The Xander Zone, Part 6

Angel takes a trip to Sunnydale to talk to Buffy about her new beau.

Author’s Notes: This is pretty much AU, though it does take off from canon.Irian Jaya is part of Indonesia, one of the last wilderness areas. Due to the violence and guerilla fighting in the area, permits are required from local police stations for travel in many areas.  For more info: Lonely Planet

Rating: Adult; explicit sex

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

Pairing: Initially B/Other, ultimately B/A.

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

Originally posted: 10.28.2004

Present, Angel Investigations…

Angel only half-listened to the comments and bickering behind him as he shifted restlessly back and forth in front of the desk on the balls of his feet. Despite the now blank computer screen, he could still see the video playing over and over again in his mind, and one scene in particular: Buffy jumping up in Xander’s arms, his hands on her, their lips meeting.

It took him back, years before, to that day in the Bronze, how she first jumped into his arms exactly the same way. The memory was still vivid in his mind, complete with the same underlying feelings of jealously and doubt that had filled him even then – only today it was multiplied.

“Saw you making friends.”

“Them? Boys. I like you.”

They had only begun to let their guard down around each other, to touch, to kiss… little things he had missed so much, but was afraid to allow for fear that he would reach a point in which he could no longer retain control. it was too great of a risk to even contemplate. Ultimately, those feelings contributed to his decision to leave Sunnydale as he became convinced that Buffy would be better off without him.

But now… what was she doing?  He could find no reasons to explain away what he had seen to his satisfaction. He certainly never expected to see her behaving so… irrationally was word that came immediately to mind.  Skydiving, slaying on video – while dressed so scantily – and who knows what else – it all had to be the influence of this Xander Cage, who obviously was lacking in common sense, what with the reckless behavior he was apparently known to engage in on a regular basis.

“What does she see in that tattooed Neanderthal anyway?” he muttered under his breath as he thrust his hands in his pockets.

“Uh, tattooed Neanderthal?” Cordy queried wryly, one eyebrow quirking upward. “And, what exactly is that thing on your back if not a tattoo?”

Angel hadn’t realized that he had spoken out loud until he heard Cordelia’s question. He glanced around to see everyone watching him expectantly. His jaw snapped shut, but he didn’t answer. Instead, he turned his back on his friends and stared once more at the flickering computer screen.

After almost a minute of silent contemplation, against all sensible argument, against the logic that had kept him firmly in Los Angeles for almost two years, against the rationale that he had perfected during that time about how Buffy was better off without him, how she needed a normal life, how he wasn’t good enough for her, he whirled around grabbed his coat and headed for the door.

“Where are you going?” Cordelia called from behind him, her voice carrying through the wide expanse of the hotel lobby.

“Out,” he said flatly, barely slowing his stride.

“Out?” Cordelia echoed suspiciously. “Out where exactly?” Her demanding tone was filled with both exasperation and concern, the staccato of her heels on the tile punctuating her sentence as she fell in step behind him.

“Sunnydale,” he mumbled reluctantly. He slowed his steps of out politesse but still continued forward.

“Sunnydale?” Cordy repeated with a touch of alarm. She turned back and her wide eyes met Wesley’s, communicating her nervousness and fear. “You’re not going to do anything… rash are you?”

“No,” Angel replied peevishly, shrugging into his coat with a quick jerk and fishing in his pocket for the keys.

“I’m coming with,” Gunn declared, scooping up his jacket as he stepped around the desk and made to follow his boss.

“No,” Angel said in a low voice, halting just inside the door. He finally turned to face the team, one hand held up for emphasis. “I’m going alone.”

“Hey, I’m not giving up a chance to meet X,” Gunn stated emphatically. He glanced at the others. “I was a fan way before any of you.”

“Well, there’s no way I’m going to miss this,” Cordelia added.

Angel inhaled deeply, trying to control his irritation and impatience. He wanted, no needed to talk to Buffy alone. “Someone has to stay here and take care of business.”

“What business?” Wes asked glibly, tossing the remains of the Thai food into the garbage. He quickly tidied up the desk out of habit, then pick up a few stakes from behind the counter.  “Things have been, pardon the pun, dead for weeks.”

