Secrets & Lies, Part VIII

Author’s Notes: Future-ish fic.Thanks to everyone for hanging in with me on this one.

Cordelia still doesn’t quite get it that Angel doesn’t want her back and Connor’s decision may put another wrinkle in her plan; Betty stops in again for a … visit; and Lorne makes it to Sunnydale in his sparkle-orange Miata.

Song is “Fighter” by Christina Aguilera.

Rating: Adult; explicit sex

Disclaimer: Own nothing. All belongs to Joss, ME, Fox,

Pairing: Ultimately B/A. Has C/A and mentions of B/S.

Distribution: My site, EverySixSeconds; sites currently with permission to host my fics; all others please ask.

Originally Posted: Mar 11, 2003

Amelia was just dozing off after her morning feeding when the phone rang bringing her still baby blue eyes open with a snap. Fred let out a tired sigh and reached for the phone with one hand, her other hand once more beginning the gentle rocking motion of the little bouncy seat to lull the fussy infant back to sleep.

“Angel Investigations.” She answered with a hushed whisper, watching as the baby’s eyes began to fitfully close again as she fought against napping. Recognizing the voice on the other end of the line, Fred smiled slightly. “Oh, hello Mr. Giles.”

“No, I’m really sorry. He’s still not here.” She replied apologetically after Giles asked for Angel again. He’d called several times in the last week; apparently Angel wasn’t returning his calls.

“Well, Angel has been in and out so much lately. I’m sure he’s meant to call.”  She excused, her brow creasing into a frown. Angel was usually so good about returning calls; she was a little perplexed as to why he wouldn’t want to talk to someone as nice as Mr. Giles.

“Oh, you are?  Okay, let me just grab a pen and I’ll write down that number.”  Grabbing the first pad of paper within reach out of the desk drawer along with a pen, Fred jotted down Giles’s new number in London. She realized then that she had grabbed the pad of paper containing the sketches that Angel had drawn the other day. Absently she flipped through the sketches again, wondering once more about Angel’s interest in the woman. Could she be the Buffy that she’d heard so much about but had never seen?

“Yes, I’ll make sure that he gets the message, I promise.” She reassured the nice gentleman on the phone, turning her attention back to their conversation. She wondered briefly if she should give him Angel’s cell number. Probably not, at least not until she or Gunn had a chance to talk with Angel about it first. The young mother gave a small sigh and soothed the brown curls beginning to form on her daughter’s head.

A movement across the room caught her eye and Fred glanced up. Instinctively she scooted Amelia’s bouncy seat just a little closer to her as Cordelia descended the stairs.

“Okay, you too. Bye.” Fred hung up the phone, carefully tucking the pad of paper inside a case file and out of sight as the dyed blonde crossed the lobby.

“Hiya Fred.” Cordelia said breezily as if she had not a care in the world, stopping at the counter to flip through the small stack of messages. This time she pocketed Angel’s message yesterday from Giles without even bothering to hide her actions. Curiously she inquired, “Have there been any other calls for me? Or for Angel?”  She was dying to hear the outcome of the time she had spent planning for the Slayer’s elimination. Surely something had to have happened by now.

“Uh, Hi.” The young mother murmured softly her eyes anxiously searching the stairs behind the seer for a sign of Gunn’s return. She nodded at the pink slips of paper in the other woman’s hand. “Only those there.”

“You’re sure? This is it?” Cordelia frowned. She’d heard the phone ring earlier and was certain that it would be the call she had been expecting. Or rather, the call she’d been expecting for Angel. “Anyone call and *not* leave a message?”

Fred chewed her bottom lip fretfully, a guarded expression on her face. Nervously she pulled Amelia even closer and scooped the baby out of her seat.  Amelia gurgled softly, unaware of her mother’s growing tension, and slipped into sleep.

“Um, yes. I mean, no, no one else called. That’s all of them.” Her eyes darted back to the stairs while she mentally chanted for Charles to hurry back.

“Then who was on the phone just now?” The seer demanded impatiently, running one hand over her hair.

After a minute pause, Fred replied, “Amelia’s pediatrician’s office. They were just reminding me of her next appointment.” She wasn’t sure why she lied, but seeing Cordelia openly sift through Angel’s message and take one might have been the impetus.

Muttering a soft expletive under her breath, Cordelia glanced over her shoulder to where Fred’s eyes were trained. Seeing nothing of interest, the dyed blonde turned back and leaned over the counter.

“So just where the hell is Angel this morning anyway, Fred darling?” The seer lifted one foot casually, admiring her new 4-inch high-heeled sandals. They were expensive, but more than worth it for the sexy appearance they gave her, the height giving her just the perfect amount of perch on her toes, causing her to thrust her bottom and breasts out in opposite directions to keep her balance in the way that men loved so much, not to mention they were the exact height she’d need to align her body just so perfectly with Angel’s tall form.  No doubt that he would be appreciative of them as well, for all his bluster that they were going to stay apart. No man resisted Cordelia Chase for long when she was in full on pursuit.

Her mind strayed briefly to the impossible thought of Buffy’s freakishly short stature alongside the tall vampire. No doubt Angel had to stoop to kiss her, which how unsexy, not to mention uncomfortable, must that be for him?  It must be like kissing a child. She scoffed and turned her attention back to Fred and Amelia.

“He’s not in his room and he didn’t come back last night.” It galled her to say that, almost admitting that she, Cordelia, half-demon seer extraordinaire and the love of Angel’s undead life, was no longer part of the inner circle. But damn it, she needed to know where the man was in order to console him. Her call to him earlier had given her nothing to work with.

“I-I real-really don’t know.” The young mother stammered, half turning away from Cordelia and sizing up the distance between them as if planning her escape route.

“Really?” Cordelia replied skeptically, a small smile crossing her face at the obvious fear masking the other woman’s features. Fred was just so easy to toy with, to manipulate. She continued, her tone low and intimidating, “I’m sure he called Gunn to check in, so take a guess.”

The dyed blonde smoothed one hand down her crimson skirt, irritably noting the bright sunlight streaming through the windows. Her outfit was wasted if Angel wasn’t already in the hotel, since it was quite obvious that he wouldn’t be able to return now until nightfall. She frowned in annoyance then shrugged a shoulder dismissively. No matter. If this plan fell through and didn’t permanently remove Buffy from Angel’s life, then what she had read in the Watcher’s Journal that Connor had stolen from Giles was certain to be 100% solid-gold, sure-fire, no fail assurance. She smiled at the thought of telling Angel all about it, a malicious smile that didn’t meet her eyes.

Before Fred could answer the question, Connor’s voice rang out in the lobby drawing both of their attentions. “Fuck! Let go of me! I said I would go, I’ll go.”   The two men were making their way down the stairs, Gunn close to the younger man’s elbow.

Connor jerked away again when they reached the bottom, casting an icy look at Cordelia as he stalked by her. Suddenly, he stopped and turned, the thought crossing his mind that Gunn’s ardent interest in his whereabouts this morning had been prompted by something she might have said. With lightning fast speed, he lunged at her, seizing her by the throat.

“What did you say, you bitch?! Huh?” Connor yelled into Cordelia’s face as she gasped and fought for air. He shook her hard, causing sputtering noises to escape from her as they fell back solidly into the counter.  “What the fuck did you do?”

