He watched as she hugged the pillow to her chest, the sadness and pain in her eyes cutting him like a knife. He wished there was more he could do for her, wished there was some way he could make things better for her. But she'd chosen her path and she had to deal with the consequences. The only thing he could do was be there for her, listen when she needed to talk, hold her when she needed to cry. All he could give her was his love. Even if only from afar.
"When I left Sunnydale I was in so much pain," she said, her voice pulling his attention back to her. "I had just lost you and it was just too much. I needed to get away. I needed to be by myself so I could cry or rage or....I just needed time. And I couldn't do it here with them around." She stopped speaking to look up at him, her eyes questioning. "You know there are times when I wish I was the only one who knew who I was. Not because I want to keep them safe, but because I just don't feel like dealing with them. I mean they're my friends and I love them, but I wish they didn't know so much. Is that wrong?"
He shook his head. "It's not wrong," he answered. "It's just the way you feel. Sometimes you just wish everyone and everything would go away. It doesn't mean you stop caring, it just means you need time to yourself. Everyone does."
She nodded in agreement. "That's what I needed when I left. I needed to be alone and I knew they wouldn't understand that. There's so much that they don't understand. I wish...there's so much that I wish I could tell them, but I know that I can't because they just don't get it." She sighed, running a hand through her hair in frustration. "But anyway, when I came back it was like I'd done something majorly wrong. I know they couldn't have known the full story, but putting two and two together couldn't have been hard. And it didn't matter to them that I'd saved the world again, or that I had to kill you to do it. All they cared about was that I left and they had to fend for themselves for once. Not one person asked me why I left, no one seemed to care that I was hurting. It just didn't matter." She broke off to wipe a few stray tears from her eyes. "I've risked so much for them and I've never asked for anything in return. Okay, maybe sometimes I've asked for something, but I have never asked them to risk their lives for me. But the one time I did need them to be there, they weren't. And a little part of me stopped caring because it was obvious that they didn't care as much about me as I did them."
"And how do you feel now?"
Her lips curved up in a small, humorless smile. "I'm so closed off from them now. I mean I'm there and I listen, but I never offer anything about what's going on with me. I can't remember the last time I've gabbed with Willow. And Giles and I have drifted so far apart. I can understand his position, I really can, but he refuses to see mine and it just keeps us at odds. We won't even get into what my mother has to say." She pulled the pillow tighter against her as silent tears fell down her cheeks. "I'm all I've got."
He wanted to tell her that she had him to, but he knew that wasn't entirely true, at least not yet. Although he and Buffy had spent plenty of time together since his return from hell, this had been the first time they'd ever really talked. Most of their time together had been hesitant, full of stilted conversation and covert glances as each of them tried to adjust to being near each other again, tried to get used to being in each other's life without being together the way they wanted. He wished it didn't have to be that way, just as much, if not more, than she did. It was just one more impossible wish to add to the already overflowing list.
He pulled the pillow away from her grasp, smiling when she hugged it tighter in protest. He wrapped his arm around her, pulling her against his chest. "You're tired."
"Very," she answered, stifling a yawn.
He grabbed the cover and pulled it over them. "So, sleep. I'll wake you up in a few hours and you can go face the general and his merry band of executioners."
She looked up at him, her eyes wide with amusement and shock, at both the joke and the suggestion. "You mean stay here, curled up with you, indulging in my selfishness while they sit in the library worrying about me, wondering if I made it out alive or if Faith will be taking my place?"
"Yeah," he replied with a smile. "How's that sound?"
She laid back down against his chest, snuggling up against him. "I say we make 'em really sweat and not wake me up til morning."
He laughed, the sound echoing in his chest. "That may be stretching it a bit."
"You're right," she agreed with a nod. "How about you wake me up in a few hours, I sneak back into my room and you and I face the firing squad together in the morning?" At his wary look she smiled. "Come on, Angel. You know I handle executions a lot better when you're around."
Any protests he started to make were silenced when he noticed the pleading look in her eyes, the desperate note in her voice. He realized then that she needed at least one person on her side, needed one person who understood and wouldn't criticize or judge her. And he could put aside his feelings for her friends because she needed him to.
"All right," he replied, agreeing to her plan. "You sleep and we face death in the morning."
"Because I need you," she said softly, her tone serious. "I need you around. 'Cause when you are, I know I'm not alone."
Leaning down, he kissed her forehead gently. "I'm not going anywhere."
She gave him one last smile, grateful for his presence in her life and she closed her eyes, finally allowing the exhaustion fighting for control of her body to win. Just before she drifted off to sleep, she heard Angel's voice whisper softly in her ear.
"Because all we've got is each other."
And for the first time in a long time she fell asleep with a smile on her face.