Angel put the twelve-pack of Guinness in the refrigerator next to the salsa, then reached in the brown paper bag for the milk just as he heard the firm tap on the door.
“It’s open!” He shouted in the general direction of living room, thinking that it was one of the guys showing up a little early for their Thursday night monthly poker ritual. He continued unpacking his groceries, setting aside the chips and other snacks for tonight from the other food items.
The knock sounded again, louder this time.
With a perplexed frown, he sat the remaining bag aside and walked to the door. He smiled as he reached for the doorknob, thinking that his friends were playing some sort of practical joke – as they had often been known to do.
“I told you already, the only cookies I’m buying are from hot girls in short skirts…” He said with mock seriousness as he opened the door to reveal the unfamiliar face of an older woman with short reddish blonde hair. She was dressed in a crisp dark blue business suit and low heeled sensible shoes; in the crook of one arm, she carried a black leather notebook. Everything about her screamed no-nonsense, stern efficiency. Her eyebrows were lifted slightly in question at his comment.
“Sorry. Thought you were someone else.” He apologized with a sheepish smile. He could only imagine what the woman must be thinking.
“I gathered that.” She stated directly, her eyes meeting his. “Are you Liam O’Connor?”
“Dr. Maggie Walsh from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.” She held out her hand in greeting, her handshake firm and dry.
A feeling of trepidation rising at the mention of the BCIS, Angel waited patiently for her to speak. Silence hung between them for a few seconds before she spoke again.
“Oh. Sure.” He mentally chastised himself for his manners as he stepped back out of the way and gestured for her to enter his apartment. Closing the door behind her, he watched as she walked casually through the apartment looking around with avid interest. “Can I help you?”
“My visit is just a formality. I’m following up on the paperwork that you recently submitted to our offices about your wedding.” Dr. Walsh stopped, glancing into the kitchen before turning back to face Angel who was still standing near the door. “My congratulations to you and your bride.”
“Thank you.” Angel replied, a fleeting memory of Buffy passing through his mind at her mention. It had been almost two weeks to the day since he had seen her at their wedding ceremony. He’d thought of her often the first few days that followed, but her image gradually dimmed in the hectic pace of studying for finals and keeping up with both his interests and Cordelia’s social obligations. In the whirlwind of activity his marriage had slipped into the back of his mind; it seemed almost surreal now.
Continuing her perusal of the apartment, Dr. Walsh turned and walked down the short hall to the bedroom. She paused briefly to look at the map of Ireland hanging on the wall next to two smaller black and white photographs. The map was yellowed with age, quite possibly an antique. She nodded slightly as if making a mental note before continuing on down the hallway.
Angel followed a few steps behind her, his eyebrows lifting slightly at the brazenness of the woman and her bold inspection of his apartment.
“Do you mind?” Without waiting for an answer, Dr. Walsh stepped into the single bedroom. She scrutinized the dark furniture with a critical eye, the large bed dominating the room. With the tall, carved posts, silk sheets and crimson duvet, the bed seemed almost decadent. With a quirk of an eyebrow, she turned toward the open closet door.
“Uh, can I help you?” Angel asked, trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice. Short of physically moving her, he realized that she was determined to snoop.
“Where is your wife, Mr. O’Connor?” Reaching in her pocket, Maggie Walsh took out her reading glasses and put them on. Next she opened her black leather notebook, balancing it on her arm as she extracted a pen and jotted a brief note.
“Yes. Buffy Anne Summers. That is her name, is it not?” Still writing, the BCIS official didn’t even both to look up.
“She’s at…” Angel paused, realizing that he didn’t actually know where his wife was at that moment. He never saw her at school, he didn’t know where she worked – if she worked – and other than the partial address he had glimpsed on her drivers license, he didn’t even know where she lived. A burst of fear shot through him; had he been found out? When he found his voice, he stammered, “Out. School. Errands.”
Maggie Walsh glanced up over the rim of her glasses, her expression skeptical. “I see. Which is it?”
“Errands, after classes.” Angel improvised firmly, chastising himself for his earlier sputtering mistake. That was just the type of cool headed thinking under pressure that would certainly guarantee him entrance into the FBI, he noted with a grimace. Still, there was nothing to do now but brazen it out…
“I don’t have to tell you, Mr. O’Connor,” Dr. Walsh said as she looked up from her notebook, “that we at the BCIS were quite surprised to see a wedding so soon after irregularities in your paperwork were identified.”
“Yes, well…” Angel replied with a small smile and slight shrug, “It was love at first sight. What can I say?”
“How did you say you met your wife?” She questioned bluntly, once more looking down at her notes before returning her gaze to his face.
“Through a mutual friend.” Angel replied without hesitation, finding a small measure of satisfaction that he could tell the truth about something in this whole mess.
“And this friend’s name?”
Angel paused. Cordelia could be flighty and unpredictable. He wasn’t at all sure that he wanted her talking with the BCIS on anything even remotely related to his case. But he also wasn’t sure he had a choice now that he had already waded so deeply into this set of lies. Her name was on the marriage certificate as a witness.
“Cordelia. Cordelia Chase.” He mumbled reluctantly. As an after thought, he added the disclaimer, “Though I’m not certain she’s too happy with how things worked out.”
Dr. Walsh jotted something – presumably Cordelia’s name – in her notebook and snapped it shut.
“Let me be straight with you, Mr. O’Connor, I think you married to stay in this country and just one look at your apartment confirms my suspicions. I see nothing whatsoever to indicate that another person lives here. And don’t bother embarrassing both of us by bringing out any undergarments that belonged to a previous paramour in an attempt to prove otherwise.”
Brushing past him, Dr. Walsh walked briskly down the hallway toward the door. “I will be putting all of this in my report that I will file with the appropriate authorities. I can assure you that we at the BCIS do not take this type of attempt to falsify documents and defraud the government lightly. We will be in touch shortly to discuss next steps. Thank you for your time.”
“We’ve been really busy. School. Finals and all.” Angel blurted as he followed behind her. He was searching his brain for any plausible excuse why his wife wouldn’t be living with him just yet. “We decided it was better to wait until after finals before moving.”
“That seems rather unlikely.” Clasping her hand together, Maggie Walsh stopped and stared at him, her expression obviously unconvinced. “In my experience, newlyweds that are in truly in love surpass any number of difficulties to be together.”
“Yes, I’m sure it seems… unusual.” His eyes betrayed none of his anxiety as he answered her in a calm voice. “In our case, however, we wanted to start our new life together under less stressful circumstances. That’s not to say that everything else is anything less than perfect, Dr. Walsh. I can assure you that Buffy and I are very happy together.” He couldn’t resist adding the last bit with a hint of innuendo.
“I see.” Pausing with her hand on the doorknob, Dr. Walsh glanced back at him. “You did read the paperwork, I trust, that informed you that the BCIS has the authority to make as many home visits as we deem necessary to establish validity of your marriage claim? Since it’s my understanding that classes complete this week at the university, I’ll be back in a week, two at the most. That should have given you enough time to have gotten things settled – without any undue stress.” Opening the door, Dr. Walsh glanced at Angel once again as she stepped out into the hallway, “Needless to say, I very much want to meet Mrs. O’Connor.”
“Two weeks should be fine.” That’s anything but fine, Angel thought as he smiled at the woman and took the business card that she offered him.
“That’s the number of my office, should you need to reach me. I shall be in touch. Good day.”
Wesley and Gunn, reaching the door in time to hear the last bit of the conversation, stepped aside as the woman gave them a polite nod then brushed past them.
“Mrs. O’Connor? Mrs. O’Connor?” They echoed in surprised just after the woman disappeared down the stairs.
At the door, Angel ran a frustrated hand through his hair before he turned and stormed back into the apartment.
“Dude, what was that all about?” Gunn questioned with a grin as he and Wes followed Angel through the door.
“Did she say she wanted to meet Mrs. O’Connor or be Mrs. O’Connor?” Wes quipped, closing the door and glancing in the direction of the kitchen where Angel had disappeared. Grinning, he continued, “Though I imagine Cordelia might object to the latter.”
Gunn laughed as he set the pizza he carried down on the table. “Hell, I think Angel might even object to the latter. You know our man there has his choice of hotties. Why choose only one?”
“Even one as hot as Cordelia,” he amended with a grin, catching Wes’ inquisitive smirk. “That’s one chick that is not worth the baggage that she brings with her. That’s all I’m sayin’.”
Gunn had never hidden his dislike for the brunette from the others; Wesley tended to agree with Gunn, claiming that beauty didn’t excuse character flaws. On the other hand, Doyle, the other member of their usual foursome, seemed to understand Angel’s interest in the self-centered woman – openly admitting to having a weakness for beautiful women himself.
Standing in the kitchen, the portable phone clutched in his hand, Angel realized then that he didn’t even know how to get in touch with his own wife. He swore softly and slammed a hand down on the counter. He should have trusted his instincts that this marriage scheme was a bad idea; the BCIS was on to him already. Getting through the semester was only a small consolation if he got deported and/or arrested for attempting to defraud the government. He could kiss his FBI career goodbye then, no doubt. Of course, he thought with a touch of sarcastic humor, his verbal fumbling around with Dr. Maggie Walsh wasn’t exactly going to get him a gold star for any type of covert operations or undercover work.
He glanced up as his friends came into the kitchen, Wes setting the six pack of beer he carried on the counter.
“So, what’s up with all that? Who was that anyway?” Gunn asked as he rifled through the drawer in search of the bottle opener. Finding it, he tossed it to Wesley.
“And why would she want to meet your mother?” Wes asked as he popped the cap from three bottles. He handed one to Gunn and held the other out for Angel. “Apparently she doesn’t know about her, or so it would seem.”
“She doesn’t.” Angel answered with a heavy sigh, taking the beer from Wesley’s hand. He took a long drink then set the bottle on the counter. “She’s Dr. Maggie Walsh from the BCIS. She wants to meet my wife.”
With his friends staring at him - their mouths open wide in stunned surprise – Angel did the only thing he could think of; he dialed Cordelia’s number.
Buffy sighed tiredly as she gathered her things and prepared to leave Patina, the restaurant now closed for the evening. Tonight’s shift hadn’t been too bad; the job seemed to be getting a little easier all the time. Though she wondered as she trudged out the door why she hadn’t quit any number of times over the previous two weeks. She could afford to now thanks to the check from Cordelia Chase that was tucked away at the bottom of one of her bureau drawers.
Maybe, she mused, it was because she liked having something to occupy her time and her thoughts now that classes were ending for the quarter. She was signed up for summer school, though it would be a much lighter course load than she’d taken this past quarter. Ah well, more hours at work meant more money which allowed her to take more classes which brought her that much closer to her degree and eventually – hopefully - a decent job which would bring her some financial stability. She wasn’t greedy – she just wanted extra money at the end to put away so as to not ending up living from month to month paying bills and basic expenses.
With some extra hours, maybe she could even afford to buy that black dress that she had tried on about a month ago at April Fools on a whim. It would be perfect for a date – should she ever have one… Of course, how awkward was it going to be should she ever have to explain her husband to a potential boyfriend? Maybe if she just didn’t bring him up…
The sound of her name broke into her thoughts, interrupting her musing and she glanced up.
