Title: Lending a Helping Hand

Author: Serena (RDBDAWS0N@aol.com)

Timeline: Christmas of the 4th season

Spoilers: Up through 'Something Blue' and 'Hero'

Author's Notes: I didn't get to do a Christmas fic last year, so I decided I'd do it this year.

+ Prologue +

The female Oracle looked at her counterpart in disgust before turning her gaze back to the glowing ball before them. They were messengers of The Powers That Be, powerful in their own right yet mere servants to the greater good. This often caused a conflict between conscious and duty, and that was what was resulting right now.

"How can you think that they are better off this way?" she demanded, gesturing to the glowing orb. It was not an actual orb, of course, for the Oracles had no use for material things. It had been made of air and earth, natural elements like the Oracles themselves. It shimmered in the large open space they occupied, the window to the mortal world that was at their disposal. She had called on it now to emphasize her point.

A blond girl sat among people who were obviously her friends. While they were laughing and joking, she was quiet and pensive, her chin in her palm and a look in her eye that betrayed the fact that although she was there, her thoughts were not. She was beautiful, yet dangerous, and she carried herself as such.

She was the Slayer.

And she was not doing well.

The orb split suddenly into two separate balls of light, and the new one was filled with the face of a dark man working for his redemption. The image displayed showed him fighting off a demon, a young woman cowering behind him in fear. He was brutal, yet not more so than needed. He was doing his job.

He was known as Angel.

And he, too, was not doing well.

"They are fine without each other. This matter of love does not concern us," he spat, turning away from the orbs in disgust. The place they resided was filled with nothing, and yet it was filled with everything. It was not heaven, it was not hell. It was supernatural and extraordinary and beautiful all at once.

It was their home.

"You seem to focus only on the love they share. Why not focus on the skills they possess as Warriors?" she replied calmly, her eyes fixed on the two.

"Their skill has nothing to do with this," her counterpart said. He was angry that she felt the need to interfere here, where she had no place to. This matter had been closed almost a month ago.

"Ah, that is where you are blind," she said wisely. Touching his arm, she forced him to look at her. "Their skill to fight comes from the will they have, and that will is close to being broken. Can you not see that they are miserable without each other?"

He sighed. "The matter is out of our hands. The Powers have the final say and they do not agree with you. And, I must confess, neither do I. If they were true Warriors, they would carry on no matter what happened. They are weakened by their love."

"You are wrong," she said violently, her anger making the facade around them shimmer in warning. "They are made stronger by their love. Why am I the only one that sees this?"

"You have always been compassionate when it comes to lovers, and that is your downfall," he retorted. "This matter does NOT concern us."

"If they are not reunited, they will die. It has been foreseen," she said.

"Then it is their responsibility to reunite themselves. We have no power over this," he told her, linking his hand in hers. They were two halves of one whole, the same as this pair of star-crossed lovers. Together, they were invincible. Apart, they retained some of their power, but they completed each other and that kind of bond was a different kind of power all together.

"Maybe if we just pushed..." she suggested, raising a golden brow at him.

"What do you propose?" he asked skeptically, crossing his arms over his chest. She took a step over to the orbs that still glowed brightly and sighed. Looking down, she was able to concentrate better. There was no floor, for the Oracles did not need something solid to stay upright on. They did not float, either, but merely existed.

"Let her remember," she said suddenly. "Not completely, but through dreams let her remember what happened. The fighting, him coming here, the Mohra demon. She could interpret them differently, perhaps as hints to the future. She will go to him if she thinks he is in danger--or perhaps for answers. Either way, they will be together..."

"And what if she does? We cannot turn him human for her," he argued.

"If we show The Powers how powerful they are together, rather than apart, surely they will realize the mistake they've made and promptly fix it."

"I know you have something else up your sleeve," he said in defeat, "and The Powers will probably have my head for letting you do this. But do what you will."

The female smiled in triumphant, her plan put into action instantly.

And so the dreams began.

+ Part One +

Buffy bolted upright in her bed, a cold sweat making the sheets cling to her body. Her heart was racing a mile a minute and she brought a hand up to her chest, taking several calming breaths in the process. Glancing over, she was relieved to see that Willow was still sound asleep. The artificial Christmas tree they had set up sat in the corner, lights casting a soft glow around the dark room.

Buffy's eyes drifted around the room as she calmed down, her brain moving at the speed of light to process her disturbing and almost erotic dream. It was all rather hazy and unclear at first, the kind of dream that was usually prophetic.

She ran a shaky hand through her rumpled hair, brushing the scar on her neck in the process. Angel...

Her dream had been about Angel, Angel being human. They had been together, and it had been perfect. They had made love all day long--on a table, in his bed, even in the shower... They had enjoyed food and each other's company and Buffy had felt such contentment, such happiness, that it couldn't have been a dream. Everything felt so vivid now...

Was it prophetic? Would her dream come to pass like so many others? Or was it just her subconscious, reminding her of what she could never have?

Buffy sighed in frustration and flopped back down into her covers. She rolled over in an effort to get comfortable again, but nothing worked. She was too confused and too worked up to sleep. Unlike most dreams that fade away moments after you wake up, this one became sharper and clearer with each passing minute--almost as if it was a memory...

Buffy punched her pillow several times to reshape it, rolling over onto her back. She had her last final tomorrow, and then it was vacation. She was spending Christmas with her father in Los Angeles while her mother went to New York to visit Buffy's aunt...

She stared at the ceiling for a long time, her mind replaying the events over and over again. The dream was too perfect, too right...it could only be that--just a dream. Content with her answer, she slipped back into sleep.

The dreams haunted her once more.

"Rough night?" Riley asked as he and Buffy walked idly across the campus to Stevenson Hall. Her psych final had been a killer, but with the help of her T.A. boyfriend she as sure she had aced it.

Buffy sighed. "I had strange dreams," she told him as they reached the doors to her dorm.

"Want to tell me about them?" he asked, holding the door open for her like a gentleman. She smiled her thanks and stepped over the threshold.

"No," she said quickly. She didn't think Riley would like to know that she had dreamed about having tons of sex with her demonic ex-boyfriend...which is what they had had. Tons... "They're just keeping my thoughts occupied."

Riley seemed content with her answer as he linked his hand with hers. "How do you think you did on the final?"

"I think I should thank you for helping me," she said playfully as she stopped and turned to him. He flashed her a brilliant smile and tugged him closer to her.

"And just how are you gonna do that?" he asked with a sexy half-smile on his lips. She pulled his head down to hers, her lips melding with his in the middle of the lounge. Pulling away, she gazed up at him happily. "Well, that works for me," he said, kissing her again before leading her to her room.

As Buffy dug in her bag for her keys, Willow opened the door. She seemed to be almost comatose, for she didn't even notice that Buffy and Riley were there until she bumped into her roommate. She startledly looked up, tears bright in her eyes as she met Buffy's gaze. Buffy quickly abandoned the search for her keys and looked up at Riley worriedly before turning her attention back to Willow.

"Will? What's wrong?" Buffy asked as she gently took Willow's arm and led her back into the room. Riley closed the door quietly as Buffy led Willow to her own bed and sat the witch down.

Wordlessly, Willow handed her an envelope.

Buffy pulled the letter out carefully and unfolded it, Oz's chicken scratch jumping up from the page at her. Silently she read the letter, which simply stated that he had not 'found' himself yet but missed her terribly and would try to make it back to her as soon as he possibly could.

When she was done, she carefully folded it up and put it back in the envelope. She mouthed 'Oz' to Riley, who sat on her bed opposite from them staring at her. He raised his eyebrows and sat back, bracing his hands on the bed for support. When she gave him a look, he reluctantly got up and kissed her lightly on the lips before leaving.

"I'll see you tonight at Xander's!" she called after him.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Riley said with a grin. Buffy smiled slightly, the words he spoke echoing in her mind. It was almost like déjà vu...

"Will? Oh, Willow, it'll be okay," Buffy said softly as she pulled her friend close and hugged her. "He misses you and he says he'll be back."

Willow looked up at her, her face stained with tears. "But when? He said he's not ready...and I don't know how much longer I can go on without him," she whispered brokenly.

"Shh," Buffy said, rocking her softly, blinking back her own tears. "It's hard, Willow, I know...but you're strong. You can do this."

"No, Buffy, I can't!" Willow cried. "I'm not you!"

Buffy had nothing to say to that.

After Willow had calmed down somewhat, the girls set to packing for the holiday. Suitcase after suitcase was filled until the room was nearly bare and the girls lugged their things out to Buffy's mother's car as the sun set on Sunnydale.

"I know I'm going home with more than I brought..." Buffy groaned as she closed the trunk to the Jeep and turned to Willow.

"So am I," the redhead agreed as they got into the car. "Now, you promise not to kill me?"

Buffy laughed. "Hey! I'm a good driver! Riley taught me, remember? Plus my mom helped over the summer."

"Yeah, but remember the last time you drove me anywhere? You wrecked the car," she argued as she got into the car and buckled her seatbelt. Buffy slid into the driver's side and after checking her mirrors and seat turned on the car.

"Totally different situation. Everyone was embracing their inner child then, it wasn't my fault," the Slayer argued playfully. She could barely see out over all the bags and trunks in the back, but she managed to maneuver the car out of the parking lot and onto the main road.

"Good-bye Stevenson Hall," Willow waved as they headed down the highway to downtown Sunnydale. Buffy reached over and switched on the radio, not wanting to have a conversation with her best friend right now. Her mind was going strong again with the dreams and she could barely concentrate on her driving while she thought about them. Only when the song on the radio pushed through the cobwebs did she realize how freaky it was...

"There were nights when the wind was so cold.
That my body froze in bed
if I listened to it right outside the window.

There were days when the sun was so cruel.
That all the tears turned to dust
and I knew my eyes were drying up forever...

"I finished crying in the instant that you left
And I can't remember where or when or how.
And I banished every memory you and I had ever made...

"But when you touch me like this and you hold me like that...
I just have to admit that it's all coming back to me.

And when I touch you like this, and when I hold you like that...
It's so hard to believe but it's all coming back to me."

Buffy quickly reached over and changed the station to the local alternative one. Willow, who had been resting her head on the palm of her hand, snapped to attention and looked worriedly over at her friend.

"Sorry...that song reminds me of Kathy," Buffy said quickly. Willow nodded, remembering Buffy's demonic roommate's obsession with Celine Dion. Sighing in relief, Buffy listened attentively to Creed's 'Higher', hoping to put the thoughts of Angel and her disturbing dreams out of her mind.

A minute later, they arrived at Willow's house. Quickly unloading her things from the car, Buffy helped her best friend carry it all in and lug it up the stairs.

"What time do we have to be at Xander's?" Willow asked as she carefully pulled her neatly-folded clothes out of her suitcase and placed them in her dresser while Buffy lounged on her bed.

"Seven. Hey, aren't college kids supposed to come home with a ton of dirty laundry? I know I did...my mom's gonna have a field day with it tonight," Buffy mused as she twirled a piece of hair around her finger. Willow smiled at her as she closed the drawer and picked up the bag, throwing it in the closet.

"Done!" she cried, dusting her hands off. "Wow, it's good to be home. Now if only my parents were actually here..."

"The parental units are coming back tomorrow, right?" Buffy asked as she swung her legs around to the side of the bed and sat up. Willow nodded.

"And yours is leaving...when?"

"Day after that," Buffy said. "I'm driving her to L.A. so she can get her plane and then I'm going to Dad's."

Willow sat down on the bed next to her. "Are you worried about running into Angel?" she asked softly. Buffy looked over at her.

"Kinda... I mean, it's a big city. The chances of us bumping into each other on the Santa Monica pier are slim to none, but you never know... Where did that come from?" she wondered aloud, knowing the answer instantly. She had kissed Angel on that pier, in the daylight, right after he had been turned human...

"What?" Willow asked, totally lost. Buffy shook her head.

"It's nothing. You ready to go? I just have to drop off my stuff and pick up the gifts and then we can go..." Buffy said as she stood and offered her hand to Willow.

"Riley's coming too, right?" she asked as the girls left the room. Buffy couldn't stop the smile that crept onto her lips at the mention of her boyfriend's name.

"Yep, he's meeting us there."

"He's gonna LOVE what you got him, Buffy," Willow said enthusiastically as the exited the house.

"I hope so," she said happily as they got into the car and headed for her mother's house, Jewel's Christmas CD blaring.

