“O’Connor,” the guard called brusquely as he unlocked the cell door. “You have a visitor.”
Angel stretched and came to his feet, curious as to who this visitor could be. He had only called Doyle about an hour ago; he doubted that his friend could have raised his bail so quickly or that he would waste time coming to visit him without it. During that call, he had explicitly asked Doyle not to say anything to anyone else, especially Buffy; he didn’t want her to worry, and he would tell her himself what had happened once he was out. Beyond that, no one else knew that he was here as far he knew.
He allowed the guard to cuff his wrists in front of him, standard procedure for being allowed out of his cell, then walked ahead of the man’s hulking form down the hall to the room at the end reserved for prisoner’s visits with their lawyers and the like.
When he saw who was sitting at the table waiting for him, he stopped short in surprise. Behind him, the guard grunted and nudged him forward with a push on the shoulder.
“Guess you didn’t expect to see your attorney here so quickly,” Lindsey said cheerfully as he rose to his feet. He was dressed in a dark grey suit, black shirt and simple grey and blue striped tie, looking very much like he could, in fact, be a lawyer.
“I’d say that’s probably an understatement,” Angel replied as he entered the room and took a seat in the chair on the opposite side of the table. Behind him the guard closed the door leaving them alone. “How did you know I was here?”
“I pay attention to certain happenings in Sunnydale,” Lindsey answered with a slight shrug, sitting back down and opening the briefcase on the table as if to get down to business. “I can’t say that I blame you for kicking Parker Abrams’ ass; that asshole kid more than deserved it. Hey, so did Buffy really break his nose?” He chuckled slightly, shuffling through some papers until he found a yellow legal pad which he set on the table in front of him.
“What do you want?” Angel asked bluntly, though he was admittedly curious and more than a little suspicious about Lindsey’s charade.
“I need a favor.” Lindsey’s voice was low, serious.
“I’m not exactly in a position to be granting favors,” Angel countered drolly, holding up his cuffed wrists. “In case it slipped your mind, I’m in jail.”
“Right now, maybe, but I don’t see that being a long term situation.”
Angel’s brows rose questioningly. “So talk.”
“I need to find a paper trail that links Ethan Rayne to a man named Quentin Travers.” Lindsey said. “In exchange for your help, I can see to it that the charges against you will be dropped. I can also put in a word or two to ensure that you’ll be heading to Quantico in June.”
“So the whole PI thing is just a cover,” Angel surmised, having suspected for a while that there might have been more to Lindsey than what he appeared or what he said.
“Yes,” Lindsey answered after a brief hesitation. Revealing the truth was something he rarely ever did as an FBI agent; trusting the wrong person with that information could cost him his life.
“And all you want is for me to find some papers?” Angel asked skeptically.
“Yep. Checks, receipts, invoices, any evidence of payment of any kind. I don’t even need you to take anything – just find it, and tell me where it is. I’ll be more than happy to retrieve it myself once I know where it’s at.”
“Why don’t you just get a warrant? Surely you have enough justification for one, if everything you told me before about Ethan Rayne is true.” Angel recalled one of the first conversations he and Lindsey had at Patina in which Lindsey explained that he was a private investigator working for Ethan Rayne and had been asked to check out Angel and, subsequently, Buffy. He had been vague when asked why Ethan wanted the information, saying something about it being a standard practice of Ethan’s to want background checks on Cordelia’s boyfriends. He had dropped hints that Ethan was a dangerous man to piss off, but hadn’t given Angel anything more specific. When Angel had pressed him for details, wanting to know everything that Ethan had been told about Buffy, Lindsey had admitted that Ethan had been given everything on Buffy that was publicly available: birth certificate, school records, health records, marriage license… he had also told Angel about the check the Cordelia had written to Buffy dated the day of their wedding.
“I will, as soon as I know that the paper trail exists. It’s the last duck in a long row of ducks that we need in order to put to bed almost three years of hard work. With this last bit of evidence, we can charge Rayne with four, maybe five, counts of accessory to murder, which, in addition to everything else we have on him, will ensure that we can put him away for life. I’m sure you can understand that after all that has been invested in this case, I don’t want to shoot my wad only to fall short. The murder convictions are dependent on that paper connection.”
“And why do you think I can get this for you?”
“You’re kidding me, right? You want to be an agent. I’ve seen your applications, your test scores, your references. Some Director at Interpol even wrote a recommendation letter. Very impressive, I have to say, and carries a lot of weight with the higher ups.” Lindsey paused, a slow smile curving his lips. “But specifically? Do I really have to remind you about your, uh, shall we say ‘relationship’ with the lovely Miss Chase?”
“That’s changed,” Angel objected stridently, “And I would think you’d know that if you were paying attention to the ‘happenings’ in Sunnydale. Buffy and I-”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know.” Lindsey interrupted with a dismissive wave of his hand. “You’re in luuuve.”
Angel’s nostrils flared briefly and his eyes flashed in annoyance.
“Look, I’m not talking about hearts and flowers, professions of undying love, or anything even remotely close to serious with Cordelia Chase. I’m talking about a quick fuck in order to placate her long enough to search the house and find me the evidence that we need. She’s not a hardship to look at, and you’ve been there before so it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to go for another ride. And I’m certain that the lovely and very available Cordy isn’t going to be too hard to persuade,” Lindsey said matter-of-factly. It was a strategy he had employed himself on more than a few occasions, and it had worked well extremely well. Eve was yet another example of effectiveness of said strategy. She had been an invaluable source of information these last few months, and he couldn’t complain about the added perks: she was enthusiastic and inventive in bed.
At Angel’s continued silence, Lindsey added, “I’m only telling you what I know works. Cordelia still has a thing for you – you play that angle and you’ll get in the house, no questions asked. What you do when you get there, I’ll leave up to you. The tip I’ve got says that the information is tucked away somewhere in the house, probably his home office. I just want to confirm that it’s actually there before moving in. I need this to be sure thing.”
“I’m not going to cheat on Buffy,” Angel bluntly said.
“Let’s be honest here,” Lindsey retorted coolly. “The FBI doesn’t want married field agents. Too many ties, too much baggage – makes things messy and complicated. It makes it even harder to convince the powers that be that your head is fully in the game, particularly if you’re UC. Oh, yeah, they’ll say it’s not a problem when you apply, but rarely are the applicants with the ole ball and chain ever accepted to the program. Rarer still are they given decent assignments if and when they do get in. Most likely you’ll end up a desk jockey, which I doubt is the job you’re looking for.”
Angel dropped his gaze to the table but remained silent.
“This job isn’t easy. Even on the worst assignments, there may be weeks, hell, months, when you can’t see or even talk to the wife. Something as simple as a phone call can blow your cover and compromise the whole operation. And it can get you – or your team – killed. And let’s face it, the spouses of agents don’t exactly have it easy. You can’t talk about your work most of the time, so she’ll end up feeling ignored or left out – and that’s when you are home. The rest of the time – and that’s most of the time – they spend alone, never knowing where their significant others is or even if they’ll be coming home. More often than not, one or the other cheats. Maybe because they’re lonely or resentful, or maybe it’s just what you have to do to get the job done. Then comes the bitter divorce. Now you tell me, is that really the kind of life you want to give to the woman you love? Is that the future you want someone like Buffy to have? I know it worked somehow for your parents, but let’s be honest here. You and I both know that’s far from the norm.”
Angel looked up but didn’t have a chance to speak before Lindsey continued. “And that’s all without considering the fact that you’re not a US citizen. That already sets you back with some of the higher-ups as far as getting into the Bureau, despite your Interpol connections. Me, I can appreciate it because I think it’ll give you an edge in the field. It’s unexpected. Hell, I’d even take you on as a partner because I think, no, I know that you have what it takes for this job. But if your head isn’t in the game because you’re thinking about the little missus or the rugrats back at home… that makes you a danger to everyone involved. I don’t think I need to go on. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.”
“No, I get it.” Angel replied, his thoughts of Buffy foremost in his mind.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against love and marriage and the whole two point five kids thing. It’s great for some people, or maybe even us when we’re old and worn out. But being an agent… It’s a calling – you know it, and I know it.”
Angel exhaled softly. He had to admit, he hadn’t stopped to really think about the future, about the impact of his career choice on Buffy, and how they would manage. He hadn’t even thought about their life past graduation – which was a mistake on his part. It was stupid to not have considered even the smallest basic fact that, if he was accepted into the FBI, he would need to be in Quantico for at least seventeen weeks for training. After training, he could be assigned anywhere in the U.S. Buffy still had three years at U.C. Sunnydale before graduation. Moving around would be a disruption for her, unless they simply chose to remain apart until things were settled.
“I didn’t want to mention this, particularly since it’s all circumstantial…” Lindsey quietly said, “But I think you should know that we’re almost certain that this Quentin Travers was involved in the death of your parents.”
Angel’s head had snapped up and he stared at Lindsey intently.
“Travers is based in the U.K. but works pretty much anywhere where the price is right. He’s a big figure on the international money laundering scene, though apparently he gets a real charge out of pulling the trigger himself, so he does a little assassination work on the side. I understand that your father was working the case on Travers when he was killed in Los Angeles. The trail on him went cold for almost five years before we managed to get a lead again.” Lindsey paused and glanced away. When he continued speaking, his tone was sympathetic. “I wish I could say we had more conclusive evidence, though we may find it yet when we get through digging into all of the records. Rayne has a number of fake corporations and flunkies, so it’s possible something concrete will turn up that will break open the case on Travers. I doubt we’ll ever be able to charge him with their deaths, but at least we can put the bastard away in this joint deal with Rayne. That has to count for something.”
Silence descended as Angel tried to sort out his thoughts and feelings on what he had just heard. He rubbed his hand over his eyes, the handcuffs rattling slightly. Was it true? Were they actually close to finding the man responsible for the death of his parents? He had heard the name Travers before – both from Giles and the contacts he had made at Interpol in the weeks and months following his parents’ death, but there had been very little specific information.
“That’s one of the reasons why you wanted in the FBI, isn’t it?” Lindsey cast him a meaningful glance. “You know that they have information about what happened, and you wanted to know what it was.”
“Yes,” Angel muttered, dropping his hands to the table. “That’s part of it.”
“Then I know you can appreciate how important this case is. And I think you understand that sometimes we have to do whatever it takes to get the job done.”
After a long minute of silence, Lindsey stood and tossed the unused legal pad in the briefcase before snapping it shut.
“Cordelia is on her way here to bail you out. I’d say you have about an hour, two at most, to make up your mind.” Lindsey knocked loudly on the door, calling for the guard to let him out. He glanced back over his shoulder, his tone serious. “You have some difficult decisions to make. Don’t make one you’ll regret.”
A few minutes later Angel was back in his cell and slouched on his bunk. He felt empty, depleted and above all, confused. In contrast to Lindsey’s words, he wasn’t sure that there was a choice that he could make in this situation that he wouldn’t regret.
“Angel?” Buffy called as she opened the door to the apartment. He hadn’t met her after work as he usually did, and, after her quick sweep of the apartment, he didn’t appear to be home and there was no note on the kitchen counter as was their usual practice. That his car was still parked outside and the cell phone he had only recently purchased was still sitting on the counter in the kitchen, both exactly where they had been that morning, only added to her growing unease.
She glanced over and noticed that the light on the answering machine was blinking. She rushed toward the phone, relief flooding through her. Maybe he had left a message! The fearful feelings that had begun to creep over her lifted slightly as she hit the play button. Probably the guys had coerced him out for something and his manly pride hadn’t allowed him to take the time to leave a note. It wouldn’t do to appear ‘whipped’ in front of his friends.
