AUTHOR: Katriena Knights
SUMMARY: Buffy gets a pleasant surprise on her thirtieth birthday.
RATING: R to R+ for romance novel-level sexual content.
NOTE: Doesn't jive 100% with canon.  I had not seen S5-6 when I wrote
this, as I was VERY late on the Buffy Bandwagon.  :-)
DISCLAIMER: Not mine, just playing

"What's it been? Over a decade? It still smarts like it was four minutes
--"Flinch," Alanis Morissette

*She sensed him before she saw him, and she turned, and there he was,
walking out into the light, bathed in the light, smiling and beautiful,
covered with light.

Then they were inside, and he touched her hand, and she was in his arms,
his mouth on hers. Her legs around his waist as he laid her down on the
kitchen table.

All around her, on top of her, inside her.

"I'll never forget, I'll never forget, I'll never forget . . ."*

"So where the heck is Giles?" Buffy looked at her watch, then frowned
across the table at Willow. "He's late."

"Not really," said Willow. "You said one-ish, not one on the dot."

"Hey, I can't sit around all day waiting for him. I've got things to do,
demons to see, vampires to slay." She sank back in her chair, sighing,
wondering why she was so irritated.

"He'll be here." Willow took a corn chip out of the basket in the middle
of the table. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine." She puffed out a breath. "I'm just . . .tired."

"Not sleeping?"

"Sleeping. Dreaming. A lot."

"Oh, dreams! Fun ones?"

"A little too fun."

Willow perked up a little more. "Sexy dreams?"

"Yes. About . . ." She stopped, then mouthed the name, thinking it might
not be so difficult to say if she didn't vocalize. "Angel."

"Sexy dreams about Angel?"

"That's what I said, Will. But . . . it's not just dreams. It's like
those dreams I get that come true. Except those are usually scary and
these are just . . ."



"What do you think it means?"

"What do you think what means?"

Buffy jumped at the sound of Giles' voice behind her. "Do you mind not
sneaking up? I get enough of that on the job."

"Sorry." Giles sat between the two women. "Am I late? I didn't intend to

"No," said Willow. "It's still one-ish."

"Well, then, happy birthday, Buffy."

"Thank you." She made a face. "Except I'm wondering if it's tempting
fate, doing this a day early. I mean, you know how my birthdays always
suck. Aren't we just automatically cursing this day by making it my fake
birthday? And if my birthdays always suck, shouldn't my thirtieth
birthday bode something practically apocalyptic?"

"Last year wasn't so bad," Willow put in.

"True." She smiled. "I met Brad."

"That's a good thing, right?"

"So far."

Giles studied her face. "Is there something wrong? Or have you just
become overly cynical in your old age?"

"I am not old, Giles. And I'll never be as old as you." She shrugged.
"But yeah, maybe I've gotten a little cynical. I mean, who wouldn't,
doing what I've been doing for the last fourteen years? And now I've got
Brad, and he's Mr. Normal Guy, finally, and now I just want to be Mrs.
Normal Gal, and settle down and shell out some babies and not have to
worry about killing demons." She blinked, surprised to find herself near
tears. "Is there some way I can do that, Giles? Haven't I been at this
long enough?"

"I'm afraid I'm a bit out of my depth here, Buffy. I honestly don't know
if there's a way for a Slayer to retire gracefully."

"Death the only way out, huh?" Buffy poked the salsa in the dish with a
chip. "I'm just tired. Tired of all of it."

Giles nodded soberly. "I was doing some research this week and I
discovered that you are the first Slayer to attain the ripe old age of
thirty." Buffy gave him a cold look. "You know what I mean. Every other
Slayer has died much younger. So perhaps there is some way to bow out,
due to the length of your duty."

"I hope so. Because getting tired, and getting cynical, and getting
older, do you know what it's going to get me? It's going to get me dead."

The others looked at her in silence for a moment, Giles sober, Willow
with her eyes wide and worried.

"Maybe the dreams mean something," Willow said after a moment.

"What dreams?" asked Giles. "Have you been having dreams, Buffy?"

Buffy nodded. "Yes. I don't think they mean anything, though. I think
it's just one of those, 'What might have been,' things."

Giles' interest was piqued by now. "What are they about?"


"Ah. I see." He paused. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No, and neither do you, because, as I'm sure you've already figured
out, they involve naked monkey-sex. So let's get this birthday thing
over, get Willow on the plane to Hawaii, and then we'll see what
horrible catastrophe befalls tomorrow."

The catastrophe didn't wait until the next day. When Buffy came home,
four hours later, feeling more cheerful, as well as stuffed with Mexican
food and margaritas, there was a note on the table.

"Buffy--I've been thinking about this for a long time, and I don't think
I can take it anymore. I've taken some of my stuff out of the house, and
I'll be back for the rest later. Sorry--I know my timing sucks. Take
care, Brad."
Per Buffy's request, Willow called as soon as she arrived at her hotel.
Once she was certain Willow was all right, Buffy told her about Brad's
birthday gift.

"I mean, can you believe it, Will? I came home yesterday and he was just
. . .gone. He left a note telling me he'd be back for his stuff." Buffy
slumped over the table, pushing a hand through her hair, not sure yet if
she was going to cry.

"Burn it," said Willow, her voice a bit tinny over the phone. "Burn it

"Burn what?"

"His stuff. Put it in a pile on the lawn and burn it."

Buffy couldn't hold back a smile. "Jeez, Will. Vindictive much?"

