One Day

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Angel followed Cordelia and Wesley into the large movie theater and handed the clerk their tickets. The smell of buttered popcorn was the first thing he noted. It sent a small dagger to his heart as he recalled the many times that Buffy would use his microwave at the mansion to pop popcorn. She had a way, when she wasn't conscious of his eyes on her, that she went about it. Take the plastic off, smash it around a little to mix the kernels with the butter, then linger around the microwave so she could smell it. 'After all, Angel, the best part is the way it smells. It smells like a movie theater.'

He smiled a little when a young boy walked directly in front of him, head back, tossing pieces of his popcorn in his mouth. Buffy did that too, sometimes. 'It's a highly skilled art, Angel. Stop laughing at me! Watch the movie.'

For as odd as their relationship had been, he had tried to add small things that would feel normal to her. Renting movies, buying the microwave, keeping his cabinets stocked with things she would like. And he was absolutely positive that Buffy went out of her way to make sure she had patented 'girl' reactions. She never disappointed. When it was scary, she clung to him. When it was sad, she cried and accepted tissue[s]. When it was a guy flick, she chided him on making her sit through it, but always, always there was the smell of popcorn.

That smell was also prevalent on the night that Buffy had walked into his apartment and found Faith in his arms. Right after Faith had popped her popcorn and told him about Buffy's new boyfriend. Without realizing it, he stopped walking and leaned against the wall for several seconds, recalling the look on Buffy's face after he had slammed his fist into her jaw. God, he'd give anything to be able to take that back. He only thought that living with the day that the Oracles erased had been bad. Living with the things that were spoken and done that day with Faith was a million times worse. And it didn't help at all that he had apologized to her, because when all was said and done, she still had that hollow, changed look in her eyes.

"Angel?" Cordelia glanced up at Wesley, then back at her boss. "What are you doing?"

Angel realized he was still leaning against the wall, and opened his eyes. "Trying to procrastinate. You know I hate movie theaters." Unless you count the one time I took Buffy, he thought.

Sighing, Cordelia held her hands up. "Look, you're seeing this movie! Ever since Wesley read about Shanshu, you've been almost catatonic and you will cheer up or I'll-- I'll make you sit through another one of my plays."

"Cordelia, I don't think watching George Clooney bob around in a hurricane is going to do much for me." Angel stood up straight, ready to make an excuse to leave, then paused. "You're in another play?"

"I got a call back for one," she replied with a broad grin. "This one has something extra. I sing!"

Wesley's eyes widened behind her head and he pointed a finger at Angel, then stabbed it into the theater.

Angel ignored him. "You sing?"

"You've heard me! I sing at the office all the time," Cordy told him, oblivious to the frown that marred both of her friend's faces. "And if you just make an effort here to live in the now, I won't force you to come."

"Fine, fine!" Angel shoved his hands into the pockets of his duster. He'd survive the many ghosts of his relationship with Buffy if he could forego the singing.

Wesley gave him a thumbs up behind Cordy's head, but he quickly dropped them when Cordelia added, "Besides, I've always got Wesley to go to the play. Right, Wes?"

"Well, er, yes, I suppose." His shoulders slumped as Cordelia brushed past him and headed further down the corridor to find their theater.

Angel clapped him on the back and gave him a thumbs up, just like the man had done for him. Chuckling, he said, "I'm going to go to the concession stand, Wesley. Don't let her find seats too close to the screen, okay?"

"Get lots of popcorn," Wesley told him. "Perhaps if I start shoving it into my ears right now, I'll be able to survive her singing."

<><><><><>

Buffy took a deep breath when she stepped into the movie theater, inhaling the familiar aroma of salt and greasy butter. She could tell that her face was still puffy from crying and that her voice sounded nasally when she had requested her lone ticket, but she headed toward the source of the smell, intent to gourge herself. She would get a large popcorn, a large soda, then forget everything for a couple of hours.

As she waited in line, her arms crossed and her eyes on the tile, she belittled herself for allowing it to upset her. For the past five years, her father had bailed on her with regularity, so this time should have been no different than the others. But she knew it was. She had called him this time, telling him that she needed to get away, hinting that she needed her daddy to chase away the pain and make her feel safe. He *knew* that she was upset; he knew and he still didn't care.