She sighed with disappointment when she heard Cordelia’s voice, and wondered idly how the brunette had gotten their new number. As the message continued to play, Buffy’s brow creased in confusion. Angel had called Cordelia? He wanted to see her, to talk about them ‘working things out’ and starting their relationship anew? When the message finished, she pressed play again. So unbelievable the words that she had just heard, she needed to hear the message again.
Stricken and fearful, feeling as if her happiness was on the verge of disappearing, Buffy tried to go about her normal, every day evening routine. She took a quick shower and changed out of her work clothes. She made tea and nibbled on a few cookies. She took out her books and tried to study. Mostly she stared at the open book on the table in front of her, the words an unseen blur. Despite her wishes to the contrary and her attempts at distraction, Cordelia’s message continued to repeat through her mind. The brunette sounded so confident and smug as she mentioned the ‘undeniable connection’ that she and Angel shared, and how happy she was that he had called and how much she, too, was looking forward to resuming their relationship. It all grated on Buffy’s nerves, adding to her agitation.
After the last few months, and especially after last night, how could any of what Cordelia said be true? He couldn’t just casually dismiss her and go back to Cordelia… Could he? Or was this just another of the wealthy brunette’s attempts to drive a wedge between them?
Despite her growing panic, she resisted calling his friends – or the hospitals. It was likely he had a good reason, a very good reason, for his absence. A reason that had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Cordelia. Nothing at all.
She only had to wait and find out what it was.
Buffy sighed softly and tapped her pen on the table. But if what Cordelia said wasn’t true… then where was he?
Lilah stood at the window of her apartment, looking down at the street below. Cartons of Chinese takeout sat unopened on the table behind her. After several minutes, she turned and glanced at the man lounging on her sofa. The dark blue of his jeans and black t-shirt contrasted with the pristine ivory fabric, making him appear more serious and sinister than she knew him to be.
“Are you sure about this?”
“As sure as I am about anything,” Lindsey said as he gave her one of his trademark, self-assured grins. Shifting his position, he crossed his arms casually behind his head.
“You should have discussed it with me first.” She picked up the crystal martini glass and refilled it with the vodka martini from the shaker. Knowing her tastes, Lindsey had mixed them earlier when he had arrived with the food. He had opened a bottle of Merlot for his own pleasure before making himself comfortable on the sofa.
“I did. I told you I had someone on the inside.”
Lilah snorted softly. “I’m not sure you can say that Angel O’Connor is exactly on board with your plan.”
“Maybe not before today,” Lindsey shrugged dismissively. “I just needed the right opportunity to convince him.”
“And Parker Abrams and Cordelia Chase gave it to you,” Lilah murmured, taking a sip of her drink.
Lindsey smiled and sat up to reach for his wine glass. He held it aloft as if in toast. “Yes, they did, bless their horny, greedy little hearts. We couldn’t have asked for a better setup had we orchestrated it ourselves, and yet this practically fell in our laps. Considering how rare that actually happens, I see it as a very good omen. Hell, it’s a fantastic omen.”
“Still… I don’t like it.” Lilah’s gaze was serious. She ignored his suggested toast, unwilling to dismiss her concerns so easily.
“Have I ever screwed up before?” Lindsey inquired pleasantly, lowering his glass after taking a healthy drink. His returned green-eyed gaze was equally serious.
Lilah studied his face for a long moment. They had known each other for over seven years, since the very day they both joined the Bureau. They had endured training together and had commiserated over more than a few drinks about the grueling schedules and crappy first assignments, until ultimately they were brought together on this case. They were friends in addition to partners, and, once, for a few short months, they had been lovers. “No,” she admitted almost reluctantly. “But-”
“There’s no but. This will work. Trust me,” Lindsey pleaded softly, watching her expression carefully. He understood her concerns, but he trusted his gut instincts without doubt.
“I wish I had your confidence.” She set her glass aside and turned back to look out the window once more. Her entire career was riding on this case; they were taking a big gamble trying to bring down both Ethan Rayne and Quentin Travers in one fell swoop. They only had until Friday; after that, Travers would be on a plane to France where, thanks to his dual British/French citizenship, he would be out of their reach.
“He’ll come through.”
“At the risk of losing his marriage and maybe even his citizenship.”
“But we’ll have nailed Ethan Rayne and Quentin Travers. You’ll get your director position in Washington, D.C., and I’ll get my choice of prime assignments. I’m thinking of asking for Washington, D.C. myself you know,” Lindsey added playfully. His expression sobered. “As for O’Connor’s citizenship, I don’t foresee that being a problem. I delivered the evidence to the BCIS Director myself that Walsh was on the take, and along with that I had a couple of official FBI letters of recommendation. One of those was even from Director Skinner.”
Lilah sighed. She had been watching Angel and Buffy the night they argued – and eventually made up – outside the Espresso Pump. Their interactions had brought a smile to her face, and she considered herself to be cynical and jaded, particularly with regards to subjects like love and relationships. She was loath to be responsible for anything that might break them up, when it seemed that they might have something that was rare and special. Something she wasn’t sure she was even capable of finding…
“As for marriage, there are no guarantees,” Lindsey pointed out. “We may be doing them both a favor.”
“How so?” Lilah turned back then and retrieved her glass.
“By forcing them to think about the future. We both know this is a tough business. Relationships are hard enough without the added complications of the job.”
“True,” she grudgingly replied. At any rate, things were already in motion. It would be too risky to change the plan now. And admittedly, arresting both Ethan Rayne and Quentin Travers would be an enviable and prestigious accomplishment.
Lifting his glass to his mouth, Lindsey drained his wine and rose to his feet. “Surely we have better things to talk about on a rare night off. The food’s getting cold. It’s your favorite, curry chicken.” His smile was warm and boyish and full of charm. “I even rented a couple of DVDs.”
“You’re presumptuous. I might have had others plans,” she chided him lightly but her smile was affectionate.
“Ah, but you’ll change them for me.” His mouth twitched into a grin and he held up one of the DVDs: Secret Window. “I brought you Johnny Depp.”
Shaking her head, she laughed. “You know me too well.”
Just after ten p.m., Buffy heard the sound of footsteps on the landing just outside the apartment door. Familiar feminine laughter rang out through the closed door, and Buffy mentally braced herself against the swell of disappointment that rushed through her. So it was true then.
The muted sound of voices could be heard for a few minutes, followed by an unbearably long silence before the key jingled in the lock and the door opened.
“Buffy. You’re here.” Angel grimaced guiltily.
Bristling at his words, she crisply retorted, “Where else would I be?”
“I thought you might still be at work.”
“Buffy,” Cordelia greeted with a smug, self-assured expression as she pushed her way into the apartment. She clung to Angel’s arm, looking like the cat that swallowed the canary, clearly pleased with this latest turn of events.
“Cordelia,” Buffy returned coolly before turning her gaze back to Angel. He appeared drawn, his eyes shadowed with weariness. He stood just inside the doorway, distant, remote, not the man from last night that she had told she loved and who had told her that he loved her in return. How could things have changed so much in a matter of hours?
“You didn’t call or leave a note or anything. I was freaking out!” She surveyed her husband’s expression, torn between anger that he hadn’t called, disappointment that he was, in fact, with Cordelia and an irrepressible sense of relief that he was alive and healthy and not hurt or, God forbid, dead, as her vivid imagination had suggested during the past few hours. “Where have you been?”
“Around. I went out for awhile.” He shrugged dismissively, hoping for an air of nonchalance. He didn’t want to tell her about his arrest yet, not with Cordelia there. He had told Cordelia as much, but the brunette was unpredictable and might choose to blurt it out anyway despite his warning.
“Really, Buffy. Do you have to nag?” Cordelia questioned condescendingly. “That’s so unattractive.” Turning to Angel, she added sympathetically, “I can see how difficult this whole thing must be for you.” She was biting her tongue, wanting nothing more than to tell Buffy that it was all her fault that Angel had been arrested but she resisted. It was enough – for now – that she had Angel back. She could comply with his wishes.
“You have no idea,” Angel evasively replied, his gaze drifting from Cordelia back to the only woman that had held his interest.
“Angel, what’s going on?” Buffy questioned, needing to know what was going on, fearful of knowing, and not completely sure he’d tell her the truth.
“I just stopped off to change,” Angel spoke calmly, as if this was a common occurrence.
“We’re going to the Bronze,” Cordelia chimed in helpfully, even as Angel shook free of her grip and started down the hall to the bedroom. “Spike and Harmony are meeting us. Naked is playing.”
“I see.” Each word was fraught with anguish as Buffy forced herself to reply.
She and Cordelia waited in uncomfortable silence until Angel returned a few minutes later, having changed into his leather pants and a deep crimson silk shirt. He paused at the door and glanced back at Buffy. For the briefest of seconds it seemed as if he were going to say something. Instead, he turned to Cordelia and gave her a bland smile.
“Don’t wait up.” Like a stranger, he turned and strolled away with Cordelia clinging to his arm, the door closing soundly behind them.
Buffy walked with stiff legs until she reached the privacy of the bathroom. Closing the door behind her, she leaned against it and stared distractedly at the small vase of flowers she had put on the counter only yesterday. Flowers Angel had brought for her, dropping them in her lap with a playful smile. How long ago that seemed now.
‘It’s over, it’s over,’ repeated like a mantra through her mind and with each iteration, her stomach churned nauseously and threatened to lose what little she had eaten earlier. Hadn’t she known from the very beginning that it was never meant to last? When had she forgotten that their relationship had a defined limit?
When she had fallen in love with him, that’s when.
And now he was leaving her… for Cordelia.
She trembled, distraught. All her thoughts focused solely on the ferocious pain whipping through her insides, tearing her apart. This was as bad as anything she had ever felt.
Taking a deep breath and glancing at herself in the mirror, she reminded herself that she would live; that no one died of unrequited love. Resting her hands on the cool ceramic tile surrounding the sink, she fought for control of her stomach and her emotions. She would survive this, though right now she wasn’t sure at all how.
With another deep breath, she tried to bring her feelings into some semblance of order. She was in love with her husband; that was a sad, wretched fact. Falling in love with him had been the height of foolishness; nothing good could possibly come out of continuing to live the fantasy that her feelings were returned. Concepts like love and fidelity were foreign to Angel; she would be foolish to assume that a few months together or sex would change that, much less a marriage that was arranged as theirs had been. He must have said what he had last night about returning her love and getting married again because of what had happened with Parker. They had obviously been meaningless words in an attempt to placate her. Less than twenty four hours later, he had, after all, rushed back to Cordelia.
Now what should she do?
Two weeks ago she would have been more audacious; two weeks ago she would have been less daunted and would have confronted him head on about his lies, his infidelity… she would have demanded to know why he had played her so perfectly if he had just been biding his time and waiting to resolve things with Cordelia. Only two weeks ago, she would have raged at him, hoping to make him feel all of the pain and hurt and humiliation that she was now feeling. She wouldn’t have even tried to rein in her anger…
But if… and she hadn’t completely allowed herself to completely consider the possibility seriously before tonight… but if, in fact, she was pregnant, she had to take care of herself and her unborn child. She couldn’t do that with emotional reactions, but with clear, level-headed thinking and rational judgment. It was how she had survived her mother’s death and her father’s desertion; it was how she had taken care of herself for years. It was what she was good at.
Which meant, she realized, she needed to know the truth; she had to know if she really was pregnant with Angel’s child. She also needed to go to the BCIS, demand to see Maggie Walsh, and get some answers regarding the status of her ‘investigation’.
Only when she was armed with information could she make some intelligent decisions about what to do next.
As Buffy walked into the Sunnydale offices of the BCIS Monday morning, she ran one hand over her hair to smooth the long strands and braced herself for the arduous task ahead. Seeing Dr. Maggie Walsh was never pleasant, and certainly confronting the old dragon in her lair unaware was destined to be a less than enjoyable experience. But, there was no help for it. She couldn’t just sit back passively and wait for information. She needed to know where things stood with regards to Angel’s green card.