"It's the only way to deal with men who treat you poorly. Well, that or
kick them square in the balls."

Buffy laughed. "Thanks, Will. You've put things in perspective. Maybe
I'll try the latter option. I really don't want to accidentally burn
down my house."

"Yeah, that's a good point. Listen, Buffy, do you want me to come home?
Because I will, if you need somebody."

"No, I'm fine." She took a long, sighing breath, and realized she
actually was fairly fine. "You enjoy Hawaii. You deserve a vacation once
in a while."

"Okay, if you're sure. So what are you going to do?"

"I'm gonna go out and stake a couple vamps. Pretend they're Brad."

"Be careful, Buff."

She had every intention of being careful. She grabbed a bag of stakes
and headed out to the graveyard.

"Can't take it anymore," she muttered, finding a comfortable seat on top
of a headstone. "Can't take what? The devoted girlfriend? The nice
house? The reasonably decent sex?" Still, she couldn't figure out why
she wasn't sadder. Brad had been a good, stable influence. Normal and
pleasant, and he worked at night, which had been a plus. So why hadn't
it worked? Why didn't it ever work? Not with Riley, not with Benjamin,
or Andrew, and now Brad. Her brief interlude with Spike she tried from
time to time to scour out of her brain, and Angel . . . well, that was
still better not talked about.

"I might as well just face it." She leaned her chin on a fist, a fist
with a stake in it, at the ready. "I'm never going to settle down and
have kids. I'm just going to spend every damn night in this damn
graveyard killing damn vampires."

"You got that right. Except for the last part."

Buffy swung around at the voice. It was a lispy voice, the voice of a
vamp with a mouth full of fangs. She brought her fist around as she
turned, sinking the stake into the vampire's chest. He stared at her a
moment in shock, then dusted.

"You know, leave off the taunting and you might have lived through that
encounter," she told the bit of drifty ash it left behind.

"There's still a chance you won't."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Again with the taunting." She turned around the
other way. The vamp had had friends. More than one. Six vamps stood in
front of her. "Oh, happy frickin' birthday," she said, and got to work.

The first three went down easy, even coming at her all at once. She
hadn't lost her reflexes, and she proved that every night. But something
else was wrong tonight. She couldn't stop thinking, This is all there
is, all there will ever be. I have nothing else in my life to look
forward to.
Maybe working out her emotional trauma in the graveyard hadn't been such
a good idea, after all.

One of the remaining three vamps clubbed her across the face. She
staggered back, then dragged herself forward again and put a stake
through him. "That hurt, you son of a bitch!" The last two vamps closed
on her and she swung at the first, kicking and punching for all she was
worth. She could feel the adrenaline pumping through her system,
heightening her awareness. Too much. She was losing control.
Emotionally, physically. Through force of will, she dragged her control

Too late. One of the vamps had her, pinning her arms behind her back.
The other came at her. She shoved her feet up, using the vamp behind her
as leverage, and kicked the other in the chest, shoving him back. But
the other still had her pinned, and she flinched as teeth clamped on her

And suddenly he was gone, dusting in a sharp whoosh. She lunged forward,
toward the last one, but he had turned and was running pell-mell across
the graveyard. Away from whatever had staked his friend. Instead of
catching him, she hit the ground. Buffy gathered herself, trusting that
whoever had helped her was a good guy and wouldn't kill her while she
was on the ground shaking.

"Are you okay?"

She froze. And then, carefully, she looked up. "Angel?"

He bent, holding a hand down to help her up. She took it.

"Are you okay?" he said again.

"Yeah, I am now." On her feet now, she let go of his hand. She didn't
want to. "Thanks for the save."

"Did he bite you?"

She rubbed her neck. "A little." There was blood on her fingers. "It'll
be fine. I think he only got a couple of teeth in." She peered up at
him. "Why are you here?"

"Just came to wish you a happy birthday. I know thirty can be a little

She gave him a cold look. "You, buster, are in no position to rib me
about my age."

"I know." He paused, his eyes fixated on her, dark and melty. Chocolate
eyes, she thought suddenly. Sweet and brown. "You look . . ." He trailed

"Yeah, I know. I look older." So maybe she was being a little over
sensitive. "It happens. Not to you, but--"

"You look beautiful."

She blinked at him. After all these years of scouring him out of her
heart, he could still walk into her favorite cemetery and have her
wrapped around his finger in a matter of sentences. She couldn't say she
liked it very much. It wasn't fair.

"I don't see any large, wrapped packages," she said darkly. "Don't tell
me you came all this way and didn't bring presents."

"Actually, I did." He studied her again. There was something odd in his
eyes, something evaluating. "Could we go grab some coffee?"

"Ten years I don't hear from you and now you want to grab some coffee?"


She shrugged, trying to ignore the fist squeezing her heart. "Sure. And
if you tell me there's an apocalypse on the way, it'll be just like old


"I'm sorry. You saved my life and I'm being a bitch. It's just . . . I
had a really bad day."

"Then you need cake."

She smiled. "I have cake. At home. Ice cream cake."

"Then what are we waiting for?"

Part 2

He paused in her doorway, as if expecting to be thrown back. But she
didn't need to invite him in anymore--he had a standing, all-access pass.

"Everything looks pretty much the same," he commented, looking around.
He took off his coat and she hung it on the coat tree. She looked at the
coat, then back at him.

"Yeah, it kinda does."

"I mean the house."

"I mean your face, and your fancy leather coat."

