Las Vegas, Nevada
Buffy stretched out in the luxurious bed. It was one of the perks she never tired of on assignments like this. Her assignment was officially over when the post-fight party got under way. Her client had won the fight despite threats he'd die if he did. Topline Security Specialists' assignment wasn't done until Barry "Boom Boom" Bartucci was comfortably on his private plane heading back to wherever chauvinist pigs like him come from. Buffy's portion was done once he'd stepped out of his dressing room and into the elevator heading to the festivities. And not a moment too soon as far as she was concerned.
She'd gone to the post-fight party because she wanted to. It was always nice to rub elbows with the people who could afford this type of stuff. She'd had a few too many drinks as she and one of the other agents from Topline watched Barry put the moves on some unsuspecting starlet wannabe. Topline wouldn't look too favorably on one of its employees warning someone off one of their clients. So, Buffy and Tiny – a man who wasn't tiny at all but rather was built like a linebacker – had drunk their guilt away knowing the blonde bimbo would end up being used as Barry's punching bag somewhere along the line if she stuck with him.
Barry was a regular client of Topline. He appreciated their discretion and the fact its employees went that extra mile for him without question. She'd love to give him a thing or two to question, but she'd be fired. And she couldn't afford that.
She groaned, certain the pounding she heard wasn't actually in her head. How much had she had to drink anyway?
"Too much, obviously," she murmured.
There were a couple of agents still on duty so Buffy had the run of Las Vegas for the morning and part of the afternoon. The agents would all return to LA together. She wasn't sure what she wanted to do with her time. She was all packed and ready to go. Breakfast at one of those all-you-can-eat all-the-food-is-delicious buffets sounded like a good place to start.
She turned her head, her intent to glance at her window to see if she could get a feel for what kind of day it was. There was a man sleeping in bed beside her! She sat up, clutching the hotel issued blankets to her and realized she wasn't even in her room!
"Oh, God, Buffy, what did you do?"
When there was no answer. Of course there wasn't anyone there to answer her but the man sleeping beside her.
"You should know by now that alcohol and Buffy don't mix!"
She vowed right there and then never to drink again, not even a glass of wine at Thanksgiving or champagne on New Year's Eve. She was done with alcohol.
Now that that was decided, she had to figure a way out of first the bed and then the room without rousting her bedmate. She regarded him for a minute. It was a rare opportunity to catch someone while they slept. They were completely unaware.
It was a nice face. Handsome actually. He had nice, dark features, an olive complexion that made her think he was Italian. He looked kind of boyish, maybe it was just the fact he was sleeping. She tried to remember the last man she'd watched sleep. Spike their last night in Sunnydale before all hell broke loose, she guessed. The night before he died and saved the world. Now that she thought on it, she never watched Riley sleep and never had the chance to with Angel. So, the one time with Spike was probably it.
"How lame is that," she whispered. She shook that thought off. There was nothing wrong with that! So, she wasn't a bed hopper. She dated, she just wasn't casual about turning things sexual. Sex, like alcohol, didn't mix real well with Buffy's life.
She could be stealthy about this. Hell, she ambushed vampires and demons for a living. She could get out of a huge bed without waking up its still sleeping occupant. She slid to the edge of the bed, rolling her eyes when she spotted her clothes strewn over the room. Much the same as his were.
"So much for no casual sex," she murmured. Of course, the fact she'd woken up naked with a man in bed with her should have tipped her off that they hadn't been playing cribbage.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," she muttered as she put her clothes on in record time.
The man stirred on the bed and Buffy froze at the door. She turned and looked over her shoulder, letting out a breath when she saw he was just rolling over. She couldn't help but smile when he reached for her and got the pillow instead. Whoever he was, hopefully, their time together was good for him. She sure as hell didn't remember it.
She stepped into the hall, slid her heels on and made her way to the elevator once she figured out where she was. She could ask Tiny if he'd seen her leave the party with anyone. Was the guy in the bed one of Barry's entourage? She didn't think so, unless he was someone who'd just come for the fight last night.
"Shower, clean underwear and clothes, breakfast," she murmured as the elevator doors slid open. At least she was in the right hotel. She recognized the signage in the elevator by now. So, she hadn't done anything real stupid, like fly to Jamaica with him.
She tried to picture the room again. She didn't remember seeing any residual evidence from sex, but hopefully even drunk she knew better than to not use protection.
It wasn't until later that afternoon, sitting next to Tiny on the plane that she noticed the ring. Well, Tiny noticed the ring. Buffy always wore jewelry, rings in particular, so she barely paid attention from one day to the next what she was wearing.
"Huh?" She was deep in thought about the mystery man she'd woken up to that morning. She wondered who he was. Did he wonder where she'd gone? She'd chickened out and ordered room service instead of going to the buffet, not wanting to take the chance of seeing him. A clean break was the best, especially since she couldn't even remember what she was breaking from.
"The ring. It's new, isn't it? I don't remember seeing it on you before. And I'd remember a rock like that."
She held up her hand. Sure enough, there was a rock the size of Rhode Island or Delaware, some small state anyway, on her left ring finger.
"Is it real?"
She laughed then. "Tiny, get real. Would I be stupid enough to wear something like this if it was real?"
"I suppose not. It sure sparkles, though."
"Yeah, yeah, it does," she murmured. She chewed on her lower lip. Her mind was frantically trying to clear the haze that was the night before. What had she done? She knew enough about jewelry to know this was no costume piece. This was the real deal. A marquis cut diamond in one of the nicest settings she'd ever seen.
"So, did you and Lover Boy have a good time after I left?"
"I don't know, Matty something or other, some big shot from the East Coast. He was talking you up when I was about to leave. I asked you if you wanted to head out with me, but you said no." He regarded her for a minute and then bust out laughing. "You don't remember?"
"No. You saw me leave with someone and didn't stop me?"
"Oh, Jesus, babe. I knew I should have stopped you after that second drink."
"You don't know his name?"
"No. Do you?"
"No. I don't do stuff like that, Tiny. You should have stopped me."
"Did you wake up alone this morning?"
"Well, I woke up first and left while he was still sleeping. Does that count?"
He laughed again. "I'm sure it does in someone's world, babe. Well, at least one of us got lucky. Just remember, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas."
"Yeah." She grazed the diamond with the pad of her thumb. Somehow, she didn't think with a rock this size on her finger anything was going to be staying in Vegas.
"Do you think you can ask around for me? See if you can find out who he was?"
"Sure. He must have made an impression on you. I've never known you to take anything beyond casual flirting."
"Yeah, I'm not much into the dating. My relationships have been pretty disastrous."
Buffy liked Tiny. She was her Xander-shaped friend, but in the form of an adult. He was one of those guys that she never looked at as being a possible boyfriend. He apparently felt the same way. It worked out well for both of them. They hung out together, bounced their respective relationship and dating woes or latest tribulations off one another, and just in general gelled. Buffy liked it. She still felt stupid having slept with a guy she didn't know. She wasn't the first girl, and probably wouldn't be the last, to do it though.
"Yeah, something like that. I'll ask around."
Not too much later, they were back at LAX. The various employees of Topline went their separate ways. Buffy found her company issued Impala and, as she imagined, it was stifling from sitting for a weekend. She made it home, driving with the windows down the entire way. She only used the air conditioning if she had to, like during the summer or if she was driving a client.
"Honey, I'm home." No one answered her, which wasn't unusual considering she lived alone. She set her suitcase on the floor in her room and collapsed on the bed. She held her left hand in the air above her, palm up, taking in the ring once again.
"What have you gotten yourself into, Buffy?"
She stood after a few minutes, frustrated that nothing about the night before was coming back to her. She changed into lounging around the house clothes, went to the kitchen to get herself a glass of water before going to her office. There she turned on her computer to check emails. While it was booting up, she picked up her cordless phone and upon hearing the rapid beeps indicating she had messages checked her voicemail.
Hi Buffy, it's me. I guess you're not there. Obviously. I was just calling to say hi. It's nothing important. School is great, classes are great, I'm great. I'll try again next week. I love you.
Buffy smiled at Dawn's perky voice as she erased the message from her younger sister. She was at a boarding school Giles was able to get her into. Buffy wasn't too keen on the idea of boarding school, but not knowing where anyone was going to end up for sure it made the most sense that Dawn had something stable.
Hey, Buffster, it's Xander. I'm thinking of driving down to LA sometime this week to check up on one of my favoritist girls. Let me know what works for you. I know you're working and stuff.
"Sounds like fun," she said, erasing that message as well.
By the third, and last, message she was logging into her email account. It was some telemarketing sales pitch, so she deleted it without listening to the whole thing.
She ended the check of messages, bizarrely disappointed there was no flowery message of missing her this morning from her mystery man. She had no way of knowing if she'd given him her number, email address, or even told him her name. Her eyes drifted to the ring again, though, and she suspected that he had an idea who she was at the very least.
She slid the ring off her finger, surprised at how well it fit. Las Vegas was a town that catered to every whim at every hour of the day or night. Sex, drugs, gambling, food, and shopping. Where in the hell would they have gone to get a ring like this? Had he had it on him?
She set it on her desk and then felt a little guilty for doing that. So, she slid it back onto her finger. She liked it there. It looked nice on her.
"No," she whispered. "It looks perfect." If there was such a thing as a ring being made for someone, this one was hers. The band, which wasn't gold, she wasn't sure but thought it was platinum, was simple without being too thick or thin.
She had a few emails from Willow. There was one from Dawn, reiterating what she'd said in her voicemail message that there was nothing wrong. There was one from Giles, reporting in on the progress of various slayers. There was some junk mail, which she quickly got rid of and then settled in to read Willow's.
Willow could get wordy sometimes. Buffy loved reading Willow's emails, because they always made Buffy feel like she was there, watching Willow's skills improve and grow. She was becoming an accomplished Wiccan. She nor Giles was worried about Willow having a repeat episode of a few years ago again anytime soon.
Giles' would wait until later. She had to pull out the files and update them whenever he emailed her in order to keep track of who was who. Giles liked knowing, in light of what happened with the Watchers' Council headquarters last spring, that someone else had hard copies of this stuff. While both of them were more computer savvy, neither were willing to put their entire trust in them either.
"Who would have thought Giles and I would agree on something like that?"
With that, she turned off her monitor and went back to her bedroom. She needed a nap. She felt like she didn't get any sleep at all last night.
"For all you know, that's the truth."
She rolled her eyes, raking her fingers through her hair as she settled into her pillow. It was good to be home. It was good to have somewhere to call home. It was on the small side, even if it had three bedrooms. She'd take whatever she could get, though, as long as it wasn't an apartment. She didn't own it, but it was still a house to call hers.
As she drifted off to sleep, she wondered what her mystery man was doing at that moment. Who was he? Where was he? Where was he from? What was he doing in Vegas? What was he doing at the party? So many questions and Buffy had no answers. Only this time, Willow or Giles couldn't help her find them.
"You're on your own solving this one." With Tiny's help. Tiny wasn't only a security specialist, he was also a private investigator. So, if anyone could hunt down information for her, he was her man.
"What do you mean you don't know?"
"I don't know, sir."
"It's not like her name is Jane Smith."
"I'll keep looking, sir."
"You damn well better," Matty said into the phone. He looked at the view of the LA skyline from his office window, a scene that calmed him. It usually did, because he was just grateful not to be in New York under his father's thumb, living in Benny the Chains shadow. The past few days the view had done nothing for him.
"She's one woman."
"Yeah, I know, finding one girl in all of the world is a pretty big task. I have every confidence in you, Carlo."
Carlo was one of his father's men assigned to LA now. Matty knew they were there to watch over him. For the most part, they stayed out of his way, stayed discreet. There were times Matty forgot they were there.
As soon as he'd spotted the muscle, he'd put a call into his dad. It was very hard to work, convince these athletes they would do well by Matty with thug looking guys standing nearby. He wanted his clients to choose him for the right reasons, not because they were scared into it.
He'd been doing well for himself so far. LA had been the answer. He'd never know why he hadn't thought of it sooner. New York City was home. His dad was home. Everything had changed, though, when he'd finally taken a life.
It was at that moment, and only then, that he had realized Teddy had been wrong about him. He did have it in him, he had all along but only under the right circumstances. Like defending what was his. His father. His business. What he hadn't been able to do as a twelve-year-old boy who wasn't sure when or if he'd see his father again no longer mattered.
He'd decided then and there, he could continue on and follow in his father's footsteps. Or he could get out while there was only the blood of one man staining his soul.
The decision hadn't been a tough one to make. He'd been out in LA for over a year. He'd landed a job with one of the top agencies in LA. It helped that he brought a couple of Knicks, Islanders, Mets, and Jets players with him courtesy of his father.
"Be careful, Matty, your Italian's coming out."
"Why that's supposed to be offensive I'm not sure, but I know you don't mean it as a compliment."
Carlo chuckled into the phone.
"Who is she anyway?"
"That's of no concern to you."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Demaret."
He smiled into the phone. It was a sign of respect, Carlo addressing him that way. Matty disconnected the call and stood from his desk. He walked to the window, gazing at the ant-like cars and people on the street many stories down.
Going to Vegas had been a whim. Taylor, Chris, Matty, and a few other buddies had decided to take in Boom Boom's fight. What Matty wouldn't do for the chance to represent a fighter with the potential Boom Boom was showing. He was the next Mike Tyson, only without the personal problems.
Or so everyone thought. If what his mystery woman said was to be believed, he had personal problems aplenty. She had no reason to lie to him, and in fact could probably lose her job were he to report to anyone what she'd told him. It wasn't until the next morning when he'd woken up alone that he'd realized she had been bombed out of her mind.
With Chris and Taylor around, Matty was lucky to get the equivalent of table scraps when it came to women. He was no slouch, but girls took one look at the other two and thoughts of Matty shifted to friend material. He was used to it, so when the pretty blonde talked to him he'd been attentive and receptive.
Their conversation at the party came back to him, and a plan fell into place. He didn't need Carlo to track the woman down. This was something he could accomplish on his own. It didn't take being overly suave or street smart, just a little common sense. He wasn't sure why it had taken him this long to think of it. He had been so focused on the following morning that the night before and the clues it netted for him had remained untapped.
"Amanda," he called out, not bothering to use the intercom. He usually did, but finally getting an idea on how to find his woman made him excited.
"Yes, Mr. Demaret."
"Get me the number for Topline Security Specialists."
"Yes, sir. Did you need me to make arrangements for a client?"
"We use them?"
"Yes, sir. They're the best. Did you want me to?"
"No, just get me the number. I'll handle it myself. It's personal."
She frowned, apparently confused as to why he'd need security when he came with his own. She didn't ask, though. She was smart enough not to. It was one of the things he liked about her. She was young, pretty, and ambitious. When he started, she hinted at extending their relationship beyond work hours. It was appealing, but just wasn't Matty's style.
He didn't want to blow his chance to finally make it. Achieve his dream. Skirts could get in the way of that if you let them. Unlike Chris, Matty didn't let that part of his anatomy control his every move. Until one night in Vegas anyway. His phone buzzed and he picked it up.
"I have that number for you, Mr. Demaret."
He took a minute to collect himself. He wasn't even sure they took requests. They'd have to, though, wouldn't they? Clients would get attached to an agent or two, familiar with them and would want them around. He dialed, smiling with a nod as he was greeted by a generic sounding receptionist. She was real, live, not automated.
"I'd like to speak to someone about your services, please."
"Yes, sir, please hold."
Inwardly, as he listened to the music through the phone, he realized he was an idiot. If Taylor or Chris could see him, if they knew what he'd done. Well, he didn't even want to imagine what they'd do. Laugh their asses off would be the gentlest thing they could do. He wasn't really one to act on impulse. Oh, he had a time or two, when he was frustrated or felt the need to try and make something happen. That hadn't been the case in Vegas.
"This is George. How many I help you?"
"Yes, I'd like to make some arrangements. I was referred by Barry Bartucci."
"Ah, yes, Mr. Bartucci is one of our regular clients. What did you have in mind?"
"Well," he said and went into what he hoped was a winning sales pitch.
He hung up fifteen minutes later with a glance at his watch. He had an hour to get home. He could manage that. He placed a quick call to Carlo, calling off the search. He grabbed his suit coat and slid it on, gathering his briefcase almost simultaneously.
"Amanda, I'm leaving for the day. I'll have my cell and will check mail from home if anything comes up."
"Okay, Mr. Demaret. Is everything all right?"
"It is, thanks. Have a good night, Amanda."
People did stupid things when they were drunk all of the time. He could have gotten the situation taken care of without even involving her. It wouldn't exactly be legal, but it would be taken care of. Damn if he knew how much she was aware of.
He closed his eyes at a traffic light. He remembered the smell of her, the feel of her. God, she was like an Amazon but more compact. Lithe, fit, beautiful, delicious, and sizzling to the touch. It made him hard thinking about her and their night together.
"Not a good thing to think about when you're driving, ace."
He'd fallen asleep for the first time that night easily. Killing a man, even if he deserved it, and the death of his friend, weighed heavy on his mind. Sleep was not something that came easily for him. She'd kept the nightmares at bay, though.
He'd woken, reaching for her, wanting her warmth only to find her side of the bed empty and cold. He'd been unsure at first if any of it had really happened. The bed had been slept in by more than just him. He could tell by the indentations in it. The faint residual smell of her perfume was there. And there was the other, more physical evidence of his night with her.
He hadn't told anyone about her, about that night. Carlo didn't know why Matty had put him on the job of finding the woman. His father, Matty opened his eyes with a shake of his head at the sound of a horn behind him. The light was green.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm going." He waved apologetically to the person behind him.
Matty wasn't sure what his father would do or think. Bennie was a hard man to read, especially when it came to emotional entanglements. He couldn't let his father find out, it was as simple as that.
"Jim, I'm expecting someone. When they get here, please send them to the parlor, and let me know they've arrived."
"Yes, sir, Matty. I mean, Mr. Demaret."
"It's okay, Jim."
"No, sir, it's not."
Matty waved him off. It was one of those formal things he was never going to get used to. Jim was excited at the thought of getting a promotion. Matty didn't see it as much of a promotion, but then he didn't know much about the way things worked in his father's organization. If moving clear to the other coast and playing butler to the boss' son was a step-up, Matty was happy for him.
Matty went to his room and immediately set about showering and shaving. That accomplished, he stood in front of his closet wearing only a towel around his waist trying to decide what to wear. A suit was too formal. Jeans seemed too casual.
"She's just a woman," he muttered as he heard a knock on his outer door.
"Your appointment is here, Mr. Demaret."
"Thanks, Jim. Did you offer them something to drink?"
"I did, sir, she declined."
"Her loss. Thanks. I'll be down in a minute."
He decided on something to wear and headed downstairs. The house had been one of his father's, but was now Matty's. It was huge and Matty would have preferred something smaller. His father wouldn't hear of it, though. It was his reward, his father had said, for uncovering Teddy's deception. There were too many rooms for Matty to keep track of. The staff that came with it was happy to have someone living here full-time. He imagined it got boring taking care of an empty house. He tried to look at it through a visitor's eyes as he made his way to the parlor. It wasn't too extravagant. His father had nice taste, classical, elegant, nothing bawdy or pretentious.
He paused just before the parlor doors. Maybe he should have set up the appointment somewhere else. A neutral place. She'd know where he lived, how he lived. She hadn't struck him as the type to really care, though. She hadn't struck him as the type to leave without saying goodbye either.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," he said as he opened the doors and strode into the room. Confident, cool, collected. None of which were things he felt at that moment, but he'd perfected the image, the persona. If he'd appeared anything but growing up as Bennie the Chains son he'd get smacked upside the head. Or worse.
She was on her feet instantly. All business, professional. If she had been checking out the paintings and furnishings he saw no evidence of it. She probably saw homes like this all of the time. He tried to picture her defending someone, taking a bullet for someone. He couldn't do it. She was so tiny, but she was all toned and fabulous muscle in that tiny package.
"It's me," he said with a smile. He hoped it was a charming one. "Are you sure?"
"I, yes, I think. How did you find me?"
"It wasn't that difficult."
"I suppose not."
Actually, that wasn't true. For a woman with a fairly uncommon name it had taken a fluke passing thought to find her.
"You live here?"
"Yes. That surprises you?"
"Well, no, I just. You don't really need a bodyguard, do you?"
"No. I can pay you for your time, though."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'll just tell them you decided against it for now."
"If that doesn't work, let me know."
"No problem. I have to admit, I kind of wondered when the guy answered the door."
"Yes, I have my own," he said with a shrug. It wasn't something he was overly proud of or liked to brag about. It made his father sleep better, though.
"So, your name is Matt?"
"Matty, but you can call me Matt if you want to."
She tilted her head, regarding him and then let her eyes fall to the window. He wasn't sure what to do with her now that he had her here.
"I suppose you're wondering why you're here."
"I have an idea."
He watched, more fascinated than he should have been as she joined her hands together. It was then he realized she was wearing the ring. She started sliding it off and he cleared his throat.
"What are you doing?"
"Don't you want this back?"
"Oh come on. That costs more than just about anything I own."
"So, now your net worth has doubled."
He chuckled. "Never mind, sorry. Business speak."
She looked baffled and, if he wasn't mistaken, a little frightened. Of him? Of course, she didn't seem to even remember his name. She must have been more toasted than he'd thought.
"Are you hungry?"
"Am I what?"
"Hungry. My cook makes a mean lasagna and I think there's a pan in the kitchen with our names on it."
"Homemade. Did I mention she's a New York Italian?"
"Is that good?"
"Next best thing to being from Italy herself."
"You are Italian then?"
"I thought so."
"You thought on that?"
"Well, yeah, that morning. I watched you sleep for a little while. I thought you had that look to you."
She blushed at the confession and he couldn't help but like it. So, she hadn't just gotten up and left. Not sleeping very well for over a year, he must have really been out of it not to notice her leaving. He hadn't slept that well since either.
"Is that a problem?"
"Okay. Unless you had other plans, let's go find that lasagna, some wine, and we can talk."
"You want to talk?"
"What did you think I invited you here for?"
She lifted her hand. "I assumed."
At least she didn't think he'd invited her as a booty call. That wasn't his style. He certainly wouldn't have spent days hunting her down just for that.
He walked toward her, placed his hand at the small of her back. "Let's eat. Talk. Maybe we can skip the wine, I'd like to know I'm talking to you sober this time."
"I don't normally drink that much. Vegas must have been a bad influence on me."
"It happens more often than not I think."
She let him lead her to the kitchen. There was a dining room he could have taken her to. A servant would have appeared out of the woodwork and fussed over them. He didn't want that, though.
"What would you like to drink then?"
"Are you sure? I have iced tea."
"No, water sounds good."
The lasagna was still fairly warm. Not piping hot, so he turned the oven on for a few minutes to heat it up again. He got her a glass of water and a glass of wine for himself.
"This house doesn't fit you."
"You're right. It's my father's. Well, it was. He gave it to me."
"I think he'd planned on retiring here or something," he shrugged.
"What does he do?"
"He's an entrepreneur, got his hands in a lot of different pies."
"Ah. One of those."
"He's the best."
"I guess so, if this wasn't his primary residence."
"What about you?"
"What about me?"
"Tell me how Buffy Summers got into the security specialist business?"
"I like the work. I like knowing I'm making a difference. I don't have any real high-level skills as far as office work or anything. I've got athleticism, strength, and self-defense going for me, though. I need to put myself through college. It pays well, I get to travel some."
"So, it's not permanent?"
"I doubt it. And you?"
"I'm a sports agent."
"I think I knew that."
He laughed then. "Yeah, you did. We'll just start from scratch, though. So, ask away."
"What's with the ring?"
"You get straight to the heart of things, don't you?"
"Well, it's been bothering me since I noticed it."
"You're wearing it."
"Because I didn't want to risk someone breaking into my house to steal it! I'm telling you, it's worth more than everything I own."
"It's not that expensive."
The timer on the oven went off. He got plates ready for both of them, setting them on the table.
"Matty," she said. He recognized the tone in her voice. He didn't have to know her well to know she wasn't going to let this drop. He noticed she did follow him to the table, though.
"Smells good, doesn't it?"
"It smells delicious. I haven't had homemade lasagna in forever, and somehow I doubt my mom's can compete with this."
"I'm sure your mom's is fine. Does she live in LA, too?"
"Mom? No, she died a few years ago."
"Oh, sorry, I didn't know."
"It's okay. How could you?"
"Mine's gone, too."
"I was a kid, though, so," he shrugged, placing the salad and bread on the table. "I think we're set."
"And you're going to answer my question, right?"
"Okay, because it's really been bugging me." She sat, picked up her fork after placing her napkin in her lap. She looked at him then. "Did we? I mean," she cleared her throat. "I woke up naked."
"Yes, you did. It was a sight I was looking forward to seeing, too."
She blushed again. "Why?"
"Why? Well, I wanted to see you in the light."
"No. Why was I naked?"
"You really don't remember?"
"No! I'm serious when I say I don't do that sort of thing. I had a one-night stand in college, and it's just not my thing. I'm pretty much an all-or-nothing girl."
"I got that about you."
He took a bite of his lasagna and nodded. "Yes, and that's why while you were naked nothing happened."
"Come on. Why else would I have been naked?"
"Oh, I won't deny I thought about it, but it was about the time I came back to the bed with the necessary items you passed out."
"I so did not! I don't pass out."
"You did, I'm serious."
"So, nothing happened?"
"Well," he said and paused, drawing it out.
"No. I mean, there was some general, consensual touching and kissing. But you were unmolested."
"So, we fell asleep. And you sought me out why? I mean, I can't be the first woman you've slept with."
He didn't answer that, because she was.
"Okay, I guess I could be. I mean, you've?"
"Yes, I've just never spent the night with a woman before."
"Oh. One of those."
"No, they were one of those and I wasn't."
"Not all men are dogs."
"I didn't say that."
"Okay, so now that we have established what didn't happen. Answer my other question."
"Which question was that?"
"That was a movie, wasn't it?"
"Ha ha! Why do I get the feeling you're trying to avoid answering my question?"
He smiled, took a bite of his bread. He was trying to, because he had been hoping they could get to know one another a little bit before the truth came out. He wasn't sure what he envisioned. More nights of peaceful sleep were appealing.
He stood then, walked behind her chair and leaned over her. He placed his left hand over hers. Other than the larger diamond on hers, their rings matched. Her band had the same patterned carvings his did. He felt the warmth of her hand beneath his, knew when her hand began to bunch into a fist when she was seeing the answer.
"No, I did not run off and marry someone I didn't even know."
She did not push his hand away, he noticed.
"I like to think I was particularly charming that night."
"Okay. So, we'll pretend in this universe I did something irrational. I'll admit, I've been known to do things in the past that aren't always sane. There's no way I could afford that," she said pointing at his ring with her free hand.
"I bought it."
"Why would you do that?"
"Because I liked the ring you're wearing and wanted you to have it."
"Matty, this is crazy."
"Let me up, Matty."
She could have gotten up without asking, but wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. She didn't know why, it wasn't like she cared. He backed away from her, letting her get her own chair she noticed. She stood and walked to the other side of the table. She needed distance between them.
"We're married. I'm married. To you."
"How? I mean, the rings."
He chuckled and she wondered if she wasn't somehow on the wrong end of a private joke. "I wanted something, it was done."
"I guess so. And, so what now? I have no recollection of the night. I remember vaguely you and some other guys entering the party. There were like eight or nine of you."
"Yes, that's right."
"And that's it. I don't remember one thing until the next morning. I hated working that job. I hated watching him paw that woman. So, Tiny and I drank. Well, I drank more than Tiny did."
"My friend. Another Topline employee."
"No. I may not remember, but I don't think I'd marry someone if I had a boyfriend already. Drunk or not."
He returned to his seat, bringing his glass of wine to his lips rather casually. Did this not bother him? Maybe not. Maybe he was used to this sort of thing happening. Buffy, however, was not. For all she knew, he had a line of ex-wives going from here to Vegas and back.
"Listen, we have to undo this. I don't do well with relationships."
"Have you ever tried marriage?"
"What?" She frowned, staring at him. She wasn't hearing him right. She couldn't be. He couldn't possibly be serious! He wanted to be married. To her. This was crazy. Beyond crazy. It was insane. "Of course not."
"Maybe you should try it."
"You can't possibly be thinking of seeing this through. Matty, it's nuts."
"Because we don't know one another."
"So we'll get to know one another. We saw something in one another that night, enough to get married."
"I was drunk."
"I, on the other hand, was not."
"So you married a stranger? And you think being sober makes that sound any less crazy? Or makes me feel any better?"
"Well, no, I guess not. You, we," he shrugged and took a sip of his wine. "Sit down, Buffy. Eat, it's going to get cold."
"I don't want to eat."
"You're going to insult Maria if you don't."
Buffy rolled her eyes, feeling like a child getting scolded for not clearing her plate. She didn't want to insult anyone. The lasagna was very good. She sat with a pout, picking up her fork.
"So, what is it you want to do?"
"Well, I don't know. I admit I hadn't thought this part through. I imagined, that night anyway, you coming back here with me. You mentioned you were renting."
"Yeah, I am."
"So, I just assumed you'd be here."
"You really thought that? Thought this could work? I don't understand. You're a good-looking guy, seem like a nice guy. Why would you want to even do that?"
"Maybe I believe in love at first sight?"
