Secrets & Lies, Part XI

Author’s Notes: Future-ish fic. Nikkos and Mona meet with an old friend; Angel goes to Sunnydale to find out about baby Liam.

Sorry this part has taken so long to get out. Busy RL stuff sucking up too much time.

Special thanks to Rehatha for the Shaqti demons, not to mention the support and encouragement. Also *big* thanks to Trammie and Gloria for the read through. *g*

Again, thanks soooo much to everyone for the feedback! You have no idea how much I appreciate it! Flashbacks or memories are denoted between /* and */.

Rating: Adult; explicit sex

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

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: Apr 4, 2003

When the door closed firmly behind the vampire, Nikkos turned to his long-time love. “So, Mona, love. How was Sunnydale?”

“Darling,” Mona purred softly as she walked around the counter, continuing toward him with a hip swinging seductive gait. Stopping in front of him, she slid her arms up his chest and twined them around his neck. Rising up slightly on her toes, her lips found his in a sweet kiss.

“Mmm… No shop talk without a proper greeting first.” She murmured against his lips before they met hers again in a heated and lengthy kiss. “And dinner. I’m starved.”

“Well, which is it? Proper greeting or dinner?” Nikkos teased with a small smile, his eyes scanning her face leisurely, his passion for her obvious in his heated glance.

“Mmm… let me think. I’m going to have to choose dinner first, proper greeting after, as much as I hate to say it.” The redhead reluctantly sighed, pulling away slightly from his embrace. Still she smiled up at him.

“Food over passion, say it isn’t so?” The warlock replied with mock seriousness as he gestured for her to precede him around the counter, his hand on the small of her back. “Am I losing my appeal?”

“Well darling, it *has* been almost 400 years.” Desdemona replied in a flirtatious banter, casting a glance over her shoulder at him as she continued toward the door.

“Ah, well. I suppose it’s to be expected then.” He said with a wink, shutting off the lights and locking the door as they stepped out into the street.

“Never, love. I simply didn’t have time for lunch today and I’m just famished.”  She replied affectionately, smiling at him as she reached for his hand. Her voice dropped a bit as she snuggled against his shoulder, dropping a light kiss on his ear. “And you’d prefer that I have energy for later, I’m sure.”

He laughingly nodded his agreement, kissing her on the top of the head and lacing his fingers through hers. Together they walked the short distance down the street and around the corner to Suraj, one of their favorite Indian restaurants.

They greeted the owner, Akash, and chatted with him for a few minutes as he showed them to their table and brought them a bottle of his best wine. The large cozy booth in the back of the restaurant was perfect for intimate conversation, and they talked quietly as they listened to the strains of the sitar music and enjoyed their dinner. They talked about politics, the art museum exhibit, their friends, the remodeling work on their beach house and the latest exploits of their cats, Othello and Iago. Nikkos had insisted on those names for the two tabbies that they had rescued from a game of kitten poker, finding it ironic and funny to be living with the three main characters of the famous Shakespearean tragedy.

As the waiter served them Chai and kheer, the conversation finally turned to topics of more recent relevance.

“Angel now knows about the spell I take it?” Mona queried softly as she stirred a small amount of sugar into her tea, recalling the vampire’s presence in the store when she arrived. Her deep blue eyes met those of her long time love with avid interest. She was a romantic at heart, she knew that, but after seeing Buffy and Angel together in Sunnydale recently she was more convinced than ever that they belonged together. She and Nikkos had sat on their hands and done nothing to remedy the situation for too long.

“He knows.” Nikkos replied with a sigh, rocking his head side to side to relieve the tension that had built up in his neck over the course of the day.

“Demon activity is way down on the Hellmouth.  Sunnydale is quieter than I’ve ever seen it.” She offered, her thoughts drifting to the time she had spent there over the last few months.

“That’s really good to hear. Not surprising, but good just the same.” The blue-eyed warlock replied replied, his thoughts turning to Sunnydale and Buffy. He had long ago taken the position not to interfere with the warriors for the Powers even though he detested how they treated their Chosen ones. Yet with Buffy, he had been unable to hold to his vow. Her pain had affected him deeply; more so than he would have expected or thought. That day that he had met her, the day when she had broken down and cried in the magic shop, she had just crept under all his defenses into his heart and he knew that couldn’t just stand back and do nothing to help her.

Knowing that her life as a Slayer was dangerous and difficult, he’d only wanted to provide what assistance that he could, to ease the pain of her heartbreak and make her life more bearable. He never expected that she would live as long as she had – not that he was in any way complaining about that – but in the last couple of years he had begun to worry more and more that her life would be ended by the spell. He and Mona had arranged to buy the condo next door to her in Sunnydale so Mona could keep an eye on her until they could figure out what, if anything they could do. Angel’s recent interest in his soul mate was an unanticipated but welcome turn of events.

“I think that the prophecy about the current Slayer being the last necessary guardian of the Hellmouth may actually be right.”  Mona continued, dipping her spoon into their shared dessert.

Nikkos nodded thoughtfully, sipping his Chai and mulling over what he remembered about that particular prophecy.

“Also the little witch seems to be serious about her self-control and hasn’t been messing with any black magic or much white magic really. It’s too bad really that she couldn’t control her emotions; she would have been so powerful. Such a help to our cause.” She sighed in disappointment. Really good, powerful wiccas, or warlocks for that matter, were a rare breed anymore. There were so few like Nikkos, so few that could hold such power in their hands and not let it corrupt them. She was a lucky demon to have found him all those years ago.

Nikkos smiled faintly, his gaze neutral.

“You’ll love this, darling. It’s the funniest thing.” Her lips quirked into a smile, “Picture this – six foot something bad ass vampire hiding behind five foot nothing, tiny Buffy for protection.”

“What did you do?” The blue-eyed warlock smiled at his mate indulgently.

“Our big bad Scourge of Europe practically hid behind little Buffy to get away from me!  Guess he’s afraid of a horny little elderly lady.” Laughingly Mona told the story about her couple of run-ins with Angel, about the eggs he crushed against his chest and about hiding from her in the bathroom.  By the time she finished, she was laughing so hard she had tears in her eyes. “You know – it was just the devil in me that made me do it. He was just so fun to tease, Nikkos.”

Nikkos laughed with her, both of them smiling at the image of the tall vampire fearful of having his much doubted virtue assaulted by an elderly woman.

“You know, it was a spontaneous thing at first. I’d have sworn that it was the demon the night before that had our little Buffy trapped against her door in a lip-lock that I almost envied. I needed to get closer to tell.”  She shrugged playfully as Nikkos shook his head at her. She sighed almost ruefully, as she continued. “I’m pretty sure it was Angelus. Which doesn’t surprise me since we’ve always known that the demon never wanted to leave his mate.”

