(Author's Note: This part is set post the events in I Will Remember You. They did happen, just differently, in that Buffy & Angel weren't arguing that day, just doing the usual training-in-secret they've been doing.)
"What is with you lately?"
"What do you mean?"
"You're off your game."
"I am not." He could tell she was a little put off that he'd noticed. It was hard not to. Her kicks lacked power, her thrusts were lame, and her body just didn't seem to be into it. "I'm just tired."
"Burning the candle at both ends?"
"Something like that. Lindsey…"
"I really wish you wouldn't mention him."
"Okay, the man that I'm married to. Is that better?"
"Well, then I think Lindsey is the better choice."
"Fine." He leaned against the makeshift ring they used for their sparring. They didn't talk much, mostly because he didn't want to hear about her life with Lindsey McDonald.
"Anyway, Lindsey's had a ton of parties to go to the past couple of weeks. You know, holidays, yadda yadda yadda."
"He's keeping you busy?"
"Well, yeah, I have to go to those things. Besides, you should talk."
"You've been anti-talky lately."
"You know, Doyle." He shrugged. It was a casual gesture, but Buffy knew him well enough to know there was more to it than that. He could never tell her. He could never tell anyone. It seemed he was destined to suffer with the memory of their day together alone. A day she had vowed she would leave Lindsey. A day that she had been his in every way possible. She had felt his heart beat.
"He's not the first person that's died. I mean, come on, two hundred plus years."
"He's the first human I've been close to since I was made vampire that's died. Besides you. Unlike you, I couldn't bring him back. Actually, I couldn't bring you back either. Xander had to do it."
"So you're moping because of that? It sounds like he did the right thing."
"He did it for me."
"I didn't know him, but I think he made the right choice. You're saving the world."
"With his help."
"You said Cordelia gets the visions now, which excuse me for saying still gives me the wiggins, but okay."
"I know. It's just not the same."
"Okay. Loss of a friend, usually you seek comfort from the people you're close to. That you love."
"Except when the person I'm close to and love is married to someone else. Don't you get it, Buffy? I can't seek comfort from you." He went to the punching bag, but hitting it wasn't the solution. There was no solution to his problem. Other than killing Lindsey McDonald, but he didn't kill humans.
"I'm sorry. I'm obviously not helping. Maybe we shouldn't do this anymore."
"You have to. You have to be ready, Buffy. If they don't know already, they will find out."
"I'm ready, Angel."
"Not judging by the past few days you aren't. You're sluggish."
"I'm tired! I've been going to these parties, decorating the house. It's hard work! Anyone who says being a housewife is easy hasn't done it. And I don't even have kids. Add them into the equation and I don't think I'd get any sleep."
"You sure that's all it is?" He regarded her, clutching the punching bag. She looked beautiful. She always did, though. Marriage agreed with her, it pained him to admit that. Lindsey took decent care of her from what Angel could tell. He was kind to her and she had nice clothes and things. The luxury SUV she drove could be a tank as much protection as it offered her. Angel hated thinking of someone else providing these things for his woman, but he was glad to know she was looked after properly. The way she deserved.
"Positive. Look, I know this isn't easy."
She had no idea.
"If you want me to stop coming just tell me."
"Okay then. If you need to talk, need a shoulder to lean on. I'm your girl."
"No, Buffy, you're not my girl. Not for that. It's a tempting offer, but we both know where it will lead." He had the images fresh in his mind, in living color. He would never forget the taste of her, her scent after their lovemaking, the look in her eyes when she had cried ‘uncle'. His first time truly making love as a human he had made the most of the opportunity.
"Well, you can still talk to me." He felt her behind him, flinched slightly when she placed her hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry about Doyle. If there was something more I could do or say, I would."
"I know." He reached over his shoulder, taking her hand in his and squeezing it. God, he loved her. He loved her so much he gave up being human for her. He gave up the life they'd dreamt of because he knew as a human he wouldn't be any use to her. She needed his help. This fight, it was bigger than either one of them, but together they might be able to pull it off.
He turned to face her, sighed softly as her mouth found his. It was torture, getting a sample of the treasure that was Buffy.
"How can you kiss me like that?"
"What do you mean?" She looked genuinely confused, at a loss as to how he could ask her that question. She went home every day to another man. Slept with another man. Made love to another man. It should be him. Angel should have Lindsey's life.
"Kiss me like I'm the only one for you."
"Because it's the truth."
"Buffy, don't say that."
"It's the truth."
"You're the only one for me, but I have to share you. No, I don't even get the luxury of sharing you. You leave here after we spar and go home to him. His bed."
"I sleep with him."
"I don't need to hear that!"
"Yes, you do need to hear this, Angel, you aren't listening to me. I sleep with him. I won't deny that, I'm his wife, but I haven't wanted to since I saw you."
