Search For the Truth
by Lady Callista
Concept: Based on a challenge by Bea: "Write a story (or stories... a series, maybe?) about key points in Buffy's life (preferably when Angel was around, but it could just be main Buffy moments) and how Dawn might've affected them. I mean, having a little sister around is bound to make an impact, even if it's just a slight one. For example, how might've Dawn and Angel interacted? How might've Dawn reacted when Angel lost his soul? Wouldn't Angelus have wanted to go after Dawn? Or maybe you could even change it a little. Maybe he was too busy trying to kill Dawn to get to Ms. Calendar so that she could curse him in time. Be creative, use your imagination. Don't just recopy the script and add Dawn into it. Consider her addition to these memories as a whole, and consider how it would change everything. Most importantly, have fun with it!"

Distribution: If you had permission to take any of my other stories, you can use this one as well. Just let me know where it's going. Others, just ask and I will most likely give permission.

Feedback: Pretty please with Angel on top?

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Joss, the WB, Mutant Enemy, (the evil) FOX, and whoever else came up with them. If they belonged to me the show would be drastically different. Please don't sue, I'm only a high-schooler without a job anyways.

Rating: PG-13

Spoilers: Pretty much everything from season two on, although it's gonna be changed by Dawn's presence.

Author's Note: I'm taking up this challenge, but probably not in the way you'd expect. It's gonna take place immediately after the recent Buffy episode "Shadow." So everything so far in season five has happened. All the past events with Dawn are going to be told in the form of stories, memories, and diary entries. It's gonna flash back and forth from those altered memories to current events, where I'm gonna decide what happens with the characters. So from the point of "Shadow" and "The Shroud of Rahmon," this story moves into my own little alternate universe. I hope that makes sense to everyone, and I hope you enjoy the story.


"Angel Investigations, we help the hopeless."

Buffy almost hung up the phone as she heard those words. She started to question whether calling them was a good idea or not.

"Hello?" She heard Cordelia say with annoyance.

"Hi Cordy." She finally said.

"Buffy?" Cordelia said, rather loudly.

"Yeah Cor, it's me." She said slowly. "I was wondering if I could ask you about something."

"If it's anything about Angel, the answer is..."

"It's not about him, at least not directly." Buffy amended. "There're some major things going on in Sunnydale right now, and I was kinda hoping you guys might be able to help."

"Do you want me to get him for you?" Cordelia asked.

"Yes, but answer me one thing first. Do you remember Dawn?"

"Dawn?" Cordelia searched her memory. "Well, sure."

Buffy's hopes sank. She had hoped the spell wouldn't go that far.

"But I didn't know you hung out with her. God, I haven't talked to her in ages. Aura says that..."

"No, no, not that Dawn." Buffy let out a sigh of relief. "It's not anyone we went to school with."

"Then why would I remember her?"

Buffy felt her hopes rise again. "Like I said, a lot is going on around here. Just let me talk to Angel, he can tell you everything."

"Sure thing." Cordelia said, slightly puzzled but trusting that it would all be explained to her eventually.

"ANGEL!" She called out in a loud voice. "Telephone."

"Hello?"

Buffy's heart did an extra little beat as she heard his beautiful voice. "Hi Angel." She said softly.

*

When Buffy hung up the phone nearly an hour later, she was in much better spirits.

Angel had promised that him and his gang would be down to Sunnydale in a few hours, and that they would help however they could with researching on "the key" and finding out how to protect Dawn and stop Glory.

He had also promised that he'd tell her how things had really happened in their past, a past in which there was no Dawn.

And as much as she loved Dawn, Buffy was grateful that she would learn what had really happened, because she hated that her memories had been messed with.

Buffy was still awake hours later, reading her diary, when there was a soft knock on the window.

Buffy looked up and smiled to see Angel there. She quickly stood up and went over to open the window. It wasn't locked, but he didn't know that.

Just as he climbed into her room and was about to say something, a voice came from outside Buffy's door. "Buffy? I thought I heard something outside my window."

"It's okay, Dawn." Buffy called out.

"But there was something out there, it sounded like it used to when you'd come back from patrol through your window or Angel would come in that way."

"Play along, okay?" Buffy whispered to Angel. He nodded, still trying to sort out the thing she had told him over the phone, and Buffy headed towards the door.

She opened it slowly, and Dawn stood on the other side. She looked scared.

"Everything is okay." Buffy repeated, but noticed immediately that Dawn's attention was not on her.

"Angel?" Dawn took a few steps into Buffy's room. "What are you doing here?"

"You know that monster that came into Giles' shop tonight?" Buffy asked as she put an arm around Dawn. Angel was amazed at how natural it looked to see them together.

"Buffy called and asked if I could come and help with research and fighting and stuff." Angel finished for her.

Dawn smiled at that, and pulled away from Buffy to give Angel a hug. He was startled at first, but then slowly put his arms around her.

"She misses you." Dawn whispered softly into Angel's ear as she pulled away.

He looked at her, to shocked to say anything. He tried to remember that she thought she was Buffy's sister, and from what Buffy had said she had been pretty good friends with him, but it was just so weird to not have any of those memories.

"I'm glad you're back." Dawn said in a normal voice. "I'll leave you two alone now." She said with a lilt in her voice and a pointed look at Buffy.

Buffy turned slightly red as she ushered her sister out of her room. "Sorry about that." She turned back to Angel.

"Don't be." He smiled a little. "It's not your fault."

"I know, it's just so weird. Everything I remember of my whole life has her in it, but I know she never was. I just wonder how things really happened. I mean, it's obviously not too different cause all the major events must have been similar or the world would be gone, it's just so messed up to know nothing is really how I remember it."

"Would you like to know how it really happened?" Angel offered.

"Yeah, I would. But first I better tell you how everyone in Sunnydale remembers it, just in case anything is brought up." Buffy said as she took a seat on her bed, sitting cross-legged. She motioned for him to have a seat as well.

"So no one else knows that she's not really your sister?" Angel asked as he sat on the bed, careful to keep a distance between them.

"Well, Giles does, cause I told him everything that happened. But no one else knows, it would be too weird to expect them to be able to act normal around her. They're not nearly as good at hiding their feelings as I am." She said the last matter-of-factly, but Angel could see the slight hurt in her eyes. He knew exactly where it came from.

"Buffy, I..."

"Angel..."

They both laughed a little and each motioned for the other to continue.

"What were you going to say?" Angel asked with a smile.

"Oh, nothing important. I better start telling you some stuff though, cause if you're helping to research you might end up having to talk with the gang about stuff. So you better know what we all think happened these past four years."

Angel leaned back against the footboard of her bed, pulling his legs up with him. It reminded Buffy, strangely, of a small child sitting down to hear a story from their parents. She grinned inwardly at the image as she pulled one of her pillows out to place it on her lap. Leaning forward onto it, she asked. "So, where should we start?"

"Well, when did Dawn first find out that you were the Slayer? Was it when your mom found out?" Angel asked her.

"Oh, no. It was actually much earlier. Do you remember that night you slept on my floor?" Buffy asked, turning slightly red at the memory.

"When we faced The Three?" Angel smiled at the memory. It had been the first time they kissed, before she even knew he was a vampire.

"Yeah, well....."

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"Angel?" Buffy called out softly as she entered her room that night after dinner. He faded out of the shadows and came closer to her. "I brought you some dinner. It's a little plateless, sorry."

Angel looked at it oddly, but didn't say anything.

"So, what did you do all day?"

"I read a little." Angel said, glancing at her dresser and then turning his attention back to her. "And I did some thinking. Buffy, I really..."Buffy looked at her dresser when he did, noticing not the Emily Dickinson book she still had from her disaster with Owen, but noticing her diary, which sat off to one side.

"You read my diary? A diary is a person's most private thing, how could you...."

"Buffy, I didn't..." Angel tried to stop her but she wasn't listening.

"Hunk can mean a lot of things, bad things. And when it says that your eyes are penetrating, I meant to write bulging. And "A" doesn't even stand for Angel for that matter, it stands for Achmed, a charming foreign exchange student, so that whole fantasy part has nothing to even do with you and...."

"Buffy!" Angel finally managed to catch her attention. "Your sister was trying to read your diary, but I don't think she could find the key. She just tossed the book there in disgust; I watched from the closet. I didn't read it, I swear."

"Oh." Buffy felt better, realizing he hadn't read it. Then she realized she had given him a pretty good Cliffs Notes version. "Oh...." Why couldn't the ground open and swallow you up when you really needed it to?

"Look, Buffy I've done a lot of thinking, and I really can't be around you anymore." Angel continued, trying to ignore what her confession had done for his heart.

"Hey, that's no big. Water over the bridge..." Buffy tried to pretend it didn't matter to her. Wait, she thought, that's not right.

"Because when I am..." Angel continued.

"Under the bridge, over the dam..." She corrected herself.

"All I can think about is how badly I want to kiss you."

"Kiss me?" She suddenly cut off her rambling as his words registered.

"I'm older than you, and this can't ever....I should go." Angel said softly, yet he made no move towards the door. He only stepped closer to her.

"How much older?" Buffy asked, slightly breathless, as she stood right in front of him.

He didn't answer, just leaned his head down and captured her lips in a gentle kiss. The kiss turned passionate very quickly, so passionate that neither of them heard the door opening, nor did they hear the startled gasp of a young girl.