+ Part Two +

After dropping all her dirty laundry off at her mother's, Buffy and Willow headed to Xander's house. Arms laden with presents, they were greeted at the door by Anya, who was wearing a short red dress with white trimming. She looked like those ridiculous people at the mall who dressed up as Santa's helpers...

"That's a...nice dress ya got there, Anya," Buffy said, looking her over. Anya shot her a look as she held the door open for them to enter.

"Xander likes it. When Xander likes something, I get sex. Hence the embarrassment," she said. Buffy winced.

"WAY more info than I needed," she said as they walked in and set the presents under Xander's tree. The needles were brown and the branches drooped where the ornaments hung. Spike sat in the corner smoking a cigarette and Giles and Olivia stood by the drinks.

"Merry Christmas!" she cried, hugging each of them in turn. Well, everyone got a hug but Spike. She still couldn't look at him without getting icky feelings from the time when they had been engaged...

"Okay, everyone's here--" Xander started.

"Riley isn't," Buffy said from her seat on Xander's pullout couch. Xander made a face.

"Remind me again why he's invited?"

"He's my boyfriend and he's leaving tomorrow for a month," Buffy said sternly. Xander sighed.

"Oh, that's right, Fish Boy has to go back to his cows." Buffy threw a pillow at his head as the door opened to reveal the commando.

"We was beginning to get worried!" Buffy exclaimed as she jumped up and hugged her boyfriend.

"No, we really weren't," Spike muttered, propping his boots up on the coffee table. Buffy glowered at him before leading Riley over to the bed.

"Okay, now everyone's here. Gifts!" Xander shouted as he jumped up and headed for the tree. Giles shook his head at the boy's excitement.

In a matter of minutes the gifts had been passed around. Amid the gasps of surprise and the crinkling of wrapping paper, everyone opened their presents.

"Well, this will certainly...be useful?" Giles said cautiously, holding up the dancing Santa Xander had gotten him. Xander beamed at the Watcher, watching as he turned it on.

"Wow, Santa has some moves," Willow commented as she pulled a beautiful cashmere sweater out of a box, a gift from Buffy and Anya. She gasped in shock. "It's beautiful!"

Anya had gotten a book on torture from Giles and Olivia as a gag gift. At the far-off look in her eye, Xander questioned whether or not it was the best idea... Buffy had given the ex-demon a gift certificate to the local record store and Xander's gift came in the form of a gift certificate to hours of loving from him.

"Oh, God, did you have to let her open that in front of us?" Buffy groaned as she tore into her present from Riley. Gasping, she carefully pulled the necklace from the bed of cotton it lay in. It sparkled in the light, a beautiful crystal on a gold chain. She leaned over and kissed him happily before opening the clasp and securing it around her neck.

"Wow, Riley, it's beautiful!" she gushed, gazing down at it happily. He smiled back at her and leaned over for another kiss before pulling away and picking up the wrapped package that sat on his lap. She looked on expectantly as he carefully ripped the wrapping paper away, revealing a framed picture of himself and Buffy. It had been taken on a beautiful day outside the dorm and Buffy was holding onto Riley's waist and grinning happily. The frame had been made by one of Buffy's art friends and was clay with small lacy designs imprinted in it.

Riley held the frame carefully as he gaze at the picture. "Is this the one you took?" he asked Willow. She nodded.

"It was after class that one day, before you guys were going out," she told him as she carefully placed the things she had gotten at her feet.

"I love it. I'm gonna put it on my desk at home," he said softly, pulling her close to him and kissing the top of her golden head. Buffy smiled and sighed contentedly, glad she was around her friends during the holidays.

Around eleven thirty, the small party began to break up. Giles and Olivia left early; they had a flight out to England the next day at six in the morning. Buffy and Willow said their good-byes and Buffy promised to call the minute she got back from L.A. so that she could hang out with Xander and Anya.

She surprised everyone, including herself, by giving Spike a kiss on the cheek. They had been standing under the mistletoe, granted, but it was still unexpected.

"Thanks for the tank top, Spike. Can I just say that you have THE sickest humor?" she grinned up at the stunned vampire. He quickly reverted to his cocky self and brushed her off.

"I saw it and knew it was you, Slayer," he said simply, running a hand through his platinum hair. The tank top in question was a black thick-strapped one with 'Vampires suck' written in blood-red letters across the chest. She smiled and leaned into Riley.

"Merry Christmas, everyone!" she called as she and Willow made their way to her car, Riley escorting them. Once they reached it, Willow became fascinated with the paint on the car, staring at it awkwardly as Buffy said good-bye to Riley.

They kissed softly under the moonlight as Riley lifted a hand to brush her blond hair back. "Thank you for a wonderful evening," he said softly.

"Thanks for the necklace," she replied shyly. "It's beautiful."

"You're beautiful," he told her. She kissed him softly on the lips before pulling away.

"I gave you my dad's number, right?" Buffy asked. Riley patted his jacket pocket, indicating it was there. She smiled and with one last kiss reluctantly turned away.

"Have a good time in L.A.," Riley said as he kissed the back of her hand and moved away. "Try not to bump into any old friends."

Buffy looked up at him strangely when he spoke. Since Buffy had not told him about Angel, he must have meant her old friends from Hemery... He knew that she had been less than nice at her old school and she hoped that was what he meant...

"I will...or won't," she said with a forced smile as she climbed into her car. Waving, she started it and peeled out of her spot before he could so much as pull his keys out.

"What was that all about?" Willow asked after a minute of silence. Buffy was quiet for a moment and just as she opened her mouth to speak another part of her dream surfaced, one she hadn't remembered.

She was at Angel's and she was crying in his arms. What was going on? They were supposed to be happy, Angel was human...and then the conversation filtered through and she realized the source of her distress. Angel gave up his humanity--and the memory she would hold of the day--for her. With a cry, she jerked the wheel to the side, stars exploding before her eyes. Everything felt so vivid, her pain, her anguish, the love and respect she held for Angel.

Willow's voice slowly infiltrated the haze in her mind, the panic making the fog clear. Buffy pulled over and slumped into her seat, her head resting on the steering wheel as she fought down her tears.

What was wrong with her?

"Buffy? What's going on?" Willow asked. Buffy slowly turned her head and looked at her best friend, her eyes bright with unshed tears. She sighed brokenly and was so overcome by the emotion of the dream that she couldn't speak. Willow rubbed her back in comfort for several minutes as she calmed down.

It was the soft song on the radio that caught her attention, the same one she had heard before...

There were moments of gold,
And there were flashes of light.
There were things I'd never do again,
But then they'd always seem right.
There were nights of endless pleasure...
It was more than any laws allow.
Baby baby...

If you kiss me like this, and if you whisper like that,
It was so long ago, but it's all coming back to me.
If you want me like this...
And if I need you like that...
It was dead long ago
But it's all coming back to me
It's so hard to resist,
but it's all coming back to me.
I can barely recall,
but it's all coming back to me now...

But it's all coming back.

With a shout, she turned it off hurriedly. Knowing Willow needed an explanation, she said the only word that was needed.


"What about Angel?" she asked, folding her hands in her lap. Buffy wiped the tears from her eyes and straightened up, shaking her head.

"Not here. We'll go to my house," Buffy said as she let off the brake and steered the car in the direction of Revello Drive.

"Okay, talk," Willow said as they sat on Buffy's bed, clean laundry carefully folded on the floor. Buffy was gazing out the window into the night, her gaze fixated on nothing...and yet everything all the same. She didn't know what they meant, these feelings she had and these dreams that were the cause of the feelings, and it was driving her crazy...

"I had a dream last night," Buffy started slowly.

"About Angel?"

Buffy nodded. "He...he was human," she whispered, twisting her hands in her lap.

"Buffy, you've had that dream a thousand times," Willow said, apparently brushing her off. Buffy grabbed her arm forcefully.

"Will...this one was different. It was so vivid, and it felt so real...almost like a memory," Buffy said. Willow sighed. "He was turned human by a demon's blood, and then he came up and kissed me on the Santa Monica pier...and then we went back to his place and..."

"Had lots of passionate sex?" Willow joked. Buffy nodded and Willow immediately sobered. "Really?"

Buffy laughed at her friend's baffled face. "Oh yeah...Will, we even had sex on his kitchen table."

"Wow," she breathed. "That's the kind of stuff those cheesy romance novels are made of!" Buffy grinned again.

"I know...but that's not all that happened," she said, her tone somber again. "He gave up his humanity so I wouldn't die."

Willow stared at her. "What? I mean, I know Angel's all about sacrifice--but his humanity?"

"Yeah, he did it for me. The day was erased and I didn't remember a thing," Buffy said as she ran a hand through her blond hair.

"But it was just a dream," Willow said. "Right?"

Buffy sighed heavily. "I don't know, Will. It felt...almost prophetic, I guess. Everything was so real."

"So what are you going to do?" Willow asked. Buffy looked her straight in the eye.

"I honestly don't know. Maybe I won't have another one and then I'll know it was just a dream," Buffy said. Willow nodded.

"Guess you'll just have to wait and see," she agreed. She stayed for a few more minutes before having Buffy drive her home.

On the way back to her mother's house, Buffy pondered her dream once more. She'd have to look into it when she got to L.A., maybe call Cordelia and find out if she knew anything. Her plans beginning to form, she changed for bed and snuggled under the covers.

She dreamed the exact same thing for the second night in a row.

+ Part Three +

Buffy was silent as she and her mother drove towards the city of Los Angeles. For a day and a half she had been constantly plagued with images and parts of her dream and she could not get it out of her head. Joyce Summers was quiet, knowing something was bothering her daughter.

After seeing her mother safely off, Buffy drove around the city for a while. She had missed L.A., its excitement and obsession with beauty. She drove through her old neighborhood and passed Hemery High, where her life had changed forever. Without even knowing it, she sat in her car in the same place Angel had when she had been called, gazing at the smiling teenagers with a sad smile on her lips. How she wished she could be like them again...

Buffy pulled up to her father's house as the sun began to set and darkness descended on the city. Gathering her bags, she quickly jumped into her father's waiting arms.

"Hi Princess!" he cried as he spun her around. Holding her at arm's length for a moment, he looked at her in wonder. "Is it possible that you've gotten even more beautiful?"

She blushed at her father as he led her inside. "Wow, Dad, you sure have done wonders with this place!" she said sarcastically as she gazed around her father's living room, any doubts that he wasn't a bachelor flying out of her mind. The place was littered with papers and pizza boxes and used plates, soda cans on the coffee table and a beer bottle or two mixed in. He chuckled.

"Well, I knew my wonderful daughter was coming to stay with me so I figured I should clean up the place a bit," Hank Summers said.

"I'll do it for you first thing tomorrow morning," Buffy sighed, pretending to scold him. Hank laughed and kissed her forehead.

"You hungry? We have reservations at a great Italian place down the street at eight."

"Actually, I was hoping I could look up my friend Cordelia. I've been dying to see her," Buffy said. Hank nodded and glanced at the clock.

"Well, it's only five now. Why don't you call her and see if she can come with us?" he asked, gesturing to the phone. Buffy smiled and picked it up.

"Sounds great!" She carefully punched in Cordelia's number, praying she was there and not at the office. She turned her back on her father, indicating she wanted privacy, and listened to it ring several times. Sighing, she hung up and hesitated slightly before dialing the number that had been burned into her mind from the moment Cordy had sent her the business card.

The phone rang twice before Cordelia picked up. "Angel Investigations," she said cheerfully. "We help the helpless."

"Cor? It's me, Buffy," she said, grinning at the sound of her friend's voice.

"Buf--Betty! Wow, it's great to hear from you!" Cordelia said, quickly covering up her mistake. Buffy frowned.


"I'm at work and my boss is right by my desk. I can't talk long," she said through slightly clenched teeth. Buffy nodded.

"Oh, I get it. Very smart," Buffy said. Cordelia smiled and quickly averted her gaze from Angel's.

"It's often been said," she quipped. "Now, what can I do for you?"

"First of all, Merry Christmas!"

"Right back at you."

"Second, I'm here. In L.A.," Buffy told her. Cordelia gasped.

"Does he know?" she asked. Buffy shook her head and sat down on the arm of the couch.

"Of course not, it's...too hard," Buffy said softly.

"You visiting your dad?" Cordelia asked as she removed a nail file from her pencil holder and began working on her nails.

"Yeah, which is why I called. Do you want to come to dinner with us?"

Cordelia paused. "Sure! I'd love to come. What time?"