Approaching the reception desk almost cautiously, Buffy waited patiently until the young woman behind the reception counter finished her task and looked up. “Can I help you?”
“Hi, I hope so.” Buffy smiled politely and spoke in what she hoped was a confident tone. “My name is Buffy O’Connor, and I’m here to find the status of our application for my husband’s green card.”
“Were you working with an agent already?”
“Dr. Maggie Walsh.”
“Oh. One minute please.” The receptionist gave Buffy a sheepish look as she typed some information into the computer. “You said O’Connor, right? With an ‘or’?”
“You have a new agent reviewing your case, I just need to find the name for you.” The receptionist, whose name tag read ‘Gail Harrington’, stated pleasantly as she scanned the computer screen containing the results that had been returned in response to her query.
Buffy masked her surprise. “A new agent?”
“Yes. Okay, here we go… Robin Wood.”
“What happened to Maggie Walsh?” Buffy asked, uncertain whether to be relieved or discouraged. The likelihood that the new agent was worse than Dr. Walsh was slim, but a new agent also might mean a restart to the whole investigation and more delay in getting a resolution.
“Well, the official word is that Dr. Walsh is no longer with the Bureau.”
“Oh. Where did she go?”
“Um, well…” The young woman gave Buffy a sidelong glance and lowered her voice. “The bitch was fired, and good riddance I say. Apparently she was taking bribes or something.”
“Oh.” The only other responses that came to Buffy’s mind were less than polite, so she decided to keep those to herself. “Um, is Robin Wood here then? I’d like to talk to her.”
“Him. Robin’s a he. Just a minute and I’ll check.” Gail picked up the phone and dialed the extension number displayed on the screen. Buffy glanced away while the receptionist talked to the person on the receiving end of the call.
“He’s here. He’ll be right up.” The young woman nudged the clipboard on the counter toward Buffy. “You’ll need to sign in.”
Buffy had been waiting only five minutes before the door to the right of the reception desk opened and an attractive, well-dressed man stepped over the threshold. “Mrs. O’Connor? Hi, I’m Robin Wood.”
Buffy returned his greeting then followed him through the door and down the hallway to a neat, brightly lit office. She declined his offer for coffee or something to drink, anxious to get to the matter at hand.
“So how can I help you, Mrs. O’Connor?” Robin Wood took a seat at his desk, opposite the chair he had offered to Buffy.
“Buffy. You can call me Buffy.” She shifted forward, sitting on the edge of her seat, her purse clutched tightly in her hands. “In November, Dr. Walsh told my husband that she had completed her investigation and would be filing her report. It’s February now, and we haven’t heard anything more. We’ve called several times and left messages, but haven’t been able to get any sort of an update or even a copy of the report. I thought maybe it would better for me to come down here in person and see if I could find out where things stood. Angel, my husband, would have come too, but he had a really important meeting with his advisor.” She offered the last on impulse, hoping it didn’t sound like too lame of an excuse as to why Angel hadn’t come himself.
“Well, with the holidays, it was several weeks before my transfer here to Sunnydale, and until then many of Dr. Walsh’s cases were unassigned. I’m sorry about that, but I am starting to review her reports and work my way through the backlog.” Robin stated apologetically, adjusting his tie slightly and leaning forward to put his elbows on the desk.
“It’s been almost ten months since we originally filed…”
“I understand. Unfortunately, I do have a rather large number of other cases in addition to yours,” the BCIS agent said tactfully. “You do know it can take up to four years before a green card is issued?”
“Yes, I know,” Buffy replied, her expression reflecting her disappointment.
“I hope you don’t mind if I ask, but is there a rush, Mrs. O”Conn- Buffy?”
“No. Yes. Maybe.” Buffy flushed slightly, her cheeks turning a light pink. “I’m not sure yet.”
“I see.” Robin Wood remarked with a friendly smile, reaching for a stack of folders from the credenza behind him. “Then I’ll withhold my congratulations until you’re certain.”
Buffy tentatively returned his smile. Robin Wood was proving less formidable than Dr. Walsh; perhaps this would work out for the best.
“However, having children with the man you married doesn’t necessarily change the issue of whether or not you have committed fraud,” the BCIS agent remarked, careful to keep his tone neutral as he shuffled through the folders. In his experience he found that it was always better to be honest no matter the circumstances of the case. “Let me find your file and see if I can tell you anything more than you already know.”
“Robin?” A slight creak sounded as the office door opened.
Both Buffy and Robin turned toward the sound to see Doug Flutie, panting heavily as if he had been running, leaning through the partially open door.
“Doug,” Robin greeted his superior cordially, then gestured toward Buffy. “I’m with someone right now. I’m sure we’ll be finished in-”
“Mrs. O’Connor?” Director Flutie interjected, advancing into the room and extending his hand. “I’m the BCIS Director, Doug Flutie. It’s very nice to meet you.”
Buffy shook the proffered hand, returning his greeting politely. She was slightly curious about the interruption as well as the fact that the BCIS Director knew her name, but didn’t dwell on the thought for long. She had given her name to the receptionist and signed in at the desk; it wasn’t unlikely that the Director was informed when there were visitors to the office.
“Please call me Doug. Now tell me how can we help you?”
Perplexed, Robin sat back in his chair. He wondered what the BCIS Director’s unusual interest in this particular case was, and why he had apparently rushed down from his office to intercept their meeting.
Glancing between the two men, Buffy repeated her earlier explanation. “I’m here to find out the status of my husband’s green card. We haven’t heard anything since November, which is when Dr. Walsh told us that she was filing her report.”
“I see, I see.” Doug Flutie nodded agreeably before turning his gaze to Robin Wood. “Robin, I’m quite familiar with this case. I consulted with Maggie on it in fact, just before she left.” The last few words were said with emphasis, as if in attempt to convey some underlying meaning. “I had thought, in fact, that this particular case was closed at that time.”
Robin handed the file across the desk. “Dr. Walsh apparently filed her report with the DA’s office along with a recommendation, but there’s no copy of the DA’s response in the file. There are, however, a couple of letters here from the FB-”
“Yes, yes, there are several letters. References and the like. All standard procedure,” the BCIS Directory interrupted, taking the file and quickly tucking it under his arm. He shot Robin another pointed look before turning back to Buffy. “I’ve spoken with the DA personally with regards to your case. Despite Dr. Walsh’s, er, imagination and creative reporting, the DA saw no reason to prosecute. Lack of evidence.”
“You do understand that this simply means that your husband’s visa petition is approved, and he is granted conditional residency?” Robin offered for clarification, glancing back at Buffy. He was very intrigued by Flutie’s unusual behavior and by the letters that he had glimpsed in the file. It was unlikely, however, that he’d get an explanation while Mrs. O’Connor was present, so he’d have to wait and ask the BCIS Director about those things later, in private. He could guess though, that somehow it was all connected to Maggie Walsh’s abrupt termination.
Continuing his explanation, the BCIS agent clasped his hands together on the desk. “The green card he will be given will have an expiration date of two years from the date of issue, which should be in the next thirty to sixty days depending on how far behind administration is on getting the paperwork out. Ninety days prior to that two-year expiration date, the two of you will need to apply to change his conditional status to lawful permanent resident. If for any reason you don’t fill out the application at that time, Mr. O’Connor could lose the conditional resident status and be removed from the country.”
“So does this mean that the home inspections and interviews are over?” Buffy asked. She could worry about the rest of it later; right now she had the information that she had come for, and quite honestly, things were looking better than she had anticipated.
“I don’t see any reason why any additional information would be needed at this point, so I would say so, yes.” Doug patted his brow with a handkerchief that he retrieved from his pocket.
“Unless the circumstances of your marriage change before the two year period is up, say you and your husband separate or divorce,” Robin Wood amended politely, “then your husband will need to file the appropriate paperwork to request a waiver of the joint filing requirement. Occasionally an investigation is reopened at that point to confirm that the marriage was in fact, entered in good faith.”
“I understand.” Buffy’s smile wavered as she rose to her feet. There was a very real possibility that Angel would need that paperwork, but she didn’t want to bring that up with the two BCIS agents when things were going along so well. “Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.”
“Buffy, I don’t believe you when you say you don’t care about Angel. Or about Angel seeing Cordelia again. You guys seemed so right together – and so happy.”
“Well, I care I guess, I mean I have been living with him for a while now and he’s a… a friend. A good friend. But that’s all. As for Angel and Cordelia – they’re in love. She’d probably be his wife if it weren’t for her grandfather. He apparently feels the same way.”
“He’s more than a good friend and you know it.” Willow admonished gently. When Buffy didn’t answer, she continued, “Buffy…. if you really care about him, don’t just give him away.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Will. Even if I did to care…” Buffy turned away, draping her jacket over the back of the chair. Willow had insisted that a shopping excursion was just the thing Buffy needed to cheer her up, so after Buffy returned from the BCIS offices, they had skipped their Monday afternoon classes and gone to downtown to the boutiques. After browsing through the shops, they ended up at the Espresso Pump chatting over mochas. “Angel was never mine to begin with. We’ll eventually get a divorce, and he’ll marry her. That was pretty much always the plan I guess.”
“Still, you’re his wife,” Willow insisted, breaking a fudge brownie into two pieces and sliding the plate to the center of the table.
“Well, for now anyway,” Buffy replied, taking a piece of brownie and dipping it into the foam of her drink. “And according to Robin Wood and the BCIS rules and regulations, we only have about, oh, twenty-six more months of marital, er, bliss until we meet their residency requirements and Angel can become a permanent citizen.”
“Twenty-six months? Buffy, that’s over two years!”
“There are exceptions. I mean, we can get divorced, and he can keep his temporary green card, if there’s domestic violence. Or if we can justify an annulment.”
Willow snorted. “Wouldn’t you have to say the marriage hadn’t been consummated in that case?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. I didn’t really look into it,” Buffy sighed, popping the brownie in her mouth. “Had I thought logically about this months ago, I probably would have reconsidered the whole thing.” She read through the BCIS documents and the information on the web site, but by then it had already been too late. She and Angel had already been married. More than that, by the time she read it seriously to understand all of the caveats and considerations, she had already been in love with her husband.
“It might not matter anyway. I mean, if he gets into the FBI at the end of this semester I suppose he’ll be going to Quantico, and I’ll be staying here.”
“You wouldn’t go with?” Willow softly queried.
“No, I don’t think so,” Buffy answered with a shrug. “FBI training sounds pretty intense, so I doubt he’d want any distractions. Besides Cordelia, I mean.”
“He might really want distractions, especially if it’s that intense.” Willow suggested with a grin, wiggling her eyebrows slightly. “Especially distractions of the kind that you – not Cordelia – could provide. You know, good distractions. And I don’t believe that he wants Cordelia instead of you. It’s just not… believable. Not after seeing the two of you together. And especially not after even being in the same room with Cordelia even once.”
Buffy wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Believe. I had to see it with my own eyes.”
“But wouldn’t you have to go because of the BCIS? There’s the two-year thing…” Willow asked before taking another bite of brownie.
“I don’t think so. Now that the BCIS is convinced that the marriage is legit, we don’t even have to live together anymore. Besides, I think it would be considered ‘justifiable separation’. I read that somewhere in one of their online docs.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I’ve been thinking that it might be better to transfer to UCLA or maybe even San Diego. Angel and I could stay married so that he can get his permanent green card or whatever, but we don’t have to be together. At the very least, I need to find a new place and move out. That will limit my contact with the two of them,” Buffy said despondently, the thought of leaving the place – and the man – where she had found such happiness these last few months depressing.
“True, but is that really what you want?” Willow searched Buffy’s face at the small testiness in her voice.