When it was her turn at the register, she placed her order and leaned against the counter, arms still crossed over her chest. There was a commotion to her left, toward the doors, and she turned, noting several teenage boys roughhousing with one another. She scanned the lines, not really seeing anyone, and was about to turn back towards the clerk when her eyes locked on the one person she would never be able to ignore.

Angel.

He was standing at a register three rows down, staring straight at her. Cursing her luck and the fates, she paid for her refreshments and made a beeline toward the theater. Don't look at him, keep moving, she told herself, trying not to feel the inevitable pain.

"Buffy?" Angel gripped the tray he had been given, which held three soft drinks and a very large popcorn, and tried to keep it balanced as he darted in and out of people. "Buffy!"

"God," she muttered, as she stopped walking. There was no way she could deal with this, on top of everything else. ~ So much for hoping he didn't recognize me. ~

"Hey." Angel stared down at her, ignoring the people who were glaring at him for weaving in an out like a linebacker. Part of him kept saying that there was no way it could be her, but this close, with the smell of her familiar vanilla perfume almost overpowering the popcorn, he knew. He didn't know whether to be grateful that she had materialized, or remind himself that it would only hurt later on.

"Hey," Buffy replied, not meeting his eyes.

"What are you doing in LA?" Angel couldn't stop looking at her, taking note of the fact that she wore no make-up. There was also something in her voice, something different. "Buffy, are you okay?"

Buffy took a deep breath and looked up at him. "I came to see my dad."

"You've been crying." Angel laid his tray on a bench and reached for her bag of popcorn, intent on consoling her if she was upset.

Taking a small step back, Buffy shook her head. "I'm okay."

"What happened? Buffy, is it your dad? Is something wrong with him?"

"Just the usual. You know, the same old 'Buffy needs a dad and he's not available' syndrome. Only this time he's not working, he's busy with his new girlfriend and her kids." Her eyes filled with tears and she blinked them back. She hated the way he was looking at her, with such compassion and such pity. "Look, it was good to see you, but my movie's gonna start soon."

"Buffy-" Angel grabbed his tray and followed her. "Why are you here alone?"

She stopped walking again and turned. "Because, Angel, that's what I am, okay? I'm used to it. It's fine."

"If it's fine then why are you so upset?" he prodded.

"I said I'm used to it. I didn't say I liked it," she shot back, then pointed at his loaded tray. "You're obviously not here alone, so why don't you go meet your friends."

"It's Cordelia and Wesley. Why don't you join us? I'm sure they'd love to see you."

"I don't think so." Buffy shook her head, secretly relieved that Angel wasn't there with anyone else.

"What are you seeing?"

"A Perfect Storm," she said, momentarily putting her glass down so she could warm her hand in her pocket.

"That's what we're seeing!" Angel told her with a smile. "Wouldn't it be ridiculous for you to be in there and not even say hello?"

Buffy knew that he would persist, so she nodded. "Okay, whatever."

Angel followed her down the crowded hallway, oblivious to everything except her. He noticed that she avoided making eye contact with anyone and wondered at her slumped shoulders as she slowly made her way toward the theater.

At the door, she motioned him in first. "You go ahead."

Angel nodded, moving past her. The lights were still up and he immediately saw Cordelia waving at him from pretty high up in the stadium seats. "There they are," he said, turning to smile at Buffy.

"You know what?" Buffy glanced up, saw Cordelia squinting in her direction, and shook her head. All she needed to make her life worse at this moment was Cordy Chase insulting her. "I like to sit toward the front, so I'm gonna hang down here. Enjoy the show."

"Nice try, Buffy." Angel gripped her arm, pulling her along behind him. There was no way he was going to leave her alone when she was so visibly upset. "I distinctly remember you telling me that you liked to sit toward the back at the Sun Cinema."

Buffy recalled their one and only date at the movies. Angel had playfully tossed popcorn at her and massaged her leg for most of the movie. Her throat constricted again and she allowed him to lead her toward the others. He kept his hand on her arm, pulling her along behind him as they made their way through the seats, mumbling 'excuse me' to people who were already seated.

Angel realized almost too late that Cordelia had only saved three seats. Before Buffy could say anything, he paused and asked an elderly man if he could move down one seat, then handed the tray to Wesley, and stepped aside so Buffy could sit next to Cordelia. He noted the look on Cordelia's face and flashed her one of his own that said: 'don't you dare hurt her feelings.'