“Cordelia. Hi.” Buffy greeted, hiding her surprise. She hadn’t seen or heard from the brunette – or Angel – since the day of the wedding. To say that finding her waiting outside of Patina just after midnight was a surprise would be an understatement.
“Look, you have to move in with Angel.” Cordelia stated bluntly without any pretense of cordiality. The hour and a half wait until the restaurant closed had only furthered her irritation and anger, but she had been unable to catch Buffy’s eye or find a table in her section so she had no other choice but to hang around if she wanted to take care of this herself.
The wealthy brunette had already spent the entire day at the St. Regis spa getting massaged and pampered in an attempt to calm her rage after Angel’s call last night. This type of stress was so not good for complexion. The one solitary consolation was the Buffy appeared as haggard and unattractive as she first thought; apparently her appearance at the wedding was an exception. The thought boosted Cordelia’s confidence.
“What did you say?” The petite blonde questioned, doubting her hearing. They’d been through this already, hadn’t they? Not moving in was part of the deal.
“I said you have to move in with Angel.” Cordelia replied slowly with exaggerated emphasis on each word, as if she were speaking to a child. “I’m sure I didn’t stutter.”
Suppressing her own growing annoyance, Buffy replied firmly. “When I agreed to this you said that I wouldn’t have to live with-” she paused, finding the phrase “live with” a little too intimate. Calmly, she amended, “move in. That was part of the deal.”
“I know what I said.” Cordelia snapped sullenly. “How was I supposed to know that the stupid BCIS offices made home inspections?”
“Home inspections?” Buffy echoed, still not completely certain she was hearing things correctly.
With an exasperated roll of her eyes, the brunette continued, “Look, Buffy it’s not really that hard to understand. The BCIS can deport Angel, and they’re apparently allowed to make home inspections - I guess so they can make sure that the marriage is real or whatever. This means that you have to move into Angel’s apartment, like now, since they’ve already been by once and will be back. After they do all of their silly little inspections and decide everything is okay, you can just move back out again. It’s probably just for a couple of months.”
“I don’t know… I don’t really think so…” Buffy said, shifting her bag to her opposite shoulder. Other than the fact that he was attractive and an incredible kisser, she knew nothing about him. For all she knew, he could be a total slob or have some other freaky habits that would make her uncomfortable. “Besides, why would I have to be the one to move anyway?”
“Look Buffy, if they arrest Angel and deport him, you’re going to go to jail too. Complicity or something. You’re part of the whole illegal thing. Which makes sense really.” Cordelia shrugged her shoulders, her expression almost innocent. She completely ignored Buffy’s question; it grated on her enough that Angel had been stupid enough to tell the BCIS people that Buffy was moving into his place, though when pressed she couldn’t come up with an alternative that she preferred that would also keep the BCIS happy. Still, she resented the thought of the petite blonde living in his apartment beyond reason. The one saving grace was that she could comfortably come and go from Angel’s place, so she planned to be there often to make sure that things were kept to her liking. She was, after all, still determined to keep him in the country – and equally determined that his marriage not have any impact on their relationship.
Buffy contemplated the brunette’s statements with growing horror. She couldn’t afford any legal action – either in actual financial cost or time off school or work. At the same time she wondered why Angel wasn’t there to tell her – or ask her perhaps – himself.
“So where is Angel? Why didn’t he come to tell me about this himself?” The words slipped out of her mouth before she could stop them.
“He’s out with his friends, I guess.” Cordelia said dismissively, as if the question were completely unrelated to the subject at hand. Of course, she knew perfectly well that he was at home waiting for Buffy to call. He had wanted to handle this himself; all he asked of Cordelia was to give him Buffy’s number. She demurred, telling him instead that she’d have Buffy call him. She knew that Angel was feeling guilty about dragging Buffy into this mess and she had no doubt he was having stupidly noble thought about offering her a way out.
“Oh.” Buffy said, angered and disappointed by the callousness that her husband exhibited about this whole affair. Did he have his girlfriend do his dirty work all the time? That attitude didn’t give her any additional incentive to be accommodating; she really wasn’t comfortable with the idea of moving in with him… “I don’t know. I’m not comfortable with this…”
“This is really, really hard for me, you know. I don’t think anyone really understands my feelings in all this. Not you, certainly not Angel.” Cordelia said softly, abruptly switching tactics. “Here I am just trying to help out my friends, and everyone just seems to want to make things difficult for me at every turn.”
Buffy studied the taller woman skeptically, though she admittedly hadn’t considered the brunette’s feelings. It probably would be hard to be in her shoes – her boyfriend married to another woman and now expected to live with that woman.
“I’m sorry.” The petite blonde replied politely, not entirely convinced.
“Yes, well, I had hoped to someday have a future with Angel but that’s probably not going to happen – at least not now.” The brunette’s eyes welled with tears. “I’m sure he’ll probably forget all about me all about me once you move in.”
“Um, I doubt that.” Buffy mumbled. She doubted any man alive would forget Cordelia; she had a lush eye catching beauty with a full figure that was prominently displayed in her tight tops and short skirts. In short, Cordelia was the type of woman that men worshiped and women tended to envy. Buffy hardly saw herself as any type of competition.
“But I love him and I’ll do whatever I can to help him. I want him to be able to get his education and fulfill his dreams.” The brunette continued dramatically, dabbing at her eyes. Her lips curved upward in a small smile, as if sharing a confidence. “He wants to be a lawyer, you know, and if he has to go back to Ireland… Well, he can’t study that there.”
“They don’t have lawyers in Ireland?” Buffy questioned with a skeptical look.
“No. At least not the kind he wants to be.” Cordelia replied brusquely, growing impatient with his charade. Why wouldn’t the ungrateful little bitch just agree so they could move on?
“Ah. What kind is that?” The petite blonde asked, a small smile tugging at her lips. Perhaps Angel really did want to be a lawyer, but that wasn’t the reason why he needed or wanted to stay in the U.S. Of course, the law was different in different countries, but still…
“Does it matter? The brunette snapped impatiently. “Look, this is important to me.”
“To you? What about Angel?” Buffy inquired with a slight lift of her eyebrows.
“Of course it’s important to him as well.” Cordelia replied with growing irritation. She ran a hand over her hair, smoothing the long tresses.
“So important that he took time out of his busy social schedule to tell me about this himself… Huh. That doesn’t really give me the impression that he thinks it’s important.” Buffy mused sardonically.
“I don’t know why you have to make this so hard, Buffy.” The brunette gritted her teeth in exasperation. She honestly thought she’d have the opposite problem – the blonde eager to move in and get intimately acquainted with Angel. “It’s no different than having a roommate, except that it’s a he instead of a she. It’s not like you’ll be sleeping with him or anything. Besides, think of the additional money that you’ll save on rent.”
“To be honest Buffy, I don’t like this any better than you do. You don’t know how hard it is for me to ask you to do this. How many other women could move another woman in with their boyfriend? Not many. I’m going out of my way to help you both – I can’t believe you’d be so ungrateful. It’s not like I want to see you arrested either, but if you don’t do this I don’t think there’s anything else that I can do. I’ll tell Angel he might as well call the woman at the BCIS office and tell her on Monday that it was all a scam. You can use all the money that I gave you for your legal expenses – though I doubt that will cover it. Of course, they might take that away too.”
“Fine, okay. I’ll move.” The petite blonde muttered grudgingly, visions of being carted away from her apartment in handcuffs running through her mind. Would she never catch a break? Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad – and it was probably only for a few months.
“Great!” Cordelia gave Buffy a wide fake smile showing her perfect white teeth. “I’ll tell Angel this weekend then.”
“Wait a minute! I have to tell my landlady – who isn’t going to be thrilled about the short notice. I’m lucky I’m on a month-to-month instead of a lease.” Buffy began making a list in her head of all the things she needed to do in order to move. “Besides, I have to work tomorrow…”
“Well, whatever, just hurry. Here’s the address.” The brunette hastily scrawled the address and a phone number on a piece of paper that she handed to Buffy. Without another word, she turned on her heel and flounced away.
Buffy carried the last box down to Oz’s van with a small burst of energy. The anger and annoyance after her meeting with Cordelia had died away a couple of days ago, leaving only a nervous trepidation behind. Fortunately, her landlady had been understanding when she told her that she was moving because she had gotten married. Instead of complaining about the short notice, Jenny had wished her well. She had even given her a wedding present: a trio of ivory mosaic glass hurricane style candle holders.
Even now, with all her belongs packed up in boxes, Buffy couldn’t believe that she had actually agreed to move in with Angel. Liam Angelus O’Connor. Her husband. Because she had seen him so seldom, it was all just a little unreal to her. She even doubted her memory – that he was in fact the same guy that had interested her at Patina’s only a few weeks ago.
Buffy let out a deep exhalation of breath as she climbed into her car and pulled away from the curb. Oz and Willow followed behind her in Oz’s van. She drove the short distance to the address that Cordelia had given her and parked in the first open space along the curb. She knew from the directions – and her drive by yesterday with Willow on the pretext of going for ice cream - that Angel had a third floor loft apartment. The second floor was apparently another loft apartment but the first floor was a cozy neighborhood type bar named “Dublin’s Pub”. That’s appropriate, Buffy thought, with Angel being Irish and all. She wondered if there was any connection or if it was purely coincidence.
Getting out of her Jeep she glanced around at the surrounding area. It was an older area of Sunnydale, but been recently renovated – though the original architecture had been retained giving it an inviting charm. There were several shops lining the streets – a coffee shop, a dry cleaner, a laundry and a gift shop among others – all of which would be convenient to have nearby. It was much nicer than the neighborhood where she had been living, so that was definitely a plus. It was as close to UC Sunnydale as her place was, albeit on the opposite side of the sprawling campus. It was even within a few blocks of Patina as well, so in many ways the location was an improvement.
Reluctantly, Buffy trudged up the stairs to the third floor and knocked on the door. She could hear the sounds of people moving around inside, so she knew that someone was home. She felt a sudden attack of nerves as footsteps came closer to the door and she clenched her hands in her palms to keep from turning around and fleeing down the stairs.
Opening the door, Angel was surprised to see his bride on the opposite side. “Buffy?”
“Angel.” Buffy replied, her voice remarkably calm despite the frantic beating of her heart. It wasn’t every day that you just showed up at a strange man’s apartment to move in… even if the strange man was your husband.
Something about the way she said his name - sort of breathy and partially like a question – jolted him. Deep brown eyes locked with hazel green ones and they simply stared at each other. He realized then that he had in fact seen her before; that she was the waitress at Patina.
Buffy felt someone nudging her arm. With effort, she pulled her gaze away from the mesmerizing eyes of the man in front of her. She cleared her throat and force her attention away from Angel and back to her friends. Turning slightly, she smiled at Willow who stood just behind her. “Sorry guys. These are my friends. Oz and Willow. Guys, this is… Angel.”