"Eight," Buffy said before giving her the address. Cordelia agreed to get to Buffy's father's house around seven thirty so that the girls could talk before they went to dinner.

After Buffy was finished unpacking and her father's gifts were under the tree, Hank and his daughter sat down to talk. She told him all about college, what courses she was taking and how she had done. She mentioned Riley when he brought it up, but was very brief. Before they knew it, the doorbell rang.

Buffy jumped up and answered it. "Cordy!" she cried, flinging her arms around her friend. Cordelia was a bit taken aback by her, but returned the hug just as fiercely all the same. Buffy stepped back after a few moments to get a good look at the May Queen.

Her hair was longer and she seemed thinner, but besides that Cordelia looked exactly the same. Except for her eyes, which looked haunted by something...

"How've you been?" Buffy asked as she ushered her inside and shut the door.

"Don't you mean how's Angel been?" she teased as they walked into the living room. Cordelia waved to Hank and took a seat next to Buffy on the couch. Buffy shot her a look.

"Angel? Who's Angel?" Hank asked, clasping his hands in front of him.

"An old friend," Buffy said quickly. "How is he?"

Her voice was soft when she asked and Cordelia immediately sensed something was wrong.

"Is he okay? Has he been having...weird dreams lately? Have there been any Mohra guys around lately?" Buffy asked, careful not to give too much away and cautious of her father. Cordelia looked at her in confusion.

"What in the world are you talking about?" Cordelia asked as realization dawned on her face. "Dreams...Buffy, what have your dreams been about?"

Buffy shifted uncomfortably and turned her head so her father wouldn't see. "Angel being human," she mouthed. Cordelia sighed and leaned back into the cushions.

"You're on your own for this one, Buffy. I can't help you," she said in regret. Buffy looked at her closely, knowing she was hiding something.

"Cordy..." Buffy said, her voice slightly warning.

"It's not my place. Go talk to Angel," she said harshly. Buffy's eyes darted around the room as she fought panic down. She couldn't go to Angel; he'd think she was crazy...

"You two realize that you're making no sense, right?" Hank spoke up. The girls looked at him.

"No, Mr. Summers, we make perfect sense. Just not to you," Cordelia said jokingly.

"Well, why don't you go not make sense at the restaurant, hmm? It's almost eight," Hank said as he stood. Cordelia and Buffy followed suit, although Buffy was deep in thought and didn't really know what she was doing. Go talk? To Angel? No...

All throughout dinner Buffy's mind was elsewhere. She answered Cordelia's and her father's questions, but she seemed dazed and it was not lost on them. Several times during the meal she got a faraway look in her eyes that betrayed her, and Cordelia and her father exchanged glances about it.

When the waiter brought them their check, Buffy seemed to snap out of her funk. "Daddy...would you mind if I spent the night at Cordy's?" she asked. Her father pondered it for a moment.

"I suppose it would be okay, as long it is with you, Cordelia," Hank said. Buffy and Cordelia exchanged a look and Cordelia sighed.

"Yeah, sure, it'll be a big old slumber party," she said as they stood and made their way out of the restaurant. Cordelia knew that she and Buffy would be up for the better part of the night talking...

And she wasn't wrong. As soon as Buffy was done gushing over Cordelia's lavish apartment, they got down to business.

"So, how's the gang?" Cordelia asked over a pint of Rocky Road ice cream. The girls were curled up in their pajamas on Cordelia's couch, the Late Late Show blaring in the background.

"Pretty good, I guess. Xander and Anya are as horny as ever--"

"Xander and Anya? Oh, God, I've missed a lot!" Cordelia cried in disgust. Buffy smiled.

"Yeah, you have. You know Oz left, right?" Cordelia nodded.

"You told me in your e-mail," she said.

"Well...Giles has a girlfriend. Her name's Olivia and she's from England, she knew Giles from when he was Rebel Guy," Buffy said. She proceeded to fill Cordelia in on everything else, from their disastrous Thanksgiving to the time when she and Spike had been engaged.

"Hey, where's Doyle? I want to properly meet him this time," Buffy said, gazing at a picture of him on the mantle. Cordelia's eyes moved to the carpet as tears threatened to spill out of them. "Cordy?"

"Doyle's dead," she whispered. "He died saving a bunch of demons. But they were the Casper kind of demon, not the 'I-want-to-cut-out-your-still-beating-heart-and-eat-it-in-front-of-you' type. And we were just starting to get close and it turns out he was a half-demon himself and I still liked him and I think I was falling in love with him and now he'll never know!" she cried in one breath. Buffy placed the ice cream container on the coffee table and gathered Cordelia into her arms.

"Oh, wow, Cordelia I'm sorry. I wish I had known..." Buffy said as she softly stroked her friend's hair. Cordelia sobbed all her grief out, this time to the girl she had always secretly admired. After a time, she pulled away sheepishly and wiped at her tears.

"Sorry about that, I just seem to cry at the worst times," she apologized. Buffy reached up and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

"Hey, that's what friends are for, right?" Buffy asked. Cordy smiled and nodded. "It must have been hard on Angel," she whispered. The actress nodded.

"I hadn't seen him so upset since I first got here and he was still Brood Guy twenty-four seven. It hit him really hard," she said. Buffy sighed and leaned back into the soft pillows of the couch. She felt sleep beckoning to her but feebly pushed it away, knowing if she succumbed the dreams would come again. She needed to get out, to be active, to kill something.

Buffy quickly stood and went over to her bag. "What are you doing? Do NOT tell me you're going patrolling," Cordelia said with a roll of her eyes. "Angel's out there, he'll get it done."

"I need to get out, Cor," Buffy said as she changed into a pair of flared leggings and a black tank top. Pulling her hair back in a ponytail and placing a few stakes in strategic places, she turned back around to find Cordelia nearly asleep.

"There's a key by the door, you can take it," the cheerleader said sleepily. Buffy nodded.

"Don't wait up."

"Wasn't planning on it," Cordelia said with a grin.

"Oh, and Cordy? Thanks for letting me stay with you tonight," Buffy said as she moved to the door.

"It's no problem, Buffy, you know I miss seeing you," Cordelia told her in a touching manner. Buffy smiled and with a wave vanished into the night. "She and Angel are the only two people I know who can do that..."

Buffy roamed the darkened streets, knowing her way around the city extremely well. She came close to Angel Investigations but felt Angel's presence there and left. That bond that they shared sure came in handy sometimes...

She idly fiddled with her stake as she walked. Despite the noise coming from the different clubs and the traffic, the night was quiet for L.A., almost calm, something she chalked up to the holidays. Buffy was growing antzier by the minute, itching for a fight. A fight would take her mind off of Angel, something she really needed right now...

Up ahead, the sounds of a fight reached her Slayer ears. Cautiously, she flattened herself against the wall and peered around the corner, startled to see Angel fighting another vampire. He obviously had the upper hand and within a minute the vamp was dust. Buffy couldn't help but appreciate how good he looked, deadly and lethal and mysterious all at the same time.

For a moment, he paused, cocking his head to one side slightly in thought. He turned to look at her and Buffy quickly ducked out of view before she could be seen. That was the last thing she needed. With a shrug, Angel turned and walked the other way, deeper into the shadows of the alley, his coat swirling at his feet.

When she was sure he was gone, Buffy let out a sigh of relief and quickly began walking the other way. For about an hour she made her way around, not finding any demons to fight, much to her dismay. She returned to Cordelia's at around two in the morning, not at all surprised to see the May Queen asleep in her room. Buffy quickly changed and fell onto the couch. Cordelia's spirit roommate, Dennis, turned out the lights for her and pulled the blanket over her.

Tonight, Buffy welcomed the dreams.

And, of course, they came.

+ Part Four +

Buffy awoke the next morning to find Cordelia in the living room, Christmas tree lights strung around the entire room, on every open surface and even hanging off of the brunette. She burst out laughing at the sight of it and Cordelia shot her a dark look from under the bulbs. She sighed in frustration and threw them down, putting her hands on her hips as she surveyed the mess.

"What's the matter, Cor? The big bad Christmas lights giving you a hard time?" Buffy asked, laughing the entire time. She nearly fell off the couch in her fit of giggles, something Cordelia found funny.

"You try untangling all of these," she growled, gesturing around the room. Buffy sighed and stood up, carefully making her way over to the small tree Cordelia had set up in the corner. She gave Cordelia a look as she set out to untangle the sea of colored lights, silently shaking her head all the while.

"Dennis! Music!" Cordelia cried after about ten minutes. The two girls were nowhere near done; in fact, it seemed as though they had managed to tangle themselves up as well. The spirit switched on the radio and the song that always seemed to haunt Buffy began playing once more.

There were those empty threats and hollow lies.
And whenever you tried to hurt me,
I just hurt you even worse and so much deeper...
There were hours that just went on for days.
When alone at last we'd count up all the chances
That were lost to us forever...

But you were history with the slamming of the door.
And I made myself so strong again somehow.
And I never wasted any of my time on you since then...

But if I touch you like this,
And if you kiss me like that.
It was so long ago,
but it's all coming back to me.

If you touch me like this
And if I kiss you like that.
It was gone with the wind,
But it's all coming back to me.

It's all coming back, it's all coming back to me now...

Buffy stood silently among the mass of bulbs, listening to the song that seemed to describe her predicament oh so well. As much as she tried to deny it, she wanted to go see Angel...so much that she couldn't bear it. Cordelia was silent beside her, torn between her hurt friend and her promise to Angel. It wasn't her place, and for once she was going to keep her mouth shut about it.

"Dennis, change the station," she ordered after a short time. He obediently did as she asked, the sounds of 98 Degrees filling the cheerful room. Buffy heaved a sigh and pushed the memories away, concentrating on helping her friend decorate her Christmas tree.

It took them hours, but finally the lights were untangled and hung around the room. The tree was decorated as Christmas music played from Cordelia's stereo. The girls laughed and chatted as they put the finishing touches on the room.

"I have to admit we make a good team, Summers," Cordelia said as they stood gazing around the room. It was cozy and homey, yet still stylish enough for Cordelia's liking.

"We do, don't we? Just be glad I rescued you from the evil lights," Buffy laughed. The phone shrilled on the end table, and Cordelia went over to pick it up.

"Oh, I am," she grinned, lifting the receiver to her ear. "Hello? Buffy, it's for you."

Buffy took the phone from her. "Hello?"

"Hi, Princess."

"Daddy! What's up?" Buffy asked. Cordelia walked into the kitchen, giving her privacy.

"Something came up and I need to fly to Dallas for a few days. I'll definitely be back for Christmas but I really need to do this. I'm so sorry, sweetie," he said. Buffy furrowed her brow in thought and sadness.

"You're leaving? For how long?"

"I'll be back the twenty-fourth," Hank told her. Buffy sighed and reluctantly nodded. She couldn't stop him from going... "You have a key, and I left you my credit card so you can get whatever you need. Cordelia is more than welcome to stay here with you if you want--"

"Yeah, okay Dad. Thanks. Have fun," Buffy said abruptly, cutting him off. "See you when you get back."

"Buffy, it's only for a few days..." Hank told her.

"I know, I just never get to see you and now you're leaving."

"I wish I didn't have to, but my job depends on it, sweetheart," Hank said. "I have to go, my plane leaves in a few minutes."

"Okay, I love you, Daddy," she said softly.

"Love you too, Princess."

With that, her father hung up. Buffy stared at the phone for a moment before clicking it off and replacing it on the table. Cordelia appeared behind her, arms laden with junk food.

"What was that all about?" she asked as she walked forward and deposited the food on the table.

Buffy sighed. "My Dad is just leaving me for a few days on a business trip. God, this is SO like him!" she said as she plopped down onto the couch and reached for the ice cream again. "Ooh, I didn't know you have Cookie Dough Fudge Mint Chip!"

"God, what is it with you and Angel and that ice cream?" Cordelia asked as she watched Buffy inhale it.

"Angel eats this stuff?" Buffy asked as she licked the ice cream off her spoon. Cordy nodded.

"Oh, yeah, when he was hum--hungry, one day, he...uh...ate it."

Buffy looked strangely at her. "Human?"

"Hungry," she amended, looking away. Buffy raised her eyebrows before deciding to just drop it. There was no way Cordelia could have known that she had eaten it with Angel in bed when he was human...because that hadn't happened. It was just a dream.


Cordelia had to go to work and Buffy decided to go back to her father's and clean the place up before going shopping--she wasn't about to let an unchaperoned father-sponsored shopping trip pass her by.