Cordelia clawed at Connor’s hands with her nails, even as the counter threatened to break her back in two from their weight. In the next instant she was free, falling to her knees and coughing and wheezing as Gunn tackled Connor around the waist and took them both crashing to the floor.

The two women watched at the men thrashed on the floor, Connor flailing wildly and attempting to escape while Gunn fought to control him.

“Damn it, Connor, knock it off.” The taller and heavier of the two, Gunn had a slight advantage but Connor had stamina and a preternatural quickness that he had inherited from his parents. Still, Gunn managed to subdue him after a tense and lengthy struggle.

“Fuck you! Get off me!” Connor spat from his trapped position on the floor, his eyes darting wildly around the room in hopes that he could still escape.

Gunn rolled his eyes and stood, yanking Connor up by the arm. With a shove, he pushed the young man toward a chair that sat next to a coiled pile of chain.

Rubbing her red throat, Cordelia slowly came to her feet. Her eyes were icy pits of outrage. How dare he attack her? Her face contorted into an angry mask. She wanted to rail at him, to vent her rage but when she spoke her voice only came out in a raspy but venomous whisper. “You bastard-” Her nails curled into her palms as she struggled to control herself in front of the others. She wanted to slap him senseless in retaliation.

“Fuck you!”  Connor spat furiously in reply as he yanked back hard, attempting to escape the steely grip Gunn had on his arm. His eyes on Cordy’s face were glittering with rage.

“Connor.” Gunn growled warningly, stepping between them and shoving the young man forward again.

At the sight in front of him, Connor stopped abruptly. His eyes widened as he took in the length of chain fastened securely to one post, a cuff on one end.  “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

“Your *dad* said to lock you up. I’m locking you up.” Gunn ignored the question as he knelt and snapped the cuff around Connor’s ankle quickly while the young man stood still in startled surprise. He was a big believer that Angel’s firm stance with his son was needed, and in fact, was long overdue. He tugged on the chain, testing its strength for the tenth time since he’d attached it to the post earlier that morning, shortly after Angel’s phone call. Standing, he pushed Connor down into the chair firmly, his tone clearly indicating that he wasn’t about to take any shit from the young man. “Course, I don’t trust you so I want to lock you up where I can see you.”

Fred watched the scene with sympathetic eyes. She felt considerable empathy for the man she’d known only as a baby before he returned to them practically a boy, and now a grown man. Having spent a number of years in a dimension where she didn’t belong, she knew how difficult an adjustment it was to be back here; trying to be *normal*, whatever that was. She’d also seen another side to the Connor, a rare side that he rarely allowed the others to see. He could be kind, compassion with a wry sense of humor. He was openly and honestly affectionate with Amelia in a way that he so rarely seemed to be with anyone else.

Cordelia smirked when Gunn fastened the chain that would keep Connor securely restricted, then chuckled when he pushed the young man into the chair. From Gunn’s comment, it appeared that Angel had found something out about his son that he didn’t like. Had it been her phone call? Was Angel’s old protectiveness for her returning, despite his gruff words and denial? Was he simply too stubborn to admit that he wanted her back and this was his way of starting to show her – by believing her?

Taking in his former lover’s smirk, Connor crossed his arms and stared at the wall. He shifted in agitation and the chain on the floor rattled.

“You all right?” Gunn nodded to Cordelia, looking at her for the first time.

“Yes.” She rasped, her voice returning a little. She took in a deep breath and sighed dramatically, leaning weakly on the counter. “I was so frightened. I just- Connor- why? How could you be so-so upset with me? What did I do?” Her eyes pooled with tears, and she covered her face as if to gather her composure. She was unaware that no one in the room was buying her innocent mistreated woman act.

At Cordelia’s whispered plea, Connor turned back incredulously. As if the two-faced bitch whore didn’t know why he was upset?!

He studied her carefully cultivated expression, her hurt look, her tears. What had happened in a few short hours that now his own dad demanded that he be locked up, a virtual prisoner until his return?  Had Cordelia’s sadistic plan to kill the Slayer succeeded and was he going to be blamed?  Underneath the anger though, was a pain so sharp that he thought it might rip him in two. He loved her, or thought that he had, but she. How could she have fooled him for so long? How had he believed that she cared about anyone beside herself?

“I want to call my dad.” Connor stated, his voice very low.

“Fine. Call him.” Gunn said with exasperation as he protectively moved Fred and Amelia out of Connor’s reach, one hand patting the still sleeping baby on the back. He was surprised but glad that the baby had slept through all of the commotion.

Cordelia’s head jerked up. “Angel doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

“Uh-huh.” Gunn responded ambiguously, kissing Amelia lightly on the head as he settled Fred in a nearby chair.

“He doesn’t.” The seer insisted firmly, her voice still hoarse, “And I should know. He called me this morning just as he always does. He’s- he’s working on a case. If you call him now, you’ll -you’ll just blow his cover.”

Fred shook her head slightly at the obvious lie. Only a short while earlier the seer had been asking where he was. Now she expected them to believe that she knew? Her eyes met those of her husband with a meaningful glance.

“Uh-huh.” Gunn nodded almost imperceptibly and picked up the office desk phone.

Connor held out his hand, his brown eyes now locked with Cordelia’s as if daring her to threaten him with others in the room. She couldn’t say anything now about returning him to Quor-toth or making it appear like he just ran off. Maybe this imprisonment thing had an up side to it.

“Here.” Gunn handed Connor the phone, taking in the challenging stare between the two clear combatants.

Cordelia stared at Connor, giving him a look that would have killed him on the spot could it have done so.

Connor dialed almost gleefully, his anger at being punished without Angel even hearing his side of the story evaporating under the sheer pleasure that he would derive from watching Cordelia’s face as he told his father about everything she had ever said, everything they had ever done, and everything that she had ever sworn him to secrecy about. Even if Angel didn’t believe him, he had to get it off his chest. It was like a weight was slowly being lifted.

He stared back at Cordelia as he listened to the ringing of the phone. She chewed her lip, her eyes narrowing speculatively. She didn’t believe he would actually have the nerve to go through with the call and, as each second passed, she also didn’t believe he was going to have the opportunity. Her lips began to curve up in a smile.

“Dad?”  Connor forcibly tempered his voice, knowing that he’d need to be reasonable and calm instead of angry and defensive if his father were to believe anything he said.  He took a deep breath and dropped his eyes, staring down at the floor. “I need to talk to you.”

Cordelia snorted angrily and stalked off in a huff. Connor would pay for this.

Angel came to his feet when the knock sounded on the door.

For almost a minute he debated his options: hiding or answering. Hiding was easiest and definitely safest but then he wouldn’t find out just who might be coming to see Buffy. What man might be coming to see her. The thought popped up unbidden in his mind and ricocheted around with disturbing resonance. A potential boyfriend that might need to be warned off.  A voice inside his head suggested vigilantly.  A voice that sounded suspiciously like that of his demon. A potential boyfriend that *has* to be warned off. The voice insisted firmly with a growl.

Almost angrily Angel stalked to the door. His hand turned the knob just as the voice on the other side of the door called out.

“Yoo-hoo, Angel? Are you in there, sweetie?”