Angel looked from one person to the next, taking in their looks of determination with no small amount of frustration.

“Look, I just want to go to Sunnydale and talk to Buffy. Alone,” he explained curtly. “There’s no need for you to worry. Or for…” he waved his arm to indicate the stakes clutched in Wesley’s hand, “those”.

“We’re still coming with you.” Cordelia challenged him firmly.  “Gunn, grab my purse.”

“Yes, I think it’s best that we do come along,” Wes agreed diplomatically, though his tone was resolved. Angel’s current mood was uncertain at best; there was no telling what he planned in Sunnydale, but if was anything even close to what had happened after Angel and Buffy had met up after her resurrection, the former Watcher was certain that the vampire would need his friends for support.

“Road trip.” Gunn nodded with a grin.

“I can finally see Sunnydale. Do you think we can actually stop by the Hellmouth?” Fred asked hesitantly, her expression hopeful as she waited for Angel’s reply. “I’d like to see what it looks like – from a distance at least.”

“Hey, so if you’re for Sunnydale can I get a ride then?” Spike questioned cheerfully, breaking the silence that had fallen in the room. Four pairs of eyes turned to look at the blonde vampire.  Given his uncharacteristic silence in the last few minutes, they had practically forgotten about him.

“Fine,” Angel muttered in reluctant agreement, before turning and striding toward the door.  He may have agreed, but he wasn’t waiting.  Anyone that wasn’t in the car by the time he was would be left behind.


Sunnydale…

Wearing a pair of black low-waist jeans and a pale pink top that left her midriff bare, Buffy stood in front of the mirror and put the finishing touches on her makeup.

“Almost ready,” she said with a smile, her eyes in the mirror meeting those of the man currently lounging on her bed.

“Take your time,” Xander murmured, content for the moment to watch her.  He had returned to Sunnydale just two days ago, having been dispatched to Irian Jaya to investigate what had been thought to be some sort of demon infestation. It turned out to be a group of indigenous Papuans that were particularly bloodthirsty in their quest for freedom from the Indonesian government. Once the team had determined that the cause wasn’t supernatural, preternatural or even remotely mystical, they had attempted to evacuate but were unavoidably drawn into battle.  One member of X’s team had been killed, and he himself had been shot by a high caliber rifle in the upper arm. While painful, the wound was healing nicely now, and Xander was more than glad that he’d been able to convince Augustus that the best place for his recovery was Sunnydale.

“Are you sure you want to go out?” Buffy asked with concern, walking over to stand next to the bed.

Xander’s eyes drifted over her, taking in her appearance. His gaze paused on the square-cut diamond that winked at him from her navel.

“Yeah, I’m sure. J.J.’d never forgive us if we didn’t put in an appearance.” Rolling up with only a slight wince, X glanced up at her face and smiled. “I like it. Sexy.”

Returning his smile, Buffy inched closer to the bed and put her hand on his uninjured shoulder as his settled on the curve of her hip. “You think so?”

“Oh yeah.” His deep voice was a rumble as he leaned forward and placed soft kisses on her taut stomach, near the new adornment.

“I was thinking of getting my nipple done too.”

“That so?” Tilting his head, he looked up at her, trying to ascertain if she was serious or not.

“Yeah,” she returned, tossing her hair slightly. She had a playful grin on her lips and a teasing glint in her eye. It was fairly obvious that she wasn’t serious, but still he played along.

“You’re moving pretty fast.” Xander swung his legs over the side of the bed then tugged her closer to stand between his knees. He nuzzled her breast gently, watching as her nipple hardened beneath the soft cotton. One large hand caressed her bottom, urging her closer still.

“But I thought you liked fast.” Buffy teased with a sigh, her fingertips tracing the back of his neck. Her eyes were half-closed as she watched him.

“Sometimes I like slow. Thought I showed you that last night,” Xander murmured as his lips closed over one taut cloth covered peak. He nibbled it gently then leaned back to looked at her face.

Buffy climbed on the bed, straddling his lap. “You did.” Just before their lips met, she added softly, “But if you’re up for it, I could use a reminder.”