Buffy sighed. “I don’t know… I do know that I can’t just pretend that everything is okay. I can’t stand seeing him with her. I don’t want to be around them, or hear them together or even know that he’s with her. Last night I locked him out of the bedroom. He can’t just come back from-” She paused and inhaled deeply to bring her emotions under control. “He can’t just go out with her, and then come back and expect that nothing has changed. But then, technically it is his bedroom, which is another reason I think I should look for a new place.”
“I’m so angry at myself for caring so much. I should never have let myself get so emotionally involved, especially since I knew the score from the very beginning.” Buffy paused thoughtfully, her eyes glistening with tears. “It’s harder because of all the things he said… he made me believe that we had something, something really special. I trusted him, Will, but he still broke my heart.”
“Oh, Buffy,” the red-haired girl murmured sympathetically. “I’m sorry.”
“Well, it’ll all work out somehow, I’m sure,” Buffy said on a quiet exhalation of air. She glanced up at her girlfriend from under her lashes. “Though, there might be a small complication…”
Willow’s brows lifted questioningly as she looked back at her best friend, her cup paused halfway to her lips. “Small complication? How small?”
“I might be pregnant,” Buffy confessed, careful to keep her voice low. She knew she could trust her best friend with the information, their exchange of confidences a long standing pattern, but she didn’t want the possibility widely known. “I bought one of those EPT things, but I haven’t tried it yet. I’ll try it tonight, I guess. Tomorrow I thought I’d go to the health center. You know, just to be sure. I don’t know how accurate those home tests are, and this is pretty important.”
“Oh!” Willow breathed in surprise, her eyes wide. “What-what-what if you are? Pregnant, that is. What will Angel say? You will tell him, right? What will you do? ”
“I don’t know yet. I guess I’d tell him. I mean, he should know, right? It would be his baby, too. I don’t know what he’ll say though. We haven’t really talked about kids. At least, not in the sense of actually having any.” While she was frightened at the prospect, she couldn’t say that she was completely unhappy about the idea. In some part of her brain, she had thought about having children with Angel – though she had imagined it happening some time in the distant future, not now. But, if nothing else, she knew that in her life things didn’t always happen as expected. The fact that she was even considering the possibility of pregnancy now was an indication of that.
“I’ll bet it would change things between Angel and Cordelia,” Willow noted judiciously.
There was a gleam of mischief in Buffy’s green eyes as she looked back at her friend. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure Cordy wouldn’t be too happy about it.”
Willow chuckled, seeing the humor in the situation, and nodded her agreement.
“As for me, I’ll do what I always do,” the petite blonde sighed and shrugged, “I’ll manage somehow.”
Buffy arrived almost ten minutes early for her Tuesday class and deliberately choose a seat in the front on the aisle. She placed her book bag in the chair immediately to her right, the spot that Angel normally occupied. She had been sitting there only about five minutes reviewing her notes, when Angel appeared in the doorway, Cordelia following close behind. Ill-tempered and moody, as he had been as of late, he stood in the doorway, a scowl drawing his dark brows together at the sight of Buffy’s changed location.
“Let’s just go,” Cordelia murmured, wrapping her fingers around his arm. Leaning forward so that her breasts pressed into his arm, she swayed closer. “You can get the notes from Buffy or someone later. You don’t have to sit through this stupid class.”
Glancing down, he took in her pleading expression with a neutral gaze. “I can’t.” Easing her fingers from his arm he stepped away from her. “I’ll see you later.”
“Are you sure?” She flirtatiously inquired, her lips curving into a smile. She still couldn’t believe how much things had changed in just two days. Bailing Angel out of jail had been the best possible thing she had done. Since Sunday, Angel had been attentive and solicitous, much as he had been early on in their relationship. And, she was convinced, it was only a matter of time before she would be awarded the ultimate prize, and he would be back in her bed.
Buffy could see Angel and Cordelia clearly at the door, the brunette looking like a purring cat rubbing against him. Why, she wondered with discouragement, did she have to see them together at every turn? She understood the situation, of course, but it was much easier to maintain emotional stability when she wasn’t face to face with the evidence of his change of heart.
Unable to stay away from his wife but still cognizant of her turbulent emotions, Angel took the seat next to her, deliberately ignoring her protests as he moved her bag out of the way. They greeted each other politely, more like acquaintances than lovers, each lapsing into their own thoughts when the instructor began the lecture.
The fifty minute class had been nearly unbearable, and Buffy wished above all else to escape Angel’s presence quickly. She was unprepared for the extent of her resentment and hurt, and she couldn’t bear another minute of being close to him without lashing out in some way.
When she reached for her bag, Angel touched her on the arm.
“I don’t have anything to say to you right now,” she said under her breath as she pulled away from him and headed for the door. She avoided making eye contact, her emotions much too close to the surface for her comfort.
Angel followed her into the hallway as she shouldered her way through the crowd, trying hard to pretend that he wasn’t behind her.
“Buffy, please, wait!” He was close on her heels, determined not to let her out of his sight. He didn’t have long until Cordelia would not doubt make an appearance, and he desperately wanted to talk to his wife before that happened.
When he grabbed her gently on the arm, she stopped but didn’t turn around. “Fine. You have five minutes, but then I really have to go.”
With his hand on the small of her back, he guided them to a shadowed alcove for what little privacy could be found in the crowded building. Buffy avoided looking at him until he came to stand directly in front of her.
Angel gazed down at her. Her eyes, enormous and deep green in her small face, gave away her turbulent emotions. She bit her bottom lip, waiting for him to speak. He ached to take her in his arms and kiss her, to take away the hurt and distrust and anger he could see in her eyes. He wondered too, it if it would help wash away his own steadily growing guilt, that was compounded by each and every minute he had to spend with Cordelia.
“I never meant to hurt you,” he murmured softly, the words escaping his lips unplanned. It wasn’t how he intended to start the conversation.
“I never meant for a lot of things to happen, but they have.” There was an icy reserve in her tone.
“I know our relationship hasn’t been exactly ordinary…”
“That’s an understatement,” she sardonically drawled, crossing her arms over her chest as she leaned away from him.
“I am sorry, Buffy, believe me. The last thing I ever wanted to do was to hurt you.”
“And you’ll be sorry a thousand more times in the future, each time you find someone else that you can’t resist.” Her green eyes burned into his. “And I’m not interested in a future filled with apologies. I’m not interested in a relationship based only on sex or marriage to a man that can’t be faithful, a man that I can’t trust. I can’t be with someone that can look me in the eye and lie to me. It’s too hard, and it’s too painful. You told me that you wouldn’t do that and yet-”
She stopped abruptly and took a calming breath. She didn’t want to continue with that train of thought; it would only lead to a discussion she wasn’t ready to have and certainly wasn’t ready to have here, in a partially crowded hallway where they were already subjected to curious stares. “It doesn’t matter. Look, I’ve been to the BCIS offices, and they told me that you’ll get your green card in the next month or so.”
“What?” Angel couldn’t control his surprise. That was the last thing he expected her to say.
“I went to the BCIS offices yesterday. In a nutshell, Dragon Walsh was fired, and we have a new person working on our case, Robin Wood. He was very nice. Much better than Walsh, though, that doesn’t matter really because the director guy, Flutie, had already talked to the DA who wasn’t going to prosecute our case anyway. You’ll get a conditional green card sometime in the next month or so, just as soon as the admin offices do the paperwork. In two years you can file for permanent status. So it’s over. Mission accomplished.”
“What do you mean, over?” He ground out the question, his eyes narrowing. It would never be over, he thought. Now that he had realized his feelings for his wife, he wasn’t about to lose her.
“As in you, me, us, the whole marriage thing. We don’t have to pretend to be the happy couple any more since the BCIS investigation is over. We don’t even have to live together anymore. In fact, I’ll start looking for a new place this weekend. I think that would be best.”
“Do you love me?” he murmured, advancing toward her a half step so that they were only inches apart.
The question surprised her as did the husky undertone in his voice. She retreated backward, needing distance from him in order to think clearly.
“Don’t ask me that.” Her voice was no more than a whisper when she finally spoke. “Not when you can’t even distinguish between love and lust.”
A muscle twitched along his jaw. “That’s not true, and you know it.”
“Do I, Angel? Do I really?” she went on, her tone tartly acerbic, her volatile emotions once more in control. “Because you coming home with Cordelia the other night seems to have confused what I know and what I don’t.”
He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, I know what it must look like.”
Buffy’s eyebrow quirked upward in question.
“Everything isn’t always what it appears.”
“Ah, a useful cliché and all’s well,” she retorted, rolling her eyes in cynical disbelief. “I guess everything is okay then. What was I thinking?”
Ignoring her jibe, his jaw set, he repeated his earlier question. “Answer my question, do you love me?”
Agitated, taut with conflicted feelings, Buffy studied his face as if attempting to discern both his motivation for asking and the truth in his eyes. “You know I do. That hasn’t changed,” she said on the faintest breath, her voice quavering. “But you have no right to ask me that, not now.”
“Whatever you want, I’ll do. Whatever you need, I’ll give you. I promise you,” he quietly declared, his tone restrained though he was, in truth, greatly relieved by her answer. “I just need some time; then I can explain everything.”
“I don’t know if you can give me what I want,” she countered, her voice hushed.
“I can if you’ll give me a chance.” He didn’t touch her, even though he wanted nothing more than to take her into his arms and convince her with more than words that he was sincere. “Just please, don’t do anything yet. I don’t want you to move out.”
Uncertain, her feelings drastically in flux from one second to the next, she cast him a searching glance under her lashes. “What are you saying?”
“I’m asking you to trust me. If you really do love me, please trust me. I’m only asking for a few days. Surely you can give me that much.”
An emotionally fraught silence fell between them.
“Tell me I won’t regret this,” she murmured at last, frightened at how much he meant to her, at how much she was willing to risk of herself for him. She wasn’t sure she’d recover if he broke her heart this time.
“I won’t let you.” Angel returned with a smile, the first genuine smile that had crossed his lips in almost two days. He leaned toward her unconsciously, lowering his head to kiss her.
Suddenly aware of the lapsed time, Buffy stepped back and glanced at her watch. “Oh! I really have to go! I’m going to be late.” Turning, she hurried away across campus.
Angel watched her until she disappeared from his sight.
Harmony sighed blissfully as she sank into the steaming hot, herbal scented water. Cordelia was already lounging in the tub, her eyes closed and her towel wrapped head resting against the side of the tub.
“This is heaven,” Cordelia murmured, taking a sip of peach bellini from the long stemmed crystal flute she held in her hand. “Or close enough to pass for it at the moment.”
“Definitely. Now tell me everything about last night,” Harmony urged, reaching for her own glass. “Was it as good as you remembered?”
Eyes still closed, Cordelia frowned. “Partially.”
“Partially?” The blonde wrinkled her nose and frowned. “Is this Dom or Cristal?”
“Neither. It’s Veuve Clicquot. The Cristal wasn’t chilled and the Dom was 1992.”
Nodding with apparent satisfaction at the answer, Harmony sipped her drink. “Now what’s partially?”
“Well, we had dinner here at the house, which I did all the planning for, so you know it was sophisticated and romantic. I even wore that new black Dolce and Gabbana number, you know the one?”
“The one with the lace on the bodice and the little fabric stripes?” Harmony reclined back against the side of the tub, settling in.
“That’s the one.” Cordelia sat her empty glass on the side of the tub.
“Ooh, that gives you great cleavage. Good choice.”
“Totally! Which is why I was completely surprised, and a whole lot frustrated, when he insisted on watching the entire three plus hours of “The Return of the King”. Honestly. I’ve never seen Angel so engrossed in a movie. Ever. But this… it was like he couldn’t miss a single minute of it. Every time he’d leave the room he’d have to pause it. Hello, they’re… hobbits! Hobbits! And I looked really hot. It was so unreal.”
Harmony nodded sympathetically. When “Passions” was on, she couldn’t even get the time of day from Spike. “So what about after?”