Idly walking down the street, bags swinging by her side, she was struck with a Christmas-y feeling. All the stores had lights and holidays themes up, and Christmas carols were being played everywhere. All that was missing was snow...

But it rarely snowed in Los Angeles. Well, it had last year, when the snow had saved her suicidal boyfriend from becoming a little pile of dust...but what good would it do to think of that?

Even then, she had been able to convince him that love would be enough...so why hadn't it worked when they had broken up? Buffy frowned, not liking where her thoughts were going. She shook her head and looked up, startled to see that she was standing in front of a Celtic jewelry store.

Without thinking, she walked in, causing the little bell on the back of the door to chime. On autopilot, she went to the counter and asked to see the male Claddaugh rings, quickly selecting a silver one. Her mind protested, but her heart said it was for Riley.

Yeah, and Giles was going to profess his undying love to Willow.

She quickly paid for it and left the store, holding the bag to her chest. She didn't know what had possessed her to go in and buy it...well, Angel had given her one and she hadn't given him one. He had already had his. Buffy wanted him to have one from her, and only from her...

It was growing dark once more and Buffy headed back to her father's quickly. She ordered a pizza and set to work at cleaning up the mess her father lived in, all the while a nagging feeling in the back of her mind. She felt something, something subtle but powerful, a warning of what was to come. It wasn't necessarily malicious, per say, but it was there and it bothered her.

Buffy sat at home alone that night, watching Showtime and eating leftover pizza. She didn't want to go out and risk seeing him again. It had taken all her control not to go to him last night; she knew she wouldn't be that strong again...

She fell asleep curled up on the couch, her mind and body exhausted.

And from above, the Oracles watched.

"She is stronger than I thought," the female said as she watched the Slayer sleep. The male stepped up behind her, out of her line of sight but still visible to her. He too stared at the sleeping girl, who had the faintest smile upon her lips while she dreamed yet again.

"Don't you think she's getting a bit tired of these dreams? They have been the same every night," he said, partly disgusted, and turned away. She mimicked him.

"Does she look like she's getting tired of them?" the Oracle asked, gesturing to the glowing window. The Slayer moaned softly in her sleep and a look of pure, unadulterated ecstasy graced her face as she arched off the couch, thrusting up to an invisible body.

"We are running out of time," he snapped. She waved a hand at him.

"We have all the time in the world."

"I hope you know what you're doing," he said menacingly, taking a step toward her and looking into her dark eyes. "The Powers will not be pleased."

"Oh, but they will," she argued, turning her gaze on the blond girl once more. "She is strong, and so is he. But together they are stronger. Everything will come to pass, I assure you of that."

He looked at her helplessly before spinning around and dissolving the orb when he walked through it, leaving their haven. She shook her head and sighed, calling it forth once more. Her gaze fixated on the Slayer, she said softly, "Yes, everything will be all right, little one. He will be yours again."

Buffy awoke feeling extremely refreshed. While she had woken up distraught and filled with sorrow and pain the day before, she was at peace now. A voice, a heavenly voice, had spoken to her and told her that everything would be all right. Angel would be hers again.

She realized she had fallen asleep on the couch and stretched leisurely, working the kinks out of her back and neck. After a quick shower, she brushed her teeth and got dressed before wrapping the gifts she had gotten for Angel and Cordelia. Just as she applied the last piece of tape, the phone rang.


"Buffy, it's me."

"Hey Cordy," Buffy said cheerfully as she stuck a bow on the present and pushed it out of her way. "What's up?"

"Well, seeing as how my boss isn't back yet, I'm thinking early lunch break. Wanna come?" she asked. Buffy smiled.

"Sure! I'd love to...wait, Angel's not back yet? Is he okay?"

"Nice attempt at subtly, Buff," Cordelia laughed. "Yes, he's fine. I had one of those God-awful visions and Angel went to check it out. He'll take the sewers home and probably won't be back for a while."

"And he won't mind you leaving early?" Buffy asked, biting back a grin.

"Oh, he'll mind. But he won't be able to yell at me until later, and by then I'll just guilt him into dropping it," she replied.

"You're evil."

"Oh, but I'm so good at it!" she laughed. "Come here and then we'll go to this cute little cafe I found."

Buffy stood and made her way to the bathroom. "Give me a few minutes, I have to look presentable."

"Take as much time as you need, I know it's hard for you," Cordelia joked.

"Later, Cor," Buffy said, trying to pretend she was angry. She hung up the phone and shook her head. "Will she ever change?" she asked her reflection. "Oh, yuck. That's the last time I'm sleeping on a couch. I look like death warmed over."

That said, she set to work making herself look halfway decent.

"Why are you so happy today?" Cordelia asked when Buffy walked into Angel Investigations. Everything seemed so familiar, as though she had spent more than five minutes there. She wondered...if she went downstairs, would everything be the way it was in her dreams?

"No reason," Buffy said with a shrug, looking around a bit apprehensively. Cordelia sighed and shook her head as she grabbed her sweater.

"He's still not back yet, don't worry," she said as they moved to the door.

"Worry? Me?" Buffy joked. Cordelia shot her a look. "Okay, okay, there's no need for that. Just because I don't want to see my ex-honey right now doesn't mean I'm totally paranoid..."



"Shut up."

The door slammed shut behind the girls.

Buffy and Cordelia walked back into the office three hours later, laughing hysterically as they replayed what had happened at lunch back again. Two guys who had tried to pick them up using every lame come on in the book, and they had just laughed and brushed them off. Cordelia flipped on the lights and tossed her keys onto the desk as a voice sounded from the couch.

"Buffy," Angel said, his tone almost desperate. Buffy froze, staring helplessly at her lover. Cordelia stopped smiling and set her packages down on the floor.

"I'm just gonna go--" she pointed to the door leading to Angel's office, "get some water."

"Hey Angel," Buffy said, mentally chastising herself for sounding so lame. He stood slowly and walked over to her.

"Want to tell me what's going on?"

+ Part Five +

Buffy sighed heavily and shifted uncomfortably on her feet. She refused to meet his gaze, her mind throwing image after image of her dreams at her. When she finally did look at him, she had nothing to say. Sensing this, he made it a bit easier for her.

"I thought we had agreed no stalking. No seeing each other actually... We were supposed to stay away," he whispered, swallowing. He stood suddenly and closed the distance between them slowly.

"I didn't think you would be here," Buffy said. "Cordelia said--"

"I wasn't talking about that, Buffy," Angel told her. He looked down at his hands awkwardly, struggling for the right words. "I meant two nights ago."

"I was patrolling," she stated, raising her eyes to his.

"You were there. When I was fighting, you were there," Angel said. It wasn't a question. Buffy nodded hesitantly.

"How did you--"

"I felt you."

The bond they shared. She should have guessed that if she could feel him, he could certainly feel her nearby as well... Feeling claustrophobic, Buffy stepped back and turned away from him, glancing around the office desperately. Cordelia was fiddling around in Angel's office, moving things around in an attempt to not look like she was eavesdropping.

"Why didn't you say anything? Come and see me or at least call--" Angel started as Buffy moved to cut him off.

"Oh please," she scoffed. "The same reason you didn't tell me you were in Sunnydale when you were. It's too hard."

Angel was silent, staring at the woman he loved more than anything in the whole world. Her back was to him, allowing him to stare at her without worrying about making her uncomfortable. His eyes bore into her, watching the way her breath seemed to catch every time she took one, the rigid way she stood that betrayed her uneasiness. The memories had come rushing back, all of them in a tumult of emotions, in the instant he had heard her joyous laughing down the hall.

"This is too weird for me," Buffy said suddenly, picking up her purse quickly. "I'm just gonna go, tell Cordelia I'll call her later."

"No, don't go," Angel said, stepping into her escape route. "We can...talk." At her incredulous look, he said hastily, "or something."

"Angel," Buffy sighed. "We both know that if I stay, things will get even more awkward then they already are. I'm gonna go and spare us both all this...pain." The last word was whispered, and accompanied with unexpected tears. Without another word, she brushed past Angel and ran towards the door.

"Buffy! Wait!" he called after her, his hand reaching out to her, beseeching her silently... She paused at the door hesitantly, but when she looked back and saw him looking so needy and loving an ancient memory fluttered through the haze of her mind, of Angel reaching out to her, begging her to save him from the pits of Hell...

He seemed to realize it as well and dropped his hand to his side. With a final pained look, Buffy took off down the hall, her platforms slapping noisily on the tile floor.

Angel was alone in the middle of the room, abandoned by Buffy once more.

Cordelia's shout of pain snapped him out of the daze he had fallen into and he strode into his office to find his assistant doubled over his desk in obvious pain. She yelped again and brought her hands up to her head, trying to claw the pain away. Angel gently took her into his arms, reaching for the aspirin that sat on his desk.

Cordelia groaned as the vision took shape, a swirl of bright colors and flashing lights. She always hated the visions, they made her mind seem as though it was not hers anymore. A thousand different images flashed through her mind, pictures of people, of nature, of the universe at large...all at the speed of light, and Cordelia felt as though she was falling, trapped in her own mind. And through the chaos and the flashes of light, a figure appeared, an otherworldly figure, made of air and Earth, and spoke to her.

"It is time. Bring Angel and his Slayer to us."

The vision ended abruptly and Cordelia gasped, trying to pull air into her burning lungs. Her head ached and she felt as though her brain was becoming too small for the space it was confounded to. Squeezing her eyes shut in a vain attempt to ease the pain, it took her a minute to open them again.

Angel's worried gaze met her pain-filled one. Wordlessly he handed her the aspirin and a glass of water and she gulped them down with a nod of thanks. Shaking her head slightly, she turned to Angel.

"Get Buffy. You two have a date with the Oracles."

Angel was speechless.

When Buffy had finally finished crying, she sat on her couch stone-faced. She was quiet and pensive, reflecting on the events that had just transpired. He had been so close, and her vivid dreams had taunted her, teased her...making her want to reach out and touch him so badly that she thought she would go insane with need. Angel had felt it too, she knew, although he didn't know about her dreams. It couldn't have been as bad for him...which was good, because he had suffered enough. She hated to think that he was in more pain.

Buffy sighed as she stood up and went to the kitchen, rummaging around for something that would make her feel better, preferably chocolate or ice cream. Finding nothing, she pouted as she went back into the living room.

The screech of tires outside caught her attention and she flew to the window to see what was going on.

A black car pulled into her father's driveway, windows tinted so she couldn't see who was in the vehicle. The engine was cut as Cordelia jumped out and she strode up the walkway and to the door, getting ready to knock as Buffy flung it open.

"What's going on?" Buffy asked, eying the car warily. Cordelia grabbed her friend's hand and pulled her out the door.

"You've been summoned."

"What?" she asked as she hurriedly locked the door and raced to keep up with Cordelia. "Cordy, what are you talking about?"

She didn't answer, only hopped into the car and started the engine again. Buffy ran around and jumped into the passenger's side, barely buckling her seatbelt before Cordelia threw the car in reverse and backed out of the driveway. She took a deep breath and turned to ask Cordelia where they were going when she caught sight of Angel in the backseat.

"What's going on?" she demanded, looking quickly between the two. Angel was hunched over in the backseat, trying to keep his cool. She smelled so good, and she was right in front of him after so long... He looked up at her then, and his gaze quieted her. She would get her answers, of that he promised.

He just wished he knew what the hell was going on as well.

"Here," Cordelia said, shoving a shopping bag into Buffy's hands as the Slayer looked around dubiously at the underground cavern. "Your offering."

Buffy peaked in the bag. "Cordy, what are they gonna do with a Gucci handbag?" she asked before looking around again. When Cordelia didn't answer, she tried small talk with Angel. "What gets me is that this is all under the post office. You'd think they wouldn't be so disgruntled or whatever..."

Angel flashed her his famous lopsided grin and she found herself returning it. He knew how to make her feel comfortable even in the creepiest situations, he made her feel safe. He made her feel loved.

"Okay, you guys ready?" Cordelia asked as she lit a match. "Guess we'll see if you two have pure souls..."

With a flash of light, Buffy and Angel were hurtled into the portal, leaving Cordelia alone as the flame was extinguished. They were slammed through time and space and deposited unceremoniously on cool marble, limbs tangled helplessly. Buffy blinked and quickly looked around, taking in the environment around her before realizing that Angel's hard body was pressed tightly against her soft one. She looked up to see him staring down at her, his lips a hairsbreadth away. She remembered suddenly, they had been like this before and nothing had happened...