"It's not the same coat."

"Damn close." She let her gaze sweep the house. She never really paid
that much attention to it. "I haven't changed much of it, I guess.
Except the bedrooms, because--" She broke off. There were things down
that path best left unsaid.
He left it alone and followed her into the kitchen. "Don't feel
obligated to eat cake with me if you don't want to," she said.

"What good is misery if you can't share it? I'll take a piece."

"And coffee?"

"Decaf if you've got it."

"That's right. I forgot. You don't like the manly stuff."

"Keeps me up all day."

She started the coffee and pulled the ice cream cake out of the freezer.
It was chocolate and peanut butter, with vanilla ice cream.

*Why didn't you ever tell me about chocolate and peanut butter?*

"Huh?" She spun around, to see Angel sitting at the table, hands clasped
in front of him, waiting for his cake. "Angel, did you say something?"


"Weird. I could have sworn you said-- You know what, never mind. I'm
really tired of the weird." She hacked at the cake, managing to carve
out a couple of generous slices.

"You said you had a bad day?"

Joining him at the table, she set a plate of cake in front of him.
"Yeah. Pretty bad."

"Your birthdays always suck, don't they?"

She laughed bitterly. "Yes, and as I recall, that tradition started with

He slanted her a look. "If you don't want me here, I'll leave."

"No, it's not that. It's just . . ." She stopped, looked at him.
Suddenly she realized it didn't hurt nearly as badly as it had the last
time she'd seen him. What did that mean? Did it mean anything at all?
"You know what? We're both grownups." She picked up Brad's letter and
tossed it in Angel's direction. "I got dumped today."

He read the letter and she watched his face, judging his reaction.
"Cold," he finally said. "How long have you known this guy?"

"We met--get this--we met last year at my birthday party. He just moved
in six weeks ago. And now this."

"He's a prick."

Surprised, she laughed. "You got that right. Hey, you wouldn't consider
hunting him down and biting him for me, would you?"

He grinned. "Would if I could."

"Yeah, probably not a good idea." She took a big bite of cake. "So,
where are these presents?"

"Oh, I left them in my coat." He went back to the entryway and came back
with two small packages, which he laid in front of her as he sat back
down. "Don't open them until tomorrow."

"Fair enough." She picked them up and turned them. "They're kind of small."

"Good things can come in small packages."

"Okay, Mr. Corny-pants."

His smile faded to something warmer. She remembered that look, the melty
chocolate look that turned her to butter. It still did. Suddenly she
realized she hadn't felt this way in a long time. A very long time.

She was thinking very seriously about kissing him when the front door
opened. The mood fell completely apart.

"Who is it?" Angel sounded worried.

"Who do you think? It's gotta be Brad coming back for his stuff."

"Want me to take care of him?"

"No, I'll do it." But she smiled at him, taking in his big, dark form
there at her table. Her protector, if she wanted him to be. Then she
shook her head. She really couldn't go down that path again. Too much
pain there, what with the no touchy touchy. "But thanks."

"I'll just eat my cake, then."

"You do that."

She waylaid Brad halfway up the stairs. "What the hell do you think
you're doing?"

He turned. He actually looked skittish, a little afraid of her. "I came
back to get my stuff."

"Get the hell out of my house."

"But . . . my stuff."

"I'll mail it to you. That is, if I don't decide to burn it." He just
stood there staring. What had she been thinking, falling in love with
him? "Leave, Brad. You could have at least had the brains to come back
after a couple of days, when I'd had time to cool off."

Finally, slowly, he came back down the stairs. There was, she decided, a
certain regret in his hazel eyes. "I'm sorry, Buffy."

"Yeah, and you couldn't say that to my face, so you left me a note and
then decided to try to sneak back into the house when you thought I'd be

"You usually are gone this time of night."

"Not tonight. Now go."

"All right, okay, whatever." He headed for the door, then stopped,
staring at the coat rack. "Whose coat is that?"

"Is that your business?"

Brad grabbed Angel's coat, shoving it into Buffy's face. "Whose coat is

"That would be mine."

Angel came around the corner from the kitchen, arms crossed over his
chest. Brad stared at him.

"Who the hell are you?"

"He's an old friend," said Buffy.

Brad stared at Angel, then back at Buffy. "I don't know what the hell's
going on here--"

"She asked you to leave." Angel's voice brooked no argument. Nor did the
set of his shoulders. "Just come back in a couple of days, Brad," Buffy
said gently. "You can get your stuff then."

Brad threw Angel's coat at the coat rack and stalked out. Angel watched
tight-lipped as the coat hit the floor.

"You know, I don't like people mistreating my coat."

And Buffy burst into tears.

She'd known it was coming, but she hadn't expected it to fly out of her
so fast and hard. She couldn't stop it and, embarrassed, she pushed past
Angel, heading for the stairs. But he caught her arm and swung her back
toward him, against him, holding her.

"It's okay, Buffy. It's okay."

And it was okay, or at least it was familiar, standing there crying her
heart out into his shirt. He stroked her hair and shushed her, kissed
the top of her head. Finally, pretty much cried out, she took a step back.

"I'm sorry. It's just been too much."

"It's okay. It really is." He cupped her cheek in his hand and the
contact made her quiver. "Do you want to talk?"

"I don't know. Let's go eat some more cake and see what happens."