"Angel, what's wrong?" Buffy asked a moment later, as Angel pulled back from her and averted his face. He turned to face her, his eyes yellow and his face deformed into that of a vampire. Buffy screamed. Behind her, she heard another scream and turned to see Dawn standing in the doorway. By the time she turned back to Angel, grabbing a stake from her dresser, he had vanished out the window.

Dawn still stood there in shock, unable to comprehend what she had seen.

Suddenly Joyce rushed into the room. "What happened?" She asked, gathering Dawn to her and putting an arm around Buffy as well.

"Nothing." Buffy said with a glare at Dawn that told the younger girl to keep silent. "It was just a really, really big bug. I smashed it though, don't worry."

Joyce didn't look convinced, but she left the room nonetheless, after making sure that both girls planned to go to bed soon.

As soon as she left, Dawn pulled the door closed and locked it. "What was that?"

Buffy only sighed. "That was a guy I thought I could fall in love with."

"But, what was wrong with his face?" Dawn asked, still scared by it.

Buffy realized that there was no way out of this one. Her sister had seen a few vamps before, but never close enough that Buffy hadn't been able to reason her way out of it. Now she knew she had no choice.

"You can't tell Mom." Buffy said quietly.

"Tell her what?"

"What I'm about to tell you." She answered. "It has to do with that guy, but even more so it has to do with me. With who I am, and why I'm always getting into so much trouble."

"So, it's like a secret?" The ten-year-old looked impressed.

"It's such a big secret that Mom can never know. No matter what. Can you promise me that?"

Dawn held out her hand, pinkie out. "Pinkie-swear." She said, her face totally serious.

Buffy linked her pinkie with her sister's for a moment, then sat them both down on the bed.

"Well, it's kinda like this...."

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"That's actually pretty close to how it happened." Angel said with a small smile.

"Well, I obviously didn't talk with Dawn afterwards, but..."

"But pretty much everything we said was the same. I said that your mother had moved your diary when she was straightening up, but that's about the only thing that's different."

Buffy let a small grin come to her face. "I'm glad. It really bothers me to know how much my memory could be messed up. But I'm happy that part really happened at least." She admitted.

"So am I." Angel reached out to take her hand, and just held it for a second. Then he quickly dropped it as they both averted their eyes. And they had been doing so well so far at not bringing up that kind of stuff, they were keeping it strictly business.

"So, um, let's see. What else could affect you..." Buffy brought the conversation back around to the topic at hand. "When I came back for Junior year after my summer in L.A., remember that night at the Bronze? Well...

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"Buffy?" Dawn asked as she sat at the table with her sister and her older friends.

"What?" Buffy really hadn't wanted to bring her, but with her mom out of town for a few days she couldn't leave her home alone.

"Aren't you going to say hi to Angel?" Dawn asked with a grin. "I mean, after he came to your room last night to welcome you back, I would think that..."

"Xander, let's dance." Buffy suddenly stood up and cut her sister off.

Dawn looked crushed as the boy she liked followed the Slayer out onto the floor. Buffy grinned maliciously, knowing she was making both Dawn and Angel upset.

Buffy saw her sister walk over to where Angel lurked in the shadows, and was trying valiantly to pretend that her display wasn't affecting him.

She watched as they exchanged a few words, Dawn no doubt commenting on how much her sister had changed since she came back from L.A.

"Did I ever thank you for saving my life?" Buffy tried her best to ignore everyone's stares and she slid up behind Xander, breathing into his ear.

"Don't you wish I would?" She quipped as she walked away from him, grabbed her bag from the table, and marched out the door.

She had just finished her run in with Cordelia when Dawn marched up behind her, Angel in tow.

"What is the matter with you?" Dawn yelled at her sister. Angel looked very much like he wished he could be somewhere else. Buffy wondered how Dawn had gotten him to come.

"Nothing." Buffy burst out. "I'm fine, just fine."

"Buffy..." Angel started out softly.

"I'm FINE!" Buffy yelled as she took a step away. She turned to Dawn. "Get one of my friends to take you home. I need to patrol." And with that, she marched away.

"It's like she's not even my sister anymore." She heard Dawn say as she was leaving.

"No, she is." Angel's soft voice could be heard to say. "It's just that she's the Slayer too. And that's a huge burden for a girl her age to have to carry."

Buffy almost paused in her stride as she realized he understood what she was going though, but then shook her head and continued walking.

She was so afraid of being close to any of them, knowing that she could die at any moment. If she didn't have friends they couldn't be hurt by her dying.

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Buffy walked into the library with Angel hot on her heels, still trying to reason with her.

Suddenly she stopped mid-stride, her eyes widening in shock. The library had been ransacked.

Windows were broken, bookcases overturned, furniture destroyed.

"Giles?" Buffy called out to the empty room.

"Up here!" Xander's voice called back from up by the stacks.

Buffy and Angel, their argument forgotten, raced up the stairs. They found Xander kneeling next to Cordelia, who had a bookcase laying across the bottom half of her body.

"Oh, God." Buffy cried. "Is she okay? Are you?"

"We're the least of your problems." Xander said bitterly as Angel and Buffy together quickly moved the heavy bookcase off of Cordelia. They were amazed to find that she was not at all injured, she had only been pinned.

"Where is everyone?" Angel asked as he surveyed the wreckage.

"Vamps came and took them. Giles, Jenny, Willow, and Dawn." Cordelia said as Xander helped her up.

"Why?"

"Giles mistranslated that thing about the Master's bones. 'Closest to' should actually be translated as 'nearest,' as in physically." Cordelia said hastily. "Since the four of them were in this room when he was killed, they were nearest to him."

"And if anything happens to Willow, I'll kill you." Xander said.

"You won't have to." Buffy said softly. "I'll kill myself if anything happens to Dawn."

"Buffy, that won't help. We have to..." Angel tried to put a hand on her arm, but she brushed him off.

"This is my fault. If only I hadn't..." Buffy suddenly trailed off, her face becoming a mask. "Let's go." She grabbed her emergency bag of weapons from behind the counter and took off, the others following as fast as they could.

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"So we went to the old factory, and we saved everyone." Buffy concluded her story. "And then I smashed the Master's bones with a sledgehammer. Dawn finally came up to me and got me to stop. We were both crying, and she hugged me for a minute. Then she must have seen you over my shoulder, because she pulled away and turned me around. I fell into you arms, I was crying so hard. All the emotion I had tried to bottle up and get rid of just came tumbling back to me. But you were so nice about it, you didn't call me on the way I had been acting, you just held me and..." Buffy suddenly trailed off, realizing she had gone from telling the story objectively to recalling her emotions about him. Emotions she knew she couldn't allow.

Angel just smiled his understanding. Instead of forcing the issue, he began his own story, telling her about how everything had happened the first time around, without Dawn there.

Everything had the same general feeling to it, Buffy realized as she listened. Nothing was that different at all, except that without Dawn there to pull her and Angel together, it took them a little longer to talk about things. As Buffy listened, she realized just how different her life had really been from what she remembered. If wasn't really any better or worse, just different.

Just as Angel was finishing his story, the phone rang. Buffy looked at him apologetically and reached for it, surprised to see that it was almost seven in the morning. Her and Angel had been up all night talking.

"Hello?" She said into the phone.

Angel sat and listened to her end of the conversation.

"No, I didn't go last night. (a pause) I was at the hospital again. (a longer pause) Riley, I know slaying is a big deal, but what's going on with my mother is a little more serious!"

Angel looked at her in concern. He hated the very mention of Riley's name, but any hatred was instantly replaced with concern when he saw the look on Buffy's face as she mentioned her mother.

"No, I don't need you to come over, I'll be fine." Buffy snapped, then immediately looked apologetic. "No, I'm sorry. I know you want to help, there's just nothing you can do. Just get the gang to patrol with you tonight, oh and if you see Giles at The Magick Box ask him to give me a call cause there's some things I need to inform him of."

There was a small pause where Riley said something that made Buffy wince, but whatever it was didn't seem to require a comment as "Bye," was all she said.

"Sorry." She turned to Angel, acting like nothing had happened.

"Buffy, what's wrong with your mom?" Angel slid closer to her and placed a hand on her knee.

"Buffy?" Dawn suddenly called from outside.

"It's open!" Buffy called and Dawn came into the room. If she was surprised to see Angel still there she didn't show it.

"Was that the hospital? Is Mom..."

"No, it was just Riley." Buffy said with a sigh.

"Oh, what'd he want this time?" Dawn said sarcastically. "Did he try and see if he could make you cry?"

"What?!?" Buffy asked as Dawn's question seemed to come from out of no where.

"Well, I was talking to him the other day, and I told him how good he was for you." The younger girl said, almost ignoring Angel. "How he never made you cry like Angel did, how you didn't have to experience the depth of emotions that you did with Angel and..."

"Dawn!" Buffy said stiffly, drawing away from Angel and pulling her sister out of the room.

"It's true!"

Angel could still hear their voices through the door.

"Dawn, how could you be so insensitive? Angel's sitting right there in that room and..."

"But he's ancient history, isn't he? He wanted you to be normal and happy and you are, so why wouldn't he want to hear that and be glad about it?" Dawn honestly didn't see what was wrong with what she was saying.