She stared at him, knowing it was rude but she couldn't help it. Was he serious? Such things didn't exist. Except, she supposed, he'd say the same thing to her if she mentioned vampires and slayers.
"Well, I had hoped by you coming here today we could get to know one another. If you're renting, you could stay here."
"I can't sleep with you, Matty."
"I didn't say sleep with me here. I said stay here. There's an entire wing that's not getting used."
"Yes. You could have it all to yourself if you wanted. It's closed off at the moment, but that could be fixed easily enough. Otherwise, there's plenty of space in the area I use. Our paths would rarely cross."
"Why would I want to do that?"
"We are married."
"I could file for an annulment."
"It's your word against mine that nothing happened that night."
He shrugged. "You were drunk, I wasn't."
"Exactly. Who wouldn't grant an annulment for those reasons?"
"I don't know."
"You want a wife that's a virtual stranger?"
"That's the thing, I don't know what I want. Let me tell you something, something I didn't tell you that night."
"I did something about a year ago I'm not proud of. Without going into details, let's just say it was one of those life altering moments. I was standing at a point. To the left was one path, to the right another. The left would have been the easier, more familiar path to take but I never believed in that path. Not for me. So, I took the right path. I came out here to LA, got this job, something I tried for what seems like forever in New York to do but couldn't. I'm on the right path, I feel it. I'm doing good, getting clients, maintaining the clients I already have. But because of that one thing I did, I don't sleep so good."
She listened. When he talked like this, she could hear his accent as plain as day. When he spoke in shorter sentences, it wasn't quite so obvious. It was still there. It made her think of The Sopranos. He was definitely a New York Italian.
"I understand that."`
"That night, with you, it's the first night's sleep I've gotten since it happened. I don't know the why or what of it, but I know I don't want to just let you run away because we did something foolish on the spur of the moment."
"Foolish?" She took a sip of her water, trying to sort through her thoughts. "You don't understand, Matty. Relationships and me. They don't do well. Disastrous would be an understatement."
"And until the other night I didn't sleep a whole night through. So, maybe we're the solution to both of our problems."
"I never said I had a problem."
"Buffy, you want a relationship."
"Well, sure I do. I mean, I don't want to die an old woman with fifty cats or anything, but I want to finish school, get a job, live a little."
"You haven't lived?"
He had no idea. "Not the way I want to, no. The past few months working for Topline are the first I've really been able to do my own thing. Ever."
"Understandable. I'm not trying to stop you."
"I should hope not." She set her water down and shook her head. "I can't believe I'm even listening to this. I should leave, go see a lawyer."
"You could do that."
"But?" She sensed there was a but coming here.
"My father would find out, and let's just say neither of us wants my father involved with this."
"Okay," she said cautiously. She wasn't sure what his father had to do with anything. "So what are you thinking?"
Her cell phone rang, interrupting them.
"I have to get that. It could be work, I'm on call today."
"Go ahead. You can go through that door if you need privacy." She went through the door to what she assumed was some sort of utility room. It was more than just a laundry room.
"How's my favorite blonde?"
"Hi," she said, genuinely glad to hear Tiny's voice. A calm in the storm.
"I've got some information for you."
"I don't need it."
"What do you mean? I worked my ass off for this. Do you know how hard it is to track down a guy possibly named Matt or Matty?"
"I'm at his house."
"You're at Benny Chains' son's house?"
"That's who he is. I was right on the first name. Matty Demaret. His dad is the non-fictional version of The Godfather's Vito Corleone."
"Oh," Buffy said, turning to look at the door. She chewed on her lower lip. She wondered how his father played into which path he'd chosen. What had his father wanted him to do? What had he done?
"You didn't know?"
"Well, no, I'm guessing he doesn't go around announcing that's who his dad is."
"Probably not. Do you want the rest of this information since I've got you on the phone?"
"He moved to LA about a year ago, a little over. He's been legit as far as anyone knows his whole life. There's never been any talk of his taking over his father's business. There was an altercation from a little before he moved to LA. The records were either altered or written badly on purpose. Something went down in Montana and he was there."
"What in the hell happens in Montana?"
"I can't find anything on it beyond a vague reference. Police corruption, which is probably why it was cleaned up. If it was a coverup, they covered up well."
"So, he's a good guy?"
"What? He seems nice, and there's something else."
"There always is. What is it with girls going for these tough guy types?"
"No, that's not it."
"We sort of got married."
"You sort of did what?"
"I guess I should have kept a closer eye on you."
"Yeah, I guess you should have."
"Just don't cross your pop-in-law."
"Thanks a lot for those words of wisdom."
"You may not want to cross him either."
"Yeah, I get that," she said. What he'd said earlier about his father getting involved made sense now. "I'll talk to you later, Tiny."
"I look forward to it. Please tell me your wedding night video is going to be on the Web somewhere."
"I don't think so."
"A man has to hope."
She laughed then. "You're so bad, Tiny."
"That's why I get paid the big bucks. Later, babe, watch yourself."
"I always do."
"Except when there's Smirnoff's involved."
"I heard that," she quipped before disconnecting. She closed the phone and went back into the kitchen.
"Yeah, that was Tiny."
She watched him closely as she returned to her place at the table. He didn't look like a mobster, a killer. Then, just what did they look like? She'd really gotten herself into a mess this time. Just what would his father do if she bailed on his son?
He cleared his throat as she took a bite of the lasagna. He'd apparently taken the time she was on the phone to warm her plate up. His was all but gone while she'd barely begun hers.
"So you know."
"Who I am?"
"What do you mean?"
"Merda, Buffy, you don't think I've seen that look in peoples eyes a million times over the years?"
"I guess I should be happy you had someone looking for me. You did, right?"
"Yeah. I was going to give you the ring back."
"Is that all?"
She wasn't being entirely honest, with him or herself. She remembered waking up that morning, the peacefulness she'd felt. It was too bad she couldn't swap bad nights sleep stories with him. She could probably replace his nightmares with some scarier ones if she tried.
"Listen, I can't be what you want me to be."
"You don't even know what I want."
"You want a wife, evidently. I'm not cut out to be a wife."
"Give me a year."
"A year of what?"
"I have a house."
"I have a life."
"But no boyfriend."
"You want to be my boyfriend?"
Now she was confused. Not that should surprise her where men were concerned.
"I'll start with your friend."
"A friend you're married to."
"It does sound strange, doesn't it?"
"Strange isn't the word I'd use."
"What have you got to lose?"
"Nothing. It doesn't work out, we'll get you a new house. A better house. Hell, I'll buy you a house."
"I don't want you to buy me a house."
She set her fork down, pushed her plate away from her.
"Matty. This just isn't going to work. There are things about me."
She rubbed her forehead with her fingertips, trying to ease the tension there. She'd known. In the back of her mind she'd known what the ring meant. She just didn't understand how. She wasn't the type of girl to run off and marry someone she'd just met.
She lifted her eyes and regarded him. He seemed to understand she needed to look at him. He let her get her fill. She was reminded how nice looking he was, how innocent he'd looked that morning in bed.
Innocent, my ass.
Yet, there was something about him. If what Tiny said was true, and she didn't doubt him. Not judging by Matty's reaction anyway. This man's father was a mobster. She honestly didn't even realize the mob was that big a thing anymore. Hadn't that gone out of style years ago? Showed what she knew.
"You said you don't want your father involved. Why?"
He quirked an eyebrow as if her question surprised him. It surprised her, too. She shouldn't care. She should get up from the table right now and leave, find an attorney and close this bizarre chapter of her life. If they got an annulment, would anyone know she was married? Or did it completely vanish from the records? The idea that she could now be lumped in with people like Britney Spears made her want to gag.
"In his eyes I can't do much right. Flying off to Vegas, marrying the first drunk girl who'd have me is about inline with his expectations for me."
"You're not that bad."
"Thanks for saying so, but I'll never be the man he wants me to be."
"Because you're not a gangster?"
"Something like that."
"So, he'd be disappointed in you? What would that mean?"
He shrugged. "I don't know exactly. I suppose I could just chalk it up to yet another thing to prove he's right. I moved out here, and I'll admit, he helped me a little. He has friends who know people who knew athletes who were willing to give me a chance. There was no force or coercion. It could have exploded in my face. I could have failed, but I didn't. I took those few and I've built a solid client base. But my father doesn't see that."
"But wouldn't it be worse if we get divorced in a year? How will he even know you're married?"
He chuckled. "You don't know my father."
"I guess I don't. So, basically, you just don't want your father to think you did something stupid? What would you tell him? It'd be obvious we don't know one another real well. And wouldn't he be mad you just up and got married without telling him? Don't you Italians have huge weddings?"
"Not all of us do, no. And I think my father is somewhat used to me doing my own thing."
"So, then what difference does it make? And what about my friends? My family? They're not going to buy it."
"There's nothing to sell them on. We did do it, Buffy."
"Oh God. Why, why did I not learn my lesson?"
"I don't know what to tell you there."
"Just what did we talk about that night?"
"Anything and everything."
"That's not telling me much."
"I don't know what you want me to say. I don't remember the conversation verbatim. We discussed things. Life, love, lack of it in our cases. I know you've had three serious relationships, you learned I've had fewer than that."
"Yes, you did."
"Why fewer than three?"
"No time I guess. And I could never be sure someone wanted me or my father's name and money."
"Oh," she said, mulling that one over. "I suppose that would be hard. It'd be like being a celebrity. Do they want you, your fame, your money?"
"Right. And I know you've got a tattoo."
"You do?" She felt her cheeks warm. It was so weird to think he'd seen her without her clothes on. "No one's supposed to know it's there."
He chuckled. "Just straight man on top for you then?"
"What?" His question baffled her.
"Well, I would hope if you plan on ever being intimate with someone they'd see it."
"Oh, well, yeah, but we," she closed her mouth. "Oh God." She rested her head in her hands. "It's personal."
"I didn't really see it, just noticed it was there. I won't deny I'd like to see it better."
She laughed, she couldn't help it. Could she blame him for saying that? She'd gotten naked with him. She'd married him. It stood to reason he'd be able to see her tattoo. It had been a whim. Crazy. Willow had wanted one. Something permanent that said who she was. Buffy had gone with and at the last minute had decided to get one, too.
It was stupid really. No one but those that knew who, what she was would understand. It was pretty small, located on her left hip. The tattooist didn't ask any questions. He'd probably seen stranger things than Buffy's request. Mr. Pointy would be with her forever. Well, it wasn't just Mr. Pointy. It was Mr. Pointy splitting a heart in two with some dust particles surrounding it. The heart was only split, not broken. She'd been very specific about that. Buffy thought it was fitting, Willow'd agreed. It meant so many things. The two vampires she'd loved and lost, the other relationships she'd lost because of her calling, and the ability to finally lead a normal life instead of being chained to a hellmouth. It was all about the healing, the moving forward, not forgetting to let her heart lead her places once in a while.
If she'd done that, Riley might not have left. They had a lot of things to work through, but if she hadn't hardened her heart to the possibility of loving him, loving anyone but Angel, of letting someone in they could have worked through them. Maybe. She doubted it, really, but there were times she wondered.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah," she said, taking a deep breath.
She lifted her head from her hands and looked at him. She had two choices here. Well, three she supposed. She could leave and walk away, forget about Matty Demaret. She could leave and file for an annulment. Or she could do what he suggested, give him a year. The first option wasn't a viable one. Eventually, she'd need to get a divorce so she couldn't just walk away. So that left doors number two and three. Door number two was the logical choice.
Maybe it was time to quit being so logical. If things got terrible, he'd let her out before the year was up. Wouldn't he? And, what was the worst that could happen? Maybe she'd actually like him, love him, have a chance at the Holy Grail as far as she was concerned. Happiness. She must have seen something in him that night to run off and marry him. Drunk or not.
Maybe she could this once let her heart lead again. It had been a long time since she'd done it. She had to trust it some time or she'd end up alone with fifty cats.
"This is crazy."
"That I'm even thinking of agreeing to this."
"With some rules."
"I'm not a cheat, so easy enough."
"And if it becomes obvious that it's really not working. Not because either of us is purposely going out of our way to make that happen. I mean, well and truly not working, we get out. I don't want a house or anything else from you."
He sighed heavily. She watched as he scratched the palm of his hand. His fingers were long, not too thick. She could picture him playing the piano or something with them.
"Okay," he said finally. She wondered why the third request was the most difficult for him to agree to.
"Yes, but the rules apply to you, too."
"Okay. And how are we going to work this?"
"You'll excuse me for being surprised, I thought for sure you'd leave here and serve me with papers."
"I thought about it."
"So, why aren't you?"
"I don't know. What if this is it?"
"What if this is what?"
"What if this is my chance at it and I throw it away? I did it once. I closed off my heart, stayed so focused on things that I lost someone. It probably wouldn't have worked anyway, we were different. He was from Iowa or Kansas, one of those states in the middle where there's corn and farms."
He chuckled. "Ah, okay."
"Anyway, we were in different places. My mom was sick, my sister needed me," she shrugged. "I had no room for him. And he needed me, too, but I didn't see that until it was too late."
He placed his hand over hers. His was warm, soothing, which she supposed was the point. "That's understandable, Buffy."
"Anyway, what if I walk out of here today and I find out later this was it. My chance."
"Good question. I can't answer it."
"Neither can I."
"So, is that the only reason?"
"Well, I must have liked you. I mean, that sounds bad. I like you now, but I don't know that I'd rush out and marry you today."
"I guess it's a good thing we've gotten that part out of the way."
"This is funny to you?"
"No, I'm sorry. I'm one of those people that makes jokes at times I probably shouldn't."
"See, and that's something I should know." She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath.
"You didn't answer my question."
"How are we going to work this?"
"I don't know. You really want me to move in here?"
"I don't think we stand much of a chance of really putting things to the test if we live separately, seeing one another once a week or so."
"No, no, you're right. God, I've never lived with anyone but my mom."
He lifted his hand from hers, taking her hand with his and laced his fingers through hers. "I haven't either, Buffy."
"Okay. So, but like separate rooms, right?"
He chuckled again, bringing her hand to his lips. He kissed the back of her hand. "If that's what makes you feel comfortable."
"None of this makes me comfortable! You're sitting there like you do this every day. For all I know, you do."
"I don't, I assure you. I just, like you, came to the conclusion that I may not find this again. Whatever this is. I was impressed by you that night. I won't lie. You're beautiful, but there was something about you. When you started talking to me, I couldn't believe it."
"My friends Chris and Taylor always get the girls. Chris has the whole Cary Grant thing going for him, Taylor's got the muscle-bound body. Until recently, I didn't even have a job."
"But that wasn't your fault."
He chuckled, setting their hands on top of the table. "Already you're defending me. I like that. You're right, but I should have thought about leaving New York a long time ago."
He stood then. She watched him as he cleared his plate.
"Do you want me to heat yours up again?"
"I can do it."
"I'll do it, just stay there."
"You didn't answer my question this time."
"What was it?"
"I said if that's what makes you comfortable. I would assume at some point over the course of the year we'd need to see if we're compatible in that way."
"People don't always test drive one another."
He laughed, heartily. She guessed her boldness surprised him. "You're right, they don't. I won't tell you I don't plan on trying. You said no lying."
"And if I wanted that separate wing?"
"It'd be yours." He came back with her plate and a fresh glass of wine for himself. "Do you?"
"No. If we're going to see if this works, we have to at least live together."
"Do you have brothers or sisters?"
"No. You? You've mentioned one. Right?"
"Yes, Dawn, and no, no others."
"We both lost our mothers and it sounds like both of our fathers aren't really in our lives."
"Mine's in Spain or something. I think. I'm not sure. I'll get a Christmas card from him and know for sure."
"So, he keeps track of you?"
She frowned at that, never having thought about it that way.
"Yeah, I guess he does. But, I've moved since last Christmas so we'll see I guess."
"And you're moving again."
"I suppose I am. You know, I've been in houses like this. It sounds ridiculous to call it a house. But only for work."
"Just think, you'll be free to roam this one at your heart's content."
"Will you roam through it with me?"
"Yeah, right now."
"I have no other offers."
"Well, then I guess mine's the most appealing?"
He stood, pulling her chair out for her this time. He kissed her cheek. "I will do my best to make sure yours are always the most appealing."
"That's a loaded promise."
"You'll need a scorecard to keep track."
"I'll get right on that."
He offered her his hand, which she took after a second's pause. It was odd to think of this virtual stranger as being anything or anyone significant to her. But he was. She wasn't sure if she believed in The Powers That Be that Angel believed in, but she couldn't help but think that someone or something had shoved her down this path.
It's your choice to follow it through.
She didn't really see any other choice, no matter how crazy Giles would think she was. She could almost hear him. One of his first questions would be how she planned on helping them if she was living with an uninitiated, an outsider. She'd worry about that when and if the time came.
"I hope you've got your tour guide ready."
"Some of these rooms I'll be seeing for the first time with you. I wasn't allowed run of the place as a kid, and when I moved here I didn't need all this space so there's a ton of rooms that I haven't set foot in."
"Well, that'll change tonight."
"Buffy, you can't seriously be considering this."
"I am, Giles. It's a done deal. He even got me out of the lease on my house."
"How do you know this isn't some scheme?"
"He's not evil, Giles."
"I don't like it. It's not like you to act impulsively."
She quirked her brows at that, not that he could see it over the phone. Her silence must have been enough, though.
"Well, okay, you have always been prone to impulsive actions, but this. Buffy. Marriage is a sacred institution. It's not something you can playact."
"But I'm already married. So, I thought about it. And I have thought about it, Giles. He gave me a month to get my stuff organized and packed. I've seen him during the month. So, the way I saw it I had two options. I could get an annulment and always wonder if maybe he was the one."
"But you shouldn't have to wonder, Buffy, that's what I'm trying to tell you."
"Yeah, well, since when has my life been full of normalcy and the way things should go?"
"You have a point."
"So, my other option was to give it a try. What's the worst thing that can happen? I live in a nice house for a year?"
"You could get your heart broken."
"It's been broken before."
"You're an adult this time, Buffy. This isn't a high school sweetheart gone bad."
"I know what it is and isn't. I know full well what I am, Giles."
"And what about Dawn?"
"What about Dawn?"
"She still needs your protection, your support. I enrolled her in the school as the best short term option. You can't just leave her there as if she is no longer important."
"And, let's see, I actually have a home for her to come visit. Yeah, that's a bad thing. Oh, wait, and I have a guy who travels for his job and, gee, I might actually get to go along and see my sister once in a while."
"Buffy, don't take that tone with me. What about Thanksgiving?"
"What about it? You don't celebrate."
"Dawn shouldn't be stuck at school."
"She's coming here."
"Yes, it's already been arranged. Believe it or not, I do think of other people besides myself once in a while."
"That wasn't what I was implying."
"Of course it is. You still think I'm that selfish seventeen year old girl who ran away to LA instead of face all of your gloating faces after I had to run a sword through Angel's heart."
"No one was gloating."
"I didn't know that!" She sighed and took a deep breath. "Listen, Giles, I appreciate your concern, but it's done. Why do you think I waited to tell you until the last minute? I knew this was how you'd react. I've made my decision. You have to trust me, Giles. For once, can you just support me in something, wish me luck and not be looking under rocks for underhanded evil schemes?"
It was his turn to sigh.
"I suppose I can work on that."
"Thank you. Now, my cell stays the same, so does my email. Oh, and by the way, he's got DSL connections at the house, which I'm not sure what that means beyond he told me it's super fast. So, files and stuff you send me shouldn't take me years to download anymore."
"And where do you plan on keeping these confidential files?"
"Another thing taken care of. You can't accuse me of not thinking. I told him I deal with some touchy stuff. I have an office, Giles. My own office. Top of the line stuff in it. No second-hand computer. Anyway, he told me I can get a lock installed."
"And he didn't ask what you did that was confidential?"
"No, he knows I'm in the security business. He knows I work with high-profile people. You do realize I may have to tell him the truth."
"Yes, that eventuality has crossed my mind the last few minutes. I do hope you'll wait until you know for certain what you're doing. Too many civilians are already in the know."
"I know, Giles. I'll be careful. Oh, and here's the address, in case you need to send me stuff."
"You'll still be using Summers?"
"I really wish you'd reconsider this, Buffy."
"I know you do, Giles, and I love you for being concerned. But I have to do it. I have to see this through. I have to risk my heart again. I admit I'm not even sure it's there anymore."
"Oh, it's there, Buffy, bigger than most and more capable of loving and kindness than most anyone else I've encountered."
She drew the phone away, surprised. "Thank you." She was at a loss, didn't know how else to respond. It was rare for him to be so complimentary.
"You're very welcome. I wish you luck, and you know if you need me for anything I'm only a phone call away."
"I do know. Thanks, Giles. I'm going to go, the movers are here and I need to tell them what's what."
"Okay, Buffy. Please be careful."
"I always am."
"And for goodness sake, don't imbibe in liquor again."
She laughed. "It's a little late for that, but I don't plan on it!"
"I'll talk to you soon, Giles."
"That you will. And, Buffy?"
"I do trust you, I'm just concerned, and it has nothing to do with how valuable you are to the Council at this moment."
She beamed at that. She knew it, knew that their relationship went deeper than simply Watcher and Slayer. "Me, too, Giles."
"Have a good Thanksgiving with Dawn then."
"Thanks. I think she's excited."
"I imagine so. She's been doing well there."
"Yeah, I know, I get that. It was a good move on your part. Thanks."
"You're welcome. Take care, Buffy."
"You, too," she said and disconnected.
She took a minute to glance around her house. Everything was in boxes or bags, except the furniture. She wasn't sure what she was going to do with that type of stuff. Matty said there was enough space to store it until she decided. She should, if nothing else, keep it for the year. And, after that, if she stayed with him, Dawn could have the stuff.
She didn't feel bad about leaving this place. She'd only been here a couple of months. It wasn't home. It was a temporary place to hang her hat until she got her feet firmly planted on the ground. With the money she was earning working for Topline she hoped to be able to start school next fall. A glowing letter of recommendation from Giles should help her get around the fact that she had to bail on her last semester at UC Sunnydale.
It was still kind of sad to leave it behind, though. It had been her first alone place. The only place she'd ever lived on her own. Well, she had once, but that was different. Then, she'd been running away. Here, she was moving forward, looking to the future, not running from anything.
She saw the moving truck back onto the driveway and took one final walk through to make sure she hadn't missed anything. It was odd how much she'd accumulated. They'd left Sunnydale with quite literally the clothes on their back. Yet, she still had stuff to move, even if it was cheap stuff. It was still her stuff.
"So, where is he?"
Buffy wasn't surprised it took Dawn all of two seconds of being in the car to ask the question.
"The mystery guy."
"He didn't come with you? Buffy! I've been dying to meet him since you told me."
Buffy regarded Dawn as her sister talked animatedly. She looked so grown up, worldly. Most of all, she looked happy. She doubted there were apocalypses to deal with where she was. And she looked better for it.
"Because he's my brother-in-law!"
"Well, sort of."
"No sort of's about it. He is! I've never had a brother and I want one. Because having a sister sucks!"
"Yeah, well. So, where is he?"
"I told you, work. We grown ups have to do that you know. He probably would have come if I'd asked him to. But I wanted you for myself. I haven't seen you in six months! I wanted some sister-to-sister bonding time. No boys allowed."
"Well, it's a good thing I didn't stash one in my suitcase."
"Good thing, he'd probably be suffocated by now."
"So, what are we going to do then?"
Buffy waved to the airport police officer who was gesturing for her to move along. They didn't cut you any slack. As soon as Dawn's suitcases were in the trunk and they were seated he began watching Buffy's car like a hawk.
"Well, I thought lunch and then we can go back to the house and you can crash. You're probably exhausted."
"I slept pretty well on the plane actually."
"Lucky you, I can never sleep on those overseas flights."
"That's because you imagine tactical maneuvers in case there's a demon flying the plane."
Buffy laughed. Dawn knew her too well. And, no, she wasn't paranoid pilots were demons, but she didn't like not being on the ground. In control. "Yeah, well, taking a demon pilot out at thirty thousand feet would be tricky!"
"But lunch sounds good. You don't work?"
"Nope, I have the next week off."
"Yes, unless an emergency comes up, I'm all yours."
"Well, that's cool. I don't think I've ever been all Buffy's."
"It's got a nice ring to it, doesn't it?"
"So you like that school?"
"Yes! It's amazing! And they teach us so much. Way better than public schools. And the food."
"And there are no boys?"
"Right, which kind of sucks, but there's a school for boys close by. So, we do stuff once in a while. There was a Halloween dance. And I think they're doing Thanksgiving together, whoever's there. Things like that."
"Fun. Are there a lot of kids that stayed?"
"A few, yeah. Some are there because their parents don't want them at home. It's hard to know though, what's the truth."
"Good for you."
"For knowing that."
"Well, take me for instance. I know why I'm there."
"Why are you there?"
"Well, you need to figure out what you're doing. No one knows what's going on, if the Council is going to stay in London. You want to go to college, which may take you out of LA. I mean, I get it."
"Well, if this situation takes, you can come back to LA, but I want some time to know for sure before we do that."
"I know, and I'd want to finish the year out anyway being my senior year and all. I still can't believe Giles got me in there. One of the girls told me how long the waiting list was."
"I think Willow helped."
Dawn gave Buffy a knowing smile. "Yeah, I guess she did."
"What about him?"
"You know he's coming for Thanksgiving."
"Yes, don't play innocent with me."
"You still like him."
"Get real, Buffy."
"You do, and with Anya gone."
"That sounds so lame. You mean if Anya was still here he wouldn't notice me?"
"Well, no, but now that Anya's gone and you're almost done with high school you can turn on that Summers charm."
Buffy glanced at her out of the corner of her eye, saw Dawn was blushing.
"You do know he is coming down to see you, right?"
"He is not."
"He is, too. He can see me anytime, and I think he's a little freaked by this whole situation."
"Like the rest of us aren't?"
"Like I'm not?"
"Okay, true, but."
"Yeah, I know."
"And Xander had a crush on you for so long. I'm not saying he's not over it, but still."
"And this guy. Is he nice?"
"And he's gainfully employed?"
"Does he have any moles? Fangs? Or other unmentionables?"
"Not that I've seen."
"Are there parts you haven't seen?"
"That's too bad."
"What? You finally have a normal human guy on the line, I'm excited for you."
"He's not a fish and I'm not an angler."
"Well, in a way you are. And I'd say he hooked a pretty good one in you."
"You're so sweet. Can we drop the fishing analogy please?"
Lunch was perfect. They'd gotten to the local restaurant early enough that they beat the rush and didn't have to wait in line for a table. It was nice to be able to catch up. They were sisters, but there was more than that between them. Death, life, blood. Blood most of all she guessed. She was kind of excited to get Dawn home, show her around, and see what she thought of Matty. Matty planned on coming home early to meet her.
Home. It seemed strange to Buffy to call a place like this home. She called it his house around him, never home. She'd only been there for a few days, though. She just felt like a guest. She'd started crying when she saw that he'd had a room put together for Dawn. He had no idea how much that meant to her.
Her own room was the stuff dreams were made of. Four poster bed, luxurious linens, antique light fixtures, artwork on the walls that she was sure cost a fortune, and a plush carpet that would have made her mom weep. None of the stuff was for or because of her, it was just the way the room was decorated. It was still magnificent, as was Dawn's. Dawn's was on a more low-key scale, though.
"Buffy, this place."
"Yeah, I know. Hard to believe, huh?"
"What does he do?"
"He's a sports agent."
"He must do pretty well."
"Yeah, he does."
"Listen to you."
"You sound proud of him."
"Well, I am. I mean," Buffy shrugged as she used the electric opener for her stall. "He hasn't had it so easy."
"You like him."
Buffy didn't answer right away, turning off the car and busying herself with her purse and things.
"Yes, I do. Okay? I mean, of course, I do. If I didn't like him, I wouldn't be here."
"Well, that's true. Or, on the other hand, you could try and go out of your way to make his life miserable so he wants out."
"I thought of that, but I don't want to do that."
"Because you like him."
"That, and like I told Giles. What if this is it? How many chances am I going to get? Angel couldn't be because of the curse. Riley almost was but our lives were in different places. Spike," she shrugged. "Spike was Spike. No curse but still the living forever thing. I loved all three of them, but looking back at it now I realize I wouldn't have been happy with any of them."
"And you think you could be now?"
"Why not? I'm in a better place, emotionally and lifewise. My life isn't all dire consequences, life and death, apocalypses. So, what if I blow him off and I realize later, he was it? There has to be a reason I married him to begin with, right?"
"I'd say so, but without knowing him I can't say."
"Well, he'll be home before dinner, so you'll meet him soon enough."
"Dinner. Like a sit down meal?"
"Yup. The cook, Maria, makes the best food ever."
"I can't wait."
"Come on then, let's get you settled and I'll show you around."
"Do I need a map?"
"No, silly. It's actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. And there's a whole section not in use, so you aren't going to stumble into something by accident."
"Listen to you."
"What? I'm just saying."
Buffy popped the trunk, each of them took a suitcase with Buffy taking the additional carry-on bag Dawn had.
"Mrs. Demaret, I can take those."
"Thanks, Jim. Dawn, this is Jim. He's like Jeeves."
"I prefer Alfred," Dawn said.
