Feels Like Home

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It doesn't matter where I've been Or what I've been through 'Cause I know I've been waiting Every day of my life To be with you, to be with you Angel arrived first. He parked the car and paced back and forth, staring at the rising tide that lapped at the golden sand. Once upon a time he had walked this very beach, in the daylight, and had taken her into his arms as a human. On that day, feeling the warmth on his face, hearing children's laughter echoing, drowning out the surf, he thought that all of his dreams had suddenly come true. He thought that he held the world firmly in the palm of his hand. But the world was on her way to see him and the sun had already vanished over the horizon - and thinking back on that day would only serve to kill him. He had heard her voice for the first time in months just a few hours earlier. Buffy had come back from the dead. Somehow, someway, his silent prayers had been answered and his pleas had not fallen on deaf ears. Willow had broken the news of her death and Willow had been the one to call and tell him that it had been reversed. But that had not been enough for Angel. After pacing for exactly forty three minutes, he found the nerve somewhere inside of him to dial her familiar number, and just like that, her voice was on the other line. "Hello?" she had said sweetly. His had smiled at the familiarity of it, at the memory of past phone calls. "Buffy?" He had heard the tremble in his voice as he said her name and then, just like the tides rushing toward land, the dam erupted and his sobbed, even though he had known all along that she simply couldn't be gone. "Buffy - god, Buffy, it's really you." "Angel?" Her voice on the other line was calm, placid. A pregnant pause followed, only his sobs linking the connection, then she slowly said, "Angel, it's okay." "How? Buffy, how did this happen?" "Willow." "She just brought you back? Out of the blue?" Another pause. And then Buffy said, "I wouldn't exactly call it the blue that she brought me back from, but yeah, she waved a magic wand or something." The next comment sprang from him before he could stop it. "I have to see you. Today. Now." "I'm right in the middle-" He had interrupted her. "We'll meet halfway. I'll leave as soon as the sun sets, which will be in about twenty three minutes." "Angel -" "Buffy, please?" "Where?" she asked softly. "Palmer's Beach." And just like that, as if transported on some magic carpet, Angel had arrived and shut off his car, not even remembering getting into it to begin with. Buffy. She'd be here any minute. The same Buffy he'd loved from the moment he looked into her eyes. The same Buffy that stole his heart before he had even realized it was there at all. The same Buffy who had given him her innocence, only to ache in ways that weren't even fathomable, even to him. The same Buffy who had lost her mother just a few months before -- The same Buffy who was buried beneath mounds of dirt that her friends had dug up -- and that he had watered with his own tears four times since she had died - knowing somewhere inside that it just wasn't possible. She couldn't really be gone. He'd said he accepted it. Gone into seclusion for a while. But he knew. He just *knew*. He checked his watch and walked to the back of the car, glancing down the road. There were no headlights in sight and he sighed. Buffy actually should have arrived sooner than he had, but then again, she probably wasn't driving like he had, as if the hounds of hell were close enough to bite the bumper. Glancing skyward, he crossed his arms over his chest and did the thing that came naturally. He thought about her. And waited. __ When Buffy saw the sign for Palmer's Beach, her heart did a little flip in her chest and she slowed down, merging into the exit lane. Traffic had been heavy, forcing her to stop completely several times, and she knew that he'd already be there. The thought of actually seeing him again caused a small smile to dance across her lips. It felt foreign, out of place, and she quickly replaced it with the impassive look she had taken to wearing for everyone's benefit. If she let her true feelings show she'd be blind from crying so much. She had been ready to break down as she pored over the bills that had accrued when Angel had called. It was like a miracle that he had chosen that exact moment to remind her that he was still out there, still fighting the good fight, still remembering her. The night before she had picked up the phone twice to call him, but both times she had hung up before she even began dialing. Dawn had tried to talk her out of driving to Palmer's, but Buffy had been adamant. Nothing would stop her from seeing him. From reliving it. Even if was just for a few short hours. She saw the taillights on his car reflect a little as her headlights hit and again, her heart began to dance in her chest. She saw him clearly, silhouetted against the full moon, and it was only then that she realized that she had begun to shake. That her eyes were blurring with unshed tears. That she had slowed almost to a stop instead of accelerating faster. It took seeing him step away from his car and toward hers that pulled her out of her reverie. She almost backed away. She almost sped past him. She almost died on the spot. Almost, but not quite. She put the car in park behind his and stepped out slowly, feeling the soft full skirt she had