“True.” Nikkos agreed with a small shake of his head. It surprised him, really, that Angel hadn’t gone back to Sunnydale earlier. Though he never doubted that Angelus would have.

Mona smiled, thinking about the package in her boutique still wrapped up with Angelus’s name on it. He’d come into Wicked Pleasures, just a few blocks away from Magos Exousia, last time he had lost his soul, which must have been back in 2003 now, and placed his order for several things with Felicity, her manager and assistant. She would have loved to have been the one Angelus presented his ‘list’ of items to, but she typically only spent a couple of days a month in the well-run store.

The first item on his list of demands had been cuffs with chains; all fragile and delicate as gold bracelets, but magically enhanced to withstand superior strength, Slayer strength. In addition, he wanted a variety of expensive lingerie to suit his every whim or fancy, numerous sex toys. all, he had said with his most wicked smile, a smile that that had left Felicity practically panting after him with desire, necessary to reclaim his mate and teach her her place. Angel’s soul had been restored before Angelus returned to pick up the items that he had ordered, and Mona had simply wrapped them up and set them aside. With a wicked smile of her own, she thought about delivering the package to him now and watching him squirm. Perhaps Betty could inadvertently receive the package and deliver it to him.

She chuckled, sipping her tea for a few minutes and contemplating Angel’s reaction should she bring him such a present.

With a small sigh, she glanced up at Nikkos and asked about the bit of gossip that she had heard earlier. “Is it true that they’re bringing Whistler back now?”

“Yes. It’s about time too.” Nikkos replied with a hint of disgust in his voice. “They have to. Someone has to straighten out the mess.”

“Mmm… Good.” Mona nodded in agreement, taking a bite of the lightly sweetened kheer. “This is absolutely scrumptious, darling, you have to try it.”

The blue-eyed warlock took the bite off the proffered spoon, then glanced over just as a familiar demon strolled casually toward their table. “”Well, well, speak of the devil. Or are you no longer an emissary for the Powers?”

“Funny ha ha.” Whistler replied, stopping next to the table and looking at the remains of their dinner with undisguised interest.  “You know they own me. They say jump, I say how high.”

Nikkos said nothing, only regarded the smaller man thoughtfully, his brow quirked upward slightly.

“Where the hell have you been?” Mona asked, her voice touched with annoyance, her eyes sparkling with anger.

“Saggaria. Powers sent me there to straighten up some mess with one of the good guys that had gone a little off the beam. Wasn’t following orders, had gone sorta vigilante out there.”  Whistler said with a small lift of his shoulders as he adjusted his hat on his head.

Nikkos snorted. He didn’t approve of the way the Powers treated their champions. Most likely whatever it was that had happened, they were also to blame. Not that they would accept any responsibility for any of it; they never did and they never would.

“What? I was only gone 8 days.” Reaching over the candle and other condiments on the table, Whistler plucked a leftover vegetable samosa out of the basket and popped it into his mouth.

The expression of disbelief on their faces prompted him to continue, “Okay, so 8 Saggarian days and a Saggarian day is something like 11 months and 12 days here.” Whistler shrugged dismissively, his expression innocent as he glanced between the two occupants at the table. “Hey, let me tell you, it was no picnic. Besides I’m not the one who made the mess here that now needs to be cleaned up.”

“Meaning?” Mona asked challengingly, her eyes meeting those of her lover.

“I get called back with some garbled message about Angel ignoring his mission, his seer gone missing, and the Slayer now dying because of some love spell.” The green leather of Whistler’s coat creaked as shifted on his feet and reached over their table again to grab a papadum wafer. “Hell of a love spell, that. Had a feeling you’d know all about it though. Figured I could get the truth here.”

“Unlike those you work for?” Mona couldn’t keep the disgust out of her voice as she finished his implied statement.

Nodding at the seat opposite him in the booth, Nikkos invited Whistler to join them.

“Wasn’t this a Laundromat before?” The demon asked as he sat down, looking around casually at the rugs hanging from the ceiling and the various exotic orchids nestled in the window alcoves. The waiter stopped by and took his drink order before disappearing back to the kitchen.

“It’s good to see you back.”  Nikkos smiled slightly, encouraged that things between the vampire and Slayer had a chance of getting straightened out now that the three of them were on the case. “It’s been awhile.”

“So what’s this I hear that you caused the problem?” Whistler bluntly declared, helping himself to the leftover chicken masala and navratan korma of their dinner.

“Me?” Nikkos asked almost indignantly, running his palm along his jaw. His eyes were speculative as he regarded the demon seated across from him. “I did, huh? But then, I’m not the idiot who damaged the savior of humanity by sadistically separating her from her soul mate.”

“Hey, no fair. Don’t blame me for that. They were only supposed to be separated for a year or so; he was sent a vision telling him to go back to her just before her mother died. He was supposed to be there to help her defeat Glory.”

“It’s good to see the Powers at least acknowledge their love.”  Mona said with approval, holding her cup out for a refill of Chai tea as the waiter passed by.

Sipping his wine, Whistler muttered “No need to get all romantical and stuff. The Powers are not particularly interested in love, just the mission.”

“There’s more to it than that and you know it.” Mona snorted, grumbling angrily, “The Powers should be interested in love since love is the entire reason champions fight.  Love is what makes the world go around, makes life worth living. Love is the very thing that we fight *for*.”

Nikkos dropped his arm over her shoulder, his hand caressing her neck lightly to soothe her. He knew that this topic was one that she had strong feeling about and would argue tooth and nail in defense of the importance of love.

“And, in case the Powers haven’t noticed,” Mona continued sarcastically, “which in their infinite wisdom surprises me, love, or their twisted version of it has also inspired a hell of a lot of other issues.”

“Hey, I’m all on board here.” Whistler stated defensively, holding up his fork. “You want to blame someone, blame Angel. He’s the one that ignored that vision, just like he’s been ignoring so many of the others.” Stuffing the fork in his mouth, he took another bite of chicken then continued, “His soul was bound – well reasonably so – there are of course magicks that can take it, some drugs.” He shrugged, not completely understanding the vampire’s behavior himself, “Bottom line, he could’ve gone home but he didn’t.”

Nikkos’s brow lifted in question and he glanced at Mona with a trace of surprise. He directed the question at Whistler, his tone cautious. “The Powers think he’s been ignoring the visions?”

