Buffy woke up from the intense erotic dream about Angel she had forgetting for a moment where she was. She had left the house without telling Dawn or Willow she was leaving, but they would figure out she was gone and she did not need to tell them her every move. They brought her back, they could deal with her being melancholy now and again. Her walk had brought her to Restfield Cemetery which led her to Crawford Street and almost automatically to the mansion.
She had walked through the first floor, pulling open the heavy drapes from the windows that did not look out over the street. No sense alerting anyone that someone was inside, but this house deserved to see some light. Had Angel given her the chance she could have made this place a home for them and for Dawn. Plenty of rooms would have gone unused, they would never have filled it with children but they would have had the chance to fill it with love and memories. There would have been plenty of room for nightwalkers and daywalkers alike. Even though she had time to prepare for his leaving it still hurt, had torn her up inside. He took a part of her with him, the ability to love, to let someone into her life and her heart.
Riley had paid the price, eventually leaving Buffy because she was unable to give him what he not only wanted but deserved. Buffy would never love someone as completely as she loved Angel. Even when he had lost his soul and was Angelus, a demon controlling the body and mind of her angelic faced lover she had still loved him. He had been gone for over two years now, they had seen one another a few times during those two years and things had changed.
The only time it had been close to the same was after her mom had died and they had talked at the cemetery. He had made her feel not so alone, no one else could have done that and she needed it. She needed to know that he would be there for her when it truly mattered. And that day had truly mattered. She knew he would always watch her back if she asked and he knew the same, but they had grown apart. They had moved on. Had he never left or come back to Sunnydale to stay who knows what would have happened, but he had not and even if he were to now things were too different for them to go back to what they had. She was not the naïve seventeen year old anymore and as much as she hated to admit it, she could not settle for just kissing for the rest of her life.
They did not call one another, they did not write, and if his friends were anything like hers no one talked about her to him. It was too painful, the pain still too fresh and raw. She had gone into his bedroom and opened the drapes surprised that no one had figured out yet that it was empty once again. The king sized mattress was still there and did not look as though it had been touched since Angel left graduation day. The room smelled stale from lack of use so she opened a window, letting some fresh air in. She curled up on the bed, remembering her last time in this room, which is probably when she had dozed off.
He had been dying and she had offered him her blood when she failed to bring Faith to him. He had looked so helpless and she had been more than willing to die for him, to die in his place for the second time. This time, unlike with Acathla, she was able to offer herself in place of him. Her blood had been the answer that day not Angel's.
She remembered, too, her first time coming to this mansion. She had come to fight Angelus, to stop him from destroying the world and sending it to a hell dimension. Spike had helped her. He had offered a proverbial olive branch calling a temporary truce with the Slayer, his nemesis. He wanted his dark princess, Drusilla, back and Buffy knew as he had pointed out she needed the help. She might have found Angelus in time to save the world from being sucked into Acathla's hell dimension, but she doubted Giles would still be alive today if not for Spike.
Then there were the times they had spent here after he had come back. They had spent their time together training, talking, kissing, just sitting saying nothing and even arguing. There were some who probably thought Buffy was living in some sort of dream world, fantasizing about a happily ever after ending between the Slayer and the vampire with a soul. The truth was their relationship had been difficult from the beginning. How exactly love had developed between them she did not know and doubted Angel knew either, but it had and it had changed their lives forever. Angel had told her towards the beginning that it was not a fairy tale, there was not going to be a happily ever after for the two of them. Theirs was not a relationship dreams were made of.
Her mind drifted to the night they had made love, the night of her seventeenth birthday, the night she had lost Angel for months only to have to send him to a hell dimension when he came back to her. She liked to believe that one event made her stronger, made her not just a better Slayer but a better person, but in truth just as she had done with Dawn if she had been able to sacrifice herself she would have done it.
Spike was right, she had a death wish. She had died twice already and come close the night she took it upon herself to offer Angel the anecdote for the poison running through his system killing him. The only problem was no one would let her die. So whether she had a death wish or not did not seem to matter. At the rate she was going, she would live forever.
She had kissed Spike for the second time last night. She could not use the excuse of a spell as she had been able to do the night of Sweet's singing and dancing spell. Spike apparently sensed her kissing him was something to make her feel anything but depressed and after walking her back to her house had left Buffy at the door. Willow had needed her anyway because Tara left, so it was for the best. Now the next day she had to try and put her feelings in order, but there were too many to deal with. Giles had left, he had really done it. She had not even gotten to say goodbye to him.
She had wanted to hunt, but it had been broad daylight so there was nothing to hunt. She could have visited Spike at his crypt, but she sensed that was the last thing she should do today. Going to his crypt still sort of freaked her out. She still smelled death on her, causing her to take more showers than were really necessary on a daily basis. So, going to a building that housed the dead was not where she needed to be.
Spike. Thoughts of him made her cringe and made her smile at the same time. He had protected Dawn, had stuck around despite knowing the rest of them probably would have preferred he left. He had done it because he not only loved Buffy but loved Dawn. He had made a promise and kept it. Buffy could no longer live in the world of denial she had lived in last year and claim that Spike's feelings were not genuine.
How, honestly, could she argue with a man about what he could and could not feel who had stayed with Drusilla for over one hundred years? A man who had bargained with the Slayer for her life even though she had gone from his bed to Angelus' bed when her daddy returned. If that was not love, what was? It was certainly better than she had gotten from any man in her life. Her father, Angel, Scott, Parker, Riley and even Giles all left her. Yet, Spike was still here and his kisses made her feel alive in a way she had not felt since Angel. It was different than with Riley, things with him had always been forced. She had wanted so much to be what he wanted and to have something normal but it just never worked.
True, the chip prevented Spike from physically harming people, but it did not stop him from surrounding himself with minions and orchestrating them to do his dirty work. Buffy had no doubt that he had more than enough evil thoughts in that brain of his to keep her on her toes for the rest of her life and on into the next Slayer's life and the Slayer after that. Yet he chose to stay in Sunnydale with her. She would never forget the look on his face when he saw her on the stairs after she had come back. No one else had thought to tend to her, comfort her and clean her up. He even seemed to understand her desire not to tell her friends where she had truly been.
She was torn between the two vampires, the confusion was strange but oddly understandable. Did she want to bother going down that road again? If Spike were to find out a way to get his chip removed then what? He would leave her just as they all did. She had not enjoyed having to kill Angelus, she would like having to kill Spike even less if only because Spike with or without chip was capable of doing good on occasion. She and Spike had established a friendship of sorts over the past two years.
"What the," she whispered as images of Angel that Buffy knew had never happened. She could not remember dreaming about making love to him so vividly, and these images were clear, real. She would certainly remember ice cream being a part of her dream; Riley was boring when it came to sex so she would remember dreaming about something like that. She tried to see more of it, tried to pan out but she was so incredibly focused on Angel that her eyes looked nowhere but at him. What disturbed Buffy most was the look of not just amazement on Angel's face, but the feeling of happiness that washed over her. They had been happy, a happiness Buffy could not remember having felt.
Confused and dazed not sure if being back at the mansion had caused the dreams and visions, she left the mansion and walked to the site of the new Sunnydale High School campus where Xander and his crew was busy working. The fools were building it right over the old high school. Apparently, the school system enjoyed playing Russian roulette with its student mortality rate.
She saw Xander and waved when he spotted her. "Hey, you," she said with faux cheeriness. The images she had seen earlier had left her a little shaken with their realism. She wished she could have dismissed them as a dream, one that she and Angel were sharing. They had done that in the past, but it had been a while. Long enough that she knew the images she had seen were not fragments of a dream. They were intense enough to actually make her blush if she thought about them too much. The dream she had back at the mansion had been erotic, but it was not so different than any dream she had about Angel.
"Hey, Buff, what brings you by?"
"I was just taking a stroll and thought I'd pay a visit to my favoritist construction worker."
"Well, gosh, I'd be flattered if I wasn't the only construction worker you knew, Buff." He removed his safety goggles and led her out of the way. "So, is there something wrong? Some badness a-brewing?"
"No, there's nothing wrong, no new baddie's come to town. I was honestly just out for a walk."
"Okay. I was going to grab something to drink from the catering truck, can I buy you something?"
"I'll take a Snapple mint tea if they have any."
"One Snapple coming right up," Xander said walking toward the food truck. "Is peach all right?"
"Sure, thanks," she said taking the bottle and twisting off the top.
"My pleasure, it's not often I get visited on the site by a pretty girl."
"You mean Anya doesn't visit?"
"No, she's usually at work."
"Oh, well, they're not going to think I'm her, are they," she said gesturing to his crew.
"No, they've seen her, but I'm sure I'll get asked about you. See anyone you're interested in?"
Buffy scanned the group of construction workers. If she were in another place in her life maybe, but she just was not ready for that yet. If kissing Spike and these images of Angel proved anything, it was that she was not ready. She was honestly beginning to suspect Spike was right, that she needed a bit of monster in her man. "No," she said simply with a shrug. "I'm not in dating mode right now."
"Well, if you change your mind," he said with a smile, waggling his eyebrows.
"You'll be the first to know."
Xander chugged down his own iced tea. "Well, Buffster, that's it for me, I've got to get back to the grind."
"That's fine, I really wasn't expecting you to stop and talk. Thanks for the Snapple."
"Nothing but the stuff made from the best stuff on earth for Buffy."
"Thanks, I'd hug you, but," she shrugged gesturing to his clothes.
"No worries, I'll collect that hug another time. I'll see you later Anya and I are coming by to take Dawnie out for pizza tonight."
"Okay. See ya," she said with a wave, tossing the glass drink bottle into a nearby garbage container.
Feeling refreshed from the drink but no more at ease about the things she had been thinking about earlier, she walked toward home in somewhat of a daze. It must have been going to the mansion that caused it, being so close to the memories, so close to where their last intimate act had occurred. And his feeding off of her had been intimate. She would never admit that to anyone, but it had been more intimate than making love on some level.
There was a note from Willow saying that she had gone out, not saying where so Buffy took that to mean she was not invited to tag along. Probably just as well, Buffy had something she needed to do. If she and Angel were sharing dreams again she needed to know why.
"Dawn," she called upstairs.
She went upstairs and walked into Dawn's room. "Do you think you'd mind spending the night with Xander and Anya?"
"Uh, no, what about Willow?"
"Well, I don't know if Willow is going to be home tonight."
"Okay, yeah, no problem. What's up? An all-night patrol or something?"
"No, I'm going to go to LA to talk to Angel."
"Angel? Wow, okay, I didn't expect that."
"Yeah, I need to talk to him. In person."
"But you just saw him."
"Yeah, I had just come out of my grave, things weren't exactly clear for me. I need to talk to him. You have the number there if you need me, right?"
"Yeah, no problem. I'll call Anya right now and make sure it's okay with her."
"Thanks, I just saw Xander, but that was before I thought of going so I didn't ask him. Sorry."
"No problem, I doubt they'll mind, we're going out for pizza tonight anyway. Maybe they'll just stay here."
"That'd work," she said going to her own room to pack her bag. She was not sure how long she was going to be gone, but she packed enough for a few days. She could always go shopping if she needed more. "Did she say it was okay," she asked on her way to the bathroom to collect her toiletries.
"Yeah, she said it's fine. Either me over there or them over here."
"Great, tell them both I said thanks. Do you need anything before I go? I'll give you some money, so you can at least offer to pay for your part of the pizza."
"They never let me."
"I know, but you should at least have money to offer," she said putting some cash out of her wallet. "Here's a twenty, I expect change," she said handing it to Dawn. She kissed her on the cheek. "Be good, listen to Anya and Xander, and I'll call you when I get there."
"Yeah," she said, mentally making sure she had everything she needed.
"Is everything all right?"
"Everything's fine, Dawnie, I just need to see Angel, okay?"
"Okay, just making sure. I mean, you'd tell me if something was really wrong, right?"
Buffy smiled slightly. "If there was something you could do about it, yeah. In this case, I just need Angel. I've been having dreams," she said realizing it was not the truth.
"Oh, why didn't you just say so? I mean, with Giles gone, it makes sense, what with Wesley up there and all."
"Thanks. I'll see you in a day or two. And have fun tonight, lay off the anchovies."
Buffy parked the Jeep in front of the Hyperion, checked to make sure she was not in a No Parking zone and grabbed her bags. No matter where their relationship stood, Angel would never turn her away. If she needed a place to stay for the night, he would put her up. This place certainly is big enough, she thought as she stared at it. Angel certainly did things in style, though she had to remind herself Angelus picked out the mansion not Angel.
"Wow," she said as she walked into the hotel lobby. It was even more beautiful on the inside.
"Welcome to Angel Investigations may I help you?" asked a long haired brunette.
"Is Angel here?"
"Sure have a seat and I'll get him. Can I get you some coffee or anything while you wait?"
"While I wait? Um, no, I'm fine," she said setting her bags down and taking a seat on one of the couches in the lobby. If the girl thought it strange Buffy came bearing two overnight bags, she did not show it. Did Angel have women coming to visit him all of the time?
"He'll be out in a few minutes," she said returning and going behind the reservation desk. Buffy assumed it was the office.
"Thanks," Buffy said, glad the girl was not full of questions for her. Buffy was not sure how she would answer them. Angel would understand but he was the only person who would, especially when it came to her dreams, there was no one else she shared dreams with. She stood and walked to a painting on one of the walls. She recognized it, there was a song written about it, she could hear the tune in her head but the words and title escaped her. There was no placard on the picture frame to identify it either. Angel probably did not need placards to remember names of paintings.
She felt hands on her shoulders and leaned back into him instinctively without flinching. She fit so perfectly against him, her head found the space between his collarbone and his shoulder automatically. Three years of practice, she imagined, even if she had not practiced much of late.
"That's one of my favorites," he said softly, his voice as effective on her as any physical caress.
"It's beautiful," she murmured. "So peaceful, yet so powerful. I can feel it."
"Reminds me of you," he said quietly.
"Yeah," he said and she knew he was smiling. She turned in his arms and went to kiss him, but he growled as she moved.
"You smell like Xander."
"I saw Xander for a little this afternoon, he bought me a Snapple."
"Oh," he said and Buffy smiled at the sound of relief evident in his voice.
"No," he said quickly, too quickly.
"No need to be since he's engaged," she smiled unable to forget he had been jealous of Xander a few years ago. "To someone else," she added.
"Oh, good, good for him."
"Yeah, he seems happy. He's got a good job working for a construction company, he actually made foreman. He's overseeing the new high school."
"She's not so good. She and Tara broke up because Tara thinks she's becoming too dependent on magic. I'm starting to wonder myself," Buffy admitted. "But magic isn't my forte so I don't know. Willow says she's all right, I have to trust her. I mean, she's always the rule follower."
"Those are the ones you have to be most leery of."
"Anya said the same thing," Buffy said with a frown.
"She's a smart girl then, because she's right. It's the ones who follow the rules all their life who get a taste of power and tend to go overboard."
"Well, now you've given me something to really worry about," she said with a pout.
"I didn't mean to, Buffy," he said, placing a finger under her chin to tilt her face up slightly. "Can I kiss you?"
"Do you have to ask?"
"Well, I don't know, you might have a boyfriend."
"No, no boyfriend and last I checked Angel kisses were always welcome. And always of the good," she added with a whisper, her eyes already falling closed in anticipation of a kiss.
"Good to know," he whispered before leaning down to kiss her. It was tender almost uncertain as if he was not sure he had the right. It had been over two years since they had kissed like this. Last year after her mom died had been different. This was them bearing their souls to one another and both a little afraid of doing it. As the kiss lengthened and deepened an arm encircled her waist, drawing her closer as the other skimmed her side and then palmed her hip. His fingertips caressed her upper thigh and she moaned into the kiss, opening her mouth wider. She wanted more, more of his kiss, more of his touch, just more.
The brunette came out from the desk area and cleared her throat lightly. Buffy drew away first, a soft murmur of protest at the interruption meant to only be heard by Angel with his enhanced hearing. She turned in tandem with Angel to face the girl. Buffy rested her head against his shoulder, surprised at how comfortable it felt to have his arm around her and how easy it was to go back there. "Fred."
"I, um, sorry, I didn't realize it was a personal visit."
Angel wiped his mouth with his other hand, the one that moments ago had been at her hip. "It's all right, Fred. This is Buffy."
"Oh, Buffy, hi," she said, looking embarrassed. "I should have known."
"Buffy, this is Winifred Burkle, Fred."
"Hey," Buffy said.
"Did you need something, Fred?"
"Well, I was going to ask if you needed anything."
Buffy regarded Angel curiously, surprised at the feeling of worry that was weighing heavy on her just then. "Not right now, Fred, but I appreciate it."
"Sure, no problem. I'm going up to my room now, but I'll turn on the heat and put out fresh towels. It was nice meeting you, Buffy. Finally."
"Thanks, you too." She turned to face Angel then not overly discreet about the fact she wanted to get back to kissing.
He placed a fingertip gently against her lips, his eyes focusing on his fingertip and her mouth. "First, Buffy, why did you come here? Is something wrong?"
"No, I just needed to talk about some things I've been seeing, they're not dreams, but can't be real either. Memories of dreams, perhaps? So I decided to come see and talk to you. I hope I'm not in the way."
"You're never in the way, Buffy. No matter what you might think or whether we quarrel." He slid his hand so he was touching her cheek with the back of his hand, his eyes watching his hand almost as if he did not quite believe she was there. "I don't deserve you."
She laughed lightly, that sounded so ridiculous. "Ironically, you're the one reasonable thing in my life; you're the one thing that I have no regrets about. No matter what."
"Would you like the tour? Then you can tell me about your dreams."
"Sure," she said softly. He opened his arms, inviting her into them, and she took the invitation. She was always safe in Angel's arms, when she was sixteen she thought he could make everything better just by holding her, protecting her. So much had happened since then. She had died and been pulled out of heaven. She started to cry, not entirely sure why. The welcome he had given her was not exactly what she had expected, but it was good. Maybe that was why she felt like crying, some unexpected goodness after weeks of blandness and nothing.
He let her cry, let the tears fall, and merely stood there, stroking her hair, touching her, kissing the top of her head in an attempt to comfort her. Finally, the tears stopped and she had regained her composure. She stayed as she was with her head against his chest. "We had been together."
"We'll always be together, Buffy. I'm sorry it's just dreams where we get that. I dream about you all of the time."
"No," she said, shaking her head which was really her rubbing her head against his chest. "That we had sex together. That we were happy. We were together. But it was nowhere I recognized. It wasn't my bedroom, wasn't your room at the mansion or at the warehouse, and I've never been here to see your room here. The weird thing is I was awake when I saw the images at the mansion. I mean I had just woken up from a nap, but it wasn't a dream."
"You went to the mansion?"
"Yeah," she said with a shrug. "I was feeling a little lonesome and sorry for myself and went for a walk. It was too early to patrol, so my feet led me to the one place I used to go automatically when I felt lost and needed to be found."
"Yeah," she said softly. "But I was awake. They were vivid, Angel, real. We were so happy. If nothing else, that was clear as day to me."
She felt Angel take a deep breath and it was strange hearing it since he did not need to breathe. "Anything else?"
"There was ice cream involved, which makes no sense. But nothing else that I can really remember, no. It just felt so real, so right, and I'd give anything to have it be anything but a dream, Angel. I don't mind sharing my dreams with you once in a while, or even having you make appearances in mine, but that's just cruel to give me a picture like that."
He breathed heavily again and stepped away from Buffy. "Let's go for a walk."
"Okay," she said confused, but having no problem spending more time alone with him. She wished he was not dismissing her so quickly, but she had said what was on her mind and was just happy to have some time with him. "Are we going somewhere?"
"Yeah, a walk, to talk in private."
"You have an entire hotel at your disposal and we need to go for a walk for privacy?"
"I didn't say we were going outside, Buffy," he said with a light laugh.
"Oh right. Okay."
"I figured I could give you a tour, show you some of the restoring I'm having done, I can't take credit for it."
"Like I know anything about that, but sure I'll look." She took his offered hand and let him lead her up the stairs. He was putting off saying something, Buffy knew that much.
They had been walking for what seemed like hours. He had shown Buffy Fred and Gunn's room, Wesley's room, Cordelia's room and the few uninhabited rooms he had started working on. It was nice walking with him. They did not say much, Buffy listened as Angel explained what he had done to each room. They held hands throughout the entire tour, kissing periodically almost as if they had to sneak them in. It was strange, this forbidden thing, knowing they could not act on anything but that the feelings were still there. "It's nice, Angel. And you're able to pay for all of this?"
"Well, since I'm restoring I'm entitled to some government funds, historical landmark type thing. I'll have to actually open it up for business once it's done."
"So you're going to run a hotel?"
"Well, I'll hire people to run it, wouldn't want to ruin my isolated, broody image, but yeah I'll be running a hotel. If I take my time, though, it could be years," he said with a wink. "And maybe the people who gave me the funds to restore it will be dead by then and I can wiggle my way out of it."
Buffy laughed lightly, knowing he was teasing but at the same time it was not that out of the question. They were back downstairs and in her room now, a suite adjoining Angel's. It was simply furnished, but elegant and obviously feminine. "You had a woman in mind when you did this one," she said. It was a statement, not a question and she was jealous at the thought.
"The one standing in it now, yes."
"You did this with me in mind?"
"Every square inch, Buffy. The wallpaper, the curtains, the carpet, the linens." She ran her hand along the ivory duvet and realized it was down. "I did ask Cordelia for some advice, but I only took the ideas I thought you'd actually like."
"Wait until you see the tub," he said.
"I can't wait," she replied as he went to the fireplace and worked at starting a fire.
"We share it, but I did not think you'd mind sharing a bathroom with me."
"Not at all, I'm used to sharing a bathroom."
"It gets cold in here some nights; at least that's what the others tell me. It's an old building and the heat doesn't work real great. And being that you were unexpected, the heat wasn't on in this room until Fred turned it on. So, you might want to keep the fire going."
She kicked off her boots and sat on the bed, watching him as he tended the fire. His back muscles would flex and relax. He looked perfectly natural using the fireplace tools that Buffy honestly had no clue what they were for.
"I'm trying to get you all set so that if you hate me you don't need me for anything else. The doors between our rooms do lock."
"I could never hate you, Angel."
"You say that now," he said softly, his hand gripping the poker.
"What is it, Angel?"
"I think those images you saw were memories not dreams."
"But that's impossible, Angel. I'd remember."
"No, you wouldn't," he said softly and turned to face her. "Do you remember when you came here after Thanksgiving?"
"After you snuck into Sunnydale and left without even a hello you mean?"
"Yeah, that one. And the demon that we killed in my office?"
"Yeah," she said cautiously. "Okay, you're starting to freak me out. Just spill and quit with the cryptic talk."
"The version you remember was the second run-through of that day, Buffy."
"I don't even know where to begin. I'm glad you're remembering because I hate having the memories by myself."
"Did you do some sort of magic to make me forget?" she asked, shuddering at the thought. She was not sure what she was most upset with Willow for, bringing her back or taking away her memories and then giving them back to her. It only made it worse because they had all come back at once, which is what led to kissing Spike. Kissing Spike was of the bad.
"No," he demanded, falling into game face briefly. "I would never do that, Buffy. I had no choice. Well, I did, but there was no other choice for me. You weren't supposed to remember, but then perhaps the Oracles didn't count on you dying."
"Or having a powerful witch friend toy with my memories," she said bitingly.
"Willow did this spell, she was trying to be helpful I guess, didn't like the mopey Buffy that had come back from the grave and wanted me to be happy, so she cast a spell to make me forget the badness. It sort of backfired, though," she said with a shrug. "We all lost our memories and then got them back in a big whoosh. I could have done without the picture show of the last six years coming back all at once. Who are the Oracles?"
Angel walked to the window, pulled back the floor length curtain that made Buffy feel sort of like a princess knowing he had her in mind when he had decorated the room. His voice started out soft, Buffy had to strain to hear him until she reminded him enhanced hearing was not a Slayer attribute. He kept his back to her the entire time he spoke, but it was easy to read his conflict and pain as his posture changed.
Buffy sat on the bed in stunned silence not sure what to say. He had played with her memories, but not in the same way Willow had. He had sacrificed being human, being with her to continue to be a warrior for the cause. As he said, the Oracles were not counting on Buffy dying and coming back from the grave. Had it not been for Willow's spell, though, she wondered if the memories would have come back. Willow's spell seemed to have sparked them, not being resurrected. Perhaps a combination of the two. Tears once again fell from her eyes, judging by the shaking of his body he was crying too. She wished she could be glad he was suffering, but she hated seeing him like this. To think he had lived with those memories for close to two years. He had returned to Sunnydale and seen her with Riley, knowing she had recently been with him.
"If you hate me, I understand."
"I could never hate you, Angel. Even when you were Angelus I couldn't hate you."
"Now you know why I wanted to cut out my unbeating heart when I found out about Finn."
"Yeah, your reaction to that makes a little bit more sense now," she said toying with the edge of one of the pillow shams. It was still hard to believe he had done all of this with her in mind. "Do you regret it?"
"My decision?" he shrugged. "Every day, but I know it was for the greater good, I know I wasn't there to help you with Glory but I would have if I had been here. But had I stayed human, Buffy, that chance would never have been there."
"I know," she said somberly. She took a tissue from the box next to the bed and laughed lightly. "You even have tissues in here?"
"I always knew one day you'd just show up, had to be ready."
"How did you know?"
"I don't know. How do we know anything about one another?"
"Yeah," she said softly. "Can't you talk to them?" she asked.
"These Oracle people. Can't you talk to them and maybe," she said and then stopped.
"Maybe what, Buffy?"
"Maybe they can make your soul permanent. I mean, we were happy that day, weren't we? I'm not mistaken in remembering that am I?"
"It's the happiest day of my entire existence, Buffy. I'd say Cordy telling me that Willow called with news that you were alive rates a close second. But making my soul permanent wouldn't change that I can't go out with you during the day, I can't give you children, and that you deserve those things."
"I don't care about children and I don't care about the daylight thing, Angel. I had a boyfriend who could take me out during the day and it was really not of the big. Don't you want me?"
"You know I do, Buffy."
"No," she said softly. "No, I don't."
"Buffy, in two hundred forty-six years, I've loved only you. But I made my decision based on the fact that I have to be here for some greater purpose. You told me that, remember, Christmas three years ago? As much as I believe loving you is noble, I can't help but feel that it's not my greater purpose."
"Can't you at least ask them?"
"And then what, Buffy? We have separate lives now, you're in Sunnydale where you're needed and I'm here where I'm needed."
"So we see one another when we can. There's nothing saying that I can't patrol in LA or that you can't help people in Sunnydale. I mean, I took the chance you gave me for a normal life and it didn't work. I don't think it's going to work either. If it didn't with Riley, who is it going to work with?"
"Do you really want me to answer that?"
"Yes, please, who would be better suited for me than a guy who knows about vampires and demons and the hellmouth, even if they had some scientific, government term for all of it? Other than a Watcher, which Giles is like a father and Wesley is, well, Wesley."
"You deserve so much better than me, Buffy. I hurt you, I've said things to you that I can't take back, and I've hurt people close to you."
"You don't think I've said things to people I can't take back? You don't think I've hurt my friends? Angel, soul or no soul, that's part of life. You don't think having a void in my life and in my heart where you should fill it hurts?"
"Buffy," he said raking a hand through his hair.
"Fine, whatever, I won't beg. You don't want it, I get it."
"No, Buffy, that's not it, I just don't think there's anyway to do it. I would think someone would have told me by now if there was."
"Have you asked? Maybe no one has really thought too hard on it. I mean, who here knows me besides Cordelia? And Wesley. So it's not like anyone has ever seen us together to know what the curse is keeping apart."
"I don't know, Buffy, it seems risky. What happens if we're told it's permanent and it's not?"
"So, we'll chain you up and have Willow on standby with the restoration spell." His eyes met hers briefly, a smirk on his lips, and her breath caught. For a moment, she was looking at Angelus not Angel. It was more eerie than frightening, which in itself was frightening. "What?" she asked.
"You're going to chain me up and have sex with me?"
"I, well, Spike has these chains that I think would keep you should Angelus break free. They held me."
That was apparently the wrong comment to make just then, because his game face fell into place accompanied by a full blown growl. Angel was across the room and on top of her in a matter of seconds, his body crushing her to the bed, his hands like vices gripping her upper arms. If she had blinked she would have missed it he was that fast. "What did Spike do to you?"
"Nothing, he didn't do a thing to me, I swear."
"Then how do you know about his chains?"
"He, well," she struggled to get out from under him. "Angel, you're scaring me. Stop it."
"How do you know about his chains, Buffy?" There was no sign of Angel currently; the demon was in control.
"It's nothing, Angel, really. He has this idea in his head that he loves me. He kidnapped me last year, chained me up in his crypt and offered to kill Drusilla as proof of his devotion to me."
"Did you sleep with him?"
"No! Angel, get off of me," she said trying not to be scared.
His hand went to her throat and he tilted her head from side to side. The growl had subsided somewhat, but it grew louder once more. "You've been marked."
"Not by Spike," she said resolutely. "It was Dracula."
The growl grew louder again. "You let him claim you?"
"I didn't let him, Angel. God, do you honestly think I'd let anyone do that?" That seemed to settle him, placate the demon because the growl subsided, his grip at her throat loosened. "Will you at least ease up a little?" she asked. She had made no effort to fight him off of her, but if he did not move now or at least allow her room to move she would. Even with the eyes of the demon in place she could tell when Angel took control once again. It had been three years since she had seen Angelus, but she still recognized the difference between the two.