Angel pressed firmly on the accelerator, pushing the black GTX over a hundred miles an hour. He was trying hard to ignore the constant chatter that had been going on since they had left LA, but it was growing increasingly difficult.

From the backseat Gunn avidly told tales about Xander Cage and his various stunts, each seeming more elaborate than the last. Cordelia commented on X’s physical attributes, speculating about height, weight, workout routine, and even the color of his eyes.  Spike snorted and rolled his eyes, but added his own opinion more often than not.

In the front seat, Fred and Wes chatted about the Hellmouth and Sunnydale, Wes impressing the slender physicist with what seemed to be a never ending litany of daring deeds and hair raising experiences.

By the time the lights of Sunnydale came into view, Angel’s head ached from clenching his jaw in an attempt to keep from interjecting his own disparaging comments into the conversations. The noise and distraction had also kept him from organizing his thoughts, not to mention, the entire trip had been predicated largely on emotion, not logic. As he turned the car onto Buffy’s street, he wondered if she were going to think he had completely lost his mind.  Which, perhaps right now, wasn’t that far from the truth.


“I can’t believe this is still like the hot spot,” Cordelia said with skepticism as they stepped through the door and into The Bronze. It had changed very little in the few years since she had been there, something that she noticed immediately and which had garnered several comments about the need to keep up with changing trends that Angel choose to ignore.

“Or maybe it’s not,” Gunn added, taking in the sparse crowd. There were a few younger kids, probably high school students, along with an assortment of people, most of who looked like they’d be more comfortable anywhere else. “At least not tonight.”

“Tell me we’re not going to have to go through all of Sunnydale’s twelve cemeteries in search of our little Slayer,” Cordelia muttered as the group made their way into the club. “Because I swore I would never set foot in one again after the dozen or so funerals I had to attend after graduation.”  Again Angel ignored the commentary as he quickly scanned the crowd in search of Buffy. The stop at the house on Revello Drive proved unsuccessful; no one had been home, so they continued their search at the next logical place.

“I think that girl over there is waving at… one of you.” Fred said as she touched Cordelia lightly on the arm.

“It’s Willow! Good old Willow,” Cordelia declared overly enthusiastically, relieved that they might find Buffy sooner rather than later. “She’ll know where to find Buffy.” Grabbing Angel’s sleeve, she practically drug him over to the table where Willow, Tara, Xander and Anya sat.

Willow greeted the AI team cheerfully, “Hey guys! What a surprise! I didn’t think you ever got to Sunnydale. Well, not recently anyway. And not as a group. Oh, sorry. I’m babbling. Tara, that’s Wesley, Cordelia, and Angel. And…”

“I’m Fred.” The brunette standing behind Cordelia added helpfully. “And this is Charles Gunn.”

“Call me Gunn,” Gunn amended, nodding at the group sitting at the table.

“I’m Willow, and this is Tara, and that’s Anya and Xander.”

“Xander?” Fred peered at Xander, her eye brows lifting inquisitively. He didn’t look at all like he appeared in the videos. Maybe it was true they could do a lot with video editing and photoshop…

“Uh, yeah, Xander, that’s me in the flesh,” Xander replied with an interested smile.  Sure Anya was his girlfriend, but he wasn’t opposed to interest from attractive members of the opposite sex.

“I thinks she means Xander Cage,” Gunn added for clarification.

“Uh, no, not hardly,” Anya giggled, the sound coming out like a derisive snort. “This one is Harris. Xander Harris.” Her smile faded and she looked pointedly at the woman asking, “But he’s taken. We’re a couple.”

“Oh,” Fred nodded softly, remembering now the laughing comments that Spike had made about ‘the other’ Xander.  She blushed slightly, embarrassed to have made such an obvious blunder.  The two Xanders looked nothing alike.

“I see you’ve heard of Mr. X, the muscle-bound, bald-headed, tattooed freak,” Xander said contemptuously, earning him a hard look from Gunn.

“Is that why you’re here? Looking for Xander… er, the other one, the one that goes by X?” Willow asked curiously, her gaze on Angel’s face.