Whistler continued as if the warlock had not spoken, “I mean, the entire point of separating them was so that he could become a strong and self-sufficient person, er, vampire again.  He was just too broken after he lost his soul there for a while to be of much use, then there was hell and all.”  Again, the demon shrugged and took another bite of food. “Well, we all know how bad that can be.  When he finally got outta there, everyone in Sunnydale – save Buffy – kept rubbing his nose in the whole evil Angelus thing, which that didn’t let him regain any sense of self-worth or self-confidence that would ensure that he could be strong, useful.” Shaking his head, he sipped his wine. “So why in the hell Angel didn’t go back to Sunnydale years ago like he was supposed to, I can’t say. I do know that the seer was supposed to send him back.”

“You’re saying-” Mona began, her eyes wide with surprise at the things that the demon had revealed.

“And to answer your question, in a word, yes.” Whistler interrupted, finally answering the question that Nikkos had asked, “That’s what Skip has reported back to them, that’s what’s in the files, that’s what I was told. With so many botched cases, frankly I’m surprised they haven’t just abandoned him all together as a lost cause by now.” The demon finished speaking, wolfing another quick couple of bites of food before pushing the plate away.

“The seer hasn’t been sharing all her visions with him.”  Nikkos said seriously, his piercing blue gaze locked onto Whistlers face. “In fact, if you ask around a bit, you’ll easily find out that she’s been selling them to the law firm, Wolfram and Hart, among others.”

“You kiddin’ me?” Whistler questioned, his head coming up with a jerk and a frown crossing his face.  “Wait a second here. Did you say *her* visions? Last time I checked Doyle was playing for our team.” Glancing at Mona, the demon added apologetically. “Sorry. No offense.”

“None taken.” Mona replied, quirking her lips into a small smile, pushing a few stray auburn strands of hair behind her ear. “And yes, his seer. Cordelia.”

“Cordelia? As in the delectable Miss Cordelia Chase? I musta missed the memo on that one. What the hell happened to Doyle?”

“Delectable? Try pernicious.” Mona scoffed with disgust, shifting slightly in the booth to lean both back and closer to Nikkos.

“You don’t know?” The warlock asked warily, surprised that something so significant would not have been passed along to Whistler, who, in the grand scheme of things, was an important factor in Angel’s status with the Powers.

“Know what? I just got back a few hours ago. I checked in and then came by here. What’s there to know?”

Deep blue eyes met pale ones as Mona and Nikkos glanced at each other uncomfortably.

“Was there anything about Doyle in those files you mentioned?”  Mona queried, her tone softened.  “Did the Powers not mention him to you at all?”

“I only read what I was in the memo, which wasn’t much.” Whistler glanced between the two of them with an increasingly worried expression.

Quietly Nikkos told Whistler about Doyle’s death and about him passing along his power to Cordelia, who was later demonized in order to withstand the painful visions.

Whistler cursed softly under his breath, angry that Doyle had died, angry that he hadn’t known about it or been told, and filled with grief for the loss of his friend. He and Doyle had known each other for years; he had, in fact, chosen Doyle specifically for the job with Angel because he had suspected that the Irish demon and the Irish vampire would be kindred sprits of a sorts; he had been right.

After a few minutes of silence, Whistler raised his glass in toast to his fallen friend. They each said a few words in honor of Doyle’s memory, saddened at the reminder of so many of their friends and loved ones that had fallen in the battle that they all fought for the sake of humanity.

The waiter arrived and cleared the empty dishes from the table before disappearing in the direction of the kitchen and leaving them alone again.

With a heavy sigh, Whistler summed up what he had heard so far, “So, then Doyle dies and passes the visions to Cordelia. And you’re telling me that she wasn’t telling Angel about the visions? Or even worse, selling them to the group that wanted nothing more than his head on a platter, if they couldn’t have Angelus working for them in some nefarious scheme?”

“Yes.” Nikkos affirmed, picking up the check for dinner and glancing it at briefly.  “I’m saying that I believe she not only hid her visions, but I believe – no, I *know* that she lied to him about the Slayer. That she intentionally kept them apart.”

Almost angrily, Mona added, “The Powers should have known about the seer, how far she had fallen from the righteous path. They could have fixed it.”

“You know they don’t interfere beyond a certain point. They send guys like me out on our mission and then that’s it.”

Mona groused, her hand hitting the table with a hard slam. “The Powers and their Oracles are always thinking they know what the greater good is, but really they’re so concerned with their own greatness and self-righteousness they don’t realize they’re just a few steps beyond the side of evil that they claim they want to defeat.”

“Well, *you* could have done something.” Whistler looked accusingly at Nikkos, feeling slightly defensive after Mona’s outburst.

“Angel is one of your warriors, it wasn’t my place to do anything more than what I did to help him. I thought the Powers knew all along what was going on with his seer and that it was simply another of their ridiculous tests, something that he had to learn on his own. How was I to know that it was simply neglect and outright sadistic stupidity on their part?”

The candle on the table sparked and the flame rose steadily along with Nikkos’s voice, as the first signs of anger were visible from the normally calm warlock. “Yes, I freed your greatest warrior from a pain that was tearing her apart. And yes, I was stepping in now, since the Powers were content to sit back on their lazy asses and do nothing. But it’s because I felt I had too. You know I would never interfere unless I felt it was absolutely necessary. My only regret is that I’ve waited much too long. I can only hope now that I’m not too late.”

“I don’t understand how or why the Powers operate the way they do,” Nikkos shrugged irritably, closing his eyes and forcing a calming breath through his lungs,  “but they do. It’s silly and sadistic if you ask me, but since I came to live in this plane, I agreed not to judge or interfere unnecessarily.”

“You know they’d love to have you working for them.” Whistler grinned, undaunted by the warlock’s outburst. He had long known that Nikkos was on the side of good. Hell, the simple fact was that so many considered him to be the equivalent of the Powers that a good majority of the demons that currently served the Powers would willingly move their allegiance to the warlock if he gave the slightest indication that he was interested in leading them; in taking over the role that the Powers played.

“Oh please.” Mona rolled her eyes and scooted across the booth to stand next to Nikkos who had come to his feet. “Like he would want that?”

“We serve the same master. Why would I want a layer of ineptness and bureaucracy?” Nikkos asked with a smile, helping Mona into her coat.

“The benefits?” Whistler jokingly replied, following them out of the restaurant into the street. He waved good-bye, turning left when they went right.

He needed to find Angel.

————————————————————-

As soon as sun sank low on the horizon, Angel was in his car and on the road to Sunnydale. The roads were fairly free of traffic for the time of the evening, the speedometer on the GTX averaging 105 miles per hour, but the driver noticed neither the traffic nor the speed of his car so intent was he on his thoughts.

