Artist's Inspiration

Author: Maxwell441

Rating: R/NC-17

Summary: AU. Buffy is in need for a job to help support her and her sister Dawn, and when she is hired as an artist's personal assistant they both get more then they ever expected.

Disclaimer: Oh how I wish they were mine, I really really really do, but damnit, Joss Whedon thought of them first.

Author's Notes: So instead of writing my three term papers, I started writing this. The summary is lame ... is there anyone who is good at writing summaries? There should be a course or something for fic writers on how to write interesting and enticing summaries that don't give too much away.

Hope y'all enjoy.


Part 1

While still holding her hand up to the door after she knocked, the large metal barrier swung open to reveal a gorgeous blond woman who looked quite irritated. "You're late," she said before turning around and marching back into the loft. "This is the loft, you'll be responsible for cleaning it," she started barking right off the bat. "As you can see, the kitchen is in that corner where you are expected to do some light cooking, the bathroom is the door on the right, the studio is the door on the left and the bedroom is up those stairs. You'll have to ask if he wants you to clean the bedroom or not, but definitely the bathroom and studio."

Buffy was gazing up at the high rafters when the lady's words caught her attention. "He? You mean you aren't Angel?" When she read the ad in the paper it said contact Angel and when she called the number, she spoke with a woman and having always thought Angel was a girl, naturally she assumed the person she had the over-the-phone interview with was Angel.

"No, I'm Darla Wilson his agent. I take it you never heard of him have you?" Darla wasn't surprised. While Angel was finding success in certain high class social circles that loved discovering new and innovated artists, he was still unknown to the majority and obviously this girl was below said social networks.

"Oh no I have heard of Angel and seen some of his work," Buffy corrected her. "I just thought Angel was a woman." Staring out the huge slanted wall of windows that over looked the city, Buffy didn't notice the annoyance she had caused the other woman.

"Well, you were late so now obviously I am late for another appointment. I'll expect you here on time Monday morning." Darla walked to the door, swinging it open and waited for Buffy to exit tapping her foot impatiently. "C'mon!"

With one last glance Buffy followed her out.

"So how'd it go?" Willow asked Buffy as they sat in the park sipping their coffees. Buffy's response was a slightly dismal expression. "That bad, huh? You know, Giles will always have a position for you at the bookstore."

"Will, remember when I tried the retail root sophomore year? I think disaster sums up my time, or how about catastrophe? I'm surprised Giles lets me into the store just to hang out."

"Okay good point," Willow replied remembering all of Buffy's not-so- little mishaps. "So what went wrong today?"

"Well, it turns out Angel is a `he' and he wasn't there, his agent showed me around. It was awkward. I don't think she liked me very much."

Willow eyes widen at the fact that Angel was a man. "He's a guy? Kinda a girlie name don't ya think?" She giggled imagining what Angel must look like. "Now all I can see is a very womanish looking man. Hehe, it's funny." But then her expression resembled fear, "Now it's kinda freaky."

Buffy laughed a little, but then let out a heavy sigh before bringing the paper cup to her lips. Her new job had not started on the right foot she wanted it to start on. When her mom died a few months ago, Buffy really thought she could run her mother's gallery and attend college at the same time, but the gallery took more time then she expected and after only a month and a half she was forced to sell. Still needing a job to support herself and her sister Dawn, she started looking through the classifieds. When she saw the ad for an artist's personal assistant and noticed the high salary, she thought it would be her best bet considering she didn't have any prior work experience and also she recognized the artist's name, her mother having hosted a few of his works years ago. Of course at the time and up until this morning, she thought the artist Angel was a woman, and now knowing she was working for a man, she was a little nervous, well more nervous then she was before.

"So, now what's your schedule like during the week?" Willow asked. "I don't want you over working yourself. You don't deal with stress well Buffy."

"Tuesday and Thursday I have classes from 8 am to 4 pm, and now I'm working for Angel Monday, Wednesday and Friday starting at 8 until whenever he decides to let me go home. Any free time I have will most likely be spent studying, or trying to play the mother role to Dawn." Sighing Buffy rolled her head back closing her eyes welcoming the bright sun to warm her face. "Just two more quarters and then I graduate. At that point I'm hoping to have a more secure, permanent job. I can do it, I'll be fine. Just have to stay focus, I can't get distracted."

"Ha, famous last words," Willow added taking another sip of her drink.

Buffy returned at 8 am, right on time Monday morning. Using the key Darla had given her before they parted ways at their first meeting she easily unlocked the large metal door and cautiously stepped inside.

The place was calm and quiet, and Buffy unconsciously tip-toed once inside not wanting to disturb the stillness. She looked up following the metal spiral staircase to the exposed platform above where Darla said the bedroom was. She saw a mattress low to the floor and could just make out a bump lying under the covers. While looking up she continued to walk forward, but didn't see the couch directly in front of her and she bumped it rather hard with her legs. Sucking in a cry of pain she carefully turned to glance at the sleeping lump. Holding her breath she watched it stir slightly, but no awaken. With a sigh of relief, she looked around and saw the mess the loft was in. Clothes, paper and other trash littered the space. Darla said Buffy would be responsible for cleaning, so taking the initiative she made her way to the kitchen to gather supplies.

The kitchen occupied a corner of the large room with only an island with two stools separating it from the living space. Taking a guess, she opened a long white cabinet and found a plethora of cleaning supplies neatly lined up on the shelves along with a swiffer, a broom and a mop. She laughed to herself thinking of the irony of having an organized closet full of cleaning materials but a terribly messy apartment.

"Is it customary for someone who is breaking and entering to clean?"

Spinning around, Buffy jumped clutching a bright blue sponge to her chest. It wasn't enough that a mysterious voice came out of nowhere and surprised her, but added to the fact that the voice belonged to a tall, dark and unbelievably handsome man, who happened to be wearing only a pair of black boxers, got her heart rate really going.

Staring at his well muscled chest, Buffy was mesmerized and without thinking uttered out loud, "Man boobs."

"Excuse me?" he asked being caught off guard. He wasn't sure to be scared of the women or laugh at her oddity. "Who are you?"

Realizing what she said, Buffy turned bright read and started to take steps away from the nearly nude man. "Oh, I-I'm I'm," stumbled out of her mouth. "Darla said to clean," she finally blurted.

"Darla?" he questioned furrowing his brow.

"Yes, baby?" a sultry voice came form behind him followed by a delicate manicured hand that appeared on his shoulder and ran down his chest all the way to the top of his boxers where it lazily ran along the elastic band. Soon Darla was at his side clad only in a light blue sheet concealing her nakedness. "Come back to bed," she whispered in his ear and then turned her head towards Buffy, resting it on his shoulder. "Oh, Buffy," she feigned surprised. "I didn't know you were here."

"And who is Buffy?" Angel asked sounding annoyed.

"You're new assistant," Darla replied casually as she went back to running her hand along his chest.

He grabbed her hand, holding it away from his body and took a step back to face her leaving a good foot between them. "You never told me you hired someone."

"Well I was about to," she closed the gap and leaned into him, "but we got distracted." Laughing she reached up and bit at his jaw playfully before leaving a trial of kisses along his neck, wanting him to react, but he stood still not giving in to her.

Angel knew exactly what she was up to. No doubt she had planned this little confrontation to show Buffy that Angel was Darla's and off limits. It was mean and cruel and Darla definitely did not own Angel in anyway.

Using the grip he had on her hand, he maneuvered her behind him and turned back to Buffy who looked slightly horrified. "I'm sorry for this unusual introduction. I'll be right back, please just don't leave." He gave her a quick smile that was suppose to calm her nerves and it worked for a second, until he abruptly turned around and forcefully pushed Darla back towards the stairs.

Buffy watched as Angel guided a protesting Darla up the stairs. She turned her back to them, trying to give them as much privacy as she could and tried not to listen to their muffled argument. Hearing the shuffling of feet and the creaking of metal, Buffy grew more and more anxious. Angel didn't know she was working for him and even though she had gotten there when she was supposed to, she obviously arrived at a bad time. If this first day foreshadowed the days yet to come, Buffy was going to find herself in anxiety hell.

Finally, she heard the opening and closing of the door, but then silence. Wringer her fingers around the helpless blue sponge Buffy started to plan out how she was going to get out of this situation. Tell a joke? Pretend like it didn't happen? Or maybe she should just walk out, stating this clearly was a mistake and hope he can find someone else.

"Buffy," his voice reached her hears and his hand lightly tapped her shoulder. Slowly she turned back around and saw that he had put on a pair of sweat pants and a wife beater which was covered with a few splatters of paint.

"You know maybe I should just leave," she tried to give an excuse, but he ignored her and started to talk over her.

"I apologize once again. Darla's behavior was completely uncalled for."

"It's alright."

"No, it really isn't. She was playing some stupid game that I had no part of what's so ever. If she had told me you were going to be here today, this morning would have gone a little differently."

"Oh, so you wouldn't have greeted me in your boxers?" Buffy asked oddly finding herself relaxing in his company.

He smiled at her comment, "No, probably not."

"Damn, so far that was the highlight of this fiasco."

He let a chuckle slip out before composing himself, "Let's start again. Hi, I'm Angel."

Holding out his hand she accepted it, "Hello, I'm Buffy. Buffy Summers."

Releasing her hand he slid onto a stool, as she walked over to the island and stood across from him. "Um, I hope you don't mind be asking but, are you perhaps related to Joyce Summers?"

Looking down at that damn blue sponge still in her hands, Buffy nodded her head. "She was my mother."

Angel had been hoping he was wrong. "I'm very sorry, Joyce was one amazing woman, I respected her greatly. I wanted to come to the funeral, but I was in Europe. I-I sent flowers," he ended pathetically. He sounded like a real idiot. `I sent flowers', well big deal the girl's mother died.

"I know … I mean I remember the bouquet with your name on it. Lilies were her favorite, thank you."

Quietness settled upon them, but it was far from awkward. It was as if they were both paying their respects for Joyce. As the moment of silence passed, Angel reached across the island taking the sponge from Buffy's fingers. "I know what Darla said, but you don't have to clean."

Buffy let the sponge be taken, but she couldn't help protesting. "Because the apartment can clean itself? I think you have proven that theory wrong."

Angel glanced behind him at his messy loft. "I know the evidence shows otherwise but I am actually a neat freak. That's why I hired an assistant, I'm so busy I only have time to sleep, paint and f-" he turned back around, the word `fuck' dying on his lips. Buffy radiated such an innocent and pure aura, that he couldn't bring himself to bring up his nightly activities, even though she got a pretty good preview already this morning. "And forget about cleaning," he substituted.

"I kinda wondered why a man with this," she pointed to the mess, "would have five different disinfecting sprays … lined up on a shelf … in alphabetical order."

"They each have very distinct disinfecting powers and if they are in alphabetical order it makes it easier to grab the right one."

Smiling at his OCDness, she crossed her arms, shifting her stance. "The mess must be killing you."

"G-d, yes," he breathed out.

"All the more reason for me to clean," she reached out for the sponge, but he pulled it further away.

"No, you don't. You're not just my housekeeper Buffy, I would feel uncomfortable if the first thing you do is clean up after me. Why don't we start with breakfast?"

"Okay, I can do breakfast, sort of. I know how to make scrambled eggs, but even then I can't promise they won't come out a little on the burnt side."

Laughing he got up and walked behind her over to the refrigerator, "No, I meant I'll cook us breakfast." Opening the fridge door he stared at his moldy wedge of cheese, almost empty bottle of ketchup and a few scattered packets of butter. "I guess I don't have time to buy food either."

"Great, my first chore, go to the market. Whatcha want?"

Closing the door he looked around the living space, scanning the large room. Suddenly he moved off to the couch and Buffy watched as he bent over the cushions throwing the items littering the couch aside and onto the floor before he rose triumphantly with a sketchpad in his hand. Next, he walked back to the kitchen and started opening drawers until he found a drawing pencil in a drawer filled with cooking utensils. Buffy couldn't help smiling at the peculiarity of his actions.

Taking the pad over to the island he stood next to her and started scribbling down words. "I'm just writing down a few of the things I normally like to have stocked and you can buy anything that you like to eat as well."


"Anything to make you feel more comfortable here."


Part 2

After three weeks Buffy found that her early morning encounter and following conversation with Angel on her first day was a rare occurrence. Angel pushed back her starting time to 10 am, instead of 8, giving each of them a little extra time to sleep in and as a result Buffy never again ran into Darla in the mornings, but a few times as she was leaving for the evening, she caught Darla just arriving.

Angel wasn't kidding when he said he was busy. In a month he was exhibiting some of his paintings at a gallery along with some other artists and in the following months after that he was exhibiting his work at another gallery and then finally having an art show that was all his own works. Ever the perfectionist, he spent most of his time in his studio working. Buffy rarely saw him and when she did their interactions were usually just a quick hello and some instructions for the day. Most of the time, Buffy would arrive in the morning and he would already be painting and thus the only communication she would have with him was a note left on the kitchen island. Buffy admitted she was a little sad at having such an distant relationship with her boss, he seemed like a nice person the first day they met and she wouldn't mind getting to know him better, but on the other hand she was glad for the sliver of freedom and independence his aloofness gave her.

During down time in between running errands, going shopping or cleaning up after Angel, Buffy usually sat on his couch doing homework or catching up on her reading. It was a peaceful setting and she found the atmosphere very soothing. The comfy leather couch faced the slanted wall of windows letting the sun flitter through. His walls were lined with bookshelves and few of his paintings and sculptures and there was a television stashed away in a corner, but Buffy didn't think it was even plugged in. Sometimes, Angel liked listening to music ranging from Mozart to The Grateful Dead while he worked and it would sift through the walls and float around the loft. It didn't bother Buffy one bit, instead she felt it brought her a little closer to Angel, that even though they were rooms apart they could share the same melodic experience.

However, the moment she was experiencing now was anything but soothing or melodic. Moving slowly up the four flights of stairs, Buffy lugged Angel's groceries for the week, and for one man he sure did eat a lot, especially chocolate, she never met a guy before that loved chocolate as much as Angel.

Instead of coming straight to Angel's like she normally did, she went to the market to buy the food first and when she arrived at his building a little before noon, she found the elevator out of order and so she started the long trek climbing the never ending stairs. She considered leaving half the bags at the bottom and taking them up in trips, but she didn't want to chance someone taking anything.

Upon reaching the door, with the keys in her mouth and a plethora of plastic bags in her hands and hanging off her arms, she groaned as she finally placed everything down relieving her body of the extra weight. Taking a moment to huff and puff and waiting for the feeling to come back into her appendages, she heard the series of locks being undone behind the door and soon she found herself facing Angel.

He had an indifferent expression as he studied her disheveled appearance. "You could have buzzed me and I would have come and helped."

Still trying to catch her breath she stretched out one hand, leaning heavily on the doorframe. "You never hear the intercom when you are in the studio and besides look," she swung her arm over the food, "I managed."

Still staring at her, he called backwards into the loft, "Guys, damsel in distress here." Behind Angel emerged two lanky fellows, one tall and one short, each with a mop of brown hair and blue eyes. With a nod to her, they started collecting bags of food and moving them into the apartment. Angel took the last of them and stood to the side against the doorjamb. "Milady," he spoke while using a bag laden hand to gesture inside indicating he wanted her to go before him, which she did and he followed her shutting the door with his foot.

The two strangers were already putting the food away and when Buffy went to join them, Angel only nudged her out of the kitchen, telling her to rest on the couch. Wanting to rest, but also wanting to defy him a little, she sat choosing one of the stools instead.

"We were just going to have some lunch and now you can join us," Angel informed her as the three men quickly restocked the fridge and cabinets.

"Oh really," she replied smiling, propping her chin on her hand as she rested her elbow on the island's surface.

"Well, we were actually waiting for you lass since Angel `ere didn't have any food for lunch," the shorter man answered in an Irish brogue as he opened a bottle of beer.

"That's what I thought," she said leaning back. "And you would be?"

"Oh sorry," Angel stepped up to the island along with the other mystery fellow. "This is Doyle and Wesley," Angel said in way of introductions.

The short man Angel indicated as Doyle lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed the back of it winking at her, "Pleasure."

"Don't fall for his antics," Wesley informed as he gently took the same hand smiling. "An Irishman doesn't know how to charm a young lady, unlike an English gentleman such as myself."

"We don't waste time charmin' we sweep `em off their feet," Doyle retaliated taking Buffy's hand from Wesley.

"If sweeping them off their feet is going to a pub, and getting them so drunk on Guiness they end up flat on their backs with their feet in the air," Wesley carefully grabbed the hand again.

"Well how do you expect us to get laid otherwise? If I didn't sweep Brianna O'Grady off her feet, I may still be a virgin."

As Doyle went to take Buffy's hand again, who was trying very hard to hold in her giggles, Angel stepped in and took Buffy's hand instead. "I think you boys better stop before you embarrass yourselves even more." After glancing at the two of them, he looked down at Buffy's hand in his. It was the first time they had had skin to skin contact and suddenly an awkward feeling rushed through him. "Here, you can have this back now."

Having Angel hand her back her hand was such a sweet gesture and she willed herself not to blush at the excitement she felt when he first made contact with her. "You guys as hungry as I am?" she brought the topic back to lunch.

They agreed that they were starving and soon they formed a sandwich making assembly line. With food and drink in hand they all found a place to settle in the living room. Doyle sat in a rather interesting wooden chair that Buffy had been trying to figure out how to sit in since she saw it. From Doyle's playful comment to Angel about he was an artist not a furniture designer, she guessed Angel had made it. Angel and Wesley occupied the couch and directly in front of Angel, Buffy sat on the floor on the opposite side of the coffee table facing him.

While they ate the conversation flowed freely. Doyle and Wesley were quite interested to know more about Buffy and even though he didn't show it on the outside, Angel was too. She talked about her parents divorce and how she never sees her dad, so it's just her, her sister Dawn and a close circle of friends. When talking about school, she told them how she was an Art History major and that she hoped to one day re-open her mother's gallery. Again Angel's expression didn't show any interest, even though he was surprised by what she said.

Buffy didn't mind sharing with them about herself, but she was soon forced into an observation role as she watched the three friends interact. They liked taking jabs at each other in a friendly way and it seemed they were very close. Half the time she was laughing not because what they were saying was necessarily funny, but because the camaraderie between them lightened the atmosphere and one couldn't help but have a good time.

A few times her attention would shift solely on Angel. It was a side of him she had never seen before, a side that he hinted at when they first met, but was always careful to keep it hidden since then. He laughed, smiled, talked and was funny. He was a funny guy.

If he didn't want to give anything away his face can be very indifferent and reading him is practically impossible, but at that moment he let go showing her a fun, charming individual. Buffy actually started to like him … well, not like him like him … just like him … only one like. Why would she like him like him, he was her boss and liking him liking him was off limits. Okay, she needed to stop this train of thought.

When the afternoon came to a close, Doyle and Wesley left and Angel retreated into his studio. Buffy grabbed a highlighter and one of her texts flipping it open and curled up on the couch. She laid the book on her legs attempting to read, but all she could concentrate on was the image of Angel hanging out with his friends.

Buffy knocked once, then twice and there was no answer. Thinking Angel wouldn't mind if she just went in, she turned the knob and opened the door. It was her first time inside his studio and she felt a little anticipation as she stepped into his inner sanctum. Canvases were stacked along the walls, some leaning and some piled. As far she could tell most of them were blanks, but some of the ones she could see leaning against the wall were finished works of art. There were two large metal shelving units that met in the far corner stocked full of various supplies and remnants of works passed were evident by the droplets and splashes of paint decorating the floor.

Angel was standing, wearing that same paint splattered wife beater, at an easel that rested near a wall of windows which allowed the natural light to stream into the room. He had a wobbly side table next to him holding his palette, tubes of paint, numerous brushes and some other canisters. At the moment he was studying the not yet finished painting in front of him idly cleaning off a brush with a paint stained rag.

"So," she began stepping forward gaining his attention as he turned to look at her. "That art supply store you sent me to was out of it and the one they sent me to was out and the one after that and after thirty five minutes stuck in freeway traffic, I make it across town to a fourth art store just so you can have your can of Passion Red paint." Reaching him, she dramatically placed the can on his table presenting him with her purchase. "Can you please tell me why it was sooooooo important that you have this color? I mean what is the difference between the color Red and Passion Red, besides the word passion?"

"The word passion," he replied keeping a static face.

"Now you're just mocking me."

He let a smile slip at her frustration, "It's completely different hue Buffy, and you're just upset you missed your soap opera."

"Marlena had a gun pointed at Hope and Bo's trapped in the cellar!" she whined both annoyed about missing her show and that Angel saw through her anger.

"Thank you and I'm sorry Passion Red has caused you such turmoil. Can you put it over there?" He pointed to the metal shelves in the corner before turning back to his painting.

Walking the can over to the shelves, Buffy noticed the disarray state the materials stored there were in. She could tell that they used to be organized, just like his cleaning supplies closet, but like the rest of this place, Angel just didn't have the time to tidy up. Instead of placing Passion Red on the shelf, she put in on the floor and called over her shoulder to Angel as she studied the mess in front of her. "You know I could reorganize this for you. You must hate yourself for letting it get this bad."

Just as she was reaching out to start, Angel appeared at her side gently moving her hand away. "Ah no that's okay, you don't have to," he replied nervously.

Buffy was stunned for a bit as she looked back and forth a few times between Angel and the distance of the room he crossed in lightening speed until his words registered. "What? I already clean everything else. I even have to pick up the dirty clothes off your bedroom floor. By the way I think Darla is starting to leave her underwear here on purpose and I would really appreciate it if she didn't. I feel skanky just looking at them."

"Really Buffy its fine the way it is," he tried to maneuver her away but she easily bypassed him.

"You're worried I'm not going to do it right," she accused.

"No … not at all."

"Oh admit it!"

"An artist's supply shelf is sacred!" he finally gave up. "I like it how I like it and I'd rather have it a mess then not right."

They held a staring contest for a moment, Angel hopping all the while she would drop it, but Buffy had a smug expression on her face and he knew she was just regrouping.

Taking a deep breath Buffy faced the chaotic shelves. "Let me guess, the paint goes on this side placed in order pertaining to the color spectrum, organized by hue and tint and container size, starting with warm colors and descending into cool colors. Oil goes at the top, acrylic underneath. Brushes are placed on the adjacent shelves matching their correct paint type and are placed in these meticulously labeled containers that say size and name brand." Pausing for a moment to take another deep breath, she continued pointing at various spots on the shelves, "Floating medium and turpentine over there, pastels and charcoal on that shelf, etching utensils … should I go on?"

Again there was silence. Buffy tried to hold back her smirk as she glanced out of the corner of her eye at Angel. His expression once again gave little away to what he was thinking.

Placing his hand lightly on her back he looked down at her, "You get on that then, I'll be working over here," and he walked back across the room to his work station.


Part 3

Angel had grown accustom to being by himself, both working and living. He enjoyed the quietness that accompanied being the only one in his studio while he painted. Even when he played music, he could retreat into himself and block everything else out. Now with Buffy there his space was anything but quiet and blocking things out was out of the question. She was always making some sort of noise whether by moving stuff around or by constantly humming or singing some silly pop song. Angel definitely was not used to it.

Strangely however, he liked it. He liked the little reminders that someone else was there with him. It was like Buffy filled a void, an emptiness that had been surrounding him. He always thought how he felt was a natural feeling for him, but with Buffy in his life that natural feeling was disappearing. He discovered what he was feeling before was loneliness and Buffy's presence ate away at it little by little and now Angel didn't feel alone anymore.

Sitting on the floor surrounded by various items, Buffy was busy creating new labels and categorizing Angel's art supplies. She was also singing what Angel believed was a Britney Spears song.

Placing down his brush, Angel rose from the stool he was leaning on and walked over to the shelving unit. Buffy stood just as he got there, a few cans and tubes of paint in her hands. They smiled politely at each other as Angel went to grab a tube while Buffy went to place one. They reached at the same time and for the same spot causing the backs of their hands to brush against each other for a split second. Having what he came for Angel turned and went right back to his easel while Buffy returned to the floor. They both did a superb job of hiding the fact that they both received a jolt of electricity at the brief contact.

"You still haven't used Passion Red yet," Buffy called with her head down as she looked at the pint size can.

Angel kept his eyes on his painting as he added another shade of green to the canvas, "I know."

It was a pleasurable sensation that awoken him. That woman did have an amazing mouth. He rolled his head over to face the ceiling, but kept his eyes closed. Moaning, his hands crept into her blonde tresses slightly controlling her movement as she bobbed up and down on his erection. He was close and he didn't bother warning her has his balls tightened and he shot his seed hitting the back of her throat.

Licking her lips in satisfaction, Darla crawled up Angel's body. Lying on top of him she grabbed his bottom lip with her teeth and pulled at it before sucking the lip into her mouth. "So, I guess this means you are already having a good morning," she purred. He moaned again as his response. "Wanna bet I can make it even better?" She sat up and reached for his already hardening member, stroking it lightly. "Oh, by the way you have that over the phone magazine interview today at two," she reminded him flicking her finger over the tip.

Angel groaned loudly and opened his eyes for the first time that morning. He watched as Darla sat up on her knees and positioned him at her entrance, and by chance he took a glance over at his night stand and noticed the time on his alarm clock.

"Oh shit!" he sat up quickly and jumped out of bed, knocking Darla onto the floor. "Shit Darla it's five minutes to ten, you have to go." Opening some drawers he pulled out his clothes before bending over and picking up Darla's. "Out," he ordered tossing the clothes onto her naked body.

Still in shock, Darla sat haphazardly on the floor, watching as Angel covered his prominent erection with a pair of sweats. "What? I don't have to go anywhere!" she yelled standing up letting her clothes drop to the floor.

"Yes you do, Buffy is going to be here any minute and you can't be."

"Oh, so this is about the cheerleader," she fumed.

"No, Buffy was never a cheerleader," he answered absentmindedly pulling an old t-shirt over his head.

Studying his frantic behavior, Darla was hit with the fact that he really wanted her to leave. "You're fucking her aren't you? You're fucking that blonde tramp."

He stopped before he could go down the stairs and turned to Darla. "No, I am not fucking her and I don't want to ever hear you call Buffy a tramp or anything equivalent to that again," he took a menacing step up to her and stared her down giving her a threatening glare. Darla patted herself on the back for not cowering in fear like her instincts were telling her. "Now. Get. Gone."

Just then the front door opened. "Angel, I'm here," Buffy called out into the loft.

Giving Darla one more deadly glare telling her not to try anything, Angel turned and quickly rushed down the stairs. "Hey, right on time as usual," he greeted Buffy.

"Are you ok, you're breathing kinda heavy?" she noted in a worried voice.

"Well what can I say, you take my breath away," he smiled.

Observing from up above, Darla looked down at the pair as she slowly got dressed. He might not be fucking her, but he had feelings for her even if Angel didn't quite know it yet. Disgusted, Darla watched as Buffy reached up and put her hand on his forehead saying he seemed warm and asking if he was feeling okay. Angel just smiled telling her it was because he was in the presence of a pretty girl and he gently removed her hand holding onto it longer then necessary. Darla wanted to vomit as Buffy blushed. How naïve do you have to be to buy a sappy line like that and what kind of man was Angel turning into if he actual was the one feeding said line?

"Why don't you get started in the studio and I'll shower then make us some brunch?" Angel suggested to Buffy.

"Okay, don't take too long, I'm starving," and she walked around him disappearing into the studio.

Angel watched her go and then his attention was drawn to the stairs as Darla descended smiling. He held his ground crossing his arms over his chest and watched her walk over to the door.

Once over the threshold she turned back to face him. "You know it's pretty obvious of your um … large problem," she indicated his pants with her finger. "A quickie in the hall would solve it; Bunny would never have to know." Enraged, Angel marched over to the door ready to slam it in her face, but before he could close it Darla squeezed one more comment in. "See you tonight lover?" Angel paused for a second before closing the door nodding his head yes not looking her in the eyes. Standing in the hallway listening to Angel setting the locks, Darla smiled victoriously. Now all she had to do was to figure out what to do with the little harlot.

When Angel finished locking the door, he turned leaning his back against it sighing. He definitely did not want Buffy and Darla to have another morning run in. If he could help it, he'd make sure they never interacted ever again. He wasn't ashamed and he wasn't necessarily trying to hide his relationship with Darla from Buffy, but he felt like he was protecting Buffy in a way, protecting her from Darla's vicious mouth and also from him. He didn't consider himself a `good guy' with the way he treated his girlfriends, or more correctly lovers. Buffy shouldn't see the type of man he really was, she deserved better.

Pushing off the metal barrier he trudged over to the bathroom. He needed a very cold shower. Throwing Darla out before taking care of his um, problem was one thing, but being in Buffy's company, his cock twitched like nothing he ever felt before. If he didn't get into the shower right away, he might just go into his studio and jump her and that would be bad … bad, bad, bad … so very bad … he was a bad, bad man.

"Mmmm, French toast. You are a gift from the heavens," Buffy moaned sitting down at the kitchen island.

"It's just egg fried bread Buffy," Angel pointed out digging into his slice. After his surprisingly quick yet satisfying shower, Angel went straight into the kitchen to make his promised brunch. He didn't have to yell to tell Buffy it was ready, her nose did the job for him.

Cutting into the fried bread, Buffy stuck a corner piece on her fork, and placed it in her mouth and then slowly pulled the fork out from between her lips, a few droplets of syrup dripping onto her bottom lip. Angel watched entranced as her pink tongue slipped out and licked up every … last … drop.

"Angel, you've got talent," she spoke while still chewing.

Shaking his head, Angel looked down at his plate. "Thanks." Shoving a few more pieces into his mouth, he braved looking up at her. "So, are you doing anything this Saturday?"

"What's this Saturday?" she asked through another mouthful.

"Valentine's Day, you got any plans?"

"Oh yeah, I've got plans. Just me and my sister lounging around in our pjs watching The Princess Bride, Dirty Dancing and maybe even a little When Harry Met Sally." She smiled at him as she cut another piece, "You?"

"The gallery opening is Saturday night, so that's where I'll be."

Buffy wasn't expecting him to say that. "Oh, I thought … I mean aren't you … you and Darla aren't doing something, you know special?" she asked sheepishly finding her remaining slice of French toast very interesting.

"Darla doesn't do Valentine's Day and even if she did … we aren't together like that." He hated himself as the words passed his lips. He was a man whore and now Buffy knew.

"Well, every relationship is different, it's not always about love," Buffy replied trying to help Angel save face. They both had gone to avoiding eye contact by this point, but Buffy chanced a glance and she could tell Angel was starting to do that thing he did where he closed himself off from her. Desperately, she searched for a new topic to keep him with her. "This really is some good French toast," she spoke emphasizing her point by taking another large bite. Angel brightened a little and Buffy knew she was on the right track. "My Mom tried to teach me how to make it a few times, but I never got the gist. Actually French toast wasn't her specialty, pancakes were. I loved waking up Sunday mornings to the smell of Mom's pancakes filling the house."

"That seems like a nice memory," Angel commented pushing his half eaten plate away from him.

"It is," she agreed. "Is your family coming to the gallery opening?" she asked innocently.

"No." His reply was curt and sharp.

Thinking that Angel never did mention his family, and since she had brought it up, she thought she would try probing further. "So, do you have any siblings?"

"No," he answered again in the same manner, his face hardening.

He's doing his thing, Buffy thought. "Well, you're lucky then. Dawn and I may be close now, but growing up she was the typical annoying younger sister." She'll try rambling and hopefully he will catch on and join in the conversation. "She went through a phase where she'd borrow my clothes without asking and it was always some shirt or skirt that was brand new and of course she'd find a way to ruin it. Actually she's still in that phase. Oh, but what really used to infuriate me was when we were little and we would be sitting in the living room or something and then out of blue she would hit herself and then scream for Mom blaming me! Of course Mom would believe her since she was the younger child." Finishing her food, she stood taking her and Angel's plate to the sink, her back facing him. Turning on the water, she became mesmerized by the liquid washing away the excess food. "I'm really happy I have Dawn though, I don't think I would have made it this far without her. We lean on each other a lot, support one another. I really am thankful for my sister."

After a few seconds of silence, Buffy whipped around after hearing the sound of a door being slammed. She quickly noticed Angel wasn't sitting in his seat and the studio door was closed. A little worried at his behavior she turned off the water and walked over to the studio door, but as she went to grab the doorknob, Angel opened it from the inside. He held a medium size flat crate in his hands and shoved it towards her.

"I need food, go to the market and while you're out drop this off at the gallery it's a last minute addition."

Buffy was in shock at how harsh his voice sounded. "I'll drop it off, but I just went to the market you can't possibly be out-"

"I'm going to be concentrating really hard in here so don't bother me when you get back," he interrupted and then shut the door in her face. Buffy knew he was telling her she won't be organizing his shelves today.

Grabbing her purse she swung it on her shoulder and moved to the front door lugging the painting with her. Today had started out to be such a good day and Buffy wasn't quite sure what she had said or did to upset him so much. She was really looking forward to spending the day with him too. She needed to get to the bottom of his odd behavior and try to fix it. Angel deserved to be his open and funny guy, and not the one brooding in his studio.


Part 4

Getting up from the dinning room table, Buffy reached a hand into the kitchen and picked up the cordless phone cradled on the wall.

"Hello," she spoke into the receiver facing her friends who were sitting around the table eating dinner.

"Buffy its Darla," the woman's voice leaked through the phone lines. "Did I catch you at a bad time?"

Buffy cringed at the name causing her to receive several questioning gazes from her friends. "Yes Darla you did, we are in the middle of dinner," she said trying not to sound too annoyed, but Buffy just couldn't help it. Her friends all rolled their eyes at recognizing the name.

"Tell her you're having dinner with your terminally ill grandmother who probably won't make it through the night and that she is taking away what precious time you have left with your dear granny and hang up," Xander suggested in a hushed tone earning a giggle from Dawn and a small smile from Willow.

Buffy smiled as well while she half heartedly listened to Darla as she expressed a fake apology. "Is there something you need Darla?" she asked hoping to end the conversation soon.

"I hate to be the barer of bad news but … Angel doesn't think it's really working out. Don't bother coming into work tomorrow."

Buffy was taken back by Darla's words. She had been in a slight funk all weekend worrying about what she had said to Angel to make him close off so quickly and now Darla is telling her that whatever she did Friday had upset Angel so much he didn't want her as his assistant anymore. "So, Angel-" Buffy began.

"Oh he would have called you personally, but he just hasn't been himself all weekend. I've tried practically every position I know … I mean tactic I know to take his mind off whatever is troubling him." Buffy's shock faded into fury as she pictured the blond on the other end of the phone lying in bed with Angel at that exact moment, with that blue sheet held up to her chest, phone pressed to her ear, smiling as she rubbed her hand up and down Angel's chest. "Buffy, Buffy are you still there?"

"Well Darla, I'm sure with all the beds you've been tossed in and out of, you have an extensive knowledge of tactics to keep his mind occupied," Buffy seethed.

"Damn straight little girl," Darla bit back.

"In case you didn't get it, I was calling you a slut Darla." Buffy could hear her gasp on the other side of the phone. "Thanks for calling, but I have to get back to dinner now," and without a good- bye she hung up and then marched back over and sat down steaming in her seat.

"Way to go Buffy!" Dawn cheered on, "but I thought you didn't want to insult her because she was Angel's "girlfriend"." She indicated the word girlfriend by making quotation marks with her fingers emphasizing the falsity of the phrase.

"It doesn't matter I'm not working for Angel anymore." As the words exited her mouth, Buffy's anger faded away and sadness took over. She wasn't working for Angel anymore. At that moment she already missed him.

Wait … miss what, she thought. She hardly knew the guy. It had only been five weeks since she started working for him and a majority of that time he wasn't the warmest person in the world. Sure he had his moments when he let his guard down, but as time wore on, the only solid facts she knew about him was his name was Angel, he was an artist and apparently some sort of sex g-d to make Darla so protective in fear of losing him.

It all came down to this: Angel and she weren't close enough for her to miss him.

Although, ever since she started working with him inside his studio, those letting-his-guard-down moments grew and there were times she felt that she was with the real Angel, the Angel she was starting to like and become friends with. He had a great smile and an even better laugh. His cooking was phenomenal and their conversations over such meals as pancakes or scrambled eggs were always interesting and entertaining. She liked the way he concentrated on his paintings, and the way his large brow would furrow forward and sometimes his tongue would sneak out the corner of his mouth if he was doing some intricate detail. His wit was dry and she didn't know anyone that could tell a joke with such a serious face as him or on the reverse side keep a serious face at such a funny joke.

So maybe there were things she would miss.

Even though the sadness within her only grew, Buffy smiled picking up her fork. "Don't worry about it guys, I'll find another job. I heard that fast food place is hiring."

"If the murderer turns out to be Marlena's look-a-like cousin I'm going to be very disappointed," Buffy told the television as she shifted on the couch. She just couldn't help feeling antsy. She wasn't used to being home on a Monday afternoon. With her sister at school, her friends at school or work and with her having no work to go to, Buffy was left inside her empty house all by herself.

When the doorbell rang a few minutes later she jumped up at the noise, glad to have some sort of human interaction, even if it was members of Jehovah's Witness. Pausing with her hand on the knob she thought, what if it is Jehovah's Witness? She wasn't that desperate to talk to someone. Pulling back the tiny curtain that hung over the window on the door, she tried her best to peep outside without being seen. Instead of a stranger however, she saw a familiar face, a very nervous looking familiar face and quickly opened the door.

"Angel, what are you doing here?" she asked him even before the door was all the way open.

"You didn't come to work this morning, and at first I thought you might be running a few errands but then an hour later you didn't show up," he started right away seeming quite worried about her and not giving her a chance to speak he continued with his nervous babbling. "Then I thought you were mad at me for the way I acted and did not want to come in, but then I would have expected you to call with some excuse. So then my other conclusion was you were sick and you didn't call because you were so weak and tired that you couldn't even pick up the phone." Holding out his hands he handed her a bouquet of flowers. "I didn't know which one was right so in case you were mad I got you flowers as an apology," and then he bent down and picked up a cylinder take-out container, "and even though it's cliché, chicken soup for your cold from the best deli in town." Giving her the soup he let out a breath and placed his hands in his front pockets.

Buffy was in shock. Angel was at her house, Angel was worried about her, Angel gave her flowers and … and soup. With her mind only wanting to work on lower brain functions she didn't even say thank you and could only manage a flabbergasted, "Come-come … please … come inside." Stepping away from the door he entered cautiously, slowly entering the foyer.

"Um, nice place," he complimented and then internally cringed at his own lameness.

Closing the door, Buffy thanked him and then went back to thinking about the items in her hands. Didn't Darla say Angel didn't want her to work for him? Well, an unhappy employer does not do this to unwanted employees. Was it Angel's decision to fire her, or Darla going behind his back?

She was just about to ask him about it but she noticed he wasn't standing next to her anymore, but had moved on into the living room. He was standing in the middle of the room transfixed on the painting hanging over the mantel.

"That's … that's my painting," he said not really believing it. "I mean I painted that."

Buffy stood a little off to the side and a step or two behind him, "I know."

"How'd you get it?" he asked still in disbelief.

"When you first exhibited your work at my mother's gallery, we bought it," of course she was leaving out the part where she had spent countless amounts of time staring at it as it hung on the gallery wall influencing her mother to purchase it. From one glance it wasn't anything special, just a simple abstract with long curvy lines of paint dancing around and blending with a mass of cool colors, mostly dark blue, splotched onto the center and as you moved to the edges of the painting, the colors changed from dark to light and became warmer in color. Buffy had been oddly drawn to it and even after it had been hung in their living room she still sometimes caught herself admiring it.

"That was nearly five years ago," Angel spoke softly more to himself then to Buffy. So many thoughts were running through his head he couldn't even grasp onto one to concentrate on it. Buffy had mentioned to him that she had seen his work before, but he never imagined her owning one. Strangely he was comforted with the fact that this painting in particular had found a home with Buffy and her family. He turned to look at Buffy who was staring at his work adorningly and slowly her gaze drifted over to him and they remained locked like that for a few moments.

"Hey, you want lunch? I know I am not much of a cooker, but I can smash pieces of meat between slices of bread," she asked giving him a friendly smile.

He smiled back. "Only if you are coming back to work Wednesday and then Friday and then next week and the week after that …"

"Of course," she answered sweetly bringing the flowers she still held in her hand to her nose and breathing in their aroma.

"Lunch it is then."

"Great, be right back," and she left him to go into the kitchen, but before she was completely out of sight she turned back around to him. "Thank you," she told him and then disappeared through a doorway.

Looking around at the rest of the living room for the first time, Angel occupied a cushion on the couch and noticed the TV had been on the whole time. "You know, if the killer is Marlena's evil twin- cousin, I'm going to be very disappointed," he shouted in the direction of the kitchen.

Opening the refrigerator's door, Buffy didn't even realize a small smile spreading across her lips.

Darla strolled into the loft with her head high. She had spent a wonderful weekend with Angel and when they got up early Monday morning so Darla could leave, she left hassle free which Angel was grateful for, but she also left with a knowing smirk on her face. Later in the afternoon she called Angel and left a message telling him Buffy had called her sounding upset and said it wasn't working out and that he would have to find another assistant. Tuesday she was busy with a few other clients, but now it being Wednesday afternoon, Darla felt confident walking into a Buffy free apartment.

Opening the door to the studio quickly planning on surprising Angel, her smile slowly crept off her face as Angel's back came into view.

Standing with Angel, or rather in front of Angel with one of his arms wrapped around her, was Buffy Summers and they were both laughing.

"Angel I can't," Buffy giggled, making Darla's inside turn.

"Yes you can don't worry I'm right here," Angel's voice was so happy and light Darla actually felt the bile rise from her stomach.

Stepping more into the room, she could see that Buffy held a brush in her hand with Angel's larger hand draped over it, helping her control it as he directed the brush towards the painting.

"I'm going to mess up your painting," Buffy pleaded still with the laughter in her voice.

"Buffy I have complete faith in you," he told her and then leaned down until his lips were almost brushing her ear. "Besides I'm here to guide you." Keeping his head at the low level, he turned his attention back to the painting and together their hands moved forward placing the brush onto the canvas. They moved as one as the bristles glided across the canvas leaving strokes of red paint in their wake. "See, you're doing great," he spoke again near her ear.

Not letting her eyes move from the painting in front of her in fear of messing up, Buffy titled her head a little to the side. "Is this Passion Red by any chance?" she asked.

Smirking at her question Angel continued to guide her hand, "No, it's not." Darla waited until the brush left the painting to clear her throat. They both turned to look at her, but did not make an effort to separate. "I can see you are getting lots of work done in here," she commented with sarcasm in her voice.

"Tons," Buffy replied.

Angel took the brush from Buffy's hand and placed it on the wobbling table and started to approach Darla. "I got your message," he told her in false sweetness. "Both Buffy and I were quite surprised to find out she quit."

"I was doing you a favor," Darla responded trying to save herself. "She's a distraction."

"Well then it's a distraction I rather enjoy," he finally reached her and stood straight before her with his arms crossed.

"I knew it, you are fucking her!" Darla accused.

"No, I'm not and I'm definitely not fucking you either. We're through Darla." His voice was cold and final.

"Are you firing me?"

"I'm kicking you out of my bed, but I still need an agent, so no you're not fired."

Crossing her own arms in front of her chest, she cocked her hip out and raised her chin. "How do you know I won't just let your career go down the drain?"

"Because I pay you not to, and you also know you do wrong by me and I'll tarnish your name. You'll never be able to get another client again."

"You don't have the power," she called him on his bluff.

"No but my upper-social class buyers, as you like to call them, can spread the word pretty fast."

Holding a staring contest for a moment, Darla took a step back and then another and then finally turned around and marched out calling behind her, "You'll never find a better fuck then me."

"Right back at ya," he shouted and waited for the door to slam.

Letting out a sigh of relief he went back to Buffy who had taken to fiddling with his paint covered rag. He stood in front of her waiting for her to say something.

"I didn't mean to break you guys up," she spoke softly her face still turned down.

He placed his finger under her chin and lifted her head so that their eyes could meet. "There was nothing to break," he informed her. "Whatever that was, was never suppose to last forever. I probably should have ended it sooner, especially when I started noticing her obsession with keeping me all to herself. But sadly Darla was right about one thing," he dropped his hand and looked away ashamed. "She really was good in bed."