"I'm not normal Dawn, and I never will be. As for being happy, I don't know if I can be that either. I was when I was with him, and I haven't really been since I've left. Can't you of all people see that?"

"What do you mean?"

"You said it yourself. How I never cry with Riley, or experience the depth of emotions. Being able to cry with someone, or over someone, shows just how much you love them. Not experiencing the depth of pain with Riley means I haven't experienced the depth of love either. You know when he called?" Buffy's emotions, drained from weeks of being on edge about her mom and the growing feeling that she had been wrong to go out with Riley, were finally snapping. She didn't know if Angel could hear her or not but found she didn't care. "The last thing he said to me was 'I love you.' I heard those words, and all I could do was wince. Do you know I've never said them to him? Not once. Not even when I thought he was dying. Cause those words mean so much that I can't say them when I know they're not true." Buffy finished her statement at a yell, turning on her heel and marching back into her room, promptly locking the door behind her.

She found Angel standing by her window, staring awkwardly out into the night. It was obvious that he'd heard them but neither one commented on it.

"So, what is wrong with your mom?" Angel asked softly after a moment's silence.

Buffy let out a sigh of relief, grateful that he hadn't commented on the statements she knew he must have heard. Instead, she slowly began to tell him about her mom.

And this time, when the tears started to come, she let them. And when Angel pulled her hesitantly into his arms, she didn't pull away. It felt so good just to be in his arms again, it felt so safe. It suddenly occurred to her that she never felt that way with Riley.

For the first time since Buffy had found out about her mother, she let herself cry. And Angel held her tightly, stroking her hair and her back, whispering nonsense into her ear that somehow calmed her down.

They stayed that way for a long time.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

When Buffy finally felt able to talk again, Angel slowly released her from his embrace. She almost whimpered at the loss of contact, and was relieved when he pulled her back to him again. He slid up to rest his back against her headboard, Buffy leaning comfortably against him, his arms wrapped around her waist and chin resting on top of her head.

"Thank you." She whispered at last.

"For what?" Angel asked.

"For being here with me." Buffy said softly. Then she added in a voice too quiet for anyone without superhearing to hear, "I haven't felt this safe since you left."

"I'm sorry, I just had to..."

"I know." Buffy replied. "I mean, I understand. I didn't for a long time, but I actually think I do now."

"You understand?" Angel couldn't believe it.

"Yeah, it was something I read in an English class last month." Buffy smiled. "'If you love something, set it free. If it returns to you...'"

"'...it was really meant to be.'" Angel finished softly.

Neither of them spoke for a moment, the ramifications of that sentence still sinking in.

Buffy suddenly cleared her throat awkwardly. Even though she understood that, she knew that nothing had really changed. They still couldn't be together in the physical sense and it was to hard to see each other and not be able to make love.

"So, um, where was I Dawn-wise?" She asked after that moment of silence was over.

"Beginning of your junior year, after you smashed the Master's bones." Angel accepted the change in subjects easily, before they got into way too dangerous territory.

"Right. Um, let's see. What other major life events do I remember her in?" Buffy thought about it for a second, then began another story. "Oh, you remember Parent-Teacher night? That time when Spike and his goons crashed into the school and tried to take us hostage? Well..."

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With Willow running interference between her mother and Principal Snyder, Buffy quickly stopped in the library to see how the gang was coming with research.

"How's it coming?" She asked.

Dawn and Cordelia both looked up from sharpening stakes. "Oh, just peachy." Buffy's sister replied.

"Dawn, you know you don't have to be here."

"But what would my sister do if she didn't have enough pointy things for tomorrow?"

"How's the research coming?" Buffy turned to Xander, ignoring Dawn's sarcastic comment.

Xander looked up from his books and was about to reply when Giles walked into the room. "Oh, good Buffy, you're here. How goes the night?"

"Oh, great so far. Willow's showing my mom around, and keeping an eye out for our little Ferengi-look alike of a principal."

"Very good." Giles said with a smile. "Perhaps later when the parents leave you could come back here for a little while?"

"Sounds like a plan. For now I better get back to the lemonade table." Buffy said with a grimace as she walked out.

*

"In the car, NOW." Joyce Summers looked down at her daughter about 20 minutes later. She'd finally talked with Snyder, and wasn't the least bit happy with what she had heard.

Buffy looked down at her feet and was about to comply when she suddenly heard the sound of windows shattering. She looked up to see a gang of at least half-a-dozen vampires breaking down the school's huge front windows.

She looked around quickly, noting there were still quite a few parents in the room. "This way, quick." Buffy called out as she began to herd the frightened people towards one of the science labs.

No one paid much attention to the fact that it was a young girl giving the order, they all obeyed it instantly.

As Buffy was moving people into the lab, she noticed Willow and Dawn standing a little ways down the hall, frozen in fear. "This way." She called out to them. Unfortunately, several of the vampires heard her and took off after them. Buffy saw Willow grab Dawn's hand and drag her off down the hall. That was all she had time to see before she had to shut the door for fear of the vampires.

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"Willow tells me that she dragged Dawn into a broom closet, which they locked and then just stayed in.
Unfortunately, no one knew they were in there. Me and Mom were at school for almost an hour after Spike and the gang left, trying to find Dawn. Apparently the room is somewhat soundproof and they couldn't hear us calling." Buffy recalled. "Dawn won't tell me what they talked about."

"As far as I can remember, I'm pretty sure that it was Cordelia and Willow in there in real life. Cause when the whole thing was over you asked me to help look for them. I think Xander finally found them." Angel tried to remember.

"It really isn't important; I just wish I knew. Cause Dawn was always different after that, she was more accepting of the whole Slayer thing, and she was more accepting of you too now that I think about it." Buffy said slowly. "I wonder..." She suddenly pulled away from him. "I'll be right back." She said as she left the room.

"Dawn?" Buffy called out into the hallway. She grinned when she received no answer.

Quietly making her way into her sister's room, Buffy opened a dresser drawer and pulled out a little pink book with a lock on the front. She reached into a small porcelain vase on her way out the door and retrieved the diary's key.

"What's that?" Angel asked as Buffy reentered the room and laid back against him.

"Dawn's diary."

"Buffy, maybe we shouldn't, I mean, a diary is like a person's most private thing...."

Buffy laughed slightly as her own word's came back to haunt her. "I know, but she's not really a person. I mean, she is, but....you know what I mean."

"Yeah, I guess I do." Angel said as he watched Buffy turn the key and slowly open the book, searching for the date she wanted.

"Here we go." Buffy said softly as she began to read out loud.

"Dear Diary,

Well, you'll never guess what happened today. Sure, a whole other thing with vampires and all, but that wasn't the really interesting thing. Well, because of these vamps Willow and I got trapped in a closet together and we had an interesting talk. That's what I love about Willow, she talks to me as if I were a real person, not a child. Buffy always tells me things like I wouldn't understand, or I'm too young. Willow actually talks to me. And I think she understands how jealous I am of Buffy. I mean, the girl has everything. Perfect friends, perfect hair, perfect guy. So what if he's a vampire, he's still the cutest guy I've ever seen. But Willow also understood something that I didn't. Buffy is about the last person in the world I should be jealous of. Willow explained some things to me, like how Buffy has died, and how she's saved the entire world from being destroyed, and tons of other things. She made me realize that the superheros you see on TV, with their glamorous lives and their perfect attitudes, are nothing like my sister. Some of what Willow told me made me realize just how hard it must be to be a hero. And the hardest part of all is that no one can ever know about it. With Batman or Superman it's different, no one knows who the person behind the mask is, but the person still gets credit for all they do. Buffy doesn't get credit for anything, no one can even know what she does. That's why Willow said I should start being nicer to her about the whole thing, and especially I should be nicer to Angel. I am sometimes, but other times I hate him because he can give Buffy something that no one else can. No matter what any of us do, she always has this slightly sad look in her eyes. Mr. Giles says it's because she had to grow up to fast, see things no child should have to see. The only time I've ever seen her look 100% totally happy is when she's with Angel. And sometimes I hate it. I hate that he can give my sister something I can't. But Willow made me see that I should be grateful for that. She told me how lucky Buffy is to have someone who understands her, which no one but Angel can because of the kind of life he's led. He understands my sister better than I do, and he's only known her for a year. I hate that. But Willow said that I should be happy she has him in her life, cause wouldn't I rather see her happy sometimes, even if it's not because of me? Of course I would. I want Buffy happy. I guess I'm gonna have to learn to live with the fact that she loves Angel more than she loves me."

Buffy abruptly stopped reading, tears falling down her cheeks. She was rather embarrassed to have Angel hear something like that, but she was even more upset by the fact that Dawn actually thought that way. "God! This is so stupid!" Buffy said even as she cried. "I know this never really happened, I know she's not my sister. Why does this bother me so much?"

"Because you remember her as your sister." Angel said as he stroked her hair. "Despite what your head tells you, you have all the memories and feelings of being the older sibling, and those are winning out against logic right now."

"I just can't believe she thought that way."

"She didn't. Not really, Buffy. It's all stuff made up by those monks that cast this spell. They needed you to be very protective of her to keep her safe, so they had to create a history of her always acting out against you and getting herself in trouble. Memories of that would make you keep an extra close watch on her."

Buffy thought that over for a minute. "How did you get to be so smart?"

"I've had lots of time to think about these things." He joked.