“Hey. Nice to meet you.” Angel nodded in greeting as Cordelia walked up to the door from inside the apartment. She was obviously quite at home and made no effort to hide that fact. Nor did she attempt to hide the fact that she was buttoning up the top few buttons on her blouse.
“Oh, hey Buffy.” She smiled, her hand coming to rest possessively on Angel’s back.
“I thought you were going to call on Friday.” Angel said flatly, his eyes returning to Buffy’s face. He stepped back away from the door, pushing it open so that they could come in.
Cordelia had told him that Buffy asked that he not be given her number; that she would prefer to call him. That had irritated him, particularly given the unusual circumstances. He wasn’t just another guy wanting her number. He needed to talk to her. When she hadn’t called Friday – as she had apparently told Cordelia she would - or on Saturday either, he found his temper growing short. He hoped she was more reliable than she appeared.
“Uh, Friday?” Buffy questioned, her eyes darting between Angel and Cordelia. Without even knowing him, she could detect the trace of anger in his voice. She’d only found out about the BCIS on Friday after midnight… which was technically Saturday morning really. Was she supposed to have called him that night? Or was he merely upset that she had apparently interrupted a romantic rendezvous with his girlfriend? Oh lord, she hadn’t even thought about that aspect of sharing the apartment with him… But she had left a message yesterday and again this morning at the number Cordelia had given her letting him know that she’d arranged to move today. As far as she was concerned, she had given sufficient notice.
“Well, I don’t know how I would have called Friday since I didn’t even have your number before I saw Cordelia Friday night around midnight when I got off work. But I did call yesterday and again this morning. I left a message both times.” She added baldly before he could speak. It wasn’t her fault if he was too busy with his girlfriend to pick up his calls. Given that he couldn’t even be bothered to tell her about this whole BCIS moving in business, her tolerance for taking any shit from him was limited. With a cold tone, she added, “I’m sorry if this is a bad time. We can come back later.”
Turning to her friends, she said softly, “If you guys have other plans, I can get my stuff later tonight or whenever. I think I only need a couple of the boxes right away anyway. Maybe I can fit those into the Jeep for now.” She already felt bad that she had interrupted their weekend with her urgent ‘must-move-now’ speech that had only led to more questions than she had answers. It was the first time she had admitted to her friends that she had in fact, taken Cordelia Chase up on her offer and married the woman’s boyfriend. Willow had been shocked while Oz took the news with his usual stoic calm.
“No, it’s not. It’s fine. I just – I wasn’t expecting…” Angel turned to Cordelia with a questioning look. She only shrugged dismissively and proceeded to study her fingernails with interest, thus fueling his suspicion that she hadn’t been exactly truthful with him about her conversation with Buffy. It also explained her sudden appearance at his apartment this afternoon; it wasn’t the spontaneous impulse she had led him to believe. He even questioned the notion that Buffy and Cordelia were in fact friends… they acted more like casual acquaintances than old friends. His eyes narrowed suspiciously. He’d have to have a conversation with Cordelia about this later.
He turned his attention back to Buffy. “I’m sorry. I didn’t get your messages.”
He had fully intended to help Buffy move – even moving her himself to save her the inconvenience – if she was open to the idea, but since he never had a chance to talk to her, he had never been able to even offer. She was turning her life upside down for him – helping her move was the least he could do. Instead he snapped at her. And now he felt like a heel.
On impulse he reached for Buffy’s hand. “Here, let’s just start over.” He tugged her forward with a small apologetic smile, “Let me apologize again for being an ass and then I can show you around.”
Cordelia snorted and rolled her eyes, stalking over to the couch where she sat down with an ungraceful thud. Picking up a magazine, she thumbed through impatiently while covertly watching the foursome walk through the apartment.
Her hand still clasped in his, Buffy followed Angel, taking in the tastefully decorated and wide open loft, noting with reluctance the one bedroom. She swallowed hard, the butterflies in her stomach gaining speed. It was bad enough when he smiled at her, but his touch seemed to give her an unusual case of the tinglies. She could not afford to be attracted to him.
Pulling her hand away, she stepped out of the bedroom and pointed to the vacant spot in the wide hallway near the door. “Why don’t I just put my things over there, out of the way? Then I can sort through them and we can see what… if anything… won’t be in the way.”
Angel shook away the lascivious thoughts that had surfaced upon seeing Buffy standing in his bedroom, next to his bed. He fully intended on keeping things platonic with his bride; yet the urge to become more intimately acquainted with her had surged with unusual force. He had even forgotten about her friends standing behind them as he resisted the urge to pull her into his arms.
“That’s fine. Can I help?” He replied after a deep exhalation of air. He couldn’t remember being so strongly affected by a woman before. It had to be the unusual circumstances.
“Angel? Honey?” Cordelia called as she pushed her way past Oz and Willow to stand next to Angel. She brushed a non-existent speck from his shoulder as she sidled up even closer. “I just talked to Harmony. Spike is back from Europe and she wanted to have a little welcome home celebration. I told her we’d meet them for drinks at the Country Club in about an hour. After I thought we could head over to Harm’s for a little… private party of our own.”
“I’ll just go… We’ll just… I’m going to go.” Buffy said quickly before she walked down the hall and out the door. Oz and Willow followed behind her, leaving the couple alone. Before the three of them even reached the stairs, they heard raised voices coming from the apartment.
“Buffy, are you sure about this?” Willow asked with concern as they opened up Oz’s van and surveyed the contents. “I mean, you hardly know him… And Cordelia…” The red-haired girl made a shuddering gesture, indicating her dislike of the brunette.
“It’ll be fine, Will. Besides, I don’t see that I have much of choice at this point. I can’t risk any legal action and I already gave notice at my place.” Buffy replied with a shrug, reaching for the lamp that lay haphazardly on the small couch, the only major piece of furniture that they could fit in the van. Her bed had been left behind at Willow and Oz’s; there was obviously no where to put it, so no need to go back for it. She sat the lamp on the sidewalk and reached for a box. “I made my bed and now I have to lie in it. Only not really. In. It.” Her cheeks colored slightly as her words took on a slightly more significant implication given the single bedroom of her new home and the current occupant.
“I’m sure we could think of something. And you could stay with us-“
Willow stopped abruptly as Cordelia stalked by then on the sidewalk, obviously upset. The tires of her BMW squealed loudly as she pulled away from the curb and roared off down the quiet street.
“She didn’t seem happy.” Oz said in his typical expressionless voice. It was quite an understatement given the brunette’s actions.
“So, what can I take?” Angel asked with a friendly smile. He seemed to appear out of nowhere, now standing next to Buffy near the curb.
Even though there was no rational reason for her to feel that way, Buffy was strangely pleased that he hadn’t gone with his girlfriend after all. Without a word, she returned his smile and handed him a box.
It only took a short while before all of Buffy’s meager things were sitting along the wall in the hallway. They set her couch, one of the few things that she had kept from her mother’s house, across from Angel’s. The rich sage green patterned fabric complimented the deep brown leather sofa, giving the room a cozy warmth.
Other than conversation about what went next or what was fragile, they didn’t talk much as they carried box after box up the stairs. No one asked about Cordelia and Angel didn’t volunteer any information about what had happened between him and the brunette that had caused her to storm off.
The last box had been carried up and the four of them lounged on the deck, enjoying a cool drink and the afternoon sun. It wasn’t long before Oz reminded Willow that he had band practice, so they needed to go. On the walk down to the van, Buffy assured her best friend no less than a dozen times that she would be fine, that it was okay to leave her alone, before Willow finally agreed to accompany her boyfriend.
When Buffy returned to the apartment, Angel had disappeared into the bedroom. She stared at her boxes along the wall then scanned the apartment once more before walking over to the window. A nice view of Sunnydale, a patio deck, a cozy fireplace. It was hard to believe that she’d be calling this place home for the next few months. Sighing, she turned her attention back to her things. She supposed she should unpack, but then she wasn’t sure yet what she was going to do with most of it.
“Are you sure this is everything?” Angel commented as he came out and sat down on the couch. He was honestly surprised at her few possessions. “We can move some of my things and make some more room…”
“Yep, that’s pretty much it. I sold most of my furniture after… a few months ago. My place was so small.” Buffy replied quietly, taking a seat opposite him on the couch. “I have a few other things at Willow and Oz’s, but there’s really no place for them.” Her eyes darted to his as she quickly amended, “But that’s fine. It’s nothing I need, really.”
“Um, well,” He paused, clearing his throat before continuing, “Half the closet is now yours and I cleared out a couple of drawers on the dresser as well.”
“The bottom ones, but I didn’t think you’d mind.” He added with a teasing smile.
“Oh, you didn’t need to do that.” She was touched just the same, having not expected him to go out of his way for her. Neither of them had yet broached the subject of the one bedroom, though Buffy had already determined that she’d take the couch.
“You need a place to put your clothes – you can’t just live out of boxes. And this place… well, I liked the view and openness, but it’s admittedly lacking on storage space.” His warm gaze met hers and he smiled.
“Thank you.” Buffy replied as she came to her feet. “I’ll just… put some things away then, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all. Please. It goes without saying - make yourself at home.” Angel stood, torn between offering to help her and thinking that it might be best for him to put some distance between them for a little while.
“If you need anything, I’ll be on the deck.” Choosing the latter, he picked up his book and headed toward the small door that led outside.
Later, after most of her things were put away, Buffy found Angel sitting on the couch reading. The darkness had apparently driven him back inside, since he appeared to be engrossed in his reading.
“I, uh, have a few things to do. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” She said as she shrugged into her jacket.
Angel looked up, surprised that she’d be going out this late. He wanted to ask where she was going, but he bit back the question. Was she meeting someone? Did she have a boyfriend? She said a couple of hours, not tomorrow… wherever she was going, she wasn’t spending the night. He came to his feet and retrieved something from the fireplace mantle.
“Here.” He pressed the key into her hand. “You’ll need this.” Reminding himself that her life wasn’t really his business, that she could go where she wanted and see who she wanted, he turned away from her and dropped back to his previous position on the couch. Picking up his book, he pretended to resume his reading.
“Thanks.” She replied, wondering briefly about his mercurial moods. One minute he was warm and friendly, the next a bit of a grouch. She shrugged and headed out the door.
Driving across town to the gym, Buffy chastised herself for not being brave enough to use the shower at the very place she was going to be living. Seeing his shampoo and soap in there… it had been just the last straw of the day. It had been strange enough hanging her things in the closet next to his, folding her undergarments and placing them in the chest of drawers where his no doubt resided. But to consider standing in the shower where he stood… naked… that had been brain overload.
She needed to escape for a while and collect her thoughts. She hoped that Faith would be at the gym; some sparring would no doubt take the edge off her nerves.
It was almost midnight when Buffy parked on the street near her new home. Had he left the light in the living room on for her or was he still up? Quietly she turned the key in the lock and opened the door.
In answer to her question, Angel sat on the couch, reading just as she left him. Well, almost just as she left him, she amended. He was now wearing a white fitted tank top and a pair of black sweats. He had obviously showered while she was gone; his hair was still mussed and slightly damp.