changed into brush against her ankles in the cool breeze. Angel stood a few feet away, watching her every move. The look on his face told her that he was speechless - which had been happening to her a lot lately so she couldn't hold it against him. She closed the car door and absently smoothed an imaginary wrinkle from her blouse. The wind whipped her hair across her face and when she brushed it away and looked at him again, she was shocked to see that he had quickly closed the distance between them and stood a few inches in front of her. "Buffy." He said it softly, quietly. Truthfully. Because one look at her had belied the truth. It was really her, really his world, once again rotating before his eyes. "Oh, Buffy." Falling into his arms was like falling into Heaven. It was Heaven. The only Heaven earth could ever offer her. She clung to him, giving herself completely to the emotions that rippled through her -- emotions she had thought were still dead and buried in her shattered coffin. She felt his strong hands stroking her hair, experienced every tear he cried, and clung to every soothing word he offered her. She was home. Angel had lived over two hundred and forty years, experienced everything imaginable, but in those moments, when he felt her heart pounding against his chest, felt her breath, he knew he could leave the world behind tomorrow and never again long for anything. She was *alive* and even if he never got his reward, his 'Shanshu', Buffy *had* gotten it and no one was more worthy than her. He took her hand in his and lifted it to his mouth, placing a kiss on her palm. Trying to find the right words proved almost impossible, but he finally said, "A- am I dreaming, Buffy?" "No." Buffy put her hand on his cheek and gave him a half smile. "It's not a dream, even though I've been thinking that it must be." Her face clouded as she silently added, 'Nightmare. It's a nightmare.' "Are you okay?" He waited anxiously for her answer, knowing instinctively that she was far from okay. There was a sadness in her voice that he had never heard before and nothing about her demeanor felt *right*. She looked beautiful, almost angelic. Her hair was a little darker, a little fuller, and it danced about her cheeks in a mesmerizing halo of silk. Her skin fairly shone in the moonlight, cheeks tinted pink, lips glossed to shiny perfection. But her eyes, her eyes were dull, devoid of the fire that had always been present before. "I'm alive," Buffy replied nonchalantly. "But that doesn't mean you're okay. Are you?" Buffy sighed a little, nodding her head. "I think I will be. One day. Or one year. Maybe ten. It's just kind of surreal. I've only been gone a few months, but it feels like decades have gone by. And the world just doesn't feel the same at all." "I've been there," Angel gave her a reassuring smile. "Believe me, it gets easier." "I think it has to. It couldn't get harder." Angel noted the sadness in her face, but he misread it for confusion. "How did this happen? I mean, *Willow*? I know she's been playing around with magic for years, but this is some deep stuff. Black magic, right?" Buffy wondered if 'black magic' really would have forfeited her stay to Heaven. She started to say that, but shrugged instead. "I'm not sure. I mean, she explained the ritual, some Urn of Arthritis, but you know me and technicalities. If there wasn't a demon involved to slay then I'm not gonna remember it. Besides, she said she had to get me out of hell." She looked up at him, noticing the dark look in his eyes. "Angel? What?" "Urn of Osiris?" "Yeah, that sounds right." Buffy nodded. Angel studied her closely, almost like he was trying to uncover any flaws with his eyes. Buffy fidgeted, taking a step back. "Angel -" And suddenly it clicked in his head. The reason she seemed so different. "You weren't in hell." Buffy swallowed hard, feeling naked under his scrutiny. The look on his face mirrored the way she felt since she had returned. Broken, shattered, damned. She didn't have the heart to tell him the truth. "Yes, I was. Hellish hell with chains and uhm, torture and ... did I mention chains? Torture?" "You never could lie to me. Don't start now." Angel told her matter-of- factly. "There's no way you would have gone to hell." "How would you know?" she asked sharply. "Just because you've been to hell, that doesn't make you an expert on hell." It sounded stupid, even to her, and she turned away, feeling foolish. Angel closed his eyes, unable to even *imagine* what it must be like for her. "An Urn of Osiris can't bring someone from hell. There were only two that were authentic. Two that had been touched by Christ himself. He drank wine from one and he bled on another when he was injured. Willow was tested during the spell, wasn't she? She felt pain, mortal pain down into her soul, and it lasted until she proved her worth, the purity in her intentions." He stepped around her, tilting her face so he could look at her. "I've been to hell and I know that this earth, flaws and all, is a better place to be. You've been somewhere else, somewhere better. And you think this is punishment, don't you?" Biting her bottom lip, Buffy nodded. "I was happy." "And now you're not." Angel phrased it as a statement, but Buffy replied as if a question had been asked of her. "No. Now I'm not. Nothing is this world can compare to peace of mind and I had that. I had *everything* and now I've got mounting bills and a little sister to worry