“Yes. No. I’m actually looking for-” Angel began stiffly. Did everyone have to be in on this?

“He wants to talk to Buffy.” Cordelia interrupted as she jerked her thumb in Angel’s direction. “He saw the Internet demon hunting thing with her new honey and wasn’t real happy about it.”

“Good. I hope someone can talk some sense into her.” Xander eyed Angel with new respect. “She’s being irresponsible and taking stupid chances – and we’ve tried to tell her, but she doesn’t listen to us. Only to Triple X,” the young man continued with a sneer, “the big freak. I don’t know what she sees in him. He’s the one behind all the stupid stunts. The non-slaying ones, that is. Oh, and hey, if we’d have know that you were coming we could have set something up, you know, so we could all confront her about her behavior. Not that it will work, I mean, since we tried that once, but, hey, maybe second time’s a charm.  I know, why don’t we get something together tomorrow night?  Meet at the house-”

“We can’t stay,” Angel interrupted flatly.  Is that what Buffy’s friends had come to now?  Schooling her on her behavior?

“Well, still, it good that you’re here now, man.  If you want to do it alone, that’s cool,” Xander capitulated, nodding sagely at Angel. “I mean if anyone can get through to Buffy, it’s probably you.”

“Ah. The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Wes murmured softly, the words picked up by Angel’s preternatural hearing and by Gunn who was standing next to the former Watcher, but no one else. Wesley could clearly hear the undercurrent of jealousy in the younger man’s voice and he wondered if Xander Harris still had more than friendly feelings for Buffy.

“They go motorcycle racing,” Willow blurted randomly. She had to agree with Xander – if anyone could talk some sense into Buffy it would probably be Angel.

“And skydiving. Don’t forget the skydiving,” Xander pointed out with disdain. “They even videotaped it.”

“She was practically ignoring Dawn,” Willow added seriously, as if that were the worse of all the daring acts. “And Dawn was stealing,” she continued in a hushed whisper.

“But-but that’s changed now. Dawn’s straightened up now, thanks to Buffy getting-getting involved. She’s even working with a tutor tonight,” Tara corrected softly. She didn’t agree with Willow or Xander about X’s influence on Buffy and tried to voice her opinion both privately to Willow and with the group, but she had been largely ignored. They believed what they wanted and weren’t open to seeing things any other way.

He goes demon hunting with her now,” Xander remarked petulantly, tapping his hand on the table. “She takes him instead of us.”

“And don’t forget the sex,” Anya announced matter-of-factly.

Abruptly, everyone turned to look at the former vengeance demon.

“Well, you’re saying everything you don’t like and you said you didn’t like that they were having sex, so I thought we should say that too” Anya said with a lift of her shoulders in the awkward silence. She glanced away from the stares, taking a sip of her soda.

“Do you know where I can find her?” Angel asked, wanting to stop the tell-all session before it went into any more detail. He was growing increasingly uncomfortable with Buffy’s friends attempts to tattle on her like children.

“She went with the tattooed freak to some rave,” Xander muttered resentfully.

“They usually have them in the abandoned warehouse buildings down by the docks.” Tara  spoke softly, “But if you aren’t on the invite list, you can’t get in.”

“Thanks.” Angel nodded appreciatively. In a flash, he was gone.

“I hate when he does that,” Cordelia said with annoyance as she hurried toward the door. “Hurry, or I’m sure he’ll leave us to walk.” With quick good-byes the rest of the AI team hurried after Cordelia and Angel.

“Maybe we should go help? Or watch? Or something?” Xander asked after they left.

“No…” Willow answered uncertainly, her thoughts running in a similar direction. “We probably can’t get into the rave.”  How had Angel had found out about Buffy and Xander?  She had thought to call him herself, but wasn’t certain he’d come or that Buffy would listen.  The question now was, would the vampire be able to get through to her?

“And miss the fireworks? But it’s what you’ve all been waiting for, isn’t it?” Spike queried with a sardonic smirk as he strolled casually by the table, an unlit cigarette dangling out of his mouth.  Wesley released the blonde vampire only moments earlier, just before he raced to catch up with the others as they followed Angel on foot toward the docks.

