Part Seven BR
Word Count: 2,896

Buffy felt guilty just sitting on a headstone near the entrance to the cemetery while Tasha made her rounds. She was finding it a little more difficult to relinquish her Slayer reins than she anticipated when she realized Tasha was going to need a bit of help before she was patrol-alone worthy. It was actually at Angel's insistence that Buffy was starting to let Tasha make rounds on her own with the two of them backing her up.

She and Angel hadn't talked too much longer at her house the other night. Cat had been difficult to get put down for bed and Angel seemed to realize that she was ready for an early night for a change.

Their last bit of talking, though, had been about how it was time to see what Tasha could do without Buffy's help. They had met at Angel's tonight, Tasha driving her own vehicle for the first time since they'd started going to his place for her sparring sessions. She and Angel had remained in the background as much as possible while she went over the obits and police reports she'd researched earlier that day.

Nothing in particular jumped out at Buffy that Tasha had missed and so they'd started their night, Angel riding with Buffy for the first time since she'd driven him home after their day in the motel.

Now that they were virtually alone again, though, she wasn't quite sure what to say. Their conversation the other night had been pretty intense, and she wasn't sure how Angel felt about that. She knew it couldn't have been easy for him to admit and say the things he had.

"I was a little surprised," he said, breaking the ice, "that it was Dawn helping you out and not Willow."

"Well, Dawn is my sister."

"Oh, I get that part of it, but like you said she had a life in Philadelphia. A house and job, a boyfriend."

"Well, I think she wanted to for one. Like I said the other night, I think the boyfriend may be getting serious and that's causing Dawn to pull away."

"She's young yet and after what you say she went through with her first husband I can't say as I blame her."

"No, I can't either. I feel kind of bad sometimes. I mean, we weren't even really trying and kids came so easily. I wasn't even sure I wanted kids when I got pregnant with Marcus."

"Really?"

"God, yes. Everything was still so new to me. No longer being The Slayer and trying to settle into a life that went beyond all that went with that. I didn't tell Steve for a long time I was pregnant."

"You thought about not having it?"

"I did," she said with a shrug. "I hate saying that out loud, have never admitted that to anyone. Ever. I love them so much, can't imagine life without them anymore, but those first couple of weeks I wasn't sure I was grown up enough to be a mom. I barely convinced myself when Steve proposed that I was grown up enough to be a wife."

"You've obviously done well."

"Yeah? Thanks," she shrugged. "So, I think Dawn wanted to come here. And to be honest Willow and me. Well, things aren't real chummy best friend like these days."

"Oh? I thought she'd gotten better."

"Well, yeah, but as it turns out Giles' warnings about magic always having repercussions was very accurate."

"Well, yes, magic isn't something to be messed with. What did she do? I can't imagine anything possibly more questionable than the things she did in Sunnydale the last couple of years."

She was quiet, debating on how much to tell. If to tell him at all. Then she remembered all of the times she'd gotten hurt, or someone else had, because she'd withheld information. She had no idea how much help Tasha would need from this point forward, but she'd feel horrible if something happened to Angel because he thought he had to protect Buffy somehow.

He would think that, too. Slayer or no, he'd do the chivalrous thing. She was a mother, had small children, and he'd put himself in front of her to take a blow from some baddie meant for her.

That sealed her decision. It wasn't so much going through life without him because there was always the chance he'd get staked one day. No, it was that if he did get staked she didn't want it to be as a result of him protecting her.

"Well, apparently when she did the spell to bring me back she forgot to put an expiration date on my return."

"What?"

"I was the warrior of the people, allowed to cross over, and now there's no going back to where I was."

"What does that mean, Buffy?"

"I'm here for good. Apparently, phrasing in spells is just as tricky as in prophecies. I was allowed to come back, whoever deemed it necessary the people's warrior be returned. But now I'm stuck here. Forever."

"That's why you don't look any different," he said his eyes wide as he stared at her.

"Yeah," she said, knowing what he meant. She'd look twenty-two forever.

"Steve knew?"

"Yes, I didn't find out until after we'd already gotten married so I had to tell him."

"How did you find out?"

"Well, I asked Tara to research things because I was having sex with Spike."

"A visual I do not need."

"Well, it's part of it. She was the one who knew I wasn't me when Faith pulled the body switching thing."

"Okay."

"Well, evidently while she found nothing wrong with me that allowed Spike to hurt me, she did sense something was different. She asked Willow to research it."