"I'm just so tired of it all. Did you know I'm the first Slayer to make
it to thirty? They all die. Hideous, horrible deaths, I'm sure. And if I
keep this up, that's pretty much all I have to look forward to. But is
there a retirement plan? No, of course not. The only way to get out is
to die." She took another bite of her third slab of cake. "And then Brad
just walks out on me for no reason . . . Do you know I have not had one
successful, normal relationship in my entire life? Not one."

She paused, but Angel said nothing. He just sat, listening and frowning,
giving no indication as to what he might be thinking.

"My life sucks," she finished. "It just plain sucks and there's not a
damn thing I can do about it." She slumped in her chair.

"Do you feel better?"

"I do, kind of." She pushed the cake away. "Except I think I'm going to

"You ate a lot of cake."

"I did." He was looking at her now, and his frown lessened, his eyes
going soft. She wanted to reach out to him again, let him hold her. But
that way lay madness. "Do you know why I haven't been able to make it
work with a guy ever in my life?" she said suddenly, not sure why her
mouth had decided to go down this path. Her brain was sending off danger
signals left and right.


She leaned over the table, staring right into his face, belligerent.
"They were all lacking something. Some certain quality I look for in a
man and could never find. An essential Angelness that just wasn't there."

He said nothing. His hand slid across the table, his fingers brushing
hers. "It's getting late."

"Yes, it is. I need to get some sleep. Maybe everything will be better
in the morning."

"Maybe it will." He stood. "Walk me to the door?"

"Afraid something's gonna jump out of the closet and rip you to shreds?"

"Hey, it's Sunnydale. Stranger things have happened."

She smiled and came with him to the front door, handed him his coat. He
shrugged it on and took a card out of an inside pocket. "This is my
number at the hotel. I'll be here a few days."

"Great. Maybe we can get together again, reminisce, all that."

"That would be good." He took her shoulders in his hands, looking into
her eyes. "I'm going to ask you a question tomorrow. Hopefully your
presents will help you come up with an answer."

Okay, this was different. "Always with the cryptic, huh? What is it, you
show up every few years with pop quizzes now instead of dire warnings?"

He smiled. "Something like that." Bending, he kissed her forehead. She
closed her eyes, amazed at how she still responded to him, even after
all this time trying to forget him. "I'll talk to you tomorrow."


She closed the door behind him and headed upstairs to bed.

Part 3

*She lay in his arms, warm, listening to his heartbeat. His heartbeat.
"Angel? This is the first time I ever really felt this way."

"What way?"

"Just like I've always wanted to. Like a normal girl, falling asleep in
the arms of her normal boyfriend. It's perfect."

His lips brushed her hair as she drifted off to sleep.

I'll never forget. I'll never forget. I'll never forget.*

Buffy sat up straight in bed. "Oh, my God."

She was awake, as awake as she could possibly be. Remembering.

It hadn't registered at the time, but suddenly the image was crystal
clear in her head. When he'd said goodnight, he'd been standing in front
of the door. And in the narrow pane of glass next to it, she had seen
his reflection.

She could feel her heart beating hard in her throat. Surely she had been
mistaken. Surely this couldn't be real. But it seemed so right suddenly.
Like it had happened before.

The dreams. The dreams had to mean something. They were too vivid to be
anything but portents. And now Angel had been in her house, casting a
reflection . . . How had she missed it?

Throwing back her covers, she headed downstairs. Angel's two small gifts
still sat on the kitchen table. The clock read four a.m.

"Hey, it's tomorrow," she said. "Happy birthday to me." She tore open
the larger of the two packages, her hands trembling. She should call
him, she thought. Right now. Confront him with the evidence. But she
needed to know what the question was. Even though she already knew.

Inside was a small, spiral-bound notebook. On the first page, in Angel's
slightly spidery, eighteenth century handwriting, it said, "Pop quiz
tomorrow. One question only. Turn page for crib notes."

The next page was titled, "Reasons to say no." Her heard skipped and
pattered as she read his list. "1. I'm still two hundred and twenty-four
years older than you are. 2. I'm still a broody son of a bitch. Never
quite got over that one. 3. I have little or no ability in the field of
financial planning. 4. Still not sure if I can have children. 5. Still
an awful lot of shit in my past that could come up and bite us both in
the ass." Buffy bit her lip, closed her eyes, and collected herself
before turning to the next page.

"Reasons to say yes. 1. I am a natty dresser. 2. Curse is gone. Sex no
longer an issue. 3. I can see myself in the mirror now and it appears
that I'm passably attractive. 4. See number two. Can't stress that
enough. 5. I still love you. 6. I still love you. 7. I still love you.
8. I still love you. 9. I still love you. 10. See number two."

By the time she got to the end, she could barely see through the tears.
She picked up the second box. She had a feeling she knew what was
inside, and she was right--a claddagh ring, exactly like the one he'd
given her on her seventeenth birthday.

She laughed, a funny little half-choked laugh that had tears in it. This
was shaping up to be the most bizarre birthday she'd ever had.

For an hour, she sat reading the lists over and over. She knew damn well
what the question was going to be. Finally she picked up the phone and
called him at the hotel.

"I opened my presents," she said.

He hesitated. She could read nothing, or everything, into the moment of
silence. "And?"

"Meet me for breakfast at six-thirty. Out in front of the hotel. In the

"I'll see you then."

She put on jeans and a sweater, then sat on the couch in front of the TV
and actually drifted off. She had no idea how she managed it. Maybe she
was just tired. Weirdly, she woke to the sound of her own voice.