“Hey.” He greeted quietly, glancing up as she closed the door behind her. He closed his book and sat it aside, studying her with unconscious interest. She was wearing sweats as well, her hair pulled back into a ponytail. She appeared freshly scrubbed as well, so he surmised that wherever she had gone, she had showered.
“Hi.” Buffy replied tiredly, setting her gym bag down near the door. She retrieved a small stack of blankets from atop one of the few remaining boxes and walked over the couch.
“How was the gym?” He ventured a guess, having also noticed the bag in her hand. He was admittedly surprised that after a day of lifting and carrying boxes that she’d have the energy to go to the gym.
“Fine.” She replied, somewhat startled by his accurate deduction about where she had been.
He watched quietly as she began to unfold the blankets in her hand, making them into a bed on the couch.
“Buffy… um, about the bed…” He paused thoughtfully, “I thought you could take the bedroom. I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“Oh no.” Kicking off her shoes, Buffy sat down cross legged on the couch. “I couldn’t. Really. It’s your bed and… No.”
“I don’t mind.” Angel countered firmly, “In fact I insist. It’s the least I can do since we don’t have enough room for your bed.”
“Well, I mind.” Buffy insisted, her tone adamant. “And I really like this couch. It’s super comfy. Really. Besides, you’re too little tall anyway. You’d be cramped and uncomfortable.”
“But nothing. It’s fine. End. Of. Discussion.” She replied firmly. “But, if you don’t mind…” She glanced meaningful in the direction of the bedroom, “I’m tired. It’s been a long day.”
“I don’t-“ He stopped, the look on her face cutting him off abruptly. He stood, unhappy to be capitulating.
“Good night, Angel.”
Buffy fumbled around in the dark until she found the small battery operated alarm clock that she had set on the floor next to the couch. The neon green hands pointed to 4:45 am. She sighed heavily and wished that she hadn’t agreed to take Faith’s six am spinning class before teaching her own class at seven. Of course, when she had agreed to it last night, she’d had some pent up energy to burn so it had sounded like a great idea. After a relatively sleepless night, it now seemed like a terrible idea. Faith would never let her hear the end of it if she didn’t show up after she said she would though, which was enough incentive for Buffy to convince herself to go. She blinked several times, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the darkness.
The couch had been comfortable enough; she just wasn’t used to sleeping in a strange place not to mention, having a relative stranger so close by. It wasn’t that she expected him to attack her or anything; it was more the intimacy of the situation that she found unnerving. With a groan, she tossed aside the blankets and sat up. She wasn’t sleeping anyway, and she’d have to leave in half an hour or so to make it to the gym on time, so she might as well get up.
She realized with dismay as she folded the blankets that she’d have to go in the bedroom where HE was sleeping to gather her clothes for the day. She hadn’t considered that last night or she would have packed her gym bag then. With a small resigned sigh, she crept quietly down the hallway.
The door to the bedroom was open only an inch or so and Buffy held her breath as she pushed it slowly inward. She cringed as the hinges squeaked, her eyes darting quickly to the figure on the bed. Angel was sprawled on his stomach, his arms over his head and circling the pillow. The sheets were pooled around his waist, exposing his bare back. He was on the side of the bed close to the door but his head was turned away from her. He stirred slightly, moving his leg under the covers but didn’t seem to wake with the small sound.
Tip-toeing forward, Buffy crossed the room to the closet. Luckily the sliding doors were still open as she had left them; no worry about the additional sound of opening that door. With quick motions she grabbed the black skirt and white shirt that she needed for Patina, along with a pink sweater. She hated wearing her work clothes to class, but today it couldn’t be helped. Tomorrow she’d remember to plan a little better.
She glanced once more at the man on the bed as she moved to the bureau. She paused, noting that the shadow on his back was in fact a tattoo. She squinted in the dark, leaning closer to make out the faint shape of a Gryphon straddling the letter ‘A’. He rolled over on his side then and she jerked back, almost stumbling into the dresser.
Clutching her clothes to her chest, she waited anxiously to see if she’d been caught. As if it wasn’t bad enough that she was in the bedroom while he was sleeping, but if he caught her staring at him too… she’d be mortified. She waited for almost thirty seconds before she released the breath she had been holding, the soft cadence of his breathing adding to her certainly that he was, in fact, still sleeping.
Moving quickly Buffy knelt down and pulled the bureau drawer open with a slow deliberate motion. She grabbed her necessary undergarments along with her small jewel case. With one last look at the man on the bed, she silently exited the room.
* * *
The alarm went off at just after seven o’clock and Angel rolled over, swiping at it with one hand to turn it off. Now that his classes were over for the quarter, he was helping Professor Johannsen with some research for a study on criminal profiling. In addition, he was also doing some work for the Sunnydale police department; it was mostly administrative work – research, pulling files, making telephone calls and what not, but any experience could only be helpful in the long run. It was strictly volunteer for now; without his green card or an H1-visa, he wasn’t otherwise employable.
He tugged on his shorts and t-shirt in preparation for his morning run, then padded quietly into the living room carrying his shoes. He was surprised and a little disappointed to see that Buffy was already gone; her blankets neatly folded and placed at one end of the couch. He had just assumed that she’d be there. He shrugged off his disappointment as simply curiosity; it was completely natural that he would wonder about her schedule and her life.
As he took a bottle of water out of the refrigerator, he noticed the note propped up on the counter, his name printed neatly across the folded paper. Next to it sat his Claddagh ring, the one he had given her the day of the wedding. Picking up the paper, he unfolded it and read the short note.
Sorry for not returning the ring earlier, I didn’t know how to reach you. Besides the fact that it doesn’t exactly fit me, I know it was your fathers and has special meaning to you. I thought you would probably want it back.
I won’t be back until after my shift at Patina tonight. (after 11 or so)
He smiled at the little happy face she had drawn next to the words “fit me” as he picked up the ring and slipped it on. The ring was special to him; he was glad to have it back but he would never have asked. It was one of the few things that had been returned to him after his parents ‘accident’. He never believed the story that had been spun about their disappearance when he had been in high school, but any of his questions had only been met with patronizing replies and later with silence. Of course, neither response was unexpected given the line of work his father had been in. With effort, he pushed away the unwelcome thoughts and instead headed out the door.
The brief grim reminder about his parents dissipated with the steady pounding of his feet on the pavement as he jogged along the familiar route around the UC Sunnydale campus. By the time he returned to the apartment almost an hour later, he had determined that it was going to be a good day.
* * *
Over the next few days, Buffy and Angel communicated mostly via notes left on the counter in the kitchen, their schedules rarely finding them at home at the same time during the day. Still, despite seeing very little of her, additional signs of Buffy’s presence began to appear in the apartment – small cartons of yogurt and cans of diet soda lined up neatly in the refrigerator, a basket of dirty clothes discretely covered with a towel in the bottom of the closet, her soaps and shampoos in the shower next to his… already he associated the scent of vanilla with her.
Usually Angel was up reading or working on his laptop at the table when Buffy came home from work. They’d exchange a few words, mostly small talk, before Buffy would head off to the shower. Angel would wait until she was finished, then he would excuse himself and go to bed so that she would have some privacy. More often than not, he would lay awake and listen to the soft sounds of her moving around the apartment. Only when she turned out the light would he too finally drift off to sleep.
* * *
Buffy sighed blissfully and sank into the heat of the water, closing her eyes as she lay back in the tub. The last few days had been exhausting. In addition to her classes, she had taken extra shifts at Patina to keep herself busy and out of the apartment, needing some time to adjust to the idea of living with someone she hardly knew. Her brow creased into a frown as she realized that she still needed to talk to him about her share of the rent. Unfortunately, she didn’t think that half the rent on this place would be any cheaper than what she had been paying for her studio apartment – so no real savings there. Granted, this apartment was much nicer and had plenty of perks, like the convenient location, the big roomy tub, and the gorgeous view. She giggled and blew a handful of bubbles away as she concluded that the apartment’s ‘gorgeous view’ could also include the occupant: Angel was certainly not a hardship to look at.
She sighed softly and chided herself – not for the first time and probably not the last - for the impulsiveness that had led to her getting into this situation in the first place; she couldn’t say that marrying Angel had been her brightest move. Not that living with him was proving difficult, not at all. Besides the eye candy factor, he was friendly and polite and always seemed very conscientious about giving her her personal space. Of course, the flipside of that could be that he wasn’t particularly interested in spending time with her - a thought Buffy chose not to analyze too closely. It shouldn’t matter, after all, given the circumstances of their marriage.
Oh well, Buffy thought dismissively, tonight was her first night off in almost two weeks and she planned to savor it. Angel was out with his friends – or so the note he had left her said - so she had the place all to herself. After a nice long soak in the tub, she had plans to make a trip to the Laundromat, then splurge on some take-out from the rotisserie place down the street and maybe rent a movie. That is, if the TV that Angel had even worked. She’d never seem him even turn it on, so she wasn’t sure. All-in-all not the most exciting way to spend her Saturday night, but not the worst way either.
When the door swung open, Buffy’s eyes flew open to see Angel standing there. She let out a small gasp but otherwise didn’t move.
Angel stood frozen to the spot. It hadn’t even occurred to him that she might be home as he rushed through the apartment to pick up his forgotten wallet and then grab some aspirin out of the bathroom medicine cabinet.
Mesmerized, he stared down at her. Her hair was pinned up on her head, a few tendrils escaping and clinging wetly to her neck. Her beautiful breasts were partially visible just below the surface of the water and scattered bubbles. Her legs were stretched out and parted, her dainty feet with plum red painted toenails resting on the edge of the tub.
Her voice, when she finally found it, came out as a low husky whisper. “If you’ve seen enough you can leave now.” Strangely though, she still hadn’t moved. It was as if she too, was frozen in place her gaze locked on his face. She even felt a shiver of warmth seep through her at his ardent perusal.
Angel returned his gaze to Buffy’s face almost reluctantly, a faint blush coloring his cheeks. “Sorry. I-uh- I didn’t realize you were home.” He swallowed hard and turned on his heel, closing the door behind him.
* * *
Buffy sat on the deck the following morning sipping her coffee and enjoying the warmth of another beautiful Sunnydale summer day. Her feet tucked under her, she flipped idly through a magazine. She had already decided to pretend that her little run-in with Angel in the bathroom last night had never happened. It would also serve as a good reminder for her to make sure that in all future such occasions she locked the door.
“Morning.” Angel mumbled as he trudged out on the deck. He collapsed in the lounge chair next to her with a solid thud. He was still wearing the clothes he had on the night before, only now he was looking rumpled and a little worse for wear.
“Good morning.” Buffy replied, glancing over and taking note of his disheveled condition. She knew he hadn’t come back to the apartment last night; she had also drawn the conclusion that one of the ‘friends’ he had mentioned going out with in his note had to have been Cordelia. It was to be expected that he’d spend the night with his girlfriend, particularly on the weekends. She only hoped Cordelia didn’t stay over too often; she was certain she wasn’t going to like hearing the sounds of their intimacy just down the hall.
“Looks like someone had a little too much of a good time last night.” Buffy smirked, unable to resist the small jibe.