"I'm sure that goes over real well."
"He's been so busy, I'm not really sure he notices."
"He notices, Buffy. A man would have to be, well, I don't know what he would have to be not to notice you suddenly lost interest in that sense. I'd say dead, but I'd sure as hell notice."
"Well," she shrugged, clutching her arms. "I've sort of used the miscarriage as an excuse a few times."
"And he buys that?"
"Well, yeah. He's not a bad guy, Angel. At least not with me."
"So you believe me that he knows what Wolfram & Hart is really about?"
"Yes, I do."
"Why?" He was admittedly a little suspicious.
"What do you mean why?"
"Why do you believe me?"
"Because you wouldn't lie to me. It's as simple as that. I mean, I looked into some things, but you said he was at that meeting when you killed that vampire I'd met. He knows."
"Yes, he knows."
"So, I didn't marry a monster. Instead, I just got one who is in bed with them. In a manner of speaking. I sure know how to pick them."
"This isn't your fault, Buffy."
"The signs were there."
"No they weren't. I'm sure he was careful. I'm sure it was Russell who pushed for the meeting, you would have been to his liking."
"I don't even want to think about that."
Neither did he. He hated when she looked at him like he was it. Her world. Her life. Her salvation. He was nobody's salvation. If anyone was, it was her being his salvation. What kind of man did it make him that he wanted her so badly he was willing to forget she was married?
"The point is, not everything is your fault, Buffy. We'll get you out of this."
"Yeah, at what cost? Your life? Mine?"
"I'd give up my life for you."
"Me, too. So where does that leave us?"
"I'm not sure. We'll figure it out. I'll keep you safe. If it's the last thing I do, Buffy, you'll be safe and taken care of."
"I shouldn't let you or even want you to, but I'd be lying if I said I don't."
"I still think you should call home."
"I can't. Not yet. After the holidays maybe."
He glanced at the clock on the wall. Cordelia was due back anytime now. Buffy's gaze followed his and she sighed heavily, as if reading his thoughts.
"It's that time."
"If you told people where you were we wouldn't have to hide."
"We'd still have to hide, Angel. Until I figure out what I'm going to do I can't be seen with you."
"You're sure he doesn't know who you are?"
"He hasn't acted any different."
"And he buys the miscarriage thing?"
"It's not like he tries every ten minutes or anything. It's under control. I just can't. When you were dead it was different."
"I hope so. I still hate it. Knowing what I know about him, though, even without you I'd have a hard time being able to."
"Just don't do anything too drastic to arouse his suspicions. If you have to, if you think he's not buying your excuses anymore."
"I know. I've thought of that. I think with the stress of the holidays I can put him off a little longer, but after that."
He gave in to his base need to hold her one last time. He grazed a kiss along her forehead, taking in her scent before releasing her.
"See you tomorrow. Be careful."
It should bother her that he worried about her. That he had made no real effort to encourage her to get out of her marriage. He wanted her out of it, but because of who her husband was. He didn't want her out of it for the reasons she wished for. She wanted him to want her.
Every day was harder and harder. She did an errand or two, went to Angel's to train, and then went to the gym for a workout. She and Angel had agreed it was best if she did that. It didn't happen real often, but she did get bruised or cut once in a while. They fought hard when they sparred. Neither would have it any other way. It would be difficult to explain those things to Lindsey if she didn't have a plausible excuse.
Angel was right, though. She'd been off the last few weeks. She was lethargic. There were mornings she didn't want to get out of bed. It was crucial she did, especially now. She didn't always sit with Lindsey when he read the morning paper and had breakfast, but they always talked in their bedroom while he was getting ready.
She wasn't sure what it said about her that she liked Lindsey. She thought in time she could probably have grown to really love him. He was good to her. Everything she could want or need was at her fingertips. She realized that he was more generous than he might have been if she was one to take advantage of it. They would make beautiful babies together.
And, yet, she was married to and slept with a man who extended the lives of the monsters she was supposed to stop. Training with Angel these past few weeks had given her a taste for it again. He thought she wasn't ready, but she knew different. She was more than ready. She was primed for a fight. When the time came, she would be able to go into battle.
She continued driving past the gym, out of LA, and further south. Before it even registered what she was doing or where she was going she found herself in Sunnydale. Her eyes grew misty seeing the sign welcoming her. There was so much pain associated with her time here. But there were some good times, too. Her friends, she'd never really had friends like Willow or Xander in LA. Even Giles.
She parked down the street from her house, her mom's house, pulling out her cell phone. It didn't surprise her that nothing really had changed.
"Hi, honey, it's me. I took a little impromptu road trip." Her eyes scanned the street for signs of anyone out who would recognize her. "Just something I sort of needed I guess. I probably won't be home until late. I'll call when I'm on my way back. I hope you had a good day."
