***Part Fourteen***

Buffy woke and took a minute to acclimate herself and realize that she was in Willow's room. The events of the prior night came flooding back and with a heavy sigh she realized that it was time for her to get up. She had a meal to fix even if she did not want to anymore. She was not going to let Angel get in her way of having a good Christmas.

She padded her way to her room where the shower awaited. Her eyes fell on the now defunct phone and she could not help but laugh at its appearance. She had no recollection of doing it, but knew she must have.

Showered and dressed she made her way downstairs. She looked terrible; hopefully by the time Xander and Anya got there she would not look like she had been up all night crying.

"Good morning," she said, walking into the kitchen, her voice hoarse from the night before. She tried to go over in her head what dinner was supposed to be tonight and was drawing a blank. Not a good sign. She opened the refrigerator and saw that Spike had gone grocery shopping and put everything away for her. That was a good sign.

"Dawnie?" She poured herself a cup of coffee and walked to the dining room, which was empty. "Okay," she said, knowing she had heard voices. "Hello?" she called out as best as she could.

"Where in the hell have you been?" The question was more an animalistic growl than a human voice.

"I don't have to answer to you," she said defensively. Angel did not look like he had had a much better night than she had. Good. He stepped toward her too fast for her to avoid him and hovered over her, hands holding her firmly so she would have to struggle to break free of his grasp on her arms. "I should be asking you that question. Or more appropriately who in the hell you've been with?"

He sniffed and broke into game face, the demon's yellow eyes glaring at her. "You smell like Willow?"

"I told you she didn't spend the night with me, wanker," Spike said, sounding proud of himself until Angel growled. "Well, she did, but not like that."

"Why wouldn't you talk to me?" he demanded more than asked. Buffy was so livid that he would come here like this, demanding explanations from her that she had no answer for him. How dare he!

"I already told you she couldn't have talked to you last night even if she had wanted to. Did you think I was lying to you? She was in a state, don't know how else to describe it."

"And you expect me to believe that?"

"She's done it before when Glory got her paws on Niblet. Ask the witch."

"Why did you hang up last night?"

"You can't come in here demanding answers out of me, Angel."

"I sure as hell can when you make me drive down here because you refuse to talk to me."

"Oh, I'm sorry if I inconvenienced you and your affair. Or maybe I'm the affair."

"What?" He shook his demon visage away, but his grasp on her arms increased. "Buffy, if you had simply asked for me."

"It's Christmas and I don't want to fight with you. I have things planned for tonight and I'd like my friends and family to have a good Christmas. So please just get out."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"Then I'll leave."

"Like hell you will."

"You think you can stop me?"

"Spike will help me, so yes I do." She glared at Angel and then looked at Spike who nodded his head affirmatively. If Spike was willing to defend him then maybe she should listen because Spike would not defend Angel if he was lying. He must have sensed when she broke and was willing to listen because he continued. "I was down the hall when you called talking to Gunn and she answered the phone to be helpful."

"Who's she?"

"Her name is Bethany. She's a telekinetic I helped escape from Wolfram's clutches. She was in town and just wanted to let me know how she was doing."

"And she was in your room because?"

"Buffy, I can't believe you really think I could be involved with someone else."

"See, I don't have the benefit of enhanced sense of smell to know if you're lying."

"What do you want me to say?"

"I haven't seen you in almost a month and you haven't called for days. It's Christmas and I had no idea if you were going to be here or not."

"I told you I was going to try."

"Yeah, that was on Wednesday and it's Monday now, Christmas Eve, and I still don't know."


"No, just stop, okay," she said, starting to cry. Her voice was getting worse. Great. "I lied, I can't do this, it's worse, harder than knowing I can't be with you. I can't be second to LA and your world there. I just can't do it. I don't like not knowing when I'm going to see you again, or even if I'm going to see you again. And I hate waiting like a schoolgirl for the telephone to ring."

"I know," he said simply. "I don't expect you to, Buffy."