Angel only grunted in reply, his eyes closed behind the grey-tinted sunglasses. Last night Doyle had brought out several bottles of aged Bushmills whiskey, insisting that they celebrate Angel’s recent – and highly secretive - nuptials. It had taken almost two bottles between the four of them, before they were able to pry even the smallest detail about his wedding or his bride from Angel… but by then the vision of her nude in the bathtub had been the predominant thing in his mind. Needless to say, the sly grin and his only responses of “Buffy,” “a few weeks ago” and “she’s beautiful” only furthered their already avid curiosity. If they all hadn’t been too drunk to drive, they no doubt would have descended on Angel’s apartment to meet the mysterious bride. Instead, they ended up watching old episodes of ‘Columbo’, playing cards, and polishing off the rest of the whiskey before passing out just after three in the morning. With his head throbbing and his mouth feeling like he swallowed cotton, Angel managed to get off Doyle’s couch and head home before the rest of them were even awake. He knew his friends though; they’d be dropping by this week – if not today – to meet his wife.
“Here. Maybe this will help.” Opening his eyes, Angel glanced up to see Buffy setting a tray on the small table next to him. On it sat a mug of black coffee, a glass of ice water, a glass of orange juice and a bottle of aspirin.
“Thanks.” He took a couple of the aspirin and drank the entire glass of water before he set it down and glanced over at her again. Almost transfixed, he studied her in the bright sunlight. She was wearing a simple black tank top and shorts that contrasted nicely with her smooth tan skin. Her golden hair was pulled back in a ponytail and her eyes were hidden by a pair of black sunglasses. She appeared to be engrossed in some article in the magazine balanced on her knees. There was nothing extraordinary about her appearance really, yet he was struck not only by her beauty but her small unexpected gesture. He had a sudden urge to hug her. Or, perhaps more pertinently, lay his head in her lap and let her soothe away the ache between his temples.
“Sure.” She replied, turning back to look at him.
He wondered suddenly if she thought he did this often. “Doyle… that is, he insisted that we sort of celebrate…”
“It’s okay, Angel. You don’t have to explain anything to me.” Buffy replied with a smile before turning back to her magazine.
“I don’t want you to think that I go out and get drunk every weekend.” He stated emphatically, then let out a small pained groan as the sound of his own voice seemed to ricochet loudly through his head.
“I don’t. Anyway, I’d find out the truth next weekend.” She teased as she reclined the chase lounge she was sitting on until it was completely flat. With an agile move, she flipped over on her stomach.
He took a sip of coffee as he studied her profile. “How’s that?”
“Because if you did it every weekend then you’d do it again next weekend, and then I’d know that you did it every weekend.” She hadn’t looked up at him, but he could hear the playful tone in her voice.
“Ah.” He closed his eyes again and laid his head back on the cushion of the chaise. A smile tugged at his lips at her slightly rambling logic. Impulsively, he said, “I have to go to the grocery store this afternoon and pick up some things. Do you want to go with me? We could get some of those horrible soy patties that you seem to like.”
Surprised, Buffy glanced up. Her lips twitched into a smile and with mock sternness she declared, “Aha! You did eat one of them! I thought someone was pilfering my food.”
“Guilty.” Angel said without opening his eyes. He took another sip of coffee. “Though I regretted it if that’s any consolation. Those things are terrible.”
She laughed and shook her head. “Hey! They’re good! And I’ll have you know they’re healthy.”
“Sweetheart, I think cardboard would taste better.” The endearment slipped out naturally and Angel didn’t even give it a second thought. He opened his eyes again and looked over at her again. “So are you up for a trip to the grocery store then?”
“I could use a few things so, sure.” Buffy replied. It was just a trip to the grocery store – why did it feel like something more significant? And why was her heart suddenly racing? “That is, if we can get back by four. I have to be at work by five.”
“Not a problem.” Angel said with a satisified smile as he relaxed back into the chaise closing his eyes. He wasn’t even aware until that moment how tense he had been in waiting for her answer.
* * *
Angel sat on the couch and sipped a bottle of water as he watched Buffy flit nervously around the apartment. First she lit the candles on the fireplace mantle, then she fussed with the magazines on the table, aligning them just so. On her way to the kitchen to check on the coffee, she stopped and adjusted the flower arrangement on the table. He understood and even shared her agitation, but the strange sense of pleasure he found in simply watching her somehow seemed to calm his nerves.
Since their trip to the grocery store on Sunday, a friendly camaraderie had developed between them. With Buffy not working extra shifts, they saw each other a bit more during the day and talked a little more at night when she got home from work, though they hadn’t delved too far into anything personal in their conversations.
Angel glanced at his watch just as the firm knock sounded at the door. It was six o’clock right on the dot. He should have known that Dr. Maggie Walsh would be exceedingly punctual. He glanced over to where Buffy stood near the kitchen doorway as he came to his feet.
She nodded to his unasked question and tugged nervously at the hem of her shirt. Buffy had changed three times in preparation for tonight’s meeting before settling on her current outfit. It hadn’t hurt that Angel’s eyes flared appreciatively when she had finally come out of the bedroom. The simple pale green v-neck shirt brought out the green in her eyes and was low enough to provide a teasing view of her décolletage. Her black boot-cut fitted pants clung snugly to her hips, emphasizing the attractive firmness of her bottom and the length of her legs. All of which added to the reasons Angel had been mesmerized by watching her.
Opening the door, Angel smiled. “Dr. Walsh. Nice to see you again.” He stepped back and held out his hand, gesturing for her to come in.
“Thank you.” Maggie Walsh’s keen gaze landed immediately on Buffy. “Mrs. O’Connor, I presume?”
“Yes.” Crossing the room, Buffy extended her hand in greeting.
“Dr. Maggie Walsh, Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.”
“Nice to meet you. Would you like to sit down?” Slipping easily into the role of hostess, Buffy directed them toward the couch. “Would you like some coffee? I just made some.”
Once they were comfortably seated with coffee cups in hand, Dr. Walsh retrieved her reading glasses from her pocket and put them on. Opening up her black notebook, she flipped through several tabbed pages until she found the one she was interested in.
“As I mentioned to you over the phone, the purpose of this meeting is to verify the authenticity of your relationship for the BCIS. I can assure you that these home visits and interviews are standard operating procedure within the agency and that you are in no way being singled out due to your nationality, age, location or other demographic factors. The BCIS makes it a policy to meet as many of our newly married couples as possible.” Her gaze was direct as she glanced from Angel to Buffy then back again. “You understand, of course, that defrauding the federal government is a serious offense, and so we do look at these things very closely. Once the questions have been answered to our satisfaction, your citizenship card will be issued, Mr. O’Connor. Do you have any questions so far?”
Buffy replied negatively while Angel only shook his head.
“First, I will need to speak to each of you individually,” Dr. Walsh stated without pause, “I assume that there is somewhere in the apartment that the other of you can wait?”
“The bedroom.” Angel offered, masking his growing discomfort.
With a brisk nod, Dr. Walsh continued, “That should be fine, as long as the door closes and you will not be able to hear the conversation taking place in this room. If not, then I will need to ask you to wait in the hallway or downstairs. I will warn you in advance that some of the questions may be quite personal. You may choose not to answer those. Simply say so and we’ll make a note of the question and then move on. Now, do you have any questions before we get started?”
“No.” Buffy answered, her voice surprisingly confident despite the feeling that she was near to panicking. She hadn’t anticipated an individual – and personal – interrogation. She had envisioned a casual conversation between the three of them; this had recipe for disaster written all over it.
“No, no questions.” Angel added, his own thoughts similar to Buffy’s. He glanced at his wife briefly before turning his attention back to the brusque woman seated across from them.
“Good. Then I would like to begin with Mrs. O’Connor first. Mr. O’Connor, if you will…” Without waiting for a response, Maggie Walsh glanced at her watch. Setting aside her coffee cup and retrieving her pen, she jotted the time down on the top of a blank sheet of paper.
Before he rose to his feet, Angel leaned over and kissed Buffy gently on the cheek impulsively. He wished her luck with his eyes and also offered an apology, even though he didn’t dare voice the words.
Once the door down the hall was firmly closed, Dr. Walsh glanced up at Buffy, “So, Mrs. O’Connor…”
“Call me Buffy.” Buffy insisted with a smile. She wasn’t about to admit that she found the ‘Mrs. O’Connor’ stuff disconcerting. She hadn’t thought of that as her name since the day of the wedding and even then only briefly.
“Yes, well, please tell me where was Liam was born.” The BCIS agent stated stiffly as she flipped though a few pages in her notebook.
“Liam?” Buffy repeated questioningly.
“Your husband, Mrs. O’Connor.” Dr. Walsh returned curtly, glancing up from her notes.
“Oh, sorry. It’s just… I always call him Angel.” Buffy quickly interjected, realizing her mistake. She couldn’t believe she had fumbled over something as obvious as his name. “Actually, everyone calls him Angel. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard anyone call him Liam before.”
“I see. Can you tell me where he was born please?”
“Ireland.” The petite blonde answered firmly, determined to make amends for her faux pas.
“City, please.” The BCIS agent insisted as she scanned the paper in front of her.
“Well, we haven’t really discussed it.” Buffy mumbled, quickly growing disheartened. She was going to blow this for them right from the start.
Dr. Walsh scrawled something in her notebook, the pen scratching the paper almost loudly in the momentary silence, and then looked up at Buffy once more over the rim of her glasses. “You don’t know the city he was born in, is that correct?”
“No, I mean yes.” Buffy shrugged apologetically. “I mean, no, I don’t know.”
“Thank you.” Dr. Walsh said crisply, tapping her pen on her paper. “How long did the two of you know each other before you married?”
“Not long. A few weeks. I know that seems rather rash but-”
“Can you please narrow that down to a specific number?” Dr. Walsh interrupted impatiently, not interested in excuses or stories, just the facts.
“Well, I feel like I’ve known him for months…” Buffy searched her mind for an appropriate response. What had Angel told the BCIS if anything about how long they had known each other? Still stalling for time or perhaps even a hint, she continued, “Cordelia talked about him for so long before I met him…”
“Um-hum. Do you or do you not have a number, Mrs. O’Connor?”
“Three.” The petite blonde returned coolly, calling forth all the bluffing poker skills she possessed. “Three weeks.”
“Thank you.” Dr. Walsh said patronizingly as she jotted yet another note. “What is your husband studying at UC Sunnydale?”
“Law.” Buffy answered calmly, remembering what Cordelia had said about him wanting to be a lawyer. The books on his shelf though… With a polite smile, she amended, “Well, actually his major is criminal justice but he’s considering going into law.”
With an almost disgruntled expression, Maggie Walsh checked a sheet of paper that had “UC Sunnydale” at the top of it before slipping it back behind the others. She next retrieved a printed form from the other side of the notebook and jotted Buffy’s name at the top next to the date. When she completed her notation, she glanced up. Her blue eyes were direct and piercing. “The next few questions are of a more personal nature. The intent of these questions is not to embarrass you, but to establish that you do in fact have an intimate relationship with your husband. I would like to remind you that if you object to answering any of the questions, you may say so at any time.”