But this time she allowed something to. She brushed her lips ever so slightly against Angel's, shuddering at the pleasure of the mere kiss. She caressed his lips with her own softly...gently...oh so gently. The kiss did not deepen, only stayed soft and feather-light for a few moments' time.

Reluctantly, Buffy pulled away from him, feeling the presence of something much more powerful than herself coming to stand before her. She quickly pushed Angel off of her and stood, helping him up in the process.

Buffy Summers came face to face with the Oracles, some of the most powerful beings ever created. She stood with her mouth open in awe as Angel unconsciously slipped an arm around her shoulders and stood side by side with his soulmate, waiting for the Oracles to speak.

"What have you brought us?" the female asked, her gaze sweeping over the two. Ah, yes, they were powerful indeed. And so in love that they were nearly blind...

"Why should we bring anything? You summoned us," Buffy said tartly. Angel squeezed her shoulders, indicating she should give them the bag. Reluctantly, Buffy held it out and an unfelt wind took it from her, depositing it into the female Oracle's hands. She peaked inside and gasped with delight.

"Gucci. My favorite," she squealed. Buffy raised her eyebrows at her. "Just because I'm all-powerful doesn't mean I don't like designer."

Buffy smiled. "Are you gonna tell us why we're here or are we gonna sit around discussing the spring line?" she asked, her arm creeping around Angel's waist. She was scared and he was her lifeline. He would keep her safe, and she knew it.

"You see?" the Oracle said to her other half as she slowly approached the couple, gazing at them in wonder. "I told you they were meant for each other. Can you not see how perfect they are?" She circled, slowly, like a vulture circles her prey. But the act was not malicious, merely observant.

He gazed at them dispassionately, not wanting to admit that she was right. Standing before him, light and dark, fair and chiseled, soft and hard, Slayer and vampire matched each other in every way. They seemed relaxed by the simplest word, the softest touch. He had witnessed their kiss before and could tell that they were soulmates in every sense of the word instantly.

He also knew that if they did not intervene, both vampire and Slayer would die.

The Powers could not afford to lose these two Warriors.

"You see it, I know you do," she purred, coming to stand behind Buffy and Angel. Reaching a hand up, the Oracle caressed their cheeks as she continued speaking. "You see the love, the bond between these two. We must see to it that The Powers do as well."

Angel turned to look over his shoulder at the Oracle as he spoke. "Why have you brought us here?" he asked, tightening his hold on Buffy, never wanting to let her go.

"She remembers," the female Oracle said, waving a hand in Buffy's direction as she stepped around them and, her eyes glues on the two, walked back to her brother. If Angel hadn't been pale before, his face would have been as white as a sheet. Glancing down at her, he saw realization dawn on his beloved's face.

"That was real? Those dreams...they really happened?" Buffy whispered, catching Angel's glance with her own. "You were human?"

Her voice was so soft and heartbroken that Angel felt tears spring to his eyes. Wordlessly he nodded, watching as a single tear slipped from her eyelid, sliding down the curve of her cheek.

"Everything...it all happened? We made love?" Angel nodded again. "You gave it all up for me?"

"I had to," Angel whispered. "I couldn't bear to see you die..." At his words, uttered so softly, Buffy finally allowed herself to break down. She leaned heavily into his chest, her face covered with her hands as she wept for what she had lost.

She was whispering incoherently, nonsense words that somehow Angel understood. "It happened...oh God, you were human--and I was there...and we were together..." Angel gathered her in his arms, crushing her to his chest in a futile effort to make all the pain go away. He ran a hand through her soft hair, nuzzling her neck in comfort as he whispered sweet nothings to her, silent tears in his own eyes.

Angel looked up to see the Oracles whispering furiously to one another. He should have been able to hear them--a perk to being a vampire--but it was as if they weren't speaking at all. Buffy sniffled and pulled away slightly, gazing up at him with her bright, tear-filled eyes.

"Yes, it happened," he murmured, answering the question in her eyes as he brushed his lips across her forehead.

"Why didn't you tell me? You...you let me walk away," she said softly, her tone not angry, only inquisitive.

He gave her a look. "Would you have believed me if I had?" She faltered, looking away briefly.

"Okay, one point for the vampire," she joked, wiping the tears from her eyes before surprising Angel and wrapping her arms around his waist, hugging him to her. He was startled for a moment but reacted involuntarily, pulling her up against him. Buffy sighed, trembling against him as she breathed in deeply and inhaled his sharp scent. Angel kissed the top of her head lovingly, reveling in the feel of her in his arms again.

"You two can touch each other all you want when you leave," the male Oracle said in disgust as he turned to his other half. "You see, this is why I hate human romance. It's so...clingy."

"Hush," the other scolded, her eyes shining with excitement. "They are experiencing something rare and beautiful. Be thankful you are here to witness it."

Buffy and Angel pulled apart reluctantly and turned to face the pair, arms still around each other. "So I'm guessing this isn't a social call..." Buffy said, shifting her weight to her other foot. The Oracle folded her hands over her heart.

"No, my pretty Slayer, it is not. You see, we feel that you two are being treated unfairly." At this point, the male Oracle tried to protest but was silenced with a hand gesture. "You two have so much pain...and you know you cannot be together, yet you love one another all the more. It is really quite fascinating...and sad."

She moved over to them, carried through the air effortlessly by something other than her feet. Smiling up at them, she raised a hand to cover both their hearts. "Ahh, yes...I feel how broken they are. This is the very thing we set out to rectify..."

"That's really sweet and all, but what are you talking about?" Buffy asked, looking up at Angel before returning her gaze to the Oracle.

The female didn't answer, only turned swiftly and floated in the opposite direction.

"What's with all the floating?" Buffy asked Angel in a hushed voice. He shrugged and squeezed her shoulders.

"Last time they walked...must be some Oracle power or something," he mused. The male Oracle cleared his throat and glared at them.

"What she means is that we wish to prove to The Powers that you two need each other," he said. Buffy and Angel looked at one another.

"Uh...okay. A question--why would The Powers or whatever care?" Buffy asked.

"Ah, young one, you have not yet learned when to keep your peace," he scolded gently. "But you ask for the truth to be spoken, and so shall it be."

"We have come up with a way to show them that you two work better together than apart," the female interjected. Buffy and Angel looked at her.

"And that would be...?" Buffy asked, still unsure of what they meant.

"Simply put--we are granting Angel his humanity once more."

Buffy felt the breath escape her in a gasp as her knees buckled. Had she not been holding onto Angel, she would have crumpled to the floor. She stared at the Oracles with wide eyes, a small smile spreading on her lips as the news sunk in. Turning her gaze on Angel, she saw that he too was in shock. She leaned up against him heavily, afraid she would fall over if he was not there to support her.

"Angel..." she whispered dreamily, trailing off softly.

"Human?" he croaked, licking dry lips. The female Oracle nodded happily.

"With your supernatural strength. But there is a price," she warned, watching the smile slip from the Slayer's lips. "You have to prove to The Powers that you truly are better off with him by your side, fighting with you. If you can do that, I cannot see them having any problems with making it permanent."

"How much time do we have?" Angel asked, his voice strained. Buffy squeezed his waist in reassurance, her heart singing at the thought of her wildest dreams coming true.

"Two days," she replied. "Are you up for the challenge?"

Angel glanced down at Buffy, whose eyes were shining like those of a child's on Christmas morning. She was crying silently, tears of joy streaming down her face in proud rivers. He felt the overwhelming urge to kiss her then and there, but the Oracles were waiting.

Looking up at them, he nodded.


With a sweep of her hand, it was done.

Angel's heartbeat resonated through the great hall, a steady beat that matched Buffy's perfectly.

+ Part Six +

At the steady sound of thumping and the rhythmic rise and fall of Angel's chest, Buffy nearly cried out in pure joy. She turned to face him, the place they were in and the Oracles' presence slipping from her mind. In wonderment, she brought a shaky hand up to his chest, laying it on his smooth muscles and watching with fascination as it slowly rose and fell with the movement of his heart.

She pressed tighter, wanting to imprint the moment forever in her mind. It beat incessantly and her hand moved in the soft pattern as a smile spread upon her lips, a smile born of unadulterated happiness. She pulled him closer to her, all the while her eyes focused on her hand and his chest. In and out, in and out, in and out...

When she finally turned her eyes up to seek out his, she found that Angel's eyes were closed and his head was lolled back in what appeared to be pleasure. A smile graced his mouth, one of those sexy half-smiles that he had perfected over two hundred years ago and that always made Buffy want to grab him and kiss him with all her love and passion.

Angel somehow sensed that Buffy was looking at him and slowly opened his eyes to meet her stare. She blinked back tears of happiness as she watched her love take a deep breath, her hand creeping up a bit to experience the full sensation. Angel smiled broadly at her as he became lost in the hazel eyes that had always haunted him so...

"Well, you were right about one thing," the male Oracle said softly. "They are extremely cute together."

Buffy and Angel of course did not hear him, too wrapped up in the other to notice, or even care. Angel wrapped his arms around Buffy's body, pulling her flush up against him in an attempt to get as close to her as possible. His eyes were brimming with tears as well, something Buffy had rarely seen before.

And suddenly he leaned his head down, just as she tilted hers at the perfect angle, and their lips met and all that mattered was that they were in each other's arms again and were together and could finally be together in every sense of the word. Buffy ran her hands up Angel's back softly before settling her hands around his neck, urging him closer to her still. Angel gently slid his arms around her thin waist, nearly pulling her off the ground as he fought down the desire that swept through him.

He knew the Oracles were happy for them, but he doubted they would be too pleased if he and Buffy started going at it like two hormonal teens right in front of them.

"Oh, God, this has to be a dream," Buffy said as she ripped her lips away from Angel's. He kissed her again, softly, passionately.

"This is as real as it gets, baby," Angel whispered in her ear as he hugged her, nuzzling her throat in the process. Buffy kissed his neck softly, breathing in deeply as she held him close to her.

"I think we're making the Oracles sick," she giggled as she pulled away slightly. Angel pressed his lips to her temple.

"They don't get sick," he replied.

"Tell me this is real," she said again.

Angel leaned into her. "How about I show you?" he suggested, kissing her again. She pulled back, looking him square in the face.

"I love you."

Angel trembled slightly. "I never thought I'd hear you say that again," he told her. She smiled.

"Did you ever doubt it?"


"Are you two finished?" the male Oracle asked. Reluctantly, Buffy and Angel pulled away from each other, Buffy spinning around to face the Oracles but staying in the circle of Angel's arms, molding her back into his chest as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

"Sorry about that," Buffy grinned.

"You have nothing to be sorry about, my Slayer, it was beautiful. I have no doubts that you two will prove to The Powers that you are meant to be," the female Oracle said with a soft, friendly smile.

"So what exactly do we have to do?" Angel asked, almost dreading asking.

"If you look for it, you will not see it," he said, waving a hand in front of him. "It will seek you out, do not try and discover what it is on your own."

"And now we bid you farewell, my precious lovers. In two days time you will come to us again, and your fate will be decided," his other half said as she pointed a slim finger at them. "Until then, be happy."

With a flash of light, Buffy and Angel were sucked back into their world.

"Geez, you guys sure were gone long enough!" Cordelia cried from her seat on the floor when Buffy and Angel appeared. She quickly clamored to her feet and marched over to them. "Well?"

Wordlessly, Angel lifted one of her manicured hands in his, placing it over his heart. She gasped as she felt his steady heartbeat underneath it and looked up at him in shock. "I'm alive."

"Well, obviously! When a person's heart beats, that's what it means," Cordelia snapped. "Want to explain to me what's going on?"

Angel pulled Buffy close to him with a broad smile on his face. "We have two days to prove that we work better when we're together than apart. If we do, I get to stay human," he said. Cordelia rolled her eyes.

"Didn't you try that before? And you gave it all back so little Miss Slayer wouldn't get killed, remember?" Cordelia reminded him.

"They let him keep his strength," Buffy explained. A small smile broke out on Cordelia's lips as she pulled the two of them in for a hug.

"Well, then I guess I should congratulate you," she said as she pulled away. Buffy murmured her thanks and looked lovingly at Angel. Cordelia had never seen the two of them look so happy...well, that she could remember, anyway. The two of them had probably made her sick during that day he had been human...

Buffy glanced one last time at the portal before looking up at Angel. "Can we get out of here? This is kinda wigging me out," she begged. Angel complied and laced his fingers in hers. They walked off, leaving Cordelia to stare after them.