Unwilling to risk leaving the Watchers Journal in the hotel, it now sat next to him on the seat almost taunting him. He glanced at it periodically during the drive, but with steadfast determination resisted the urge seek answers to the questions that Cordelia had planted in his mind. He would begin his relationship with Buffy as he intended to continue: by going directly to her with any questions, doubts or even innuendos about anything that involved either of them.

Reaching Sunnydale, Angel parked the car across the street from Buffy’s condo and cut the engine. He glanced at her windows, noting the glow of the kitchen light along the side of the house. The day had passed with interminable slowness as the statement that Cordelia had dropped on him continued to reverberate through his mind. It had taken considerable effort, not to mention tremendous physical exertion, to force his thoughts away from any speculation as to the truth of that statement until now, when he could finally allow himself to consider the possibility.  His body was fatigued, but his nerves were still charged with tension, his mind alive with anxiety. Had she been pregnant?

Exiting the car, he glanced at the darkened windows of Betty’s condo warily. His eyes flitted back to the elderly woman’s home several times as he walked up the path to Buffy’s door, half expecting to see her gray curls pop up behind him at any moment.

When he reached Buffy’s door, he hesitated for almost five seconds before he knocked, listening to the subtle sounds of her moving around inside the house before she padded from the kitchen to the door.

“Angel.” She smiled at him when she opened the door, her eyes flaring wide in surprise. Almost self-consciously she ran her hand over her hip, brushing the crumbs from the tan slacks that she wore and smoothing any wrinkles.

He simply stared at her in response for a long moment. She still said his name the exact same way that she always had, part question, part breathy expectation, and it still made his heart squeeze a little in his chest every time.  It was another little thing about her that he had missed, though he hadn’t realized just how much until now.

“Um, you want to come in?”  At the long silent pause from him, Buffy shifted slightly on her feet and cocked her head to one side. She studied his face, his serious expression. What did he want? she wondered, her gaze mesmerized by his powerful image. Had he come back because of her invitation? The thought pleased her, and her smiled widened revealing her perfect white teeth. Inexplicably, she had a desire to affect him in ways that no other woman in his life had ever done.

He finally nodded, the movement of his head slight as he stepped forward. Instinctively, he bent and kissed her gently on the lips in greeting.

“So, you just happened to be in Sunnydale?” She teased, closing the door behind him and brushing past him to return to the kitchen.

Angel mumbled something in response as he followed her, his mind in disarray. Now that he was here, he didn’t have the slightest idea how to begin the conversation.

“Tea?” Buffy asked casually, gesturing toward the small earthenware pot that sat on the table, next to a small stack of papers, a plate of cookies and a mug. She had obviously been doing some work at home when he had arrived.

“No, thanks.” He replied with a small shake of his head, the irony of the offered tea not lost on him. They’d done this very same ritual once before; it had been on his mind just last night. If things progressed tonight as they had then, he would seriously consider never having tea with her again, the beverage taking on new significance as a portent of unpleasant events where their relationship was concerned.

“Okay, so no tea.” Buffy sat back down in her place at the table, picking up her cup. Glancing at him curiously over the rim, she took a small sip of the steaming liquid. “You want to sit down?”

“Yes. No.” Angel answered tersely, his hands gripping the back of the chair in front of him tightly.

“Okay. Which is it?” Buffy’s lips curved upward in a slight smile, wondering if he was even aware of his contradictory answer, as distracted as he seemed to be.

“No.” He dropped his hands from the chair in an abrupt restless motion, pacing over to the window.

“So. we’ve established no tea, no sitting.”  Tucking her legs up in the chair, Buffy watched him as he braced his hands on the counter and stared moodily out the window into the dark. Absently she rubbed her neck, her dream from last night creeping into her consciousness. Her body warmed slightly as she thought of having sex with him again. Was that why he had come back? If so, then why the restless agitation?

Turning around to face her, his back rigid with tension he started to speak then clamped his mouth shut. He couldn’t seem to find the right words, much less get them out.

“Okay, Angel. You have something face. What’s up?”  She asked quietly, still in tune with his moods after all these years. His expression was almost the same as the one he wore the night he had broken up with her in the sewer; she was somewhat surprised that she remembered it so clearly but it was etched indelibly in her mind. No doubt he was having second thoughts about any relationship with her, purely sexual or otherwise, and had come to break things off. Inwardly she sighed. At least this time there was no accompanying heartbreak.

Standing she gathered her dishes from the table and moved toward the sink. Unless there was another reason that he had come. What possible apocalypse was threatening now? That had typically been his motive for seeking her out in the past, to warn her of some impending evil. Perhaps some things just never changed.

“Buffy. I have something I have to ask you.” He paused, finding it easier somehow to speak now that she was no longer looking at him, “And I need you to be honest with me.”

“Sure.” Buffy replied distractedly, rinsing her dishes in the sink.

“Who is Liam Summers?”  He asked, his tone solemn. The question was innocent enough, yet loaded with significance. He knew it was cowardly to ask her with her back turned, but it was easier than staring into those wide green eyes.

The mug that she had been holding clattered in the sink and broke, his question startling her.  Buffy felt his gaze on her back, like a knife between her shoulder blades. Her lungs seized; panic clutching at her as her stomach rolled. She gripped the rim of the counter tightly, staring down at the broken pieces of pottery now strewn in the sink. How had he found out?  Had Giles told him, even though he had promised her that he never would? That it was her place and hers only to do so?

When she felt as if she could breathe again, she slowly turned to face him. It took another deep inhalation of air before she could lift her gaze from the floor.  When her eyes finally met his she felt paralyzed, rooted to the spot.

Fearful of the panic he could see in her eyes, he moved to her side in a few swift strides. “Buffy?” He touched her cheek gently, brushing a strand of hair back from her face.

Buffy struggled to marshal her wits, her explanation, her excuses. His question had taken her completely off guard. She had not been prepared to talk about this now, tonight and not with him. Maybe not ever with him, she corrected. She had thought the time – and opportunity – for this conversation long past.

“How- how-” She stammered awkwardly, her eyes flitting back to his. His nearness was disturbing, his touch even more so. She stepped back from him and felt slightly calmer. Searching her mind for what to say she moved away yet again and sat down at the table.

Angel watched her, finding her reaction unnerving. She appeared to be shocked, almost distraught. His own anxiety and fear spiked upward.

Taking a deep breath she spoke, her voice hushed in the small room. “Did Giles mention … Liam?”  The last part of the question came out an octave lower, almost on a hitched breath.

“No, he didn’t.” Looking at her with genuine concern, Angel waited apprehensively.

Buffy’s mind whirled. She thought this day would never come. That she’d never need to tell him, especially since so much time had passed and he had moved on from her. Her eyes closed.