Cordelia seemed to notice it loud and clear, because she pasted a large grin on her face and smiled at Buffy. "Hey, you! How's it going?"

"It's going," Buffy told her, giving her a weak smile. She glanced past her and nodded. "Wesley."

"Hello, Buffy." Wesley handed Angel one of the sodas and set the tray aside. "What brings you to Los Angeles? I certainly hope it's nothing dire."

Buffy shook her head. "Nothing prophetic or anything."

"How's school?" Cordelia sipped her drink and popped a few pieces of popcorn into her mouth.

"Very academic." Hoping to get the conversation off her, she nodded toward the screen. "So, you still have a Clooney fascination too?"

"You know it," replied Cordelia. "Still watch E.R.?"

"When I can." Buffy shifted slightly and leaned forward to pull her jacket off. Her hand brushed against Angel's arm and she felt herself blush slightly when he gripped her sleeve and helped her divest herself of her coat. Just two hours, Summers, she told herself and then you can run like hell.

"How are the er -- *extra-curricular* -- activities in Sunnydale?" Wesley asked, glancing around the crowded theater, careful to keep his voice down. "And Mr. Giles?"

"Same old." Buffy could tell that her answers were short, her tone clipped, but she couldn't find any reason to be more forthcoming or speak to these people like they were old friends. She and Cordy had never been real friends. Wesley had pretty much been a thorn in her side. And Angel. She sighed softly. Angel had been so much more than a friend. So much, much more.

Angel's concern steadily mounted as he watched her. Cordelia and Wesley had given up hope of getting her to talk and had launched into a debate with one another about books that had been made into movies. He tuned them out and concentrated on Buffy, who was staring into her bag of popcorn, but had not eaten a bite so far. Her eyes were red rimmed, and even in the dim light he could see that they were sunken, hollow in her face. Now that she had her coat off, he noticed that she had lost weight and instead of looking older, she seemed younger, small and waif-like.

Cordelia also noticed, for she turned toward Buffy with wide eyes. "Jesus, Buffy! Are you in the Zone or what? You're skin and bones."

Buffy moved her popcorn closer, almost hiding behind the large bag. She had known that it would only be a matter of time before Cordelia would aim toward the jugular. "College life," she shrugged. "Not a lot of time to eat."

"I'm glad I skipped it then. Heroin Chic is so passť."

Angel shot her a warning glance, but she didn't see it because of the dimming lights. Sitting back in the seat, he glanced at Buffy once more, then turned to look at the screen. The previews started, the volume boomed, and the movie was underway, but nothing could draw his thoughts away from the small blond beside him. Something was wrong. There was more going on with her than just her dad.

And he meant to find out exactly what it was.

All through the film, Buffy was motionless. Where Cordelia was gasping and gripping the arms of her chair, the Slayer sat with her fingers wrapped around untouched popcorn, rarely blinking at the screen. At the end, when Cordelia sobbed into a napkin, Buffy sighed a little, but no emotion showed in her taut features. When the credits rolled, Buffy was the first in the theater to stand and she quickly grabbed her coat, draping it over her arm. With her free hand, she lifted her watered down cola and made a move past Angel.

"Uhm-I should get going. I'll see you guys around," she murmured, barely glancing toward the others as she started down the aisle.

"Angel, perhaps it's just me, but I have a very uneasy feeling about her demeanor," Wesley said, as he watched Buffy pause and wait for a throng of people to clear out.

"No, it's not just you." Angel stood, intent on following her.

"Malnutrition does weird things to people," Cordelia whimpered, blotting at her eyes. "Did either of you know it was going to end like that?"

"I'm going to go." Angel pointed toward Buffy, who was about to join the masses.

"You do that." Wesley nodded, then helped Cordy to her feet. "I'll see Cordelia home safely."

<><><><><>

Buffy was in the parking lot, hurrying toward her car, when she heard him call her name. She pretended she didn't hear it and picked up her pace, quickly unlocking her door. Her fingertips were on the handle when he caught her arm.

"Didn't you hear me calling you?" He tugged her slightly, but she yanked her arm away, causing his face to harden. Clearly annoyed, he waited a beat for her to reply, then stepped closer. "Well?"