"Me, too," Jim said and smiled widely for Dawn. It was the most emotion Buffy had seen from the man yet. Interesting. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Summers. I hope you're comfortable here."
"I'm going to show Dawn around and then she'll probably lie down for a while before dinner."
"You've had lunch?"
"We did on our way back."
"He was so prompt. Right there."
"Yeah, it's sort of spooky. There are others, and they're all as prompt. I had to tell Matty they need to stay out of my room. I'd come in from breakfast and my bed would be made."
"Well, it's just weird. I'm not used to it."
"What did Matty say?"
"Told me to get used to it."
"I like him already."
"I'm sorry I didn't get to meet your mother."
"What?" The statement surprised Buffy as it came out of nowhere. They were out by the pool. Dawn and Xander were playing water basketball. Buffy was getting some sun and Matty, well, he looked like he just stepped out of GQ. He had just come home from work, so that went without saying she guessed.
"With as pretty as you and Dawn are, she must have been a knockout."
"My, you're laying it on a little thick this afternoon."
"I'm serious, Buffy."
Buffy felt herself blush, turning her gaze to Dawn and Xander. Dawn was beautiful. She was past the stage of being gawky. She was on the verge of becoming a beautiful woman. Buffy could see it. She wondered if Xander did, if he ever would. She wasn't sure why she had hopes those two would get together. She thought they'd be good for one another.
Her gaze shifted back to Matty who sat on the chair next to her, picked up her glass and sniffed.
"It's just water."
"I see that. Surely you can do better than this if you're lounging by the pool."
"What did you have in mind?"
"Oh, I don't know. What would you like?"
She laughed lightly. "Water, which is why I'm drinking it. Me and anything much stronger don't mix well. Remember?"
His eyes turned darker if that was possible, predatory, sexy. She felt herself blush even more, which was just crazy. "I remember."
"We'll leave it at water then. What did you do today?"
"You're looking at it. I tried to remind Dawn that natives didn't lay out and play in the pool in November, but she insisted. It's heated!"
"Of course you would. I didn't know that, though."
"Does that mean you'll use it?"
"You bet. I love swimming."
He made no effort to hide his perusal of her body, clad in a two-piece suit. It wasn't too revealing, but wasn't of the conservative variety either. "I think I'll like watching you."
"Yes, I would."
"They're having fun."
"It looks that way."
He leaned toward her. She thought for a minute he might try to kiss her. Until now he hadn't. He'd touched her, set his hand on hers or a hand at her back as they walked. Nothing overt or suggestive. It was unsettling that she wouldn't have minded if he did kiss her.
"What happened to his eye?"
Buffy paused, grabbed her glass to take a sip of water. She hoped it didn't look too obvious that she was stalling. She definitely would have preferred a kiss over having to answer that question. Especially since it was her fault he'd lost his eye.
"He got into a fight."
"Must have been a bad one."
"You could say that."
"And he's doing what now?"
"Going to school. He wasn't able to afford it before. Bad family," she shook her head, thinking of Xander's parents. "Anyway, he came into some insurance money and is able to finally go to college."
"You sound proud of him."
"I am. He was working construction before the fight."
"Oh, I suppose that sort of handicap rules out hands-on type work."
"Yeah, kind of. Something about lack of depth perception."
"Kind of important."
"So they say."
"So, does he hate me?"
"Hate you? I don't think so. Why?"
Matty shrugged. "I'm sure your friends, family, will see me as a villain."
"No, I haven't said anything to make them think that, Matty. I wouldn't do that."
"I'm not saying you would, but I wouldn't blame them if they thought it anyway. A gentleman wouldn't have thought twice about giving you the annulment and being done with it."
"Are you saying you're not a gentleman?"
He shrugged, grabbed her glass and took a sip of her water.
"A non-gentleman wouldn't have let the fact I'd passed out stop them."
His eyes met hers over the glass. Again, they got that darker, sexy look. She had the feeling he wasn't finding it too difficult to picture her without the swimsuit on.
He set the glass down. "I suppose not."
She took his hand, laced her fingers through his. "Xander's a little odd. He doesn't do too well with the accepting of new people. So, don't take it personally if he's kind of distant or seems rude. It's just the way he is. I think he'd be happiest if things stayed the same for the most part."
"One of those."
"Yeah. He's a good guy, though. One of a kind."
"Yet, you never."
"Did he try?"
"He did, didn't he?"
"He asked me to a dance. That was it."
"Did you go?"
"No. I knew he wanted it to be a date and I didn't like him that way."
"Well, I couldn't lead him on."
"No, I get that about you."
Just then Dawn squealed with a splash as Xander spun past her and slam dunked the ball. "Buffy, you have to come in. The water's perfect."
"I will in a minute."
"Matty, you, too. You've got to have swim trunks in the house. Put them on. We can play a real game of basketball. I'm tired of letting Xander win."
"So you say, Dawnie. I'm just faster than you! You forget, I was on the swim team."
"For what, like two minutes?"
"Yeah, well, I still made the team."
Buffy snickered at their bickering. Matty chuckled, too. He seemed to find Dawn's enthusiasm appealing. Good. In some ways she was still like a kid. This was one of them. She hadn't let the badness, the evil in their lives taint her.
"Are you going to go in?"
"I was thinking about it before you got here."
"Then I guess I'll join you."
"Oh, by the way, Dad's not coming tomorrow."
Her smile faded. She was a little relieved, she wouldn't deny it. She knew Matty was hoping his dad would show up, though. And for that, she felt bad.
"It's okay. I should have known."
"We'll have a nice Thanksgiving without him."
"I know, probably a better one actually. I'd like for us to be on more sure footing when you meet him."
She was about to ask how confident he felt they'd ever get on sure footing, but decided not to. He didn't need that right now.
"I understand. Is anyone else coming?"
"Just Taylor. Chris has to be with his pop. He says he can't wait to meet you."
She was probably viewed as a gold digger to his friends. She wasn't sure what his dad would think. Marrying someone in a drunken moment of weakness was crazy. He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it before releasing it as if sensing where her thoughts had gone to. She hated to admit, even to herself, that she liked when he did little things like that.
"I'll be back in a bit."
She couldn't wait in a perverse sort of way. She bet he looked downright hot in a swimsuit. It was going to be her turn to look. Only she had no memory of what he looked like to attach to what was going to be covered by the trunks.
Jim cleared his throat and tried again. It took Buffy a minute to respond. She hadn't changed her name, she'd never even suggested to Matty she would do that, but the household staff addressed her as Mrs. Demaret. If they found it odd that Mr. and Mrs. Demaret had separate bedrooms she didn't know. Of course, their rooms did connect via the bathroom so maybe they didn't find it that odd after all. She had no idea who knew the circumstances behind their marriage and why suddenly their Matty had a wife at the house. And they all seemed to look to her instead of him now for directions. It was enough to make her want to stay in bed all day and hide. As if she had any idea how to run a house! Let alone tell people what to do with one.
Dawn found it funny. Xander hadn't said anything, but Buffy could tell he found it a little amusing, too. The three of them knew nothing of this type of life. Cordelia would have fit in just perfectly. Not even the old Buffy, the Buffy from Hemry would have fit in here. Her parents hadn't been in this sort of league. Staff, a home with wings.
"Your guest has arrived."
"My guest?" She wasn't expecting anyone. Dawn and Xander were already here, playing pool or something down in the game room.
"Excuse me, your husband's guest."
Her eyes widened. "Oh. I thought Matty was picking him up at the airport."
"Evidently, there was a change in plans."
"Evidently. You can send him in here."
"What?" Buffy paused from the piecrust she was trying to rollout correctly. She hadn't had this much trouble with the apple pie. Shouldn't the second one be easier? "Is that wrong? Have his things been taken to his room?"
"Then send him back. He's Matty's friend, surely he doesn't expect a procession or anything. I'm in the middle of trying to make dessert. If he and Matty want to change plans without telling me they can just deal with me meeting him in the kitchen."
He actually smiled! Buffy could have been knocked over with a feather just then. Jim was full of smiles for Dawn, but Buffy it seemed he was undecided about. Perhaps it was because he knew Dawn wasn't a permanent fixture and Buffy, for all he knew anyway, was. Or maybe he recognized that Buffy was not just a woman like Matty thought she was. Matty had told Buffy that Jim worked for his father. Buffy wasn't sure what that meant, but if he had seen things he might recognize someone else who had, too.
"As you wish."
"Yeah, I do." She went back to the piecrust and then stopped. "Jim," she called out and he turned at the doorway. "It is Taylor, right?"
"Yes, Mrs. Demaret."
"Thanks." She'd tried telling him to call her Buffy a dozen times already, and he wouldn't hear of it. She decided to stop, maybe he'd drop the formality once he realized she was no longer bothered by it.
She didn't remember too much about the guys – and they had all been guys – who had been in Vegas with Matty. Hell, she barely remembered him! Suddenly, she felt self-conscious. Maybe having Taylor come back to the kitchen hadn't been the right thing to do. She wasn't a cook and she was a mess from battling the second piecrust. Judging by this house, Matty's friends were probably used to something other than whatever Buffy was.
What did people do who had money like this? They had servants to take care of everything. Buffy didn't even have to do her own laundry anymore. Dawn had been thrilled when Jim had instructed her to leave the laundry she'd brought with her from school and it would be taken care of. Buffy, on the other hand, wasn't so thrilled about it.
At least she had her job, and with the week off right now Dawn and Xander were here. So, she was keeping busy that way. But, what would she do if this was her life?
"Isn't this domestic?"
"It's a pie," Buffy said, not quite sure how to respond. So, this was the big one. Matty spoke of two friends in particular, Chris and Taylor. She knew both were with him the night in Vegas, but wouldn't have recognized them on the street. He'd described Chris as the pretty one, Taylor as the brawny one. She had to agree with that assessment. Some girls probably went for the big, burly look. It wasn't quite her thing, though.
"Pies aren't domestic?"
"It's Thanksgiving, there are supposed to be pies."
"Not where I come from."
"Then don't eat it," Buffy said simply. She shrugged, regarding him. She could tell he was doing the same thing. It made her wonder if Matty wasn't aware of Taylor's change of arrival plans. She went to the sink and washed her hands, drying them off before walking to him.
"I'm Buffy." She offered him her hand, which he took. He had a good handshake, firm without trying to overpower her. Then again, she doubted he felt he had to do that with her anyway. Still.
"Matty's told me a lot about you."
"He has, huh? I wouldn't believe too much of what he says."
"Oh, so you're not a good guy?"
He chuckled. "Well, that you can believe."
"Uh huh. Can I get you something to drink?"
"I'll take a beer."
She felt his eyes follow her as she walked to the other room where the refrigerator was Matty kept stocked with beer, soda, wine, and things like that.
"Thanks," he said, twisting off the top with minimal effort.
"Anytime. How was your flight?"
"It was fine. Long. They always are, though. Even if I travel first class."
"Right, I can see that." She imagined he had a hard time squeezing into those tiny seats.
"Are you from LA?"
"Yes, actually. I lived in Sunnydale, a couple hours south, for a few years, but I was born and lived in LA until I was sixteen."
She returned to her pie, determined not to let him get to her. It said a lot about Matty that his friend wanted to check her out without Matty there.
"I'd ask if you're from New York, but the accent kind of gives you away."
"Yeah, your tan gives you away. Not much sunshine in Queens right now."
"I wouldn't know. Never been, but I do work. I've had the past couple days off because my sister is home for Thanksgiving break and a friend, too."
"You do what again?"
"I work for a security firm."
"Doing what exactly?"
"Well, you might call me a bodyguard, but security specialist is the term they prefer we use. It's apparently the politically correct term."
She finally got the crust the way she wanted it and worked on filling it with the pumpkin filling.
"Anything else you want to know? Bank accounts? Criminal history?"
"You have a criminal history?"
"I burnt down my school gym."
"I didn't think so at the time, but it has come in useful a time or two."
"It leaves a lasting impression anyway."
He chuckled at that, taking a sip of the beer. He took a seat on a nearby stool, close to her as she worked on the pie. Was he testing her? Seeing if she'd hit on him? Accept a pass from him? He so wasn't her type anyway.
"So, you move pretty quick."
"Matty. I mean, what tipped you off. Of all of us there that night, he was the least obvious."
"I'm not sure what you're implying."
"Come on, Bunny."
"Whatever. I've known Matty all my life. I can count on one hand how many girls have come onto him."
"Maybe you weren't with him other times."
She stopped working on the pie and regarded him for a minute. So, they were getting down to it. Good. "Maybe you just don't like the idea that someone paid attention to him not you."
He laughed then, smiled. It didn't make it to his eyes, though. He wasn't someone she'd want to mess with in a dark alley, slayer strength or not.
"That's not it at all."
"No? So, you're his friend, but you can't believe that I like him?"
"Honey, you're married to him, you'd better do more than like him."
"It's really none of your business, is it?"
"See, that's where you're wrong. His pop doesn't care. He's out here on his own, ripe for the picking. Someone has to care."
"He's not here on his own anymore."
"That's right. He's got you now. The little woman. Home, baking pies while he's at the office hard at work. This isn't a fairy tale, you know."
She laughed at that. How appropriate he would use that line right now. "I'm well aware that fairy tales aren't real. Been there, done that already. Thank you."
He scoffed. "Yeah, right. You probably chip a nail and think it's the end of the world."
She held out her hands for him to see. Other than the huge ring on her finger, her hands were free of jewelry and her nails were unpainted.
"Not so much there. Listen," she said, glancing at the cookbook to be sure she had done all the steps.
"You like Matty, I get that. You're protective over him. I get that, too. And I like it in fact. I like knowing someone's out there looking after him. But, you can't come in here and insult me."
"What are you going to do about it?"
"I can just ignore you. It's as easy as that. There are enough rooms in this house; I won't have to see you other than dinner later. That's fine with me. I really don't care what you think of me, whether you like me, but you insult Matty thinking he wouldn't recognize someone who was taking advantage of him."
"Matty's a little naïve at times."
"So you think. I don't think he is."
"And you know him so well? I've known him my whole life."
"And I haven't. I admit that. But maybe I see things you don't, or can't, because the fact you've known him so long blinds you to the man he is."
"And just what kind of man is he?"
"That's enough, Taylor."
Buffy spun around, surprised to hear Matty's voice. How long had he been standing there? He strode into the kitchen looking pretty confident, his suit coat draped over his shoulder. She'd yet to see him dress sloppily. If he shared any of Taylor's doubts she couldn't tell. She couldn't blame his friend for thinking what he did, wondering. He walked up beside her and slid his arm around her waist as if he'd done it one hundred times before. His eyes met hers and she saw humor there. That was good. He wasn't mad. She probably shouldn't have been snotty with his friend.
"Hi," she said not knowing quite what else to say given the circumstances.
"Hi." His voice sounded husky. Or was that her imagination? He laid a quick kiss on her lips before extending his free hand to Taylor.
"How was your flight?"
"It was good even if we were packed in like sardines."
"Yeah, I should have known better. You got my message?"
"Yeah, I did. That was pretty convenient you got onto an earlier flight."
"I thought so. Didn't want to hold up your shindig."
"Not too much of a shindig. It'll be you, me, Buffy, her sister, and her friend."
She saw him glance around the kitchen. It smelled like Thanksgiving dinner should smell like. It was making her hungry standing in there working on the pies. Maria had gotten out of Buffy's way, seeming to sense Buffy didn't want help. If they turned out lopsided or with odd looking crusts so be it.
"Maria's got everything taken care of?"
"Yup. I just finished the pumpkin pie so I'll let her know I'm done in here."
"She would have done that."
"I know she would have, but I like doing it!"
She turned toward him, her hand resting against his stomach. It was flat and toned she noticed just from that little contact. He seemed to want to make his friend think things were okay. She could deal with that. Things were okay, just in an uncomfortable kind of way. "I'm going to head down to the game room where Dawn and Xander are."
"Okay. We'll probably go watch some of the game."
"Sounds good. Let me know if you need anything."
"I will, thanks." He kissed her again, quick. "And thanks for the pies."
"You're welcome. What's Thanksgiving without pies?"
"Who can argue with that logic?" Taylor piped in. Buffy disengaged from Matty and left the room, glad to get out of there. There was too much testosterone in there, even if they were friends.
"You're sure you know what you're doing, man?"
Matty didn't know how to answer Taylor's question. He wasn't sure. He had no idea why he was doing this. It was so unlike him. Maybe that was why.
Both men took sips off their beers while Buffy, Dawn, and Xander swam in the pool. Matty didn't use the pool much. He supposed he might start if Buffy took to using it as much as she had since her sister arrived.
"She's got high maintenance written all over her."
"I think you're wrong."
"You don't know women, Matty."
"Maybe you don't know them."
"Listen to you. A blonde wraps you around her little finger and suddenly you have the answers."
"She doesn't have me wrapped around anything. At least I'm out here doing something with myself. How are those video games working out for you?"
"That's what I thought."
Matty took another sip of his beer, turning his attentions to his lifelong friend for a moment.
"Maybe it bugs you that I actually got out. I've got a real life, away from being Benny's son."
"Why should that bug me?"
"Because I was always the one picked least likely to amount to anything."
"So, what? You need to marry the first bimbo that flashes you her goodies to prove you've made it?"
"She's not the first."
"I'll lay one hundered-to-one odds she's the first since you've been out here."
"Does it matter?"
Taylor shrugged. Matty had to admit his friend looked ridiculous sitting in the chair. It wasn't designed for someone built like him. They didn't make much designed for people like him, though.
"I guess not. As long as you're sure. And you're being careful."
"If anything, she's being more careful than I am."
"Then you need to stop that. Take that as a warning. Man. Where does she even come from? Who is she? What woman gets into the bodyguard business? Have you checked into her at all?"
"Barry requests her whenever he uses her company."
"Boom Boom does? Really?"
Matty knew that would give Taylor pause. Barry "Boom Boom" Bartucci was known as being particular about everything he did. He wouldn't request someone specifically if he wasn't confident they'd take that bullet for him. And clean up his messes. He knew from what Buffy had said from their night together in Vegas she'd done just that. The fact that the media didn't know anything about his dark side proved Topline did their job well.
"Can't you just relax? I invited you out here because she wanted a Thanksgiving. More for her sister than her I think. I knew you, like me, didn't get that at home. And, hey, who doesn't like a break from New York November?"
"Yeah, you're right there. I just." He shook his head. "I hate the idea of you being taken."
"So you say. Hey, at least she knows how to bake. You won't starve at least."
"Do you know something I don't know?"
"No," Taylor offered with a laugh. "Just saying. You know, if the world collapses around your ears at least you won't starve."
"Dad couldn't get me into this house fast enough, I don't think I have to worry about that. I'd like to let them all go, but Benny wouldn't hear of it."
"Of course not, they've been loyal to him. You don't let people like that go."
"Send them to New York then. I don't want them."
"You don't seem to mind Maria or Jim."
"No," Matty said with a smile. "I like those two. I'd keep them. The rest can go."
"Your house would look like a dump. Someone needs to keep all those rooms clean and those things dusted."
Matty chuckled at that. He had a point. Of course, really, he would trade it all in for just a normal house, a normal life. He liked having Maria, because he was too busy to think about cooking. Without Maria he probably wouldn't take the time. Because of her, he at least got a decent breakfast and dinner every day. Lunch, he was on his own.
He watched Buffy as she swam from one end of the pool to the other. She was something to watch. He glanced at Taylor, caught him looking, too. So, he wasn't immune to her after all. When he'd caught them talking in the kitchen earlier he felt like he'd been socked in the gut. Until he'd heard the tone of the conversation.
"I guess if you've got to be married it pays to be to someone who's at least nice to watch do stuff."
Despite the sexist tone of the comment, Matty couldn't help but agree. He knew Taylor's opinions on marriage. He didn't believe in it. There were too many women out there for guys like Chris and Taylor to sample for them to settle down. At least at their age. They were the type they'd end up settling down with someone in their forties that was in her late twenties or thirties and start having kids.
There was more to Buffy than just how she looked, though. Matty still hadn't figured it out, and he hoped he got longer than a year to do it. He was curious about her choice in jobs. She'd mentioned she didn't know how to do anything else. Why not? There were so many questions he wanted answers to. Hopefully, once their guests left after the weekend he could set about answering them.
He liked having people in the house. It made him feel less isolated, but now that he had Buffy in his house. He wanted her to himself. He wanted to get to know her. He didn't want to waste a minute of his time with her worrying about other people. And, God but it bothered him Taylor would see her go to a bedroom other than his tonight. It at least made him feel less like an idiot for Taylor to think they were getting naked together at night.
That would come. He was confident he would see this through and at the end of the year she'd stay. He didn't know how he'd accomplish it. It was a strange situation to be in. He'd really never envisioned himself married. Maybe that was why he wouldn't let her go. She'd gotten him to do something he'd never even thought about until that night.
Marriage was permanent. In his eyes. So, why had he run off on a fluke and married her? As he watched her swim he didn't know for sure. It was just her that had made him do it. She was beautiful, graceful, and despite the fact he knew she was nervous about living in his house she fit in here. He had no doubt once they got through this year and made good on their marriage that she'd do nothing to embarrass him. Or his father.
"The pie was great."
She nestled against Matty, which surprised him. He tried not to show it. She'd played along with him in the kitchen earlier in the day. This was a little more than that, though. Or so he thought. His knowledge of how women worked was pretty minimal.
"You sure you don't want to play pool or something?"
"No. I'm fine. Do you?"
"No. I've got a pretty woman snuggling up against me. I think I'd rather stay right here, but I thought I'd ask."
She smiled at that he noticed. She had a nice smile. There were times he sensed she hadn't been able to smile a whole lot in her life. It was a strange thing to think, but it was just a feeling he got when he looked at her. He didn't think of himself as someone overly versed in reading people or anything.
"Well, the pretty woman thinks dinner went pretty well."
"I think so, too."
"Good. I'm sorry Taylor doesn't care for me."
"That's just the way he is. It's nothing personal."
"He's just looking out for his friend who he thinks is going to get taken to the cleaners."
"That, too," he said, smoothing his hand along her hair. Her hair was always so pretty. He remembered what it felt like their night together in Las Vegas. He was able to get his fingers through it.
"What would you have done today if we weren't here?"
He shrugged. "Probably work at my office here. I'm sure Maria would have made me eat something. Watch football."
"Is this better?"
"What would you be doing?"
"I would have been with Dawn. Somehow. She's all I've got."
"Well, we were talking if we weren't here."
"It'll take a while to get used to that anyway. I'm not used to having anyone else. Not since my mom died anyway. It's been pretty much Dawn and me."
She grew quiet after that and he let her, enjoyed just sitting with her.
"Isn't this cozy," Taylor said a while later. Matty had drifted off, judging by Buffy's breathing she had, too. "Are we keeping you awake?"
Matty chuckled. "Apparently not."
Buffy shifted on the couch, settling closer against him. His hand found her hair again, almost automatically.
"What are you guys doing?"
"We were playing some pool, but I started feeling sorry for them. So, I left. Good thing we weren't playing for money. I'd have wiped them out by now. I came to see if you wanted to play some cards, but I guess not."
"Go ahead, Matty," Buffy whispered. "I'll go play pool with Xander and Dawn ‘til you're ready to go to bed."
His hand stilled at her hair. Had she just said that? He tried to think of how many glasses of wine she'd had with dinner. He didn't think she'd even finished the first one. So, she wasn't drunk. Maybe it wasn't meant to mean anything.
Sleeping the past couple of nights had been difficult for him. And for the first time in over a year it wasn't because he was replaying the few minutes before he'd pulled the trigger in his head. Endlessly searching for something he could have done different. He never found it, though. No, that wasn't what was making him lose sleep the past few nights.
It was because Buffy was in the room right next to his. All he had to do was walk through their bathroom and he'd be there with her. He remembered what she felt like in his arms their one night together. He wanted that again. He didn't care if it made him seem weak. His father would probably be ashamed that he could want something like that.
It wasn't about sex, even if he did feel like he'd been walking around with a hard-on twenty-five hours a day. Even his concentration at work was slightly off. For that one night he'd felt there was someone.
She stretched. He had to stifle a groan as she pressed against him as she did. She dropped a light kiss on his lips before walking toward the other end of the room where the pool table was.
Matty turned his head and watched as she made her way to Dawn and Xander. She had a nice walk. It went with the nice everything. He kind of wished now he'd taken more advantage of her being naked that night in Vegas. He'd glanced. Hell, he was human, but he hadn't gotten nearly enough of a look.
"Hey, if you want to forego the card game I'd completely understand."
"No, no," Matty said, standing from the couch. "It's been a while since I've played cards."
"Should we ask Xander?"
Matty shrugged. "Hey, Xander, Taylor and I are playing some cards. You want in?"
"Uh, no thanks, guys. I'll stick to pool with the babes. You go on and have your guy fun, though."
Matty chuckled softly. He didn't know Xander real well, they hadn't gotten much of a chance to talk to him. He seemed like a good guy, though. Despite having lost an eye, recently from the way Buffy clammed up when he'd asked her about it, he seemed in good spirits.
"I guess it's just us," Taylor said.
"I can't say he's making the dumb choice."
"Me neither, but when both babes are claimed, not much fun for us outsiders."
"The sister isn't."
"Are you shitting me?"
"I thought for sure they were an item."
"I think Buffy wants them to be, but no."
"Huh," Taylor said. Matty noticed his eyes took on a whole new glean to them as he assessed the younger Dawn Summers with a different type of appreciation this time.
Matty slapped his rock-hard abdomen with the back of his hand. "She's not eighteen."
"Damn," Taylor muttered.
"Yeah, right, cards. Definitely the safer choice."
Matty laughed lightly at that. He'd never known Taylor to take the safer route very often in their lives. Today wouldn't be the first time, but it was one of the few times.
Matty couldn't remember a longer night in recent memory. His mind wasn't on the cards and he ended up losing fifty bucks to Taylor.
"You've got your mind on other things. I tell ya, when a woman distracts you from the basics in life it's not a good sign."
Matty said nothing, merely took a pull from his beer and watched the three friends. And there was no question despite Buffy and Dawn being sisters that they were friends as well. They were close, a bond forged he imagined when their mom died and Buffy had to step in and be the adult even though she herself was barely over being a kid herself.
Buffy caught him looking at her and gave him a smile with a small wave. He waved back.
"Oh man, you're so gone," Taylor said with a laugh, spotting the gesture.
Matty couldn't argue with him so he once again remained silent. Buffy made her way to them. She walked like a dancer. He wondered if she danced. He should know those things. He'd learn them. Just not tonight.
"Hi," she said, taking a seat in one of the spare chairs at the poker table. "You guys done?"
"Looks that way. I was on the verge of losing my shirt, so Taylor went light on me."
"You were, huh? I see you're still wearing it, though."
"Oh, right, yeah. He takes his payment in money. Not clothes."
"That's too bad."
It was a good thing he hadn't taken the sip of his beer he'd meant to or he would have choked on it. It was the first thing she'd said that indicated she was attracted to him. Or thought he was nice to look at. They weren't overly complimentary in that way toward one another. That probably went with the territory of not knowing exactly what they were doing yet.
Buffy reached for his beer and took a sip before giving it back to him, bringing him out of his thoughts.
"I think we're about done for the night, too. Dawn and Xander said something about watching a movie, but I'm not really in the mood to be up for two more hours. I guess I'm getting old, except Xander's my age."
"You're not old, Buffy."
"So, Buff, are you and hubby dearest whimping out on us or what?"
"I don't know. I haven't asked him yet. Do you want to stay up and watch a movie?"
"I, uh." Was he in an alternate universe? "It's up to you?"
"Well, I'm kind of ready for bed."
She stood then, sliding her hand into his. All Matty could do was stare at it. Even when she tugged on his hand a little he just sat there, staring.
"Uh, yeah. I should," he glanced at the table. The cards were still out, a few empty beer bottles were still there.
"Matty. You do have people to do that for you," Taylor mumbled.
"Matty, come on, man, don't be an idiot."
He left the room with her, Taylor wasn't too far behind. He expected her to keep walking when he made it to his room as her door was further down the hall. She stopped with him, though.
"Good night, Taylor." She said it so naturally that he almost wondered if he wasn't dreaming.
"Uh, yeah, good night. Thanks for the pie."
Matty opened the door, letting her pass through first.
"It suits you," she said simply.
"Your room. It's nice. Very guy-like. It's not like the other rooms. It's you."
"Yeah, I got rid of most of the stuff Pop had in here."
He watched as she took a seat on the edge of the bed and kicked off her shoes. She ran her hand along the comforter.
"Listen, if I gave you the impression that I expected."
"No, you didn't. I get what you were doing and I'm willing to go along with it while he's here. He's going to go back to New York, probably see your father, your friends. And you want him to go back and say that this is a good thing we're doing."
"Kind of. Okay, yeah."
"So, I'm in."
"No buts. Is anyone going to tell him different?"
"I'm not sure I could go back to you sleeping in the other room."
"Well, I guess he won't know if I sleep in that room, will he? I'll just be sure to leave and come in through your door."
"I'm not sure he even knows the rooms connect."
"Well then. It's up to you."
"Christ, Buffy, you're not giving me much of a choice. I want you in here, I won't deny that. I want you in here for good, though. Not just the weekend."
"Why did you have to go to work today?"
"You heard me."
"Uh, well, one of my clients was having second thoughts about a commercial he shot that was to debut today during one of the football games."