"I hate being the third wheel!" she muttered. "And why do they act like they're the only ones alive when they're together?! That 'we're-soulmates' thing is getting old..."

Shaking her head, she followed them out into the sunlight.

As soon as they stepped out into the day, Angel blinked rapidly as his eyes fought to become accustom to the sunlight again. He squinted down at Buffy, amazed at how precious she looked in the sunlight. It was as though she was a goddess sent down from Mount Olympus, her hair shone with an ethereal glow and her face was illuminated in the afternoon sun.

Buffy, for her part, was staring up at Angel in wonder. He was unusually pale, but that was a minor detail. His eyes seemed to sparkle with happiness and she knew it would be impossible for him to brood anymore. His hair was tinted with the slightest bit of auburn, something she had never noticed before.

Cordelia strode up next to them. "Okay, I'm going back to the office. You guys want a ride?"

"No, we'll walk," Angel said, never taking his eyes off Buffy's face. Cordelia rolled her eyes.

"I'm leaving, you two are gonna make me loose my lunch," she said as she moved away. "Try to control those hormones of yours in the big crowds. PDA is so out."

Buffy waved her away, smiling up at Angel again. He brought a hand up to her cheek, caressing it softly as he guided her mouth to his. She deepened the kiss, wrapping her arms around his neck once more as she pulled him to her. They stayed locked in a tight embrace until they heard a gasp behind them.

Breaking apart, Buffy and Angel turned to see who had made the sound. Kate Lockely stood before them, arms laden with packages. Her face glowed with embarrassment as she looked away awkwardly, trying to hide the hurt look on her face.

"Kate! What're you doing here?" Angel asked as he slid an arm around Buffy's shoulders. Kate looked up at him.

"Shopping. Witness me blowing all my money on presents that will be forgotten about the day after Christmas," she replied, holding up her many bags in emphasis. Her eyes focused on Buffy. "Who's your friend?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. Kate, this is Buffy Summers. Buffy, Kate Lockely," Angel said, introducing the two. Kate held out her hand and Buffy shook it firmly--maybe a little TOO firmly.

Kate winced slightly. "Wow, that's quite a grip you have. And how do you two know each other?"

Angel smiled down at Buffy proudly. "She's the love of my life."

Kate's lips formed a small 'O' in shock. Her eyes narrowed slightly at the younger woman before they turned cool as ice. "Well...I've always wanted to meet the girl who knew the way into Angel's heart."

"It's nice to meet you too," Buffy said slowly, her eyebrows raised. "And how do you know Angel?"

"We've worked together before," Angel told her quickly, stepping in. He could feel the tension between the two and it was quite unpleasant...

"Oh, that's nice," Buffy said with a slightly sarcastic voice. There was an awkward pause between the three.

"Well, it was nice seeing you Kate," Angel said suddenly. "Buffy and I are going back to the office, so I'll see you soon?"

Kate smiled flirtatiously at him and laid a hand on his arm, something that caused Buffy to shoot daggers at the woman with her eyes. "Sure, Angel, I'll call you."

Angel smiled at her and detached himself from her grip, steering Buffy clear of her.

"It was nice to meet you," Kate called after Buffy. "I hope to see you again soon!"

Buffy smiled over her shoulder as she walked away with Angel. "Bye, Kate," she waved before freeing her hand from Angel's. She took his hand and guided it around her waist, patting her pocket with it suggestively. Angel got the hint and slipped it into her jeans, pressing her body to his. Buffy hooked her pointer finger in the belt loop of Angel's slacks, knowing Kate was watching. She could feel the other woman's eyes boring into her back...

"She's my contact with the L. A. P. D.," Angel explained once they were out of Kate's earshot. Buffy giggled as she looked up at Angel, oblivious to the world around her.

"She obviously wants you," Buffy countered playfully. Angel laughed.

"She's nice and she's a good friend, but that's where it ends. She's got some problems, too, when she introduced herself she said she was a 'self-flagellating hypocrite slut.' She's too needy for me," Angel told her as they moseyed down the block, making an extremely attractive couple. They balanced each other perfectly, short and tall, blond and brown, fair and chiseled.

Buffy and Angel walked slowly through the city, enjoying each other's company quietly for a while. They passed Salvation Army Santas, who stood on the corners with their little red pots and rang their bells. They passed stores lit up in holiday lights, advertising amazing last-minute sales. The sky was clear for once, the sun smiling down at them from its place high in the sky as the couple toured the city.

"Did you miss me?" Buffy asked suddenly, her eyes fixated on a point ahead of her. Angel unconsciously tightened his hold on her, slipping his hand deeper into her pocket.

"Every minute," he whispered. Buffy smiled.

"Not a second went by that I didn't think about you," she told him.

"You were everywhere," Angel agreed. "There was no escape."

"I tried so hard to forget," Buffy confessed, "I tried so hard to be what they all wanted. But it didn't feel right, going out with Riley and--"

"Riley?" Angel asked, stopping suddenly and looking down at her.

"Did I forget to mention I have a boyfriend?" she winced. Angel raised his eyebrow at her. "He was my psych T.A., we met in class. Actually, we met in the bookstore, I dropped some books on his head..."

"And he found that romantic?" Angel asked. Buffy laughed.

"Not exactly..."

"And what will happen to this boyfriend of yours if I stay human?" Angel asked playfully. Buffy frowned.

"Well, I'll have to just go back to Sunnydale and be his little girlfriend," Buffy said.

"Really? That's too bad..." Angel said, taking both her hands in his. "Because you'll be missing out on the best thing that'll ever happen to you."

"Aren't we cocky," Buffy smirked. Angel returned it for a moment before sombering.


"Angel, do you even have to ask?" Buffy asked. Angel's face told her he needed to hear it anyway. "You know that if we actually do this and you get to keep your pulse there is no way in hell I'm ever letting you go."

"If we beat whatever it is they're throwing at us I won't let you out of my sight again," Angel replied, rubbing her palms with his fingers. She smiled up at him with love.

"I love you," she whispered, pressing her forehead to his. Angel entwined his fingers in hers.

"I love you more than life itself," Angel replied, kissing the tip of her nose softly. They stood like that for a long time, feeling completed again, not realizing they had ended up on the same boardwalk that they had first kissed in the sunlight.

For once, everything was right in their world.

The Oracles watched them through the glowing orb once more.

"Do you doubt them now?" she asked. He sighed and turned away.

"I hope you know what you're doing," he replied heavily.

"I do," she said. "They are setting things up perfectly."

She turned back to the orb, watching Buffy and Angel shopping for Christmas things for the office. "And what a perfect time for them...instead of being lonely like so many of their kind, they have found each other again. It is nothing short of touching."

"I still think you're going about this all wrong," he grumbled. She sighed.

"What do you have against love?"

"Nothing. Those two just make me sick."

She laughed at his narrow-mindedness and turned her attention back to the couple, who were laughing as they tried on matching Santa Claus hats. She sighed in contentment, happy that she had given them this incredible gift.

+ Part Seven +

Buffy and Angel strolled into the office as Cordelia was shutting the lights out. She looked up when she heard their laughter, greeting the two with a smile as she switched the Christmas tree lights back on and took some of the bags from them.

"What did you two buy?" she asked curiously, peeking in one of the bags.

"Lots of Christmas stuff," Buffy said as she pulled a Santa Claus hat out of the bag and put it on Cordelia's head. She took the other two out and tossed one to Angel as she slipped hers on her head. Cordelia looked up at it.

"What did you just put on me?!" she asked, pulling it off her head and staring down at the hat. "Okay, who are you and what have you done with my brooding boss?" she demanded, looking at Angel. He laughed as he began unloading the bag. Silver tinsel, more lights, a poinsettia, and even one of those dancing Santas Xander had gotten Giles were unpacked.

"He got a life," Angel said, causing the girls to crack up. He popped the 98 Degrees Christmas CD that Buffy had made him get into the CD player as they began decorating the office even more.

"So what did you guys do today?" Cordelia asked.

"Angel, can you help me put this up?" Buffy called, standing on a chair to hang the tinsel up on the window. Angel walked over to her, taking some of the tinsel from her and stringing it up.

"Well, we took a stroll, met up with Kate--" Buffy started but was cut off by Cordelia.

"You met Kate? Lucky you," Cordelia said with a roll of her eyes.

"She seemed quite...interested in my Angel," Buffy said with a grin. Angel pinned up mistletoe and pulled Buffy to him, kissing her hard on the lips in the doorway. Cordelia took one look at them and picked up her purse.

"You know...I'm just gonna...go. Now. You two seem to finally be acting on all that pent-up lust you must have...so I'll see you tomorrow," Cordelia said as she inched around them. "Or maybe next week..." she muttered when she saw that they were still going strong.

Buffy and Angel didn't even notice that she left. They were two busy trying to shove their tongues down each other's throats to care. Angel pushed her up against the door frame, his hands roaming freely over her back. Buffy jumped up, wrapping her legs around Angel's waist as her hands grasped at his shirt, trying to remove it as quickly as possible.

Angel suddenly boosted her up again, urging her to wrap her legs even tighter. Slowly, precariously, he carried her through the office into the elevator, closing it and pushing the 'Down' button as they continued to kiss. Buffy felt so empty, so needy...she needed him to claim her again, she needed to remember what it was like to be whole again.

The elevator dinged open and Angel began the task of maneuvering to the bed. He almost tripped once but made it without dropping her. He laid her down gently on the bed, breaking the kiss to look her in the eye. Her lips were swollen with his kisses and her eyes were dark with lust. He nuzzled her cheek with his, gently kissing a trail down her throat.

"Angel...I need you so much," she pleaded, grasping at the sheets.

"Shh, baby, soon," Angel whispered, calming her. "Let me do this."

She whimpered and complied, settling down into the warm sheets as Angel moved down her body once more.

"Oh, God, I'm gonna be sore tomorrow," Buffy moaned hours later. Angel chuckled and gazed into her hazel eyes, loving the way she could make him feel so accepted in a single glance. Buffy was resting her head comfortably on Angel's arm, her body facing his.

"Is that a bad thing?" Angel asked as he drew lazy circles on her arm. She shook her head and nuzzled his arms, kissing his bicep softly.

"Of course not. I just don't know when I'll be able to do that again..." she grinned.

"I give you an hour, tops," he replied, smiling back at her as he kissed her forehead. She sighed.

"Yeah, you're probably right."

"Aren't I always?"

"Do you want me to answer that one?"

"Buffy..." Angel said softly, in that breathy way that always made her feel dizzy. "You know what I did was for the best."

"I know, Angel," Buffy said as she snuggled closer to him, wrapping her arm around his chest and pulling him to her. "For so long, I was confused...and hurt, I guess. When you said you didn't want to be with me, a part of me died."

"I never said I didn't want to be with you, Buffy. I said I didn't want your life to be with me. I didn't want you to feel as though you were wasting it..." Angel said as he leaned down, planting a kiss on her temple. Buffy kissed his chest softly in response.

"I know, I finally figured that out. But it still hurt that you didn't seem to trust me enough to make my own decisions."

"I know that I've made some bad choices in the past, ones that have affected you as much as they've affected me. But if we can do this, and if I stay human I promise you that every decision made that concerns our relationship will be a joint one," Angel said, stroking her hair with the hand of the arm she was resting on. She smiled up at him.

"You don't know how happy that makes me feel," she whispered.

"I think I do," he replied. She scooted up a bit to kiss him softly on the lips before settling back down underneath the warm covers, Angel's body making her skin tingle wherever they touched.

"I think this is a new beginning," she said sleepily, trying to contain her yawn. Angel kissed the top of her head and settled back against the mattress.

"I love you, my little Slayer," he whispered shyly.

"I love you too, Angel."

And the ex-vampire and his lover slept peacefully, safe in the arms of love.

Cordelia sighed as she rummaged in her bag for her keys. She could hear the phone ringing and wanted to get it before the answering machine picked up. Jamming the key into the lock, she opened the door and flew to the phone as Dennis closed the door behind her.

"Hello?" she said breathlessly as she picked it up.

"Hi...is Buffy there?" a male voice asked. Cordelia frowned.

"Who do you think I am, her secretary?"

"Well, no," he said, "but her father gave me your number and said she was staying with you for a couple of days. I'm Riley Finn, by the way."

"Riley?" Cordelia repeated, a smile on her lips. Ooh, this would be fun...