“Buffy?” he asked softly.

“How…” She paused, licking her lips nervously as her fingers curled into her palms, “did you find out?”

Shadows flickered through his eyes as he considered what he should say. Should he tell her the truth? He had vowed to be honest with her. He glanced at the floor, at the counter then back at her face. When he spoke, the single word was pronounced low, his voice restrained. “Cordelia.”

A flash of anger passed over Buffy’s face, her eyes stormy when she opened them again to look at him. Of course it would somehow figure that the former cheerleader turned half-demon seer super bitch would find out about her most precious and painful memory and find some way to use it against her. She had probably even thrown it gleefully in Angel’s face before making sure that the news hit the Sunnydale gossip grapevine.

Biting back her anger, Buffy focused her attention on Angel who was staring at her intently with an almost fearful expression on his face.  He deserved the truth. He’d asked for the truth. She would tell him. She could do that much. She sighed then, a faint almost negligible sigh encompassing a wealth of experience in dealing with pain and heartbreak.

“Liam Angelus Summers was my-” Her voice was a soft whisper as long repressed memories began to surface in her mind. “He was our baby. Yours and mine.” She hadn’t allowed herself to think about it for so long now; if the memory weren’t so vivid she would almost question whether it had all been a dream.

Even though he had mentally prepared himself for it, the words struck him like a blow. He leaned heavily on the counter behind him, his mind ceasing to function. He could only stare at her, unable to form any words, ask any of the dozens of questions clamoring in his thoughts.

“I-I lost him.” She continued quietly, looking down at the table and tracing a small pattern with her fingers.

As if moving in slow motion, Angel stepped forward and pulled the chair around the table to sit next to her. He reached out and took her hand, holding her small hand in both of his. His thumbs stroked soothingly over the back of her hand as he waited for her to continue.

At his gentle touch, tears began to well in her eyes. Tears of sadness for the child she had wanted so very much, tears of grief that she had never shared with anyone.  Even the cold spell that protected her heart hadn’t completely touched the love she had felt for her tiny baby.

Swallowing hard, her voice a hushed whisper, she continued.  “They said it was a miscarriage.”

Angel was stunned, but all of the signs that he should have seen began hitting him like a ton of bricks; her scent had changed after they had made love and he had lost his soul. Angelus had never questioned the altered scent, arrogantly assuming it was because he had marked her as his mate. True enough, Angel thought somewhat ruefully, he had certainly marked her. The other signs were there as well, had he only paid attention: he never recalled her having her menses once when he was Angelus, but he had written that off simply as a matter of timing – they had only seen each other intermittently. Too, she had dressed more conservatively in those months as well, giving nothing away physically. And Lenny, the minion he had staked had mentioned that she had been overweight. Mentally he castigated himself. He should have known. But then, he had never even harbored the remotest suspicion that it could have been possible.

“I didn’t know… that I was pregnant, not at first. Not for a while really.” Buffy felt as if the words were coming from a distance, as if it were not her story that she was telling but someone else’s.  She had never talked about this with anyone but Giles, too leery of exposing such a deep and painful wound to anyone else. Her friends, her mother. they had never supported her relationship with Angel and they would never have empathized, much less understood.  Only Giles knew, and he knew because she *had* needed to know how it had even been possible.

“After you and I- After we-”

“Made love.” He finished for her, his hand squeezing hers gently.

“Yes. After that night.” She whispered, her eyes meeting his for a moment before dropping back to stare at her hand engulfed in his.

“I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating. I was beyond stressed.” Buffy looked away, out of long standing habit when it came to talking about those months that he had spent as Angelus. They never talked about what had happened; instead they had swept it under the rug naively hoping that it would simply go away.

“Well, you know what those months were like.” She lifted one shoulder in a small shrug, “And I-I didn’t really even consider the possibility that it could be anything else, that I could be pregnant. I mean, after all I didn’t think you could- ”

/* I wouldn’t know. I don’t… Well, you know, I, I can’t.” */  The words he had said were still clear in her mind, as if he had just said them to her last week or last month or maybe last year. But then, every moment they had shared had been etched in her mind and also once in her heart, so deeply that she knew she would never forget them.

She had excused her lack of menses for the first three months as related to stress. There simply was no reason for her to even believe that it could be anything else since, well, they both thought he couldn’t. And at the time she didn’t even know if Slayers could even have children.

Angel nodded, urging her to continue as his guilt rose with increasing force. As if it had not been bad enough that he tormented his lover, the woman that he often thought of as his wife, she had been pregnant with his child at the time. He was appalled and filled with remorse, cursing himself both as a man and a demon.

“It wasn’t until just before I-I.” Buffy stopped then, taking a deep breath. Her eyes met his briefly and then she looked away. “It wasn’t until just before. just before I sent you to hell that I thought maybe it was possible. Maybe. I didn’t know how or why. But I bought a pregnancy test.”

Two days. She had known for only two days before she had to shove a sword into the gut of the one person she loved more than anything in the world and send him to hell; ensuring for all she knew that her baby would never see his father; that Angel would never see his son. Her voice quavered slightly when she continued. “It was positive.”

The memory of that day swelled in both their memories filling the room with a hushed silence. The refrigerator hummed softly, nearby a car door slammed.

“My mom would never have been able to deal with it. She was having enough trouble coping with the fact that I’m the Slayer.” Buffy continued with a heavy sigh. It had only been during her illness that Joyce had begun to show signs of accepting Buffy for what she was, rather than wishing for her to be something different.

Buffy gave a sad, brittle little laugh and shook her head. “She would really have lost it if I had told her that not only am I the Slayer, but that I was expecting her first grandchild in October, whose father just happened to *be* a vampire.”

Angel remembered Joyce’s lack of support for her daughter, the oblivious bubble that she lived in for so long where Buffy was concerned and he frowned in disapproval. Of course, his own conversation with Joyce had simply added to the convincing arguments of why he should leave Sunnydale, why he should leave Buffy. He couldn’t escape culpability of that decision; although Joyce certainly had influenced him as well.

“My friends… I don’t think they would have understood.” She murmured softly. That was an understatement and they both knew it. Xander would have condemned her, Willow would have been ashamed perhaps, or confused and distant. Neither of which would have helped Buffy in her situation.

“Giles… he would have spent the next few months cleaning his glasses so that he could avoid looking at me.” Her voice was touched with sadness, a hint of the shame that she would have felt for letting down her Watcher; the last person that she had to look up to at the time. Giles had easily filled the void her father had left, even surpassed him in importance in her life. She had been devastated to think that she would have disappointed him back then.