"Just let me stay until tomorrow, okay?"


"Here, at the mansion, let me stay through Christmas."

"Buffy, you don't have to leave."

"I can't stay here, Angel."

"Well, I don't want you to move out."

"I think it's better if I do. I haven't signed the contract to put Mom's house on the market yet, so it won't be a problem to move back."

"Buffy," Angel said.


"Buffy, would you listen to me for a minute, please."


"Buffy, this is not at all how I wanted to do this. Bethany was in my room because I was packing my things, all of them. I'm done there. I was trying to get here by tonight, so she was helping me pack while we talked. You called when I was down the hall talking to Gunn because the landlord had finally called about the lease on the hotel."

"You mean it?"

"I mean it. I can't do it either. I knew at Thanksgiving and I've spent the last month trying to get things done, get out of the hotel's lease. He was being a dick about it, too, but I gave him the receipts from all of the work I've had done and he's letting me out of the rest of the lease. I had to make sure that everyone would be okay."

"Okay, now I feel like the biggest idiot."

"I probably would have reacted the same way if the situation was reversed. I drove down here because Spike scared the hell out of me. And I didn't like the idea of his getting his hands on you. But I'm done there, Buffy. I think they're going to continue on with our work. They've gone on before without me, they can do it again."

"And you're okay with that?"

"I'll have time to go back to LA and do that again too soon as far as I'm concerned," he swallowed hard and closed his eyes. Buffy knew he was trying not to dwell on the circumstances that would allow him that time. "I don't want to spend anymore time away from you than I have to. Bethany honestly didn't think beyond someone, you, getting a person instead of the answering machine. I'm not even sure she realized it was my line and not the business'."

"Well," she said softly.

"I told you there was an explanation for it, Slayer. In her defense, Peaches, you might have given her a clue as to your plans. You know she's got this abandonment complex when it comes to the men in her life." Buffy glared at Spike with that comment, a little disturbed that he had such insight into her.

"I was going to call today; it wasn't until last night that the landlord finally agreed to let everyone stay until the end of January. I couldn't leave them without homes, Buffy."

"I know," she murmured.

"So we're okay? We went through this with Faith and I tried telling you then there's no one else for me but you."

"That'd be a lot more convincing if there hadn't been Drusilla and Darla in the picture since me."

"Drusilla was not me, it was Angelus. And Darla was," he shrugged, "a me I'm not proud of. I didn't have you, but now you're with me again. We're together, and I'm here to stay."

"You mean it?"

"I mean it. Wesley's going to drive down with the rest of my things. I loaded what I could into my car, but needed to get going before it got too early. You weren't talking to me on the phone and I wanted to get here before you'd gone off and done something stupid like involve yourself with Spike."

"I wouldn't have let her, Peaches," Spike said dryly. "I had a perfect chance to take advantage of her last night if I'd wanted to. I'll have you know, I even have a date for Christmas dinner."

"She's coming?"

"So she says, yeah, we'll see how she reacts when I show up in the Desoto."

"Oh," Buffy said. "You can take the Jeep. No blacked windows and no Jack Daniels and cigarette stench in the Jeep."

"You're a doll, pet," Spike said and glanced to Angel at the low growl emitting from him. "Right, on that note, I'll leave you two to resolve your issues, make up, or whatever it is you have in mind to do."


"Yes, Slayer."

"Is she coming tonight?"

"I hadn't asked her to."

"Well, you can if you'd like."

He shook his head slightly. "Nah, I'll just stick with tomorrow, pet, thanks, don't want to give her the wrong idea. I'm just trying to be nice is all."

"Okay, just thought I'd offer. There's going to be plenty of food."

"Thanks, I'll see you all later for dinner."

"Are you going to tell me why you smell like Willow?" Angel asked as soon as Spike was gone.

"I slept with her."

"You what?"

"I didn't want to sleep alone," she said with a shrug. "It was nothing sexual or anything, she's my best friend and we did the best friend thing."

