In Friendship and Love


by Saber ShadowKitten
Sequel to Return from Hell
PG-13 Version



Angel opened his eyes. He was prone upon the cold floor of the old mansion. Blinking several times, he moved his head slowly, taking in his surroundings. Pain shot though his body. With a stifled cry, he froze, praying that it would stop.

Gritting his teeth, he pushed himself onto his knees. He shivered as the wind howled through the broken windows. Off to the left next to the fireplace he saw a room. Crawling slowly, he found a large bedchamber. He pulled himself onto the bed and under the covers, letting the pain send him into blissful unconsciousness.

Angel woke to find his surroundings the same. Hunger infused his body as he lay still, waiting for his mind to begin functioning. When it did, he had two distinct thoughts: *Where am I?*

*Buffy.*



Part Five




Everything hurt. And not just physically.

Nightmares plagued him day and night. Nightmares about his past, nightmares about hell, but worst of all, nightmares including Buffy.

Angel pushed himself weakly off the bed, quickly throwing on layers of clothing as he shivered, despite the hot August night. He was perpetually cold, as if ice ran under his skin, chilling him to his bones. He'd been back from the demon dimension for two weeks and he was still unable to venture further than the property surrounding the old mansion on Crawford Street. He wanted to so badly go out and find her, see her, but his emotional torment and guilt refused to let him take that first step past the gates.

He had been surprised to find he was out of hell, unsure of why, after hundreds of years of torment, they would just let him go free. He didn't deserve it, but was thankful to the fates for intervening, for stopping the horror of seeing Buffy being tortured over and over, courtesy of the devil. As soon as he was strong enough, he planned on repaying his debt by ridding the earth of evil as he had been trained to do by Whistler, what he should have stuck to instead of falling in love with the Slayer.

But even though what followed had caused unbelievable pain and suffering, he would never forget that one instant of pure joy and contentment he felt when Buffy gave herself to him, wholly, utterly, and with complete trust. It was the trust she'd shown him, not the physical act, that had caused the curse to break. And it was that trust he'd never be able to get back, not without the fear of him losing his soul.

But tonight, he was going to get past those gates and see her. Even if it killed him.


*****


"I can't believe that school starts next week already," Buffy said, plopping herself down on the merry-go-round in the park. She lay back on the hard metal and stared up into the night sky.

"I still can't believe I got in to school to begin with," Xander said, sitting on one of the swings next to Cordelia. "I thought I'd be flipping burgers for the rest of my life."

"Don't give up that dream," Cordelia said. "It'll give you some hope when you fail."

"I knew you could do it, Xander," Willow commented from her place on the park bench next to Oz. "Well, I hoped, anyway. But you did, and that's the important thing."

"Hey, man," Oz said, greeting the vampire that had just arrived. "Did you manage to scare up some good food?" The five friends groaned at Oz's pun.

"Oz, that was beyond bad," Buffy said, holding on as Spike began to push her. When she'd gone around once, he jumped onto the metal next to her, sitting with his back against one of the poles.

"Spike, you do know that its close to ninety degrees outside?" Cordelia said, eyeing the vampire's jeans and long sleeve shirt. "I thought we had this whole discussion of you joining the rest of civilization and blending in more."

"Someone didn't do laundry," Spike replied, looking down at the Slayer pointedly. "This was all I could find."

"Is it my turn already?" Buffy asked innocently. He swatted her leg. "Ok, ok. I'll do it tomorrow after training."

"Speaking of which, any doom and gloom scheduled for our last free weekend before we become college folk?" Xander asked.

"Not that I know of," Willow answered. "I've been setting up a database for Giles, cross-referencing prophecies, and nothing was mentioned."

"That's my little computer nerd," Oz commented, smiling at Willow.

"Then what say we par-tay?" Xander said. "Even fang boy can come."

Spike rolled his eyes at the teen's name-calling, eliciting a laugh from Buffy. "Joy," he said sarcastically. He leaned back and gave the merry-go-round another push with his hand.

"The Dingo's are playing on Saturday," Oz told them. "But afterwards I'm free."

"How about we start at the Bronze, then end at our place," Buffy suggested. "I'll even con Spike into getting us some booze."

"You're a little young to be drinking," Spike commented.

"You're a little old to be living," she shot back. He chuckled.