"What do you want, Angel?"

"I want to talk to you. Where are you going?"

"You don't want to talk to me. You want to ask me a million and one questions because you think you have all the answers," she turned to open her door and Angel leaned against it, resting his hip near the handle. Infuriated at his boldness, her temper flared. "What are you trying to do? Keep me here? Force me to talk to you? You gonna punch me again when I don't comply?"

Angel's face fell. "I think we both know the answer to that one."

"Look, I'm sure there are plenty of hopeless, or helpless, or whatever just waiting for you to save them, but I'm not one of them. I don't need someone to talk to or someone to pat me on the back and tell me everything is fine. I don't need this and I don't need you." Shoving him roughly out of the way, she opened her car door and slipped inside.

Angel caught the door before she could slam it, just in time to see her start to cry. "I don't think you should be trying to drive when you're upset."

"I'm not upset!" Buffy shouted.

Angel kneeled beside her seat and pulled her hand into his. "I'll make a deal with you. You let me drive you to a restaurant down the road, you humor me with a conversation, and then I'll let you leave with no problem."

"Why are you doing this to me?" she cried, burying her face in her free hand. "Go save a puppy!"

"You're upset and if I let you leave here and you get into an accident, I would always feel responsible." He squeezed her hand gently. "I think I already have enough guilt, baby."

Buffy softened when he called her that, reminded of the other times he had said the endearment to her. 'Shhh, it's okay, baby, don't cry. I'm here.' 'Oh, baby, this feels right, I- I can't stop touching you.' 'I love you, baby.' Without even realizing it, she moved across the gear shifter and into the passenger seat.

Relieved, Angel slipped into the driver's side and slid the seat back. "Thank you."

Nodding, Buffy folded her hands in her lap and glanced out the window.

When he had maneuvered through the traffic around the theater, he glanced at her. "I like your car."

"Thanks."

"How long have you had it?"

"Couple of months."

Angel gripped the wheel a little tighter, trying to rein in his burgeoning anger. "You know, Buffy, conversation goes both ways and usually involves complete sentences. Help me out here. Where'd you get it? Was it a gift?"

"I got my license a few months ago and my mom bought it for me." Crossing her arms over her chest, she glanced his way. "And no, it wasn't a gift, unless she gave it to me to make up for the fact that she never calls me, never comes to see me, never invites me home, and didn't even bother to tell me that she would be going on a cruise this summer until she was on her way to the boat."

"Okay, that's a good start," he muttered wryly. Angel merged into traffic on the highway briefly, then turned his blinker on, entering the parking lot of a small restaurant. "So, your mom's gone for the summer."

"Everyone's gone," she told him flatly as he parked. "My mother is sailing toward Alaska. Giles is in England with his girlfriend. Xander and Anya are attempting to drive across the country and Willow and Tara have gone to visit her family in New Mexico."

Putting the car into park, he switched the ignition off and turned to face her. "And Riley?"

Buffy stared straight ahead. "I said everyone's gone."

"Buffy-"

"He went to D.C. for some military debriefing and they offered him a job he couldn't refuse. I can't blame him for taking it. I mean, who in their right mind would want to stay in Sunnydale and have to fight demons?" She turned to stare at him. "You certainly didn't."

"I'm sorry. Buffy, I'm so sorry about everything." Angel put his hand on her shoulder, brushing her hair back so he could see her face. He silently cursed Riley for having the life he longed for and abandoning it. "I bet you they didn't realize that they were leaving you all alone."

"Or maybe they wanted to," she said, glancing out the window.

"I don't believe that." Angel reached up and caught her under the chin, turning her face so he could look her in the eye. "I don't think that you believe that either."

"I don't know what I believe anymore," she replied, trying to ignore the way his cool fingertips felt so familiar and right as he traced her face.

"Have you eaten today?" He pulled his hand away when she leaned her face into it, suddenly acutely aware of how close he had been to brushing his lips across hers.

"No, but I'm not hungry," she said, sliding a little closer to her door. One touch of his hand and her legs puttied, her heart soared, and she wanted to be in his arms, just like old times.

"Nonsense." Angel stepped out of the car and leaned back in. "Come on, the food's great here."