The reality of the situation Angel willing subjected himself to stung Buffy a little, but she pushed it aside happy that she didn't have to worry about Darla anymore. Slapping Angel on the chest, she got his attention back, "You are such a man, thinking with the head below the belt."

At first he thought she was mad at him, but then he saw she was trying to hold back a tiny smile. "Well you know," he stepped in front of her, facing his painting and picked up his paint brush. "When the head is as big as mine, it tends to have a mind of its own."

Blushing profusely Buffy found she could only stand there in shock and stare at his board back as he continued painting, knowing that every time they faced each other frontward, she would have to fight the urge to look at his crotch.


Part 5

Stepping into the dining room in her pajamas Dawn wasn't surprised to see Buffy passed out, drooling into one of her textbooks.

Crossing her arms over her chest she shouted her sister's name not really caring to show any sympathy. That didn't seem to work, so she walked over to the table and picked up one of the larger texts and let it fall with a large `SMACK' onto the surface, jolting Buffy awake.

"What-what? I'm up, I'm here, I'm with it," Buffy mumbled as she looked down at her notes and books shifting them around making it seem like she hadn't just been sleeping but studying the whole time.

"You fell asleep down here studying … again," Dawn explained walking into the kitchen. She soon reappeared with a bowl of cereal and sat across from Buffy. "Angel keep you late… again?"

"No, I chose to stay we had a mini-movie marathon. You know Angel had never seen `Dirty Dancing' or the `Princess Bride'?" Buffy answered still rearranging her notes.

"You never let me stay out late on a school night, especially when I have a test," Dawn pointed out not bothering to hide the fact that she was mad with her sister.

"It's different, I'm older and can manage my time better," Buffy replied through a yawn.

"Oh, so managing your time includes putting hanging out with Angel, time you are not getting paid for, above studying for finals? Don't you also have a paper due in like two days?"

Buffy was really starting to get annoyed with her sister and her incessant questions. "I'm handling it Dawn. The paper can practically write itself and I know that I am perfectly capable of spending my free time with Angel and still have enough time to study."

"Is that why for the past two weeks I have caught you down here asleep in your book at least four times?"

Buffy chose to remain silent. Dawn was right, she was spending more time then necessary with Angel and her study habits were suffering, but when it came time for her to leave at the end of the night she was finding it harder and harder to just say good-bye. She even noticed Angel was starting to give her mundane tasks to keep her around just a tad bit longer. Watching television and movies were just their newest excuse to lengthen their time together and of course since Darla had not been around in the last few weeks to interrupt them they actually had to the time to spend.

"Are you going to shower, because if you are I would appreciate it if you did now so that I have time to shower before class," Buffy requested piling her notes and books pushing them to the side and then stood up.

"I showered last night, but you would know that if you were here," Dawn grumbled.

"Thank you," Buffy told her and started to walk towards the stairs, but stopped not being able to leave the situation with her sister like that. "Dawnie, I'm sorry I've been spending less time at home, but Spring Break is coming up soon so I'll be around for a whole week, and next quarter is my last and I promise that my work load will be a lot less. I know I'm not Mom-"

Dawn held up her hand stopping her. "I get it, I'm sorry." Finding interest in her mushy cereal, Dawn smushed it around until she lifted her head smiling. "You know, I would feel a lot better if I just met this mysterious Angel fellow …"

Rolling her eyes, Buffy left the room and ascended the stairs shouting, "You want to meet him because you think he's hot."

"Well, isn't he?" Dawn yelled back.

Quietly to herself Buffy smiled, "You have no idea."

Hearing muffled voices coming from the studio the minute she opened the door was unexpected. Removing her key, Buffy took slow and steady steps towards the studio trying to make out words that came streaming out of the crack in the door. As she got closer, her shoulders sank as she recognized Darla's voice, but then suddenly determination came over her and she marched to the door.

"It's my body Angel and I don't want it," Darla's voice yelled causing Buffy to stop a step away from the knob. "I'm only telling you as a courtesy, I didn't honestly expect you to want to keep it."

Buffy was getting a baaaaad feeling about his conversation.

"People can surprise you," Angel's voice piped in. "All I'm asking is that you think about it more, give it some time. It's a human life Darla it deserves more then what you are giving it." There was silence before Angel added, "I'll raise it on my own. You don't have to be in its life if you don't want."

"Oh so you could bad mouth how horrible I was to abandon my child."

"I promise I will never speak ill of you in our child's presence. It'll grow up knowing what a beautiful and strong willed woman you are."

More silence until Darla quietly told Angel she would think about it. Buffy heard her heals clicking against the floor and quickly ducked along the wall so when the studio door opened, she was standing behind it. Darla left without even knowing Buffy was there.

Giving Angel a moment to himself, Buffy walked back over to the front door and careful not to make a noise, re-opened it and then closed it with a small slam. "Angel I'm here," she called to him. Biting her lower lip she stepped into the studio and found him slouching on his stool, a paint brush twirling in his hand. "Hey …" she said coming up along side him. "Everything alright?" She didn't want to push the subject, knowing Angel found it difficult to open up, but she was hoping he felt comfortable enough with her to do so.

He continued to sit there, staring at the brush going around and around between his fingers. Suddenly he stopped and took a good grip on the handle, picked up some paint and then proceeded to smash it onto the canvas painting large black smudges over previous yellow and orange spots. "Darla's pregnant," he told her never taking his eyes off his painting.

Buffy did her best feigning surprise. "Oh? Wow."

"She doesn't want it. Told me she was going to get an abortion."

"What-what do you want?" she asked tentatively.

He continued covering his painting in new black markings. "If you don't mind, I just want to be left alone. You can go home. I'll still pay you for the hours you would have worked."

Buffy wasn't happy and a little disappointed with his decision, but forced herself to accept it. "Okay … see you later then."

Giving him one last look, she shuffled out of the studio, only to be stopped by him calling her name. "Thanks for trying … maybe later I'll feel like talking." He still wouldn't look at her as he spoke, but he had stopped painting and gently he placed his paint brush down.

"I'll be there when you're ready," she told him and then left Angel sitting alone staring at his all black canvas.

"You know Buffy, I believe you do a better job when you are volunteering then when you are actually getting paid," Giles teased as Buffy helped restock books at his rare and used book store.

"I think there is less pressure without the constant fear of getting fired," she explained.

"I would never fire you," he told her.

"You're just saying that now that I no longer work for you, but I'm pretty sure if I didn't quit, I would have gotten the boot."

Finishing with his stack, Giles removed his glasses and cleaned them ducking his head as he moved to the front counter, "Quite right."

Buffy was very thankful for having Giles in her life. He used to be her high school's librarian and if it wasn't for Willow constantly hanging out there after school, Buffy would never have gotten to know the man. Right before graduation some seniors decided it would be funny to set off a stink bomb in the library as a final prank, but apparently there was some sparks causing a trash can to catch fire which spread and since the library was just filled with things that catch fire easily, like books, the whole place was set ablaze. For some reason the principal blamed Giles and got the school board to fire him. Almost a year later, Giles opened up his bookstore and Willow and Buffy and the rest of her friends still hung out with the old man. With all she went through in the past year, her mother's illness, and subsequent death and her father's lack of concern, Giles had been a constant pillar of support.

As Buffy emerged from the stacks she noticed Anya, Giles only real employee, was complaining in full earshot of Buffy.

"I'm actually the one who gets paid, so I don't understand why you give her work to do. I feel like I am easily replaceable," she nagged in Giles ear.

"You are replaceable Anya," he sighed as he busied himself writing down his new inventory. "Just think of it this way, with Buffy helping me for free, it gives you time to do nothing and still get paid."

Buffy joined them at the counter with a smile. Anya's comments didn't bother her, much. She had known her for a couple of years now and she was getting used to her sometimes rude and inappropriateness, you just had to learn that's what makes her Anya. "Don't worry Anya, Giles would rather have you working for him over me any day."

"I know," she answered. "Aren't you supposed to be at school today anyway?"

"Nope, its finals week and I just had my last one this morning. I'm on spring break a couple days early."

Then the bell over the door chimed, "Customer!" Anya jumped at the noise and raced to meet the customer before they got too far into the store. "Welcome, how may I service you?" Giles and Buffy heard Anya ask, leaving Buffy in giggles and Giles with a scowl on his face.

"Does she have to greet every customer with that phrase," he grumbled.

"I'm actually looking for Buffy?" a familiar voice asked catching Buffy's ear.

"Why, you want her to service you?" Anya inquired.

Buffy rushed over to the pair quickly after hearing Anya's question. "Anya this is Angel, my boss," she introduced them.

"Oh, the handsome yet likes-to-brood artist. You're right, his forehead is quite large." With Anya's last comment Buffy gently guided her back to the counter to Giles.

"Giles, this is Angel, Angel Giles," she introduced and then motioned for Angel to follow her through a doorway towards the back of the store. "We'll be in the back, okay?"

The backroom was a pretty decent size considering it was a backroom. There was a couch built for two, one big comfy chair, a table with a coffee maker and donuts and a couple of bookshelves with books that Giles' labeled as `extremely rare' and were only for preferred customers.

They stood awkwardly for a moment, avoiding eye contact, Angel with his hands crossed in front of his chest and Buffy lightly tapping her hands on her thighs. It occurred to Buffy then that she never told Angel where the bookstore was.

"How'd you know where I was?"

"I called your house, your sister told me. She's really-"

"Annoying," she supplied.

"Talkative," he corrected. "She asked a lot of questions, including what I was wearing. I was kinda scared."

"Welcome to the club." Then she ventured forward deciding dancing around the topic was pointless. "Are you feeling better?" she asked referring to the day before.

"I guess." He took to pacing and running his hand through his hair. "I just never thought that I would ever become a father. I didn't even want to be one before, but now I want it so bad and it's being taken away from me."

"I'm sorry," Buffy told him watching him as he slowed his pacing. "I wish there was more I can do for you, but I can help you look at the brighter side. You do get something out of this situation."

"Which is?" he asked his head facing the floor, but he shifted his eyes in her direction.

"Knowledge. Knowledge that you want to be a father, that you have that instinct in you." As she spoke she kept making small steps closer to him. "Now just isn't your time, but one day you'll be with a woman that you love and who loves you back. You might even be married, who knows, but together you will create a beautiful and precious life that is apart of both of you and you will both love it more then anything." His head lifted and he turned his somber expression towards her. "One day Angel, if you really want it, I know you will have that."

"I believe you," he breathed.

Buffy was about to reach out to hold his hand, when she noticed Angel looking perplexed at something behind her. "What's wro-" without warning a pair of hands grabbed a hold of her waist and then she was being sung in circles and she saw the blurred image of Angel pass by a few times before she was placed on the ground again, this time facing, "Spike!" Leaping into the other man's arms she hugged him tightly. "When did you get back?"

"Just now, I took a cab from the airport," he explained. "Said hello to my uncle and he told me you were back here. So, how's my girl?" Spike smiled at her and placed his hand on the back of her head briefly patting it and then running it down her hair.

"I'm okay," and then she remembered, "Spike this is Angel," she pointed behind her. "Angel this is-"

"William?" Angel interjected.

"Angelus?" Spike asked back.

Buffy's head was moving back and forth rapidly looking between the two men. "You two know each-you're real name is William?" her head snapped back to Spike in surprise. "That's the name you claim was so horrible that you changed it and that no one still alive knew your true name leaving you to take it to your grave?" Well, that was anti- climatic, Buffy thought.

"People used to make fun of me," Spike defended his decision. "Called me William the Bloody, I didn't like it."

"You wrote bad poetry," Angel pointed out much to Spike's chagrin.

Angel's comment reminded Buffy, "So getting back to the part where you guys know each other."

Spike leisurely made his way over to the chair and flopped himself down, placing his boot covered foot on the ottoman in front of him and caught Angel's eye. "We knew each other when we were little. It's been what, twelve years Angelus?"

"It's just Angel," he corrected Spike and then turned to Buffy. "I'll see tomorrow, and I'll let you go early so you can start your weekend." Retreating quickly before Buffy could stop him, he walked out.

"Angel," Spike scoffed. "What a girlie name." Buffy sat in on the couch in the spot nearest to Spike, slightly confused. "So pet, how do you know Angelus and what's this talk of tomorrow?"

"He's my boss, I'm his assistant," she answered.

"Assistant?! What does the poofter do?"

"He's an artist, but anyway … where did you two meet?" Buffy found this situation very interesting. Besides the simple fact that Spike actually knew Angel, Buffy was curious about Angel when he was little.

Spike heard her question but debated whether or not to answer her. Him and Angel might not be the closest of friends now, but he had an inkling Angel wouldn't be too appreciative if Spike leaked his life story, even if Angel was friends with Buffy. He can be tricky in that sense picking and choosing what things to share, even Spike hadn't known all his inner secrets.

"We were friends when we were little and then I moved to England to live with Giles, that's all there is to it," he said hoping that would be sufficient enough, but one look at Buffy's face he knew she wasn't going to give up that easily.

"You are going to have to do so much better then that."

"Okay, listen … Angelus … oh wait, Angel," he scoffed again at the name, "he's always been a private fellow, I'm not sure he'd want me spilling his beans."

"Please Spike," she pleaded to him. Maybe if she got a little bit more background on Angel she could break him free from his reclusive ways for good.

It only took Spike a second to stare at her eyes to give in. He was always weak when it came to her. "We met when we were thrown into the system."

"The system?" Was she supposed to get that reference?

"Child services," Spike clarified. "My pop was long dead and me mum had just abandoned me for some alcoholic druggie and I get put into foster care. I was about thirteen at the time, so you can imagine my foster families had very little tolerance for my antics. They kept moving me around from family to family, but in between moves, I would stay at this … well they didn't want you to call it an orphanage but that's basically what it was. My first time there, that's where I met Angel, he was thirteen as well and in the same boat as me."

"His dad was dead and his mother left him?" Buffy asked already intrigued by the tale.

"Same boat as in, not being able to stay with one family for too long. It was funny, for two years we were both in and out, in and out of this place. We'd stay there together for `bout a week maybe more and then a social worker would collect one of us saying we got a great family willing to take you in. We'd laugh and say we'd see each other in a month or two and of course we were right every time. We had a crew of about five of us that floated in and out of that place. One time Angel and I even ended up at the same foster house. I think we lasted three hours in that one, probably a record."

Buffy was starting to understand Angel a little bit better knowing what Spike had just told her, but she sensed there were more traumatic events that influenced Angel's behavior. "Why was Angel in the system to begin with?"

Taking a deep breath, Spike continued. "Angel wasn't lucking like most of us. He didn't come from some broken home, or parents who couldn't support their own child. Nope, he had two parents who loved him and a little sister who he adored. They were killed by a drunk driver, all three of them. Angel was in the car as well, he was the only one who survived."

"How horrible, but didn't he have any other family?"

"If he did they couldn't be located or they didn't want him. When we were fifteen they finally tracked down my uncle and he came to collect me. That was the last time I saw Angel, as far as I know he stayed in the system until he was eighteen."

Buffy's mind went back to over a month and a half ago when she asked Angel about his family and he had said they never came to shows and that he didn't have any siblings. Well at least he didn't lie to her. Even though she hadn't had known, she still felt like the biggest idiot and very regretful for rehashing old wounds … or more like never fully healed ones. Badly, she wanted to do something to help him, she just didn't know what.


Part 6

Friday turned out to be boring and slightly uneventful. When she arrived Wesley and Doyle were already there and the television was on. Buffy remembered a while back when she asked Angel if he wouldn't mind if she hooked it up so she could watch it and from the look he gave her, she truly believed he had forgotten he even owned one. Giving her the okay, she managed to get everything connected and every once in awhile, like around the time her soaps were on, she would switch it on. During lunch sometimes Angel would join her, and lately she was getting him to watch movies with her, but she knew Angel could care less about the entertainment industry all together.

Not today apparently, Buffy thought as she walked in greeting the trio. They all looked up and said hi and then returned to … were they watching The View? Standing next to the couch which was occupied by Angel and Doyle, she waited to see if Angel would give her any errands to run, or just some directions, but they never came.

"Are you going to sit down?" Angel asked her finally, his eyes on the screen.

Shrugging her shoulders Buffy settled herself between the two men on the couch and joined them in becoming a zombie. "I don't like Star Jones," she spoke up after a few minutes.

"Neither do I."

"Same here."

"I agree."

The men grumbled and then all four went silent and continued to watch.

A couple of hours after Buffy arrived they ordered Chinese take-out. Buffy was the one to answer the door and she brought over the box of food to the lazy men and passed out cartons to everyone, and every few minutes they would switch them around so that everyone got a little of everything. When the food was long gone, Angel was the next one to move and got up to go the bathroom.

The other occupants took the opportunity to stretch and pulled their attention away from the TV.

"This has been a riot. I wish everyday was like this," Doyle exclaimed sarcastically. "Ya know we found him like this, watching the tube," he explained to Buffy. "We came over to cheer him up and ended up getting sucked in."

"Did you try saying anything?" Buffy asked.

"He won't even tell us what's going on!" Wesley joined in. "We only figured he was depressed because we rang last night to tell him we were going to the pub, and he turned us down."

"Angel never turns down the pub or any pub for that matter," Doyle filled in.

Buffy was confused, as far as she knew Wesley and Doyle were Angel's only good friends and he hadn't even told them about Darla? "You guys are so close, you don't talk ever?"

Doyle and Wesley gave each other a look before both turning back to Buffy. "We might be Angel's closest friends Buffy but he likes to keep stuff private, and over the years we've learned to let it be," Wesley began.

"We don't really know anything about his life before he met us. That's the way Angel wants it," Doyle finished.

Buffy was amazed by what they were saying and the feeling that Angel was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma was growing stronger. Then another thought came to her, so far she had met all the people that had known Angel closely at one point in his life and she knew more about Angel then all of them put together. She didn't know if she should feel flattered or a little unsettled.

Angel soon emerged from the bathroom and returned to his spot of the couch. He didn't notice, or didn't choose to notice that all eyes were on him.

"Well Angel man, me and Wes are out. We'll see you soon," Doyle said standing up, followed by Wesley. Angel looked up at them for a second and then nodded before turning back to the screen.

Wesley and Doyle each gave Buffy a look of sympathy before leaving the loft. Buffy remained in her seat choosing to look at Angel rather then the television.

"You can go too. I think I'll be doing this for the rest of the day," he told her.

"You're not going to paint? You have a deadline coming up," she reminded him knowing that most of his already finished pieces were not going to be submitted into the show and he had planned on doing a few more all new works.

"Got nothing to paint," was his answer.

Shifting on the couch to find a more comfortable spot, Buffy went back to watching the TV. This time it was Angel who turned away from the screen and looked at her.

"Don't you want to get home … spend some time with Spike?"

"Spike?" she wasn't expecting him to say Spike. "I don't need to rush home to see Spike, besides he's at his uncle's." After a beat, Buffy grew curious why Angel asked specifically about Spike. "Angel you don't think Spike and I …"

"Aren't you?" he asked avoiding looking at her.

"NO! G-d no! Spike was Giles' annoying nephew who had nothing better to do then hang out with a bunch of high schoolers. We didn't really care, learnt to deal with him. I say it was a fluke we became so close at all," she explained trying very hard not to laugh at Angel's ridiculous suggestion. "He lives in England now so I never get to see him, but he isn't leaving for another three weeks, so I don't have to worry about not spending time with Spike, he'll be around." Angel looked back at her and she smiled on the inside. Angel was jealous of Spike, how adorable.

"He told you about me didn't he?" he asked quietly, his face somber.

Buffy felt a weight come down upon her and nodded her head yes. "Angel I am so sorry," she started but he cut her off.

"I don't need your pity," his voice was harsh and menacing and she was taken back.

"No, no Angel … I'm sorry because … I feel so stupid, talking about my family and my sister when this whole time you've been carrying this around…"

"Hey," his voice softened dramatically and he brought his hand to cup her cheek to stop her babbling and drew her face in a little closer. "You don't need to apologize for anything. You've done nothing wrong." He dropped his hand slowly and shifted in his seat clearing his throat. "Except maybe become friends with Spike, that's a little wrong."

"You were friends with him too!" she accused.

"I didn't say I was right either," he spoke keeping a straight face.

Well, at least some of the old Angel was back. "Hey, I've got an idea." He raised his eyebrows at her comment waiting for her to continue. "I'm having bar-b-q tomorrow at my house. It's a tradition that my friends and I all gather at least once during spring break. It keeps us together."

"Seems like fun times," he told her.

"It is, and I want you to come."

"Oh no," he started to get up but she placed a hand on his shoulder holding him in place. "I'm an outsider, I don't belong there."

"Yes you do, you're my friend and I want you there. Besides everyone is dying to meet you especially Dawn, who I think already has a crush on you so when you come I'm warning you right now, you might have an issue with the youngest Summers' girl hanging around and quite possibly on you."

"Well, if she is anything like the oldest Summers' girl then I think I'll be alright," he said with a smile, to which Buffy reciprocated.

"Sorry, but fortunately my company is a lot less irritating."

"I guess the oldest Summers' girl is just going to have to rescue me then."

Buffy's smile brighten, it's always fun messing around with Angel. "You would have to be there for me to rescue you …"

"I'll be there," he informed her.

With a squeal Buffy gave him a hug yelling, "Great!" as she did so while Angel reached up one arm and gently wrapped it around her, hugging her back. Pulling away she went back to watching TV, "How about some `Dirty Dancing'?" Letting out a groan Angel rolled his head back closing his eyes.

It was a great day for a bar-b-q. The sun was shinning, there was hardly a cloud in the sky, the occasional cool breeze blew by and it was a perfect seventy six degrees. Xander was put in charge of the grill and everyone was sitting around outside in lawn chairs and picnic benches enjoying idle conversation. Well, not everyone.

Dawn was kneeling on the couch gazing out the front windows when suddenly her eyes opened wide and she jumped up. "Buffy, Buffy! There's a hot guy pulling a very sleek classic convertible into the driveway," she shrieked as she came running out the back door pointing excitedly to the inside.

"Dawn, chill," Buffy told her holding up her hands as she passed her on the porch and went into the house. Looking out the window to confirm her suspicions, she smiled as she saw Angel climbing out of his car. Briefly checking her hair in the mirror by the front door, she got a funny feeling she was being watched and turned to the entryway of the living room. All her friends were waiting impatiently bunched together in the tiny space with little smiles on their faces. "Guys, are we trying to scare him? Act normal," she ordered and they all disbursed into the living room trying to look as natural as possible. Waiting for the doorbell to ring, Buffy counted to five and then answered it with a smile. "Hey."

"Hey," he said right back matching her smile. "Again I didn't know what else to bring, so …" he handed her another beautiful bouquet of flowers.

"Thank you, come in." Stepping aside to let him in she closed the door and noticed he paused right away after entering. Coming up beside him she saw her friends had reverted back to their former positions in the entryway.

"Let's just ignore the pod people in the living room and go talk to my real friends outside," she quipped which got a few `sorrys' and throat clearings from her friends.

"Buffy," Dawn finally spoke anxiously. "Don't just stand there, introduce us."

Giving her sister a small pointed look, she turned her attention back to introductions. "Angel these are my friends," she held up her hand and pointed to each person as she spoke their name. "You know Spike already, you sorta met Giles and Anya." Angel smiled briefly and nodded to them. "This is Xander, Willow, Tara, Faith, and-"

"Let me guess," Angel interjected. "Dawn," he said facing the bubbly brunette teenager, who giggled and nodded her head enthusiastically. "I could recognize your voice anywhere."

"People have said that to me a lot," she said nervously.

"It's nice to finally meet you," Faith spoke up saddling up to Angel's other side. "And here Willow had us thinking you were a girlie-man."

Angel raised his eyebrows a little at that statement and then turned to the red head he remembered was Willow and found her blushing profusely shaking her head. "No, I said your name was girlie, not that you were girlie," realizing she just insulted him again, she held up one hand shaking it rapidly. "Not that Angel is a girlie name, when given to the right person it can be very masculine and just one look at you, I mean you scream masculinity like the shoulders and torso and the hair … great hair … oh I'll stop now," she ended curling inward where she stood even more embarrassed.

"It's okay Willow, I think he's a girlie-man because of the hair," Spike spoke up getting a noticeable glare from Angel and causing yet further embarrassment on Willow's part.

Xander decided to step in next hitting Spike on the back of the head and then smiling at the red head. "That's our Willow," he placed an arm around her shoulder, "the only person we know that can turn her face the same color as her hair."

A couple of nervous giggles floated around the group until Buffy noticed … "Hey Xand, aren't you suppose to be flipping our burgers?"

Everyone turned to look at Xander who laughed once and then raced to the backyard.

"Hope you like `em crispy," Faith joked as everyone flittered out the backdoor, with Buffy and Angel straggling behind.

"So, that's my family," Buffy said as she watched her friends.

Angel looked down at her and waited until Buffy brought her eyes up to meet his and he just stared at her. The moment was over quickly however when Dawn came running back and took hold of Angel's arm asking him if he liked his hamburger well down or charcoal.

The sun had set, the tiki troches were lit and everyone was trying to enjoy a very interesting banana peanut butter cake that Dawn made. Buffy had noticed when Angel slipped inside, but waited a few minutes before making her escape as well. He was standing in her living room staring at his painting looking deep in thought.

"You can brood just about anywhere can't you?" she asked surprising him. "I think it's safe to come outside, I'm pretty sure Dawn has turned her crush back onto Spike."

"It's her loss," he said pensively still gazing at the painting. "Thank you for inviting me this was … nice."

"Thank you for coming, I'm really glad you came," she told him taking a step to close the gap between them. "I hope my friends didn't frighten you too much."

Looking at her, he also took a step forward. "You are really lucky to have them, it's very rare that a group can stay so close for so long."

"I feel lucky." Taking another step, "We usually have Sunday night family dinners also and you're welcome to join them … if you like."

And another step, "Maybe I will." They were only one step away from each other at that point. Buffy was too busy staring at his face and missed his hand coming up slightly, raising to touch her face, but then he thought better and recoiled, pulling it back down. "I'm gonna go, it's been a long couple of days and I'm tired, but again thank you everything was … really great."

"Your welcome," she said with a small smile and watched him turn around and walk out the door.

The second the door was closed she heard a whistle, "Oh B, he's a definite hottie. If you guys weren't so into each other I would be all over him," Faith spoke from behind her.

"And if I wasn't gay … I probably wouldn't be all over him but I would be attracted to his manly qualities," Willow added from her spot next to Faith.

Buffy, still facing the door rolled her eyes at her friends, "We are not that into each other. Besides, he's my boss."

"Your boss who you are totally jonesing for," Faith came up next to Buffy and put her arm around her shoulders, with Willow flanking Buffy on the other side. "Admit B, you got it bad."

"No … I-I don't … no, no-"

"He likes you too, it's obvious," Willow interrupted Buffy's nervous babbling.

"You think so?" Buffy asked with a twinge of hope in her voice.


Part 7

"Okay," Buffy shouted immediately after stepping in the door the following Friday. "I have your `lucky' leather pants, sorry it took so long," she continued as she climbed his spiral staircase, "Who would a thought there would be a wait at a leather specialty store." Upon reaching his bedroom, she stopped dead as Angel stood next to his bed drying his hair with a towel which happened to match the towel wrapped around his waist.

With a few more scrubs, he tossed the hair towel on the bed and saw Buffy standing there holding his pants. "You got back in time … that's good," he sounded disappointed.

"Yeah," she spoke still slightly distracted by his uncovered body. "Are you not happy I got back in time?"

He groaned and sat down on his bed, his back facing her, "I don't think I should go … I don't want to go."

Buffy was preoccupied by a bead of water slowly dripping down the tight muscles of his back, crawling over his weird bird tattoo and wondered what he would taste like if she licked it off … but then his last statement registered. "Angel, they're your paintings you have to go."

"There will be at least ten other artist there for people to annoy, I don't need to be there. Besides I don't even like the work I submitted, it's all crap, probably not going to sell anything." He rested his elbows on his knees and bowed his head.

"Angel, I had to go pick up your leather pants that you just had to wear tonight," Buffy started as she moved to stand in front of him, "from a bald man named Buck who thinks that growing a ponytail will make up for the loss of hair, and who likes to call me chick-a- dee every single time I go in that store." Angel looked up at her as she stood over him. "He was wearing leather chaps Angel, leather chaps. You are going."

Her face showed determination as she shoved the leather pants toward him. "Buck calls you chick-a-dee?" he asked.

"Every time."

"You are no longer going to Buck's," he commanded as he rose and took the pants from her. "Okay I'll go, but I won't be happy."

"Big baby," she called him as she made her way downstairs to give him some privacy to change.

First Angel slipped on his leather pants and then opened his closet to decide what shirt to wear. He moved a few hangers out of the way to grab a black button down shirt when something caught his eye and it gave him an idea. "Hey Buffy," he called down to her as his hand reached for a hanger. "What size are you?"

Buffy stood at the kitchen island and looked up from the magazine she was reading confused, "Size? Size of what?" Angel came swiftly down the stairs wearing his leather pants and a shirt that had yet to be buttoned and once again Buffy was finding it hard to concentrate.

Angel then held up a bright red dress in front of his chest blocking her view. "Dress size," he spoke. "Darla left it here for some reason and I haven't heard from her since … anyway I think it will fit."

"Why?" she asked cautiously.

"I want you to come with me tonight, to the gallery."

On first instinct Buffy wanted to ask if this was a date, but a spilt second before she could utter the words, she caught herself and changed her mind. "It's nice of you to ask, but I don't know …"

"Let's think of it as my way of making up for sending you to Buck. There's an open bar," he said to entice her, but he saw it wasn't working so he switched tactics. "And I could really use a friend there tonight."

Well, he certainly did know how to clinch it didn't he? "I'll just go put the dress on then," she agreed much to Angel's delight. "Do you have shoes to go with?" Angel lifted up his other hand to show he was also carrying a pair of matching red stilettos. The man thought of everything. Taking the offered clothes, Buffy glanced at the sizes and were surprised that they were her size and headed into the bathroom to change.

Angel felt a wave of relief come over him that she had said yes and for the first time in over a week he forgot about his pressing problems with Darla and concentrated on the beautiful woman changing in his bathroom. He paused in buttoning his shirt as his last thought repeated in his head. Buffy was naked in his bathroom, he was in the vicinity of naked Buffy. Just the thought of it alone was making his blood pump into his lower extremities. Trying some calming breathes to control his urges he wasn't prepared for Buffy to emerge at that exact moment.

"Um, Angel can you do me?" she asked innocently turning her back to him.

His eyes nearly bulged out of his head, "Wh-what?"

She lifted her long blond locks off her back and turned her head slightly to the side, "My zipper, I think it's stuck."

His heart rate lowered a bit as he realized what she was asking. "Oh, yeah … I remember this zipper being tricky." He bit his tongue the second after he spoke. "Let's just forget I said that."

Buffy felt a little ping to her heart at his words and readily agreed with him, "Yes let's."

Stepping up behind her, he fiddled with the zipper until it started to move upwards all the way to the top. He couldn't help himself, being so close to her and leaned his head down to inhale her intoxicating sent. Letting his hands fall onto her shoulders, he lightly traced them down her arms and then quickly took hold of her hips and pushed them roughly back against him so that she could feel his erection along her firm ass. She gasped at the contact, but did not object or pull away. His lips attached to the spot where her shoulder met her neck and sucked and nibbled on the flesh desperate to leave his mark on her. His hands snaked around her waist holding her closer as she rubbed her bottom enticingly against his crotch. One of his hands glided up her body until it cupped one perfect sized breast, and he squeezed running his thumb across her raised nipple which earned him a moan followed by, "Yessssss, I want you Angel, Angel, Angel," she continued to chant his name in a husky voice as one of her hands reached up and threaded threw his hair. "Angel, Angel" she continued urging him on until her voice faded into a questioning tone, "Angel? Angel? Did you get it?"

Blinking a few times, Angel saw that he was still standing behind Buffy with his hand on the zipper which was halfway up her back. Zipping it all the way up, he took a step back unsure if he really had the balls to go ahead and make his fantasy a reality. "All done," he announced, telling himself he was most definitely ball-less. Pushing his feelings far, far to the side he gave her a long look up and down as she turned to face him and he nodded in approval of the skin tight red dress that showed off just enough cleavage … feelings to the side Angel, he reminded himself. "Shall we go?" he asked her holding out his elbow for her to take. Smiling at him she looped her arms through his and he escorted her out the door.

The gallery was practically full by the time they arrived. They walked inside arm in arm gaining a few glances from people near the door and as they moved further inside people were actually coming up to Angel congratulating him.

"Do you know those people?" she asked quietly as they continued to make their way through the crowd.

"Some of them look familiar," he answered.

Buffy scanned the room and couldn't help but feel a little self- conscious. She didn't know anyone here and even though the dress was very nice and judging by the label quite expensive, it was just a cover-up projecting a false image that was not Buffy. While the dress was her style, she could never in her life afford such a luxury and looking at the type of people in this gallery, Buffy most definitely did not belong.

Her eyes still wondered as Angel led her around, then she tapped him on his bicep, "Over here," she told him and then led him over to a side wall. "I believe this is yours Mr. … I don't even know your last name."

Ignoring her last comment he stared at his work in front of them. "Yes that's mine. It's awful."

"Stop that, it's really not. I happen to like it. It reminds me of Gustav Klimt it's very much his style."

"Klimt? For an art history student you've got a bad eye."

"I do not!" she protested not feeling the littlest bit offended. They've had their fair share of art discussions and of course if they didn't see eye to eye on something teasing was the natural response.

"You like Duchamp," he said to prove his point.

"So do a lot of people, there's a reason he is renowned." She turned back to the painting, "It really isn't as awful as you keep saying." He stood their scowling at his own work, Buffy's optimism not having an affect. "Okay, how about you go over to the bar and get us some drinks, white wine please, and I'll stand here and every time someone comes over to admire your lovely painting I'll gush about it causing them to want to buy it … oh and then I'll force a bidding war," she replied giving him a playful smile.

"You do that then," he said before making his way over to the bar. While he was waiting for his turn to order he felt a hand touch his shoulder and at first he had hoped Buffy had decided to follow him, but when he turned his head he saw it was another blonde. "Nina," he exclaimed surprised. He knew too many blondes. "Are you displaying some of your work tonight?"

Nina smiled at him and then took a step closer as someone walked behind her. "Yes I am. I already looked at some of your paintings and as usual they're really good." He smiled nervously at her then turned to check to see if the bartender was free yet. "So I noticed you didn't arrive with Darla," Nina pointed out. Angel thought she was referring to the fact that he had shown up with Buffy on his arm and was about to comment, but Nina continued. "When I saw her earlier in the night and you weren't with her I was surprised, but it was a good surprise."

It took a moment, but Angel's head did eventually snap over towards Nina giving her his full attention. "Darla is here? You actually talked to her?"

Nina was a little taken back by his shaky behavior but answered his questions anyway. "Yeah, I saw her from a distance like twenty minutes before you arrived. I didn't actually talk to her she hates me, always thought I was trying to steal you away from her."

Angel wasn't listening after she confirmed that Darla was indeed present. He couldn't even believe she actually showed up. He frantically searched for her but it was nearly impossible to tell where she was in the crowd. For all he knew she had already left. Or maybe she saw him arrive with Buffy, which would not be good.

"I take it you guys are no longer together," Nina stated trying to get his attention back. "You know I'm not mad at you for giving me the brush off and if you wanted to pick up where things left off, I'm more then willing." She started fidgeting with one of the buttons on his shirt that was towards the bottom and close to the zipper of his pants. "You are a really hard guy to forget."

Angel was only half listening but he got enough of what she said to know what she wanted and he couldn't stop himself from being shocked at the idea, "What?"

Right after Angel had left her, Buffy felt another presence at her side and being true to her word she started to gush about the painting.

"I've seen him do better," the person said and Buffy glanced over at the person for the first time.

"Cordelia?" she asked.

The brunette, recognizing her name, quickly turned her head to the girl next to her. "Omig-d Buffy Summers. What are you doing here?"

They knew each other from high school. Cordelia Chase was the rich queen of the school and looked down on Buffy and her kind that is until she started dating Xander and she was incorporated into their group. Even after her and Xander broke up she still remained semi- tight with them, but after they all went off to college she lost contact with them. Neither considered it a great loss.

"I'm here supporting a friend," Buffy told her. "Actually Angel … Angel is my friend and I am supporting him," she clarified pointing to Angel's painting. "How about you?"

"My parents love coming to these things, you know supporting the arts and culture or whatever. Right now they just so happen to be in your friend Angel's fan club. They already own three of his works," Cordelia explained.

"Oh well, he just went to get us some drinks, I'm sure he'll be right- " she looked over in the direction he had wandered off in and spotted him at the bar, but then noticed another blonde woman taking a step towards him. She couldn't help the tiny crack that appeared on her heart as she watched the two interact.

Cordelia observed Buffy's depressed look as she gazed over at Angel and inwardly smiled. "You know if you want him, you have to go after him. It isn't Angel's style to pursue the girl, he likes them coming after him."

Buffy brought her attention back to the woman in front of her, "I don't want-how do you know what he likes?"

"Angel has a reputation, a lay them and leave them or even continue to lay but not commit kind of reputation. I got to say Buffy I don't really see you as his type and I'm only saying this as a favor to you, I hate to see any girl get their heart broken and let's face it, you wear yours on your sleeve."

"Did you ever sleep with him?" Buffy suddenly asked.

"Me? No, I didn't, but I did make out with him once in an alley behind a club. He's a great kisser and his hands … those are some special hands. It might have gone further but he had to get back to his date," Cordelia said bluntly.

Buffy's eyes widened at the confession, "You're right Cordy. I am definitely not his type.

Cordelia looked over at Angel and back at Buffy who was mulling over Cordelia's words carefully. "You really like him don't you?" she asked, but Buffy didn't answer. "Well, don't just stand here go over there and get your man. That ho bag has nothing on you."

Buffy stole one more glance at the pair and saw the blond fiddling with the buttons on his shirt and Buffy's face brightened a little, "She is just a ho bag isn't she?"

"That's the spirit, now let's go catch you an Angel." Cordelia smiled and looping their arms together they marched heads held high over to Angel and the ho bag.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* Part 8


Taking a small step back Angel nervously pushed Nina's hands away, "Um, Nina I don't-"

"Angel," Buffy's voice called out as she stepped up beside him with a very familiar looking brunette. "You'll never guess who I ran into, my friend Cordelia from high school."

"Hi Angel," Cordelia greeted giving Angel a sultry little smile.

Cocking his head to the side as if he was trying to place where he knew her from, Angel studied her features, but Buffy interrupted before he could figure it out. "Who's your friend?"

Looking at Nina briefly who was trying to smile through her confusion, Angel held his hand out towards her, "Buffy this is Nina, a fellow artist."

"Oh," Buffy feigned interest. "Are you exhibiting tonight?"

"Yes I am," Nina answered relaxing a little but still took the opportunity to size Buffy up figuring this other woman was her new competition. "I work in ceramics."

"Is that your set of vases over there in the corner?" Cordelia butted in pointing off into the distance.

"Yes, those are mine."

"I see." Cordelia gave Buffy a quick look before going back to Nina, "I'm guessing you probably don't sell much do you? I hope you have a back-up career since this one isn't working for you. I mean to be an artist, you have to have talent."

Nina straightened her shoulders wanting to refute Cordelia's statement, but Buffy spoke up first, "Angel," she said sweetly quickly gathering his attention and Nina's as well, as Buffy leaned closer into his side. "Did you order our drinks?"

Angel was a little flustered with Nina's come on, Darla lurking about, and a brunette he knew he knew from some where, but one look into Buffy's large hazel eyes he instantly calmed. "Not yet, but I was just about to," he turned back to the bar getting the attention of the bartender and slyly slipped his arm around Buffy's waist as he ordered her white wine and a Guinness for him.

Cordelia smiled at the couple and then turned to Nina giving her a little wave, "Buh-bye," and then turned away not watching the blonde disappear into the crowd.

As they received their drinks, Angel leaned down into Buffy's ear and whispered out of Cordelia's earshot, "I think I know your friend from some where."

"You stuck your tongue down her throat," she replied as she took a sip of her drink.

"I-I did?" he started to feel uncomfortable again, not because he hadn't recognized Cordelia but that Cordelia had obviously told Buffy a few things about him and that was just unsettling.

"Uh huh, and she was singing your praises … makes me wonder ..."

Again she completely reversed his discomfort and he relaxed. "Does it now?" They kept eye contact as they moved away from the bar, Cordelia trailing behind still smiling. Not really watching where they were going, they bumped into another person in front of them after only moving a few feet. "I'm sor-" Angel began but stalled when the person faced them and he saw who it was. "Darla," he addressed her.

Darla looked up at Angel and then a quick glance to the woman at his side before doing a double take when she recognized Buffy, in her Valentino red dress. Shooting daggers at the young blonde, she decided against commenting and spoke to Angel as if Buffy wasn't even there, "I was hoping I'd run into you … we need to talk." Angel nodded in agreement and without a glance to Buffy he walked off with Darla.

Cordelia witnessed the exchange and the second Angel moved away from Buffy she stepped up next to her giving the retreating couple the evil eye. "Another ho bag to dispose of?"

"No Cordy," Buffy spoke with a hint of sadness as she watched Darla and Angel disappear behind a corner, "this one he has to talk to."

Twenty minutes later Buffy went in search of Angel. She retraced the path she saw him and Darla take and as she rounded the same corner which took her behind a display wall, she found him arms crossed, head down doing what he does best, brooding. She approached, her red heels clicking on the floor signaling to him of her presence.

"Sorry I didn't get back to you," he apologized still looking down.

"No big, Cordy kept me company … that is until a six foot three hunk of salty goodness came around." Finally reaching him she stood in front of him, leaning her head down trying to look at his face. "You don't have to tell me any-"

"Darla made an appointment to get an abortion," he cut her off, his head coming up to look at her. "She has thought about it and this is her final decision." Placing her hands on his upper arms, she rubbed them gently up and down trying to be comforting. "It just isn't my time," he repeated her previous words truly believing them.

She gave him a small toothless smile removing her hands and waited a beat to allow time for the subject to settle and then drift away. "Hey, one of your paintings has a little red dot next to your name. If I recall, I think that means it's been purchased."

"You didn't buy it just to make me feel better did you?" He dropped his arms and placed his hands on his hips.

"Angel, I can hardly afford to buy notebooks for school."

"I wouldn't put it past you to find a way. You can be very determined if you want to be," he held out his arm and she accepted and they walked back to the party.

They moved past another one of his paintings that also had a red dot. Buffy pointed it out and he nodded but didn't stop or say anything. "I'm guessing you call them your `lucky' leather pants because you sell paintings when you wear them," she conjectured as they gazed at some other artworks on display.

"I do sell paintings when I wear them, but that's not why I call them lucky," his face was blank as he studied a cubist inspired painting.

"Oh?" she tore her eyes from the painting to glance up at him. "What's the reason then?"

"I get lucky." Again his face remained static as he spoke the truth. "Certain women like a man in leather … or maybe they just like me in leather."

She stole a quick look at his leather encased lower half, not noticing Angel catching her in the act, and then brought her attention back to the painting. "Well, unless you are going home with Nina, the only thing that's going to happen tonight is you're gonna sell a lot of paintings."

"Buffy you said yes to coming," he disentangled their arms and dropped his down to take hold of her hand which she welcomed, "I already am lucky."

Snapping her head to look at him she was in shock, but then she blushed and turned her head downward thinking that was probably the nicest thing a man has ever said to her. She squeezed his hand and he reciprocated by holding her hand a little more securely and then led her onward to the next painting.

They made small talk as he drove her home later that night. It turned out all but one of Angel's paintings sold but since he wasn't particularly proud of them he didn't really care, unlike Buffy who was excited enough for the both of them. Pulling up along the curb in front of her house, he put the car in park turning off the engine and told her not to move. She watched him as he got out of the car, jogged in front of it and then over to her side where he opened her door giving her a hand to help her out.

She waited on the sidewalk as he closed the car door behind her and as he came up next to her, she shivered from the night air. Wordlessly, he held open one side of his long wool jacket and Buffy stepped under the safety of the coat and Angel wrapped it around her pulling her close to his side and together encased in the same jacket, they walked up the path to her front door.

Once on the porch, Buffy reluctantly left his side and his coat to stand facing him. "Thank you for inviting me, I had fun."

He gave her a smirk, "Believe it or not, I did too."