about, and a dead mother, and God help me, I hate Mom for what she has right now. I want to go back. I'd give everything to go back." "And you know that the others gave everything they had to bring you back, right?" "Exactly. So I have to keep smiling and keep pretending that the reason I'm so miserable is because I was tormented in hell. Not because they brought me back *to* hell." "This isn't hell," Angel reminded her. "Maybe not for you." "Not for you, either." Angel took her hand and led her toward the beach. "Take off your shoes." Buffy did as he requested, watching as he toed off his own shoes. Hand in hand, they walked out over the sand. Angel paused a few feet from the water and pointed out over the horizon. "They don't have a sky like that in hell; a sky that will blaze with color and then darken at the end of every day. Nothing is ever predictable in hell. One day there may be light and other days it's all so black you can't see anything except the lights that burst behind your eyelids every time something gouges you and draws blood. And water?" Angel pulled her out further, letting the water lap around their ankles. "There is no water there. Only pools and pools of boiling blood that smell so foul it sinks into you, clinging to you even when you're away." He paused, staring up at the sky. "I longed to see stars. Anything that would remind me of home, of the people I loved and lost. There's no air in hell. No sweet smelling flowers. No laughter. Not even any tears because everything there, demon and human, they're so broken that they don't even remember how to cry. And everywhere you look, you're seeing a new kind of torment, a new kind or torture, that the wildest imagination couldn't even concoct, and when it happens to you, you think that dying a million times over would be better. And then it starts all over again." He saw that she was crying softly and brushed a tear away with his thumb. "Buffy, you're lucky because you have seen the other side. The better side. And yes, the world did change without you in it. It became harder, meaner, and hellish, but not for you. For those of us you left behind." "I left you all behind to save the world," Buffy snapped. "Death was my gift!" "Since when is death a gift?" Angel asked. "Since I had given every ounce of life I had left in me. Angel, you can't possibly understand. I know that your great mission in life is to help people, but -" "My great mission in life has always been you. I knew that before I ever met you. I felt you, Buffy. I felt you when you were born and took your first breath. I felt you when you were called to be a Slayer. I felt you when you died at the Master's hands and I felt you when you came back and you ached so badly. But, Buffy, I didn't feel you die this time. It came as a complete shock to me because I should have felt it. And you know what that tells me? That tells me that it wasn't meant to be." Buffy shook her head and glanced out over the water. It was too much. He was reaffirming their bond, but she resented it, almost hated him for still believing it was there. And still being gone. "I was meant to die to save Dawn. I know that. *I* feel that." "Did you know that she had so much guilt over you dying that she tried to kill herself? If it hadn't been for Giles she would have. Check her wrists if you don't believe me. Is that the gift of death you wanted to give?" Buffy gasped and looked up at him. "Dawn cut her wrists?" "Both of them. Three days after you went away. They used magic to stop the bleeding and to prevent the authorities from getting involved." "Oh, god," Buffy whispered, covering her mouth. "Oh, god, Angel." "And Giles was drinking himself into a nightly stupor. And I-" Buffy put her hand on his arm. "You what?" "I tried to walk out into the sunlight a million times, but I didn't. *I* knew you'd be coming back. The Powers That Be promised me that you'd live when I-" he trailed off, feeling his eyes widen at what he'd almost said. "When you what?" Buffy pursued him, even as he turned away and moved further up the beach. "Angel, what did you do?" He continued walking and she shouted, "Answer me!" He slowed and turned. "Buffy, don't. I- I can't tell you." "Yes, you can!" "No, I really can't. But it's enough to make me believe that you are supposed to be here." He moved to embrace her, but she pushed him away. "Buffy -" "Make *me* believe it, then! Tell me something, anything!" Angel shook his head. "I can't. You'll have to trust me." Saying nothing, Buffy gathered her skirt in her hands and turned, running away from him. She heard him give chase and put on an extra burst of speed, but she was no match for his long strides and he caught her before she was more than a few feet away. They tumbled gracelessly to the sand and rolled, both struggling for the upper hand. Angel gained it by pinning her skirt around her legs with his thighs, and lying atop her, he growled, "Stop it!" "Let go!" "Listen to me -" "I've heard enough." "Just listen!" He yelped when one of her elbows struck him in the throat and pinned her with more ferocity. "Be still!" When she tried to renew her struggles, he said, "I was human. Buffy, when you came here to confront me for coming to Sunnydale for Thanksgiving, we fought a demon together and I became human." Buffy's forehead creased with confusion and she started to speak, but he clamped his hand over her mouth. "I said listen. You don't remember it because that was