Buffy reluctantly followed him toward the small building. It was wooden, painted a dark reddish orange, and could only be described as an eyesore. If she had been in a better mood, she probably would have made a joke about his being a cheap date, but she kept her mouth shut and let him lead her into the building. Loud twangy music assaulted her ears and she groaned.

Angel glanced down at her. "It's not as bad as you think."

A leggy blond came toward them, carrying a round tray full of beer bottles. "Angel, hey honey!"

Buffy looked out the window when the woman gave him a hug and a brushed her lips on his cheek. Angel gave the woman a slight squeeze, and smiled at her. "Hello, Diana. Things been going okay around here?"

"Ever since you exterminated the place, we've been trash free." Diana handed him a beer. "On the house."

"Thanks," he took a sip and then nodded toward the back. "Do you have any booths in the back?"

The woman glanced toward Buffy, then nodded her head. "Sure do. As a matter of fact, there's no one back there at all. We were keeping it closed off because it's been cleaned for a private party tomorrow. But, since it's you- "

Angel nodded for Buffy to follow him, and she complied, glancing at some of the patrons as she made her way through the crowd. There was a horseshoe-shaped bar in the middle of the room where several people had converged to stare at a television, and on either side, there were booths and tables where others, including families with children, were having dinner. The music didn't seem as loud as it had when she had stepped inside, and the smell of steaks cooking caused her stomach to rumble.

Angel smiled down at her as Diana unlocked a set of double doors. "Not hungry, huh?"

Before Buffy could reply, the woman held the door opened and motioned for them to go ahead. Angel flipped a light switch behind the door and took his coat off. Buffy did the same and dropped it into the booth that Diana indicated. The waitress smiled. "Can I get you something to drink, honey?"

"Could I get a rum and coke?" Buffy asked, glancing at the menu in front of her.

"Could I see some ID?" Diana replied.

"Oh, you've got to be kidding!" Buffy reached for her coat and rifled through the pockets, producing a license.

Angel intercepted it and stared at it, then glared over the top at her. "Nice detail for a fake ID." He glanced up at Diana. "Bring her a coke. No rum."

When the waitress chuckled and walked away, Buffy held her hand out. "Give it back, Angel, and quit trying to make all my decisions. You always do that."

"Do you even have a valid driver's license?"

"Yes! I have a very valid one that says I'm nineteen." She snapped her fingers at him and continued to hold her hand out. "Give it here."

"You won't miss this one then," he told her, tucking it into the pocket of his shirt.

Letting her hand drop, Buffy leaned back and crossed her arms again. "You're infuriating."

"And you're a sullen, spoiled little girl." Taking another sip of his beer, Angel narrowed his eyes at her. "Do you drink a lot?"

"Not by UC Sunnydale's standards, but yes, I drink sometimes. Sue me."

"Buffy, you rush through life so fast when you try to experience things too soon. You're young. Way too young to--"

"Oh god." Buffy put her elbows on the table and leveled him with a stony look. "You're the last person who should be telling me about experiencing things too soon. Have you forgotten the seventeen year old that you had no problem showing the ropes to?"

"That's not fair, Buffy, that was-"

"Different?" Buffy raised her eyebrow, forcing her voice to sound stronger than she felt. "I don't think so, Angel. Besides, in my line of work, I need to do everything as fast as I can because as it is, I'm already pushing my luck. In Slayer years, I'm elderly."

"It's still all about the decisions you make and I don't think-"

"When was the last time you let me make a decision?" she asked furiously. "*You* decided to leave. *You* decided that I had to sit with you at the theater. You decided what I should drink with my dinner. Maybe women didn't have brains when you were human, but I do. Stop treating me like some bubble- headed bleach blond who couldn't make up her mind, much less find it."

"I've never treated you like that." Angel sat his bottle back on the table roughly, almost toppling it. He righted it quickly, but kept his fingers wrapped tightly around it. "And I don't have to explain to you the reasons why I left you because you already know. And you know I was right to do it. You're just too stubborn to admit it!"

Diana bustled through the doorway again carrying another bottle of beer and a large glass of coke. "Here you go, hon. Are you two ready to order?"

"This is fine," Buffy said, shaking her head.

"She'll have a steak, medium rare, a baked potato on the side with the works, and a salad with ranch." Angel lifted the menu from in front of Buffy and handed it to Diana. "Thank you."