“And then Angelus,” Her mossy green eyes, wet with unshed tears, met his deep brown ones. She wasn’t sure how the vampire would have reacted to the news that he – or his souled half – would have been a father.

Without a doubt Angel knew how the demon would have taken the news. Angelus would have strutted proudly, loudly proclaiming to any and all who would listen about his prowess, and then he would no doubt have taken her away. Far away from her mother, her friends, her Watcher. From anyone that would seek to harm her or separate them. He would have been fiercely protective of his offspring with his mate; all of which were feelings that Angel would have to admit that he shared. The demon was and had been strangely quiet tonight now that Angel thought about it.

“How?” The word escaped him in a strangled whisper. It wasn’t what he meant to say, wasn’t what he wanted to say, but there it was just the same.

“I think you know *how*.” Buffy shot him an irritated look, but then softened at the chagrined look on his face. No doubt this was a surprise for him; she had had time to come to terms with it. It hadn’t been easy at first, but eventually she learned to deal with it. “Souled vampires are apparently different in other ways too. Under the right circumstances, they *can* and do have children.”

Buffy could still see Giles’s face that day in his office in the library when she told him that she had been pregnant. It hadn’t been long after she had finally confessed to he and Willow what had happened that day with Angel, that day when she had to send him to hell with his soul intact. A day that haunted her still.

“I suppose that might help to explain how Connor. ” She trailed off with a small shrug, dropping her eyes once more to stare at their intertwined hands.

Angel’s thumb rubbed her palm now, stroking softly as his mind searched for answers. Yes, he had Connor but he had long thought that his son was a once in a lifetime genetically manufactured Wolfram and Hart special. It never occurred to him that there would be any other explanation.

“Slayers rarely have children, you know.  And according to Giles, there’s also something special about souled vampires and Slayers.”  Buffy frowned slightly, remembering that Giles had never completely explained that part to her other than to tell her that it was possible because of their combined freakiness. “They can… or they could but.. ”

“But?” Angel quietly asked, once more studying her face.

“But… we weren’t together anymore, Angel.” She shifted slightly in the chair, crossing one leg under her and withdrawing her hand from his. “So there was no more chance.”

He’d left her because he wanted more for her than demons and darkness; he wanted her to have someone that could make love to her, someone that could give her children, someone that could give her sunlight. He could have given her all of it but sunlight; would it have been enough? He blamed himself for Giles’s deception. Had he not murdered Jenny, perhaps the Watcher would have told them about his soul. Perhaps things would have been different. He ached with remorse and guilt.

He closed his eyes in impotent frustration. He was also afraid to ask the question in the forefront of his mind, fearful of what might have happened to their child. He wanted to know, but he couldn’t bring himself to speak.

Taking in his anguished expression, his closed eyes, Buffy took a deep breath and continued in a small voice. “After… after I had to … kill you.” She paused; still hating the sound of those words even after all these years.  “I ran away. I went to LA. At first I thought I would stay with my dad, but then. I just couldn’t. I figured I would find a way to make things work, somehow, for me and for the baby. I got an apartment off 3rd and West, and I got a job as a waitress.”

“I wasn’t in LA very long . ” her voice cracked, her emotions surging as she struggled to tell him the rest of the story, “before I lost the baby.”

Angel’s eyes opened, his heart squeezing at the sound of her voice.

“It was a pack of demons.” Her voice was low, hushed, as her mind flashed back to the alley that day. She had been on her way home from work, exhausted from being on her feet all day and weak from hunger. It seemed that she could never get enough to eat anymore, yet she was eager to eat properly now and take care of herself and her coming little one. She had decided, after mentally reviewing the contents of her tiny fridge, to stop by the store for something more palatable and so had taken a street that was not on her normal route home. As she walked along she was distracted, thinking about the day when she’d hold a tiny dark haired, dark eyed babe in her arms when the pack of demons swarmed around her, pushing and prodding at her, driving her back in to the deep recesses of the alley despite her attempts to fight them off. There were too many of them, coming at her from all sides with their meaty paws and rapid movements.

“Shaqti.” Buffy whispered, the sound barely escaping her lips as her mind recoiled in horror. They were horrible creatures, dwarf like with thick gray skin and coarse black hair. Their yellowish eyes bulged from their faces above a broad nose with wide nostrils, thick with veins. They breathed heavily, obscenely as they came at her, their mouths twisted into a hungry leer and revealing sharp, blackened teeth.

“Shaqti?” The name jolted him, his eyes widening with horror. For a few minutes he fought to quell the waves of nausea churning his stomach, as he was nearly sick with anger and despair. He’d heard of the brutal demons that fed off the unborn but he had never actually seen them. They were long believed to be a myth; their attacks dismissed as rape or botched, self-inflicted abortions.

“Yes.” Buffy ground out, drawing his attention back to her. “I tried to fight them off, Angel, I did, but there were too many of them, and they were too fast. My reflexes were too slow.” They had cornered her and pinned her in the alley, tearing her clothes away as she screamed and struggled. They were like pack of wild animals, vicious and brutal. They swarmed her, several of them holding her down as they ran their calloused, pudgy hands over her body. One of them had buried his face in her then gently rounded stomach, inhaling deeply before leering up at her face. The demon then reached between her legs, inside her. Buffy jerked abruptly, a small sound of distress escaping her lips as she forcibly shoved the memory away.

At the anguished moan, Angel reached out and gathered her in his arms, pulling her to his lap. She didn’t resist him, just settled in his arms with her face pressed against his neck. He buried his face in her hair and took an unneeded breath as she relaxed against him, her eyes filling with tears.

With a small gulping sob, she continued, “A gang of demon hunters came along… the demons, they ran.” She shifted slightly, adjusting her position and rubbing her cheek along the softness of his shirt collar.

Angel felt her breath, warm on his skin as she exhaled softly. “They took me to the hospital.”

He hugged her tighter, pain constricting his chest. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to hear this, but he had to know.

“The doctors… they tried… but it was too late. ” She murmured softly, almost apologetically. “I was bleeding too badly.” Buffy’s mind flashed back to that day, that day when she had lain in the hospital with violent cramps shooting through her body. She had heard the nurses talking to each other just outside her door, the words cutting through the pain. They had said that since she had been so far along – 5 months or so perhaps – that it would be more of a birth than a miscarriage, although with much less pleasant results.

Rage, desolation, guilt all swept over him, nearly choking him, his mind nearly unable to comprehend what she must have endured. Inside him, his demon howled with fury, with pain.