"I told you once a while ago that I never wanted to see your heart battered and bruised, I'm sorry that I've done it perhaps more than anyone else. I swore I'd protect you from that and I'm done hurting you, hurting myself. I'm sure we're going to fight, but I'd rip my own heart out before putting you through anymore pain."

"I know."

"And of all women to cheat on, the Slayer would be the stupidest woman for me to choose to do that to."

She laughed and lowered her head, finding her fingernails incredibly interesting at that moment. "Yeah, well, an emotional Slayer isn't always effective, so you might get the advantage in that instance."

"Can I stay then?"

"You're asking me?"

"Yes, I'm asking you. Can I stay?"


"Do you want me to stay?"

"Yes," she said with a smile. "How can you even ask me that?"

"Just making sure, that's all. You have no reason to believe me."

"I believe you," she said simply. "I overreacted."

"Yeah, you did, but at least I know you care."

"Right, that's proof that I care."

"It got me here a day earlier, so I can't say I'm too disappointed. But what's this state you were in?"

"I don't know. I just freaked out I guess, sort of like I did when Glory got Dawn in the spring. I just," she shrugged. "I don't even remember going to Spike, I just woke up on his couch feeling awful. He said I had been there for four hours, I have no reason to think he's lying."

"He says he sent you upstairs at about six o'clock and you called me at about two, so yeah, that sounds about right."

"So I don't know, I just zoned I guess."

"I know it's going to take time for you to realize that I really am here for good. But I am."

"Well, if you're really here for good, want to help me with dinner?"

"I was hoping I could talk you into putting my car into the garage so I can get my things."

"Oh sure," she said, taking his keys from him. "You're going to trust me to drive it?"

He laughed. "I've got bigger problems to worry about with you driving if you can't pull my car around to the garage."

"I'll be right back then," she said. She never understood how Angel and Spike made it driving during the day with their windows blackened without getting pulled over or into wrecks.

He was waiting for her in the kitchen, apparently reading her list for dinner that night.

"Who's coming tonight then?"

"Spike, Xander, Anya, Willow, Tara, and now you. Dawn's going to be at David's but I imagine they'll come back here later on."

"They're still spending time together then?"

"Yeah, they're pretty much a couple. His parents are coming for dinner tomorrow night."

"That was nice of you."

"Thanks," she said, tempted to say something about things going wrong but did not want to jinx it so she remained quiet. "You do realize that he doesn't know about you or me and everything, right?"

"What do you mean he doesn't know about us?" he demanded, game face back in play.

"Worried much? I mean, that I'm the Slayer and you and Spike are vampires and Anya's an ex-demon."

"Oh, well, I sort of assumed, no problem. Why?"

"Well, I was just making sure. I told Spike, too. Just want you two on your best human behavior."

"I'll do my best."


"I'm going to go bring my things in, shower and change and then I'll come help you. It looks like you're planning quite a meal."

"Tonight's no big, actually. I just wanted to do something nice; tomorrow's the repeat of Thanksgiving. Oh, hey, while you're upstairs, can you grab my purse from my dresser? I need to give Spike money for the groceries he bought."

"Sure," he said and paused.


"Can I kiss you?"

"What?" she asked confused. And then realization dawned on her that they had not yet touched. "I'm sorry, Angel," she said, walking toward him. She kissed him quickly and drew away.

"Thanks," he said with a scowl, apparently it was not the type of kiss he had in mind, but she was way late because she had slept until noon. Of course, she had not gone to sleep until after six o'clock in the morning, but still. "I'll be down in a while."

"I'll be here," she said, moving to turn the radio on.

"Everything okay in here?" Willow asked from the doorway a while after Angel left the room.

"Yeah," Buffy said offering Willow a smile. "How are you?"

"I'm fine. Concerned about you, though."

"You know how I get. I overreacted, imagine that."

"Right, well, if you need to talk."

"I'm fine now, Will, thanks. I just needed some company earlier. Thanks for letting me in."

"Like I wouldn't. Can I help?"