When the waitress was out of earshot, Buffy reached for her coat and stood. "Good-bye, Angel."

"Sit down," he glowered.

"No."

"Buffy, you expect me to treat you like an adult, so act like one."

Spinning on her heel, she leaned over the table and pointed her finger at him. "Don't you dare talk to me like that. Don't you dare act like you're doing me some kind of favor by taking the time out of your day to pretend that you want to hear a goddamned thing about my life. If my life was so important to you, you wouldn't have walked out of it, you smug bastard!"

Angel had never seen so much rage on her face, had never even heard her swear. "Buffy, you don't believe that."

"You're so quick to tell me what I believe, what I want, what I feel! If you knew me half as well as you would like to believe, you would know that I mean it. And I mean this too. I'm walking out of here, getting into my car, and leaving. If you try to stop me, we'll find out just how evenly matched we still are."

Angel watched her storm out of the room, then felt in his pocket to make sure her keys were still there. She wouldn't be going too far. Lifting his bottle again, he checked his watch. Ten minutes after she had stalked out of the room, the door opened again and she walked toward him. "Give me my keys."

"What took you so long?" He couldn't help but smirk at her.

"I was hoping you would step into the parking lot so we could finish this the old fashioned way."

The door opened again and Diana came in with fresh drinks. Angel gripped Buffy's wrist and looked up at her. "Please don't make a scene?"

Buffy pulled her arm away and sat across from him again, not bothering to acknowledge the woman when she assured her that her food would be right out. She openly glared at Angel long after Diana had set the drinks down and left the room. Her eyes were locked on his, her nostrils flaring slightly, her lips pursed tightly. His own demeanor was quite the opposite. His hands were clasped together in front of his mouth, dark eyes pleading with her silently across the table. He almost looked like he was praying, as he sat perfectly still, waiting for her to speak.

Neither had any idea how much time had passed, but soon enough, Diana was back, carrying a plate which she sat in front of Buffy. "There you go, sweetheart. You enjoy it."

"I'm sure she will. Thank you, Diana," Angel stated, when Buffy didn't. The woman lingered, as if to see whether Buffy would speak to her, but the Slayer didn't utter a word. He waited until Diana left again before he spoke to Buffy. "You know, you've always been good at the silent treatment, but you've never been downright rude to people."

"So how much longer do I have to sit here before you give me my keys?"

"What exactly have I done to you, Buffy? Why won't you let me be your friend?"

"Hmm. What exactly have you done to me? You led me on, promised me forever, pulled away, led me on again, slept with me, went psycho, came back, promised me forever again, and then you dumped me just a couple of days before my prom, which I had been looking forward to for weeks. And that wasn't enough for you. Not only did you dump me, you told me that you were leaving me for good, leaving town. Then you show up wanting to help me after that and called me a spoiled brat because I didn't want your help. Then you fed off me, used my blood to save your life, and you don't even say thank you. You simply say that you're not going to tell me goodbye. And you don't. You don't even come close enough to see if I'm okay after I've literally been drained, by you, no less, and gone up against Sunnydale's version of the Loch Ness Monster!" She paused and took a deep breath. "And since the whole Faith thing wasn't really that long ago, I won't get into to all those details, since I'm sure you remember what it felt like for your fist to split my lip -- for *her*. Now, do I really need to go into why you're not my friend?"

"Yes, you do." Angel fought back the lump that was forming in his throat. Hitting her had apparently not just scarred him.

His simple response caught her off guard and she looked away, staring out the window again.

"You can't, can you?" Reaching across the table, he pushed the untouched food to one side and took her hand. "Because, you know. You know that all of those things you rambled off just now don't even begin to scratch the surface of what we shared."

"In the past. We shared it in the past, Angel, and you can't just run into me in a movie theater and pretend that time hasn't passed or that you didn't hurt me. You can't expect me to tell you things as though we were high school buddies who accidentally lost contact after graduation." She let go of his hand and took a sip of her soda. "I'm not the same person I used to be."

"Yes, you are. Time can change a lot of things, Buffy. It can change your appearance, change your outlook, but it can't touch what a person is on the inside. You're always going to be the same woman I fell in love with and I'll never regret a single moment that I had with you."

"Stop doing that!" Buffy cried. "You always do that to me."

"Do what?"