"There's no reason to be sorry, Angel, but tell me again why it would be a bad thing to at least inquire about this soul thing? I mean, you flip out because I mention Spike has chains we can use and because Dracula marked me, but you don't want to spend what time we have left together? I'm living on borrowed time, Angel, don't think I don't know that. I'd like to live it out happily. If that means we can only see one another on weekends, even if it means all we can do is kiss like there's no tomorrow, I'll live with that. I refuse to try and settle again for someone who isn't you and I refuse to be alone because you're trying to protect me. I died, Angel, I don't know what there is left for you to protect me from."
"I know," he said softly. With his hand still at her throat, he lowered his mouth to hers slowly, so slowly she wondered if he was trying to decide whether or not to kiss her. And then he kissed her, game face still in place. Her breath caught and she whimpered as his hand loosened its hold on her throat even more and his thumb began to rub against her collarbone. She had forgotten what it was like to be kissed like this, to be left breathless and wanting just from a kiss. Angel somehow managed to make her think he was the reason she was able to breathe when they kissed. It was funny, considering he himself did not breathe and could not give her breath.
She slid an arm around his neck and one around his lower back, drawing him closer to her, into her. If she could arrange it so their bodies melded together and became one so she would never have to be separated from him again she would. She broke the kiss, out of breath and panting, placing her forehead against his cheek. He nuzzled against her neck, the tip of one of his fangs grazing the skin there. "Why are you still in game face?"
"I went from being in an insane jealous rage to being insanely aroused, the demon wants release."
"How can we give him release without losing your soul," she asked softly. "I'm sorry, really."
"Don't be sorry, Buffy, don't ever be sorry for making me want you. It hurts and it's difficult, but don't ever be sorry." He nuzzled against her neck, nipping lightly but not breaking the skin. "The day I stop wanting you is the day I cease to exist. It's almost a curse on top of the curse," he said with a sardonic laugh.
"Laying in here is probably not of the good."
"I beg to differ with you, Buffy, I can't think of anything more of the good right now then to be here with you." She kissed the tip of his nose and snuggled against him. His weight on top of her did not bother her, in fact she liked it. "Stop squirming, Buffy," he hissed.
"What," she asked not even realizing what she was doing. And then it dawned on her. "Oh, sorry," she said lowering her head. "I don't suppose we could test the theory that the demon isn't you and therefore if it's the demon with me and not you no soul losing will come to pass."
"I don't know," he said after a moment's pause as if he were giving it some thought. "You'd do that? Let the demon have control?"
"With the soul, Angel, I trust you not to hurt me. You could have just a moment ago, I don't know what the claiming thing is you were talking about, but it obviously pissed you off more than the idea of Spike chaining me up did."
"It's exactly what it sounds like, Buffy. Claiming a mate could be considered the parallel to the human institution of marriage. Dracula had no right marking you after he saw you had already been, and he had to have seen."
"He did," she said, listening to him intently, her response was more automatic than anything.
"Without the soul I'd hunt him down for daring to go near you once he knew."
"So with the soul you're less possessive of me?" she asked. "You were still possessive of me without the soul?" she asked as an afterthought.
"Yes," he said evenly. "I'm the same man, Buffy, just with a conscious more or less that enables me to control the demon. So my feelings for you were still there, I hated them, hated you for making me feel them, but they were there. I had not done this yet," he said skimming her neck with his thumb. "So the instinct would be stronger now to defend what is mine."
She placed her hands at either side of his head and pulled him away from her neck, glad to see he was back in his human disguise. She ran the pad of her thumb over his mouth. "How have you lived with it? I don't even have all of the memories and it's almost too much to bear, knowing that I'm going to leave here and go back to being your ex."
"I've had to live with it, Buffy, there's nothing more I can do. I couldn't very well charge into Sunnydale and tell you what happened, as much as I wanted to when I found out about Riley. And I'll never look at ice cream again without thinking of you, but that's not so bad. I like having some pleasant memories of you, Buffy, there are so many bad ones in my head. And perhaps the Powers thought it was my just reward for what I put you through to have to live with that day."
She smiled wryly. "Maybe," she said shifting underneath him again, trying to get comfortable.
"Are you tired?"
"A little, I've been exhausted in general since I've been back. Restless. Going to the mansion didn't help I suppose."
"How are things for you financially?"
"They suck," she admitted. "I don't know what I'm going to do to make ends meet. I'm going to have to get a job, but I can't find one. Xander tried to get me on as a crewmember, but I screwed that up."
"Would you let me help you?"
"Stay at the mansion. You and Dawn, Willow and her girlfriend if they want to. I'm paying for the utilities and everything anyway."
"You're kidding, right?"
"No, I'm not. What attachment do you have to your house anyway? I mean, it's not the house you grew up in and you'd have no bills to worry about other than food. I'll even foot the bill for the phone and cable."
"But Angel, it's yours, I mean, I'd feel weird."
"Buffy, I gave you that ring three years ago and I claimed you two years ago, even if you made me to save my life. In both human and vampire terms you belong to me, let me help you. Let me do something right, something I'm supposed to do, let me take care of you like I should have been doing all along. You can't tell me Dawn wouldn't love living there."
"Well, sure she would, she always begs me to take her to see it."
"Well then, what's stopping you?"
"I can't live there without you, Angel. I can't. It would be too painful, and I'd be afraid you'd get mad at me or something and tell me to leave."
"That would never happen. If I ever do come back to Sunnydale I'd want to stay there, but I assume you'll keep my bed warm for me."
"That's assuming a lot, Angel," she said with a light laugh. "Coming from someone who won't even look into the spell."
"Is that what's holding you back? You could be a kept woman without having to give anything back."
"No, thanks," she said softly. "Only if I can claim you as mine, then maybe I'd agree to it." She grew quiet and snuggled against him, her mouth as if it had a mind of its own placed light kisses against his neck. "I miss this, being with you."
"I miss it, too, Buffy. Every day I wake up and have to remind myself why I chose this."
"Then why are we doing this? Why are we forcing ourselves to live apart?"
"I don't know that I know anymore," he said, his tone indicating he was admitting that begrudgingly. She nipped at his throat with her blunt teeth, in part out of play and in part out of frustration that he was making them stay apart. She tugged on the skin between her teeth and then released it. "Buffy," he said in a low growl.
"I'm hoping I'll do something to tempt you to check into that soul issue."
"You really want me to try?"
"Yes," she said softly. "Unless you can look me in the eye right now and tell me that you don't want me, that you want to live out the rest of my life with me."
"I could do it, but it would be a lie," he said softly finding her ear and kissing it. She groaned softly, tilted her head so he could kiss more if he wanted. "But the Oracles are dead, Buffy. Cordelia is my contact to the Powers That Be now, I have no direct link."
"Well, then get Wesley or I can ask Willow to research it, she might like to have a project to distract her from Tara."
He moved beside her on the bed. "You'd really chain me up?"
"If it would make you feel better about it, yeah. Does that bother you?"
"No," he growled. "I can almost guarantee it will be the demon not me in control."
"I told you already, Angel, I know he wouldn't hurt me."
"I'm glad you're so confident, Buffy. I've been losing control of it since coming here."
"Well, see, that has to tell you that your decision is not of the good, Angel."
"I kept hoping that time would fix it. I was trying to lose my soul when I sought solace with Darla, it didn't work and I think it hurt her more than it did anything to or for me. Other than I felt I betrayed you in the worst way possible, but I just didn't care anymore. And then you were gone."
"I know the feeling," she whispered. "It was one of the reasons things with Riley never worked, always in the back of my mind was the thought that I was betraying you."
"I'm glad, I might have told you I wanted you to have that life in the light, but I really don't. It tore me up inside that you made love to someone else. But I knew he could never claim you, never make you his in the same way I have."
"No one ever can, Angel." She felt his mouth grazing her neck; the marks on her neck were his focal point. "Does Dracula's bite override yours?"
"No, I was first, so no, but I did not do it to claim you and did not bind us together. I should have given you some of my blood to solidify the deal."
"I tasted some of his blood," she said and felt him stiffen.
"He was trying to convert me, wanted me to let him turn me, tried to tell me that I would have unbelievable power as a vamped Slayer, that I had not even begun to realize the power I have. He had me drink from him, wanting me to see. I think he was counting on my seeing the darkness in me, the darkness in my being the Slayer. I did, but I only saw the goodness in my calling, that it might be rooted in darkness but it was for the good. I probably come from the same tree as you, but I'm not from the same vine. It didn't work, and I was able to get out from under the thrall then."
"I wish I had been there."
"No, you don't," Buffy said with a slight giggle.
"Why do you say that? And why are you laughing? I get the feeling I'm not going to like this."
"Well, he's not stupid, I'm sure you know that. He met up with my mom earlier in the day and charmed her into inviting him into the house for a cup of coffee." She felt his arm around her stiffen again, felt him draw her closer, and heard a soft rumbling in his chest that was the beginnings of a growl. "He didn't hurt her, but he was obviously able to come into the house then and came into my room while I was sleeping. I woke up the next morning and it took me a minute to remember, it was like I was in a fog. I guess the thrall thing he can do. Riley went ballistic when he saw the bite marks."
"You didn't cover them?"
"Well, sure, but he got suspicious for one reason or another, paranoid I guess, knowing you're a vampire and my ex and afraid I was going to transfer my affection for you to Dracula. Dracula wouldn't want a human lover I don't think," she said more as an aside than anything.
"I'd have to agree with you there. So Riley flipped out, good," he said and Buffy laughed. "What? I told you I didn't like him."
"Yeah, I remember. So if I'm your ex," she said shifting so she fit against him. "What were you doing preparing a room for me?"
"It gave me something to do, something to dream about, and something here that was yours. Cordelia thought I was nuts, but I think she just expects that from me when it comes to you."
"Are you going to stay with me? Or are you going to your room?"
"I can stay if you want."
"Then I'll stay, Buffy."
"Do you want me to call Willow?" He grew quiet and Buffy looked over her shoulder at him. "Either you do or you don't, Angel. I told you I'll be with you regardless, but it would seem to me we'd be a lot better off if that portion of the spell was removed."
"Yeah, call her, have her research it. Make sure she knows that I was with Darla and didn't go Angelus on the world."
"There's something I'd rather not have to share with my best friend, but I suppose she'll need to know that."
"Are you jealous?"
"Yes," she said simply. "A little bummed that I caused it."
"Don't be, Buffy. Do you realize that means that I've only been truly happy in over one hundred years with you?"
"I guess I hadn't really thought about it like that, that is kind of cool I suppose," she said softly. He kissed her temple, his fingertips grazing the side of her neck, caressing the scars there which aroused something in her. It was not a sensual thing, but it definitely brought out a response in her. "What are you doing?" she whispered.
"Nothing, just touching you. Why?"
"It feels weird, different. I mean, I shouldn't feel anything, right? It's scar tissue."
"It's the bond, that's all, your body recognizes me. I'm your mate," he whispered against her ear, his right hand seeking hers and closing over it.
"You still wear the ring," she said, running a fingertip over it. The heart was pointed towards him.
"My heart will always belong to you, Buffy, I had no need to take it off."
"I'll bet the girls love me."
"What," he said with a light laugh.
"Oh come on, you can't tell me these LA girls haven't looked at you."
"I wouldn't know, Buffy."
"You wouldn't know," she said with a scoff.
"They're not you, so I don't want to know. I didn't leave you to try and move onto someone else, Buffy."
"I know that."
"I hope so."
Buffy woke the next morning to loud knocking at the door leading to Angel's room. Angel was asleep beside her, his arm possessively wrapped around her. She had forgotten what it was like to sleep next to him. He looked dead with the no breathing thing that vampires have going on. With the aid of her Slayer strength she managed to get out from under his grasp and padded to the door. The carpet felt plush under her bare feet and the spot in front of the fireplace was nice and warm. Tousling her hair as she opened the door, she was surprised to see Cordelia, Fred, Wesley and another man she did not recognize standing there. Wesley had a crossbow pointed at her heart, actually where her heart would have been were she Angel's height, the other three carried weapons, too. "What the hell," she asked still waking up.
"Is Angel with you?" Wesley asked.
"Yeah," she said a little put off that they would come traipsing into his private room. "He's sleeping, so was I for that matter."
"And he's still Angel?" Cordelia asked.
"As far as I know, I can wake him up and ask him if you'd like."
"No, no, it's all right," Wesley said. "Forgive us, Buffy, but Winifred said she saw you and Angel were rather close last evening and we wanted to make sure you were all right."
"She said you were kissing a lot," Cordelia added as if Wesley's explanation had not painted a clear enough picture.
"So, in other words, you wanted to make sure he still had his soul and I wasn't dead in a pool of my own blood on my bed."
"Well, yeah, no offense, Buffy, but you two kissing is not exactly wise when it's been years since you've been together." Buffy imagined that was Cordelia's form of advice.
"Thanks, Cordelia, I don't think I would remember what happened the last time without you to remind me."
"Right, I suppose you would. I'm sorry, it's just I know how you two get around one another."
Four pairs of eyes shifted their attention past her and she turned to see Angel standing from the bed, slipping into the black silk shirt he had worn the night before. "Hey guys, what's up?" he asked, buttoning the shirt.
"They were making sure you're still Angel," Buffy said dryly, clearly not amused or overly pleased at the intrusion.
"So you decided to wake us up at eight in the morning to find out?" Angel asked, glancing at the four standing on the other side of the doorway bearing weapons.
"Well, I didn't think anything of it really," Fred admitted, "until there was no coffee made this morning. You always make coffee before you go to bed."
"I wasn't up all night like I normally am."
"I see that," she said and Buffy had to smile at her shyness.
"Okay, we've seen they're fine and Angel's still Angel, why don't we leave them alone," said the black man Buffy did not know. He was staring at Buffy, so much so that Buffy ran her hand along her hair wondering if she looked that terrible. She was wearing what she normally slept in, a pair of shorts and a camisole top so it's not like she was exposed or anything.
"Wesley, I'd like to talk to you if you have a minute and can stay." Angel asked.
Buffy could not quite get over the change in Wesley. The stuffy Englishman who had come to Sunnydale was not so obvious anymore. He was kind of cute now that he had let his hair down a bit. Angel apparently sensed her thoughts because she heard a low rumble coming from his throat. The others looked from her to Angel and back to her as she turned to face a game faced Angel.
She smirked and reached to touch his face. "It's okay, baby, I haven't seen him since he left Sunnydale, cut me some slack for noticing he's changed," she said running her fingertips along the ridges on his face. Her touch was light, soothing, almost as if she was petting him which she supposed she was in a way. This was his demon and she was trying to pacify it. She felt the weight of the four pairs of eyes on her back, but she did not care. Her eyes met his before she reached up to kiss him.
"He knows what you're thinking," the black man asked. She did not need to look to know which of the two men asked the question.
"Yeah," Buffy said softly, still caressing Angel's demonic face. "Come back to me, baby. There's no reason to be jealous of Wesley. We need his help, remember, so we don't want to scare him away."
"You were looking at him," he said gruffly.
"Well, sure I was, he was my watcher, remember? I haven't seen him in a while. You know he's not my type."
"Right, just like Finn wasn't your type."
"Exactly," she said with a smile. She ran her thumb along his lips, which met with a "Buffy, don't," from Wesley. "It's fine, Wesley. He won't hurt me."
"Buffy, you can't know that."
"I can know it, Wesley, and I do," she said and sure enough Angel's game face gave way to his human face. Buffy kissed him again lightly before turning to look at the others once again. Angel's arms went around her and she leaned against his chest. "It's nice to see you've changed, Wesley, LA has been good to you."
"Uh, right, thank you, Buffy. A pleasure to see you again, too. I was startled, but pleased of course, to hear you came back to us. The world, I mean," he said and Buffy chuckled lightly.
"Thanks, Wesley. I haven't decided yet how I feel about being back." She felt Angel's hold on her tighten. "Hopefully, you can help and I'll feel a lot better."
"Of course, I'll do whatever I can," he said simply.
"Cordy, Fred, Gunn, you can go man the phones. Anything comes in, let me know, I got a good night's rest and I'm up for some footwork today. How about you, Buffy?"
"Sure," she said with a shrug. "I'm always up for footwork. It comes with the Slayer package."
"And it's a nice package," the man Angel had addressed as Gunn had said.
"I'd be careful if I were you," Cordy said with that fake smile that Buffy remembered well. "You've never seen him with her, Gunn," she added as further warning.
"But his soul's intact," Gunn said.
"Dense much?" Cordelia asked. "The soul doesn't stop him from being possessive, you nitwit."
Angel seemed contented by contact with Buffy, but she decided perhaps it was best they get off the topic of her package and Angel's possessiveness. "I discovered after my friends left me to dig myself out of my coffin that the first instincts that kicked in were my Slayer instincts. Not my human instincts. I couldn't talk, couldn't see well, everything was in a fog, but I could still kick demon ass. I guess the rumor that I'm not entirely human after all is true."
"You had to what?" Angel practically roared.
"I told you that," Buffy said softly.
"No, you did not tell me that they left you to dig your way out, I would remember that and probably would have forgotten my vow not to hurt humans."
"It's okay, really. I don't know if I would have wanted them there honestly. When they found me after I'd gotten back to the house, they were all over me, surrounding me, talking at me. Spike was the only one who seemed to understand I didn't want to be bombarded with questions or offered pizza." She glanced at her now healed knuckles and sighed. "He just wanted to help me, fix my hands."
"I ought to rip their heads off," he said gruffly. "I'm glad Spike was there to help you. He was always good for taking care of someone in need, particularly someone he cares for." The last few words were strained, forced as if he was wrapping his mind around the concept of Spike claiming to have feelings for Buffy. But at least he did not go game face about it.
"Okay, this is getting us nowhere. Why don't you talk to Wesley while I call Willow? And it's probably best to lay off the ripping her head off statements until we know whether or not she can help."
"Right," he acquiesced. "There's a phone by your bed. Gunn, Cordy, Fred why don't you get to work."
"It's nice to see you again, Buffy," Cordelia said and Buffy wondered if the sincerity in Cordelia's voice was genuine.
"Thanks, Cordy, you, too," she said as Cordelia and the other two left Angel's room. "I think I'll hit the shower first. You did say something about a fabulous tub, right?"
"Yeah, take your time and enjoy," he said.
"Thanks, I'll only be a minute, especially if you're thinking of taking me along with you on a job, no need to get all prettied up just to hunt demons," she said. Buffy felt his eyes on her while she walked to get her shampoo and things. "I'll be out in a few."
"It's quite a surprise seeing Buffy," Wesley said once Angel had walked into his room, closing the door behind him.
"She looks good. Is she doing well?"
"I think so, yeah. A little unsure about things and not overly happy, not that I can blame her, but I think she'll be all right."
"Good. You wanted to talk to me?" Wesley asked while Angel closed the door leading to the hallway.
"Yeah," Angel said taking a seat in his oversized armchair. He gestured for Wesley to take a seat as well. "I want you to look into making my soul permanent."
"Angel, do you think that's wise? I mean, the whole purpose behind your leaving Sunnydale was to give Buffy a normal life."
"And she doesn't want it, Wesley. She's an adult not a seventeen year old girl anymore and she still wants me. And I want her."
"We all know that, Angel, no big surprise there, but I still don't know if this is wise."
"Wesley, I'm not asking for your input here. Buffy wants to give us another chance, but she asked that I look into anchoring my soul."
"And if it can't be anchored?"
"She says she still wants to be with me, but I agree with her. If we're going to be together I should at least look into the possibility. It'd be one thing if I was a eunuch, but I'm not."
"No, of course not."
"I don't want to subject her to a life of forced celibacy if there is the chance I don't have to."
"And what's Willow for?"
"She did the restoration spell, so we figured maybe she could look into just what she did. Maybe it is already anchored, and that's why I didn't lose it last year."
"I'll do some research on my end, though I don't think your not losing your soul last year had anything to do with it being anchored, Angel. I'm glad you did not take that as evidence it was and do something irrational last night."
"I'm not stupid, Wesley," Angel said more abruptly than he meant to. "Let's keep this between us for now, until we know anything."
"Of course. You're sure you want to do this?"
"I have to try, Wesley. She said something last night that made some sense. I've been heading downhill fast, so obviously being away from her is not doing me any good."
"I can't argue with you there, I've been witness to your deterioration and I admit it is frightening. And as much as the Watcher in me rebels against the idea of the two of you together it seems that if the feelings are still there after your time apart it's perhaps wise to confront them and see them through."
"I guess that's what we're going to do; I just hope she doesn't regret it, particularly if there is no way to bind it."
"I'll find out, Angel, I assure you."
Angel stood from the armchair and walked to the door, opening it for Wesley. "Hopefully, I'll be a little better spirited around here now. I'm going to get dressed now I'll be out in a few minutes."
"Right, of course, I'm not used to seeing you waking up at this time of the day." Wesley stood and cleared his throat lightly. "I'll begin my research then."
Angel knocked on the bathroom door and received a "come in," so he entered, averting his gaze in case she was still in the tub. Not that seeing her nude form as she bathed was offensive, but it was probably wisest not to tip the scales too extremely at this point. "It's okay, Angel, I'm dressed, I am just doing my hair."
"Okay, good," he said looking at her as he leaned against the doorjamb. She looked better than she did yesterday, brighter, less downtrodden. Was that because of him? Was he partially responsible for her depression? He hoped not, and if he was that was in the past now. "I wanted to take a shower."
"Oh, okay," she said looking flustered. "Just let me know when you're done."
"You can stay if you want to, Buffy, you won't be able to see me in the mirror anyway," he said with a smirk. He certainly was not going to object if she wanted to turn around and look at him, but he suspected she would not. Oddly, she seemed just as innocent as their first time together despite knowing she had been with Finn since. It was nice she still had that quality to her.
"I, um, okay, just let me know when you're in the shower then," she said leaving the bathroom quickly.
Angel chuckled as he shed his clothes, ensuring his robe was on the hook just outside the shower stall in case he needed it and stepped into the shower. "You can come back in, Buffy," he called out and watched as she came into the bathroom, avoiding looking at the shower stall.
He tried talking to her, but she was quiet as if she was afraid to talk to him. It was sort of endearing, and part of the reason he had been attracted to Buffy to begin with. She had always had an innocence about her that Angel sensed was not false, and still had it despite what she had seen and experienced in her life. She was gone when he turned the shower off, so he skipped the robe and merely toweled off before heading to his room to dress. It had been a long time since he actually thought about what he was going to wear for the day. He decided on a crimson silk shirt from his highboy, one Buffy had always liked.
He had just finished tying his shoes when Buffy knocked on the door between their rooms. He stood from his bed and walked to the door, opening it. "You all ready?"
"Yeah," she said, pressing a hand against his chest, touching his shirt. "Did you wear this for me?"
He shook his head, smiled and then said, "yes."
"Tease. Are you trying to make it so I can't keep my hands off of you?"
"That was sort of the idea, yeah."
"Oh good," she said, leaning towards him to kiss him. She drew back too quickly for Angel's liking and it must have been apparent on his face, because she answered his question without him having to ask it. "We should probably leave the room now. At least for a little while. Some coffee and breakfast would be of the nice."
"Oh right, I wasn't even thinking about food. Sorry."
"It's okay, I wouldn't expect you to, being that you don't need to eat and all."
"But you didn't even have dinner last night or anything. I really do remember my manners, Buffy."
She silenced him with another quick kiss. "It's okay, really. Did you talk to Wesley?"
"Yeah, he's going to research it."
"And Willow said she and Dawnie would come up tonight," she said, taking hold of his hand. Her warmth was still a shock to him, almost new again. He had gone so long convincing himself he had to deprive himself of the warmth she had to offer him that he pushed to the back of his mind what she felt like. "To help with the research. I think she's going to see about getting Spike's chains, too."
He could hear her heartbeat pick up with those last words, which surprised him. He was not sure if the idea of the chains themselves created the reaction or just what the chains represented to their relationship. Finn had not struck Angel as the type to go for that sort of thing, though maybe he was different in the bedroom. He growled at the thought of anyone but him laying a hand on Buffy in that fashion and had to push the demon down. Angel was no stranger to various things that would probably make Buffy run in the other direction if she found out about them.
"It'll be nice to see Dawn. I didn't get down there after you died. I should have and really have no excuse, other than I just didn't know what to say to her."
"It's okay," she said as they headed toward the lobby. "I smell coffee."
"Wesley or Fred, they like their morning coffee."
"I'll have to thank them. Who's the other guy?"
"His name is Charles Gunn, but we call him Gunn. He's sort of a self-proclaimed slayer, but without the superpowers to go with the title. But he's good to have on my team."
"And Cordelia's your connection to the Powers That Be now?"
"Yeah," he said evenly.
"You've assembled quite a team. A former Watcher, a seer, two warriors. What's Fred?"
"She's a genius and she's learned to fight pretty well. She's human, but she helps more often than not."
"Who's that?" Gunn called from where he stood on the other side of the reservation desk.
"Oh yeah, that's my girl, learning to fight the demons."
"We can always use an extra hand," Buffy admitted. "Anya never has gotten with the slaying, though. She tries, she just," Buffy shrugged. "Doesn't have it. Xander does fairly well, and Willow, she has this mind communicating gig going on. I guess when I was, well, gone, she would stand on top of a crypt to get an aerial view of the cemetery and tell the gang where the baddies were."
"She's gotten that powerful," Wesley asked coming out of the kitchen sipping a cup of coffee.
"Yeah," Buffy said simply. "The fact that she brought me back might have given you a clue to that, Wes."
"Right, I guess I wasn't thinking when I said that. Would you like a cup of coffee, Buffy?"
"I'll get some in a minute, thanks and Willow will be up tonight, so you'll get to talk to her yourself."
"Willow's coming," Cordelia said. "What is this, a Sunnydale reunion? Please tell me Xander isn't coming with his little honey."
"No, and they're not together anymore. At least I don't think so," Buffy said with a shrug. "I haven't really taken the time to ask. She sort of creeps me out sometimes. Though she did help me with my bill situation, she's good with money I'll give her that."
"Well, your bill situation would be taken care of permanently if you move into the mansion like I want you to do."
"You're giving her the mansion?" Cordy asked and Angel had to chuckle.
"Well, for now I'm just trying to talk her into moving into it. It's standing empty and she wouldn't have to get a job then, or at least she wouldn't have to take the first job that's offered her."
"And you're arguing about this, Buffy? No offense, but you never were very bright. You'd rather stay in the house your mother died in then live in that huge place. Just the decorating ideas alone for all those rooms would be enough to make me high."
"I'm thinking about it," Buffy said and Angel could feel her arm tense. She released his hand and smoothed down her pants. He had hoped she would wear a skirt, he liked her in skirts, but he imagined the idea of running through the sewers might have influenced her choice in clothing. The white peasant like top she wore was low enough that it gave him clear view of the fact she was wearing his cross. It left her shoulders bare, which Angel did not mind at all. He liked being able to see as much of Buffy as he was allowed to see.
It was at times like this, when she was just standing beside him, that he had to remind himself how powerful a woman she was. No one would know it to look at her; she was a prime example of how deceiving looks could be. As good as Gunn was, Angel would choose Buffy to fight beside him and cover his back any day. And that was based on her abilities before he left Sunnydale; chances are she had improved since then.
"Hopefully, she'll be doing it and not thinking about it by the time she finds her way back down to Sunnydale," Angel said leaning against the reservation desk. He crossed his arms over his chest and regarded her for a minute. He had feared when she arrived the prior evening that something was wrong, he certainly had no idea this was how her visit was going to turn out. He had Buffy again; it was almost too good to be true. Maybe it was, but Wesley was right he had to let this play out this time. He had tried to take the high road once before and while he might not have lost his soul Angel knew he had been slipping of late. The soul alone did not stop Angel from letting the demon have free reign, it was Angel's desire to fight the good fight that did it. And depriving himself of the one bright spot in his life had muddied the waters as to just how much he desired doing good.
"So," Buffy said and Angel almost felt bad for her. Cordelia and Wesley already knew Buffy so they were not scrutinizing her, but Gunn and Fred had never met Buffy before. Neither was being discreet with their curious glances. "Want to train?"
"What?" Angel asked.
"You heard me. You're up, I'm up, do you want to train?"
"Don't you want some breakfast?"
"I'll eat after we're done, or I'm done if you don't want to. I assume you have a place to train."
"Yeah, we converted one of the lounges into a training room," Gunn volunteered. Angel was still trying to figure out what she was doing. Was she trying to prove something? Then again, maybe she just wanted to spar, it was possible.
"Well, let's go," she said clapping her hands. "I haven't trained since I've been back. Giles seemed to not want to push me and he's not quite the same as sparring with you."
"Sure then, let's go. Do you want weapons?"
"You guys spar with weapons?" Fred asked and Angel chuckled.
"Nah, not this time anyway," Buffy responded overlapping Fred's question. "Maybe later, it's been a while since we've sparred I wouldn't want to hurt you."
Gunn coughed. "You hurt him?"
Buffy frowned and glared at Gunn. "Uh, yeah."
Angel pushed off from the counter, deciding it was probably time to separate Buffy and Gunn for now. "Let me show you to the training room, you can warm up for a bit while I tend to things out here."
"Great," Buffy said and sent him a look of gratitude. Okay, she was uncomfortable, not unexpectedly given she was the outsider of the group rather than the other way around. "Lead the way."
Angel sat at the table watching the others as they ate their Chinese takeout. They did not normally eat as a group. Even though they all lived in the Hyperion they did their own thing. They were coworkers and while there was more to their relationship than that, they certainly were not family. Friendship was probably too simple a word to apply to it, but as he glanced at the four humans at the table he had a feeling of belonging he had missed.
"I'd forgotten how good Chinese food can be," Buffy said in between bites.
"Definitely," Cordelia was quick to agree. "I don't know how I survived in Sunnydale as long as I did. Everything in LA is better."
"I imagine not living on the hellmouth might have something to do with that," Buffy said dryly.