Angel froze at the sound of Betty’s voice and cursed his impulsive action. He’d already started opening the door – too late to turn back now without it being completely obvious. He was having enough trouble working his way back into Buffy’s life without doing something to either offend or alarm her neighbors. Taking a deep unneeded breath of air, he cautiously opened the door, careful to stay out of the scant amount of sunlight that crept past the porch roof.

“Betty. Hi.” Angel greeted the older woman somewhat warily, the demon inside him laughing at the entertainment prospects of the next few minutes: watching soul boy having to fend off the advances of the horny elderly woman.

“Hi dear. I’m so glad you’re here.” Betty batted her eyes flirtatiously, “I’m baking a nice loaf of cinnamon apple bread – it’s my own recipe – and I’m just two eggs short. I really hate to bother you but, if I could just pop in and borrow a couple.”  She trailed off with a coy smile.

“Um, well, I don’t-” Angel began, uncertain about giving away anything of Buffy’s, even something as innocuous as eggs, without her permission. Besides, he didn’t even know if she had eggs.

“I’m sure Buffy won’t mind. She’s just such a dear. So willing to share, you know?” Betty’s eyes drifted along Angel’s tall frame, her tongue tracing her lips unconsciously. She stepped forward and Angel stepped back, just out of reach. “Hon, I can just grab them myself.”

“I’ll get them for you. Uh, wait here.” Angel backed up another few steps, holding his palms up flat as he retreated. It would be easier to just get her out of the house; if he had too, he’d buy Buffy a couple of dozen eggs to make up for the two.

Opening the refrigerator, Angel prayed that Buffy would actually have eggs. She didn’t have much in her small fridge, that was true, but 7 eggs were carefully placed in their compartment in the door. He smiled slightly as he extracted two of them before closing the door. When he turned around, Betty stood behind him only a scant inch away, her hand steadily reaching for his behind.

With a soft sound of surprise, Angel stepped back awkwardly, moving out of range. And promptly crushed the two eggs he held in his hand into his chest.

“Oh, dear. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.” Betty grabbed a paper towel and reached for the messy egg yolks as Angel backed up again, now clutching his hand protectively to his chest. “Let me help you, sweetie.”  Betty smiled with lascivious delight – an excuse to have him take his shirt off could not have materialized any better.

“It’s okay – I’ll take care of it-” Angel replied as he bumped into the counter behind him, reaching the edge of Buffy’s small kitchen. “Why don’t you just-”

“No, no, I insist.” Betty continued to advance toward him, paper towels in one hand her other reaching out to grab his sweater. “Here, let me take that shirt of yours, sweetie, Betty can wash it for you.” Her fingers grazed his stomach as they swept under the hem of his shirt and pulled.

With a sudden burst of preternatural speed, Angel darted around the woman and dropped the messy eggs into the sink. Before she barely had time to turn and blink, he’d grabbed a towel and was dabbing at the sticky mess.

“Uh, no, no, that’s all right.  I couldn’t let you do that.”  He firmly insisted, shaking his head slightly as she began to walk toward him again. He would swear that he could hear his demon laughing at him.

Opening the refrigerator door, he blocked her forward progress. “Why don’t you take what you need and I’ll… I’ll just go clean this up.”  With that Angel disappeared down the hallway and into the bathroom, closing the door firmly behind him and locking it. He leaned against it heavily, as if she might appear behind him at any moment. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. What if she doesn’t leave? What am I going to tell Buffy? What is she going to tell Buffy?

Inside his mind, his demon howled with laughter.

When his cell phone began ringing in the other room a few minutes later, he cursed softly.  After another minute, he heard Buffy’s front door close. He could no longer smell the rich musk of Betty’s perfume… perhaps it was safe to venture out. Stripping his sweater over his head, he cautiously made his way to the front room and retrieved his phone from the table near the couch.

Assured that Betty was truly gone, Angel glanced at his phone noting that the number was again from the Hyperion. He flipped open the phone as he reached Buffy’s front door and twisted the lock firmly.

“Angel.”  As he answered he walked through the small condo, looking to see if Buffy even had a washing machine.

Angel sighed heavily when he hung up the phone after talking with his son and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. There was so much that he hadn’t been aware of, so much going on right under his very nose.

He wasn’t sure if he completely believed in Connor’s innocence in Cordelia’s scheme. After all, he’d willingly become her accomplice simply because he thought it would win him her attention and her affections. But then, she was as shrewd and vicious as she was beautiful, if not more so.

He told Connor that he’d be back by morning and they’d deal with Cordelia together. Until then, he’d have to sit tight under whatever type of house arrest Gunn saw fit to impose on him.  Connor hadn’t liked it, but reluctantly agreed, knowing that it would also keep the half-demon seer from carrying out any of her threats to send him away.

Abruptly Angel’s thoughts shifted back to Buffy. He’d messed up badly these last few years, that much was true. He could castigate himself about his mistakes until the end of time, but it wouldn’t change anything. No, to change things he needed action and information.

Standing, shirtless and barefoot (having decided to wash more than just his sweater once he found the washer), Angel made his way into Buffy’s bedroom.

The chest against the wall drew him like a lodestone. With slight hesitation he approached it. After nearly a full minute in contemplation, he opened the lid. The hinges creaked slightly, just as they had nights ago when he had first snooped through her things. The night that he had found the letters that she sent him. The thought of those poignant letters brought a frown to his face and he mentally reminded himself that that was another thing he’d require atonement from his seer for.

Angel stared thoughtfully at the leather bound volumes of her journals, each one dated with the year on the cover. If she ever found out that he’d read one of her diaries, she might never forgive him.

If he didn’t find out more about her, he might never get her back. The real her – the warm, loving Buffy that he had known.

He hesitated, his mind warring in indecision. He didn’t want to live without her any longer, that much was certain. Decision made, he leaned over and reached into the chest.

Carefully shifting through the stack, he pulled out the book dated 2003. That was the date on the card from Magos Exousia and seemed to be about the time when the lilies had first appeared at the Hyperion – at least from what he could remember.

Almost reverently, he opened the book. He skimmed her writings about the “potentials” or the Slayers in training that had stayed with her. He smiled slightly as he read her animated narrative, feeling her frustration of having to constantly share her house, her bathroom and her food with the other girls, the constant chatter and bickering, and the ever-growing responsibility of constantly trying to keep up a strong front for them.  He frowned when he read about her concern for Spike and his damaged chip, her worry that he might prove to be a bigger hindrance than help – even with a soul. Spike had a soul? When had that happened? And where was he now anyway?

Pushing thoughts of his grandchile aside, Angel continued to read. He worried as read about her concerns and fears about the First Evil but that was coupled with a sense of innate pride at her ability to see to its ultimate demise.

The next page stopped him short. Buffy had written a rather glowing description about a man, someone she simply abbreviated with the initial of R. Riley? No, she dated Riley right after he had moved to LA. Clearly, she had a brief crush on him, whoever this “R.” was.  A few pages later in the journal, he found another mention of “R.” along with a flattering description of his impressive fighting skills, followed by a brief depiction of his other physical ‘attributes’ and sketchy details of a few rather torrid nights of passion. Apparently, this “R.” had been interested in her as well.  At that, Angel resisted the urge to throw the book across the room and stomp on it in a jealous rage.