It was like they had run out of things to say and they both just stood their neither knowing what their next move should be. Their gazes would drift on and off each other as time continued to tick away. It was Angel who finally made a decision on what to do and he decided to get closer to her and raise his hand to cup her cheek. His hand had moved without him telling it to, yet he felt it shifting and reaching out and he saw it as it touched her skin and as his thumb grazed her cheekbone. He didn't know why his hand decided to act on its own, but it felt right.

Buffy also watched his hand as it slowly crept up to her face, and when it made contact she involuntarily leaned into his touch, her eye lids drooping a bit. When she opened her eyes wider she saw Angel moving in closer, as if in slow motion, his face inching towards hers. Waiting in anticipation she stared at his lips as they drew closer and closer and then turn and leave a gentle yet intimate kiss on her cheek. It was weird how she didn't feel disappointed that he hadn't kissed her on the lips because that one innocent kiss to her cheek gave her the same butterflies in her stomach and got her heart thumbing as if she had been passionately kissed on the mouth.

His lips lifted from her skin after a few seconds and then spoke mere centimeters from her cheek, "Goodnight Buffy."

As he leaned back he gave her a smile and she stared up at him adorningly. Slowly backing away from her he kept eye contact until he reached the top step where he was forced to turn away to make his descent. Buffy stood in a daze has he walked down the path towards his awaiting car which then reminded her of her own car. "Angel," she shouted and he turned around with a questioning look. Moving forward to the edge of the top step she wrung her hands together nervously. "My car is still at your place, I'm gonna kinda need it to get around."

He placed his hands in his coat pockets and looked down at the grass deep in thought. She waited patiently until his eyebrows slowly shot up as an idea came to him. "How about I pick you up tomorrow say around noon, we grab some lunch and then I can bring you back to my place so you can get your car. Sound good?"

Lunch? On the weekend? With Angel? Sounds great! "It's a-" don't say date, don't say date, "deal. I'll see you tomorrow."

With the exchange of one more smile between them, Buffy turned towards her door. This time Angel remained still waiting for her to enter safely and then close the door. He felt good as he continued on his way to his car and did he detect a slight bounce in his step? He got in the car and placed the key into the ignition all the while thinking if this is what being happy felt like. He could hardly remember, it being so long since he had felt anything remotely close to happiness.

With his hand on the key he flicked his wrist and in the time it took for the engine to turn over his thoughts took a turn for the worse. Did he just ask Buffy on a date? Or were they just hanging out as friends. Did Buffy think it was a date, she didn't say it was a date. Did he want it to be a date? Looking at her house and remembering the kiss he had given her, it was like he was a different person, like he was wooing Buffy. He was wooing? Suddenly everything was becoming much more complicated.


Part 9

From the moment Angel picked Buffy up they both knew this lunch was different then all the other meals they've had together. Nothing was said about it, and they acted as they normally did around each other, but their insides told another story. They were talking and laughing and flirting and from an outsiders perspective having a relaxing fun meal. Well, they were having fun but not so much relaxing for they both shared the feeling that if they let their guard down their eyes would open wide in panic, the conversation would cease and awkwardness would reign.

For the first time Buffy actually cared what clothes she wore in Angel's company and spent an hour and a half picking an outfit and while she kept telling herself it was just Angel, she couldn't help her nerves acting all twitchy and jumpy. Angel also was having difficulty trying to push away his nervousness, it was just Buffy. It didn't mean anything that he changed his shirt five times and spent an extra twenty minutes on his hair … he just wanted to look his best today and that meant absolutely … nothing?

Every time they came close to touching, Buffy's cheek would throb on the exact spot he had kissed her the previous night. Unconsciously, she would bring her hand to her face and graze it slightly with her fingertips. It wasn't until halfway through the meal that she noticed what she was doing and she caught her hand mid-motion against her cheek and as a lame attempt at a cover up she moved her hand up to her hair to smooth down any unruly strands hoping Angel hadn't noticed what she really had been doing. Seeing that he was smiling at her, she knew he knew and she turned her head down blushing. They both laughed at the moment and their nervousness seemed to disappear.

"Hey!" Angel exclaimed after Buffy stole a French fry from his plate for the second time. "You already devoured yours, stop taking mine."

Playfully she grinned and stuffed the fry in her mouth, "Whatcha gonna do about it?"

Giving her a cocky smirk he reached out to the end of the table where the condiments lay and picked up the bottle of A1 steak sauce. Buffy glared at him as if saying you wouldn't dare. Oh, but he dared and still smirking, he unscrewed the lid and smothered his fries with the dark gooey liquid. Buffy rued the day she confided in him that the only way to keep her from eating something was to pour A1 sauce all over it.

In an act of defiance and to make sure he didn't win, Buffy sat up straight and looking him right in the eye made a move for another fry. He didn't try to stop her, just kept giving her that smirk and watched as she lifted a sauced covered fry to her mouth and ate it. One chew, two chew, three chew and then, "Blah-ahah!" Cringing as she swallowed, she quickly grabbed her water glass chugging half of it down all the while she left Angel in stitches.

"You get points for determination," he said calming down from his laughing fit. "I don't think anyone has made me laugh as hard or as much as you," he confessed still smiling. In fact he was smiling so much lately his cheeks were starting to hurt.

His comment really got under her skin … in a good way. She felt pride that she could make him laugh and also extremely honored that he admitted that little tidbit, it was like she had a part of Angel no one else had. It was also nice that his attitude and demeanor was changing rapidly and was improving not just from the events of the past week, but from the first day she met him. She didn't want to point out directly that he was looking better, so she figured she'd take an indirect route. "How's the painting coming? Get any work done while I wasn't around."

Angel knew what she was hinting at. Ever since Darla first told him the news he hadn't painted anything new, nothing seemed to motivate him and he had been spending most of his time slouching around his loft. He was having artist's block. He thought of all the times he sat on his stool in front of a blank canvas, or held a sketch pad in his hands and nothing came to him. He also thought about last night and how when he drove home he remained in deep thought as he parked the car, rode the elevator, walked through his front door and into the bathroom to throw some cold water on his face.

That's when he saw them, Buffy's clothes folded in a neat pile in the corner on the countertop. Tentatively his hand moved closer and it landed on the top article of clothing, grabbing the fabric and holding it up. It was her shirt and it took a lot of will power not to lean into it and inhale her scent telling himself that would just be plain creepy. Refolding it in the same manner she had done, he put it back and left the bathroom. He had every intention of going up the stairs and turning in, but instead he walked past them and into his studio and proceeded to paint for hours.

"I did a little last night," he said shrugging his shoulders, "Nothing special." She nodded her head accepting his answer and went back to finishing the last few bites of her hamburger while he worked on his fries. "Look at that," he pointed to his French fries. "I missed a spot." Buffy casually glanced over at his plate and saw three fries not tarnished by the rancid brown goo. Sneaking a hand forward she removed them from his plate placing them on her own all under his watchful gaze. "Smooth," he commented keeping his face unaffected, while on the inside he was smiling at her actions.

"Has he kissed you yet?"

Buffy looked up from the dishes she was washing and rolled her head to the side, "Don't you have someone else's love life to meddle in?" she asked Willow who continued to beam beside her.

"Nope, so start spilling."

Checking to make sure no one else was listening, she went back to her dishes and blushed, "On the cheek, Friday night."

Willow's eyes grew wide and she lightly hit Buffy on the shoulder, "What did you do Friday night and why don't I already know about it!"

"Today is only Sunday Will, it's not like I'm telling you three months after the fact," she gave Willow a meaningful look recalling how long it took Willow to tell her about her girlfriend Tara.

"Touché," Willow said as she followed Buffy to the other side of the kitchen as she put away some dried dishes in the cupboard. "But that doesn't mean you get off the hook missy."

Buffy had purposely kept the happenings between her and Angel from her friends, and anyway the only things even worth mentioning had only happened that weekend. She didn't want to make a big deal out of it and for some reason when Buffy was interested in a guy her friends always made a big deal, like apocalyptic big.

Keeping her voice low so her sister, Xander and Spike wouldn't hear their conversation she told Willow everything from the leather pants to the red dress, to Nina, the holding hands, the kiss, lunch and the suggestive and playful comments. "I really like him Willow, I mean really like him," she admitted for the first time. "And I think he likes me too, it's just …"

"He's a man whore," Willow filled in. "He's probably not used to all this courting, his normal type of woman would have at least blowed him by now."

"Willow Rosenberg!" Buffy exclaimed surprised at her friends language.

"Everything all right in there?" Spike called from the living room.

"Yes, fine!" Buffy replied back before lowering her voice again to talk to Willow. "You make a very valid point that I have been thinking about a lot lately. He could just be messing with me and as soon as he gets me into bed he gives me my pink slip and says it was fun while it lasted."

"Except I don't think he will," Willow put her hand on her friend's shoulder calmly reassuring her. "I think you should make your move, tell him what you are feeling, and get it out into the open. I think you are on the verge of something really good here. I saw how you guys interacted at the BBQ … you're very cute together."

Buffy thought back to that day and all the other days before that and the days after that … "I'm giddy … he's making me giddy! When was the last time I was this giddy?" she smiled doing a little hop.

"Hmm … when they were passing out free make-up samples at the mall last year?"

Buffy titled her head to the ceiling thinking back, "Yeah, that was a good day," and then back to Willow, "but this is way better then that!"

"Totally better."

"I even called to invite him tonight for dinner, but I got his machine and since he hasn't called me back and dinner is already way over, I'm guessing he's locked himself in the studio painting away," Buffy explained still putting more dishes away.

"Well then he can come next week and you guys can announce you're getting married with a baby on the way," Willow replied.

Buffy stopped a pair of glasses from falling out of her grip as she reached for a high shelf. "Whoa, can we say jumping the gun?"

"Just being optimistic," Willow grinned as Buffy rolled her eyes, but couldn't help catching Willow's confident attitude and smiled too.

Coming to Angel's front door Buffy's smile grew. She was going to do it, Monday was her day, this was it, no turning back. Putting her key in the lock and turning it she took a breath planning on talking to him right away first thing so that maybe they could spend the rest of the day getting with the smoochies … if he said yes.


When he said yes.

Finally inside the loft she opened her mouth to shout his name but instead came a very enthusiastic, "Buffy!" from above.

Looking up she saw Angel racing down the stairs and over to her where he wrapped his arms around her waist and hoisted her into the air looking like a little boy on Christmas morning. Well if he's this happy to see me now, Buffy thought wait until I tell him I want to be his girlfriend.

His happiness was contagious and Buffy laughed as he held her and continued to laugh when he put her down and released her. "I had an amazing day yesterday," he told her. "Darla called and asked me to come over and we talked all day and into the night."

Buffy was pretty sure the noise she heard were the shattered pieces of her heart falling to the floor.

She had stopped laughing.

Walking briskly over to the kitchen, her smile dropping from her face and she slapped her purse onto the island and started rummaging through it pretending to look for something wanting desperately to appear to be busy and trying to hide the fact that her hands were shaking uncontrollably. She noticed his presence on the other side of the island and with her head down she angled her eyes up to look at him. "What'd you talk about?"

If it was at all possible his smile got even larger, "She wants to keep the baby. I'm going to be a father."

Buffy stopped rummaging and looked up at him, "That's …" he looks so happy, I've never seen him so happy, "great Angel. Really great."

"I know. She made an appointment today, we're getting a sonogram done," he checked his watch, "I have to be at her place in fifteen minutes, I gotta go. I left some instructions on the coffee table, I'll see you later." He started to walk backwards toward the door as he spoke to her and upon reaching the door he opened it and paused looking at her once more. "I'm going to be a father," and he was gone.

Reaching into her bag, Buffy carefully removed her cell and pressed speed dial number one. She knew Willow had class right now but she was praying that a miracle had occurred and that Willow decided to play hooky. Hearing her cheerful voicemail message, Buffy realized she wasn't going to get any miracles today. "Hey Will, it's me," Buffy began as tears slowly filled eyes. "When Angel comes over for Sunday night dinner next week," it was pointless for her to hold back anymore and she let them fall, "he'll announce he's having a baby … with another woman. Call me back okay?" Pressing the off button she replaced her phone in her purse.

She looked around at the empty loft and never before had it seemed so large and eerie. This was the first time she had ever been alone in his apartment, except for those first few minutes with Darla, Angel had always been there with her. She waited a moment for the tears to slow and then stop and wiped away their trails with the palms of her hands. She walked over to the coffee table and found a sketch pad resting under a charcoal pencil and a `To Do' list hastily scribbled on the top page.


Part 10


Wesley leaned forward so he could see Doyle who was sitting on the bar stool on the other side of Angel. "Yes Doyle, I think Angel clarified that point when he said Darla's pregnant ten minutes ago, so stop repeating it."

"How?" Doyle asked bewildered.

"Doyle if I have to explain to you the birds and the bees …"

"Put a cork in it will you Wes?" Doyle ordered and then put a hand on Angel's shoulder. "I don't mean to be rude Angel, but are you even sure it's yours?"

Angel continued to stare at the sonogram picture in his hands amazed that the blurry image was his unborn child. "Darla could have been sleeping with other guys, I don't think she was, but it's entirely possible."

Doyle held his hands out to his sides, "Well then you're off the hook! Let's get a DNA test."

"Doyle," Angel tore his eyes away from the picture to glare at his friend. "It doesn't matter, she says its mine, I'm going to raise it as mine, it's mine."

"Raising it together?" Wesley asked.

Angel sighed and went back to the sonogram. "I told her I would do it by myself at first, when she wasn't sure she was going to keep it, but now … we haven't talked about it."

"Another cold one?" All three looked up as the bartender, Gunn, appeared before them.

"Yes barkeep," Doyle answered sitting up straight patting Angel on the back. "Three more on me in honor of Angel here becoming a daddy."

Gunn started to fill up a glass from the tap, but stopped as Doyle finished his statement. "Angel, this Angel, Angel? Naw, dude really?" Angel proudly presented Gunn the first picture of his child. "Aw, Angel congrats it's a black blob." A little miffed Angel took back the picture and put it in his pocket. "So, who's the lucky lady?"

"Darla," Angel answered.

Again Gunn was in shock. "Did hell freeze over and I miss it?" Gunn started to pour beer into their glasses again. "It's one thing you actually having a kid, but I would have at least expected it with someone …"

"Less bitchy?"

"Who wasn't a huge slut?"

Wesley and Doyle each provided.

"I was gonna say more motherly but both of those are good answers too," Gunn commented passing out the frosty glasses.

"Speaking of which," Doyle accepted his glass from Gunn taking a sip before continuing. "What are you gonna do about Buffy?"

"Oh, yes very good question Doyle," Wesley added turning a curious gaze to Angel.

"Why thank you Wes," Doyle said before giving Angel the same look as Wesley.

Angel sat back looking back and forth between them perplexed, "What about Buffy?"

"Who's Buffy?" Gunn asked.

"Just this darlin' little blond number that Angel has fallen for," Doyle clarified.

"Whoa, whoa, I have not `fallen' for anyone," Angel refuted holding his hands out in front of him.

"De-Nile ain't just a river in Egypt," Doyle countered taking another sip.

"What?" Angel looked over at Doyle.

"He's right," Wesley replied earning him a look from Angel as well.

After a beat Angel grabbed his drink taking two large gulps before placing it back down and leaning heavily on the bar, an action which Doyle and Wesley both took as Angel's sign of submission.

Angel knew he had fallen for Buffy and he had hoped no one noticed. Angel wasn't one for opening up and since him liking Buffy went against every thing his friends knew about him, he knew there would be a discussion, one in which he would be forced to take part in. Like the one they were starting at that moment.

Unbeknownst to his friends, Angel had already had a discussion with himself shortly after Buffy left from picking up her car on Saturday and he came to a decision even before Darla told him she was keeping the baby. Now he had to figure out a way to tell his friends that he liked Buffy, that spending time with her was the highlight of his day, that he was thankful she had accepted him into her life, and that he couldn't be with her, all without giving away too much.

"As the bartender it is my duty to give advice to all that are lost in their ways," Gunn declared throwing a towel over his shoulder and then leaning an elbow on the bar, "so please, fill me in."

Wesley leaned in toward Gunn, "Angel hired Buffy a few months ago as his assistant," he explained.

"She's working for him," Doyle simplified.

"They've grown close."

"They're friends."

"And they've had no sexual interaction whatsoever."

"They're not even boinking each other."

"Yet, Angel has feelings for her anyway."

"He likes her."

"She really is quite lovely."

"She's a real doll."

Gunn's head was going back and forth like a tennis match as Wesley and Doyle spoke in rapid fire. Angel meanwhile remained still only half listening to his friends' summary of his relationship with Buffy. Besides they only knew the surface details, they didn't know anything about Angel's inner musings and that's where the conflict really was.

"Things started to arise between them," Wesley continued.

"You mean Angel started getting a rise when she was around," Doyle supplied with a wink.

"Oh Doyle knock it off!" Wesley shouted reaching his limit on Doyle- isms and then back to Gunn, "And now Angel has gotten another woman pregnant and we are unclear how this might affect his budding relationship with Buffy."

"He's got a chick with a bun in the oven and things with Buffy are suddenly up in the air," Doyle couldn't help himself as he purposely ignored the evil glare he received from Wesley keeping his attention on Gunn who had entered a stage of confusion.

"Huh," Gunn replied and then leaned up and looked off to another part of the bar. "Fred sweetie, can you join us for a second." He gestured with his hand to show he wanted the person he was addressing to come over. "I think we are going to need a woman's perspective on this," he told the boys.

A bubbly brunette came over and placed her serving tray on the counter next to Doyle. "What's up guys?" she asked enthusiastically.

"Angel has some women troubles," Gunn started but stopped when Fred's cheerful expression faded into one of annoyance and shook her head in disapproval.

"Angel how many times do I have to tell you, you need to warn the girl you aren't going to call her the next day or ever and maybe you could avoid later insurrections."

"No Fred, he got a girl pregnant," Gunn further explained.

"And he won't take responsibility, typical of your type of the male species," her anger continue to grow.

Angel leaned up facing Fred to defend himself, but Gunn stepped in for him, "He's taking responsibility in fact he's glad about it, but there's another girl …"

Next thing Fred knew she was being bombarded with comments from Doyle, Wesley and Gunn filling her in on Angel's predicament. "Oh, well that's interesting …" she brought her hand to her chin as she considered what they just told her.

"Isn't she cute when she's figuring stuff out," Gunn gushed as he admired his girlfriend, "Watching her work out physics equations … most adorable thing ever!" His smiling face turned to Doyle, Angel and Wesley who were all giving him blank stares. "And I mean that in the manliest way possible," he added in a deep voice clearing his throat.

"Angel as long as I've known you, I don't think the notion of you falling for a girl has ever come up," Fred started talking bringing everyone back to her. "My advice to you is you need to find a way to be with Buffy and still be there for Darla and the baby, otherwise I think you'll be missing out on a great opportunity."

Wesley lifted a finger and was about to contribute when another voice spoke instead, "I'm going to have to agree with the young lady." Slowly all five heads turned simultaneously toward the far end of the bar where an old man sat nursing a beer. "This Darla is just a fling despite the child. Buffy seems to be someone who can be more permanent."

Again Wesley held up a finger to add a comment when he was again interrupted by another gentleman on the opposite side of them who drew their attention including the old man. "I don't agree. She's having your child and it's a slap in her face to carry on with another woman even if you care for … I want to say Betty … more."

After the initial shock wore off, Angel became angry at his friends. "Thanks guys, I'm so glad your discussion about my personal life was shared with the whole bar."

"Calm down man," Doyle responded. "Not everyone heard us."

"What are you talking about the young man needs to follow his heart," a woman with a very distinguishable southern accent spoke up behind them, but the man sitting at her table disagreed.

"Mary what are you saying, he's going to be a father … he can't think about women at a time like this unless it's the mother."

Angel gave Doyle a glare. "Oops," Doyle said shrugging his shoulders.

In no time, Angel was sitting on his stool facing the middle of the bar looking rather peeved and feeling very uncomfortable as all twenty or so patrons of the establishment, including his friends, were having a heated discussion about what he should do.

"You're crazy man," Doyle exclaimed slamming his hand down on the bar as he yelled at a complete stranger. "You don't even know BUFFY," he emphasized. "Her name is not Bunny or Betty or even Rachel," he sneered at a drunken man in the corner. "You've never met her, I have and she is the best thing that ever happened to MY friend Angel."

"She's a home wrecker," the strange man shouted back.

"Believe me there is no way Angel and Darla could ever have a happy home, home wrecker or no home wrecker. And I don't care what anyone says but American football is NOT football!" Doyle flicked the collar of this leather jacket as he sat down.

"Are you finished?" Wesley asked and Doyle nodded. "Well, I agree with Doyle about football," he gave all the people in the bar a meaningful glare, "and I also agree that none of you have met either of these women so it is impossible for any of you to make a fair judgment unlike Doyle and I," Doyle cleared his throat getting Wesley's attention and titled his head to indicate Angel, "oh and Angel of course." Getting off his stool, Wesley took to pacing around the large space with one hand behind his back and the other making gestures as he talked out his ideas. "Angel does have a responsibility to Darla and his child which he has already pledged and nothing can break that promise, but Darla is not the type of woman who settles down and I find it very unlikely she will ever change her ways and in addition Angel does not harbor the type of feelings that sustain a healthy relationship toward Darla anyway. Also Angel, up until recently, shared many of the same characteristics as Darla and we feared for so long that he might fester in his bachelordom forever."

"Here, here," Doyle tagged on raising his fist in the air.

Wesley gave him a nod before continuing. "Buffy is the first woman Angel has liked or been attracted to that he has not coerced into his bed, which shows a true and deeply rooted affection and respect for her. This woman has changed Angel for the better, by just offering the gift of friendship." He stopped pacing when he came to stand directly in front of Angel and the two men held each other's gazes. "Buffy brings something out of Angel that I don't think I nor Doyle has ever seen in him before and he would be a fool to throw it away. She makes him happy."

Everyone waited to see how this Angel fellow would react to the skinny man's words, and they waited and waited, but Angel gave nothing away.

"Alright y'all," Gunn finally spoke up. "It was fun playing Dr. Phil while it lasted, but let's leave the poor guy alone. Go back to discussing your own lives."

"But his is more interesting," someone in the crowd shouted.

"Well then continue to talk about his, just go do it somewhere else," Gunn suggested and the crowd dispersed, including him and Fred, which left Angel still sitting staring at Wesley before him and Doyle who was on his stool next to the pair, holding his drink.

"Americans," he muttered as he drank his Guinness. "They wouldn't know real football if it bit them in the arse. There has to be a foot and a ball, not some funny lookin' pig skin that if you're not a kicker or punter is illegal to kick. Disgraceful."

Angel finally moved, reaching behind him as he stood and pulled out his wallet from his back pocket. Throwing a few bills on the counter he walked out of the bar without so much as a good-bye to his friends.

"I hate it when he does that," Doyle complained to Wesley as they watched him go.

"He's made up his mind," Wesley observed.

"Yeah, but what did he decide?"

"We'll just have to wait and see."

Doyle nodded in agreement and looked down at the money Angel had placed on the bar seeing he left more then enough to cover the drinks the three of them have already drank. Raising his eyebrows he picked up the bills and waved them in the air, "Hey Gunn, another round on Angel!"

Buffy returned to work Wednesday morning with her agenda set and this time she was not going to let anything Angel say distract her. Angel was in the kitchen when she arrived drinking some coffee and she joined him getting herself a cup without him having to ask if she wanted some. He was staring intently at something placed in front of him.

"What are you looking at?" she asked coming up next to him at the island. Wordlessly, he pushed the sonogram over to her. "Wow, that's your baby." He nodded again without saying a word. "Angel …" she started turning her head to look at him. Slowly, he raised his head and met her eyes. Buffy was taken back by the overwhelming message his look, especially his eyes, were giving her.

They were saying, `I'm sorry.'

Placing her hand on top of his on the island surface she didn't need to force an accepting smile to her face. "I am so happy for you and I know you must be scared but I can tell you right now, you're going to be a terrific father and if needed be, I'm here to support you as long as you let me."

He turned his hand over and gripped hers, "Buffy I-" I need you, I want you, I can't be with you, "I-"

"Your supplies are all messy again … I'm going to go make them un- messy. Meet you in there?" she shoved her thumb behind her toward the studio as she spoke and he nodded his head yes. Letting go of his hand she made her way across the apartment proud of herself for saying exactly what she had planned to say.

"Thank you," she heard Angel utter after she got a few paces away.

Sucking in a breath to keep her tears from falling, she pushed her pain all the way down. "Hey," she turned to face him giving the appearance she was fully composed, "what are friends for."


Part 11

Dawn came downstairs in the morning and found Buffy as usual sitting at the dinning table reading the newspaper drinking a cup of coffee. Walking past her and into the kitchen she emerged a few moments later with a bowl of cereal and sat across from her sister. "Late night?" she asked.

"You know it wasn't," Buffy answered keeping her eyes on the paper. "I got home on time, finished my homework, paid a few bills, went to bed early and got up early." Over the last several weeks her schedule had started to be become more and more static. With the extra time she usually spent with Angel dissolving Buffy was finding she had more time to do other things in her life. Spend more time with Dawn, do chores, get her work for school done, and while she was thankful for the time, she also hated it for it was just a reminder of how her relationship with Angel had changed. They were still friendly, that hadn't altered, but she knew they both harbored unresolved emotions that put a strain on the time they did spend together. In fact for Buffy, the strain was starting to bleed into her off time as well. "I told you I'd have more free time this quarter."

Dawn took a few more spoonfuls of her cereal before pressing forward. "Wanna invite the gang over Friday and have a movie night?"


"Wanna invite Angel?"

Buffy put the paper down and glared at her sister, "That's not going to happen and you know it."

Dawn plopped her spoon into her blow sending a few droplets of milk onto the table. "Why not? It's not like he's back together with his ex, they're just having a baby. You said yourself there is no romantic or sexual interaction between them."

"Don't say sexual it freaks me out when words like that pass through your lips," Buffy scolded. "And that's not why we can't invite him." Well, that was a half-lie. It was in fact a reason why just not the whole reason. Angel made it very clear him and Darla would not be entering into anything that resembled their relationship from before, so that left him open for Buffy, but Angel still chose not to pursue anything. Buffy wasn't going to force it either. At first she thought she would give him the space he needed to figure stuff out and now that he has he still was keeping his distance from Buffy. "Angel has more important responsibilities to worry about."

"He's commit-aphobic," Dawn put it bluntly. "He's using the excuse of the baby as a reason for you guys not to be together when in reality there is probably an emotional event in his past that scares him causing him to put distances between things he cares about in this case you."

After a moment of silence Buffy finally answered instead of just staring at her sister, "Have you been watching Dr. Phil?"

"Ricki Lake."

Buffy sighed and brought her hand to her forehead rubbing her temples slightly before lowering her hand and looking back across at her sister. "Dawn, I appreciate that you care but-"

"Don't stick my nose in other peoples business, I know. Just saying you think you are doing the noble thing taking a step back, but really you're just allowing his fears to fester." With that Dawn got up and walked back into the kitchen.

"No more lame ass talk shows for you!" Buffy called after her. "Even if they are right on the money," she added quietly to herself.

Buffy didn't bother looking up from her text book when she heard the loft door open and close already knowing who it was. "Darla," she greeted her nose still in her book.

"Hello Buffy," Darla responded as she came into view, her hand placed strategically on her lower abdomen. Even with her small stature you couldn't tell Darla was pregnant, so to remind everyone, especially Angel, she constantly covered her slight `bump', as Darla called it, with her hand. "I still can't get over how nice a man Angel is," Darla started to make conversation, "letting you sit back and relax while he pays you."

"I'm not relaxing I'm studying," Buffy answered, "and it's my lunch break."

Darla chose not to say anything but just studied Buffy as she sat on the couch with her back leaning on the arm rest and her knees propping up her book in her lap. She looked so innocent but Darla knew better, she was a vicious manipulator. How else could Darla explain why Angel had chosen Buffy over her?

Darla saw it coming with their little touches here and their googily eyes there, but when Angel fired her it was still a complete shock. She thought she was covering her bases and tried to separate the two potential love birds, but nothing had worked. When she became pregnant she was so worried about dealing with the unfortunate circumstance that it wasn't until much, much later, after she saw how close Angel and Buffy truly had become did she see how she could use the baby to her advantage. Now Angel was once again loyal to her and it would just be a matter of time before she got him back into her bed and the pest that was Buffy Summers will be far behind them.

Giving Buffy a final quick once over her head then snapped towards the studio, "Angel we are meeting Leanne at the gallery in twenty minutes," she yelled.

Angel appeared from his studio and passed by Darla quickly placing his hand on her stomach, "How are you today?" he asked before moving away.

"I'm great," Darla replied with a smile.

He proceeded into the kitchen to put his dirtied coffee mug in the sink and rinsed it out, "I was talking to the baby," he corrected her.

Not allowing her smile to fade, Darla started to rub her stomach gently, "The baby's even better. You wouldn't happen to have any potato chips do you, I'm having a craving."

Angel turned around and rested his hands on the counter shrugging his shoulders. "I don't know, Buffy do we have any chips?"

Buffy still engrossed in her book shook her head, "No we don't, but I don't suggest eating those anyway not healthy for the baby."

"True, sorry Darla maybe we can pick you up some carrots on the way to the gallery," Angel suggested.

Hiding her irritation at the use of the pronoun `we' and that Angel was taking Buffy's advice on how the mother of his child should eat, Darla headed to the door, "C'mon Angel we are going to be late."

"Let me just grab my portfolio," he gazed over his apartment, "if I only knew where it was."

"By the front door so you won't forget it," Buffy answered.

Angel couldn't help the half smile he directed toward Buffy knowing that he did not leave his portfolio there. "Thanks," he said from his spot in the kitchen which was facing Buffy's back so she didn't catch the adoration in his eyes as he stared at her, but Darla did.

Reaching over Darla picked up his portfolio and opened the door. "Alright let's go."

Angel slowly brought his eyes off of Buffy and over to Darla and his expression changed rapidly to one of worry with a hint of irritation. "Darla, give me that," he rushed over to grab the portfolio. "You shouldn't be carrying things."

"I'm pregnant not an invalid," she seethed as he came up beside her. She hated when people made her feel weak, especially men.

He took hold of her upper arm and pulled her close to him, "You know what the doctor said," he whispered to her, but not low enough so Buffy couldn't hear. "There's a fifty-fifty chance …" his voice faded off for a moment, "I don't want you putting extra strain on yourself if you don't have to okay?" he pulled away slightly but still gave her a hard glare. Darla chose not to be stubborn and nodded her head in agreement and this time when her hand went to her abdomen it was unconsciously done. Seeing that she understood, Angel let up on his harshness and turned his gaze off of Darla. "I'll be back later Buffy," he spoke out looking at the woman on his couch who had yet to look up from her book.

"Have fun," she called after them as they walked out the door.

Later when Angel returned from the gallery alone, he walked into a very quiet and what he assumed an empty apartment. Leaving his portfolio by the door he stepped inside heading toward the stairs when he caught something in the corner of his eye. Turning toward the couch he found Buffy lying there, text book still open, asleep.

Walking quietly over, he stood beside the couch staring down at her. Reaching carefully he picked up her forgotten book from her lap and placed it on the coffee table and she shifted in her sleep finding a more comfortable position. After a moment Angel didn't step away, instead he continued to stare. He didn't think it was possible for her to get more beautiful, but her lying there peacefully she had. He took a moment to study her features, her pouty lips, her button nose and his fingers started to twitch, aching to grab onto a pencil and draw her, but he didn't.

Without thinking he lowered himself to his knees beside her head. Careful not to wake her, he lifted a hand to her face pulling back a wisp of hair that had fallen forward. As he did so his head was on a course leaning forward, his eyes darting across her face until the last moment when they closed and his lips tentatively pressed onto hers.

It was a light sweet kiss that really only should have lasted a couple of seconds, but time ticked by and their lips were still touching. Angel pushed a little harder and leaned in more bringing his hand to cup her face, just wanting to taste her a bit more before he had to pull away and a millisecond before her was planning to dislodge their lips, Buffy started to kiss him back.

She awoke when his hand came to her cheek and she wasn't startled at all but amazed by the tingling pricks she was getting all over her body and just to be sure it wasn't a dream she darted out her tongue to run along the seam of his lips and opened her mouth tentatively. She felt a rush sweep through her when she realized he welcomed her invitation sliding his tongue along hers.

Buffy sat up taking Angel's lips with her. Parting her legs to make room for him, Angel found himself kneeling between her knees ravishing her mouth. The hand that was holding her face close to his moved down to cup a breast while the other found itself on the small of her back pulling her body closer to him. Sprawling her fingers over his cheek, she ate him up fueled by her desire for him and leaned into his touch wishing he would do her a favor and relieve her of her clothes.

They finally pulled their lips away from the each other but only millimeters allowing Buffy to let out a breathy, "Angel."

Slowly, Angel's eyes flutter open and he leaned back and noticed her face, how her cheeks were turning a shade of pink and how her lips were swollen yet puckered slightly just waiting for him to return. He wanted to give into her, but he let go and dropped his hands from her body and placed them on the cushions of the couch letting out a sigh.

Buffy opened her eyes right away and was scared by the sight that welcomed her: Angel looking at her, his eyes unreadable, his face emotionless. She titled her head and scrunched her brow in question.

Angel saw her face change to one of confusion, "Buffy I'm-"

"No," Buffy started to shake her head frantically, her hair flying outwards wild like as she repeated, "no, no, no, no" her voice building until she demanded one final time, "no!" She stopped her head and looked at him. "Do not say you are sorry because you can't be sorry. You can be happy, gleeful, upset or even disgusted but you can NOT be sorry. I'm not." Angel opened his mouth to speak, but Buffy was afraid about what would come out started to babble. "But don't be disgusted, I don't think I could handle it if you were disgusted, and you can't be upset either so that just leaves happy or gleeful or both, I know I am. Both that is." Angel didn't try to say anything after that, just stared at her and his lack of response was testing Buffy's nerves. "Please Angel say something, or even better don't say anything and just kiss me. Kiss me."

Her voice was desperate and her eyes were pleading, Angel found himself drawn in and he rested his forehead against hers. "I'm not sorry, I'll never be sorry," he whispered and then paused. Buffy waited for him to go on and counted the time that ticked away with the rapid pounding of her heart. The muscle pumped wildly sending her heated blood to every inch of her body warming her, making her feel hot and she didn't know if it was from the excitement from the kiss or from the expectation of what Angel was about to say. She felt his answer before he spoke, the back and forth movement of his head pressed against hers was not a good sign. "Buffy, I can't."

In a flash he was standing up and avoiding eye contact as he moved away from her. Buffy couldn't move. The moment before had been almost perfect, but it was ruined because Angel couldn't. Right then she knew she had to leave. She couldn't work for him anymore. If she looked behind her she could see the line they crossed long ago. Thinking back she should have left then when things started to get complicated and now was her second chance. She had to tell him she couldn't stay.

But she wouldn't. While cutting off all contact was the right thing to do, Buffy feared not being able to see him or be near him would be the more painful route. The best thing she could do was salvage what little friendship they had left.

"Right," she finally said, "I'm just gonna …" She stood smoothing her hands down her pants and started collecting her various notebooks and texts cramming them into her bag. "See you next week," she spoke to his back as he faced the wall, and she headed toward the door.

"Is it too late to donate pictures to the hospital?" his question stopped her from leaving.

She turned to him again and saw that he decided to face her. Thinking back a couple weeks when she first brought up the idea of Angel donating paintings to the new wing at the hospital, she tried hard to remember if there was a due date. "I don't think so but I'm sure they would accept anything at anytime. I was planning on swinging by there tomorrow, dropping off some paintings my mom had stored in the basement. I could pick up the ones you want to donate as well."

"I can do it myself, but thanks anyway."

He started to turn away but Buffy halted his retreat, "No it's okay I really don't mind," she said taking a small step forward. "Eleven o'clock okay?"

Nodding his head yes, he agreed and Buffy smiled and held it for a beat. Just as she started to head back toward the door, it was Angel's turn to stop her. "That's a lot of books you have, you've been reading them like crazy. I hope school isn't too hectic."

Caught off guard a little by his unexpected line of conversation, she stared down at her bag for a few seconds before answering. "Um, no school is going great I just have this senior thesis to write to get my degree. The books are research."

"What are you doing the paper on?"

"The formation of contemporary art, I'm leaning toward the title: An Apple Core, Art or Just Trash?" she felt embarrassed for some reason and looked down at her feet. "I know it sounds stupid."

"No not stupid at all," he disagreed. "If you need any maybe I can help you. Some people do consider me a cotemporary artist."

She really liked that idea and her face expressed that. "Maybe, thanks for the offer." She started to twist her body around and face the door, but something stopped her. "We're having a movie night tonight at my place, do you maybe want to come?" she found herself asking looking at him again. Noticing he was staring intently at the couch, she wasn't sure he even heard her invitation.

Shaking the fantasy of what would have happened on that couch if he didn't stop it out of his head Angel looked back up at Buffy, her question catching his ear. "I don't think it's a good idea."

"My friends don't hate you Angel if that's what you're thinking," she offered hoping to change his mind. "And there will be boys there so no Dirty Dancing I promise."

He smiled a little at her comment, but then he let it slip away his eyes darting quickly over to the couch again and then back to her. "No, it's just … I'll take a rain check." Nodding her head in understanding she turned and finally made it to the door before he called out to her again. She pivoted her head around but kept her body halfway over the threshold. Angel spoke before he could think, but he just couldn't leave it like that. "You're a great kisser by the way."

Facing frontward she hid the blinding smile on her face as she replied, "You're not too bad yourself," and walked out leaving Angel beaming at the closed door.

Darla lounged on the sofa in the same fashion as Buffy was the day before but with a magazine in her lap instead of the textbook. Angel had made himself busy going through old paintings trying to decide which ones to donate. Every once in awhile he would emerge from his studio carrying a canvas and leaning it against the wall near the front door and then back in the studio to find the next one. Sometimes he would even walk out carrying one and exchange it with a previously picked canvas deciding the replacement was better suited. Darla didn't see why he was making it out to be a bigger deal then it really was.

"Angel," Darla called as he passed the couch for the gazillionth time. "Your running around is making me nauseous."

"Sorry, but Buffy is going to be here soon and I need to have this done," he said pausing only a split second to look at her and then back to the studio.

"Oh, Buffy's coming over, how nice." Darla started turning her magazine pages more forcefully.

"You don't have to pretend you're glad, I know you're not," he shouted from inside the studio and then walked by her giving a knowing look.

Just then something hit Darla suddenly and she stopped gazing through her magazine. "Oh, Angel," she spoke in a pleasant voice as he contemplated trading one painting for another. "Can you go to the store I'm having a craving for ice cream."

Concentrating hard on decided which painting was better Angel replied, "I already have ice cream."

Darla smiled, "But not pickles."

Angel looked up, the paintings forgotten. "Pickles and ice cream? Darla that's gross. Besides it's not healthy-"

"For the baby, yes I know but the craving won't go away. Think of it as a treat for Junior." She put her hand on her belly smiling up at him.

"Pickles and ice cream are a treat for no one and Buffy is on her way," he protested.

"The sooner you leave, the sooner you get back," she pointed out.

Angel easily gave in. "Alright, but this is your treat for the week."

"Yes master," Darla responded devilishly.

"Stupid elevator that's always breaking down," Buffy mumbled as she trekked up the stairs leading to Angel's floor. "Why is it whenever I have to carry a large load the damn thing isn't working." As she climbed higher she could hear someone struggling and upon reaching the last landing before the fourth floor she looked up to see Darla at the top of the stairs trying to carry down a pile of canvases. Buffy hurried up the remaining steps rushing to get to Darla. "What are you doing, Darla you really shouldn't be carrying those," she reprimanded finally reaching the top and attempted to grab them from the other woman.

Not giving in so easily, Darla tried to dodge Buffy's grip and keep the paintings in her arms. "Angel is running an errand and I thought I'd help him out. Leave me alone, I fine."

"Angel will have a shit fit when he finds out you were carrying anything let alone heavy canvases," Buffy pointed out once again making a move to take them away.

"What Angel doesn't know won't hurt him. I'm perfectly capable of handling a simple task."

Buffy finally got a hold of the pile of paintings and gripped the edge of one side while Darla firmly held onto her side. "It's not that simple. Give the paintings to me, Angel was expecting me to come and pick them up anyway. You go back inside and I promise I won't mention any of this to Angel."

Darla leaned over the canvases between them, "I don't care if Angel finds out. I'm not scared of him."

"Are you at least scared about the baby? Angel mentioned a fifty- fifty chance, of what? Loosing your child? Darla I suggest-"

"I don't care what you suggest and my baby is none of your concern. Let go," Darla gritted her teeth.

Buffy did the same, "No. You're going to have to make me."

"Fine, but I don't have time for your childish games," Darla commented squeezing her grip tighter.

"I'm not the one acting childish."

"Oh yes you are."

"Oh no I'm not."

"Yes you are," and with that Darla pulled back as hard as she could on the canvases ripping them out of Buffy's hands, but the force of her pull was too much and Darla lost her balance. Letting go of the paintings, Darla wailed her arms about trying to save herself and just as Buffy began to reach to grab Darla's hand, Darla's foot slipped off the edge of the top step and she fell, tumbling all the way down the stairs her body landing in a heap at the foot of the stairs.


Part 12

Hey hey hey! Comic-Con was awesome but I'm not going to bore you with detials as I'm sure you can get all the juicy good stuff on some other fan site somewhere. So I'll just move onto the next part. Hehe ... enjoy!


Angel rushed into the emergency room and ran right up to the counter shouting Darla's name at the nurse demanding to know where she was. The nurse was unfazed by Angel's behavior and insisted he calm down before she would tell him anything, which only made him angrier.

"You're wasting my time, her name is Darla Wilson she is carrying my child! Just tell me where she is," his knuckles were white as he held onto the counter leaning forward invading the nurse's space.

"With all do respect Sir, you are wasting your own time so I suggest you just take a step back and calm down."

Angel cocked his head to the side and took a deep breath before lifting his finger up gritting his teeth, "How do expect me to calm-"

"Angel," a soft voice interrupted him. He lowered his finger and turned to look down the hallway and saw Buffy standing there, here arms wrapped around herself, her eyes brimming with unshed tears.

He forgot about the nurse and ran over to Buffy taking hold of her upper arms, "Buffy what happened? Where is she? Is she alright? Is the baby alright?" he asked worry etched on his face. One hand reached up and smoothed down her hair and then moved to her face cupping her cheek. "Are you alright?" his voice was soft and tender his demeanor was the complete opposite from just a few moments ago. Buffy opened her mouth to speak but another voice intervened.

"Excuse me, who came in with Ms. Wilson?" a man wearing scrubs they assumed was Darla's doctor stepped up to them.

Buffy went to raise her hand but Angel spoke first. "I'm her friend, Angel. I'm the father of her child. Are they both okay?"

The doctor looked between Buffy and Angel for a moment contemplating whether to talk to Angel in private, but he noticed the young woman's hand slipping forward and entwining it with the young man's, who in return pulled the girl closer to his side.

"She has a fractured wrist, a bruised ankle and a concussion but she is doing okay," the doctor began and then took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, but she lost the baby."

Buffy sat in the waiting area, resting her elbows on her knees with her hands gripped together. After the doctor talked to them, Angel followed him to Darla's room while a nurse escorted Buffy over to the chairs to wait. Nearly forty-five minutes had past and Angel had yet to come find her.

Of course she really didn't expect him to since whatever Darla tells him the blame will be placed on Buffy. Going over the events in her head, Buffy didn't disagree they were right to blame her. She went about handling it all wrong and she practically forced Darla to fall which caused Angel to lose his child. She completely understood if Angel never wanted to talk to or see her again.

Just then a pair of legs appeared in front of her and she looked up not surprised to see Angel looking a lot worse for wear. "She alright?" she asked even though it was a stupid question.

"More or less," he answered looking downward but not at Buffy.

"Are you alright?" again another stupid question and the only reply was his eyes slowly moving to meet hers and that was all the answer she needed. "Can you make it home okay?" This time he nodded his head yes. "Good, I just wanted to make sure." Standing she collected her purse and turned to leave.

"Buffy," he called out. "Where are you going?"

"Home," she answered facing him.


"Because it was my fault Angel and I don't blame you if hate me now."