"Did you get it resolved?"
"Yeah. The commercial ran as scheduled. I recorded the game, we can watch it later if you want to. The commercial I mean."
"Good. Yeah, I'd like that."
"Why do you ask?"
She shrugged and stretched out on his bed. Her head was at the foot of the bed, resting on her hand while she watched him. He probably looked like an idiot just standing there.
"I just realized that I haven't asked you about your day or anything. I don't pretend to know much about sports, but I know enough about work in general to know that having to go in to an office job on a holiday is rare."
Did she expect him to be coherent just now? She was laying there on his bed and he wanted to join her. Badly. He wondered what she'd do if he did. "Ah, yes, you're right."
"I couldn't really ask before, because I should have known that sort of thing. Right?"
He made his way to the bed. She didn't back away or cower from him. Both good things. "I suppose."
"I mean, if you got called in and I was in here with you I would have known."
"Your bed is way more comfortable than mine. That's not very fair."
"I don't know what to tell you there. I've never slept in that bed."
"There are a lot of things you haven't done in your own house."
He coughed. "Uh, well, I guess I still think of it as my father's place."
"But it's yours now. Right?"
"Yup. It was my birthday present."
"Yeah. I guess it was his way of saying he was glad I was doing okay." It was also his reward for getting rid of the man who had betrayed him and set Matty up to get away with it.
"We need to talk more."
"We've been so busy this week. Me moving in, company coming, Thanksgiving. We haven't gotten to know one another very well."
"I thought of that earlier, too."
She smiled. "Once Dawn's gone we'll have plenty of time, but I'm glad we got to talk now."
She stood from the bed and walked to the bathroom, closing the door behind her. She'd open the door again when she was done. That was their arrangement. She'd been kind of put out at first that she was set up in the room adjoining his. Jim had done it intentionally Matty supposed. Figuring things would happen eventually. Matty sure hoped Jim was right. He liked knowing she was right there. Maybe that was part of the reason the dreams hadn't bothered him since she'd moved in. It wasn't so much that she was physically there next to him, just that he knew he was no longer alone.
He changed out of his clothes into the gym shorts and shirt he wore to bed. He put his things away from the day. Jim would do it for him tomorrow, but Matty didn't like to be a slob. It was why he'd started to protest about leaving things in the game room. It just wasn't his style. He supposed once or twice wasn't a complete breach of his feelings on that.
The bathroom door opened, which timed perfectly with his needing to finish getting ready for bed. He was surprised when he turned around to see her standing in the doorway. She was wearing pajamas. Something satiny, but pajamas for sure. It was a shirt and pants deal and looked nice on her. Hell, it looked hotter than hell on her. Skimpy nighties that gave everything away were way overrated as far as Matty was concerned.
"Is something wrong?"
"All right." Was he being dense? He wasn't sure. Taylor or Chris would have something smooth and witty to say about now. Matty was fresh out of those things. "Good night."
He waited, expecting her to go through the bathroom to her room, but she didn't. She went to his bed instead.
"Do you prefer the right side?"
"When I woke up that morning you were to my left."
"Uh, sure, whatever." He blinked as she drew the comforter down. "Uh, Buffy, you do remember what I said a few minutes ago."
About what? He shook his head. "I don't think I can go back to having you in a separate room if you sleep with me now."
"As long as you can agree to just sleep, we'll be fine."
He wasn't sure what to say to that. "You realize that's asking a lot of me."
"I know it is."
"Why what?" She asked with a pout.
She had the most adorable pout. He could just imagine what she could do with that mouth, those lips. Move your thoughts to somewhere more neutral, Matty.
"Never mind," he said with a wave of his hand. He decided to let it go. He wasn't sure why she was doing this, but he was not stupid enough to question her to the point she went back to her room. She was an adult, capable of making a decision. She wasn't drunk.
He finished in the bathroom in record time. At least it felt that way to him. When he stepped into his room, he was confident he had been hallucinating earlier. She was there, though, in his bed. He stifled a soft groan at the sight of her. She was expecting him to behave?
He went to his side of the bed, or the side she had designated for him anyway. He'd never had to worry about which side of the bed he slept on before now. He slid under the covers, reached to turn off the bedside lamp, and slid his hands under his head as he stared at the ceiling. He was pretty sure sleep would not come easy tonight. For entirely different reasons than he was accustomed.
"Buffy," he whispered, it was really more of a hiss, when he felt her inch closer.
"I just wanted to say good night."
As if she hadn't surprised enough already tonight she raised her head, lowering it to kiss him. It wasn't a shake-the-earth's-foundation kiss, but it was nice. Definitely a good first good night kiss.
"You're sure about this?"
"Good night, Matty."
"I'm not an idiot, I won't ask again." He just hoped he didn't do something stupid while he was sleeping. Or embarrassing.
Buffy sat at the table watching as Matty paged through the morning paper. She drank her glass of milk. He had a system. It was kind of cute. She wondered if he even realized it. First, he glanced through the main section. Occasionally, he'd read a story but usually he just skimmed the headlines. He glanced through the business section, concentrating on the stocks mostly. She took that to mean he was invested. Something Buffy knew nothing about. And then he spread out the sports section and scoured it. He was like a man on a mission. It was funny, but sweet to see that he took his work that seriously. He followed the careers of the players he represented avidly. And when they were on a streak tried to monetize that for them.
Everyone had been gone for a couple of weeks now and Christmas was looming right around the corner. Things were a little strained between them. She was sure Matty expected her to return to the other bedroom any day now. She had no idea why she'd taken the step she had. It went back to her conversation with Dawn. She liked him. Maybe she didn't love him, but she really did like him. The more she saw him and spent time with him she liked him more.
She'd never had the experience of sleeping with someone before. Not like they did. She knew he didn't sleep well. He'd admitted that to her, but even without him saying so she would have known. He talked in his sleep sometimes. She wasn't able to get much from the garbled words, but Marbles and Teddy came out a lot. She wasn't sure what that meant, and didn't think it was her place to ask. She had things she didn't want him to know about. Yet.
As far as she was concerned after meeting his friend Taylor, she got the better end of the deal. She was sure Taylor could be charming when he wanted to be, but he seemed the type that was out for himself. And very into himself. Buffy wouldn't do well with that type of guy.
"I was thinking," she said after a quick glance to be sure he wasn't immersed in something. He was between pages, so that meant he wasn't.
"How about if I bring you lunch today?"
He paused his page turning to look at her. "You want to bring me lunch?"
"Sure. I'm not working until tonight."
"Oh right. That author."
"Right. Some book signing party or something. Sounds way boring, but I guess they're worried there will be crazed fans rushing the table or something."
"Have you read the book?"
"No. I'm not much of a reader. I mean, I read, I know how to read, it's just not one of my favorite past times."
"What are your favorite past times?" He folded the newspaper back the way it was and gave her all of his attention. She loved when he did that. She'd never really gotten the feeling before that a guy she was with was hanging on her every word. Not that she thought that now, but Matty had a way of making her think he did want to hear what she had to say.
"It depends. I like to dance, movies, music, clubs, you know. I used to ice skate."
"Ice skating? Really? Were you good?"
"Yeah, pretty good. I haven't done it since high school. Hasn't been much time."
"We'll have to fix that."
"Really? Do you skate?"
"Used to play hockey."
"Then you must have been good."
"I could hold my own."
"Huh," she said, breaking off part of her bagel. "So about lunch? Was that a yes or a dear god I don't want you there?"
"I'd love to have lunch with you. But I'll take you out, you don't have to bring me anything."
"Are you sure? You usually eat at your office."
"Because I work through my lunch. If you are going to be there I won't want to do that. So, we may as well go out."
"If you're sure."
"Great. Cool. I can't wait to see where you work."
"It's not that exciting."
"You mean, Venus Williams isn't going to be waiting to see you or anything?"
"Well, then, I'll be sure to leave my camera at home."
"All right. Wear a dress."
"Huh?" Had she just missed something?
"Wear a dress. I'll take you somewhere nice."
"No, come on. We haven't done anything like that since you moved in. I'd like to take you out for a date."
He stood from the table, finishing his orange juice as he walked to the sink to set his breakfast dishes down. He grazed the top of her head with a kiss and slid his suit coat on. She stood and helped him, making sure his tie was straight.
"Don't want my man going out looking sloppy."
"We wouldn't want that. See you at lunch then, a little before noon will work best."
"I'll be there."
"Great. See ya then."
Buffy spent the morning updating her files. The office Matty had set her up with was almost as big as her bedroom, so she had plenty of space. There was a four-drawer file cabinet with a lock, so she was pretty protected. As much as she was going to be in here, anyway. She tried to work a little each day, that way it wasn't overwhelming. There were days Giles had no updates and days he had a ton. So, it tended to work out for her just to keep up the routine. She finished up when it was time for her to get ready for her date.
She made her way into the city. She'd been to his office once before, but it was after hours and he was driving so she allowed herself extra time in case she got lost. She found it all right, though. She took a minute to reapply lipstick and to be sure her hair hadn't frizzed out on the way there. She'd only had the windows open a little, so it wasn't too bad.
"May I help you?" She was older than Buffy, but not by much. She was dressed very professionally. It wasn't the first time Buffy was kind of glad she didn't have any administrative skills. It would drive her nuts to have to dress so conservatively all of the time. What was the fun in wearing clothes if you couldn't wear some that were flattering?
"I'm here to see Matty Demaret."
"And you are?" She had a look that Buffy recognized. Buffy wasn't an athlete or anybody famous so this woman was prepared to shoo Buffy out the door in record time.
She quirked a brow at her, assessing her much the same way Buffy had done when she'd walked into the building.
"His wife," she added for good measure.
She mouthed a silent ‘oh'. "He's on the fifth floor. You can take the elevator. I'll let Janie know you're on your way up, Mrs. Demaret."
"Thank you. Have a nice day," she called out with a dismissive wave. Oh yeah, she could get used to this rich wife thing.
She hated to admit how much she enjoyed doing that. Whether it was because he was just good at his job or because people knew who his father was. Claiming to be his wife definitely got reactions out of people. And they were usually of the expedient variety. That was always of the good as far as Buffy was concerned. And to see someone who reminded her so much of Cordelia's friends get taken down a notch was just, well, fun.
She made it to the fifth floor, noticing when she stepped off the elevator that there were a few people hovering around. She walked to the receptionist on that floor. Just how many did they need?
"Hi, Janie, right?"
"I'm here to see Matty."
"I let him know you were on your way up, Mrs. Demaret. He said to send you back. I'll show you the way."
"I see him, I can make it from here, thanks."
Janie disappeared without a word. Interesting. Buffy wondered how many people knew Matty even had a wife before today. He mentioned that he tended to keep his personal life just that so she imagined maybe no one did. He spotted her and smiled, waving her in while he kept talking just as a redhead stood from her desk.
"He's on the phone. If you'd like to have a seat." She wasn't rude, but she wasn't very personable either. Definitely short and to the point. And definitely had her claws out.
"Hm, that's odd because he just waved me in," Buffy said. She was pretty sure the redhead hadn't seen him. The redhead looked into Matty's office and must have been given the all-clear because she stepped aside.
"Well," Buffy said under her breath. She tried to remember if he'd mentioned his assistant's name. If he had, she didn't recall it. She closed the door behind her and walked to one of the empty chairs in front of his desk.
She'd chosen the dress she had on with him in mind. It was pretty conservative, until you got to the skirt. It was as mini as it could get without being illegal. She had the body and the legs to wear it, so she figured why not. She was tan enough that she didn't need nylons either but she'd worn stockings, the kind with elastic at the top and sitting like she was now you could see the lacy elastic.
She watched as his eyes took in her appearance. He was nice about it. He started with her face and worked his way down. She crossed her legs, timing it perfectly with his gaze getting to that point of his perusal. She was being mean, but figured he deserved it after seeming to imply she was going to show up in jeans and a sweatshirt for lunch with him today.
"Yeah, listen, Steve, my lunch date just got here."
"Well, I'm allowed a date with my wife."
"Yes, I said wife."
"I'm sure you'll meet her soon. Have a good afternoon."
He hung up and ran his fingers through his hair. "Wow. Are you trying to give me a heart attack?"
"Well, you didn't specify the kind of dress." She stood and turned for him. "Isn't this all right?"
"Jesus, Buffy, you're going to cause accidents dressed like that."
"Oh come on, it's not that bad."
"No, it's not that bad. You're just that good in it. I've never seen you dressed like that."
"Because we've never gone out. Not like this. And you're sweet," she walked over and kissed him. "Thank you."
They'd gotten the kissing part down fine lately. She'd even woken up in his arms a couple of times since she'd moved into his room. Neither mentioned it because it seemed they just naturally came together during the night.
"What I'm thinking right now isn't very sweet."
"Hmm," she said, taking a seat on his lap. She glanced at his desk, wondering what he did sitting here all day. He had the usual things an executive had. Computer, pens, paper, notes. "So, where are you taking me for lunch?"
"I, um, lunch?"
She laughed softly. "Yes, you know, the meal I came here to eat with you."
"Oh right, I almost forgot why it was you came."
"That would be the reason I drove all the way here, yes." She frowned slightly and grabbed a tissue from his desk. "I got lipstick on your cheek. Sorry," she murmured as she blotted it off. That was how his assistant found them when she opened the door.
"Mr. Demaret? Sorry, but is it okay if I leave for lunch?"
Buffy's eyes widened as they met Matty's and she had all she could do to stifle the laugh. She was sure Matty saw it in her eyes, though. She wasn't sure about his reaction. She held the tissue with the offending lipstick smudged on it up for his perusal. "I think I got it all. Sorry, I'll be more careful next time."
"Thanks." He cleared his throat as Buffy slid off his lap, returning to the chair she'd originally sat in to collect her purse. Matty slid his suit coat on and turned his attentions to his assistant. "We'll be leaving for lunch now Amanda, too, so go ahead and go."
"Okay, see you in an hour."
"I'm sorry," Buffy said after she left, noticing she didn't shut the door all the way behind her.
"Am I going to get you in trouble?"
"I know how women work, Matty. It's going to be around the office by this afternoon that we were doing something we weren't."
"Oh, well," he smiled. He actually smiled! Okay, so that was okay with him. "No, you aren't going to get me in trouble. We weren't in here alone long enough to, um," he cleared his throat. "Well, anyway, you know what I mean."
"Yes, I think I do. And that's good to know."
His eyes darted up to meet hers again and she saw a hint of a grin on his lips. He wasn't mad, that was good.
"You do look nice, by the way."
"You sure your heart can take it?"
"My heart can, I'm just not sure about anyone else's who can see you." He stepped toward her, cupped her cheek with his hand. "I've seen what's underneath it, babe, albeit briefly. The dress is nice, but I'll take you au natural any day of the week."
"Oh," she said, nibbling her lower lip. She was blushing terribly by now. Ugh. She'd opened herself for that one. "Well."
He chuckled softly and kissed her lightly. "Hmm, now I know how to get you to stop talking."
"Was I talking too much?"
"Not at all. Let's go eat before we do give them something to talk about."
They walked to the restaurant, it was just down the street from his office. Buffy was used to walking, it wasn't until the past couple of months that she had a vehicle to drive, so it didn't bother her any. He hadn't let go of her hand since they left his office. She wasn't sure if he noticed the looks, but she did. Yeah, they, more particularly he, was going to be the topic of water cooler gossip today.
It was kind of nice, though, being with him like this. Like a date, only he was her husband. It was odd to think of him in that way, but he was. And she'd proven to herself that she didn't mind throwing the weight that came with that around when it was called for. So, what did that make her?
She wasn't sure how she knew, what made her react, or what made her even think either of them were in danger. She reacted as she had for the past eight or so years of her life, on instinct. She sensed danger from the passing car, and she acted on that. She jumped in front of Matty, blocking his body with hers. She let out a yelp at the sharp pain that singed her arm. She heard screaming and more gunshots but she didn't seem too able to focus on much of anything but the pain. And the idea that she was not invulnerable to a bullet.
"Buffy, Jesus," he said. She saw the look of panic in his eyes. Fear. Anger. Guilt. They were all there, and she stayed focused on him, hanging onto the fear. He was scared for her.
Matty had no idea what happened. By the time he knew what was going on, it was over. How she had reacted so fast was beyond him. It was like she knew. The sidewalk was riddled with bullets and debris. Matty spotted at least two down and heard the sound of emergency vehicles in the distance, rapidly getting nearer. He drew his hand away from Buffy, vaguely aware it was covered in blood.
"Buffy. Talk to me."
"I'm okay," she winced and he knew she wasn't okay. "What happened?"
"You were shot."
"I know that. I don't know what happened, though."
"So were some others, I don't know. It was a car."
"Are you okay?"
"Yes, thanks to you. Don't do that again."
"It's my job."
"I'm not your client, Buffy."
"Sorry, instinct. It's what I do. Save people. Save the world. Since I was fifteen. It never ends."
She was rambling. Was she getting weak? From what he could tell, the bullet had grazed her arm but it was bleeding pretty heavily so he wasn't sure how bad the graze was.
"Do you have your cell phone?"
"Do I what?" She was asking him about cell phones at a time like this.
"We're right by your office, right?"
"Yeah, just down the street, not even a block."
"Good. Call this number, tell them Buffy's been shot. Then get me to your office."
"Buffy, you need to see a paramedic."
"Just do it, Matty. I know you don't know what I'm asking you to do, but please."
"Okay, okay, give me the number."
He drew out his cell phone and dialed the number. The conversation was short. He had no idea who he had just spoken with, but he'd given them the address of his office. They said they'd be there in a few minutes. He wasn't sure how that was possible with traffic the way it was currently. He wasn't sure about leaving the scene either. But, his priority was Buffy. He wasn't sure where the bullet would have hit if she hadn't brushed him out of the way.
"Can you walk?"
"Yeah, just help me. So much for lunch, huh."
"I'm not too worried about lunch."
He shrugged out of his suit coat, preparing to drape it over her shoulders. He noticed she was clutching her arm now.
"No, don't Matty, you're going to ruin your suit."
"I don't care."
"Mr. Demaret," Penny said when he came through the doors to the lobby. "Is everything all right?"
"No, not really. We're expecting someone in a few minutes." He paused and glanced at Buffy. "Name?"
"Willow Rosenberg," she whispered through gritted teeth. He could tell that she was in pain. He could only imagine how much. God, he hated guns, blood, death.
"Willow Rosenberg. Send her up to my office as soon as she gets here, please."
"Thanks." He guided Buffy to the elevator and up to his office, breezing past everyone as quickly as he could. With his suit coat on he thought the blood was fairly well hidden. She just looked deathly pail and sick. Like she'd lost blood. He'd no sooner set her on his couch and started to look at the wound when there was a knock at his door.
"Hi. You must be Matty. I'm Willow. I'd say it's nice to meet you, but I need to get to work. Don't worry I've done this before. Could you shut the door?"
"Uh sure," he said, confused. She didn't look like a doctor or nurse.
"Hi Buffy," he heard her say as he closed the door behind him. He kept his distance, but quickly made his way to her when he heard her starting to chant.
Willow turned her attention to him briefly, her hair had an almost halo-like glow to it and her eyes had lost all of evidence of their color.
"I need quiet, please. She'll be fine."
He backed away, not sure what he should do. He walked to the window, turning his back to the two women. Every instinct in his body told him to go get one of the paramedics on the street. She'd been shot. He wasn't sure what type of new-age stuff she might be in to, but bullet wounds couldn't be healed with chanting. But, Buffy had asked him to call this woman. It was her life, wasn't it? Didn't he have to respect that? Trust her?
He focused his attention on the street below, forcing himself to block out what was going on behind him. He had no idea how much time had passed when he felt a soothing hand rest against his shoulder. He could feel the healing arc from the hand to him. It warmed him. She drew away.
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize. I shouldn't have touched you without permission."
"It's okay," he said, confused. What had happened?
"I'm a healer. Not just of the physical, so if you ever decide you want that taken care of let me know."
"I pulled away before I got anything. I just detected something dark, unsettling." She smiled brightly. "She's fine, by the way. You can see her."
He dashed to the couch. "She's?"
"Sleeping. I put her out. She'll need about an hour. And then she'll be as good as new. Maybe a little TLC would be in order, but I suspect you'd do that even if I didn't mention it."
"I don't understand."
She placed her hand against his shoulder. There was no sensation this time. It was just a hand. Whatever had happened the first time she'd touched him didn't again. He glanced at her, curious.
"It's not my place to tell you. Save my number, though. You'll need it again."
"Are you saying this happens often?"
The woman, Willow, looked at Buffy affectionately. "I wish I could say otherwise. I understand you had Xander down for Thanksgiving. That meant a lot to him."
"You know Xander?"
"Yeah, since kindergarten. Old friends."
"Why weren't you there?"
"I was out of town."
"Oh," he said with a frown. Buffy hadn't even mentioned inviting Willow. He wondered what that was about. "I'm sorry, I can't remember if she's mentioned you."
"That's okay. You guys have had your plate full. I get that. I have to go, though. Okay? So, take care of her."
"Is there anything I need to do?"
"Just wake her up in an hour. She'll be fine. A little sore maybe, but she heals fast."
"Will she have a scar?"
"Nope. She doesn't scar."
"There's one on her neck, though."
"Yeah there is," Willow said and her eyes took on a sad look to them. "It's the only one I know of she has. I don't know why it happened. I've offered to fix it for her. I'm not sure I could, but I'd try. She doesn't want to, though."
"Thanks. What do I owe you?"
She waved him off with a laugh. "Nothing. I was in the neighborhood." She leaned over the couch and placed a kiss against Buffy's forehead. "Take care. It was nice to meet you, Matty. I'll see you again, under better circumstances."
"Okay then," he said, settling in a chair. What to do for an hour? He couldn't work. Would she wake up hungry? They hadn't eaten lunch yet. He stood and leaned over her, looking at her arm. He could barely even tell where she'd been hurt. There was a little redness, a slight puckering of the skin but the wound was gone. Unbelievable. If he didn't know better. He shook off that thought. He didn't believe in things like magic.
He passed the time bringing some paperwork he could sift through while seated by her side. His suit coat was ruined. As was his shirt. There was blood all over both of them. He kept Amanda out of his office and asked her not to disturb him unless it was an emergency.
An hour to the second he leaned over her, placing his hand on the shoulder of her good arm.
"Buffy," he whispered.
It took a minute for her to come to, but she did. And that was what happened. She came to. She didn't wake up. This whole afternoon was just bizarre. He'd have to remember to check and see if anyone had died on the street. He felt bad leaving the scene, but he hadn't seen anything helpful. He was pretty sure Buffy hadn't either. And, really, the last thing Matty Demaret needed was publicity involving a shoot out outside his office.
She gasped and blinked rapidly, almost as if startled. Seeing her eyes was one of the most welcomed sights he'd ever seen.
"Hi," he whispered, sitting on the edge of the couch to help her sit up.
"How are you?"
"I'm okay. Thanks for trusting me."
"You're welcome, but you owe me an explanation."
"Yeah, now's probably not the time."
"No, probably not."
She sat up slowly, leaning on him a little. "I really hate getting shot."
"It's happened often?"
"I could suggest you look into another line of work."
She laughed and ran her fingers through her hair. He thought she looked fine, but he imagined she felt pretty crappy.
"I wish it was that easy, Matty."
She lifted her arm above her head, rotated it as if working the kinks out.
"I guess we didn't get our lunch."
"Are you hungry? I can have Amanda order something in. Name it, it's yours."
She probably thought he didn't care or that he was being callous. She'd have no idea how helpless he'd felt when he realized she was pushing him out of the way. He took her face in his hands then and met her gaze with his. "Please don't do that again, Buffy."
"You jumped in front of me."
"I told you."
"I know what you said. And I'm telling you."
"I can't just turn it off, Matty. You don't understand. It's what I do. I can't just stop."
"It's your job, Buffy."
She closed her eyes and sighed heavily enough he heard her.
"No, Matty, it's not just my job. It's what I was born to do. It's in me. I was born to protect, that's what I do. There's more to it then that, but that's all I can tell you for now."
"Because I don't know what we're doing yet. There are things."
"Yeah, I get it."
She smiled slightly and leaned toward him, brushing her lips against his. He drew her to him, hands sliding from her face along her neck to her shoulders. He felt her hands at the collar of his shirt, loosening his tie. She slid his tie off and started unbuttoning his shirt before he pulled away.
"We, I," he shook his head, clearing his thoughts. God, she was beautiful. Sexy as hell. He wanted her. Bad. "We're at my office and you've just been shot."
"I'm fine and I imagine your office door locks."
Holy shit! Was she suggesting what he thought she was?
"I had something a little better in mind than a couch for our first time."
"I just need," she whispered, nipping his lip before she kissed him. God, he could feel the passion, the need rolling off her. She took his hand, slid it between her legs. The legs he'd admired not too long ago for looking magnificent in the dress she wore. "Won't take long."
He sort of understood what was going on. She'd just gotten shot. Could have died. She wanted release. His hand paused at her thigh. If he did this, they were crossing a line. He couldn't go back to just kissing her. It was difficult enough having her in his bed night after night.
She whimpered softly, breaking the kiss. "Just kiss me," she murmured. "I'll do it."
"Christ," he whispered in return. Her hand slid between her legs. She wrapped her calves around his thighs, arcing against him as she pleasured herself. Never in his wildest dreams had something like this happened to him. Talk about a turn-on.
She went off like a firecracker. It hadn't taken long at all. He wondered, given as needy as she was, if he would have been able to get her off anyway. She went loose against him, but didn't break the kiss right away.
"God, I'm sorry."
"Don't be. That was," he broke away and gestured to the front of his trousers. "Arousing as hell."
"I know, and I shouldn't have."
"Don't worry about it. I get it. Maybe when we get home we can let things happen the way they should have."
She slid a fingertip along his arm and smiled. He brought her hand to his mouth, sliding the fingers in and out. He could taste her, smell her scent and it drove him wild.
"I need to go sit at my desk or Amanda's going to get an eyeful if she comes in here."
Buffy laughed, sliding her finger along the edge of his lips. "Thank you."
"No, no, thank you."
"You say that now. Later, you'll think I'm a freak or something."
"Nothing freakish about that at all. I can assure you my mind won't change on that later either. You can do that anytime."
"Guaranteed I'd never stop you."
"Hmm. You liked that then?"
"Uh, let me think how to answer that. Yeah!"
"I've never," she blushed and it was beautiful on her. "I mean, you know, I haven't done that in front of someone before. I know if we took that step it would change things. I shouldn't have asked. I just."
He brought her hand to his mouth and kissed the palm. "I get it, really. You were scared. You could have died. I could have died. I'm glad it's me you wanted to burn it off with."
"There isn't anyone else."
"I know that. I was just saying. If I let you leave here not knowing."
She lay back down, draping her arm over her head.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, fine. I wouldn't have gone off and found someone, Matty."
"I know that. I was just saying. To think if you'd gone home and, well," he shrugged. "I would have missed it."
"Oh!" She blushed even more and brought her other hand to her face, in an unsuccessful attempt to cover it completely.
"Don't be embarrassed, Buffy."
"I just can't believe I did that."
"If I have my say about things, we'll be doing more than that eventually. Don't think that way. I know it was just the moment and a need, not really what you wanted."
"But I did want. Geez, Matty, I would have. Here in your office with your admin. right outside the door."
"Yeah, well, I guess she really would have had something to talk about then. I think us coming back from lunch covered in blood will give them enough for the time being though."
"Oh God. Your suit. Your shirt."
"I don't care about the dress. I have a million of them. Suits are expensive."
"I care about the dress. You look incredible in it. I was hoping to see you in it again."
"I have another one like it."
"Yeah, different color, but I liked it. So, you'll get your chance."
"Well, that's good. My mind can rest easy now."
She laughed, letting her hands fall away from her face.
"Yeah, I guess that's the least of your worries right now. I told you, me and relationships."
"You think I'm going to walk away because you got shot? Because you did an incredibly brave – stupid but brave – thing and pushed me out of the way of a bullet?"
"Well, the thought did cross my mind."
"Buffy. You were unbelievably fast. I don't know how you reacted so quickly. I don't know how you knew, but you did. I can see why you do your job."
"I wish I could have saved those others."
"I don't know what happened to them."
"I saw them, Matty, they were gone."
He remembered how a body looked when it was dead. He was pretty sure she was right.
"Let's get you home."
"We came separately."
"I'll arrange to get your car home. I'm not letting you drive home, Buffy. I don't care how fine you say you are."
"No, no, you're right. Topline can do it for us, though."
"You sure? Jim could take care of it, too."
"I don't care. Whatever's easiest."
He was in the shower the next morning when he heard Buffy cry out from the bedroom. He had looked at her arm earlier and couldn't even tell anything had happened to her. Looking closely at it he thought he saw a bit of redness, but that was it. It was amazing. So, he didn't think it was her arm bothering her that made her cry out. She wasn't an easily scared woman either. He hadn't seen her handle much of anything with fear. Not even being on the wrong side of a gun and its bullet.
So, when he jumped out of the shower and grabbed not just a towel to wrap around his waist but his gun he was prepared to go through it again. He couldn't imagine any other reason for her to react that way then if she was being threatened. He had no way of knowing if what happened on the street yesterday had anything to do with him. Or his father.