"Yeah, Buffy's boyfriend," he said cheerfully on the other line. Oh, the poor boy, if only he knew what--or actually WHO--his girlfriend was doing right now...

"Oh, of course! Riley, hello. I'm Cordelia Chase," she purred.

"Yeah, I figured," Riley laughed. "So is Buffy there?"

Cordelia shook her head. "No, I'm sorry, she's not. She's staying at a friend's for the night," Cordelia told him.

"Oh, one of her friends from Hemery?" Riley asked.

"No. Her ex-boyfriend, Angel."

Riley was silent for a moment. "Her ex? Why is she staying at her ex's for the night?"

"Maybe so they can have crazy monkey sex all over MY office?" Cordelia retorted. "Sorry, did I just say that out loud?"

"Yeah, you did," Riley snapped. "What the hell is going on?"

"Short version? Angel and Buffy worked out their issues. Angel and Buffy are back together. Angel and Buffy are screwing like bunnies right about now. Any questions?" Cordelia asked as she sat down on her couch.

"Look, I don't know what you're trying to pull here, but can you just have Buffy call me when she gets home?" Riley asked. Cordelia smirked.

"Yeah, whatever. Just don't be surprised if she calls to break up with you..." she warned before clicking off the phone. She smiled down at it proudly as a plate floated over to her, loaded with salad and chicken. "Ooh, yum. Thank you, Dennis. Nothing but the best for Queen C, right?" She chuckled in the emptiness of her apartment and picked up her fork, idly wondering what her friends were doing before wincing in disgust.

Those thoughts led to BAD mental pictures...

+ Part Eight +

Buffy opened her eyes slowly, panicking for a moment when she found herself in a strange bed all alone. She calmed down quickly as the events of the past day filled her mind, and she stretched like a cat and rolled over, looking for Angel. He was not in the bed, and Buffy began to feel an urgency creep over her. What if something bad happened to him? What if he had gone to fight whatever challenge it was they were fighting without her? What if--

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a pot being dropped in the kitchen. She got out of bed smiling and pulled on one of Angel's silk shirts, buttoning it as she walked out of the bedroom, careful not to trip over the clothes that littered the floor. She entered the kitchen to see Angel busy at work at the stove, cooking what appeared to be omelets and bacon.

"Wow, great in bed and knows how to cook. I think you're a keeper, mister," Buffy said as she slid up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. He started for a moment before realizing who it was, and he turned around to give her a sweet good morning kiss.

"Nice outfit," he drawled as he looked her up and down.

"You're one to talk," she shot back playfully, trying not to let the fact that he was wearing only a bathrobe and a pair of boxers get to her. His robe was cinched loosely around his waist, exposing a bit of his chest to her hungry gaze. She had the overwhelming desire to kiss it...

Angel handed her a plate laden with food and directed her to the table. He sat down opposite of her, but it wasn't good enough. She scooted around the table and plopped down on his lap, reaching over to get her plate.

"I like you in my clothes," Angel said as he fed her a piece of toast. She grinned and leaned down for a kiss.

"Get used to it," she replied, taking a sip of orange juice.

"Oh, I think I definitely could..."

As soon as the table was cleared and the dishes were done Buffy turned to Angel with a devilish grin on her face. Taking his hand, she hopped up onto the kitchen table and pulled him into her body.

"What do you say we have another go at this table thing?" she teased, unbuttoning her shirt slowly. He grinned wickedly at his beloved and quickly shed his robe.

"Let's just try not to break it this time," he said. Before she could respond, his lips were fusing with hers and she promptly forgot all her snazzy comebacks, becoming lost in the feel of him.

"'Morning, Cordy," Buffy said with a huge grin as she and Angel stepped out of the elevator. The actress gave them a look.

"I hope you realize that I've been emotionally scarred," she said, turning her attention back to her paperwork. Angel kissed Buffy's hand softly before going over to his desk.

"How so?" she asked, plopping down on the couch and turning on the dancing Santa. The tune of 'Jingle Bell Rock' filled the air.

"I heard you guys down there, it sounded like you were killing her, Angel!"

Angel chuckled, but didn't respond.

"That's what it felt like," Buffy said dreamily. "But in a good way..."

"I think that was an oxymoron," Cordelia muttered as she focused on the computer screen in front of her. Before Buffy could reply the door flew open and a person raced in.

"Angel," Cordelia called as she focused on the man before her, who was trembling and glancing over his should nervously. "We've got company."

"What is it?" Angel asked as he came into the main room, sweeping his gaze over the guy. "What do you need?"

"Help," the guy rasped. "My family...we're...I..."

"Speak," Cordelia encouraged. "Take a deep breath and then speak."

He did as he was told. "My family was taken by these...these things. They were big and purple and had horns coming out of the middle of their heads. I managed to get away, but I don't know where they went and I need help," he said, almost in hysterics. Buffy placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and pulled him down beside her on the couch while Angel fetched him a glass of water from the cooler.

"So a bunch of demons came and grabbed your family and ran off and you don't know where they are?" Cordelia repeated, squinting at him. He nodded and guzzled the water down.

"Any idea where they were taken?" Buffy asked. He shrugged helplessly. She looked at Angel for help and realized he was thinking.

"Angel?" she asked. He looked up at his name and narrowed his eyes slightly.

"You said they were purple? With horns? Did you see what color eyes they had?" he asked, beginning to pace. The guy thought for a moment.

"Yeah...they were white. It was scary, like they weren't even looking at me..."

"They weren't," Angel said. "They're Ochruis demons, they rely on smell and hearing to capture their victims."

"Well, do you know where they might be?" Cordelia asked.

"I think I saw one the other night while I was patrolling," he said, "down by the old warehouses that they turned into clubs."

"Oh, yeah, where they put The Chain and stuff in?" Cordelia asked. Angel nodded and grabbed his jacket. Buffy stood as well, gently taking it from him.

"It's warm out, you don't need it. Plus the whole long-coat-wearing-mysterious-guy routine only works at night," she said as she walked to the door. "Cordy, we'll take care of this. You stay here and watch him."

"Sure, Buffy, whatever. Oh, and your little boytoy Riley called last night. I said you were staying at Angel's," she said. Buffy sighed.

"Thanks, Cor, how am I gonna explain it to him?"

"Well, I already told him so it shouldn't be too hard..."

"C'mon," Angel said, dragging her to the door. "You can figure out how you're gonna break up with Riley later. We'll take my car."

With that, the two Warriors left to face what could very well be called their destiny.

Buffy and Angel paused outside of the warehouse they had pinpointed as being the demon headquarters. Each gripped wicked-looking swords in their hands, ready for battle.

"This is it," Angel said grimly as he peered into the grime-covered window. Buffy nodded, gripping his hand.

"We can do this. We have to do this," she whispered pleadingly. "I know I won't be able to live without you."

"I love you," Angel said as he brushed his lips against hers. "No matter what, remember that."

"And I love you, always and forever."

With those words and a final kiss for good luck, they crept through the window and began their search. It wasn't hard, the first large room they came to was where the Ochruis demons were sitting, looking as though they were meditating. Several people were cramped together in a tiny cage in the corner, scared and shaking and dirty.

A glance between the two allowed them to communicate. Splitting up, Buffy and Angel crept through the old boxes that were leaning against the wall. There were twelve demons in all, but they were huge, each nearly seven feet tall. Buffy was waiting for Angel to get into position, and she said a silent prayer to the Oracles or whoever would listen that they would survive this fight and prove they were indeed better off together.

Angel looked across the room at Buffy with love in his eyes. He mouthed 'I love you' to her; she mouthed it back. She was scared, he could tell. In all truth, so was he. So much depended on this one thing, their entire lives and future rested on the outcome of this battle. But that did not discourage him, if anything it made him stronger. He could do this, and so could she, and they would together prove to The Powers that they were an amazing team.

The signal was given, and Buffy crept up behind the closest demon. With a swing of her sword, he was decapitated and he fell to the floor with a scream of agony, his body turning into green goo on the concrete.

"Eww, it's a good thing you guys don't have carpet. The cleaning bills would be hell..." she said as she stood ready to fight. The other demons stared at her with rage in their eyes before advancing on her hungrily. "Wow, don't just sit there, come and get me," she quipped nervously. Angel silently stalked up behind the demons who were slowly making their way to his lover, beheading two before they knew what hit them.

"You'd think you demons would learn that it's better to move *quickly* so you avoid an ambush," Angel growled as he kicked one of the purpled demons in the back, sending it sprawling to the ground as he quickly beheaded it. Immediately he was surrounded by five of the Ochruis demons, all nearly drooling at the sight of him.

"You forget, honey," Buffy grunted as she spin-kicked one of the demons in the chest, stabbing another with her sword. "They aren't that smart."

"That's probably a good thing," Angel replied as he punched one in the face and elbowed another in the stomach. Soon the fight became too hard for idle chitchat. Buffy was thrown to the ground, her sword sent careening across the smooth floor several feet away from her. She pulled a dagger out of her boot and plunged back into the fight, taking out one demon and kicking another at the same time.

Angel threw several solid punches, catching the demon he was fighting square in the chest. The demon punched back, knocking Angel to the ground. He jumped up swiftly and stabbed the demon in the heart, not waiting for it to turn to go before moving onto the next one.

"That wasn't very nice! Didn't you mother ever tell you not to hit poor, defenseless girls?" Buffy demanded after being punched in the jaw. A trickle of blood was marring her pretty face and she quickly wiped it away, kneeing the demon in the groin before stabbing it right in the gut. The demon moaned as it fell to its knees, screaming for mercy as it dissolved. Buffy looked around, wanting to fight something else, when she saw Angel defending himself against the remaining four demons. She jumped on the one who was closest to her lover, delivering a stunning blow to the head. She was quickly flipped over the demon, landing hard on her back.

She groaned and blinked back the stars that swam in her vision. The demon that loomed above her was a bit fuzzy, but she rolled over backwards, kicking her legs up to catch the demon in the chest as she used her momentum to do a back flip, landing on her feet facing away from the purple guy. Quickly stabbing him with lightning speed, she took out another one with ease.

Soon there were only two left, but Buffy and Angel were getting tired. Buffy was exchanging blows with the one when she heard the clanking of swords. Looking up in horror, she saw that Angel and the demon were fighting, the demon using the sword she had dropped and Angel using his. Angel's cry of pain sent adrenaline pumping through her system and she ignored the aches all over her body and the blood that was trickling from the various wounds she had received.

Beating the demon back, she quickly disposed of him and turned around to see Angel fighting a losing battle. He was tired and hurt and it showed. Blood poured from the deep cut in his arm as he fought valiantly. Buffy doubled over in pain suddenly, her abdomen clenching tightly. When she looked up again, breathing hard in an attempt to ease the pain, Angel had been backed into a corner with the demon prepared to strike.

"Angel!" Buffy cried and with a speed she didn't think she possessed, the Slayer moved across the room and plunged her bloody dagger into the demon's back as it prepared to strike. It melted in front of her but she was unaware of what she was kneeling in as she bent down and looked closely at Angel.

His eye was bruising and he had a spilt lip. Blood was still coming from the wound on his arm and he looked rather pale from the blood loss, but he looked up at her tiredly and managed a pain-filled smile. She trembled in relief and leaned into him, ignoring her sore muscles and the fire that breathed through her.

"I thought I was going to lose you," she whispered, clutching him to her. She kissed him gently, tasting the coppery flavor of his blood as it mixed with hers.

"I'll never leave you again, Buffy," he promised, wrapping his tired arms around her.

The Slayer and her lover stayed like that for a long time, so engrossed in each other that they didn't hear the cries of the people in the cage. Finally, the fog in their brains cleared and they realized they weren't done.

Buffy helped Angel up and hobbled over to the cage. Using the last of her strength, she kicked the door open, freeing the two men, three women, and five children inside.

"Thank you," they gushed, supporting Buffy and Angel as they walked out of the dreadful place. Angel directed them to his car.

"I can take a few of you back to my office and the rest can take a cab," he said as he slid into the black convertible and opened the door for Buffy. She immediately began searching for something to stop the bleeding of Angel's arm with, and when she could find nothing she took off her shirt and wrapped it tightly around his wound.

"Hush," she scolded lightly when he tried to protest. "I didn't like it anyway. Now drive, I'm feeling incredibly naked."

Angel smiled despite his state and handed the ones who were getting a cab his business card. He waited until they had hailed one before pulling out into traffic, trying to stay awake long enough to get them home safely.

"My God!" Cordelia cried as they stumbled into the office. "What the hell happened to you two?"