With a knowing look that didn’t quite hide his disdain, Spike disappeared through the back door.


The rave wasn’t hard to find once they got near the docks. They simply followed the line of people and the loud music.  Angel pushed his way through the crowd at the door of the once abandoned building, slowing as he reached the burly bouncer near the entrance. He impatiently handed the man a hundred dollar bill, and waited only a moment for the man’s nod of acceptance before stepping through the door.

Once inside the building, he paused, his eyes scanning the scene.  Loud and raucous heavy metal music pulsated through the entire building, a live band playing at one end on a makeshift stage. Firepots burned along the edges of the platform, giving the heavily made up band the look of being behind a wall of fire. In front of the band a dense crowd of people gyrated and moshed to the music. The near wall was lined with a counter that served as a makeshift bar.

He spotted her on his second sweeping glance of the building’s interior.  She was dancing near the stage, toward the edge of the crowd. She was into the band and the music, and paying absolutely no attention the small group of admirers that were standing nearby watching her.  One of those admirers, Angel noted with displeasure, was the man from the video, Xander Cage himself.  With his arm in a sling, the easily recognizable tattooed man leaned casually against the wall a few feet away.  His eyes were on Buffy as well, though he was smiling and talking with a pair of grungy looking kids, both wearing dark, baggy clothes and beanies.

Angel shouldered his way through the crowd, moving directly toward his former girlfriend. Behind him Cordelia could be heard chastising someone loudly as she and the others attempted to follow.

X pushed away from the wall as soon as he noticed the dark-haired man moving determinedly through the crush of people and toward Buffy. Excusing himself from the conversation, he made his way toward the blonde Slayer as well.

Buffy, her vampire senses tingling at full alert, stopped dancing and turned to face the man that was now only a short distance away and moving quickly in her direction. She had initially doubted her Angel senses, thinking it completely impossible that he would be here, of all places, but she quickly masked her surprised when she saw that she had been wrong.

Angel’s gaze lit on the man now standing directly behind Buffy.  His eyes moved from Xander’s face to his damaged arm and back to his face again, and Angel scoffed. One of X’s stunts must not have turned out so well.  Still, the man was larger than he appeared from a distance or on video, his chest thick, his arms heavily muscled. They were on par height-wise as well, X standing only an inch or so shorter.

Both men drew steadily closer until they were standing only a few feet apart, Buffy between them.

The diminutive slayer glanced at Angel then back at Xander then back to Angel again.  The tension between the two men was obvious. The crowd around them had parted slightly, the people nearest stopping to watch the unfolding scene.

“Ok then, so… X, uh, Xander, Angel. Angel, Xander.” Buffy attempted introductions despite the loud music.  She made her displeasure with their behavior know by the pointed look that she gave to each of them.

“Nice to meet you,” Xander finally said, though there was no hint of a welcoming warmth in his deep voice nor did he move.  “So what are you doing here, Angel? I got the feeling that Sunnydale ain’t your kind of town any more. LA is more your style.”

“I want to talk to Buffy,” Angel fairly growled in response, skipping any niceties or greetings.

“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea,” X remarked, a faint challenge in his tone as he rocked slightly on the balls of his feet.

“And I want both of you to remember that I’m standing right here,” Buffy snapped, her eyes flashing angrily. “What are you doing here, Angel?”

Finally managing to push her way through the crowd, Cordelia practically stumbled into Angel’s back. Gunn, Fred, and Wes closed in behind.

“You could have told the no-neck bouncer at the door that we were with you,” Cordelia chastised breathlessly as she gave Angel a peeved look. “I practically had to flash him to get us in here.”

“And wow, look, you brought the whole team,” Buffy noted sardonically. “Is this something dire? Do we need to prepare for an apocalypse?”

“No. I just want to talk to you,” Angel answered, glancing at Buffy then back to X. “Alone.”

Buffy considered his expression for a moment as well as the expectant expressions of his colleagues.

“Please.” It was an enormous concession from a man that had been close to losing his temper for the last four hours; a man who wanted nothing more than to wipe the floor with Xander Cage and then to shake some sense into Buffy until she saw things his way. Or maybe he just wanted to kiss her until that happened… or both, he wasn’t entirely sure now that she was in front of him.