"There's really not that much to do. You could wrap the present for David's parents."

"Oh sure, where is it?"

"Um, good question, I wasn't awake when Dawn came home."

"Oh, right, I remember this. It's in the library with some other things waiting to be wrapped I think."

"Yeah, Dawn procrastinated with the gift wrapping, so she has it all to do tonight."

"I'll do it. I've got some presents to wrap for Tara, so I might as well do them now. You know where to find me if you need me."

"What time is Tara coming by?"

"In a couple of hours I think."

"Okay, great, I'm glad you two are getting along."

"Yeah, me, too, it's slow going, but I know I have to prove to her I'm working on the magic."

"You'll do great, Willow, I know it. You're strong." Buffy stepped up and gave her best friend a hug.

"Thanks, I hope so."

Once Willow left the room, Buffy set upon starting on dinner. Tonight was lasagna. She just hoped it turned out all right, but with her mom's recipe felt confident it would. She had come a long way in the past few months in her cooking skills.

She was alone, left to think about how idiotic she had acted the night before. Not that it was an unusual occurrence in Buffy's life, especially when it came to Angel. The radio station was playing Harry Connick, Junior's It Must've Been Ol' Santa Claus. Buffy could not help but smile, remembering a young Dawn thinking that if she was good Santa might take her for a ride in his sleigh like he did the boy in this song. She had no idea how old Dawn had been, and even though it had never really happened the memory was vivid and real. There were times she hated the monks for tampering with not just her memories but the memories of everyone in Buffy and Joyce's lives.

She wondered how Angel had memories of Dawn. He had been in LA by the time Dawn had been sent to her, but apparently the monks had planted memories in his mind, too. Spike had not been around them until after Dawn was really in their lives, but even he had some memories of her. Not as many as the rest of the gang had, but they were there. And as much as she hated the idea of someone toying with minds, Buffy could no longer remember life without them.

"Anything I can do to help?" Angel asked, surprising her.

"No, stealth guy, there's not. I think we need to look into Xander's idea of a collar with a bell on it."

"It smells good."

"Try not to sound so surprised, but thanks."

"Do I get some time alone with you today?"

"I don't know," she said softly. "I suppose I might be able to pencil you in. The lasagna's done, all I need to do is put it in the oven when everyone's here, Spike's off doing whatever he does during the day over there and Willow's busy wrapping presents. So, I guess you can have me now if you want."

"I want," he said simply, though not suggestively and Buffy swallowed wondering what he wanted to talk to her about.

"What's up? There's not some big bad you're going to warn me about is there?"

"No," he said with a light laugh. He offered her a hand, which she took and he led her through the dining room.

"Where are we going?" she asked.

"Our room."

"Angel, people are going to be here soon."

"Not for that reason, Buffy."

"Oh," she said with a pout.

"Not that I don't want to," he added as if reading her mind. "I'd just like to talk to you without worrying about interruptions."

"Like anyone would interrupt us if the door was closed in any room, Angel."

"I'd like to unpack some things, too. Or have I been relegated to the other room until you decide whether you can trust me?"

"No, I just can't help but think you're going to grow tired of me."

"How can you possibly think that?"

"I don't know, I don't have visions, I don't need rescuing, and you left LA for me."

"I don't care about the visions, Cordy will call me if there's a vision that I need to take care of. I don't want a girl I have to rescue, I want a girl who's my equal, who can fight by my side and I don't have to worry about. And Sunnydale's not so bad, so long as you're here. My home is where your calling sends you, Buffy. If it sends you to the Sahara Desert tomorrow, I would follow."

"You might want someone normal then." They were in their room now. Buffy still could not get over this spread of rooms being hers and that Angel had his own, too, if they chose to sleep separately. It baffled her to think of a husband and wife sleeping separately, the husband visiting the wife's chambers for conjugal visits. How generic and clinical the process of making babies must have been. Not that she and Angel were going to be making babies.