Clearing her throat, Buffy settled back on the couch. Her hands were clenched tightly around her coffee cup, the untouched liquid growing cold. “Okay.”
“What time does your husband get out of bed in the morning?” Dr. Walsh checked a box on the form, indicating the selected question.
“Um, well, later than I do. I leave early and he’s still in bed.”
“So you don’t know?” The BCIS agent inquired bluntly as she shifted, crossing her legs at the ankles.
“Well, he’s up by…” Buffy inhaled deeply then plunged ahead with a guess, “Seven thirty or eight.”
Dr. Walsh made a note of the answer as she asked her next question, “And what time do you get up?”
“Between five thirty and six.” The petite blond replied, “I teach a kickboxing class at 7:00 at Pacific Athletic Club.”
“I see.” The BCIS agent acknowledged disinterestedly as she continued writing, “What is your husband’s most frequent meal for dinner?”
Searching her memory for the contents of the refrigerator, Buffy quickly seized on an answer, “I guess I would say pizza or stuff from the deli just down the street.”
“Thank you.” After making another notation, Maggie Walsh looked up again. “And what do you typically eat for breakfast?”
“Vanilla yogurt. Angel teases me about it, always trying to get me to branch out into more exotic flavors, but I happen to just like vanilla.” With a small smile, Buffy played back their conversation in the grocery store when Angel noticed that she was buying five of the same flavor.
“Why do you not wear a wedding ring, Mrs. O’Connor?” Dr. Walsh flipped the paper over and scanned the page with the computer printing. It was an unnecessary action; she knew the form by heart. Briskly, she made tick marks by five more questions.
“It’s being resized.” Buffy answered, a little surprised that the BCIS agent had noticed the missing ring since she seemed so intent on her notes.
“The name of the jeweler doing the work?”
“I don’t know. Angel took care of it.”
Glancing up at the young bride over the top rim of her glasses, Dr. Walsh inquired, “Does your husband have any birthmarks, scars or tattoos?”
“Yes, he does.” Buffy replied as she took a sip of her coffee. Her heart was racing in nervous anticipation of each question. When would this end?
“Describe them please.” The BCIS agent prompted looking down once more at the notes she was taking.
“He just has the one tattoo, on his back by his shoulder blade. It’s a Gryphon with an ‘A’ below it.” Buffy said a brief prayer of thanks to her English professor for her interest in mythology; without it, she wouldn’t have known exactly what the bird like creature was.
“Thank you. And do you have any birthmarks, scars or tattoos?”
“No.” Buffy disclosed resolutely. A giggle almost escaped her lips as she thought that there might actually be some benefit to Angel’s having stumbled on her in the bath; of course, it was unlikely that he had seen enough to be assured of no tattoos or other marks. And there was the fact that he hadn’t seen her backside…
“When was your last menses?” Dr. Walsh asked candidly, her voice interrupting Buffy’s musing.
“Uh, just a little over two weeks ago.” Color rising to her cheeks, Buffy blushed. Like Angel was supposed to know that?
Stopping for the first time to take a sip of her coffee, Maggie Walsh once again adjusted her position on the sofa. Placing the coffee cup back on the table, she looked directly at Buffy. She was a keen observer of human behavior; reactions mattered almost as much as the questions, particularly for these last few. “What, if any, form of birth control are you currently using?”
“Um, I, um, we’re… that is… we…” Buffy stammered, taken somewhat aback by the question. It shouldn’t have surprised her, but hearing it out loud was a little startling. “We, uh, use, er, condoms. At least we do right now.”
“Thank you.” Dr. Walsh made a brief notation on the printed paper, then asked matter-of-factly as she returned her gaze to Buffy’s face. “How often would you say that the two of you engage in intercourse?”
Feeling her cheeks grow warm once again, Buffy gave the first answer that came to mind, “Well, er, we are newly married.”
“Yes, I understand that. Would you like to skip this question or do you have an answer, Mrs. O’Connor?” Pressing her lips together, Maggie Walsh suppressed a ruthless smile. She couldn’t deny that she enjoyed certain aspects of her job, such as seeing young couples squirm. She had, on occasion, even made up outrageous questions just to liven up these interrogations.
“We, uh, have sex at least a couple of times a day.” Buffy returned promptly. At the slight lift of the woman’s eyebrow, Buffy wondered if that was too often or not often enough… She wished then that she had a little more experience with this type of thing – well, with sex specifically - so that she might have a more appropriate answer.
“And my last question. Is your husband circumcised?”
Seconds ticked by as blue eyes remained locked with hazel green ones. Finally Buffy gave her answer, “Yes.”
“Thank you for your cooperation, Mrs. O’Connor. Would you please ask Mr. O’Connor to come in here now please? I also need to ask you to not speak with your husband, other than to let him know that I’m ready for him.” With a dismissive nod, Maggie Walsh returned her attention to the papers in her notebook.
With a worried frown, Buffy rose to her feet and walked down the hall. She opened the bedroom door to see Angel sitting on the bed with a book in his hand.
“Well, honey, you’re up.” She said brightly, as if nothing were wrong. She waiting until he reached the doorway before she rose up on her tiptoe and wrapped her arms around his neck. As she brushed a kiss on his cheek, she whispered, “No tattoos, condoms, couple of times a day, 2 weeks ago and god, I hope you’re circumcised.”
* * *
Hiding his bemused expression, Angel waited until Buffy closed the bedroom door before joining Dr. Walsh in the living room.
“Thank you for waiting, Mr. O’Connor. As I said earlier, this is a formality.” Maggie Walsh looked up, as Angel sat on the couch opposite her.
“I understand.” Angel replied as he reached for the carafe to refill both his and Dr. Walsh’s coffee cups. “Fire away with your questions.”
With a brisk nod, the BCIS agent began, “Where was Mrs. O’Connor – Buffy - born?”
Angel paused thoughtfully before he answered, “Right here in Sunnydale.” He was guessing, but from his confident demeanor, no one would have known.
Her expression marred with something akin to disappointment, Dr. Walsh asked her next question, “Please tell me the name of your in-laws?”
“We haven’t talked about them much, to be honest.”
“Can you expand on that, please?” Maggie Walsh tapped her pen on her paper, studying his expression.
“Her parents are a difficult subject for my wife, Dr. Walsh. It’s not one that we tend to spend much time on.” Angel ventured, not realizing that he was actually close to the truth.
“Even their names?” She glanced down at her papers, shuffling them slightly to look at the copy of their marriage certificate that had been filed with the BCIS office.
“Yes. We’ve had no reason to discuss them.” Taking a sip of his coffee, Angel closed his eyes and suppressed a feeling of panic.
“I see.” The BCIS agent replied skeptically, jotting some additional notes. “What time does your wife normally get off work?”
“It varies.” He knew from their conversations this past week that her schedule did vary some at night, depending on the day of the week and who ended up working the late shift. “She works different shifts at the restaurant. Sometimes she gets off earlier than others.”
Glancing up, Dr. Walsh looked at him speculatively. “I thought your wife worked at a health club?”
Angel studied her expression for the space of a few seconds before he answered, “She works as a waitress at Patina. A restaurant a few blocks over.”
Her pen scratching the paper, she hastily scrawled a few notes and then drew a circle around something she had written on the page. Reaching for her coffee cup, she took a sip then inquired, “What is your wife studying in school?”
“She hasn’t decided on her major yet.” Angel replied easily. Knowing that it was Buffy’s first year of college, he assumed that she hadn’t yet declared a major.
“How long did the two of you know each other before you married?” Dr. Walsh questioned, glancing at her earlier notes briefly before flipping to a new page.
“About a month I think.” Running a hand through his hair, Angel attempted to appear calm. He wondered what Buffy had answered, assuming that she had been asked the same questions.
“Thank you.” Maggie Walsh acknowledged as she looked over the top rim of her glasses, her expression foreboding. “The next few questions are of a more personal nature. They are not intended to embarrass you or your wife, but rather to allow us to verify the nature of your relationship. Let me remind you that if you object to answering any of the questions, all you need to do is say so.”
Angel nodded, shifting the coffee cup from one hand to the other.
“What time do you normally get out of bed in the morning?” The BCIS agent inquired plainly as she sat her coffee cup back down on the table.
“And your wife? What time does she normally get up?” Dr. Walsh made a note on the form, near the question Buffy had answered earlier.
“Much earlier than that; five-thirty, six. I’m a heavy sleeper – I don’t always hear.” He improvised with an apologetic shrug.
“What does your wife have for breakfast most often?”
“Vanilla yogurt. She loves the stuff.” He answered with a smile, reminded of their conversation earlier that week at the grocery store.
“And you, what do you eat for dinner most often?” Dr. Walsh asked brusquely, scanning her notes from Buffy’s answers.
“Simple stuff; steak and vegetables, grilled chicken.” Angel answered with a small shrug, “I happen to like to cook.”
“I see.” With her pen, Maggie Walsh made another circle around her notes before jotting down a few brief words. “Does your wife have any birthmarks, scars or tattoos?”
“No.” Angel replied as a feeling of apprehensiveness crept over him. Had Buffy’s whispered words about tattoos meant for her or for him?
“And you, Mr. O’Connor? Do you have any birthmarks, scars or tattoos?” Her gaze was direct and piercing.
Angel drew in a deep breath and debated his answer for a scant few seconds. He could lie since Buffy had no way of knowing about his tattoo but something about how closely Dr. Walsh was scrutinizing him gave him the strangest feeling that the BCIS agent knew about it, someway, somehow. Finally he said, “I have a tattoo on my back.”
“I noticed that neither you nor your wife wear your wedding rings. Why is that Mr. O’Connor?” The BCIS agent inquired stiffly, once more reaching for the coffee cup on the table.
“Buffy’s is at the jeweler,” Angel bluffed though it wasn’t completely a lie. He had simply never bought her one which technically meant it was at some jewelers. That was something that he would apparently need to rectify if they made it through this cross-examination, “And mine is in the bedroom. I was doing dishes earlier and I don’t like to wear it then.” He purposefully ignored mentioning the Claddagh ring on his right hand. He already knew the best way to get through this was to simply answer the question; providing additional details would only trip them up later.
“I see.” Returning her eyes to her notes, Maggie Walsh made an annotation in the margin of one page. Glancing up once more, she returned her gaze to his face. “What, if any, form of birth control are the two of you currently using?”
“Condoms.” Angel suddenly wanted to grin. Buffy’s whispered words had tipped him off successfully for that one. Instead, he answered the question with a hint of intentional discomfiture.
“And how often do you and your wife have intercourse?” Pressing her lips together firmly, the BCIS agent waited for his answer.
He couldn’t help himself. Even with her keen eyes dissecting his every move or gesture, Angel gave in to the impulse and grinned. Even without knowing what possible question Buffy’s hint of ‘two weeks’ might apply to, he was certain it wasn’t the answer to this question.
“As often as possible,” he replied cheekily.
“Do you have a specific answer, Mr. O’Connor? Or are you just going to attempt to be clever?” Dr. Walsh questioned coldly. She was obviously not amused.