He used his toes to open the door. Her eyes met his. She didn't sleep nude, but she had the top sheet clutched to her as if it could act as a shield. She looked more startled than frightened, so he lowered the gun a little. He was no longer prepared to shoot first.
"There you are."
Matty let out a groan at the sound of his dad's voice.
"Pop. What are you doing here? And why are you barging into my room?"
"I heard my boy got shot at yesterday and his new wife was in the process of defending him. I had to come make sure you were both okay. And see if there's anything I need to take care of out here." He walked up to Matty, patted him on the cheek. "You getting into trouble I should know about?"
"No, Pop. I don't think it had anything to do with us. Two others were taken out. I think we were just in the wrong place, wrong time."
"What do you think?" His father turned his gaze on Buffy's. She didn't look like she knew what to say. "Well?" He turned his attention to Matty. "She does speak, doesn't she? You didn't go out and marry a mute? That's all I need! It's bad enough you're out here in the land of fruits and nuts, but you're going to give me grandbabies who can't talk!"
"She talks, Pop. You're getting ahead of yourself there. You scared her, walking into our bedroom like that. That's all."
His dad laughed then, a sound familiar to Matty but it had been a while since he'd heard it. He had a way of laughing that made him sound not entirely sane. As a kid, he'd thought it was funny. As an adult, he found it more scary than funny. Especially not knowing for sure who was back in New York keeping an eye on him. Matty recognized what it was now, he didn't as a kid. He supposed that was the difference.
"Well then," he said turning his attention back to Buffy. He snapped his fingers rapidly. "Speak. I asked you a question."
"I'm sorry. I, no, I don't think it was personal against Matty. He's right, the people that were hit, we just happened to be in the way. Besides, Matty doesn't usually go out for lunch. It was a fluke that I asked him to lunch. Who'd try to hit him at a time he's not usually out?"
"Good question." Matty closed his eyes, knowing without a doubt what was going through his father's mind. Had Buffy gotten him to go to lunch unexpectedly on purpose?
"Can I finish getting ready, Pop? I have to be at the office. What time did you leave New York to get here so early?"
"You were still tucked in bed. Believe it or not, I was worried about you."
Matty did believe it. Despite their odd relationship, Matty knew his father did genuinely care for him. He was his son after all, and to an Italian like Benny Demaret, sons were important. Something to be proud of. Even if Matty wasn't cut out for his father's line of work.
"All right. Why don't you go to the kitchen? Have Maria make you some breakfast. I'll join you in a bit."
"Tell your wife to put some clothes on and join us, too."
"You ask her, Pop. She was shot yesterday. She may not want to come down and eat breakfast with us."
"What? Were you planning on bringing her breakfast in bed? Of course she's going to eat breakfast with us."
"What? I'm just saying. She has to eat, right?"
Matty rolled his eyes with a shake of his head. "Yes, Pop, she has to eat."
"It's okay, Matty, I'll come down."
"You sure, babe?"
"Yeah. I'll just wash my face and stuff. I'll shower later."
"Okay, Pop? You satisfied? Now, out, so we can get ready."
"Listen to you. My own son bossing me around."
He walked to the door, though, and Matty found himself breathing easier once his father had left the room.
"No, it's okay. It just freaked me out to see a strange man walk into our bedroom."
"Yeah, he'll probably lecture me later about not showing you a picture of him."
She laughed at that and slid out of bed.
"How do you feel this morning?"
"I feel fine," she said. She lifted her arm over her head and then rotated it. "Good. Willow worked her magic like I knew she would."
"I owe her an apology."
"Nah, forget it. I was asking you to do something you didn't understand. I'm not sure I would have let her do it if the situation was reversed. So," she stood on her tiptoes and gave him a quick kiss. "You're a brave man for trusting I knew what I was doing."
He watched as she walked through the bathroom to the other bedroom. It worked out well having her stuff in that bedroom. She had quite a bit of it as did he. One thing he'd learned from his father, and that he believed, was looking good, dressing smart. He liked clothes and had a lot of them. They were a match when it came to that it seemed.
He turned the shower off. He'd been just about done anyway. He just needed to shave and dress.
"Do you always keep a gun in the bathroom?"
He glanced to the door leading to the other bedroom. He tried not to call it her room anymore since she didn't sleep in it anymore. And he didn't want to give her the idea that he wanted her to start again.
"Uh, well, I try to keep one handy, yes."
"I suppose you grew up that way. I never noticed you carrying one until now."
"I know how to be discreet."
"I guess so." She appeared in the doorway, dressed in a pair of sweats and a long sleeved shirt. "I wasn't criticizing, Matty. Just asking."
"All right, sorry. I'm defensive I guess with Pop being downstairs. I always feel like I don't measure up."
"Because you're not a gangster? Get real, Matty. That's how you should know you do measure up. You got out. You chose to do something different. Your father should be proud of you, and if he's not now. One day he will be. And what's that stuff about grandbabies?"
"Mm, well, he expects them. I mean, we're married. It's logical."
"Not like tomorrow, though, right?"
"Well, we've been married a couple months now. In a year he might start asking questions about one of us having, um," he paused with the razor. "Equipment that's malfunctioning."
"Wow. Not a lot of time."
"I didn't say I wanted them that soon."
"That's good. Definitely of the good."
He smiled then and she set about washing her face. It was kind of odd that they did these things together now. They didn't come into the bathroom if one or the other was actually in the shower, but like this they didn't seem to mind.
"I'll go on down then, I guess. Anything I need to know?"
"No. Just be yourself. He'll like you. You won me over."
"Hmm." She took the towel he had draped over his shoulder and wiped a spot on his cheek. "You missed a spot," she said, showing him the shaving cream she'd blotted off with the towel.
She tossed the towel to him. "Anytime. Is he going to ask to see where I was shot?"
"I don't think so."
"Good. It'd be kind of hard to explain to him that it's not there. Oh, and did you call him?"
"No. I'm assuming Jim or Maria did."
She stopped at the bathroom door and turned to face him. "You know what this means."
"He does care about you, Matty. No one would have flown in the middle of the night to make sure someone they didn't care for was all right."
He was sure it would have occurred to him eventually. He was too surprised at his father being here to put much thought into the why of it. He dressed with that in mind. It wasn't something he'd given much thought to. He'd just assumed he was a failure in his father's eyes. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. And maybe it was more complex than that.
"I want to give you a present."
The words prevented Matty from entering the kitchen.
"Mr. Demaret, that's not necessary."
"I'll be the judge of what's necessary. And you can call me Benny. We're family after all."
"Well, Benny, still. I don't need."
"You saved my son's life."
"I didn't. Really. I don't think he was in danger."
"But you pushed him out of the way."
"I'd like to have that type of instinct in some of the men who work for me, Buffy. Now, you'll take this gift. I insist."
Matty could picture the helpless look on Buffy's face perfectly. She really didn't like being on the receiving end of things. He didn't have to know her very well to recognize that quality in her. No doubt what his father had in mind was huge. His father didn't do anything low-key. She didn't like the idea of someone feeling indebted to her. She really thought that she was born to save people. With as fast as she moved he couldn't really argue with her.
"I have a cabin near Aspen. I want you and Matty to use it. Go skiing, snowmobiling, stay in. There's a fireplace, plenty of wood, an outdoor pool that's heated. You've never been in a pool until you've been in one in the dead of winter. It's amazing! Invigorating."
"Mr. Demaret, that's really generous of you, but."
"I won't take no for an answer."
"Pop," Matty said, finally stepping into the kitchen. "Buffy has to work."
"She can take time off. Are they going to hassle her about taking some time off with her new husband? You two didn't even get a honeymoon."
"Don't ‘Pop' me."
Matty sat down in his chair and Maria was there promptly to set his breakfast in front of him.
"Isn't there something a little more low-key you can do, Pop? Buffy travels a lot for her job, I doubt traveling is much of a gift to her."
"I hadn't thought of that."
"Well, why didn't you just say so?"
"Um," Buffy said, glancing helplessly at Matty.
"Pop, lay off. You're making her nervous."
"I am not. I'm just a big pussy cat when it comes to pretty girls. And she is a pretty one, Matty. I didn't think you had it in you."
"What? A man can't admire his son's wife? I'll admit for a while there I was beginning to wonder."
"Pop," Matty said again.
"All right, all right. I'm going to go make sure Jim brought my things in."
"What? You think I fly all the way out here just to turn around?"
"No, Pop, that's fine. It's just we asked you to come for Thanksgiving."
"I couldn't make it, Matty. I'm here and now that I am I want to get to know my daughter-in-law."
Matty hoped Buffy was ready for dealing with Benny. He could be a handful. He was harmless for the most part, to someone like Buffy anyway. She had no reason to fear him because she had no reason to double cross him.
"Besides, I need to rethink the gift. You're right. I should have talked it over with you. Who wants to travel when their job entails travel? You're always thinking, Matty. Such a bright boy."
"Thanks, Pop," though Matty wasn't sure he was really supposed to respond.
"Jimmy," Benny bellowed as he stood from the table and left the kitchen.
Matty slid his hand to Buffy's and squeezed.
"It's okay. I'm glad to see he worries about you."
"Yeah. Listen, about the gift. Whatever he comes up with to take the place of Aspen, just take it. He won't take no for an answer, so save yourself the trouble."
"Hey, if you'd rather have the place in Aspen let me know. I haven't been there since I was a kid, but it's nice. Kind of romantic, though. Come to think of it, I can see why he thought of it."
"I'm just not used to."
"I know. Get used to it. That's how he shows he cares. Benny doesn't say it much, but if he loves you he'll shower you with gifts that you couldn't dream up."
"Like this house."
"Yeah, like this house."
"I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I just don't want him thinking."
"He won't think that. It's just how he works. Got it?"
"Yeah, I get it."
"What?" He could tell she was thinking something.
"What if I hate it?"
"Just say thanks and we'll deal with it later."
"Okay. This is tough stuff."
He chuckled. "Yes, and getting shot at is much easier."
"Getting shot at. I know how to deal with that. This stuff, it blindsides me."
"What? People being nice to you."
"Well, yeah, I'm just not used to gratitude. I can't tell you how many lives I've saved and I very rarely get a thank you. I'm not doing it for that. I don't mean to make it sound like I do."
"You're fine. You're terrific. I did have Jim call the police and ask. You were right. The two we saw are dead. A couple of others were injured." He brought her hand to his lips, kissing her fingertips. "You couldn't have saved them, Buffy. You did what you could. The fact you spotted it so fast. A couple of other people near us were able to get out of the way because of you."
"That's what Jim said. It was lunchtime, the sidewalk was packed."
"Were they aiming at those two?"
"I don't know. Jim couldn't find that out."
"Thanks for telling me."
"You're welcome. Now," he finished his orange juice. "I have to get to work or they're going to think I'm slacking off."
"Yeah, me. Oh, hey, we're going to the Lakers game tonight."
"Yeah. One of the bonuses of being an agent."
"Oh. Okay. I've never been to a professional game."
"Great. I'll be home about five to get you. Jim will take us in the car."
"All right. I'll be here."
"Great," he leaned over and kissed her lightly. "Have a good day. If Pop gets to be too much just go for a jog or something."
"We'll be fine."
"Okay. Don't say I didn't warn you."
As it turned out, his father was pretty nice. He stayed out of her way for the most part. Their paths crossed once at lunch and again as she was coming in from the pool. He was headed out that way. She had just finished getting ready for the evening. It had taken her a surprising amount of time to dress. What did one wear to a basketball game? Was Matty going as an agent? Or just as a spectator? And was she expected to be impressive for him?
She dressed in a pair of khaki slacks, a green top and a pair of dress boots. It was casual, but not too casual. If Matty looked twice at her, she'd offer to change. She was in her office, reading her email when someone knocked on the door. It was ajar, so she guessed he was just being polite.
"Jim said I could find you here."
"You work from home then?"
"I have a private business that I and a few others are involved with. So, yes, the work has to be done from home."
"Some of it."
"I did some digging on you." Her back must have stiffened more visibly than she thought because he chuckled. "You didn't think I wouldn't?"
"No, I expected you would. I would have if I was in your shoes."
"Very good. Honesty. I like that."
Jim entered the room with a tray.
"I wasn't sure what you were in the mood for. Me, personally, gin and tonic is my drink of choice. So, I had Jim bring up a variety."
"Jim knows what I like," she said, taking her lemonade. "Thanks."
Jim left the tray on the table near Benny's chair. There was some food on it. Buffy wasn't sure what it all was.
"Are you hungry?"
"Just trying to figure out what the old man thinks he's doing barging into your office?"
"No, it's your house. Or was anyway."
"Smart girl. Cheers," he said, clinking his cocktail glass against hers.
"I don't know what you two are doing. Matty hasn't told me much of anything. I will say this, though," he was pretty casual at the moment. He sat there in her chair, sipping his drink like they were talking about the weather. "You hurt my son and you won't need to bother with a bodyguard because they won't be able to find a body to guard."
She swallowed. She'd been threatened before. He probably thought he was scary to her. He had no idea that she'd fought things, defeated and killed things that made him look like the pussy cat he claimed to be earlier. "I should hope the fact that I stepped in front of a bullet potentially aimed at him would indicate we're in agreement about that."
"I would hope. I just needed it to be said. Out in the open. I don't believe in beating around the bush. He's my only son. I won't see him made a fool of. The Demaret name dragged through the mud."
"No intention of doing that."
"This consulting business you do. Is it lucrative?"
"Not really. I was paying my bills when I met Matty if that's what you're getting at. I didn't marry him for money."
"You were renting a small house."
"I was. I wanted a house over an apartment, but it was small enough that I was saving money. I was hoping to have enough saved that I could start school next fall."
"What are you going to school for?"
"Criminal Justice. I like the security angle of things."
"I inquired about you at Topline. They rave about you. I know ‘Boom Boom'."
"You sound about as thrilled at the thought of that claim as I am."
She smirked at that. "Yeah."
"At least we're in agreement about that."
"I guess so."
"Where were you going to go to school?"
"Well, I have a friend up north, but now that I'm here with Matty," she shrugged. "I don't know. I guess my plans have changed a little. Or are changing. I guess locally. I can't very well be married and go somewhere outside of LA."
He took another sip of his drink, finishing it and set it on the tray.
"I understand you lock the door?"
"Just leave the tray on the floor outside the door then, I'll let Jim know to have someone get it."
"Okay," she said, a little confused. "Is that it?"
"We're done. Just remember what I said."
He stood, slowly she noticed. "It's been a while since I gave that speech to someone who didn't react. Probably since I was younger than Matty. Not even a flinch. My son's married someone with balls, figuratively speaking of course. I've no doubt you're more than enough woman for him. I like that."
Buffy wasn't sure what to say to that. "Thanks," she said, hoping that was the right response.
"Enjoy your game."
"See you tomorrow."
He left her office almost as suddenly as he came. If it wasn't for the tray she might have thought it was a dream.
"Oh, hey, check it out. Some big wig must be meeting with the powers that be," Tiny said with a nod toward the stretch limo parked outside of Topline's office.
"I guess," Buffy said.
She and Tiny had just finished their session with the trainers to be sure that they kept up to Topline's physical fitness standards. The follow-up sessions weren't as difficult as the initial process was, but she'd known a couple of people who'd lost their jobs for failing the follow-up exams.
"What's on your agenda for the night?"
"The usual. Home. Dinner."
"Time with the man."
"Things going well there?"
Buffy shrugged. "As well as can be expected."
"Any word from the big guy?"
Buffy smiled. Tiny couldn't bring himself to say Matty's father's name. It was like he thought it would bring him bad luck or something.
"So, no gifts?"
"No, maybe he forgot."
"I doubt that."
Buffy glanced at the guy dressed in a suit. No one called her that except Matty's people.
"Yes. Is Matty all right?"
"Yes, ma'am. I've been instructed to pick you up from work today."
"I'm sorry. My car's right outside. And who are you?"
"You can call your husband to confirm, ma'am. I'm Walter."
"Okay, Walter, I'll just do that." Tiny was at attention Buffy noticed as she pulled out her cell phone to call Matty.
"Matty Demaret's office, may I help you?"
"Hi, Amanda, this is Buffy Demaret. Is he in?"
"Just a moment, let me check."
Buffy rolled her eyes. Like Amanda didn't know. She knew when Matty went to the bathroom.
His voice came on the phone. He sounded harried.
"Hey, babe, what's up?"
"I've got a Walter here. He says he's supposed to pick me up."
"Oh, yeah, please."
"Mind telling me what this is about?"
"I can't right now."
"Okay," she said, followed by a pause. "Is everything all right?"
"Yes. I'll see you in a little while. Just do as Walter asks. Okay?"
"Do as he asks? What's he going to ask me to do, Matty?"
"That's what I'm paid for."
"And it seems I have to keep reminding you, I'm not your client."
"Yeah, yeah. So, go with him. Do as he says. Anything else?"
"Anticipate seeing me?"
"Now that's an easy one to do." She smiled widely, ducking her head. Not before spotting Tiny shaking his head at her. She was busted. She was so into him it was scary. And there was nothing she could do to deny it or hide it anymore.
"See you in a bit."
"Oh, Mrs. Demaret," Tiny said in a fake snooty voice.
"Shut up, Tiny. Okay, Walter. I'm supposed to go with you and do as you ask."
If Walter had teeth, Buffy hadn't seen them yet. At least none evidenced by the fact he smiled, because he didn't smile.
"Let me see some ID," Tiny said, stepping between Buffy and Walter.
"Tiny, it's okay. Matty said he's fine."
"How do we know he's Walter?"
"Oh," Buffy said. Duh!
The man pulled out his driver's license. Sure enough, his name was Walter and the picture matched.
"Good enough for me. Good enough for you, Tiny?"
"I guess it has to be. Enjoy whatever you're doing."
"I'll try." Buffy waved as Tiny went toward where employees parked as she followed Walter.
"Where are we going?"
"I'm not supposed to tell you that."
He held the limo's door open for her and she got in. She'd never been in one before. Not this big. She'd been in one for her mom's funeral. This was nice. Super nice.
"There's something for you to put on over there."
"You want me to change in the car?"
"Yes, ma'am. The divider will be in place."
"All right," she said with a frown.
"There's champagne chilled if you'd like some."
"No, but thanks."
He shut the door. Buffy went to the garment bag, saw a note pinned to it. She guessed she was supposed to read it, though Walter didn't mention it. She took the note off the bag and opened it.
Put this on. See you soon. Relax and enjoy.
"Enjoy? Enjoy what?" The car started moving after Walter did as he said and put the divider up. She unzipped the garment bag and gasped. It was beautiful. She'd had her prom dress, but this was. Well, it made her prom dress look like child's play. She noticed there was a shoebox and presumed it had shoes.
It took some finagling in a moving vehicle, but she managed to dress herself. She was thankful that she'd showered after her session. Sometimes she didn't. At least she wouldn't be a smelly fairy princess. And that's what she felt like as she slid into the shoes. There were even gloves! The dress was low cut and she debated about taking off her necklace. Out at night, though, and with no weapons on her she decided against it. The cross Angel gave her years ago had saved her life at least once.
Once she was dressed she decided to go ahead and have a glass of champagne since Walter didn't seem to be turning off the highway anytime soon. She sat in the back of the limousine, sipping the champagne and watched the scenery as they passed it. She wondered what the passengers in the cars they passed thought.
Eventually, they stopped. She waited, not sure if she was supposed to get out. Walter opened the door for her and offered her a hand in getting out. Dressed as she was, she gladly accepted it.
"Thanks for the ride, Walter."
"My pleasure, Mrs. Demaret."
"So, where am I? What am I doing here?"
Walter cocked his head and, just like that, Matty appeared. One minute he wasn't there, the next he was in front of her offering her his arm. He was dressed formally in a tuxedo. She took his offered arm, thinking he looked better than any man she could remember tonight.
"Where are we?"
They were at a marina. She'd guessed that much. She just didn't know what they were doing there.
He didn't respond, merely continued walking along the pier.
"Okay then. Why are we here?"
"Can't you just enjoy something?"
"Well, yeah," she said and decided to be quiet.
He led her to a boat. Well, boat was being conservative. Her mouth almost dropped when he handed her onboard.
"It's not mine. A friend is letting us borrow it for the night."
She turned around, taking it all in. There were candles and roses everywhere.
"For the? Why? You weren't at your office when I called were you?"
"Mm, you caught me."
"That's why Amanda was so evasive."
"Could be she just wasn't sure she'd get me on my cell."
He walked with her to the galley where soft music was playing from somewhere. The table was set with what looked like real china, silver and crystal. Way more expensive than what she'd eat with on a boat. Rose petals were strewn over the tablecloth. The air was heavy with the scent of them. It was a nice smell. To go with a nice scene.
"Matty, this is. Amazing. Beautiful. But that doesn't begin to describe it. Why?"
"Well, someone let it slip that it was your birthday."
He laughed lightly. "Your sister."
"You talk to my sister?"
"Yeah, she's called a few times when you were at work and we talked."
"Oh. And she told you, huh?"
"Well, but why?"
"I wanted to do something special for you. She mentioned you haven't had real good luck with birthdays until now."
"No, I really haven't."
"Luck is shining on you tonight then."
"I think she is. Thank you. This is."
"You forgot something, though."
"I don't think so."
He lifted his hand from the table. She couldn't see what he did but the hand reappeared a moment later with what was obviously a jeweler's box.
"Matty." She felt the tears in her eyes start even before she opened the box. "Pearls." It was a necklace and earrings. "They're beautiful."
"I've heard that every bride deserves pearls for their wedding. I wasn't able to go with that tradition, so I figured your first birthday with me could suffice."
She took the necklace out of the box, admiring it. "Put it on me?"
"Happy to," he said and stood. It took him a minute to get the clasp. "I don't have a mirror for you to look at."
"That's okay, I'll look later." She took the earrings out and put them in. "It's all so beautiful. Thank you."
"Are you hungry?"
She swiped at her hand with a gloved fingertip and laughed. "You want me to eat now?"
"If you're hungry. It can wait if you're not."
"Yes. Plenty. Should get us through until tomorrow anyway."
"We're staying here tonight."
"Oh. Is there anyone else here?"
"Just someone above navigating."
"So, it's just us?"
"I like that!"
"I thought you might. That's actually how the idea started. I was just going to give you a night away from the house. I know you don't like it."
"I'm getting used to it."
"Believe me, I've been there for close to two years and I'm still not used to it."
"So, if you're not hungry. Would you like to dance?"
"Why not? There's music, we're here."
He offered her his hand, which she took and stood. She went into his arms. The space was pretty small, but the music was slow enough that they didn't need much.
"How did you know what to get me? The sizes and everything are perfect."
"Your sister helped a little. And Maria."
"I'll have to thank her."
"She'd appreciate that. She was a little nervous when I asked her to look through your things."
"Did I get it all right?"
"Yup, everything fits. Good thing I didn't gain any weight, or the dress would be too small."
"It looks perfect on you." He tugged her closer, resting his palm against her bare back. "It feels nice, too."
"That's not the dress."
"It's not?" He brushed her lips ever so lightly with his.
"Mm, nope," she murmured.
"Hmm, well, I'd better make sure."
He leaned in to kiss her again, Buffy met him half way. They continued slowly moving to the music, though she wasn't sure they were dancing to it or their own music at the moment. It didn't really matter.
"That's not the dress either," she murmured when he drew away.
"Man, I'm really bad at this, aren't I?"
"Terrible," she said, tugging him to her for another kiss. She'd been very careful not to lead him on or be overly suggestive since the day in his office. She'd stepped over the line they'd been toeing, and thankfully he hadn't pushed her into doing so again.
Tonight, though, as she realized what he'd done for her – and it was for her. He had no ulterior motives. She knew he just wanted to give her a happy birthday. Tonight, she wasn't so concerned about lines. In fact, she thought lines were kind of ridiculous.
Her kisses became more urgent, demanding and she pressed against him. She still wasn't sure if she loved him, but she knew she liked him a lot and that unless something bizarre happened in the next nine months she wouldn't be leaving. She didn't want to leave. It had nothing to do with his house, his father, or anything like that. She just liked Matty. This man she'd met one night in Vegas had managed to get her to drop the armor around her heart and let him in.
She slid a hand down from his neck, along his chest, lower to his abdomen and the front of his pants. She squeezed, groaning into the kiss when she felt his bulge pulse beneath her palm. He bit her tongue playfully and she giggled softly when he stroked the same spot with his tongue as if soothing the bite.
"Buffy," he murmured as she continued stroking him through his pants.
She lifted her hand, meeting her other one at his bow tie. She unhooked it, glad it was that kind and not the kind that actually tied. She groaned softly, deepening the kiss as she worked the buttons on his shirt.
He drew away and she whimpered softly in protest. He took a deep breath and tipped her face so their eyes met.
"How much of that champagne did you have?"
"Not even a full glass."
"Positive. I'm not drunk, Matty."
"I didn't do this for that."
"I know, and that's why I'm ready to."
He groaned softly. "I can't tell you how many times I've dreamt of you finally saying that."
"Oh, I have an idea."
"I bet," he murmured before kissing her again.
The dress was strapless and almost completely backless with a zipper at the side. He was lucky she had the figure to pull off wearing a dress like this. Much bigger in the chest area and it would have been iffy. When he slid one hand from her face, along her neck and collarbone she felt incredibly naked just then. All of that skin there for him to touch.
He didn't seem to be in any sort of hurry, which just reassured her that this was right. He broke their kiss, his mouth following his hand, making a slow descent along her neck, over her collarbone, lower still to the tops of her breasts.
She groaned, running her fingers through his hair in an attempt to draw his mouth closer as he darted his tongue along the side of her breast. It had been a while, even longer without depression and anger mixed in. She wasn't even sure she knew how to really make love anymore.
His hand found the zipper at her side. She was about to find out if she could, she realized as he slid the zipper down. The dress stayed up only because he held it in place with his arm. His mouth found hers again as one hand slid under the dress, behind her to her back, cupping her bottom. She pressed against him, working the buttons on his shirt again until it was completely open.
He lifted her into his arms and carried her through the galley. Vaguely, she was aware of the luxurious room. She'd always wondered what rooms on a boat looked like. When she caught a glimpse of his bare chest, though, with just a hint of hair thoughts of what the room looked like faded. She'd never been a big fan of chest hair, but a little was fine. And his was a nice chest. They had an exercise room at the house, which he used often. And it showed. She supposed a sports agent had to keep fit to some degree.
He set her down, letting her dress fall to her feet. He, or more probably Maria, had even thought of a matching bra and panties. It was a good thing, too, because she hadn't worn anything worthy of a formal gown today.
She reached for him, intent on helping him get rid of his shirt but he stopped her. Her eyes met his, uncertain.
"Just let me look at you for a minute."
"Okay," she said. Now she felt self-conscious.
"I'm sorry. It's just. I went to bed that night assuming I'd see you in the morning so I didn't stare like I wanted to. So, now I want to be sure I memorize what you look like."
"You'll see me again, Matty."
"I know. I just want to really look at you this time. And I'm definitely going to see that tattoo up close and personal."
"If you stand there and keep talking you're not."
"Hmm, I suppose you have a point."
He let her resume what she had been trying to do before. He helped take his shirt off while she kept her hands busy unfastening his pants.
"Such a waste getting all dressed up," she murmured as she slid her hand inside his waistband.
"We'll put them back on."
"In the morning."
"Not even to eat."
"Is the guy steering this thing going to come down?"
"Not a chance."
"Then I say who cares what we wear while we eat."
"I like your plan, Mrs. Demaret."
Buffy woke the next morning. She kind of had a feeling of déjà vu, waking up in a strange bed. Only this time, she wasn't surprised to see Matty there sleeping beside her. They had eventually gotten around to eating, on the floor in the galley they used their fingers and fed one another. It was messy, but fun. And sexy as hell in a way.
She leaned up, her intention to watch her sleep. Only this time, he was the one who had been watching her.
"Good morning," she said, leaning in to kiss him.
"How long have you been awake?"
"Not too long. Long enough to memorize the outline of your tattoo."
"That's what I felt!"
"It's okay. I'm teasing."
"How did you sleep?"
"Good. A little weird being on the water. You?"
"Same here. We're back, by the way. My car should be out there already, so we can leave whenever we want. We have the boat all day, though."
"Really?" She kissed him again, smiling. "I like the thought of that."
"I thought you might," he said, drawing her on top of him. Their eyes met as they joined once again. There had been no pain, no anger, no frustration involved in their lovemaking last night. Only good, old fashioned sex. She slid him inside of her, glad to know she did know how to make love.
"God, you're amazing," he whispered. His hands were tracing patterns up and down her back, waist, and hips. Gentle, loving, and it was all for her. She knew then she'd have to tell him her secret. There was no way she was going to walk away from him. Not now, not after sharing this with him.
She rolled off him, using her slayer strength to pull him on top of her. "Love me, Matty," she whispered.
"My pleasure," he quipped sinking into her once again.
"Pleasure's definitely mine," she cried out when he hit a really good spot.
The day was a leisurely one. And very pleasurable for Buffy, even when they weren't in bed. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had a day to just be. Years maybe. Matty had surprised her by having extra, more casual clothes for both of them to wear for the ride home.
"You thought of everything, didn't you?"
"I tried to."
"Shouldn't we, like, clean up?"
"Maria's coming out to do that."