the deal I made with the Powers. You would forget and I would remember. We had twenty four hours together. We walked on this very beach at sunrise after I was almost killed. And we made love. So many times, Buffy. And it was everything we had dreamed it would be. But I knew you'd wind up dying for me so I went back to the Powers and they told me it was true. If I stayed human, you'd die." He stopped trying to fight the lump in his throat and let it go, allowing emotion to overtake him. When he spoke again, it was in a tight, quivering voice. "I let them turn me back into a vampire and I had to tell you. I held you, counting down the minutes until time would turn back and you'd walk out of my life, and you were right, it wasn't enough time. A lifetime isn't enough time with you, Buffy, but it's what I have to hold out for. I'm not just trying to save people who need help. I'm trying to save myself. I'll be human again one day and the Powers *know* that being human is *nothing* to me if you're not there! That's how I know." He watched as tears began to slip down her cheeks and moved his hand. "That's how I know." "Angel - " Buffy could barely fathom the things that he was telling her, but no part of her doubted the validity of it. Somehow she had known. When she had been dead, part of the peace she felt had been the remembrance of time in his arms. Time that she thought she had imagined, but now she knew better. It had been real. When she lifted her head, her mouth seeking his, he gave in without a second thought. Their lips touched and the fire that ignited between them was enough to burn away the world around them. Her fingers twined in his hair and he stroked her face, feeling like 'Shanshu' would pale in comparison to this -- this fulfillment. Their senses were filled with one another, tasting, caressing -- loving. The kiss lasted forever, and when they broke apart, Buffy was breathless. She gazed up at him through hooded eyes, wishing with her entire being that they could go the distance, that their bodies could strain against one another in release. She could tell that he was thinking the same thing, could feel that his body agreed as he pressed between her thighs, and they were both powerless, slaves to a curse older than time. Angel knew that he could make love to her. He knew that the Oracles had returned his soul with no curses to cloud it, but he also knew that the sun would rise -- bringing about a new day -- and unlike hell, *this* life was predictable. If they made love, they'd be unable to part, to go back to their duties, and his reward would be bittersweet when it finally came. He had to earn the right to claim her by claiming his humanity. He believed, with all his heart, that his true destiny was not just to become human. It was to become human so he'd fit into her world. Buffy saw the conflicting emotions playing across his features. She read them. He wanted her as much as she wanted him, but he was as painfully aware of the consequences as she was. When he lowered his head and kissed her again, the finality of the act brought fresh tears to her eyes. She knew it would be the last kiss between them, at least on that night. He raised to his elbows to look down at her and she did her best to put on a brave face. "Angel- " "I love you, Buffy," he told her. "I love you," she replied. "I'll always love you." "Then you have to be believe me. There will come a day that I'll walk into your life, in the sun, and I *won't* have to walk out of it ever again. We're destined, Buffy." "I- I believe you," Buffy whispered. And she did believe him. With great reluctance, he pulled away and stood, holding his hand out to her. She took it and let him pull her to her feet, watching as he kneeled down to brush the sand from her legs and skirt. When he stood again, their eyes met and she smiled. "You were human?" "Yeah," he returned the smile. "Was it weird?" "For a while, but then you distracted me to the point that I forgot my own name." His grin widened when she blushed prettily and looked down at her bare feet. He could have watched her forever, but the skin on the back of his neck began to prickle, signaling that sunrise would arrive sooner than he'd like. "Do you want to come and see Cordelia and Wesley?" he asked hopefully, dreading the moment they'd say goodbye. "I can't," she replied, unable to keep the sadness from her tone. "I've got to get back and figure out what the hell I'm going to do about everything. I have to get a job and make some arrangements with Dawn's school for make-up work, and somewhere along the way I actually have to get a life if I plan on staying alive." "Don't plan on it. Bank on it. I'm counting on it, too, you know?" "Oh, but no pressure or anything, right?" Buffy laughed a little, then looked at her watch. "I should go. I want to be back before Dawn leaves for school." Angel followed her, struggling every step of the way with the urge to pull her back into his arms. When they reached her car, he took her into his arms again. "Welcome home, Buffy." "I am home," she said, burying her face in his chest one last time, inhaling his scent. "You'll always be home to me, Angel. Always." In your arms I know where I belong I've never known this feeling But it feels like home In your eyes I know what I can be You opened up your heart to me And it feels like home When I'm with you baby It feels like home. -Fin Lyrics: Feels Like Home - LeAnn Rimes Back to Buffy/Angel