"Well, think about this one. Do you think the monks actually took the time to program all these memories? Or did they just design a spell that would keep her as safe as possible and let the powers that be fill in the details?"

"Powers that be?" Angel said in shock, how did she know about them?

"Yeah, Giles says they're kinda like gods, only that they have definite paths for their warriors to follow, they'll do almost anything to ensure that their plans will succeed."

"Oh." Angel tried to pretend he'd never heard of them.

"So anyway, do you think they formed Dawn?"

Angel could tell she was trying to get at something by this, but he wasn't sure what. "Probably." He answered carefully.

"So, any guesses why they made her favor me and you together and not really like me and Riley?"

Angel couldn't think of anything to say.

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"Power Girl to the rescue!!" Dawn called out as she leapt down the last half of the stairs as she heard voices below.

"Who are you?" Buffy's voice was heard as she backed away in fear.

Xander raised a gun, aiming it right at her. Dawn froze in shock.

"It's okay!" Willow called out as she moved towards Dawn. "She's one of the good guys."

"Of course I am." Dawn called out.

"Do you know who you are?" Cordelia asked as she pulled Xander's army jacket tightly around her.

"Of course I do. Dawn Summers." Dawn said.

Willow and Cordelia sighed with relief, which turned to a sigh of fear as Dawn continued.

"Known to a few as Power Girl, defender of justice and all that is good."

"We're just lucky superheroes have double identities, or she'd be a lot worse off." Willow sighed. While she was glad that Dawn had chosen Buffy's old costume so that they had at least one superhero in the family, what she really wished was that Buffy was the one who had worn it.

"What is going on here?" Buffy whined.

"She couldn't have dressed up like Xena?" Willow moaned as she moved to look out the window.

"What should we do?" Xander asked as Buffy clung to his arm.

"You guys stay here and lock the doors. I'm gonna go find help." Willow walked off through the wall, causing all assembled to gasp in surprise.

"Let's do as she says." Xander moved to lock the doors.

"You would take orders from a woman? Are you feeble in some way?"

Xander was just about to answer when a new male voice was heard.

"Buffy, I'm glad you're all right. It's pure chaos out there."

"Who are you?" Soldier Xander and Noblewoman Buffy asked as one.

"Wait...what's with your hair?" Angel asked.

"Everybody's turned into their costumes, they don't know who they are it's this whole big thing." Cordelia explained as she walked up to him. "Hi, how are you?" She then flirted.

"We still need to lock up. Take the princess and super woman here; Catwoman, you're with me." Xander said.

Angel took Buffy's hand and pulled her towards the kitchen as Xander and Cordy moved towards the front of the house. Dawn moved to follow Buffy and Angel.

"I don't like you. I like the man with the musket. Do you have a musket?" Buffy's voice could be heard.

"I didn't leave that open..." Angel ignored her comments as he saw the backdoor ajar.

Suddenly a vampire crashed out from behind the counter. Angel immediately pushed Buffy aside and went to fight it. Dawn, seeming to realize at least some of what was going on, moved to protect her sister. "Get me a stake!" Angel called out.

Dawn looked wildly around the kitchen, trying to find one. Finally she grabbed a wooden spoon and tossed it to Angel. As he turned around to grab it Buffy got a good look at his game face.

She screamed and ran for the door.

Dawn tried to stop her, but Buffy, in her fear, was too fast for her.

"Buffy, no!" Angel and Dawn both screamed as the Slayer headed out into the night.

*

Buffy backed against the wall as a pirate leaned in to kiss her. Suddenly, she felt the man being ripped away from her. She looked down to see the soldier beating him up.

"Buffy, come on!" She turned at the sound of the voice, and saw the girl in the tight cat suit as well as the one in the mask and cape coming towards her.

The one in the cape made it first and pulled her away from the fight.

"Come on Buffy, let's get somewhere safe." Dawn said as she pulled her helpless sister away.

Suddenly Buffy broke away, fear in her eyes. "He, he..." She stared at Angel.

"It's okay." Cordelia put a hand on Angel's arm, as if to show that he wouldn't hurt her.

"He's a vampire." Buffy reached out towards Cordelia as if to pull her away from a danger she wasn't yet aware of.

"It's okay." Dawn tried to explain. "He's a good vampire, he'd never hurt you."

"Really?" Buffy stood up, somehow instinctively trusting Dawn.

"Yes, really. He's our friend. And your boyfriend." Dawn couldn't help but add.

"Boyfriend?" Buffy didn't seem to understand the term.

"Yes, ah, what's a word you would know for it?...um..."

"Beau." Angel said softly as he stepped nearer to Buffy.

"You, you are?" Buffy stepped closer to him. Angel smiled and took her hand.

She was just about to speak again when suddenly she heard a girl's voice.

"Come on guys, we gotta get inside!" Willow ran down the hallway, Spike and a whole gang of vampires and demons hot on her heals.

Angel picked Buffy up and carried her after the others as he called, "Come on. Find an open warehouse!" When the finally got inside one, he set Buffy down. "Just stay here." He told her.

Xander and Dawn were busy trying to keep the vampires from breaking down the doors, but it was a losing battle. Cordelia moved to pull Buffy further into the warehouse just as the doors broke and Spike and his minions swarmed in.

They quickly seized everyone, holding them to prevent them from interfering. It took four to hold Angel and three to hold Xander. Dawn was left unguarded, since they assumed she was just a little girl. And that was their mistake.

As Spike moved towards Buffy, taunting her, Dawn flew at him and knocked him down.

She pinned him to the ground, "Leave my sister alone!" Dawn screamed.

Buffy watched in amazement as this little girl held down a huge vampire.

Xander suddenly broke away from his guards and raised his gun.

"Now that guy you can shoot!" Willow called out.

"Can't." Xander said. "Wonder Woman there is in the way."

Suddenly, Buffy felt herself getting very dizzy. She closed her eyes a moment, and the next thing she knew everything was back to normal.

Dawn was thrown off of Spike as he laughed, advancing on Buffy again. He still didn't know the spell had broken.

He grabbed her by the hair, then stepped back in amazement with the black wig in his hand. "What the...?"

"I want my mommy." He suddenly heard a little voice call. He turned to find all his minions had changed back into little kids. Before he could process that thought, he felt himself get kicked and go flying.

"Honey, I'm home." Buffy quipped as she hit him again. "Gosh, it's good to be me."

Spike took one look at her, and the now freed and very mad Angel, and took off.

Buffy walked over to Dawn and gave her a hug. "You saved my life there, Power Girl."

"You've saved mine enough times." Dawn smiled back, then pulled away to go check on the little kids as she saw Angel approaching.

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"None of the rest of my memories from that night have Dawn in them, so I'd guess they're the same as how things actually happened." Buffy said with a smile.

It was six the following night. Buffy had skipped classes that day and her and Angel had spent it talking. He'd told her more about what had actually happened, and now she was back to stories of how she remembered things.

"Probably." Angel said as he went on to describe how things had happened that Halloween as far as he knew. He was about half done when the phone rang.

Buffy apologized again as she reached for it. "Hello? Yes, this is Buffy Summers. (a pause) She WHAT? (a pause) We'll be right there!"

Buffy immediately pushed out of Angel's arms and headed for her bedroom door. He immediately followed, not bothering to question what was wrong.

"DAWN!" Buffy called out. Her sister came running out of her room.

"Was that the hospital?"

"Yeah, we've gotta get down there. Mom had a stroke." Buffy called as she ran down the stairs, the other two hot on her heels.

Buffy moved towards her mother's jeep, which was parked in the driveway, but Angel stopped her. "I'll drive, come on." He said as he pulled her towards a black convertible that was parked in front of her house.

Buffy was too upset to argue and she climbed in, moving to the back-seat to sit next to her crying sister.

Angel set a record getting to the hospital.

*

When Buffy, Dawn, and Angel entered the hospital, Buffy immediately ran to the elevator. She stood there all of two seconds before running to the staircase and taking the stairs three at a time. Angel followed easily, only slowing down to wait for Dawn.

Buffy blew out of the staircase on the floor where her mother was, and immediately went up to the desk. "How's my mom doing?"

"We don't know yet, Miss Summers." The nurse said with a sympathetic smile. "The doctor should be out in a few minutes."

Buffy nodded numbly as she felt Angel come up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder. She leaned back against him and allowed him to lead her to the waiting room.

"Dawn, could you call Willow and some of the others?" Buffy asked as she leaned into Angel's shoulder as they sat side by side.

"Of course." Dawn got up and headed for the pay phones.

"They're as much my friends as they are hers." Buffy explained to Angel quietly. "They're very protective of her, especially Xander and Riley. More programming I guess, to keep her safe."

Angel only nodded, continuing to stroke her hair comfortingly.

"Remember the last time we were here together?" Buffy asked suddenly.

"How could I forget?" Angel pulled away at the memory.

"Oh, no you don't." Buffy held him firmly to her. "I don't regret it. I never will." Her hand went unconsciously to her neck, which still held a scar.

He suddenly noticed it. "That hasn't healed yet?"

"Giles says it won't." Buffy said softly. "Because of how it was made..."

"I thought that was only a legend..." Angel whispered, remembering the stories of vampires who used their bites to mark their human lovers so no one else would touch them.

"Apparently so did he until he saw this last summer." Buffy winced at the thought.

"I'm sorry. I didn't know it would do that." Angel whispered.

