him, she only had two other partners in bed, one of them completely insignificant. But even Riley, with whom she'd had a fairly long relationship, wasn't able to give her so much pleasure. No one took the time to care for her needs the way Angel always did.

Angel could smell how aroused she was. Her heart was pounding in her chest, and he could almost feel her skin vibrating under his touch. He moved to lick her breasts, spreading small and wet kisses all over her chest while avoiding her nipples.

Buffy growled at him.

The sound was so unexpected, coming from her, that he found himself chuckling as he responded to her demand. He took the nipple between his lips, wrapped his hands around the breasts, and began to suckle on it like a starving babe. His eyes watched her face with lust burning in his gaze as Buffy keened with pleasure.

Buffy thought that her heart was going to give out—or perhaps jump out of her chest—it was beating so hard. She couldn't care less, though. There was a delicious tightening in her belly. The things he was doing to her with his mouth, lips, and fingers were absolutely amazing. If this was the last feeling she would ever experience, she would die happy, she thought.

Having Angel rubbing against the almost painful throbbing between her legs as she moved on top of him was adding the sweetest friction. She opened her eyes to see him watching her, and the next thing she knew, her world exploded in a rainbow of colors and sensations.

She didn't hear herself cry out as she came apart in his arms, but Angel savored the sound. She'd climaxed from little more than his pleasuring of her breasts, and he found himself amazed. He'd had his share of sexual experiences back in his days, but no one had ever reacted as vividly and passionately as Buffy had.

Her mouth was open in what was now a silent scream. Her throat was bared to him, her eyes closed. She was devastatingly beautiful in her release.

When she finally opened her eyes, still slightly unfocused, he left her skin and simply stared at her.

"I love you." Angel didn't realize that the words had reached his mouth until he saw the brilliant smile Buffy offered him.

"I love you," she said, curling into him. She nuzzled his neck, skinning her nose on his collarbone as she breathed in his scent. It was like a narcotic drug, the way Angel always smelled so good to her.

It was Angel's turn to moan when Buffy ran her tongue alongside his throat and nibbled on the corded muscles. Her body began to move again, supplying friction exactly where he needed it, but it wasn't enough. He wanted to be inside her. He wanted to feel the wonderful, scorching heat of her body wrapped around him, her muscles squeezing him so tight it was almost a painful pleasure. He wrapped his large hands around her buttocks and pressed her harder against him. He felt her bite down on his neck, hard.

He growled, the sound coming from deep in his chest. "I want you…so much."

Buffy smiled against his skin. She was amazed at how much power she had over this man, this centuries-old vampire who had had more experience than she would ever want to know. He was breathless beneath her, despite needing no breath at all. He was pleading her, begging her to touch him.

She reached for his pants. This time she made sure to touch him as she unbuttoned and unzipped him. She wanted to feel his hard flesh, to caress and pleasure him. He bucked his hips into her hand when she cupped him through the thin fabric of his underwear.

The heat of her touch, so arousing, banished the last traces of chillness in his body.

Angel lifted his hips to help her undress him for the second time that evening, and his hands went to remove the last scrap of clothing she wore.

The scent of Buffy's arousal was so much stronger without the barrier of cloth. He wanted to press his mouth between her thighs and show her how much more pleasure his mouth could bring her. It would have to wait for later, though. He was much too desperate for her.

Capturing her mouth in a passionate kiss, he pulled her back on his lap. Devouring her mouth, he slid his hand between them and searched for the core of her warmth. Angel knew from her scent that she was ready for him, but she was so small… He would stake himself before ever intentionally hurting her again.

"Angel!" Buffy screamed when his prowling fingers found the pulsating heart of her core. His mouth was desperate now, his teeth bruising her bottom lip as he sucked and bit it. His fingers, however, were gentle as he rubbed and skimmed.

"Yes," he hissed as she tightened around his fingers.

"Are you trying to…oh, that feels so good…drive me crazy?"

He smiled against her mouth and removed his fingers.

She growled again.

"Impatient, are we?"

She grabbed him by his hair and forced him to look at her. "I want you inside me. Now."

Angel positioned himself and paused. It wasn't because he was apprehensive or uncertain; no, he paused because he wanted to treasure that moment, the look of hunger and demand he could see in her face.

Buffy looked into his loving, lust-filled eyes, and smiled. She understood. She had never felt more loved and cherished than when he was looking at her like that.

Slowly, they moved closer, and he sunk into her, making them both sigh the other's name.

Her muscles were clutching him in a vice grip that would have been painful for a human. It was then that he understood. Buffy was not normal, never had been. He was normal for her.