"Right."

"Well, we got kind of busy as life in Sunnydale will do. Apocalypse. Potential slayers swinging from the rafters of my house because we were full beyond capacity. The First."

"I get it," he said with a soft chuckle.

"What's so funny?"

"Picturing slayers swinging from rafters."

"Yeah, well, I'm only slightly exaggerating. It was bad. I mean, that house was not designed for three women let alone over a dozen."

"Right," he said with another chuckle.

"It wasn't funny."

"Oh, I can imagine."

"Yeah, yeah," she said.

"I don't know why you didn't use the mansion."

"I never even thought of it honestly," she said, wondering now why the idea hadn't occurred to her. She saw it on patrols so it wasn't as if it was out of sight out of mind. "But the next time it comes up there I'll be sure to remember."

"So, Willow found out she hadn't worded things specifically enough?"

"Right. Apparently, I'm viewed as the people's warrior so I have to stick around."

"I can't argue that."

"That may be, but I'm not going to die."

"It's not so bad," he said.

"I'm going to have to watch my kids die. Their kids die."

"That will be tough," he agreed. "Parents aren't supposed to see their kids die."

"I know, right? I think about that a lot. I watch them as they are sleeping and realize one day they're going to be grownups. Not too long after that they'll be gone and I'll still look like this."

"Just make the best of every day you have."

"And yet, you left."

"That," he said, standing from the headstone. He settled himself between her legs, drawing her to him to kiss her. His mouth found its way to her ear, kissing it before he continued. "Was entirely different. You weren't my child. I thought we were safer. The whole world was safer. With us apart."

"And you don't think that now?"

He shrugged, mouth at her neck now. He found his scar there and kissed it. "No."

"Why not? And don't tell me it's because I'm going to be around for a while."

"No, that has nothing to do with it. You asked me the other night if I could watch you die and I said I could. I was willing to do it this time, because I realize what a void there is in my life without you in it. No matter how you choose to be a part of it. I cut you out, and that was wrong but it was the only way I knew how to handle it at the time."

"I understand," she said softly as he kissed the scar again. His mouth skimmed lower along her collarbone to her shoulder, pushing aside her shirt collar there as he did. "Angel?"

"God, I love the way you call to me."

"Huh?"

"You. Everything about you. I'd forgotten. It's not just your blood, though that's definitely there, too."

"Eww."

He chuckled a little, kissing the skin at her shoulder. "But you. Your goodness, your light, your essence. What makes you not just the Slayer but Buffy. It's intoxicating. It's why I couldn't have stayed in Sunnydale. I wanted to lose myself in you just as The First prompted me to."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. It makes me feel alive in a way I can't describe."

She felt his fangs at the scar and she held her breath for a moment, eyes falling closed. She trusted him, but it'd been a while since she'd been this up close and personal with a vamp.

"Come home with me," he whispered.

"Oh God, Angel, I can't. We can't."

"Why? You could leave a message for Dawn, be home before Marcus and Sierra have to leave for school."

"Badness. Evilness. Soullessness."

He ran a fang along her jaw and she shivered instinctively.

"Not going to happen."

"How?"

"Permanent. Shaman bound it to me for good after Willow returned it the last time."

"How?"

"Magic of some sort. The Powers That Be didn't want to risk losing me from their side again over something like that."

His soul was permanent? He'd known it the last time he saw her in Sunnydale and said nothing? Not that there'd been a heck of a lot of time during his brief visit.

She pushed on his chest, pulling away from his gentle assault on her neck with the tips of his fangs.

"So you think that means we should hook up?"

"What? Hook up? Buffy, no. I have never treated you like that's all you were."

"Then what?"

"I told you I wanted to be a part of your life."

"You didn't mention sex or even wanting to be a couple. Until I revealed I'm going to be around for more than the next fifty years. And now suddenly you want to sleep with me."

"I wanted you to sleep with me the night in the motel. The other night at your house. Every night I've seen you I've wanted to kiss you, talk to you. That's why I came to your house, Buffy. I needed more."

"And you assume I do, too?"

"What? No! Why is my wanting you turning into an argument?"

"Oh God, Angel, it shouldn't, but I have to be sure that you want me. Buffy. Not immortal Buffy. Or whatever I am. I mean, they could be wrong. Or Willow could find a way to reverse it or change it somehow."

"Then I'd live with that."

Her hands went to his face, cupping either cheek. His human disguise had given way to his real one. "You would?"