"Twelve Ochruis demons," Buffy said as she sank down into the couch cushions. Angel plopped down next to her as Cordelia rushed to get the first aid kit, pushing through the reunion that was taking place in the middle of the office. She returned in a few second, tossing Buffy a blanket in the process.

"Uh, Buffy? Where'd your shirt go?" she asked, eying the Slayer. Buffy pointed to Angel's arm and Cordelia nodded. "Oh, I thought maybe you two had stopped for a quickie beforehand or something."

Buffy shot her a look as Cordelia began tending for both of them. The man who had asked for their help in the first place--Matt, his name was--came up to them as Cordelia applied antiseptic to the cut on Buffy's forehead.

"How can we ever thank you?" he asked. Angel was about to speak when Cordelia cut in.

"We'll send you a bill," she said sweetly. "Just leave your address with us and we'll be in touch in the next day or so." Buffy looked at her friend strangely before shrugging.

"I owe you my life," he said, focusing on Buffy and Angel.

"But we didn't save you," Buffy pointed out. Matt shook his head.

"You saved my family. They're my life," he told her softly. Buffy smiled and leaned against Angel.

"You're welcome," she said warmly, Angel echoing her statement. "Merry Christmas."

"Same to you! There should be more people in the world like the two of you," he said as he ushered his family out. They all shouted their thanks and holiday wishes as they walked out, leaving the office silent.

"Okay, I don't think you need to go to the hospital, Angel, it seems to be closing up already," Cordelia announced as she stood and threw the wrappers and Buffy's bloody shirt out.

"The perks of supernatural healing," he said grimly. Buffy sighed, rubbing her temples.

"You have anything for my headache?" she asked. "Preferably something that will knock me out..."

Cordelia laughed as she retrieved the bottle of aspirin from Angel's office. She handed them to Buffy, along with a glass of water. She swallowed two down and took a long greedy gulp of water before setting the glass down.

"I think I'm just gonna go sleep until tomorrow," Buffy moaned as she stood and helped Angel up. He was unusually quiet, but she didn't comment on it.

"Well, I have an audition in a half hour for a part on a soap opera," Cordelia said.

"Good luck, Cor! Knock 'em dead," Buffy smiled.

"Oh, I'm planning on it. I'll come check up on you guys later, okay?"

Angel shook his head. "We'll be sleeping. Just take the rest of the day and night off, go to your audition and do whatever you want," he told her. She kissed both him and Buffy on the cheek before grabbing her purse and her script and leaving. Angel offered Buffy his good arm, which she greatly took, and led her downstairs into his apartment. They changed, Angel into sweatpants and Buffy into one of his shirts and a pair of his boxers, and, regardless of the fact that it was only four in the afternoon, crawled under the covers, cuddling together and instantly falling asleep after a hard day of slaying.

+ Part Nine +

Twenty-four hours later, Buffy and Angel were refreshed. They stood in the underground entrance to the otherworld, ready for their meeting with the Oracles. Cordelia was there as well, ready to perform the small ritual whenever they were ready.

Buffy turned to look up at Angel. "I don't know if I can do this..."

"Shh," he said, smoothing her hair out with his hand. "Everything will work out."

"Angel, if they take back your humanity, I don't know what I'll do," she whispered, pressing her forehead into his chest. He wrapped his arms around her body and pulled her close to him.

"They won't," he said softly. "They saw how much better we work together, how happy we are when we're together. The Powers will know, and they'll make this permanent."

"You guys ready?" Cordelia asked, striking a match against the marble. She threw it into the bowl and chanted a few words before they could answer. A bright light appeared, and they stepped through it without looking back.

Again Buffy and Angel found themselves in the great hall of the Oracles. They were alone for the time being and Buffy clutched the bag she held on to, feeling small and insignificant in the cavernous room. Angel slipped an arm around her shoulders and softly dropped a kiss on her hair, closing his eyes and breathing in deeply. She smiled up at him.

"No matter what," she echoed from the day before.

Angel nodded. "No matter what."

"What have you brought us?" the male Oracle asked as they materialized in the room. Buffy started slightly.

"A rare Roman chalice," Angel said as he removed it from the bag. He tossed it to the Oracles, who caught it and examined it together.

"Wonderful," the female Oracle said gleefully. "Now I suppose you want your answers."

Buffy and Angel exchanged one last glance, filled with all the love and pain and longing they felt. Buffy closed her eyes and took a deep breath, memorizing the feel of Angel's strong hold on her shoulders and the peace she felt in her soul. When she opened them, she nodded.

"We have showed The Powers That Be all that has transpired since the day you first saw her, Angel," the Oracle stated. "We showed them the joy and pain of your relationship, the sacrifice you made when he was sent to hell, the confusion you both experienced when he returned, the helplessness of last Christmas, the heartbreak of your breakup. The joy of your day together. And finally, we told them of what happened yesterday, how although you were human you defeated twelve extremely powerful demons and how Buffy saved your life.

"They reviewed all this and came to a decision." The Oracle paused, watching the anxiety that was clear on both faces. She smiled in reassurance. "They have decided to allow you to continue on like this, Angel, a human with vampiric strength and healing powers. You are both much too valuable to our cause to let heartbreak be the death of you."

As soon as the words escaped her mouth, Buffy began sobbing in relief. She buried her head in Angel's chest and cried tears of pure joy as her deepest fantasies came true in a matter of moments. Angel whispered nonsense in her ear, calming her down while tears formed in his own eyes. The Powers had felt he was worthy of her love, something that made his soul sing.

He was finally worthy.

"Thank you," Buffy whispered, her voice muffled in Angel's chest. She wiped her eyes and gave the Oracles a watery smile. "I'm not usually this emotional."

They exchanged glances and smiled back at her. "Now go, my Warriors. Do your duty, serve those who cannot help themselves," the female Oracle said. "Never lose sight of who you are and what you stand for."

"Your humanity is not a free ticket to the rest of your life," the male Oracle warned.

"So it's not a 'Get out of jail free' type thing?" Buffy asked. He nodded.

"You must continue to fight, to protect those who cannot protect themselves," he reiterated. "But now you can do it together."

"Thank The Powers for us, will you?" Angel asked as he pulled Buffy gently with him to the portal. The Oracles nodded.

"You are welcome, my young lovers. Be happy," the female said. With a smile, they were gone.

She turned to look at her other half.

"We did good."

"That we did," he agreed, staring after the Slayer and her lover. "That we did..."

+ Epilogue +

"Ooh, do we have any more of those cookies I made yesterday?" Buffy called from her seat on the floor. "Or did you eat them all..."

"Got 'em," Angel replied from the kitchen. He returned swiftly, carrying a package of strawberries and the cookies Buffy had made. He set them down gently and let Buffy sort through it while he turned the lights of the Christmas tree they had decorated on and lit the dozens of candles he had placed around the room. It was Christmas Eve and Buffy's father had gotten tied up with last minute business. He was flying home on Christmas morning, so Buffy got to spend Christmas Eve with her newly human boyfriend.

Angel lit the final candle and blew out the match, turning the special radio he had on low. There were no advertisements, just music. He joined Buffy on the living room floor, lying down on the red satin coverlet they had placed in from of his electrical fireplace. He turned it on and set it to the lowest heat, wanting it more for atmosphere than warmth.

Buffy snuggled up to him, feeding him a strawberry as she kissed him. The song playing softly throughout the room caught her attention, and she smiled when she realized it was the one she had been hearing for the past few days.

"There were moments of gold,
and there were flashes of light.
There were things we'd never do again,
but then they'd always seem right.
There were nights of endless pleasure.
It was more than all your laws allow.
Baby, baby, baby.

"When you touch me like this
And when you hold me like that.
It was gone with the wind,
But it's all coming back to me.
When you see me like this,
and when I see you like that.
Then we see what we want to see.
All coming back to me.
The flesh and the fantasies
All coming back to me.
I can barely recall,
but it's all coming back to me now."

"This song helped me remember," she told Angel, looking down at him. His head lay in her lap, his face illuminated by the fire. He looked so mysterious, dark and handsome like the stranger she had fallen instantly in love with. He smiled up at her and kissed her bare calf.

"I'm glad you did," he said.

"I'm sorry you had to carry that for so long," she whispered, leaning down to brush her lips against his forehead.

"It all worked out in the end," he said softly, suddenly sitting up and reaching for the coffee table. "Speaking of working out, here's your gift." He handed her a small box, wrapped in silver paper and tied with a blue bow. She grinned at him and pulled his presents out from under the couch. He eyed them. "You first."

Buffy obliged, ripping into the paper eagerly. She took the lid off and gasped when she saw the contents of it. The Claddaugh ring Angel had given to her on her seventeenth birthday, the one that had technically married them, sat in a sea of cotton. She removed it with trembling fingers, grasping the cool metal as she turned it over in her hands in wonder.

"Look on the inside of the band," Angel urged. She did, turning it to the fireplace so she could see the inscription. "No matter what, I love you always," she read aloud. Looking up at Angel with tears in her eyes, she smiled and handed him the ring. "Will you put it on me?"

Angel nodded and slipped it on her finger, loving how right it felt. Someday he would slip a real wedding band on her finger and become her lawful wedded husband, but for now the symbol of their love was enough. He murmured something in Gaelic as he leaned over and placed a gently kiss on the ring.

"What did you just say?" she asked, holding her hand up to the light. The silver glittered in the candlelight, reflecting the dozens of candles round the room.

"With this ring, I thee wed," he whispered, tugging her hand up to his mouth to kiss it softly. She wiped away the tears that had formed and was about to put down the box when Angel stopped her. "No, there's more."

Curious, Buffy picked through the cotton to find an antique gold locket. She pulled it out by the chain, watching it dangle and dance with the fire. On the front was inscribed 'Buffy and Angel' and there was a diamond heart in the middle of it.

"I didn't put any pictures in because I thought you'd want to," Angel told her. She smiled at him and leaned over to kiss him deeply.

"Thank you," she murmured, nuzzling his cheek with her own. "They're both perfect." She carefully set aside the necklace and focused her attention on Angel. "Your turn."

He chose to open the larger present first. It was actually two things wrapped as one and he was surprised to see this. First was a beautiful framed picture of the two of them. Actually, it was several pictures made into one collage. Cordelia had taken them two days before when the three of them had gone out for the day, to the beach and shopping and the boardwalk. Buffy and Angel were goofing off in one, kissing in another, touching foreheads in a small one and smiling broadly in the corner. He stared at it for a long time, the memories of that day rushing back to him.

The second item was a beautiful journal with a picture of a sunrise on the cover. On the first page, Buffy had written a few words for him and he read them silently.

My love,
I know how much you love to write your poetry or just your thoughts down. This sunrise is a symbol for the dawn of our new relationship as equals on every front. I will spend eternity with you and love every moment of it.
Yours forever,

Arial" size="2">Angel looked up at her joyfully. Leaning over, he gave her a sweet kiss on the lips. "Thank you," he breathed, reaching for the third package. Tearing off the paper and the top of the box, he was surprised to see a matching Claddaugh ring sitting in it.

"Guess we think alike," she laughed as he took it out. "I wanted you to have one that was from me only."

Angel handed it to her and she repeated what he had done to her, minus the words in Gaelic. Angel set his presents aside too and got up to throw the paper in the garbage, taking the food back into the kitchen. He returned a moment later to find Buffy stretched out on the blanket, looking relaxed as could be and wearing nothing but a sexy grin.

He quickly shed his own clothing and joined her on the blanket. They shared a long, tender kiss before Buffy spoke.

"Come to my father's for Christmas tomorrow," she said softly, pulling him on top of her.

"Are you sure I won't be imposing?" he asked. She nodded.

"Cordy's coming and my dad's housekeeper is gonna come cook for us," she said, kissing the tip of his nose. "I really want you there."

"Anything for you, my love," he whispered as he kissed the scar on her throat.

"If you forgive me all this.
If I forgive you all that.
We forgive and forget,
And it's all coming back to me.
When you see me like this
And when I see you like that,
We see just what we want to see
All coming back to me.
The flesh and the fantasies
All coming back to me.
I can barely recall, but it's all coming
back to me now.

"I love you, Angel," she whispered, arching off the coverlet. Angel covered her mouth with his.

"And I love you."

"This is the best Christmas ever," she said. "I guess miracles really do happen."

"Only to people who deserve them."

And with those words, both promptly forgot how to speak as they became lost in each other.

+ Ringing in the New Year +