“Well, there was kissing. Really, really great kissing – for all of about one minute. Then he abruptly said that he had to go – early class or something – and rushed out the door. That makes three nights of dinners, drinks, conversations and a whole lot of nothing. He didn’t even want me to give him a blowjob, if you can believe that! If I didn’t know better I’d think I was losing my appeal.”
“What about tonight?”
“It’s inviolate.” Cordelia said with a dramatic roll of her eyes. “He’s playing poker with the guys.”
“Well, he’ll have to go to bed sometime. Maybe you should just go over, and you know, wait for him in bed. You could wear something really sexy. Or just be naked. He wouldn’t say no to that. Spikey never does.”
Cordelia gave an aggrieved sigh as she sat forward and reached for the pitcher to refill her drink. “Buffy’s still at the apartment for one thing, and Angel asked me to not go over there without him.”
“So? When has that ever stopped you from getting what you wanted?” Harmony suggested with a malicious sparkle in her eye, holding out her glass for Cordelia to refill it as well.
“When it’s requested by a pair of dark, soulful eyes, and a sexy, little smile that he knows I can’t resist.” Cordelia gave her friend a tolerant smile. “Honestly, that man could get a girl to do anything for him when he turns on the charm.”
“What about tomorrow then?”
“Tomorrow I’m pulling out all the stops. It’s Friday for one thing, so he’ll have no excuses about classes the next day. I’m turning off his cell phone, so there will be no urgent interruption from Doyle or anyone else that will cause him to jump up and to leave as he did on Tuesday. Grandpapa will be out at some business dinner, so no excuses about being uncomfortable with him at home either.” Pausing, the wealthy brunette took a sip of her drink. “I’ve picked up an incredibly sexy bra and panty set from La Perla, and I will be meeting him at the door in those, a pair of Manolo’s, makeup and little else. Dinner or whatever else he wants to do will be after I have my fill of that superior instrument of sexual satisfaction. I’ll even watch that stupid Lord of the Rings movie again if I have to, but after. And he can just tell little Buffy that he’s not going to be home for the night, maybe even the whole weekend, because it’s been months since I’ve had him in my bed, and I plan to make the most of it.”
“Ooh! Buffy! That reminds me! Lauren – you know Lauren right? She’s the one with the short red hair and that weird mole? The one that’s right here. I don’t know why she doesn’t get that removed. Anyway, she’s in my yoga class. She has some weird infection I guess, so she went to the UC Sunnydale Health center on Tuesday. She thought maybe she got it from Xander Harris, but then she said she wasn’t sure, it could have been this guy that she met at the Bronze. They had sex in the bathroom, and she wasn’t even sure she had his name right, so there was this whole awkward moment when she thought she said Bill but then his name might have been-”
What? Oh, yeah, Buffy. Anyway, Lauren mentioned that when she was there at the Health Center, she saw Buffy. She was there for a pregnancy test.”
“What?” Cordelia sat forward with a jerk, the water splashing and the towel around her hair coming askew. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“Because I’m telling you now. I just found out yesterday when I went to yoga.”
“But you could have called me yesterday after yoga.” Cordelia admonished impatiently as she fixed the wrap on her hair. “How does she know Buffy anyway?”
“Everyone heard about what happened with Parker and Buffy, you know, at the frat house.” Harmony glanced back at Cordelia almost incredulously. Gossip about anything and everything was a given, and an attempted rape on campus was a big deal. Almost everyone had heard about Buffy, Parker and Angel. “Lauren was even there. She even saw Angel go off on Parker. She said that she thought that Angel would have killed him if his friends hadn’t been there, he was that crazed.”
“Whatever,” Cordelia snorted dismissively, not liking any reminders of Angel’s protective behavior for Buffy. “I talked to Parker the next day, and it wasn’t all that bad. People are just exaggerating.” She certainly wouldn’t admit how badly beaten up Parker had been, especially now that it had all worked out to her favor. But this was a new complication; she didn’t even like the idea that Buffy might be pregnant…
“Do you think Parker got further with Buffy than he said he did?” Harmony asked, interrupting Cordelia’s thoughts.
The wealthy brunette considered her friends’ words for a few minutes then slowly smiled. “It sounds like that’s entirely possible. I mean, it’s unlikely that she’d be having Angel’s kid, so it would have to be someone else’s.”
“Really?” Harmony’s eyes gleamed upon hearing the potential for some juicy new tidbit of gossip. “But I thought you said that Angel was screw-”
“I did, I did,” Cordelia interrupted sharply. “But if nothing else, Angel is incredibly anal about birth control. I’m talking obsessive here. We never had sex without a condom, not even once. Sometimes I thought he’d wear two if he could have, he was so… meticulous. He just wouldn’t skip it – even after I told him that I was on the patch. That being the case, I’m thinking that it’s pretty unlikely that it would be his baby.” Still, a small seed of doubt planted itself firmly in Cordelia’s mind. Parker had been adamant that he hadn’t been successful in his attempted rape of Buffy. That was something that she deemed critical when she encouraged Parker to press charges against Angel, otherwise Parker would have been charged himself, which would not have worked well in her plan.
“That guy Riley seems to like her. If it’s not Parker’s, maybe it’s his kid then,” Harmony suggested with a shrug.
“Maybe.” Cordelia settled back against the side of the tub, a disgruntled expression on her face. Tomorrow was critical; if Angel balked again about resuming their relationship on a most intimate level, she’d insist that he tell her what was going on. She’d also demand to know the truth to this latest rumor about Buffy being pregnant.
Knowing that Angel was hosting the monthly poker game tonight, Buffy dawdled at Patina after her evening shifted ended. She wasn’t particularly anxious to face the pitying looks of Angel’s friends, sure that they would all know by now about his reconciliation with Cordelia. Nor was she particularly ready to face Angel, though given how little she had seen of her husband over the last few days that might not be much of a problem. Since their brief conversation on Tuesday at the university, she’d seen him exactly once for about ten minutes as they awkwardly crossed paths in the kitchen over breakfast.
Once the closing tasks were done and everyone else had gone home, Buffy and Anya kicked off their shoes and sat in the dimly lit bar chatting, sipping sodas and nibbling on a mixed berry shortcake that the cooks made for them before they left for the night. Anya was going on excitedly about a handsome and apparently wealthy pharmaceutical salesman that she had met and planned to see again tomorrow morning for coffee. Apparently, Buffy thought with a bemused smile, her heartbreak over Lindsey was short lived. She gave only vague answers to any questions about her own relationship, uncomfortable disclosing too much when things were still so uncertain. However, the chatter was admittedly a welcome distraction.
When Buffy finally arrived home almost an hour later, she opened the door as quietly as possible hoping she could sneak past the guys and into the shower unnoticed. She was surprised instead to find the apartment still and quiet. The table lamp near the sofa was on, the only indicator that someone had been there. As she walked down the hall to the bedroom, the unwelcome thought that Angel had gone to Cordelia’s crossed her mind, but she pushed it aside. Instead, she attempted to force her thoughts to preparing for the day ahead as she undressed and headed to the bathroom. She had a quiz coming up in her Algebra class, and a paper due for English; she needed to read a few chapters or her sociology class and do some more work on her project for art history, a class she was finding that she really enjoyed.
‘What sort of job would she be able to get if she majored in Art History?’ she wondered as she stepped into the hot shower a few minutes later. Or maybe Media Arts as a major would be a better choice. She smiled absently, thinking of how surprised her mother would be to hear her considering either of those two fields for her degree. Joyce would have never thought that her daughter might follow in her educational footsteps.
After her shower, Buffy leisurely applied a lightly scented lotion to her skin, concentrating on the repetitive sweeping motion as yet another way to avoid the tumult of her thoughts. Walking into the bedroom a few minutes later, the white of her robe a shimmer of light in the dimly lit room, Buffy crossed over to the closet. She contemplated the state of her wardrobe for a few minutes, making a note of the fact that she’d need to do laundry this weekend, before selecting a pair of shorts and a tank top to sleep in. She blatantly ignored the fact that the shorts were a pair of Angel’s boxers. Untying the sash at her waist, she slid the plush terrycloth down her arms and dropped the robe on the floor. She tugged on her selected garments, then stretched, tired from the long shift and stresses of the previous days.
“I was beginning to wonder where you went,” a soft familiar voice murmured.
Buffy spun around, her gaze sweeping the room.
Angel was leaning against the far wall near the corner of the room, his tall form obscured by the shadows. He was dressed casually in a pair of dark jeans and white linen shirt. His booted feet were crossed at the ankles, his arms crossed over his chest in casual repose. In one hand, he held a pair of red roses.
“What are you doing here?” Buffy asked, her heart beginning to race from the surprise of his presence. She hadn’t heard anyone come in, and she was certain that he hadn’t been there earlier.
“Waiting for you.” His voice was low, conversational. “I’ve missed you.”
“I see.” He missed her! An exultant choir exploded in her head for a flashing moment until rational thought managed to regain control of her senses. How easily he could dismiss the last few days, as if nothing had changed. As if he hadn’t been off doing God knows what with Cordelia.
“It’s true.” He had taken considerable ribbing from the guys when he insisted on ending the poker game absurdly early tonight explaining that he needed to spend some time with his wife. He gave vague, dismissive answers to Wes and Gunn about the last few days and Cordelia; only to Doyle had he explained in detail about his behavior, and that was only after Doyle had adamantly expressed his disapproval.
“Cordelia wasn’t good company?” Buffy couldn’t control the feelings of jealousy that erupted at the mere thought of Angel and Cordelia together any more than she could stop the sun from rising.
“No, she wasn’t.”
“That’s sufficiently vague.”
“Define nothing.” Quickly she amended, “Nothing as it pertains to activities with Cordelia Chase.”
“We had dinner, we watched movies, and we went to the Bronze.”
“That’s all?” She questioned suspiciously. She knew him, knew the rumors about him before their marriage, and even more so, knew the dogged persistence of Cordelia when she wanted something. And Angel was definitely something that she wanted.
He hesitated. He hadn’t had sex with Cordelia even in the broadest of definitions, though he had to buy his way out of the house with a kiss or two at the end of the evening last night. He wasn’t sure how well that particular detail would be received, however, so he chose ambiguity for the time being. “That was even more than I wanted to do.”
“Then why did you do it at all?”
“I want to explain all of that to you, but later.” He pushed away from the wall and walked toward her, twirling the roses in his hand. If all went as planned, evidence supporting his explanation would be forthcoming in the days to come, helping to convince her that he was, in fact, telling her the truth.
Buffy unconsciously held her breath as he approached, waiting for his next move. It was always a churning experience, her attraction to him. It was even more potent in the privacy of the bedroom where they had shared some of the most magnificent and intimate of moments in her memory. Still, she attempted to firm her wavering resolve. “That’s not good enough.”
“I promise, first thing in the morning, a full explanation of everything,” he quietly replied, his smile the slow lazy one that always threatened to stop her heart. He was very close now. “Right now, I just want to make love to you. It’s been five days, three hours, give or take twenty minutes, and I’m dying without you.” His tone was pleading and his expression was angelic and open, without a trace of pretense. Closing the last small distance between them, he gently brushed her collarbone with the soft petals of one rose.
She studied his face. She had spent the better part of the week convincing herself that she would be able to live without him. She shouldn’t simply accept partial answers and charming words to explain away his actions of the last few days. She should insist on complete answers, on absolute, compelling justification as to why he had done what he had. Instead, she felt her resolve crumbling. With him so near, looking down at her with those dark eyes filled with longing and something more, there seemed to be no reasoning powerful enough to bolster her will to resist.
