Buffy crept up the mansion stairs, listening. It was quiet. She looked up; the top of the stairs seemed to be glowing. He must have found the box of votive candles she had left. Angel liked light.
She topped the stairs and glanced into the bedroom. He was sitting cross-legged on the bed facing the doorway, and he smiled at her. The room was filled with light that swayed and flickered; he had lit candles and arranged them all over the bare floor of the room.
"Hi," he said.
"Hi," said Buffy, "I brought you-" she held out a package; it was a fresh blood bag packed in ice. He took it and set it on the floor.
"Thank you," he said.
"Are you OK?" he certainly looked better. He was calm now, and his eyes stayed on her the way they used to. She had almost forgotten the way they used to do that, following her hungrily everywhere she went. She loved it; she took off her jacket, deliberately slowing her movements just to watch the way he gazed at her.
"I'm getting there." he said, Won't your Mom worry?"
"I called her from Willow's,"
He blinked, and she saw a shadow cross his face, "How is Willow?"
Buffy had taken off her shoes and set down her pack. He moved over quickly as she sat down beside him, making room for her. He took one of her hands and held it.
"So, did you find out anything?"
"From Whistler-some things. Not everything. I still haven't gotten all of it,"
"It must be confusing,"
"It is. And-it hurts a lot," he was stroking her hand. She'd forgotten how his slightest touch brought up the heat in her. The nerves in her skin were beginning to waken, and he was only caressing the back of her hand.
"I bet it does hurt," she said softly.
He looked at her; his eyes welled up with so much love and regret that Buffy couldn't keep her hands off him. She slipped her arms around his neck.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"No," he said, "You can't be. None of this is your fault. You've got to stop that," his voice was still calm.
"I sent you-"
"You're the Chosen One," he interrupted her, "You did what no one else could have done. The world is still here, because of you. I'm so proud of you," he looked at her and smiled again, a soft smile, "I'm so proud, Buffy. What you did took so much courage, and so much love. Love for everything, love for me. I know what it did to you, Buffy. I wish you could have known what I was thinking on my way down, in the back of my mind I was so happy, because you won, again. You didn't let them beat you,"
The tears came up so quickly that Buffy was surprised by them. She sniffled, and then was seized by a full sob; no one could have known but him, and she needed to be told this, she needed it desperately, and she hadn't known until now.
"I admire you more now than I even used to," he said.
She craned closer to him. He took her in his arms and pushed himself back on the bed, pulling her with him; she lay against him with her head on his chest. He stroked her hair. She let loose a flood of tears while he held her.
"It's OK," he whispered to her, "It's OK now,"
"I thought I was going to die,"
"I ran away,"
She pushed herself up to face him.
"How can you know that? Did he tell you?"
"No," he laughed a little, "I felt everything you were feeling. I was with you, in a strange way,"
"But-you don't even remember things about you,"
"It's a funny thing," he said, "But if you love someone, it doesn't matter how powerful the forces at work are, demons, whatever. They can't stop it. Love happens anyway,"
She paused. "Angel?"
He was pushing hair out of her face. His fingers seemed to light up her skin.
"Do you-remember earlier tonight?" she asked.
His eyes met hers blankly. "When?"
"Earlier. You were still-disoriented. You didn't know where you were,"
"Oh," he said, almost in a whisper; his attention seemed completely focused on her ear, which he was tracing delicately, "No,"
Buffy swallowed, hard.
"We-we made love,"
His eyes widened in surprise. "We did?"
"Yeah, and then after, you were back again,"
His face took on a glow then, another smile curving, his eyes shining.
"I do remember," he said, "I remember love coming through like light, and I just went with that. You pulled me back, Buffy. I remember knowing you loved me, and that gave me what I needed to come back. But," his eyes were dancing now, "I missed the good part,"
Buffy sat up.
"I was so scared," she said, "I thought you were going to lose your soul again, I thought were going to be HIM again, and I looked for my stake, but then it was you. I thought I was dreaming. I didn't mean for it to happen. But you're here,"
He sighed. His eyes met hers solemnly.
"I'm stuck with my soul now, Buffy. It's part of the deal I made. There's other parts, too. Parts I don't like. But it's got to be that way,"
"Parts you don't like-like what?"
He held her hand again.
"Like-I can't be around you all the time," he said gently, "I weaken you. We can see each other, but not-not all the time. You have a lot to do. You're the strongest Slayer yet. You have to go where you're called, and I have things to do that I can't get out of. When I'm called, I have to go, too,"
"I'll see you as much as I can," he said, "And I'll always be there for you. You know that. But we have to lead different lives. It's not what I want, but it's the best I could get,"
"Who did you make this deal with?"
He shrugged, "The powers that be,"
Buffy was silent for a while. They sat beside each other in the soft light.
"I'll always love you, Buffy," he said. "You're my first love. Did you know that?"
"But-all those girls, from before,"
He laughed, "Manipulation. Desire. Not love, Buffy. I never felt it before. I loved you the minute I first saw you. That's never going to change. I'll never be that far from you, even if you have to move on, I'll always be here, more even than if we tried to have a human life together,"
Buffy was sniffling again. He stroked her hair.
"But-you're stuck with your soul?"
"So-what happened before-can't happen again?"
"No. I got a second chance,"
"I'm glad you got another chance," she said; her fingers traced his cheek. "You deserve it. I'm so glad you're back, I'm so glad you're here,"
"Well, I've got a chance to deserve something," he said. "I've got a lot of work to do,"
"Can I help you, too?"
"I'll never hesitate to ask you," he said, and she knew it was a promise.
Her tears began again. "Do you have to leave?"
"In a few days. But remember, Buffy, I'll never be that far,"
"I'll miss you awful,"
"Me, too," he said, "And I'll always be looking for a time to see you, if you want to,"
She slipped her arms around him. "I don't know how I'll do it,"
"In ways, it'll be better," he said, "I know it doesn't seem like that now, but the business we're in...is about to get even busier. There's going to be a lot to do,"
She pushed him back on the bed and crawled over him. She wrapped her arms and legs around him and buried her face in his neck.
"Hey," he said.
She lifted her head, "What?"
"I was wondering if you'd bring me up to speed,"
He smiled up at her; he traced her mouth with one finger, feather-light touches. "I need help to remember what we did, how you brought me back. I'd like to have that memory, too,"