"Maybe, but we have our share of demons and what not here, too, you know."
"I do know, Cordelia. I'm from here, remember?"
"Oh, that's right, I forgot."
An alarm went off and Angel stood. "It's just someone coming into the lobby. I'll get it, you all eat."
Buffy glanced at the clock and looked at Angel, he could see her concern. It was well past seven o'clock in the evening, a little late for clients walking in off the street. But then again, in this line of work there was no such thing as banker's hours. It was one thing that he had to his advantage being a vampire and being awake nights, someone was always on duty to take a call.
He left the room and walked to the lobby, a smile came to his face when he spotted Willow and Dawn. "Angel," Dawn said and closed the distance between them quickly. Angel gave her the hug he should have given her months ago but had been too stuck in his own world to do it.
"Hey Dawn, good to see you, kiddo. You've grown up," he said drawing away. He regarded her, remembering the first time he saw her. She had been eleven, still in elementary school. That was not true; Angel knew that Dawn had not existed until about fourteen months ago. But the memories were still there. Memories of Angel fearing what Drusilla might do if she discovered the Slayer had a younger sister when she and Spike had first arrived in Sunnydale.
"Yeah, well, that's what you get for staying away for so long."
Angel had no come back to that, she was right, he had stayed away too long. She knew why, though, he knew that. "Hey, Willow," he said to Buffy's best friend. Angel still did not know how to treat her given what Buffy had told them earlier that morning about having to dig herself out of her coffin. "Glad you guys could make it. We're in the other room; Chinese takeout was the meal de jour."
"We already ate actually," Dawn said, pushing some of her hair behind her ear. A gesture that was so Buffy it was a little scary.
"I've got your bloody bags, now we are staying here, right? Oh, hello, Peaches," Spike said from the front doorway.
"Spike," Angel replied evenly, remembering Buffy said he had been the one to treat her right after she had come back. And that he had stayed in Sunnydale to look after Dawn after Buffy had died. "I didn't realize you were coming."
"Well, when Red mentioned needing my chains, I had to know what exactly it was the Slayer needed them for. Besides, they cost me a pretty penny, I wasn't about to just up and part with them."
"What does she need them for, Angel?" Dawn asked and Angel met Willow's gaze.
"We're not sure she will yet, Dawn."
"I get it it's one of those Dawn's too young to understand things."
"No, it's just something Buffy is trying to keep under wraps for now."
"I don't know what's going on either, Niblet, so I don't think it's an age thing. Peaches here might just be telling you the truth."
"Well, since you're not hungry I'll show you to your rooms. Spike I wasn't planning for you, so I hope you don't mind having to make your own bed."
"I can manage to do that I don't even need sheets, slept on the ground before."
"You can sleep on my floor," Dawn offered.
"I don't think Buffy would like that," Spike and Angel said overlapping one another. Only Spike's "Niblet," at the end of the statement was different.
"I thought I heard familiar voices," Buffy said. "Thanks for coming guys."
"No problem, any excuse to get out of Sunnydale for a night isn't a problem."
"Spike, what are you doing here," Buffy said and Angel sensed her apprehension. He glanced at Spike curiously.
"Slayer," Spike said simply, but there was an underlying tone to his voice that Angel did not like one bit. Buffy had mentioned Spike thinking he was in love with her, but he had thought she was exaggerating. Evidently, she was not. "I just came with the chains, curious what you wanted them for," Spike admitted. "I figured maybe there was a big bad in town you needed them for."
"Hopefully not," Buffy said.
"I was going to show them to their rooms, but if you want to take Willow and Dawn to theirs I'll take Spike to one."
"Sure. Let's go," Buffy said leading Willow and Dawn up the stairs to their room.
"What are you really doing here, Spike?" Angel asked as he approached his grandchilde.
"I told you, just came with the chains. I guess it's sort of habit to protect the little bit, so I just came along for the ride."
"Good," Angel said, sensing there was more to it than that but he let it go for now. "We were going to go make some rounds in a bit, an extra hand is always welcome."
Spike shrugged. "Sure. Just show me to a room, Peaches, and I'll be out of your way. I could do with some blood if you have some to spare."
Angel placed a hand on Spike's shoulder. "No problem, Spike, my boy," he said and led him to the stairs. He assumed Buffy would want to talk to Willow some in private, and had no idea how long that would take. He had forgotten how nosey Dawn was, that could be a problem if they needed to do some sort of spell. Angel assumed there would be magic involved.
"I'll put you across from Wesley. Dawn and Willow are just down the hall."
"You've got this huge hotel and you put us all in a group."
"It's the only floor that's fully functional, Spike. You're welcome to pull up a piece of floor somewhere else if you want, but none of the showers work either."
Angel opened the door for the room across from Wesley's after stopping at the linen closet to get bedding and towels, which he promptly handed to Spike. "Make yourself at home. Come on down whenever you're ready and I'll show you where the blood is kept."
"Thanks, mate," Spike said regarding the room. "Nice digs."
"Thanks," Angel said sincerely. This was certainly better than their last meeting had been. Maybe that chip was not so bad after all. "See you later."
"Right," Spike said after a moment's pause. Angel was tempted to ask him what he had really wanted to say, but refrained. It was none of his business and probably better if he did not pursue Spike's train of thought.
"Angel," Buffy said as he was walking down the hall.
"Did you get Willow and Dawn settled?"
"Yeah, Dawn's still in awe of her room and the idea she has her own bathroom, so we may not see her for a while. Willow will be down to talk to Wesley in a while."
"Good," he said draping an arm around Buffy. He lowered his voice, knowing how sound carried in the old hotel. "Are you all right with Spike being here?"
"Yeah, sure, Spike's fine. I told you he helped while I was gone with Dawn and everything, not to mention the torture he endured from Glory to protect her."
"Just making sure."
"Nothing I could do about it anyway, so no sense being bothered."
"Good point," he lowered his head to nuzzle against Buffy's neck. "Even if they can't find a way to anchor it, we could try out those chains of Spike's you know?"
"Angel," she said and blushed fiercely, which made Angel chuckle. "I don't feel like making love to Mr. Hyde one minute and Dr. Jekyll the next."
"Dr. Jekyll may just surprise you."
"I'll just bet he would, baby, but I want Mr. Hyde maybe with a bit of that Jekyll sprinkled in."
"Hopefully, we'll get to find out just how much of a sprinkling you want."
"Let's spar a bit," Buffy said and Angel realized perhaps he had pushed too far. He had been tempted to correct her little faux pas, but he knew what she was trying to say with the Hyde/Jekyll comparison. Now was not the time to make her feel stupid or that he thought he knew more than she did so he remained quiet about her reversal of personalities.
"Again? Buffy, we went at it for two hours this morning."
"Yeah, and I'm going to be patrolling tonight, I want to loosen up. Besides I like sparring with you it's better than a punching bag."
"You just finished eating."
"I didn't eat that much. Any other excuses?"
"No," he said and walked with her toward the training room.
They wrapped one another's hands and Angel put some music on for them to spar by. It was loud enough to provide some background noise yet not too loud as to distract them. Angel unbuttoned and slipped out of his silk shirt, leaving himself in just his tank undershirt.
In the morning, they had really focused on training, building on the exercises they had worked on together at the mansion before he left Sunnydale. Angel could tell that this time was going to be physical. She wanted a true sparring. Perhaps it was nerves about what was going to be forthcoming once Wesley and Willow put their collective heads together, but Angel was up for a good sparring too.
He really was surprised at her improvement. She was amazingly fast, amazingly agile, and amazingly perceptive. She seemed to know his moves before he had conscious thought of them. No wonder fighting Glory had been so frustrating for Buffy; Angel could not picture anyone but a god beating her anymore. He just hoped she kept this attitude and enthusiasm up on the playing field.
They were both fast and defended themselves well, well suited to fight one another. Angel knew now without a doubt that if Angelus did return he would be hard pressed to win against this Buffy. Four years ago Buffy had a chance but not nearly as good a chance as she did now. They did not hold back, both punching and kicking to connect. Neither was aware of the audience that gathered to watch them both so focused on one another and their next move.
Buffy was breathing heavily, but showed no sign of fatigue and Angel was enjoying this battle between them of both brawn and brains that he would not have really noticed even if she had shown signs of being tired. She ducked under one of his high kicks and caught his foot, flipping him so he landed on the mat flat on his back. She landed on top of him, straddling him, her hands at either side of him on the mat. "Good fight," she said softly.
"I can tell you enjoyed it," he said with a wide smile and she blushed. He could not resist reaching up and touching her face, his thumb catching a few beads of perspiration at her hairline.
"That was amazing, guys," Dawn said and Buffy's head jerked up at the intrusion dislodging Angel's hand from touching her.
"Thanks," Buffy said and stood, offering a hand to Angel who took it. Buffy took one of the towels Angel kept in the training room and blotted off her face and neck, leaving it around her neck before tossing one to Angel. "I didn't know we had company."
"It's not very often we get to watch two people make a dance out of it like you two do," Gunn said.
"A dance?" Buffy asked with a frown.
"Sure, you two are flawless," Gunn said. "It's like you have been doing this every day."
"We have," Buffy and Angel said together. "In our heads," Buffy clarified when Gunn looked a little stupefied.
"Say what?" Gunn said.
Buffy blushed and lowered her head. "I'm going to shower before we head out. You can explain it to them if you want. Not that they'll understand it anyway."
"Spike, are you coming with us?"
"Sure, Slayer, you know I don't miss a chance to get a kill."
"Right, another notch on your belt," Buffy said and Angel noticed Spike's frown.
"So you going to explain that to me, Angel?" Gunn asked.
"Well, it's hard to explain, but Buffy and I trained together extensively the year before I left for LA. I think we both just picture one another in our minds when we train, so it's sort of like fighting one another."
"You should see the dreams we share."
"Not being able to get a piece physically, I don't think I'd want to be a fly on the wall in one of your dreams."
Angel's game face was in place and Gunn was pinned up against the wall, his shirtfront clutched in Angel's hands which were balled into fists in a flash. To the naked eye, his movement from point a to point b was probably missed completely. "You treat her with the respect she deserves, you hear me, Gunn? She's not a piece. She's the fucking chosen one, the Slayer, and no one is going to treat her any less than that in front of me."
"Separate," Willow called out and Angel was ripped away from Gunn.
"Okay, Angel, man, no need to vamp out on me. I was just saying, now I understand your moodiness last year when you knew she had a boyfriend. I would have blown a gasket myself, and I certainly wouldn't blame you for dreaming about her. I probably wouldn't have had the willpower you have had, honestly, soul be damned."
Angel clutched his knees, regarding Gunn still in game face. "I let you get away with the comment this morning, boy, but that's it. She's not a mantel piece for you to ogle over."
"It seems to me, Angelus," Spike spoke from the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest. "That you don't have much right to say who can and cannot ogle over her."
"Spike," Willow said her tone laced with warning. "Not now."
"You don't like my rules, childe, get out of my house," Angel said as he stood to his full height. "I'm going to change. Willow, I assume you will stay behind with Dawn and Wesley."
"Yeah, sure, I wanted to talk with Wesley some anyway."
"Good to see you again, Willow," Wesley said from behind Spike in the doorway. "I've heard you've grown in power and ability, I look forward to hearing about your progress since last we met."
"Thanks," Willow said. "It has been a while."
"Everyone weapon up and be ready to go in ten minutes," Angel said before brushing past those standing in the doorway and left the training room.
Spike spent the better part of the night's rounds feeling not just out of the loop as far as what was going on, and there was something going on, but it cut him more than he thought it would to see Angel and Buffy working together again. For the past year or so Spike had been there to help her, not that she really needed help when it got down to it. But Buffy and his grandsire seemed to be pretty much ignoring everyone else in their little patrolling party. The fact that they did in fact work better together than Buffy had with Spike or her soldier boy only served to twist the knife in the already existing wound.
They were making their way from the last cemetery they were going to cover for the night when Spike walked upon what he imagined was supposed to be a private moment between his grandsire and the Slayer. He was not overly surprised Angel had not sensed Spike's presence given his attentiveness to Buffy. He was checking a wound on her cheek, the touch more intimate than the gesture warranted. And then Spike watched as Angel kissed her. He did not want to watch, but it was like an accident scene he had to watch for fear he would miss something.
"The chains are for you, aren't they?" Spike asked, realization dawning on him. "You're going to shag her and have the witch on standby to restore your soul again while you're still chained."
"Spike," Angel said softly.
"I'm right, aren't I? You have a lot of nerve, Slayer, wanting my stuff so that you can get your rocks off."
"No, I mean, yes, but no," Buffy said walking up to Spike. "Can you just trust us?"
"Trust you two? You get with the pelvis touching and we're back to Angelus trying to rid the world of humanity again. Have you forgotten what he did to you and your friends, Slayer?"
"No, just like I haven't forgotten what you did either. Spike, Willow and Wesley are working on anchoring his soul, making it permanent. So, yes the chains are for us, but I would never make love to Angel if I knew for sure he would lose his soul. But it's the only way we can find out, and I knew your chains were of the superhuman strength variety because they held me."
"So, after all is said and done, after everything I've done for you, you're going back to him?"
"Spike, I appreciate everything you did for me and for Dawn. I told you after what Glory did to you that what you did was real and I would never forget it, and I meant that. But I never said I loved you, Spike. I never even said I liked you like that."
"We kissed, Buffy."
"Spike," Buffy hissed under her breath.
"It was one kiss, Angel," Buffy whispered.
"Two," Spike clarified.
"Spike, you're not helping."
"I don't really want to help in this instance, pet," Spike said enjoying the look on Angel's face. The pained expression at the thought of his beloved Buffy kissing Spike was almost worth losing her over.
"You kissed him. Buffy?"
"Yeah, I did, all right. Do you have any idea what it was like to be brought back? To be ripped out of a place where I was happy and at peace, where I didn't have to fight every minute, where I didn't have to worry about bills and losing my house, where I knew that my friends and Dawn were safe? I lost that, and you had left me. I kissed him before I got those memories back. Spike was the only person since I've been back I could talk to. He listened when I needed to talk, didn't judge me, and I needed that. But it wasn't enough, I wanted to feel, and I thought that would do it. It might have, too, I suppose but then I got those memories back and I had to come here and find out what it was I was remembering."
"What memories, Slayer?" Spike asked, almost afraid to ask.
"It's personal, Spike. And I'm sorry I kissed you okay? I mean, it wasn't my fault. If anything, blame Willow, she's the one who did that crazy memory spell."
"So you're saying if it weren't for Red and her witchcraft I would have had a shot with you?"
"I don't know, I can't answer that. I wasn't thinking clearly when I kissed you, either time. They were both out of desperation, wanting to feel something other than misery for a brief moment. I want to be with Angel, Spike."
"Bloody brilliant, well, don't come looking for more than kissing when the soul anchoring thing doesn't work, Slayer. I love you, but I'm not going to be your consolation prize."
"I would never ask you to be, Spike. I've never lied to you, you know."
"I know," Spike admitted. She had been nothing but brutally honest with him. So honest it hurt sometimes. "Right, well, I hope it works for your sake, Slayer, not for his. He doesn't deserve you." He shrugged, shoving his hands into the pockets of his leather duster as Angel's version of Buffy's Scoobies approached them. "Are we done then?" Spike asked with a frown as Buffy's attention was already on Angel again. Was there a woman in Spike's life that he did not have to compete with Angel for?
"Yeah, let's head back," Angel said. "You all right over there, Gunn?"
"Yeah," he said but he did not sound overly convincing even to Spike.
"Angel, he needs to get to a hospital," Buffy said and Spike smelled it then, blood.
Buffy rushed to Gunn's side to offer him her support, Spike watched as she placed her hand on the wound under his ribcage. How had it escaped Spike's notice until now? Too focused on being jealous and irritated at the situation he imagined.
"No, no hospitals," Gunn said.
"Is he always this stubborn?"
"Yeah, I'll get him stitched up when we get back."
"Okay," Buffy said. Spike chuckled, he could tell she was not convinced. "At least let me help you back to the car."
"I can manage, Buffy."
"I know you can manage. Geez, this isn't because I'm a girl is it?"
"No," Gunn said. "Well, okay maybe a little."
"Fine. Angel," she called. "You help him back, never mind that I could pick him up and carry him if I had to. Come on, Spike," Buffy said and stalked off in the opposite direction of Angel's car.
"Smart move, moron," Spike hissed in Gunn's direction. "A brassed off Slayer is not what you want on your hands." He met Angel's gaze evenly and followed Buffy. "I'll make sure she gets back safely."
"What?" Gunn asked.
"You pissed her off, idiot. She's gone off to find something more to kill. Sorry, Peaches, I'd offer to take him back instead and let you go traipsing off after her, but I don't have suturing skills. Looks like you just have to trust me with your woman."
"If anything happens to her, Spike."
"I won't do anything to her, I can't hurt her anyway, remember?"
"The only reason I haven't killed you for this, Spike, is because she claims you were good to her, and to Dawn."
"Right," Spike said and stalked off in the direction Buffy had gone.
He saw her sitting on top of a headstone, stake at the ready, left foot crossed over the right, kicking her feet up. He had seen this pose many times, she was stewing.
"Your problem is, pet, you take things too personally. No man, human or vampire, likes to have a bit of a girl show them up, particularly in front of their girlfriend."
"I didn't show him up, I offered to help him. Whatever. It's okay for me to be the Slayer to kill things when I'm with them, but not otherwise. It's just stupid."
"Buffy," he said cautiously. "What's this really about? If Angel is pressuring you."
"No, he's not, Spike, not at all. I didn't want him to leave Sunnydale to begin with, he chose to leave. Life is too short and I refuse to live what time I have left miserable. He seems to agree, and apparently hasn't been doing all that well with our separation either."
"I guess you won't be needing me then."
"Spike, don't say that. Angel's going to be staying here and I'll still be in Sunnydale, I'd be happy to have your help. Unless you want to go?"
"I don't know, I'll think about it. I'd miss Niblet."
Buffy smiled with a shake of her head. "And she'd miss you. I would, too. I had hoped if nothing else we were sort of becoming friends, more than simply allies at any rate."
"I had hopes for more than friendship, pet."
"I can't choose who I love, Spike."
"I understand that, you don't think it haunts me that I fell for you. Angel has his soul, I don't, it goes against everything I know to feel this way for you."
"You know, Angel has offered to let me live at the mansion."
"You going to do it?"
"I'm thinking about it, it'd be nice not to have to worry about bills so much, and Dawn would love it."
"Yeah, Niblet would go crazy in that place."
"I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you do decide to stay and if you're tired of your crypt, there'd be room for you there."
"Better make sure he won't mind that."
"I think he'd like knowing you're there to look out for us. No one's going to try to break into a house where a vampire, the Slayer and a powerful witch lives."
"I don't suppose they would. I'll think on it, Slayer. It's not exactly the kind of live-in arrangements I pictured when I pictured being with you."
"I guess not," she said somberly.
"You ready to head back then, don't want Peaches to worry about you."
"Yeah, I'm really not in the mood to," she started to say but was cut off by the appearance of a newly risen vamp struggling to get out of his grave. She jumped from the headstone and walked to where the vamp was. "Sorry, buddy," she said as she stuck the stake through his heart. Normally, she gave them the chance to at least get out of the grave, but obviously she was not in the mood for an actual fight just then. That was good, Spike realized. That meant he had calmed her down some.
They walked in silence in the direction of the Hyperion. They were about a block away when Spike decided to pose the question that had been on his mind since he realized who and what the chains were for. "What if his soul can't be anchored, Buffy? What then?"
"Then I guess it doesn't get anchored and we live the rest of my life out the same way we did after he came back to us."
"And you can do that?"
"If it means having him in my life, yes," she said simply. "I can't do it anymore, Spike."
He placed an arm around her, his hand resting on her shoulder. "Then I wish you luck, pet. Far be it from me to tell anyone not to follow their heart."
"Thanks, and I am sorry I kissed you. I mean, not sorry exactly. It was nice."
"Yeah, it was, and I knew what you were doing. I'm not stupid you know."
"I know. You're a good man, Spike, you know there are girls out there who would be happy to have you."
"You think so?"
"I know so. So don't go looking for Drusilla or Harmony, okay?"
"Wouldn't dream of it," he said with a scoff. He would always love Drusilla, but he would never go back to her. Not again. Choosing Angelus over Spike had been one thing, Angelus and Drusilla had a past when Drusilla turned Spike. It was at least somewhat forgivable in Spike's eyes. But choosing a chaos demon over him was another thing entirely.
They entered the Hyperion and Angel was nowhere to be seen, but Gunn was lying on one of the lobby couches, apparently waiting for them.
"Listen, Buffy," Gunn said as he stood slowly. He was shirtless now, and the gash under his ribcage was not as bad as the blood stain on his shirt had made it seem. "I didn't mean to be a prick earlier."
"No problem," Buffy said. "You're all right, that's what matters most."
"Need help getting up the stairs, mate?" Spike offered.
"Sure. Buffy, they're waiting for you in your room."
"Thanks," Buffy said walking toward a hall Spike had not been down.
"Where are you going, pet?"
"To my room."
"You're room is down here?"
"Yeah, it's real nice, too, maybe you can see it tomorrow."
"Right," Spike grimaced. If Red and Watcher Junior were able to do their mojo on Angel, Spike suspected no one would see Buffy or Angel for days. "Lucky bastard," Spike muttered.
"Nothing, mate, let's get you up to your room," Spike said and walked with Gunn upstairs.
Buffy knocked on Angel's door and went in when she was told to. "Hey guys," she said. "Sorry I ran off earlier."
"It's okay, Buffy, I let Gunn hear about it."
"I should be used to it by now, but when it's someone in our line of work I just lose it sometimes."
"Buffy," Willow said offering her a smile. "I was just getting done explaining to Angel that everything I could research about the spell I did indicates it's just the restoration."
"So it should be permanent? It's been permanent all along?"
"It seems that way, yes."
"Okay, so what's with the long faces?"
"Well, the thing is that I don't have the original spell that Miss Calendar's clan performed to compare the two."
"But if the spell you did makes it permanent I don't understand why you'd need to."
"Because I don't know if it's the same spell or not, it might be something in the magic itself, or it could be a side effect of the spell."
"There is something we can do," Wesley interjected. "To be certain. I researched it once Willow told me her findings. It would not alter or weaken Willow's spell, if anything it might even bind Angel's soul more securely."
"But we want to make sure you understand the risks, Buffy. He'll be ingesting a poison."
"Yes, a poison. He would be rendered unconscious and would have to remain that way for seventy-two hours."
"Three days," Angel interjected.
"Three days," Wesley repeated.
"So you'd be killing him again? Is that what you're telling me? He has to die all over again?"
"He would not die and would be no deader than he already is, Buffy. He would essentially be sleeping for three days while the poison ran through his system and bound his soul. There's something else."
Buffy glanced at Angel, who was no longer meeting her eyes. "Angel?"
"He would have to have blood to bring him out of this state."
"Okay, so we'll get him blood."
"A lot of blood, Buffy. He'll be coming to with the hunger a vampire has when he's first risen."
"So I'll give him my blood. No problem, I've done it before."
"And you almost died, Buffy," Angel said gruffly.
"So he drinks this poison, goes to the sleep of the dead for three days, I wake him up with my blood and the soul is permanent, right? We can make with the happiness, in and out of bed, all we want?"
"I want to do it. It's my decision, it's my blood I'm offering. You can all come into the room when I do it and pull him off of me if he doesn't stop."
"Buffy," Angel said meeting her gaze.
"Angel, it's worth it to me. Isn't it to you?"
"Not if you die again, no."
"I won't die. I won't like seeing you lay there unmoving for three days, but I want to do it."
"Willow, is there anyone you can contact to inquire after the spell? Anyone from Miss Calendar's clan still existing?"
"I don't know that they would tell me, Angel."
Angel looked into Willow's eyes. "Find out, Willow. There's something that's bothered me ever since you restored my soul, it never really bothered me when I was without it for those months."
"What's that?" Buffy asked.
"Why would they restore my soul only to put such a condition on it? You would think they would never want me to lose it. I mean, I could have gone off and been happy two days later and all their hard work would have been ruined. It was supposed to be a punishment; I was supposed to live with my wrongdoings. Why should the demon be rewarded in the event of my true happiness?"
"He has a point," Wesley said with a nod. "It does seem rather contradictory. Perhaps they've improved or revised the spell and the one you used, Willow, no longer has that as part of it."
"If we can't get in touch with anyone by tomorrow morning, so long as Buffy is willing to take the other avenue I am too. But I want to be chained when you go to feed me, Buffy, and I want you all there with crossbows at the ready," Angel said to Wesley.
"Done," Wesley said simply.
"Angel," Buffy whispered.
"I just don't want to kill you, Buffy. You don't know what the hunger is like and what it can cause you to do."
"I've still got Miss Calendar's files saved on the computer at home."
"Well, that's not going to do us any good, Will," Buffy said a little frustrated.
"No problem, I can dial-in to that computer and get to them. I think there were some names and numbers on it, I can't remember any more, it's been a while since I went through her things."
"You can do that?"
"Yup, easy as pie, I'll get right to it."
"No problem, Buffy. I kinda figure I owe you one, or two," she said and Buffy smiled.
"You do this, Will, and you can call us even."
"Let me get crackin' then."
"Right, I'll continue to research and see if we can come up with another alternative."
"Thanks guys," Buffy said and went to sit on Angel's lap. Her arm went around his neck and she kissed him. "Are you thinking about changing your mind?"
"No," he said with a shake of his head, nuzzling her cheek with his. "Is Spike all right?"
"He'll be fine. I told him there might even be a room for him at the mansion."
Angel kissed along her jaw lightly until he got to her ear. "You think I'd allow that?"
"I think you would, yes. If for no other reason than Dawn's safety. Like I told Spike, who'd dare come mess with our house with the Slayer, a vampire and a witch living there?"
"I suppose you have a point. Do you trust him?"
"I do, Angel. I don't know that he even really loves me, or if he just became fixated on me for some reason. Wanting to get back at you maybe? I'm not sure. But I know he cares about Dawn and he'd protect her until he was dust. And, she's at that age where boys will be coming around."
"Oh yeah, I sort of forgot about that. She might prefer Spike to me in that regard."
"The possessive Daddy, you mean?"
"Yeah, I'd have no problem letting them know what I am."
"She'd hate you," Buffy said. It was easy to picture in her mind Angel coming down the stairs in game face to meet Dawn's prom date. Not that Spike would let a boy think they could get away with anything where Dawn was concerned; he would just be less obvious about it.
"Exactly," he said and Buffy yawned. "You tired?"
"Mm, yeah. Busy day. Training, sparring, patrolling."
"Do you want to sleep in here tonight?"
"No," she said softly with a shake of her head. "I want to sleep in my room. It's a great room, I'd hate to let all that hard work go to waste."
"Right," he said moving to stand.
"Are you going to carry me?"
"I was thinking about it, yes."
"That's nice," she said sleepily. "You're going to stay with me, right?"
"I don't know that I'm going to sleep tonight, Buffy. But I'll stay in our rooms."
"Okay, it's not quite the same, but okay."
"I'll lay down with you until you fall asleep."
"You read my mind," she said as he placed her on the bed. "I need to get ready for bed, though. I should shower."
"Buffy, you're tired."
"I don't want you to smell me."
"You smell fine, Buffy."
"You say that now," she said scrunching her nose.
"You are impossible sometimes, Buffy."
She knelt on the bed and skimmed her hands along the length of his chest. "But that's what you love about me, isn't it?"
He closed the distance between their mouths and kissed her. "It's one of the things I love about you, yes."
"I'll be right out, I promise."
"Okay," he grumbled.
It was late the next afternoon when Willow rushed into the training room. Buffy sat in a chair watching the two vampires in her life spar. It was sort of strange to watch them spar instead of try to kill one another, or her as the case had sometimes been as well. Both vampires stopped, it was no secret to Spike anymore what they were doing so he knew just as well as Angel and Buffy did what Willow coming in here could mean.
"I finally got a hold of someone," Willow said.
"That would be my cue," Spike said, wiping his brow with the back of his hand. "I'll leave you to talk shop," Spike said and left the room without another word. Buffy glanced in Angel's direction, but his facial expression told her nothing. She had woken that morning to find Spike in Angel's room talking with him. She had no idea what they talked about, but assumed by their sparring together it had at least been cordial. She hoped so, because she could not cut Spike out of her life. If they could not get past their problems that was their deal, but she was not going to kick Spike out when he did not fit in anywhere anymore. Not after what he had done for her and for Dawn.
"So, what did you find out?" Buffy asked.
"I finally managed to get a hold of someone in the Kalderash clan willing to talk with me. You wouldn't believe how many hung up on me."
"We'd believe it," Buffy said, trying not to get her hopes up. She really was not overly fond of the idea of having to give Angel blood again, but if she had to she would. It did not seem fair that he would have to suffer and she did not.
"Okay, well, yeah, I suppose it does make sense. So, I went over the spell I did and explained what we want to do but not why of course," Willow said with a shrug. "The woman seemed a little pleased, actually, it seems that Miss Calendar wasn't the first the clan had sent to keep an eye on you."
"Okay, so can we do it or not?"
"No," Willow said with a frown.
"Are you sure? Do you trust this woman?" Buffy asked.
"I don't know what she'd have to gain by lying to me. She wouldn't want me to do anything to cause him to lose it."
"True," Buffy said, biting her lower lip lightly.
"She could not tell me if the spell I did was different than the one done originally, so I have no way of knowing if the soul is permanent. So, I guess we go the other route if you still want to."
"Buffy," Angel said, closing the distance between them. "Are you sure about this? I mean, that you want me? This isn't another attempt merely to feel better, is it?"
"No, how can you ask me that? And besides, is your soul becoming permanent a bad thing?"
