The Slayer slid across the cavern floor and took Angel in her arms before she had a chance to think herself out of it. He sagged against her, weeping so hard his big frame shook, making hers shake right along with it. After a moment, she felt his arms snake around her waist and clutch at her, but his sobbing didn't ease.
"Shh... shhhhh..." she breathed in his ear, her courage and her love for him fortified by the fact that she wasn't breaking down, herself, "It's okay... I'm here, now... We're together. It's okay."
His heart shattered when he heard her sweet voice say "together". It reminded him of another night, when he had lay, human and broken in her arms, and she had said, her voice filled with the same certainty and hope:
"It's alright. It's over. And we're together..."
He felt those memories -- each moment of that day they'd shared -- crush him under their long-suppressed weight.
"No. It's not okay!" he cried like a child having a tantrum, "I can't go on like this, Buffy. I can't live with this pain until the end of time..."
He turned over and looked up at her, and she automatically reached out to touch his face... wipe away his tears...
Angel grabbed her hand before she could take it away again, and held it to his cold lips for a moment that felt, to her, like an eternity. It looked like one too, from deep within the mahogany of his eyes. She sat, shocked, hypnotized by the intensity of his gaze and the fire that began to burn in her, beginning where his lips touched her skin.
"You know, don't you?" he whispered against the soft skin of her palm.
"What... about... what?" she could barely speak, her heart was pounding so hard in her ears.
"We're meant to be together. You remember. You know. I can see it in your eyes, " he said.
Buffy gasped. She did. She did remember. All the dreams that had haunted her subconscious in the months since she had seen him in Los Angeles...
//Not dreams... memories.//
"You promised you'd never forget," he told her, "And you have never, once, broken a promise you made to me."
She hadn't. Not even the one when she promised to love him forever, above and before anyone else in her life.
"No. I haven't, have I?" she whispered, and hesitantly leaned forward to touch her lips to his.
Electricity bolted through him.
"Buffy..." he sighed into her lips.
She brought her hands up, running her fingers through his soft, thick hair, like she had in real life and in her dreams, a billion times before.
Lost. They were lost, right there in that eternal moment, a clear realization flowing over them that no matter where they went or what they did, they would always, always end up right back here...
//There's nothing we can do to fight it...//
5.) Wasted Time Again...
Suddenly, some sand slid down from the ceiling and showered over them, breaking the magick stillness that had surrounded them.
"Buffy!" Riley's voice echoed from above.
Her head shot up.
"Oh god. Riley," she said, sliding far away from Angel. She had forgotten all about Riley.
Something hard and cold slammed shut over his heart, and put out the fire in his eyes.
Right. Riley. The guy he had left her so she could meet and fall in love with him... this stranger, who now climbed down the sheer walls of the cavern, on his way to rescue her.
Buffy looked at Angel quickly, her heart cracking at the cold veneer that snuffed out the warm glow that his aura had cocooned her in a few brief moments ago...
Riley's big body dropped to the earth with a grace that always took Buffy by surprise. He was just so damned cute...
She glanced at Angel once again.
//But then, there's exquisite...//
She shook the thought out of her head. What was she thinking? Hadn't she sworn off impossible situations and gut-wrenching angst forever?
//Slow and steady. Not too hot. Not even a little dangerous.//
That was her life, now. At least with Riley. She had learned the hard way that all demons were dangerous, even if they had sweet souls and the faces of angels...
She turned to face the real promise of her future, and felt her heart sink.
//I don't love him.//
She felt Angel move behind her, over to Riley's climbing equipment, and began unlatching a second set of ropes that he had brought with him.
"Are you okay?" Riley asked her, frantically, grabbing her arms.
The touch of his big hands, usually so... nice, at least, now sent an uncomfortable shiver coursing through her.
//This is wrong. I can't do this.//
"I'm fine. I'm okay. Is everybody else?" She forced the proper words out of her constricted throat.
"Everybody's okay. You guys fell into the only fissure. This is an old vampire trap. We had to break it open... it's set on a time lock until dawn."