"Hey, Buffy?"

"Yeah, Xand?"

"Are you going to do anything about that vampire heading this way?" Xander asked, pointing.

Buffy lifted her head as they spun, seeing the vamp rushing towards them. She let the stake drop into her hand and threw on the next turn. The would-be killer was nothing more than a pile of dust.

"Cool," Oz said. "We didn't even have to move that time."


*****


Angel heard her beautiful laugh before he could see her. It floated across the park, light as air, and caressed his ears. He pushed himself to continue moving forward, bringing him closer to the group until he could see them clearly.

At first, he couldn't find Buffy. He saw Willow seated on a bench with a boy he dimly recalled having met once before, and Xander sitting on a swing with Cordelia one swing over, holding his hand. He wondered when the two of them had gotten together. Then he saw her.

His heart actually leapt at the sight of her long, golden legs, petite figure and blond hair as she climbed off the merry-go-round and grabbed one of the bars behind a dark-headed person that wasn't facing him. He heard her say for whoever to hold on, then began to run. Her laughter filled the air again as she leapt onto the metal, her head thrown back, hair blowing out behind her as she spun.

Then he saw four vampires come charging out of the bushes behind Willow. Without hesitation, he ran from the shadows, thinking four would be too much for Buffy to handle on her own. He heard Xander call out her name just as he came from the trees behind the swings, tackling two of the vamps.

Stake in hand, he dusted one of the vampires before he could stand, then jumped to his feet, spinning into a powerful kick at a second one's face. His head snapped with the blow as Angel stepped forward and punched him in the gut, then slammed his clenched fists up into the vamp's jaw. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Buffy and the dark-haired person attacking the other two as the Slayerettes stood together by the swings, crosses and holy water at the ready. With an expert blow, he drove the stake into the second vampire's heart, sending him exploding into a cloud of dust.

Silence permeated the playground as Angel slowly turned to face the group, his eyes going directly to Buffy. She stood there, staring at him with huge, frightened eyes. "Do you s-see him?" she asked, frozen in place.

"I do," Willow squeaked, holding on to Oz for dear life. Cordelia was clinging to Xander in a similar fashion.

"Angel?" Buffy questioned in a breathless whisper.

Angel looked at her with pain filled, brown eyes and nodded. "Um…the curse worked," he said quietly.

Buffy's response was her eyes rolling back up into her head as she started to faint. He saw the person who had been standing peripherally in his vision rush up and catch her before she hit the ground. Angel took a step forward and was suddenly met with a loud growl as the person who caught her brought his head sharply up, glaring at him with deadly, yellow eyes that he would recognize anywhere. "Spike?"

"Stay back, whatever you are," Spike growled. "Or I'll rip your bloody head off."

Willow, Oz, Xander and Cordelia began to form a semi-circle behind the prone Buffy and crouching vampire, their crosses clutched tightly in their hands. Willow knelt down by her friend's blond head and tried to wake her, all the while keeping a wary eye on Angel. "Buffy?"

Buffy's eyes blinked open as she heard a low, steady growling emanating close by. She looked up to see Willow's worried and frightened face, then flicked her eyes to see Spike's demonic visage as he hovered protectively by her side. She'd only seen him do this once before, when she'd been knocked unconscious on one of their patrols and she wondered what he was growling at. Then, she remembered.

Angel.



Part Six




"Is he still there?" Buffy asked Willow quietly, her eyes wide and fearful. Willow nodded. She sat up and Spike immediately put his hand on her shoulder, his growl tapering off as she stared at the vampire ten feet away. The vampire who she'd seen turn to dust before her eyes six months earlier from the stake driving into his back by the no-longer-blond vampire at her side.

Slowly, she stood, Spike rising with her still his vampiric image. She took one step towards Angel, then stopped, her heart hammering in her chest. Eyes not leaving his for fear of him disappearing, she reached her left hand back blindly. The cool, familiar feeling of Spike's hand in hers, the metal of his ring pressing into her, gave her the strength she needed to speak.

"Angel?" Buffy said, her voice trembling. She walked forward in a daze, Spike one step behind her and at her side until she was standing within arms reach of him. With a shaking right hand, she tentatively pressed her fingers against his chest.