*"It's a good thing I didn't fantasize about you turning human only
about ten zillion times, because today would have been a real letdown."*

God, where was this stuff coming from? It was so vivid, it was like she
was living something rather than dreaming it. Or remembering.
Fleetingly, she wondered if Angel might know anything about it. But why
would he know? It was her dream, after all.
Setting the thought aside for later, she blinked herself the rest of the
way awake and looked at the clock. Six-twenty. She was going to be late.

She drove too fast to the hotel. Stopping across the street, she looked,
scanning for him.

He was there. In front of the hotel, on the sidewalk. In the sun. Bathed
in sunlight, covered in it. She threw herself out of the car and ran to
him. But, a few feet away, she suddenly stopped. She wondered why. She'd
had every intention of flinging herself into his arms.

He held out his hand. "C'mere."

She took a step closer and touched her fingertips to his. He gently took
her hand and brought it to him, setting her palm against his shirt,
under his coat, just above the steady beating of his heart.

She stared at her hand. She felt like her world had just turned upside
down, and it had already done that once, when Brad had walked out. Did
that mean she was rightside up again?

Slowly, she looked up into Angel's face. He was smiling a soft, tilted
smile, and suddenly she was consumed with the memory of every time he'd
ever kissed her, every time he'd touched her. "This is--" She stopped.
She honestly didn't know what to say.

"I know it's sudden," he said gently. "I don't expect an answer right

"You still haven't asked the question."

"I think you know what it is."

She nodded. She still hadn't moved her hand, she realized, and now she
shifted it a little, feeling his heartbeat and the familiar contours of
his chest. "Listen, I . . . I gave up on impulsive decisions a long time
ago, so . . ."

"I know. It's okay."

He started to back up, but her hand fisted in his shirt, stopping him.
He looked down at her expectantly. She pushed up on her toes and kissed

It had been so long since she had tasted his mouth, and now it was
different. Warmer, with a pulse beating in his tongue as she pressed his
lips open. A sound rose in her throat, a sort of desperate mewling, and
she broke away before it could make itself completely heard.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

She nodded, blinking back tears. "Should we go eat breakfast? Like
normal, shiny, happy people?"

"Yes. I think we should."

He ate scrambled eggs and toast. Buffy wasn't sure why she found this so
fascinating, but it was. It occurred to her she'd never really seen him
eat much of anything. They'd had coffee together on several occasions,
and maybe he'd picked at a pastry, and she'd seen him scarf down blood
from time to time when he thought she wasn't looking, but regular food, no.

He noticed her watching. "It's good. I can't even explain how good it is."

"You should try pancakes."

"That was yesterday." The waitress stopped to refill their coffee cups
and he gestured to her. "Could I get another serving of eggs, please?"
"God, you eat like a horse," said Buffy.

"I'm having a little trouble with it. I can't figure out what to eat,
when, how much. It's weird."

She shrugged. "Eat what sounds good, start when you're hungry, stop when
you're full. And kill at least nine vampires a night to work off the
excess calories."

His smile gratified her, but it faded quickly. Buffy wondered what he
was thinking. He had on his something face. The one that could make you
wonder fleetingly if he was thinking about killing somebody, but which
actually just meant he was being broody.

"Something's bothering you," she said.

He nodded, starting into his second plate of eggs. After a couple of
bites, he laid the fork down. "I feel like maybe I'm pressuring you."

"You're eating eggs. No pressure there."

"I mean just showing up like this. It seemed like a good idea at the time."

"It was a terrible idea, and you know it. What if I'd been all happily
shacked up with some young hottie and you came barging in with your
little lists and your Irish ring? You would have wasted a perfectly good
stretch of immortality."

"I didn't do this for you."

For some reason, this took her aback. "I . . . I guess I wasn't thinking
that you did. I mean, why would you?"

"Because I love you, I always have, and the one thing I've regretted
most in my life is that we couldn't be together. Well, besides the whole
murdering lots of people thing."

"But that's not why you did it?"

"No, because that would have been stupid. Because I could have shown up
here and found you all happily shacked up with some young hottie and
then I would have wasted a perfectly good stretch of immortality."

She laughed a little, shaking her head. He was different. Not enough,
though, to disrupt the undefinable essence of Angelness that had haunted
her since the day she'd met him. "Then why?"

He folded his hands together on the table in front of him, leaning
toward her. "My entire life every major event has been done to me. I
didn't choose to become a vampire. I didn't choose to be cursed with a
soul. I was maneuvered by outside forces into teaming up with you--which
was a good thing, don't get me wrong--and then again when I started
working in LA. Also a good thing, but still not entirely my own choice.
This--this was my own choice. I just wanted some milestone in my life
that was mine. After damn near two hundred and fifty years I didn't
think that was too much to ask."

"How did it happen?"

"This doctor in Dublin. He approached me with a theory he had about
restoring mortality to vampires. Of course, he wasn't having much luck
finding test subjects. Most vampires are happy with what they are. But
he'd heard about me, so he looked me up."

"And you said yes."

Angel nodded.

"And it worked."

"As you see."

Buffy took a long breath. "I don't know if I would have had the
courage." He just shrugged. She just looked at him for a long time, at
all the familiar lines and angles of his face. Finally she said, "But
you're lucky you had a choice at all."

She left him without an answer. She simply didn't know what her answer
should be. Her heart had already made up its mind, but her head was
busily constructing a counterargument.