"I'm not." She answered the first part of his statement. "It shows that I'm yours." Her voice dropped even lower, until he could barely hear her. "And somehow that feels right."

By the time Angel thought of a reply to that, the doctor was exiting Buffy's mother's room and headed for her. Buffy stood up and headed for him, Angel right on her heels.

*

"Do you know anything yet?" Riley, Willow, and Xander asked as they exited the elevator and saw Dawn waiting for them. She had called Willow's cell phone and found the three of them together and only about a minute away.

"I don't know yet, I waited here for you guys." Dawn said as Willow put an arm around the younger girl. "Buffy and....is in waiting for the doctor to come out."

The four of them headed quickly for the waiting room, only to freeze in their tracks as they passed through the doorway.

What they saw astonished them all, minus Dawn of course. Buffy stood talking to the doctor, and Angel stood behind her with his hands on her arms. She was leaning back against him, and it looked like she was about to break into tears.

Without warning, she collapsed to the floor, the tears finally coming. Angel knelt down beside her and tried to comfort her, but she pushed him away.

Riley smiled at that, and he went to comfort her. She hadn't let him yet, but now he was sure she was waiting for him.

His hopes dropped faster than a skydiver when Angel tried again, and this time Buffy collapsed into the vampire's arms, sobbing unto his shoulder. His arms came around her, stroking her back, her hair, whispering things into her ear that seemed to quiet her.

Meanwhile, Dawn rushed forward to the doctor. "Is Mom dead?" She asked, looking at her sister.

"No, oh no, my dear." The doctor said quickly. "She's suffered a stroke and has gone into a coma..."

Willow came up behind Dawn and pulled the girl to her. "What does that mean exactly?"

"Well, the longer she's in a coma, the less hope there is." The doctor said slowly. "But Mrs. Summers is a very strong woman, and I feel that she will pull through and wake up soon."

"Of course she will." Xander said as he put an arm around Dawn.

"But she might die?" Dawn whispered as she leaned into Xander.

The doctor said nothing, but the look on his face spoke volumes.

Dawn let out a sob and buried her face in Xander's chest. He held her and let her cry.

Willow sunk to her knees and put an arm around her best friend, sandwiching the Slayer between herself and Angel, who still held her tightly.

Riley just stood watching, and then quietly left the room. No one noticed.

*

Around two the next morning, Buffy slowly pushed open the door to her house. Angel entered after her, a sleeping Dawn curled up in his arms. They had stayed at the hospital for as long as they could, but the doctor had eventually told Buffy to go home and get some sleep, he'd let her know if her mother showed any improvement.

After gently putting Dawn to bed, Buffy headed to her room. She was almost there when Angel's voice stopped her in her tracks.

"I'll just go back to the mansion then, if you need anything...."

"Stay." Buffy said softly. "Please."

"I wasn't sure if you'd want me to. What if Riley comes over, or...." Angel wanted to stay so badly, but he wasn't sure if it was a good idea.

"I need you." Buffy said as she took a step closer to him.

"Then I'll stay." All reasons he shouldn't suddenly flew right out of his head.

They entered her room together. Buffy proceeded to kick of her shoes and remove her jacket, then plopped down onto the bed. Angel hesitantly did the same.

She curled up against him and he wrapped his arms around her.

"You're probably not tired or anything," Buffy said after a moment, "Can you tell me another story of how things really happened?"

So Angel began to tell her about Ford and his vampire wanna-bes. Buffy was soon sound asleep

"And they all lived happily ever after." Angel whispered with a small grin as he gave her a gentle kiss good-night. Then he lay silently, listening to the beating of her heart.

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Dear Diary,
Went patrolling with Angel again tonight. Well, I don't know if patrolling is exactly the word for it. We kinda spent most of the time making out. But fun was still had by all, which is more than I can say for what usually happens to the vamps I meet in the cemetery.

The only problem we had was when we actually started to talk. We're doing this whole parenting gig in school, and Angel lets drop the bombshell that vampires can't have kids. Which I guess is understandable since they're technically dead. The surprising thing is that it bothered him more than it bothered me. I honestly, once I got over the initial shock, didn't care. I don't think he believed me, but I don't care. Cause if they're not our kids I don't want them anyway.

And yes, I realize I sound like some love-sick kid, but it's totally true. I can't imagine having kids with, or even sleeping with, anyone else. Ever.

Speaking of sleeping with, it almost happened. I think. Angel came back over here after our "patrol" and we were seriously getting into it. Now, I'm pretty sure he's too much of a gentlemen to actually let it go that far, but I really wanted it to. When we first started dating I always had that little voice that told me this was wrong, it sounded kinda like a cross between my mother and my sister, but now that voice is gone.

I think it might have happened too, if Dawn hadn't walked in on us. She kinda screamed and we jumped apart and that was the end of that. I guess it's understandable since she's only 12, it's just so frustrating. She's always messing up my life.

And she almost got herself killed in the process. Oh, I didn't tell you about that one time, did I? Well, I did tell you about Kendra, and how Drusilla almost killed Angel, right? Well, around that same time, Dawn shadowed me at school for a day. It's the whole deal where her entire seventh grade class followed a different freshman or sophomore around to get the ideas on the Career Fair and everything. And Dawn just happened to be with me when the psycho Tarakan assassin started shooting up the whole place.
And what does she do? Instead of letting me handle it, she jumps out and tries to go after the lady. More bullets flew, and this guy named Oz pushed both her and Willow out of the way. He actually got shot. But if he hadn't been there I'm afraid my sister would not be here right now.

I guess it's partly my fault, cause she's always hearing my friends talk about all the great things I do, and she's always wanted to be like me. And she's got this huge crush on Angel, which is just so obvious, and she probably thinks if she's more like me he'll like her. Crazy, I know, but I remember thinking like that at her age.

I can't imagine what it would be like if I had lost her, especially since the woman was going after me. I can't imagine her dead. (Although if she goes after Angel I may kill her myself.)

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Angel looked up quickly as Buffy came into the room. His cheeks were slightly red, for even though she had told him to read her diary because she didn't feel like telling him things right now (but he really did have to know them), it still felt like he was invading her privacy. Especially when so much of it was about him.

"Well, anything else you need to correct me on?" She asked with a smile. Anyone else reading her diary would have driven her to kill, but with Angel it just didn't bother her.

"Um....Dawn coming in and stopping us from..." He trailed off, but Buffy knew what he meant.

"Just don't tell me my mom came in." Buffy groaned.

"No, no." Angel laughed slightly. "Actually, no one came in. You were right about the 'he's too much of a gentlemen' part." He said rather truthfully. "I'm the one that stopped it."

"Somehow that doesn't surprise me." Buffy smiled, then suddenly slumped. "Well, that was a whole minute I went without thinking of mom. New record."

Angel moved to her and took her into his arms. "Do you wanna talk some more? It might keep your mind off of things."

"That's probably a good idea. What should I tell you about?" Buffy asked as they sat down on the bed, still wrapped in each others arms.

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"Happy Birthday!" Dawn offered happily as she watched the last vampire turn to dust.

"Surprise!" Cordelia popped up from behind the cake.

"I'll say." Buffy replied as everyone glared at Cordy. They then turned to Oz, who was looking a little bit pale.

"Did everyone just see that guy turn to dust?" Oz asked carefully.

"Yeah, vampires are real, they live in Sunnydale, Willow will fill you in...." Xander said in a bored tone.

"Oo, what's in the box?" Dawn asked as she moved towards the large box the vampires had been guarding.

"Dawn don't..." Buffy called out even as Dawn opened the box to reveal an arm with blue flesh.
Buffy and Angel headed over to it just as it reached up and suddenly began to choke Dawn. Buffy quickly pried it's fingers away and Angel shut the box. Buffy gathered a shaking Dawn into her arms. "It's okay."

"What the heck was that?" Dawn asked in shock.

"I can't be." Angel was muttering as he paced away. "She wouldn't dare."

"Who wouldn't do what?" Buffy asked. "Care to share?"

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"That's pretty much all I remember about Dawn that time. I think she mostly listened to the rest of us talk and decide what to do. Then Cordelia said she'd drive her home when we went to the docks and stuff." Buffy related to Angel.

"Well, other than the fact that you were the one that the arm strangled, that's pretty much what happened." Angel said slowly.

Buffy could tell there was something else on his mind. "Angel, what is it?"

"Buffy..." Angel asked slowly. "Did I...Angelus do anything to Dawn?"

Buffy looked down. "Um...yeah, I mean..."

"Tell me." He demanded.

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"Angel?" Dawn questioned as he stepped from the shadows.

"Get Buffy." Angelus said to Xander, even as he remained in the dark. "Something's happened."

Xander looked at him hesitantly but headed off to the library.

"Come here." Angelus said to Dawn. "I want to show you something."

The young girl stepped eagerly towards the vampire, and suddenly found herself with her back to him. His arms were tight around her, one wrapped around her waist, almost lifting her off the ground, and the other firmly on her neck.

"Angel?" She questioned again, this time terrified.

"Angel!" Buffy's voice suddenly called as she, Willow, and Xander came to a halt a few feet away.

"Well, if it isn't Buff." Angelus said with a snarl as he pulled Dawn's hair away from her neck.

"Let her go. It's me you want." Buffy's voice was calm, but her eyes betrayed her fear.