Angel closed his eyes at the contact. He'd never thought he'd feel her touch again, knew he didn't deserve it even this, but reveled in it none the same. Slowly so as not to scare her, he brought his hand up and covered hers, as he opened his love and pain filled eyes.

"I-I..." Buffy stammered before coming to a halt. She swallowed heavily, then turned her head to her rock, her anchor, her best friend - Spike.

Spike was coiled tighter than a spring, all his senses on alert, ready to strike in an instance. Whoever this was perpetrating his sire was good, very good. He couldn't sense any difference. But the vampire in front of them had to be an impostor. He was the one who shoved the stake into Angel. He was the one to see the stunned look in Buffy's eyes as the dust crumbled onto the ground. He was the one who'd lost Drusilla, his love, because of his actions.

He felt Buffy's hand tighten within his, the metal of his ring undoubtedly cutting into her hand at the strength of her grip. Yellow eyes met hazel, and he forced himself to calm down, to put on the human mask he normally wore. Now, he could read the emotions in her eyes, the fear, the hope, the uncertainty as to what to do next. "Tomorrow, sunset, here," Spike said, not moving his eyes from Buffy's.

Angel nodded, to whom he wasn't sure, but he released Buffy's hand none-the-less. He didn't know what game Spike was playing with her, but he'd be here tomorrow night to find out. As quickly as he came, he disappeared back into the shadows.

Everyone stood stunned, not moving. Willow clung to Oz. Cordelia clung to Xander. Buffy stared at the place Angel had been, her whole body trembling. "Spike, take me home," she managed to get out before lapsing into silence.


*****


The second Oz dropped them off at their apartment, Spike picked Buffy up in his arms and brought her to her bedroom. They had only been living there for two months, having decided to move out of her mom's house after graduation. The small apartment complex was nestled in the heart of Sunnydale, a hidden beauty with a large courtyard draped in ivy, the stone walls casting romantic shadows around a center fountain where the two of them had splashed in the water the day they moved in.

Gently, he began to remove her clothing as she sat slumped on her double bed, her head downcast, staring at nothing. Biting the inside of his cheek, he forced his anger down as well as his fear. Lifting her naked body up slightly, he put her under the covers, then quickly stripped and joined her in the bed, curling his body around hers. It had been awhile since he'd done this, not since the week after they'd moved in after the housewarming party. The alcohol combined with the move had got them thinking they were acting like newlyweds, and that led to them thinking about love, which led to thinking about the ones they'd lost.

When the first tremor wracked her body, Spike's arms tightened around her, and he kissed the back of her head. "I'm here, luv," he whispered reassuringly as the tears came. He felt like he was being torn apart with each sob, as if her pain were his own. They had come so far in healing together, and now....

"Spike?" Buffy said after the tears had abated. "Why is he back? Why would they do this to me again? Why?"

"I don't know, pet," Spike replied softly, stroking her stomach with his cool fingers.

She suddenly turned, wrapping her arms around his lean waist and pressed her mouth to his. Her fingers dug into his back as she rubbed her pelvis against him frantically, seeking him to fill her, to stop the feelings that were rolling inside of her.

The tears came again, mingling with the sweat on their skin as Spike joined with her. They both climaxed without sound, then he held Buffy against him as she fell into an emotionally drained sleep.

"I don't know what I should do, luv," Spike whispered as he listened to her even breathing. "But I'll be here for you. You're my best friend, which is bloody ridiculous when you think about it." He looked down at the fragile, petite girl in his arms. "I don't want to see you hurt again."


*****


Spike grabbed the phone off the nightstand on the first ring. "Hello?"

"Spike?"

"Hello, Watcher," Spike replied, extracting himself from the sleeping Slayer's arms and heading out of the bedroom. "I take it you heard."

"Yes, Willow called me," Giles replied over the line. "How is she?"

"About as good as I am, mate," he replied, unknowingly echoing the statement Buffy told her mom all those months ago. "I'm going to meet with him tonight..."

"Alone?"

"Yes," Spike said. "If I think he's who he says he is, I'll bring him back here."

"Would you like it if I were there?" Giles asked.

"Now that you mention it, yes," he said. "I'm betting that Willow and Oz will be here later, so they can keep an eye on the Slayer."