Her head fell on his shoulder, allowing his lips to find the mark on her neck.

"I love you," he whispered into her shoulder over and over again.

He couldn't find the right words to express how he felt about her at that moment. Words were just not enough to express how deeply he felt toward her. He knew that she would forever carry a piece of him in her. His soul was hers since before she even knew he existed, and it would forever continue to live in her, even when he was no longer there.

He was there now, however, and he could show her better with actions rather than words.

Buffy moaned as he laved kisses on her scar, his hands holding her tightly. Their bodies continued to move together in perfect harmony. It was instinctual. She didn't think about what she was doing; she just let go and let her body give and take.

There was only Angel now, his scent in her lungs, his taste on her tongue, his body in her, his voice whispering words of love in her ears.

He nibbled on her earlobe and trailed a wet path down her neck as she did earlier. His hands continued to guide her in the right tempo to bring them both the most pleasure. There was still a touch of innocence to her lovemaking. It had been years since he'd first introduced her to the world of physical love, but it felt as though nothing had changed about her.

"I love being inside you," he said against her ear, his breath making her shiver. "You're squeezing me like you'd never let me go, burning me with your heat. You are pure…heaven." His voice broke midsentence when she made a circular move with her hips that held him even tighter.

"I fell so…stretched." She laughed huskily.

He moved away from her neck and captured her mouth again. The temptation of her neck so close to his mouth was becoming too much. The urge to bite, to re-claim her again, was almost unbearable, and her throaty laughter wasn't making it easier.

"Yes, baby," he murmured against her lips when she began to slam down on his erection. "God, just like that."

She was beyond words. This was too much. His touch was burning her skin, his body so hard, his hands so demanding, it had left her speechless. She could do nothing but feel, holding on to him as hard as she could. There was a part of her that still feared he would disappear, and as that familiar coil tightened inside her again, she began to chant his name.

"Yes, my love," he encouraged. "Let it come and take me with you." He was close to his limit himself, but he wanted to see her first, to witness the feeling of her body contracting around him.

"Please," she begged, mewling when his mouth found the scar on her neck again. "Want you. Inside."

"I. Am." He emphasized each word with an upward thrust.

"Bite." She whimpered at a particularly deep thrust. "I want—God, Angel—your fangs. In me."

Angel tried to protest as she pressed him to her throat with one hand, even though there was a very big part of him that roared with demand to taste her, to lay claim on his mate once again.

"Please." It was no louder than a breath, but he heard the confidence behind the plea. "I want to have all of you."

He felt his face shift, his teeth elongating into fangs. He wanted her. There wasn't anything that could make this better than what she was offering him. He should refuse, he knew, but pressed against her skin as he was, perched on the ends of release, he needed to sink his teeth into her.

Bite her.

Mark her.

Claim her.

Angel scraped her skin with the sharp incisors and loved hearing her moan in pleasure. Her muscles clutched him harder in response. Sliding his hand between them, he pressed just above the place where they were connected. His teeth broke skin at the same moment, and Buffy flew.

He moaned as her blood filled his mouth, sliding to coat his tongue in a delicious treat he never stopped craving. Her orgasm made her taste even sweeter than he'd remembered, and as she pulsated around him, shivering in pleasure, he joined her at the peak.

He swallowed several more mouthfuls as he filled her with his essence before retracting his fangs and licking the wound closed. She was limp in his arms, her heart slowly returning to its normal rate. Though still panting and shivering from the powerful release, she held on to him, not able or wanting to move.

Angel was startled to sense tears coming from her and tightened his hold around her. "Buffy?"

"It's nothing," she said through tears, her voice thick, but he felt her smile against his shoulder. "I'm just a little overwhelmed."

He chuckled, feeling the sudden cloud of doubt lift off his shoulder, and began caressing her gently, enjoying the smoothness of her body.

Buffy kissed his shoulder and closed her eyes. She wished to never move again.

Angel held her until her breathing leveled out. He smiled when he realized that she'd fallen asleep. Gently, so as not to awaken her, he lifted her and carried her up the stairs.

Buffy lifted her head from his shoulder just as he opened the door to her bedroom.

"You should get some sleep," he said quietly.

"I don't want to sleep." Her hand began to draw random patterns on his chest. "But I'd love for us to lie before the fire."

He recognized the sparkle in her eye as he lowered her down on her bed. He followed her and smirked when she reached down to cup him again. "You're insatiable."

"And you love it," she retorted with a smirk of her own and wrapped her legs around him.

He pulled back a bit, not allowing her to unite them again. There was a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, and Buffy frowned in suspicion.

"I do," he agreed. "I love how passionate you are, how responsive."