“Two hours,” she corrected with a small rueful smile. She took the flowers from him, holding them to her nose and inhaling the delicate fragrance before placing them on the dresser behind her. This was lunacy, she thought, but she wanted even a modicum of solace in his arms after almost a week of hurt and discord. She couldn’t abruptly stop loving him because she might wish to, or because of what he might have done despite her abhorrence to it. Even if their relationship ended tomorrow because he was lying to her tonight, she wanted him. If nothing else, it would be poignant closure to what had been a most unusual marriage. Reaching up, she twined her arms around his neck.
“It seemed longer,” he murmured, returning her smile. Grateful beyond words for her acquiescence, needing her more than he could admit, he pulled her into his arms. He thought she felt small and delicate and infinitely precious. He held her close for a trembling moment before he lowered his mouth to hers. His tongue traced her lips suggestively, nudging them open. It had been much too long since he had held her, since he had kissed her and touched her. If he had learned nothing else in the past few days, he had come to understand just how deeply his feelings for his wife ran.
Sighing softly into his mouth, she clung to him, melting against him and feeling every hard muscle. She returned his kiss with a raw passion that more than matched his own.
“I missed you,” he whispered between kisses, running his palms over her shoulders and down her arms. He undressed her as she stood before him, removing her clothing without haste or awkwardness. There was no fumbling with Angel; a pleasant and then not so pleasant thought.
“I might say the same,” she said, taking a small breath to steady her trembling nerves as she unfastened the last of the buttons of his shirt.
“Might?” he questioned with the lift of one brow. He shrugged out of his shirt, dropping it carelessly to the floor.
He always seemed to know exactly how to touch her, his fingers moving over her skin, brushing the slope of her breast teasingly before traveling upward to slip into the silk of her hair.
“I have to think about it,” she replied teasingly, stretching upward to nibble at his lips as he pulled the clip from her hair causing it to spill over her shoulders.
“Take your time.” Lifting her as if she were weightless, he carried her to the bed. “You can think about it while I’m making love to you.”
Discarding his remaining clothing quickly, Angel joined her on the bed. Buffy pressed a condom package in his hand and he paused, looking at her questioningly.
“I don’t know where you’ve been.” Her gaze was direct.
He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Tomorrow. They’d clear everything up tomorrow. With an imperceptible nod of consent, he ripped open the package and put on the latex sheath.
Although his impatience matched hers after the previous, frustrating days, he made love to her gently, kissing and caressing her, stroking each inch of her tanned skin as if he needed time to reacquaint himself with her body. But Buffy was unwilling to wait for his detailed exploration so she stopped the path of his hands with hers. “Angel…”
“Hm?” He murmured, his tongue tracing a path over her skin.
Her eyes, dark with desire, met his. Her hands were hot on his, the slow rhythm of her hips beneath him imploring. “I want you now.”
Smiling, he obliged, parting her thighs with his hands and entering her slowly until he was deep inside her. Her sigh against his ear was one of bliss. She felt like heated velvet, and he too gave a low deep sound of pleasure, their bodies fitting together as perfectly as he remembered.
“You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he murmured, struck by the strength of his feelings.
“I love you,” Buffy breathed against his lips, seemingly unable to control giving voice to her traitorous emotions.
They joined completely, every nerve and impulse and underlying emotion susceptible to the steady ebb and flow of their rocking bodies. After each thrust of his hard, rigid length inside her, they paused, breathless and still. Heedless to all but the exquisite sensations peaking fast and furiously, she rose to meet his every downward thrust, each attempting to force the pace.
“I’ll never let you go,” Angel growled, driving deeper, insensible to all but desire and a driving need to keep her permanently in his life. Balancing on his elbows, he looked down into her eyes.
“Lucky me,” she replied, nipping at his shoulder as she wrapped her legs around his hips so she could feel him inside her with more flagrant intensity, wanting irrationally to absorb him body and soul.
They moved together in feverish abandon until the world dropped away and desire alone infused their minds and bodies. Only when her climax began peaking did he finally allow himself release. They came together in an endless, hot, ravishing orgasm that left them breathless, panting, and damp with sweat.
Catching his breath moment later, Angel rolled over. His arms were still wrapped tightly around her so that she rolled with him and ended up sprawled across his chest in blissful repose.
When Buffy realized a short while later that Angel was sleeping soundly, she looked up at him with a tender smile. She tried to move, but his arms tightened as if wanting her close even in sleep. Pressed against his side, she settled back down, her head on his shoulder, one thigh covering his.
She too slept peacefully for the first time in almost a week.
On Friday, a team of FBI agents and a dozen or more plainclothes police officers met with Lindsey and Lilah just after eight in the morning. Several officers joined via speaker phone from New York. Over a light breakfast of strong, dark coffee, dry muffins and orange juice from a box, they divided up the assignments, each group taking a different location.
The raids were to be timed to occur at once, beginning promptly at 10:15 am. Each of Ethan’s offices and homes would be searched, including the penthouse in Manhattan, the office building in LA, and the beach house in Malibu. They had decided at this point to remove all stops, hitting all seventeen properties. There was always a possibility that additional incriminating information could exist in pieces in one or more of the locations, so all would be covered to minimize the chances that any important detail would be missed.
Lindsey himself was taking a team to the main office in Sunnydale. Ethan would be in a meeting with his accountant. Eve confirmed the appointment from Ethan’s schedule only minutes before. Lindsey wanted to see the man’s face when he was arrested and charged.
Lilah would be supervising the raid on Ethan’s primary Sunnydale residence. Thanks to Angel’s work in the last few days, they had a detailed map of the house along with exact locations of the two safes and the one lock box, which contained a file of invoices and receipts from one “Quentin Travers”. It was exactly what they had hoped to find.
Before 2:15 that afternoon, Ethan Rayne was in federal custody. Within two days, in a ninety-seven page indictment by the Sunnydale Grand Jury, he would be officially charged with racketeering, money laundering, loan sharking, credit card fraud, and five counts of accessory to murder.
Eighteen others in Ethan’s employ were named in the charges; all were in custody within hours of Ethan’s arrest. Eve had agreed to cut a deal and tell everything she knew about her employer and his business; in exchange, she would not be charged for her part in the various dealings. She would even be given a new home and new identity, safe from Ethan’s retaliation.
Quentin Travers was apprehended by the Los Angeles team at the Millennium Biltmore where he had been staying. To say he was surprised was an understatement. Within days of his arrest, several of his associates would come forward with information that would help ultimately convict him of nine counts of murder. They had been living in fear themselves, wary of the unpredictable and often vindictive Travers, so it was a relief to have him behind bars.
Just after 4:30, Lindsey opened the bottle of Cristal that they had been saving for just this occasion and together Lilah and Lindsey toasted the successful end to a three year assignment.
Cordelia paced anxiously through her room, her cell phone clutched to her ear as she attempted yet again to call either Angel, her grandfather’s lawyers, her accountant, or Harmony. She had not been able to reach any of them, and she had been trying since three, when the FBI finally said she was free to use the phone. Until then, much to her displeasure, she had been sequestered in the living room along with the servants while the house was searched and various items seized.
Most of the servants had abandoned their duties when the FBI left, so the house was now eerily quiet for all that it was just after five o’clock.
Cordelia dialed Angel’s number yet again. She was growing increasingly panicked. This could not be happening!
Angel’s promise of an explanation “first thing in the morning” had been postponed due to a frantic rush when the alarm didn’t go off, leaving them just enough time to take a quick shower and head off to classes. Buffy, however, agreed to call in sick for her evening shift at Patina giving them the evening together.
Around 5:30 they drove to La Cabana, a cozy candlelit Mexican restaurant housed in old cottage near downtown Sunnydale. They sat at a table near the patio, facing the fading sunset view although this evening it was obscured by the grey, overcast winter skies. While they ate, they talked idly about school and work, and of other insubstantial, harmless topics like movies and books.
After dinner while Angel sipped sangria and Buffy had coffee, Buffy finally broached the subject that was on both their minds. “So, you were going to explain everything.”
“I was,” he said, then quickly corrected, “I am.”
“I’m waiting,” Buffy said quietly. She sat back in her chair and braced herself for what was to come.
“I was arrested for assault and battery.”
“I heard the rumors. Everyone on campus knows that Parker pressed charges. Since you didn’t tell me yourself, I haven’t brought it up.” Buffy shrugged, unwilling to let on how hurt she had been that she had to hear the news through campus gossip rather than from Angel himself. At the time, she had immediately drawn the conclusion that she had found the “why” behind his sudden defection back to the wealthy brunette. However, having found a logical reason had been little consolation to her aching heart. “Is that why you turned to Cordelia? You blamed me for your arrest?”
“No, God no! I don’t blame you, not at all,” Angel declared, moving closer as if he could explain better with less distance between them. “Don’t even think that. I knew there were possible ramifications to what I did, but I’d do it again without question. The only regret I have is that I didn’t hit the bastard a dozen more times.”
“I just wanted to forget about the whole thing, but… I’ll press charges against Parker for what he tried to do. I probably should have done that already, it’s just that-”
“Buffy, if you want to take legal action against Parker, then we can do that. I’ll support you one hundred percent,” Angel interjected, his expression one of concern. Reaching over, her took her hand and squeezed it gently. “But don’t do it for me or because he had me arrested.”
“Okay, but I’m still not seeing how this has anything to do with you and Cordelia.”
“I know this is going to sound kind of farfetched…” Angel began, searching his mind for the right way to put together an explanation. Despite having thought about it all day, he wasn’t sure how he could tell her without it sounding like an outlandish, contrived lie.
“Just tell me.”
“While I was in jail, an FBI agent came and asked me for help,” he finally said. “They needed someone that could get into the Rayne’s house and find some information, specifically some papers, for them. They wanted me to use my relationship with Cordelia to get into the house, so I did.”
Buffy was silent for a time. “Why didn’t you just tell me that? Why did you let me believe that you and she… Well, you know.”
“I couldn’t tell you. Not that I don’t trust you, Buffy, because I do. That’s not the issue at all.” There was a critical earnestness in his voice. “I saw it as a test for myself. Did I have what it takes to be an FBI agent? Because when you’re working undercover, you almost have to become someone else, and I needed to know if I could do that. Also as an agent, I wouldn’t be able to tell you things about my job. Knowing too much puts you at risk, and I would never want to do that to you.”
Buffy sipped her coffee, contemplating what she had just heard.
“Maybe I could have told you more than I did. Maybe if I was already an agent, you’d know what to expect, so it wouldn’t have been such a surprise. I’m sorry for that. I didn’t have a lot of time to make a decision. When Cordelia came to bail me out, it was a perfect chance to get back in her good graces. I had to take the opportunity then or risk losing it.”
“You called her?” she asked, trying to hide her apprehension.
“No, absolutely no,” Angel replied firmly. “I don’t know how she knew I was there, but she showed up with bail money. I hated taking it, but if I was going to do this whole thing for the FBI, I had to start then.”
“You know she called the apartment? She left a message saying how you called her about resuming your relationship with her. She implied that you were the one that initiated your reconciliation.” She wanted to make sure he understood the depth of Cordelia’s malevolence and the attempts that the brunette would go in order to have him back.
“Bitch. Nothing she does surprises me. No doubt she was counting on you not telling me about her call, so it would look even more like I was leaving you for her than it already did.”
“Maybe,” Buffy agreed simply.
“I’m really sorry about all of this, Buffy. I know I hurt you.”
“You did,” she honestly replied. “I wish you would have told me the truth. I would have understood.”
“I didn’t want to risk Cordelia finding out. Not that you would have said anything,” he corrected quickly, “but even the smallest behavior can be a tip off. Believe me, I didn’t like it any more than you did. Less even, since I actually had to spend hours in her company.”
“Angel?” her voice was nearly inaudible. “I don’t know if I can go through something like that again.” If that was a taste of what it would be like for her with Angel working in his chosen profession as an FBI agent, she wasn’t sure she could survive it. And that thought broke her heart… they wouldn’t have a future together.