"Well, no, it'd piss Wolfram & Hart off, which is almost worth it in its own right but I'm just making sure."
"Having you will make me feel better, Angel, so sure that's why I want to do it. But not in the way you think, I just refuse to be miserable anymore. If you want to stay here in LA, we can see each other when we can and that's better than what we've been doing since you moved."
"Are you sure that'll be enough for you?"
"It will have to be, won't it? It's better than nothing. If it weren't for Dawn I'd be tempted to move up here."
"There are private schools," Angel said.
"Angel, let's get through this part and then work on the other things."
"Go get what you need, Willow."
"Okay," she said with a smile. She did not appear to be surprised that she was going on this errand.
"So," Buffy said her arms going around Angel's neck. "What do you want to do until she gets back?"
"Well, I don't know," he said, grazing her cheek with the pad of a thumb. "It would be kind of rude to stay to ourselves, but if I'm going to be sleeping the sleep of the undead for the next three days I want to spend the rest of the afternoon with you and only you."
"We're going to change," he said as he walked past the front desk.
"Spike's in there," Cordelia said.
"Thanks, Cordy, but it's not like he hasn't seen me change before."
"A little too much information." Angel grimaced but decided it was probably best not to beat the subject to death. Cordy and Wesley would not be surprised by some of the things he could talk about from his days pre-soul, but Gunn and Fred might be shocked. Angel knew there some things better left untouched.
Angel and Buffy entered his room surprised to see Spike kneeling on his bed. "No offense, Spike, but what are you doing?"
"You want to set these up yourself and take the chance you set them up wrong?"
"I think I could manage, Spike," Angel said as Buffy went into her room, closing the door between their rooms.
"Yeah, I'm sure you can, but I'd like to be doubly certain if Red's mojo doesn't work and you go soulless again that these are going to hold you." Angel watched as Spike slid off the bed and approached him. "Because if you go soulless and kill her, I'll be first in line with the crossbow to see the deed she could not do when Angelus last reared his head gets done."
"Are you threatening me, Spike?"
"Just stating the facts, mate. I may not like her choice, I may hate you for it, but she's made her choice and I have to respect that. I'm willing to get along with you, but only because of her. And be certain if you screw up I'll be there in a heartbeat to fix her."
Angel patted Spike's chest gently, smiling wryly at his grandchilde. "I'm not going to screw it up. You haven't seen me lately, Spike, I have been on the verge of letting Angelus come out to play even with the soul. I wouldn't have chased after her when I was the one who left, but I'm not fool enough to turn her away. And if Willow's poison thing works, all the better."
"I hope you can't get the shackles off when it's all done," Spike said sardonically. "They're set up. I guess I'd better get the drill back before they wonder what I needed with it; probably think I was vandalizing the place. Are you planning on telling them?"
"No reason to tell them, really."
"You don't think they might want to know that you're going to be unconscious for three days and there's the chance Angelus may make an appearance when you come to?"
"No, because Buffy will stop me, and you'll be within earshot so if anything goes wrong it'll be taken care of promptly."
"Got that right, I could think of better ways to spend my evening than listening to the two of you go at it. Just don't hurt her."
"Spike, I think this talk is a little late, she's not a virgin anymore."
"No, you saw to that. I didn't mean physically, Peaches, I meant mentally. You did a number on her, whether she's admitted it to you or not, Angelus' attitude towards her after that night left her ego pretty battered."
"I find it hard to believe that's still the case."
"Did you actually see Finn?"
"Yeah, a couple of times."
"You think a woman whose first experience had gone well would have turned to him? Come on, he's about as exciting as watching paint dry. At least the bloke that used her had a bit of personality to him."
"What are you talking about?"
Spike's eyes widened and Angel was left wondering just how much about Buffy and her life Spike knew that Angel had no clue about. "She didn't tell you?"
Angel grabbed him by the shirtfront and drew him to him, game face in place. "Tell me now, Spike my boy and I'll try and go easy on you three nights from now knowing you're listening. Maybe if you're real good I will see if she'll let you watch."
"Oh bugger off, I wouldn't want to watch the two of you," Spike said breaking free of Angel's grasp. He smoothed down the front of his shirt and stood tall. "He was just some college bloke. You know the type, troll the new co-eds on campus, chose her, reeled her in and spit her out as soon as he was done with her. Did a number on her, but that was in part due to her trying too hard to get over you."
"Are there others?"
"Not that I know of, no. It was just that kid and White Bread. Listen to you, mate, didn't you and Darla hook up recently? So you can go on shagging, but she's supposed to be the virgin-like chosen one, dressed in white and pure for the rest of her life in your honor?"
"No, I just didn't know. Did he make her happy?"
"Who, the kid or White Bread?"
"No, you ninny, he was paying vamp whores to feed off him. He didn't deserve her, he was an idiot. He wanted her to change, couldn't accept her being the Slayer, being stronger than him. He could not accept you, could not accept that she did not kill me and god forbid actually treated me like a man instead of a monster. He had a problem with acceptance for the most part and he was boring and dull. I've had more fun driving through the state of Iowa he hails from than the excitement he ever seemed to arouse in Buffy. I can't imagine he shagged much better either. She certainly didn't get all googly eyed about him like she's always done with you."
"I left to give her the chance at a normal life."
"Angel, who are you to judge what's normal for her? She's not a normal human. You can't look at the bint who works here and think what's normal and works for her is going to be normal and work for Buffy. Like you said, you left once and weren't going to backpedal. She's come back; you'd be a fool not to snap her up. If you don't I will. She wants the darkness, Angel, she wants the monster."
Angel cringed slightly at Spike's words. He not only did not like thinking of himself as a monster, but he did not like the idea that Buffy wanted that. But Spike had a point; she had given the normal life a try. Maybe Finn did not work out and maybe there was a human out there who could offer her a normal life who it could work with, but Angel was not going to push her away a second time. "I was not as willing to give her the benefit of the doubt on that when she was eighteen as I am now."
"Well, look who's waking up and smelling the coffee, Peaches. I'll leave you to your changing now and whatever else you planned on doing in here together before Red comes back to do her thing. Buy myself a bottle of Jack for when you come to in three days and I have to watch you two together."
"Oh come on, Spike, it won't be that bad."
Spike scoffed. "Right, you want to trade seats, Peaches? Participant for spectator slash watch dog and tell me how unbad you think it would be?"
"No one's asking you to be the watch dog, Spike."
"Yeah, well, as Buffy says, love makes you do the whacky. I'm not leaving until I know she's safe with you. Sorry, that's the way it's going to be. Unless you believe anyone else here can take Angelus out?"
"Besides Buffy, no," Angel said somewhat apologetically.
"Didn't think so, and I think we need to have someone in case you get past her. At least she thought of the chains, I give her credit for that. That shows she's thinking with her head instead of other parts."
Angel was quiet, there was really nothing to say. The only way Angelus would get past Buffy was if he killed her, Spike had left that part unsaid but both vampires knew what he meant. "I'll see you in three days then," Angel said.
"I hope so, Peaches. That's not true I don't really, but for the Slayer's sake, just want her happy for a change."
"You know, I actually believe you, which is why I'm not doing something poofy like challenging you to a duel or anything. I don't want your discards, and she wouldn't come to me if I killed you so that wouldn't do me any good."
"Right, like you wouldn't take her if I sent her back to Sunnydale?"
"Two days ago I would have, Peaches. I'm not going to compete with you for her affections, I'd lose. You've got a soul, all I've got is the chip her ex and his cronies put in me. You win. Again. And on that note, I'm out of here. I'm not sure whether to wish you good luck, and I'm sure there's a performance jibe I could make given it's been a while for you and I'm sure there's gonna be some anxiety because of the soul and all. But I'm just not of the mind right now to make with the jibes," Spike said and left the room.
"Where's Wesley? And are you ready, Spike?" Buffy asked.
"As ready as I'm going to be and the rogue Watcher will be down in a minute."
"I really don't like the idea of you and Wesley standing there with crossbows either he stopped last time, but I understand."
"Yeah, only after you were rendered unconscious, Buffy," Cordelia said.
"I wouldn't let him die and he won't let me die."
"That's some relationship the two of you have," Gunn said.
Buffy shrugged, tying her hair back. She would start off with her wrist, letting the blood drip into Angel's mouth to bring him around. Spike had told her it would take longer from her wrist so she would offer her neck once he came to. She was scared as much as she tried to hide it and knew Spike was aware of her fear. That was probably the reason he was refraining from making any biting comments about now. "I don't know what to tell you. I thought that is what love was supposed to be like."
Wesley walked into the room then. "I see we're all gathered and ready."
"Yeah, let's go get this done with," Buffy said glancing at the clock. "It's time."
Wesley and Spike grabbed crossbows and went about loading them while Buffy went to Angel's room. He had been in the bed for three days now. She had read to him, talked to him, washed him and kissed him during that time. She slept in a chair next to the bed unwilling to sleep with him in the state he was in but not willing to be a room away from him either.
The few hours they had together before Willow and Wesley had been able to get the poison made had been incredible. They had kissed, touched and teased one another to the point of danger, both knew it but neither was able to stop from seeking sanctuary in one another not knowing what was to come. Willow had looked at Buffy with understanding and empathy when they had come to administer the poison. Spike had put the shackles around Angel's wrists because Buffy had been unable to do it. Today she could have done it, but she had not seen it necessary to keep him chained for three days when he was unconscious. Wesley and Willow agreed that it was best to exercise caution throughout the entire process.
She knelt above him on the bed aware of people behind her. They were all there and she did not bother to protest, it was not often they got to witness a human, the Slayer, willingly offering her blood to a vampire. Hopefully, this would be the last time she would have to do it. She glanced at the bedside clock and waited for the last few minutes to pass by. She was taking no chances that even a minute too soon would affect the outcome.
He looked dreadfully pale, Wesley had not warned her about that probably assuming she was aware of the physical repercussions three days of not feeding would have on him. Finally, the clock turned and she took the blade from the bedside table. "Spike," she whispered. "I can't do it, please do it for me."
"Cut my wrist," she said. "My hand's shaking too badly I'm afraid I'll do it wrong."
"Oh sure, right," he said and walked toward her after setting the still loaded crossbow down. "You'll be fine, Slayer," he whispered and kissed the top of her head before taking the blade and drawing it across her flesh.
"Ahh," she cried out as the sting of the silver blade cutting into her seared through her.
"I'm sorry, pet," Spike said. "All done, hurry now," he added before stepping away.
"Thank you," she whispered, tears forming in her eyes as she placed her wrist above Angel's mouth. "Gunn is here, right," she whispered as she turned her wrist around so the blood could drip into Angel's mouth.
"Yes, Slayer, he's here."
"Tell him to man your crossbow I want you by me."
"You heard the lady," Spike said and Buffy knew he would see that it was done. He placed a hand at her shoulder and she jumped slightly at the contact so focused on the droplets of blood making their way to Angel's lips and into his mouth. He had not come to yet, so far the blood was just dripping into his mouth with no reaction from him.
"Good, thanks," she said and gasped slightly when she saw Angel's throat begin to swallow. It was slight, but she felt Spike's hand at her shoulder tense so knew it was not a figment of her imagination. Spike had seen it, too.
"It's working," she heard Spike say.
Suddenly, Angel's hand grabbed her wrist and brought it violently to his mouth. Something akin to a roar was heard as he morphed into game face and clamped down on the wound. "Uhh," she cried out when she felt his fangs cut through her skin, imbedding into her. Her head fell back, stopped from going too far by Spike's chest. "When should I switch," she asked.
"I'll let you know when, pet," Spike whispered.
She closed her eyes and gave into the sensation of Angel feeding off of her. He had aroused the same feelings in her the last time they had done this. Suddenly, she was not so comfortable having an audience. And then he was no longer feeding and she felt the loss of contact immediately. Her wrist was still bleeding, the warm feeling from the blood trickling onto her wrist was nothing compared to the loss she felt from his breaking contact. She opened her eyes not sure what was going on. Why had he stopped? And why was she upset he had?
"Now, Slayer," Buffy heard Spike say distantly even though he was still just behind her. "Now," he repeated, "before he goes back to the wrist."
She drew her wrist away which was answered with another primal roar; the demon was apparently not pleased at the loss of its source of sustenance. "Angel," she whispered and leaned toward her love. She straddled him, it was the only way she could offer him her neck comfortably. And she needed the complete contact with him, body against body. "Drink from me, baby," she practically crooned. She was no longer scared of what he might do to her, she wanted it, needed it and that brought out a new fear in her. She tilted her head and let the side of her neck come into contact with his mouth.
She suspected he was not fully aware, his eyes had yet to open and he had yet to move beyond grabbing her wrist and drawing it to his mouth. And that response was instinctual, he was hungry. She felt him graze her neck with his tongue and then his fangs. She was tempted to ask Spike what he was doing but Angel reaching for her neck with his hand; drawing her to his mouth again and biting down gave her the answer she was looking for. Pain soared through her at first and she cried out, but soon the pain gave way to a perverse feeling of pleasure and her cries took on a different tone.
Distantly, she was aware of her hand being lifted away and someone in the room shouting, "what in the hell are you doing?" And then she felt a tongue graze over the wound at her wrist.
"Stay away from him," she cried out in a voice that sounded foreign even to her. She had no idea what she was saying, why she was saying it or even to whom she just knew she did not want the contact broken. "Just stay away from him."
"I'm not going to hurt her," Spike said. Who was he talking to? Oh yeah, there were people in the room. "I'm just closing the wound, because Peaches won't do it," she heard Spike say and then felt a tongue at her wrist again.
"You're as delicious as I knew you would be, Slayer," Spike whispered intimately causing Buffy to shiver. He said nothing else and released her hand to step away from the bed leaving her with Angel.
Angel's hands were moving along the length of her body. Did he know in his state of mind that she was more than food? Apparently he must because his hands sought out more intimate parts of her, the curve of her breasts, hips, bottom and the juncture between her legs. Buffy was not of the mind to be embarrassed about the show the others were being privy to she was too lost in the sensations. She remembered now that she had climaxed like never before, or since, the last time Angel did this. And she was close to reaching that point again. What did that make her? Was she some sort of freak that she got off on something like this? That was probably a question better left unasked. She realized that Angel and Spike would give her an entirely different answer than Giles, Wesley and Riley would.
She felt herself becoming weaker and he was still feeding aggressively. She heard the growls coming from his chest, felt he was getting as aroused by this as she was, and when a hand slid between their bodies and stroked her through her pants she knew he was aware of her mutual arousal. It also confirmed that he knew she was not just a food source; he was too gentle with her for it to be anything else.
She had no idea what she was saying, was only aware that her mouth was open and sounds were coming out. She would probably be dreadfully embarrassed later, but for now she could not find it in herself to care. Her hand found and held the bed's headboard for dear life. Her hand clenched and unclenched around the piece of mahogany, finally punching her fist through it as her body was rocked by a powerful climax. And then there was nothing but blackness for Buffy.
Buffy woke up in a dark room; all was silent with the exception of a steady beeping coming from behind her. She groaned softly as she struggled to open her eyes. Next to the bed sat Angel, his eyes focused on her. "Where am I?"
"At the hospital."
"Yes," he said simply.
"Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, nothing like Slayer blood to make me big and strong," he said with a bit of a grimace.
"How long have I been here?"
"About ninety minutes."
"Get me out of here."
"Let me get the doctor. It took some finagling to persuade them they did not need to admit you."
"Thanks," she said sitting up on the bed.
Angel returned a few minutes later and Buffy was still sitting, fiddling with the bandage wrapped around her left hand. "The doc will be in shortly. Are you okay, Buffy?"
"I'm fine." She moved her hand to her neck, feeling the bandage there. "They didn't need to shoot you, did they?"
"No, I think they were pretty close to it, but no. For some reason I knew when it was too much for you. I knew the last time, too." He grinned at her then.
"You broke my bed."
"I did what?"
"You punched a hole through my solid wood headboard."
"Oh," she said vague memories floating around in her mind but she was still too out of it to really focus on them. "Sorry."
"No, it's fine. Spike said it was a good thing you didn't grab onto one of the chains. He thinks you could have managed to break it free at that moment."
"Yeah, it was pretty intense."
"Mrs. O'Bryne," said the doctor as he entered the room.
"Hi," she said offering what she hoped was a convincing smile.
"I understand you're ready to go home."
"Yes, please, I just want to rest in my own bed."
"Bed rest is definitely in order, and if you say you're feeling well enough I'll go ahead and release you."
"I'll make sure she stays in bed, Doctor," Angel said.
"I'll send her home with a prescription for an antibiotic in case of infection from her wounds."
"Thank you, Doctor," Buffy said, relieved the doctor was letting her go.
"It goes against my better judgment, but I understand you have people to look after you. Seeing how well you seem now, it doesn't make much sense to keep you over night. I will recommend that you see a doctor immediately if you see any signs of infection over the next few days."
"Great, a nurse will be right in to remove your IV and your paperwork will be at the cashier. Good luck."
"Thanks," she said. Angel stood once the doctor left and closed the distance between them. Buffy's arms went around his waist, her head resting against his stomach. "I hated seeing you like that."
"I know, I felt the same way sitting here waiting for you to wake up." He stepped away when the nurse came in to remove the IV from Buffy's hand and cut off the wristband identifying her.
"You're all set," said the nurse.
"Thanks," Buffy said and stood from the bed as the nurse left the room.
"I'll be by the cashier."
"Okay, I'll only be a minute, though."
"I know, but I may as well pay while you're getting dressed, get us out of here sooner. I know how much you love hospitals."
"Oh yeah, thanks," she said as he left the room. He had brought fresh clothes for her and she smiled at what he had picked out, her black leather miniskirt and a silver satin halter top. Apparently, she had been dressing too conservatively for his liking. This top left little to the imagination and the slit at the back of the skirt went so high if she was not careful she would expose more of herself than she meant to.
"There you are," he said once she found her way to the cashier.
"Here I am. Thanks for the clothes," she said as he placed an arm around her waist. His thumb stroked her bare back and she shivered.
"Are you cold?"
"No," she said. "Not cold."
"Why don't you wait here and I'll pull the car around?"
"No, I'll walk with you, I'm fine, honestly."
On the drive back to the Hyperion, Angel sensed Buffy's apprehension and paused just across the threshold. "What is it, Buffy?"
"Nothing," she said with faux sincerity.
"Buffy, no secrets."
"I just," she said glancing into the hotel lobby and then at the stairwell. "I remember what happened."
"Do you not remember or are you just trying to be difficult?"
"Buffy, there's nothing to be embarrassed about."
"Angel, I, um," she said blushing deeply which made Angel laugh lightly. That resulted in her scowling at him, so he stifled it, though he was still laughing on the inside. "I'm just embarrassed, okay?"
"Because you got off on it?" he asked.
"Uh, yeah, because of that. And I let Spike taste me I think," she said with a frown. She glanced at her wrist and then shook her head. "I don't remember that too well, but I think he did."
"To close it, yes," Angel said. "That's what he said."
"I just, they were all there, they saw."
"So? You're a passionate person, Buffy, so you got off on something that others might find odd. Some people would look at Fred and Gunn and object to their being together."
"I know, it's just I feel so exposed now."
"If you act like it's a big deal then they'll think it's a big deal, Buffy."
"I know I'll get over it."
"Are you hungry? I can have someone pick up something if you want."
"No, I'm fine for now, really. I feel sort of," she shrugged, "sluggish, I definitely can tell that I just donated some blood."
"More than some, Buffy, so sluggishness is not a bad thing. Let's get you into bed so I can tend to a few things out here and then I'll be in with you for the rest of the night."
"Okay," she said.
"Oh, you're back," Fred said. "I didn't think you'd be back for a while yet."
"Slayer healing," Buffy said.
"Oh right, you're okay then. That's good. Welcome back."
"Hi Buffy," Cordelia said.
Gunn did not say anything, but Angel could read the concern in the other man's eyes. There was something else there that Angel found a little strange. Angel saw envy in Gunn's eyes, which was kind of cool in a way that Angel could not explain. He had gone so long with nothing in his life that anyone could admire to having Buffy back and she was certainly deserving of admiration.
"I'm going to get her into bed and will be back out. You guys don't need me tonight, right?"
Buffy's head jerked up, her eyes met his and her anger was obvious. "You're not going anywhere, Angel. You can't be strong enough to go out on a job."
"Buffy, apparently you underestimate the power of your blood because I could do anything I set about accomplishing tonight with your blood coursing through my body. I'm fine."
"We don't need you for anything anyway, Angel," Gunn said. "We're fine. Wes, Fred, Spike and I were going to make some rounds at the usual haunts, but nothing we need you along for."
"Fine," Angel said tersely. "Let's get you to bed, Buffy."
Angel walked with Buffy to their rooms, opened the door for her and led her inside. She stopped and glanced at his bed and the chains that were still in place waiting for the next step of their plan. Fred, Cordelia and Gunn did not know what Angel was attempting. It had, therefore, taken some smooth talking on both Angel and Spike's part to gloss over why the chains were being left there. Hopefully, by this time tomorrow they would be gone and Angel would still exist. Spike and Wesley had both been told that he was to be killed if this did not work.
"You did some shopping I see," Angel said as he went to the dresser that contained her clothes.
"Well, Cordelia did it actually. She knows my tastes and I trust her judgment for the most part. I only packed for three days."
"I think she wants me to lose my soul," Angel said as he pulled a white lace teddy from the top drawer he had been searching for something for her to sleep in.
Angel turned around, the teddy held up with his hands and Buffy blushed. "Yeah," Angel said simply. He slid his attention from the lace teddy he held in front of him to Buffy sitting on the bed. Memories of her naked form were unfortunately hazy now, it had been too long and the memories he cherished were not of her body so much as the feelings they both had experienced that day. He certainly had no trouble picturing this bit of clothing on her form, though. "I'm not sure if I should ask her what she was thinking or not."
"Maybe she was just doing it to be a bitch to me," Buffy said. "She probably wasn't counting on you going through my things."
"Probably not," Angel said and with sorrow folded the number up and put it back in its drawer. "This is better for tonight I think," he said pulling out a pair of shorts and a camisole top.
"Yeah," Buffy said the stain from the blush still on her cheeks. "Thanks," she said once he had carried the items to the bed. "You're coming back, right?"
"In a few minutes, I'm going to make sure that everything's okay before I'm here with you for the night."
"Thanks." She turned her back to him and started to undress, Angel decided it was best he left before she actually got undressed. "Angel," she said, stopping his progress into his room.
"Is Spike all right?"
"Yeah," she said lifting her eyes to meet his.
"I think so, I haven't seen him since leaving here to take you to the hospital."
"Okay good, I know this can't be easy for him."
"No, I know it's not, but he's a big boy, Buffy, he'll be fine. Besides, he got to taste you out of the deal; I don't think he's going to complain about that."
"True," she said and blushed again. She opened her mouth to say something and then stopped, shaking her head. "I'll be waiting for you."
"Good, I'll be right back," he said and left the room.
Buffy slept fitfully, but Angel was there every time she woke up. She realized part of her problem was that the last time they had gone through this Angel was in the process of leaving her. She tried to remember that this time was different, but the fear that he would leave was still strong. The bedside clock indicated that it was after noon, so she had apparently slept better than she realized.
"Feeling better?" Angel asked from his side of the bed.
"Yeah, I feel good," she said softly and glanced at him over her shoulder. "Ready to take this off," she said motioning to the bandage on her hand.
"Let's take it off then," he said and stood from the bed. Buffy followed him to the bathroom and hopped up, taking a seat on the marble countertop. She watched in silence as he peeled the bandage away from her hand, wincing slightly as her fingers flexed upon being freed of their binding. "Does it hurt?"
"A little, it's more stiff than anything. I'll be fine."
"I know you will be," he said bringing her hand to his lips and grazing her knuckles with his mouth. His lips parted and he licked each knuckle separately.
"Angel," she whispered, embarrassed at how easily he was arousing her.
"Just making sure it's all clean."
"Right," she said with a smirk. Next was the gauze at her wrist, which he kissed in much the same way he had her knuckles and then the bandage at her neck. The cut at her wrist would heal, Spike did not make the cut too deep or wide, but she would have another set of scars on her neck.
He drew her to him once the bandage at her neck was removed and dropped his head to kiss there, too. "Take that, Dracula," he said huskily as he drew away from her.
"What?" she asked confused.
He chuckled lightly and then grew stone faced. "You didn't have the same reaction with him, did you?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Buffy," he said admonishingly.
"What?" she asked again and then realization dawned on her. "No, I didn't. I don't think it's just the biting that causes it."
"Good," he said simply and Buffy could not help but laugh.
"He's got nothing on you, baby," she said wrapping her arms around his neck. She tugged slightly and he took the hint, closing the distance between them for a kiss. Her legs went around his waist as she scooted closer to the countertop's edge and into him. Her thin shorts and camisole were too thin to mask the fact that she was turned on. He was, too, she realized feeling his arousal still confined in his pants at the juncture between her legs as she pressed against him. A hand cupped her breast and his thumb stroked her peak so it was so hard that it ached. Arousal washed through her in a wave and she lowered a hand from his neck to the front of his pants.
"Buffy," he said, gasping for unneeded air and drew away from their kiss. "We have to stop." Her legs fell from his hips so just her calves were wrapped around his lower thighs.
"I don't want to stop," she said in a whimper. She kissed his chest, then rested her chin against him and met his eyes.
"I just hate that we have to go out there and tell them, it sort of takes the spontaneity and romance out of it."
"It's just the one time and I don't see how romance is going to play a huge factor in it this time, Angel. We'll have time for romance and spontaneity next time." She grinned wickedly and kissed his chest again. "Like later today."
"I don't know, Buffy."
"How long were you planning on waiting to see if it worked?"
"I don't know," he said again.
"Don't you want to?"
"Christ, Buffy, how can you ask me that? I've wanted to for six years, I wanted to even when I didn't have my soul. And I've dreamt about it regularly since the last time knowing that dreams were all I was ever going to get."
"No more dreams," she whispered. "Only reality from now on."
He sighed softly and kissed her again, tentatively this time. "I don't have to let Spike do the shackles this time, do I?"
"I think I can handle doing them."
"Buffy, if you're going to be easy on me then I'll have Spike do them."
"No, I'll make sure they're secure. Believe me I don't want to be Angelus' coming-out snack."
"Are you sure you're up to this?"
She laughed lightly. "Yes, I'm sure."
"Do me a favor while I'm going out there like a kid asking permission for something?"
"Put that lace number on that I saw last night. If this is our last time together I'd like to see it on you."
"It won't be our last time together, but I'll put it on sure. Glad to."
He had an almost sheepish look on his face as he stepped away from her. "Be right back," he said, and Buffy found the tone in his voice endearing.
"Where's Spike," Angel asked once in the lobby.
"In the training room," Fred replied with barely a glance in Angel's direction.
Angel made his way to the training room. Why he felt more comfortable going to Spike than Wesley Angel was not sure, but he did. Part of it was that Spike had helped them, had cut Buffy's wrist and had seen to her wrist once Angel had begun feeding from her neck. "Spike?"
"I'm surprised to see you, Peaches. I figured when noon rolled around that you and your super honey were shagging the day away."
"No, she just woke up a little while ago."
"So you've come to tell me to check up on the two of you in a little while then?"
"Yeah," Angel said wryly.
"I'll do it, told you I would."
"Whatever, Peaches. Enjoy," Spike said bitterly. He held up his hand, silencing Angel from saying anything else and held Angel's gaze. "Just go and get it done so I can get out of here."
"Sure," Angel said not that he needed Spike's prodding to send Angel back in the direction of Buffy.
"Is Buffy okay?" Fred asked as he passed by the desk again.
"She's fine, Fred, a little tired but fine."
"If she needs anything, just let me know."
"I'll let her know," he said and continued to his room.
He walked into the room to find Buffy sitting on his bed, white lace teddy on as he asked and even sitting instead of standing he knew he had underestimated how nice she would look wearing it. He paused at the door, debating about whether or not to throw the lock. No one would bother them, so he left it open in case Spike or Wesley needed to get in. If Spike did nothing else that afternoon he would make sure no one came near Angel's wing for a while.
"Hi," she said tugging at the bodice of the teddy.
"You look nice."
"Thanks, it's a little weird. Different."
"I've seen you wear tops that reveal more than that."
"I know. It's just different."
He took pleasure in a perverse way knowing that wearing lingerie was a new experience for her. That meant that she had not paraded around in front of Finn wearing things like this. He walked toward the bed and offered her a hand, which she took and stood. He took her into his arms, practically crushing her to him and kissed her. "God, I want you," he whispered, brushing his lips along the top of her head.
"Well, that's good because you have me and I'm going to do my damnedest to see that you're happier than you've ever been so there will be no question about it."
If he could have blushed he would have at such a bold statement. "I look forward to it," he said with a light chuckle.
"Lay down for me then," she said and he did. "Left hand," she said, which he offered without question so she could put the iron band around it and then repeated the process with his right hand. He had some movement available to him, and remembered yesterday becoming aware of things around him to find Buffy on top of him in his arms, responsive and aroused as hell. She had climaxed so suddenly and violently that he had thought for a moment he had killed her with the silence that followed. Only the fact that her heart still beat, her blood still pumped reassured him and made him realize what had happened.
He drifted between watching her and letting his eyes fall closed, letting the pleasure wash through him. This was not a dream, Buffy was really here pleasing him. Her body was warm against him, her mouth even warmer and she was more than generous in using it everywhere on him. She was bold with her kisses yet shy about touching him. It made for an exciting contrast because he was never sure what to expect out of her.
She seemed to experiment to see what would produce the best reactions in him and she got her answer when her mouth finally closed over his length after she had removed his pants. His eyes fell closed then, wanting merely to enjoy the feeling. He reached down to touch her head, meeting some resistance because of the chains but it did not stop him from taking some hair in between his fingers and letting it run through them. He always liked her hair, but liked it even better now splayed along the lower half of his body.