“I was just over 5 months along so technically.” Buffy continued, her voice sounding strangely distant. A single tear rolled down her cheek and dropped on his chest as he began to rock her tenderly in his arms. “it was a premature birth, not a miscarriage.”  The fever that followed the painful labor hadn’t lasted long thanks to her Slayer healing abilities, allowing her to escape the hospital that she hated so fervently. It also gave her time to make arrangements for her baby’s funeral.

Angel closed his eyes, the pain tearing through him. He shook with the force of his emotions. The wave of guilt that he hadn’t been there to protect her was nearly overwhelming him, threatening to drown him. He held on to her tightly, as if that would somehow save him, as if she would keep him from shattering into a thousand small pieces of ash.

“Oh god, Angel. I wanted that baby more than anything.” She declared softly, her shoulders shaking. She seemed to come back from some interior focus, looking up at his face as her tears began in earnest.

“I’m sorry, sweet, so very sorry.” Angel soothed, rocking her gently and kissing her brow.

“I-I I buried him in LA. They said I didn’t have to. That normally in situations like that the baby is just. destroyed.” Her voice hitched with her tears and she took another gulping breath. She had wanted her baby so desperately; it was a part of Angel, the only part of their love that she would have been allowed to have, to keep.  “But I just couldn’t let them do that.” She earnestly pleaded, as if begging him to understand.

Silently he grieved, his own tears threatening.

“He would have been so beautiful, Angel. Dark hair, dark eyes. Just like you.” Once more her voice hitched and a tear slid down her cheek and dropped on the dark silk of his shirt.

“Yes, love, he would have been beautiful.” He agreed softly hugging her tightly again, almost crushing her into him as his hands swept over her back in gentle strokes.

“I wanted to tell you, I did, but. You were so broken when you came back from hell. You suffered so much. I didn’t want to make it worse.  I thought hearing about the baby would only hurt you. And I didn’t know if you’d even believe me. that it was yours.”

Even then she’d thought of him first. His eyes closed against the pain. He wanted to cry himself as he felt another of her small tears run down his neck, Buffy burying her face against his collar again. He’d never even questioned if the baby was his or not; that was never in doubt. His demon would have killed any man or boy that would have dared come too close to her, that he was certain.

“I waited for you to heal. But then there was that whole thing with the First. you were already suicidal – I couldn’t add any more to your despair.” Her voice held an almost desperate quality as she spoke.

“And after… well, after that there was that whole thing with Faith.” She trailed off, silent for a moment reminded of her insecurities about his affections.

Angel said nothing, his own heart breaking.

“And then… you broke up with me. And it was too late.” Her voice was low as she murmured softly against the cool skin of his neck,  “You were gone.”

“Buffy, I’m so sor-” He squeezed his eyes tightly then opened them to look down at her, placing a kiss gently on the top of her head.

“I thought you would blame me.” She continued as if he hadn’t spoken, “God knows I blamed myself. If only I would have taken better care of myself. If only I had known earlier; if only I hadn’t taken that street that day.” Her voice broke. She had hunted for the Shaqti after she had healed, when she had gone back to fighting, but she had never found them. At first she had only fought because she wanted to die; at best it was distraction from the pain and heartache that she had felt. By small degrees she learned to live with the ache, learned how to cope with the loss. Time helped her to heal, although she felt forever changed.

Gathering her in his arms he stood and carried her down the hall to her room. He settled on the bed, covering her gently with the comforter, then shrugged out of his coat and lay down next to her, gathering her in his arms. She buried her face against the solid wall of his chest and gave in to her grief.  He held her in silence while tears escaped her lashes with increasing frequency and trailed down her cheek. He had no words to console her, no platitudes sufficient to ease the pain she must have felt.

Having spent nearly his entire lifetime keeping emotions at bay, he wasn’t able to expose the extent of his distress. The baby would have been his first son. And the baby had most likely died because of him, directly or indirectly. Words couldn’t express the depth of his sorrow, the emptiness that he felt.  If only he hadn’t lost his soul that night.  If only his demon hadn’t ravaged Sunnydale, making it impossible for his lover to share her difficulties with him.  If only he hadn’t roused Acathla in an effort to end his obsession with her…

“Oh, Buffy, sweetheart, I’m so sorry, so very sorry.”  He whispered softly, kissing her gently on the forehead and cuddling her close as his own tears welled in his eyes. A single tear rolled down his face, dropping onto her cheek and merging with her own. That small touch unleashed the torrent of tears that she had kept buried deep inside for 8 long years. Her muffled sobs warmed his skin; the wetness of her tears soaking the dark copper silk shirt that he wore.

He clutched her close, his anguish and rage so strong, so powerful that he had to fight the urge to howl, giving in to his grief as his demon would.

Instead, he held the only woman that he had ever loved and wept with her silently for what they had lost.

Nearing dawn, Angel still held Buffy in closely in his arms listening to the quiet even breathing of her sleep. He hadn’t moved during the night, content to hold her and not wanting to disturb the tranquility of her sleep when she finally dropped off after the exhaustive emotional disclosures in the night.

He’d spent the long hours of the night with his thoughts in turmoil, but with the gray light of dawn approaching things were starting to become clear. First and foremost, his priority was to take care of Buffy, his love, his mate, his wife. He had failed her for the last time.  He had to keep her with him; that was no longer even a consideration. He kissed her sleeping forehead.

They would find a way to share their time between LA and Sunnydale, until one of them could relinquish their obligations in one place or the other. He would hire help if necessary; anything that would convince her that they could make this work.

He had to get back to LA; his thoughts race ahead, grimly planning his strategy for finding and destroy every last Shaqti demon that he could find, beginning with the ones in LA.  His eyes flashed gold and he tampered down his rage. Cordelia would need to be dealt with as well; he didn’t trust her. Letting her simply leave the hotel had been a mistake. She would need to be locked up or killed; she was a threat to his friends, his family and to Buffy. He wouldn’t allow that danger again.

Buffy moved in his arms and he pulled her closer, returning his attention to her. He also needed to reclaim his mate and break the spell. He couldn’t deny the dark thrill of desire, of possessiveness that accompanied the thought.

He closed his eyes, drifting off to sleep as Buffy sighed softly against him.

————————————————————-

Buffy walked tentatively, glancing around her with growing trepidation. The street was frighteningly familiar, the same Los Angeles street that had tormented her dreams for months. She ran her hand over the large mound that was her stomach, feeling her baby kick as if he too were aware that they should not be there. Glancing over her shoulder, she picked up her pace and turned the corner.

Immediately she knew that she had made a mistake, that she should not be in this darkened alley. She froze, hearing the obscene panting breaths and grunts behind her, the rhythmic pattering of running feet growing closer.