Buffy sucked in her breath. Could she do this? Conversations with Angel tended to be beyond painful.  The last one, just days after her resurrection, more so than ever. But, she reminded herself, things were different now, she was different. And Angel was obviously determined…   Stiffing her spine, she reached for Xander’s hand. “It’s ok.” Her expression slightly pleading, willing him to trust her, she squeezed his hand. “I’ll be right back.”

Xander studied her face for a moment before reluctantly returning the squeeze of her hand and releasing it. He gave Angel a hard look of warning, but the vampire didn’t seem to notice as his gaze was trained on Buffy.  X watched the pair quietly until they disappeared out the back door.

“Dude! You just let your girl go into the back alley with that guy? Are you crazy?” Daniel, one of the two younger men that had been talking to Xander earlier, exclaimed in surprise. He and Nate had watched the entire exchange interestedly, X being a local hero of sorts to them.

“Yeah, man. I mean, dude, he looked kinda pissed off and mean.” Nate added his own comments in his casual surfer drawl.  “What if he attacks her or something?”

X’s lips curved up in a smile. “Buffy can handle herself.”  At their incredulous looks, he added with a shrug, “Trust me, I know.”

Seeing an opening in the conversation, Gunn stepped forward with his hand held out in greeting,  “Xander Cage? Love your work, man. I’m a big fan. I’d love to hear about-”

“I’m Cordelia Chase, this is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and that’s Fred Burkle,” Cordelia interrupted with a flirtatious smile. “You boys can talk stunts and manly stuff later. Right now I need a few minutes of your time.”  Grabbing Xander’s free arm, she pulled insistently until he gave in and let her lead him a short distance away.  When they reached a corner with some privacy, she stopped, looked up at him and smiled; a deliberate smile that had brought weaker men to their knees before the beautiful brunette.  “Now, tell me all about how you and little Buffy met.”


The heavy door slammed behind them turning the loud sounds of the band into a muffled rumble.  Buffy walked a short way down the cluttered alley attempting to collect her thoughts. She stopped under the only light, the dim white of the lamp casting the area in a grayish hue. As she turned to face the man behind her, she crossed her arms over her chest. The air was chilly and she wished for a moment that she brought a jacket.

“Well?” She prompted, her voice strained.

“What are you doing, Buffy?” Angel asked softly, thrusting his hands in his pockets. He was surprised at how different she looked to him now. Beautiful, but she had always been that.  No, it was something else now… She was a woman now, not the girl he had known. If possible, she was more beautiful, more stunning than ever.  And still undeniably sexy.

“It’s called dancing.” Her tone was cool, impatient.

“Does Giles know about any of this?” He questioned instead, ignoring her glib comment.

“What? The dancing?” Buffy returned sarcastically. “Or the having a good time part?”

“The sky diving? The motorbike racing? The demon hunting on camera?” He ground out, taking a menacing step toward her.

Undaunted, she stared back at him. She tossed her hair. “How… who told you about that?”

“Does it matter?  I know you’ve been taking a lot of unnecessary risks.”

“Okay, so? Slayer. I take risks every day, remember? It comes with the territory,” she snapped, annoyed.

“So I worry about you.”  The diamond sparkling in her navel was a distraction, his eye repeatedly drawn to her midsection. When had some done that?

Buffy laughed, the sound harsh. “Right. Well, don’t. I’m not your business anymore, Angel. And if that’s all you came to say, you can just go back to LA now.”

“As a matter of fact,” she continued, uncrossed her arms as her anger flared. “If I remember correctly it wasn’t that long ago when I begged you – I begged you – to stay with me. I needed you. But all you said was no, you couldn’t. You couldn’t leave LA. We couldn’t be together. Staying away from me was for my own good.”

“That’s not exactly what I said you know it,” he bit back in answer. He took one step forward, leaning in toward her. “And that’s not the only reason I couldn’t come back here.”

“It’s close enough, isn’t it?  I’ll bet if I would have been Faith or your precious Cor-deel-ya, you would have found a way,” Buffy sneered, long buried feelings of hurt and jealousy surfacing along with a hint of the unasked question that hung between them.