His deflated posture had yet to change and his voice remained even not rising or falling as he spoke giving nothing away in terms of his emotions. "Buffy, Darla told me what happened."

"I figured as much, that's why I'm going so you don't have to look at me anymore," she spoke trying to make her getaway yet again but he wouldn't let her.

"It's not your fault Buffy, Darla wanted it to happen." Buffy whipped around not really sure she heard him correctly. It seemed Angel didn't really believe what he said either and repeated himself, "She wanted it to happen."

Buffy watched him crumble into the chair she just vacated and she walked back over taking a seat next to him. "I don't understand."

"I'm not sure I do either." He took several deep breathes before he recounted Darla's plan. "She didn't want the baby, but she was jealous of you and decided to win me back by using my own child, but she never intended to keep it."

"Oh Angel," Buffy placed her hand on his shoulder and massaged it slightly urging him to go on.

"I never told you but after our first doctor's appointment the doctor said Darla had to take it easy, that the chances that she could loose it were fifty-fifty. While I was worried, she used it to her advantage." He lifted his gaze and looked at Buffy. "She was carrying the paintings trying to force a miscarriage. She didn't plan to fall and risk her own life, she just wanted the strain on her body to affect the baby, but then you showed up."

"And I tried to take the paintings away so she wouldn't hurt herself or the baby," Buffy added more to herself then to Angel. "Why did she tell you the truth?"

"Darla actually thought I would be more loyal to her after she lost the baby that we would band together as a couple over our grief, except she never expected her grief to be real."

"What?" Buffy asked still a little hazy about the whole situation.

"She made a mistake, she grew to love the baby and she regrets ever trying to abort it." He shifted his gaze in the direction of Darla's room. "She honestly believed she could be heartless about the whole scenario, but in the end … she really is just a human being." Waiting a moment to stare off into space, he then looked down at the floor and dug into his front pocket producing his keys in his hand. "Did you drive here?" he asked Buffy.

"No, I rode in the ambulance."

Meeting her gaze once again he placed his keys in her hand. "Take me home," he requested.

Nodding her head she took his keys and helped him out of his seat and then led him out to his car.

She followed him into the building and up the stairs and all the way into his apartment. When he walked in he took a few steps and then just stopped and stood there not knowing what to do. Buffy left his keys on the kitchen island and then came back to stand at his side.

"Need anything else?" she asked and he shook his head no. "Okay … I can come by tomorrow and see how you're doing?" she suggested and the idea sounded good to her. "Actually I will come by tomorrow."

"No," was all he said.

"I want to Angel," she expressed bringing her hand up to touch his arm.

"I don't want you to," he told her and her hand retracted quickly. "I'm not some pathetic loser that can't take care of themselves. I don't need you smothering me like you always do."

She was honestly shocked by his words and turned her head away telling her tears not to fall, she didn't want to show how his words stung her, but then she felt something rising within in her, determination. Determination to show him he was acting like an idiot and her tears dried up.

"I'm a friend and when you hurt I hurt," she replied back her voice expressing her firmness. "I want to be there for you, to comfort you and to make the pain hurt less because I care and honestly I don't think you can take care of yourself right now, but if you are going to treat me like this then I don't want to be around you anyway." She marched over to the door enraged. "Go ahead and wallow in your grief alone and you know what, that's what pathetic losers do. Enjoy yourself." And she slammed the door leaving him all by himself.

Buffy returned Monday morning with trepidation. She didn't feel guilty about yelling at him but she didn't know how Angel faired in the day and a half he had alone and how he would react to seeing her today.

The loft was quiet and empty as she expected and she made a beeline to the studio where she found him standing near his wobbling table. There were half done canvases, brushes, and sketch pads with pencils strewn all over the place and Angel was concentrating on one large blank canvas that was laid out on the floor surrounded by various open cans of paint.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean what I said," he spoke the minute she walked through the door. "Why does it seem I'm always apologizing to you?"

"Because you can be a real asshole sometimes," she answered walking up behind him.

"People skills are not some of my strongest qualities."

"Working on something?" she asked referring to the supplies around the room.

"I've been trying to do something, anything! I just want to let it all out and nothing will come. Nothing!" he threw his arms in the air but his feet remained rooted in place. "I just want to paint," he yelled and picked up a container of brushes off the table throwing them across the room and it hit the opposite wall with a loud bang with the clattering of wooden brushes following as they fell to the floor. "I'm all dried up, I have nothing left."

Buffy rushed to his side but did not touch, "That's not true."

He spun to face her and grabbed her shoulders. "Yes it is and it's my choice." He was burning his stare into her and for the first time she could see the pain in his eyes. "I don't let myself be happy because when I am it all gets taken away. Everything, everyone I love gets taken away," he confessed for the very first time ever in his life. He let go of her quickly and her tiny body flew a few feet away and she stumbled to keep her balance.

"Angel," she started to say but suddenly he picked up a tin of paint from the table and threw it in the same direction as the brushes. The can slammed into the wall and they both watched the red paint from the can explode on the white wall and then slither down, dropping to the floor looking like blood.

He stood breathing heavily looking at the mess he made and then he started to talk. "I made a decision a long time ago never to get attached to the world, to shun deep emotional human connections and I did it successfully and I was living my life the way I wanted, but then you Buffy. You came into my life and I needed no craved connections to the world." He pulled his eyes away from the wall and back to her. "When Darla told me she was pregnant I thought this is it, a child a part of me that I helped to create. That will be my connection, and I let myself love this child even though it hadn't been born, but I was right before … it got taken away."

Buffy purposely held her tongue allowing Angel to talk to bring his inner thoughts and fears forward and she was so grateful he had chosen her as the person to listen. During his confessions she slowly starting inching her way back over to him and when he finally noticed she was close to him, he grabbed her arms and pulled her closer.

"I knew I was falling for you Buffy but I couldn't let you get close because I can't loose you. I can't loose you." He leaned his forehead against hers and they both sighed at the contact. "You make me happy and that just means you're going to leave me."

She felt the sob burning the back of her throat his pain being just too much for her to bear. "Angel, I'm here and I'm not going anywhere." She was surprised she was even able to speak without breaking down along with him.

"I know, you're always there and I don't know what to believe anymore. I don't know what to believe," he whispered. He lifted his forehead and looked at her. This one tiny woman contradicted everything in his life, making what he taught himself to believe false. He moved his hands from her arms up to her face, holding her head there and he gathered in her presence, burrowing into her round hazel eyes and he made a choice.

He chose to believe in her.

Without warning his lips descending onto hers and he was kissing her, ravishing her, practically bruising her lips and he didn't care, he just needed to be as close to her as possible. Buffy was shocked but only for a spilt second and then she was falling into him, literally.

Neither knew how it happened but they found themselves rolling around on the large canvas on the floor, tearing at each other's clothes. Everything that they've been holding in since they first set eyes on one another was coming to the forefront.

With the clothes finally gone, they settled with Buffy on her back and Angel cradled between her thighs, both still kissing frantically. Neither was thinking coherently, they were acting purely on emotion and the sense of touch. His skin felt hot and cool at the same time, his lips were soft but rough as they attacked her and his hands were enormous covering whole patches of skin as he grabbed at her flesh. No one said anything as Buffy spread her legs and there was no second thought as he entered her. At the initial intrusion, Buffy felt a sharp pain from his force, but she didn't care she just wanted him to be deeper inside her and brought her legs up and wrapped them around his hips.

As they rutted on top of the canvas, low moans and heavy breathing filling the studio, in the back of Buffy's mind she noticed something was a little different. It wasn't until Angel leaned all the way up, locking his elbows giving his hips a better angle that Buffy noticed. They were looking into each other's eyes for the first time since he started to kiss her a few moments earlier and Buffy brought her hand up to his face and left an orange hand print in its place. During their rolling around they had knocked over the open paint cans that border the canvas covering their naked bodies in a variety of colors.

Through their breathing they both started to laugh and Buffy lifted her arms above her head, moaning as Angel began a new pumping rhythm, and dipped her fingers into a pool of paint and swirled her arms around them painting the canvas and then finally bringing them back to Angel and rubbing them up and down his chest. The playfulness just encouraged him to go faster and while Buffy would have loved for them to take their time and make it last longer, she didn't mind that every time his hips jutted forward hitting her clit, shockwaves would run along her body again and again and again.

The pressure was building and Buffy felt she was about to explode. Releasing her legs from around his moving hips she opened her legs further, letting out groans of pleasures and her back arched lifting her slightly off the canvas, her voice screaming as the pressure finally burst. Kicking out one of her legs at that exact moment, she hit his wobbly side table sending the supplies that were on it into the air including an open container of Passion Red paint, which spilled out of the metal cylinder as it flew through the air and landed across the canvas and over the joined couple.

Angel stared down at the woman beneath him, the woman that surrounded him and he felt as if his whole life was melting away and fading behind him and what lay ahead of him was undiscovered. Her eyes were closed and her head was lazily rolling from side to side, her crisis still in the process of floating back down and he just wanted to make her feel that way over and over again.

It wasn't until she looked at him again that she noticed Angel had yet to stop moving in and out of her, his pumping had slowed but his hips were still in motion and his other thing … "Angel," she breathed panting, "you didn't, I mean you-"

"Shhhh," he told her as he began to build up the tension within her yet again. "We are just getting started."

Hours later they were lying together on the floor of the studio, Buffy's back pressed against Angel's front, with his arms and legs coiling around her, spooning her body. Earlier they had gotten up and washed the paint from their bodies, which lead to some bathroom time fun and then wrapped in towels they returned to the studio to collect their clothes, but it only took Buffy bending over to pick up her shirt to make Angel pounce on her yet again and they hit the floor this time purposely missing the painting their bodies created and that's where they remained for the rest of the afternoon.

"This is nice don't ya think?" Buffy commented lazily, her eyes lulling on the brink of closure.

"Yes it is," Angel practically purred into her ear sending shivers up and down her spine. "Why didn't we do this earlier?"

"Because you're stupid," she answered with a smile playing at her lips.

"Oh yeah that," he smiled back against her skin bestowing her with a few light kisses to the nape of her neck. "And I must say Ms. Summers you amaze me."

"Well, Mr. …" she opened her eyes a little further and craned her head to the side scrunching her forehead. "Is it wrong I don't know the last name of the guy I just spent the whole day humping? I'm starting to think you don't have one."

She felt his body rumble and puffs of air on her skin as he laughed at her comment and he kissed her nape again, "You amaze me."

Turning her head back to facing frontward she snuggled more into his embrace, "How do I amaze you so?"

"For starters, I thought you were a virgin." His false observation earned him a kick to the shin. "Ow, hey!"

"I have not been a virgin for a long time buddy," she pouted.

"I'm not saying you seem naïve you just radiate such pure energy. You were like a cool breath of fresh air. It's what first attracted me to you."

"Were?" she questioned his use of past tense verb.

"Are," he corrected himself bringing his nostrils to her shoulder and breathing in her scent.

"Mmmm," she moaned as she felt her body relaxing even further. "I don't think I can move, like I even wanted to anyway. I'm so comfortable I just want the two of us to stay like this forev-" then she felt a lack of warmth as Angel disentangled their bodies. "Hey," she started to protest and lift her head.

"No," he commanded from somewhere in the room behind her. "Don't move."

She could hear the pounding of his feet as he walked around and then some shuffling of papers. "What are doing?"

Angel stepped over supplies after supplies collecting a sketch pad from the floor and continued his search for a pencil or stick of charcoal. "I need to draw," he explained simply.

Buffy was glad Angel found his desire to be creative again and happily placed her head back down. Facing the window she looked up at the sky, watching the clouds float by while listening to the scratches of Angel's pencil against the paper.

Sitting crossed legged on the floor across the room, Angel studied Buffy's nude form. He started tracing the line of her body starting from her shoulders all the way to her feet as it was highlighted by the setting sun streaming through the windows. He was fascinated with her body, how gorgeous it was, how every curve seemed to be the perfect size and shape. The more he put on paper the more motivated he was to explore his new found subject in a whole series of drawings or paintings or sculptures, he didn't care as long as it was her he was immortalizing.

Angel's lack of conversation with her was making Buffy curious and she turned her head away from the windows. "Angel, what are you doing?" she asked again.

"Drawing," came his cryptic reply as he took the opportunity to capture her profile.

"I know that, drawing what?"

"A picture."

"I kinda figured," she laughed a little. "A picture of what?"

The corner of his mouth lifted into a smirk, "You."

"Oh," Buffy said and then it clicked. "Me? Angel I'm naked!" She scrambled to a sitting position bringing her legs to her chest, hugging them close and rested her head on her knees, her long hair falling forward and doing a good job of concealing some of her exposed flesh.

He laughed at her embarrassment placing his sketch aside. Rising from his spot on the floor he walked over to her huddled form and kneeled down in front of her. "Buffy," he spoke her name playfully and she just tightened her self made ball. "Buffy," he tried again but this time in a husky voice seeped with desire. She titled her head a little and he could see one perfect hazel eye peeping out through a window in her hair. He caught her eye before placing a kiss to her crown and then another kiss and then he gently grip her head and lifted it and placed more kisses to her forehead and cheeks and chin and nose until he covered her entire face and her eyes were focusing on him. "You're beautiful," he whispered.

Buffy had been called beautiful by many people, both male and female, over the course of her life many times, but never before had she actually believed it until now. Leaning in she gave him a sweet, slow kiss and she could feel one of his hands move to the small of her back, guiding her to the floor. His lips traveled lower to her neck and shoulders and then nibbled along her collarbone.

Stalling his descent, Angel looked up and into her eyes. "O'Connor," he said. Buffy furrowed her brow not getting his meaning. "That's my last name," he clarified.

Buffy smiled and kissed him again pulling him back down with her.


Part 13

Buffy bounced down the stairs in the morning still feeling like she was floating. It took her forever last night to go to bed, she just couldn't stop her body from humming and her lips would not drop from their smile. When she did finally fall asleep she dreamt of deep kisses and gentle caresses.

Dawn found Buffy standing near the coffee machine holding her mug and smiling off into space. "Looks like someone got bit by the happy bug," she commented opening the fridge. Taking out a carton of orange juice, Dawn looked at her sister again and decided to take a long shot guess. "You and Angel getting along better?"

Not really ready to share the sudden turn in events, Buffy tried her hardest to slip the smile from her face. "We're getting along fine," she half-lied, they were getting along fine, and also great and fantastic and all positive adjectives combined.

"Angel's taking the loss okay?" Dawn asked with genuine concern.

Buffy hid her oncoming smile behind her mug as she took a sip, "He's cooping the best he can."

Dawn nodded in understanding and then the room fell silent as they both went about fixing their own breakfast and together they sat down at the dining room table to eat.

"You know," Dawn broke the silence, "I've been thinking."

"Which is never good," Buffy joked.

Dawn went on as if Buffy hadn't said anything, "Maybe it's a good thing you and Angel never got together. You did say he was a womanizer."

"I didn't tell you that," Buffy pointed out.

"I over heard you talking to Willow and Faith one day."

Buffy glared at her sister, "And you wonder why I don't trust you sometimes."

Dawn flipped her hand in the air dismissing the subject, "Anyway, Angel is not a reliable boyfriend. If something did happen what's to say you would be different then all the other countless numbers of woman who he's abandoned naked in a bed somewhere." Buffy's inner happiness started to fade at Dawn's words and this time as she stared out into space there was no smile on her face. "He probably has a trail of broken hearts he's left behind him a thousand miles long," Dawn continued not knowing the effect her words were having on Buffy. "Talk about not trusting me, he's the one you really can't trust, to him sex is like wham-bam thank you Ma'am-"

"Okay Dawn!" Buffy shouted holding up her hand begging her sister to stop. "I get your point."

Seeing her sister's obvious discomfort Dawn grew confused and sunk into her seat. "Sorry, I thought if I pointed out his flaws … I was just trying to make you feel better."

Buffy slowly lowered her hand and composed herself putting on her best fake understanding smile. "I know Dawnie, and I appreciate that you care." Standing she left her coffee and half eaten breakfast and headed to the stairs. "I have to get to school," Buffy explained as she made a quick exit.

Why go to class? It was pointless. The professor just droned on and on and on and all Buffy heard was the teacher from the Charlie Brown cartoons. Her mind was clouded by the dilemma she had placed herself in. She hoped Angel didn't see what happened as a one night stand or that they were entering a relationship purely based on sex. She wasn't quite sure how to define their relationship yet but she knew that she was nothing like Darla and that she could not handle being in a relationship without emotional ties. But from Angel's track record, that's the only relationship he's ever been in.

This was not a good thing.

The only way to figure this out was to talk to him, plain and simple. It wasn't like Angel was a private man who would rather sit alone in the dark and brood instead of engaging in conversation and talk about his feelings. Oh wait …

Deep in thought Buffy pushed open the doors of the Art Building and exited onto the quad. She was trying to tell herself not to think about what Angel was doing at that moment. That he wasn't at his loft with some leggy blonde bimbo, or out to lunch with another leggy blonde bimbo, or that he wasn't sitting on the bench in the quad with two cups of coffee.

Stopping on the pathway for a moment, Buffy was in shock to find Angel on campus and slowly she started making her way over to him. He was observing the other students walking around and did not notice her approach until she was barely a few feet away. His eyes brightened as she got closer and he rose from the bench to greet her. She had just opened her mouth to ask him why he was there when he pulled her into his arms and kissed her. Still a little surprised by his presence it took Buffy a moment to get into the kiss but soon her body began to relax and she leaned into him further.

Releasing her lips he pulled away but kept her secure in his arms and he smiled down at her, "Hey."

She smiled back, "Hi."

"I brought us some coffee."

She glanced down at the bench beside them, "So I noticed." He stepped away guiding her over to the bench urging her to sit down and he sat next to her giving her a cup. "How'd you know where to find me?" she asked her upsetting thoughts from earlier melting away into the background and the pleasantness of the moment coming to the forefront.

"Remember the time you were talking to me about your classes and your schedule and school in general and every few minutes you would stop and ask if I was paying attention and at one point I believe you even said, `Angel I don't think you've heard a word I've said,' but you just kept talking anyway?" She nodded her head a little embarrassed of her behavior. "I was listening," he leaned toward her and gave her another kiss.

As they pulled away from each other Buffy couldn't get over how sweet a gesture this was and she just wanted to enjoy it but then that little voice started acting up again and she couldn't help thinking if maybe it was a diversion tactic used to keep her happy so he could go off with other women behind her back. Inwardly chastising herself, she knew she couldn't go on thinking like this, not trusting him, always second guessing his motives and decided that she just had to suck it up and be honest.

"Angel I'm not Darla," she blurted out and then immediately bit her tongue regretting her words as she saw his happy features change to a stone wall.

"I know that," he responded his jaw tight.

Buffy put down the coffee cup and shifted her body to face him more. "I meant I don't just sleep with guys to sleep with guys."

"Okay …" he replied cautiously.

"Angel I want to be with you and only you. You're the only guy I plan to have sex with and I hope I'm your only girl."

Angel understood her point and looked away from her ashamed. "I know you know my history with woman and I understand if it worries or scares you but," he met her eyes again and took her hand, "this, what we have or what I hope we have is nothing like that. I want to be with you and only you. You're my girl."

She let out the breath she had been holding and smiled and started to go in for another kiss, but pulled back at the last minute. "And it's not just based on sex. We are more then just sex, right?"

"Buffy, I like you too much for us to be based only on sex," he confessed.

Grazing his hand across her cheek he captured her lips with his and they sealed the deal so to speak. After separating Buffy kept her eyes closed and ran her tongue over her lips savoring and familiarizing herself with Angel's taste and when she opened her eyes he was staring at her with so much want she had to turn her head to the side and blush. If it wasn't for the fact that they were sitting outside in the mid day sun amongst a sea of people, she figured Angel would be after getting her out of her pants right about now. Out of the corner of her eye she looked him up and down smiling, but then some more pressing business popped up in her head.

"Um, speaking of s-e-x," she spelled out gaining his attention, "last night we didn't use anything … protection wise."

He raised his eyebrows at her but kept the rest of his face even. "What? You mean paint doesn't act as a contraceptive?"

For a split second Buffy actually believed he was serious, but she had gotten good at reading his, this is my brooding neutral face, or this is my joke telling neutral face and rightly hit him in the shoulder. "Haha, but seriously … I'm on the pill," she said noticing the slight bit of relief pass through his eyes. "So I feel pretty safe in that respect."

"But," he prompted her knowing there was more to it then that.

Buffy wasn't sure she knew how to continue on without hurting his feelings just a little bit and she just hoped he understood that it had to be said. "Angel you were basically a slut of the male variety and your last conquest was the Skankiest Skank this side of the Skank- issippi."

"I know, I know," he admitted looking at the ground. "And I'm sorry you even had to bring this up but I'm clean. I get tested often I'm embarrassed to say."

Buffy sneaked her hand into his and tugged at his arm until he was looking at her. "You don't have to be embarrassed. It shows you are a responsible person." A mischievous smiled spread over her face and she stood pulling him along with her. "You should be rewarded."

Leaving their coffees behind Angel followed her as she guided him back towards the art building. "Where are we going?" he asked as they entered the building.

"Supply closet on the third floor," she answered looking back at him briefly and then stopped at the elevators pressing the up button. Stepping onto her tip toes she wrapped her arms around his neck and whispered, "It's unlocked and no one ever goes in there."

As soon as the `ding' of the elevator sounded, Angel had a huge smile plastered to his face and wrapped an arm around Buffy's waist swinging her into the elevator enticing a squeal of delight from her. "Third floor it is then." He pressed the number three without haste and as the doors closed on them a few students walking by caught a glimpse of the couple kissing like mad.

"Thank g-d it's Friday," Buffy mumbled to herself as she flopped on to Angel's couch after just returning from running some errands.

Hearing her come in, Angel left his studio and joined her on the couch welcoming her with a kiss as he squeezed in next to her. "Tired?" he asked stretching out his body. Buffy's eyes were already closed and she nodded her head yes. Angel started leaving little kisses to her neck. "Stay the night," he whispered near her ear.

Buffy opened her eyes but still leaned into his lips, they had yet to spend a whole night together. They just couldn't keep their hands off each other, going at it like animals in heat. Just on Wednesday when she showed up in the morning, Angel grabbed her and bent her over the couch five seconds after she arrived, but at the end of the day Buffy still collected her things and went home.

"I can't", she moaned into his touch, but then he stopped touching.

"Yes you can."

She sat up on her elbows and looked down at him. "What do you want me to do, call up Dawn and tell her my boyfriend Angel wants to have sex all night long so don't expect me home?"

"Yes, yes I do," he spoke seriously.

Buffy laid back down facing away from him, "I can't do that."

"And why not?" he set her up knowingly. She remained silent for a moment so he pinched her sides making her twitch. "Buffy."

She rolled her eyes annoyingly but she gave in anyway. "I can't because Dawn doesn't know about us," she admitted none too happy.

"And?" he prompted.

"And the rest of my friends also don't know." Quickly twisting her body she looked him in the eyes glaring at him, "But neither do your friends," she shifted part of the blame onto him.

"Doyle and Wesley don't need to know every intimate detail of my sex life," he gave as his reasoning and she could understand since Angel wasn't into the sharing, but that doesn't mean he had the right to be upset with her for not telling her friends.

Sinking back into the sofa she brought her hand to his face, "Trust me Angel if I tell my friends we will never have a quiet moment alone ever again."

"They don't even know where I live."

"Cellphone. Incessant interruptions no matter the distance are my sister's specialty. I think Faith and Spike egg her on."

He smiled at the level of seriousness she was taking this and couldn't help giving her a sweet kiss. "We turn off the phone," he suggested.

"That will encourage them to come and find us," she countered.

He leaned up on his arm and looked down at her, "You are turning this into a bigger deal then it really is. You just tell them."

She leaned up a little to meet him halfway. She would have thought Angel would be the last person to want to reveal all. This whole thing was going against his private man persona. "You are obsessing over this why?"

He sat up all the way, "They're your friends Buffy and you are all really close. It's not fair that you are keeping this huge secret from them."

She wanted to call him a hypocrite but she didn't want to take a step backwards in the conversation. Sitting up to join him she studied his face trying to see if she could read him someone how. "Okay, I'll buy that reason now what's the other."

"There is no other," he responded not looking her in the eyes but he couldn't hide from her, not any longer.

"This wouldn't happen to be about your big ole male ego now would it?" she asked smiling at him knowing she was right. "Or the fact that I told you earlier today that Spike was staying in town until my graduation." She saw the muscles on his shoulders tense, his jaw tighten and that large vain on his forehead protrude. "You're vain is telling me all I need to know," she giggled.

Angel's hand immediately went to his forehead and then he turned to glare at her. "I am not jealous of Spike," he gritted out.

"Whatever you say honey."

"I'm not," he reiterated lamely turning his face away. "He's just annoying that's all."

"You want me to tell my friends because you want to mark your territory, let everyone know I'm off limits," she flat out stated knowing it was the truth. "Especially Spike," she added her smile growing.

"Spike has nothing to do with it," he growled again, too bad Buffy wasn't buying it.

His anger was increasing and Buffy's constant laughing was not helping. Bringing her hands to hold his face she pulled him into a kiss and she felt him relax instantly. "Alright, I'll tell my friends about us Mr. Broody Pants," she promised breaking the kiss. "But only if you tell yours as well."

"Fine," he agreed and pushed his lips to hers and they fell backwards onto the couch. Angel broke away breathing heavily as they started to grind their lower halves against each other. "Spend the night," he requested again in a husky voice.

Buffy captured his lips in a heated kiss before pulling away. "I can't, movie night," she explained sweetly and pushed him off of her and sat up.

Angel let out a growl as she started to walk away and reached for her hips pulling her into his lap. "You'll be late," he commanded and lowered them into the cushions.


Part 14

"It's Monday," Angel whispered into Buffy's ear as he came up behind her, nestling his face in her neck.

She had just arrived and had just placed her purse down on the kitchen island, but if Angel was up for some fun, she didn't mind at all. "If you have a case of the Monday's I can make it all better," she cooed wiggling her bottom against his groin suggestively.

"Mmmm, that does sound nice, but" he turned her around picking her up and placed her on the counter top, "yesterday was Sunday."

"Yes, that's usually the day that comes before Monday," she responded not sure where he was going with this.

He leaned forward and rested his hands on the island trapping her between his two arms. "Don't you usually have Sunday night dinners, the perfect opportunity to announce to your friends about your ruggedly handsome boyfriend?"

Ah, that was where he was going. "Well, I would if I had a ruggedly handsome boyfriend, but instead I just have you," she joked tapping his nose with her finger once and then nuzzling it with her own nose.

"Did you tell them," he smiled angling his face to receive her kiss. There was silence coming from her and instead of allowing her lips to make contact he pulled away and glared. "Buffy?"

She sighed in irritation and leaned back on her hands, "No, I didn't" she pouted. He lifted his eyebrows in question and waited expecting an answer from her. "They weren't all there I couldn't tell them if they weren't all there."

"Buffy," he droned sounding annoyed.

"Did you tell your friends?" she sat back up regaining her confidence and crossed her arms challenging him.

"I thought we agreed you would tell your friends first, and then I would tell mine."

Buffy widened her eyes and her mouth fell open, "There was no such agreement mister!" She poked him in the chest several times, "You're stalling."

"No more then you," he pointed out and then they entered a staring contest.

After what seemed like several minutes, Buffy was the first one to give up figuring she could never out last Angel with his expert expressionless face and push him gently away as she hopped down off the counter. "I'll tell them tomorrow. I'll call each and every one of them separately to let them know the news. Except Spike of course since he'll be waiting for me naked in my bed when I get home," she threw at him as she walked away.

"You're just trying to get a reaction out of me and it's not going to work," he called after her as she disappeared into his studio. Tightening his hands into fists and clenching his jaw, Angel continued to stand in the kitchen, "Nope, not working at all."

Later in the day Buffy was upstairs in Angel's bedroom collecting his dirty clothes. She started at one end and moved across the room picking garment after garment after garment. "The man claims he's a neat freak and so far I have seen little to no evidence," she grumbled to herself picking up more clothes.

Bending over she picked up a pair of black socks near his bedside table. She paused for a second and on her way back up her eyes focused in on his bedside table drawer. Standing to her full height her eyes remained glued on that drawer. Slowly her eyes shifted to the bed and then around the room. It wasn't weird for her to be up there, she had been there many times before but things were different now. The bedroom in general is an intimate place, especially between lovers and before Buffy didn't feel anything the other times she had been there, but now she felt like she belonged there, that this was her space too.

Of course she and Angel hadn't exactly consummated their relationship in the actual bedroom yet. The kitchen sure, the couch many times, the studio you betcha, but not the bedroom, they've started to make their way there a few times and they even made it to the base of the stairs once but no further.

Bringing her eyes back to that side table drawer, Buffy knew what that drawer held, or what it was suppose to hold. She had one too, hell anyone with a sex life had one, and Buffy wondered at that exact moment what was in Angel's.

It was her right, she was the girlfriend and whatever is in that drawer is technically for her just as much as it is for him she reasoned as she sat down on the bed right next to the side table, dirty clothes clutched to her chest. Slowly her hand reached out for the handle, but then pulled back. She was nervous, why was she nervous?

"Because there could be something really scary in that drawer," she whispered. Placing the clothes to the side of her on the bed, she took a couple of calming breathes and then laughed at how ridiculous she was acting. "Just open the damn drawer Buffy," she ordered herself and without another thought pulled open the drawer. Taking a peak inside her nerves settled. "Nothing out of the ordinary, pretty standard stuff … a paint brush?" She remembered her first day and how Angel pulled out a drawing pencil from a drawer in the kitchen so a paint brush in his bedside table drawer should not seem weird he was an artist after all. Opening the drawer a little more she saw something, a large white tube and curiously she picked it up and read the label. "Chocolate flavored body paint." Her eyebrows shot up but oddly it didn't surprise her, in fact she was intrigued.

"Hey Buffy," Angel called climbing the last step before his bedroom and then stopped when he saw Buffy sitting on his bed, her head snapping over to him and her face looking like a deer caught in headlights. He had come up to ask her something but the question was completely gone from his mind the minute he saw his bedside table drawer open.

Smirking, he lazily strutted over to her, keeping her gazed locked with his, practically hypnotizing her with his predator approach. As he neared she looked down at the object in her hands, "Sorry, I was just … I didn't mean," she tried to make an excuse but then he was standing in front of her and taking the paint from her hands.

Her gaze followed the tube as he lifted it and twirled it slowly around in his hands. "Want to taste it?" he offered still smirking.

Locking her eyes with his, she rose off the bed and gently placed her hands on his shoulders and smiled at him. Guiding him, she reversed their positions so that Angel was the one standing near the edge of the bed and lightly pushed him into a sitting position. Taking the hem of his shirt in her hands she stripped it from his body placing it in the piles of dirty clothes next to them and then tossing the clothes to the floor. She pushed on his chest until he was lying flat on the bed and then climbed on straddling his waist.

Reaching behind her she took the tube of paint unscrewing the cap and squeezed a dollop onto her index finger. He watched her deliberate movements with hooded eyes and as she leaned forward he followed that finger as it came toward his body and landed on one of his nipples. Slowly Buffy smoothed her fingers in circles around the copper nub and watched as it rose into a peak and she ran her paint covered finger over that as well.

Satisfied with her work she lifted her finger and found Angel's eyes, before lowering her mouth to his chest. Sticking out her tongue she lazily circled the area licking up the chocolatey goo she just placed. Closing her mouth around the raised peaked she suckled on it biting down softly earning her a moan from his lips. She could feel him hardening between her legs and she ground her lower body downward, his large hands smoothing up her thighs and then gripping her hips urging her movement on.

When there was no chocolate paint left for her to devour she sat up licking her lips with a devilish smile. "Mmmmm, it tastes good," she held out her index finger which still had a little paint left on it, "You want a taste?"

Sitting up he ignored her offered finger, but nodded his head yes. Just like Buffy helped remove his shirt, he did the same for her peeling her little tank top from her body and was delighted to see no bra. Taking hold of her hand, he guided that same index finger and placed it on her breast. Taking a hint Buffy started rubbing the paint onto her areola, making her way inward to the peak. Angel observed Buffy touching herself, how she closed her eyes and titled her head to the side running her tongue over her lips and how her hips started grinding against him again. Tenderly after a moment he took hold of her hand again and pulled it away before he leaned forward and latched onto her nipple. Sliding his hands up her bare back he held her close to him as he feasted on her breast and when he was done with that one he moved over to the non-painted one and gave it the same amount of attention.

Buffy was relishing in Angel's actions, running her hands through his thick hair, when suddenly he was flipping them over and now she was the one lying on the bed. He kissed her long and hard and then rose from the bed taking her jeans and panties with him. His gazed covered her naked body as he undid his own pants pushing them down to the floor and then kicking them away. As he made his way back to her he picked up the tube of paint and then laid down on his side next to her. He ran one hand down the column of her throat, along her collarbone and then he grazed his fingers over her breast bone. Taking the tube he squeezed a little paint onto her skin and then placed two fingers in the blob and moved his fingers downward painting a path between her breasts, down her stomach …

"You know," he whispered huskily as his fingers reached her navel, "While before was very tasty and satisfying," his fingers moved to her lower abdomen as Buffy's heartbeat raced and her breathing became heavier. He skipped over the nest of curls and using his two fingers gently spread her nether lips. "I could eat more," and he moved his body to rest in between her legs and started licking the trail he just painted starting between her breasts and working all the way down.

Buffy stood staring at Xander's car parked in front of her house. Anya and him were just over last night for dinner, why were they here now? Making her way to the front door worst case scenarios were popping up in her head like someone had tried to break into the house, Dawn freaked and called Xander or maybe someone did break into the house and stole everything, including Dawn and the cops called Xander because Buffy couldn't be reached because she couldn't hear her cell phone ringing over herself screaming Angel's name. Her little sister has gone missing and she was too busy banging Angel!

Quickening her pace she hurried to the door and opened it right away, the fact that it was unlocked only fueled her imagination. Rushing inside she stopped as she heard rather amused voices coming from her living room. Faith, Spike, Willow, Xander, Anya and Dawn were sitting around the coffee table playing a board game.

"Miss. Scarlet, in the dinning room, with the spanner," Spike declared proudly.

"The what?" Faith asked holding the answer envelope hostage.

"The bloody wrench woman, now give me that," he shouted taking the envelope from her hand and opened it looking at the cards. "Bloody hell, this game is rubbish!" Standing up he threw the cards face down onto the game board.

"Wrong again Spikey?" Xander spoke up putting the cards back into the envelope making sure no one saw what they were. "That's the third straight game you've lost."

"Maybe you should stop guessing Miss. Scarlet every time," Dawn suggested.

"It's always the silent sexy ones that are guilty," Spike explained his reasoning. His gaze caught a glimpse of Buffy and he smiled, "Glad you could join us love."

Everyone looked over saw her as well and smiled greeting her. "What's up guys?" she asked stepping into the living room. Dawn and Willow scooted over on the couch to make room for Buffy and she sat down. "Did I miss something and you guys never left from yesterday?"

"We were bored," Xander shrugged giving his answer.

"I wasn't," Anya piped up. "Xander made me leave our nice cozy apartment and dragged me over here for no reason."

Xander let out a nervous laugh for his girlfriend, "Well then everyone but Anya was bored."

"How did work go?" Willow inquired looking Buffy over. "You seem worn out."

"It didn't suck," Buffy answered wanting quickly to change the subject. "So can I play the next game?" Pulling her hair back in a ponytail she leaned over the board looking interested in the game.

As Dawn explained they were just finishing up the current game and were thinking of moving onto Monopoly next, Faith saw something on Buffy's neck. "B, you got something on you," she observed reaching her hand out toward Buffy.

"I do?" Buffy questioned the exact moment Faith swiped her finger over the brown splotch.

Everyone's attention had turned to Faith and they watched as she sniffed her finger. "What the-" she exclaimed. Just as Buffy figured out what it was Faith was already licking it off her finger causing everyone but Buffy to cringe. Faith's eyes lit up in recognition and lightly punched Buffy in the shoulder. "Nice B, chocolate body paint. Very kinky."

Buffy in a panic brought her hand to her neck to wipe the remaining paint away, but that did nothing to vanish it from her friend's minds.

"Buffy how'd you get chocolate paint on you?" Dawn asked innocently.

"More like who put the paint on you," Faith corrected.

Then Willow started waving her hands in the hair ecstatically. "Oh, Angel! Angel put it there! It was Angel," she squealed delightfully.

"Way to go," Faith cheered smiling.

"What brand did you use, I would like to buy some," Anya inquired. "Oh and how was the sex?"

"Buffy had sex with Angel?" Dawn caught on.

"Do we have to discuss Buffy's sex life right now, I'm in the room," Xander replied nervously.

"We're not discussing anything," Spike said glaring at Xander and then looked at Buffy, "because you didn't sleep with him." When she didn't respond, he gave everyone an arrogant smile. "See I'm right, my girl knows better saw right through his little tricks."

Just as everyone started to jump in with their opinions again, Buffy held up her hands telling them to stop. "Guys, apply pressure to the breaks." This was her chance to deny everything, but so far she hadn't lied to her friends she just never told them the flat out truth. "Let's just get on with the game playing and we'll talk about it later," she chose to say.

"Aha!" Faith pointed her finger at Buffy not letting her off the hook. "She didn't deny it."

Spike smirked and sat down in a near by chair relaxing. "See she didn't deny it," he replied calmly and then the words hit him and he bolted up right panicked. "She didn't deny it that was not a denial. Buffy how could you!" he shouted bringing his hands to his face shaking his head.

"Okay fine!" Buffy exclaimed. It wasn't her most ideal situation to be announcing this to her friends, but she did make a deal with Angel and there was pretty much nothing she could do at this point to make them forget the last 2 minutes. "Yes, the paint is from Angel, he put it there. Interpret the information anyway you like."

Spike removed his hands from his face, "So you didn't have sex with him?" his voice was hopeful.

This time Buffy couldn't help the perfectly happy smile that appeared on her face and that gave everyone their answer. With high pitched squeals from Dawn and Willow, Buffy was immersed in a hug by the two of them and when they let up she was met with a bombardment of questions.

Standing she stood in front of the group near the entrance to the living room holding up her hands to silence them. "It's a very, very recent shift in events but yes Angel and I are together … as in a couple."

"Alright B banging the boss, I approve," Faith congratulated her.

Spike stood from his seat shaking his head. "Well this is just unacceptable." And then he turned his attention to Xander, "Why aren't you upset about this?"

"Me?" Xander placed his hands on his chest shocked. "Don't drag me into your jealous rage. If Buff is happy then I can live having Angel around more often." Buffy smiled at Xander's acceptance. "But not too often, I fear what having a tall, dark, handsome man like Angel around will do for my image."

Spike dismissed Xander with a fling of his arm, "And you call yourself a man."

"Spike do you want to take your macho big brother act down a notch," Dawn chastised and then turned back to Buffy. "Buffy and Angel is a good thing."

Buffy swooned a little where she stood thinking about the past week with Angel. "It's really great," she giggled sliding back into her seat on the couch.

"Details," Willow requested.

Dawn nodded enthusiastically agreeing. "Oh, details. Is he a good kisser?"

"How are the orgasms?" Anya asked.

Spike's ears picked up and he raised his arms in the air. "That's it I'm outta here."

"Right behind you," Xander spoke up standing from his spot on the floor.

"Whoa guys," Buffy calmed everyone down again. "Later we'll discuss the kissage and orgas ... well, maybe just the kissage but right now I just want to kick back and have some friends' fun."

"Will Angel be joining in on the friends' fun from now on?" Dawn asked curiously as everyone settled into their previous spots around the coffee table.

"We'll see," Buffy smiled.

Hours later, after a couple games, several dodged questions and a few Spike induced eye rolls, her friends left and Buffy retreated into the sanctuary of her bedroom. Sighing at the quietness the minute she closed the door behind her, she walked over to her bed and collapsed on top of it. Looking around she could still remember how it used to be arranged. It took her a long time but a few months ago Buffy decided to move out of her room and into her mother's. The idea was always in the back of her mind, but whenever she seriously thought about it she just couldn't invade her mother's space like that. One day she just walked by the empty room with all her mother's furniture inside that had been untouched and decided right there it was time for her to switch rooms.

She didn't know what it was that made her decide just like that, but she had her suspicion that she saw how losing his family had broken Angel in a way and she didn't want the same to happen to her. She loved her mother dearly but keeping her room the same like that didn't benefit anybody and Buffy told herself moving on does not mean forgetting.

They kept the bed, dresser and vanity but all the knick knacks and decorations were changed to fit Buffy's preference. Every once in a while she would stop to think about what it looked like before, but not as often anymore. It was her room now.

Reaching over she picked up the phone and dialed. Listening to a couple of rings the other person picked up.


Buffy closed her eyes letting that one simple word wash over her. "You have the sexiest voice," she cooed into the phone.

Angel chuckled recognizing who it was, "Only my voice?"

"Amongst other things," she smiled and she knew he was smiling back. "So guess what?"

"Do I really have to guess or can I just ask, `What?' and you tell me?"

"We're out," she stated.

"Out of what, body paint? Because I already knew that," he replied.

"Funny you should mention the body paint. Someone whose name starts with an A and rhythms with `ngel missed a spot of the chocolatey confection you speak of when he was licking it off my body."

"I think I can recall that incident."

"Well, when I came home tonight all my friends were here waiting for me," she started to explain.

"They were? Even Spike?" he tried to ask sounding interested but not that interested.

"Yes and don't worry he was fully clothed."

"I wasn't worried."

"Liar," she accused and then continued on. "The paint was a give away, they figured everything out after that and now Dawn is begging me to invite you over."

"Oh," was all he said.

Buffy shook her head at her taciturn man. "My end is taken care of. It's your turn now."

"My turn?" he questioned feigning ignorance.

"Don't make me repeat myself," she warned. "We had a deal."

"I know I promise I will. The next time I see them. "

"So, at the pub tomorrow then."

He smiled, "You know me too well."

"Darn tootin'."

Angel walked into the pub and noticed Wesley and Doyle right away sitting at the bar. As he came up to an empty stool he nodded to Gunn who already was filling a glass at the tap and sat down wordlessly. The three friends sat there silently at the bar sipping their drinks while Gunn stood near by drying off glasses. After a few minutes Angel cleared his throat.

"Buffy and I are together, we're a couple," he announced simply.

There was a lull in the entire room for a moment and then a man from the other end of the bar stood from his stool and walked over to the threesome. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a twenty dollar bill and slammed it down on the counter top in front of Doyle.

Doyle smiled up at the man, "Alright pay up," he shouted and the bar broke out into a ruckus of people yelling and exchanging money.

Angel sat there dumbfounded as he watched the commotion go on for a couple of minutes before it died down leaving Doyle with a handful of cash which he was counting joyfully. "You bet on me?" he asked unbelievably his eyebrows going up. "You bet on me?" he repeated his eyebrows lowering into a scowl, his voice angered.

Doyle was placing the money into three stacks on the bar. "Yup, and ya were a good investment." Completing his counting he gave one pile to Wesley and one to Gunn.

Angel was fired up and was getting ready to let them have it when Wesley spoke up. "Are you happy?"

Calming considerable, Angel smiled and rested his elbows on the bar. "I didn't think it was possible but yeah, I am."

Wesley sat up straighter, "I hate to say I told you so, but"

"He told you so," both Gunn and Doyle replied in unison.

Slapping Angel on the back, Doyle raised his glass in the air which was joined by Wesley's. "To Buffy and Angel," Doyle proclaimed and Angel held up his glass as well. "Don't screw it up."

"Cheers," Wesley added.

"Cheers," the occupants of the bar, who had hoisted their glasses as well, shouted back.

With the crisp echoes of glasses clinking together they all took sips of their drinks.


Part 15

Angel called Buffy that night to tell her the deed was done. Wesley and Doyle knew about them as well as some other friends of his, Gunn and Fred, and so did every occupant in the bar and probably their friends too and most likely in some small out in the middle of nowhere town they were headline news. Buffy was glad and a little confused about why a whole list of strangers knew as well but Angel assured her she didn't need to know the details.

The next day Buffy was made meet-and-greet girl as potential new managers were stopping by to meet Angel and to see his work. They didn't get to spend as much time together as they were used too but the couple did manage to squeeze in a few kisses between appointments. When there was no one left on the schedule Buffy headed out to run a few errands leaving Angel in his studio to paint.