“Angel?” She whispered tentatively in the dark. She clutched a hand over her fluttering stomach and ventured forward into the darkness of the alley. Something glinted in the dark and she looked down to see the sword charm necklace that Angel had always worn.  The length of the chain was covered in blood.

Buffy gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. In the next instant she realized that Angel was gone, that she had killed him. Her babe kicked again, harder this time. The sounds behind her were growing louder and she glanced over her shoulder in panic.

Angel stood a few feet behind her, watching her. He glanced nervously toward the opening to the alley as well.

“Angel?” She questioned softly, doubting the sight that was in front of her eyes.

Behind her a laugh sounded and she whirled around. “The demonic monster that fathered your bastard offspring is roasting in hell where he belongs!” Xander’s voice called out to her, although the brown haired boy was nowhere to be seen.

Buffy whirled around again only Angel was gone. The sounds of the approaching demons were growing closer. Clutching her stomach with one hand, she turned and ran. A hand swiped her back, reaching for her. In the next moment, a demon leapt on her back sending her sprawling to the hard ground.  She put one hand over stomach as she fell, the other out to brace her fall, her first instinct to protect her unborn child. She screamed.

She looked like an angel; pale, fragile, delicate, clothed all in white. Her belly, now swollen with his child was the only thing that detracted from the image, yet to him it only enhanced her beauty.

She called out his name, walking past him in the dark alley as if she had not seen him standing there, close enough for her to touch.

Angel moaned in his sleep, seeing the Shaqti demons rapidly approaching behind her. They raced through him as though he wasn’t there, running fast and hard for his mate as she struggled to escape them in the dark alley.

He sprinted toward them as the demons shoved Buffy to the ground, swarming over her like a pack of animals. He grabbed for the nearest demon, but he was unable to budge the swarthy creature, despite it being less than half his size, his hands passed right through the demons shoulders. If the Shaqti noticed that he was there at all, they gave no sign of it.

“Angel, help me!” Her scream reverberated through the alley, his name torn from her lips in a desperate cry as the demons began to pull at her clothing, tearing it from her.

He redoubled his efforts, punching, hitting, kicking, but it made no impact. The demons continued their attack as though he wasn’t there.

“Angelus.” She moaned the demon’s name in a desperate plea for help of any kind, giving the Shaqti a momentary pause as they chattered among themselves before continuing with their despicable task.

Angel stared in impotent rage, as he could do nothing to prevent the Shaqti from taking their child. He growled in frustration, his demon visage apparent.

When they ripped his child from her, he howled.

————————————————————-

Buffy screamed in her sleep and sat up in the bed, clutching her stomach in an anguished cry. In the next instant she rolled out of the bed and ran for the bathroom, nausea overwhelming her.

Beside her, Angel came instantly awake, a low growl rumbling in his chest and the sounds of his own nightmarish scream rumbling through his mind.  He reached out for Buffy, only to find her gone. He panicked, swinging his legs over the bed and coming to his feet, his gut knotted in fear.

He heard her then, retching in the bathroom. He shook his head to clear the remnant of the horrible nightmare and moved quickly toward the sound. Kneeling beside her, he swept her hair back from her face with one hand, his other hand splaying across her stomach tenderly to soothe the convulsing spasms.

Buffy gasped and heaved until she was deathly pale, her eyes liquid with fear and dread. When the dreadful contractions ceased, Angel lifted her gently in his arms and sat her on the edge of the tub. She looked up at him gratefully as he handed her a glass of water and a cool towel.

“I’m sorry,” Buffy croaked, her throat raw. Color was returning to her cheeks, easing his fears somewhat.

Shaking his head in negation, Angel brushed back a few damp tendrils of hair from her face, his eyes studying her intently. “Are you all right?”

“Yes. I just… it was just a…  nightmare.” She replied softly, closing her eyes and willing away the disturbing images. She knew though without him even having to say anything that he knew. He had been in her dream, just like he had shared her dreams before. He had seen her nightmare himself.

“Come back to bed. You should rest.” Angel tugged her gently to her feet, then took the towel and water glass from her hand. Setting them aside, he waited as she brushed her teeth then he lifted her in his arms once more, despite her protests, and carried her to bed.

She mumbled something about not being tired, about needing to get up for work soon but he ignored her, handing her the phone to call in sick and staring at her with a piercing glare from deep brown eyes until she gave in.

Afterward, he talked quietly, telling her innocuous tales about life in LA while he retrieved pajamas for her from her bureau. His voice was low, soft – a distraction, perhaps at some primitive level, to keep any further evil at bay for either of them.

He undressed her like a child, and she teased him for it, touching his cheek lightly with her fingers when he bent down to slip the pajama top over her head.  It was such a sweet and rare moment for the two of them, a sharing in the aftermath of the night’s dramatic events, that it gave her pause. She felt a twinge of regret that she could no longer love him with the depth of passion that they had once shared or even perhaps, as he truly deserved.

“Buffy,” He knelt in front of her, his eyes serious as he searched her face. One of his hands rested lightly on her thigh. “Come back to LA with me tonight.”

“Angel.” She reluctantly looked away from his intent gaze. No matter her feelings, she was loath to hurt him. Perhaps getting involved with him in any sense had been a mistake. “You know I can’t. I have responsibilities here. Slaying, a job.”

“I need you with me.” He murmured softly, reaching up touch her jaw lightly and turn her back to face him. Her hazel green eyes gazed up at him through the thick veil of her lashes.

“You said it yourself that things have been quiet here. Please Buffy, just for a few days.” He pleaded softly, his fingertips moving along her cheek in a gentle caress. “I have some things to take care of, things that can’t wait. Please.”

Buffy pressed her lips together thoughtfully. It had been quiet in Sunnydale lately, that much was true.

“You could help me out a bit, maybe take on a case or two.” Angel switched his tactic slightly, “Not to mention, I could use some back up on patrol.”

She studied his face for a long moment, wondering at his motives. She did enjoy his company and a change of pace in LA could break of the monotony of her somewhat staid routine.

“Okay, you win. But just for a few days.” Buffy smiled slightly, then reached for the buttons on his wrinkled shirt. She insisted that if she were going to stay in bed, that he join her, knowing that he couldn’t leave now anyway with the sun peeking over the horizon.

He undressed and joined her under the covers, gathering her in his arms. He kissed her then, a gentle, sweet, chaste kiss as they curled up together in her bed and listened to the sound of rain, just beginning to fall outside. They talked quietly for awhile, enjoying the closeness that they had rarely been allowed, even in their most intimate moments.

They talked about their hopes and fears for the future as well as about the past, the various events in their lives during the years that they had been apart.

After a while they drifted off to sleep, lulled by the pattering rain and the warm cocoon of the bed.