She arched beneath him, making him chuckle. "Stop teasing."

His eyes sparkled when, instead of answering her demands, Angel pulled away from her lips and began trailing down her body.

Buffy moaned when his lips passed her navel and Angel began lavishing kisses on her hipbone. He trailed from one side of her body to the other, enjoying the taste of her skin and the heavy scent of her arousal.

Buffy thought she was going to go mad with desire. Her entire body was strung, poised on the edge of the border between pleasure and pain. She wanted, needed, him to touch her. "Angel…"

She wanted to tell him to touch her, but the words wouldn't come out of her mouth. Their one and only night together had been tarnished by the harsh words his demon had said to her the following morning. Adding to that the fact that Riley never wanted to have anything to do with his mouth anywhere below her belly, and Buffy was definitely feeling insecure.

Much to her delight, she soon found out that she didn't need to say anything. Just as she thought that she would scream with frustration, Angel's fingers spread the lips of her sex and he pressed his mouth against her.

"Angel!" she screamed, her body arching away from the bed.

Ambrosia, Angel thought as he allowed himself the first taste of her. He listened carefully to the breathless please of his mate and adjusted the movements of his tongue accordingly.

"Oh god," Buffy murmured, dazed and panting. His fingers continued to spread her open before him, and his tongue was doing the most amazing things to her body. She threaded her fingers through his hair and held him against her as the pleasure continued to build inside her.

Angel placed her legs over his shoulders as he began to purr quietly. He couldn't get enough of her, and he couldn't wait to see and feel her come apart again. He flattened his tongue on her delicate clitoris and slid two fingers inside her tight heat. Her powerful muscles tightened around him, and he knew that they would feel even better when he finally sheathed himself in her.

He sensed her orgasm coming and began curling his fingers upwards with each thrust. Her cry of release was heard moments later, but he didn't halt his ministrations. He wanted her wild with desire, thoroughly pleased, and completely ready for him when he took her. She was so small, despite the deadly power she possessed, and Angel was loath to hurt her, especially in such an intimate way.

Buffy could no longer tell up from down as the waves of her second released washed though her, and she could already feel the next one building inside her. She forgot how wonderfully attentive Angel was.

Angel slowly disentangled himself from her fingers and slid up her body. He nearly lost count of how many times he had brought her to her release, but as he cradled himself between her thighs and thrust into her, he felt her muscles give yet again. Her body welcomed him, wrapping itself perfectly around him.

He paused then, wanting to make sure she was okay.

"Amazing," she breathed out and laughed delightedly.

Angel groaned as her muscles contracted, tightening her body's vice grip on his own.

"I've never…" She paused to breathe and instantly blushed. She never meant to say that out loud.

His eyes widened with surprise and, once again, he was filled with primal satisfaction. Whoever Buffy had shared her bed with after their breakup must have been a very poor excuse for a lover.

"I'm glad I could give you another first," he said softly and leaned to kiss her.

Buffy wrapped her arms around him as she accepted his kiss.

Then, he began to rock into her, slowly at first, but growing faster after a few thrusts. She was so wet now that he slid easily inside her despite the size differences between them.

His purr grew louder as he neared his own release, and he found himself kissing the side of her neck again.

"Yes, Angel, yes," she chanted, pressing him against her again.

He was so very close, but he wanted her to come one more time before he allowed himself the pleasure. Hanging on to the last vestiges of his self-control, he held back from morphing into his demon façade, but he couldn't hold back from biting her. As soon as his blunt, human teeth sank into her neck, not breaking the skin, they both fell over the edge and climaxed.

Angel barely had enough strength left to keep himself from crushing Buffy. He rolled to his side, and Buffy instinctively curled up to him. His arm came to rest around her shoulders as sleep finally claimed both of them.

- ALS -

Sleep slowly gave way to awareness the next morning as the last remnants of a wonderful dream made Buffy smile before she opened her eyes. In her dream, she was with Angel, and he was making love to her, both of them whispering words of love to each other.

The smile only lasted a few seconds before she noticed that the room was lit with the bright rays of the sun. Her heart sank as she glanced around and saw that she was alone in her bed. The candles she'd used were still on the floor, and the fire had long since become nothing more than coals. Nothing was out of place. The dress she'd worn for the casting was hanging on the back of the chair, and the sheets next to her were cold.

Buffy's heart sank inside her as she recalled her dream. Had the spell worked? Had Angel really appeared before her last night?

Pushing the covers away, she ran to the bathroom. It was in the same condition as it had been last night after her bath. No dirty clothes or grimed shoes lay on the floor. When she reached for the drawer, she found that the dagger she'd always kept there still there, still clean.