“Do you really believe that?” He asked softly, taken aback somewhat by her accusation. Did she really think that he would put either of them above her willingly?  Maybe in her eyes he had, but he had thought that she understood the reasons…  He didn’t want anything more with either woman; they didn’t mean anything close to what he had felt for her.

“Look, it doesn’t matter,” she said, her temper abating slightly with the soft tone of Angel’s voice and the disconcerted expression on his face. He could touch her more deeply than anyone else could or ever had. And the question of his soul…  Suddenly, she wanted nothing more than to get out of this conversation.  It would be another painful memory yet to relive. “I don’t know why you did what you did, but it doesn’t matter any more. I don’t care.”

“I left you, Buffy, because I wanted you to have a normal life. I stayed away from you for the same reason. You deserve that.  You deserve better.”

Closing her eyes against the turmoil of emotions his words evoked, Buffy gritted out, “New flash, Angel. I’ll NEVER have a normal life. NEVER. It will always be a freak show.”

“Okay, yes, so you’ll always be the Slayer, but Buffy, you don’t have to make the kinds of choices-” Angel paused, debating briefly his next words. “You don’t have to make bad choices.”

“What?” she asked coolly, her brows lifting.  “What are you saying Angel?”

“Xander Cage, for one.”

Buffy gave a disdainful laugh. “Really, Angel?  That’s why you’re here?  You came all this way to tell me who to date? Or, not date?”

The tall vampire grimaced; this was not going as planned.  “No, but Buffy… ”

“But Buffy what?!” She snapped, her eyes blazing angrily as she took another step toward him. “Who I see, what I do… that’s none of your business.”

Angel’s temper flared. “Someone should.  You’re making bad decisions, Buffy.  The kind that will get you hurt badly or killed.  He’s a bad influence.”

“What do you care anyway?” She shouted back furiously. “You left! You left me. You don’t have to tell me again that we can’t be together, that I need a normal life, that there is no we, no us.   I GET it, Angel. Really, I do. I don’t need another reminder.”

“That’s not what I’m saying…” Angel returned irritably.

“Really?  Because that’s usually what you’re saying.  Want to stroll down memory lane, hm?  Let’s see… you told me once that we’d make it work, then oh yeah, a month later you left. A few discouraging words from the Mayor – who was EVIL – a few suggestions from my mother, and guess what?  The big strong vampire tucked his tail between his legs and took off. ”

“That wasn’t it and you know it.” He glared at her, his jaw clenched.

“Maybe, maybe not.” She returned flippantly. “But how could I know when you never asked ME what I wanted, when you never talked to me about it at all.  Never,” she snarled hotly. They had variations of this conversation over the years, but she had always reined in her emotions, tried to choose her words. Always before she had tiptoed around the issues, afraid perhaps of what might happen if she expressed herself honestly.  Afraid too, of hurting Angel.

“I know, you wanted me to have sunlight and picnics. A fucking picnic, Angel?” She continued harshly. “When did I ever ask you for a picnic?  When did I ever give you the idea that I wanted anything but you?”

“You, in your infinite wisdom, decided that I was just some swoony little school girl that couldn’t possibly know what I wanted. I couldn’t possibly make decisions for myself. So you and the mayor and my Mom had to make them for me. I was old enough to fuck, but not old enough to make my own decisions.”

He suddenly wanted to shake her, for making him burn with the vivid image that her words created in his mind. He stepped toward her, “Buffy-”

“But you know what?” She continued, stepping back away from him and holding a hand up as if to hold him back. “I’m a stronger person now.  I should thank you for making me to deal on my own. It’s been a real help, honestly.”

“You could have fooled me,” he sneered in reply, “you’re actually like a spoiled brat that doesn’t care whether she lives or dies.  You’re taking too many chances, and you damn well know it.”

“Yeah, well, I had to claw my way out of my own damned grave, so forgive me if I’m a little short on patience.”

In two quick strides he reached her. Gripping her arms, he hauled her up close to face him. “You forget who you’re talking to, sweetheart.” His tone was dangerously soft. “I’ve clawed my way out of my own grave too.”