"What if I want you both?" Angelus said suggestively.

"Angel, there must be some part of you, inside, that still remembers who you are." Buffy slowly approached him.

"Wake up, hon. Your boyfriend's dead." Angelus said as he suddenly hurled Dawn against the wall. Faster than anyone had thought he could move, he had an arm around Buffy. He kissed her, harshly, and then shoved her to the floor. "Be seeing ya, lover!" He called as he turned and left with a laugh. Buffy sunk to the floor in shock. Now she was sure that Angelus was back, she just didn't know why.

"Angel...." Dawn whispered as Willow moved over to comfort her. "What happened to you?"

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"It was Willow." Angel said softly when Buffy paused in her story. "She's the one I grabbed that time, not Dawn."

"Oh." Buffy managed.

"Everything else was pretty much the same." His voice sounded gruff.

"Do you want me to stop?" Buffy questioned thoughtfully.

"No, I need to hear it. If Dawn's afraid of me I need to know why."

"But she's not, Angel. She was one of the only ones when you came back that could recognize the difference between you and Angelus. You're not the same person! And she knows that."

"I'm not?" Angel questioned harshly.

"Would you ever say anything like that to me?"

"Of course not, but..."

"Then you're not him." Buffy smiled. "I love you, Angel. I could never love Angelus. And believe me, I know the difference. I couldn't kill him because I knew that deep down you were still in there. It had nothing to do with my having feelings for him."

"Tell me what else I did to Dawn."

"What Angelus did." Buffy said gently.

"What Angelus did to Dawn." Angel conceded the point.

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"Buffy!" Dawn screamed out early one morning.

Buffy bolted awake, a piece of parchment paper falling to the floor unnoticed as she scrambled to her sister's room, grabbing a knife from her drawer in the process. "What's wrong?"

Shaking, Dawn held out a piece of parchment paper, folded in half. Buffy reached for it and opened it, finding a charcoal drawing of herself sound asleep.

"Angel?" Dawn asked, still shaking slightly.

"It must be. He's the only vamp that can still get in here and no one else would..." Buffy looked at the drawing in shock.

"What should we do?"

"I want to show Giles." Buffy said as she marched back into her room to get changed.

Both girls started to get dressed, and as Buffy bent down to pick up her shoes she noticed a piece of paper lying on the floor. She picked it up and slowly unfolded it, finding a picture of a sleeping Dawn. It fluttered to the floor as her hands flew to her face. Angelus going after her was one thing, but going after her little sister...

"Dawn!" Buffy called out. "Pack a bag while you're at it."

"You want me to stay at Willow's again?" Dawn asked, remembering when the Tarakan assassins had come around and Buffy hadn't wanted her around the house.

"No, he can go in there too. Or Giles...no, he's invited there too. You'll have to stay at Xander's place, if he doesn't mind." Buffy thought it out.

"I'm sure he won't." Dawn said a little too quickly.

"Just hurry up!" Buffy said with a sigh.

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"She never actually had to stay at Xander's," Buffy added, "because Willow found that spell to change the locks. She was still scared to go out at night, though. She'd never go anywhere alone if it was dark."

"Buffy?" Dawn's voice suddenly called from the hallway, interrupting whatever Angel had been about to say.

"It's open." Buffy called.

Dawn opened the door and stuck her head in, "Willow and Tara are downstairs. They think they've found a way to find out who your mystery woman is."

Buffy nodded in acknowledgment. "Tell them I'll be right down." Dawn left.

Buffy turned back to Angel. "Do you want to come, or..."

"I think I'll just wait here. It might be weird." Angel said after a moment.

"Okay, um, you can read some more of my diary if you want. Cause it doesn't look like our reality will change back anytime soon and you should know what happened."

Angel nodded that he might do that and Buffy left the room to see her friends.

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Dear Diary,

Dawn's been trying to be super nice to me since I came back from L.A., but I can tell how hard it is for her. I mean, I was gone for the whole summer and now I'm just back. It's hard for everyone, but especially her. We tried to clear the air some at the party to celebrate my return, but since it turned basically into a wild party with tons of people I didn't know it was kinda hard. Willow and Dawn both talked to me in my room when they found me packing again, and it was Dawn more than anything that persuaded me not to go again.

I didn't realize how hard it would be for her with me gone, especially with Mom having found out about the whole Slayer deal. Dawn pretended like she hadn't known about it, which probably made things harder in the long run cause it made Mom feel like she couldn't tell her anything about it because she's so fragile or something stupid like that. But it saved her from getting in trouble for not telling Mom, so I guess that's a plus.

I think in some ways Dawn understands more than anyone else does just how hard it is for me to be back. I haven't really told anyone what happened, just that I stopped Acathla and that Angelus was dead. They all know it was hard for me to kill him, but since they don't know the truth they don't think it's that big a deal. How killing him could not be a big deal, even if he had still been Angelus, is beyond me. How they can be that insensitive...

But anyway, no one knows what actually happened. I can barely make myself write it, let alone say it to someone.

It was Angel.

There, I said it. Somehow Angel came back. And I sent him to hell.

He didn't know what was going on, he just held and kissed me. We both said that we loved each other, and then I told him to close his eyes. He did so immediately, which almost broke my heart. He trusted me so much, and look what I was about to do to him. The look in his eyes when I stabbed that sword through him is one I'll never forget. I see it every time I close my eyes. And Dawn wonders why I wake up screaming that 'I'm sorry.' I wonder what she'd say if I told her what really happened?

ºººªºººªºººªºººªºººªºººª

"You've gotta be kidding!" Buffy exclaimed later that day when Willow returned to her house.

"Nope. Me, Tara, and Anya did the spell; and Glory's real name is Glorificus and she's an immortal." Willow repeated.

"An actual immortal?" Angel asked as Buffy sat in shock. "I didn't think there were any of them left."

"Well, apparently there aren't many, some big war that happened circa the 1870's."

"1867." Angel said absently.

"1867." Willow corrected her statement, then continued. "And, kinda like vampires and werewolves, the TV hype about immortals is fairly accurate. You just cut off their heads and they're gone."

"Well, you cut off the heads and then you have to cauterize the neck to keep a new head from growing." Angel said softly.

"Eww." Buffy looked at him. "Glad they never showed that part on TV."

"So, next time you find her just cut off her head." Willow smiled, glad that this one problem was solved.

"Okay, I'll remember that." Buffy gave a small smile. "Thanks, Will."

There was a moment of awkward silence, which Willow finally broke by asking, "So, any word on your mom?"

"Well, the hospital called earlier to say that she was conscious." Buffy told her friend. "Apparently she's fading in and out though, so they asked me not to come in for a few hours yet so they can do some tests. And they're pretty sure she's gonna need gamma knife surgery to remove the tumor."

"Well, that's....she's gonna be okay then?" Willow asked.

"They think so." Angel answered for Buffy, who suddenly had tears in her eyes.

"Do you want us to go down to the hospital with you?" Willow asked.

"If you or anyone else wants to meet me there that'd be great. But Will....not Riley." Buffy added softly.

Willow glanced over at Angel, then said softly. "He knows, Buffy. The night Dawn called us to come to the hospital, and I found you crying in Angel's arms....Riley was there too. He took one look at the two of you and left. None of us have seen him since."

"Oh, God." Buffy started crying again. "I never wanted to hurt him. I really didn't. He's a good guy, but..."

"But he's not Angel." Willow said softly as she brushed tears from Buffy's cheeks. "And I think that, deep down, he's always known what that would mean one day."

"I have to find him." Buffy said frantically. "I need to explain..."

Angel looked at her sadly. "I understand."

"Oh, no Angel." Buffy turned to him quickly. "I mean I need to explain why I'm breaking up with him."

"You are?"

"I know you haven't said anything about us getting back together in all this time, but that doesn't even matter. I'm not breaking up with him because I expect anything from you. I'm doing it because I can't take the lies anyone. He deserves so much more than I can give him."

"You mean that?" Angel couldn't believe his ears.

"I can't give him what's not mine to give, Angel. I can't give him my heart. It already belongs to someone." Buffy was crying again, not even noticing that Willow was still there.

Angel smiled and pulled her into his arms. "Just as mine still belongs to you."

Buffy sobbed in amazement and clung to him as she cried.

Willow made eye contact with Angel over Buffy's head and quietly left the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Riley?" Buffy called as she slowly opened the door to his room.

"Buffy, hi." Riley came over to her, knowing by the look on her face what was about to happen.

"I'm sorry." She started out right away. "Sorry for hurting you, sorry for not telling you the whole truth about myself."

"You mean that you still love Angel?" Riley said with a sad smile. Buffy looked at him in shock.

"You think I didn't know? A man would have to be blind not to."

"But you still stayed with me?" Buffy asked in amazement.

"I love you, Buffy. And before you say anything, I know that you don't love me. At least not the way I want you too. But I kept convincing myself that someday you would. Someday you'd realize that Angel was someone you could never have, and you'd know that you'd be happier with me." Riley looked at her feet as he talked.

"I was happier." Buffy said softly.

Riley looked up at her, his face showing hope. But her next words crushed it.

"I was so happy I almost didn't know how to contain it. But do you know why? Because I was fooling myself. Angel told me that he wanted me to have a normal life, and I made it my one goal to do just that. I wanted to be so normal that I'd go back to being the bitch I was before I was called as Slayer. And that's exactly what I did. I ignored my friends, I made superficial things the most important ones in my life, and I picked the most normal boyfriend I could find. And it made me happy because it reminded me of simple days, before I was called."