"Oh," she said simply. She felt a little bad about that.
"Buffy, she offered. I know it goes beyond her normal job."
"She's been kind of nervous about us I think, so she wanted to help. She likes you."
"I like her, too. She's very nice, and she's so willing to teach me stuff."
"Yes, and she wanted to do what she could to be sure you stick around."
"Well, I think I'm sticking. So, she got her wish."
"My wish, too," he whispered, kissing her.
"Oh, hey, I almost forgot, I was supposed to give this to you over dinner." He handed her an envelope.
"I don't know. It's from Pop. He sent it overnight to my office. I guess to be sure you got it."
"Oh God, Matty."
"Just open it."
It wasn't a very thick envelope, so it couldn't be anything truly hideous. Could it?
"Oh, Buffy, come on. Do you want me to do it?"
"No, no, I just."
"I know. Maybe it's just a birthday present. I told him it was your birthday."
"Okay. So, a card then. Right?"
"I don't know. The only way you're going to find out is if you open it."
Buffy wasn't prone to fainting or anything, but when she opened the envelope and saw a check for a huge sum of money slide out of the card she almost did. She read the card, blinked, glanced at the check and then read the card again.
"What? What did he do? Buffy, if it's that terrible, send it back."
"No, no. Matty, he's paying for me to go to school."
Their conversation in her office came back to her. It made a little more sense then. He was feeling her out, seeing what would constitute an appropriate and useful gift to her. Well, that and threatening her with bodily harm.
"Well, that's great! That means you don't have to work so hard."
"Matty, I can't accept this."
"Buffy, come on." He took the card from her and read it. "He's right, you know?"
"This day and age, kids need to know that college really is important."
"Matty, we don't have any kids."
"Not yet. I'd like to one day. Wouldn't you? Do you want them to see that you quit school and never went back."
"I quit for a very good reason."
He took her into his arms. "I know you did, babe, I'm not saying otherwise. I'm just saying, wouldn't you like to finish what you started."
"Well, yeah." She'd never thought finishing college was important to her. She didn't think she'd live long enough for it to matter. With hundreds of other slayers, though, she supposed her lifespan just got ramped up by a few decades.
"Buffy, take it. You can not work if you don't want to while you're going to school. Only work weekends, breaks. Hell, you could quit and I could get you work with my clients locally when you can."
"It doesn't start until the fall, so we have time to work it out."
"You'll do it? Take it?"
"Yeah, you're right. Even if we don't have kids. I want Dawn to see that I can do it."
He kissed her before releasing her from his arms. "That's more like it."
In theory, it sounded like a great idea. Things didn't always go the way they should, though, in Buffy's life. It was the standard for her rather than the unusual. It was nice to think about, though. College, all expenses paid. The check Benny sent had to more than cover it all, even at a pricey college like UCLA.
Things were going along nicely. Buffy should have realized that would end sooner rather than later. Nice or smooth in the life that was Buffy Summers' didn't exist. She needed to tell Matty the truth about who and what she was. The consultation business he thought she was involved with aside, he deserved to know.
She had already sent off an email to Giles informing him she was going to tell him whenever the opportunity presented itself. That opportunity hadn't come yet. They were both busy with their respective jobs. Buffy accompanied him to baseball and basketball games, professional and college. That was when she wasn't working her own job.
Tonight, she was home and Matty was working late in the city. Buffy was taking the opportunity to catch up on paperwork. She always checked to see if anyone had been in the office, and Willow had taught her a spell that she could cast on the file cabinet so that anyone opening it would only see empty file folders. Buffy didn't really like to use magic, but she knew until Matty knew the truth she had to use caution.
She was humming along with an old Stray Cats song when Jim appeared in the doorway. He knocked lightly on the door to get her attention, though she'd sensed he was there.
"Hi," she said brightly. She'd come to the conclusion that they were never going to be fast friends, but they tolerated and even sort of liked one another in an odd way. Maria, on the other hand, was someone Buffy would like to call friend.
"You have visitors, Mrs. Demaret."
"Visitors?" She frowned, glancing at the clock. It was after nine o'clock. "Where are they?"
"Actually, they insisted on remaining outside until you invited them in personally."
"Hmm, okay. I'll go right down. Thanks, Jim."
She saved her document on the computer and closed out of it. She double checked that everything was locked up and put away before heading downstairs. She had worked out when she came home, including a swim in the pool, so she was dressed to stay in for the night in a pair of boxer shorts and an oversized T-shirt. She immediately regretted her choice in clothes when she opened the door and saw them standing there. Both of them. Together.
"Uh, hi," she said hesitantly. She couldn't stop staring at Spike. He was dead. She'd seen him start to turn to dust. She hadn't dreamt that, hadn't hallucinated it.
"Buffy? It is you. I thought Willow had given us the wrong address."
"Yeah, I need to talk to you."
She stepped outside, her hands going to Spike. She touched him, the front of his coat. He was real. She drew him closer, sniffing. Sure enough. It was him. Leather and cigarettes, and something that was distinctly Spike.
"Don't know, luv. Some hocus pocus, magic thing. Here I am. You can't keep the big bad down. You should know that."
"Uh yeah, I guess I should have."
She stared at them both, unable to get over the fact they were here. Together. There were so many questions running through her mind she almost forgot her manners.
"Come in. I get now why you wanted me to do the inviting."
"You live here?" Angel asked as they stepped into the foyer.
"As what?" Angel asked.
"What do you mean as what?"
"Are you working for someone privately now?"
"How do you know?"
"Buffy, come on, Willow told me. She said you've been working as a bodyguard. Excuse me, security specialist. I didn't realize it was this lucrative of a business."
"It's not," she said simply. She wasn't sure she wanted, or even needed, to explain. "Willow told you how to find me?"
"Well, yeah. We've been getting the run-around from Giles. Hasn't he told you I've called?"
"No, he hasn't said anything. I knew about the slayer they found near you. Dana, but no one's told me anything else. Willow knew you were alive?" The question was directed at Spike. She still couldn't believe it. As she led them to the parlor and they sat, she kept waiting for his image to disappear.
"No, Andrew did, though."
"Why didn't you?"
He shrugged. "I figured we were both probably better off this way."
"We can catch up another time. It's not like it's been years or anything. So, anyway," Angel said, bringing Buffy's attention back to him. "Willow called me and told me you were right nearby. I'm not sure why she trusts me when Giles doesn't seem to."
"I don't know either. Again, no one's said anything to me about you. I'll see what I can find out, though."
"Well, that's not why we're here. I, we," Angel said, gesturing to Spike. "Need your help."
"My help? With what?"
Angel stood then and walked to where she was sitting. He knelt in front of her, took her hands in his. A pose she'd dreamed of him taking with her often in high school.
"I'm taking on the senior partners. I've been working for Wolfram & Hart, on the inside, trying to destroy the beast that way."
"I can't really fill you in much, beyond something big's going to go down and I could use all the muscle, all the manpower you've got. Spike mentioned you activated slayers."
"Maybe you can convince Giles I'm all right and that we need the help. Unless he wants to see LA destroyed."
"Okay, I can try."
It was Matty. Of course it was. She tried to clear her thoughts. How much had he heard? She had been so focused on Angel, on the fact that she would have to face yet another big bad that she hadn't paid attention.
"Hi." She stood quickly, almost sending Angel flat on his back. "I didn't hear you come in."
"Obviously. Jim mentioned company."
"Am I interrupting?"
"No, you're fine. They're old friends." It was way more complicated than that, but it was the explanation that would suffice for now.
"Oh, I was beginning to think you didn't have any friends left in LA." Matty walked up to Angel first who had by now righted himself. "I'm Matty."
Matty turned his attention to Spike then. Buffy saw Spike actually hesitate a moment before taking Matty's offered hand. Whether Matty noticed she wasn't sure.
"Spike," he said, elongating the one syllable name in a way only Spike himself could. "Nice digs you got here."
"Did you need Buffy?" Angel asked.
"Need her? Need her for what?"
"Well, you're dressed to go out." Angel frowned, taking in Buffy's appearance. "But she's not."
"I just got home from work. I presume Buffy was upstairs working. That's what she told me she was going to do anyway."
Matty sounded confused. Rightfully so. Buffy nibbled on her lower lip, waiting for things to click in place. She wondered who would come to the correct realization first.
"You don't work for him, do you, Buffy?" Angel asked, his gaze focused only on her. She recognized the look well. He was expecting an answer.
"No. I never said I did!"
"So, what are you doing here then?" Angel could be so exasperating at times. Like now.
"What's going on here?" Matty asked. "Is Buffy in some sort of trouble? Did you have an assignment you were supposed to be at tonight, babe?"
"Uh, no. Angel's sort of here about a job. It'd be off the books, though."
"Oh, so part of your consulting business. Why didn't you just say so?"
"Buffy, you have a consulting business?" Angel glanced to Spike who shrugged.
"Well, sure she does, isn't that why you're here?"
Angel walked to her. "Okay, Buffy, could you please clear this up. Who is this guy? And why are you here if you're not working for him?"
"I live here."
"I get that, Buffy. Why? You don't belong here."
"Thanks. Thanks a lot," she said with a frown. What made Angel say that? "I live here because I'm his wife."
"His what?" Spike and Angel said in unison. It would have been kind of cute under any other circumstance.
"You heard me. I know you both did, loud and clear. I'm his wife. Buffy Demaret," she said with a shrug.
"Well," Angel said.
"That didn't take you long, luv."
"Spike. It wasn't like that."
Buffy sighed. This was exactly what she didn't want to happen. Spike was going to think that she hadn't meant it when she said she loved him. She did. She thought he'd died! Not to mention, she hadn't set out to marry Matty. Or anyone else.
"I get it, Buffy, no problem."
"Oh my God, you two are being unreasonable. You come into my house, not knowing it's my house, and are being rude to me because I've moved on with my life."
"Buffy," Matty interjected.
"Oh, God, Matty, I'm sorry. There are things about me you don't know. Should know. I should have told you before now. I kept waiting for the right moment, but it hasn't come."
"Where did you meet this guy?" Angel asked.
"In Vegas," she answered honestly.
"Demaret, I know that name," Angel added.
"Buffy, what's going on?"
"He doesn't know, does he?" Spike asked.
"No, he doesn't. No time like the present to tell him, considering proof is here."
"What are you two talking about," Angel asked.
"Can you guys, give me a minute with Matty?"
"Buffy, I didn't come here to cause any marital strife. I just need your help."
"Right, I get that, but I can't agree to help you before I tell Matty the truth."
"The truth about what?" Matty asked, sounding more and more frustrated.
"You mean he doesn't know?"
"Oh my God, Angel. Hello? That's what Spike and I were just talking about. No."
"Do I even need to be here?" Matty asked.
"Just go stand in the foyer for a minute. Both of you," Buffy said, shooing them out.
"You look upset, Buffy."
"I am. Only because I was hoping this wouldn't happen. That I would tell you because I could tell you, not because I had to tell you."
"Tell me what?"
"The day I was shot. I tried to tell you, explain to you. I'm more than merely a bodyguard. Saving people is what I do. I wasn't lying. Unlike the bodyguard business, most of the time people don't know I'm doing it."
"Okay," she said, starting to pace. "You believe, or at least you seemed to understand, that Willow cured me with magic."
"Well, I'm not sure what I believe. I can't dismiss the fact you were healed from a bullet wound in a matter of days."
"Well, the wound itself would have healed that fast on me anyway."
"I don't know. It's part of what makes me me. Willow just needed to get the bullet out and repair the tissue inside that the bullet damaged. And help the healing process along."
She sat next to him, taking his hand in hers. "I have proof of what I'm about to tell you. So before you decide to cart me off, just remember that."
"You're starting to scare me."
"Me, too. I've just never told someone before who didn't already know some of my world." She took a deep breath. Here goes nothing. "I'm a vampire slayer."
"You're a what?"
"You heard me. The stuff fiction is made of. Dracula, hounds of hell, demons. I slay them. Kill them."
It was his turn to stand and pace.
"My life until a year ago was saving the world. Again and again and again. You have no idea many times I've prevented some evil thing from running around on earth. That's why when we first met I wasn't much with the commitment mindset. I had just gotten out of a real heavy-duty commitment."
"Okay, say for a minute I believe this. Why aren't you still doing it?"
"Because last spring, in order to defeat something I had Willow cast a spell that activated all of the potential slayers. So, there are now hundreds of us. That kind of allowed me to semi-retire. I'm here if they need help. That brings us to why Angel's here tonight."
"Angel? He knows."
"Uh yeah." She stood from the couch and walked to the door, opening it. "Guys, come in."
They didn't seem to look too thrilled. She couldn't blame them.
"Buffy," Angel said in protest.
"Just do it."
"Now, I've known Angel for seven years. Spike for six years."
"Is that all it is, pet?" Spike asked.
"Seems a lot longer than that."
"It does, doesn't it?" She turned and walked up to Matty who looked a little lost. She took his hand, lacing her fingers through his. "Change for me, guys."
"Poofs, both of us," she heard Spike mutter, but they both changed.
"But you just got done telling me."
"Well, they're the exception to the rule. They have their souls."
"Long story, but when a vampire is created, the soul goes bye-bye. The demon takes over. So, even though it looks like, sounds like, and walks like hubby dearest or daddy dearest, it's not. The body is really just a shell for the demon to possess. That's what makes them the amoral beasts they are. But Angel and Spike have their souls. They help me. Well, Spike didn't always, until a couple of years ago he was as bad as they came. But that's a different story."
"Okay," he said. "Can I?" He took a step towards the two vampires.
"Go ahead, look."
"Buffy," Angel protested.
"Let him look, Angel. I have to make him believe this. I can't help you unless he does. So, if you need me like you say you do."
"All right," he muttered.
"Amazing," Matty muttered. He sat on the couch opposite Spike and Angel.
"Thanks, guys," she said, taking a seat next to Matty. Neither vamp wasted time letting their game face slip away. She took Matty's hand again, brought it to her mouth and kissed it. "You doing okay?"
"Yeah, I think so. What does Angel need your help for?"
"Evidently, some big bad is going to try and make LA his hell on earth. He needs manpower, which means slayers. So, I'll have to get them to LA. Any chance we could open that unused wing?"
"You're not serious?"
"I am. Just think of all the fun Jim would have. A bunch of girls to boss around."
Matty chuckled at that.
"Buffy, you still have to talk to Giles about this," Angel said. "He may not go along with it."
"I'm the boss when it comes to Slayer stuff, Angel. He's just in charge of paperwork, watchers, and that sort of thing. If I say I need units mobilized here, he'd damned well better send them or I'll go over to England and kick his ass."
"Buffy," Spike said, his scarred eyebrow arched.
"Okay, maybe I wouldn't kick Giles' ass. I'd like to, though, for not telling me Angel's been asking for help."
"Well, he doesn't know I need help. He just hasn't been answering or returning my calls."
"I assume Willow figured you'd ascertain for yourself whether I was sincere."
"I think you are. I've seen you when your soul's left the building."
"I'm supposed to just stand by and let you?"
"Yes," Buffy said simply, cutting Matty off. "It's what I do. It's who I am. I told you from the beginning me and relationships weren't real good mixy things. I meant it. I can't turn my back on something like this."
"How did you two meet? I don't get it. Last time we talked, you were still talking about baking."
Buffy laughed. "Well, it wasn't a conscious decision. I was in Vegas on a job, working ‘Boom Boom' Bartucci."
"That bloke can fight like an animal," Spike said. "I've seen him. He's got balls, I tell ya."
"Yeah," Buffy said simply. "I'm not much of a boxing fan. Anyway, I met Matty at a party there. Woke up the next morning not remembering much of anything. You know me and alcohol," she asked with a glance at Spike. "Found out later we'd gotten married. So here we are."
"And you're just doing that?"
"Well, Matty asked me to give him a year. I am, but I'm happy here. So, yeah, I'm just doing that. I've got a decent job, I'm going to go back to school in the fall, and Matty's really great." She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. She owed him way more than a kiss for being a good sport about all of this.
"So, that consultation business you have?" Matty interrupted, obviously trying to fill in various holes as his thoughts shifted.
"It's not really. Giles, Rupert Giles is his name. He was my watcher. I'll explain that later. But, it's kind of like a teacher, mentor, research assistant. He told me how to kill the demons, and I went and did the work. Anyway, last spring, the Watchers' Council was obliterated. So, he's in England, running the new Watchers' Council, assembling all these slayers we activated last spring. Making sure they get taught, those that want to work with us. Some haven't wanted to."
"But you work. I've seen you working in your office."
"Oh yeah, I do. Giles emails me updates on all of the slayers and everything. I update their files. The building that housed most everything was destroyed. Most records were, too. So, Giles wanted to know that there were hard copies of all of this stuff somewhere other than there."
"Are you paid?"
"That would be the major downside to this gig. No. It's pretty strictly voluntary."
"But it's dangerous."
"Yes, it is. I've actually died twice, almost three times actually."
"Mm, yeah. First time, Angel and Xander saved me."
"Yeah. I drowned. They did CPR."
"And the second time?"
"I actually died. Gone to a better place for a few months."
"One hundred forty-seven days," Spike added. Buffy gave a sniffle that Spike still remembered that.
"Willow brought me back. Some spell. Which really wasn't that great. It took me a long time to get used to being here again."
"Tell me about it," Spike quipped. Buffy glared at him. "What? It's true. Just agreeing with you."
"So, you expect me to just let you go help them, knowing you might die?"
"I don't expect you to want me to go. I do expect you to let me, though. It's what I do."
"Buffy, this is crazy. All of it! I mean."
"I know it sounds like it, Matty."
"Listen, Buffy, we'll go. There was more I could have told you, but if you're willing to help that's all I need to know. Spike will contact you with the details when we get to that point. I can't. It's going to look bad, Buffy, so I need you to trust me. Okay?"
"Yeah, okay." She stood then, not sure what Angel had gotten himself tangled up in. She walked them out, giving each of them a hug. Spike's was a little longer than Angel's, more to assure herself one final time he was really there.
"He makes you happy, pet?"
"Yeah, he does. He's nice. He's one of the good guys."
Spike patted her cheek with his hand before placing a kiss there. "Then I'm happy for you. All's I ever wanted was your happiness. If he does it for you I'm glad you found it."
"Me, too, thanks. I'll see you later, I guess."
"You can count on it."
She closed the door, much rather facing the two vampires than Matty right now. He was standing in the doorway. She supposed he saw the whole exchange with Spike.
"They both love you, don't they?"
"Yeah, I guess so. I haven't asked them recently or anything."
"Do you love them?"
"In a way, yes. I always will."
"So, they were two of the three?"
"Yes, they were."
"And the third?"
Buffy laughed. "He was human, but he knew about the things that go bump in the night. His name is Riley. He was in the Army, but worked for a government branch called The Initiative that performed experiments on what they called hostiles. They tried to plant chips in their brains to stop them from being violent."
"Did it work?"
"Yeah. That's how Spike started working with us."
"Yeah, me, Giles, Xander, Willow."
"How'd you prove it to them?"
"I didn't have to. They were kidnapped by vampires, one of their friends was killed. Jesse," she said, realizing it had been some time since she'd thought of Jesse. "It seems so long ago," she whispered.
"I see the pain in your eyes. I see how tired you are," he said, sliding a hand to her shoulder. "I see how much this takes out of you. You think I'm going to leave you. That I'm going to think you're crazy."
"I wouldn't blame you."
"What happened with Riley?"
"Mm, it was during the time that my mom was sick. He was pushing for more than I could give. After Angel left me, I kind of shut my heart off. I couldn't be what he wanted. He left. My relationship with Spike. It was bad. It was after Willow brought me back. I didn't deal with it too well. I didn't deal with it well at all. I used Spike. Sex, fighting, whatever he could take I dished it out. He left after he tried to rape me, got his soul. I don't even know how he did it, and I'm not sure I want to know. He came back crazy out of his mind, but somehow he got it together and he was there for me. For us. He saved the world. He died doing it. But before that, we became friends. True friends."
"You became friends with the guy who tried to rape you?"
"Well, but it wasn't just him, Matty. You have to understand. I can't explain it, and I really don't want to. Spike and I have moved past it, and I don't want to relive that time of my life. It's not that long ago, so it's still a little too fresh."
"Okay, I get that."
"So, Angel left, Spike died. How's he here?"
"He says he doesn't know. Magic, I guess. I don't know."
"Huh. Is there anything normal in your life?"
"Hmm, not sure that's saying much." He guided her up the stairs, not that she needed much prodding. "Okay, so Angel left, Spike died. Where'd Riley go?"
"He left, too. He's married now. He and his wife are still in the Army. They're off fighting demons the right way. Not trying to experiment on them, just take them out. They're, the Army I mean, his unit, have actually helped us some. The slayers. They're outfitting us with some better equipment, armor that slayers can use that might help them live longer. The thing is, we're out there alone typically. Slayer and vampire. I got stabbed with one of my stakes once. It hurt like hell. Who'd look for a living person in a cemetery? You know? So, having something a little heavier than a normal shirt would pay off."
"How are you paying for that?"
"We help them. Power in numbers, and having slayers on your side helps."
"So, until recently there was just you?"
"Yes, one girl in all of the world. I'm not sure when the idea came to me. I wasn't even sure it would work, but I had to try. I wasn't going to die again. I'd finally gotten to a place where I was good with being here, being alive. I wasn't going to toss it away because some big bad wanted it to be so."
"How many have you fought?"
"Too many to count. Angel was even one of them for a while. He lost his soul for a while. Had to fight him to the death. Actually thought I'd killed him for a while, but it turned out I'd only sent him to a hell dimension."
"Yeah, it's just as it sounds. Not very pretty. I was in one briefly and I'm guessing he probably would have rather I killed him, but he's never said."
"See, told you. Me and relationships."
"So, Willow's a witch. A real one."
"Xander is the heart. He doesn't have any powers, but he never gives up and never stops believing. He lost his eye because of me. A bad decision I made, to attack when we shouldn't have. I'll never forgive myself for that. Seven years those two escaped unscathed and I went off half-cocked."
"I think he forgives you, if there's anything to forgive."
"I know, but it was careless of me."
"It doesn't seem like you had much of a choice most of the time."
"No, you're right. I still should have thought things through better."
"You look ready for bed."
"I'm ready for something."
"Let's do that then. We can talk more tomorrow."
"You believe me?"
"I don't have much choice. It's either believe you, or think I married a lunatic. I've seen no evidence pointing to that being the case. I remember how fast you reacted to that car the day you were shot. I know you're strong."
He slid an arm around her waist and she let her head go to his shoulder. She was exhausted. Seeing Angel and Spike, together like that here at her house, well it shook her.
"Remind me to tell you about Dawn sometime."
"Yeah, she's not what she seems either."
"Oh boy. Is there anyone normal in your life? Besides me?"
"My mom was."
"Yeah, she did, not at first. It's supposed to be super secret. I was the exception to that rule. People found out. I think it's why I've survived this long. I had people who cared. People to do CPR on me, people to do spells to bring me back."
"People to tuck you in at night when you've obviously been through a mentally taxing evening."
"Yeah, that, too," she said, letting him lift her up and set her in bed. She had already been dressed for bed, so nothing needed to be done.
"I get the tattoo a little better now," he whispered.
"Yeah," she smiled, her eyes growing heavy. "Good night, Matty. I'm sorry."
"To bring this stuff here, to your house."
"We'll worry about it later. I'm not upset. And it's our house. Our home."
"Get some sleep."
"Are you coming to bed?"
"Yes, I just have to get out of my suit."
"Good, I'm waiting."
"Not for long."
She woke to an empty bed for the first time since they'd started sharing one. She didn't count business trips that couldn't be avoided by either of them. Her hand slid along the empty spot on the bed beside her. It was cool to the touch, which meant he hadn't just gotten up to use the bathroom or something. She glanced at the clock. It was just after two in the morning.
She tried not to be concerned, but couldn't stop herself. What if he'd had one of his dreams? He hadn't had one in a while that she knew of. She could usually tell. He'd wake with a start, a frightened cry escaping his lips, covered in sweat. He never talked about it, she didn't push. She assumed it was the bad thing he'd mentioned once before.
She slid out of bed and padded to the bathroom in search of her robe. She never knew when Jim would be lurking in the halls. Or God forbid her father-in-law would make a sudden appearance again! A quick cursory glance of the bathroom told her he was not there and had not been there recently. At least, there was no evidence of his having used the shower or sink.
A check of his office netted her nothing. The kitchen was empty as well. There was evidence it had been used recently, though. So, she suspected she was getting closer to finding him. She found him in the game room, and let out a sigh of relief at seeing him alive, awake, and unharmed.
"There you are."
"Did I wake you?"
"No," she laughed. He knew he hadn't. "Whatcha doing?"
"Nothing," he said dismissively. She recognized the tone. She was a pro at it herself.
She noticed a few empty beer bottles and some left-over slices of pizza. She took a detour to the game room fridge, grabbing herself a beer before settling in the chair near him. She leaned forward and grabbed one of the slices of pizza.
"Then you won't mind me sitting here with you?"
"You can if you want to."
"Good pizza," she said. It wasn't hot, but wasn't cold either. So, he hadn't made it that long ago.
"It's just frozen."
"Nothing wrong with frozen pizza. You have no idea what I ate the last year or so before I met you."
He shrugged, taking a sip from his beer. "Actually, scratch that. I just need to know. Is that it? Is that everything?"
"What do you mean?"
"Are there any other secrets you're hiding under a rock?"
"Mm, nope, not that I know of."
She set the pizza slice and the beer on the table.
Holding out her index finger. "I'm a vampire slayer. But it's not limited to just vampires. Anything evil that comes my way. Not of the human variety."
"Nope. Was with someone who did once. Accidentally. It wasn't pretty." Her hand instinctively went to the side of her neck where her scar was. That incident was the culmination of just how far off the path Faith had gotten. That wasn't the case now. Last Buffy heard Faith was out in Boston trying to rid herself of psychological ghosts. With the help of Robin Wood.
She held out her middle finger. "I've had three serious boyfriends. You met two tonight, and I told you about the third. I wouldn't call Spike a boyfriend really. I was in a bad place, he was there and I needed what he gave me. It sounds bad now, and I'm glad that we got past it. There were a couple of others, but no one else noteworthy."
She held out her ring finger. "What I do is secret. Meaning, you can't tell anyone."
"I get that."
She held out her pinky finger. "There used to be just one. Me. One would die, the next one would get called. I was an unusual case in that I wasn't raised by a watcher. I lived a normal life. They didn't even know about me until I was called I don't think. That's not normal. I was fifteen, in LA, at Hemry High. I'll never forget the day. I thought the guy was a freak. My parents started fighting, because I couldn't tell them what I was doing."
"The secret thing?"
"Right. They ended up divorced. Mom ended up moving us to Sunnydale because I had burnt down the gym at Hemry and no other school district in the area wanted me. I met Willow and Xander almost right away. And Giles. I didn't want to do it. I wanted to start over, fresh. No more vampires, no more late nights, no more cutting class because a vamp was prowling the tunnels. It didn't work that way. First Willow got taken after I advised her to seize the day. So, I had to rescue her. Then they got Jesse. And then there was Angel."
"The dark haired one?"
"He kept pushing me to get involved. I thought at first he was a friend of Giles'. My watcher. Giles is my watcher, I mean."
"I got that."
"Okay, sorry. I tried staying normal. Went out on dates, went to parties, went to a frat party even. Only, it never worked right. The dates would get sabotaged by vampire stuff. The frat party, a party I didn't even want to go to but was coerced into going by someone who did want to go. She and I, and a third girl, were going to be used as a demon offering for the frat house."
"Yeah. I almost didn't get out of that one. I'd lied to Giles and my mom, and Angel. I told them all I was doing something else. Willow knew where I was and told them when they figured out something was going on at the frat house. The night I died, this was before the frat party. Sorry I'm talking sort of out of sequence, but I've never really sat down and laid it all out for someone before."
"It's okay." He smiled at that. He moved to the couch, patted the empty spot next to him and she joined him.
"Giles was willing to go meet the Master for more."
"Big, bad vampire. He was stuck below the earth in an old church that collapsed decades ago during an earthquake. It was part of a prophecy that I'd die. I was sixteen. I wasn't too keen on the idea of going into a battle knowing my life was going to end that night."
"Who could blame you?"
"Well, unfortunately, we're expendable. Slayers. We're there to do a job. I think the fact I had friends and family to help me kept me alive this long. Xander and Angel found me that night, gave me CPR. Willow brought me back the second time. And when I got shot, she did more with magic than the doctors were able to do with modern medicine."
"You were that close?"
"Yeah, I was."
"So, I really shouldn't be too concerned over this bodyguarding gig you've got going on, because really there are more dangerous things out there."
"Yeah, there are." She smiled.
"I couldn't let Giles do it, though. It really didn't hit me until. The vampires had gotten into the school, killed some of Willow's friends. Until then it had just been Jesse and the rest of the victims were anonymous, unknowns. Faces only. But they brought the fight to us. I couldn't let my friends down."
"Even at such a cost?"
Lastly, she held out her thumb. It was strange that things could be summed up so succinctly.