With effort he pushed aside his anger and jealousy, forcing his mind to calm. His need to know more about her life was of the utmost importance now, not to mention the fact that they’d been through this topic already. He had no right to judge her life after he had left her. Rational thought failed, however, to soothe his temper completely. It was only when he read that she had broken it off with ‘Robin’?  She’d written a name instead of an initial – perhaps an absent-minded accident? R. stood for Robin? Who the hell was Robin? and what kind of girly name is that anyway?  that he was somewhat mollified. She had broken it off with him because she genuinely liked him but knew that she would never love him because she was in love with someone else.  He smiled slightly at that, his hopes climbing.

The next several pages were more about her battle with the First Evil and he read them with a chill running up and down his spine. He hated to think that she had gone through all of that alone. Of course, he’d had his own battle to fight then. The Beast. He sighed, thumbing ahead in the book and turning his attention to back finding anything about a magic spell.

After he had turned several pages in the book, he suddenly stopped. As he read the letters on the page, he sucked in an unneeded breath in anxious anticipation.

At the top of one page she’d written the name of Magos Exousia. Apprehensively, he read the small neatly penciled paragraph beneath:

It’s over. Really, truly, 100% completely over. I finally get that now. I know this is about 4 years overdue but better late than never I suppose. Thanks to the wonders of magic though, it no longer hurts.

In a small postscript underneath, she’d written:

“Forever, that’s the whole point.” Hah! Forever is not the whole point. It’s not even a point. Unless maybe it’s a moot one.

Angel’s head jerked up with a start when he heard a sound at the door. Moving quickly, he placed her journals back in their proper order and closed the trunk. He winced at the creaking sound of the hinges and crept quietly toward the door.

It’s over? It no longer hurts?  What had she meant? Clearly though, there was magic and a direct connection with Magos Exousia. That was something. Nikkos would be back the day after tomorrow.

The knock sounded again as Angel stopped, standing perfectly still in the hallway. Thinking it might be Lorne, he took another step forward.

“Angel? Are you there, honey?” The muffled sound of Betty’s voice could be heard easily through the door, even without preternatural hearing.

Angel froze and said a small prayer of thanks that he hadn’t gotten any closer to the door.

“Let Betty in, sugar pie. I brought you my special cinnamon apple bread.” Her voice carried with a singsong lilt, clearly certain that the treat would be an irresistible lure. She knocked again, a little louder this time, a little more insistent. “I’ve made my special maple sauce for it too. It’s perfect for drizzling on the bread. And other… things.”  The last bit was said under her breath, but clearly audible to Angel’s hearing. His eyes widened – surely she wasn’t thinking.

She knocked again.

He stood perfectly still, muscles locked in trepidation.

Several minutes ticked by as the elderly woman knocked again, then leaned around in an attempt to glance through the covered windows into the house.

When she finally appeared to give up and go away, Angel felt the tension slowly ease from his body. For once he was glad for all of the practice he had lurking in the shadows.

Very few things frightened him any more, but Buffy’s neighbor…  she could definitely be classified in the category of scary creatures.  As he made his way back down the hall, he considered how he was going to convince Buffy to find a new place if she stayed in Sunnydale.

Buffy met Betty halfway down the walk as she approached her condo at just after five o’clock. She greeted the elderly woman politely and accepted the cellophane wrapped bread, smiling slightly at the cinnamon spice aroma wafting from the package. She was surprised when Betty mentioned that no one had answered her door. The sun wouldn’t be down for another hour or so, which meant that Angel was likely still there.

It required a fair amount of patience and tact, but Buffy was effectively able to defer Betty’s less than subtle questions about her ex boyfriend, yet recent lover, that was currently ensconced in her home. To questions about the seriousness of their relationship, Buffy simply replied with non-committal generalities. She had a feeling that Betty would have asked about the quality and quantity of their sex life if she thought Buffy would answer, but thankfully the elderly woman wasn’t quite *that* blunt. It still took another fifteen minutes before Buffy was able to extract herself from the conversation and continue up the sidewalk to her condo. At the door, she waved and thanked Betty profusely once again for the bread.

Angel listed to the conversation outside the door, lounging on the couch with his eyes shut, waiting. A moody restless energy filled him. He was anxious to see her again, to touch her yet he was fearful of the magic spell and the possible long-term effects. It was also his experience that there was always some offsetting price to be paid when magic was used. He glanced at the clock, noting the time. She was home early.

When he heard the jingle of the keys in the lock he came to his feet in a smooth, graceful motion and moved toward the door.

After a few minutes of working with the difficult lock, Buffy finally opened the door and stepped inside.

“Do you have any idea how talkative that woman is?” Buffy hastily murmured, dropping her bag by the door and shutting it behind her. “She’s like, talky talkerson. I thought I would never get by her.” She answered herself, letting out a small sigh of relief as she held up the loaf of bread. “Bread.” She smiled up at him. “You *should* have answered the door. You’re probably used to charming little old women into submission.” She added with a warm smile he’d seen countless times in his memory.

“Hey.” Angel greeted her softly, returning her smile. “No, I’m not quite brave enough to take on *that* woman.”

“Why didn’t you answer the door anyway?” She asked with a curious and amused smile, her eyes moving over his still shirtless form. “And where’s your shirt?” Moving closer to him, her eyes returned to his face, “Not that I mind being met at my door by a handsome and half-naked man.” She amended hastily, her green eyes sparkling with mischief.

Angel’s eyes flashed briefly with resentment, his masculine prejudices still having difficulty adjusting to her teasing even though he was gradually beginning to accept the idea that she likely didn’t do this often.

With a rueful smile, he explained that his sweater was in the wash.

Buffy stared at him in stunned surprise while he gave her an abbreviated version of his earlier encounter with Betty, then she laughed so hard her eyes were watering with tears when he mentioned her actual and attempted groping. “Not Betty!”  Another wave of laughter swept over her and she covered her mouth. “No wonder she’s so interested in my ‘young man’!” Another peal of laughter escaped her.

Angel found himself smiling at her in return, her laughter and good mood contagious. He studied her in the growing darkness of the living room. She looked like an angel, the little bit of light gleaming off her golden hair. He thought then that he should have showered her with gifts. He should have given her jewelry, more jewelry than he had.  Emeralds would have done justice to her beauty, or sapphires perhaps. But he hadn’t. Angelus had. At the reminder, Angel grimaced slightly.

Buffy wiped her eyes and turned on the lamp as Angel’s phone rang. She left him alone to take the call, going to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of wine. It had been a long time since she’d laughed so hard, she thought, hearing the soft murmur of Angel’s voice in the next room. It was… nice. having him around, having the company. She wouldn’t be opposed to continuing things as they were – at least for a while. But Angel. he might not be comfortable with such a casual liaison.

When Angel walked into the kitchen, she looked up him and let out a soft sign of disappointment. He had retrieved his now dry clothing and was fully dressed.

“You going on patrol tonight?” Angel asked, his voice as deep and low as she remembered from former past memories and the occasional vivid dream. He shook his head when she held up her wine glass, declining the offered drink.

“Yep. Always do a quick sweep.” Buffy replied, shaking off her earlier vague musings about him as she turned and retrieved a bottle of water from the fridge.

“Let me help.”