His mind rebelled somewhat at the fact that she was the one doing all of the work. This was the woman he loved, he should be giving as well as receiving but as she said earlier they would have plenty of time for that later if all went well now. She slid up the length of his body, placing kisses along him as she did until she was looking him in the eye. Their lips met for a kiss as she moved her body against him, her lower body teasing him. He reached with a hand and tugged on the slip of fabric between her legs, the pop of snaps coming undone could be heard. With that pop there was no longer a barrier preventing their bodies from being joined the way they were made to be joined, the way they needed to be joined. Buffy was the other half of him and he knew it like he knew if he walked into the sun he would die, so to be able to connect with her completely was painfully necessary.
Despite his inability to do much beyond caresses she was excited and ready for him, he had no idea how ready until she sheathed him with her core. With her on top of him he had the ability to touch her and her warmth contrasted with the lace of the teddy aroused him further. It was apparent she was not comfortable in this position and while he enjoyed knowing it he wanted her comfortable.
He stretched his arms to either side of him, the chains no longer taut giving her complete control other than the movements he made where their bodies were intimately joined. His gesture seemed to embolden her, spur her on because she got brazen and daring. Her hands traveled the length of his arms and she placed kisses and bites along each arm as far as she could without drawing herself off of him.
She taunted him, keeping her breasts just out of his mouth's reach. If he nuzzled against one she would pull away, which he responded to by thrusting deeper inside of her. Finally, she drew away from him, arching her back and placing her hands against his thighs as she brought them both closer to their release. His human disguise slipped away as she clenched him and cried out, having reached her climax. He placed his hands at her hips, the taut chains not allowing him much room to move and guide her like he wanted. His hands fell to her lower thighs and squeezed with a low growl as his release came timed with her second.
Buffy lay on top of him, her head resting against his shoulder, and his arms were around her. He felt her heart begin to slow and heard her breathing begin to return to normal. His human disguise slid back into place, content to merely hold her like this. She kept her promise about seeing to his happiness, so hopefully in a little while they would know.
With that thought, he finally spoke. "Buffy," he whispered.
"You all right?"
"I'm fine," she said, lifting her head from his chest. "Why?"
"Just making sure with the blood loss and everything."
"I'm fine. As good as new and feeling especially rejuvenated at the moment," she said placing a kiss against his lips. "I love you."
"I love you, too," he said and kissed her. "I didn't mean to vamp out on you."
"No problem," she murmured, her fingertip tracing a small pattern on his chest. "I knew it was still you, and I told you I know you wouldn't let the demon hurt me."
"Thank you," he said relieved.
"I'm ready for some sleepage though," she said. "I hate that I can't take those off, I'd like some cuddling action."
"You can stay on top of me as long as you want, Buffy, you're not hurting me."
"Well, in that case, I'll stay put," she said and nuzzled against him. He had slept beside her for three nights, which was nowhere near enough as far as Angel was concerned but it was enough for him to be familiar with her habits. She was settling in for a nap, almost burrowing into him. And he loved it.
Three hours after Buffy drifted off to sleep there was a light knock on the door. He enjoyed watching her sleep. He had not enjoyed waiting to see if the searing pain of losing his soul would rip through him like it had the first time he and Buffy had made love. Thankfully, it had not. Between Willow suspecting his soul had been permanent all along from researching the restoration spell and the poison, Angel was certain his soul was his for good. Wolfram & Hart would not be happy now. Angel hated having to wake her, but he did not think Buffy would appreciate Spike getting an eyeful of naked Buffy. Not to mention Angel did not want Spike to get an eyeful of naked Buffy. She had removed the teddy before falling asleep complaining about it being itchy. "Hold on, Spike," he called out and then lowered his voice to speak to his mate lying atop him. "Buffy," he said, nudging her lightly.
"I'm sorry to wake you when you look so peaceful, but Spike's at the door and I can't reach the blanket."
"It's okay," she said sleepily and grabbed a hold of the blanket, drawing it over her shoulders going back to snuggling against him.
"You can come in now, Spike," Angel said.
Spike opened the door. "All's well in here then?"
"Yeah," Buffy whispered, turning her head on Angel's chest to look at Spike. "Thank you."
"No problem, pet," Spike said regarding them. "I don't know that I can placate your minions much longer while you're in here with your honey. She hasn't been out of the room yet and that Winifred bint wants to bring in a tray of soup and what not."
"We'll be out in a while, Spike. In fact," Angel said and paused, causing Buffy to look up at him. "Tell everyone to get ready to go out, I'm going to take everyone out to eat."
Spike scoffed. "A good shag and suddenly he's generous, but I'll tell them." Angel watched as Spike's eyes traveled from the few articles of clothes on the floor to the chains still attached to Angel. "You do know that it's just as fun without those, right? I realize it's been a while for you, Peaches."
"Get out, Spike," Angel hissed, pulling on the chains so they were taut once again.
"It'd be a lot more effective if you weren't attached to them and your honey wasn't lying there naked," he said, closing the door.
"Times like this I wonder why I trust him," Buffy said with a light laugh. She stretched then and pushed the blanket away. "You ready to be unchained and help me get all clean and nice smelling?"
"I am," he whispered, smiling widely. The thought of showering with Buffy, washing Buffy and finally being able to touch Buffy and knowing he could do these things was definitely a good thing.
She stood from the bed and went to get the keys to release him. "There, my Angel is all free now," she said kneeling over him.
He groaned softly and drew her against him, glad to have use of his hands and arms. He kissed her deeply and rolled them so he was on top of her. He entered her after making sure she was ready for him. "Sorry," he whispered, realizing he had not been overly gentle with her. "Just had to."
Her legs wrapped around his waist, drawing him even deeper. "No reason to be sorry," she whimpered.
"Guess not," he replied. So much for romance, but at least the spontaneity part had come into play. Had she been a regular human he would have done a good bit of damage, but she was not a regular human. As the Slayer she gave as good as she took, sometimes encouraging him not to hold back. He felt her muscles clench around him and knew she was close. She drew his head to her and after crying out bit down on his neck, drawing blood. If that act alone had not been enough to send him over the edge her drinking him certainly was. He emptied himself into her as her tongue worried the bite at his neck just before she reached her own release.
He lifted his head once her tongue and mouth had stilled against his neck. His hand went to her neck, his thumb grazing the marks from the day before that were just barely visible anymore. She would have a second set of scars there from him, because of him. Instead of feeling proud of that, he felt a little sickened by it.
"Ready for that shower now," he finally said.
"Yeah," she said. "Should I get Spike to close that for you," she teased.
"No, I don't think I need Spike licking my neck, thank you. You can if you want to."
"I don't have that coagulant in my saliva."
"I didn't say anything about licking it to heal it," he said, lowering his mouth to hers.
"We'd better get to that shower, or we'll never get out of here and then we'll never get to dinner and people will come looking for us."
"If you insist."
"Well, we'll have plenty of time later."
"But I'm not hungry," he said in his best broody voice even though he was not feeling particularly broody at the moment.
"Well, I am. Hello? Blood loss girl here."
"If you're trying to make me feel bad, you don't have to say anything for me to feel bad, Buffy. I hate that I had to do that."
"I don't, it's fine and it seems to have worked, right?"
"Yeah, it seems to have worked."
"Then it was worth it," she said pushing him off of her and standing from the bed. "Let's go shower and enjoy being out amongst people knowing that we get to come back and be a total couple in private afterward. Maybe we can go dancing."
"Dancing? You want to go dancing?"
"Well, we don't have to, but it'd be like a date. You do remember what those are, right? I know it's been a while, but we did manage to get in a couple here and there."
"A date accompanied by five other people."
"Well, okay, it's not my ideal date, but they're your friends, our friends, though I'm not sure Fred or Gunn particularly like me."
"They just don't know you is all, probably a little worried I'm going to be all crabby and broody once you go."
"You won't, right?"
"I might be crabby and broody once you go because I'm away from you but no longer out of necessity."
"Well, we'll have to do something about that," she said, walking toward the bathroom. Angel watched as she walked away from him, naked and beautiful, her blonde hair stunning even in its current state of disarray. And she was his. He sat up in bed, clutching the mattress with both hands briefly before he stood and joined her in the bathroom.
Buffy had come to Los Angeles nine days ago with two overnight bags and was leaving with two regular sized suitcases full of things. She felt like she used to when her dad took her shopping for school clothes at the end of summer. Angel had taken her shopping; his only stipulation being that he got to pick out some of the clothes. He had fairly good taste, so she did not object.
Spike had gone back to Sunnydale as soon as it was apparent the soul was permanent. Other than the time she was dead, Buffy had never had a ten day break from slaying. She had gone out with Angel a few times, but it was not quite the same as performing her Slayer duties in Sunnydale. Buffy did not want to go back, she wanted to stay here.
Angel rapped lightly on the door even though it was open. "Hey," he said and looked at the packed suitcases.
"Hey," she said softly.
"You're all packed."
"Yeah, it didn't take as long as I would have liked. Like forever."
"I'll be in Sunnydale this weekend. This will give us both the week to figure things out."
"And you can call me anytime, even email me."
"I hate computers."
"I know, but the option is there."
"I know," she said sitting at the foot of the bed, pouting. "It's just so impersonal even if it is free."
"Close your eyes," he whispered and she did. She knew he was in front of her because she could smell his cologne and her Slayer senses tingled in full force. He took her left hand and she felt something cold and metal slipping over her ring finger. "Open them."
She opened them and saw Angel kneeling before her. She looked down and saw a silver Claddagh ring on her finger once again. "Thank you," she whispered, touching it.
"I remembered you lost the other one and wanted to replace it before someone tries to steal you away from me."
"It couldn't happen," she said, trying to stop the tears from falling to no avail. "I didn't lose it," she whispered.
"What?" he asked sharply and Buffy realized what he had interpreted her statement to mean. He thought that she had gotten rid of it when he was Angelus. She sort of had for a while on her nightstand, but that was more because she forgot about it than losing it.
"I didn't lose it. I went to the mansion one day, to say good bye to you, and left the ring on the floor in front of the fireplace. And then you came back," she said with a sniffle.
"You never told me that."
"I don't know why I didn't. I guess I thought if I told you you might think I was trying to make you stay."
He placed both hands at her face and kissed her. "So you'll have me again?"
"Yes," she said, fresh tears falling. "Thank you. You're being too nice to me, shopping, the ring, the mansion."
"I want to take care of you like I should have all along even if it was from afar."
"Okay," she said, smiling. She liked that he wanted to take care of her and even though she knew she could stand on her own two feet she wanted to let him sometimes. "I like the sound of it. It's been pretty rough since Mom died, I don't want to do it alone all the time. I did okay without Riley after he left and I would have kept doing okay on my own, but it's just nice knowing there's that one special someone."
"I agree, and now you know you have me even if I'm up here."
"I don't want to go."
"I don't want you to go, Buffy, but Dawn needs you."
She pouted. "It's no fair."
"Life is not fair, but we'll work on making the situation fairer." He slid his hands into hers and helped her from the bed. "Let's get your bags to the lobby, I wish I could carry them out to the Jeep for you."
"It's okay," she said, looking at the ring again. "Thank you for the ring."
"Don't mention it."
"Friday is going to be too long."
"I'll leave Thursday night and get there Friday morning. I was going to surprise you, but realized maybe I'd better not." He growled low and brought her flush against him. Instantly, she wanted him and she groaned softly as his mouth hungrily sought hers. She should be committed for wanting him so badly after they had spent the better part of the last three days doing little else but having sex. But if she had to be committed then he did too because he was apparently as aroused as she was as they thrust against one another through their clothes.
"Surprise me now," she practically begged, her hand reached to lower his zipper as his hands pushed up the hem of the leather miniskirt he was so fond of. She practically climbed up his body to wrap her legs around him while he pushed his jeans out of the way. She cried out when they were finally united, holding herself still as he buried his length inside of her.
He carried her to a table, cleared off its contents with a swoop of his arm and set her on it. Buffy got the weirdest visual she had ever been privy to as he thrust into her. In front of her was a full length mirror and Buffy could only see herself, her body flushed from arousal. And for some reason as she watched her hand travel over nothing even though it was touching Angel's back it turned her on incredibly. "You like that?" he asked as if reading her mind.
"Yeah," she said breathlessly. "It's weird but exciting."
"I figured, kind of like the invisible man," he whispered nipping her ear.
Her head fell back against the wall, Angel pulled her body closer to the table's edge, pushing deeper into her and she cried out. A good cry and he recognized what it was, repeating the stroke that had caused it. Suddenly, he sniffed and his game face fell into place. He lifted his head from where he had been nuzzling her breast and looked in the direction of the doorway, his body crowding her as if he was protecting or guarding her. "Get the fuck out of here, boy," he roared and Buffy peeked under Angel's arm to see a startled and frightened Gunn make a quick retreat.
She was embarrassed at being caught, but when he faced her she knew the demon was in control at that moment. Any objection she might have about continuing would more than likely fall on deaf ears. If anything he would want to finish so the physical act that claimed her as his mate was completed. She was a little curious as to the difference between man and demon. His thrusts grew more intense, almost violent but it was nothing she could not take. She braced her hands on the table hoping she would not come to regret letting the demon have this much control. As his thrusts began to pack more power she felt the table underneath her begin to give. "Angel," she cried out, but he kept going. His hands sought purchase at her hips, holding her and she knew he would catch her if the table gave way. He parted her legs further allowing him better, deeper access and she was too caught up in the moment to protest.
Her release came violently and shot through her whole body, making her tingle with energy like never before. Angel's release came after hers and she saw the man struggle for control. He forced his human face back into place, his eyes focused on her neck but he did not move to bite her. His hands remained at her hips, holding her in place and he remained still. Sensing he needed the stillness for a few minutes to regain complete control, Buffy sat there saying nothing. Moments later he kissed her, uncertainly as if he expected rejection but she had no reason to complain. She had complained, mentally at least, about Riley's mundaneness, but sex with Angel was certainly far from mundane and she felt like she had been missing out.
"Did I hurt you," he asked, gasping for unneeded air.
"A little," she said with a smirk. "It's okay."
"No, I shouldn't have, you should have stopped me."
"Why, baby? You were fine. I told you before I trust you, demon and all."
"I would have crushed a normal human."
"Well, it's a good thing I'm not a normal human then. I do think I should get off this table before it breaks. I wouldn't set anything heavy on it that's for sure."
"Right, sorry," he said helping her off of the table. She adjusted her skirt, found her panties on the floor between the bed and the table and stepped back into them while Angel fixed his pants.
"You scared Gunn I think."
She glanced at him, head cocked to the side. "You don't remember?"
"He came in here."
"He did what?"
"I assume he was making sure we were all right after you cleared off the table," she said gesturing to the things scattered on the floor that had been on the table only moments ago, including a shattered lamp. "It was kind of loud, I didn't know the door was open."
"Oh well, he'll live."
"I suppose he will. That's twice now I've embarrassed myself I guess it's a good thing I'm going home."
Angel placed his hands at her upper arms and drew her to him. "You have nothing to be embarrassed about, that day or today. I told you that. You're a sexy, passionate, sensual and beautiful woman and there's nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about for giving into those things."
"No maybe about it, Buffy. I wouldn't want you any other way, understand that. I was extra careful the first time because I didn't want to hurt you, but I like knowing I don't have to hold back. And I don't want you to think I'm a freak."
"No, I don't think that, I guess I could do without other people having the visuals."
He nodded his head slightly. "I can see that. We'll be more careful about doors and locks from now on."
"I wish you didn't have to go."
"I know, but it's time. I need to patrol, Spike can't do all of the work and I haven't seen Dawn in a week. God, I hope Social Services didn't come to the house this week."
"Willow would have called if they had."
"Yeah, she would have. But still, I need to get home and make sure everything is in order. I also need to talk to Giles."
"Yeah, he helped me go through my mom's paperwork after she died. I need to find out about the house."
"Oh right. Is a week going to be enough time for you to pack everything?"
"It will be, and you'll be down on the weekend to help."
"I don't know that unpacking boxes was what I had in mind when envisioning spending the weekend with you."
"Well, see, we've got a minor living in the house, so the unpacking of boxes will keep us busy and distracted from other things."
"Right, I don't like distractions have I ever told you that?"
"No, I don't think you've mentioned that before."
"Now you know."
"Now I know. You know," she said realizing they could stand there and talk all day, but she would still have to leave. She wrapped her hand around one of the suitcase handles. "I think you owe Gunn an apology."
"An apology? For walking into my room."
"Well, you weren't very nice to him. I mean, you could have just told him to leave nicely. Well, honestly, I'm not even sure it was entirely necessary to tell him to leave, I think he would have figured out we were okay on his own. But, well, you called him boy and that's kind of insulting."
"We have kind of a love hate relationship, so I'm sure it didn't surprise him, but I'll take care of it and smooth out some feathers after you leave."
"Thank you," she said, smiling brightly.
"Ready then?" he asked as he took hold of the second suitcase.
"Yup," she said simply and followed him out of the room.
Angel took the suitcase she was carrying once they got to the lobby and set them both near the front door, leaving Buffy to stand there by herself. She was supposed to say goodbye, but right now she felt like crawling under a rock.
"Well, it was nice meeting and seeing you all."
"You too," Fred said, offering Buffy a smile. She seemed so shy, Buffy was curious just how she got into this group.
"It was good to finally meet you," Gunn said and seemed to be avoiding looking right at her as much as she was avoiding looking at him. Good.
"Yeah, thanks. Well, I guess that's it then," she said. "Bye guys," she said before walking toward Angel who stood on the other side of the lobby waiting for her.
She placed her left hand against his cheek and reached up to kiss him, a deep kiss for a goodbye kiss but she hated goodbye kisses. "I'll see you Friday morning then," he said drawing away. He took her hand in his and kissed the back of it before kissing the ring now gracing her finger. "I'll miss you."
"Yeah, me too," she said fighting back the tears. "See you Friday," she said. "I have to go or I'll never leave."
"I know, Buffy," he said softly and she grabbed her bags and ran out the door.
Buffy put things into boxes while Dawn, Willow and Anya finished cleaning the kitchen. Spike and Xander were in the living room with Dawn's new sort of boyfriend. The leftovers had been packaged for Xander and Anya to take with them and a slice of pie had been set aside for David to take home with him when he left.
"David seems nice, Dawnie," Willow said. Buffy had to agree, but anyone would be an improvement over Justin.
"Yeah, he is kind of shy but he's nice and he likes art."
"That's great," Willow said. "Don't you think so, Buffy?"
"Yeah, art is good," she said automatically, glad she had been listening. She had left out just enough dishes to cook and eat with for today's dinner, and now they were all put away. All that remained was some paper plates and plastic utensils.
Buffy and Willow had spent the week packing, Dawn helped when she was home and did not have homework. Even Spike had helped which had surprised Buffy to no end. Today, Thanksgiving, was their day of rest. Tomorrow it would be moving and then unpacking. Dawn was ecstatic about moving into the mansion, Willow was a little apprehensive because she did not want to appear to be a freeloader.
"Dawnie," Buffy said having no idea whether she and Willow were still in the middle of a conversation. "Why don't you go on out there?"
"Are you sure?"
"Sure, unless you want to help me clean out the freezer."
"Then go," Buffy said, offering her sister a smile. Buffy let her hair down, rearranged it and pulled it back again. "Will, you can too, if you want."
"I'll help, Buffy."
"I don't have to help since I don't live here, right?" Anya asked.
"I don't mind, it will give me something to do," Willow said.
"Thanks, and no Anya you don't have to help," she said and poured herself a glass of wine. It was not the best wine, but it tasted okay to Buffy. Buffy did not drink often, but her mom had always served wine on Thanksgiving and Christmas. "Do you want some?"
"Just one glass," Buffy said with a shrug. "I want to relax, it's been a long week, a long day, and it will be a long weekend."
"Are you nervous about Angel coming tonight?"
"A little," Buffy admitted. "I mean, what if he's changed his mind?"
"Buffy," Willow said in a tone that Buffy recognized as Willow telling her she was crazy for thinking that way. "He's called since you've been back, right?"
"Yes," Buffy admitted.
"And he sent you the centerpiece for today, right?"
"Yes," Buffy admitted. She had been thrilled to get the flowers and Willow knew it. It was what made her hope that Angel would come earlier today.
"I don't think you have anything to worry about, Buffy. Honestly. He loves you, he really does."
"I don't know Angel well enough to offer my opinion," Anya said.
Buffy smiled with a shake of her head. "It's okay, Anya, but thanks."
"But Xander never sent me flowers," Anya added.
"What are you ladies yammering about in here?" Spike asked from the doorway.
"Nothing," Buffy said as Anya said, "Angel."
"Well, they're both the same thing, aren't they?" Spike said. "Is Peaches coming tonight then?"
"Yes, but I have no idea what time, sometime between now and six thirty tomorrow morning."
"Thanks for the sun cycle update, Slayer."
Buffy took a sip of her wine and opened the freezer door. "Anya, if you want any of this stuff or think Xander might, you're welcome to it. You can have anything except the Baskin Robbins."
"Ice cream, Slayer?"
"Yeah, I have my vices."
"I thought that was Peaches."
"Food type vices," she said with a roll of her eyes.
"Speaking of Peaches, I heard his car out front."
"Really?" Buffy asked.
"Really," he said dryly.
"Go ahead, Buffy," Willow said trying to be encouraging. "There's nothing in here that can't wait until tomorrow."
"You're right," she said and walked to the living room where Dawn was sitting on the floor next to David, their backs against the couch. Buffy was tempted to ask why they did not sit on the couch but the floor was less cozy so she decided to keep quiet.
"DB's just in time, isn't he? The food's gone, the clean-up's done, and the packing's done."
"Xander," Buffy scolded as she opened the front door and sure enough Angel's Plymouth was on the driveway behind the Jeep. It was a nice car, and old, but beyond that she was clueless about cars. He was almost to the house when she opened the front door. "Hi," she said and hugged him, kissing him lightly not wanting to give her neighbor's a show.
"Were you watching for me?"
"No, Spike heard your car."
"Oh, I was trying to surprise you. He's inside?"
"Well, you know Thanksgiving, family and all."
"Does he know you consider him part of the family?"
"Yeah, I've told him that."
"I'll bet he loved that."
"Actually," she said sliding an arm around his neck. "I think he did. I think belonging somewhere means a lot to him."
"I believe it, it's one of the things I love, and hated, most about you, you made me feel like I belonged."
"Well, see, you're both a part of our family and belong here so it works out real well that way. Do you have bags?" He gestured to the bags at his feet Buffy had not noticed until now. "Okay great. Ready to come inside?"
"Do we have to?"
"Where else did you have in mind?"
"Buffy, your friends don't think very highly of me."
"Only Xander, and he's over it by now."
"Right," he said. He took her hand, which went a long way to reassuring Buffy that he had not had a change of heart. He paused at the threshold as if uncertain he was still welcome.
"You don't need an invite," she said.
"Thanks, sorry, it's just been a while," he said softly. He stepped over the threshold and Buffy watched as his eyes darted from the dining room at his right to the living room at his left. "Memories."
"Yeah," she said softly. He set his bags at the foot of the stairs and let Buffy lead him to the living room.
"Nice to see you DB," Xander said with a sardonic grin.
"Xander," Angel said with a low sigh. "Willow, Spike."
"That's Anya," Buffy said, pointing at Anya in the kitchen doorway. "Xander's fiancée."
"I've met you, haven't I?"
"Yes, Thanksgiving outside the dean's house. His wife gave me pie," Anya said. "And the Indians gave Xander syphilis." Buffy laughed at the look on Angel's face. "I guess I should thank you for your help, Xander could have died and we wouldn't be getting married."
"Right, er, you're welcome" Angel said with a glance at Buffy. She gave him a look of her own telling him she would explain later if he cared to hear the story.
"And this is David," Buffy said, "Dawn's friend," she added, realizing they might not be at the stage to openly call one another boyfriend and girlfriend.
"Hi," Angel said softly and Buffy knew how he felt, very much like she had felt visiting him. Dawn stood by waiting for a hug, which Angel gave her. "Hey, kiddo, you excited to move?"
"Totally, I can't believe you got her to agree to it."
"Me neither, I must have said something right, huh?"
"Right," Spike said from the kitchen doorway. "It was those things you said, you of many words."
"Spike," Buffy cautioned.
David walked toward them and offered Angel his hand. "Nice to meet you, sir," he said.
"You can call me Angel," he said glancing at Buffy, another unspoken question passed between them. All Buffy could do was shrug in response. Dawn had picked a boy with manners. He had called Buffy and Willow ma'am until they told him he did not have to.
"I'm going to walk David to his car, Buffy."
"Okay, Dawnie, don't be long," Buffy said, hoping she did not sound too mom-like.
"You let her do that?" Angel asked as soon as the front door closed.
"And you'd want to say good night to me in front of a room full of virtual strangers?"
"I see your point, but she's fifteen. He drives?"
"Yeah, he's older than she is. He seems like a nice guy, Angel."
"I've checked him out, Peaches," Spike offered, a beer in hand. "He seems all right."
"You did?" Buffy asked.
"I wanted to know who he was, so yes, I checked up on him. I wanted to make sure he was who he said he was and not another repeat of Halloween. I made you a promise, Slayer, just because you're back doesn't mean I'm going to shirk that."
"Thanks," Buffy said, relieved and chagrined.
"Xander," Anya called from the kitchen.
"Buffy's offering us food from her freezer, why don't you come see if there's anything you want."
"Sure," he said, standing from the chair and went to the kitchen while Willow put on her jacket.
"Where are you going, Will?"
"I'm going to visit Tara. She called while you were outside with Angel," Willow said.
"I don't know why she didn't have dinner with us, there was more than enough."
"I asked her, but she felt uncomfortable being around all of you right now, you know because you're my friends."
"Oh well, tell her we missed her and bring her some leftovers and some pie."
"Thanks, I already have some," she said. "I'll see you later. Good night, Xander, Anya, Spike. Glad you made it, Angel," Willow said with a smile.
"Me, too, Willow," Angel said. "Good night."
"Thanks," she said, flipping her collar up. "I don't think I'll be back tonight, Buffy. I stripped the bed and everything, so my room is all set."
"Thanks, Will, have fun," Buffy said offering Willow a hug before she left. "Let's get your things upstairs," Buffy said to Angel.
Spike laughed, glancing from the TV to where she and Angel stood. "Is that the best you can come up with, Slayer?"
"Kids these days," Xander said from the kitchen, apparently listening to the conversation.
"You should talk, Harris," Spike admonished and Buffy could not help but laugh. If they had a dime for every time Anya made some sexual innuendo about Xander they would be rich.
Buffy took one of Angel's bags and led him upstairs. "Wow, it looks empty," Angel said once inside her room. Buffy regarded the room, he was right it was empty. Everything was packed in boxes, her closet was bare, her dresser empty, only the sheets on her bed made the room look lived in.
"Yup. We're ready. When the movers come they'll just have to load the truck."
Angel set his bag down and ran his fingertips over her comforter. "Good," he said distantly, and Buffy realized he was probably thinking. It had been years since he had been here, lots of memories both good and bad were in this room. "I'll be here through Monday."
"The case worker is going to come by on Monday."
"I know," Angel said simply. "She called yesterday saying she wanted to meet me. I look forward to it," Angel said dryly as he sat on the bed, but he was smiling.
"Since when do you look forward to meeting anyone?"
"I know it will help you keep Dawn, that's all."
"You know you're spending so much money on all of this. Having the mansion cleaned, the grounds taken care of, and the movers."
"Again, because it will help you keep Dawn. Buffy, if I let you move in there looking like it did they would take her away based on the condition of the house. I'm hoping Xander can do some repairs in his spare time for extra cash."
"He'd do it," Buffy said sitting next to him on the bed. "I can't possibly repay him for all the money he's saved me. What are we going to tell Mrs. Kroeger?"
"Do we have to admit we're involved? We could set up one of the guest rooms and tell her it is mine. You'd just have to make sure and put everything back once I've left and you've done the laundry."
"I get to do your laundry, too?" Buffy asked with a laugh. "I didn't realize that was part of the deal."
"I would hope you'd wash my things, I don't plan on having to pack a bag every time I come here. I'd like to basically have two homes, here and there."
"With this home being the one you come to only when you can," she said with a pout.
Angel leaned back and drew Buffy to him. She rested her head against his chest and sighed softly as he ran his fingers through her hair. "I'm working on it, Buffy. I'd love for you to move to LA, but I realize this is where you were asked to perform your duties and I can't ask you to shirk them. But I don't know how much use I'd be here or even what I could do."
"I know," Buffy said. "I guess we don't have to tell her, we'll just have to make sure Dawn knows not to say anything. And Spike who ordinarily I'd worry about saying something just to get back at me or you, but he would never hurt Dawn so I think he'll keep his mouth shut."
"He'd better," Angel said gruffly but he was calm.
"I'm glad you got here early."
"Me, too. I wish I could have gotten here in time for your dinner."
"I wish you could have, too, it was a good dinner. Dawn made the pie, Xander and Anya brought the wine, and Spike made the gravy."
"I'll bet that was a treat."
"He actually did a good job, and I think he liked having something to do."
"What time are the movers going to be here?"
"Sometime between eight o'clock and noon, I gave them the rundown of what all we had to move."
"Yeah, it shouldn't take them too long to load this stuff up."
"Most of this stuff is going to look rather out of place."
"Only if you think about it that way, Buffy. The structure and the furniture don't make a home. And these are your things, your mom's things; they belong with you and with Dawn. If nothing else, we can store them and Dawn can have them when she moves out."