"We did a spell in order to defeat the First Evil. It's just what it sounds like. It's big, bad, ugly, and would love to get its mitts on earth. Get rid of love and the evil baddies would have a field day. I was losing. I had these girls, potential slayers, in my care and I was supposed to save the world while trying to protect them. That's how Xander lost his eye. Up until last spring, I was able to just randomly go in and muscle my way through. This wasn't like that. Willow did the spell. She didn't want to. She'd been in a bad place, too. Her girlfriend was killed and she went all dark magic on us, tried to destroy the world."
"She's a lesbian."
"Is that a problem?"
"No, just making sure I heard right," he said. They each took sips off their beers.
"Anyway, there is no more only one. There's a couple thousand of us. All over the world. I can't run away from my responsibility forever, but I really want to finish college. My mother would want me to do that. She was so excited when I got accepted into Northwestern."
"Yeah, I did. I couldn't go, though. Had to stay in Sunnydale. But Giles understands. And it's worked well so far. We're still kind of gathering the slayers, training, and seeing where we stand. Eventually, though, something will come up and I'll have to do my job. In the meantime, I keep up with what Giles and the others are doing in London. Keep records here so there are duplicates."
"And what Angel's asking you to do?"
"It's his thing. He left Sunnydale. He lost his soul for a while. Turns out the curse has a little loophole. One moment of true happiness results in him losing the soul. He had his soul for close to one hundred years before meeting me." She slid her hand into his, lacing her fingers through his. She needed the contact. The connection. "The night of my seventeenth birthday we got into a particularly nasty fight. I thought for a while I was going to lose him. He was going to get on a cargo ship and take a dangerous item with him. He was talking of being gone for months. Long story short, we got back to his place, we had sex."
"He achieved true happiness. He lost his soul."
"You got it. You're pretty quick."
"You joke about it now, but I bet that must have been pretty traumatic."
"Oh God, don't even get me started. Those were the worst months of my life. Even the months with Spike weren't that bad. At least they didn't feel that bad. I just didn't feel anything. That was a problem itself, I know that now. When Angel was running around without his soul."
"You felt everything."
"Yeah, exactly. I was so raw. He was my boyfriend. He still had his face. I gave him." She clutched to Matty's shirt front, not even realizing until it was too late she'd started to cry.
"Everything," he whispered, kissing the top of her head. "It wasn't your fault, Buffy."
"He killed Giles' girlfriend. He was seeing someone, a teacher, Miss Calendar. They'd had a bumpy time of it, too, and had just started on the right path. He set it up. Made Giles think she was upstairs in his bed waiting for him. She was, just dead."
"Oh God," Matty whispered. He gathered her to him. She went willingly, practically crawling onto his lap and burying her head against his chest.
"Have you ever cried about it?"
"No, not really."
"Then let it out. Maybe there's a reason you're telling me this."
It took her a few minutes to collect herself, but she did.
"I love you, Matty," she whispered.
She felt him stiffen and knew she'd surprised him. She'd surprised herself.
"There's something I should tell you," he whispered, kissing her ear as he did.
"First, I love you, too, but since we're being honest. This is what had me awake tonight."
Sensing he needed space, she slid off his lap to the other end of the couch. She faced him this way instead of snuggling against him. He seemed relieved.
He took a sip of his beer, stared at the bottle as the foam slid back down the edges of the bottle. "I've never told anyone about this. Taylor knows, Pop knows, and Chris knows. That's it. I swore I'd never tell anyone, but I can't withhold something like this from you. I killed someone."
He stood then and walked to the sliding doors that overlooked the pool. She doubted he was looking at it, though.
"It was before I met you. Just before I moved out here. I was frustrated. I tried to get out from under my father's name, his reputation. Every job I went to, they took one look at my name and thought it was my father's attempt at muscling in on their company. I can't tell you how many times I got thrown out on my ear."
"I'm sorry, Matty," she said softly.
"My dad's, I don't know what you'd call him. Teddy was his name. I was twelve years old when Pop was ratted on. Teddy tried to get me to kill the man."
"You were twelve? Matty!"
"Just let me say this. Please?"
"All right, sorry."
"I couldn't do it. I wanted to. He'd disrespected my father. He'd disrespected the business. Our name. I wanted to be a man, but I couldn't do it. I took one look at him, and saw my dad's friend. My friend. I went outside and stood there, listening while Teddy and his goons. My father's goons. Administered justice. If I'd just pulled the trigger, it would have been easier on him."
Buffy felt tears stinging her eyes again. She couldn't imagine.
"So, ever since then, Teddy's engrained into my head that I'm not a man. I'm not cut out to follow in my father's footsteps. That I'm not made for the business. I think he's right, you know? I should have wanted to take out the guy who snitched on my father. What kind of son doesn't defend his father's honor? His own father! My pop!"
He took another sip of his beer.
"I tried. Like I said, I really did. Finally, I'd had enough. I went to my father, told him I wanted in. I'd start small, work my way up, I wasn't expecting him to hand me anything just because I was his son."
"Matty," she whispered.
"My father wouldn't hear of it. Teddy, though, he told me there was a way I could prove to my father once and for all I was cut out. He gave me a job. I was to get a bag, fly it back from Washington State without getting caught. Someone was supposedly skimming from my pop, and I was supposed to be the one to bring him the proof. I had a friend who was a pilot. It should have been simple."
"You got that right. We seem to have that in common," he said. He laughed. That was good.
"We ended up going to Montana. Marbles, my friend, he lost the bag. I should have known. I should have gone with him. He had an H problem, but he was over it. Or so he said."
"Oh," Buffy said, realizing their worlds were really quite different. She was involved with someone who had personal knowledge of the mob. Gangsters. Drugs.
"So, me and Taylor and Chris, we fly out to join Marbles. To try and get our bag back. Things are going okay. We muscled our way into getting information. And then they stop going okay. The local cops got a hold of the bag. It had money in it. A lot of money. They wanted it for themselves. I realized as things were going down that Teddy wasn't testing me. He was going behind my father's back. He was using me. Stealing from my father. He was taking a cut from the money, shorting it it's called, and passing it on. He had a gun, too. I think he saw that I knew."
"You shot him?"
"Yeah. He was like a father to me. He killed Johnny."
"My friend Marbles, sorry."
"It's okay," she said. She stood then and walked to him, sensing he was near the end of his story. She wrapped her arms around him.
"I shot him. He didn't think I'd do it. Tried to tell me I wasn't man enough to do it. I didn't have it in me." He used the back of his hand and swiped it across his eyes. "I showed him, huh?"
She positioned herself in front of him, making sure she didn't stop touching him while she moved. She looked him in the eye.
"Matty. It sounds to me like it was self-defense."
"I try and tell myself that. But I see him, you know? I see those last moments. I dream about it. My mind plays it over and over. I keep wondering if there was something I could have done."
"There's not, Matty. I told you I saw someone kill someone. Her name is Faith. She's a slayer. She was called because the slayer who had been called after I died the first time was killed." She smiled, seeing that he was processing that chain of events. "She killed a Deputy Mayor. It was an accident. We were patrolling. He wasn't where a human should have been. Stake through the heart. With our strength," she shrugged. "He didn't stand a chance. The Mayor was corrupt, evil, the Deputy Mayor probably was, too, but Faith went rogue before that could even be thought of."
"What's your point, Buffy?"
"My point is. Faith didn't walk away from the blood and violence. She let it win, let it get the best of her, let it feed her. She went bad. Tried to end the world bad. She poisoned Angel, knowing it would distract me from doing my job. Stopping her and the Mayor of Sunnydale. It almost worked, too, except my blood. Slayer blood was Angel's anecdote. I went to kill her, Matty. I had no hesitation or qualms about doing it either. I fought her within an inch of life, and was willing to kill her if it meant saving him. She jumped off a building's roof, landed in the bed of a passing truck, ended up in the hospital in a coma."
She shook her head. "My point is. You knew that wasn't what you wanted to do. Be like your dad. You learned from what you did and came here, have made a good life for yourself. People see you and they see Matty Demaret. They don't see Benny's dad. Or a murderer. I don't see a murderer."
He hugged her and she breathed against him.
"Is that how you got that scar?"
"How did you know?"
"You saved his life."
"Yeah, I did. I couldn't get him Faith's blood, but I could get him a slayer's blood. Love makes us do strange things, Matty. You loved your father. You realized a man who had your father's confidence and trust was betraying him. He would have killed you to prevent you from revealing that to your father. I don't know him, but even I know that. And you know that, knew that, he killed someone at least once. That you know of. So, you know he wouldn't have hesitated. Anyone who would put a gun in the hands of a twelve-year-old and expect him to take a man's life is heartless and cruel."
"So, we've both got demons."
"Are you sure you can live with me knowing what I did?"
"Faith would have killed me, she tried, too. She even slept with my boyfriend." She waved her hand. "That's a whole different story. She came to from her coma and somehow we switched bodies. She was in mine, I was in hers. The point is. She knows now what she did was wrong and is on the right path. She turned herself in, could have broken out of prison any time but she stayed. She broke out when we needed her. Well, the mission needed her. They needed her in LA, and when she was done here she came down to Sunnydale and helped me there. We made our peace. She's okay. She's got a good man who's watching out for her. A good man isn't the answer to everything, I know that. But it does help."
"I'm glad you think so."
She kissed his jaw. "Should I call the police?"
She shrugged. "Yeah, I guess I should. I thought I had killed someone once, I wanted to turn myself in. Spike wouldn't let me. I beat the crap out of him, because he tried to tell me what was one human compared to all of the lives I saved every day. I didn't like that, though."
She rested her head against his chest. She liked that he wasn't hugely taller than she was.
"You did a bad thing. You feel remorse. I've slept beside you, I know you do. If you were happy about it or something I'd think differently."
He stepped away and she looked at him, resting her chin against his chest. He ran a fingertip along her scar.
"Willow says she's offered to try and remove it."
"It's a part of me. I want to remember that. I needed to remember how it felt. To love someone so completely that I was willing to sacrifice myself so that they could live. I didn't think I'd find it again."
"Needed? Didn't think?"
"I think I'm there. I couldn't with Riley or Spike. I was afraid to. It took me a while to realize that."
"You need to help them."
"Yeah, I do."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Put the slayers up."
"Will Jim and Maria ask questions?"
"No. They're not paid to ask questions."
"All right. I should also brush up a bit."
"I'm going to invite Spike to come workout with me. Here at the house. You can watch if you want to. I mean, if trust is an issue. But I haven't really done my slayer stuff in close to a year. The bodyguard business, it's not quite as physical."
"I'm going to have to put in for a leave of absence, which means I won't have income coming in."
"You don't need to work, I think you know that."
"I know. I just don't like freeloading, especially since a leave of absence means I turn my car in."
"Ah. I think we can work something out."
"Thank you," she said sweetly and lifted up on her toes enough to kiss him. "I don't suppose you have clients in London?"
"I'm going to need to go there. Like tomorrow."
"We can use my father's plane."
"He won't mind?"
"I doubt it. I'll call him right now and find out."
"Matty, it's three in the morning."
"It's six in the morning there. He's awake."
She watched as he walked to the bar area where the phone was and made the call. He looked better, more like himself. As bad as it was to think it right now she couldn't help but think he looked hot. He never slept with a shirt on so the one he had on was hanging loose and open. She had a very nice visual of his chest.
"It'll be here in about four hours."
"Do you want to come with me?"
"Good, I was hoping you'd say that." She slid her hand into his. "Now, other than packing a bag there's nothing else I need to do to get ready. So, let's see if we can't find something to do up in our bedroom to pass the time."
"I don't know, I couldn't sleep earlier."
"I'm not sure that sleeping even entered my mind. I was thinking more of working together actively to keep those demons at bay for the rest of the night."
"That I can handle."
"I thought you might."
He'd told her an important thing tonight. No wonder he had problems sleeping. And no wonder he hadn't wanted to tell her about it until now. Telling the wrong person information like that would land him in prison. She glanced at him as they made their way upstairs. She tried to picture him as a twelve-year-old boy. She'd seen a few pictures of him as a kid, but wasn't real good with ages. How frightened he must have been.
And to learn years later that this man was betraying him, his father. Hadn't that been why he was supposed to kill the other man years ago? Betrayal of Benny? What a foreign world he'd grown up in. Buffy knew about gangs. You couldn't live in LA and not know about them, but it seemed like something she was so far removed from.
She was sure there should be revulsion in her for what he'd done. She couldn't find it, though. He wouldn't be walking beside her if he hadn't pulled the trigger. She knew that. What did that say about her? She knew he wouldn't talk about it again. It wasn't something they'd mention ever. It was out, it was said, and they had to move on. She knew things weren't always black and white, there was always some gray. To think what the world would be like if she'd killed Angel when he lost his soul, or Spike. Or Clem. Even if he did gamble with kittens.
Despite a lack of sleep, Matty felt pretty good. He was raised Catholic, but never really believed in the whole confession process. And, well, he didn't care what anyone said, he wasn't about to confess to murder. Telling Buffy, being told that she thought it was self-defense made him feel better. Deep down, he knew it was the truth. There was no way Teddy was going to let any of them get out alive that day.
The fact that after making such a confession she had led him upstairs to their bedroom and proceeded to chase the shadows of those memories away meant more than he could tell her. She was a goddess. His goddess. He imagined a part of her would always belong to the cause, but there were parts of her that cause couldn't claim. Matty could.
When he'd called, his father had seemed so glad that Matty was asking him for something. It was a little disconcerting. He'd never thought of his father as being insecure or needing reassurance from anyone.
And here they were, hours later, heading toward London, using the comforts his father had obtained illegally. Buffy didn't seem to mind. He suspected she did on some levels, the same way he did. The same way he'd been so adamant about staying away from the business.
Buffy was dozing beside him. He should be tired, too. Three plus hours of lovemaking should have left him exhausted. He was in a way, but mentally he felt better than he had for quite some time. So good, in fact, that he stood from his chair as an idea occurred to him.
He knelt between her legs, kissing her thigh as he pushed the hem of her skirt higher. It had already ridden up, which was what planted the seed in his mind. He used his tongue, darting a path from her knee to her inner thigh. Sliding his hands to either side of her, low along her ass, he tugged her forward to the edge of the seat.
That did the trick, granting him access between her legs. He used a fingertip to pull the scrap of fabric covering her womanhood aside. She groaned softly, letting her legs open even wider, and he gladly accepted the invitation.
God, he loved tasting her, pleasing her this way. She got off so intensely no matter which way, but there was something about feeling her body quiver around his mouth and tongue that made him harder than granite.
He knew the moment she woke up. Her hands found his hair and she cried out, thrusting her hips.
"I thought I was dreaming," she whispered, arcing further into his mouth. His thumb found her nub and she went off like a rocket. He just about came in his pants, she had that type of effect on him. He kept going, wanting to bring her there again and again.
"Oh, God, Matty, didn't you get enough earlier?"
He merely shook his head, not wanting to stop what he was doing. Not wanting to take his tongue away from the feast that she was offering him. She was slick, wet from more than his saliva and he lapped it up like a man dying of thirst.
He lost track of time, they had plenty of it and he couldn't think of a better way to pass it. He loved how she responded to him, came for him. Eventually, she used her strength and managed to gain the upper hand. Quite literally, as she ended up on top of him, her hand busily working to unfasten his jeans.
Their mouths met, fused might have been a more accurate term. She bit his lower lip as she somewhat roughly tugged his jeans low along his hips.
"Get them off," she murmured before kissing his neck.
It took some doing, but he managed to get them off. She slid down the length of his body, kissing his torso as she went. His body trembled against her and he knew she had to feel it. She gave back what he had given her and then some.
When they finally got to the point of him being inside of her they were hurried, beyond excited, and got off in record time.
"Always wanted to do it on a plane," he muttered when he had breath enough to speak coherently.
"Mmm, you have?"
"Yes. You always hear stories."
"Now you can add the Mile High Club to your long list of accomplishments."
"And it's definitely one I'd be in favor of repeating."
"Me, too, but not in a real plane, in those tiny bathrooms."
"This is a real plane, babe, but I know what you mean. This is definitely better." He stood briefly to grab a blanket and a pillow, tugging on his jeans as he did.
"Oh, we're done, huh?"
"Well, I, uh," he stammered. "I just don't make a habit of walking around naked."
"But it's okay for me to?"
"Well, sure, you're hot."
"And you're not?"
She stood then and pressed up against him. He felt her skin against his chest and back as her arms went around him.
"You are definitely hot."
"Thanks for saying so."
"You don't think you are?"
"I don't know. I told you, girls always went for Chris or Taylor, not me."
"That's because you're shier than they are. You got me, didn't you?"
"Well, yeah, I consider that Vegas luck shining on me, though. With the help of Jose Cuervo or whatever you were drinking that night."
She smiled and reached up to kiss him.
"Me, too. And Jose had nothing to do with it."
"Really?" He hated sounding so insecure. She'd said she loved him last night. It wasn't enough, though, to make him feel totally at ease that she wasn't going to walk away when their year was up.
"It took me a while to come to that conclusion, but yeah."
He brushed her cheek with the back of his hand. "I'm glad."
Eventually, they got fully dressed again and found something to eat in the galley area. His dad had gone all out. It was simple fare, but there was enough to feed a dozen of them. As they got closer to landing in London he sensed Buffy get more apprehensive. He left her alone with her thoughts, hoping she'd talk if she needed to.
He saw Willow when they stepped off the plane. She was hard to miss, waving frantically like she was.
"She lives here?" He wasn't sure why that never occurred to him before now.
"So, what was she doing in LA that day?"
Buffy smirked, settling her sunglasses over her eyes. "Do you really want the answer?"
"She can do that?"
"She made it, so I guess so."
"You have the coolest friends."
She laughed at that, returning Willow's wave. The two women hugged like the long-time friends they were. Matty felt a little out of place until Willow hugged him, too.
"Nice to see you again. And under better circumstances this time. No blood. That's always good in my book."
"Uh, yeah, thanks, you too."
"Hey, you're one of us now, too, by way of marriage. So, welcome to the club."
"Yeah, it's all secret and stuff. Is that all you brought?"
"Yup. We're not staying long."
"I can't believe your dad has a plane capable of flying here. That is so cool."
"Well, we had to stop in New York, but."
"Still, very cool."
"You don't need planes I understand."
"Well, it's still cool. To those that need planes." She draped an arm around Buffy. "So, you have Giles kind of freaking out."
"Well, yeah, he thinks something bad's abrewing."
"Does he think Angel's been calling for his health?"
"I'll let you two hash it out."
"Thanks for calling him, Wil, and for sending him my way."
"Well, you know, I've restored his soul twice. It kind of bonds you in a way. He's not evil."
"No, he's not."
"I'm not so sure he knows what he's doing."
"I'd have to agree with that. Did you know Spike's alive?"
"Uh, yeah, Andrew mentioned it."
"And you didn't tell me?"
"He said Spike didn't want you to know."
"Hello? Best friend. No secrets."
"I figured if Spike wanted you to know, he'd tell you."
"Yeah, well, having him show up at my door with Angel was a bit of a shock."
"I'm sure it was. He was probably curious about that hoity-toity address you have."
"Yeah, they were both a little surprised."
Willow smiled at that, Matty thought she might have actually enjoyed knowing she'd shocked them both. He realized he had someone on his side in Willow. And that made him feel a little better.
They arrived at what from the outside looked like an apartment building.
"The entire first floor has been converted into offices, training rooms, medic station, containment facilities."
Matty sensed the explanation was for him, assuming Buffy had been here and seen it before.
"This is a nice place. Old."
"It is. It was standing empty. No one seems to know why. I researched and couldn't find an owner or landlord on file. So, with the touch of my magic fingers, the building became Council property."
"You can do that with magic?"
"I'm good with computers, too."
"Ah," Matty said with a nod, understanding.
"There are over fifteen hundred slayers, under a thousand are working with us. We needed some place to house them. At least until we got them trained and assigned."
"Buffy, Giles is in his office, I'll show Matty the rest."
"Uh," Matty said with a glance at Buffy.
"They're going to argue, so it's probably better you not be in the room."
"I was hoping to meet him. She talks so much about him."
"You will. Give them a chance to hash it out, then catch up."
"I'll be fine," Buffy said, watching as Willow led Matty in the opposite way she needed to go.
Things were quiet. It was early, she imagined there wasn't much need for people to be in their offices this early. Except Giles. Giles wouldn't rest until he was sure they'd found all of the activated slayers. And until his research was complete, which would be never. There was always something new to research. Especially now that they'd changed the dynamics so much.
The apartment building had come a long way. She imagined Willow and the coven had something to do with that. She knocked on Giles' office door, pushing it open without waiting for a response. He looked tired, exhausted really. Older. But he was a sight for sore eyes. She missed him. It was strange how used to having him as a presence in her life she was.
"Hi," she said softly.
"Hi yourself," he said, standing from his desk. He removed his glasses and regarded her. "You look good. Happy. This relationship agrees with you."
"Yeah, it does. I told him." She took a seat in one of the two chairs on this side of the desk.
"I didn't have much choice. Angel paid me a visit."
"Angel? How did he?"
"I'm not sure," Buffy shrugged. She wasn't going to get Willow in trouble. "He and Spike showed up one day."
"Spike? Did you say Spike?"
"Yeah, you didn't know?"
"Why would I know?"
"Andrew told Willow."
"Andrew neglected to inform me of that bit of information. Spike is alive?"
"Yeah, I didn't get the details. Matty came home and that's when I told him, because Angel was asking for my help."
"Buffy, I'm not sure you should get involved with what Angel's doing."
"Well, that's why I'm here."
"Buffy, he's working for Wolfram & Hart. Perhaps you're not familiar with what they stand for."
"No, I know. Giles, he's asking me for help. If he was doing something shady, he'd want me out of it."
"I don't like it, Buffy. From what I've heard, he's teetered terribly close to the edge. He's not the Angel you met when you first came to Sunnydale."
"I should hope not. I'm not the same Buffy either."
She stood then, resting her hands on his desk. "Listen, Giles. When it comes to research, you're the go to guy. When it comes to fighting, I'm the lead."
"You're in California."
"And I have just proven that I can get here within a day. Not to mention, catastrophes aren't going to happen only where you or I happen to be."
"Of course I know that, Buffy."
"No, let me finish. Angel is asking me for help. Angel gave us that amulet. Without that, we wouldn't be here right now. I am not going to turn my back on him."
"Buffy, I just think."
"What's the worst that can happen? We have a few hundred slayers versus Angel. He's not stupid, Giles, he's not going to ask for help if he's going evil. It'd be suicide."
"While you have a point, it's still a risk."
"And I haven't taken risks the past eight years? You were the one that skewered Angel with a sword to send him to a hell dimension, right? Oh, wait, no, that was me. And, need I remind you that my priority was getting you out of there in one piece. I didn't care much else what happened, as long as you were all right. This isn't negotiable, Giles. We agreed that I'll have some say."
"Yes, I know what we agreed to. I just wish I knew you were thinking with your brain and not your heart. Perhaps your feelings, your past with Angel is clouding your judgment here."
"My past, my feelings have nothing to do with it. And yet everything to do with it. Angel and Spike are my past. Over and done, but I can't walk away from either of them if they say they need me."
"That's well and good, but these girls don't know Angel, don't know your past."
"Who cares? Is it any different than shipping them off to Sunnydale when their watchers had just been taken out? If anything, at least they're prepared for what's to come this time."
He leaned back in his chair. "All right. You win. I can't say no to you anyway. You knew that before you came in here."
"Well, yeah, I knew you'd argue though."
"You're sure you believe him?"
"Yes, Giles, I do. If he was preparing to do something evil or of the end-the-world magnitude, he wouldn't call me and a few hundred other slayers in to be a part of it."
"I suppose you have a point. How soon will you need them?"
She sat again, calmer now that she knew Giles wasn't going to argue with her any further.
"As soon as possible. Matty said we could probably use his father's plane to bring them back and forth. And we should be able to put most of them up at the house. It'll be crowded, but no worse than what we had in Sunnydale before we left."
"Yes, that was pretty cramped, wasn't it?"
"Will you be calling Faith in?"
"Of course she will."
"We'll take care of the travel arrangements. You're going to need a few teams at least. And your husband, he's okay with this?"
"As okay as he can be. He understands he doesn't really have much choice. That I have to do this."
"Would you do it if it wasn't Angel?"
"You know I would, Giles. When have I ever actually walked away?"
"So, do I get to meet the man who's claimed your heart?"
"Yes, he's off with Willow getting the tour."
"Yeah, I am. I mean, we have things to work on and out, you know. But, I'm not going anywhere."
"Good. I'm relieved to hear that. Have you heard from Dawn?"
"Yes. She's coming to LA when school's done. We'll see what happens from there."
"And that sits well with you?"
"Of course it does. I would have let her come back for this semester, but she wanted to finish out her senior year there. I don't blame her."
"Nor do I. How long are you staying?"
"A day or two. Matty has to get back to work. I'm taking a leave of absence until whatever is going down is over."
"Yeah. They're a good company. Fair. Thanks for the tip."
"Anytime. They appreciate you as well."
"You've checked up on me?"
"Well, no, but your name has come up a time or two when Walter and I have spoken. Let's go meet that husband of yours. I can't wait to meet him."
"You say that now. Need I remind you how much caution you told me to exercise?"
"Well, sure, my first thoughts are always going to be of you, Buffy. I won't apologize to you if you expect me to. And it won't change."
"Even with a thousand other slayers to keep track of."
"You're still the slayer to me, Buffy."
"I thought I might find you in here. Hiding?" Buffy asked, leaning up against his desk. She'd just come back from a patrol with a group of slayers.
"Would you think less of me if I said yes?"
"No, I'd think better of you."
"Better of me?"
"Yes, because that means I'm really what you want."
"What are you talking about?"
"A house full of young women and you'd rather sit alone in your office than watch them."
He chuckled at that.
"I can't deny the view has definitely gotten more pleasing over the course of the past couple of weeks." He scooted his chair back and patted his lap, which she went to automatically. Her arms went around his neck while his supported her waist. "But they're not you."
"Mm, just for that, you might get lucky tonight."
"As opposed to every other night?"
He waggled his eyebrows. "Does it involve a French maid costume?"
"It might. Or it could be something even better."
He chuckled and kissed her. "Hmm. I think I like your version of lucky then."
"It could involve some time away, just us, too. If you were so inclined."
"Yeah, I was thinking a date. You, me, dinner, a club. What do you think?"
"I think I love the sound of it."
"Me, too." She lifted one hand to his face, letting a finger glide along his jaw. "Wanna come wash my back?"
"Are the Yankees going to win the pennant?"
She frowned. "Is that a yes?"
He laughed. One of these days she would understand his sports analogies. He was a Yankees fan, though, so she wasn't sure if they were really good or if it was just wishful thinking on his part.
"That's a yes, baby. A resounding yes."
She slid off his lap, taking his hand and leading him to their room. They had contemplated giving Dawn the bedroom Buffy had first used, but decided against it. They both kind of liked the privacy and having to share a bathroom would infringe on that. For just moments like these. Buffy loved doing spur of the moment things.
The house was brimming with slayers. If the staff, some Buffy barely ever saw to know their names, wondered why all of a sudden a hundred plus girls were staying here they never asked. She had no idea what was coming. From what Spike said, no one knew for sure. But they were ready. Patrolling had put her on alert. Matty noticed the difference. Even though she wasn't working she was constantly busy. Preparing weapons, ensuring everyone had a buddy. When this went down there was no way she could be responsible for all of them, so they each had someone they were supposed to try and keep track of. There was no guarantee they'd be able to, but it was worth a try.
She could tell she surprised Matty when she chose one of her more formal dresses.
"You really want a night out, don't you?"
"We deserve it."
"All right, well, I'll adjust what I was planning to wear then."
"Cool," she said, slipping into the dress.
"No word from Spike?"
"No, nothing. Once the slayers started coming, we thought it better he not come around here anymore. Well, you know that, I already told you. I probably won't until my phone rings telling me where to be and when."
"Hmm, I'm not going to leave without telling you."
"I know. Let's go and not worry about end of world stuff for a little while."
"I couldn't agree more."
One thing Buffy liked about Matty, he had good taste. From simple things like music down to the more important things in life like clothes she'd gotten to trust him on just about anything. So, when he pulled up in front of a swank restaurant, she knew she would not be disappointed.
"Are we going to be able to get in here without a reservation?"
"Okay," Buffy said, doubtfully. It was one of those restaurants that people had to wait weeks to get a spot on the reservations list. And you could pretty much forget walking in off the street like they were doing. She kept her doubts to herself, though, not wanting to be the one to dash his hopes.
He held the doors open for her, as he always did. The restaurant was packed, but surprisingly pretty quiet. It was definitely of the snooty, stuffy variety. She'd heard good things about it, though, through clients of Topline. She was kind of bummed they wouldn't get to eat here.
"Ah, Signor Demaret, how nice to see you tonight."
"Thanks, Angelo, how are you?" Matty shook the man's hand and then they embraced like long-lost friends.
"I'm doing well, business is doing very well."
"That's good to hear."
"Are you here to dine with us tonight?"
Here it comes. They seemed friendly, so Buffy was sure the man would apologize profusely and everything. What did Matty expect after all?
"We are," Matty said, placing a hand at the small of Buffy's back. "This is my wife, Angelo. Buffy."
"A pleasure to meet you, Signora Demaret." He took her hand and kissed it. Buffy might have been creeped out if he wasn't an adorable, harmless looking old man. "You've kept her a secret. We did not know you were even married."