“That’s okay. There’s not many vamps or demons around these days anyway. It can be days between any real slayage.” Opening the bottle of water, Buffy took a big gulp. “Course, that’s not what I hear about LA.”  At his conscience-stricken look, she quickly amended, “But then LA’s such a big city. Lots of demons. Lots and lots. Hard to handle all of that on your own.”

Silence descended over them for a few minutes while they both contemplated her words. It was true that he hadn’t been doing everything he could to keep the demon population under control – he’d be the first to admit it. However, it embarrassed him to know that Buffy knew that too.

After a few minutes, Angel finally found his voice. “Why don’t I take the part of town west of the Bronze, you can take the east.”

“Really, Angel, it’s not necessary. I’m used to doing this on my own.”

He hesitated for a few minutes feeling somewhat disconsolate at the reminder that he’d left her to do everything on her own. And she’d shown them all that she was more than capable of handling just about anything that came her way. Her reputation as the best Slayer to have lived was more than deserved.

“Well, then why don’t you take all of town and I’ll take on the grocery store.” He said with a small smile, shifting on his feet and putting his hands in his pockets. “I’d like to cook you dinner tonight – if you don’t have plans.”

Buffy smiled at him, pleased with his capitulation on the slaying and certainly not unhappy with the idea of sharing a little more time with him.

“I do have to go back to LA tonight, but before I go we have to talk.” Angel said with a small sigh. “Okay?”

“Sure.” Buffy replied, remembering the few occasions that he had cooked for her after a night of patrol and slaying. They were pleasant memories of simple and happier times; she wasn’t opposed to making another memory like that.

“Besides, I make a mean shrimp scampi – or so I’m told.” Angel smiled and winked at her. A gesture so out of character for him that it took her by surprise. Her smiled widened and she nodded.

After Buffy changed her clothes, donning her typical cotton shirt and jeans for slaying, Angel met her at the door. He held her jacket while she slipped her arms into the sleeves.

“Be careful.” His voice was soft as velvet as he turned and shrugged into his own coat, studying her under his lashes.

“Always.” Buffy replied brightly, checking her bag for stakes.

“You have your headphones?” Angel asked with fluid calm. He could have been asking if she had her stakes and other weapons.

“Yes.” She looked up at him suspiciously, her brows quirking upward slightly as she recalled his comment about the dangers of slaying with her headphones. She reached in the bag and held up her CD player to show him.

He shrugged, trying his best to maintain an expression of innocence on his face.

“See you in about an hour or so.” Buffy said finally, opening the door.

“Okay.” Instinctively he bent and kissed her softly on the lips. He followed her out the door, then turned in the opposite direction, adjusting his collar as he disappeared into the darkness.

Buffy turned on her CD player and adjusted her headphones over her ears. She really didn’t expect to find anything worth her time tonight, but a quick sweep of the cemeteries and known demon hangouts never hurt.

Turning up the volume, she began to sing along quietly with the already playing song. “You probably think that I hold resentment for you,”  She rounded the corner, “But, uh uh, oh no, you’re wrong,” then crossed the street quickly, turning left. “‘Cause if it wasn’t for all that you tried to do.” Pausing, she adjusted her bag on her shoulder, her voice sounding a little louder on the quiet Sunnydale street as she continued, “I wouldn’t know just how capable I am to pull through, so I wanna say thank you-”

She stopped again, turning to look behind her and peering down the street. “‘Cause it makes me that much stronger,” Shrugging, she resumed her walk and her song. “Makes me work a little bit harder.”

“It makes me that much wiser,” Whirling around, she kicked out with her leg and connected solidly with the demon behind her, “So thanks for making me a fighter.” The demon fell back into the bushes as Buffy advanced, still singing along to the music playing through her headphones, “Made me learn a little bit faster, made my skin a little bit thicker” Grabbing he demon from the front of the shirt, she yanked him forward and drew back her fist, slamming it squarely into the demon’s nose. “Makes me that much smarter, so thanks for making me a fighter.”

She pulled him forward again as she reached in her waistband for her stake. Her fist froze in mid-swing and her eyes widened with recognition.

Angel had only just returned from the grocery store, having admittedly skulked carefully back to Buffy’s condo to take every precaution to avoid another encounter with Betty, when he heard Buffy open the door.

He glanced up in surprise as Lorne followed her into the kitchen, his head tilted back and clutching his bloody nose.

Angel stifled a groan, wondering what Lorne had said to her and how he was going to explain the green demon’s presence to Buffy. Was nothing going to go his way in his quest to get her back?

“She hit me!” Lorne wailed pitifully, looking at Angel through his fingers as he continued to hold his head back.

“Hello, demon lurking in the dark and following me.” Buffy shot him an irritated look out of the corner of her eye as she continued on into the kitchen. She glanced over at Angel. “I had no idea it was a friend of yours until after I hit him.”

Angel nodded hesitantly, shooting Lorne both a worried and exasperated look.

“Let me get you some ice.” She grumbled, brushing past Angel and opening the fridge. She pressed a bag of ice into Lorne’s hand along with some paper towels.

“I’m gonna go change.” She stated as she left the room.

“Sorry.” Lorne whispered conspiratorially to Angel after Buffy was gone, “But ouch.”

“I told you not to let her see you.” Angel replied in an angry whisper, returning his attention to unpacking the groceries that he bought.

“She caught me by surprise, Angel-face. What can I say?”  Lorne sat heavily in the chair, “Oh, god. Is it still bleeding? And what are you doing, my domestic dumpling?”

“Cooking dinner.” Angel snapped in reply, opening the cabinets and searching for a cutting board. Finally finding one, he sat it on the counter along with a knife that he took out of the drawer.

Buffy returned to the kitchen, having changed into a pair of light blue velour sweats with the word “juicy” written across the butt and a short, white baby t-shirt. The waist of the worn sweats were rolled down on her hips revealing a teasing glimpse of her abdomen as she walked, causing a significant rise in Angel’s eyebrows, not to mention a significant rise in another part of his body.

“Uh, aren’t you going to be cold in that?” Angel lifted a brow as she stopped next to him, then cast a warning look at Lorne.

“What? This? No. It’s fine.” She replied casually, looking down at her outfit and plucking a small piece of lint off her breast before soothing a hand over her stomach.

Angel swallowed hard at the minute touch of her hand on her body and felt another rush of blood to his growing arousal. With effort, he dragged his eyes away from her torso and turned back to what he was doing.

Lorne studied Buffy covertly as she poured a glass of wine then peeked over Angel’s shoulder at what he was now expertly chopping up. She wrinkled her nose and Angel playfully brushed it with his knuckles before shooing her away. She stuck her tongue out at him and then sat at the table across from Lorne.

The Host then took in Angel’s demeanor; the playfulness with her that he’d rarely ever shown, the way the vampire’s eyes followed Buffy with a heated regard that was so intense it was almost palpable. The attraction that was radiating from him for the girl was loud and clear, almost screaming.

A growing sense of unease was building as he watched them together. Buffy’s tiny golden beauty was a perfect foil for Angel’s tall darkness. How could he ever have thought that Cordelia and Angel-?  Lorne felt as if he had been the victim of a prank, having thought that the two of them. He shook off the feeling, finding it uncomfortable. He hated being wrong, and boy, had he been wrong. Very wrong. Wronger than wrong. But there was hope yet, that Angel and his Buffy would work things out.