"Very well. I shall meet you at the park at sunset," Giles said. After good-byes were given, Giles hung up the phone and wearily rubbed his eyes. Willow had called him last night and it had taken all of his patience not to call over at the apartment until now.

He didn't want to believe the redhead at first. They had all seen Spike plunge the stake into Angel's heart, cleaned up the dust on the floor, witnessed the devastation Buffy had gone through in mourning. But talking with the vampire over the line had confirmed the possibility that, indeed, Angel had returned.

"But how?" Giles asked aloud, his eyes focused on the picture of the whole Scooby Gang that hung on the library office wall. It had been taken just two weeks ago at the faire at one of those old time photo venders. Willow, Cordelia, Buffy and Joyce all wore long ladies dresses with tightly cinched waists from the 1800s. Xander, Oz, Spike and himself had worn jackets and ties, with the vampire wearing a hat.

Giles smiled at the memory of Spike's embarrassment over the state of his hair, making sure that the teens didn't see it. On Monday night after the faire, Buffy had taken him to a hairdresser, who cut it in a long, spiky style and dyed it back to his natural color of brown. The effect on his appearance had been drastic. Gone was the hard, punk vampire. In his place was Buffy's best friend.

Shaking his head, Giles started towards the cage to pull some volumes to research as he thought about the fact that his Slayer had a vampire for a best friend, and Spike no less. But he had also seen the empty vampire when he'd first returned to Sunnydale, the skin and bones creature that was no where near the strong, powerful master he had been.

Then the healing had begun. Giles would be forever grateful to Spike for bringing Buffy back from the dead, for bringing life back into her eyes. He only put up a token protest when the two of them had moved into an apartment together, as did Joyce, but they had seen first hand the bond the two had created which nothing could break. And now, more than ever, the strength of their friendship would be needed.

"I think that is an understatement, old man," Giles said to himself at the last thought. Turning his attention to the familiar tomes, the Watcher set about doing what he did best - research.



Part Seven




"Where's Buffy?" Angel asked as he stepped out of the darkness to meet with the two standing in the park.

"You are not going to get within a thousand meters of her unless I bloody say so," Spike growled at him. "Now, who are you?"

Angel frowned, answering what he thought was the real question. "I don't know why I returned from the demon dimension, but I did."

"When was that?" Giles asked, taking control of the ‘interrogation' before Spike could speak.

"Roughly two weeks ago," Angel answered. "I found myself on the floor of the mansion. Since then I've been trying to regain my strength."

"Do you remember anything previous to that?"

"Just Hell," Angel replied painfully. Giles nodded and looked thoughtfully at the ensouled vampire. "I know that this won't make a difference, but I am sorry. For everything."

At his pain-filled voice, Giles knew that it was indeed Angel standing before them. He had forgiven the vampire for his actions back in March, finally putting Jenny to rest in his mind after finding a letter from her hidden amongst the things in his desk drawer. In it, she had written about forgiveness and separating the demons that plagued everyone. Her demon had been her duties to the Calderash clan, his had been, as she pointed out, the ‘Ripper.' Giles applied her logic to Angel, and had no choice but to forgive him as he forgave her. It still hurt, but death always did.

"Angel, I know there is someone who wants to-to see you," Giles said in reply. "But you will not be alone with her until she says so, understood?"

Angel nodded, grateful for any glimpse of the woman he loved more than his own life. He turned his eyes to Spike, who was still glaring hatefully at him as they walked to Giles' car. He would have to put off his questions until later.


*****



"Give me a minute," Spike said, climbing out of the car and walking quickly through the archway into the courtyard. He opened the door to the apartment, seeing the occupants in the same place they were sitting when he and Giles had left.

"Is it Deadboy?" Xander asked, pushing off the couch to his feet.

Spike nodded, his eyes meeting Buffy's as she sat huddled in her favorite chair. He didn't want to do this. "You don't have to do this," he told her, altering his thought.

"I want to," she replied quietly, her voice trembling slightly. He nodded again, then motioned for Xander and Oz to join him in the kitchen. "Be alert, but let Buffy lead. Don't say anything that will hurt her anymore than she is," he instructed, looking pointedly at Xander.

They heard a knock at the front door and went back into the living room as Giles entered, leaving Angel standing on the opposite side of the threshold. Everyone stared at him, their looks varying from hostile, to trepidation, to fear. It was the fear that cut into him, because it came from Buffy, so he was surprised beyond belief when she was the one to invite him inside.