"But you're not that person anymore." Riley said sadly. "He changed you."

"Being the Slayer changed me. Mostly because it introduced me to him, but also because it made me realize what things are important and what things aren't. Love is important, Riley, because it's so rare. And you deserve someone who can love you completely."

"And you can't. I think I realized that a long time ago." Riley said with a small smile.

"I'm sorry I can't." Buffy put a hand on his arm. "I really did try."

"I know you did." Riley said. "What makes this a little bit easier is I know it isn't me. It's not something you don't like about me in particular, it's just that you're already in love. You were long ago. No one would have stood a chance."

"I'm afraid not." Buffy sighed and turned to leave, she didn't want to cause him anymore pain.

"Still friends?" Riley asked to her back.

She turned slowly. "You want to be friends?"

"We already are. I've finally realized that's all we ever were." Riley answered.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Buffy and Riley reached the hospital, Angel and Dawn were already in the waiting room.

Both looked up, confused as to why Riley was with her.

"I need all the friends I can get." Buffy said with a smile.

Angel nodded his acceptance, then said, "The doctor said they want to do the surgery right now. They think it's dangerous to let the tumor stay there any longer."

"Now?" Buffy asked in shock.

"They said her chances are really good." Dawn said.

"Do I need to talk to the doctor?"

"Apparently since she's fading in and out of consciousness she's not competent enough to agree to the surgery. You have to decide." Angel looked at Buffy with sympathy.

Buffy nodded worriedly and made her way over to the doctor, who had just exited her mom's room.

Riley made his way over and sat next to Dawn, taking her hand comfortingly.

She smiled at him. "So you and my sister are just friends now?"

"Yes, we're just friends." Riley said softly.

"Because she loves Angel?" Dawn asked with her normal bluntness.

"Yes," Riley said. "Because of that."

Angel looked over at him carefully, noticing no bitterness in his tone. He actually seemed to be somewhat happy about it, knowing that Angel made Buffy happy was apparently good enough for him. Now if only the rest of her friends could be like that.... Angel thought with a grin.

Willow, Tara, Anya, Xander, and Giles choose that moment to enter the lounge. They all stopped momentarily at the site of Angel and Riley sitting peacefully with Dawn between them.

"I don't see any blood. That's good, right?" Xander said nervously.

"Buffy and I decided to just be friends." Riley looked at the boy.

"And Buffy needs all the friends she can get right now." Angel said reasonably.
Everyone took that in, still amazed at the sight, and then slowly took seats. Buffy returned a moment later. "They're gonna bring her in for surgery soon. It should take about two hours."

"We'll all stay here with you." Giles said as he gave her an unexpected hug.

"No. You'll all stay here while Angel and I go kill Glory." Buffy said with burning eyes. "I'm not just gonna sit here for two hours worrying about something I can't control when I can go out there and take out my anger on someone."

The others looked at each other for a moment. Finally, Xander spoke. "That's a good idea. Except you'll just get your butt kicked again."

"Nope." Buffy smiled, despite everything. "Thanks to our witchy girls here, I know how to kill Glory. We'll be back."

She left, Angel trailing after her, understanding her need to pummel something.

"Well, that was interesting." Giles remarked as he settled down in the seat Angel had vacated.

*

Buffy and Angel returned an hour and a half later. "One dead Glorificus." Buffy remarked as she and Angel sat down.

"Any word yet?" Angel asked.

"Nothing at all." Dawn said softly. "I hope Mom's okay."

"Of course she is. You know how strong she is." Buffy smiled.

"I know, but..."

"Hey, she lived through being knocked on the head by a vampire. That's way harder than a little tumor." Xander tried to make light of the situation.

Angel wondered what they were talking about.

Buffy noticed his face and realized that must not have happened the way he remembers things. She clarified, "No, knowing Dawn almost died from a barbecue fork in the throat was the hard thing. And convincing her that an earthquake knocked her out and made Dawn fall on the fork was even harder."

"But easier than telling her your nice 'tutor' Darla was a vampire." Giles added.

"That's true." Willow pointed out with a laugh.

Tara, Anya, and Riley just watched the original Scoobies in confusion. They had no clue what they were talking about.

"And if she can put up with Spike and can do anything." Dawn added as an afterthought.

Buffy even laughed that time, glad of something to think about other than that her mother was in surgery. "I remember coming home to you and Spike sitting at the counter drinking hot chocolate."

"And Mom standing there, wondering why all of a sudden you were back with Angel and hated Spike."

"Well, considering the last time she had seen either of them Angel was stalking me and Spike, you, and I were in a rock band together...." Buffy smiled.

"A rock band?" Xander asked in confusion.

"Cover story." Buffy replied. "Spike didn't realize Mom didn't know I was the Slayer, and I had to think of something to tell her instead when he asked why she didn't know."

"And I came up with the three of us being part of a band." Dawn said with a smile. "Spike even said that he was the lead singer."

Angel shuddered. "He can't carry a tune in a bucket."

That caused further laughter, which was stopped by the sudden appearance of the doctor.

Buffy and Dawn quickly made their way over to him, Angel coming to stand behind Buffy supportively. "Doctor?"

"Mrs. Summers should make a full recovery. We've removed the tumor and it hasn't spread anywhere else. Barring complications, she should be out of the hospital in a week."

His proclamation was met with shouts of joy, followed by a series of hugs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Who are you?" Buffy asked the figure that appeared on her front porch as her, Dawn, and Angel were returning from the hospital.

"Now that Glorificus is dead, I can tell you about the Key."

"Dawn, go inside." Buffy said immediately.

"But...." Dawn started to protest.

"It's Slayer-stuff." Angel said softly. "She's just trying to keep you safe from stuff you really don't need to hear."

Dawn gave her sister a murderous glare, but went inside and shut the door tightly. Buffy waited till she saw her pass the window to be sure she wasn't in hearing distance.

"So, tell us." Buffy said.

The man looked hesitantly at Angel.

"He knows everything I do about Dawn and the Key. Now tell us."

"Very well." The man said. "The Key was originally pure energy. Magickal energy, with the power to open the Hellmouth. It was designed to work only for an Immortal, and they had to be at least one thousand years old for it to work. Now that Glorificus is dead, the next oldest Immortal is only around 700. And now that the Key has been transformed to mortal flesh, it will age and die. It still has the power to open the Hellmouth, but will be dead before there is another with the capacity to use it."

"So, can't you change her back to energy? Let her be what she should be?" Buffy questioned.

"I'm afraid not. There is no changing back."

"Well, then, you either have to extend the memory changes so everyone we know thinks she was always here or you have to let us all know the real way things happened, cause it just doesn't work this way." Buffy told the man.

"I will give you the power to extend the spell to whoever it is necessary for." The man said.

"I was kinda hoping you'd go the other way on that one." Buffy admitted. "I want my real memories back."

"I can return them to you and your mother if you wish." The man said. "You will have to live with both sets of memories, but at least you will know the truth. I can also do this for anyone else you choose for me to."

"Just me and my mom." Buffy said after a moment's thought. "The others shouldn't have to deal with it, but somehow Mom already knows. She knows Dawn isn't her daughter, but she also knows that she's ours now."

"We will return all your proper memories to you and to her, along with explaining to her why this was necessary and exactly who Dawn is. Your sister never need know."

"She won't. Ever." Buffy said with a smile.

The man handed her a talisman. "This has the power to alter memories. All you need to do is touch it and think of the person you wish to remember Dawn, and they will have full memories of her life with you all. The spell will weave them to disrupt as little as possible, as it did with all of you, but some changes are necessary."

"I won't use it on anyone unless I have to." Buffy swore.

"Now I shall return all your memories to you." The man said. Then he put a hand on either side of her face and looked into her eyes. Angel saw a light pass between his eyes and Buffy's, and then the man pulled back. "You have both sets now, and they are both complete."

Then the man faded into nothingness.

*

Buffy's head swarmed with all the memories as she tried to process them. She saw her and Dawn playing on the beach with her parents when she was six. The next image was of just her and her parents on the beach. She saw Dawn asking her why she had just climbed in her window at two in the morning. That image blended into climbing into her window and finding no one in her room. She saw Dawn in Angelus's clutches, replaced quickly by Willow in Angelus's arms. Next came Dawn and Willow comforting her as she cried that Angel had dumped her right before prom. That changed into just Willow being there for her.

Images continued to flow like this as Buffy sat down on the porch in shock. Angel sat beside her, realizing she had a lot to process.

She saw Dawn and all her friends at Giles for Thanksgiving, and Dawn mentioning that Angel had been there. She saw herself going to LA, leaving Dawn at her dad's while she went to see Angel. She saw them talking, Angel killing a demon and her leaving. Then that was replaced by an image of going alone to visit first her dad, then Angel. She saw the demon enter, but it didn't get killed, and it escaped.
Buffy was suddenly confused. How had Dawn affected that when she wasn't even there?
Images suddenly flooded her mind.