She shoved him hard, pushing him back away from her and forcing him to let go.  “You have no right to come here now and tell me how to live my life. None.  You’ve made it clear where you stand.”

He stepped toward her again. “I don’t believe for a minute that you’re happy.”

Buffy side stepped, moving out of his reach.  “You don’t even know me.”

“Maybe, but this… the tattoos, the piercings, the risks… this isn’t you.”

“Then who is it, Angel?  Who is the real Buffy? The one that does her sacred duty without complaints? The one that lets her friends tell her how to run her life?  The one that listens to all the hypocritical judgments and sanctimonious lies? The one that lets everyone else tell her what she wants and needs? Should I just sit back and do what I’m told?  Should I only take risks that come with the job?!”

He closed his eyes and fought for calm.  “That’s not what I’m saying and you know it.”

“Do I? You don’t know me, Angel, not any more.  I’m done sitting around and waiting for the man I love to come back, to decide that we’re worth whatever price it takes.  You’ve made it clear you don’t want a life with me, so I’m moving on.  I’m doing what you’ve told me I should do. I’m sunbathing and I’m going on fucking picnics, and I’m doing that with someone that wants to be with me.  Someone that accepts that I’m the Slayer, and instead of telling how to live my life, actually lives it with me.  You and I both know that chances are slim that I’ll see anything past 30, so yeah, I’m going to take some risks and try to enjoy what time I have.”

“That’s not…” Angel grimaced at her cold, hard words.  “It doesn’t have to be that way.”

“Why? Because its not what you think it should be?”

He didn’t have an answer for her.

Buffy dropped her gaze, the harshness gone from her tone when she spoke again. “”There was a time Angel, when all I wanted was for you to come back, tell me that you loved me and that I mattered to you.  I haven’t forgotten anything about your soul and the risks that we run, but I thought if we wanted it enough… we’d find a way.  Maybe we couldn’t ever have sex, but maybe you’d still want to be with me just the same. Maybe you wanted to be with me, whatever time we both have here… but you never did that.  I don’t even know if you even thought about it. Instead, you just decided that we couldn’t be together. Ever. And you walked away and started a shiny new life without me. Even after I begged you… you still walked away from me.”

“Buffy… it wasn’t that easy,” he said, clipped and terse.

“I admit it. I was a stupid, starry-eyed, girl. I would have waited for you. I would have done anything to find a way to be with you. I would have done anything for you.” She gave a short bark of bitter laughter and shook her head. “I would have died for you. You only had to ask.”

“I-.”

“Go home, Angel. Go back to LA and forget all about me.” She turned and walked back toward the warehouse doors that they had come through earlier.

“Buffy, wait…”  His voice was soft, but something in it prompted her to stop. She looked back at him questioningly.

“Just tell me one thing….” He didn’t really want to know, but he couldn’t keep himself from asking. “Do you love him?”

Buffy studied the man in front of her contemplatively.  He had been the source of the greatest joy she had every know as well as the greatest pain she had ever experienced.  How then, could someone who could affect her so powerfully have so little understanding of what was in her heart, her mind.. her very soul?  The gryphon tattoo on her chest seemed to burn. Her voice, when finally she did speak, was husky. “Go home Angel.”

He watched until she disappeared back into the building, then stared blindly at the door that had closed behind her.  It seemed like only seconds had passed when the door burst open again and Cordelia, followed by Wes, Gunn and Fred burst into the alley.

“Well? So what happened?” Cordelia asked bluntly as she strode toward him.  They had seen Buffy come back inside, a somber expression on her face.  Without stopping to talk to anyone, even X, who had been watching for her, the blonde Slayer had pushed through the crowd toward the ladies room.

And now, at seeing the pensive expression on Angel’s face, Cordelia knew they would have a brooding vampire on their hands for weeks to come.  “Angel…” she prompted again “so, what happened?”

“Let’s go.” Angel replied in answer.  He wasn’t in the mood to share, despite the curious and expectant looks from his friends.  He own thoughts were in a disorganized turmoil.  Without a second glance, he walked away, heading in the direction they had parked the car.