“I understand. And that’s something I wanted to-”
The voice calling his name over the general din of the restaurant was all too familiar, and Angel braced himself for their unexpected visitor. A minute later, Lindsey pulled up a chair and sat down at their table.
“Why don’t you join us?” Angel commented wryly as Lindsey flagged down the waitress and ordered a drink.
“Thanks.” Lindsey glanced at Buffy with a broad smile. “Don’t mind if I do.”
“Sweetheart, I’m sure you remember Lindsey,” Angel said, his reluctance obvious. As Buffy said hello, Angel moved his chair closer to her to make room at the table. “So, McDonald, what are you doing here?”
“You’ve seen the afternoon paper?” Lindsey gave the waitress a smile as she set the margarita glass on the table.
“The local news?”
“Then you’re missing out on the biggest story to hit Sunnydale in years. Ethan Rayne was arrested this afternoon along with almost two dozen others.” Lindsey was cheerful, the light tone in his voice in no way reflecting the seriousness of the case in question.
“Oh?” Buffy glanced at Angel curiously.
“Yep. Apparently the bastard had his fingers in a whole slew of illegal activities.” The young FBI agent reached for his drink. “But the FBI caught up to him.”
“You still haven’t told us why you’re here?” Buffy asked, scrutinizing the two men carefully. Angel and Lindsey seemed to share some secret. They also seemed to know each other more than just a couple of chance meetings would allow; this was a definite change from the meeting between them at Harmony’s pool party.
“Or how you knew we were here,” Angel added. It bothered him to think that they were still being watched by the FBI. Lindsey’s timing, not to mention his appearance at the little known restaurant, was entirely too coincidental. He hadn’t told anyone where they were going; his cell phone had been off since earlier that afternoon, Cordelia having left over a dozen messages and filling up his voice mail.
“Oh, that. I saw your car and thought I’d stop in, have a drink and maybe a bite to eat before hitting the road.”
“I’m sure the hostess can find you a table.” The suggestion was less than subtle as Angel gave Lindsey a pointed look.
“This is a little snug, but I’m not picky.” Lindsey deliberately ignored Angel’s meaning.
“Hey, so, I understand you’ll be heading to Quantico in June. I’ll be just up the road in Washington D.C. myself. You’ll have to look me up when you get there.”
“Yeah, about that… I’ve changed my mind.”
“What?” Buffy and Lindsey said in unison, both surprised by Angel’s matter-of-fact statement.
“Well, we haven’t had a chance to talk about it yet.” Angel offered Buffy an apologetic look. “I was getting to that when we were interrupted.”
“Do tell.” Lindsey urged unashamedly interested.
Angel scowled at Lindsey and pointedly turned away from him before speaking. “I’m planning to stay in Sunnydale and work on my Master’s. I turned in the application forms this week. Then I wanted to talk to you about how you might feel about living in Europe for a while. Specifically, living in Lyon, France.”
“France?” Buffy fairly squeaked.
“I’ve got an offer from Interpol for a position in Criminal Intelligence. They’re willing to wait for me to finish my Master’s,” Angel clarified. “The way I figure it, you and I should be able to finish up at the same time.”
“Really?” She understood the enormity of his offer. It was a future together.
“Really.” Angel smiled. “Hey, but if you don’t want to go to Europe, then I’ll consider applying to the FBI – later. But this isn’t just my decision. This is our decision.”
Lindsey sat back in his chair and regarded Angel carefully. “You sure about all this?”
“I’m sure.” Angel replied firmly, glancing back at the FBI agent. He’d given this a lot of thought over the last few days; last night only solidified things.
“I hope that it works out for you then.” Lindsey picked up his glass and drained it. “And actually, I have a confession. I was looking for you to offer my – and the department’s – thanks for your help. We couldn’t have done it without you. Besides, you were doing a lousy job of explaining it on your own. She wasn’t buying it.”
“You were listening to our conversation?” Angel asked with a lift of his brows.
“Of course not. That would be illegal without a warrant now, wouldn’t it?” Lindsey replied with feigned indignance. “I just figured you’d screw it up, so I thought I’d better offer my assistance.”
“He was doing okay,” Buffy said, her smile sportive, but her gaze suddenly speculative.
“By the way, I heard that the charges against you were dropped. Parker Abrams apparently confessed what really happened, so the case has been dismissed. In exchange for not charging him with attempted rape, he’s agreed to do some community service work. That is-” Lindsey turned to Buffy, his voice a low undertone, “unless, of course, you want to press charges.”
“No. I mean, I don’t think so,” Buffy answered quietly. “I just want to forget it ever happened.”
Reaching for his wife’s hand, Angel squeezed it affectionately. The tender gesture contrasted with the gruff tone of his voice when he spoke, “As long as it never happens again. If it does, Parker Abrams will pay one way or another.”
“Somehow I don’t think he’ll be any more of a problem,” Lindsey cheerfully stated as he came to his feet. “And now I’ve got to hit the road. If you ever do make it out my way, give me a call.” He shook Angel’s hand and made a showy gesture out of coming around the table to give Buffy a less than brotherly kiss goodbye.
“What was that all about?” Buffy inquired after Lindsey had disappeared through the door.
She looked at him from under her lashes. “You two seem to know each other.”
“We’ve run into each other… a few times.” Angel answered. He hadn’t bothered to move his chair back so they still sat very close.
“Uh-huh. He’s the one that asked for your help, isn’t he?”
“Yes,” he said, taking a sip of his drink. Her tone was conversational and pleasant, but he didn’t quite know her mood.
“He got the charges against you dropped for helping them.”
“He said he would help there, yes,” he said in answer to her implied query.
“So you’re telling me the truth, then. You really did help with the case against Ethan Rayne,” Buffy surmised. Even without Lindsey’s appearance and despite his teasing assumption that Angel’s explanation wasn’t believable, she was certain she would have drawn the same conclusion eventually. She knew her husband, his strength of character, and his sense of honesty. He wouldn’t have made up such an elaborate lie to simply justify cheating with Cordelia.
She pursed her lips thoughtfully and leaned forward, bracing her elbows on the table. “That or you arranged this elaborate charade with Lindsey to drop in and say a few things to support your story.” Her voice was testing. Beneath the table, her foot brushed his leg.
Angel’s eyebrows lifted marginally.
“Are you really reconsidering going into the FBI?”
He shrugged. “I am.”
She cast him a searching glance. “Why?”
“Because it’s not just my decision any more. It’s our decision. I meant what I said when I told you that I love you. I want to spend my life with you. That means we have to make these kinds of decisions together.”
Buffy’s heart fluttered in her chest. “Your goal was to get into the FBI. That’s what you were working for. I don’t want you to give that up for me.”
“I’m not giving it up for you. My decision to go into the FBI affects both our lives. I’m just… giving us some more time to think about what the means for us. I hadn’t stopped to think about our future before.”
“I don’t want you to do something that you’ll regret. You’ll only end up resenting me.”
“I’ve given this a lot of thought, Buffy,” he said adamantly. “I’m not going to regret this, and I’m certainly not going to resent you.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure as I am about anything.” His eyes were untouched by doubt.
“Cordelia was a means to an end. I used her,” he said, then quickly amended, “Not in any physical or intimate way, but as a way to get access to search the house. I still have to tell her that it’s over, but I’m hoping to postpone that until sometime much, much later.”
Buffy considered his answer for a few minutes. “And France?”
“We have some time to talk about that, but it’s a decision we’ll make together.”
“That works,” she murmured, leaning forward and pursing her lips slightly.
He brushed her mouth with a kiss. Reaching in his pocket, he retrieved a small black velvet box. He set it carefully on the table in front of her.
Buffy studied it for a moment, her heart racing suddenly in trepidation.
“Open it.” He encouraged.
Buffy gasped. The pink diamond was magnificent.
“What is this?” she breathed, almost struck dumb by the beauty of the ring.
“It’s a ring,” Angel softly said. He smiled. “A wedding ring, unless you’ve changed your mind about marrying me.”
“I bought it when I went to Ireland,” he noted.
Buffy studied the ring intently, almost afraid to take it out of its black velvet setting. “Really?”
“You knew then? About us?” She touched the stone with one fingertip.
“No. Yes. I don’t know.” He glanced around as if searching for the answer. “Maybe I knew even then but didn’t recognize it. And if I didn’t know, David knew.”
“David?” Buffy glanced away from the ring for the first time to look at her husband’s face.
“He was a good friend of my father. He owns the jewelry store where I bought the ring. When he showed it to me, I knew I had to have it for you.” Her pleasure was so obvious, he was more than glad now that he had dipped into the trust that his parents had left him and purchased the ring.
“So do you have an answer for me?” he asked softly, his dark gaze direct. “Because I’m determined to do this right this time and get down on my knees and ask you to marry me.”
She smiled. “Your knees? Really?”
“You seem overly pleased about that,” He grumbled, the merest contention in his voice.
“You have to admit, it’s a first.”
“And last,” he said with a teasing light in his eyes. “In this context anyway.” His grin was wicked.
She laughed, but he slid out of his chair and knelt on one knee in front of her. Taking her hand, he looked up at her, his expression serious. “I love you more than I ever thought possible. Buffy Summers, will you marry me?”
Buffy’s eyes filled with tears and she dabbed at them with her fingertips.
“You have to say yes,” he urged, lifting her hand and dropping a kiss in her palm. The few patrons in the restaurant were looking curiously in their direction.
Her eyes shiny wet, her expression tremulous, she nodded.
Plucking the ring from the jewel case, Angel slipped it on her finger next to the silver band she already wore.
Unexpectedly, Buffy lunged from her chair into his arms. Angel hugged her tightly. Around them, the people in the restaurant clapped and cheered.
“I’ll make you happy. I promise,” he whispered, hoping it was enough. He dropped a kiss on the curve of her neck.
“Just keep me with you.” She gazed up at him, her eyes filled with love and hope. “Now take me home.”
It was after ten am when a frantic pounding on the door interrupted the pleasurable activities in progress in the kitchen.
Angel paused mid-stroke and looked down at his wife. Buffy was perched on the edge of the kitchen counter, nude and sticky with the remnants of the strawberries and whipped cream that had served as breakfast. She clung to his shoulders, her legs wrapped around his hips.
The hammering on the door continued.
“I suppose I’ll have to answer it.” Brushing Buffy’s lips with a kiss, he reluctantly eased away and reached down for the sweats that were pooled at his feet.
“Angel? Angel?! Are you in there?” Cordelia’s voice came through the door, sharp, clear and short-tempered.
“Fuck,” Angel swore softly as he approached the door.
“I’m sure that’s what she wants.” Buffy commented dryly from behind him. Her own clothes were impossibly sticky so she had pulled on the only other thing that was available in the kitchen: Angel’s shirt.
The door handle shook. “I know you’re there, Angel. Open the damn door!”
Cordelia was furious. She’d been calling since Friday afternoon without answer and her calls hadn’t been returned. The news had been in all the papers; there was no way that Angel didn’t know about her grandfather’s arrest and indictment. He should have called her. He should have rushed to her side to comfort her and offer his help. Instead, she had to hunt him down. Well, he’d hear about that!
Her situation had quickly gone dire; all of her grandfather’s accounts had been frozen and his assets seized. She had been told by some uptight and unfriendly FBI person that she’d have to vacate the mansion by the end of the month. Her grandfather’s lawyers – the ones that hadn’t been arrested – couldn’t seem to do anything, nor did they seem particularly motivated to help her. In fact, they barely spared her twenty minutes of their time before suggesting that she simply comply. And on top of all of that, her accountant and manager of her trust fund apparently disappeared – along with all her money! Other than the two thousand dollars cash she had on hand, she was broke. Even her credit cards were being refused, as she found out last night when she attempted to pay for a late dinner.