It wasn't even morning yet? Buffy looked once again at Angel, who was now all hooked up to the ropes.
"We should go," he told Buffy and Riley, "It'll be dawn soon."
Only the two of them had been swallowed up by the darkest womb of the earth, where all life came from... where magickal, alchemical things happened. And what had only been a couple of hours out there, felt like long, lazy days, in here.
Being near Angel always made time slow down.
"He's right," Riley said to her, "Come on."
Buffy followed him automatically, allowing him to latch her into his own harness, and hold her firmly to his big body. She had her back to him, and was forced to face Angel in the other harness.
Angel looked deep into her eyes, smiled sadly, and quickly scaled the wall until he was out of sight.
"You ready?" Riley asked, putting his arms around her. She could feel his heart pounding, sure and strong, against her back.
She remembered clearly what Angel's heartbeat felt like, thumping in time with her own.
//No. Not again...//
"Yeah," she said, and they rose into the night, leaving the fire far below them to flicker and die alone.
6.) Falling in Love Again...
His weight settled gently on her, suspended by his arms. He hesitated.
Buffy looked up at his clear blue eyes.
"Are you sure you're okay?" he asked again, "I don't want to hurt you..."
She gave him the warmest smile she could muster from under the cold, clammy, distant feeling of her skin.
"No. I'm okay... it's... nice..." she said.
//Not okay. Bad. Wrong.//
The pink fingers of the dawn began creeping in the windows, lighting the soft lines of his face.
Steadfast. Ernest. Stalwart. Loyal. Kind. Giving. Gentle.
The argument raged in her head, almost making her forget to make the requisite noises to indicate her non-existent pleasure.
//I like him. He's smart and handsome, funny and good to me... There's the picnics, and the possibility of kids... and this...//
She tried to drown out the truth that echoed around in her head by talking over it. She tried to ignore the growing sensation of being in the completely wrong place at the completely wrong time.
"more than ever, I know how much I love you..."
"together, you were powerful. alone, you are dead."
"we'll make it work, right?"
"I love you. I try not to, but I can't stop..."
"I wish I wished you dead! I don't... I can't..."
The memories blazed through her, stripping her emotions clean and locking her muscles taught.
Riley immediately noticed the difference, and stopped, looking down at her worriedly.
"Buffy, I'm sorry... are you okay? Did I hurt you? We should stop..."
His unselfish words came out in an apologetic torment, beating against her like the blows of fists raining down on her skin.
"Riley. Stop," she said, and pushed against him.
He immediately complied, and rolled off of her. Buffy sat up, clutching the sheets to her chest.
"What is it? What's wrong?" he asked her, reaching out to gently touch her bare arm.
"I... I'm not... I don't know..." she said.
Riley sat up beside her, and turned her to face him.
"What's going on? You've been weird all night. Are you sure you're not hurt?"
Buffy shook her head. Of course she was hurt. But she wouldn't tell him.
"No you're not hurt, or no you're not sure you're not hurt?"
She shot him a look, and then softened, realizing suddenly all of the promises she had never made to this man, who so apparently loved her.
"Riley, I'm sorry. This isn't right. I don't belong here."
She got up and began gathering her clothes, as Riley watched her.
If this was some teen-angst drama, he would have been shocked and appalled... maybe fallen to his knees and cried that he loved her, and begged her to stay.
But this was real-life, and he was just Riley Finn- Any Guy, not a romantic superhero. Besides, some part of him had seen this coming from the moment he had first set eyes on the handsome vampire as he had entered Giles' home. He obviously knew everyone present very well, and the others knew him. They immediately took what he had to say seriously, and sprang into unquestioning action at his direction.
Riley suddenly felt like the stranger he truly was.
He loved Buffy. He really did, from a place deep inside him that he hadn't know existed, before he knew her. And because that feeling was so genuine, and so deep, he realized that what he wanted more than anything was for her to be truly happy.
"It's about Angel, isn't it?" he asked her.
Buffy let her tee shirt slide down over her head, and then considered him seriously.
"Yes," she said, pulling on her sweats, "I think it always has been."
Riley nodded. He'd figured as much.