Turning around on the pier to find Angel coming towards her in full sunlight. Kissing him and realizing with a start that his lips were warm. Talking at his kitchen table, making love on his kitchen table, breaking his kitchen table. Cookie Dough Fudge Mint Chip ice cream. Chocolate and peanut butter, and licking ice cream off Angel's warm chest. A demon that just wouldn't die. Angel's head cradled in her lap after she finally killed the thing. Angel telling her he was turning back the day. Crying in his arms. Swearing she'd never forget.

Tears ran down Buffy's cheeks as the memories of that perfect day flooded her mind.

"Buffy?" Angel questioned softly. "What are you thinking?"

Buffy turned to him and looked into his eyes. "I've got all my memories back now."

"I know." He was confused.

"I mean ALL of them." She stressed the word. "I'm sorry." The last was a whisper.

"For what?" Angel was even more confused.

"I promised I'd never forget." Buffy said softly. "But I did."

She saw the look in his eyes when he realized what she was talking about.

"Oh, gods. Buffy..." Angel whispered as he pulled her into his arms and cried with her. "I thought it would be easier." He said finally. "Knowing what we had and not..."

"I understand." Buffy took both his hands in hers. "Believe me, I do. But I'm glad I know."

"So am I. It was so hard carrying that alone." Angel admitted.

"I wonder if he did that on purpose."

"But there's no way he could have known." Angel said rationally. "It must just be an accident."

"Or fate." Buffy smiled. "Maybe they've finally realized there's no way to keep us apart. We always seem to find our way back to each other."

"That we do." Angel smiled as he kissed her.

"We'll make it work this time." Buffy promised.

"We will." He echoed.

And unlike that time when they were sitting in the cemetery and he promised the same thing, this time -- this time he believed it. And so did Buffy.
___________________________

Epilogue

"So when is Angel getting here?" Willow asked as Buffy handed her more ornaments to put on the Summers' tree.

"Not until Christmas Day." Buffy said with a small frown. "He was gonna come earlier but apparently he's on some big case right now."

"That's only three days away though." Willow said cheerfully.

"Yeah, I know, but I haven't seen him in almost three weeks. Ever since he left after helping us kill Glory, we've both been too busy to travel back and forth."

"But he calls almost every night." Dawn said as she came into the room with a tray of cookies and mugs of hot cocoa.

"But it's not the same." Buffy said with a groan as she placed the angel atop the tree.

"What happened to our star?" Dawn asked with concern.

"Nothing. But mom took it with her to Aunt Arlene's since they used to have it on their tree when they were girls." Buffy replied as she straightened the angel and then stepped back to survey her work.

"And you just had to get an angel." Dawn said with an exaggerated sigh.

"Of course I did." Buffy said with a smile.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Cordelia, can you come in here a minute?" Angel called from his inner office.

"What boss?" Cordelia asked with a grin as she stepped into his office.

"Do you know what song this is?" Angel asked, cocking his head to indicate the song coming from the radio on his desk.

"Of course I do; I'm surprised you're listening to it though."

"I wasn't, it just came on that Christmas station Buffy told me to listen too. Do you have the CD it's on?"

"Well, no, I really don't like the group, but...." Cordelia made a face.

"Can you get it for me?" Angel asked.

"Sure." Cordelia looked at him curiously. "You want me to run out now?"

"No. By Christmas Eve will be fine." Angel smiled widely, and Cordelia wondered what in the world he was up to.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Merry Christmas everyone!" Buffy held up her wine glass and all the others joined in her toast.

They were all gathered at her house for Christmas Eve, and the wonderful dinner she and Dawn had spent all day preparing.

"And Happy Yuletide!" Willow called out in reply.

Even Willow and Tara were there, working around the idea of Christmas by simply calling it Yule, which was a Wiccan holiday they were both happy to celebrate.

Xander and Anya were there, as were Giles and Olivia. And Cordelia and Wesley had driven in a few hours ago, assuring Buffy that Angel would be there by tomorrow. The looks on their faces told Buffy that something was going on, but she didn't push it.

Everyone ate Christmas dinner, after which they retired to the living room to open their presents.

Piles and piles of presents were opened up and piled around the room as the gang enjoyed a holiday free of any demonic activity.

Finally, when it was well after eleven, everyone started to pack up and leave.

Buffy noticed as Cordelia pulled Dawn aside and talked with her for a moment, but neither would tell her what had been said.

When everyone had finally left, Buffy looked around the house at the piles of dirty dishes and heaps of wrapping paper everywhere. She hated cleaning up.

"Let's just go to bed, Buffy. It'll all still be here in the morning." Dawn said with a yawn.

"You go to bed, I'll just start picking some stuff up."

"No, you've been doing much more today then me. Go to bed." Something in the way Dawn said it made Buffy realize there was something behind the simple comment, but she didn't push it. She simply agreed and headed for the stairs.

"I'll turn off all the lights down here." Dawn said with a smile. "See ya!"

Buffy looked at her curiously for a moment, but was too tired to argue. She headed up the stairs, and was surprised to find her bedroom door closed. She didn't remember doing that.

Shrugging it off as exhaustion, she slowly opened the door, only to stop dead in her tracks in amazement. "Angel?" She called out in awe.

He came to her from behind, wrapping his arms around her waist. "You like?"

"I love it." Buffy exclaimed as she leaned back into his embrace.

Her entire room was filled with glowing candles. A small tree stood in the corner with a bunch of presents under it. There was garland and mistletoe hung all over the ceiling.

Angel turned her around until she faced him, then brought his lips down to hers. "Merry Christmas." He whispered as he kissed her.

"I love you." She said when he finally pulled away. "But I thought you couldn't come until tomorrow."

"A little fib." He grinned. "I needed time to set this all up. And now we've got the whole night to ourselves."

"Except for my little sister in the next room." Buffy grimaced.

"She's staying with Cordelia and Wesley at the mansion." Angel said with a smirk.

"You think of everything." Buffy smiled as she went up on tiptoe to kiss him again.

When they finally separated, Angel released her from his arms and held out his hand. "Dance with me?"

Buffy smiled and took his hand. Angel reached out and hit a button on her boom box, then gathered her into his arms. Buffy lay her head on his chest, snuggling into his arms.

~The snow is falling~
~The city is white~
~Your eyes are shining~
~Like diamonds tonight~

She didn't recognize the song that was playing, but she thought she knew who it was by. What Angel was doing listening to a boy band she wasn't sure she wanted to ask.

~And we're all alone~
~There's no one home~
~You're finally in my arms again~
~The night is silent~
~And Christmas is here~
~I couldn't ask for more~
~Than having you near~

Angel's hand slid slowly over her back, relishing the feel of having Buffy back in his arms. It still amazed him after so long a life that a teenage girl could make him feel this way. He never wanted to let her go again.

~Cause I love you girl~
~And I always will~
~And I don't want no other moment~
~Cause this moment is right~

Buffy made a small sound of contentment as she shifted position, getting as close to Angel as was humanly possible. The lyrics of the song barely registered in her head, all her senses were filled with her Angel.

~I've been waiting to give this gift tonight~
~I'm down on my knees there's no better time~
~It's something to last for as long as you live~
~Tonight I'm gonna give you all my heart can give~

"Buffy?" Angel asked softly, still holding her close.

"Hmm?" She mumbled against his chest.

"Will you marry me?"

~I thought I'd give you something shiny and new~
~I'd try to find something worthy of you~
~But I realized when I looked inside~
~There's some things that money can't buy~

Buffy froze. Tears sprung into her eyes at finally hearing those words. She pulled back slightly to look him in the eyes. "Angel..." She whispered, tears falling down her face.

~I feel the magic whenever you're near~
~I feel it even more this time of the year~
~Cause I love you girl and I always will~
~And I don't want no other moment~

Angel got down on one knee, taking both of her hands. "Will you do me the honor?"

Buffy was so touched she could barely talk. She nodded her head and fell to her knees beside him, pulling him tight against her.

~I've been waiting to give this gift tonight~
~I'm down on my knees there's no better time~
~It's something to last for as long as you live~
~Tonight I'm gonna give you all my heart can give~

"Yes." She whispered finally. "Of course I will."

Angel's eyes showed immense relief, as if he'd actually been worried that she'd say no.

"I love you." Buffy whispered as she leaned in to kiss him.

~You know I'll always be true to you~
~And you know I'm the one you can turn to~
~Anytime, anyplace, or anywhere~
~You know that I'll always be there~

Angel pulled her tightly into his arms, kissing her for all he was worth. When they finally pulled back to look into each other's eyes, Angel took her left hand and slid a ring onto her finger. It was a beautiful silver ring with a huge, heart shaped diamond.

"I love you, with all my heart." Angel whispered

~I've been waiting to give this gift tonight~
~I'm down on my knees there's no better time~
~It's something to last for as long as you live~
~Tonight I'm gonna give you all my heart can give~

They kissed again, a long, passionate kiss that sealed their love. Then Angel carried Buffy over to her bed, never breaking from her lips.

"Willow and Tara gave me an early Christmas present." He whispered when Buffy started to say something. "My soul is permanent."

~I've been waiting to give this gift tonight~
~I'm down on my knees there's no better time~

Buffy's eyes showed amazement and surprise, which was instantly replaced by pure happiness. She started to kiss him again.

~It's something to last for as long as you live~
~Tonight I'm gonna give you all my heart can give~

The CD shut itself off after that song, but the lovers didn't even notice. They were together now, and that was all that mattered.

Together, they each promised the other, Forever.

The End