"Angel, come in," Buffy said, standing.

He entered and closed the door behind him, the feeling of being trapped descending upon him. He was walking into a home filled with people he'd tormented for months, people who kept staring at him like a cell under a microscope.

Buffy walked over towards him slowly, as if moving through molasses, coming to a halt less than three feet away. Taking a deep breath, Buffy steeled herself for what she was about to do. "Take off your shirt," she instructed.

"What?" Angel said, confused, his brows netting together.

"Please?" Buffy said. "I have to know..."

Angel nodded and shed his jacket, letting it drop to the floor before removing his sweater and T-shirt. He would do anything she said, trusted her implicitly. He shivered as the air hit his skin, cursing mentally at the feeling.

"Turn around," Buffy said, then pressed her lips together as he did. When she saw his back, she squeezed her eyes shut to hold back the tears, then reopened them and reached her hand out. "Do you remember?" she asked the occupants in the room, running her fingers lightly over the puckered scars. "These are from the barbed whips," she said. "And this one is where the Devil opened him and crushed his spine." She ran her hand down the long, white line that ran from the base of his neck to the waistband of his pants.

"How...how do you know?" Angel asked with a choked voice at the memories her words invoked.

"You don't remember?" Buffy asked as she walked around to the front of him. She tilted her head to look into his eyes.

"Remember what?"

"February," she replied.

"I wasn't here in February," Angel said. "I've only been here for two weeks."

Buffy frowned in confusion, her gaze turning to Giles. "But..."

"I managed to unearth information regarding this...er, situation," Giles told her. "When someone is-is ejected from the demon dimension for reasons other than to do the Devil's bidding, he will be unable to die except by the manner he was sent to the hell to begin with. Each time he dies in a different manner, he will return to life within six months. He should have his memories from the last time he was here, but per-perhaps since he had amnesia, that was what carried over."

The occupants in the room were stunned, but two in particular. The two who were effected the most by Giles' revelation.

Spike pushed himself off the wall and retreated to his room, the pain he was feeling making him stumble the last few steps before he allowed himself to collapse onto the floor, his knees pulled to his chest, arms wrapped around them as he leaned back against the bed.

Buffy stared wide-eyed at Angel as joy filled her heart at what Giles had said sunk into her brain. Angel couldn't die, couldn't leave her alone again. She could love him without fear. "Angel!" she exclaimed, throwing herself in his arms and holding him tightly. "I love you, I love you, I love you!"

Angel hung onto Buffy, inhaling her scent, feeling her warmth, wondering what he did to be blessed that she would say those words to him again, after all he had done. "Oh god, Buffy," he whispered into her hair. "I love you, too."

Buffy looked up at him and smiled brightly through the tears coursing down her face. "You don't know how much I've dreamed of you saying those words to me again," she said. "I woke up so many times sobbing because you were gone. If it wasn't for Spike, I would have killed myself, and I wouldn't come back like you did!"

"Spike?" Angel asked incredulously.

"Yes, Spike. He's my bestest friend. Isn't that right, Spike?" Buffy called out. When she didn't get an answer, she looked around Angel's shoulder to where Spike had been standing. Then it hit her. "Oh god."

Breaking out of Angel's embrace, she ran down the hall to Spike's bedroom. When she saw him, she practically dove to the floor next to him, wrapping her arms around his stiff body. "Oh god, Spike. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry," she repeated, rocking him slightly.

"She wouldn't have killed..." Spike cut off his sentence with a choked sob, his eyes tightly closed as the tears streamed down his face.

"I know, I know," Buffy whispered, her heart filling with pain. Angel, her love, her soulmate, had returned. But Drusilla never would.



Part Eight




"So, you don't remember anything that happened before?" Xander asked Angel as he redressed.

"No," Angel replied, wondering why the mood of the room had shifted from hostility to acceptance.

"Bummer," Oz said.

"Oh! Then he doesn't know about the curse!" Willow exclaimed. "Angel, there is no happiness clause in the spell I cast."

"Are you sure?" Angel asked.

"It's already been tried...oops," Willow blushed. "You won't remember that either. Um...Buffy and you, when you were here in February..."