She strolled the sidewalks, her head spinning a little, trying to
construct logical patterns of thought. It proved impossible. She kept
thinking about the single time she and Angel had made love. She hadn't
even been entirely sure how it was supposed to go, and he had made it
like music. If he could touch her like that now . . . she couldn't even
think about it. It made her melt inside, made it hard to walk. Finally
she stopped, feeling the sun on her face, feeling the possibilities that
swarmed around her. Just feeling.

When she started walking again, it took her a few minutes to realize
where she was going. Ending up at Giles' door almost surprised her.
He was home, in the middle of some kind of research project, with books
strewn everywhere.

"Any progress on my question?" she asked.

"I'm sorry, Buffy. I did what I could. I even contacted the Council.
They don't care to talk to me, but they did. They had no answers."

Buffy nodded. "You'd think whatever powers chose me would have the
courtesy to make arrangements for something like this." She couldn't
help the bitterness, but at the same time, it helped her make up her
mind. But she couldn't tell Giles. He might try to talk her out of it.
How could she not tell him, though? "You know," she said after a moment,
"Spike told me once I had a death wish. He said all Slayers do. They
just want to know what it's like, and one day they give in and find out.
But you know what? I've been there, done that, and it wasn't so bad. In
fact, it was a really nice place to be."


"I'm sorry, Giles. Like I said, I'm just tired of it all. But I guess a
Slayer can't retire, just like a vampire can't go back to being an
ordinary human being." She smiled at him a little. "Thanks for trying."

Leaving the house, she had the strangest feeling she would never see him

Brad was at the house when she got home, packing up his things. She
didn't even bother to go upstairs to see him, just went to the kitchen
and poured herself a Diet Coke.

He came down a few minutes later, looking meek and apologetic, but she
beat him to the punch.

"I'm sorry about last night. I was pretty sore." She smiled a little at
him, surprised at the peacefulness that had settled over her now that
she knew what she was going to do.

"I'm sorry about everything," he said. "I thought we could make it work."

"I thought we could, too." She frowned. "Why didn't it?"

"There was something about you. I always got the feeling you wished I
was somebody else." He shifted a little on his feet. "And now I know
who." He reached out, tapped a finger lightly against her cheek. "Good
luck with him."

He walked out to his car, leaving her staring after him.

She knew what she was going to do, knew how she would answer Angel's
unasked question, but first she had to go shopping. It didn't take her
long to find what she wanted at the mall. When she had it, carefully
tucked into her purse, she went to the hotel, marched straight up to his
room, and knocked on the door.

He answered the door without asking who was there. He was wearing a tank
top and black pants and had a book in one hand, his finger holding his
place. She should have guessed. He'd never been much for gadding about
town having any kind of fun.

"Hi," he said. "Come on in."

She did, crossing the room to drop cross-legged on the bed. "I have your
answer," she said.

He came to stand in front of her, laying his book on the nightstand as
he regarded her silently. She looked up at him with a smile. "Close your

He quirked an eyebrow at her. "No offense, but last time you told me to
do that you ran a sword through me."

"Do you hold a grudge, or what? Just do it."

Smiling a little, he did. She took the claddagh ring out of her purse
and slid it onto the second finger of his right hand, heart down. He
opened his eyes and looked at the ring a moment, blinking.

"You're sure?" he said finally, still not looking at her.

"I'm sure. We can work out all the details later. But right now, all I
really have to say to you is yes."

Finally, he let his eyes meet hers. "I love you," he said, his voice
barely more than a breath.

She reached up to him and he went to his knees in front of her, burying
his head between her breasts. She clutched him to her, kissing his hair.
His body jerked in her embrace. "Shh, Angel, no, don't."

"It's real," he said, his voice thick. "It's real, and I don't have to
give it back. Not this time."

She wasn't sure what he was talking about, but it didn't matter. The
only thing that really mattered was the heat of his body against her,
the smell of his hair against her lips. "Come up here," she said. "I
want to feel your pulse."

He pushed himself up, against her, pushed her back into the bed, his
mouth finding hers. She could taste the tears on his lips as he kissed
her as he always had; with careful attention turning quickly to passion.
With one difference--this time they didn't have to stop.

She stripped his shirt off him, looking for his pulse. She found it in
his throat, pressing her fingers against it while he kissed her hard and
unbuttoned her shirt. She found it in the pit of his arm as he shifted
above her. His weight on her made her feel vulnerable, at the mercy of
his body but at the same time protected by it.

Memories flooded her. Years of darkness and growing bitterness fell away
and she was a seventeen-year-old virgin again as he undressed her, his
big hands easy on her body, his lips touching her face, her shoulders.
It was as if no man had ever touched her, as he entered her, filled her;
and paused there, his dark eyes holding hers. The emotion she saw there
was almost too much for her to absorb. It was as if she looked directly
into his soul.

"I love you," he said, his voice lower even than a whisper.

"I love you," she answered, lost in his eyes.

He made it like music again, the rhythm just as she remembered it, and
it was as if the last thirteen years of her life had never happened. The
deadness, the weariness, faded. She could feel again. All the betrayals,
the abandonments, disappeared in the face of this, the one love that had
never left her heart.

He knew exactly where and how to touch her, as if they'd made love a
hundred times. And as he brought her to the edge of ecstasy, as she
brought him and they toppled off together, she felt for the first time
in years that she could, in fact, go on.

Part 4

"At that particular time love challenged me to leave
At that particular moment I knew staying with you meant deserting me
That particular month was harder than you'll believe but I still left
At that particular time."
--Alanis Morissette--That Particular Time

*"I went to the Oracles. I asked them to turn me back."