“How’d you know he was a friend of mine?” Angel asked, turning the stove on and tossing garlic and butter in the pan to sauté.

Buffy paused, holding the wine glass to her lips. Her mind flashed back to the day in the magic shop: Lorne’s voice ringing out happily through the store about Angel and Cordelia and their reconciliation. How perfect they were together, how right they were for each other. True Love. Fate. Destiny.

At her silence, Angel turned back to look at her. “Buffy?”

“Um, well.” Buffy took a drink, wavering slightly as she considered what she would say with both Lorne and Angel’s eyes on her now. “I saw him once. When I was in LA.”

“Oh no, my little lemon tart, I would have remembered you.” Lorne insisted, wiggling his nose with his fingers and sniffing slightly. “I never forget a face that crossed my path at Caritas.”

“Uh, no it wasn’t there.” Buffy replied, dropping her eyes and leaning forward on the chair.

Angel watched her shrewdly; had she been by the hotel? Had she seen him? If so, when?

With a shrug of her shoulder, Buffy finally said, “It was at a magic shop. You were with another guy and er, talking about Angel. Not knowing many Angels – um, people named Angel that is, and not many Angel’s and Cordelia’s that would be mentioned in the same sentence I guessed that maybe it was the same guy.” She paused, a glimmer of a memory stirring at the reminder of that day, the words that had been said, the pain that she had felt. It seemed a dream now. The memory was there but not the associated feelings.  “Well, let’s just say that sorta narrowed things down and I guessed.”

“Really, pumpkin? How would I have ever missed you?” Lorne questioned, crossing his legs and adjusting the ice bag on his face. “And Angel, puddin’, that smells absolutely scrumptious!”  Glancing back at Buffy, the Host continued his questioning, “When was this?”

“Years ago. Three probably, maybe more. I was there on a research gig, not really a social thing.” Buffy’s eyes shifted suspiciously over to Angel, even as she directed her question to the demon sitting at her table. “So, what are you doing in Sunnydale anyway?”

“Oh, well, I had some stuff – some papers – for tall, dark and broody here to sign. Work stuff really.”

“Really? And you were following me down the street because. ?” Her eyes went from the green demon to Angel again, only this time the tall vampire was turned away from her tending the food on the stove.

“Oh, well, I couldn’t just let a pretty young girl walk out on the streets alone. Never know what kind of big bad you might run into. Could be a sexual predator, honey-bun, or worse. Of course, I had no idea you might have been more than capable of taking care of yourself – which, may I just say, ow.”  Lorne lied glibly, settling comfortably into the chair.

“Let me take care of those *papers* Lorne, so you can get back to LA.” With the pasta on to cook as well as the shrimp, Angel turned back to face the two of them at the table. Giving Lorne a meaningful look he nodded toward the door. He wanted to get the green demon out of Buffy’s condo as soon as possible – certainly before he slipped up any more than he already had. “I’ll be right back, Buffy.”

“Okay.” Buffy shrugged, taking another sip of her wine and reaching for the mail that she had brought in earlier.

“Well?” He asked immediately as they stepped out the front door and walked around the corner towards the Host’s sparkle-orange painted Miata.

“You know, I have to say, you and the little golden Twinkie there are just perf-”

“I don’t want your reading on her, on anything to do with us, I told you that already.” Angel held up his hand, his voice almost a snarl. “All I need from you is a read on the magic. What can you tell me?”

Slightly dumbfounded, Lorne adjusted his sleeves somewhat indignantly. “The well, my amaretto torte, is that your little popsicle there appears to be frozen solid. I see what looks to be solid blue sheet of ice thicker than thick surrounding her sweet little candy heart.”

“And?” Angel insisted. He asked Lorne to see what he could tell about the magic spell and what the demon could tell about her emotions. He was particularly wanted to find out if her emotions were still accessible.  “Is it permanent?

“Course, it was only a quick read. and her choice of tunes? You’ve got one wounded dove there, my friend. Great song though, love that Christina. What a voice.” Lorne opened the car door, then glanced at Angel’s impatient face. With a shrug, the Host stopped his babble and answered the question, “Honestly? I don’t know. But I can tell you this – I could see the smallest crack there.”

Angel nodded thoughtfully, watching as Lorne drove off. If it cracked, then it could break. That was something. Now he just needed Nikkos.


Angel returned to the house and finished cooking dinner, he and Buffy chatting amiably about various topics as he cooked and she sat at the table sorting through her mail and drinking wine.

He served her dinner and cleaned up while she ate, then joined her at the table. They sat together companionably in her small kitchen, Angel watching as Buffy finished off the last of the plate of pasta. He had no doubt that she didn’t eat as much or as often as she should, a feeling that sparked his protectiveness, an innate need to take care of her.

“This is wonderful.” Buffy exclaimed, popping the last bite of shrimp into her mouth and closing her eyes as if to savor the decadent flavor. “I haven’t had anything this good since. since I don’t know when. I can’t thank you enough.”

“I’m glad you like it,” Angel indulgently replied, taking another sip of the red wine she insisted on pouring for him. “There’s dessert too.”

“Really?” She opened her eyes and looked at him, smiling brightly as she jumped up from her chair. The muffled exclamation of delight coming from behind him as she peered into the refrigerator brought a smile to his face and he mentally noted that he’d have to bring her sweets more often.

“Here, let me take that.” He took the cake plate from her, setting the chocolate frosted confection on the table as she plucked one of the decorative flowers off the top and popped it into her mouth. She turned and grabbed a plate out of the cabinet.

“Ummm. this is sinful.” Buffy murmured, reaching for another of the sugary flowers before cutting a piece of cake and sliding it on the plate.

With startling clarity that would have mystified his demon and his friends, he wished to arrest this moment in time, finding an almost ethereal enjoyment in Buffy’s enchanting beauty and her obvious delight in such a simple pleasure.

He glanced at the clock. It was almost midnight. He hated to spoil the mood, but he had to talk with her before heading back to LA.

“Buffy. I was wrong to leave you.”

“Angel-” Buffy murmured, her mouth full of cake, a slight smear of chocolate at the corner of her lips.

“Let me finish. I have to say to say this.” His eyes were grave, his voice low, constrained.

“Okay.” Buffy licked away the chocolate smear and Angel suddenly felt that he had been cheated, despite the fact that he probably wouldn’t enjoy the sweet anyway. It sparked a brief memory of the day that wasn’t, the day that he had tasted chocolate from her lips, delighting in the taste.

“My relationship with Cordelia … I just fell into it without really thinking. Connor was born and she was there.” He paused, watching her face carefully for any nuance of her feelings. “It was nice, you know, sharing it with someone, having someone to lean on. Afterwards it seemed that everyone was pushing us together – Fred and Lorne with the whole key’rumption thing, the incident at the ballet. It was like everyone expected it to happen.”

Buffy nodded slightly, an almost imperceptible movement.

“I wanted something, I guess. A relationship, maybe.” He shrugged slightly, glancing around the room as if looking for something in the sparse kitchen that would help clarify his words, his feelings. Then, turning back to her he murmured, “I knew even before she and I became involved that she had slept with Connor. I saw them together. I should have known that she continued to sleep with him these last few years, but I don’t think I wanted to know. Or maybe I just didn’t care.”

He ran his fingers through his hair and rubbed his eyes.