Angel was really into getting some work done feeling that his creative energy was dried up for so long and now it was back with a vengeance and he wasn't expressing it fast enough. It barely registered when Buffy returned to the loft as he concentrated hard on painting. He didn't hear the clicking of heels as they approached him from behind, or the delightful hum that emanated from Buffy's lips.

"Sorry it took so long," Buffy apologized to his back.

To be honest he hadn't really noticed she was gone all that long. "It's fine," he answered obviously distracted by his work.

Buffy took a few small steps forward playing with the hem of her shirt. "I hope you don't mind but I stopped to do some shopping while I was out."


She slid her fingers along the waistband of her skirt, "I also called Dawn, told her not to expect me home tonight."

With that statement Angel's brush stopped mid stroke and the corner of his mouth quirked up. "Oh really," he replied with a playful tone.

"Angel," her voice was light yet seductive, "don't you want to see what I bought?"

With that Angel felt something hit his back and then fall to the floor at his feet. He looked down behind him and saw a shirt and skirt lying in a heap. Looking up the sight that greeted him made his breath hitch slightly.

Buffy stood a few feet away wearing a matching light pink bra and thong set, and the material was sheer see through.

She reached out her hand toward him, "Come to bed Angel," she requested.

Dropping his brush to the floor, Angel stood locking eyes with her. Caught in her tractor beam he glided across the floor and weaved his fingers between hers. Gracefully she turned on her heel and led him out of the studio and up the stairs to his bedroom.

Upon reaching the bedroom she walked him over to the bed, pressing the back of his knees against the mattress and inclined her neck giving him a long deep kiss. Releasing his lips she pulled away mere inches leaving a saliva trail between them and then slowly, traced her tongue along her lips as she slipped her hands under his shirt running her fingers over his muscles moving upwards. Raised his hands up and she pulled the shirt over his head and then grabbing hold of his biceps she brought his arms back down and leaned forward leaving hot opened mouth kisses on his chest. Following the lines of his muscles she glided her hands back down to his waist and they found the button of his pants.

He watched her intently as she undid his pants shoving them down to his thighs causing his hardening cock to spring free. Pushing him down by his shoulders, he obeyed and sat on the bed still watching her as she gave him a sly smirk and she got on her knees. Bringing his own hand to his throbbing member he curled his fingers around it and idly moved up and down as she removed his pants completely. Running her hands up his legs she sprawled them over his thighs and he hissed as she racked her nails gently over the flesh of his inner thigh.

Placing her hand over his, she stopped his movement. Scooting closer, she leaned downward extending her tongue and licked the underside of his penis starting from the base upward and then surrounding the tip with her mouth she swirled her tongue before releasing it. Letting her hand up he removed his and leaned backwards a bit supporting himself with his hands as Buffy titled her head downward again taking more of him into her mouth and ran her hand up and down his length as she bobbed her head.

Angel's stomach muscles contracted as her mouth built the tension inside him and his hands gripped the sheets trying not to buck his hips upward. He attempted to take slow even breathes so that he could control himself, but gradually his breathing was becoming more labored as his heart rate increased. Buffy could hear how affected he was being by her ministrations and slowed her pace before pulling her mouth free from his fully erect penis.

She leaned back on her knees observing the rapid rise and falls of his chest and stood gracefully to her full height. Reaching behind her she went to undo her bra, when Angel sat up quickly.

"No, leave it on," he requested. "Leave it all on."

Buffy obeyed stepping up to his seated form and still standing she straddled his legs. Taking hold of his erection she bent her knees and slide downward. He assisted her by moving her thong to the side and she guided him inside her to the hilt. With her stiletto incased feet firmly implanted on the floor, she used it as leverage to ride him, lifting her hips up and down and back and forth in a slow and steady rhythm. He allowed her to control everything, keeping his hips still as she worked her body, moved it how she wanted it to move. She bit her lip as her movement brought her a new sensation and he enjoyed watching her face contort and scrunch as she rocked her hips bringing them both to new levels of pleasure.

Leaning back she placed her hands on his knees supporting her weight and arched her back as she ground harder, pushing her legs further into the floor providing them with more friction which pressed their lower halves harder together and her head threw back letting a deep groan escape her mouth. Watching as her back bent causing her stomach to stretch and lift her breast more in the air, Angel was drawn to the dusty nipples that shown through the fabric. Bringing his hands to her mid back he leaned forward and captured a peak in his lips, suckling and teasing the flesh.

The room was filled with the slight squeaks of the bed springs mixed with their intense, harsh breaths. Buffy could feel her first orgasm approach, the tension at the base of her womb was building faster and rose within traveling across her body, through her trails of nerves until it spread all over and she exploded calling out, screaming loudly. Her constant rhythm in her hips was disrupted as she jerked her body as the wave continued to crash, her arms turned to jelly and gave way only to have Angel's strong embrace to support her. Leaving her chest he pulled her body up and close to him as she came down from her high and rained kisses to her shoulder and neck. Wrapping her arms around his shoulders she found her rhythm again and her hips jutted back and forth but faster and harder then before.

They both felt the perspiration seep from their pores and smelt the musk their mating was creating and it only fueled their desires as their bodies rubbed together. Needing her second release Buffy continued her unrelenting pace and this time Angel projected his hips to meet her. The resistance they created was too great and they let out cries of pleasure as they built their orgasms together and this time when Buffy's muscled convulsed around Angel he felt his release curse through him and he collapsed backwards on the bed with Buffy falling boneless onto his chest.

"So you slept over?" Willow asked leaning over the table, a goofy grin plastered on her face.

Buffy twirled the straw in her drink and nodded her head blushing. "Actually I stayed over, there really wasn't any sleeping."

Willow leaned back giggling. "Guess you caught a break today with the campus being closed. Otherwise you would have probably fallen asleep in class."

"I do that anyway," Buffy joked.

Willow opened her mouth to say something, but the waitress returned to take their orders and Buffy gave her a look telling her to hold off on any comments. When the waitress left Willow didn't waste anytime asking more questions.

They were enjoying their girls' day together sitting at a café on the patio out on the sidewalk. Their sunglasses were on, their iced teas were cold and they had tons of gossip to catch up on.

"I think a gas main should blow at the chemistry building everyday," Willow expressed referring to the incident that happened earlier in the day causing the campus to be evicted and the whole university shut down.

"Right because poisonous gas leaking into the air is a good thing," Buffy responded.

"If it gives us a valid excuse to play hooky then yes," Willow smiled giving a strong nod with her head.

As their lunches arrived they dug in but still kept the conversation flowing. "Not that it's any of my business," Willow began, "but did you call Angel and invite him for lunch?" She tried to pass it off as a casual question but Buffy knew she was just digging for more dirt.

"I thought about it but decided not too. I need some alone time with my best friend," Buffy answered.

Willow beamed at her comment and then asked her next question. "How about Sunday?"

Finishing chewing on her sandwich Buffy nodded her head yes. "He is coming to Sunday night dinner." She saw Willow's eyes light up with excitement and Buffy hated to disappoint her. "But I think it's going to be just him, Dawn and me this time. I don't want to overwhelm him with the whole gang."

"Buffy we already know he can handle us, he came to the BBQ," Willow pointed out.

Buffy wavered her answer not sure what to share with Willow about the personal side of Angel he had chosen to reveal to Buffy. "That was different Will, he was there as my boss/friend not my boyfriend. When it comes to my boyfriends you guys can be relentless, especially Spike and Xander." Placing her sandwich down on her plate she thought about her next words carefully. "Angel tends to … close himself off if confronted the wrong way and you can't tell if he's upset or hurting or perfectly fine. I just know if the whole gang is there someone will say something and he'll go all Marcel Marceau."

Willow wasn't surprised by Buffy's revelation noticing herself Angel wasn't the most talkative person and understood Buffy's point of view. "You must be on pins and needles when having a conversation with him," Willow observed.

"In the beginning I kinda was," Buffy answered truthfully. "But not now, I feel so comfortable around him and I know he does around me as well. He confides in me Will, and knowing what I know about his life, I'm starting to think I'm the only person he's really let in. The only person he's really talked to." Buffy thought back to their conversations, how little by little his past would emerge and he let her put the pieces together and let her understand the man he was. "I feel privileged."

"Wow," was all Willow could say. "Wow, Buffy."

"Yeah, I guess it is a wow."

Willow went back to eating her food when something in the distance behind Buffy caught her eye and she slowly placed her sandwich down on the plate. The phrase `worst timing ever' completely understated the moment that was about to follow.

"Um Buffy," Willow cautiously addressed her friend. "As much as I hate to do this, I think I have to." Letting out a sigh she looked right into Buffy's confused face. "Turn around."

Buffy didn't understand but obeyed anyway and twisted her body to look behind her. Seeing the other café patrons eating food and noticing nothing wrong with them she scanned the sidewalk area and the street looking for something out of the ordinary and then her eyes stopped moving and widened. There standing at the adjacent corner, waiting to cross the street was Angel with his arm draped over the shoulders of a beautiful petite blonde woman. A beautiful petite blonde woman who was not Buffy. A beautiful petite blonde woman who was, "Darla," Buffy spoke out not believing this was happening to her.

It was as if she couldn't breathe. Actually she couldn't breathe and her chest heaved as she tried to take in air but it wouldn't stay down. Her eyes remained fixed as the light changed and she followed them as they walked across the street, Angel's hand rubbing Darla's arm in a comforting way. Darla responded in kind and rested her head on his shoulder and they continued to walk straight and disappeared behind a building.

Buffy's mouth had dropped open and long after they left her sight she continued to stare. Finding her breath she sucked in the much needed air and turned around needing Willow's voice of reason telling her there is a good explanation, she just has to talk to him, that he will tell her the truth and everything will be okay.

Turning back to her friend she didn't find the calm and collected person she was expecting. Willow was seething in her chair with her knife clutched in her hand. "That bastard," she sneered clenching her teeth. "I'll castrate him."

Buffy found herself to be the voice of reason. "We can't jump to conclusions Will. I need to talk to him, hear his side of the story." She placed her hands flat on the table trying to collect her emotions. "If you assume you only make an ass out of you and me," she reminded herself.

Willow banged her knife wielding hand onto the table. "Talk to him Buffy? Didn't we just get through a conversation where you said he can be closed off? Did you not just see what I saw? Obviously he is still keeping things from you. Some pretty huge gigantor things! How do you know he won't just lie to you?"

"It's hard for him to lie to me, I always call him on it and he caves right away. Don't worry I'll know if he lies," Buffy answered with complete confidence.

"And if he does?" Willow asked bringing her knife up again.

Buffy crossed her arms as she clenched her jaw, her anger kicking in. "You don't have to worry about castrating him, I'll do it myself."

Sauntering into the loft Buffy knew she had the upper hand and she just couldn't wait to catch him off guard. She had thought about this soon-to-be conversation all last night, what exactly was she going to say, what outcome was she looking for, did she want to end it with Angel?

No, she didn't want it to end but she needed to know what was going on before she could even think about what actions to take. One thing was for sure though, she was pissed.

"Hi Honey," she greeted with an extra amount of sweetness.

Angel was sitting at the kitchen island reading the newspaper and looked up at her voice. Coming along side him she gave him a quick kiss to the cheek and slid onto the stool next to him. Not satisfied with the one little peck, Angel placed his hand on the back of her head and gave her a good, deep kiss.

He pulled away and said, "I went out and bought muffins," and then back to the reading the paper.

His kiss affected Buffy like all his kisses usually do but that did nothing to stray her from her goal. "How was your day yesterday?" she asked reaching out to the plate in front of them and taking a chocolate chip muffin.

Shrugging his shoulders he still stared at the paper, "Nothing special."

Buffy did a good job of keeping her hot tempered emotions just below the surface. "Uh huh. Well, I had an interesting day."

"I know," he looked up at her and tilted the paper toward her. "I read about the gas leak. You okay?"

Picking the chocolate chips out of the muffin Buffy swatted her hand in the air, "I'm fine. Willow and I were on the other end of campus when we got the eviction orders. We went out to lunch at this great little café near the corner of 3rd St. and Main."

Glancing at him she studied his persona carefully as she spoke and he gave little to no reaction. To the untrained eye it would mean nothing but to Buffy she could tell that leak of information had him a little on edge.

"Did you have a nice time?" he asked going back to his paper.

"We had an interesting time," she replied cryptically and then there was a pause before she added, "So what were you doing at 3rd and Main yesterday?" Again his body showed no reaction but Buffy waited and after a moment he pushed the newspaper away and turned to look at her. She set out her cast and lured him in, now to pull him out of the water. "How is Darla these days? Things going alright for her?"

He still wasn't responding and a part of Buffy was starting to lose confidence, that maybe her worst fears about this confrontation would come true. "You know Angel if you don't say anything, I'm going to assume the worst." Her voice did little to betray the uncertainty within her and she tried to sound harsh and in control but the way Angel was just staring at her she wondered if he could hear the pounding of her heart, and call her on her bluff.

"Angel," she pleaded but he said nothing and glanced away. "Oh, G-d" she moaned clutching her hand to her stomach afraid she would throw up. She was a fool to trust him, believing he could change his ways. Quickly pushing herself away from the island she wanted to escape.

"Buffy," he called out as she past the couch and she stopped but did not turn to look at him. "I don't know what to say," he answered his voice desperate.

She spun quickly, her anger coming back. "Oh I don't know, how about the truth!" She could tell he was hesitating in his next words and instead of waiting for his answer Buffy blew her lid. "Is this how all the other women reacted when they found out there were other women besides them? Is that how you can be so calm, you're used to hysterical women? Or did all the others know you like to get around and I was just stupid enough to believe you wanted to be with only me."

"I do want to be with only you," he stood up, his hands coming forward craving her touch.

Buffy crossed her arms in a protective stance. "Yeah, only me and Darla."

"I'm not with Darla."

"Right now you're not but the second I walk out that door …" she lifted her hand and pointed toward the door.

"A therapist," Angel spoke. "We were seeing a therapist. Her office is on that corner." He took a step back and placed his hands in his pockets looking at the floor, his shoulders sinking in defeat.

Buffy was caught with her arm out stretched toward her escape hatch, but she couldn't move. "You go to therapy, since when?" she asked bewildered, her anger still there but it was put on hold for the moment. Angel gazed up at her question and the pained expression painting his face gave Buffy her answer. "Oh." Feeling ashamed she dropped her hand. "I didn't think it was your thing, talking about your feelings," she said wringing her hands together feeling slightly jealous and little bit unwanted. She had been trying so hard to get Angel to open up and just when she thought she was the only one to succeed, she finds he willing opens up to a complete stranger, and about a topic he had yet to discuss with her.

Angel walked over to the couch and crumbled into the cushions. "It's not my thing. Darla's doctor recommended that she go talk to someone, that it would help her cope." Buffy slowly made her way around the sofa and sat on the opposite side of Angel, placing her back on the armrest to face him. "She didn't want to go alone and I said I'd take her and I did. The therapist thought it was a good idea I sit in on the sessions, so I do."

"How often?" Buffy asked.

"Darla goes twice a week, I only go on Thursdays."

Buffy shook her head at him, "When I'm at school. Angel why didn't you tell me?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "Shame I guess. I felt weak and … I didn't want you to see me that way."

"Angel," Buffy scooted closer to him on the couch and placed her hand on his knee. "I've seen you at your worse, at your best and everything in between and not once did I ever think you were weak."

He gripped her hand, "That's because you make me strong." Buffy leaned in and kissed his brow. "You're still mad aren't you?" he questioned as she pulled away.

"Oh yeah, but I'm hurt more then I'm upset."

He looked at her confused, "Why?"

"Why? You ask why?" She raised her eyebrows in disbelief. "You deliberately kept this from me. I believed I was someone you could open your heart to but I was wrong. I trust you Angel but you obviously don't trust me."

"No, you are probably the one person I trust completely."

"Well, you have a funny way of showing it," she moved away from him and stood from the couch walking over to the wall of windows and gazed through the glass. "You went through something traumatic, I know and being the idiot that I am, I thought you were coping well. Now I know that you're not."

She paused to take long slow breathes gathering her nerve. "I don't know what it's like to lose a child," she began not caring if he would rather not discuss the topic, "but that's no reason to shut me out." She faced him again and she saw he had shifted positions leaning forward resting his elbows on his knees. "I want you to be able to talk to me, but if you'd rather do that with someone else that's okay, and going to therapy with Darla is fine too, if it's the right thing for you." He just sat there taking everything she was saying in. Taking a few steps forward she hoped she was getting through to him, "But you can't keep me in the dark."

"I didn't want to burden you," he explained.

Buffy rushed forward and kneeled in front of him. "No, I want you to. Burden me; place all the burden on me you want, that's what I'm here for. Let me help you."

He was looking down concentrating on his hands and Buffy slipped hers into his and squeezed waiting for him to say something and then she felt it, a tear drop landing on their clasped hands. "I hurt," he whispered and then looked up at her his eyes brimming with tears. "I hurt so much Buffy."

Without haste Buffy moved to sit next to him on the couch and hugged him tightly. Gripping the fabric of her shirt has he clung to her Angel buried his head in her shoulder and cried.

They laid in bed with Angel flat on his back and Buffy resting her head on his chest. His arms were wrapped around her, his fingers idling making circle designs on her back while her fingers echoed his movements on the flesh of his chest. The post-coital bliss was soothing for both of them, the atmosphere being quiet and very comforting. It had been a long, testing day for them and the silence was welcomed.

"My father was an investment banker, and my mother was an art teacher," Angel suddenly broke the silence. Buffy's hand froze as she was caught off guard by the rumble of Angel's voice and then gently she placed it flat over his heart and just listened. "My sister Kathy was six years younger then me. We were driving home from one of her ballet recitals when another car ran the red and plowed into us. The last thing I remember is seeing Kathy's tiny body in her pink tutu flying at me as the car made impact. I woke up a day later in the hospital, Kathy and my mom died on the scene, my dad was in a coma. He died three days later. I was only twelve. When I was seventeen I ran away from child services and I've been alone ever since."

Buffy lifted her head and rested her chin on his chest to look at him. His eyes were fixed on the ceiling and she reached a hand upward to trace the worry lines on his face. Gaining his attention with her touch, he titled his head downward making eye contact.

"Angel," she said simply and they held that gaze for a beat, Buffy needing Angel to know that what she was going to say was the truth and she meant it with all her heart. "You're not alone."


Part 16

Angel hesitated before ringing the doorbell feeling very nervous. He mentally kicked himself for not bringing anything. He could only think of flowers but he had already done that twice so he decided against it and then as he pulled up to the house he remembered she was a girl, girls always appreciate flowers.

Pointing his finger out again toward the button, he stopped and brought it back down having an idea. Going down the porch steps he picked two yellow flowers from the plants in front of the house and walked back to the door. Ringing the bell he hoped they wouldn't notice.

A moment after the chimes rang, the door opened and he came face to face with Dawn giving her a nervous smile. Dawn, on the other hand glared at him crossing her arms.

"You hurt her and I'll chase after you with a flame thrower," she warned in way of a greeting.

"If I hurt her I'll come to you so you won't have to chase me," he supplied.

Thinking that was fair Dawn stepped aside allowing him to enter, "Deal."

Entering the foyer, he waited for Dawn to close the door and then handed her one of the flowers. Dawn's harshness completely melted at the sight of the floral offering and blushed as she accepted the gift.

Just then Buffy breezed through the kitchen door and saw their guest had arrived. As she walked forward he noticed her right away and they met in the dinning room with a hug and a brief kiss.

"Hi," she smiled. "Glad you could come."

"It was touch and go there for a second, but I finally rang the doorbell," he explained with a hint of humor.

Dawn walked by them patting Angel on the back, "Relax Angel. It's just Buffy and me we don't bite."

Dawn moved to her seat and Angel leaned down pressing his cheek against Buffy's and whispered in her ear, "I guess you're sister doesn't know you very well then." As he spoke he lowered one of his hands and lightly grazed her butt, a move that did not go unnoticed by Dawn.

"Okay," Dawn announced gaining their attention. "I'm happy you guys are together and I understand you are still in the honeymoon phase, so I will accept hand holding and some short and non to graphic kisses but I beg you for my own sanity lay of the hardcore PDAs." Ignoring Buffy's obvious eye roll, she held up her finger with another point. "Oh and no sexual innuendos or double entendres either." Bringing the flower to her nose she sniffed the fragrance happily.

"Dawn, where'd you get that flower?" Buffy asked and then there was an identical flower before her eyes held up by Angel as he offered it to her. Buffy smiled and gave him a short kiss as she took the flower from him. "Thank you. You know I think this is the same type of flower that grows in our front yard," Buffy observed as she showed Angel where to sit.

"Oh," Angel followed and sat in the designated chair. "I didn't notice."

"Anyway Angel, you're in luck tonight," Dawn changed the subject.

"I am?"

"Yup, I personally convinced Buffy now was not the time to show off the cooking skills she doesn't have."

"Dawn!" Buffy exclaimed embarrassed.

"I simply said serving a burnt pot roast is no way to impress a guy," Dawn continued.

Buffy placed her hands on her hips glaring at her sister, "You can shut up any time now."

"Hope you like Chinese," Dawn kept right on talking.

"It's not too late to take you back to the pound where we got you," Buffy tried to threaten her sister.

But Dawn ignored her, "My favorite is the Orange Chicken."

Angel started to chuckle at their display of sibling feuding, interrupting them. "You know Dawn you remind me a lot of my sister."

Dawn grinned at his compliment while Buffy was stunned at Angel's uncharacteristic admission. She let a small smile slip forward as she realized Angel was changing.

"Orange Chicken is my favorite too," he added and that fact delighted Dawn which ignited the urge to talk within her.

Dawn and Angel continued in their chatter as Buffy stood by watching for a bit before announcing she would bring in the food so that they could eat.

That Friday just as Buffy was leaving to go to work her cell phone started to ring the second she walked out the door. Checking the caller ID she saw it was Angel. Juggling the items in her hands she tried to lock the door as she answered the phone and rested it on her shoulder tilting her head to hold it in place.

"Hi, I'm on my way right now."

"Have you left your house?" he questioned.

With the on going struggle between her, her keys, and her door Buffy replied rather annoyed, "No, not yet."

"Something wrong?" he asked concerned.

Finally hearing the locking of the deadbolt Buffy sighed taking hold of the about to fall cell phone, "Nope, nothing's wrong. So what'd ya need?"

"Bring some nice clothes with you today," he requested.

Buffy stood still glaring at her recently locked door. "Why?"

"Because," was his reason.

Her annoyance was growing. "Because why?"

"Trust me."

Giving in she started fidgeting with her keys again, "Fine, how nice?"

"Nicer then jeans and a t-shirt, but casual-nice, not fancy," then as an afterthought he added, "A skirt would be preferable."

Sticking the key in the lock she squished the phone between her shoulder and ear again. "Will you at least answer why a skirt?"

"I like you legs."

She unlocked the door and smiled at his confession, her annoyance gone. "I'll be about fifteen minutes late."

"That's okay, I'll be waiting."

When she finally arrived he still wouldn't tell her what the clothes were for and they went about their business for the day which included some follow up meetings with a narrowed down list of managers. In the middle of the last meeting of the day, Angel sent Buffy on an errand for a bottle of wine. She thought it was odd and questioned him on it and he simply told her the man he was interviewing liked a good merlot and if they wanted to share a drink at the end of the day Angel wanted to be ready. Still not completely understanding his reasoning, Buffy went anyway.

Upon returning, Buffy saw the back of Angel's head over the couch as he watched some sporting event on the television.

"I got your wine," she announced heading over to the kitchen depositing the bottle on the counter.

"Good, now go take a shower," he requested.

Very confused Buffy slowly walked toward the couch, "A shower? Do you think I smell?"

As she rounded the side to the front, Angel rose and Buffy saw he was wearing his lucky leather pants and a maroon button down shirt. "I just thought you'd like to shower before you got dressed up."

Blatantly giving him a hungry perusal of his attire it took Buffy a moment to respond. "Uh, dressed up?"

He stepped up to her and wrapped his arms around her waist, "The clothes I asked you to bring, take a shower and change into them. I'm taking you out," he declared before giving her a kiss.

"Out?" she questioned.

"On a date," he answered giving her a small smile.

Their first real date.

The sound `date, date, date' ringed in Buffy's head. She was surprised yet excited Angel had said the magic word and as the realization came over her a smile slipped across her lips. "You're taking me out on a date?" He nodded his head yes. "Wow, I think I am turning you into a boyfriend."

"And they said it couldn't be done," he quipped. Turning her around, he gently pushed her in the direction of the bathroom. "Hurry and get ready"

"Ah, you have much to learn young padawan. `Hurry and get ready' are not in a women's lexicon of phrases," she replied as she disappeared into the bathroom.

With the bottle of wine in hand and Buffy dressed in a dangerously cropped mini skirt, Angel took her to a nice restaurant for dinner. He was such the perfect gentleman, holding open the door, helping her into her seat and so on. After dinner they went to Buffy's favorite ice cream stand and each got an ice cream cone and then took a night time stroll around town before heading back to Angel's place.

Climbing the stairs to his loft, Buffy was practically bouncing on her feet, smiling and humming a little tune as she swung Angel and hers joined hands.

"Buffy are you drunk?" Angel asked amused by her behavior.

"No," she replied happily.

Giving her a dubious look he tugged on her hand, "Buffy."

"No," she repeated still on the giddy side.




"Little bit," she admitted as they reached his front door and she faced him leaning her back against the metal entrance.

"You can't hold you liquor," he teased towering over her.

Buffy reached up and wrapped her hands around his neck smiling, "I'm drunk on you silly."

Slowly, her expression shifted from overly happy to one of deep rooted desire. Angel met her glare with one of equal passion and without another moment of hesitation they both attacked, leaping at the chance to connect their lips. Frantically kissing and groping each other, Angel some how managed to reach his keys in his pocket and unlock the door. Tumbling inside, jackets were shed as they fumbled all the way to the couch.

Falling onto the cushions with Buffy under him, Angel's hand smoothed up Buffy's thigh pushing her skirt past her hips and his hand continued under her shirt lifting it up. Buffy raised her hands above her head in order to help remove the garment and as she did so one of her hands hit his answering machine.

"You have one new message," the electronic voice spoke out mixing with Buffy's moan as Angel suckled on her nipple. "Friday 6:33 pm," the voice continued but Buffy and Angel just ignored it.

"Angel, are you there?" a different, feminine voice emitted from the machine. "I was just thinking about what we said in therapy yesterday …"

Buffy and Angel both stopped cold in their tracks as Darla's voice invaded their private moment. Angel's head came up from Buffy's chest and stared at the machine as Darla's ramblings continued. Both of them sat up slowly as the message went on and on, the mood differently broken.

Buffy quickly re-donned her shirt and adjusted her hair and the rest of her clothing, while Angel did the same. Listening to Darla's voice, Buffy couldn't believe how defeated the once strong and brazen woman sounded. It was shocking to say the least and Buffy did feel sad and sympathy for her and wished that Darla could one day over come her tragedy just like she hoped the same for Angel.

But as the ending phrase, "Call me back, okay?" resonated through out the room, Buffy grew enraged.

The spilt second the answering machine beeped signifying the end of the message Buffy turned a glare onto Angel. "For some reason I have the feeling that Darla calls often. Am I wrong?"

Angel forced a hard sallow down his throat, "No, you're not wrong."

She put two and two together, "And this has been going on since you started therapy?" Angel nodded his head yes. "All behind my back," she stated.

"I told you that we talk," he defended himself.

"No," Buffy stood up and moved away from him. "You said you went to therapy together, not that you talk on the phone." Holding her head in her hand she looked downward, "I'm having dejà vu. Didn't we just have an argument about you seeing Darla and not telling me?"

"Darla and I can't just make a clean cut, we're in each other's lives," he tried to explain. "We are experiencing this heartache together and we need to be there to support one another."

"That's still not an excuse to keep it from your girlfriend," Buffy bit back slightly raising her voice. "You said before you didn't want to burden me, but now I'm thinking that was just another excuse."

"It wasn't, this is my problem and I'm the one that should carry the weight of it not you."

Buffy shook her head in disbelief. "Do you not understand the sharing concept of a relationship? Wait, why I am asking, I already know the answer is no!"

Angel rose and tried to get closer to Buffy but she made sure they remained a safe distance apart. "I understand the concept, it's just something I'm not used to, but I'm trying … you know I am."

Buffy could give him that, he had shared a lot more then she expected him too, and she knew it was difficult for him but still … "Well, you aren't trying very hard." Wrapping her arms around her middle, she was still seething with anger but she couldn't help some insecurities filter through. "I don't even know if I can trust you anymore."

"Of course you can," his voice was desperate knowing she had every right to question all his actions. If she wanted to give him the third degree about every aspect of his life from now on he wouldn't dispute it since so far he had provided her with a good amount of ammo. He just hoped she could look past his idiotic behavior and move forward.

"Have you been having sex with Darla?" she asked suddenly.

"No!" Angel reacted without hesitation hoping to leave no doubt in Buffy's mind that his answer was the truth.

She didn't really believe they were when she asked the question, but she felt it should be asked just to show him where his mistrust could lead. But even after that test, she still wasn't sure what to do next.

"I don't know Angel," Buffy began running her hands through her hair avoiding eye contact. "Maybe this was a bad idea."

"What was?"

She paused in any body movement for a moment before meeting his eyes dead on. "Us. Us together as a couple was a bad idea."

He shook his head, "No, don't say that. You're wrong."

"Think about it Angel," her fury coming to the forefront yet again. "Look how long it took you to admit you had feelings for me and then look how long after that it took for us to kiss and even after that you backed off because you had commitment issues. I've known this all along yet I still stuck around when I really shouldn't have." She took to pacing the room flinging her arms in the air as she shot out all the negative facts. "The first time we had sex was only because you were so clouded with grief you needed some sort of outlet-"

"That's not true," he shouted out refuting her statement.

Hearing his words, she chose to ignore them and continued on in her tirade. "You've tried to hide your continuing contact with Darla, that's a big one. I haven't hung out with or even seen your friends since Darla was first pregnant, and same for you with my friends."

The longer Buffy ranted on the angrier Angel got and this time when he spoke he showed it. "Hey, that's not my fault. I went over to your house for your Sunday night dinner and you chose not to have your friends there."

"As a favor to you!" she yelled.

"You can't use that against me!"

She fumed where she stood, placing her hands on her hips. "Fine then I'll use this, you left! After dinner you left when you could have stayed and spent the night. We always end up going back to your place. Why can't it be mine? Why does sex always happen here?" And then as an afterthought she whispered more to herself, "And once in a supply closet and twice in the car."

"Okay," he shrugged his shoulders, "Let's go to your place."

Buffy wasn't expecting that response. "Excuse me?"

His voice calmed a little but it was still obvious he was irritated. "Let's leave here and we'll spend the night at your place."

"You can't be serious." Buffy knew she was the one to bring it up but she wasn't about to go home and have sex while Dawn was under the same roof. Their bedrooms even shared a wall. Besides, she wasn't in the mood to have sex let alone sex with Angel.

Giving her his infamous stone face he crossed his arms across his chest. "Should we take your car or mine?"

Scoffing at his idea she crossed her own arms to show she was holding steadfast on her position. "How about neither, we aren't going and that's final."

They took Buffy's car but Angel drove. She sat arms crossed pouting in the passenger seat the whole way there. They said nothing to each other until they pulled into Buffy's driveway. Angel turned off the ignition and right before Buffy got out of the car she turned to him.

"Don't count on getting lucky tonight. Hope you like sleeping on couches."

He didn't reply or make any indication her statement affected him as she opened her car door and headed to the house. Angel just calmly exited the car locking it and followed her inside.

The downstairs lights were still on and Buffy marched straight into the kitchen, not even waiting for Angel, and found Dawn getting ready to make popcorn.

"Hey Buffy, I didn't expect you home," Dawn expressed seeing her sister enter. Sheepishly she looked at the huge pot she had on the stove. "You're probably wondering what I'm doing here and I know you said I could only make popcorn in the microwave but-" she stopped as she saw Angel come in behind Buffy.

"Hey Dawn," Angel greeted causally. "Making popcorn from scratch?" he asked noticing the container of oil and a bag of loose popcorn kernels sitting next to the stove.

Dawn was surely surprised to see Angel there. It never really registered in Dawn's head what exactly her sister and Angel did when Buffy slept over, but now confronted with Angel being at her house at a late hour, the only reason she could figure that they both were there was -- turning her head Dawn tried to hide her blush.

"Our mom taught us how," Dawn answered fidgeting with the kernel bag. "I was going to watch a movie."

Angel's demeanor switched and he let off a gorgeous full tooth grin. "Perfect. I'll help you make the popcorn." Moving past Buffy he went to the stove to stand next to Dawn.

Buffy was aggravated with the whole situation. Angel inviting himself over, Dawn being very accepting since she was laughing with Angel as they made the popcorn, but what really got her was that neither of them noticed Buffy was not happy, or worse neither of them cared.

Carrying the freshly made popcorn the threesome made their way into the living room. Dawn sat down in a chair leaving Buffy and Angel the couch, which they took without comment but Buffy kept enough space between them so that they wouldn't touch.

The movie was some forgettable teen comedy that Dawn begged for as a birthday present. Laughing at all the right moments, Dawn was engrossed in the film not even noticing how much Buffy and Angel were not the least interested. When it was over, Dawn stood, stretching out her arms giving a good yawn and announced she was going to bed leaving the couple alone downstairs.

During the course of the movie Buffy had laid down bending her knees with her head facing the opposite end of the couch from Angel. As soon as Dawn was out of sight, Angel who had the remote in his hand flipped the stations for a bit before shutting off the TV. Buffy expected it as his hands snuck over to take hold of her ankles to straighten her legs. She kicked off his grip but he didn't flinch and simply tried again and succeeded.

Without another protest from Buffy, Angel shifted his position so that he loomed over her looking her right in the eyes. Bending his knee he maneuvered it between her legs separating them and slid the rest of his body between her and the back of the couch.

"Angel, I'm still mad at you," Buffy whispered as his face sunk closer to hers.

"I know," he whispered back cupping her face.

Leaning her head toward his hand she continued to look at him, "I'm not sure I trust you."

"I know," his hand slipped down to cover her breast and then moved downward and gathered the material of her skirt is in hand.

"We shouldn't, Dawn is right upstairs," she moaned as his hand caressed the inside of her thigh.

"Then we'll just have to be quiet," he replied pressing his palm between her legs and applied pressure to her mound. He kissed her as she arched into his touch concealing a deep mewl from her lips.

Telling her mind to shut up at its objections to the situation, she let Angel do whatever he wanted basing her decision on touch and sensation alone. She felt hot as he placed force on the heel of this hand and just as she started to heave with bated breath he stopped.

"Stand up," he murmured against her lips and then sat up allowing her to move. In a non-satisfied daze she stood in front of his seated form. "Take off your underwear," his voice was robust as he stared at her hands hiking up her skirt and then she shimmied out of her panties.

Reaching forward he sprawled one of his large hands over her right buttocks and pulled her to him. His other hand lifted up her skirt exposing herself and he stuck out his tongue, gently separating her lips and licking the length of her sex. Buffy closed her eyes and ran her fingers through his hair before taking a clump in her hand.

His tongue teased as he flicked it in and out of her, probing her depths. Licking her length again he concentrated on her bundle of nerves circling it with his tongue, brushing against it before his lips surrounded it and he sucked graciously as he felt Buffy's grip in his hair tighten.

With her knees weakening Buffy was ready to explode and collapse in Angel's lap or on the floor, she didn't care, she just wanted to feel her release. Angel continued to eat at her juices and as before, he stopped denying her what she desired.

Leaning back on the couch he started to undo his pants, "Turn around," he whispered. At this point Buffy would run outside in her birthday suit singing "On the Good Ship Lollypop" if he asked her too. He had built so much tension inside her and her body ached as she obliged to his command and turned, facing away from him.

Taking hold of her hips her guiding her back until his velvety head was just touching her entrance. Lifting his hips he delved into her, giving short shallow thrust as he continued to lower her body downward. Buffy tried hard not to make a sound as Angel's length disappeared, filling her, and then she was seated on his lap, his erection buried all the way within her.

She was surprised she didn't burst at that moment, but taking long, deep breathes she controlled herself and started rotating her hips, grinding against Angel, wanting to drive him crazy like had with her. Lifting his hands, her covered her breast and kneaded the flesh. She heard him let out a rich grunt as her hips continued to gyrate and felt his forehead come to rest on her back.

Without warning he jerked his hips up thrusting into her once and then after a moment again, and another moment again setting a slow but demanding rhythm. Buffy did her best pushing her hips back trying to match his thrusts.

And just when they were getting into a set pace … "Buffy!" Dawn's voice shouted from upstairs. They froze immediately and Buffy prayed Dawn would not come downstairs.

"Wh-what Dawn?" Buffy yelled through her harsh breathing, her hands going to Angel's thighs, digging her nails in, telling him he better not even try to move.

"Are we out of toothpaste?" Dawn asked still staying put.

Biting her lip to suppress a moan that had been itching to get out, Buffy brought her hand to her forehead closing her eyes and thinking hard, trying to come up with an answer. She could hear and feel Angel's warm breath on the back of her neck and the image of his muscled body and his dick disappearing and reappearing in and out of her has he plunged his hips clouded her thoughts. Unconsciously, her hand lowered from her head and landed over Angel's hand on her breast urging him to massage her, and her hips started to move again.

"Buffy?" Dawn's voice interrupted yet again.

Buffy eyes shot open and she yelled back, "Try one of the bathroom drawers or under the sink," Angel started licking the nap of her neck, "we have to … we have to have some …" her voice faded has she got lost in their activities.

"Okay," Dawn replied sounding a little confused. "I'll go check, good- night."

Buffy didn't even bother to respond as she leaned back toward Angel and turned her head to capture his lips in a kiss while his hips took movement yet again. Placing his hand flat on her back, he leaned her forward and then took grips on her hips and pounded his hips forward, jutting in and out at a rapid pace. Buffy bounced on his lap as he pounded his hips upward and she tried grabbing onto the coffee table for support but her fingers were just out of reach.

Angel had worked her up so much that her muscles were convulsing around his member in no time and his rhythm became jerky as he spewed his seed inside her. Still moving their lower halves, they came down from the intense sensations together, both breathing heavily.

Resting her back against Angel's chest Buffy titled her head so that she could kiss him. Releasing their lips they just sat there, calming their breathing and waiting for their heartbeats to slow. Buffy let out a little giggle at first and covered her mouth with her hand to conceal it, but she couldn't help it and started laughing. It was contagious and Angel started laughing with her.

"I hope Dawn found the tooth paste," she said trying to contain her laughter for a moment but ended up giggling harder then before.

Lowering to lie down on the couch, Buffy twisted to face Angel and they both adjusted their clothing as they shifted their bodies to get comfortable. Slowly their laughter subsided and they were left just staring at each other's eyes.

"I messed up," Angel began bringing his hand to her face, brushing away a few strands of hair. "I was wrong and I'm sorry."

Buffy nodded her head understanding he was apologizing for the scene at his apartment earlier. Their romp on her couch made her forget about it momentarily and she chastised herself for it. Right now Angel deserved to be in the dog house not rewarded with great sex.

She wasn't mad at him anymore, but the matter of trust was still there. It had always been there, in the back of her mind since the very first time they slept together, to when she first saw him with Darla to tonight. The issue needed to be addressed but she was weak and with one little touch, one little smirk and she was his.

"I'm … not used to this," he started talking again stroking her hair. "I'm used to having autonomy, not needing to share my actions or my thoughts with others. Besides I never really had anyone in my life to do that with … until you." His hand stopped moving and he bore his gaze into her. "You're the first Buffy, the first person I want to share everything with, that I feel that I can share with, but my initial reaction is still to keep it inside." He dropped his eyes from their stare, "I know it's not an excuse, but-"

She silenced him with a sweet and gentle kiss not needing him to explain any further, she understood what he was saying. Buffy was the first and if history taught her anything, being first didn't usually mean you had it easy. Angel wanted and needed her with him and he trusted her whole heartily and she just had to believe one day all her doubtful thoughts would disappear because there will be no need for them.

"Angel would you like to see my bedroom?" she asked as she released the kiss.

Licking the taste from his lips, Angel nodded his head yes and maneuvered one arm under her knees and the other around back. In a sweeping motion he hauled her up and carried her up the stairs to her room.


Part 17

Dawn had awoken to the smell of something, something that seemed so familiar yet so far away. Following her nose, it lead her right to the kitchen and for some reason she almost expected to see her mom standing at the stove cooking breakfast. Instead she found Angel with spatula in hand, flipping pancakes and Buffy near buy stacking them on plates and creating happy faces with whipped cream and fruit.

Staring at the scene for a moment, Dawn was shocked by how strange yet natural it all was. Finally she managed a "Good morning," gaining the couples attention and they looked toward her each glowing brightly and returned her "Good morning," but with more pep.

"Angel made us pancakes Dawn," Buffy stated the obvious still with extra glee. "Remember when we were little waking up to stacks and stacks of fluffy goodness just waiting for us?" Turning her sight to Angel, Buffy beamed even brighter. "The perfect way to start the day."

Dawn smiled at the little saying Buffy ended with. It was what their mom used to say when she served them their pancakes.

Taking two finished plates from the counter, Buffy breezed by Dawn setting a plate in her hands and continued into the dinning room. Angel soon followed juggling his own plate and two cups of coffee for him and Buffy.

As they settled into their seats, Buffy and Angel each grabbed a section of the newspaper and started reading as Dawn eagerly dug into her meal, occasionally giving the two sneaky glances. Nothing was said about the night before but Dawn did try to hide a smile. It wasn't just luck that she didn't go down the stairs and certain muffled noises that were heard were no mystery.

Dawn wasn't that naïve. She knew more then she let on.

"So," she spoke up gaining their other two's attention. "Got any plans today?"

Angel looked over at Buffy and raised his eyebrows in question.

"Actually, we do," Buffy answered for both of them. "We're going out to lunch."

"We are?" Angel asked and she nodded her head yes.

"That's cool," Dawn stated. "Is it alright if I go out with Janice?"

"Sure, I'll just call her mother to make sure everything is on the level and then I expect you to call me at least twice during the day."

"Buffy!" Dawn whined beseeching her sister.

"Dawn!" Buffy mimicked. "I don't want a repeat from before."

"You do this every time I go out with Janice, can't you just trust me?" Dawn gave her sister her big puppy dog pleading eyes and when Buffy told her it wasn't working she turned her gaze to Angel.

"Are we referring to the Halloween incident where you said you would be sleeping over but instead you went out all night with a couple of strange guys who went around vandalizing people's houses?" Angel asked nonchalantly and Dawn nodded her head in affirmation. "Yeah, I think you're lucky Buffy isn't sticking a homing device on you, or worse one of those house arrest anklets."

Dawn sulked in her seat. "You're no help."

"It has nothing to do about whether or not Buffy trusts you. You did a stupid thing and now you have to accept the consequences, Dawn. Suck it up, it won't last forever," he pointed out and like magic, Dawn's sullen expression changed and she shrugged her shoulders.

"Fine, I'll accept it but do I have to be happy about it?"

Angel laughed a little, "No you don't, but keep in mind Buffy isn't saying no, she is letting you to continue to go out with your friend."

Dawn thought about it for a moment and then said she was going to get ready and disappeared up the stairs.

Buffy watched her go and then turned to her boyfriend a little shocked. "How did you do that? She didn't talk back to you."

He shrugged his shoulders, "Teenagers are bi-polar I just got lucky."

Going back to his paper he didn't notice Buffy continued to stare adoringly at him.

After going to Angel's so that he could change his clothes, they got back in Buffy's car to go to lunch.

"Where are we going to eat?" Angel asked as Buffy drove.

"I don't know, we'll decide that later."

He looked around at the scenery moving past them. "Then where are we going now?"

Pulling into a parking space, she placed the car in park. "Here," she announced cheerfully.

Cautiously Angel followed her out of the car not quite sure where `here' was but then he noticed a shop tucked away in the corner. "Giles' bookstore," he stated and before he could ask her why they were there she walked inside and after a moment he followed.

The bell over the door chimed as Buffy entered. "Hey Giles," she called to the man behind the counter.

Surprising him a little, Giles head shot up and he opened his mouth causing his glasses, which were hanging off his lip, to fall to the counter top. "Ah, Buffy you're early. Perhaps my old-stuffy-British- punctuality is starting to rub off on you."