Panic, fear, and almost crippling pain filled her as she ran to her closet and opened the door. The clothes she'd purchased for Angel were gone as though they'd never been there. After pulling out a robe and wrapping it around her, she dashed down the stairs.

There were no signs that anything had been disturbed in the living room or in the kitchen. Everything was just as she'd left it before the spell. Desperate, she reached for the refrigerator's door and threw it open. The blood she'd purchased was also gone. The trash bin held no wrappings, and the mug she'd used to heat the blood for Angel was back in the cupboard.

"No, no, no," she whispered, tears spilling from her eyes. "It couldn't have been a dream. No."

Sliding down to the floor of the kitchen, Buffy let the overwhelming sense of loss wash over her. She was sobbing like she hadn't sobbed since she had to send Angel to hell. The scar on her heart had been torn open, and the wound was bleeding profusely.

Last night had been nothing but a dream. Wishful thinking.

The spell didn't work. Angel had never been returned to her. And she would never have a chance like this again, not in her lifetime.

She tried to hold on to the memories of the night before, but they were fading. The details were like the strands of a dream, and they were fading rapidly.

In her grief, Buffy couldn't sense the chillness of the floor she was lying on or the biting cold air that was blowing through an open window somewhere in the house. Curled up in a ball, she wished for unconsciousness. She didn't think her heart was strong enough to heal again.

So deep in her pain, Buffy didn't hear anything when someone came into the kitchen. She didn't hear the footsteps or heard the alarm in the voice. She didn't even react when she was suddenly gathered into someone's arms.

It had to be Willow, Buffy thought as she continued to cry into the shirt of whomever was holding her. However, as she took a deep breath in, trying to get her bearings again, the scent was wrong. It was distinctly masculine, and it was familiar. Instantly, the fog-like cover lifted from her mind, and she looked up to stare into the one face she'd never thought she would see again.

He gently brushed away her tears, smiling as she stared at him, dumbfounded.

"Angel," she murmured. "Angel!" She threw herself into his embrace, knocking them both down. "You stayed."

"I did," he said, smiling. Angel let himself take pleasure in the sight of her in the sunlight. It had been years since the day that never happened, but he'd never forgotten how beautiful she was when the rays of the sun kissed her skin.

Slowly pulling back, Buffy left her hand on his chest and watched him with amazement. A huge smile spread across her face. "How?"

He smiled. "I don't know how."

Her hands moved over his face before she slid her hand into his shirt and placed her fingers at the bottom of his throat. "I can't believe this is happening."

Angel chuckled. He had had a similar reaction when he'd woken up shortly after dawn. At first, he was amazed to find himself still holding Buffy in his arms, but when he saw the reflection he caught in her mirror, he was stunned, certain that he was either dreaming or that he'd gone out of his mind.

"Your heart is beating," Buffy whispered, her fingers trembling as she reached further into his shirt to place her palm over his heart. "You're alive. I'm afraid to believe it."

"I can hardly believe it myself," Angel admitted. "I thought I'd gone mad when I woke up this morning."

"I bet." Buffy chuckled and shivered.

"Let's get off this cold floor."

"I don't want to let you go," she said. "I'm afraid that if I do, you'll disappear again."

"I won't, I promise." He brushed one strand of hair away from her face.

Slowly, they left the floor and went back up the stairs to her bedroom. Angel added another log to the fire and joined Buffy on the carpet in front of it. She'd pulled down a blanket and now draped it over both of them.

She was amazed how warm he felt and how wonderful the sound of his heart beat was.

"You're here," she said after a long time.

"I'm here," he confirmed and tightened his hold on her. "I will always be here." Looking into her eyes, he slowly leaned over to capture her lips in a gentle kiss.

"No more leaving."

"Never."

Neither of them knew what or who was responsible for the miracle that had occurred to unite them, but neither was willing to dig too deeply into it at the moment.

- ALS -

Under the gentle rays of the sun filtering in through the gauzy curtains of her cottage, Buffy and Angel made love before the burning fire. On that soft carpet, in Clare, Ireland, they reaffirmed their love and conceived their first child, to be carried, birthed, and raised with love and joy.

Morrígan, the great queen of the faerie world, stood on a hill that overlooked the two Champions marvel in each other and smiled. She could hear the silent gratitude of their hearts carried to her by the wind.

"You are welcome, mo chlann," she said. Her voice was softer than a whisper.

Within a breath, Morrígan was gone. A carpet of blooming flowers marked the spot where she'd stood and cast the spell that united the two halves of one soul, the lovers' soul.


Thank you for reading,
Alley Cat.