"You sidestep the issue by whispering sweet nothings to me! And that's what it is, Angel. Nothing! And it doesn't work anymore. You left me! Time may not touch who I am, but I am who you made me when you left me!"

"Buffy, I left you so you could-"

"God! Are you going to go down that route again? You left me so I could have a normal life, blah blah blah. You left me so I could be with someone who could walk with me in the sun. Damn you, Angel! Where the hell is my normal life?"

"I'm just trying to tell you that I still love you just as much as I always did." He stared straight into her eyes, his voice rising slightly.

"Actions speak louder than words," she told him softly.

"Buffy, I did what I had to do. The fact that I love you dictated every single one of my actions."

"Could you spare me? I've heard this already." She started to stand, but he leaned over the table and blocked her.

"No. There's something you haven't heard, Buffy. Actions do speak louder than words and no matter what I told myself, my body wanted to act. I wanted to take you, make love to you, lose my soul, and it scared me. It scared me because I knew that I was going to eventually cave in if I felt your lips on mine for one more day!"

"And you don't think I could have stopped you?" she flared.

"Would you have wanted to?" He moved his arm and leaned closer to her. "If I came across this table and took you in my arms, would you stop me? If I kissed you until you were breathless, would you be able to tell me no? And most of all, Buffy, when it unleashed Angelus, would you kill him or would he get you first?"

Buffy's chin began to tremble and she covered her mouth, lowering her eyes as warm tears fell down her cheeks. "I can't do this anymore, Angel. It's so hard without you."

Angel stood up and slipped into the seat next to her, pulling her against his chest. There was a small resistance at first, then she wrapped her arms around his waist and cried against his chest. "It's going to be okay, Buffy."

"It's not. Angel, it never will be."

He rubbed his hand over her hair, effectively blocking his tears from dripping onto her. He could tell her. Right then and there, he could tell her what the future held in store for him. The vampire with a soul who would one day become human. Part of him wanted to blurt it all out, promise her forever, and tell her he would come back to Sunnydale with her. But he kept it to himself, listening to the conscience that always betrayed him when it came to Buffy. Promise her forever *again*? It whispered. It could take years. Can you deprive her of those years, force her to wait with you for a reward that may not come in her lifetime?

And what had Wesley told him? That the battles would be fought in Los Angeles and surrounding areas.

His place was here.

Buffy's place was in Sunnydale, where fate had led her to begin with. And he had to fulfill his destiny. If he told her the truth, and she begged him one time, he would abandon his duty and fall into her arms. Forever.

So he said nothing. He clung to her and she to him, while loud music played and the patrons at the bar laughed and cheered at the television, oblivious that two of the people responsible for their safety sat alone in the next room clinging to the only comfort that either had ever known.

Some time later, Buffy sniffled and sat up, reaching for a napkin to dry her eyes. "I-I should go."

"You didn't eat your dinner," Angel told her, pushing the plate toward her again. "I don't want to argue about it."

"I've got to win this round on principle. And I'm really not hungry." She smiled a little, then reached out and touched his face. "Sometimes, I think I come really close to making myself believe that I don't need you anymore. And then ..." She sighed. "And then I wake up."

"Buffy, you can't live in the past. You said so." Angel laid his hand over the one she rested on his cheek.

"Angel, can't you just let me believe that one day you'll come back? Even if you know that you won't or that you can't, I need to believe it. Otherwise, what the hell am I fighting for?"

Angel nodded and felt his own eyes welling with tears, matching hers. "If it's ever at all possible, Buffy, if I can find a way-- I-- I'll come back to you."

"You will find a way. One day." Buffy leaned forward, pressing her lips lightly against his.

Angel slid his thumb over her cheek and dared to deepen the kiss. In an instant, he remembered their first kiss, all the kisses in between, and the final kiss that she would never know they had shared. He pulled back reluctantly, losing himself in her eyes once more. "I love you, baby."

"I love you." Resting her forehead against his, Buffy sobbed quietly. "One day- one day you'll come back. Say it, Angel. Please say it."

Angel choked on his own sob, trying desperately not to give her false hope, but knowing that he couldn't live with himself if she went away doubting his love for her. "One day, Buffy, I will come back and we'll never be apart again," he murmured, for himself, as much as for her. You just have to wait for that day. It will happen, I promise you, it will. It has to."

-FIN

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