"Which won't be happening for years, at least I hope not. She's only fifteen."
"Like when she's fifty?"
Buffy snuggled against him, her fingertips tracing small circles on his chest through his shirt. "Sounds good," she said. "I haven't had a lot of time to just sit and relax this week, but now that I'm lying here with nothing to do I have to admit I'm excited."
"I'm glad you are," he said placing his hand over hers. "You ready to go back downstairs?"
"We don't have to."
"I don't want to be rude."
She laughed lightly. "Okay," she said sliding off the bed.
He stood from the bed and stood behind her, his arms going around her waist. He kissed the top of her head and she rested her head against his chest. "I missed you."
"I missed you, too. And Happy Thanksgiving, thanks for the flowers."
"You're welcome; it was the best I could do, sorry."
"It's okay, you're here now, and it's not like you'd have eaten anyway."
He kissed her ear and whispered, "probably not, but if you have any whipped cream we could make use of it."
"Angel," she said a little shocked at the comment.
"What? Ice cream then?"
"I, no, I," she stammered.
"What's wrong? Why so coy?"
"No reason, you know I don't remember much about that day, Angel. I don't even remember what exactly we did with the ice cream."
"Well, I should refresh your memory then, though I realize some aspects will be missing. You know my having a heartbeat, being human and the whole being able to take you out in the daylight thing."
She turned in his arms and touched his face with her hand. "All things way overrated."
"You're just saying that."
"No, I'm not. I'm not used to talking about that sort of thing, but am willing to learn."
"Buffy," he said and paused. "I didn't mean to embarrass you."
"It's okay, and hey, we have ice cream and some whipped cream left over from Dawnie's pie, so you can choose."
"Sounds good," he said, sliding his hands over her hips to the curve of her bottom. "I might just choose both."
"I thought you wanted to go downstairs."
"I did, I do, I was just touching my girl, making sure she was real."
"Is this real enough for you?" she asked before kissing him, deepening it for just a minute before drawing away.
"For now, but I want more proof."
"I'm proof girl."
"Just the girl I had in mind, too."
"See, so that works well."
"Before we get sidetracked on the proof thing let's go downstairs and be social. I assume we'll be calling upon them to help this weekend, so it might pay to make with the talk."
She pouted, but knew he was probably right. "Oh, all right, if we have to."
"Buffy, they're your guests; you can't be rude and not say good night to them or anything."
"I think they'd understand, Xander and Anya are like bunnies. You'd think they do nothing else the way Anya talks."
"Well, see, exactly, we don't want to look like them, do we?"
"You're scraping the barrel for excuses there."
"Yeah, but if we're extra nice to them and throw in the promise of pizzas, we'll be done unpacking or at least operational by tomorrow night," he said, drawing her against him. His hand traveled the length of the back of her body, sliding between her legs briefly before moving to cup a breast. "And then we can have the rest of the weekend and all of Monday to do with as we please."
"Okay, you've convinced me already. Let's go downstairs then."
"Wow, what's with breakfast?" Dawn asked Angel when she entered the kitchen.
"Don't you normally eat breakfast?" he asked his attention still on the pancakes he was trying to cook for her.
"Well, yeah, but it's normally cereal, Pop Tarts, Eggo's or something."
"Buffy doesn't make you breakfast?"
"Mom used to, but a lot has happened since Mom died. She's been learning to cook since she's been back, though."
"Oh, right, cooking was not something she would have needed to do until a few months ago. I forget sometimes."
"And then she died and that sort of put a halt to any learning."
"Right," Angel said, snapping the spatula in half at the thought of Buffy dead. The thought of Buffy having to dig herself out of her grave was even more appalling to him. He started at a touch to his shoulder, automatically blocking the blow he expected that never came.
"Hey, it's all right, Angel," Dawn said from behind him, jerking her hand away. "She's not there anymore and while she was pretty scary for a while, she's better now that you're together again. You are together again, right?"
"Yes, Dawn, we are," he said unable to hide his smile at that. The four days without her had been torture. He slept horribly and was even broodier than normal. Gunn, Fred and Cordelia had avoided him altogether by the time Thursday had rolled around. Wesley was the only one who had approached him, and Angel had welcomed his company. Wesley knew better than to initiate conversation, the two had sat in broody but companionable silence together.
"Good, I'm glad. I never liked Riley. Well, okay, I liked him until he started to go all paranoid."
"He seemed like a nice enough guy," Angel admitted begrudgingly. "He just was not right for Buffy." He managed to remove the pancakes from the pan with the broken spatula and put them on a plate for Dawn.
"Is that right?" Dawn asked with a giggle. "And I suppose you know who is?"
"Just eat your breakfast, kiddo," he said curtly. He hated thinking of Buffy with that Finn character. He had no face to go with the name of the guy Spike mentioned, but Angel hated thinking about that, too. He had not really thought out the details of what Buffy's life would be like after he left Sunnydale. He had claimed he wanted her to have a normal life, but when he had actually seen her pursuing that normal life it had torn him up something fierce.
"Fine," she said, tossing her hair behind her with a flip of her hand. She sat as Angel set the plate in front of her. "Where's the syrup?"
"Good question," he said, searching through the cupboards. "It's hard to know where things are in a kitchen when you don't use the stuff. Ah, here it is," he said, setting the syrup on the table in front of her. "Anything else before I go find your sister?"
"Milk and orange juice."
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" he asked as he poured her a glass of both beverages.
"Well, yeah, it's kind of nice. You're doing this because Mrs. Kroeger is coming today, right? In case she comes to school I can tell her that I had a good, nutritious breakfast?"
"No, Dawnie, I'm doing it because I want to. Is that a problem?"
"No, it's cool. Spike cooks for me sometimes, but he usually eats with me. You don't eat, though, do you?"
"No, I've been known to drink coffee now and then, but I don't have Spike's lust for solid food." He finished rinsing off the pans and set them in the sink to wash later. Dawn was partly right; he did make breakfast so that Mrs. Kroeger would see that she was properly taken care of. The humans had lived on takeout and delivery over the weekend, so he wanted to be sure the kitchen looked used. He did not need his enhanced sense of smell to know that the smell of freshly made breakfast was in the air.
"Janice wants to come over after school is that all right?"
"She's a friend of mine."
"I suppose it would be all right. I'll be leaving sometime tonight, but I'll make sure Buffy knows."
"Thanks," she said, eating the last of her pancakes. She stood from the table, handed Angel her plate and kissed him on the cheek. "You're the best. Have a good day. Say hi to Mrs. Kroeger for me. Maybe if we're lucky her son will eat her."
"It's a nineteen eighties horror film reference. A Nightmare on Elm Street. Freddie Krueger. The guy with razors as fingernails," she said and Angel just stared at her. "Never mind, the names are spelled different anyway, I was trying to make a joke."
"Don't worry about it, sometimes it's sort of funny that you're real old but don't know things."
"Very funny. Your ride must be here," he said as the doorbell rang.
"Either that or Mrs. Kroeger is way early."
"Have a good day," Angel said, biting back the suggestion for her to behave herself. If Buffy did not object to David giving Dawn rides to school, Angel was not in a position to contradict her. And as much as he hated to admit it, he trusted that if Spike said the caller was on the up and up he was. Angel had seen enough to know that Spike truly cared for Dawn.
Buffy had spoken once about Riley thinking she would transfer her feelings for Angel to Dracula, from one vampire to another. Angel wondered if Spike was doing a bit of that with Dawn. Not that Spike had any romantic feelings toward Dawn, but Spike had spent one hundred twenty years looking after Drusilla. And now that he and Buffy were together, Spike would have to focus his attentions on something. A fifteen year old girl was right up Spike's alley as much as it pained Angel to think so. He had observed the two in LA and here and they seemed to have a comfortable rapport, a connection that perhaps had been strengthened by the events of the past year. Spike certainly had taken his promise to Buffy to heart.
He raked a hand through his hair and took the lone packet of blood from the refrigerator, wanting to drink his sustenance before the case worker came. He had moved all of the remaining blood packets to a refrigerator in the basement so that the case worker would not get an eyeful and ask questions. The mansion was as ready as it was going to be for the woman's inspection. He had paid a cleaning crew an outrageous amount of money to ensure everything was spotless by today. Every room had been dusted, every window washed, every bare floor scrubbed or polished, and every carpet cleaned and vacuumed. As Angel and Buffy made the rounds last night to ensure nothing was amiss Angel felt a bit of pride that this was his and his mate was sharing it with him.
The exterior left a little to be desired, but late November was not the time for gardening anyway. The landscaping crew had at least made the grounds look kempt, which after years of neglect must have been a formidable task. Drusilla had looked after the small garden to some extent, but the rest of the grounds had not been touched since before he had moved in. Everything that would not grow back had been pulled up and removed. Unfortunately, he would never get to enjoy the grounds even after they were tended to but Buffy would.
"There you are all game face and everything," Buffy said as he drained the packet of blood. "Tell me Dawnie get off to school and you didn't just eat her."
"I didn't and she did. I didn't need to walk to the door with her and make sure it was David picking her up, did I?"
"No," Buffy said with a laugh. "Thanks for making her breakfast, I got sidetracked and didn't realize what time it was."
"It's no problem, Buffy," he said, taking a step back when she walked to him and shook off his game face.
"What?" she asked looking perplexed.
He glanced at the now empty plastic pouch on the counter. "Let me drink some water or something."
"Angel," she said admonishingly.
"Buffy, you shouldn't have to kiss me after I've just drank."
"I don't care," Buffy said, reaching up on her tiptoes to kiss him. "I don't even notice," she said. His arms went around her waist, preventing her from drawing away.
"No," she said simply. "You kiss me after I eat."
"That's different," he said, releasing her and stepping away from the counter. He took the pouch and threw it in the garbage, making sure it was toward the bottom. "What were you doing anyway?"
"I was just walking around, honestly. I've never really walked around in here before last night, when you were living here we sort of stayed downstairs for the most part."
"Sure, because it was safest," he said in a low voice.
"But now we don't need to be safe, so I can walk around to my heart's content. It's neat. It's incredible. Not all of this stuff is yours, is it?"
"No, most of it came with the place. You saw in my old apartment what I owned here in Sunnydale."
"Yeah, I remember," she said.
"So, if there's anything in particular you dislike and want to replace I have no problem with that. Is that what you were asking me?"
"Yeah, sort of. It's going to be hard for me to get used to living like this. We did okay in LA, but not like this."
He laughed low and shook his head, imagining people crawling out of the woodwork feigning friendship once they found out she was living here. People were predictable when it came to wealth, he had it happen to him with a few acquaintances he had made in LA when they found out he was living at the Hyperion. "Just do me a favor and let me know what you want to replace and with what. There are a few things that I'm sort of fond of."
"Thanks. So what do we do until Mrs. Kroeger gets here?"
"Oh, I don't know. Want to go lie in bed with me and watch daytime television?"
"I like the lying in bed part, not the daytime television part."
"I didn't think you would be particularly fond of that part actually. I have an idea," she said tracing her index finger under his chin. He recognized the look in her eyes as one that had nothing to do with watching television.
She kissed him, nibbling on his lower lip, which he wished she would never stop doing. He loved when she bit him, even if it was playful like this. "Let's go up and see about making that big bed of yours look like it was really slept in."
"You mean the one I haven't even turned the bedding down on?" he asked in a whisper against her ear before tracing her earlobe with his tongue, followed by a kiss to the side of her neck. He definitely liked her second suggestion better than the first.
"Yeah, that one." He could tell she was smiling despite not being able to see her mouth since she was busy kissing his neck.
"You don't think she'll be coming any time soon?" He hoped not, because if she said no they could work on seeing to it that the two of them did lots of coming. They left the kitchen and walked to the stairs intent on at least making it to what was as far as the case worker was concerned his room, even if they did not make it to the bed. A bed had not been a requirement for their lovemaking this weekend.
"We'll leave the door open, Dawn's at school. We'll hear the doorbell," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck. Her back was flush against the wall as she arched into him, pressing her breasts against his chest. She kissed his collarbones while her fingers worked at unbuttoning his shirt. "Sex in an empty house. No worries about anyone walking in on us."
"I know what a concept, privacy," Angel whispered before unbuttoning her top so he could kiss the top of each breast. She moaned and arched into his mouth, so he kissed lower teasing her peak through her bra. She was wearing a skirt not the short leather mini number he was so fond of. He vaguely recalled that she was wearing a conservative white cotton blouse with a gray skirt that fell almost to her ankles. He was probably wrinkling the blouse horribly, but hearing her gasp and whimper was worth any wrinkles he might be causing.
"Angel," she gasped when he managed to get her peak exposed entirely and latched onto it. He quickly worked the rest of the blouse's buttons and slid it off of her. "Where are you going," she asked when he pulled away.
"Just putting it over the banister," he said and did just that.
"Oh," she said softly, offering him a shy smile. It still amazed him to no end that she could appear so innocent at times like this. She reached behind her and he was about to ask what she was doing when he the skirt fell to her feet. "Does that help?" she asked.
He took a deep breath as his eyes raked over the length of her body. She stood before him in a black lace bra and matching panties, even the heels she wore were black. And she wanted to know if it helped? She unfastened his jeans and reached inside and certainly she had her answer. He groaned loudly as her mouth sought one of his male nipples, bringing it to attention.
She stopped and traced light kisses from his chest to his mouth, kissing him. Her lips parted and their tongues met as her legs wrapped around his waist. Somehow, Angel was not sure how, she utilized her calves to push his jeans down enough so she could sink onto his length. Both groaned, his hands reaching to cup her bottom as she rode him. So much for making it to his room let alone his bed. Her head fell back against the wall so hard it might have rendered a normal human dizzy but it did not stop his slayer or even slow her down. Her hands reached under his shirt and ran along his back, chest and abdomen.
Her climax was powerful and sudden, but long lasting and she rode it out in waves alternating between deep thrusts and slow, teasing thrusts clenching around him as she went. Her eyes opened and she smiled lazily, almost sleepily. "Your turn," she whispered and he was more than happy to oblige her request.
"So much for the lived in look for that bed idea," Buffy said as she put her blouse back on. He watched as she buttoned it almost as raptly as he watched her unbutton her tops.
"She'll just think I'm neat, if she even looks that far."
"She'll look," Buffy said. "She'll want to see your room and where it is in relation to mine and Dawn's."
"Did she tell you that?"
"No, it's just a guess. She's going to want to make sure that I'm not your mistress or something," she said tucking her blouse into her skirt.
"Well, you are," he said with a growl.
"You're all of my needs rolled into one: friend, lover, confidante, coworker, mate, other half to my soul, my light, my hope, wife."
"Wife," he said gruffly, kissing her. "Forever, right? Isn't that the type of bond a husband and wife have?"
"I've always thought so," she whispered.
Angel could tell he had thrown her with the wife bit. He had not meant to say that one, but he was caught up in explaining to her all that she represented to him. "Me, too. We'll make sure there's no misunderstanding on her part, I'm not going to lose you and Dawn over something like that."
"Thanks," she murmured. "For including Dawn."
"Well, she's my sister, too. Families blend, Buffy, not that I have a family for you to blend with."
"You have us, you're all we've got."
"That's not true, Buffy. You've got Willow, Xander, Anya, and Giles. And even Spike it would seem, he's more loyal to you than he ever was to me."
"And you have Gunn, Fred, Wesley and Cordelia. So neither of us is completely alone in our separate life."
"Hey," he said, placing a finger under her chin. He did not like to hear her talk like that, about their lives being separate. "None of that, Buffy, even when we're apart we at least know we'll be together again. It was hard last week after you left, but it was no where near the torture I went through forcing myself to be away from you."
"I know," she said, resting her cheek against his chest. "I just hate that you leave tonight and won't be back until who knows when."
"I know, I'm working on it," he whispered. And he was. Wesley had mentioned Angel returning to Sunnydale, because it was clear after Buffy left that his mind was here even though his physical body could not be. Angel was thinking about it, he just had to figure out what to do about the business. Sunnydale was not short of helpless people, but offered nowhere near the numbers LA offered. Wesley would be fine, so would Gunn, but he was not sure about Fred or Cordelia. Cordelia certainly would have no desire to return to Sunnydale, not that Angel could blame her.
Wesley had reminded Angel that Cordelia and Winifred were not his concern; Buffy was if they were truly going to pursue their relationship. Fred was smart and capable enough to find a job, a better and more lucrative one. Cordelia on the other hand, while her skills had improved since she had first forced her presence into his business in LA, was still very helpless. Her visions aside, Angel did not see what kind of job she was going to get.
"I promise, Buffy, I'm working on it."
"I believe you," she said with a heavy sigh as the doorbell rang. "Oh god, do I look like I just had sex?"
He ran his fingers through her hair with a low chuckle. "You look beautiful. I'll get the door if you want to run a brush through your hair or something, but you look fine, really."
"I'd like to do that I think," she said, stepping away from him. She looked at him, apparently looking him over. He must have passed inspection other than his collar which she straightened out. "Tell her I'll be right out," she said as the doorbell rang a second time.
"Okay," he said, kissing her lightly. "I love you."
She blushed, "I love you too. Get the door before she leaves."
Angel ran a hand down his shirtfront and raked his fingers through his hair as he approached the front door. Thankfully, there was an overhang at the front door so Angel did not have to worry about being hit by direct sunlight. He opened the door and offered the slightly plump, middle aged woman his most charming smile. "You must be Mrs. Kroeger, I'm sorry to make you wait. Come in," he said, stepping aside to letting her in. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"No, thank you. You're Mr. O'Bryne," she asked as she looked at her notes, mispronouncing his last name. It sounded foreign to his ears because it was rare he heard his surname spoken aloud.
"It's pronounced like O'Brian, just spelled differently," he corrected. "Buffy should be out in just a minute."
"I have some questions for you anyway."
"Sure, I imagined you would," he said, gesturing to the reception room. "Please have a seat," he said and waited for her to sit before sitting down.
"You live in Los Angeles, is that right?"
"Yes, I run a private investigations firm there."
"Is it dangerous?"
"Typically, no, though it can be at times. I deal with parents looking for lost children and those types of cases. Sometimes the children have run away and chosen a life that is a little more colorful than they anticipated when they left the comfort of their homes."
"And you own a substantial piece of property there, is that right?"
"I rent actually. The Hyperion, it was a hotel and hopefully will be again once I've finished restoring it."
"So you're a bit of an entrepreneur then?"
"Not really, I just like living in large spaces and I saw the hotel was available for a song, so I took it. Much the same with this place, actually."
"It is rather large for one person."
"What can I say?" he asked and stood when Buffy came into the room. "Buffy," he said, offering her a smile.
"Hi," she said almost shyly and then offered her hand to the case worker. "I'm sorry I took so long, I was in the bathroom."
"It's all right, Miss Summers. Mr. O'Bryne and I were talking."
Buffy glanced at him, startled apparently at the use of his name and he realized he had forgotten to tell her what his name was. The doctor at the hospital had addressed her by the same name, but she apparently never noticed because she never asked him about why she had been called Mrs. O'Bryne. "Should I leave you two to talk then? I can come back in a few minutes."
"I don't think so, no. Why don't you show me around?"
"I'm not sure what all you want to see, there's a ton of rooms. Okay, well, not a ton."
"Well, lead on and if I feel we can skip things I'll let you know."
"Okay," Buffy said glancing at Angel. He heard her sigh, barely. He also heard her heartbeat pickup. He hated that she was so nervous, that this woman could make her feel like this. "Well, through here is the library," she said, starting them on their tour. Angel accompanied them, in case the case worker had any questions, but otherwise let Buffy guide her through the house.
"And what will you be doing for a job, Miss Summers," she asked once the tour was done and they were seated around the kitchen table with cups of coffee.
"I'm still trying to find a job that will let me be home nights. There's not much, honestly, but that's where Angel's offer came in handy. At least I don't have to worry about the household bills for a while. Angel and my friend Willow have been teaching me some about computers and I've been working on my typing and stuff, so I hope I can get a job in an office somewhere. And our dad helps," she added.
"Yes, I see that he still pays support. And how long have you two known one another?"
"Six years," Buffy and Angel said simultaneously to which she smiled slightly.
"So your mother knew Mr. O'Bryne?"
"Yes, not well, but yes, she did."
"But your father does not," she prompted.
"No," Buffy said with a shake of her head. "At least not that I know of." She glanced at Angel.
"Are you married, Mr. O'Bryne?"
"No," Angel said flatly. "No children either," he added, expecting her next question.
"Okay," she said simply, Angel hoped his answers had been satisfactory. If something he said or did was responsible for Buffy losing Dawn he would never forgive himself. "And how will Dawn be getting to school every day?"
"I will drive her or her friend will pick her up."
"Yes, David," Buffy said. "I can't think of his last name right now, but he drives her some mornings. He's in the grade above her, seems like a nice boy, though. He came over for a little while on Thanksgiving."
"Does Dawn have other friends?"
"Oh sure. David and Janice are the only two that I can think of off the top of my head, but she talks on the phone a lot and emails friends a lot."
"Well, I think I've seen everything I need to see. Thank you for your time and we'll be in touch, Miss Summers."
"Do you think the case will get closed, Mrs. Kroeger?" Buffy asked and Angel hated hearing how uncertain she was.
"Once you're employed, Miss Summers, I see no reason why it cannot be, but the job is important. It's nice of your friend to do this, but it's in Dawn's best interest for you to be able to support yourself. As well as your own best interest."
"Right, I realize that," Buffy said. "I'm trying, it's only been a few months since our mom died and it's not easy," she added. "But I am trying."
"I can see that, Miss Summers, which truthfully is the reason I have not recommended Dawn be placed with your father or in foster care. I can see that you two love one another and need one another. I hope you find a job soon," she said and Angel felt Buffy tense at that statement.
"Thank you, Mrs. Kroeger," Buffy said then and stood from the table. "I'll show you out."
Angel stood and carried the coffee cups to the sink and waited for Buffy to come back into the kitchen. The interview had gone well; at least he thought it had. The way Buffy had described the case worker he was expecting a demon of some sort or the Gestapo. The woman had asked questions, but none that Angel found out of line. Then again, he had not been subjected to over nine months of this process either.
"I knew she was going to get stuck on the lack of job," Buffy said from the entryway. "There's always a hoop they want you to jump through."
"You'll find something, Buffy."
"Yeah, doing what? I'm not qualified for anything, unless it involves beating the crap out of someone."
"Get a job as a bouncer," he said.
"Right, and who would hire me?"
"Willy might," Angel replied evenly.
"And Willy would hire the Slayer because it would be real good for business."
"You'd certainly keep the fights to a minimum and I think for a price he would tell the case worker you were doing something respectable."
"Like being a cocktail waitress for demons? There's a respectable, toe the line job."
"Well, Buffy, no offense but as you say you're not qualified to do much else. You're strong; you should use that to your advantage."
"I tried," she protested. "Xander hired me, but that didn't work very well. He fired me after less than a day."
"But you said there was a reason for that, someone was toying with you or something, maybe Xander can give you another chance."
"Sure and his boss will forget about the damage I caused just like that," she said with a snap of her fingers for emphasis.
He finished washing the dishes from Dawn's breakfast and the case worker's visit and dried off his hands. "Buffy," he said draping an arm over her shoulders. "We'll figure out something."
"I can't rely on you to solve all of my problems, Angel."
"I know, but I can give some input." He led her to the living room, started a fire and sat beside her on the couch. She promptly curled up against him, resting her head against his chest. "You're not a lost cause, Buffy."
"I know it just feels that way. No other Slayer had to work or take care of her Key sister. It's too bad I can't tell the case worker that Dawn is really older than time despite the appearance of being a teenaged girl."
"No other Slayer had friends or anywhere near as normal a life as you have, Buffy. Dawn being The Key withstanding."
"I know," she said, sighing heavily. "At least I'm not in jail."
"Don't you two ever do anything but sit around and cuddle all day? Oh right, you snog and shag, too." Spike said from the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest as he leaned against the doorjamb. "It makes me sick the way you two fawn over each other all of the time."
"Spike," Buffy said, apparently startled at the younger vampire's appearance and Angel chuckled. Had she forgotten that he was on the other side of the house?
"Actually, Spike, you could help us."
Spike scoffed and got a look in his blue eyes that Angel recognized well. "She too much for you to handle all by yourself, Peaches?"
Angel rolled his eyes and let Spike's dig roll off of him, which he was getting better at doing these days. He knew Spike was just trying to get a rise out of him, and if he rose to the bait he would only keep going. "Buffy needs a job to appease the state."
"You mean you moved her in here and she still needs to get a bloody job? I thought that was the point."
"Well, the point was to get her out from under the bills. Once the house sells all of the debt will be paid off, and judging by Anya's figures, Buffy will actually have a little left. Not a lot, but enough she could put herself through college if she wanted to."
"Hello? She's right here. And maybe I'd put Dawnie through college," Buffy interjected.
"No, you take the money and put yourself through college. You get a job working at Willy's or waiting tables somewhere so the state sees you're working. The state would have to see you're going to school to ensure that you can get a better job. That certainly can't hurt Dawn, you're doing it for Dawn."
"He has a point, Slayer," Spike agreed.
"Yeah, but she's fifteen guys and in the tenth grade. I still have three years of college left, which puts her at eighteen and in college before I've finished. What good is my college education going to do her then?"
"She'll still be living at home, even if it's just to come home for holidays and summer vacation, pet," Spike said and Angel growled at the pet name. "Down boy," Spike admonished, glaring at Angel. "I'm agreeing with you. Just because Dawn's done with high school doesn't mean your responsibility will end, Slayer. She'll still live with you until she goes off on her own. Though I'm guessing once she's a legal adult they won't be able to stick their nose in your business anymore."
"I don't know how that works. Legally, she's our father's dependent until she finishes college, I'm not sure if the state sees it the same way or not." Angel ran his fingers through her hair, feeling the tension that had been rising in her during this conversation dwindle a bit at his touch.
"I don't know what to tell you there, Slayer, but really I came in here to talk to your worse half for a minute. If you two can separate long enough for me to do that."
"I think we can manage, I should probably see to some unpacking anyway," Buffy said, standing from the couch. Angel missed the warmth she offered him immediately and a look of recognition and understanding was exchanged between the two vampires. "I'll be up in my room when you guys are done talking. Try not to get lost looking for me," she said before brushing past Spike and out the door.
Spike watched her leave with rapt attention just as Angel did. Angel would love to get pissed off but he trusted Buffy. If she wanted Spike she would not have come to LA to talk to him, or would not have gone through with the anchoring his soul ordeal. Spike was in love with her, as much as it pained Angel to think it, but believed Buffy had no interest in Spike beyond friendship. Once upon a time in a different life Angel would have offered to share, but not with Buffy. He had never committed himself to a woman as he had to Buffy. Buffy was his, Riley was a slight detour nothing more and Buffy had never belonged to Finn.
"What is it you wanted to talk about, Spike?"
"I'm just curious about something."
"Why don't you just bloody marry her and get it over with?"
"Has it not entered your mind that if you were Buffy's husband these problems would be solved? What's yours is hers and what's hers is yours, Buffy would not have to worry about getting some job ringing up groceries or waiting tables or bouncing at Willy's. The last one I know would sit real well with you."
"No, it wouldn't."
"I know it wouldn't, which is why I don't understand why you don't just do it. Dawn is the closest thing Buffy's ever going to get to a child, Angelus. You know it and I know it, and you have the ability to see to it her sister is not taken from her. So I don't understand why you don't join the family unit legally and make her problems disappear."
"I never thought of it."
"You never thought of marrying her? Then you're a bigger pansy than I thought. You think she understands what being your mate means? You know she doesn't, because she's not a vampire and doesn't understand what it means. She might be able to a little, but one day after Anya and Xander are married and Dawn is going steady with someone or grown up and married Buffy's going to start to wonder where her happily ever after, till death do us part is."
"She never said anything."
"Do you think she's going to, you wanker? Just what every woman wants, the love of her life proposing because she wants him to. You've moved her in here and you anchored your soul for her, and it's all well and good right now. But one day she's going to get tired of shagging you without the pretty little wrapping around it. One day someone's going to say something to her or to Dawn that's going to get under her skin, some demon she's fighting is going to make a dig about her being your whore and you know they'll do it when word starts to get out."
"I'll kill them if they say it."
"Sure you will and avenge her death in the process because she'll be dead. The words will hit close enough to home; distract her enough for the nasty to have their good day. She's not Darla, Angelus, she's not vampire, she's human and all the tradition and childhood fantasies that go with it. She won't get the outdoor wedding she seemed to have a hankering for, unless it's at night, but she bloody deserves all the pomp and circumstance that goes with it."
"How do you know what type of wedding she wants?"
"Red did a spell once, Buffy and I were engaged for an evening."
"You were what?"
"It was a bloody spell, ask Buffy or Red, before she and Finn were hot and heavy even. Anyway, she was very excited about the whole process, and I don't think that was spell induced. You should have heard her prattling on about a cake and invitations and everything else. Even asked Rupert to give her away. You have the bloody identity to do your helping the helpless gig legally, why not use the identity and bind her to you legally."
"You make it sound so romantic, Spike."
"Well, I certainly don't want you to marry her, I hope she tells you to go to hell, but I can't bear the thought of her losing Dawn. It would break both of them and I've grown rather attached to them over the years, liked their mom too. They're good people and their mom would want them together. You've already tied her to you in our world, why not extend yourself and tie yourself to her in her world."
"You're right," Angel said softly. "But don't you think the case worker would think it's just a convenience thing?"
"Who cares what she thinks? You get married, what can the woman say? Prove to me that you love one another, which obviously you can do. I don't know how you two managed to pull off being around her this morning without setting off alarm bells in her head that you were more than merely friends." He smirked then. "Of course, shagging on the stairs probably went a long way toward curbing your desires a bit."