Clearing his throat, he nodded. “We, uh, have sex at least twice a day.” He tried, but Angel couldn’t keep the smirk from his face. The question – and the provocative answer - had brought visions of Buffy nude in the bathtub to the forefront of his mind. The question of her sexual experience also came to mind; was she less innocent than she appeared? Still, there was no question “twice a day” sounded more than just fine to him, it sounded divine.
“Thank you.” Dr. Walsh replied brusquely as she flipped her paper over and scrawled another few words. “When was the last time your wife had her menses?”
“No tattoos, condoms, couple of times a day, 2 weeks ago and god, I hope you’re circumcised.” Her answers were falling neatly into place. Still, he schooled his features into a thoughtful expression, as if he were considering her question before answering. “About two weeks ago.”
Dr. Walsh made a brief notation on the printed paper, then asked matter-of-factly as she returned her gaze to Angel’s face, “Fine. Now, my last question - are you circumcised Mr. O’Connor?”
He wasn’t, but Buffy didn’t know that; in fact, Buffy had obviously assumed otherwise. Unconsciously crossing his legs, Angel replied, “Yes.”
“Thank you.” With an almost malevolent smile, Dr. Walsh clasped her hands together smugly over her notebook. “If you would please call your wife back, I think we can finish off our discussion.”
Her look sending his nerves careening wildly, Angel rose to his feet and went to fetch Buffy. He avoided her eyes, only giving her a small shrug as the two of them returned to the living room. Silently, they took their previous seats across from the BCIS agent.
Despite their efforts, Maggie Walsh was a keen observer of human behavior and had been an agent for the BCIS for a long time. Not to mention, the tidy little sum that Ethan Rayne had promised her for looking into this matter and ensuring that it was resolved to his satisfaction gave her additional impetus to be extra thorough. Of course, any legal action such as deportation would require the appropriate supporting documentation – which would take more than just one interview to obtain.
Suppressing a smile, Dr. Walsh glanced between them, “Mr. O’Connor, Ms. Summers, I’ll be quite frank with you. Despite your relative success at bluffing your way through my questions, there is sufficient reason for me to believe that your marriage is entirely an attempt to obtain a green card for Mr. O’Connor.”
“Dr. Walsh, would you please elaborate?” Buffy questioned, unknowingly parroting the BCIS agent’s own words. “I’d like to know what you’re basing your… assumption on.”
“Ms. Summers.” Dr. Walsh chided patronizingly, “I’ve been in this business for a very long time. I’ve seen con artists of all types imaginable. You don’t know the answers to easy questions such as where your own husband was born, he doesn’t know the names of your parents, and I find your answers to my question regarding your intimate affairs highly suspect. It would not surprise me in the least if you had somehow tipped off Mr. O’Connor to your answers with your pretended endearment to him at the bedroom door.”
“I pride myself not only on my observation skills, but also my judgment.” Snapping her notebook closed with brisk movement, Dr. Walsh rose to her feet. “Over the course of the next few weeks – or months if necessary - I will personally be compiling the necessary documentation in support of your prosecution for attempting to defraud the United States government as well as for your deportation, Mr. O’Connor. Please be aware of the fact that I do have the right to interview your family and your friends, as we as returning for as many repeat visits as I deem necessary in order to complete my report. The completed report will be filed with the local District Attorney to being the necessary proceedings.”
Turning on her heel, Maggie Walsh stalked to the door. With her hand on the knob, she turned back to face the stunned couple, “I will warn you that attempting to flee will only make the situation worse. I shall be in touch. Good day.”
Minutes after the door closed behind her, Angel kicked the coffee table sending magazines, coffee cups and coffee pot flying. “Fuck!”
Buffy watched the earthenware cups as they shattered, spilling coffee on the floor as if the scene were taking place in slow motion. After a second, she knelt down and began to put the broken pieces on top of a ruined magazine. After she had all of the damaged pieces together, she calmly said, “Well, that helped the situation a whole lot.”
Whirling around, Angel shot her a dangerous look.
Rising to her feet with the debris, Buffy seemingly ignored him as she moved toward the kitchen.
His anger barely under control, Angel clenched his jaw and watched her. He hadn’t moved from his spot when she returned with several towels and began to clean up the spilled coffee.
Turning, he slammed his hand into the wall.
“That’s not really going to help anything either.” The petite blond added as she crawled around on the floor, mopping up the dark liquid.
“And that is?” Angel snapped furiously, once more turning around to look at her. His future plans seemed to be slipping away before his eyes.
“No, it’s not but at least it’s not going to stain the floor.” Buffy sat back on her heels and looked up at him, “And you owe me a new copy of ‘In Style’ and one of ‘Vanity Fair’ – I hadn’t read those yet.”
“Didn’t you hear what she said?!” He snarled bluntly, taking a menacing step toward her. “She’s serious about this and you’re talking about your damned magazines. Well, I’ll be sure to buy you a copy of those – hell, I’ll buy you subscriptions - because you’ll have plenty of time to read them in jail.”
“Hey! I’m not your enemy here.” Buffy returned, her eyes blazing angrily. “I’m in this with you, right up to the jail cell part of it so don’t you dare take that tone with me.”
“In fact,” the petite blonde stood up abruptly as she continued speaking in a calm but obviously furious tone, “you’ll probably just have to go home to Ireland. I’ll be the one to end up broke and in jail. No job - no college - no future! Don’t tell me that all I care about here are my magazines. Just because I’m not throwing a temper tantrum doesn’t mean that I have nothing to lose.”
Knowing that she was right and suddenly feeling like an ass, Angel felt a bit of his anger deflate. He’d thought only of the loss of his dreams. What about hers? He looked away from her to stare out the window.
“Look, she’s can’t do anything yet or she would have said so,” Buffy offered in a moderate tone, “that means she needs more proof. So, we just need to play our parts. If she’s going to be talking to our friends, we need to convince them that this – our marriage - is real. If she’s going to ask personal questions, well, we just have to get to know each other so we can answer them. Think of it like another class project… only more… personal.”
With one eyebrow quirked upward, Angel turned back to look at the young woman that he had married. He was a bit chagrined that she had calmly assessed the situation and put forth a proposed solution before he had; wasn’t this type of thing in his supposed area of study? His estimation of her rose. He wondered then about her life, at what events she had been through to have given her so much maturity at such a relatively young age.
“Are you always this sensible?”
“I have to be.” Buffy returned, her eyes meeting his across the room. And she did. She couldn’t afford legal or financial ramifications as a result of her impulsive decision. Now it was simply a matter of make the best of a bad situation - something she was good at.
Tentatively, Angel smiled at her. “So, where do you suggest we start?”
* * *
“This is for you.” Buffy said brightly as she handed Angel a neatly wrapped package.
He looked up at her from his position at the table, hunched over his computer trying to finalize the results of a study for his meeting with Professor Johanssen tomorrow.
Pushing back in his chair he took the package from her as she took the seat next to him. It had been two days since Dr. Maggie Walsh’s visit and pronouncement about her intent to see them prosecuted. In those two days, Buffy and Angel had sat down and mapped up a schedule for ‘dates’ in which they could get together and start getting to know each other. Today was their first official ‘date’ – though a two hour block of time set aside on a Saturday afternoon before Buffy would have to go to work would hardly qualify as anyone’s definition of a date.
“What is this?” He questioned as he pulled off the white ribbon.
“Just open it.” Buffy encouraged, tucking her feet under her on the chair. In front of her, she had set two spiral notebooks.
Pulling apart the elegant beige paper, Angel’s lips twitched with amusement. “‘Getting Ready for Marriage Workbook, How to Really Get to Know the Person You’re Going to Marry’.” He read the book title out loud before his curious gaze returned to her face. “This is for me, why?”
“Well, it’s as good a place to start as any. It’s got worksheets and stuff that will help us figure out questions to ask so we’re not just sitting here staring at each other.” Buffy replied somewhat defensively as she reached for one of the notebooks and pushed it over to him. “And writing things down will help, so I got these too.”
“I guess it’s too much to hope that you picked up a copy of ‘The Kama Sutra’ as well? Because that could also be a good place to start…” Angel teased as he turned off his laptop and pushed it aside. His attraction and interest in his wife was growing, much to his concern and occasional discomfort. His smile widened as a faint blush touched her cheeks.
“I don’t think so.” She replied almost primly as she opened her notebook. He wasn’t seriously interested in a more intimate relationship with her… was he? Sneaking a peek at him out of the corner of her eye, she was relieved – or was that disappointed? – to see that he was teasing. “Do you want to read the first chapter or skip to the worksheet part?”
“I don’t know. You decide.” He prompted, handing her the book. “But first,” Angel came to his feet and crossed the room to retrieve something from the fireplace mantle. Returning to his seat, he sat a small black velvet jewel box on the table between them. “I have something for you.”
Buffy glanced from Angel to the jewel box and then back again.
He pushed it closer with his fingertip, a smile playing on his lips, “It doesn’t bite.”
As she reached for it, a strange sense of anticipation, excitement and dread all seemed to assail her at once. She hadn’t realized until that very instant that this was one of those moments that she had somehow expected to be more significant in her life. In some far off recessed corner of her mind, she had imagined that there would be a marriage proposal accompanying a ring; that she’d be looking into the eyes of the man she loved and who loved her as they promised their hearts to each other. They would have already talked about their future together - sharing their dreams along with their plans for careers and kids... With a resolute smile, she pushed aside her thoughts. No sense dwelling on that now. It was possible that she would have those things someday, just not now. She picked up the small jewel box and opened the lid. A simple silver band gleamed in the light.
“I hope it’s okay. I wasn’t sure about the size…” Angel began, uncertain about the play of emotions on Buffy’s face. Did she like it? Or not? Should he not have bought it? Maybe he should have asked her first…
“Oh, no. It’s fine. It’s beautiful.” Buffy gave him a quick smile as she plucked the ring out of the case and slipped quickly on her finger. “And look. It’s fits.”
“Buffy, are you sure? I thought that since Dr. Walsh asked about it that you should have one, but if you don’t like it…” Absently he touched the silver ring that she had given him the day of the wedding. He had started wearing it after Dr. Walsh’s visit. Cordelia would object, he knew. It had been at her insistence that he had removed it the day of the wedding in the first place. Somehow though, the brunette’s feelings didn’t seem to matter so much right now. And he found himself instead bothered by what he thought was a look of disappointment on Buffy’s face. Had she expected a diamond? Or what was going through her mind?
“It’s perfect, Angel. Really. Thank you.” She glanced at her watch then opened the book she had given him to the first chapter. “We should get started here. I’ll have to head out to work soon.”
* * *
The sound of voices carried from the hallway long before the knock sounded on the door. Buffy glanced up from her position at the table where she was working problems for her statistics class at the first firm knock.
Down the hall, the sound of running water shut off abruptly as Angel finished his shower. He was getting ready to go out - it was his monthly poker ritual night with the guys. Tonight it was apparently Wes’ turn to host, so he was going over there.
“Hey, you decent?” A slightly accented voice called out as the apartment door opened a few inches.