"She has a career of her own, Angelo. I didn't think anyone would believe me if I told them without bringing her with me."
"Indeed, Signor, you might be right. You always have been a jokester. I'll show you to your table in just one moment," he said, glancing past Buffy and Matty to the party that had come in behind them. People who probably had a reservation and would get seated right away.
"Senator Bruckner, how lovely to see you again."
"Angelo, you're so good to remember my name."
"We like to remember our best customers. You have guests tonight, yes?"
"Just two of us tonight."
"Angelo, go ahead and seat the senator."
Angelo came back to Matty and Buffy and Matty glanced behind them.
"Are you sure, Signor?"
"Very well, Signor Demaret."
"Demaret," the woman behind them said. "As in Benny Demaret?"
"That would be my father, ma'am," Matty said.
"So, then this is your restaurant?"
"Yes, it is."
Buffy turned to stare at Matty. He'd left that bit of information out. No wonder they were going to get seated! He owned a restaurant? And then her eyes fell on the woman and the man standing next to her. Angel. He looked, for lack of a better word, frightening actually.
"I always enjoy coming here. I try to at least once a month, it seems as though I always miss you. I try and tell the owners of the establishments I frequent personally."
"I'm glad to have run into you tonight then, Senator. May I introduce my wife? Buffy, this is Senator Bruckner."
Buffy extended her hand, wondering what was going on. "Pleased to meet you, Senator." There was a third person with them, but Buffy guessed he wasn't there to eat. Especially when her slayer senses went on full alert. What was Angel doing here with a senator and a vampire? And why did he look so utterly un-Angel-like?
"And you, Mrs. Demaret. That's a lovely dress. Is it anyone I would know?"
Buffy paused for a moment, wondering about that. "I'm not sure actually, Matty picked it out."
"Of course he did. Your father always had impeccable taste, I'm glad to see it was in the genes. You will tell him I said hello, won't you?"
"Of course, Senator. You'll let me know if anything about tonight's meal isn't to your liking."
"It always is, which is why we came here. Forgive me. This is Angel. He's with Wolfram & Hart. They're helping me with some campaign issues for my re-election. Have to keep everything on the up and up."
Matty took Angel's extended hand. "A pleasure to meet you, Angel. Please, enjoy your meal."
"Thank you. Mr. Demaret, is it?"
"It seems like a nice place you have here."
"I will seat you now, Senator. Right this way," Angelo interrupted.
"Well, that was weird," Buffy whispered to Matty once the senator, Angel, and whoever the third person was were out of earshot.
"Yeah, it was."
She leaned against him to whisper in his ear. Anyone looking would see a wife whispering sweet nothings in her husband's ear. "He's a vampire."
"Well, yeah, I know who he is, Buffy."
"No, not Angel, the other guy."
"Oh? You can tell that?"
"Yes," she whispered.
"And why did you act like you didn't know him?"
"Because I saw the way he was looking. Like he didn't know us, so I just assumed," Matty shrugged. "I see that a lot in my father's business. People don't want other people to know they associate with the mob or bookies or whatever."
"Oh. Huh," Buffy said. "And when were you going to tell me you owned a restaurant?"
"I didn't realize you cared."
"Well, of course I care. It's not that, though, it just makes me wonder what else I don't know about you. I mean, we've been together for seven months. Shouldn't we have come here before now?"
"It wasn't until recently I thought you really wanted to be my wife. It's one thing for Amanda to know you're my wife, and to find out later we're divorced, and the circumstances of our marriage."
"Oh," Buffy said, pondering that. "A credibility thing?"
"A little of that, too, yeah."
"Okay, I forgive you."
He chuckled. "Thanks."
"Signor Demaret, I'll show you to your table now."
"Thank you, Angelo."
"Is there a table specifically for you?"
"Yes, for us now," he whispered.
"Do you come here a lot?" Buffy sat as Angelo, not Matty, held her chair for her.
"Thank you, Angelo," Matty said and then Angelo disappeared. "Yes, I try to at least three or four times a week. Not to eat obviously, just to check on things. Talk to people."
"Why haven't I noticed?"
"Well, lately you've been a bit preoccupied and I've tried to fit my coming in here around your schedule."
"That's so sweet. And before recently?"
"Well, I've always gone out a few nights a week."
"I just assumed those were business dinners or meetings or something."
"And they were."
"I guess. So, why do the sports agent thing if you own a restaurant?"
He shrugged. "I'll be honest, my father had a few businesses here that when I moved here he kind of handed over to me. All legitimate, like this restaurant. I told you, I think he had plans on retiring out here or something."
"And the house, too? He is a generous man."
"He can be. I think it's just his way of saying he cares, or supporting my decision. He wants to be sure I make it, have something to fall back on."
"What other businesses?"
"Well, there's a strip club, a couple of them actually. I don't go to those, that's my father's thing. I let the managers deal with running them, I just pay the bills and run interference if something really out of hand goes on."
"Mm, a car dealership, a nightclub, and a spa or something. One of those get away for the weekend and don't worry about anything places for women. I've never been there."
"Yes, you interested?"
"Mm, when this is all said and done, I might be. Dawn and I could use a sister's weekend away."
"You'll deserve it, too."
They both grew quiet after that. They didn't talk about it much, but Buffy knew he was aware that there might not be an after this. Buffy didn't think Angel would suggest he needed her help if whatever he imagined going down wasn't of the huge variety.
She couldn't help but wonder why he was here. What was he doing having dinner with a senator anyway?
"You're worried about him."
"Well, yeah," Buffy said with a shrug.
"Do you trust him?"
"Well, yes, but I trust more that Spike would have let me know if he'd lost his soul. I mean, I told you some of it, what he did. It was pretty bad. And I'm not so sure without the soul he would have just let me go."
"What do you mean?"
Buffy smiled slightly. "Not like that. I mean, he would have wanted to kill me. It's the last thing he was trying to do before his soul got restored."
"Ah. I imagine you'll find out soon enough."
"Yes. If she's got, well, you know, working for her, I'm wondering if she's not part of whatever it is."
"Could be. No sense worrying about it tonight, Buffy."
"You don't understand. It really goes against everything I know to walk away from here knowing that someone is going to get killed tonight."
"You don't know that."
"You're right, I don't, but I'm pretty sure."
"Well, if you did something you'd probably ruin whatever he was planning."
"I know." She twisted the ring on her finger, spinning it around with the pad of her thumb. It was something she did when she was nervous without really thinking about it.
"He'll be fine, Buffy. It will be fine. I don't pretend to understand it all, I can't possibly, but I believe in you. So, if you believe in him I have to, too."
"You're welcome. I thought when we're done here we can pay a visit to that club I mentioned. You said dancing earlier."
"Yes! That would be just the thing."
"I thought that might perk you up a bit."
"You always do that to me."
"Ditto. Though, I really was serious about that French maid costume."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"Yeah, yeah, you're just letting me down easy."
"Never!" She stood, sliding over to sit next to him. She kissed him, then pressed her cheek against his so she could whisper in his ear. "If you play your cards right you'll get the costume, some stockings with those seams up the back, a garter, and heels so high you'll wonder how I walk in them."
"I'm not sure you'd get much walking done."
"That'd kind of be the plan."
He groaned softly and she felt herself get a little aroused just at the thought.
"Need I remind you we're going to go home to a houseful of women?"
"Mm, they don't come into our room," she whispered nibbling on his ear.
"It's not quite the same."
"Well, if I whisk you away one evening to a hotel, don't be surprised then."
"I'll try not to be."
"Will there be anything else, Signor? Signora?"
"We're good, Angelo, thank you."
Matty finished his glass of wine and stood from the table.
"I'm going to go say hello in the kitchen."
"Okay, I'll use the bathroom then."
"I'll meet you out front," he said giving her a kiss. "And, by the way, we wouldn't need a hotel room. Anytime, anyplace, babe. I'm not sure I'd even care if someone walked in."
She grazed his mouth with a fingertip. "Naughty."
He bit the tip of her finger and then kissed it before releasing it.
"You have no idea what thoughts you plant in my mind sometimes. Keep talking like you just were and I'll be sure and show you though."
"I'll keep that in mind."
She was definitely looking forward to dancing now.
"Oh my God. Go away," Buffy mumbled. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been out all night. She and Matty had certainly made a night of it. They stayed at the club until way past closing and then moved to breakfast. It was mid-morning by the time they'd gotten back and both had crashed immediately in a tangled heap on the bed. She doubted they'd managed to hang their clothes up.
The knocking persisted so she opened her eyes. Matty's leg was draped over hers and it took a little maneuvering to get out from under him. Particularly since he didn't seem to want to let go. A glance at the bedside clock told her it was four o'clock. That had to be afternoon because at four in the morning they had been somewhere other than here. And there was no way they'd slept the entire day away.
Still groggy, she padded to the bathroom to grab her robe. "Coming," she called, awake enough to let whoever it was knocking know they weren't dead. Whoever it was, they weren't giving up, otherwise Buffy would have just ignored them and gone back to sleep. Or woken Matty up for something other than sleep.
She opened the door, not at all surprised to see Faith standing there for some reason.
"Good morning, sleepy head," the brunette slayer said with a shit-eating grin. "I heard you and the hubby had a late night."
"Mm, I can't remember the last time I saw the sun rise for pleasure."
"Definitely worth it, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Buffy said with a smile. It had been. She walked to the bed and sat on the edge of it, confident Faith would get on with it eventually. "What's up?"
"Spike called. My man Jimmy gave the bat phone to me when it rang since you and the master of the house were indisposed."
"Yeah, seems he gets that I'm the captain to your colonel. Or however that works."
"You're not, Faith. We're equals."
"Don't worry about it. I know how it works. I'm cool with it. Five by five, right?" She shoved her hands in the pockets of her jeans and shrugged. "So, anyway, we're on, B. The girls are ready to roll."
"Yup. Whatever it is, it's going to be ugly and it's going down tonight. I got an address. Spike said to be ready for hell to be unleashed on earth."
"When haven't we had that as a threat?"
"I know, right? But I think he was talking literally."
"Been there, done that once already when Glory was after Dawn."
"Buffy," Matty called hoarsely from behind her on the bed.
"Yo, Bronx boy, keep the sheet on."
"Yeah, yeah, I don't have anything you haven't seen," he said with a chuckle. He scooted toward Buffy, sliding his arm around her.
"You never know," Faith replied cockily.
"I'm pretty sure," Matty said, kissing Buffy's back through her robe. "What's up?"
That woke him up.
"Sundown, Yankee fan. That's when all the creature of the dark baddies come out to play. Don't you know that?"
"I guess I did."
Matty and Faith had hit it off. They had the East Coast thing going for them. They seemed to enjoy taking jibes at one another for being from Boston and New York. She wasn't sure about Matty and Robin. Buffy wondered if the slayer's son was waiting for Matty to show fangs or something considering the only boyfriends of Buffy's Robin knew were both vampires.
"Be ready to fly, B."
"Did he say anything else?" Buffy wasn't sure what she was hoping for. Something. Anything.
"Yeah, that it may just be us left to deal with whatever mess there is."
"What does that mean?"
Faith shrugged. She didn't need to answer, Buffy knew. It meant if it was just the slayers Angel's team hadn't made it.
"Like I said, big, bad, and ugly. There are only, what, six of them? Three are human. The demon, he's pretty useless as far as I'm concerned. I'm not sure of the odds, but they're stacked I think."
"I'll be ready. Let me shower and I'll be down."
"All right. We're getting some food together. Jimmy and Maria are going all out, you'd think it was the Super Bowl or something."
"How can you think of food at a time like this?"
"Hey, we gotta do something to pass the time til sundown, right?"
"I'll see you in a bit, B. Later, Bronx."
"Later," Matty quipped in reply.
"I wonder if our seeing Angel last night has anything to do with this."
"I don't know, Buffy."
"Well, I guess it's time to get ready." Buffy took a deep breath. "This is the first time I've had no idea what I am facing. It's a little strange. I'm taking a lot on faith and I really don't like going in blind."
"That's understandable, but if Angel didn't think you were capable of doing it without information he wouldn't have asked."
"You're right." She stood and walked to her clothes on the floor. "I had fun last night," she said, picking up her things.
She wasn't facing him but she knew he was sitting up now. The sheet would be riding low along his hips, covering him just enough to be tempting and very appetizing.
"Good. I told Faith I couldn't remember the last time I'd watch the sun come up just for fun. I want to do it again."
"We will. Anytime you want."
She wiped her cheeks with her hand, stifling the tears as best as she could. She was in a good place here. The thought of losing everything scared her. The idea of leaving Matty for good hurt like crazy. How had that happened? How had she come to like spending time with him so much?
She walked to the bathroom, pausing at the doorway. She turned to face him then. He was exactly as she'd pictured. He looked even sexier, though. He always managed to do that.
"God, you're beautiful to look at," she whispered.
"I think I'm supposed to be the one saying that."
She smiled. "I'm serious."
"So am I."
"I've never felt like I had anything to lose before. Not like this. I'm not in high school anymore. Not that I didn't love Angel, but I know what life is about. I'm not ready for it to end."
He stood then and made his way to her, taking her into his arms. He kissed the top of her head, brushing his chin over her hair.
"Don't talk like that. It's not going to end."
"I love you. I didn't want to. I planned on walking away after the year was up being able to claim I lived up to my end of the bargain. But you got in somehow. My heart. My head. My soul. Everything."
"Me, too," he whispered. "You're starting to scare me now. You've told me I can't go with you. So, you need to stop talking like this or I'm going to insist."
"It's all right. Just, please don't forget your cell phone."
She laughed, rubbing her cheek against his chest. "I won't."
She wasn't sure who initiated, but things escalated from a loving, comforting husband to wife hug to much more than that in barely the blink of an eye. Hands and mouths were everywhere, seemingly at once. Her robe slid to the floor in a heap and her legs went around his waist, more than glad at the moment they both chose to sleep in the nude. It came in very handy at times.
The next thing Buffy knew, she was on her hands and knees and Matty was behind her. Both of them having climaxed pretty damned intensely. They hadn't set any world records for lasting long, but she knew that wasn't on his mind any more than it was hers. Urgent sex could be good. Her body shaking at the moment was proof of that.
She groaned softly as his hand found a breast. She had come too fast, too hard and she was a bundle of nerves at the moment. He chuckled and she knew he was aware of what he was doing. And what her reaction to it would be.
"Don't want you leaving here dissatisfied. That could lead to distraction."
His other hand slid along the curve of her bottom, between her legs, a finger dipping inside of her.
"Oh God," she whispered.
It was a while later when they finally made it downstairs. She was definitely satisfied. She was pretty sure he'd banked up enough satisfaction so she wouldn't be distracted for weeks. Not that that was likely, he always distracted her somehow.
She didn't miss the knowing look in both Faith and Willow's eyes. She had nothing to be ashamed of, she mused as she joined them in devouring pizza, nachos and some meatball thing that was really good. Maria and Jim had also set out some good for them stuff, like fruits and veggies. There was still tons of that left, so Buffy dived in there, not wanting their efforts to go to waste.
She wasn't used to being one to hang back, she couldn't remember a time she wasn't leading the way. Taking point Riley would have called it. This time, she was the last to leave the house. She fought back the tears, waited until she was away from the house to cry.
"Yo, B, you'll be back."
"I hope so."
"No hope about it. We will be back. I've got dibs on that hot tub later for a little surprise I've got in store for Robin when we get back."
"Oh God, I don't need to hear that."
"What? Listen to you. You just did some nasty-ass humping upstairs with your hubby and you're going all coy on me. I mean, you can't tell me it wasn't nasty. End of the world sex always is."
"We did no such thing!"
"Uh huh. And I've got a bridge in St. Louis to sell you."
The first thing they saw when they got to the address Spike had given Faith was one of Angel's men. Buffy didn't recognize him, but Faith did right away.
"It's Gunn. He's hurt. Mortally," Faith said quickly. "It's okay, Gunn, we're here. We've got a powerful witch who knows all sorts of mojo to get you better."
A stifled groan was his only response. Whether he actually heard or not Buffy couldn't be sure.
"This is my territory," Willow said. "Maybe a couple of you can help me carry him into the alleyway so he's not out in the open."
"Can you save him?" It was Faith, and she seemed genuinely concerned about the man.
"I'll do my best. He's still breathing, so that's good."
Buffy and Faith took Gunn out of the way some. Buffy turned to the others while Faith kept an eye on Gunn. "The rest of you find someplace to cover yourself. We don't know what's coming, but we don't want to show our hand too soon. If it starts getting nasty, that's when you come out. This is the real deal, slayers, all of your training is about to be put to the test."
And they had needed all of them. Whoever Angel had pissed off, they were throwing everything but the demonic equivalent of the kitchen sink at them. Had it just been the four of them, there would have been no way any of them would have made it out alive. Angel and Spike might have been the last down but she knew they would have gone down.
Gunn wouldn't have been any help at all if Willow hadn't been there to heal him. Buffy looked at the destruction. Willow was busy healing the injured as best as she could. It was a lot for Willow to do, Buffy was proud of her friend. Unbelievably so.
Buffy and Faith took a minute to collect themselves, take in the carnage. And there was a lot of it tonight. The street sweepers would be busy in this section of LA. Demon guts and goo were everywhere. There were some casualties, slayers Willow would not be able to bring back. Buffy felt bad, but Giles and Willow had both assured her the women who had come volunteered.
She was confident now it was over. Whatever it had been Buffy still wasn't sure. She hoped Angel would fill her in now that it was over and done with. Buffy held up her finger up as Faith turned to say something to her. She already had her cell phone out and had pushed the first button on her speed dial.
"Uh hi, wow, that was fast," she said when he answered before the first ring had finished.
"I've been waiting."
"Well, it's done and I'm here."
"Faith? Willow? The others?"
"Faith and Willow are fine. We lost a few, I don't know how many yet. I feel like I just poked my head out of a rabbit hole, so I haven't gotten to assess much."
"The first thing you did was call me?"
"Once I got done ensuring I had all ten fingers and toes, as well as a face and hair."
"That's good, because I like your face, hair. And I love your fingers and toes. All ten of them."
"Mm, me, too. And I'm still all tingly from the last time you showed me."
She felt herself blush and turned, running smack dab into the wall that was Angel's broad chest. She knew it was him, because well, she'd snuggled up to it plenty of times over the years.
"Uh, yeah, I've got to go."
"Okay," he said, sounding confused. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. I just, you know, there's clean up and stuff to be done. I just wanted you to know I'm okay."
"Can I help?"
"No, we'll be fine. Get some sleep. I'll wake you when I get home."
"Many a pleasant dream will be had with ideas on just how you'll wake me up."
"Matty," she whispered.
"Nothing." She glanced at Angel, who didn't look at all pleased at the moment. "I love you," she said softly, quickly.
"Love you, too, babe."
She turned off the phone and glared at Angel. "What?"
"Are you done socializing?"
"Uh, yes, I took five minutes to make a phone call, letting my husband know I'm not dead."
"Sounds like you were doing more than that."
She rolled her eyes, said nothing. She didn't think he deserved a response.
"Good job here tonight, by the way. I guess I have you to thank for saving Gunn's life."
"Willow did it."
"But you got here in time. A minute or two later, Willow said it might have been too late."
"How many did you lose?" Buffy asked.
"I'm not sure. Wesley and Lorne weren't here. I'm pretty sure that means Wesley didn't make it. Lorne," Angel shrugged. "I asked him to do something I know he wasn't happy about so I'm guessing he took his exit stage left."
"Oh." She wasn't sure what to think about Wesley. "I'm sorry," she said simply.
"You lost some, too. Women who didn't even know why they were fighting. So, thank you. We wouldn't have made it without you."
"I know, I realized that already. And you're welcome."
"Slayer, Peaches, I think it's time we moved on to the cleanup portion of the plan. That kid, by the way, he was incredible. I thought he was human."
"You mean Connor?" Buffy asked, glancing at the boy in question.
"You know him?"
"Faith told me about him."
"But," Angel said with a shake of his head. "Never mind. How did you know it was him?"
"I just assumed. What other young kid do you know who has fighting abilities?"
"Excuse me, what am I missing? Who is the kid?"
"Angel's son," Buffy said simply.
"Your what? Why don't I know about it then?"
"I'm not sure," Angel said. "I don't think Buffy's supposed to, or Faith's either. I kind of altered things."
"Maybe it's a slayer thing."
"Maybe. Anyway. Spike's right, we need to start cleaning up. I'll arrange to have the girls flown home."
"Thanks. I think Giles is planning on billing you."
"I figured as much. Not sure when I'll be able to pay it off. I'm kind of jobless at the moment."
"You'll find a way. You always do," she said simply.
She gave him a hug and then Spike, not surprised she started crying.
"I'm so glad you're both all right. I'm sorry about Wesley, but I'm just so glad."
"Me, too," Angel and Spike both said.
"I would have felt terrible if I got you involved in this and something happened."
"Angel, I knew what I was getting into when I signed up. There was no force or coercion involved."
"I know. It's just," Angel shrugged. "You seem happy with this guy. With your life."
"I am, but I'm still the slayer, Angel. Always. Until, I guess, I get too old to wield Mr. Pointy anymore anyway."
"All right, let's get with the cleanup so we can all go home."
"Not all of us have someone waiting for us."
"That's your fault, isn't it," Buffy said saucily, but she smiled, hoping he and Spike knew she was kidding.
"There was someone," Angel said.
"Oh?" Buffy spun around to look at him. She had never thought he lived life as a monk or anything, but it was the first time he'd talked about someone else to her.
"I sent her away. I wasn't sure this would go down the way I pictured, and I couldn't risk giving anything away."
"Well, maybe you can get her back."
"It's a thought, Peaches. Now, let's go. Some of us have a pint of Jack waiting."
"Right, there's always that I suppose," Angel said.
"Men," Buffy said simply and strode away, prepared to get her hands dirty once again tonight.
"Are you ready then, Buffy?" Giles asked, bringing her out of her thoughts.
"Yup, I sure am," she said, zipping up her suitcase. She'd checked and double checked to be sure she had everything she needed. She wasn't going to be gone that long, it just seemed strange. Her things were by the door, waiting for Jim or someone to take them downstairs for her.
"I'm glad you came."
"Me, too. You know I'm always here for you when you need me."
"I do," she said, sliding her gloves onto her hands. She adjusted her hat and stood on her tiptoes to give Giles a kiss. Through thick and through thin she knew she could count on him. Always. It had been one of the few constants in her life. Until the past year anyway. She'd come to depend on a new man for things, too. She thought Giles was probably a little relieved. She was, too, truth be told.
"You look beautiful," he said, catching her taking one last glance in the full-length mirror.
"You're welcome." He paused at the door and turned to face her. "Now you're sure about this. I know how you are when you've made up your mind about something, but I feel I would be derelict in my responsibility as not just your watcher and coworker, but as your friend."
"I'm positive. I can't remember being more sure of anything in my life."
"All right then," he said, opening the door and escorting her downstairs.
She heard the music, which made her pause. Giles must have sensed it because he looked at her sharply. He didn't have to say anything. His eyes said, "are you all right?" very clearly. It was an intimate knowledge that they shared from years of working together. Okay, not always together, but most of the time.
She took a deep breath, as deep as she could at the moment anyway. The staff had gone out of their way to be sure everything looked beautiful. They always did, so she wasn't surprised in the least. Jim and Sam, a staff member she did not only recognize but knew his name, opened the doors and the music grew louder.
Buffy gripped Giles' arm with her hand, which he patted in a comforting manner with his free hand. They were all there already. Hundreds of them. Many were faces Buffy didn't recognize and would never see again after today. Giles walked her toward Matty. Taylor, Chris, and Xander stood near him. Willow, Dawn, and Faith were next to the empty spot. The spot to Matt's right, where she would stand.
She and Giles had practiced this a hundred times and it had never seemed to take this long to get to where they were going. Buffy was finding it increasingly difficult to breathe. Tears formed in her eyes, and she just willed them to hold off for a little while. This was all just formality anyway. She'd even changed her name a couple of months ago.
Matty had been the one to bring up the idea. Buffy had laughed at first, thinking he was joking. It was an odd way of celebrating their first anniversary. But it seemed fitting since she had been begrudged the right proper wedding she'd always dreamed of as a girl.
So, here they were, tying the knot again. Only, this time it was in front of not just God but their family and friends. She'd had to hold off inviting slayers. There were just too many of them. So, her side of things was pretty sparse. Angel, Spike, Gunn, Illyria, Robin, Andrew, and the handful of potentials that had made it out of Sunnydale with her were there.
Matty's side, on the other hand, was bursting at the seams. So much so, that many had to take a side on what was deemed Buffy's side. Or, maybe they just felt sorry for her that he had so many and she had so few. His father had invited anyone and everyone. It wasn't every day his son got married. Twice in a year, but no one but their close circle of friends knew they were already married. It was no one's business.
The ceremony was over quickly. The dinner wasn't as fast, and quite honestly lasted too long as far as Buffy was concerned. She wanted to get to the good stuff.
And then the partying began. They got to kick it off by dancing to Harry Connick Jr.'s It Had To Be You. And then things went into full force. It was close to dawn before the last of the guests left.
Buffy and Matty said their last goodbyes and headed to the tables where their friends were sitting. It was about time for Angel and Spike to leave. Matty must have sensed that because he stepped aside after giving her a brief kiss.
"I'm going to sit with Taylor and Chris for a bit. I'm not sure they realize Willow's not into guys. Tell Angel and Spike I said good night and thanks for coming."
"I will, thanks," Buffy said, walking toward the two vampires. Angel was the first to stand and walk up to her.
"I always knew you'd be a beautiful bride."
"Yeah, well, I shouldn't be wearing white."
"Why not?" Angel shrugged. "It's what you wanted to wear. It's not like you're," Angel shook his head. "Never mind." He leaned toward her, giving her a kiss on the cheek. "I'm happy for you, Buffy. Really."
"Thanks. Did you ever call that woman to come back?"
He shook his head. "No. It wasn't right. She wasn't right."
He shrugged. "What can you do? I can't expect to find two of you when it took me over two centuries to find one."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to go there, but you asked about Nina."
"Angel, quit talking her ear off. I'm sure she's got better things to do then listening to you prattle on. It's her wedding night. Let her and her husband go do their thing."
"Spike," Buffy admonished.
"What? I know sitting there watching you talk to two of your ex's would not be high on my list of things to do on my wedding night." Spike skimmed her cheek with the pad of his thumb before kissing her there. "I'm glad you found it, Slayer. The light to balance you out. You need it. You deserve it. Never forget that."
"Thanks." She started to tear up. "You guys."
"Oh, hey, thanks for the Topline tip."
"Sure, glad it's working out for you. Just don't make me look bad, I'd like to work there on breaks and stuff."
"I'll do my best."
"And I'm off for London," Spike said.
"You are?" Buffy hadn't heart anything about it.
"Yeah, your watcher says he's got a job or two for me. Figure it's about time I found my way back home anyway."
"You'll be hearing from me."
"I look forward to it."
They left to a smattering of goodbyes from those left.
"So, B. It's all official and everything."
"Yeah, just that I went through with the sleeping in separate beds last night."
Faith laughed. "Not me, baby. When, if, I get married, I'm going to ride him like a bull and say my ‘I do's' just as I come."
Buffy rolled her eyes, but somehow wasn't exactly sure Faith was kidding. She could see the dark-haired slayer doing something like that.
"Yo, Yankee fan, I think your wife is ready for some post-marital nooky," Faith called out.
Her revelation was met by cat calls by not just Matty's friends Chris and Taylor, but Xander and Robin, too.
"Great," she whispered. "Thanks."
"Hey, it's not like no one here knew what you were going to go upstairs and do!"
"And on that note," Matty said, draping his arm around Buffy's shoulders. He drew her to him for one of his more smoldering kisses. She melted into him, which she imagined was the purpose. It was easy to forget there were other people there. Her fingers made their way from the nape of his neck to his bowtie, which she promptly and quickly untied and tugged out from under his collar.
"I want to wear this tonight."
"Okay," Matty said, looking perplexed.
"Okay," he repeated, a little more enthusiastically. "Let's go."
"Good night, guys," Buffy said. "You know the way to your rooms."
"Yes, why we're delegated to the other wing is beyond me." It was Taylor.
"Yeah, you'd think they really just got hitched or something," Chris added.
"It's just a way for them to get some cool gifts," Taylor threw in as Matty and Buffy made it to the stairs that hours ago Giles had escorted her down.
"Right, because they need so much." Leave it to Xander to defend her.
She heard nothing after that as they made their way upstairs to their room. It was decorated beautifully, and she began to really cry then. Roses, champagne, fruit, and, if she wasn't imagining things, satin sheets.
Tomorrow they were off to Vegas for a couple of nights. Buffy was in school, courtesy of her father-in-law, so she couldn't take more than that off. They'd debated about where to go for the long weekend, and both seemed to think it was fitting to go back to the scene of the crime. Buffy was looking forward to it. She had no doubts it would be fun.
Tonight, though, she was looking forward to some more intimate fun. The sheets proved Matty did, too.
"I guess someone else had getting lucky in mind."
"You bet I did, Mrs. Demaret."
"I like the sound of that."
"Me, too. It sounds a little strange, there hasn't been one in so long. It fits you, though."
"It fits us."
"That it does. Now about that bow tie," Matty said, holding up said item.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com