"Oh," Angel said as she trailed off. He looked down at his feet, embarrassed and uncomfortable until he had to ask what was on his mind. "Why are...why aren't..."

"Why aren't we turning you into dust?" Cordelia interpreted. "We've already forgiven you, Angel. But since you don't remember, I guess you wouldn't know that, would you? Oh, and we also know all about the disgusting stuff that happened to you in hell. Ick."

Angel looked at each person in the room. "I don't know how you all can be so forgiving, but thank you." He turned his head to the hallway which Buffy had disappeared down. "Do you mind if I ask you about Spike?"

"Don't you just love his hair?" Cordelia said. "It's much better than that blond he had."

Xander rolled his eyes, making Willow and Oz laugh. "I don't think he meant why fang boy got a haircut."

"Angel, Spike is Buffy's best friend," Willow told the vampire. "Without him, Buffy would probably be dead by now."

"Why?"

"Because when you died in February, she died with you," Oz summarized.

Angel was about to ask another question when Buffy entered the room, looking sad. "What's wrong, Buffy?"

"Spike. This is hurting him, hurting me," she said, twisting the friendship ring on her finger. She looked over at her friends. "I hate to be rude..."

"Say no more, Buffy," Giles interrupted. "Angel, shall I give you a ride back to the uh, mansion?"

"No," Buffy said. "I want Angel to stay. That is, if you want to."

"Of course," Angel replied.

"Let me know if there's anything I can do," Willow said, giving Buffy a hug as they moved to leave.

"Thanks, Will," Buffy responded. After they all had left, Buffy locked the door and turned to the man in her living room. "There's uh, blood in the fridge if you want some." He gave her a puzzled look. "It's Spike's extra stash," she told him, then chuckled. "For those midnight snacks."

"Thanks," Angel said.

"You can sleep in my room," Buffy said, leading him down the short hall. "It's sunproofed, like the rest of the apartment. I know you're probably cold, like last time, so the extra blankets are in the chest at the end of the bed."

"I don't want to kick you out of your bed. I can take the couch," Angel told her.

"Not necessary. I'll be in with Spike," she replied.

"What?" Angel's eyes widened.

"I'll explain later, after he falls asleep," Buffy told him. "Feel free to snoop around. I have to get back to him now." She hugged him suddenly, then stepped back. "I love you."

"I love you, too," he replied, touching her cheek with his finger. She smiled at him and touched his hand, then turn and left the bedroom. He heard the other bedroom door open and close, then sighed. He didn't know what to make of the whole situation and his feelings were in a turmoil at the admissions of forgiveness and love.

Turning, Angel surveyed the gaily decorated bedroom. It was pure Buffy, a mixture of toughness and femininity, with stakes and holy water piled next to makeup on the dresser. He walked over to a group of pictures that adorned the mirror. There were a few snapshots of her friends, but mostly ones of her and Spike, laughing, smiling or making faces at each other.

Spike. Seeing him again had been a surprise. Angel could not fathom the reason for his childe's presence in Buffy's life. The way she spoke about him was with a tenderness that led him to believe they had a close relationship. But why? How had it come about? Why did it seem that everyone trusted the vampire? And most importantly, where was Drusilla?


*****


Buffy closed the door to Spike's bedroom and turned to the man still sitting on the floor, staring at nothing. Tears welled in her eyes, but she pushed her emotions down. She needed to be strong for him. As he did the night before, she pulled him to his feet, then removed his clothes before tucking him in the bed. Stripping, she joined him under the covers, their positions mimicking the night before only with Buffy as the comforting one. She pressed up against his back, holding him close.

Suddenly, she was on her back and he was savagely kissing her. He joined with her forcefully, desperately, and she felt his tears on her skin as he sought to drive his emotions away.

As suddenly as he started, he finished. Buffy pulled him close as he collapsed on top of her, his body shaking as the sobs started. "I'm here, Spike. I've got you. I'm not leaving you," she cooed, stroking his hair as he cried.

Eventually, his cries tapered off as he fell into an emotionally exhausted sleep, still lying on top of her. She held him like that for another ten minutes, not concerned about his weight, and let her own tears come. Tears of sadness, tears of pain, tears for her best friend who had been struck with a devastating blow to his fragile heart. She vowed to herself that, despite Angel being returned to her, she would put Spike first. Without him, she wouldn't be alive to see her love again.