Buffy stepped closer scrunching her nose, "Sorry Giles as much as you would like to think that's true, it's never, ever, ever going to happen." He gave her a look before returning to the book he was reading, but Buffy started to talk again. "Actually I'm early because- "

The bell chimed interrupting her and they both looked over to see Angel stepping into the store.

"Angel," Giles recognized right away. "It's nice to uh, see you again. How-how have you been?" His nervous stammering made it obvious to Angel that Buffy had shared his recent unfortunate circumstance.

"I'm good," he said standing next to Buffy. He was reluctant to put his arm around her like he wanted to do. From the way Buffy talked about Giles he could tell she thought of him as her surrogate father and Angel was nervous about showing affection for the little blonde openly in front of him.

Buffy on the other hand was not nervous at all and wrapped her arms around Angel's waist leaning into him. "Angel's going to be joining us for lunch today, Giles," she spoke up surprising both Giles and Angel who gave her eyebrow raised looks.

"Buffy," Angel started but she wouldn't let him continue.

"Hope you don't mind, but I thought you'd like to get to know Angel a little bit better," she told Giles.

Giles put his glasses back on and saw the way Buffy was surrounding Angel and how tentatively Angel placed his arm around her shoulders. "Well, this is new," he replied.

Buffy titled her head up and smiled at Angel, "It is."

He closed his book and held it up. "Let me just put this away and we'll be off," and he went into the back room calling Anya's name.

Angel took a small step back so that he was facing Buffy. "You set me up," he stated his voice carrying no anger, but no amusement either.

"Correction I set both of you up," she continued to beam.

"I think my palms are starting to sweat," he pointed out as he looked down at his hands.

Then he saw smaller hands slip into his and he looked up to meet a pair of hazel eyes. "It's just Giles there is nothing to worry about."


"It's just Giles," she reiterated and then took a step forward and up on her tiptoes to give him a kiss.

The clearing of a throat interrupted them and they both looked toward the backroom door and found Giles cleaning his glasses. "Shall we go?"

"We shall," Buffy responded still holding onto one of Angel's hand and then lead the two males out of the store.

"Buffy, Xander and Anya are here!" Dawn yelled from the living room into the kitchen hoping her sister heard her.

Holding the receiver away from her mouth for a second Buffy shouted back, "Okay, I'll be there in a minute."

"What was that?" Angel's voice filtered through the phone.

Buffy clutched the phone with one hand and opened the fridge with the other to pull out a container of salsa. "Oh, just that everyone's here for Sunday dinner."

"It's only 4 o'clock."

"We don't just eat dinner and that's the evening. We hang out; have chips and salsa, play games, fun stuff. You would know that if you were here …" she trailed off with a hint of displeasure at his absence.

"We spent practically all day yesterday together and it was your idea to have a break today," he reminded her in way of defending himself.

"Well, you didn't have to go along with my crazy idea," she pouted.

"Anyway," he stirred the conversation back to the topic from before. "You liked the short guy?"

He was referring to one of the many managers that have been breezing through Angel's loft and studio. "His name is Jonathan and I didn't say I liked him … but it seemed like he needed the business."

"I'm not picking people based on their neediness. If they can't get business for themselves it's usually a sign that they aren't good at what they do."

Walking over to the other side of the kitchen Buffy retrieved a bag of tortilla chips and brought them over to the salsa. "How about Lorne, I liked him a lot. He was energetic, interested in your work, presented some good ideas-"

"He kept calling me pastries," Angel butted in with a semi-growl, sounding irritated.

"Oh come on Angel-cakes you didn't like that?" Buffy played with him.

"No," he stated firmly.

Taking a big bowl out from the cupboard, she placed it on the countertop. "I dunno, I think it can be rather sexy if said in the right light." Pouring the bag of chips into the bowl she thought of some good examples. "My little cupcake."

"Buffy," he warned.

"Fine, my big cupcake," she giggled, "Or my delicious chocolate fudge- icle.

"Well, that's a little better," he concluded thinking of their chocolate body paint experience. "But I'm still not into it."

Tossing the empty chip bag in the trash she leaned against the counter her eyes lighting up. "Oh I got another one -- my big stick."

"Excuse me, your what?"

"Big stick, it's a Popsicle. We used to eat them all the time when we were in elementary school. They're really long, you know big, hence the name," she explained.

"And you want to call me your big stick? I could go for that …"

Buffy smiled hearing the intrigue in his voice as his male ego kicked in. "We used to see how far we could stick them down our throats … little did we know what we were practicing for. I got pretty far too." She waited a moment but he said nothing. "Mmmmm, just thinking about those big sticks, my mouth is starting to water."

"When's dinner?" he asked sounding a little rushed.

"Not for another two hours," she smiled into the phone knowing what he was thinking.

"Come over," he requested huskily.

"Angel I have company," she half-heartedly protested.

"That's why you'd come here, we'd be alone and you won't be sorry."

Buffy clutched the phone tightly to her ear as she listened to Angel's voice convey what exactly he would do to her if she followed his request. She grew hot just from his words and her body flushed a light pink as she gave in.

"I'll be right over," she breathed into the phone and hung up the exact moment Willow entered.

"Hey, where's the pre-dinner snack?" she asked and noticed Buffy holding the phone. "Who was that?"

"Ummm, that was Angel he wants me to come …" her face flushed a little more, "Come, come over. I put something away and he can't find it so he needs me."

Walking past her friend she went into the foyer picking up her purse and keys and then quickly stepped into the living room. "I have to run a quick errand, I'll be back for dinner," she told her entire group of friends who looked at her confused.

"Errand where?" Dawn asked.

"Angel's, he needs help finding something I misplaced," she explained. "He said it was really hard … to find, really hard to find." Angel had gotten her so worked up she was finding it difficult to even make some simple excuse and after pathetically spewing out a reason to leave, she left hurrying out to her car.

Her friends remained quiet as they listened to the front door closing and Buffy making her way to her car. They all looked at each other before Faith's mouth curved into a smile.

"I think we were just ditched for a booty call."

"I think you're bloody right," Spike agreed non to happy.

They heard the car door slam shut and the engine start. Spike looked over at Faith and her smiling face and his own lips turned upward and he looked over at Xander who joined in their smile and soon they were all smiling as they heard Buffy's car drive off.

"I think we know what we have to do," Faith commented and everyone readily agreed.

Angel heard the elevator ding as he waited not so patiently by his front door and without a moment's hesitation he opened it and Buffy was immediately latching her lips on to his.

"Were your friends suspicious?" he asked leaving a trial of kisses along her jaw.

"I don't know, don't care," she breathed leaning into him more.

"Doyle and Wes called after I hung up with you," he explained as she lifted his shirt over his head. "They wanted me to go out," he moaned as she nibbled on the flesh of his chest.

Working her way back to his mouth, she found his lips again. "And?" she mumbled as she kissed him.

He wrapped his arms around her, his hands sneaked up under her shirt feeling the heat of her back. "I told them I couldn't I'll be too busy ravishing my girlfriend."

She stopped and pulled away to look him in the face, "You didn't?"

He gave her a smirk and titled his face forward. "Those weren't my words exactly, but that's exactly what I plan on doing."

Smiling she launched herself toward him once more.

They were frantically attacking each other's mouths when the doorbell rang.

"Ignore it," Buffy said still kissing him.

"I am," he responded

After a moment the doorbell rang again and then again and again and again until it was painfully obvious whoever was ringing the bell was rapidly pushing the button. During the continuous bell ringing, someone started to knock until it sounded like hundreds of fist banging on the door.

Angel and Buffy stopped the kissing with their lips remaining attached before they both slowly looked over to the metal entrance.

"Honey, I think someone is at the door," Buffy stated the obvious not sounding overly happy.

"You think?" Giving Buffy a pointed look, he sighed as he pulled his shirt back on causing Buffy to frown at his cover of skin. "The faster we answer, the faster they go away," he figured raising his voice a little due to the escalating racket at his door.

Leaving her in her spot, he walked over and opened the door a crack, just enough to see who was outside.

"Hey Peaches, I hope we didn't interrupt anything," Spike beamed just over the threshold. Placing his hand flat on the door he pushed it all the way open and Angel was too flabbergasted to stop him. "Thought we'd stop by and see the place."

He swaggered in followed closely by Faith. "Nice digs," she complemented taking a look around and then settled on Buffy who was standing stunned at her incoming friends. "Hey, B," Faith greeted ignoring her friend's confusion.

Dawn was next to breeze through the door with a little wave to Angel and behind her were Willow and a sheepish Tara. "We thought we would do dinner here," Willow explained.

"Um, I don't think we have enough chairs," Angel tried to make an excuse as his gaze followed them inside.

"That's not a problem," another voice spoke from the door and Angel turned his attention to Xander who was entering carrying several folding chairs. "We brought our own."

Anya was next and patted Angel on the shoulder. "Sorry to barge in and leave you sexually frustrated," she apologized and then, "We ordered pizza it should be here soon."

As Anya entered, Angel stuck his head out into the hall and glanced around, "What no Giles?" he half joked.

Anya shook her head. "Half-price sale today, he's making money for my salary."

"How did you know where Angel lived?" Buffy questioned.

"We followed you," Faith answered with a cocky smile.

Through her group of friends, Angel met Buffy's gaze and they shared an apologetic look as Angel started to shut the door, but then it was being flung back open again.

"Ya know, it occurred to me as we hung up that Gunn and Fred have never met Buffy before," Doyle's voice rang out as he stepped into the loft with Wesley at his side and Gunn and Fred not too far behind. "Hey, you didn't say you were having a party!" he spoke seeing the crowd of people.

Wesley clutched his heart in mock hurt. "And we weren't invited, how rude of you Angel."

The foursome walked in and started introducing themselves to Buffy's friends. Wordlessly, Angel shut the door and joined Buffy standing behind the couch as they observed their combined friends making themselves comfortable in Angel's home, both stood in a slight stage of disbelief.

Willow reached into a bag and pulled out a large box, "Whose up for a game of Trivial Pursuit?"

Wesley and Fred immediately raised their hands both expressing enthusiasm at the idea of playing and the others agreed as well.

"Will, that game can last up to three hours," Buffy complained.

"Three hours of fun!" Willow exclaimed with a huge smile. "With so many people here we can have a tournament."

Buffy crossed her arms and glared. "You are all evil, evil people."

There was a small pause as everyone seemed to consider Buffy's statement and then with several head nods they agreed with a chorus of "Yups" and "I knows."

The doorbell rang again and Xander jumped up, "Oh, pizza's here." On his way to the door he stopped at Buffy and Angel wearing an excited expression. "This is going to be so much fun!"

"Yeah fun," Buffy replied sarcastically.

"This is what you get for dumping your friends in favor of sex," Faith pointed out.

"My thoughts exactly," Doyle agreed sharing a smile with Faith and then as the pizza was placed on the coffee table Buffy and Angel observed as everyone dug in.

"The faster they go away huh?" Buffy spoke out of the corner of her mouth to Angel, who let out a small nervous laugh before sighing as he thought about the mess his loft will be in when or if the night ever ends.

"Gerald Ford," Wesley exclaimed knowingly, a smile playing at his lips.

Doyle flipped the card over and saw the President's name printed in black letters and murmured, "Bastard, that's correct."

Buffy and Wesley both shot out of their seats giving each other a high five.

"We won, we won," Buffy chanted doing a little victory dance.

"Who wants to play for second?" Willow asked looking at her play piece a few places away from the center of the board with all the colored pie pieces filled in.

"Oh and third," Fred chirped.

"Why did I have to be Willow's partner?" Anya objected. "We didn't even win; I don't think she is as smart as we all thought."

Willow rolled her eyes, "Maybe if you didn't shout out the wrong answers before giving me a chance to say the right ones we would have won."

"Xander!" Anya whined glaring at her boyfriend.

"Ahn, at least you have all your pie pieces, unlike some of us that only have two," Xander pointed out.

Gunn's head turned toward Xander offended. "Hey man I warned you, my girlfriend's the genius I know nothing. Well, comic books and superheroes I got covered."

Xander's eyes brightened, "Did you get Astonishing X-Men issue 4 yet?"

"Dude, the first day it came out," Gunn replied and the two started conversing rapidly, lost in a world of geeky speech and references.

"Next time can we pick our partners instead of drawing them out of a hat?" Anya suggested.

"Guys, take a chill pill," Buffy tried to cool them down. "It's only a game and besides it all comes down to the fact that we're the winners and you're the losers so you should stop complaining and praise us."

Everyone, except Wesley who nodded his head, groaned and threw either pillows or wads of napkins at Buffy.

While holding up her hands to block the objects, Angel gently leaned forward and grabbed her elbow, pulling her into his lap. "Buffy, shut up."

She smiled at him, "You have to press the shut up button."

Leaning forward he placed a short sweet kiss to her lips. "Shut up."

"Who wants to play again, this time Angel and I will kick all of your asses," Dawn spoke up not noticing the couple's display of affection.

"I don't know Dawnie," Tara replied. "It's late and I think Willow is going to fall asleep." She looked over at the red head resting on her shoulder.

"No, I'm not," Willow mumbled.

"And all the pizza is gone," Xander observed.

Faith stood and stretched out her muscles. "Besides, I think the sex- oholics learned their lesson. Let's hit the road."

Buffy blushed and tried to bury her face in Angel's shoulder. "See you guys later," Angel said and then stood to see everyone to the door.

Gunn and Xander headed out together still in conversation. "Xander you and I need to get together, I have to know your thoughts on the death of Superman."

"And I have to know what you thought of the Spider-Man movie," Xander responded.

Following them Willow and Fred were busy exchanging information. "And here's Giles' bookstore address," Willow handed Fred a slip of paper. "You'll feel like you died and gone to heaven, oh Wesley you're welcome to come any time as well," she turned to the man behind them. "And bring any books you have, Giles is always interested in new finds."

"This is so exciting," Fred bubbled. "I've been looking for this book from the 1940's on multi-dimensional superstring theory and distance scales inverted by T-duality applied to heterotic theories."

Willow nodded her head, "I actually think I've seen something pertaining to that in the stacks."

As the flow of friends continued to stream out the door, Doyle came up along side Angel, patting him on the back. "This was great Angel, think we'll be doing this again sometime?"

Angel only shrugged his shoulders.

Doyle stopped walking and faced Angel, looking him up and down smiling slightly. "Ya look good man."

Angel nodded, "Thanks."

Patting him on the shoulder one last time, Doyle turned and walked out the door joining the group in the hallway. With a final semi- sarcastic, "Thanks for dropping by," and a wave of his hand, Angel closed the door. Letting out a long sigh, Angel turned around and found Buffy standing in the spot he had left her in when he went to answer the door, promising they'd go away quickly.

And several hours later they left.

"Now," he spoke walking forward. "Where were we?"

Reaching out her arms, she beckoned him closer and he thankfully stepped into her embrace. Cradling her face in his hands he gave her a soft kiss and then pulled back. Her eyes were closed and he observed as she slowly re-opened them blinking a few times like she was waking from a blissful dream.

Continuing to hold her face, he didn't move a muscle; he just kept looking at her. Were her eyes always that huge and green? Did they always shine like that? Her skin had never seemed so soft before, so smooth and warm, and his palms were comfortable surrounding her cheeks. For some reason at that moment, gazing into her eyes he felt … taller, his shoulders more board, his body lighter then usual.

His mind was too busy floating in his own thoughts and feelings he didn't notice Buffy's brow furrow. "Angel?"

His name off her lips chimed in his ear and his body relished in the sweet caress the sound emitted, and the only response he could conjure was a clueless, "Hmm?"

"Is something wrong?"

He blinked his fazed demeanor away and finally concentrated on the moment at hand. "No, why?"

"You were just … staring at me," she pointed out confused.

Giving her his smirk, he circled his thumbs over her cheekbones, "Sorry, I didn't notice."

"Do I have something on my face?" Her hand went straight to her cheeks and started wiping away whatever could be there.

Bringing her hand back down, Angel placed his hands on her hips and with Buffy still facing him he started to guide her toward his bedroom. "Nothing's on your face."

She allowed him to lead her, "And there is no reason for the staring?"

"I just got caught in the moment."

Stopping while they were halfway up the stairs, she widened her eyes. "Oh, we were having a moment, I didn't realize -- I missed a moment!"

He brushed the backs of his fingers against her cheek, "It was an internal thing. I just couldn't get over how happy and complete you make me feel."

Maybe it was the way his hand made her cheeks heat up and turn red, or how his eyes were reading her soul, but Buffy was now caught in her own moment just looking at him looking at her.



"You're staring."

Wrapping her arms around his neck, she leaned and whispered, "I didn't notice," and then firmly placed her lips to his.

Tightly winding his arms around her waist he hoisted her up just far enough to carry her over the remaining steps and up to his bed.

Nothing was rushed and they took their time kissing and feeling each other as they lay on the bed. Angel slinked downward until his face was pressing against her stomach and lifted her shirt revealing her taut flesh and left sweet pecks combined with hot open mouth kisses as he removed the garment, working his trail of kisses over her rips and bare breasts and back to her mouth. Buffy undid his pants and used her legs, which were gripping his hips, to push the material off his body. Reaching between their bodies she stroked his half stiff member slowly and gently coaxing it to stand fully erect.

He moved down her body again, with Buffy's hands going under his shirt, peeling it off as he went. Reaching the waist of her jeans he undid them and hooking his fingers under the band of her panties, pushed both pieces of clothing away still pressing those same kisses to her skin. Kissing down one leg and up the other, his journey ended at the apex between her thighs where he buried his face, licking and suckling at will.

Bringing Buffy to the brink, then over the edge and back, he slid up her body one final time, slipping all the way inside her in one fluid motion. The room was filled with moans and pants as Angel pulled in and out in long languid strokes. Their mouths melded together, their hands scrapped against skin, and their bodies rubbed against one another and as their coupling built. Leaning his forehead against hers, their eyes locked and just as before they stared, focusing in on one another. There was just something about looking in each other's eyes and knowing in that instant what the other was feeling, seeing your own unmasked passion and desire reflecting in their glowing orbs. Everything drifted into the background, reality was slipping farther away and they were both floating, reaching higher and higher, their bodies burning hotter.

Then the fire exploded.

Only for a moment did Angel burden Buffy with his weight as he breathed heavily in her ear, his body limp from completion. Rolling to his side, he gathered Buffy in his arms and he could feel her skin continue to vibrate as she relaxed into his embrace. Letting her breaths fall upon his warm sweaty skin, Buffy lulled her eyes closed feeling satisfied.

"I wish I wasn't here," Angel's voice interrupted the moment and Buffy's eyes flew open.

"What?" escaped her lips sounding frighten.

Rubbing his hands up and down her back to sooth her, he drew her in closer, entangling their legs. "I want to be here, there is no place I'd rather be but … I wish I was at the foot of the bed with my sketch pad, recreating this moment, this feeling. I want to be able to use my hands and capture everything that is right now, especially you in my arms."

"Angel it's called a camera," Buffy quipped.

Tickling her sides in response, she giggled and slapped his hands away. "You know if you want, I could ask Doyle if we can borrow his video camera." Angel peered down at her waiting to see a reaction to his semi-serious suggestion.

"Angel," Buffy began incredulously but then thought about it. "Only if Doyle doesn't know what we are using it for."

"You little minx," he smiled and then gave her a kiss before rolling off the bed completely. Tugging at the top sheet, Buffy tried her best to lift her body up so that he could turn it down. Once it was freed, he crawled back into the bed under the sheet and drew Buffy close to him.

Buffy gazed at the light blue silk sheets that surrounded them and found sleepiness had snuck up upon her yet again. With her head resting on Angel's chest, she could tell from his breathing that he was falling asleep too. With the lullaby of his heartbeat echoing in her ear, Buffy spoke very softly the millisecond before sleep claimed her.

"Angel … I think I love you," and she was asleep.

Angel himself was on the verge of sleep, but Buffy's confession registered in his mind before he too drifted into slumber.

In the middle of the night, a cold front had ventured forward off the ocean and blanketed the sky with a misty fog along with a freezing wind that rattled the windows billowing sound to echo throughout the loft. The lovers remained in bed, entwined in those silky blue sheets, sleeping off the night's activities. Besides the wind's light howl everything was still and quiet.

Sitting up right in bed, Angel gasped for breath repeatedly, but nothing would stay down. He glanced over at Buffy, who had fallen off his body and onto the mattress, but still remained asleep. Bringing a hand over his heart, Angel tried to fight the clenching feeling in his chest and willing his lungs to expand with air but his body wouldn't listen.

Throwing off the covers he blindly reached down for a pair of draw string pants that were strewn on the floor and still trying to catch his breath he pulled them on and stumbled down the stairs. Barging into his studio he leaned heavily against the wall working his way to the windows desperate for air. Reaching the first one he opened it, allowing the harsh chill to rush inside ignoring the sting of his skin as the bitter cold attacked him. His chest still heaving he moved to the next window and the next until they were all wide open. Pressing his back to the wall, he collapsed to the floor next to the last window and finally felt his breathing evening out.

And he sat there watching as some of his drawings and sketches fluttered in the onslaught of wind and the only thing he was capable of at that moment was making sure he took in the much needed oxygen as the night air swept through the open panes of glass.


Part 18

Reaching a hand out, Buffy discovered an empty space next to her instead of a warm body. Sitting up she clutched the blue sheet to her chest calling out Angel’s name. A chill swept through her body causing her to shiver and quickly she threw back the sheet and climbed from the bed.


Angel remained on the floor clutching his legs to his chest as he rested his forehead on his knees. Hearing a voice call out his name in the form of a question he looked up to find a pair of tan legs before him. Following the slender stems upward, he made eye contact with Buffy who was staring at him, her head cocked to the side.


“Angel, why are the windows open? It’s freezing in here.” Wearing only one of Angel’s button-down shirts, she crisscrossed her arms around herself, rubbing her hands over her biceps. “Are you feeling alright?” she asked reaching a hand forward to touch his shoulder and as soon as she felt his skin she quickly repelled back in a gasp. “Angel, you’re like ice!”


He stared at her for a moment before looking back down murmuring a response. “I needed air.”


“Okay, but you don’t need pneumonia.” Walking along the wall, Buffy went about closing all the windows, shutting out the harsh wind until she got to the last one closest to Angel leaving that one opened halfway and then settled herself beside him.


Angel didn’t know what to say as Buffy sat down. Was she expecting an explanation? Did he even have one? Choosing to ignore her, he leaned his head against the wall and rolled it to the side facing away from her. His eyes focused in on the paint splattered floor and he thought back to that one day where he felt so lost, and that nothing in his world made sense anymore, but then he just had one look at her … He wanted her so badly that day and all the days before but for some reason he chose that moment to let go and they ended up as a tangled mass on that very floor.


Buffy was all he could see and all he wanted, there was no one else in his head but her. That was something new to him because before he didn’t care who the girl was but with Buffy it did matter, it had to be her.


As his chest started to tighten once again, Angel desperately wanted to believe it could be like before. That he could just toss Buffy onto her knees and take her from behind, ramming into her only for his own release, not caring if he looked into her eyes or if he even saw her face. She could be just another girl, a faceless girl. Angel needed to know he was still capable of doing that with anyone, especially Buffy.


Letting his hands slip from their position on his knees, they fell to his sides just twitching to reach out and grab her and throw her in front of him. It’s not like she wouldn’t say no, she’d want it just as much as him. He could do it at any second …


Feeling her head come and rest on his shoulder he sucked in a breath, his hands filling with tension causing them to still. He didn’t want to admit it but he felt frighten.


“Are you feeling better?” she asked and then immediately yawned. Angel gave no response as he refused to look at her, but then he felt tiny fingertips brushing against the palm of his hand, spreading along the length of his fingers until they settled entwining their hands. “Let’s go back to bed.”


Angel let out his breath and physically relaxed. He turned his head toward Buffy and found his mouth buried in her golden mane. Fatigued washed over him, he was so tired, and he gripped her hand tighter before languidly nodding his head yes. Buffy stood first and helped him to his feet.


Standing in front of each other, Buffy caressed her hand down Angel’s face. She knew something was wrong, that there was more to tonight then Angel just needing air. He looked exhausted and emotionally drained. She desperately wanted to talk to him about it, but just one look at him and she knew any conversation at that moment would be fruitless. It scared her to think he went through something so powerful to cause such a dramatic change since the time they fell asleep to now, and she felt helpless in what to do to make him better.


Leaning in she gave him a short, chaste kiss as her way of letting him know she was there to support him. It didn’t bother her that he didn’t kiss her back, or show any reaction, he just needed some rest and hopefully things would be better in the morning.



Blinking her eyes awake, Buffy looked up from her pillow and saw Angel lying beside her, his eyes wide open. Just from the way he was staring at the ceiling she knew he didn’t get any sleep last night.


“Hey,” she called out quietly leaning up to rest on her elbow.


His eyes slowly shifted over to her, “Hey,” and then back to the ceiling. They laid there with nothing between them but silence until Angel suddenly sat up. “I’m meeting Lorne at his office this morning I have to take a shower.”


As he got out of bed, Buffy sat up more fully. “Want me to join you?” she asked trying to sound seductive but coming off as hesitant.


Angel paused at the top of the stairs, not turning to face her. “No, I’m just hopping in and out,” and then continued his descent.


Lying heavily back onto the bed, Buffy brought her hand to her head clearly worried. She listened for the bathroom door to close and then the creak of the pipes as water started to flow through them. Flashes of last night were running through her head as she tried to ascertain any one moment that might have upset Angel, something that would have burrowed in deep and festered until it finally made him snap.


Whatever it was she hoped they could face it and move past it together.



“How great was last night,” Dawn gushed as she unpacked volumes of ancient texts from boxes and set them out on to the table top in the middle of the bookstore, “I mean I know Angel and I lost, but we had you on a run for your money there for a second, huh Buffy?”


Only half paying attention Buffy took the books Dawn was placing on the table, reading the name and author and writing them in a log book. “Uh huh, you did Dawn.”


“Angel’s pretty good with all the arts and literature stuff, and I’ve got the all the entertainment and pop culture down cold, not to mention our combined strength on history … if only we had a few more lucky rolls and we so would have beat your butt.”


Buffy nodded in affirmation as she wrote down another book before passing it on to Willow who was logging the same information into a laptop.


“But you’d have to go through me first Dawnie,” Willow reminded her.


Dawn flung her hand in the air at the red head. “Please, Anya was your weak spot, there is no over coming her.”


Catching her name, Anya who was counting the money at the register lifted her head. “Coming her what?”


“Ah, Dawn can you take all the books we already catalogued back and make sure there aren’t any more boxes we have to unpack?” Buffy asked quickly.


Still feeling a little chipper from last night, Dawn didn’t whine but happily accepted the task with a peppy, “Okay,” before disappearing into the book store’s back room carrying a handful of books.


Willow and Buffy continued their work that they had gotten roped into doing as Giles went running off and leaving them alone after hours in the store asking them to do him a “favor”.


“Last night was a lot of fun, maybe we can make it a tradition thingy,” Willow suggested taking another book from Buffy. “I’m not saying every week, but every so often get the whole gang together, including Angel’s friends and do what we did.”


Buffy didn’t show any emotion on her face as she listened to Willow speak, “Um, maybe … I’ll ask Angel.”


“Soooo,” Willow nudged Buffy with her elbow. “I know while I was there the night was pretty great … how great was it after we left?”


Again Buffy remained static, “It was your normal great.”


“Oh,” Willow let out sounding slightly disappointed. “Well that’s just … great.”


After a few more books had passed between them and Dawn had re-entered and left with her second load, Buffy finally deflated placing a book she had been holding down on the table.

”Something happened to Angel last night,” she began trying to keep her voice low so no one, like Anya, would over hear. “He freaked out.”


“Freaked out? Freaked out how?” Willow also placed her book down and leaned in closer.


“I woke up in the middle of the night alone and the windows were open and he was just sitting there saying only that he needed air and I tried to be comforting but he wouldn’t respond and this morning he was all I-live-in-a-reclusive-brooding-world like the Angel before and nothing I said or did could get him back to the Angel of now … my Angel,” Buffy let out all in one breath. “And … there’s something else.”


Willow placed a comforting hand on Buffy’s shoulder.


“I think I told him I loved him,” Buffy whispered.


Willow’s mouth dropped open and then she did a little squeal as she clapped feverishly. Dawn came back to the table for more books as Willow continued to do a little happy dance.


“Oh, what did I miss?” Dawn asked with much interest.


Buffy shot Willow a don’t tell look and Willow understood as she picked up two books from the table holding them up to show Dawn. “Books, I love books! I love that they are paper and that they have words and I love that Giles is letting us catalogue them, especially the ones with the extra long titles in Latin.”


Dawn gave the red head a worried, yet scared look before hefting a pile of books into her arms. “Buffy, she’s your friend,” she said and once again retreated into the backroom.


Willow quickly dropped the useless books and returned to the conversation. “Love, wow Buffy that’s huge! Do you really love him?” and then it dawned on her, “What do you mean you think?”


Sheepishly Buffy began twiddling with the pen she had been writing with. “It was post – after we … well you know and I remember feeling completely and utterly … loved and I remember thinking, that I love him. For the first time ever, this emotion just swept over me and it was so refreshing and powerful …”


Noticing Buffy’s posture began to rise as she described her inner feelings Willow gushed, “How wonderful.”


“For those few seconds that I was feeling it, it really was wonderful, and I’m pretty sure I expressed that emotion out loud by saying, ‘Angel I think I love you.’”


“And, and?!”


Slowly, Buffy’s shoulders sank, “We feel asleep. Then there was the freaking out and stuff. I don’t even know if I meant what I said, I don’t even know if he heard me.”


As Willow gave her, “Oh, Buffy” console line, Buffy disappeared into her thoughts. She hadn’t really thought about her little slip the night before until right at that moment. Buffy wasn’t against being in love with Angel, actually it sounded nice, but she wasn’t sure what she was feeling was true or not. She remembered what was going through her when she spoke the ‘L-word’ but was that really what love was? Did she misinterpret it wrong?


Another pressing problem was if Angel heard her or not. If he didn’t then she didn’t have to worry about him just yet and work out her own feelings, but if he did hear her and he hadn’t said anything yet … did that mean he didn’t love her?


Right then Buffy felt so scared that Angel didn’t and as her heart clenched, she could almost relate to Angel because now she needed air.


And then Buffy had a moment of clarity.


“Will,” she gasped. “I love him. I really love him.”


Willow gave her a simple smile, “In all honesty, we all saw it Buffy and it’s about time you did too.”


“What do I do now?”


“You tell him,” Willow stated matter-of-factly. “I mean, you kind of already did.”


Buffy thought about it and gathering all what she knew about Angel, she shook her head. “No, not yet, I’d scare him off if I told him now. I just have to act like my little slip last night didn’t happen and I’ll wait until things go back to normal, give Angel time to figure out whatever he needs to at the moment and then …”


“You guys will be in love!” Willow sighed.


“Who will be in love?” Dawn’s question caught the two off guard as they didn’t see her approach the table.


“Buffy and-and books,” Willow covered. “One day I hope she’ll love them just as much as me.”



“Angel, come in please,” Dr. Calendar welcomed as she opened her office door gesturing Angel to walk over the threshold.


“Thank you for seeing me on such short notice Dr. Calendar.”


As she closed the door behind them she studied Angel as he took a seat on her couch. “Angel, I’ve told you this every single time you’ve seen me … call me Jenny.” Walking over to her own chair directly across from where Angel sat, she picked up a pad of paper and pen and placed them in her lap. “Darla isn’t coming?”


“No, I needed to come … just me.”


Jenny nodded her head. She knew it was just a matter of time before Angel would call in to make an appointment alone. “What can I help you with?”


Shifting in his seat several times Angel fought for words to say still not being comfortable sharing his feelings with Dr. – with Jenny. “I had some sort of … attack. I woke up last night not being able to breathe. I ended up opening all these windows needing air that just wouldn’t come.”


“You we’re hyperventilating,” Jenny put it. Angel nodded his head yes. “Have you experienced something like this before?”


Angel thought about it and was going to answer no when he remembered something similar. “When they told me my mom and sister were dead, I felt the same chest clenching, but not shortness of breath.”


He watched Jenny scribble notes on her pad as she nodded her head to show she was listening.


“What do you think brought on this attack?”


“I don’t know that’s why I’m here.”


“Okay, what were you doing before this happened?”


“I was asleep, I told you I woke up like that,” he started to get defensive.


In a steady and calm voice Jenny asked again, “I meant before sleep, what did you do that night or during the day? Can you think of anything that might have triggered this feeling?”


“I was with Buffy,” he said and he followed her hand as she wrote more down. He explained how their friends had interrupted him and Buffy on purpose and an impromptu Sunday night dinner at Angel’s followed, then they left and he and Buffy went to sleep.


“Did you have sex?” Jenny asked straightforwardly.


Angel clenched his jaw and Jenny mentally noted how one of his hands dug into the arm rest of her couch. “Yes,” he finally answered after much hesitation.


“The attack was post-coital.”


His fingers bit more into the cushion, “Yes.”


Jenny went on asking a few more questions, trying to get Angel to recall any specifics of the night, hoping to bring forth similar expressions or feelings he might have felt.


“We’re you upset that you lost to Buffy?”


Angel laughed at the idea. “No, I didn’t really care it was just a game. I was happy she won. To tell the truth-“


“Please do,” Jenny cut in smoothly trying to sound humorous.


Angel thought the comment was cute, but didn’t give any reaction. “Every time I looked at her, I just wanted to throw everyone out so that I could make lov - so that we could have some alone time.”


With a quick note to his word slip Jenny continued, “Weren’t you having fun with all of your friends?”


Angel let a smile slip as he really thought about last night. Sure he was mad at first and he really did just wanted to be with Buffy, but as the evening wore on, he was having fun and didn’t care that the group had shown up without notice. “Yes and I’m hoping we could do it again sometime,” which he truly meant.


Jenny smiled at that. “It seems your little circle of friends is growing Angel. That’s a good thing, letting more people into your life. Does it feel good?”


His elbow was resting on the arm of the couch and as he really thought about it, he placed his chin in his hand. “Yeah, I guess it does.”


“And after your friends left, you and Buffy made love,” Angel’s eyes opened wider just a tiny fraction and snapped over to Jenny as she spoke, the exact reaction she was looking for. “Then you went to sleep and later you awoke hyperventilating. Now really think, did anything happen with Buffy during that time.”


“She-she told me she loved me,” he spoke barely above a whisper.


“And how does that make you feel?”


Angel scoffed at the question. “Isn’t that just the stereotypical shrink question. Why do you people always ask that?”


“Maybe it’s because it’s effective, short and straight to the point. Aren’t we here because of how you are feeling? So, how do you feel?”


He took a while to answer back and when he did he said, “I don’t know” and he really didn’t.


“Are you happy, sad, confused, scared, worried … do you love her?”


“I’m not even sure what love feels like; it’s been so long since I felt it … I don’t know what it is I feel toward Buffy.”


“Try to describe it.”


“I said I don’t know!” Angel blew up. “I thought you were supposed to be helping me sort things out and so far you really aren’t. You ask me questions I don’t know the answers to yet it sounds like you know better then me so why don’t you tell me what I am feeling. What do I feel Dr. Calendar?”


Putting down her pen, Jenny leaned over her pad of notes and rested her arms in her lap. “You’re scared and confused. For the first time you have someone who knows you, really knows you, emotionally, intimately, and in spite of knowing all your inner secrets, your dark past as you think of it, they still love you, and they love you for you not the persona you tried to project.”


Angel slowly eased back in his seat at Jenny’s strong words as if they were physical pushing him backwards, trying to engrain themselves.


“You couldn’t breathe because your mind is holding onto your past self, the you that was closed off and it is trying to reject such feelings as affection and love. Angel, you don’t think you are worthy of Buffy’s love and your mind doesn’t want it. According to you, things you love leave and go away, you only end up hurting them and now Buffy is something you love and you believe nothing good will come of it. You’re heart wants what Buffy is offering but your mind is terrified. Hyperventilating is your mind fighting your heart.”


“How do I keep it from happening again?” he found himself asking, the information still soaking in.


“That all depends on what you want to win, your mind or your heart.”



Returning to an empty apartment, Angel sluggishly made his way to his couch before flopping down onto it. Stretching out his limps, he placed his fingertips to his closed eyelids and applied pressure. So many thoughts to consider were running around, jamming into each other and even in the silence of his loft he was having a difficult time finding peace and quiet.


Opening his eyes, he turned to the wall of windows and watched as the sun set over the city casting out shades of orange, red, yellow and gold. Letting his eyes lose focus for a minute he noticed how some of the rays of light matched Buffy’s hair tone perfectly.


Jenny was right, he was scared and confused and he didn’t know how to handle it. In fact, he didn’t want to handle it. Closing his eyes once again and draping his arm over his face to block out the bright colors, he didn’t want to think anymore, he decided to let whatever happens, happens. Maybe if he just rested for a minute his heart and his mind will get into a really good final brawl and the victor will emerge with Angel never having to do anything but lie there.


Sounded like a plan to him.



Tentatively opening the door to the loft, Buffy poked her head around the corner and shifted her eyes about starting in the kitchen and working around the room. Angel was no where in sight. Stepping inside completely she noticed the bathroom door was open and that there was no one there. Walking over to the studio she once again slowly opened the door and peeked inside but it was empty. Walking all the way across the room to get a good vantage point of the bedroom, she looked up and saw a body under the covers.


Fidgeting with indecisiveness about whether to go up there or not, Buffy took a step forward and then stopped and swung around to the kitchen. Seeing a whole day’s worth of dirty pots and dishes sitting in the sink, Buffy didn’t turn back like her insides were telling her too, but instead marched forward to the sink.


Switching the water on full blast, she waited for it to get hot. She didn’t notice the steam start to billow from the sink as she looked straight ahead, once again fighting the urge to go to him.


‘Love’s a bitch,’ she thought.


Not a second passed as Buffy nearly jumped out of her skin as she felt a warm body come up behind her so that the entire length of her body was making contact with theirs. Figuring this was how Angel chose to apologize and show Buffy things were better, she didn’t try to get away but allowed for his arms to wrap around her middle and she craned her neck farther to the side as Angel nudged with his face for her to do so.


Licking and nibbling at will on her exposed neck, he lifted his arm, pushing her breasts higher up on her chest. Expertly one of his hands cupped a plump globe and his fingers sought out a nipple and tweaked and pulled it to a hard peek. Moaning Buffy reached behind her with one of her arms and came into contact with bare flesh. That knowledge and with the present hardness pressing into the small of her back, she knew he was already completely nude.


Angel slightly bent his knees, lowering his stature to the right height to run his erection along the seam of Buffy’s buttocks, which drove her crazy. Twisting her upper body, Buffy tried to turn in his embrace but Angel lashed out and clamped her hands down onto the counter, locking her in place.


Wedging his knee between her thighs, he pushed open her legs widening her stance. Releasing one hand he unfastened her jeans and slipped inside her clothing, his long fingers separating her folds and with hard deliberate strokes, he worked her up. Buffy’s hands gripped the edge of the countertop so that her knuckles turned white, grinding her lower half against his hand. His other hand quickly worked the material of her jeans and underwear the rest of the way down her legs.


It didn’t bother Buffy at all or maybe she just didn’t notice that neither of them had yet to say a single to each other. She was too busy leaning her upper body more forward as Angel plunged into her depths and Buffy finally spoke, or more accurately screamed in pleasure.



Entering the main room from the studio, Angel causally made his way over to Buffy wiping his hands on a splotched piece of cloth. Sitting on the floor with her laptop in front of her on the coffee table, Buffy typed furiously surrounded by a sea of papers, packets and open books. The due date for her senior thesis was fast approaching and Buffy was taking all available time to work on it.


“Enjoying yourself?” he asked standing next to her but she just hmmm-ed in response. “Magritte, Warhol, Lichtenstein,” Angel read off names of artists from an outline of hers. “Escher, Christo … didn’t he build a fence?” He picked the paper up from the table to get a better read, but Buffy just grabbed it from his hands, her eyes still glued to the screen.


“Yes, a big fence. It’s art.” Stopping abruptly she started tapping her fingers rapidly on the table top. “I know I had that quote around here somewhere?” After another beat of thinking, she quickly scrambled on all fours leaning over her masses of research and looked for her missing quote.


With one glance at her new position, Angel came straight to attention and took the opportunity lowering himself onto his knees and practically blanketed her back with his chest. Buffy felt the added pressure but was so preoccupied she didn’t even realize he was leaving kisses to the nape of her neck. Only when he reached a hand around her waist to fiddle with the button on her jeans did she recognize what he wanted.


“Down boy, not right now.” Angel didn’t say anything as he ignored her continuing to kiss her skin. “Angel I’m serious, I have to work on this.” Trying her hardest, she managed to unlatch herself from Angel and sit back in her position in front of her computer.


Going right back to work, Buffy didn’t even bothering looking over at him already knowing his face was one tense muscle and his eyes were angry at being rejected. Her peripheral vision noticed how he silently sat on his knees staring at her for a little bit before smoothly rising to his feet and walked away into the kitchen.


Things were definitely better since the nighttime freak out fiasco. Buffy was worried there for a while that it would take forever for him to heal but it seemed he was doing just fine, like he was once again more responsive and very touchy feely. At first she tired to add a little bit more support then she had before but lately she had been throwing herself into school trying to stay on top of things and while her attention might not be on Angel all the time, she was pretty confident that everything would be okay.


She was in love after all.


Even though she hadn’t told him yet and she wasn’t clear on his feelings toward her, Buffy still noticed how the world just seemed like a brighter place and how certain things that were labeled as good were now raised to fantastic.


She had really thrown Giles when he asked her to run an errand for him thinking she would decline, but Buffy just bubbled with extra enthusiasm and she told him “Sure!” or how Dawn physically moved away from Buffy as she sang a brand new breakfast song in the mornings that Buffy had made up herself.


Slowly, Buffy’s attention began to strain from her paper and her eyes drifted over to Angel’s very attractive back side as he bent over, his head stuck in the fridge.


“We’re out of beer, if that’s what you are looking for,” Buffy called out.


Unseen to Buffy, Angel’s face grimaced at that fact because he could really use the alcohol. Slyly making a reach for the orange juice he stood straight closing the fridge. “I got what I wanted,” he lied getting a glass out of the cupboard.


‘He has such broad shoulders,’ Buffy thought admiring her boyfriend and her head drifted to the side as she reminded herself that she was in love with that man. She could tell him now, just get his attention and let it out and this time she will know he heard her.


“Hey,” she spoke up and Angel’s eyes found hers.


Opening her mouth to talk, Buffy stalled. This wasn’t the right time. There was too much distance between them, physically and emotionally. Something in his eyes was just telling her Angel couldn’t handle her confession just yet.


“This paper that I’m writing, it’s for my degree so I can complete my undergrad,” she said instead having come up with another topic.


Sitting at the island with his glass of orange juice, Angel kept his face neutral not understanding why she was explaining him something he already knew. “That’s not new information Buffy.”


Not catching the slight uncaring in his voice Buffy went on. “Right and when you complete your undergrad you tend to graduate … and there is a ceremony … a graduation ceremony that friends and family and … boyfriends usually attend.”


Angel observed as she carefully spoke, trying to hint that she wanted him to be at her graduation. “Will I be getting a formal invitation in the mail or is this it?”


Smiling, Buffy’s nerves relaxed. “This is pretty much it, I just wanted to make sure you could come because I have to request the number of tickets and I didn’t want to request too many taking away seats from someone who really needs them—“


“Buffy, just mark it on my calendar. I’ll be there,” he ended her ramble before she really got started.


“Great! June 16th is a done deal,” she commented.


Angel paused in his movement as he lifted his glass to his mouth. “Um, June 16th?” Buffy nodded her head. “That’s my gallery opening. I have to be there.”


“I know, my ceremony is in the early afternoon and your opening isn’t until evening. I figured we hit the graduation, I graduate, we go out for a little celebratory late-lunch with my friends and then we head over to the gallery for your big night in which you sell all your paintings making tons of money so that you can buy me a belated graduation gift,” she talked like she had planned the whole day out weeks ago. “June 16th is like Buffy and Angel’s Day o’Fun!”


Gulping down his drink, Angel moved to place the glass in the sink facing his back to Buffy. She sounded so happy that everything was going to work out, that he’d be there to escort her to her graduation and then she made the time to be his escort for his opening. It was practically perfect.


“I can’t go.”