"You saw us?"
"Didn't see you, heard you though. I was in the kitchen looking for some blood before I remembered you were going to bring them to the basement."
"You have your own blood supply, Spike."
"I ran out and knew if I swiped a couple you wouldn't miss them with you leaving tonight and all."
"You've given me something to think about."
"Good, then my job here is done. I'm going to go on back to my end of the mansion, all holed away in my servants' quarters. You still leaving tonight?"
"Yeah, I have to get back."
"You're crazy, Peaches, if I were you I'd stay right here and never leave until she's gone. Spending time in LA is just wasting time you'll get with her."
"I can't just not go back, Spike."
"But you've thought about coming back here permanently?"
"Yeah, I have. Wesley and I talked about it before I left there Thursday."
"Well, all I ask is that if you come back and want me to leave you give me some notice."
"As long as you've been acting the way you have been the past couple of weeks, Spike, I have no problem with your staying. Buffy considers you part of her family, and two vampires and the Slayer can certainly do more good in this town than just her or just me and her."
"I saw a few years ago your idea of patrolling together, it didn't involve much slaying."
"We're beyond that."
"Right, you've aged from two hundred forty one to two hundred forty five, so you're no longer a hormonal boy unable to keep his lips to himself?"
"No, she's no longer a sixteen year old who has to sneak out of her house and combine seeing me with patrolling."
Buffy looked up just as the vampire she thought might actually best her turned to dust. Hovering over her in that vampire's place was another vampire. This vampire was friend not foe and had just driven a stake through the other vampire. He pocketed the stake in his leather duster and offered Buffy a hand. "Go home, Slayer," he said once she stood and was brushing herself off.
"You heard me, go home. You almost got yourself killed and he was weak."
"I've still got two more risings to see about."
"Tell me which cemeteries and who they are and I'll take care of them for you. Your honey would stake me if he knew I let you patrol like this."
"Like he'd know," she said bitterly. "I haven't heard from him in days."
"Days? I'm sure he has reasons, Slayer."
"Right, how difficult is it to pick up the phone and call me?"
"When you keep the hours he and I keep? It can be difficult, pet."
"He could call before he goes to sleep; he knows I wake up every morning to get Dawn to school."
Spike stalked toward her, a look in his eye that was frightening to be on the receiving end of especially since he was able to hurt her without the chip firing for some reason. "Listen to me, Slayer," he said, grabbing hold of her upper arms and drawing her against him. "Your boyfriend did not risk death, to himself or to you, to ensure his soul was permanent only to abandon you. He did not put you up in that monstrosity of a house only to leave you. If he has not called there is a reason he has not called. Do you have any idea what he's going through, Slayer? Do you have any idea how conflicted he must be, being there and wanting to be here but knowing when he's here that he has a business two hours away to worry about? He has people he's responsible for, Buffy, minions of the human variety who have served him for the past couple of years."
She was crying now full fledged tears, the frustration and fear at not hearing from Angel in over five days mounting and reaching its apex tonight with Spike seeing she was off her game. "Oh, pet, don't cry," he said, offering her a hug. "Come on. He hasn't left you, he hasn't forgotten about you," he said as if reading her mind.
"How can you know that?"
"Slayer? Why would I of all people reassure you if I believed he had taken off on you?"
"True," she said, sniffling and rubbing her face against his shirtfront. "You wouldn't."
"Damn straight, if I believed there was a chance he was gone I'd be telling you that and hoping it would lead you into my arms."
"I am in your arms," she said softly, with a soft laugh.
"Not in the way I meant and you know it, Slayer. He loves you, he never stopped even I know that."
"I just wish I knew why he hasn't called me."
"Have you called him?"
"No, I don't want to be a pest. He's done so much for me already."
He was running his fingers through her hair in an attempt to soothe her and it was working. "And you think calling him would inconvenience him, pet? Did you ever stop to think that maybe he's waiting to see if you'll call him?"
"Why would he?"
"I don't know, maybe he's afraid it's all happened so fast and you'll feel overwhelmed with it all."
"Has he talked to you?"
"No, pet, he has not. I'm just offering an opinion."
"God, you must think I'm pathetic."
"No, I don't. You two were apart for a long time and it appears that it was unnecessary, I can imagine you want to make sure and get every day with him you can. As I'm sure he does, too."
"I just hate sleeping alone."
"You can come visit me anytime, pet."
"I can't sleep with you."
"I certainly wouldn't kick you out if you came to me for that, but that's not what I meant. Come sit and watch the tele with me, there are some nights I could do with the company."
"Why are you being so nice to me?"
"Because I know nothing would change between us even if Angel was out of the picture. I've come to accept being a friend to you, Buffy, a part of your Slayerettes."
"Don't let your demon friends hear you say that they'd think you've gone soft."
"They just might at that, but I'd just beat the crap out of them to let them know I haven't gone too soft."
She laughed and drew away from him, shaking her head. "Let's go look up those two risings I have for tonight and get home."
"Are you feeling better? I really don't feel like saving your neck again."
"I'm better, yeah. You're right; he's probably busy with some client or something."
"Or maybe he's waiting for a call from his mate letting him know she misses him."
"I suppose I could."
"You can tell him about the job you got today."
She snorted. "I'm sure he'll love the idea of me being a bartender."
"I think he'd rather that than the one serving them, but perhaps you should not let him know that I'm the one who gave you the quick tutorial on mixing drinks."
"Your secret is safe with me," she said, feeling better. The fact that Spike had comforted her was a little disconcerting, but it was oddly nice.
She took care of the two newly risen vamps with ease and then she and Spike returned to the mansion. It was two days before Christmas, but she had not been prepared for the sudden dip in temperatures. It had been in the low seventies that afternoon and in general a perfect California day, but it was now downright chilly and Spike offered her the use of his duster.
She felt odd when he had draped it over her shoulders. This was a former slayer's coat, a slayer Spike had killed twenty-five years ago, before Buffy was even a thought. She stopped walking and closed her eyes and took a deep breath, flooded with pictures in her mind of that slayer. "You fought her well, fairly," she stated simply when she opened her eyes.
"Of course I did, do you think I'd want to win a fight like that by cheating?"
"I feel her," she said softly. "The coat, it's a connection to her. I sense her. I'm covered in her."
"What the hell are you prattling on about, Slayer?" Spike asked
"Nothing, I don't know," she shrugged not quite clear on what she was feeling herself. "She's here, though, I feel her," she said running her hand over the well worn leather duster. "I feel them all sometimes," she said softly, so softly if Spike had not had enhanced hearing he could not have heard her.
"I suppose that would be a little unsettling."
"It can be, yeah, it normally happens when I need to call on their power. It's not like they pop into my thoughts all of the time."
"Good thing that, I'd hate to be talking to that bint instead of you one day."
She laughed. "No, it doesn't work that way. It's just, her essence is here. I think it's because I'm touching something that was hers. I don't have this strong of a connection with any of the others except the first slayer, and that's because of that spell we did with Adam. I don't hear them or see them or anything. I just got a sense about her last fight, the one with you, and I sensed that it was fair."
"Well, she was wearing it when she died."
"I know," Buffy said softly.
"So, what's on the agenda for Christmas, Slayer?"
"The gang's coming over I'm cooking dinner much like Thanksgiving. Why? Do you have plans?"
"I was thinking I might bring someone if we were doing the festive celebrative get together thing."
"It's not Drusilla or Harmony, is it?"
"No, Slayer, it's not."
"Is it a vampire?"
"No," he said, sounding irritated.
"Well, no offense, but I wouldn't want a vampire in my house, Spike."
"I know you wouldn't, Buffy." He chuckled lightly. "You sure have gotten your mind wrapped around it being your house, haven't you?"
"Well, I live there, so yeah I have. I think it helps that I used to dream about Angel asking me to move in there with him after I finished high school. Now I do sound pathetic, don't I?"
"Dawn might not like your bringing a date."
"I know," he said softly. "She'll get over it."
"What's her name?"
"Well, tell Kristen she's welcome to join us. She does know you're a vampire, right?"
"She knows. I met her at Willy's actually."
"You what? She's a demon?"
"No," he laughed lightly. "Her car broke down and she came into use the telephone. Me being the nice bloke that I am ensured she utilized the phone safely, escorted her out to her car, waited until the wrecker showed up to tow it away, and then walked her home."
"Yeah, well, she's not you, but I really just want someone to pass time with on occasion. I've gotten sort of used to hanging out with humans," he admitted with a shrug and Buffy could not help but laugh.
"Funny that, you don't think of us as meals on legs anymore, huh?"
"Oh, some I do," he snorted.
"Well, I'll plan for an extra person to join us. Looks like I'll be the only one without a date then. Go me," she said softly.
"Glinda's coming then?"
"Willow says she is, yes. Tara gave her Hanukah presents this year, it was sweet. And you saw the menorah we had out."
"Yeah, Red even gave me a sampling of her latkes. They were damned good."
"Yeah, they were, it was fun. I've never seen Willow do all that before. I think Tara sort of encouraged her to do it, since we always do the Christmas thing. I'd never thought about it, but I guess it's not fair that we always expect her to come around for our holidays and yet do nothing for hers."
"You're right, Slayer," Spike said simply. Buffy tugged on the lapels of the duster, drawing it more snugly around her. She was tired and she still had to go home and call Angel. What if Spike was right and Angel was sitting there waiting for her to call him for a change and thought Buffy was mad at him or something? That was just what she needed. But how was she supposed to know he wanted her to call him? Other than Willow, she had never really been phone girl since coming to Sunnydale.
"Are you going to go see her tonight?"
"I was going to call her in the morning, actually."
"You are going to use a telephone?"
"Yeah," Spike said with a light laugh. "She's a student at the college and her parents went on a cruise so she's home by herself. I figured if you were all right with it, I'd ask her. But if you don't want to be the odd man out, I won't."
"No, invite her. If she's alone, invite her."
"Well, here we are," he said as they approached the mansion. The entrance to his end of the house was around the corner from the main entrance. "Have a good night, pet."
"Thanks, Spike and thanks for the help earlier."
"Don't mention it. I'll see you tomorrow I'm sure, and I meant it, if you're in the mood to hang out, swing on by. You know where to find me I think," he said with a wide grin.
"I wouldn't want to interrupt anything."
"Hardly. No company tonight, Christmas night I make no promises."
"That's a tall order for Santa."
"I have been fairly nice this year, not overly naughty."
She smiled, realizing she still had his duster over her shoulders and slid it off of her. She kissed him on the cheek as she draped the coat over his arm. "No, not too naughty. Good night, Spike," she said before entering the house.
Buffy walked through the house making sure the doors and windows were locked before stopping to check on Dawn and David who were in the living room watching a movie.
"I've locked up everything. Don't be too late, guys."
"I'm going as soon as the movie's over, ma'am, Buffy," David said.
"That's fine, I know it's break and all. Dawnie, will you look over the menu I have planned for tomorrow and Christmas Day before you go to bed and see if there's anything you want to add? And if there is, add the stuff I'll need to buy to the grocery list. I'm heading out of here at the crack of dawn to make it to the store before all of the crazies come out."
"Sure, Buffy," Dawn said and Buffy noticed the couple was holding hands.
"Thanks. David will you be eating with us?"
"Uh, Christmas Day. My parents do our big thing on Christmas Eve."
"Yeah, his parents invited me to come tomorrow night, is that okay?"
"Sure, Dawnie. You know," Buffy said, hoping she was not crossing a forbidden line. "If your parents aren't doing anything for Christmas Day, they're welcome to join us."
"I can call and ask them."
"Yeah, why don't you? I'd like to meet them," Buffy said, feeling very mommish at the moment. But it was clear this was getting serious between Dawn and David.
"Uh sure," he said and Dawn paused the movie and then stood from the couch, finding and handing David the cordless phone.
"Are you sure, Buffy?" Dawn walked into the room where Buffy waited to hear if David's parents were going to come.
"Sure, why not? It'd be nice to meet them. I mean, you're together all of the time now and he gives you rides to and from school. And, well, it'd be nice to tell Mrs. Kroeger I've met his parents."
"Okay, I just don't want you to go through too much trouble."
"What's two more people when I'm cooking a turkey anyway? I bought one big enough to feed an army, I swear."
David walked to the doorway and looked a little sheepish. "Yeah, they'll come."
"Great. Dawnie, maybe you could go shopping tomorrow and get them something from me?"
"I can help her with that, Buffy. I'll pick you up at eight?"
"Does the mall even open that early?" Buffy asked.
"Day before Christmas."
"Oh right. Okay, great. Thanks, good night then, guys. Again, not too late."
"We won't, Buffy," Dawn said impatiently as she walked back into the living room holding David's hand. Buffy sighed softly and walked away.
Buffy trudged her way upstairs, wondering what David thought Buffy did out late at night all of the time. He did not know what Spike and Angel were, did not know anything about the hellmouth, did not know about demons or slayers, and did not know that Dawn was originally a ball of energy. Buffy hoped that he could remain innocent about such things for a while longer. Eventually, he would find out, it was inevitable if he was going to be around them, just as Oz had found out accidentally the night of her seventeenth birthday.
She turned on the monitor to the computer in her room and checked her email. They had DSL, which meant little to Buffy aside from the fact she knew they were always connected to the Internet, so a click of the mouse and her inbox was displayed and indicated she had no new email messages. Dawn and Willow had both sent her something earlier in the day. It was so weird to get emails from people who lived in the same house. Nothing from Angel, and he had been the one who made her get an email address.
She turned the monitor off and headed to the bathroom. Luckily, it had just been vampires tonight, no demons so no blood, guts or demon goo, so her shower was dispensed with quickly. She always avoided seeing David until after she had cleaned up on nights like those. She plopped down on her bed, clutching one of the throw pillows that decorated the huge bed to her midsection wondering if she should take Spike's advice and call Angel. She hated this, she had told him she would be content with this separate lives thing. "But it sucks," she said to the empty room.
She hated calling because she did not want him to think she was being a pest or was not content with the way things were. She was not, but he did not need to know that. With a heavy sigh she picked up her telephone. "Here goes nothing," she said as she pushed the numbers that would either connect her to Angel or his private answering machine.
"Hello," said a voice that did not belong to Angel and was not a man's voice. "Hello?" the voice said again.
"Oh my God," she whispered and pushed the disconnect button without another word.
The plastic casing of the phone cracked under her grip and Buffy did not notice when the dial tone faded in volume until there was no sound at all. She set the phone back on its base and zombie-like left the bedroom. Her feet were on autopilot as she went down the stairs. She walked through the kitchen to the servants' quarters, Spike's part of the house. She knocked lethargically, staring blankly at the door in front of her.
"Slayer," she heard Spike say as he shook her violently. But she could not say anything, did not want to say anything. She just stared at him, saw his mouth moving but heard nothing else beyond that one word.
The next thing she knew she was sitting on a couch, Spike's she presumed though she had no conscious thought of where she was but Spike was in front of her looking at her hands and apparently irritated. His lips were moving, his brow was furrowed and his blue eyes looked stormy.
She smelled antiseptic and her head was resting on something hard, something that was definitely not her pillow. Her eyes were sore, her throat was parched and sore, her hands hurt, and her lungs felt like they had been brutally punished as if she had run a marathon or something. "Angel?"
"No, pet," Spike said. Buffy opened her eyes again to see him sitting on a table at the side of the couch she was lying on, obviously worried. "Are you in there?"
"Am I what?"
"Are you in there?"
"Thank god, you scared me to death, Buffy, don't ever do that again. That's twice now you've gone catatonic and I didn't like it any better the second time around."
"Buffy, you've been laying here on my couch for four fucking hours, staring at the ceiling, crying and screaming your lungs out."
"Hell if I know, you messed up your hands pretty good, too," he said and she glanced at her hands, sure enough her knuckles were battered again. Spike had put some salve on them or something. They would heal.
"Thanks," she murmured. "I guess I'd better get to bed," she said softly and moved to stand. Spike's strong hand at her shoulder stopped her.
"You're not going anywhere until you tell me what the hell is going on, Slayer? Dawn came to the door telling me Angel was on the phone for you."
"Did she hear me?"
"No, she came during one of your quiet moments. I liked those less than I liked the screaming fit moments, Slayer. At least the screaming fit moments I knew you were alive."
"I don't want to talk to him," she murmured gathering her knees against her chest.
"What the hell are you going on about?"
"I called there like you told me to."
"A woman answered the phone."
"So what, Slayer? He's got two women working for him."
"This is his private line, Spike, in his room, and it was not Cordelia."
"Maybe it was that other git he's got working for him then."
"It didn't sound like her either."
"Well, he's called here, too, Buffy, Dawn gave him my number."
"I don't want to talk to him."
"Jesus, Slayer, come on. Do you honestly think he'd take up with someone else?"
"He slept with Darla," she spat back.
"Okay, yeah, well, that was before you two were together again."
"How do I know what he's off doing now that he can? I'm such an idiot. That day probably never happened, he probably just knew Willow was powerful enough to do something to fix him."
"Right," Spike said, glaring at her.
"And he implanted those memories in your mind?"
"Well, yeah," she said, nibbling on her lower lip. "We share dreams, it's possible. I saw him kill some houseservant at a party once."
"I did, I saw him, it was his dream but I was there in it and he saw me, too."
"I don't know what you're prattling on about, Slayer, but I think you've got a screw loose if you think he'd want anyone but you."
"Someone who's in LA and not in Sunnydale you mean? He told me I was his mistress," she said softly, wide eyed.
"He what?" Spike exploded.
"Well, there was more to it then that. We were talking the day the case worker came by," she sighed softly and shook her head. She lifted her hands and rubbed her temples. "My head hurts."
"As well it should the way you were carrying on. Four fucking hours, Slayer, it's a good thing we have no neighbors or they'd have called the police."
"I'm sorry," she murmured.
"Don't be sorry, but I still think you're jumping to conclusions, Slayer. Did you even ask for him?"
"No, and that's just it. She did not answer the phone "Angel Investigations" or "Angel's residence" or anything like that, she just said "hello"."
Apparently, she had scored a point with that comment because Spike did not look as confident as he had a minute ago. "Just talk to him."
"No, I don't want to. I called him once already because you suggested it. No, thank you. I'm an idiot and we'll just chalk it up to that. No more men for Buffy. No more."
"You scared the hell out of me. You know it's not fair."
"You do this to me, fill me with worry for you, I step in and take care of you, pick up the broken pieces when I can and still you go to him."
"Again, I repeat, I'm an idiot." Spike snorted softly and stood from the table he had been sitting on. "Where are you going?"
"To get you a blanket, you're shivering," he said, something which Buffy had not even noticed.
"Thanks," she said when he returned with a throw blanket that was her mom's. "Where did you get this?"
"Dawn gave it to me. After you'd gone, it smelled like you and your mom, so she let me have it."
"Oh," Buffy said softly and snuggled up in the blanket. "What time is it?"
"In the morning?"
"Yeah," he said.
"And that's another thing. If I've been here for four hours, what was a woman doing in his room at two in the morning?"
"I don't know, Slayer."
"I need to get up."
"I don't think so."
"I need to go to the store," she said. "I have dinner to cook tonight and things to buy for tonight and tomorrow. David's parents are coming over for dinner tomorrow night." She groaned and started to cry again.
"Oh, please, Slayer, don't cry again. I can't take your tears. I'll go to the store for you."
"I've got about an hour until it comes up, and I'll take the Desoto."
"Are you sure?"
"If you promise me you'll try and get some sleep."
"Yeah," she said softly. "The list is on the refrigerator."
"No problem, Slayer, I'll do it. Want me to help you to bed?"
"No," she said moving to stand from the couch. "I can do it. I'm sorry to impose on you."
"Hey, I told you to come down whenever you wanted to, I just prefer it if next time you don't beat the door down. The door is solid oak and I'd rather not see bloodied knuckles on you again. Okay?"
She laughed. "Yeah."
He offered her a hand, which she took and stood from the couch, the blanket dropping onto the couch. "You know, none of us will care if we don't have dinner tonight, Buffy. Your friends are capable of fending for themselves."
"No, I'm not going to let him ruin my Christmas. I refuse. He hasn't called me for days, hasn't made any effort to tell me he was going to be here tonight or tomorrow, so obviously he doesn't want to be here."
"I think you're wrong, Slayer, but I'm not going to argue with you when I have nothing definite to argue with."
"That's probably wisest."
"I do catch on eventually," he chided as he opened the door for her. "Go on upstairs, Slayer, get some sleep. I'll get your marketing done and Dawn can help me put them away, she told me she was waking up about seven anyway to get ready for a date with David."
"Yeah, they're going to the mall to get his parents something from me for Christmas."
"Okay," Spike said, though he clearly did not quite understand why they were doing it and not Buffy.
"I've got money upstairs in my purse."
"Pay me back later, pet, no worries," he said and she kissed him on the cheek.
She walked upstairs and went to Willow's room, knocking lightly. "Will, it's Buffy," she said pushing open the door.
"Come in," the sleepy response came. "What's up?"
"Nothing, you in the mood for some company? Not that kind of company, but the best friend, slumber party type company?"
Willow laughed lightly and tossed back the half of her bedspread that was absent a person sleeping under it. "Sure, come on in. What's up?"
"Nothing I want to talk about right now."
"Okay, but if you want to."
"Nope, just want my best friend."
"That you have," Willow said as Buffy crawled into bed.
"No problem," she said and both girls fell quickly to sleep.
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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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.
"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.
"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."
"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."
"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."
Buffy sat at her vanity trying to remember to breathe while Willow and Dawn fixed her hair. Anya declined Buffy's invitation to join them in her typical tactless fashion. She was not happy that Buffy was getting married before she and Xander were. It had not been Buffy's idea to get married so quickly, but Angel wanted to get married on New Year's Eve. It was going to be a small affair with just their family and friends in attendance. Her father was in New York City for the holidays and, big surprise, was unable to attend. She had hoped her father would be there to give her away like other girl's fathers had been doing for centuries, but Giles had come for Christmas and would be instead. He had been more of a father to her the past six years so it seemed sort of fitting.
Last night everyone had come over for a traditional goose dinner, traditional for Angel's people. True, the groom was not supposed to be living with the bride before the ceremony took place, but not all traditions could be followed to the letter. The groom probably was not supposed to be a vampire either. Their wine for the evening was another request of Angel's, Bunratty Meade. The wine was apparently thought to promote virility, not that Angel had to worry about that. But Buffy had no problem fulfilling a couple of Angel's requests; it was his wedding, too. And if cooking a goose and drinking a particular wine made him happy then she would do those things. He waited over two hundred fifty years to get married, Buffy figured he deserved a request or two be fulfilled on the day of their wedding.
Willow went to answer the knock at the main door to her room, leaving Dawn alone with Buffy. Dawn looked so grown up wearing a peach dress made of silk and lace, her hair French braided and her make up and nails done perfectly.
"You look nice," Buffy said nervously.
"Thanks," Dawn said, running her hand along the side of her dress. "I hope David thinks so."
"He'd be crazy not to. He seems nice. I hope we didn't scare off his parents."
"No, they were a little uncomfortable at Christmas dinner since everyone else knew one another, but they're coming today with David and even bought a wedding gift. I told them they didn't have to," she said with a smile.
"Really? That was nice of them."
"Buffy," Giles said from behind them and Buffy stood. She was wearing her robe and tightened the belt around her waist instinctively.
"Giles, is everything okay?" Giles was on the other side of the house in the servants' quarters with the men. "Has Angel changed his mind?"
"No, of course not. Everything's fine, Buffy, I just came to talk to you for a minute."
"Oh, right," she said glancing at Dawn and Willow.
"We'll go down and see how the caterers are doing," Willow said, tugging on Dawn's arm and both left.
"What's up?" Buffy asked nervously.
"You're not even dressed and the clergyman is due any minute, Buffy."
"I was working on it, Giles," she said with a roll of her eyes. "Dawn and Willow just finished my hair, I was going to put my makeup on and then get dressed."
"Right, good, I've never understood the process women go through to get ready. But if you say you're almost ready then I believe you. May I sit?" he asked, gesturing to an armchair.
"Of course," she said, taking a seat at her vanity.
Giles removed his glasses followed by the all too familiar gesture of his cleaning them. "I know I haven't been supportive of you and Angel in the past, and I admit I was angry when I heard what the two of you did."
"We would have been together anyway, Giles," she interjected. "And it was my idea."
"Yes, I understand that, just as I understand that Angel did not willingly feed off of you years ago. I know that Angel would never do anything to physically harm you. While I'm not your father I would like to think I've acted as a suitable substitute over the years."
"You have," Buffy said quickly.
"And I know I'm supposed to say something paternal about now, but don't think I need to warn you about your wedding night or children."
"No, none of those things will be necessary."
"And you're okay with that, Buffy? I mean, you've thought this through, what marrying Angel will mean giving up? The chance to have a family?"
"I'm giving up having children, Giles. I already have a family, everyone here today is my family. We may not share blood or the same name, but you're all family. And, honestly, Giles, I wouldn't bring a child into my world. That's assuming I can have them, I've sort of wondered. I mean, with Riley," she said and trailed off.
"Oh, I didn't realize, I mean," he said, clearing his throat clearly uncomfortable with this conversation. "You tried?"
"No, but there were times we weren't exactly careful, after a patrol or whatever," she said and glanced away, not at all comfortable talking about this. This was Giles. "Anyway, all I'm giving up is children, and had Willow not brought me back I wouldn't be here to have them anyway. I get Angel out of the deal, I'd rather have Angel by my side than a child, Giles."
"So long as you're sure, Buffy, I'm not here to talk you out of anything. I just want to make sure."
"I know," she said standing and walking toward him. She kissed him lightly. "I love you, Giles. If I've never said that, or only said it to try and get my way I'm sorry."
"Oh, Buffy," he said and Buffy thought she saw tears in his eyes. "I love you, too, dear. I should let you get dressed or your groom might think you've had a change of heart."
"I'll be down in a minute. Would you send Willow up?"
"Yes, please," she said softly.
"Of course, Buffy, whatever you like."
"Thanks," she said and sat at her vanity again to apply her makeup. She glanced in the mirror, holding the powder brush in her hand near her cheeks and sighed. Now she was nervous. Not because of the questions Giles had asked, but because she was getting married. To Angel. It was not exactly her dream wedding, a dozen people in attendance in their living room instead of a whole bunch of family and friends in a church. The wedding arrangements had been made in less than a week. Her father was not even here, which hurt more than she would ever let Angel know. She was no longer the girl from those dreams she had once had.
"You ready to get dressed?" Willow asked coming into the room.
"Yeah," Buffy said nibbling on her lower lip before applying her lipstick.
"I wanted to give you my gift ahead of time," Willow said and handed Buffy a brown paper wrapped gift.
"Willow," she protested. Everyone had been told no gifts.
"Just open it," Willow said.
Buffy tore it open and inside of the basic brown paper wrapping was the wedding invitation Willow had created for them framed. In one corner of the ivory parchment like paper was a picture of his and hers Claddagh rings in teal and silver. The script lettering was teal as well.
Buffy's eyes grew teary as she read it. The word moon had replaced sun given Angel's inability to follow her into the sun. Willow had handed out the invitations since everyone attending was at the mansion except Cordelia who was staying with her parents. One had been mailed to her father, but chances were he would never even read it.
"Thank you, Will," she said and hugged her best friend. "It's beautiful," she said, running her fingertips along the picture frame. It was wood and had been painted silver and teal to match the colors on the invitation. She had not really seen the point of doing an invitation, but Willow had insisted and Buffy was glad now that she had.
"You're welcome, now let's get you dressed."
She dressed in the pale blue silk floor length gown that was serving as her wedding gown. It was rather plain, but the three girls had all agreed it looked elegant on her. Buffy decided elegance was the way to go on her wedding day, the slit along the left leg was perhaps a bit racy but it made it easier to walk. Willow placed the wreath of wildflowers on Buffy's head, which also served as the crown to her veil and fastened it in place. She slid into her pumps, a low enough heel to remain comfortable but high enough so that Angel would not tower over her that evening.
The clock struck the half hour and Buffy glanced at herself in the mirror one last time.
"Let's see. I have my something old," she said gesturing to the pearl necklace she wore that had been her maternal grandmother's. "I have my something new," she said lifting up the hem of her gown slightly revealing her shoes that she had bought and had died to match her dress and probably could have fulfilled the something blue portion of the tradition. "I have my something borrowed," she said indicating the lace handkerchief that Cordelia of all people had lent her. "I have my something blue," she said gesturing to her upper thigh where the garter she wore was but could not be seen at the moment. "I guess I'm ready," she said, taking the bouquet of flowers into her hands. Her bouquet was the traditional bridal bouquet done in all white. Willow's maid of honor arrangement was an assortment of wildflowers that matched Buffy's headpiece. Wesley, serving as Angel's best man had a single white tea rose boutonniere on his jacket lapel while Angel's boutonniere was two white tea roses with a sprig of baby's breath. "You have the ring?"
"Yes," Willow smiled.
"Okay, let's go," she said, glad Willow did not have the enhanced hearing Angel and Spike had to hear her heart beating a mile a minute. She descended the stairs where Giles waited for her and Buffy placed her hand in the crook of his arm. Willow went on ahead and Buffy felt fresh tears form in her eyes at Giles' appraisal of her.
"You look lovely, Buffy."
"Thank you," she said softly. She ran a fingertip along the string of pearls she wore nervously. The cross pendant she always wore was hidden beneath the bodice of the blue silk gown, where it would remain until the night was over. She had debated taking it off, but realized since she had no stakes or other weapons on her it was best to at least keep one thing handy.
She and Giles walked across the hall to the living room. It was a nice night, warm even for California, so the doors leading out to the terrace were open. The light breeze was refreshing and the air smelled sweet after a late afternoon rain shower. There was no pomp and circumstance, Giles merely walked her to Angel and took his seat next to Dawn after telling the clergyman he was the one giving Buffy away.