“Angel-” She said quietly, feeling the anguish in his voice.

“I should have said something but I didn’t. I’m not sure why.” He continued as if she hadn’t spoken, “Maybe I didn’t want to rock the boat with either of them since my relationship with Connor was so strained.”

Buffy only watched him, uncertain of what to say.

“Buffy, he had so much hatred in him. So much hatred for me.”

“Oh, Angel.” She whispered at the obvious pain in his voice. “I’m sorry.”

“I was lost for awhile, then I simply grew… complacent. I’m ashamed now of what I’ve let myself become.”

“It’s okay Angel. I understand.” Buffy interrupted, reaching a hand across the table to touch him on the arm. “We weren’t part of each others lives anymore. You had every right to move on.” She paused, smiling sardonically. “Or down, in the case of Cordelia.”

He grimaced and Buffy shrugged and mouthed the word “Sorry” with a small smile.

“I never should have lost sight of the fact that I love you. That I’ve always loved you.”

Her smile disappeared and he thought that he’d lost her with his candor.

She shifted nervously on her chair. A hush descended on them as Buffy searched in vain for her feelings. She remembered that she loved him once, but she no longer felt it. It no longer consumed her, filling her every thought and every feeling, threatening to send her shattering into a thousand tiny pieces at any moment. He had given her more joy and more pain than anything else she had ever had in her life, yet now she only had a vague memory of those feelings instead of the feelings themselves. So that left her where?  What did she feel for him now? Attraction? Yes. Physical desire? Yes, definitely.

Taking in her discomfiture at his avowal, Angel’s eyes seemed to suddenly impale her with their sharp gaze. “Tell me about the spell, Buffy. Why did you do it?” His voice was hushed.

“Don’t start that again.” Buffy sighed heavily, refusing to meet his eyes as she reached for the bottle of wine.

“I know you used magic – to what? Break the bond between us?”  He asked quietly, his eyes restive and moody. “Why Buffy? Why did you do it?”

He sounds so certain. How does he know? Buffy finally looked up at him, having refilled her glass. She shook her head slowly, toying with the crumbs remaining on her plate. “It doesn’t matter Angel. Just let it go.”

“Buffy, please, talk to me.” He fervently murmured, “Tell me why.”

“Why are you so sure about magic?” She asked quietly, her large hazel green eyes dominating her face as she looked up at him.

His eyes scanned her neck in lazy perusal and she lifted her hand to the missing mark almost unconsciously, hiding it – or rather the lack of it – from his view. He thought for a moment.

“For one thing, the mark – it’s gone.” Angel asserted softly as he reached across the table to take her hand. “I’ve lived a long time Buffy. I’ve seen a lot of things. I can recognize the presence of certain types of magic. And this,” He lifted her hand, his eyes staring at hers as he ran his thumb across the vine tattoo on her finger. “is a sign. A talisman.”

Buffy tugged on her hand but he refused to release it.

So what, he knows. What did she have to hide anyway? She wasn’t ashamed of what she had done. In fact, quite the contrary. Her life had improved considerably since she’d done the spell. She may have drifted apart from her friends, but it probably would have happened anyway. And Giles. Well, Giles had left her long before the spell. It didn’t matter to her that she didn’t have a significant other in her life. All of her relationships had ended in heartbreak and tears anyway.  No, she was happy now. Well, if not happy then content at least. It was the best she could expect.

“Look, Angel, you have everything you ever wanted in LA. A flourishing business. Money in the bank. Friends. Family. Love. You even have a son, Angel. In short, you have *a normal life.*  I had nothing. I had a crappy job at a burger joint, then another crappy job as a school counselor, a sister I was trying to raise on my own, friends that would send me out to face evil but not trust me to make my own decisions about my life, not to mention tons of bills from months of slayerettes staying at my house eating my food.” She paused and took a breath, “No one pays me for slaying night after night. I have no business cards with my name on them, no seer with visions to warn me about the next big bad evil that I’ll have to face. There are no trophies or rewards from apocalypses prevented, no expectations about moving up the ladder in my career, no grand plans about the future ahead of me. There’s no toy surprise, no great reward waiting for me when this is all over.”

Buffy took a drink of her wine and soothed her hair. She didn’t blame him for the Shanshu prophecy; quite the contrary – she hoped very much for his sake that he found his redemption and got his reward.

“All I get, Angel, is what you see now. Until one day I die and I’m replaced by the next girl that has to give up her life, her love, maybe even her happiness for something that’s bigger than herself.” She finished almost in a fury.

Angel was completely focused on her, the dark brown of his eyes darker with remorse, guilt and something unfathomable and more than a little alarming. His eyes were narrowed under the slant of his brow, a pained slash darkening his features. She didn’t deserve to be so alone, so detached from life, from love.

“So one day you just decided to use magic to close yourself off?” He questioned abruptly, almost angrily. How could she, the girl so full of life, so full of love, have wanted so much to close herself off from it? Buffy had always been emotional, impulsive. Something prompted her to act. “I don’t buy that Buffy. You always believed that your emotions gave you an edge.”

“You said you wanted the truth, Angel. I’m telling you the truth.” She bluntly replied, then added in a soft whisper, “In all honesty, I was tired of the heartache.”

He said nothing, only waited for her to continue.

“Look, after the whole thing with the First Evil. I was going to make things work with Spike, I really was. I mean, he seemed to care about me. And I thought it would be good thing. But then he left-” Buffy broke off abruptly, her fingers gripping the stem of her wine glass tightly. Why was she telling him this?

Spike?!  She did the spell because she was heartbroken over Spike? Or because she wanted Spike and for them to truly bond, his bond would have to be broken… Angel’s heart wrenched in his chest as the implication of his thoughts reverberated though his mind and into his heart.

“You broke our bond because you wanted Spike?” He bit out angrily, his hands now braced flat on the table.

“No. God, no. Of course not. I mean, I really *like* Spike and he was there for me when I needed him. But- it wasn’t love. As in *love* love.” Buffy looked up at him with annoyance, as if unable to believe that Angel would even suggest such a thing. “He left after.”

Angel shook his head slightly as if trying to clear his thoughts. “You’re not making sense.”

“I don’t have to make sense Angel. We’ve already been over this. Besides, may I remind you that I’m not really any of your business any more? You left me, *remember* that?”

“Look, Buffy-”

“Look Angel. I don’t want to talk about this anymore. It’s of the past. No need to dredge it up and muck around in it like-like muck. What’s done is done, okay?”  Standing, she walked around the table to stand next to his chair.  “Why does it matter now anyway?”

He shifted, turning in his chair to look up at her, and she smiled at him slightly, reaching out to run her hand through the thick mass of his dark hair, gliding her fingers along his cheek.

She studied his expression for a moment before nudging his knees apart with one of her own so she could move to stand between them.

“Look, it really doesn’t matter now.” Buffy murmured against his lips, bending down slightly. “And we can still be friends…”

He tasted the wine on her lips as she kissed him and he wondered for the briefest second if she’d had too much to drink. It was, perhaps, another attempt to rationalize his jealous anger when faced with her sexual assertiveness.

“I don’t think so.” He whispered softly, reaching out to rest his hands on the warm patch of exposed skin on her waist. His gaze at her was fitful, volatile as he struggled with his feelings; wanting to control the raging desire that rose hot and hard within him at her slightest touch.