"Yes!" It wasn't a shout, more of a growl, his demon surfacing.

"Hmm, which of you is more adamant about that answer?"

"Both of us are in agreement. You are ours. We want you back."

She ran her fingertips along the bumps of his game face gently. She'd never had a problem with him like this; he was always the one who shied away from letting her see him like this. He didn't shy away now.

"And if Willow finds a way to change it back thirty years from now?"

"If you decide you want her to go ahead with it, I'd respect that. I'd have to, Buffy. You're human and were always meant to be."

"And?"

"I'd stay until the end," he said, knowing what she was asking.

"Who's end?"

"Until the Summers' bloodline ends."

"And when Tasha's ready to be on her own?"

"When Giles ships you off to the next town in need of help, you mean?"

"Yeah," she said with a light laugh. A fingertip slid over the tip of a fang but he made no attempt to bite her.

"If you'll have me I'd go."

"Why? Why would you do that? What about your life?"

"My life is helping people. I can do that wherever you go. In fact, one could probably argue where you're sent is probably where I should be. I haven't been doing too good of a job of it since LA until coming here. Seeing you again, getting back involved with the slaying even if it is only from the sidelines, realizing I love you. This is what I'm here for, the stuff that makes it worth living. I've been alone for far too long."

"I have one condition."

"It seems to me you've just listed off a few already, but go ahead."

"Those weren't conditions. Those were questions needing answers."

"Okay, go ahead."

"You're not going to like it."

"Try me."

"I want you at full strength."

"Buffy."

"It'd be a huge advantage, Angel. Not just your strength and speed, but whatever other enhanced goodies would come with it. I'm offering, you're not asking."

"I'm not going to let your kids see your neck look like a human pincushion."

She tugged him to her and kissed him deeply, lips parting as her tongue stroked his lower lip. It was her turn to draw away and kiss along his jaw until she found his ear.

"I guess that just means you'll have to get creative on where you take it from."

"So, does that mean you're coming home with me?"

She gave a soft giggle, biting his neck. She stopped before drawing blood or leaving a mark.

"For now. We'll have to ease you into the kids' life a little before you can come stay with me."

"I understand. I'd feel weird if you were willing to bring me home to stay overnight so soon."

"Yeah."

"I have a question," he said. Judging by his hands sliding lower along her back to her hips she wasn't sure she wanted him to talk anymore.

"Okay," she said.

"What happened to the if you get involved with someone?"

"It was a question, to find out where you were. I had no plans on getting involved with someone again."

"What?"

"Please don't say you told me so, but I get it. I get why Mayor Wilkins' words hit you so hard. Steve and I didn't have fifty years together, but it was still hard watching him die knowing I couldn't. So, I get why you felt the way you did. Not to say I wouldn't have dated or whatever, but I had no plans on ever getting married or anything again."

"Well, I can't marry you."

"I know. I'm honestly not sure I'd want anything more about me in court documents anyway. You know? I mean, I haven't figured out the ins and outs of this living forever thing yet, but I think less of a paper trail is of the good."

"Very true, and I can help you with that. Living close to three centuries I have a few tricks up my sleeve. I can give you the anything, you know."

"I know that, too," she said softly.

"And that's all right with you?"

"I had the til death do I part thing. I lived it, I loved him, still love him, and will always love him. I hope you know that and are okay with that. I don't need a ring on my finger or a piece of paper signed by a priest or a judge telling me how I feel or how committed I'm going to be to someone."

"Oh, you'll have a ring."

"I will, huh?"

"Yes."

"Will it be big?"

"The biggest."

"Oh yeah?"

"It would have to be to be a true representation of how I feel for you."

"You think you can fit all of that into a ring?"

"If I could, Buffy, I sure would."

"Me, too," she said.

"Now, about this condition of yours."

"I'm not backing down on it, Angel. It's not fair to our side if you fight at less than full strength. It could be a huge advantage, especially if other vampires don't know you're fighting with us. Maybe you could help condition Tasha and other slayers so they aren't so susceptible to the mind tricks, too."

"As much as it bothers me, your point is a valid one. Before, though, it wasn't an option for a multitude of reasons least of which I'd never suggest you letting me feed off you. I know better than to argue with you, though."

"You do, huh?"

He chuckled, game face falling back into place as he nuzzled her neck again. A hand was sliding along her thigh, pushing the hem of her skirt up as it went.

"I think I have an idea on where to start."

~The End~