The room could have been filled with two hundred people and Buffy would not have noticed anything but the man standing in front of her now. He looked handsome, even more than on prom night. He was not wearing a tuxedo tonight, but the double-breasted, old-fashioned cut suit he wore was flattering. His tie was one of those old fashioned ties, but with the style of suit he wore the tie fit right in. Distantly, she heard the clergyman's words, repeated what she was supposed to, gave her bouquet to Willow when they got to the exchanging of the rings part of the ceremony, and gasped from stifled tears when Angel lifted her veil away to kiss her for the first time as her husband.
Buffy and Angel turned to face their family and friends as the clergyman formally introduced them as husband and wife. Buffy's eyes widened when she saw her father. She glanced at Angel, wondering if he had anything to do with his being here and suspected Angel and Giles had together done the Godfather thing and made her father an offer he could not refuse.
"Hi Daddy," she said once they had made their way to the back of the room. She felt a little self-conscious in front of her father. It had been so long since she had actually seen him and here she was marrying a man within a week of getting proposed to.
"Hi princess," he said, taking both of her hands in his and kissing her cheek. "You look beautiful. So much like your mother," he whispered and he sounded sincere. It had been over six years since her parents had divorced, Buffy just assumed her father never thought about her mother much.
"Thanks," she said appreciatively. She certainly did not mind being compared to her mother. "I'm glad you came."
"I wouldn't have missed it," he said and offered Angel his hand as he turned to face his new son in-law who was in actuality old enough to be the man's great grandfather several times over. "Congratulations."
"Thanks," Angel said with a smile as he tightened his hold on her. "I'm glad you could make it, I know how much it meant to Buffy to have you here."
Dawn approached them and offered their father a hug and a kiss. "Hi Dad."
"I didn't even recognize you with your hair like that, sweetie. You look all grown up, both of my little girls do," he said. Buffy knew the words would make Dawn feel good and that her sister was just as happy and surprised that their father had come here, no matter how it was he got here.
"Are you staying for dinner?" Dawn asked. Buffy was still too stunned to say anything, surprised her dad was really here. She felt a little bad that Giles had given her away when her dad was here, but really she would not have it any other way.
"I was planning on it."
"Oh good. Angel had the dinner catered and you wouldn't believe all of the food there is."
"I can't wait," Hank Summers said. "I am curious why you chose New Year's Eve."
Buffy glanced at Angel, interested in knowing this as well. "Because when I married your daughter I wanted the whole world to celebrate with me. Marrying her on New Year's Eve was the closest I could come to actually making that happen."
"Oh Angel," Buffy said softly and kissed him. She had no idea if that was the real reason or not, but it sounded good.
The rest of their friends gathered around to offer their congratulations, introductions were made between her father and those he did not know, which was most everyone besides Giles. It was a little disheartening how far removed from her life he had become, they did not live that far away but a couple of hours seemed daunting at times.
Soon they all gathered in the dining room where the buffet style dinner waited for them. Dawn was right, the spread was amazing and seemed never ending. Angel had not been sure how long everyone would stay up given it was New Year's Eve and did not want anyone to go hungry or to get sick from having too much to drink without benefit of a full stomach.
Angel sat at the head of the table with Buffy seated to his right. The table was really not designed for them to sit side by side at the head of the table, but Buffy was small and they were sharing a plate so it worked. Buffy would have sat on his lap more than likely, but Angel thought it best to behave with at least some decorum with her father present. His right hand was resting over her left, his ring finger tracing the diamond solitaire on her finger absently. Every once in a while, his fingertip would slip and graze the smooth surface of her wedding band. Her band matched his, only thinner.
Hank Summers was at the foot of the table with Giles seated to his left. The two men had been talking for most of the evening, which had not surprised Angel. The rest of their ensemble of family and friends were seated around the table as well. The caterers had ensured the dishes remained full during the dinnertime. They would be serving cake next and then after ensuring all of the food was replenished one last time for the evening would depart to return in the morning to collect everything.
"Are you all right," he leaned over and asked Buffy. She had been quiet throughout most of the meal, not broodingly so but still he hoped he had done nothing wrong.
"Yeah," she said, leaning into him and kissing him. Her kisses this evening had come few and far between as far Angel was concerned. Perhaps her father's presence had something to do with that. She had been somewhat stingy with her public displays of affection since Giles had gotten there on Christmas Day, but not quite this stingy. "I'm just watching everybody."
"Wishing there were more here, you mean?"
"Other than my mother, no, Angel, the day was perfect."
"You sure?" he asked uncertainly.
"I'm sure, baby. I wouldn't want it any other way." She slid her left hand from under his and placed it on top of his. She squeezed gently and leaned even closer to him, lowering her voice to the faintest whisper. "Wait until you see the garter the girls gave me."
He swallowed hard, considering they had a couple of hours yet until midnight and the year two thousand two rolled around, he would unfortunately be waiting for a little while. "How long do I have to wait exactly?"
"Not much longer if you play your cards right," she said and kissed his ear.
"Oh. I had sort of planned on ringing in the New Year just the two of us. Is that okay?"
"More than okay."
She ran a perfectly manicured nail along his cheek and ran it along the roundness of his lower lip. "Good. We'll take a bottle of champagne up with us when we go."
"I'm not sure we'll take the time to drink it, Buffy."
"You might take the time to lick it off of me."
A low rumble came from his chest at the thought she had implanted in his mind. "I might," he agreed with a slight shake of his head to quell his demon.
"Are you going on a honeymoon," her father asked from the other end of the table.
"Not right now," Angel replied. "Buffy's about to start a job, I'm in the middle of moving back down here, and tying up loose ends with the business in Los Angeles plus the case with the state. So, maybe this summer when school's out for Dawn and she's with you we'll take a trip somewhere."
"Sure, we can work around whatever plans you might make."
"Thanks, Dad," Buffy said. "You never mentioned a honeymoon," she said with a whisper.
"I didn't want to disappoint you that we had to wait for a while to take it, so I sort of figured it would be a nice surprise once the case is closed and things are settling down to talk to you about it."
"Always thinking. What would I do without you?"
"I try not to think about that too often," he admitted with a grimace.
"Have I told you recently that I love you?"
"No, you have not."
"And you're the most handsome groom I've ever had the privilege of seeing?"
"No, you have not mentioned that either. Just how many grooms have you had the privilege of seeing?"
"Um, boy, I don't know honestly, none?"
He chuckled lightly and took a sip of wine. "I have seen my share of brides, but none hold a candle to you. You're the best New Year's present I can possibly think of."
"And we haven't even gotten to sharing the champagne yet."
He leaned to kiss her ear, nibbling the lobe lightly. "Stop taunting me already or my demon's going to break free and I don't think you want that in front of David's parents and your father."
"If you insist," she said with a pout.
"For now, if they leave, tease and taunt all you want but I don't think it's quite the dramatic effect one wants for their wedding reception."
"All I want?"
He rolled his eyes but his smile widened. "All you want."
"I like the sound of that."
"I figured you might."
"How can we convince them to go? Soon?"
"I don't know," he said with a low chuckle and captured her lips in a heated kiss. "Mine," he whispered.
"No," she said shaking her head slightly. "Mine."
"I can live with that."
Buffy walked home from work accompanied by Willow and Xander. Her two best friends had visited her at work, and had spent the evening talking to one another about Anya and whether she would ever forgive Xander for standing her up at the altar last Saturday. Buffy had participated as best as she could, but work was busy due to the fact it was the Thursday before St. Patrick's Day. The seventeenth of March fell on a Sunday this year, so Buffy's boss had told her to prepare for a busy weekend. Luckily for Buffy, she worked the afternoon shift at Michael's so she believed she would escape the mayhem that was St. Patrick's Day fairly unscathed.
She had taken to the job surprisingly easily and despite working eleven o'clock in the morning until half past seven in the evening at a bar that only served potato chips and microwave popcorn for food she made fairly decent money. Her evenings were free to spend time with Angel and Dawn and for patrolling, and her boss had told Buffy they could work something out if she decided to go back to school. So after ten weeks on the job Buffy was happy where she was.
Angel said she did not have to work, but she wanted to make sure Dawn's case got closed. The case worker did not seem to believe her marriage to Angel was out of convenience, but Buffy still felt she needed to prove that she was not going to lean on Angel and count on her new husband to bear all of the responsibility of raising Dawn.
Another plus to the bartending gig was that Buffy got to wear pretty much whatever she wanted, so long as she was able to move freely. Since she was behind the bar there was no risk of groping, she had dealt with that one too many times working at the diner in LA a few years back, and she was okay with being ogled. Angel had put his foot down and told her that she could not wear one or two outfits and while a part of her seethed at the idea of him thinking he could tell her what to wear she loved knowing that he was so possessive of her.
Her mother's house had sold surprisingly quickly, especially for Sunnydale. Buffy was set to close on the house on the eighteenth of March. Angel was joining her on one final walk through of the house at 1630 Revello Drive tonight to say her good byes to the house and her mother for the last time. Dawn had not wanted to come with. Maybe she would come by herself over the weekend, Buffy did not know and did not push. She was entitled to mourn and grieve and say good bye in her own way.
Angel had been right, there would be enough after the mortgage and other closing expenses to put Buffy through college. She still did not know what exactly she was going to major in, but having spent extensive time with Angel over the past few weeks perusing the volumes Giles had brought with him over Christmas she was leaning toward something in the preternatural field. Angel had suggested perhaps she could be a teacher. She had talked to Giles while he was in town over the weekend for Xander and Anya's wedding about that. He seemed to think it was a wonderful idea and had made mention of keeping the Watcher's Council in mind, they like Giles and other watchers had plenty of reading material but there was nothing like hearing first hand accounts from someone who had personal experience with apocalypse attempt after apocalypse attempt.
Buffy did not think she could ever teach or advise the Watcher's Council, but she was going to take as many of the odd literature and history courses she could in order to obtain degrees in English or History and from there she would decide. Giles had suggested anthropology and archeology as options as well, anything that studied ancient civilizations. At least she would have a degree, her mother would be proud of her for accomplishing that much.
"Good night, Xander," Buffy bid her friend when they reached the point where Xander went one way toward his apartment and she and Willow went the other way to Crawford Street.
"Night, Buff, sorry I wasn't in a real good mood tonight."
"No problem, Xander, I understand. If there's anything I can do, if you want to crash at the house even just let me know."
"Thanks, but I think I just need to be alone for a while."
"No problem, be strong. You did the right thing, Xander. The timing might have been wrong, but it's better to put a stop to the marriage before it took place if you were having doubts."
"I know," he said, his head hanging low. Buffy decided now was perhaps not the time to talk to him about this, he had apparently talked himself out to Willow earlier. So, she offered him a hug.
"Night," Willow said giving him a hug too.
"Night," Xander said and walked toward his apartment while she and Willow continued on home.
The sounds of pool were heard when the best friends entered the mansion and Buffy went to investigate who was playing while Willow went up to her room to call Tara. The couple was back together for the most part, but Tara was keeping her distance and forcing them to take things slow so that she knew Willow's efforts at curbing her unnecessary magic use was for Willow's benefit not Tara.
Spike and Kristen and David and Dawn were in the game room. David and Dawn had what appeared to be Cokes while Spike was drinking beer and Kristen appeared to have a glass of wine. Kristen was becoming a regular visitor to the mansion. Spike claimed they were just friends, Kristen was a nice girl for him to spend time with but that was all it was for the moment. Buffy felt a little sorry for Kristen, because it was clear that she did not have just friends in mind whenever she looked at Spike.
"Hi guys," Buffy said cheerfully.
"Hey Buffy," Dawn and David said in unison. Gone were the days of David hesitating between calling her ma'am and Buffy.
"Hi," Kristen said shyly. Buffy knew she still felt a little out of place despite everyone's efforts to make her feel welcome.
"Slayer," Spike said, lifting his eyes from the cue ball he was aiming at briefly.
"Thanks, I just came to see who was doing what."
"We're just hanging out. Are you going to join us?"
"I might, let me go change and see what Angel's doing."
"He's been up in his study since about four o'clock."
"Oh, great, thanks," Buffy said. "I'll be down in a bit then." She glanced at the grandfather clock and saw that it was just before eight o'clock. Angel had been in his study for almost four hours? Hopefully, that did not mean more work for Buffy. Usually when he spent so much time up there it was because he was cross referencing volumes to ensure what he had found had been accurately interpreted. It was almost like having Giles back as her Watcher again but with lots of fringe benefits like good sex and love.
"Hey, honey," she said, opening the study door after knocking on it lightly to announce her entrance.
"Hey yourself," he said offering her the smile she had come to learn over the past ten weeks meant he was truly happy to see her. He liked Dawn, tolerated Spike, cared for Willow, did not mind David, Kristen or Tara but when it came down to it Angel, like Buffy, was the type of person who preferred to keep to themselves for the most part. "How was work?"
"Pretty good, I made one hundred fifty dollars."
"Really. That's the most I've ever made, I look forward to St. Patrick's Day weekend if it means more tips," she said moving to sit on his lap when he pushed his chair away from the computer desk. Her arms went around his neck and she kissed him.
"It's probably this green choker you're wearing," he said tugging on the piece of green fabric that was for the weekend bearing her cross. He reached around and undid the clasp, removing it and setting the choker on his desk so they could cuddle and touch without having to worry about the cross.
"What are you doing up here? The gang said you've been up here since four o'clock."
"I have just been busy going through all of these closing papers for you, the house inspector dropped off his findings today. Everything looks good, but I'm trying to be thorough so there's no last minute red tape."
"So no work then? No prophecies? No apocalypses for Buffy to worry about?"
"No, but she does have a husband who could use a little loving," he said his hands sliding under her skirt.
"I told Spike and the others I'd join them for pool."
"Later," Angel murmured, kissing her as he stood from the chair and brought her to the sofa. The sofa had been placed here for just this reason, love making when Angel was busy working on something and wanted a quickie. Not that an Angel quickie was of the bad, sometimes Angel quickies were so intense Buffy hummed from aftershocks for hours afterwards.
They were done with patrolling rounds for the night, Spike said he would do a final sweep a few hours from now so that Buffy and Angel could get to the house on Revello Drive and spend some time there. Angel heard the slight sound of the dead bolt sliding away as Buffy unlocked the door and then pushed the front door open. She went to the dining room and turned on the chandelier. There were no lamps left at the house since it had been standing empty since the middle of December.
Angel released her hand, giving her whatever space she might require. He had his own memories of this house, of Buffy, of Joyce, of Dawn, but this was her time to say good bye. Angel had gotten used to things being temporary during his two hundred fifty year existence and, therefore, tried not to get attached to anything physical. He had failed drastically where Buffy was concerned, allowing himself to not just get attached to her but to need her in such a way that he no longer could imagine life without her.
She wandered from the dining room to the living room. There, she ran her hand over the fireplace mantel and walked to the picture window that had been broken more times than Angel cared to even think about. From the living room she walked to the kitchen and opened each cupboard and the appliances. Angel knew she was not looking for anything, so he bit his tongue to stop himself from asking her if she thought she had left something behind.
Next came the upstairs and a walk through of her mom's room, Dawn's room, the bathroom and lastly her room. Angel saw the tears in her eyes clearly even without the overhead light illuminating the room. He stepped up behind her, wrapped his arms around her, hoping he was offering her the comfort she sought and not crowding her.
"You probably think I'm acting like a baby," she said, turning in his arms as she wiped the tears away with her hand.
"Not at all, Buffy, I would wonder what was wrong if you did not react to this. You're an emotional person, you have almost six years of your life invested in this house, you have good and bad memories here."
"But you do realize that the memories do not live here, Buffy? The memories are here," he said placing his index finger over her heart. "And here," he said moving his hand to touch her temple with the same fingertip. "The memories are in you, Buffy. It's up to you, and to Dawn, to let them live on. The house is but a structure, one day it will be gone, but still you will have handed your memories down to Dawn's children and her children to their children and the cycle goes on."
"I know," she said, embracing him. "I love you."
"I love you, too," he whispered and stepped away from her walking to the window where he had made many late night calls on her. Sometimes he had watched her sleep without disturbing her, even Angelus had done that, not that he would ever admit that to her. He unlocked the window and raised it, stepping through the window and offered her a hand.
"What are you doing?" she asked. Angel noticed the tears had stopped, which had sort of been his intention.
"Come on," he said and she took his hand, following him out onto the roof. He sat and she did, too, and simultaneously without exchanging words they both looked up to the sky. The sky was bright tonight, the stars were plentiful and clearly visible. There was a slight breeze, but it was a comfortable night. He placed an arm around her and she rested her head against his shoulder. He placed a brief kiss to the top of her head and sighed, releasing an unnecessary breath.
Angel did not bother to worry about how much time had passed, he just let Buffy sit quietly against him. He loved having her close to him like this, loved that they could sit together and neither felt they had to fill their silences with mindless utterances. Moments like this were pure perfection as far as Angel was concerned.
"I'm ready to go now," she finally said and stood carefully, returning indoors through the open window.
"You sure?" Angel asked as he followed her back into the room.
"Yeah, but can you do me one last favor tonight?"
"Anything, Buffy," he said as he closed and locked the window they had just come through. She crooked her finger and signaled for him to come to her, which he did without question.
"I want one last memory here, that's just you and me, care to indulge me?" she asked. Apparently she did not imagine he would actually protest because she had already begun unzipping his jeans before he had a chance to respond.
"No bed," he managed to utter right before her lips claimed his heatedly, almost desperately and Angel was gone. He did not care about the lack of bed or anything else but pleasing this woman, his wife, and giving her the stars and the moon in the sky if he could. He thought he knew how George Bailey had felt about Mary in It's A Wonderful Life long ago, Angel himself felt like he could conquer the world if Buffy wished for him to do it.
There was little foreplay and as there was no bed, Angel took her against the wall in what was at one time her bedroom. He was not exactly sure just what she needed but he did his best to provide it to her. She was ruthless and needy, pushing him so his back was against the wall briefly and she rode him like that for a while, her legs gripping his hips with all of her Slayer strength to keep her in place.
Since the night months ago he had fed off of her coming to after ingesting the poison Angel had refrained from biting her. They had never talked about it, he never asked if she would let him which was heavy on his mind at this precise moment. He was overcome with the desire, the need, to formally and completely claim her as his mate. Sure he had fed off of her twice, but both times he had been unaware of what exactly he was doing and had not been of the mind to say the words that would bind them together and make the claiming complete.
His game face fell into place as he felt her muscles contract around him, squeezing him as if trying to force his climax out of him. And it was working. He let the demon loose and roared as he spilled himself inside of her and bit down on her neck at the same time. She screamed, sought purchase with her hands at his shoulders and came violently as she bared her neck even further to him.
"You are mine, Buffy Summers, my one and only mate," he said as he licked the wound at her neck. To himself, he vowed that when she was taken from him, Shanshu prophecy be damned, he would take to the sun. There was no way he could go on existing for years and years without her, his mate, his sunlight, his goodness, his woman.
"Mmm," she murmured. "I like the sound of that."
"Good," he said drawing back to look at her, ensuring there was no look of recrimination or repulsion in her eyes. There was nothing but love and devotion there. Instead, she smiled wickedly as she placed a hand at his neck, forcing him to bare his neck to her just as she had done for him moments ago.
She bit down in the same spot on his neck as he had bit down on hers and licked the wound briefly before drawing away. "And you are mine, Liam Angel O'Bryne, my one and only mate, physically, mentally and by our souls, in this world and in the next."
They stood quietly for a long while after that, neither saying anything. Angel had no idea what Buffy was thinking but he had never until tonight made a conscious decision about what he would do in the event of Buffy's death. Now he knew what he not just would do but what he had to do.
"I'm ready to go home," she whispered. "You're right, the saying is right, home is where the heart is and my heart is with you at our home."
"Good," he said, lowering his head to kiss her before they departed the Revello Drive house for the last time.
Part 17 (epilogue)
Their fifth anniversary had been spent fighting an apocalypse. A demon had gotten it into his head from the paranoia over Y2K to attempt to take over the world's financial markets by infiltrating the agencies that controlled the money flow. The Federal Bank of the United States, the European Central Bank and other agencies around the globe had been targeted both in person and over the computer.
All of the Scoobies, with the help of the Watcher's Council who had operatives around the globe, had helped in some fashion or another. Willow's hacking abilities had come in very handy, as did her magic. She and Tara combined had been a force to be reckoned with. As it turned out Kristen also had extensive computer knowledge and had helped. Angel, Spike, Anya who had returned to her vengeance demon status after Xander jilted her at the altar, her vengeance demon friend, Halfrek, and even Cordelia had been a necessity as the demon, Kisuberi, had detectors the opposite of those Wolfram & Hart had set up. Kisuberi's detectors went off when humans came onto the premises of his operation. Xander's knowledge of the construction industry, building materials and so forth had aided them in planning where the weaknesses were in Kisuberi's place of operation. Giles and Wesley did what watcher's do, research and passed the learned information on. Gunn was there for sheer muscle and Fred worked with Kristen.
As it turned out, while Buffy had not come back from the grave wrong, apparently Kisuberi's detectors did not know what to make of her. The group had been counting on Kisuberi becoming aware of Buffy's presence in his compound right away. Fortunately for the Scoobies, but unfortunately for Kisuberi, Buffy gained the upperhand with the element of surprise because his human detectors did not go off. The battle had been long and hard, it took every ounce of muscle between Buffy, Angel, Spike, Anya, Halfrek, Gunn and Cordelia combined to finally defeat him. Only Willow, Tara, Kristen and Fred had come out of the confrontation unscathed, which was exactly the way Buffy had wanted it.
Angel was healing nicely. Having aided in the defeat of Kisuberi and saving the world from being rendered destitute by the demon's plans he fulfilled the prophecy and gained his Shanshu. As of the first of January the year of our lord two thousand seven, Angel O'Bryne was now human. So, he would no longer have the benefit of vampire healing, but apparently the Powers That Be had not stripped him of those healing abilities immediately because a normal human would have been in the hospital for days with the damage Angel sustained. The heavy damage was healed and Buffy could tell as each day passed that the smaller, less critical wounds were now to the point of healing with normal human speed.
The Powers That Be apparently had a perverse sense of humor, either that or Wesley and Giles had completely missed the part of the Shanshu prophecy that indicated a new vampire would be chosen to have his soul returned to him. Spike had been their chosen vampire for this gift, saying that Spike had been working for his soul for years now whether he knew it or not. He was rarely seen or heard from at the moment, staying in his part of the mansion, coming out only to get the fresh blood supply someone brought for him. He would probably starve if no one thought to pick up blood for him.
Angel had claimed that Spike would have to deal with the restoration of his soul just as Angel had, with time and lots of amends making. Now that Angel was feeling better and mobile once again, Angel hoped that he could offer Spike some help in dealing with the guilt that went with the soul being returned.
He and Buffy had talked at length about it, because Buffy wanted to know how she could help Spike and she wanted to know what to tell Kristen as she was not sure whether to leave Spike alone or keep pressing him to let her in. Buffy suspected he would never open up to Kristen, he might not push her away but he would never open up and confide in her. Buffy had no idea what their relationship was five years later, Spike had admitted to her once in a state of drunkenness that he still loved Buffy. She was grateful Angel had not been there to overhear the admission. Spike would have to move on in his own time and in his own way. Buffy suspected that Kristen and Spike had been intimate by now, she could not imagine someone who was obviously so sensitive and such a sexual being abstaining for too long.
"Hey," she said as Angel came out of the bathroom, a towel draped over his shoulder. "Staring at yourself in the mirror again, baby?"
"Yeah, after two hundred fifty years it's strange. I've seen photographs, but it's not the same as looking at my own reflection."
"I can imagine."
"Who was on the phone?" he asked.
"It was Dawn. She called to see how you were doing."
"I wish she'd stop worrying about me. If she does badly this semester because of me I'll never forgive myself." Dawn was finishing up her third year at Berkley. She was studying to become an artist. Not that anyone criticized her dreams of becoming an artist, but everyone had been happy to hear that she was obtaining her teaching certificate as well as her bachelor's degree so she would be able to teach art if nothing else.
"She'll be fine, Angel. She just left to go back on Monday, remember? She's just worried. It's sweet. Being surrounded by the Slayer and two vampires for years, I thinks she's forgotten what it's like to actually see someone have to recover."
Angel grimaced. "Great."
"Oh stop," she said as she sat on one of the chairs at the table. "Are you ready for our walk?" she asked, more than a little excited to be taking a walk during the day with Angel. She checked her voice mail and email on a daily basis, but to those seeking her consultations on demonology she had been on vacation since before their battle with Kisuberi. She dealt with emergencies and had made sure to check messages before coming in here today. The rest of the day was going to be spent with Angel. She hoped that now that he was human he would join her with the consulting, he certainly had the knowledge and the way with people to do it.
She was still the Slayer. At twenty-six she had lived one year longer than any previous slayer had lived. Buffy had no doubt that Spike's claim that her ties to this world were what kept her alive was true any more. The Council had offered to research and see if a new Slayer could be chosen magically, which would allow Buffy to retire. She had thought about it, but had decided there was no way she could stop being the Slayer unless she died again. So, she had rejected their offer and would remain the Slayer until she died. The Council would more than likely research a magical solution anyway, because one day Buffy would be too old to continue performing her duties.
"I am," he said as he put on his shoes. "Let's go," he said draping an arm over her, as they went downstairs and out to the yard. Buffy knew there was a time he would have hated being human, he would have felt weak and that by being weak he would be weakening Buffy's effectiveness as the Slayer. But, they both knew if the Powers That Be thought he was needed to fight any more battles they would not have granted the Shanshu. And besides, it seemed that their plan all along was to grant him his Shanshu while calling up another vampire to take over his warrior duties. Seven years ago, Spike was not ready to take over those duties, which Buffy suspected was the reason the Powers That Be had allowed Angel to renounce his humanity that day years ago.
They were quiet as they walked through the grounds, which were well cared for now year around. Granted, things in January were not as plush as they were during the spring but there were still some things in bloom and the day was beautiful. Buffy would not have cared if it was pouring rain and below freezing to be honest, this was their first walk outside together in the daytime that Buffy had memory of. She never had regained complete memory of that day. Perhaps the Powers That Be had done that intentionally.
She had begun to wonder if the Powers That Be had merely taken advantage of Willow's memory spell and allowed some of the memories to come back to Buffy intentionally. Angel admitted more than once that he had no idea how much longer he would have been able to hold on if Buffy had not come to him when she did. Things had a way of happening for reasons Buffy could not explain, no one could for that matter, but Buffy no longer tried to argue with the Powers That Be.
"Buffy," Angel said, a hint of hesitation in his voice yet at the same time his grasp on her hand increased.
"Yes?" she asked, regarding him. He looked so perfect out here in the daylight, the paleness of his skin from not having seen the sun's rays in over two hundred fifty years aside.
"I need to ask you something, and please be honest with me. I'll understand if you answer this in a way I won't like, but I need to know."
"Okay," she said curious to know what was on his mind.
"I won't be able to give you children. I know when you married me you knew I could not, but that was different I was a vampire and now I'm human."
"Are you okay with that? I mean, you're twenty-six years old now," he said as if she needed to be reminded she had just had her twenty-sixth birthday that week. "You might think about children differently now."
"Nope. No children is fine with Buffy. Are you okay with it?"
"I don't have much choice in the matter, Buffy. I just wanted to make sure."
"Well, then we won't worry about it. Children are way overrated and I'm not sure I would want to try and explain our family tree to a child. Gee, honey, the reason your grandparents on your daddy's side died back in seventeen hundred fifty something is because you see your daddy spent two hundred fifty years as a vampire."
"I guess you're right."
"I was willing to deal with the fact I would have no children with you ten years ago. I do appreciate you asking, but I seem to recall my marrying you until death do us part and through good times and bad. Sound familiar?"
"Yes," he said with a nod of his head.
"Good. So, tell me, how does it feel to be walking in the sun?"
"Better than I remember it being," he said sincerely. "It's still a gift and I know that, but this time I know that it was supposed to happen and was not an accident. And I know that you're safe, that I'm not going to be a hindrance to the Slayer part of my wife."
"And Spike said I could never settle for a human," she said kissing him.
"He also said you need the monster, that's gone."
"Don't need the monster, baby, I need you. I needed you with the demon and I need you without the demon. Don't ever doubt that."
"You might just have to remind me every once in a while."
She laughed. "I'll remind you as often as you need reminding, no problem there." She stopped when they had reached the tree where their lunch was waiting for them in a picnic basket. "I even packed a bottle of wine, let's hope there will be a respite from apocalypses for at least tonight so I can enjoy a romantic picnic lunch with my husband." She knelt in front of him, placed both hands against his cheeks and kissed him deeply. "I want to watch the sunset with you."
"And then what?"
"I don't know, whatever you want to do." She lay down on the grass, placing an arm behind her head, resting her head against her forearm and drew him toward her with the other arm. "Just how certain is the no children thing?"
"I was told no children, Buffy, why?"
"Care to put it to the test?"
"You drive a hard bargain, my love, expecting me to make love to you out here with the sun shining brightly around us."
"I know, just think, we'll both get all sweaty and then have to drink the wine to cool off. Or, oh," she exclaimed and smiled wickedly before reaching for the picnic basket. She lifted the lid and gestured for him to look inside. "Did I mention in addition to the wine there's some ice cream here, too?"
"No, you did not mention that."
"You'd best get busy then, don't want it to go all melty on us."
"Because then we'd be terribly messy and in need of baths."
"Exactly, evil those things," she said as they both worked on ridding one another of their clothes.
"Love you," they whispered simultaneously as he moved on top of her, the sun beating down on them as the two humans made love.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com