Buffy had just gone back to typing when she barely heard Angel’s words, “To your own show, you can’t go?” Tilting her head upward she smiled, “That rhymes.”


“I can’t go to your graduation,” he said still not turning.


“Oh,” Buffy was surprised and not understanding why he couldn’t go, she proceeded to try and change his mind. “But I don’t see why not, you are free. You don’t have to be at the gallery until—“


“You haven’t been here when the gallery opening is mine, all mine. There aren’t going to be other artist’s displaying their work. All the attention is on me and I have to be prepared for that, I can’t come off looking like an amateur.” Twisting rapidly, he gripped the edge of the counter top behind him. “Your graduation comes second in my priorities and I can’t go.”


His voice managed not to carry any ounce of harshness in the tone, but his words still stung deeply. Turning her gaze away, Buffy tried not to show the disappointment she felt and decided not to fight his decision. Awkward situations like this had occurred before, Buffy mentioning something that wouldn’t sit right with Angel causing him to lash out, but for that past several months they were non existent. Believing it was due to the other night Buffy wasn’t sure how to continue at this point in their conversation but she still had to know …


“I am still invited to the gallery?” she asked in child like voice.


Letting a sigh out, Angel realized he had been too mean and that Buffy didn’t deserve his rude attitude. “Of course you are Buffy. I want you there, I really do. I need you there.”


Brightening a little she smiled up at him. “Can I introduce myself as the artist’s girlfriend?”


“What else would you introduce yourself as?” he played along with her.


“Her Royal Highness Queen Buffy, ruler of all of Buffonia, naturally!” she joked which earned her a little smirk from Angel’s mouth.


Glancing at her computer screen, Buffy felt her mind was completely fried and the idea of typing anything at the moment seemed fruitless. Getting an idea she scrambled onto all fours again and peeked over her shoulder at Angel.


“I think I need a break.” Wiggling her butt in an enticing manner she gave him a wink. “You want to take a break with me?”


Angel didn’t say anything as he started to walk forward unbuttoning his pants. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Part 19

For the last couple of weeks Buffy did eventually notice how everything led to sex. One minute they would be arguing or having a little tiff and then next Angel would be buried inside her, the sense of completion soothing the frayed edges. Buffy thought it was a testament to their passion and caring they held for each other, that no matter how bad it got they could always come together in the most beautiful way.

Slowly making her way toward Angel as he stood painting a canvas, Buffy languidly stretched her arms having just awoken. Not long ago they had made love on the couch, Angel rocking his hips back and forth pushing them over the edge, and Buffy found herself perfectly fulfilled and relaxed as Angel's body collapsed on top of hers. Closing her eyes she drifted off to slumber but no before she felt Angel alleviate the weight from her body and stood leaving her to rest.

Coming up to him, Buffy causally wrapped her arms around his waist from behind trying not to disturb his painting. He didn't respond as she pressed her body against him and laid her cheek on the hard muscles of his back. Cool to the touch, his regular body temperature was always a little bit beneath the normal 98.6 degrees, Buffy relished in the feeling that was distinctly Angel. Kissing his shoulder blade, she remembered a time when she longed to know what the flesh of his tattoo tasted like but that was far away now in the past. They had since moved forward beyond any of Buffy's wildest fantasies.

This was near perfect and right now she felt it, that ever present feeling soaring inside wanting to break free.

"Angel," she spoke softly sounding content. "I love you."

Beneath her cheek Angel's muscles tensed considerably and his brush stilled in its movements. His chest began to close in and his breaths were having a difficult time reaching his lungs. Feeling another attack approaching Angel tried hard to prevent it. Closing his eyes he told himself to keep it in and mentally he forced the feeling away, pushing it down, condensing the emotion until it faded away.

Buffy removed her arms and took a few steps away trying to tell herself she anticipated a silent response from him. That to expect Angel to just immediately return the sentiment was not the likely scenario … she really tried to convince herself.

"You don't have to say it back … I just wanted you to know how I felt," she informed him thinking she was saving face.

Angel turned to look at her, his eyes showing an abyss of emotion and Buffy's inner strength fell apart as she realized she had been hanging on to that piece of hope that he would say it back. It was obvious now he wasn't going to.

From experiencing her mother's death Buffy knew what it felt like to feel your heart break and she prayed that she would never have to feel it again. What made it worse now was that Angel was the one causing her that pain.

Backing up she bit her lip holding her tears in, not wanting him to see her hurt.

"I know I just unloaded something big and I guess I caught you off guard," she explained adding quietly to herself that she had hoped she wouldn't catch him off guard, "I've been feeling it for a while Angel, a long while. I needed to tell you."

He still wasn't responding and his lack of anything was eerie. Buffy needed some time to get away and hopefully Angel needed time to let the information sink in and maybe later they could talk rationally about their current situation.

"I'm going to take a walk, but I'll come back later."

Finally reaching the studio doorway she turned only to have Angel finally say something. "Buffy," he called and she twirled around optimistic. His eyes gave her a quick study and he spoke in a sullen voice, "Make sure you change before you go out."

Disappointed, Buffy gazed down at her outfit and saw she was only wearing one of Angel's shirts. "Oh, right. I'll be sure to do that." With one last glance she left him alone.

Angel didn't even bother to watch her go and immediately turned back to his artwork. Lifting his hand he intended to start painting again as if Buffy hadn't even been in the room. He was used to it, the shutting down of emotions, it is what he always did. It wasn't something he taught himself it was something he adapted to, his mind changing in the days after his family's death to insure his survival in the cruel world.

If he never got close, if he never let anyone in again, then he would never feel the pain of loss. It was his defense mechanism that kicked in when needed.

Except not when it came to Buffy. Little by little her presence in his life had chipped away at the shield he constantly would put up when confronted with an emotional issue. Lately he had noticed he was mending the shield, trying to remove Buffy to a farther distance, but today she just cracked the whole thing open.

His mind was set on painting, his hand was posed and ready yet not moving. It was then he noticed his back might have been turned to the door, but his heart was lurching, leaning toward the exit wanting to follow her. His painting disappeared and the image of her unshed tears pooling in her eyes the only thing he could see. It hit him at that point, she had told him she loved him and he tried to shut down.

His mind took a back seat as his heart poured out emotion, her pain was his pain. He felt that he had failed her and himself, he did the one thing he never ever wanted to do … he hurt her.

"She loves me," he spoke out loud and then continued to think, `And I didn't say it back.' His first instinct was to say and do nothing. Did that mean he doesn't love her or his the pain he was feeling at the moment a sign that he does? He was confused more then ever still not remembering what love felt like and not even sure if he was capable of it anymore.

As Angel stood in the studio brooding, he didn't notice as the minutes passed by. In the distance his phone began to ring, but Angel didn't hear it as the revelation that he didn't say it back came over him. No outside agents even drifted through his head until a woman's voice started to speak.

"Angel …" she let out in a strangled sob. Angel's head snapped around and he looked through his studio door into the living room and his eyes darted to the machine. "Angel," she pleaded through her tears, "I-I need you."

Buffy clutched her crumbled piece of tissue in her hand and brought it to her eyes dapping away what little remnants of tears that still lingered. Standing in front of the door, she told herself to be strong, that she could face him and not breakdown. Pushing the used tissue into her jean pocket, she grabbed a hold of the handle and opened the door to reveal an empty loft.

Stepping inside she went straight to the studio and was surprised and disappointed that he wasn't there. Maybe he needed to get out too. Saddened but not discouraged Buffy walked back to the living room simply figuring she would wait for his return. This was not a big deal they'd just talk when he got back.

Sitting down on the couch she picked up a magazine journal she was reading for her paper off the coffee table and relaxed into the cushions. Out of habit of checking his messages, she hit the play button on his answering machine.

"You have one new message," she half listened to the electronic voice as she read an article.

"Angel … Angel, I-I need you."

Slowly Buffy lowered the magazine into her lap as Darla's crying filtered into the room.

"I can't do this anymore Angel, I just ca—"

"Darla?" Angel's rushed voice interrupted her message. "What's wrong?"

"I don't know I feel like I can't breathe."

Buffy listened to their short conversation which consisted of Angel trying to calm Darla down, but it was pointless since the woman would only continue to breakdown and cry.

"Can you come over?" Darla asked sounding like a lost little girl.

"I'm on my way," Angel declared and he hung up ending the recording.

Buffy was going to be strong; she wasn't going to breakdown like Darla had. She knew the delicate and difficult relationship the ex- lovers still had and that it was important that they had someone to talk to. Buffy decided she couldn't freak out like the other times, it was time to trust Angel completely, that he would make Darla feel better and then come home to her.

Love was built on trust after all.

Darla sat on her bed with her knees curled up to her chest. She stared blankly at the wall until Angel walked through the door carrying a steaming mug.

"I made you some tea," he told her leaning over and placing the cup on her night stand.

"No one's ever made me tea before," Darla mentioned as she focused in on the mug.

Straightening his back he plunge his hands into his pockets, "That's hard to believe."

"No one's ever cared enough to do so," she sadly admitted shifting her gaze to look up at him.

For what felt like the millionth time that evening, a lull crept upon them causing silence to reign. Neither of the two tried to make any kind of conversation not knowing what to say to each other.

Finally Angel had had enough and told Darla he was going to go. Darla reacted quickly to his announcement shaking her head no.

"I can't do this alone Angel, I-I can't, I can't."

Sitting in front of her on the bed, Angel allowed Darla to lean forward and rest her head on his chest. Awkwardly Angel brought his hands around her back trying to soothe her all the while thinking that he knew this woman intimately, yet he couldn't help but feel ill at ease holding her in such a comforting fashion. Darla and he were never made for this, she was a good lay not something substantial, and she was what represented every relationship he had ever had before … before Buffy.

Unaware of his thoughts, Darla lifted her head slightly but still kept her face just inches away from his.

"Angel, please, just make me feel good." Slipping her hands up his chest, she curled them around his neck, caressing his skin as she moved forward to kiss him.

Swiftly, Angel leaned his head back just out of reach and removed her hands from his neck. "Darla, that's not going to happen, I'm with someone else."

She gave him a devilish smile that carried the spark of the old Darla. "When has that ever stopped you before?"

Trying again Darla aimed for his lips, but Angel rose from the bed avoiding her. "She loves me Darla. Buffy loves me." Frustrated he turned away from her shutting his eyes. "I can't betray her."

"But you already have," Darla stated simply causing Angel to twist around to glare at her with a twinge of fright in his eyes.


Darla let out a breath titling her head to the side and actually looked sorry for Angel. "She loves someone who can never love her back. By letting her feelings for you to grow, you betrayed her because you can never reciprocate."

"You don't think I am capable of loving someone?" Angel asked alarmed that Darla was speaking his fears.

"No, of course not, you are capable of loving someone," she said moving to kneel on the mattress right in front of him. "You loved our baby Angel, but our baby," she took his hand gently and put it over empty womb, "was a part of you and loving it came naturally, you didn't have to think about it. In terms of romantic love, passionate love, even friendship love, those kinds only breed complications and can only lead to heartache. People like us Angel," she raised a hand to his face luring him in closer. "We know better, we live only for ourselves taking what we need, when we need it."

Her words were invading his mind as he agreed and disagreed with her at the same time. She talked about things Angel knew to be true, but people could change. He truly felt he had been putting in an effort to change.

"I need you Angel," Darla continued not allowing him time to analysis what she was saying and lowered her hand from his face running it down his chest and carefully grazed his groin while simultaneously forcing his hand to cup her breast. "It's a sad reality what we have done to ourselves, what we have made of our lives … I need to forget and you are the only one who can do that."

Darla was right, it was a sad reality and it was even sadder when one simply gave up and accepted it.

Buffy tried to stay confident as she sat and waited, engaging in activities that would keep her busy, occupying her mind. She watched television, flipped through magazines, worked on her paper, she even attempted to paint something with Angel's supplies but her thoughts always went back to the same thing and after a while she found herself sitting on the couch just … sitting there.

Remaining positive she kept her thoughts to the fact that she loved him and trusted him and that everything would be okay. It wasn't until the sun started to rise over the horizon and illuminate the loft in an ethereal golden glow that she finally lost her conviction.

Sometime in the early morning hours, a key slipped into the lock and the front door creaked opened. Sluggishly, Angel crept inside looking tired, worn out and rumpled. His gaze avoided the blonde head he saw peeking over the back of the couch and she did the same, keeping her eyes straight ahead looking out the windows at the outside world.

He walked over to the kitchen and shrugged out of his jacket tossing it and his keys down on the island surface before leaning against the side facing his body toward the couch but keeping his eyes downward.

After a weighty stillness between them, Buffy finally managed to speak. "Thanks for calling and letting me know you weren't coming home." Her voice was quiet and flat and she still wouldn't look at him.

Swallowing a large lump, Angel gripped the edge of the island top tighter, "I didn't call."

"Oh, so you did notice." Reaching a hand over she pressed play on the machine, "But I did get this." His and Darla's brief conversation re- played for him and Angel realized the awkwardness between them was more then just about the non-reciprocated `I love you.'

"She sounds upset," Buffy went on after the message ended.

"She was," he answered softly.

"Did you make her feel better?"

"I tried."

Turning her head to look at him she had to ask, "Did you sleep with her?"


Buffy snapped her head back, her mouth gapping open as her breathing increased. She didn't even notice Angel's mouth opening as if he wanted to say something before she started talking again.

"I've made such a fool of myself haven't I? I should have left long ago, the signs were all there but I was blinded by …" her voice trailed off as she looked down at her hands shaking her head. Making a decision she stood quickly and headed for the door.

"You're leaving," he stated not sounding surprised.

"What did you expect me to do Angel?" She stopped and faced him her face burning with anger. "We'd have a fight, I reprimand you for doing something really stupid and then everything would be forgiven as I get on my knees and you fuck me?"

Angel again decided on the silent route.

"That's what I thought." Shaking her head in disbelief she twisted toward the door, but stopped and glanced back at Angel's unmoving stature. "Before I go, I need to tell you something."

Marching determinedly over, she stopped right in front of him and slapped him on the cheek with a loud smack forcing his head to snap to the side.

"You feel that Angel, its pain and life is full of it. Sadness, happiness, bliss, misery … love … you're supposed to feel all of them, they go hand in hand with living. The only sure fire way to prevent feeling anything is if you were dead."

Keeping his head to the side he stared at the floor and she paused letting her words sink in and then went in for the kill. "And newsflash Angel, they died in the car crash, you didn't."

Slowly his head crept around to look at her, his eyes rising to meet hers with a deadly glare. Buffy felt her insides flutter at the true unabashed hatred that seeped from his darkening eyes.

"Get out," he growled gritting his teeth.

"I'm trying to help you," her rage faltered a bit allowing herself to show she still cared for him.

"By throwing my family's death in my face?"

"If it's the only way to help you then yes," she answered firmly.

Lashing his hand out he tried to dismiss her as he started to storm off. "Then I don't want your help, and the fact that my family is dead is not going to prove anything."

"Take a look around you!" She waved her arms to her side, "Wes, Doyle, Gunn, Fred … me," her voice was on the edge of breaking, "You still have a family. All these months I've been trying to prove it to you, trying to help you …"

"Help me with what?" he shouted.

"To be a human being!"

Both their emotions had been steadily escalating to the point where they were yelling at each other with Buffy on the verge of tears. Seeing her eyes pooling, Angel hesitated before responding and turned away from her facing the windows.

"Some people can't change," he admitted with a hint of sorrow.

"Yeah, I'm starting to get that," she spat sounding bitter. Choosing to give up on the argument knowing she couldn't win, Buffy dejectedly made her way to the door opening it. "I really do love you … but you played me Angel. I gave you everything, my body my heart, and you knew all along my efforts were meaningless."

"I didn't play you," he told her not moving a muscle keeping his voice calm and even. "I did try … but people like me can't give you the things you want or deserve."

"That's just –"

"Sad," he provided for her.

"Yes," she agreed, "Sad and pathetic. You aren't even living a life Angel, you're just existing and I can't … I won't be dragged down with you. I quit."

Walking over the threshold she slammed the door shut. Without a second thought, she swept down the stairs and exited the building. Getting in her car she mindlessly started it and drove off. The second after rounding the corner leaving Angel's block behind, a large sob erupted from her throat and Buffy automatically placed her hand over her mouth trying to keep them in. Soon however, her vision was so blurred by the tears she was shedding she was forced to pull herself over to the side of the road where she helplessly rested her head on the stirring wheel and broke down.

After a few minutes she lifted her head wiping the tears away with her hands. Pulling down the visor, she checked herself in the mirror.

She looked terrible.

Refusing to believe the miserable creature that was staring back at her was the person she had become, she took in a deep breath straightening her shoulders. She was strong, not weak like Darla who had been reduced to sobbing and begging for someone to support her.

She didn't need a confused, emotionally unbalanced guy to make her life complete.

Realizing she was wasting her time crying like a heartbroken little girl, her lips formed a hard unbreakable line and her eyes filled with resolve. Unlike some people she didn't dwell on the past, she still had a life to lead.

Hitting the visor it snapped back into place. Switching on the radio she turned the volume up loud and drove off determined to leave the last several months behind her.


Part 20



Buffy jumped at the overly cheerful voice. Tearing her eyes away from her laptop screen, she twisted in her chair and saw Dawn, Willow and Tara standing at the entry way of her dinning room giving her unnaturally large smiles.


“If your mission was to totally freak me out then you succeeded. Those smiles are creepy.”


“It’s been a week Buffy,” Willow stated like it was supposed to mean something.


Facing her computer again Buffy forced her expression to turn to stone, “A week since what?”


Giving each other worried glances, her three friends moved forward and congregated around the dinner table.


“C’mon Buffy, this just isn’t natural,” Willow stated.


“Yeah, we’ve been waiting,” Dawn added crossing her arms.


Buffy once again abandoned her work to glare at her friends. “I honestly have no idea what you guys are talking about.”


“We bought ice cream,” Tara reminded her.


Willow nodded her head agreeing, “Cookie-dough-fudge-mint-chip, your favorite.”


“Three tubs of the stuff! We were going to eat it out of the carton,” Dawn concluded.


“Your point being …” Buffy continued to feign ignorance.


“Wallowing!” Dawn shouted throwing her arms in the air. “It’s about time you started!”


Tara gave Buffy a look of sympathy, “You need to grieve your loss.”


“You need to mope around in your pajamas with no make-up and bad hair. We’re supposed to come over with spoons for the ice cream and watch movies so we can sit around and support you and say ‘Oh, Buffy’ as we cry over ‘When Harry Met Sally’ because she got her man and you didn’t …” Willow babbled.


Last week when Buffy informed them she and Angel were no longer together, minus most of the gory details like Darla, they all expected her to shut down and wallow like normal people do. Each day they would watch expecting the collapse at any moment … but it never came. Deciding her brave front was not healthy they knew there was only one thing left to do.


“Hey, hey party groovers!” Faith announced her presence as she entered the house with Spike, Xander and Anya behind her. “Did the intervention already begin?”


Buffy turned as they walked inside and then returned to give the “gang leaders” an evil scowl causing Dawn, Willow, and Tara to cringe sheepishly.


Obviously clueless, Xander questioned surprised to hear the word. “An intervention, that’s what we’re here for?”


“Is someone an alcoholic?” Anya added stealing a glance at Spike, who was deeply offended catching her look.


“Hey, I’m just as confused as you,” he clarified, “and I don’t drink that much.”


Buffy remained silent as her friends all talked around her trying to sort out the situation. She had decided not tell everyone the news choosing only Willow and Faith and then made them promise not to tell anyone else saying it would be better if less people knew right away. Dawn, of course, was eavesdropping on the conversation and was quickly caught and Willow, already sounding guilty, said she wouldn’t be able to keep a secret this big from Tara. Buffy was fine with that, but was adamant that the rest not know. The four accepted her demands giving her the benefit of the doubt considering they believed her to be in deep grievance mood.


Of course they didn’t know Buffy just didn’t want all her friends to be disappointed in her that she couldn’t make it work with Angel and she especially did not want to hear Spike’s I-told-you-so.


“Okay, I’m here. What’s this urgent pressing matter?” Another voice entered the fray and as Buffy recognized it she stood furious.


“Giles?! You called Giles!”


Everyone shut up at her cry and watched as she started to rapidly pile her books and shut down her laptop.


“Buffy we all care about you,” Willow pleaded. “We have to talk about this.”


“There’s nothing to talk about, it’s been a week I am obviously fine so this whole intervention thing is not necessary.” Her cool composure finally started to come apart and her appearance became frazzled.


Dawn frowned and took a step closer to her sister, “Buffy …”


“I’m fine Dawn.” With all of her things in her arms, Buffy stood up right and moved toward the stairs. “I’m going to my room to work, if you want to continue to talk about me when I’m not here go right ahead, but I have nothing more to say.”


Climbing the steps, she didn’t look back and went straight into her room. Closing the door, she leaned against it gripping her materials closer to her chest. She had been so proud of herself for being strong as of late and not giving into the natural desire of crying for her broken heart. However, with the faint voices of her friends’ continuing conversation reaching her ears, Buffy couldn’t hold it in any longer as they mentioned her love for Angel and no amount of strength she possessed could change that.


They were right, it wasn’t natural. She had to stop pretending, and give herself time to grieve because that was the only true way to get past it all. She did manage to do the first step and walk away but now it was time for her to heal.


She didn’t know how long she stood there as silent tears rolled down her cheeks, but the noise of her front door closing brought her back to reality. Spilling the contents in her arms on her bed, she shakily turned toward her dresser.



The group of friends watched Buffy’s retreating back as she disappeared up the stairs. They waited for the sound of her door to close before anyone started to talk.


“What the bloody hell is going on?” Spike demanded facing the four girls who seemed to be in the know.


“Yes, excellent question,” Giles agreed pinching the bridge of his nose and then gave the girls a matching accusing glare.


“Angel and Buffy … they broke up,” Faith clued them in.


“Ha, I told y –“ Faith’s hand clapped over Spike’s mouth before he could finish.


“What? When?” Xander asked.


“A week ago,” Dawn supplied.


Anya scrunched her face puzzled. “Why haven’t we been eating ice cream? That’s break-up protocol.”


“We know but she’s been … fine,” Faith explained. “At least she been appearing as fine, but we know fine with Buffy means all disjointed on the inside.”


“Hence the intervention,” Giles pieced everything together. “Try to get her to open up.”


“What happened?” Anya inquired.


Tara spoke up answering, “She just said they had a fight. Angel isn’t emotionally ready to be in a relationship … that they would never work out.”


“That’s …” Xander frowned, “Vague.”


“There has to be more to it then that,” Spike figured.


They all remained quiet until a little cough came from Willow and her face turned bright red.


“Will,” Xander prompted. “Do you know something?”


“No, oh no, I know nothing, nothing at all,” she stumbled out.


Tara turned to her girlfriend with large questioning eyes. “Willow, sweetie? Was there anything else?”


Willow tried to avoid her eyes but it was short lived. “Buffy’s in love with him,” she admitted.


That’s all she needed to say for the rest of them to figure out what must have happened between the couple.


“Not emotionally ready my ass,” Faith repeated in disgust understanding the subtext of the phrase. “Bastard.”


“Right,” Spike said before turning about face and marching out the door.


Xander didn’t wait a single second before following him. Giles stood cleaning his glasses appearing to be in deep thought. Replacing them on his nose he too walked out shutting the door behind him.


“What do you think they are going to do?” Dawn asked semi-frightful.


“Have a nice, calm, man to man talk,” Anya speculated, “With fists … and quite possibly a weapon of some kind.”


“Bastard,” Faith repeated. “I should go with them I have a great right hook.”


Suddenly there was a creak from behind them.


“Umm, guys?” The girls turned toward the stairs and found Buffy in her pajamas with a tear stained face hugging her arms around her middle. “I’m kinda in the mood for ice cream.”


All their expressions softened immediately as Dawn and Tara dashed into the kitchen and Willow and Faith walked over to guide Buffy into the living room and onto the couch.


“Which movie do you want to watch first?” Willow asked with compassion.


“’My Best Friend’s Wedding’,” she sniffled. “Julia Roberts doesn’t get the guy in that one.”


Anya went over to the entertainment center in search of the DVD as Dawn and Tara returned with the ice cream and spoons. Everyone settled in as the opening credits started to roll and they all dug into their ice cream, with Buffy getting a whole carton for herself.


“Hey,” Buffy spoke up a few minutes later. “Where’d everyone else go?”



“Angelcakes you with me here?” Lorne waved his hand in front of Angel’s face, “Give me a sign your mind hasn’t left this dimension.”


“I have a wall,” Angel replied.


“Yes, you have a wall, a blank wall the size of Montana! Now, take a look at your pretty pictures here,” Lorne indicated the tons of slides spread out on a light table in front of them, “And tell me which ones you like best so that I can drop them off at the gallery.”


Angel didn’t make a move to look.


“Or I could tell you which ones I think would best fit with the ones you’re already showing and then you can pick from those?” Lorne kept trying.


Angel still would not give him a glance. “None of those are right … I don’t like them.”


Turning the light off, Lorne held in a sigh of frustration reminding himself that he knew that working with Angel would be a challenge. Welcoming the obstacle, Lorne heavily sought after the up and coming artist once he heard he was a free agent, despite the fact that Angel had a reputation for being more reserved then outgoing …


But this was ridiculous!


“Okay, I can understand that … artists’ are allowed to dislike their own work from time to time, I don’t happen to agree in this case and me being your agent I could just go behind your back, and take what paintings I think will sell … all for the good of your career of course.”


Angel finally gave Lorne his full attention and from the look off his face, Lorne scrambled and thought of something else to suggest.


“How about you paint something new? The opening’s just around the corner but hey, I have faith in you.”


Shifting in his seat on the couch, Angel turned his face away again. “I have nothing to paint.”


“Okay,” Lorne could take a hint and rose from his seat. “I get that you are in a funk here, but get past it, move on. Do whatever you have to do to get your inspiration back.”


Not getting any reaction, he gave Angel a week’s deadline to make a decision before he chose the paintings for him and promptly left the apartment.


“My inspiration,” Angel echoed as if he was just hearing Lorne’s words, “Is gone for good.”


Then there was a small knock on his door that caught his attention. Angel really didn’t care if he answered it or not, but he got up in a semi-daze and opened the door anyway.


Stumbling backwards from the hard punch to his jaw, Angel tried to quickly shake off the disorientation so he could see who was standing in his entryway. For some reason he was not surprised to see a bright platinum head.


“I thought I would be fair and give you the chance to defend yourself first,” Spike started to explain, “But the second I saw you I couldn’t control my fist. I’ll give you the chance now though.”


Angel did nothing but stare.


“Very well then,” throwing his arm back Spike planned to lay another blow to Angel’s face.


“Spike wait!” Xander’s voice stopped him mid-motion.


Perplexed Spike lowered his hand. “What, I thought you wanted him to get it just as much as me?”


“I do,” Xander pointed out. “I just need you to hold him so I can get a good hit in.”


“Oh, sure thing.” Taking a step forward, Spike had the intention of grabbing hold of Angel’s arms but was once again stopped but this time with a hand to his shoulder.


“That’s enough Spike,” Giles told him gripping his shoulder tighter and dragging Spike back toward the door.


“Rupert, don’t you ever get tired of being the voice of reason,” Spike pouted following his uncle’s silent instructions and moved to stand next to Xander as Giles got closer to Angel.


“Angel,” Giles greeted the young man which earned him a courteous nod and as Angel slightly lowered his head Giles took the opportunity and swung his fist connecting hard with the side of Angel’s face.


Spike and Xander stood in shock as Angel stumbled back again and Giles calmly took off his glasses cleaning them while he waited for Angel to re-adjust himself.


“I may not be in on all the gossip,” Giles began replacing his glasses, “But I do have eyes and despite what you may think, I can see quite well and the couple I spent time with a few weeks back cared deeply for each other and it was not one sided.”


In an emotionless haze, Angel focused in on a spot on the wall just over Giles’ shoulder and listened fully to what the other man was saying even though his outward appearance made no indication that he was being affected in anyway.


Giles choose to ignore Angel’s lack of response and continued to lecture. “Buffy is a very special girl who likes to wear her heart on her sleeve where it can easily be broken, and it is our job to help protect it as much as we can. Right now Angel, it is shattered.”


“He knows he’s the one that bloody did it!” Spike interrupted but he only got a nasty will-you-shut-up glare from Giles and he quickly obeyed.


“What you have done Angel is just plain despicable and there is no excuse. Buffy is too good for you and you don’t deserve her.” Taking a few steps forward, Giles glared hard at Angel somehow forcing his eyes to look over to him. “However, I’m here to implore you … if through all this time you have ever truly cared for Buffy then come back with us now and rectify this mistake.”


With their mouths gapping open in surprise, Spike and Xander could not comprehend what Giles was asking of Angel. The bastard broke her heart and Giles wanted him to win her back?


“She loves you Angel, regardless of everything she still loves you and you are fully aware of her feelings,” Giles went on as a result from Angel’s continued silence. “I know you have feelings for her too and if you just stand there blatantly ignoring everything she gave to you, then you are no man … you’re not even a person.”


They waited for Angel to answer feeling just as nervous as if they were the person in love with him. Xander and Spike finally understood what Giles was doing. He was trying to give Buffy the man she loved back and Angel’s faults took a back burner to Buffy’s feelings.


“You’re right,” Angel finally spoke candidly. “I don’t deserve her.”


Turning his back to them, Angel expertly suppressed the need to explain himself. It didn’t matter how much she cared for him or how much he cared for her, in the long run Buffy’s life would be better if he wasn’t in it.



Buffy sat unconsciously fidgeting with the sleeve of her blouse as she carried on the conversation with her professor. It wasn’t that she was nervous; she had talked to Prof. Goldberg hundreds of times over the four years she was a student, she was just anxious to leave. Her classes were over, her paper was in and all she had left to do was to graduate in a few days.


“How about grad school?” her professor asked.


“I thought about applying but decided to take a year off and work,” Buffy answered hoping she wouldn’t disappoint. “I want to take the time to go through my options and under the current circumstances I think it would be better if I just concentrated on furthering Dawn’s education at the moment.”


Prof. Goldberg nodded her head knowing full well of Buffy’s recent family loss and how hard it was for her to even stay in school this past year. “If you need a recommendation I would me more then happy to supply one. You have a real good eye Buffy and a way with words that captivates people, I see you succeeding in anything you put your mind too.”


Buffy gave her a genuine smile truly touched by her words. “Thank you and I’ll be sure to drop you an email every now and then, just to check in.”


“I would like that.”


They both rose from their seats and Goldberg walked around her desk to give Buffy a good-bye hug. With a few more kind parting words, Buffy exited her office feeling confident in herself. The feeling, however, did not last long as she came to an abrupt halt just outside the office door.


There was Angel just sitting on the little settee against the wall staring off into space looking absolutely gorgeous despite the noticeable healing bruise on his jaw. Buffy’s mouth quirked into a smirk as she remembered the cavalry returning home after they “beat up” her ex-boyfriend. She was pissed yet extremely touched at the same time. After giving them an earful, she was unable to get any details out of them on what exactly happened. Since that night no one had mentioned Angel’s name or any reference to him which helped in the healing process. This unexpected encounter was something Buffy did not need but she wasn’t going to avoid it either.


Feeling enraged she moved to stand in front of him with hands on her hips. “Angel you can’t be here! This is … this is just unbelievable!” His eyes meeting hers threw her for a second but the fact that he was so calm was upsetting her even more. “Just because I still care for you doesn’t mean you can follow me around or show up without notice and expect me to run right back into your arms! I took my time to grieve and I am over us.”


Angel kept his eyes locked with hers looking quite morose but giving no indication he planned to say anything or that Buffy’s words had affected him at all. Still feeling overcome with anger Buffy was ready to lash out at him again but was interrupted.


“Angel, it’s good to see you,” Prof. Goldberg called out as she stepped up to the pair. Angel stood and shook the professor’s hand still remaining quiet.


Thoroughly embarrassed, Buffy was caught off guard by Goldberg’s familiarity with Angel. “He is here to see you?” she questioned in a high pitched voice.


Her professor smiled at Buffy seeming quite proud, “Yes, I was looking for a guest lecturer and a gallery owner I know suggested Angel. Do you know each other?”


Buffy noticed Angel shifted his eyes avoiding contact with either of the women as he tried to shy away from answering, which left Buffy to do so. “Um, I used to be his assistant, but not anymore … I quit.”


“So you know his work well then? What do you think of him helping me out?” Goldberg inquired genuinely interested in Buffy’s opinion, the fact that the couple seemed uncomfortable with the situation completely going over her head.


Buffy wanted to get away before her face turned candy apple red but she sucked it up and spoke the truth. “He’s very talented, I’m sure he will be a great asset for your students.”


As she spoke Buffy’s eyes strayed over to Angel and as if on cue he looked right at her and for a beat they held that gaze. The moment was civil but edged closer toward meaningful as their conflicted feelings toward each other started to surface, until it was broken.


“You know Buffy, Angel would be a great source for a recommendation as well,” her professor went on talking. “I know he has a lot of pull with some of the local gallery owners.”


Hearing Goldberg’s suggestion Buffy rolled her eyes breaking eye contact and mumbled under her breath, “If the owners are women I wouldn’t be surprised …”


Angel heard her comment and looked away ashamed as Goldberg, who missed the remark, still remained oblivious. “Angel why don’t you go on into my office I’ll be there in a minute.”


Nodding Angel took a step toward the office and then paused. “It was nice seeing you Buffy.”


Surprised Buffy watched him go without responding, giving his back a curious glare as it disappeared into the office.


Not long after Angel left, her professor spoke up again. “Since you worked for him I guess you heard about Darla.”


Buffy whipped her head toward Goldberg feeling shocked at the unexpected comment but did not reveal how startled she was for it was unclear what exactly her professor knew of the situation with Darla.


“She was quite the prominent figure in the art world, very influential, she did wonders for Angel’s career, really brought him into the spotlight,” Goldberg continued to explain thinking Buffy was in the dark. “A while ago she had some medical crisis and virtually dropped off the face of the earth. I just got wind though that she has been checked into a mental health clinic out of state. Apparently she had a break down.”


Shaking her head, Buffy looked downward slightly dazed. “I hadn’t heard.”


“She doesn’t have any family so Angel was the one to check her in, or at least that’s the rumor.” Goldberg smiled at Buffy and then started to laugh. “Just look at me, I’m quite the gossip aren’t I?” Placing a comforting hand on Buffy’s shoulder she softened her smile, “Take care Buffy. I can’t wait to hear of your successes.”


Buffy’s inner thoughts wouldn’t be pushed aside and she couldn’t give her professor her full attention. Nodding she smiled and left slowly making her way down the hallway.



“But what do you think it means?” Buffy pleaded to Willow over the phone later that night. “He shipped Darla off to the loony bin and he says it’s good to see me … there has to be some underlining meaning, find the subtext Willow!”


“Buffy, you need to calm down. I told you it’s insignificant. Whatever it is, it’s his life now. You’re working on moving on remember?”


Pouting Buffy slumped more into her seat on the couch, “I am moving on but a part of me will always love him and … “


“And you are reaching for something that isn’t there,” Willow finished for her even though she knew that was not what Buffy meant to say. “We all want the happily ever after Buffy, and I know one day you’ll get it, but right now Angel is not it.”


With a heavy sigh Buffy heeded Willow’s words. “I’m grasping-at-straws girl … how pathetic.”


“No, not pathetic, it just takes time,” Willow offered some comfort. Secretly, she was still rooting for a miracle, that maybe Angel and Buffy could some how find a way back to each other, but that was just the fairytale believer in her. Willow, instead, chose the reality route and tried her best to support her friend in getting on with her life.


A moment of silence settled upon them officially ending the topic and Willow took the opportunity to cheer Buffy up.


“Can you believe we are graduating in two days?!” Willow’s voice took a turn for the better and she practically squealed into the phone. “I only wished our last names were the same so we could sit next to each other but I promise to scream as loud as I can when they announce ‘Buffy Summers’.”


Buffy had to giggle at her friend’s enthusiasm, “Thanks Will, I’ll bust a lung for you too.”



Part 21


Fred was finishing up clearing the empty beer bottles and dirtied glasses from the deserted tables as Gunn was wiping them down and flipping chairs over placing them on the table tops. On his way into the back to retrieve a broom, he bestowed a sweet kiss to her lips and the two shared a little smile as he passed by. Carrying the glasses over to the bar, Fred placed them down when she heard the door opening.


“Sorry, we’re closed for the ni –“ turning to face the unwelcomed costumer, Fred was surprised to see it was someone she knew. “Angel, what are you doing here?”


Staggering over to a near by stool, he leaned heavily against the bar before slamming his hand down flat, “A shot please of anything you got … preferably strong.”


“We’re not serving anymore,” she walked over to him and scrunched her nose at the smell he emitted. “Besides I think you have had enough.”


Visibly offended by her words, he did not give up. “What? Are you accusing me of being drunk? Why would you …” Fred reached into the deep pocket of his long black duster and procured an empty bottle of Jack Daniels waving it knowingly in front of his face. “Well, would you look at that? I’m out of alcohol, guess I need some more.” Leaning more over the bar he banged his hand several times calling out for the bartender.


Gunn emerged from the back hearing someone shouting loudly. “Whoa Angel, bad day?” he inquired joining his girlfriend and his drunken friend.


Actually, the meeting with Prof. Goldberg went well considering Angel wasn’t one for talking or any simple form of conversation lately. It was Lorne who convinced him in the first place to meet with the professor about being a guest lecturer citing that his lack of motivation to paint could cause some financial uncertainty in the future. It never even occurred to Angel that he could possible run into Buffy. It was a large campus and she was done with classes and basically school in general forever, so the scenario that actually did end up happening was not even a possibility in Angel’s mind. Of course it did happen, he had seen her and sort of talked and when he got back to his apartment he had the familiar sensation to drink.


Drink a lot.


“I’ve had worse,” Angel shrugged. “But it’s okay because now it’s time to drink!”


Fred and Gunn gave each other a look before they took positions on either side of Angel and with each supporting an arm they raised the man from his seat.


“C’mon let’s get you home,” Gunn suggested as he maneuvered toward the door.


“Why,” Angel questioned still allowing them to take him, “There’s no liquor there, and I should know I drank it all.”



The drive over was an experience, to say the least, with Angel sandwiched between Fred and Gunn in the cab of Gunn’s truck. It wasn’t like neither of them had ever seen Angel drunk before, but even at his most care-free, uninhibited state they never saw him like this. He was like a child, messing with all the buttons, changing the radio station and breaking out in fits of laughter when nothing was funny. At one point he was resting his head adoringly on Fred’s shoulder playing with her hair, commenting how soft and pretty it was.


Finally reaching his front door, Angel’s cheery disposition took to the background. He still remained situated between his two friends with each of his arms draped over their shoulders and as Gunn went to unlock the door, Angel tried to stay put.


“No, I don’t want to go inside,” he protested.


“Don’t you want to be inside your nice, warm apartment?” Gunn asked speaking to him like a parent would to a child.


“I can’t,” Angel slumped his shoulders and let his head hang down, “It’s too much. It all reminds me of her, she’s everywhere.”


Fred and Gunn shared a look over their friend’s droopy posture as they were hit with a moment of clarity.


‘Buffy?’ Fred mouthed to Gunn and he nodded his head confirming.


Adjusting Angel’s arm, Gunn got a better grip bringing his friend upright again. “C’mon big guy, you’ve got to face those demons sometime.”


“It isn’t that bad Angel, it’s all in your head,” Fred tried to give him a little perspective as they crossed the threshold. “Let’s put him on the couch, I don’t think I can make it up to his bed,” she suggested to Gunn and he nodded agreeing.


“Not the couch,” Angel moaned sounding defeated. “We made love on the couch.”


“Okay, too much information for me,” Gunn grimaced. “And from now on I am never touching that couch … or anything else you guys did the nasty on.”


Angel let out a small laugh going along with them as they headed to the couch despite the new information. “Well, then I suggest you don’t touch anything … the bed, the kitchen counter, anywhere in the studio,” he glanced down at the spot on the floor Gunn was standing, “Even where you’re standing, pretty much the whole floor.”


Ungraciously, Gunn let go of Angel letting him drop to the couch. “Ew, man, that’s just … ew.”


“Charles, it’s sweet,” Fred argued staring down at the half asleep Angel. “He misses her … doesn’t that mean something?”


“Angel missing a girl so much he drinks himself into a drunken stupor? Considering it’s never happened before, I say it means something.”


Squatting down near Angel’s head, Fred softened her expression trying to catch his attention. “Angel what went wrong? We all thought you were happy?”


With his eyes half open, Angel rolled on his back not coherent enough to be his usual taciturn self. “I can’t give her what she deserves. I’ll never be that guy … that regular average Joe guy. She needs someone who can be there for her emotionally … someone to love her. I can’t even do that. People like me don’t do that.”


His head drifted off to the side as his voice faded out with his last words and Fred rose to stand next to Gunn. “Oh, Angel you can’t believe that.” There was no response and thinking he was asleep, the couple both feeling sympathy for their friend, turned to leave.


“That’s why I slept with Darla,” Angel’s voice whispered.


Fred and Gunn both immediately shot a hard glare to Angel, their sympathy flying right out the window.


“You slept with Darla?” Fred shouted hitting Angel hard on the shoulder. “How could you?”


“Dude, that is low,” Gunn added holding back his girlfriend as she went in for another blow.


“You slept with Darla to push Buffy away,” Fred deducted growing even angrier.


Cautiously, Angel opened his eyes as he thought about that night.



“I need you Angel,” Darla continued not allowing him time to analysis what she was saying and lowered her hand from his face running it down his chest and carefully grazed his groin while simultaneously forcing his hand to cup her breast. “It’s a sad reality what we have done to ourselves, what we have made of our lives … I need to forget and you are the only one who can do that.”


Darla was right, it was a sad reality and it was even sadder when one simply gave up and accepted it.


Angel allowed Darla to continue to seduce him as his mind lost focus due to her ministrations. Finally, after a moment, he carefully gathered her hands in his and held them in place between their bodies. Leaning forward he placed a tender kiss to her forehead.


“I’ll help you anyway I can Darla,” he could feel her hands start to shake and it spread to the rest of her as tears began to fall from her eyes, “But I can’t be there for you like that. No matter how far we’ve fallen, being together like before will not help us.”


Gently, he lowered her back down onto the bed and tucked her in. Overwhelmed and all the fight drained from her, Darla didn’t bother to protest and quietly watched Angel leave her bedroom as she cried herself to sleep.


Closing the bedroom door, Angel eyed the couch and while he knew it to be less then comfortable he landed heavily upon it anyway. Throwing his head back, he brought his fingers to his face and pinched the bridge of his nose. He knew he did the right thing, seeing Darla conquered and broken like that … he didn’t want to follow her down that road. It was time he put an end to that part of his life. He decided the next day he would call Dr. Calendar, tell her how far Darla had really fallen and ask her if there was anything she could do, maybe recommend any health clinics that could help Darla rehabilitate herself and Angel could start putting it all behind him.


While Angel chose the correct path and didn’t give into temptation, Darla’s words had already done the necessary damage. Buffy loved someone that couldn’t love her back and if he continued to let her into his life, he would just eventually drag her down with him. He couldn’t let that happen, Buffy’s life hadn’t been damaged like his, she was still innocent, still had a chance.


He had to end it for her own good even if that meant hurting her more then he could possibly bear.


And in the end his theory stood firm and true … love only caused pain.



“No, I didn’t sleep with Darla,” he admitted somberly. “Buffy accused me and I didn’t say anything, I made her believe … she needed to hate me. It’s better this way.”


His friends didn’t know whether to feel disgusted at his deception toward Buffy or extremely sorry that Angel felt he had to reduce himself to such trickery. In either case, they remained silent, not sure if there were any appropriate words to say.


With his eyelids drooping closed again he didn’t fight the wave of unconsciousness that loomed over him. “Love is just a fire that consumes you until there is nothing left but smoke and ash,” were his final words before all wakefulness slipped from his body.



Narrowing the choice down to two dresses, Buffy held both their hangers in each one of her hands taking turns holding them in front of her. Gazing in the mirror, she scrunched her face in scrutiny as she tried to decide which outfit was a better fit to go under her robe. The ceremony wasn’t until tomorrow, but she was already slightly panicking that she won’t be able to make up her mind.


The phone started to ring and Buffy paused as she waited to see if Dawn would get it. After only three rings, they stopped and she went back to her task figuring Dawn had indeed picked up.