“It’s about time.” She snapped angrily when the door opened finally. She pushed her way into the apartment without a second thought. “Where the hell have you been?”
“My grandfather was arrested, my trust fund has vanished, I’m having to deal with the shock of my life and-” Cordelia stopped short, noticing Buffy for the first time. Gaping, she turned back to Angel, taking in his half-dressed form. “Oh. My. God. Tell me that you’re not doing what it looks like you were doing.”
“Good morning, Cordeila.” Buffy smiled sweetly. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
“What the hell is going on here, Angel?” Cordelia demanded, stomping one foot as she whirled around to face him. This couldn’t be what it looked it. It just couldn’t.
“Buffy, will you give us a minute?” Angel asked apologetically, wanting to spare his wife from the tirade that he was certain Cordelia was prepared to unleash.
With a hesitant nod, Buffy agreed. “Sure.”
Buffy had just disappeared into the bedroom when Cordelia exclaimed snidely, “I thought you were over your sick fascination with Buffy. I thought that’s what this last week was about.”
“No, Cordelia. I’m sorry if I led you to believe otherwise, but that’s not the case.” Curt and hard, his words struck her like a blow.
“Then what was it?”
Angel hesitated. He didn’t want to reveal his part in compiling evidence against her grandfather; it might hurt the FBI’s case since it wasn’t strictly by the books evidence collection. “Buffy and I had a fight. I was just using you to make her jealous.”
Her eyes flared wide for a moment, both with astonishment and pique. “What?!”
“Sorry. That’s all it was.” He shrugged dismissively.
“You can’t be serious.” She caustically drawled. Running a hand over her face, she sighed dramatically. “This is not real. You know and I both know that you and I should be together, Angel.”
His mouth curled in derision. “No, I don’t know anything like that.”
“Divorce Buffy and we’ll get married.” Her fury was overwhelming any perspective save her own. “I’ll move in here with you until things are settled. I’ll forgive you this- this- lack of judgment this time.”
“No? What do you mean no? Don’t be stupid,” Cordelia rebuked tartly, her nostrils flaring. “I’m telling you that I’ll marry you now. You can’t say no to me.”
“I am saying no. I’m not going to divorce Buffy.”
Suddenly it made sense to her. “It’s because of your green card, isn’t it? You’re worried that you’ll get deported,” she surmised with a flippant wave of her arm. “Because we can deal with that. We’ll pay someone or something. And it’s not like you won’t be married. I’m a U.S. citizen so it’s the same thing as being married to Buffy. And so what if you get deported? I like Europe. We can live there.” Quickly she amended, “Though not with your uncle in Ireland.” She shuddered in revulsion.
“No, that’s not the reason. I’m in love with her,” he said, clipped and cool. What had he ever seen in the brunette? Sure she was beautiful, but even a minute with her diminished her physical beauty to the point that it was irrelevant.
“Impossible. I paid her to marry you. I PAID her!” Cordelia screeched, her eyes narrowing into slits. “Don’t you understand?”
“I know about the check you wrote to Buffy. You told me it was a loan to help her out. That was back when you lied and told me that you were also her friend. Did you think I wouldn’t remember that?”
“You know what that makes her, don’t you? A whore.” Ignoring his statement, Cordelia continued, her voice triumphant. “She married you for money, not because she cared about you.”
Having been unable to avoid hearing their conversation thanks to Cordelia’s loud shrieks, Buffy came out of the bedroom prepared to defend herself. In her hand, she carried an envelope containing check that the brunette had written her months ago. She held it out for Cordelia to take. “Here’s your check. I never cashed it, so technically I never took your money.”
Cordelia eyed the envelope skeptically for a few minutes before she snatched it from Buffy’s hand. She might need the money now for herself. Of course, it never occurred to her that the funds to cash the check had disappeared with the rest of her account.
Unable to resist, Buffy added coolly, “And I don’t think you, of all people, should be calling anyone a whore.”
“You think you’re so good, soo perfect,” Cordelia sneered. “Tell me something Buffy, just how did you manage to convince Angel that the baby is his?”
Noting the surprise on Angel’s face, the brunette gave a sarcastic bark of laughter. “This is priceless! I guess you haven’t told him yet.”
“What are you talking about?” Buffy asked warily, her expression one of shock. How did Cordelia know anything about that?
A malicious smile on her face, Cordelia pranced toward Angel, stopping just short of him and lowering her voice as if to impart a confidence. “You poor dear. Buffy obviously didn’t tell you about her pregnancy test at the health center last week. It looks like Parker’s going to be a daddy. Or maybe it was Riley.” She batted her eyelashes coyly and cast a look at Buffy over her shoulder. “Now tell me that doesn’t make her a whore.”
“You’re lying,” Angel ground out, but his eyes were glued to his wife.
“You can think so.” The brunette shrugged smugly, pleased to have found a subject she might be able to exploit for her own benefit.
Unwilling to discuss this with Cordelia present, Buffy crossed her arms over her chest and looked pointedly at the door.
“Get out.” Angel said decisively. He took a few steps to the door and opened it. “You’re not welcome here so don’t come back.”
“Fine. I’ll leave. But you won’t get away with this.” Cordelia paused at the door, her eyes cold as she glanced at Angel. “I’ll turn you in to the BCIS. You’ll be deported and Buffy will go to jail.”
“No, he won’t,” Buffy countered knowingly. “Their investigation is closed.”
“I think when they hear what I have to say, they’ll reopen it.” She tossed her thick mane of hair proudly, sure that she’d get her way in the end. “All you have to do, Angel, is change your mind. Buffy moves out, I move in and we all live happily ever after.”
“Get out.” It was an unequivocal fiat. He was through dealing with Cordelia.
Cordelia stared at him for a moment, enraged. When Angel didn’t relent, the brunette stomped out of the apartment in defeat.
When the door closed, a hushed silence descended in the room.
“Is it- was she-” Angel finally stammered, unable to decide precisely what question he needed to ask first.
“Am I pregnant?” Buffy said finally.
He inhaled deeply. That was as good of a place to start as any. “Yes.”
“No. I’m not.”
He looked perplexed for the moment. Why then had she seemed so taken aback by Cordelia’s comments?
Buffy sighed. She was going to tell him about it, but last night didn’t seem like the right time and this morning…. she smiled. This morning nothing short of death would have forced it out of her while Angel was licking whipped cream off of sensitive places with such delicious expertise.
“Cordelia wasn’t lying. I did go to the health center for a pregnancy test,” she confessed softly, crossing the room to stand in front of him. “Not because of Parker or Riley. That part she did make up. If I had been pregnant, it would have been yours.”
“Mine?” Angel echoed dumbly. He hadn’t seriously considered children before this moment.
“Remember when we went to Big Sur? I forgot my pills. I didn’t think it would be a big deal since it was only a few days, and you had gone to so much trouble… Saying ‘Gee, Honey, on our only weekend away I forgot my birth control, so how’s about a game of Scrabble instead’ just didn’t seem like the way to go.”
He was both relieved and oddly disappointed. “We could have bought something, Buffy.”
“I know,” Buffy murmured. “I should have said something. I’m sorry.”
“Were you going to tell me?” Angel asked, tilting her chin up to look at him.
“Yes, I would have, but then the whole thing with Cordelia happened and… I didn’t want you to feel trapped. You know, if I was pregnant, I didn’t want you to think you’d have had to stay married to me.”
“You can’t get rid of me,” he said, his appreciative gaze traveling over her face. “Haven’t you figured that out yet?”
“I’m learning,” she said, smiling up at him. The warmth in his voice was enormously appealing, along with that beautiful, direct gaze. “And I think in the future if I’m likely to make you a father… I’ll discuss it with you first.”
“That reminds me…” He caught her wrist and pulled her toward him. “I think we were in the middle of something…”
Buffy and Angel’s second wedding was held that summer on June twenty-fourth at St. Anne’s cathedral in Dublin, Ireland. Their friends all made the trip to celebrate the occasion with them, including a surprise appearance by Lindsey McDonald. Several of Angel’s father’s former Interpol colleagues were also in attendance. Their presence combined with that of his family and friends in the church that he had grown up attending, gave Angel the distinct impression that his parents were there as well – at least in spirit – to celebrate the joyful nuptials.
The newlyweds stayed in Ireland for the rest of the summer; Angel worked for the local Interpol office while Buffy did something that she had never done before – she simply took the summer off. She was enamored with Giles and Jenny, and in particular, their new baby Aidan, and found spending time helped to make up for the lack of her own family in her life. As often as possible, she and Angel took romantic weekend trips through the rugged Irish countryside, making the summer one long honeymoon vacation.
Cordelia’s attempts to file a complaint with the BCIS were met by a somber-faced Robin Wood who had no patience for the spoiled and arrogant young woman. When informed that she too would be charged with fraud if she persisted, given that her signature was on the marriage license, Cordelia skulked away sullenly.
Weeks later, the brunette managed to land a job at Patina by promising sexual favors to the manager, Reginald Snyder. After only two weeks of half-heartedly attempting to wait tables, she found it simply easier to lie beneath a grunting, sweating Snyder. Snyder, in turn, was more than happy to have the attractive young woman on his arm, so he spoiled her as much as he could afford. It wasn’t the standard she was used to, but Cordelia found that lounging around the non-descript track home was far preferable to working.
Three year later, after Buffy graduated from UC Sunnydale with a double major in Art History and French, and Angel got his Master’s degree in Criminal Justice, Angel accepted a position with Interpol, and the couple moved to Lyon, France.
Buffy found a job as an assistant curator at the Musée des Beaux-Arts. She worked there full time until Patrick Devlin, the first of their two children was born; afterwards, she cut her hours to back to part time in order to spend more time with her son. Less than two years later they moved to London when Angel was promoted to an assistant director. Within a month of settling in their new place, Buffy gave birth to their daughter, Clair Summers O’Connor. Angel had been on Spain in assignment however, so was there for his daughter’s birth via cell phone.
Less than three years later, Angel quit Interpol to start his own security and private investigation business based in Dublin. The demands of the job were simply too high and he wanted to be able to watch his children grow up. Eventually he opened offices of Angel Investigations in Los Angeles and in Rome, but he still spent the majority of his time at home in Dublin with Buffy and the children.
Doyle returned to Ireland shortly after Buffy and Angel left for Lyon. It was only then that Buffy found out that Doyle worked as an investigator for Interpol himself. When Angel started Angel Investigations, Doyle quit Interpol as well and joined his friend in his new business venture.
Wes completed his education and became a doctor. He and Faith eventually moved in together but never married. Faith said she didn’t need a piece of paper, but Wes always joked that it was because she was afraid of commitment. They had a daughter, Serena, who was the spitting image of her mother both in looks and personality.
After graduation, Gunn joined the Los Angeles police force and eventually became part of the elite S.W.A.T force. He and Fred married, but ultimately divorced. She found it much too difficult to be a cop’s wife.
The Dingoes became moderately successful. They toured often, playing smaller clubs all across the U.S. The long-distance relationship turned out to be too difficult to maintain for Willow and Oz and eventually they separated. Last time anyone had seen Oz, he was living in New York with Veruca, a backup singer for the band.
Willow eventually hooked up with Tara, the girl that she had met at the UC Sunnydale Health Center. The two women shared an interest in the sciences, as well as Wiccan practices and feminine mythology. After they finished their Bachelor degrees at UC Sunnydale, they moved to Orlando so Willow could pursue her graduate degree in Forensic Science. In an unusual twist of fate, she ended up joining the FBI after graduation. Tara became a Nurse Practitioner, and the two women live just outside Washington, D.C.
Lindsey and Lilah both still work for the FBI. Every so often Buffy and Angel get a postcard from some new city, usually with some pithy comment about nothing in particular and signed simply “Linds”.