She felt like someone had stabbed her through the heart. "What? Why?"

"Because more than ever I know how much I love you."

She could barely bring herself to look at him. How could he do this to
her? To them? "No. No, you didn't."

"And if I stayed mortal one of us would wind up dead. Maybe both of us."

God, this hurt. Just a dream Buffy, remember. Just a dream.

"How can we be together if the cost is your life, or the lives of
others? . . . I wasn't sure if I could do it if I woke up with you one
more morning."

Just a dream. Only a dream. None of this pain is real.

"How am I supposed to go on with my life knowing what we had? What we
could have had?"

"You won't. No one will know but me."

"Everything we did..."

"It never happened."

"It did. It did. I know it did!" Not real, this pain. Only a dream, this
ripping out of your heart. Let it go, let it pass through and not touch
you . . . She could feel the heat of his body as she set her hand
against his chest. "I felt your heart beat."

Tears streamed hot down her face. She could barely breathe. She felt
like she was dying. "It's not enough time . . ."

I'll never forget. I'll never forget. I'll never forget... *

Buffy jolted awake. The tears lay in a heavy, unstoppable knot below her
throat and they came out suddenly, in a wail of inconsolable grief.
"Angel! Angel, God . . ."

He was gone. She was certain of it. Maybe he had never really been there
at all, it had all just been a dream.

"Buffy . . ." He leaned toward her in the darkness and held her,
cradling her against his chest. "Buffy, it's all right. I'm here."

She couldn't talk through the tears. He shifted away from her and a
light flared suddenly as he turned on the bedside lamp. "Are you okay?"
All she could do was hold him and wait for the grief to subside. It was
more than just the dream, she knew. It was seeing him become Angelus, it
was watching him die, watching him leave her on graduation day, it was
losing her mother, it was dying and being ripped from Heaven, figuring
out how to live again. It was the last fourteen years of loss and death,
of endings and betrayal and a life that had begun to lose any semblance
of joy or purpose.

He held her close, shushing her, stroking her hair, letting her cry
herself out. Finally she pushed back from him a little, folded her hands
on his chest, just above his heartbeat, just to reassure herself it was
still there. "Did I," she began, "a long time ago, did I one time lick
ice cream off your chest?"

His breath stopped for a moment. She stared at her hands, unable to look
into his face. Finally he said, quietly, "You remember."

"I remember all of it."


"Just a few days ago. I started having dreams." She gathered the courage
to look at him. He was still there, and he was still the same. "I knew.
Somehow I knew you were coming to me. And that you had changed."

He nodded. "I should have known you would know. You were always a little
freaky like that."

She laughed. It felt good. Then the happiness faded in a sudden thought.
"What if the dreams mean . . . mean it'll happen again? That you'll
leave me again?"

Shaking his head, he cupped her face in his hand. "No. Not this time."

"How can we be sure?"

"Because what I did--there's no turning back. It was medicine, not
magic. Or at least most of it was." He drew her in to him again,
cradling her head against his chest. "I think the dreams mean just the
opposite. That what happened then won't happen now. That now I can give
you what I had to take away."

"You remembered. All this time, you remembered."

"I did."

"How did you live with it?"

"I got broody and short-tempered. Nobody really noticed."

She laughed again, but this time it sounded more like a sob. "I don't
want to lose you again. Not after this."

"You won't."

They made love again, Buffy still overwhelmed with the pure joy of it,
then ordered room service for breakfast. They ate pancakes and eggs
without bothering to get out of bed, or to get dressed, for that matter.

"This is really nice," Buffy said, "having sex with you and not having
to kill you later."

"Yeah, I'm kinda into that, too." He helped himself to a piece of bacon
off her plate; he'd already finished his own. "But the best part is, I
don't have to worry about being happy. I can just--feel it."

"It's good?"

"God, you have no idea."

"So maybe we can work on that broody son of a bitch thing you mentioned?"

"I'll give it a shot." He reached for more of her bacon and she slapped
his hand.

"You're going to get fat if you keep that up."

He shrugged. "I'll work out."

"Yeah, you might want to. That doctor of yours might want to check your
cholesterol, too."

"Okay, I'll quit. I think I might be full, anyway."

"Still working out all the body signals?"

"Yeah. I think I might have to pee, too."

She laughed. "Well, why don't you go take care of that?"

He rolled out of bed, still naked, and headed for the bathroom. She just
watched, enjoying the view, the movement of muscles under his skin, the
slight rippling down the black tattoo on his back as he shoved a hand
through his hair.

When he came back, she had cleared the remains of breakfast from the
bed, and he slid back into the bed next to her, wrapping her in his
arms. "Miss me?"

"Terribly." She settled back into his embrace, feeling his warm breath
against her ear. "Do you want to have a family?"

He hesitated. "I told you, I'm not sure--"

"I know. But if you can." She rolled over to look at him. "And if you
can't, then maybe we could adopt or something. But do you want kids?"

"Yes. Very much."

"Good." She slid a hand down his arm. "You know, give it a couple of
weeks and we might just find out if you can. Or if you did."

His eyes widened. "Damn. I didn't even think about that."

"I did."

"You did?"

She nodded. "I decided I didn't care."

He regarded her soberly. "We need to decide what we're going to do."

"I know."

"Did you want to talk to Giles?"

"No. I don't want to talk to anybody. I just want to go."

"Go where?"