She ended the call, hoping she wouldn't get back to LA and have to endure a million questions. She very rarely did anything for herself, so she hoped he'd accept it. It wasn't like they had plans or anything that night.
She glanced at her watch, realized with the time that her mom was probably still at work. She put the trusty SUV in gear and after one final glance at the house she wasn't sure she considered home anymore drove in the direction of town.
She drove by Giles', Willow's, and even Xander's. She continued to the high school, only it wasn't there anymore. She sat for a good fifteen minutes, looking at the destruction that had been her high school. She'd heard Angel's version of things, had listened as he spoke, but she really hadn't understood the destruction that had happened as a result of Sunnydale Mayor's Ascension attempt.
She'd gone to LA and, despite the odds, made a life for herself. The only thing was, she realized now, that it wasn't her life. It couldn't be. Staring at the ruins that once had been her high school, she wondered how many kids had died. Those deaths were on her. She would have to carry that guilt with her to her own grave. And the weight of those deaths was far heavier now that she'd seen the aftermath.
Her last stop was the hospital. She wasn't sure how she knew where to find who she was looking for. She found her, though, and there was instant recognition. She'd dreamt of this girl lying in a coma. If she'd been here would things have turned out differently? Would this slayer, physically so opposite her, still have gone bad?
She slipped out before anyone spotted her and returned to her SUV. There was no way she could right the wrongs that had happened in her time away. She sobbed openly in the privacy of her vehicle. She hadn't known, hadn't realized how much her presence affected things. Slaying to her was about the killing of vampires, she so seldom was able to put faces to the victims she'd saved by performing her duties.
Composing herself, she drove past the house on Revello Drive one last time before heading out of town, north toward the life Anne had built. She pulled her cell phone out, knowing she was the last person who should be driving and talking at the same time.
"What's wrong? Did something happen?"
She smiled. Despite having his phone number memorized, she'd never called him. She didn't want to risk it in the event Lindsey got nosey about things.
"Nothing. I just," she shrugged as she set the cruise control to the highway speed limit. One less thing to focus on. "I went to Sunnydale today."
"God. I couldn't believe it. The high school is toast."
"I told you."
"I know, just seeing it, though."
"Did you see anyone?"
She took that to mean he wasn't alone. Cordelia was probably hovering, hoping she was a case or something.
"Yeah, from a distance. At her gallery. Don't say it, okay. This was all I could handle right now."
"I'll let you go, I just wanted you to know."
"Thank you." She wasn't sure what she was thanking him for.
"I'll talk to you later then, Anne."
He was definitely not alone, he never called her Anne.
"Bye," she said and quickly disconnected the call.
She opened the garage door when she got home and smiled seeing Lindsey's car. She believed Angel, she really did but it was hard for her to lump Lindsey her husband in with Lindsey the lawyer. Maybe there was some mistake, maybe he didn't really know what he was doing. She wished there was some way she could talk to him. Tonight wasn't the time to pursue that line of thinking, though. She was too raw from her hours spent in Sunnydale.
"You had a good day?"
"Yeah, sorry to just disappear."
"It's okay. Anything I need to know?"
"No, just something I needed to do." She was being vague, sadly he was used to that from her. His eyes met hers, searching for something. She was sure she must look a mess after the bout of crying she'd had outside the hospital.
"Okay. I heated up a pizza if you want some."
"Thanks. I think I might just go up to bed."
"Do you want company?"
"Yeah, I'd like that." She meant it, too. For the past year and a half or so, he'd been her life. He'd been everything to her. He'd comforted her when she'd woken up from nightmares. He'd cleaned her up after she'd lost their baby. He'd held her without needing an explanation when she needed the warmth of his arms.
She genuinely cared about him. She couldn't turn her feelings off as much as she wished she could. She hadn't been able to with Angel either. It just wasn't in her. She was raw right now. She had only caught a glimpse of her mom, but it was enough to know that Buffy's absence was taking a toll on more than the body count in Sunnydale.
"I'll be up in a few then."
She went upstairs and readied herself for bed, complete with one of Lindsey's favorite nightgowns. It didn't make her a bad person that she wanted this tonight. She needed it. They were married, she was allowed. She was human.
She took an extra minute in the bathroom to protect herself. She always felt guilty putting the diaphragm in. Lindsey didn't know about it. They had both agreed once they were married that while they were in no hurry for children they weren't going to try and prevent them. At the time Buffy had been fine with that. She'd been excited when she found out she was pregnant. Her new life, Anne's life, had taken fruit. It was one more step on the road away from being Buffy.
Once she'd seen Angel, knew he was alive, having a child with another man was out of the question. She wasn't sure what it said about her that she was still willing to have sex with him. And tonight, she didn't want to think too deeply on it. She needed it, the closeness, the comfort, the realness of it. She'd worry about how to close out Anne's life later.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com