"Never. Neither of us could settle for normal again, Buffy. I've been with a vampire since you, you've been with a human since me and it didn't work."

"This all happened so fast, and I know how you feel about feeding off me. I don't want you to feel obligated."

"I don't feel obligated at all. I hate that we had to go through that for us to be together, but I'm glad for whatever reason you started remembering that day. It was killing me. Wesley and Cordelia knew about it, but it wasn't the same as you knowing about it. Because they're not you."

"You told them?"

"Well, yeah, they couldn't understand how seeing you for five minutes had affected me so much."

"Oh yeah, I can see that." She glanced around at his things. He had obviously wanted to share a room with her, but had left them in the sitting room instead of the actual bedroom. She was glad he had not just assumed. "All your things, huh?"

"There are a few things Wesley's going to bring down, but this is everything that would fit in the Plymouth."

"It's sort of surreal. I keep thinking that this is just a dream and I'm going to wake up at the house worrying about finding a job."

"I hope you still have good dreams about me, but no more dreams about me that can't come true, Buffy."

"It's about time," she smiled wryly and took a seat on the couch.

"Buffy, you need to trust me. I'm going to come in contact with people. I know when you first met me it wasn't like that, but things are different. I can't do my job if I'm going to worry what you're thinking if the person I'm working with is a woman."

"I just worry; it's going to take a while to get used to us really being together, that you're really mine again."

"I've always been yours, Buffy," he said and he seemed almost nervous, as if he expected her to chastise him. He took a seat on the couch next to her and placed a hand on her knee. "I was planning on coming tomorrow, Buffy, I was. Christmas isn't a big thing to me, but I know it is for you so I wouldn't have missed it."

"I know and I understand you were trying to get things done." He brought her left hand to his lips and kissed the Claddagh ring on her ring finger. He slipped the ring from her finger and palmed it, clasping it in his hand. "What are you doing?" she asked, missing the feel of the ring against her finger already.

"Shh," he whispered as he slid the ring over her right ring finger. "Hopefully," he said as he reached into his pocket and produced a second ring, sliding it over her left ring finger. "This will go a long way to your not having to worry anymore, Buffy," he whispered.

"Angel?" she asked.

"I was going to do this tomorrow, but here goes. Buffy, you're my mate. According to my people you're mine because of the ring I gave you. In the world I come from now you belong to me because of my mark, my claim on you. I want to be your mate in your world, by your laws and your traditions. If you'll have me."

"Are you?" Buffy stared at the new ring, speechless for a moment. It certainly looked like an engagement ring. She twisted it, getting used to the feel of this ring. It was thinner than the other ring, a marquise shaped diamond perched on a thin gold band. It was beautiful. She had seen her mother's wedding ring and had always appreciated its beauty but to actually have a diamond on her finger was an entirely different feeling. She lifted her eyes to meet his uncertain ones. "Are you asking me to marry you?"

"I am," he said, the nervous look on his face again.

"For real?"

"I don't know that I've been more serious about anything in a long time, Buffy."

She frowned and looked into his eyes. "You haven't been around any spurned or heartbroken witches lately, have you?"


"Well, the last time someone asked me to marry him it was because Willow was heartbroken and did an I will it so spell that went a little nutty."

"No spell."

"You promise?"

"I promise, Buffy."

She took a deep breath. "Then my answer is yes," she said, offering him a smile.

"And had I not been able to promise?"

"I would have waited until tomorrow to answer to make sure. I'd rather not make a fool of myself again."

"I'm sure you didn't make a fool of yourself," he said with a shake of his head.

"You say that only because you didn't see me."

"No, I say it because I can't imagine you making a fool of yourself. Sure you were under a spell, but the things you did were what you would have done had you normally been engaged, right?"

"I wouldn't know I've never been engaged."

"You didn't," Angel paused and shook his head. "Never mind."

"Did I sleep with him? No, I didn't sleep with Spike," she said and he heard him audibly expel a breath. In relief? "This isn't because I got mad is it?"