Reaching the door, Buffy pulled it open further. “Yes. At least I think so.”
“Oh, hello there.” Doyle fairly stumbled into the apartment, his eyes riveted on the diminutive blonde standing in front of him. “Didn’t realize Angel had company.” It was of course a lie; the very reason they had dropped in on Angel early was to see if they could meet his new bride. They had tried once this week already without success, much to their disappointment and Angel’s amusement.
With a grin, Gunn shouldered Doyle aside, pushing him into the apartment. Extending his hand, he smiled at Buffy. “I’m Charles Gunn. But my friends just call me Gunn.”
“Hi. I’m Buffy. Nice to meet you.” Buffy returned his smile before turning to the dark-haired behind him, still partially in the hallway. “And you are-?”
Wes shook her hand. “Wesley or Wes if you prefer,” he said as an unmistakably charming smile slipped into place.
Unaffected by his dark good looks or flirtatious charm, Buffy merely smiled and turned back to the man that opened the door. “Then you must be Doyle,” she surmised, remembering the names of Angel’s friends.
“That would be me.” He shook her hand, his curiosity undisguised as he looked her over and obviously liked what he saw.
“Guys.” Angel greeted as he came from the hallway to stand slightly behind Buffy. He was barefoot, dressed only in a pair of jeans, his hair still damp from the shower. When he heard the voices and glanced toward to see Buffy standing among his friends, he felt an uncharacteristic surge of male rivalry. He’d never been a jealous man or felt any competitive impulses regarding any of his previous girlfriends, yet he couldn’t deny that his possessive instincts seemed to make themselves known where Buffy was concerned.
“I thought we were meeting at your place.” There was a hint of censure in his voice as he glanced at Wesley over Buffy’s head. Casually he stepped closer and slipped his arms around her waist.
“Yes, well, we were-” Wes said, his expression one of practiced innocence as he struggled to come up with a believable reason for their appearance. Outright lying to his friends, however, wasn’t one of Wesley’s stronger skills.
“But there was a slight change of plans.” Doyle interjected affably, a sly grin on his face. His friend’s possessive stance hadn’t gone unnoticed. Doyle and Angel had known each other since they were toddlers together in Ireland; they had moved in and out of each other’s lives over the years but always managed to keep in touch. It had in fact been Doyle who had suggested UC Sunnydale and the exchange program to Angel in the first place, since he had been living and working in Sunnydale for the past four years.
“What change?” Angel’s brows lifted suspiciously. He knew his friends; their dropping by was a barely disguised ploy to meet his wife. He should have suspected it tonight given their earlier attempt this week, but in his preoccupation earlier with Buffy and their latest getting-to-know-you ‘date’, it had slipped his mind. In fact, after the pleasant afternoon spent with her at the park having an impromptu picnic lunch, he had almost wanted to change his plans and stay home with her tonight. Maybe order take-out, rent a movie… The only thing that stopped him was the fact that it was Buffy’s only night off this week and he wasn’t about to crash her plans at the last minute. It never crossed his mind that Buffy had shared his thoughts for the evening, but hadn’t dared to suggest it for the same reason.
“This month’s poker night has been revised into an unplanned yet not quite proper bachelor party. We’re taking you out on the town, Angel my friend.” Doyle winked at Buffy. “He didn’t tell us about the wedding, so we didn’t get a chance to throw him a proper bachelor party much less be there for the happy occasion.”
“Oh?” Buffy questioned, one dainty eyebrow lifting doubtfully. Angel’s arms around her waist and his naked chest brushing against her back were wreaking havoc on her sense of concentration. She was wearing only a thin cotton sundress and the heat of his body was seeping right through her clothing, sending her pulse jumping erratically. “I didn’t realize that it was a requirement.”
“I don’t really think that-” Angel began hesitantly, a little uncomfortable with the suggestion. The last thing they needed right now was even the smallest hint of impropriety about their marriage.
“You don’t mind if we take your husband out for a little fun, do you?” Gunn interrupted, directly the question to Buffy.
“Nothing too… ribald of course.” Wes amended. They really weren’t suggesting anything improper and he wanted to make sure that Angel’s new bride knew that.
“Naturally. I said ‘not quite proper bachelor party,’ didn’t I?” Doyle added with a sincere smile.
“And what’s the difference?” Buffy questioned good-naturedly, her eyes sparkling with humor as she glanced between the three men. Without realizing it, she had adjusted her stance slightly so that she was leaning back against the hard chest behind her. Her arms rested lightly on top of those wrapped around her waist, and absently she moved her fingers, stroking the warm, smooth skin.
Doyle lifted his eyebrows exaggeratedly as he said with mock seriousness, “Let’s just say, a proper bachelor party typically involves the exchange of bodily fluids. I’m not going to detail which fluids or how or why – I’ll leave that up to your perverted imaginations. In a not-quite-proper bachelor party, a proxy for the groom – and here I offer my services – has to step in, if you will.”
“I see.” Buffy laughed, “So you’ll be … uh, handling any exchange of body fluids on Angel’s behalf then?”
“Not literally his, but yes, that’s the idea.” Grinning, Doyle answered the question as he stuffed his hands in his pockets.
“So, you don’t mind if he goes then?” Gunn queried, almost surprised that Buffy didn’t seem to be upset or angry at the idea.
“Of course not.” Buffy smiled, amused that they seemed to be asking her permission. Even though their relationship was far from ordinary, Buffy trusted that Angel wouldn’t do anything that would embarrass her or compromise their situation.
“Both beautiful and understanding.” Wes complimented with a smile, “How Angel got so lucky, I will never understand. Tell me that you have a sister?”
Buffy blushed slightly at the compliment. “I do but she’s only two and half. You’ll have to wait awhile.”
“Hey that works for me. By the time she’s twenty, I should be about ready to consider getting married.” Gunn laughingly said, “But then again, if I find one like you, I may do what Angel did and just snatch her right up. Though, do tell, Angel where did you manage to get so lucky?”
“It’s not luck, it’s skill. And let’s just say I was in the right place at the right time.” Angel returned smugly, dropping a kiss on the top of Buffy’s head as he hugged her closer. The gesture was natural and instinctive, yet was surprising to his friends who had rarely ever seen Angel indulge in public displays of affection.
Buffy smiled and tilted her to head to look up at Angel over her shoulder. This was the first time that they had really tried to pretend to be a couple in front of anyone; it was much easier than she expected. And much nicer. It was also much different than how they had discussed it in theory – she hadn’t expected him to put his arms around her much less then affectionate kisses.
“Get dressed, man, and let’s go before she changes her mind.” Gunn added with a teasing smirk as he glanced at Buffy. “Womanly prerogative, or so Fred says all the time.”
“Fred?” Buffy asked as Angel’s hands dropped from her waist. She could hear him walking back down the hall to the bedroom.
“Winifred. His girlfriend.” Wes amended before Gunn could continue his usual joke on his girlfriend’s name. “She goes by Fred.”
The teasing banter continued for another ten minutes before Angel rejoined the group, now fully dressed. He was tempted to talk to Buffy privately to see if she was really okay with him going out with the guys – knowing what they planned, but he wasn’t sure if she’d be honest with him. He also wasn’t sure that his male pride would be able to take the teasing that would ensue if his friends even thought he was letting Buffy control him.
Just as the guys started out the door, Buffy impulsively reached out and touched Angel lightly on the arm. Her eyebrows were lifted teasingly and her eyes were sparkling with humor as she softly murmured, “Behave.”
His lips curving upward in a return smile, Angel replied, “Always.” He leaned down intending to kiss her cheek, but instead touched his lips to hers in soft, slow, sweet kiss.
Buffy’s breath caught and held as his lips met hers. Without thinking, she lifted her arms to circle his neck, her fingertips brushing the soft hair on his nape tentatively as the kiss deepened.
“Let’s go, Romeo. Plenty of time for that later.”
Reluctantly Angel broke off the kiss. He wasn’t entirely sure which of his friends had spoken up. His eyes were locked with Buffy's as she stared up at him with a trace of confusion on her face.
Buffy resisted the shivering warmth that crept along her spine, reminding herself that Angel was simply playing his part. He was beginning as they intended to go on – proving to their friends that they were married – for real. Little did she know that those thoughts had been the farthest thing from Angel’s mind; he had simply acted on impulse.
“Bye.” Buffy breathed softly, but she leaned forward again and her lips brushed his in a light butterfly kiss.
“I won’t be too late.” He murmured, finding a profound pleasure in her reaction to his kiss. It took considerable effort for him to step back away from her.
“Hey, that just happens to remind me… Just because you didn’t invite me to the wedding, don’t think that I’m not going to get to kiss the bride.” Gunn nudged Angel aside and reached out and caught Buffy by the shoulders. Pulling her forward, he gave her a less than brotherly kiss on the lips.
Because this new found jealously of Angel’s deserved some teasing, both Doyle and Wes followed Gunn’s lead and gave Buffy a congratulatory kiss.
Knowing that they were doing it on purpose to annoy him, Angel tried not to be affected – but was largely unsuccessful. They said their goodbye's once more and opened the door to leave. As if he couldn’t stand to leave her with Wesley’s kiss on her lips, Angel turned suddenly and took Buffy into his arms, kissing her again. It was a lazy, mindless tongue-tangling kiss that seemed to go on for long slow minutes. By the time he lifted his head, both of them were breathless and panting – and completely unaware that they guys had closed the door behind them to give them some privacy.
Without a word, Angel dropped his arms and let her go.
Only after the door closed behind him, did Buffy finally return to her seat at the table. It was awhile longer before her concentration returned and she could finish her homework.
* * *
It was just after two am when Angel slipped the key in the lock of the apartment door. Taking great care to be quiet, he pushed open the door. The small hallway nightlight gave the room some light, as did the bedroom lamp that Buffy had apparently left on for him.
Taking off his shoes so as to not make any sound, he closed the door behind him. His eyes on her sleeping form, he crossed the room slowly to where Buffy slept on the couch. Cautiously he sat down on the couch opposite her.
Her rich golden hair was spread over her pillow, several long strands cascading down the side almost reaching the floor. Her eyes were closed; the darkened and lacy lashes hiding the luminous beauty of her eyes. Her pink lips were slightly parted as she breathed quietly, the delicate features of her face perfectly formed.
Other than a few dollar bills stuffed in a very aggressive girl’s g-string as she gyrated in front of him, he hadn’t really had any interest in the beautiful women at the strip club that Doyle had insisted they go too. It was unusual, given his former proclivities. All he could see were a pair of trusting green eyes looking up at him teasingly. And strangely, that aroused him more than the beautiful naked bodies that he had seen.
Buffy sighed in her sleep and Angel held his breath. The blanket slipped down as she turned slightly, revealing a shoulder, bare except for the thin strap of her pajama top. His thoughts drifted back to the breathtaking vision of her in the bath. She was without a doubt one of the most beautiful women he had seen.
Leaning forward, he covered her shoulder. He smiled faintly as she snuggled contentedly under the blanket. Lifting a strand of her hair to his lips, he kissed it gently before replacing it carefully on the pillow.
What had he gotten himself into?
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