“No?” Her palms lay flat on his shoulders, the familiar feel of him sparking a welcome rush of desire. “Why not?”

His brows drew together in a scowl. He didn’t want to be friends. He wanted more than that from her. He pulled her hard against him, his hands going around her back, his fingertips skimming just inside the waist of her sweats.

Silence descended over them while she surveyed the dark beauty of his face, wondering if she could convince him that they could be friends, lovers even if he’d allow it. If he were going to be difficult about it, well, then she would let him walk out the door.  It wasn’t as if she needed him in her life. Wanted him in her bed? Yes. A complicated, messy relationship? No.

“I came here because I don’t want to live without you anymore,” Angel said at last.

“See, friends then.” Buffy softly replied, her hands moving over his shoulders, stroking the nape of his neck and playing with the short hairs at his nape. Teasingly, she smiled “Lovers?”

“I should probably go.”

“But you won’t.”  She lifted one knee and glided it along the firm muscles in his outer thigh.

“No.” He replied softly, knowing that he would not be denied any part of her that he could have. A grudging displeasure lodged in his mind however because he wanted more than just her body; he wanted her love.

“Good.” She smiled as her lips brushed his brow, her fingers caressing his neck. “Because I wasn’t going to let you go just yet.”  His hands felt cool on her waist as he pushed her shirt up slightly, feeling the heat of her skin burning into his palms.

He looked at her without speaking, his eyes roving over her. Suddenly he stood and swept her into his arms in one smooth motion.

Carrying her into the bedroom, he sat her on her feet.

Rising up on her toes, she twined her arms around his neck and pulled his head down for a kiss.

They kissed for long minutes, his lips nipping at hers. She sucked gently on his tongue when he slipped it into her mouth and pressed even closer to him as he slid one hand down her back to her bottom. Squeezing her firm flesh, he adjusted her more tightly against him.

Buffy obligingly helped as he removed her clothing, stopping frequently for kisses as if he could not get enough of the taste of her and running his hands over her as if he could not get enough of the feel of her. When she was finally standing before him nude, all of her beauty revealed to his gaze, he lowered his head and kissed her again, a hot, hungry kiss, and began walking her slowly back to the bed as he interlaced his fingers with hers.

When they reached the bed, Buffy sat down, watching him under her lashes as he undressed. She smiled and reached her arms up to him when he joined her, once more taking her mouth in a hungry, plundering kiss. Changing the slant of his head as he settled between her legs, Angel kissed her deeply, pressing her into more firmly into the bed with his weight. She undulated beneath him, heated and eager, as she trapped his hips firmly between her thighs, running her feet along his legs.

The delicate scent of vanilla rose around them as her skin heated. Buffy clung to him, her tongue boldly exploring his mouth as his hand slid up her waist to capture her breast. He kneaded the firm flesh, squeezing and cupping her breast in his palm gently. At her low whimper, he lifted his head and pressed hot licking kisses along her cheek, sliding down her throat to her collarbone to finally stop at the pebble of her nipple. Buffy dropped her head back, exposing her throat and arching her back. He laved the hard tip of her nipple with his tongue before sucking it into his mouth.

His lips and tongue moved over her breasts teasing first one then the other aching tip until both were taut rigid peaks. He used his teeth to bite gently, sending sharp sensations of lust streaking through her. When he drew one crest deeply into his mouth, Buffy whimpered, the small erratic sounds breaking the silence of the quiet room. The low fire that had started within her now burned hot.

As he suckled her breasts, Angel’s hands roamed over her in exploration, tracing every dip and curve. The firm muscles of her back, her tiny delicate ribs, the flatness of her abdomen, the strong muscles of her thighs, her arms, the delicate arch of her feet, her bottom – no part of her escaped his attention, his touch.

“Kiss me.” Returning his lips to hers, Angel brushed his lips across hers as he smoothed her hair back from her face with one hand. Buffy responded immediately, parting her lips and meeting his. He kissed her with soft playful kisses as his chest brushed across her sensitized nipples.

Buffy sank her fingers into his hair, toying with the thick mass before sliding her nails along his nape in a gentle, scraping caress. With flat palms she traced the corded muscles of his shoulders, moving down his arms and stopping to squeeze the flexed muscles of his biceps as he leaned over her. When she felt the velvety hard tip of his shaft brush her thigh, she lifted her hips in invitation. When he finally slid inside her, sheathing himself fully, her arms went around his back to pull him closer. She relished the sensation of her breasts pressed against the cool, hard muscles of his chest. Planting hot wet kisses on his neck, she lifted her chin, her lips searching for his as her kisses grew more feverish and demanding; the wild rush of pleasure shooting through her.

Angel’s only response was to kiss her deeply while continuing to move inside her slowly, deliberately, his hands stroking her hips, cupping her bottom and lifting her to meet each thrust. Again he was seized with that familiar sense of possession. Buffy was his and his alone, he licentiously reflected, and he was keeping her this time.

She whimpered, enthralled by the feel of his hardness sliding slick and deep within her. Lifting her legs, she locked her ankles over his lower back, allowing him to thrust into her deeper bringing them ever closer to that pinnacle of pleasure.

They panted and groaned, each soft sound adding to the growing sense of urgency until they both finally exploded. When the first starburst hit her, Buffy keened softly and clutched him close, lost in the heart-stopping glorious sensations of orgasm. Her world at the moment consisted of nothing more than feeling – Angel, his body, under her hands, the scalding heat within her.

Angel released a guttural groan as he joined Buffy in climax, his release so profound that he could not remember having felt such unrestrained, heated desire. He sighed heavily as the spiraling threads ecstasy radiated throughout his body.

As the heated waves of passion slowly ebbed, Angel sighed and looked at the clock. He had to leave or risk being caught by the dawn on his drive to LA. Kissing her lightly on the head, he uncurled his arm from beneath her and rose.

When he turned back to the bed fully dressed, he sighed, looking down at Buffy as she lay on her side amidst the rumpled sheets in languid repose, her elbow resting on the bed, her head propped up on her hand.

“We have to talk about this… about us.” Angel murmured in a hushed whisper.

“Angel. It doesn’t have to be about anything.” Buffy smiled up at him. She was sated, her senses replete. It was better than anything she’d felt in years – and when he left her again, as he eventually would, there would be no gut wrenching, heartbreaking, tear-you-apart-inside pain.  “Come see me when you can.”

“I don’t like the casual sound of that.” His voice was curt even as he lifted a tendril of her hair and let is slide through his fingers.

“I’m sorry, lover. Don’t misunderstand me.” Buffy sat up and grasped his hand, squeezing it slightly and pressing it to her cheek. “I just meant I’d be glad to see you any time. You’re always welcome here.”

After the years that they had spent apart, he couldn’t stand the thought of having her casually leave his life again.  And for a man who had left her to find exactly that, he found he couldn’t bear the thought of another man touching her again. Ever.  He exhaled softly exhaled. “I don’t want that. I want more.”

Bending low, he kissed her gently on the lips. “I’ll see you in a couple of days. I have to take care of some things, then I’ll be back.”  Pressing a last soft kiss to her lips, then one to her cheek, he smiled slightly. “I’ll call you later.”

On to Part XIV