"No, Buffy, it's because I want you and Dawn happy. I want us to be a family, a real family and not one we have to lie to a case worker about."

"Okay," she said tearfully, feeling like she had been doing nothing but crying for the past day. She rubbed the pad of her thumb over the diamond and rested her head on his shoulder. "Thank you," she whispered.

"I'm the one who should be thanking you, but you're welcome. Merry Christmas."

"Mm, Merry Christmas. Speaking of, company should be here soon. I should do the whole get dressed in something festive yet comfortable so that I can cook and do the hostessing duties required of me."

"Now you have a host to help you with those duties. What can I do to help?"

"Um," she said, nibbling her lower lip. "I don't know. The lasagna is done. I have salad to make, Italian bread to get ready. That's about it. Oh," she exclaimed.


"Wine. We could use some wine, liquor stores wouldn't have been open when Spike went out this morning."

"Okay, I can do that. Anything else while I'm out?"

"Nope, that's it. There's plenty of blood in the basement, Spike even replaced the few he took."

"Who's this woman he's bringing to dinner tomorrow night?"

"I don't know someone he met at Willy's."

"He's bringing a demon to your Christmas dinner? Is he crazy? Are you crazy?"

"No, she's not. Her car broke down I guess, and he did the gentlemanly thing."

"He's changed," he said simply.

"Yeah, he has. I mean, I'd love to tell you I don't really believe it or that it's just the chip, but I can't. He's changed. I don't know if it's Dawn or what."

"I believe you, I've seen it. He slips now and then, but so do I."

"We all do, I slipped for weeks."

"That's more than understandable, Buffy."

"Maybe, but I do understand how you two can slip. I don't have a demon inside of me and it was easy for me to want to give up. I can't imagine the struggle you both have to go through every day."

"Are we okay then? I didn't mean the ring to be a fix to the problem, or to suggest that the problem could be fixed that easily. But I'm honorable if I'm nothing else; if I commit myself to you in your world you can believe that I will be faithful to you."

"I know and I think I know on some level that you wouldn't be unfaithful anyway, I just freaked. You know me act irrationally first and think about it later. A girl answered your phone, what other reason could there be for her answering it? Especially when I know that the phone sits by your bed."

"I sleep when most people consider it acceptable to call."

"See, I know that, too, but I've gone through the whole boyfriend went behind my back thing and as much as you leaving hurt me, it hurt worse."

"Why's that?"

"I don't know I guess because I knew once the mayor was dealt with you were going. I didn't like it and I didn't want you to go, but I knew. I had no idea what Riley was doing. I mean, how can someone who claims to love someone do that? What if Spike hadn't had this yen for me and never showed me what Riley was doing?"

"You would have figured out something was wrong, Buffy. You just didn't see it because you were too caught up with the things going on with Dawn and Glory and your mom." He leaned forward on the couch, hand grasping her knee as he looked deeply into her eyes. "You wouldn't still be with him, if that's what you think."

"How do you know that? I was willing to make myself be with him, force myself to think I was happy because I had the normal life you seemed so intent on my having."

"I do realize it and believe me I hate it. I hate the idea of his betraying you like that even more than I hate the idea of his touching you."

He released her knee and placed his hand at the right side of her neck, his thumb stroking the scars there. "No biting tonight," she said with a light laugh.

"What?" he asked apparently surprised at her statement.

"David and his parents are coming tomorrow for dinner and the dress I'm wearing tomorrow night does not cover my throat. So no biting."

"Oh," he said, nodding slightly though there was a brief flash in his eyes that suggested she might have just opened a can of worms. "I promise not to do anything to embarrass you in front of them or to give our weird family away."

"Do you still think we're a freak show?"

"Us? No. But you have to admit, we have one weird ass family, Buffy."

She laughed, leaning into his touch as his fingertips found the nape of her neck. "I guess we do, but weird ass goes with the territory when you're dealing with the Slayer and her vampire boyfriend. And I wouldn't have it any other way."

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