Sometimes the bonds of friendship were more important than the bonds of love.



Part Nine




"Hi," Buffy said, entering the room and sitting on the couch next to Angel. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying.

"Are you ok?" Angel asked, worried.

"Yeah," Buffy replied, putting her hand over his. "You're probably dying of curiosity about Spike, aren't you?"

"I'm already dead," Angel joked softly. Buffy's eyes widened, then she started to laugh. The sound was music to his ears.

"Ok," Buffy said after she had calmed down. "First, I love you. I always have and I always will."

"I love you, too," Angel replied. "Nothing can change that."

"Good, because even though I love you more than breathing, Spike comes first," Buffy said. "And if he needs you to leave, I want you to go."

"I don't understand."

"Why don't I start at the beginning," Buffy said. "Last February, you returned from hell, even though you don't remember it. You had amnesia, and didn't remember anything about any of us. Not even the fact that you were a vampire."

"Then how did I feed?" Angel asked.

"You drank blood out of a Styrofoam container. I told you it was juice," Buffy replied. "Anyway, Giles hypnotized you and you told us everything that happened to you in hell." She gave him a pain-filled look. "I'm sorry I had to send you there."

"It's ok," Angel said, squeezing her hand. "You had to do it. You had no choice."

Buffy nodded and went on. "Did you know that the two times I made love to you were followed by the two of the most horrific events in my life? The first time, I released your soul." She pressed her lips together for a minute, composing herself. "The second time you were killed right in front of my eyes."

"By who? And why?"

She cleared her throat, wiping her eyes with her free hand. "I have to tell you the whole story of that night for you to understand. Spike had called me out of the blue that night, informing me that Drusilla had run away from him. We had a deal that if he helped me against you, I would let him take Drusilla and leave the country."

"So, that's why he clobbered me," Angel said.

"Yup," Buffy agreed. "He loved her so much, he sided with his mortal enemy to get her back."

"But Drusilla ran away from him," Angel prompted.

"She was coming back here, looking for you," she said. "She ambushed us in the library, and while we were fighting, she used her mojo on your mind. She broke through your amnesia...and brought Angelus back."

"Oh, no," he said, paling at the thought.

"After I had gotten you back, I lost you again," she continued in a quiet, choked voice. "Spike happened to be standing behind you with a stake in his hand. Then, you were dust. I broke that night and it took someone in the same amount of pain I was in to bring me back from the darkness."

"Who?" Angel said.

"Spike," Buffy answered. "A month after you had been killed, he arrived on the doorstep, an empty shell of what he was. Drusilla had killed herself to be with you." She stood and walked over to a small chest in the corner. "We were two in the same, our hearts torn to shreds by the death of our loved ones. Together, we fought that all consuming pain, becoming closer than any two people can get without being in love. And for that, he will always come first. Without him, I would have let the darkness overtake me."

"I understand why he'll come first," Angel said. "But why do I have to leave if he wants me to go?"

"Angel, you came back," Buffy replied, taking a doll out of the chest and smoothing out her dress. "Drusilla won't."

"And I'm a reminder of that fact," Angel concluded as he watched Buffy gently put Miss Edith back in the chest. He saw her take something else out before she closed the lid and returned to his side.

"Do you remember when you gave this to me?" Buffy said, holding up a chain with a Claddagh ring on it. "You said if I wore it pointing in on my left hand, it meant my heart was taken."

"Yes," Angel said, knowing he wasn't required to respond further.

"See this?" she said, holding up her right hand. "It means that my heart has been filled by my best friend." She unhooked the chain and slid the Claddagh ring off, then held it between her fingers. "Angel, if I put this back on pointing inward, it means you accept that. It's kinda like a package deal."

"Buffy," Angel said, taking the ring from her hand. "I would take your love any way I can get it." He took her left hand in his and slid the ring home, heart pointing inward.

"Oh, Angel," Buffy sighed, crawling across the couch and onto his lap. Their eyes met and her breath caught at the love shining from his dark eyes.

"I love you, Buffy," Angel whispered.

"I love you, too," Buffy whispered in return.

Slowly, they brought their lips together for the first of many kisses to come.


End