“Buffy, phone for you!” he sister called from downstairs.


Buffy didn’t even bother asking her sister who it was and gently placed her dresses on the bed before bouncing over to her night stand and picked up her phone.


“Hello?” she answered, but there was no one there. “Hello, who is this? Xander is this a prank?”


Again there was no response and after few more seconds Buffy heard a faint, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have –“ and then the person hung up.


Her good mood had vanished as she curiously held the receiver before her trying to place the sound of the person’s voice. With a hint of recognition in the back of her mind, she replaced the receiver and headed to the top of the stairs calling out for her sister.


Dawn appeared at the base of the stairs, “What up?” she asked.


“Do you know who called just now, they sorta hung up.”


“I didn’t get a name, but it was a girl. I think she had an accent … sounded like that Fred girl we met at Angel’s.”



Cautiously, Buffy walked through the heavy duty door and into a short darken hallway. She could already hear music playing and people talking and as she turned around a corner she stepped into a quaint yet spacious pub. No one gave her notice as she scanned the room, searching the faces sitting at the tables and at the bar and she didn’t move until she found the pair she was looking for.


Determined, she headed in their direction not spotting some of the patrons as they stopped their conversations and followed her as she went. Coming up behind two men at the bar, she tapped one of their shoulders. Doyle jumped in his seat letting out a shout of surprise at the unexpected contact.


“Buffy, what … what are you doing here?” He turned to face her, his eyes shifting around a bit as if he was nervous.


Buffy had started to speak but was interrupted by some random woman sitting in a near by booth.


“Good for you darling, just by looking at you I can tell you are too good for him. Who needs men anyway?”


Buffy gave the woman a perplexed glance and titled her shoulders back in fright. Then another person, this time an older man at the other end of the bar spoke up.


“You are quite the attractive young lady, if I was only forty years younger … well, don’t worry you’ll find someone new in no time.”


Another lady walked by Buffy and placed her hand gently on her shoulder, “If it’s any consolation I was rooting for you two the whole time.”


“Thanks … I think,” Buffy responded trying to look grateful and not completely frightened.


“Oh, I think her and Angel make a nice looking couple,” someone else added. “What a shame.”


Buffy glanced around the bar growing more confused as everyone took turns giving her advice until they stopped talking to her completely and entered into their own conversations about what her next step in life should be.


“Give it rest will you guys, the woman’s been through enough,” Doyle called them off with a sweep of his hand but then tacked on with a smile, full of pride, “But did I tell you she was a looker or what?”


“Doyle, for goodness sake have you no decency?” Wesley finally spoke up before turning a sympathetic eye to Buffy. “How are you feeling?”


Buffy gave the other occupants one last look around before giving Wesley her full attention deciding to ignore the weirdness. “I’ve been better, but I’m surviving.”


“Glad to hear, would you like a drink?” He offered her a stool in between Doyle and him that was usually reserved for someone else but lately it had been remaining empty.


“No, that’s okay, actually I’m here to see –“


“Buffy, surprise to see you here,” Gunn commented with a little bit too much enthusiasm as he approached the counter right in front of her. “Can I get you anything beer, water, soda, some Courvoisier cognac perhaps?”


Doyle and Wesley gave him a speculative look as they tried to judge his odd behavior, but Buffy didn’t seem to notice anything wrong and denied a beverage.


“No, thank you but could I talk to Fred?”


“Fred?” Gunn seemed surprised at first and then grew rather serious. “Why do you need to speak to Fred?”


“It’s nothing life threatening,” Buffy tried to downplay the urgency she felt. That phone call she assumed that came from Fred had her curious and she wanted answers. “Just would like to see her, I have a really hard math problem that needs solving.”


“She’s busy, in fact I don’t even know if she is on tonight …” he tried to excuse.


“Fred’s not here?” Doyle remarked not having a clue. “What are you talking about? She’s right –“


“In the back and can’t be disturbed,” Gunn interrupted.


Just then Fred emerged from the back room carrying an empty serving tray and immediately saw Buffy. With a little “Eeep” she tried to make her escape but Buffy called her name followed by Doyle pointing at her.


“See, I’m not that drunk! I knew she was here. Fred, Buffy’s come to see ya.”


With her head shyly dipping toward the ground, she walked over to join them avoiding eye contact with Gunn, who wasn’t looking too happy.


“Fred, we had a deal,” he spoke softly to his girlfriend as she got closer referring to their decision not to include anyone on their new found knowledge a drunken Angel bestowed upon them. It wasn’t their place to mess with a relationship they really didn’t know anything about.


“What’s going on guys?” She asked tentatively.


Buffy planned to explain herself but Doyle beat her to it.


“I’m figuring Buffy came for a little gossip about our boy, maybe a little checking-up making sure he’s doing alright, but sorry we really can’t help you.”


“Yes, he’s been rather … reclusive as of late,” Wesley concurred. “I believe we could only tell you that he seems to have reverted to the stubborn, I-want-to-shut-everyone-out persona he was before he met you, only slightly worse then before. I’m afraid we know nothing.”


“To be honest I didn’t expect you guys to know anything,” Buffy admitted with a shrug taking the information in not surprised as Angel’s behavior matched exactly what she figured would happen. Besides, she told herself she was not here for an Angel report, she wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery phone call and it didn’t even hit her that her curiosity about Angel was her main motivation for tracking down Fred in the first place.


While Buffy was talking, Fred sneaked a look at Gunn who gave her a warning glare in return. Shifting her eyes away she ignored her boyfriend and cleared her throat. “Actually, I might … I might know some-something.”



His head hurt a lot.


Slowly, he felt himself waking up and the only thing he could feel was the pounding against his brain. For a while he just laid there not really wanting to open his eyes but the natural feeling of consciousness forced him too, which he quickly regretted as an extra bolt of pain inflicted him. It was the late afternoon and the sun was at the perfect angle to cast its harsh rays throughout his loft and as he brought his arm to his face covering his eyes he came to the conclusion that the sun was an evil, evil thing.


As an excuse to relieve his body of the awkward position he was lying in, which he was sure was causing his lower back pain, Angel rose with much difficulty from the couch. With his eyes still closed he tried to feel his way into the kitchen. Making it with only one incident of shin to chair contact and a loud expletive, he leaned heavily on the counter in search of the coffee machine.


Chancing the pain, he opened his eyes again and sluggishly went about making himself a cup of coffee. Once the machine was turned on he stood and just waited, the only noise was the gargling of the coffee maker as the dark liquid brewed. When it was finished he poured himself a mug full and just stood there taking small sips.


Well, that was fifteen minutes out of his day …


He really had nothing to do. He wasn’t in the mood to see his friends, and hadn’t in the last two weeks, painting was out of the question, his head hurt too much to even read … he didn’t even feel like racking his brain to come up with something.


As a consolation prize, the coffee was helping him feel better and being able to face the sun head on again, he turned to look over his apartment. Suddenly, he got the urge to do something he hadn’t done in a really long time … clean.


Finishing the last drops of his beverage, he placed the cup in the sink and turned to the supply closet. Opening the door, he was glad to see his alphabetical system was still intact and without thinking he grabbed bottles of cleaning spray and disinfectants along with sponges and rags and went about cleaning his apartment, starting with the kitchen.


Working in a counter clockwise cycle, he cleaned his way around the main room, picking up trash, sweeping, mopping, wiping, getting all bits of dust and placing furnishings back in their correct positions. A foot here, a centimeter there, everything seemed to be out of place and he tweaked them all until it looked like it had been before. He cleaned the bathroom until it was spotless, passing over the studio and went straight up the stairs and went through the same motions. His mind was so set on his task that he didn’t notice his hangover had miraculously disappeared.


Hours later when he was all done he took a good look around confident the loft resembled how he remembered it from long ago. Replacing the cleaning supplies he quickly decided on his next activity. Walking over to his bookshelf lined with books, new and old, books he has read from anywhere to one time to a hundred times. Reaching out, he selected an anthology of poems, a favorite of his since … since a long time. As far as he could remember he had always had the book, it was one of his solid companions even when he went from foster home to foster home.


Gripping the binding he slipped it from the shelf and carried it over to the couch. Kicking his feet up on the coffee table, he got into a comfortable position opening the book ready to read.


Parting the pages, Angel wasn’t expecting a slip of something to fall into his lap. Lifting the mystery object, he stared at the blank sheet of glossy paper and carefully turned it over. Recognizing it instantly, his heart did a little dip at the image that stared back at him.


It was a picture of his family taken just a year before the accident. He remembered his dad had put the camera on a tripod, setting the self-timer. His mother was the conductor of the whole thing claiming they didn’t have any good or up to date family portraits. Angel had played the part of the annoyed pre-teen and begged his mom to get out of it and when they told him to sit next to his sister, both of them smushed between their parents, he teased her relentlessly.


Despite his negative attitude toward the whole ordeal he also remembered feeling something and that picture expressed that feeling perfectly as he gazed upon it in the present.


He was loved.


All at once the sensations that he felt on that day all those years ago, and everyday up until that drunk driver collided with their car swept through him. He had felt safe and secure with his family; they looked out for each other and supported each other. He remembered his sister was ticklish and he always wanted to hear her laugh. He remembered how his dad liked to ruffle his hair, no matter how much Angel protested. He remembered his mom always kissing him on the cheek and telling him she loved him whenever they parted, even if it was in front of his friends.


Looking into his eyes that shone out from the image, he could see the unmistakable gleam of happiness and he remembered what that felt like.


His fingers pinched the edge of the picture as he looked intently, trying to grasp the new and long forgotten emotions. He felt the urge to cry, to scream, to smile all at the same time, and suddenly things were starting to make sense.


His head snapped over to his studio and feeling a pull to go inside, he gently placed the picture on the coffee table and with one last longing stare, he stood practically barging into the studio.


Searching the walls lined with his works, he quickly spotted an unframed rolled up canvas. Taking long strides he grabbed it and without a second thought, he went to work stretching the material around a wooden frame. When he was done he leaned it against the wall and studied it.


A moray of colors decorated the canvas, some colors were recognizable in a swash here, a splattered there while others were so blended together you couldn’t tell what was what. No matter what the colors appeared to be it was clear some colors left a definite impression of a hand, a sweep of an arm and if you knew what you were looking for a very gorgeous rear end.


Letting himself get lost in memories again, he recalled every single second it took to make that painting and every single emotion he felt as well. He didn’t know what was going on, but he just couldn’t stop himself from feeling, from remembering everything. It was as if a wall had crumbled and Angel was left bare-boned and opened for any massive onslaught.


Stepping closer, he reached out his hand and traced his fingertips along the canvas, imagining he was touching her curves, picturing her face, her eyes, the feel of her hair, how her voice cried out, “Angel …”


His fingers twitched and he pulled his hand back down to his side. He needed to do something besides just stand there. Going to his supply cabinet he removed a seldom touched but never forgotten sketch pad and flipped through the numerous sketches he had done. Snatching carefully labeled supplies from the shelves he hurried over to his easel.


He felt inspired.



Part 22




“Whoo, party!”


“Party like its 1999!”


Buffy smiled as she heard her friends’ joyous cries coming from the backyard. The whole day since the end of the ceremony had been just that, a party and now the festivities had moved to her place. Her friends didn’t care where they were as long as they had booze they were happy.


She felt blessed to have such close friends, a family, to share the good times, times like today with. Still, with all the celebration and happiness and the inebriated scream fest, Buffy felt compelled to stand in the middle of her living room, staring at the painting above the mantel.


Fred’s drunken Angel story had irked her. It irked her a lot. When she revealed what Angel had said, everything from his obvious distraught over Buffy’s ever lingering presence in his life, to the big shocker that he did not sleep with Darla, Buffy was relieved. Relieved that he missed her, relieved that he didn’t betray her like she had thought, relieved that there was a chance he still cared.


Then the implications of his actions set in and Buffy was hurt and angered. He hadn’t changed, he stilled believed pushing people away was the right thing to do, that he was somehow protecting her from him. G-d, he was an idiot. All the way home she was fuming, cursing his name and berating how his confused little mind worked. He made the choice for her, deciding her life was better without him and that pissed her off the most, no one made decisions about Buffy’s life but Buffy.


Arriving home, she started to clean the house and again her thinking pattern changed. Angel didn’t think he was good enough for her and that related to his low opinion he had for himself and the part of her that loved him longed to show him how wrong he was. If only he could see how amazing he was and how wonderful he made her feel. How could he not know that?


As she made dinner, her feelings softened even more. He had remained faithful to her, he was just protecting her against what he thought was a voluble foe and in his own twisted way he was showing her he cared.


You do always hurt the ones you love.


Buffy’s breath hitched as the thought passed through her. The very idea that this could be the act of love almost brought tears to her eyes, but then her brain overpowered her heart and stopped herself before a single tear fell. What’s done is done and there was nothing she could do to change that.


No more did she mull over Angel’s actions, she was done mulling.


Then why a whole day later was she staring at the damn painting?


“Hey,” Dawn greeted entering the house and slid in place next to her sister. “You do realize a party being held in your honor is going on right now?”


“Tara and Willow graduated too; the party is not lacking a graduate.”


Dawn wrapped her arm around Buffy’s shoulders and playfully giving them a squeeze quipped, “But you’re my little graduate and I am so proud of you!”


Buffy smiled politely and rolled her eyes at her sister’s playfulness but then turned her attention back to above the mantle.


“You are always staring at that thing,” Dawn pointed out. “If you love it so much, you should marry it.”


Buffy knew Dawn was only teasing but what she said still stung.


“Do you ever wonder about the artist?” Dawn asked curiously gazing at the painting. Buffy slowly turned her head to give her an incredulous look thinking her sister’s jokes were going a bit too far but then she realized, Dawn had no idea who the artist was.


Looking back up at the wall, Buffy noticed the corner Angel usually signed his name was partially blocked by the frame the canvas was incases in and Buffy have never told anyone that her Angel was in fact the artist. As her revelation continued to wash over her, Dawn continued to speak oblivious to Buffy’s inner thoughts.


“I mean here is a person, who is way more creative and innovative then the majority of society, giving a part of themselves to a piece of art that they just sell off for money.” Removing her arm from Buffy’s shoulder, Dawn took a step closer to the painting carefully analyzing it. “If you really think about it, all paintings are just a glimpse into the artist’s soul, if you can truly interpret the painting it’s almost like coming to an understanding, stepping inside the artist’s head. You know? It’s their thoughts and feelings transcribed for all to see … you just have to break the code.”


Giving the painting a few more moments of her attention, Dawn thought about what the swirls of color in this particular painting might be saying, but soon lost interest and turned around to look at her sister. “Geez, I sound like a lame ass professor, don’t you th –“


But when she twisted her head back behind her, she found no one there.



Buffy was reaching out on a limb. She was on her hands and knees, crawling out further to the edge praying the limb didn’t snapped in half causing her to plunge to her death. She didn’t think as she left the house after hearing Dawn’s musing and she didn’t think as she got into her car and started to drive off. It wasn’t until she saw that she was driving directly to the gallery that the conversation with herself started in her head.


It was over, her mind knew that and she was moving on. There was nothing more she could do to try and salvage the relationship, Angel had seen to that with his little, ‘I had to make her hate me’ strategy. But still, Dawn’s words had set something off and Buffy’s heart was curious, maybe just one glance at a few paintings and everything will become clear.


It was stupid and she knew it. Her head was echoing that her quest was fruitless and she would fail, and there are no answers, but the rest of her was pushing her onward, needing to at least see for herself. As weird as it sounded, Buffy came to a compromise with herself, if nothing was found, if the gallery was a bust then this really would be it, the last tie to Angel would be severed. If perhaps something was found … well, actually she hadn’t figured that part out yet.


Swinging open the large glass door, Buffy entered the throng of people. It didn’t really hit her that there was a good chance she would run into Angel, it being his show and all, but she decided she would come to that bridge when she crossed it … or something like that.


Last time she went to one of these things, she was wearing an expensive and borrowed outfit which matched the caliber of fashions of everyone else at the soiree. Even though she had blended in she felt like she didn’t fit, that she was lying, sending a message of false pretense as she mingled in the crowd. This time in her own clothes, completely underdressed in an off the rack $39.99 dress from a department store, standing out like a soar thumb, she felt more confident.


Looking around, she quickly gazed the walls recognizing all the paintings. Some she knew had been lying around the studio since she got there, others she had seen from concept, to birth to final product. Picking a wall, she started to stare intently at the first painting, looking for some hidden meaning, a secret message that Angel had left behind. At first they just looked like the same old paintings they always were with nothing new to see, but then she started to see patterns in the various works.


The paintings that were done before they met had a darker theme, they expressed a much more closed off and guarded personality, showing the artist was choosing not to reveal much about himself. Moving along the timeline, the paintings from when she first arrived were slowing changing. They were still mostly cool colors, blues and deep greens, signifying loneliness or depression, almost like Picasso’s blue period, but every now and then there would be a splash of a warm inviting color.


Then suddenly she came across an abstract that was vibrant and the emotion screamed out to the viewer, the artist had come to life. It was painted right after his last show, around the time Darla had told him she was keeping the baby. Just looking at the painting brought her back to that time and images of their first “date” flashed through her mind and her cheek throbbed in the exact spot he placed that innocent kiss.


She continued on, studying and analyzing, following along as Angel took her on an emotional rollercoaster. It was like she was reliving all the months they had spent together but this time she had a clear and open window to inside Angel’s head. She felt warmth as she gazed at the paintings of a woman, cradling her expanding stomach as if it was the most precious gift in the world and she was brought to tears as she came across the depiction of a man, broken and sad, gripping his head in his hands, his shoulders hunched over as if he were crying. There were so many, they surrounded her like a worn and old quilt, the paintings acting as patches, liked stitched together pieces telling a story.


She was in awe.


Believing wholeheartedly that his paintings held the truth to Angel’s inner most thoughts, Buffy’s image of him was evolving and somehow she was falling in love with him all over again. However, she also knew that the trust between them was destroyed and no matter how much closer she came to understanding him, even if he did somehow want her back, it just couldn’t happen. She loved him, even more so then before, but she didn’t trust him.


Thinking she had seen all there was to see, she felt good about her decision to come. However bittersweet it felt, it was the perfect seal for her to end the relationship and truly have a complete sense of closure. Taking one last look around, she noticed a separate crowd of people congregating behind one of the exhibit walls. Curiously she made her way over and discovered a small exhibition room boxed in between four other walls. The entrance was narrow which detached the space from the main gallery giving the feel of intimacy, like a private viewing even with all the people crowding around.


Stepping up to the lone exhibit wall, Buffy weaved her way through the people to get a clear view and when she did, she audibly gasped earning some glances her way.


What she saw made her blush but she could not for the life of her turn herself away. Up mounted on the wall was a large painting, a painting Buffy recognized right away for it was her body that helped to make it. It was their painting, hers and Angel’s, and people were looking at it, scrutinizing it, discussing it, pointing out certain highlights. She even heard someone ask another person what method they thought the artist used to paint it.


“Missionary,” Buffy whispered and as a few more people looked at her, she realized she had said it out loud and blushed even more.


She didn’t need to think about what this painting may represent, she knew first hand what the blatant message was. As the painting drew her in, she noticed the small sign posted next to the painting and was surprised to see it had a name. Angel had told her once he usually did name his paintings but they were mostly for his own uses and it was rare that he ever submitted one to a gallery using the name. For some reason, Angel felt compelled to do so with this one and he had named it THE ART OF PASSION.


‘How clever of him,’ she thought as she smiled sharing the inside joke.


Glancing away, Buffy noticed for the first time there were other paintings sharing the wall and at first glimpse she didn’t think much of them, but then her eyes grew wide in horror. Pushing past people, she stood in front of the next painting which depicted a woman lying on her side, her naked back facing the viewers. Reminiscent of Ingres’ Grande Odalisque or Velàzquez’s Rokeby Venus, the woman’s body was stretched out in a relaxing position, her face turned to the side catching her stunning profile, the sun shinning through the windows in front of her creating an ethereal glow outlining her body. She looked heavenly and perfectly sedated with happiness.



“Angel, what are you doing?”




“I know that, drawing what?”


“A picture.”


“I kinda figured. A picture of what?”





That was her. That was Buffy. Angel had painted her, nude, and hung it on a wall for hundreds of people to see. She was totally embarrassed, and totally honored and the name of the work, THE ART OF BEAUTY. She smiled at the title, for that painting expressed how she appeared to Angel through his eyes.


She wasn’t done yet, that was only the second painting … there were more. Next was THE ART OF LUST which showed a man’s muscled back, naked, spanning from his shoulders all the way to the very bottom of the small of his back, filling the frame. The skin was stretched over obviously tensed muscles with two feminine hands gripping, biting into his flesh, leaving severe indents almost as if the unseen woman was reaching her climax. With her cheeks heating up and her breathing quickening Buffy moved on.


Oh boy, the next one was … wow. It was called THE ART OF ECSTASY. The same woman as before was this time facing the viewers, the perspective was from an unseen person, a person the woman just so happening to be straddling with her legs spread open wide, wearing a pale pink lingerie set which you could clearly she her erect nipples poking through, and her head thrown back in pleasure, her mouth just visible enough to show it was open in a moan.


Buffy felt an odd tingling seeing herself painted in such an erotic position but also a refreshing feeling as she gained a new aspect of Angel’s viewpoint and what a viewpoint. Did he really see her as this beautiful, striking, sexy woman because that was exactly the image the painting expressed. As the new feeling took root inside her she continued on adding to her flushed cheeks and fast breaths, an ache and moisture between her thighs.


Finally reaching the last painting, Buffy’s heart swooned as she saw the two lovers, naked with their bodies entwined, sharing a peaceful and contented afterglow. The memory of Angel telling her he didn’t want to be there so that he could capture that very moment on paper encircled her. He had done what he set out to do and that moment was forever immortalized in a beautiful piece of art. She was so captured by the image that she didn’t question the meaning behind it, she just wanted to enjoy it and relish in all that it was giving her. With a pleased look on her face, her eyes slowly drifted to the name of the painting. It was THE ART OF LOVE.


No, it couldn’t be … it can’t mean … he wouldn’t …


“Angel?” she question out loud and reached a hand toward the painting as if she was trying to reach out to him.


Realizing she was making a small scene, as people’s attentions were off the paintings and onto the crying blonde, who held a familiar resemblance, Buffy quickly snatched back her hand and backed out of the small room. How could this be real? Was she dreaming? If she pinched herself hard enough will she wake up in bed with a hangover? Was her subconscious creating this whole night as a way to help her cope? No, this was definitely real, it was definitely happening.


As she stood in the middle of the gallery having her small panic attack, she realized that Angel could be anywhere in the crowd and could come out of no where surprising her. Instead of feeling scared of the possible scenario, she calmed down considerably hoping to run into him. She needed to see him, to look into his eyes and find the truth. This had to be his way of telling her something.


Searching the faces around her, she immediately spotted Lorne, waving his arms about, talking enthusiastically to a small group of people. Hurrying over, she tried to keep her exterior dignified and as she reached him, she waited until his story or whatever was over before calling his name.


“Buffy, sugar pie, I did not expect to see you here,” he exclaimed seeming very excited at her presence but then he turned deathly serious. “Really, didn’t think you would show. Been here long … see anything interesting?”


“Lorne, I saw it all,” she replied just as serious hoping he got her meaning. “I need to see Angel, do you know where he his?”


Lorne’s expression softened and he titled his head to the side placing a comforting hand to Buffy’s shoulder. “He’s not here sweetness. He was earlier, but he left. Got a bit too claustrophobic for him, he’s not one for crowds these days.”


Buffy’s shoulders sank in defeat and she took it as a sign. “Oh, then it’s for the best. Seeing each other just brings up … old feelings.” The need to see him from earlier was strangely fading as Buffy remembered the reality of their situation. Even with the possible new revelation, she couldn’t bring herself to take a step backwards in her life, even if it meant back toward Angel. That was not the point of moving on. “When you see him Lorne, don’t tell him I was here,” she requested and Lorne nodded his head telling her okay.


Turning around, Buffy left the gallery with just as much determination to get on with her life as the day she left Angel alone in his loft.



Somberly, Buffy walked up the front steps to her door. Her little gallery visit had taken a lot out of her but she was still willing and ready to celebrate the night away with her friends. She knew they probably had questions about where she had disappeared too, and she decided not to tell them the truth and made up some story about taking a long evening stroll.


As she neared closer, she noticed a note taped to the outside of the door and curiously she pulled it off:



We decided to take this party on the road, if you need us for anything call one of our cells. We’re here for you.

The Gang (and Spike)


Buffy rolled her eyes in disbelief. Great, now there wasn’t even a party for her to come back too. She leaves for an hour or two and her friends decide to abandon her! With another look at the note, she thought the last comment was a little weird, ‘We’re here for you’ … that seemed a bit dramatic for a party-has-been-moved message. What did they think she was going to do, down a bottle of pills because they wanted a change of venue? She would just call them and find out where they were and join them.


Stepping into the house, that was exactly what she had meant to do. Leaving her purse and jacket in the entry way, she headed into the living room intending to use the phone.


“Ahhh!” she screamed jumping back as her hand swung up and clutched her heart. “What the hell are you doing here?”


“I came to see you,” Angel replied from his spot standing in the middle of the room.


“Well, I don’t think-“


“I didn’t sleep with Darla,” he spoke up not giving her the chance to tell him to leave. He had to get everything out there in the open. He just had to tell her everything.


Buffy’s opened mouth closed with an audible snap and Angel took it as a sign that she was listening.


“She wanted it, she wanted me but I saw what her lifestyle … our lifestyle had done and knew I did not want to end up like that, broken and a shadow of my former self. I turned her down, put her to bed and spent the whole night on the couch.”


Buffy listened to his words, but would not look into his eyes. Her feet stayed rooted in place as she took to wringing her hands together, her line of sight set on the coffee table and even though she knew most of this already, she just allowed him to talk.


“I helped her get checked into a clinic … and that’s that. No more Darla. It’s all behind me now.”


When he made the decision to come and see Buffy, he came up with a variety of reactions she would have and he devised a strategy for each. Since she was going for what he dubbed, ‘The Angel Approach’ quiet, yet listening … he took to pacing back and forth and just kept talking.


“Seeing Darla like that, all I could think about was you, that given enough time you would end up exactly like her because you loved me. Being with me would just end up destroying you and I couldn’t let that happen. I had to make a choice. Why be with a man who isn’t capable of love … you deserve better.”


“I think I know what I deserve,” Buffy spoke up surprising him. “You had no right to make that decision for me.”


“I know, but you have to agree with me that I was right. We couldn’t have lasted, not the way we were going,” he stopped moving and faced her.


Buffy nodded her head, still not looking at him. “You’re right, it needed to end … but you don’t make me hate you.” Buffy’s head snapped up, her eyes full of fire. “You’re supposed to sit me down and tell me it’s not working out. You don’t make me believe you betrayed me, or that you don’t care at all. Your intentions might have been on the right path but your actions were malicious and hurtful.”


“It was my first break-up,” he gave as some sort of lame explanation.


“Well, you suck at it.” Crossing her arms in a defiant stance she looked away again waiting to see what he was going to do next.


“I was stupid and I was wrong. There are no excuses for what I did, and I can only say I am sorry and hope you can forgive me.”


Buffy kept her guarded stance, but lowered her voice to a softer tone, “I can accept your apology Angel, but I can’t forgive you … not just yet. I still need time.”


Sadden but understanding, Angel nodded his head. There was more he wanted to say but he needed to regroup after having spilled so much just moments before, so they were just left standing there in complete silence.


“So,” Buffy begun, “How’d you convince the gang to let you be alone with me … or even to let you in the front door?”


Angel quietly sucked in a breath realizing this was it and he opened his mouth to speak. “I told them I was in love with you and they agreed to hear me out.”


Buffy felt her heart stop and her arms slowly dropped to her sides. “Really?”


“Well, Xander and Spike were still a little wary and Faith said something about showing me her right hook but Willow just squealed and sorta pushed them out the door,” he explained.


“No, I meant really, the other thing,” Buffy pointed out, her face a mask of shock.


Angel gave her his trademark half smirk and looked down sheepishly. “Yeah, really.” Then he looked right into her eyes and Buffy had to hold in a gasp as she had almost forgotten what it was like to have his dark orbs borrowing into her. “I love you, Buffy.”


Her eyes were glued to his lips as the words past through them and every sound, every syllable floated out into the space between them and made a beeline straight to her heart. She didn’t know what to say, she didn’t know what to do. A few weeks ago she would have killed for him to say those words to her, but now she was torn between rejoicing at his admittance or telling him too little, too late. All she did know was that this whole evening was abundant with emotions and Buffy was finding herself too overwhelmed.


Angel allowed for his confession to soak in, and then seized her silence and raised his hand, reaching out toward her, “Come here, I want to show you something.”


Buffy stared at his hand for a while before tentatively stepping forward. Ignoring the offered hand, she stood next to him looking at his face waiting for what he had in store for her.


Shaking off the hurt he felt, he took his hand back and turned around facing the mantle, and she followed suit.


“I never told you the name of the painting,” he pointed to his work of art hanging on the wall. “It’s called FAMILY.” He chanced a sideways glance at Buffy as she gazed up at his painting. He had raised his hand to point at it, but his nerves got the best of him and it started to shake causing him to lower it quickly. “I painted it to express how I felt about my family.”


Like all the other paintings tonight, this one fit right into the puzzle that was Angel’s life. Buffy didn’t know why he was telling her all this, but she listened glad to gain the knowledge he was willing awarding her. Giving him a short, sadden look before turning back to the painting she asked, “How so?”


“The darkness in the center … that’s me and the colors around the edge are everything good my family represented. I meant it to be seen as everything good is leaving and all that is left is nothingness, a shell.”


Buffy felt slightly repulsed at the imagery Angel described for the reason that she had been drawn to the painting so vigorously and in reality it represented something she despised the most, the loss of family.


“However, the minute it was mounted on your wall it took on another meaning,” Angel continued to explain because he knew exactly what she was thinking. “The family isn’t leaving … its invading, crumbling the shell and filling the void with all things good.” He dropped his gaze and turned to her then and without caring whether she minded or not, he took her hands in his. “I know that’s what the painting is saying because that is exactly what you’ve done with me. It took me forever to see it because I was still fighting the truth, but I’m done with fighting.”


Buffy was staring at him now, her body facing him and she watched as he got down on his knees in front of her, his hands still firmly clasping hers. “I’m sorry it took me this long to see it but I love you and I am begging … please give me another chance. I’ll do anything you ask of me, just … please.”


Her eyes were glistening over with tears and he could feel her hands starting to tremble, but yet she was unreadable. He had no idea what her response would be.


“Angel,” she whispered shakily. “I don’t trust you and I can’t be with someone I don’t trust.”


His heart shattered as he dropped her hands and looked away. After being numb for so long, he welcomed the pain and was amazed at even a bad feeling that tore his heart to shreds was something to cherish. It was a feeling after all.


Then a pair of warm, soft hands was resting against his cheeks, bringing his eyes frontward again.


“So, you’re going to have to try real hard to get it back …” she spoke through an accepting smile and before Angel even had a chance to decipher what she was saying she was kissing him deeply and all thoughts were forgotten as he wound his arms around her waist.


Parting her lips, she welcomed his questing tongue and increased the incline of her head bringing their mouths and bodies closer together. Slowly, they fell back onto the floor, their lips never parting and Buffy stretched her entire body against the length of his and they continued to kiss until the need for oxygen became too great.


Separating only centimeters, they breathed harshly each trying to catch their breaths and Buffy took the chance the small break provided and sat up straddling Angel’s waist and then reached her hand back and slapped him on the cheek.


Angel rubbed the side of his face confused. “That’s not how I planned this reunion to go.”


“Just because I said yes doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be a few conditions, and things are gonna change buddy, oh they are going to change a lot,” she glared down at him but not being in any physical contact with him in so long, she couldn’t stop her hands from lightly roaming his chest.


Angel was the same way and allowed his hands to wander up and down the exposed flesh of her legs, “I know, things need to change. I already talked to Dr. Calendar and she thinks it is a good idea if you sit in on my sessions.”


Buffy leaned forward more and ran her hand through is hair, “Do you want me there because I’ll only go if you do.”


His hands moved upward and rested just above her waist, “Yes, I want you there.”


“Good answer,” and she covered his lips with hers for another deep, satisfying kiss and then released them again leaning back. “If there is something you think I should know, you tell me. If there is something you don’t think I should know, you tell me.”


“Agreed,” his head gave a curt nod. “You can’t push me though. I’m only just beginning this healing process. I can’t be rushed.”


“Deal,” she replied as she shut her eyes to the sensation of Angel’s hands on her back, traveling upward to the nape of her neck. “I can’t be your only life line. It’s a lot of pressure being the only person supporting you.”


He nodded his head already knowing he didn’t want to burden Buffy with all of his problems. “I figured I have a great group of underappreciated friends that I should start appreciating.”


“Good idea.” Opening her eyelids slowly she gave him a steeled glare. “The whole not forgiving you still stands. The mending has only just begun and I need time to get over what you did.”


“I understand and I’ll give you however long and do whatever it takes,” his hands slipped between her silky strands. “I feel lucky you are even letting me touch you now.”


“It’s comforting and it helps …” He saw the hint of loneliness in her eyes and easily relating to her feelings he just continued to let his hands move freely.




Then her expression grew very serious and she held his head between her hands, “We can’t pick up where we left off. This is us starting over, it’s going to be slow, it’s going to be gradual and it might even be a little painful, but we can’t fall into old patterns.”


He brought his hand up and swiped his thumb across her cheek, “I know.” Continuing his hand downward, he caressed the curve of her neck, his fingers following her lines as if he was drawing her from memory. “G-d you’re beautiful.”


“And one more thing,” closing the gap between them she let a small smile creep across her face feeling so free and happy to say what she was going to say next and knowing what his response will be. “I love you.”


He smiled back and spoke without hesitation, “I love you.”


They kissed again and the deal was sealed.


Ending the kiss, Buffy laid her head on his chest and they just remained that way for many minutes.


“I almost forgot how good it feels to have you in my arms,” Angel admitted as his hands slowly circulated on the small of her back.


“Feels pretty good on this end too,” Buffy agreed and then a thought came to her. “You wish you were drawing this moment aren’t you.”


She could hear the smile in his voice, “Maybe.”


“Oh and speaking of drawing,” she leaned up and rested her chin on his chest to look at his face. “I went to the gallery tonight. That’s where I was earlier.” He titled his head downward so their eyes could meet. “I must say Mr. O’Connor … your idea of ecstasy is pretty hot.”


“I had a hot subject,” he smiled cheekily at her.


“I can’t believe you actually showed them, I mean all those people looking at me,” and then another thought came into her head. “Omig-d Angel, people are going to buy them! There is going to be naked Buffy on some random stuffy rich person’s wall! They could be perverted!”


He chuckled at her worrying and bestowed her with a soothing kiss before explaining. “They aren’t for sale. I needed to show them because I had to express those emotions. That this vivacious woman is the epitome of passion, lust, ecstasy, and love for me. That when I look at her, that is what I see.”


Buffy’s head swooned to the side as she listened to Angel’s velvety voice. “You can stop with the lines, I already love you.”


He smiled at her joke but didn’t respond to it. “Even though I displayed the paintings, they don’t belong to anyone but me. No one gets to see those sides of you everyday but me.” He looked directly into her eyes driving the point home and then as an afterthought he tacked on, “At least I hope it’s only me.”


Buffy sighed understanding his implication. “The separation was difficult and when I rubbed it in I was moving on, I was serious but … it is only you Angel,” she confirmed and as he started to show a confident smile, she returned her head back onto his chest and teased, “And Spike, must not forget him.”


She couldn’t help but relish in the feel of his deep growl that emitted low in his chest.


Oh, she had really missed him.


“And you … I was the only one too right?” she asked almost scared.


“Did you not just see those paintings? You are definitely the only thing that occupied my mind.” He wrapped his arms tighter around her. “Thank you Buffy … for giving me another chance.”


For a spilt second a feeling of guilt swept over her. She had spent so much energy on getting over him and here she was back in his arms and all it took was those three little words and some down-on-your-knees begging. It really wasn’t the strong image she had been going for. Listening to Angel’s heart beat in his chest though helped her understand that they were dealing with matters of the heart and those were some pretty powerful emotions. Taking Angel back wasn’t a sign of weakness if anything it showed she had the strength to learn to trust him again. They were embarking on a new, different relationship and that took some bravery … something Buffy knew she definitely had.


Feeling Angel’s lips descend onto the top of her head, Buffy lifted her head and met his lips in what started out as a sweet kiss, but soon turned heated. Buffy started grinding her hips against him and his hands gripped her sides guiding her motion.


“This really is going against the whole slow concept,” Buffy breathed into Angel’s mouth as they continued their movements.


“I don’t think so,” he started to kiss a trail along her jawbone, and down the column of her throat. “I can go slowly,” and he emphasized his point by reducing the speed of Buffy’s hips and thrusting his groin upward in slow, languid cycles.


“Slow is good,” she moaned as he repeatedly hit her sensitive nub with his motions and she conceded to his efforts.


However, a throat clearing stopped them dead and they both shot up from their lying position and peered over the coffee table to find all Buffy’s friends standing in the entryway.


“Hey guys,” Buffy welcomed breathlessly. “Um, how long have you been standing there?”


“Since the whole going against the concept of slow,” Anya answered. “And I must say, it sounds like slow works for you just fine.”


The couple blushed profusely and Buffy stood up with Angel right behind her.


“I take it you guys worked everything out?” Willow asked smiling and full of hope.


Angel and Buffy looked at each other and then let matching smiles slip across their faces. “Not everything,” Angel spoke up and wound an arm around Buffy’s waist. “But we’re getting there.”


“Just for the record,” Spike said looking not in the least bit amused. “I don’t like you,” he referred to Angel.


“I’m still on the fence myself,” Xander added.


“And I owe you a good singeing from a flame thrower.” Everyone curiously turned a gaze to Dawn after hearing her comment. “Angel knows what I’m talking about.”


Buffy lifted her eyebrows and looked at her again boyfriend. “We sort of had a deal,” he explained. “I promise I’ll tell you later.”


“Well, I’ll just get my two cents in and say Angel you’re a bastard, you deserve to be castrated but I think Buffy likes your equipment the way it is so …” Faith clapped her hands and then rubbed them together gleefully. “I say we move on and PARTY!”


Several more uproarious shots of ‘Party’ erupted and the celebration continued.


“You sure about this whole family thing, I mean that is the second time they’ve interrupted us before we could … you know,” Buffy commented wrapping her arms around Angel’s neck. “Have our own private party and I guarantee it is not the last.”


Angel glanced around the room and took in the festivities and for the first time in a long while Angel felt the odd sensation that he was complete. Even though he had the woman he loved in his arms, the joyous feeling that filled his heart was not only coming from her. The group was definitely a bunch of misfits, not your typical definition of family, but it’s what Angel had been missing for all those years and definitely what he needed in his life now.


“They may not be perfect,” he turned to look down at her and grazed her lips with his, “But they’ll do.”





Angel picked through the clothes on the retail table before him. He just didn’t understand why some people had to buy the most expensive thing in the store while there were perfectly good items on sale. As he went to reach for a blue jumper, another hand grabbed it at the same time.


“I’m sorry,” he said looking up toward the other person and was quiet shocked beyond belief to see, “Darla. What – uh, um … long time no see. How are you?”


Darla couldn’t help but smile at his confusion. “I’ve been good,” she replied placing her hand over her very large and extended belly. “Pregnant, as you can see.”


Angel swallowed and gazed at her belly before meeting her eyes again. “Yeah, that’s … um good?” he furrowed his brow in uncertainty. He had heard from someone, who had heard from someone, who had heard from someone, that after leaving the clinic, Darla took off for Europe and hadn’t been heard from in years. Seeing her, in an all things baby store of all places, was really a surprise.


“Yes, it is good. The father might not be in the picture but, I want this baby and I’m happy. It’s a new phase in my life,” she explained.


There was a small laugh and a gurgle and Angel looked downward into the stroller at his side. “Daddy,” the little boy smiled raising his hands upwards.


Angel complied and reached down picking up his son. “I can understand new phases.” Placing the toddler on his hip, he turned back toward Darla. “This is Colin.”


“He’s beautiful Angel,” she complemented staring at the boy’s rich blonde locks and brown eyes. “When I got back into town I heard about you and Buffy. Congratulations on everything. You’re gallery is very renowned.”


“Thank you, but the gallery is all Buffy,” he beamed twisting his head around and found his wife across the store looking through a clothes rack, her hand clasping a blonde haired boy who looked no older then six years and her stomach just as extended as Darla’s. “I just paint.”


“Well, I also heard you’re quite the professor,” Darla spoke up gaining his attention back.


“Lecturer actually, but I think the kids only take my course because all they have to do is paint pictures and I’m not really a tough grader.”


“And I bet all the girls think you’re hot,” Darla teased.


Angel acted shyly to the comment and turned his eyes downward feeling rather strange at having a normal, civilized conversation with Darla of all people.


“I see I have embarrassed you,” Darla observed. “I think that is my cue to go. It was nice seeing you though. You look happy.”


“I am happy and it was nice seeing you,” he said meaning every word and he watched Darla walk out of the store.


Maneuvering the stroller around the store, Angel made his way over to his wife. Placing Colin back in his seat, Angel wrapped his arm around Buffy bestowing a kiss to her cheek.


“Who was the pretty blonde pregnant lady you were talking too?” she asked slightly ignoring him as she critiqued a piece of clothing. “And I know it wasn’t me.”


“Darla,” Angel answered simply causing Buffy to forget about the clothes and snap her head over to her husband.


“Really? Looks like things have changed,” she commented.


“I guess she finally has her life together,” he responded having a definite idea what that felt like.


Buffy nodded her head and turned her attention back to the clothing. “Good for her.”


For a few minutes they silently looked through the clothes together and the unexpected meeting with Darla just faded away.


“You know, there are some fine looking clothes over there,” Angel pointed to where he was standing earlier. “On the table marked ‘sale’.”


Buffy rolled her eyes. “You are so cheap.”


“I am not.”


“Would you look at this,” she held up a pink frilly dress and placed it over her tummy. “It’s so cute and so perfect.” Then there was movement in her belly, “Oh and a kick! You’re daughter likes it too.” Feeling a victory she handed the dress over to Angel and told him to hold on to it.


Angel took a peak at the price tag and grimaced. Opening his mouth, he started to complain but Buffy was just holding up more girly baby clothes gushing at their cuteness. He was such a sucker. Giving into his wife so easily, Angel already knew he didn’t even stand a chance with his soon-to-be daughter.


“Dad,” his oldest Aidan spoke up having left his mother’s side. “She’s doing it again,” he complained referring to his mother’s overt enthusiasm. “Uncle Spike says when she gets like this it’s your fault because you don’t know how to control your woman, and Uncle Doyle agrees.”


Angel stared down in disbelief at his young son. “When did you hear them say that …” and then it came to him, “wait, did they take you out to a pub again?”


Aidan recoiled under his father’s glare. “They say I attract the cuties.”


Balling his fists, Angel’s jaw clenched and he heard Colin whisper, “Uh oh,” as he watched his Daddy get mad.


“Buffy did you just hear –“


“Angel,” she said his name with just the right about of affection. “Ger over it, they’re family.”


Angel calmed considerably, but was still a little miffed only because Buffy knew that was the one excuse that would keep him from doing anything aggressive and she used it quite often. “They still need to be reminded they can’t take children to a bar with them.”


“I’ll give them my evil eye, they respond better to my threats then yours,” then Buffy’s eyes grew wide as she pulled another outfit from the rack. “Oh, isn’t this just divine! It’s a must have!” she squealed shoving the baby ballerina outfit into Angel’s arms. “Just think this is only the beginning, wait until she actually starts to walk, those are a whole other set of clothes!”


All three males executed identical exasperated sighs at the same time as Buffy went off to explore the rest of the store.


“Come on boys, let’s follow Mommy.” With one hand on the stroller and the other holding his eldest son’s hand, they went after Buffy.


“Don’t be upset Dad, she’s family,” Aidan said.


Angel looked adoringly at his wife thinking how it all started with her, that she was the only reason Angel had everything he had now. She was strong enough to survive all of Angel’s crap and loving enough to bring him out of his dark, lonely world. She was it, she was everything.


She gave him his family.


please feed Maxwell

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