"Take me to Dublin. To your doctor. He made you alive--I'm sure he can
make me dead. Just for a bit. Just enough to take me out of the game."


"Don't argue with me. I talked to Giles and he doesn't know of any way
for a Slayer to retire gracefully. The only way to go is to die." She
hesitated, swallowing the fear she didn't want to admit to. "So I'll do

"Wouldn't it be easier just to . . . leave?"

"There has to be a Slayer. Especially here. Faith's around doing her
world tour slayage thing, but there really needs to be somebody here."
He closed a hand around her arm. "Buffy, I have to put a condition on


"Give it a little time. If something did happen here, if you're . . .
pregnant, then this has to be a no-go."

"And I didn't even think about that." She took a quick breath, let it
out. "Okay. We'll give it enough time to be sure. Then we'll go from
there." She leaned half out of the bed, found her purse on the floor and
dug out the strip of condoms she'd brought and had decided not to use.
"And from now on . . ." She waved them at Angel.

The corner of his mouth tilted up. "You want more?"

"Oh, God, do I ever."

"You're sure this is how you want to do this?"

Buffy fastened the last latch on her suitcase. "Yes."

"You don't want to tell anybody? Not Giles, not Willow, not your sister?"

"I just want to go. I don't want to give anybody the chance to talk me
out of it."

"You could at least leave a note."

She gave him a dark look. "Did you leave a note when you went to Dublin?
Did you tell anybody you were coming here?"

"No, actually, I didn't."

"All right then. Let's go." She hefted her suitcase. "Giles'll figure it
out, if he can put two and four together and come up with five."

"So you left him a ridiculously obscure hint."

"Something like that."

He didn't argue with her anymore, much to her relief. She drove them to
the airport.

They bought tickets when they got there, for a flight to Ireland that
turned out not to have too many layovers, then almost missed the plane
when Angel got distracted in the concourse by giant cinnamon rolls.

"Those smell really good," he said, veering toward the counter. "Five
seconds. I'll get you one, too."

So they were the last two people on the plane, and the only ones who
came on board with giant cinnamon rolls.

Buffy had never been to Ireland, and she seemed destined not to see very
much of it, at least not right away. Even the prospect of touring Dublin
didn't have the appeal for Buffy of just staying in the hotel,
preferably under Angel. Or on top of him--she wasn't picky about that
sort of thing. But by the second day, the lure of non-room service food
and sunlight was too much for Angel to ignore, so she let him show her
the city.

"Of course, it's a lot different than when I lived here," he said as
they strolled along the sidewalks, eating fried fish and chips. Buffy
found herself wondering if there were any vampires around--after this
greasy food, she was going to need a workout.

"This isn't where you were Changed, is it?"

"No, I was in Galway then. We'll go there sometime. Ooo, a pastry shop."

So, of course, they stopped for pastries.

After a week of sex and food and sunlight and--at Buffy's
insistence--some jogging, they went to see Angel's doctor.

He ran a private practice in a good part of town, and none of the
patients in his waiting room appeared to be erstwhile vampires. He had
an upper-class English accent, and greeted them with a smile.

"I see you're still doing well," he said to Angel, ushering them into an
examining room. "This must be Ms. Summers."

"Buffy," she said, holding out her hand. "Nice to meet you."

"Dr. Martin." He shook her hand warmly. "I assume you'd like me to kill

"Oh, nice," said Buffy, looking at Angel. "You briefed him." She tried
to ignore the tremor of fear rising under her heart.

Angel bumped against her. "First we need to do that test we talked about."

She grinned at him. "He's a doctor. We don't have to be shy." She turned
to the doctor. "He means a pregnancy test. I assume I need to pee on

She wasn't pregnant. She wasn't sure what she thought about that. On the
one hand, it meant they could go ahead with the original plan. On the
other hand, it meant they could go on with the original plan. She
wondered if that was why she'd conveniently forgotten the condoms that
first night. If she'd gotten pregnant then, she wouldn't have to face
this now.

She looked up at the doctor. He took her hand. "It's all right."

"Yeah, let's hope so."

Angel took her hand as she lay down on the table. Concern creased his
forehead and she squeezed his fingers tight.

"Angel?" she said.

He brushed his hand over her forehead. "Yes?"

"If I . . . if I don't come back, don't try to get me. Just let me go."

"Buffy . . ."

"Promise me. If I go, know that I'm happy there. Almost as happy as I've
been this past week." She squeezed his hand tight. "Can you do that for
me? Can you let me go, if you have to?"

"Let's hope I don't have to."

But she couldn't let him off that easily. This was too important.
"Promise me, Angel."

He nodded. "I promise."

She didn't want to know what the doctor did to her, so she closed her
eyes tight and clung to Angel's hand. As darkness descended on her, she
thought, *I've come back from death twice. How could I possibly expect
to come back again?*

She came back. There had been nothing on the other side this time, only
darkness, perhaps a barely remembered dream. It was as if she hadn't
been meant to go any farther than that.

She opened her eyes to see Angel's dark ones peering down at her in
concern. "Buffy?"

"Angel." His hand still clutched hers and she pulled at it, sitting up.
The doctor stood on the other side of the table.

"How do you feel?" he asked.

"Good. Good, I think."

"Just stay put. Take all the time you need. No need to rush anything."

Buffy nodded. She felt a little woozy. Dazed. But Angel was there, still
real, his warm hand still holding hers. She shifted toward him and he
caught her in his arms, holding her close, against his chest, against
the soft beating of his heart.